Monthly Archives: January 2022

LET’S TALK ABOUT GIVENCHY : : : : : : L’INTERDIT PARFUM ROUGE (2021) + IRRESISTIBLE (2021), + an orange blossom definitely not to be messed with, DÉSINVOLTE (2021)

All three of these perfumes are knockouts.

And yet I find them equally obnoxious.

How can I put it?

Each scent: a fresh, fruity pink floral, a dressed-to-kill and very poisonous bombshell, and a suave, luscious, pointedly executive woody white floral, has been sculpted and angled just so for maximum slay potential; all are seductive, utilizing certain olfactory tropes to their apex; they glint and shine; all are sexy.

And yet there is very little interior clarity or an acknowledgment of the inner poignancy or the multilayers that a person has in these perfumes, no vulnerability (but then again why would there be, poised piquantly; cocktail in hand, under the pulsating strobe lights of a club?). All here is sheen and veneer, action: in an almost predatory femininity.

The definite ingenue of the trio is the new ‘Irresistible’, which has mercifully been renamed and tastefully repackaged (the earlier designs were embarrassingly cheap looking and ugly, as were some of the ridiculous names of the flanker/ limited editions over the years (‘Very Irresisitible Fresh Attitude Summer Sorbet’, anyone?). This has, in fact, been my main gripe with the house in recent times, as the aesthetics right from the beginning of the perfume releases back in the 1950’s from Givenchy with the original L’Interdit were always on point and elegant, evolving naturally through the sixties, seventies and eighties with the beautiful flacons and boxes for Gentleman through Eau de Givenchy and even the gaudy Amarige; no matter the swerving variety of the contents, at least visually there was always a thread of DNA running through it all, with recognizably Parisian Givenchyisms always in pride of place – before a dire slump into crud drugstore shaped cheapology with the advent of the 2000’s; products that looked like nail salon bottles that had been bought for a dollar from an indoor market (or found at the bottom of a dumpster) and which bent the integrity of the brand, in my view at least, somewhat out of shape.

With the newer, more minimalist direction of the design ethos, you can stand the boxes of all three of these perfumes together on the shelf and feel much happier with what meets your eye. The smells themselves………this will depend on your fashion and emotional temperament. Irresistible, for example, takes its (extremely) recognizable themes – a sweet, sparkling rose with berries and an almost loukoum almondy sugar musk, and nails them. It is boring, but perfect. The formula now cannot be improved upon, since there is a harmony within the structure of the whole that graduates naturally from girlish innocence to…. coy, flirtatious girlish innocence with nary a glimpse in the wrong direction: a finale of sweet nothings that is still pleasant to wake up to the next morning. And although I should probably hand this over to one of our nieces, or to one of the young teenage daughters of our friends ( Irresistible is an ideal starting scent I would say for the pretty and the conventional), it is possible, I must admit, that I might keep it for myself.

Next. The wicked witch’s velenous apple. The vamp. Is this new Interdit Eau De Parfum Rouge genius, or absolutely disgusting?

Both, I would say. It is a perfume, in any case, that certainly grabs your attention. The original remake of Interdit from 2018 was a surprise to me – all grapes and tuberose and tight signature: I assumed that I would hate it, but in fact I liked it better than its namesake original. With its sour, almost tomatoey primeness, it reminded me a little of an old favourite of mine, Paco Rabanne’s Ténéré, which was a total failure back in 1988 but which I still like and wear, as it always seemed to me to be one of the ultimate ‘red’ fragrances ( I also adore Hermès Rouge, as well as Giorgio Beverly Hills iconic Red, while we are on the subject of possibly my favourite colour). L’Interdit Parfum Rouge, when sniffed from the sprayer, is also, cleverly, recognizably the same deep grapey tuberose concoction that has proved to be quite popular for Givenchy, just thickened, richened, deepened – it works immediately, has definite ‘presence’, and yet on the skin there is something genuinely quite horrifying about the experience, with pimiento, ginger and blood orange pressing down like iron screws into the oxygenless din of all the extra vanilla and woods and patchouli and god knows what that are all compressed into a screaming, bottomless miasma of hot-pressed toxins. D was coughing and gagging on smelling it up close -dismayed; you can imagine how people must have first felt smelling Dior’s Poison back in the day when trying Parfum Rouge – and so this is a probably quite divisive perfume I would say, one that ignites your flight or fight responses that tell you just get the hell out of there if this woman approaches you; and yet a part of you wants nothing more. It is a biohazard – certainly – but also strangely and luridly very striking.

And so is Désinvolte, in its own way, (even if there is something that is slightly too held back about it) : the newest addition to the more expensive and exclusive Givenchy line La Collection Particulière, a pleasing and sturdily made uberfloral that I imagine will get people talking once it makes its way across the channels (scrolling through the endless, endless editions and releases of this ‘esteemed house’ on Fragrantica, by the way, I was genuinely shocked by just how many perfumes have been released by Givenchy over the years since I first encountered Monsieur De Givenchy and Vetyver at the concessions as a child, where I would also swoon over Ysatis- so many of them, in contrast – utter drivel and rubbish, prim and pointless ditties such as Givenchy Prism, or the ‘Ange ou Démon Le Secret Poesie D’un Parfum D’Hiver’ (?!) that I once picked up unsmelled at a Japanese department store retailer just because it was on sale (but was also a repugnant cheap-as-tat cinnamon floral that made me physically heave). While some of the scents along the Givenchy trajectory – Xeryus was the first fragrance I ever bought; I quite liked the raspberry pipe smoke of the edp version of Hot Couture, loved Insensé,am intrigued by the idea of Organza Indian Jasmin, and once wore the eau de parfum iteration of the benzoin and orange heavy (and quite original), Pi), it is nice to smell a contemporary something now that has a bit of backbone and self awareness of its own quality; that smells minimally provocative – as well as being packaged like a proper Givenchy.

Désinvolte, which translates as ‘flippant’, ‘glib’, ‘nonchalant’, ‘casual’ etc – even ‘off hand’, above it all and a bit arrogant, gives the general idea of what this tuberose-sambac jasmine-orange blossom number is trying to convey to the person that it comes into (absolutely premeditated) contact with. With a contradictory Haitian vetiver/ woody accord underneath the creamy daytime intentions of the surface (a potent tuberose absolute fusing with neroli- the actual essential oil, rather than a creamy tuberose ‘effect’ – this does come across as relatively high quality)- then segueing solidly nto a florid jasmine and a fleurs d’oranger effect not a million miles away from the classic Serge Lutens, this is an effectively done woody white floral that what it might lack for in soul it makes up for in sass. In a company setting, for instance – there is definitely a very ‘daytime’ aspect for me in this scent, though it could probably work equally well as a confident perfume for dinner – a sharply dressed someone striding by in tailored white blouse; heels and an agenda, with the perfectly calibrated intimations of Désinvolte trailing the air, I know that I, at least, would definitely prick up my ears, hone in closely.

Do please tell me about your own Hubert de Givenchy highs and lows.


Filed under Flowers

sometimes it’s good to hesitate

On pay day it is natural to want to buy something – the fruit of your labors. So while grimly moving like a pike through the murky epistemological lake of Yokohama on my way to and back from exam classes, I was fetishizing / calculating some feasible perfume purchases I had set my sights on previously (sometimes one has to keep a luxury splurge secret from one’s partner -especially if certain agreements have been made ( but isn’t that, in a way, part of the point of a ‘luxury purchase’? The ‘secret indulgence’?)

In truth I don’t frequently do this. I get sent enough freebies to freshen the collection, and just can’t mentally digest spending the amounts that niche houses would have you shed ( in Japan, with import and consumption taxes, prices get fantastically elevated), and yet I still found myself today unimaginatively craving either a 15 ml ( too tiny !) or 50ml ( too expensive !) bottle of Heretic’s green viperish Dirty Grass.

I could have just said fuck it, and bought it blind. But at about ¥32,000 I think that would have been somewhat foolish. I know myself too well : when it comes to wearing perfume I am extraordinarily fussy. If something isn’t right – an extraneous synthetic here, even a smidgen of fake sandalwood there, I will instinctively just not ever ‘reach for ‘ it.

Perfume is internal. It has to chime true with you, feel authentic in some way, be pleasurable all the way through even generously allowing for some unneeded glitches – I am not sure I entirely enjoyed the coriander / galbanun / violet leaf opening of this all natural, bitter earth vetiver ( although part of me did); once it settled down a little, however, this started to feel familiarly like a me scent.

But too much so. I have made vetiver blends myself at home whose conclusions smelled EXACTLY THE SAME as this perfume. Some of the ingredients are certainly quite costly – I have bought both galbanum resin and violet leaf absolute before from a specialist aromatherapy shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, but I am still, as I ride the bus home looking forward to some home cooking, quite pleased that I didn’t just waste my money on buying something luxurious for the sake of doing it and not thinking it through properly. Sometimes, for the sake of proper satisfaction, it is better to smell deeply, stop and analyze: hesitate.


Filed under Flowers


Is there any escape?

It is everywhere.

Rampant in all of the schools that my students go to.

I will take all the usual precautions, but psychologically, I feel a warm slide towards……………….

— it now feels inevitable.


January 28, 2022 · 10:55 pm


I really love artichokes. From the unique savour of their heart – drenched in olive oil and French wine vinegar; generous carciofi on a Roman pizza – to the beautiful idea of them (tenderness wrapped in hard foliage; clad tight in a springtime embrace of fierce green leaves ).

As a fragrance concept, the artichoke does not seem like an obvious choice – and in fact the new Diptyque is a scented candle, not a perfume (but who knows? They sometimes double up). Odd though it might seem, though, there is no offputting vegetality here, just a vernal freshness with light floral undertones – very pleasant, optimistic; and perfect for placing by a slightly open window on a dresser in spring.

When I was a teenager, at the row of shops at the end of our road on Dovehouse Lane, there was a gift shop that sold an array of triple-milled soaps by Crabtree & Evelyn. It’s funny when you are younger and have managed to excitedly get a bottle or two of perfume for birthdays and Christmas and infatuate yourself with every aspect of its being from the bottle to the label to the box to the rapidly diminishing liquid inside (do you remember how precious each drop felt? Not the flagrant abandonment we have now; the saturated neglect, but a new melding of the scent and budding self.)

I felt exactly the same way about those soaps. I would go up to the shop quite frequently, to just fixate on and inhale their unsullied sanctity – each one in the collection presented neatly on a wooden shelf for the customers’ perusal (is there anything nicer than the rice paper that encloses a soap in a beautifully illustrated box?) Although I liked virtually every offering in the range, especially obsessed with the sandalwood, the rose, and the seashell jojoba, it was the lime and the avocado that I would save up my newspaper round money to buy; the former dark green and translucent and divine on a summer’s day, the lighter greened avocado not discernibly avocado-like but unique, utopian : deliciously fragrant and cleansing to the spirit.

Whatever its olfactory similarity to the vegetable or fruit, I was somehow inspired by those soaps as a room in a museum full of white Grecian statues. I love soap more than candles, the sheer enjoyment that it brings together with hot water – although smelling Diptyque’s Artichaut yesterdaya, which has a certain appeal for me despite its possibly being too mild-mannered, I found myself feeling a forlornness when thinking about all the original, former L’Artisan Parfumeur products in the black-curtained boutique on King’s Road back in the nineties which were just so much better, really special, the ultimate niche brand way back when, before they were taken over by conglomerates and became desaturized – and run of the mill.

The perfumes and candles in that shop were completely alive, bristling with an almost humorous natural energy and all the beautiful Jean LaPorte intricacies, not the serviceable flatness of now; there was also an incredibly concentrated candle called Feuilles Vertes – although my memory is possibly as blurry as the photo – but I remember that it was greenness itself, scenting the space around it without even an itch of a matchstick coming near. Diptyque’s new bougie parfumée doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the same vivid greenery or inherent presence as that one did, but it is still cheering and bright. Likeable. The presentation is good; and it is possible that I might end up finding myself buying one. Sometimes it is the small and simple pleasures.


Filed under Flowers


I am probably the least shoe-centric person in the world. I don’t think about them. I don’t look at them. I don’t notice them. I never buy them. Right now I have two pairs, one from a thrift shop, another wearing out. D is insisting we go ‘shoe – shopping’? (what: in a pandemic?). But this has always been a source of exasperation for him, as well as for my mother when I was a child, when I remember us digging our nails into each other’s flesh in fury as the ritual of me being dragged around Clarks and other places around town went from beyond being a chore to a mutually unbearable aggravation; hair being pulled in rage, and choked whispers from in and outside of the changing room. I am laughing about it now as I write this, but at the time, as now, what a person put wore on their feet just garnered less than zero interest – the hot and cold of changing rooms and the Saturday shoppers air outside; the unpleasant ‘fitting of the shoe’ to the foot with those unfathomable ‘shoe horns’ sliding down my satin socks: the having to choose from endless brown ugliness: I utterly detested the entire procedure.

How different it was in Sex And The City, that apotheosis of shallow self-obsession that was nevertheless rather gleamingly addictive (and which is of course now back in town in the new ‘And Just Like That’, brilliantly skewered in this scathing New York Times article which only makes me want to see it even more); a ‘groundbreaking series’ set in Manhattan in which Sarah Jessica Parker and cohorts would virtually live to be able to buy a new pair of extortionately expensive Christian Louboutin heels, amassing great collections of them gloatingly in their closets. And, despite my own shoe lethargy, I must admit that I certainly can see the appeal. Although these towering, shining structures definitely do look like torture (how can a person possibly walk in such contraptions with such terror for the tendons and the foot and toes so distorted? Isn’t it agonizing? I remember my mother coming back home after a day at the department store and just throwing them onto the carpet); there is a definite beauty to a high stiletto heel; particularly one in red and black, the vestiges of an endless Robert Palmer video.

The Glamour : (even Louboutin nail polish gets a promotional video by David Lynch)…

Venturing since 2016 beyond meisterwerks for feet, enamel for the nails, handbags and leather wallets, Christian Louboutin, like any fashion businessperson worth their salt, decided put his name behind a whole collection of perfumes, surprising in their whimsical design given the sheer sleekness of the shoes; the aesthetic – alarmingly tacky in some of the bottles’ cases, somewhere between Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, ersatz Egyptology (the designer has a house in Luxor, his biological father from the country) and the cutesy tchotscke dollness of Harajuku Lovers Gwen Stefani (though I have to admit I have a slight penchant for the obelisk- encircling crocodile on the right).

The newest release in the Louboutin series, a rather gorgeous amber labdanum from the recent Loubiworld Intense Collection, is Loubiprince (who comes up with these names? Really. ‘Loubiprince?’), front and centre in this picture, writhing with snakes like the head of Cleopatra (the box, a luxurious red confection just like something to slip shoes in, also including a more modest cap for ‘casual use’ presumably in case you are too embarrassed to take this out in public, although it has to be said that is so heavy it would make an excellent murder weapon (“Can I help you officer?” —-stands nonchalantly spraying his ruby red harem masterpiece).

Unlike rival Jimmy Choo, whose scent releases could not have been more banal and generic, cheapening the brand in my view (again, I only know about all of this because of SATC, which educated me in shoe-ology and the reverence for all the beloved brands such as Manohlo Blahnik, one of the other fabled shoemakers coveted by the ladies, and who also has some fragrances on his roster), rather than go for a glitzy synthetic chemical bouquet and call it a perfume, Loubiprince is actually a deliciously wearable blend of natural ingredients; simplistic, in a way, but deep, rich, natural, satisfying and long-lasting. Created by perfumer Fanny Bal, who presumably was given free rein with decent materials because they are very tangible here, aside a spritzing of peppercorns in the top note, this is in essence just a very slow, languorous journey from labdanum to vanilla by way of tonka. I kept on waiting for a nasty wood note, some ‘oud’, to come along and wreck the proceedings last night as I sat sniffing the back of my hand over rooibos, but it never did. Instead I woke up this morning to a scent of pure vanilla; cosy, smooth – not ‘psychologically complex’, sure, but definitely the kind of scent you would reach for when you just want amber and you want the amber without all the background nonsense – pared down, easy – precisely the opposite, in fact of Christian Louboutin’s shoes.


Filed under Flowers



Filed under Flowers

2022 : : : : : : THE YEAR OF THE TIGER – – featuring LE TIGRE by KENZO (1997) + TIGER BY HER SIDE by SANA JARDIN (2017) + TYGER TYGER by FRANCESCA BIANCHI (2020) + AMBRE TIGRÉ by GIVENCHY (2014) + EL OTRO TIGRE by FUEGUIA 1883 (2010) + ESPRIT DU TIGRE by HEELEY (2015)

According to ancient Chinese astrology, 2022, a Year Of The Tiger, is set to be a powerful time of change, vitality and strength – and I am all here for it. After the slow endurance of 2021, when the Ox ruled – and we all slowly endured, if only barely – the yang and positive energy of the coming months are said by those who believe in these things to ‘evoke self-confidence and enthusiasm as well as competence and courage in the face of challenges’, according to a long article in the Japan Times on the subject that traces the country’s traditions of tiger festivals back to the deep influence of Chinese culture and the roots of the reverence towards the tiger in history, politics, art, and religion. It probably goes without saying that the spirits of the creatures ( roosters, rabbits etc ) that represent each of the years in the twelve year cycle correspond with their characteristics in nature – I am a Metal Dog, which presumably explains my keen sense of smell and my aggression (!) – D is a boar, which explains precisely nothing.

In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that we need a change, as well as some bravery, to move forward from the last two years : so for me, the predominance of the tiger’s energy over the coming period – even if just in my imagination – feels pleasingly auspicious.

There was no tiger when we went to the Yokohama Noge Zoo over Christmas. It was crossed off on the map, presumably on sabbatical (many avian specimens were also off due to a new form of bird influenza, which made the grotty and dreary free local attraction even more unappealing). Instead, in the centre of the zoo there was a huge and miserable lion, trapped in a cage, pacing backwards and forwards, which suddenly let out such a deafening roar that D’s face immediately went white from pure terror, like a child (I don’t think I have ever felt such tenderness as I did at that moment), even if my overriding feeling – the families and children shouting ‘kawaii! kawaii!’ (cute! cute!), when they should really have been exclaming kowai -so!’ (poor-thing) was irritation and dismay. But then animal rights and consciousness of the cruelty of zoos has never been the most laudable aspect of this part of the world, to put it very mildly, and we had only gone there because I thought I wanted to try studying and writing at the Yokohama library just down the road (we lasted about two minutes), and to retrace our steps from over two decades ago when – and this next sentence will stretch your credulity but I swear it is true – we went to Noge Zoo for the first time and I was attacked by an orangutan.

This incident would undoubtedly explain why we had never been back since, aside the fact that the place is disgusting (let the magnificent tigers and lions and other animals run free in their natural habitats! How can a condor be kept in a cage like that when it should have an entire continent to roam free over the Andes?) ; crocodiles and alligators clearly extremely depressed, the iguana listless. The lion was bellowing with rage and frustration – it was palpable inside your body.

The touch of the orangutan was also very palpable as it suddenly bounded towards me and hugged me firm in its grip, me screaming my head off; the zookeeper – who had been taking it for a walk around the grounds because it was a weekday and there was nobody there – excitedly assuring me that it wouldn’t bite; D and a friend laughing in hysterics, presuming it wasn’t dangerous and scorning me for being so stupid in the first place in approaching (because: : : : it was just so unusual to see an ape being led by the hand like that: how could I not venture just a little bit closer just to see? I do find animals very fascinating : our cat often swaggers towards me with her flanks on the go in close up with rather tiger-huntress- like motions as I wake up on my pillow : this morning I hugged her warm black and white fur to me in a morning tuggle; the very real communication between humans and animals a treasure chest of delightful experiences that truly can embellish a life in so many ways).

I have very little interest in orangutans, though, I must say, and certainly didn’t want one within kissing distance (literally, I couldn’t move; its arms were so strong; once those mothers are wrapped around you in a whipflash second you can’t move a muscle and can do nothing but wait for the monster to be prized off; on this second, and definitely last visit, I eventually found the toilet where I remember looking into the mirror after the incident, laughing and crying simultaneously, tears of real fear flowing down my face, yet also of course realizing the hilarity of the situation, a story I have woven into lessons over the years, where in pairs, one student is me, the other is the interviewer, and they have to tell the story from memory). Part of me was hoping on this occasion that just for ‘nostalgia’ there would still be an orangutan there, but there was not (just petrifyingly violent looking chimpanzees instead in a cage that were screeching like madmen; looking at them I thought fuck, they look big enough – how the hell did I cope with being squeezed tight by a leering and grinning orangutan?). The memory was enough.

The wild success of Netflix’s The Tiger King – whose ultra-kitsch first series I thought was beyond fantastic; the second, not so much, just milking the tiger and the murderous melodrama for all its worth but far less effectively, gave us plenty of opportunities to look at the beautiful beast that is the tiger up close. Much closer than I would be comfortable with personally – not only did one park attendant have their arm ripped off in the programme when feeding one of the inmates – also a couple of days after we went to Noge Zoo here in the North of Japan some young zookeepers at a municipal zoo were attacked by a male tiger that was in the wrong pen, one woman having her hand bitten off in the process – —these are definitely not creatures to mess around with : but still, undeniably, so beautiful and mesmerizing to behold. What would it be like to have one of the babies bouncing on your knee, I wonder? How bad would be the bite? How soft the hair?

Astrologically, the personality of those who are born in a year of the tiger is exactly how you would imagine it to be. Tigers are said to be ferocious, born leaders, extremely energetic, and sensual, with an untameable sex drive (one book I looked up said that ‘these people sow their wild oats much more than you or I, although they do, in most cases, eventually settle down’). They are of course also affectionate, loveable – – and extremely attractive.

All of this unavoidably plays into the portrayal of the tiger in scent: you are unlikely to ever have a dewy magnolia or light lemon being called something tiger: even the appearance of the animal, those stripes that evoke YSL fringed dens and seventies’ bohemian dope parlours, look slightly dirty, at least rather lived in (and surely Opium is the ultimate tiger perfume of all time?). The majority of tiger scents, therefore, follow these instinctive directives and predictably go for the feralized spiced amber look.

Sana Jardin’s appealing Tiger By Her Side is fortifying in its prominent use of cinnamon, Siam Benzoin, vanilla, labdanum and all the usual suspects – my full review is in the vaults if you like the idea of a dry, spiced scent that gives you a bolstered feeling when feeling a little hollow; similarly, Givenchy’s Ambre Tigré (“a feline fantasy”) which I remember sniffing at an airport once on the way home and wishing I had some cash left as I do enjoy a ‘straight’ mellifluous vanilla amber on occasion, is one that you can just sink (your teeth) into, sigh contentedly and purrrr. Argentinian brand Fueguia 1833’s The Other Tiger -El Otro Tigre, which I haven’t smelled – I just wanted to lure you into this piece with my tiger-like cunning – is supposed to be a bizarre animalic musk with tuberose and ambrette; very expensive (and if you know of any more tiger perfumes, or scents that remind you of tigers, let’s make this a thread); Tyger Tyger, a luscious white floral jasmine ylang ylang by Francesca Bianchi that practically glows in the dark, like the eyes of a tiger prowling the moist night forests of Sumatra.

Flowers also combine with vanilla in the much tamer Le Tigre, a nineties perfume from Kenzo that is now extinct (unlike L’Elephant, which has survived); this was a lovely kumquat tangerine osmanthus dream over cinnamon and amber by Dominique Ropion that a Japanese friend of mine wore back in the day – very easy to wear; calm. Gently magnetic. A tigrette.

The tiger scent I am most drawn to personally at the moment though, now this ‘fortuitous year’ has begun, is the dry, Tiger Balm-like cocoction by James Heeley – Esprit Du Tigre. This perfume is much more masculine and ‘difficult’ – intractable, even – than any of the tigers mentioned above. With camphor, mint, cloves, cardamom and pepper over an arid vetiver, there is a medicinality to the scent – a cool heat of independence. Though the nutmegish aura suits me perfectly well and will be used in situations where I feel I need a more covert, directed energy – there is an air of assertion here, a feeling that verges on arrogance – blasphemously, just because I want it even spicier, I am actually using an amended version of the scent in the house right now as a room perfume. Having added copious quantities of clove oil along with an Indonesian vetiver; brand new rattan sticks have been placed in the small jars of this perfume and are now absorbing this Esprit Du Tigre Extrȇme slowly, day by day; giving off a quiet fervour to the air that feels bold; enlivening,…


Filed under Flowers


Orange trees seem to grow almost everywhere you look in Japan, particularly away from the city centres. Bitter orange trees, mainly, with tough thick skins and fruit only useable for marmalade, but also mikan tangerines; iyokan – the most fragrant varieties, along with lemons and yuzu: quite a sight in the snow, when sub-tropical foliage – palms, banana trees – is weighed down with a beautiful cognitive dissonance.

New Year is also a time when families gather under the heated kotatsu blankets and pass round bowls of satsumas – a quintessential winter fragrance – as well as the traditional daidai oranges that form part of the New Years decorations that you find pinned to the door of almost every house – especially in this neighbourhood – although now, like last year’s Christmas trees, they have already been discarded as the back to work gets properly under way and people emerge bleary eyed from their partial hibernation.

Kagamimochi, or ‘mirror mochi’, a riceflour sweet made to ward off fires in houses and bring good luck.

I myself am still in full orange mode though. Around this time of year on The Black Narcissus I often write about the balms I always make to see me through the coldest part of the year up to March when the air is dry and your hands and lips can get chapped. For citrus lovers who need an instant fix that smells wonderful and is healing too, there is truly nothing better: simple buy a big tub of vaseline, add essential oils, stir, and put into smaller containers that you can secrete into pockets for a burst of peel whenever the moment takes you. I don’t know anyone else who does this, but I highly recommend it. Aromatherapeutically, I have found that grapefruit, as claimed by most aromatherapists, has a unique psychological impact not found in other oils: more than a mere ‘mood booster’, inhaling the scent of this essence can be felt in the body and chest as well as the mind as an instantaneous, optimistic shift in perspective – a surge of happiness that momentarily overrides your more neurotic preoccupations if you have them: the effect is quite astonishing. Thus, in this year’s vintage, which I will frequently use myself as well as giving small lidded containers to friends and colleagues and secretly even to some students who I think it will benefit as the university entrance exams draw closer, I have used two kinds of grapefruit; one more astringent and peely, the other warmer, brighter, but geared in the heart of the matter towards orange in the form of a delicious iyokan oil I bought from Muji, far more fragrant than the duller ‘sweet orange’ or ‘bitter orange’ essential oils often available which I find wan and lacking in zest in comparison with this far superior perfume; some bergamot, also, for some an overall clarity and citric projection. The oils take a few days to properly ‘sink in’ to the vaseline, but once the alchemy hits and they fuse, you then have a wonderful winter citrus perfume that can be applied in a small amount on hair, the back of the hand for a private orange moment or else, as of course I do, sometimes just delving my hand into the pot and rubbing my hands together wickedly/gleefully, creating a busful of tangerine magic that has the occupants turning their head in wonder at the source of the invisible orange fruit.

I went out early yesterday morning to meet a friend and do piano duets together (but had got the day completely wrong) – and then get groceries.

It was one of those sublime blue- skied days with utterly gorgeous light that makes you very happy to be alive. Probably, just fresh air would have done, but I couldn’t resist perfuming. What I have found is that while having a perma-top note available in the balm is a definite pleaser, the effect of orchestral orange is vastly amplified by having harmonious mandarin/ tangerine perfumes on simultaneously. I have done a lot of citrus posts before on this blog (there is a whole database of them waiting if you are interested), although until now unless I am mistaken I don’t think I have ever reviewed Mandarin Vert, a sadly discontinued Miller Harris masterpiece, nor the oddly alluring Mandarine by Italian ‘Osmo-perfumers’ Il Profumo. Yesterday I wore both, and they smelled fantastic together (although I am not sure if the woman sitting next to me on the train on the way back entirely agreed). Tangerine Vert is a mossy, cedary musk of an orange with a bright citrus beginning, a ‘difficult’ marjoram and geranium middle section where it feels as though you are wearing a perfume that might have ‘gone off’, but then comes the most extraordinary mandarin glow, soft and enveloping, that lasts for hours on skin and on clothes, sensual soft: I find it hard to accept that my second bottle is reaching its final chapters now and may have to look out for another on ebay.

Over the Christmas and New Year period I was mainly in Mitsouko mode, alternating with days of Chanel Pour Monsieur, those cushiony elegant chypres that take me away from the real world and let me just float into somewhere more contained; with traces still on my scarves and coats yesterday I felt no clash with the Miller Harris, which settled into that territory with absolute ease (after all, citrus notes are so fundamental in those classics as well); the Il Profumo Mandarine, on the other hand, forming quite the striking contrast.

Where Tangerine Vert is all fuzzy and old school (on the back of the box it is written : “Childhood memories of comforting sweet citrus fruits combine with a mature delight of fresh greenery”, Mandarine is more like an architect’s sketch of a mandarin fruit written in glass. Transparent, sharp, fresh, this is a mandarin mandarin, not an orange; the classic ‘mandarin’ flavour you recognize in fruit jellies and hard boiled sweets or in perfumes, but curiously bodiless : a spectral projection of a memory of an essence. It is unique and arresting, although in truth, there is also a certain artificiality to this scent that can give shadows of a migraine. And yet yesterday I suddenly decided to spray it all over my scarves and the back of my hands, and was thrilled with how perfectly it went with Tangerine Vert; the two settling into a quite mesmerizing duet that was only accentuated by the occasional retrieval from my pocket of the iyokan and grapefruit.

Though I do like to think that I still have a lot of spontaneous juice in me, my spontaneity is tediously lacking sometimes when it comes to socializing : I don’t really like to have things just sprung on me. D is far more free and easy.

So getting back home yesterday afternoon, after all the trains and buses and all the problems out ‘there’, the crowds, an accident, everything delayed, I had assumed we would just be staying in and making dinner. The three weeks off have been, for me, a heavenly cocoon.

But there was an invite-only event taking place in Kamakura he knew of but hadn’t told me about: a performance at a strange house off the beaten track somewhere that we had never visited; with giant sculptures of animals made of leather dangling from the ceilings: all manner of surrealist art and paintings filling the space; an Argentinian pianist apparently dazzled the audience there just a month before, as Maya told us as we got into the taxi, down from Tokyo, the doyenne of cabaret and Goth dance parties and current ringmaster of the Night Bizarre Circus which friends of ours perform at with Balkan accordion players and contortionists and what have you ( I had relented pretty quickly as much as I wanted to stay in (but did I? Did I actually? Didn’t I actually have quite a lot of energy?). Plus: the flyer had featured a semi-naked didgeridoo player clad in animal fur who would be the artist in question for the day………..

Traffic was torturous, and we were thirty minutes late.

As the car wended its way finally down a path and then up a hill, I could see a wooden house, and the backs of people in the audience facing whatever was going on inside. And I felt that strange sense of trepidation where you suddenly are afraid of the unfamiliar; the sounds sinister and foreboding. I clutched my clothes to me in the freezing air, glad with the smell, now mellowed, still mandarin, but not now like citrus peels, more a comforting blanket.

We were guided in through the back door, where I came upon this scene: a satyr/ faun like man in the middle of a musical bacchanalian frenzy:

At first thinking I was being initiated into some terrifying Satanic ceremony like in Eyes Wide Shut and feeling that I wanted to just bolt again for the door, I realized we had made a terrible faux pas by sitting on the leather alligator that was in fact not a chair but one of the ‘works of art’. Quickly remedied by an apologetic but very insistent young woman coming over and giving us slippers and a cushion to sit down on near the door, I gazed around the highly eccentric living room and began to be pleased that we had come out after all.

But the drinks went too quickly to my head. And I felt rooted to the spot I was sitting in, unable to ‘work the room’ and introduce myself to people I didn’t know, instead talking to and eventually arguing frenetically with a young American at the table about identity politics. I may have behaved somewhat monstrously.

( ( Do our social skills wane or become rusty when we haven’t used them? Have you found this?

Once the music was over (we were only able to catch the last twenty minutes but that was quite intoxicating enough), all the people there were mingling and eating and drinking and it was stimulating to be out in such unfamiliar circumstances and meeting new beings, even if I keenly realized my own form of awkwardness. Did we just get used to the new reality of just being alone or with one other person or a family and not interacting and integrating? Are we just literally, like my terrible piano playing now, just totally out of practice? ) )

Whatever the case: I wasn’t up for the continuation of the proceedings in Kamakura over dinner. D, ever the consummate gentleman, stayed with Maya, until she caught her last train, while I came home, partly to rescue the cat, who had been stuck inside for seven hours and would by now surely be needing a call of nature, but also as an excuse to just be alone.

D had been wearing an unusual and intriguing German fragrance called Lune Noire which had been lingering in my brain (for me it’s important to co-ordinate your scents when you are going out so that they don’t clash: not enough people consider this; two people should complement each other olfactively if they are going to be perfumed and in close proximity with other unwitting citizens, and skimming the house, this, which neither of us had ever worn before – I have a 20ml sample bottle – was the only one that seemed somehow feasible). If Thierry Mugler’s Angel is the sun (it isn’t, I know, but just imagine), then this is the lunar alternative; a silvery chocolate with notes of star anise and gardenia, hyacinth, cherry blossom, vanilla, leather…. smooth, unpredictable, that when worn in just the right proportions – one spray on each wrist, gave very enjoyable sillage. A counter-intuitive choice for him, but anchoring.

Making my excuses and leaving, as the taxis arrived at the main Kamakura station, I wrapped up warmer and got off one station along the line at Kitakamakura station to pick up my bike.

The air there noticeably colder; iced breath, my hands freezing, but silent. The moon bright.


Filed under Flowers



Filed under Flowers