Monthly Archives: February 2022


What do you do when war breaks out?

A colossal, brutalizing attack, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole world?

When you are deeply horrified about what is happening, feel terribly for the people being bombed and killed but can do nothing except show your support in your heart (or perhaps more pragmatically, with your wallet) ?

It is hard to wake up to; a dark, depressing stain on your consciousness, a miserable, unneeded reality even when these events are unfolding in Ukraine over 8,000 miles away to the west.

The options: read the newspaper cover to cover, check the news; sigh; and/or feel despair (as one person said on social media recently – “Congratulations. You survived the pandemic. Your reward is World War III“). Not that a global conflict is imminent or guaranteed at this stage – and wouldn’t that just mean mutual annihilation in any case? – but it does seem certain that we are all going to be bearing the brunt of this beady-eyed asshole’s nationalistic pointlessnesses for a good long while, be it simply in terms of spiralling fuel costs, faltering economies, added mental anguish – which could be quite considerable – and/or worrying about relations or friends who are affected directly; in my case I have two Ukrainian friends living in Tokyo, one of whose mother is in Kyiv as the missiles are landing, causing her unspeakable uncertainty, anxiety and heartache.

I don’t want Russians to be my enemy. I don’t even think that the vast majority of them want this. From what is being said, it seems that half of Putin’s close advisors didn’t even know what was happening until the assault was already underway; protesters are already being locked up; the dictator’s chokehold on the nation is tight, though I hope not airlocked – surely there will eventually be dissent from within; presumably the majority of sensible, thinking people will see this tyrant for the small-pricked evil that he is (and please forgive my somewhat flippant tone in my Rose De Russie piece from the other day : naively, I really didn’t think that he would go through with it).

Despite the swift and far-reaching global condemnation, a Certain Person found it advisable and ‘provocative’ to admire Vladmir’s strategic ‘genius’ , taking his continuing and embarrassing ‘outrageousness’ into the realm of the surrealistic and almost grimly humourous. I have truly had enough of these swaggering dickheads, though. As David Brooks wrote scathingly in the New York Times editorial yesterday, there is an immediate, very pressing need to ‘defeat the mini Putins now found across the Western democracies.……the demagogues who lie with Putinesque brazenness’ (we have one of those in my own country), ‘………………who shred democratic institutions with Putinesque bravado; who strut the world’s stage with Putin’s amoral schoolboy machismo , while pretending to represent all that is traditional and holy’.

Yes. Precisely. I stand and piss over and into the faces of these smug bastards with their backward and retrograde policies that benefit no-one except their own sad philosophies, based on outmoded concepts of national manly prowess and strength; I spit directly in their eye. How dare that outdated fuck talk of denazifying the Ukraine when the president is a Jewish man? How dare he shoot missiles into the homes of people just going about their daily business for no reason other than territorial expansion and the maintaining of the ‘national pride’?

Is this really what the world needs? Is it what Russian needs? Is it truly in the best interest of Russians themselves (and shouldn’t that be the number one priority of a nation’s ‘leader’?) What will they, the people, themselves gain from this except becoming international pariahs who will pay the inevitable cost when the economic sanctions start taking effect? Will they really rejoice and celebrate, when a country that is known as a ‘brother’ to them is put under military siege, with all the bloodshed and loss of life that will automatically entail, creating a populace seething with visceral hatred who will never accept the fact that their democratic right to exist has been taken away from them and seek vengeance for the deaths of their loved ones?

No. It is all such a blindness, a tragic mistake from an isolated, sad, angry, ageing man (it is always men, isn’t it), full of ‘patriotic’ grievances and vitriol and stuck in the calcified past of history instead of looking forward, and not creating – no – just destroying.

Saturday morning.

You wake up furious at the wrongness and injustice of it all.

And also angry and exasperated for the simple, selfish reason that you have just endured two years of a cripplingly stressful pandemic and now, your nerves still partially in shreds and not healed, have to contend with the fact that the months and years ahead will now be dominated by a unwarranted act of aggression that will have drastic repercussions for most of humanity (I was hoping to be able to fly back in August, for instance, which will already be three and half years without seeing my family – who knows what escalations might occur in terms of airspace; we all remember the Malaysian airlines passenger plane shot down over Ukraine in 2014); with the sheer number of countries involved, and potentially unforseen eventualities :; so many things we used to take for granted could possibly be affected.

Will this literally turn into a World War III?

So much will be touched by this.

By one man’s narcissistic, barbaric, xenophobic, idiocy.

Despite all the turmoil, though, you do still sometimes need to go out.

To just have a day out, a normal day out, and celebrate the fact that where you are at least, things are alright, pretty much (even when, and this goes without saying, almost every country on earth has its own shamefully violent, history, including of course this one, though very much swept under the collective rug in this secretive, always ambiguous place’s particular case ……………. )

But still. It’s the weekend.

And waking up I suddenly felt like going to a cafe D had once mentioned, a while back, down by the lotus pond at the Hachimangu shrine, because I had never been there, and it was a glorious day with a bright blue sky, and I felt like being in the former ancient zen capital because in Japanese companies, you aren’t really allowed to talk about politics — so my head was quite frankly going to burst otherwise (one teacher, a Russian major at Tokyo University and a co-teacher of the entrance exam course we do together discussed the situation gravely in a low voice with me, but otherwise, eyes were averted whenever the topic was brought up (why?) as though I were committing an unpardonable social faux pas by stepping outside of polite conversation or the immediate milieu. Hello. A possible world war has just started? ).

Sometimes the sheer placid harmony of this largely peaceful and urbane culture strikes me as deeply admirable; a well of calm and unthreatening politesse that is very easy for a person to live in; at other times it all just seems like a pathetic evasion, a brainwashed docility in which in certain, pre-coded situations you are not really permitted to talk about anything and therefore have no agency; all quite problematic, actually….. …… …

…………….but right at that particular moment, I was just in the mood for cake or dessert: to sit, ponder; look out onto the small lake and drink some tea.

At our window seat, next to the bare brown pond, we didn’t talk much.

D seems to be extremely down about all of this : taciturn and rather sombre. All weekend he has been quiet and reflective; depressed; listless.

Despite this, it was still nice to just be there, and look out onto the dark water.

Just be together.

The mood outside, generally in the temple precinct, among the local residents and out of town visitors was definitely more upbeat though; festive; a gorgeous day, a free Saturday; young women in kimono just out in the sun, having fun.

Something quite fascinating about spying on a pair of friends good-naturedly spying on other similarly dressed girls (they didn’t seem to know each other); pleasing to see the traditional garb being adapted slightly to modern trends – I saw another pair strolling down the main thoroughfare of Kamakura city looking looser, just chatting and laughing, and enjoying the unusually warm spring weather.

We ourselves, looking on from a distance, rather than indulge in all this gently oblivious frolicking, had our own destination : the beloved Zushi recycle shop, because it is a place out of the way of the city centre that we both feel an absolute peace in. Calm browsers; people enjoying their weekend together, picking up antiques and fun bargains – not bombing innocent civilians into rivers of blood, initiating mass refugee crises, shooting Ukrainians in the head, annihilating and trying to subjugate an entire culture – but instead, the way humanity should be; a civilized society in which everyone can go about their daily lives, unsurveilled, with total freedom of movement and expression – (despite the ‘silent rules’ of daily Japanese communication mentioned above, by legal rights you can say what you like; do what you like; I feel an immense sensation of liberty on my days off here; it is respectful, respectable, polite, safe, and very often sincerely beautiful ; hopefully the country has learned its lessons about the disasters of colonial expansionism, as has my own country of birth) – in other words, just stay the fuck where you are and try living instead of enslaving everybody else.

We stayed for a while and rummaged, wandering around; picking up a few bits and pieces – a gold obi that D will refashion into a cushion; some more rabbit and hare figurines for our collection ( I love them ); a lovely silk scarf that I bought for myself but which looks better on him; a bird-shaped ocarina.

We left the gun.

On the perfume shelf, I was quite elated to find a used and very vintage bottle of Creed’s cold war era ‘Orange Spice’ for virtually no charge, with its original leather cap and gold finery still intact (clearly a precursor to Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros – they are almost identical – this is an intricately spicy ambergris orange that I always used to like and nearly bought on numerous occasions, hovering about department stores until its unfortunate disappearance : I look forward, now, to enjoying it when the moment is right; perhaps on a hot summer’s night : one of those moments when you need to just drown yourself in an exuberant odour just because ; because the world is unbearable, or the world is exquisitely beautiful – and so is life – and you just want to gild it with a scent and have pleasure and enjoyment, not obsess like a c*** over territorial lines and dusty old maps and the fucking ‘glory days’ of when you bestrode the world clad in the stinking malingering skins of dead wild beasts dreaming of ‘reconquering’ places that just want to be left alone ; whose people are just eager to get on with their own, very precious individual lives.

No: instead, like the famous Russian tea shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with their classical samovars and rose-savoured jams, in place of pointless and malignant destruction, and killing people for the sake of maintaining your autocracy and stirring up imagined electoral ‘fervour’ to shore up your fraying and mouldering, vile dictatorship, you gaily spray on a rare, extra-strength parfum version of the classic Perfumer’s Workshop soliflore Tea Rose, with its roses that go on for days; fresh and clean, with a delicate, floral strength just for the sheer pleasure ; rather than rampaging in death; and wasteful killing, and meaningless, nihilistic violence. Yes. In its place, you put on some of your preferred , beautifully made and emotion enhancing perfume of the day and rejoice, for that one glorious moment, in being alive.


Filed under Flowers



Filed under Flowers

the cat testing out Bulgari


Filed under Flowers


Bulgari has its own unique place in the firmament. Not department store mainstream, not precisely niche (where I might place Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, for instance; not sure where to put Boucheron and Chopard, possibly slightly lower on the rung).

Though not even remotely a haute joaillerie man myself – I am almost completely immune to the allure of precious stones and precious metals – there is definitely something distinct about the entire Bulgari aesthetic: a capricious solidity, and a perfectionist, playful, meticulously lathed-down, colourful exuberance about their designs that trickles down also into their perfume bottles – which are always entirely unlike anything else you will ever find.

The ‘Gemme’ Collection

La Collezione Allegria

The rapidly expanding Bulgari scented universe now includes a collection of seven perfumes and seven ‘magnifying essences’ named Allegria, and the deluxe press ‘discovery kit’ comprising all the fragrances as well as the seven bolstering elixirs that I was lucky enough to receive in the post is certainly great fun to play with, happily like paints in a palette or an extensive set of makeup, for mixing and matching and designing your own specific mix of whichever scent you fancy combining- the possibilities in terms of proportion are endless – even if some duos feel intrinsically more naturally predestined.

Customizing and personalizing your own fragrance is a fun, novel, original and (if rather pricey) concept. I approve. The Magnifying Essences (#magnifyformore: ‘more emotion, more pleasure, more exhilaration, more comfort, more passion‘) vary in intensity – the Vanilla not dissimilar to classic Vanilla essence used to make cakes, for example, but it also matches very nicely with my favourite in the collection, Dolce Estasi.

Sweet Ecstacy is a bittersweet gourmand by Jacques Cavallier (a master perfumer with a stunning résumé who created this collection), containing crisp, sharp, Campari-like top notes contrasting with patisserie heart accords and conclusions – citruses vs almond, heliotrope and a preppy, musky vanilla. For a moment of delicious cute, this can’t really do any wrong, even if – like all the perfumes here, there is , faint in the final notes, always a hint of the ever popular Angel Thierry Mugler (RIP,) running like commercial DNA throughout the entire box.

The ebullient perfumes in Allegria are, I would say, for the young at heart and the unnervous; the real world-inclined; those that are striving for the material good life, so whether or not this collection of perfumes is poetically inspiring or delicate enough for you will depend on your own worldview and natural constitution. What the perfumer has undoubtedly got very right though, here in the world of Allegria is in capturing a genuine sense of upbeat happiness – and this was presumably the brief.

Fiori D’Amore, the most overtly romantic, is a Turkish and Bulgarian rose framboise: a fresh and uplifting modern fragrance that you would have to be quite hardhearted to turn against as this bright-atmosphered person walks into a room with her heart very much on her sleeve, although, if like me, you are not fond of the supernova eponymous fragrance by contemporary Chloé, then the end accord might possibly prove problematic. Strengthened by the dark, almost Montale-ish Magnifying Rose Essence, however, this becomes more of a powerhouse player, and I love the idea of being able to adjust the rose levels to your own exact personal specifications.

I don’t know which essence should be used to amplify Baciami ( – KISS ME – ) because I don’t think it needs amplifying. This new addition to the collection is a sugared, strawberry gardenia over vanilla that on me is a cloying atrocity but which I can quite truthfully imagine being easily seduced by on a girl. I don’t know if I would go much further than a kiss, but with the sheer alacrity and sensuous confidence of this scent – outrageously sweet and over the top, all poised to lead into a giddily specific moment (I imagine an immaculately, hours-long maquillage beforehand; lips glimmering in lumescent deep red: hot-fitting designer club dress) ……. Baciami will, on some lucky individuals, prove irresistibly captivating.

Rock N Rome, an apricot osmanthus woodsy, forms the more daytime reality of the Allegria collection and is less enthralling for me with its workaday orange sunset opening. For a citrus, combined with the Magnifying Bergamot, I prefer Riva Solare – a very pleasant mandarin, orange blossom, bergamot beach musk that is better for daytime – uninvolving but carefree.

For night, there is Fantasia Veneta, even more effective when coached in extra Patchouli (a chypre of the contemporary variety a la Guerlain Chypre Fatale, which I actually rather like), and the only allowed break from Rome in the collection, when you find yourself hurled into carnivalizing with all the other harlequined throngs down by the Duke’s Palace and the souvenir shops selling coloured glass in Venice: I don’t mind it; there is a certain duskiness, the ‘red peach’ note rather bold (a touch of cheapre?) and particularly when Magnified, this is certainly a perfume I can imagine turning my head round to. I suppose I am just too stuck on the classic chypres of yore, containing real oakmoss, castoreum and much earthier patchouli (Paloma Picasso, Magie Noire) to be 100% convinced.

The newest addition to the collection, Spettacolore, is billed as an ode to iris, evoking ‘the night’s vibe through a chiaroscuro composition, a rare scent that contrasts light against darkness, captured by iris, a rich floral note shining splendidly at the heart of Spettacolore’. While the beginning of the scent is more iris-translucent, this perfume soon segues to a familiar, sugar-spun patchouli vanilla, but with an extra facet of myrrh in the base that makes it suitable for event dressing and evening wear. The blend is warm, and good-intentioned, and might be conveniently intensified with any of the augmenting ingredients presented here, but I feel that the most obvious choice, Magnifying Myrrh, works quite well as a perfume in its own right. Myrrh is a difficult raw material; glinting, multifaceted, jewel-like; I know both the essential oil and the raw crystals very intimately and have used it medicinally : yet it is so potent olfactively that it is quite unpleasant raw or in concentration. Jacques Cavallier here cleverly tames and presents the mystical material in an ambery, sandalwood vanilla setting that I can easily imagine on a more quietly confident, perhaps maturer, sexier Romana for a fuller, more sensual result than some of the glitzier scents in Allegria ; sat, patiently absorbed, in the low hum of the Cafe Greco on the Via Condotti just down from the the Spanish Steps and the Bulgari flagship store, dressed perfectly, to the nines but not overdone; leafing through a magazine; nursing her cappuccino; stylishly going about her daily routine.


Filed under Flowers


I was assailed by a gorgeous warm atmosphere of rose petals this evening and from a most unlikely source : a male teacher at work ( oddball, early fifties, reclusive, funny -looking) who has a golden labrador named Takuya, is ineligible but funny, and teaches maths.

The scent ?

A ‘rose shower’ general deodorant spray from the local Family Mart.

I don’t know if it was the fact of smelling perfume in a usually perfumeless environment; whether it was really as good as I was imagining (swoony and mood changing : I shall have to investigate); but when I later asked him in the teacher’s room what it was, he told me that it had cost only ¥500 and that he had only bought it to cover up the smell of his dog for the classroom and because it was a ‘great aroma’. In that context at least, I agreed : this utilitarian, generous rose did indeed smell really rather beautiful.

When and how did functional perfumery become so appealing; elevated ? I would love to know the intricacies behind the story : the perfumer(s) or technicians who created this gem. Hitting on an idealized rose note at that volume, and at that price, strikes me as an inspiration.

At approximately a hundred times the cost – a Tom Ford private blend small bottle will set you back an eye-watering ¥45,000 here, probably an abomination to the average person on the street : (around a fifth or sixth of a standard monthly salary), the recently released Private Rose Garden collection is clearly vastly superior in terms of its visual aesthetic (obviously) and also in terms of olfactory complexity — and I should hope so too.

But looking at it purely in terms of perfumed pleasure, which would I select?

I’m not sure.

I tested all three of the TFs the other day at Takashimaya but then forgot to review them ( not generally a good sign), even if I did feel an immediate attraction to Rose D’Amalfi on first impulse much more than the other two : balsamic almond tones hinting at something quite hidden and softly beckoning – I would like to try this one on skin.

Rose De Chine made little impression on me – a peony citrus with an unrevealed aspect of myrrh and labdanum that I nevertheless wouldn’t entirely mind returning to retrace; Rose De Russie ( I am such a stupid sucker for these names!) far darker, more strident and impressive – possibly a little invasive – – ding ding ), but rich and potent like a rose remake of the classic raspberry hide whip, Tuscan Leather. I can’t wear this kind of thing myself, but you can easily imagine this perfume on a Putin-esqua assassin in heels and silencer, making her way stealthily through the streets of Moscow at night for a surprise nocturnal revenge hit.

Mr Abe and I, the maths teacher bathed in roses ( the way he mindlessly sprays himself abundantly with this stuff between lessons is just hilarious), though at polar opposites of the political spectrum as he is something of a raving neo-nationalist – funnily enough actually bonded over our mutual gravitation to many things Russian one day when we struck up a conversation sitting at our desks; in particular, the classical music – Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich; the morbidly exquisite films of Andrei Tarkovsky; as well as a general atmospheric James Bond-Cold War-St Petersburg appeal – even if we are both very unimpressed by the current state of leadership.

But would he wear any of the Tom Fords?

I wonder. I doubt it. If they were diluted and bottled in the garden sprayer, it is not impossible ( I once worked with him for a period about eight years ago, when he always smelled, very soothingly, of lilac and violets). But what I have learned from close analysis of last year’s gorgeous Tubereuse Nue, is that, while Tom Ford’s perfumes can be flashy and frustratingly exorbitant, they are also quite often genuinely glamorous. I think of them as being like smorgasbords of glorious, quality (cheap) richnesses densely layered; sometimes to slightly tacky effect, admittedly, but with their smooth undernotes and tones appearing much later, these perfumes also often beg for a further scrutinization. Roses do tend to trigger that response.


Filed under Flowers


One of the very worst cruelties of ageing is hair loss. While it is not rare to see a woman with a thinning scalp or less than lustrous tresses, it is obviously far, far, worse for the male of the species. For youths that prized their flowing locks but as bald-pated middle-agers stand wistfully looking at old photographs of their unrecognizable selves, it is a painful shift in identity; a slow trauma that is not much talked about (you are supposed to just accept it, or else get a full false sewn on thatch like Elton John); get on with your life.

Statistically speaking, it is well known (and obvious to the eye) that male pattern baldness is by far the most common among Caucasian men; in terms of ethnicity, Chinese and Japanese people apparently have the lowest rate. Hair in Japan tends to be much thicker and there is far more of it – none of this wispy blonde and light brown business, as ephemeral as farm straw in the summer; a lot of older men stand proudly on the trainplatforms in the morning in their perfect suits and shoes with frankly gorgeous hair, tailored precisely the way that they want it, slicked back, black as crow’s feathers, and clipped at the sides – and I can only walk by in envy or admiration ( I can hardly imagine what it must feel like). Japanese barbers use drastically thinning scissors in their salons in order to tame hair, thin it out and make it more manageable – in the past, I have come out of barbers looking like a newly born gosling or someone that has escaped from a hospital in a nightgown because of this treatment (since the pandemic I have been cutting my hair myself, not having been even once to have it seen to, and am currently in the middle of a ‘non-style’ that I actually don’t mind).

Here, there is actually almost a stigma attached to losing hair or being bald that verges on prejudice. As though there were something lacking in your personality that caused it in the first place; a weakness; something to be ashamed of – the most notorious example being of a vicious and abusive politician who was brought down for maltreatment and haranguing of her staff and was one day caught on tape shouting at a hapless administrator: ‘kono hage!!’ – you bald bastard…..and which has now become something of a well-known catchphrase and guaranteed to make the students laugh should I use it in the right, ironic, context. It is also very clearly rather mean, and demonstrates the scorn shown here for the hairless ; the subconscious need to hold on to it for as long is humanly possible.

Given this follicular fascism- whenever I leave Japan and arrive at any European airport it is like strolling through fields of tall potatoes, as I am painfully reminded of my genetic destiny – all of my male cousins are either fully bald or virtually, and I am myself receding at the front and have been for a while, so it does just seem like a matter of time until I have to accept that reality. I do still seem to be fine on top, though, for the time being at least, and with the right hair care can even on certain days sometimes pull off a half decent show. If it happens it happens (and thankfully, when offset with facial hair particularly, I think it can actually be pretty sexy): I am not obsessed with this issue , but at the same time I think you might as well preserve it as long as you can.

Both of us in this house regularly use virgin coconut oil on our hair at night – as a scalp treatment, and for hair growth. In my case, employed with a particular, natural lavender and rosemary shampoo I like for some shine and a less wispy overall appearance – (oh the recent dismay, with all the strong gales we have been having, of having dealt with your barnet in the morning and then it being totally ruined by a megagust as you walk along an urban air tunnel – —witness the loon shouting at the sky fruitlessly like Don Quixote – fuck you ! !! ! – screaming at the wind like tumble weed in a ghost town. ) and it seems, from using this combination over the last couple of weeks or so, that ylang oil is definitely another potent weapon in one’s overall anti-baldness artillery.

Ylang ylang is one of the few essential oils that it takes me a long time to get through. It is so strong. It is powerfully optimistic, calming the heartbeat, sweet, luscious, but headache-inducingly sickly if you are not quite in the right mood. I think of this essence as an atom bomb of joy, to be used sparingly (I remember when I first encountered natural living ylang ylang growing on someone’s tree in a neighbourhood of the East Javan city of Malang when we were just strolling around one sunny afternoon, I just couldn’t help myself stealing some from their garden without skipping a heartbeat or thinking of the Indonesian police – I was so beside myself to be seeing it in creamily yellow flesh). The flowers smell abundantly lovely, of course, in perfumes and in ointments, but the extract from them is also very good for the skin. A couple of weeks ago I had a long and luxuriant bath using the original frangipani monoi, created with flower-infused coconut oil from Tahiti (have you tried this stuff?) with some extra ylang ylang oil poured in for good measure – an absurd, tropical steamhouse that resulted in quite astonishingly good skin the next day (the kind of wrinkleless is that me? effect when you look in the mirror). This is not something I could do on a regular basis, as you would erupt in tropical pimples; the oil from the monoi stayed on the skin, in every crevice, the smell lingered oddly. But there was the incontrovertible evidence visible on the face the following morning that this combination just naturally does something; moisturizes, smooths, brightens; deflects.

The Victorians were known for their famous Macassar oil (among other things), a punctiliously oleaginous combination of coconut and kusum oil with ylang ylang and other floral oils that became the rage through the empire ; arrogant, presumptive colonial dandies smoothing their pomades back with glistening and therapeutically scented oils (something I admit I find rather erotic; tweaked moustaches and starched white shirts and breeches complemented with the tremulous sweetness of flowers); but also of course necessitating the famous anti-macassars that were laid on the back of armchairs in order to avoid their being smeared and ruined in grease. Remembering this recently, I decided I would try using ylang ylang essential oil in my hair myself, just to see.

I will admit that my first experiment was not very successful. Being me, I naturally added too many drops to the shampoo, which deadened the bubbles of the foam and went back like brylcreem before rinsing (I should have realized). By the time I had reached the evening at work, this had turned into an embarrassing slimefest that made me feel like an old pervert combover (in Japan they call it a ‘barcode’) – a foul raincoat loitering on a street corner. Clearly, ylang ylang is deeply moisturizing : so if you have oily hair already it is probably best avoided (or just a tiny, tiny drop smudged into your shampoo for an extra sheen). It is definitely recommended though for anyone wanting a booster: significantly reducing the dosage the other day, I was quite pleased with the results; a thickening and strengthening sensation that gave me a pleasingly unfamiliar sense of hair security. The scent doesn’t overly linger; the feeling is natural; a ylang ylang ‘bounce’.

Edit : just got ready for work and tried it again ( for an ‘unfiltered selfie’ )- I would say two small drops is the ideal amount, at least for my personal hair quota. If you have it in abundance – go for it.


Filed under Flowers


I am currently in need of detoxification : physical, mental, spiritual, literal. And so coming down the escalators in Ofuna station with five minutes to spare on my way to work and hesitatingly setting foot in the almost piously Japanese komeya shop in the Lumine Department Store (by far the most populated of any of the concessions there on that day, bustling with its expensive rice products, pots and clay crockery, artisanal wooden utensils, printed linens, prefectural pickles, chutneys, high end organic teas and all manner of pleasingly rendered, aesthetically very careful nipponiserie), I was quite excited to see, alongside oil pressed yuzu, hinoki, Japanese ginger and hakka mint essential oils, my first ever bottle of camphor.

My obsession with perfumery has for decades gone hand in hand with aromatherapy. And the first bible on that subject was hands down The Encylopaedia Of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless, which I had in this edition

– and which I read over and over again over the years until it fell apart. Somewhere in the house there are still disparate sections and pages, but it was the kind of book that I absorbed in stages – it was unemotional, but I was continually mesmerized by its highly informative descriptions of every essential oil in existence, most of them unobtainable for the average human being, with their origins, appearance, scent profile, uses and contra-indications – in fact, it was astonishing how many of the essences she mentioned were actually lethally toxic, even in small doses. Herbs and barks that had been used centuries ago in various apothecary concoctions but which had now been proven to be dreadfully poisonous were given extreme health warnings – : wormwood, broom, sassafras; pennyroyal – (hence, presumably, the suicidally ideational song by Nirvana, Pennyroyal Tea (“Sit and drink pennyroyal tea/ distill the life that’s inside of me…../give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/ so I can sigh eternally………). I remember going into a crystals and aroma type hippie dippie shop once in Moseley, Birmingham with my friend Helen and finding this oil on the wooden shelves next to all the gnarly roots and powders and nag champa incense sticks and Vishnu trinkets standing frighteningly alongside asafoetida – jesus christ what a smell – the only time I have felt so utterly brutalized and assaulted by an odour to the point of wanting to vomit that I just wanted desperately to rinse out my nasal hairs in crystalline spring water until I could smell it no more : a profoundly repugnant odour, a quick look just now tells me that this is also cardiotoxic in rats) – and immediately alerting the staff – they of course had a copy of the Lawless on their shelves – that they were actually selling something very dangerous and should desist from doing so immediately.

Camphor oil, which I am pretty sure I remember reading was also noxious, had also residually stayed in mind as something very dangerous, and in fact, it seems that ingestion of 5ml of camphorated oil can indeed cause death from convulsions in a small child. However, this type of oil – the dark coloured essences, are presumably now unavailable, for this precise reason. The clear oils – a different chemotype, have a long history of medicinal usage and have been used in Asian cultures for thousands of years for bronchial infections, sprains, swellings, and inflammation among other treatments. In Japan, the vast majority of the incense I love and use so much is usually an intriguing and enigmatic blend of agarwood, cloves, camphor, crushed seashells, cinnamon, benzoin, and patchouli, and I find I am somehow naturally drawn to the rigour and austerity of this smell, peculiar and ugly/beautiful though it may be (the smell of vapour rub; a little pepperminty, a little coniferous (I smell hiba trees); most definitely camphoraceous.

The oil I bought – which I kept sealed until getting home much later in the day – I can only imagine how strange and sinister a teacher would smell with leaked camphor oil dripping from his suit pockets – was fascinating for me to experience. Not quite as sinus-busting as I was hoping for, it is nevertheless superbly head-clearing and tonifying, relaxing, and serious simultaneously, and was sold alongside a small, neat wooden vessel upon which you can dropper the oil and experience ambiently : it puts me in a quiet and liminal space, somewhat removed from core reality (or seen in another way, actually much closer to it), and nicely complements the other spiced and incensed aroma elements I have dotted strategically around the house.

I was also very eager to try it therapeutically though. How would it be to actually take a camphor bath?

Very careful to read about the use of camphor oil properly first (our sixteen year old nephew recently had an extreme allergic reaction to overusing lavender and tea tree essential oils and then adding Radox on top in the bath – I also react badly to lemon, grapefruit and orange in bath water and so only ever use them as hand balms – it is always useful to remember how potent and real essential oils are; the concentrated aliveness of a plant or tree or fruit or flower positively swimming with stimulation that can lead to fully sensitizing reactions on the skin), and yet at the same time I am an extremist and always have been – so must always try, for the sake of common sense, to mitigate my own natural instinctive tendencies.

Showering first a long time to be clean – as is always the way here – I then put in several drops of camphor oil into the hot water and immersed myself. Instinctively I could tell that this was one of those oils that naturally ‘suit’ me (inner alarms bells go off very quickly inside me otherwise; I get glitchy and twitchy and ‘on alert’); the tingling sensation in my limbs delightful in this case, the scent more warming, more hinoki-like than I had been anticipating (camphor is very much an inherently hot and cold essence; in one room I have combined it with hakka mint, and just inhaling this combination is like being alone for a moment in the snow; I can feel it keenly, purifying my brain and mind). And yet in the body, later, I felt like I had been given a hot muscle rub; my face slightly ruddy initially (camphor is excellent for blood flow and circulation)- relaxed, more centred; more ‘in tune’.


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Guest post by Duncan

It is something of an eternity since I contributed to the Black Narcissus blogspot and indeed my scent wardrobe is quite a bit different from a decade back, when it was largely suave aromatics, like Sartorial. What, you may wonder, brings me to these parts? Well, I was fortunate, a couple of days ago, to be able to stand in for the Black Narcissus at a Google Meet with the France-based, British perfumer, James Heeley, and a small group of Japanese perfume people. Neil suggested I write up the experience, so here I am again!

I was quite keen to hear what James Heeley had to say about his new fig launch, Athenean, because I am fond of fig scents, which I always associate with L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Premier Figuier from back in the mid 90s, around the time I became more scent-literate (after meeting Neil, obviously), and because I am a big fan of two perfumes in Mr Heeley’s range: Sel Marin (Eau de Parfum), which is a great summer perfume and Phoenicia (Extrait de Parfum), which is a wonderfully warm woody incense with precisely the right sprinkling/rendering of Middle Eastern notes – a touch of oud, dates, dried raisins and so on. These days I love velvety, musky blends – refreshing and salty ozonics in summer and warm spectral incense perfumes in winter, so Sel Marin and Phoenicia are a perfect fit for my seasonal aesthetic. Other scents which I frequent in the hot and the cold are Nebbia Spessa, which has a beautiful cloudy cerebral quality – I feel like I am head in the clouds wearing it – and Comme Des Garçons 2 (AKA Beads), which I find to be a seamless ancient-modern blend: enveloping, warming and intriguing. With my penchant for salt, white musk, and incense, I’m pretty well placed to like many of the scents in the Heeley range.

FYI – although I am sure you already know (or maybe you don’t?) – the Black Narcissus is head-over-heels in love with joyous Jasmine OD (Extrait de Parfum) formerly Bubblegum Chic and the spiced, camphorous Esprit du Tigre (Eau de Parfum), which is surely an auspicious odour for our année of the tiger 2022 (it was definitely the scent of January in our Kita Kamakura abode as N liberally doused the kitchen, seemingly all over, with it!! …but that is another story). See his mention of the latter here

Aside from the scents themselves, which are intriguing and characterful, but also contemporary and uncluttered – there’s an unmuddied clarity to them – Heeley products have a pleasingly crisp design and the bottles themselves have an appealing heft to them – they are pleasurable to hold. (More on the topic of packaging shortly.)

The Google Meet was just an hour long, but in that time, lots of ground was covered – we certainly put the translator through his paces. Firstly, Mr James Heeley, convivial and deeply passionate about his craft, presented his new perfume, Athenean, which is actually a reworking of his brand’s inaugural scent, Figuier, from 2004. He explained that he wanted to remake his sharper, greener original with a more well-rounded and sophisticated version that incorporated the fruity, leafy, milky and woody elements associated with the scent of figs, foregrounding the milky wood sap to a greater degree. The perfume’s name, Athenean, recalls the strong association of figs with Greece and with the Greek myth of Sykeus, a rebel giant, who was turned into a fig tree by his mother, Gaia, Goddess of the Earth, to protect him from Zeus’ anger. The perfume is spelled Athenean with an ‘e’ – as opposed to Athenian (ie. resident of Athens) – for aesthetic reasons.

One participant asked if there was any thematic connection with the pandemic and James said that this hadn’t been a consideration; rather, he linked the fig’s mythical association with Gaia to current ecological concerns, mentioning that packaging has long been a challenge and concern, and that his brand continues to make efforts to be more sustainable – to do “a new take on luxury” – given that the contemporary cult of luxury, with its extravagant wrapping and ribboning, is anything but sustainable. I wanted to ask him what form this could take, but unfortunately I was beaten by the clock. I am reminded of Body Shop recyclable containers from my 80s childhood. Could the luxury scent future look more like that? Reusable flacons and in-store pump action? Denuded and ribbonless? Or will we continue to fiddle while Rome burns? It’s a very important question to be asking.

Describing the composition of Athenean, the perfumer said that it was rather like a painting of a tree in that it was a rendering of fig without containing any actual fig extract – of course, this is fairly standard in perfumery where notes which cannot be extracted ‘naturally’, or are allergens, or of protected species, are constructed from ‘natural’ extracts and/or synthetics. (Mr Heeley pointed out that the yuzu in Heeley’s Note de Yuzu, is concocted from lemon and mandarin). In Athenean, the fruity facets of fig were rendered with melon notes. We talked about this, as for me, the middle melon section of the perfume is quite disconcerting compared with the more obviously (to my mind) green fig-like beginning and gentler woody, milky ending. For some reason the melon note is rather odd on my skin, although I sensed a particular pulpiness in it. James explained that he could have gone in a more honeyed direction – that of the mature fruit (personally, I am glad he didn’t, as I have an aversion to honey notes! ask N!) but he instead chose to focus on the tree itself – leaves, fruit, bark, and sap, choosing melon to add wateriness. I had a bowl of dried figs from China to hand to nibble on, so pulled one apart and smelled the rich seeded flesh – a delicious sweetmeat – definitely distinct from the impression of Athenean, which is more about the fig tree au naturel.

Following on from this, I noted that L’Amandière (Extrait de Parfum) also has a counter-intuitive element of moist greenness, not something ordinarily associated with the generally confectionery palate of almond scents. James noted that L’Amandière refers to a person who harvests the almonds and that it was indeed his intention to capture the green almond (rather than Bakewell tart – he didn’t use the words Bakewell tart, by the way).

One of the other attendees asked about the notes themselves, drawing attention to the ‘white tea’ note in Athenean. This led to an interesting discussion on how perfume notes are described. James said that the tea note was not specifically ‘white tea’ (as in tea which is not rolled or oxidized) but a combination of tea and white musk, which he liked to render as ‘white tea’. Without this insight we’d be none the wiser, which made me realise how enlightening it is to speak with the perfumer and how when speaking of notes it is possible to be way off the mark! He further explained that rather than give a full list of perfume ingredients in the blurb, he preferred terms which gave an impression or image of the scent. He also talked about ‘bridging’ notes, of which tea is a good example – notes which help to connect the other ingredients into a pleasing blend or harmony. In Athenean, he wanted to give the woody notes more prominence without overwhelming the blend. For him perfume is alchemy and as he said, “You don’t need a hammer to crack a nut.” I’m very much with him on that one – if you end up smelling like a wood chipping in a carpentry workshop, it’s a big fail, but that is just my personal taste. With wood and smoke, I prefer well-blended to stark because then interesting narratives can begin on the skin, whereas those po-faced turpentinic one-note wonders flatten out sourly on my rind and fill me with bile and bitterness.

We also touched on gender and perfume, as he prefers unisex scents to overtly feminine or masculine ones. Given this, I feel the feminine and masculine suggestions that accompany each scent on the Heeley website are rather stereotypical and redundant. For Athenean: ’♂ Tanned, dressed all in white, sandals, no sunglasses ♀ Fashion girls out to lunch. Roquette salad and spring water.’ Is she only permitted to eat leaves and sip on mineral water? I should add that the Heeley perfume blurb is, by the high falutin and nonsensical standards of much beauty PR, succinct and informative, and I know these recommendations are only intended as chic hints, not to be taken too seriously, but…

There was another question about the salty and milky aspect of Athenean, which James again linked to wanting to conjure the wood sap of the fig tree and remake his original fig scent. Milky and salty notes definitely add a contemporary vibe to olfactory proceedings and these aspects, everyone agreed, were an interesting addition to Figuier. 

After a few more comments, the hour was up and with an almost comical count down, we abruptly timed-out! I wish we’d had more time to delve further, especially with regard to the luxury packaging issue, but I was also curious about Mr Heeley’s inspirations and process, and his eureka moments, and would have liked to have heard more about the other scents, too – for example, the wonderful violet leather, Cuir Pleine Fleur – but anyway, this formed an excellent introduction to his work and to Athenean itself and I was delighted to have had the chance to join. 

Wearing Athenean, I snacked on a Greek/French/Chinese/Japanese repast: figs, dates, and baguette dipped in yuzu hummus; then enjoyed a bottle of Chinon rosé with N on his return.


Filed under Flowers