This feels like the ideal moment to review these.
A project by London-based Japanese installation artist and sculptor, Kentaro Yamada, Neanderthal is a concept-heavy collection of four perfumes that try to get to the depths of what we are as people.
“ Neandertal is an artistic response to challenging the status quo and humanity’s innately egocentric view of the universe and our place in it. From the first hominids to walk on earth to our unknown future in the space era, Neandertal explores fundamental existential questions like, “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” by attempting to understand the human experience from outside ourselves.
As a first step in this exploration, artist and founder Kentaro Yamada created Neandertal perfume as a way to explore the analogies between the lingering echoes of our past and that of olfactory resonance. The results are contemporary, highly original, and experimental fragrance structures, free from conventional and traditional perfumery standards.”
I personally wouldn’t go that far in my own olfactory assessment, as both of these fragrances are quite easily recognizable in their non-mainstream fragrance, hipster art space, tropes (you can smell the beards from here) though they do have some integrity as artisanally created scents and create quite a stark contrast in terms of overall effect.
‘Us’, which wants to delve into our Neanderthal past is, according to the brand, a ‘familiar yet contemporary fragrance’ that contains spices, greens, and fruits foraged from natural environments used throughout history for ceremonies, remedies, culinary purposes and perfumery. Deeper, smokier tones such as vetiver, sandalwood, oud, and musk create a well-rooted familiarity and sense of security, while a citric and green woody profile creates energy within the formula.’
Foresty dirt scents are also of course present in the form of cade, hyrax, moss and eucalpytus, over the all too ubiquitous oud notes, resulting in a well made scent that I nevertheless personally do not relate to at, nor recognize at all as belonging to my ancestral DNA (and I am probably quite strange in that regard; perhaps a very selfish person in many ways, or just of arrogant colonialist descent, but I am not even particularly that interested in my ancestors; I know virtually nothing beyond my grandparents; I am not obsessed with roots and nationality, nor ‘pure blood’ nor lineage nor anything like that (I may as well have just been dropped to earth by a space pod) because, and I know this is a ‘controversial’ thing to say, I see myself as literally beyond it all: not in the sense of being superior (as if); but in many ways, at least in my spirit, beyond nationality, gender, age, and any other label you might want to stick on me – I slough off these carapaces like a young snake emerging from its old skin; I reject it. This probably sounds ridiculous; naïve; but this is honestly how I feel. Of course, community is vital, a sense of common bonding and shared history can be a beautiful thing – just look at the brave Ukrainians steadfastly trying to repel the vicious invaders – but nevertheless I just so deeply wish that more human beings could see themselves as individual, yet connected, entities that could have been born anywhere, that just happened to find themselves in the body they were born in, in the country they were born in, with its own, very specific, brainwashing culture, but also bound by a common fate and existence: that where they were born and the place that they live is only their environment that surrounds them and not their very reason for existing on the earth itself ; we are all just people ———but please do stop me , stop what my mother calls my ‘ranting and raving’, before I start sounding like an embarrassingly idealistic Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney record ).
‘Us’ is very modern Tokyo:the quasi-genderless beings in loose-fitting, savvily architectural Comme Des Garçons-ish garments in white, beige and cream that the young women and men of Tokyo now wear in extraordinarily body-deaccentuating and de-eroticized fashion wherever you go (in truth, I am personally rather tired of seeing this neutral/neutered, baggy-clothed mode on people now, while still appreciating its apparent stylishness); boys and girls in similar reddish, brownish, makeup, urged on by K-pop stars, the kind of nancying and prettifying that Putin and the right want to annihilate to the core as it is so antithetical to their fixed image of manly machoness (which would consist, presumably, of bombing the biggest nuclear facility in Europe and very nearly setting off a world wide catastrophe: well done, Mr Potatohead! Did you finally, after much trying, almost get a big Russian hard-on doing that? Is that what it took to get those vodka-soaked doddering veins to dilate? A round of Stolichnaya to you and your comrades! Marvellous! чудесный !!! ))
No: the peaceful, calm, quietly smiling beings that inhabit the admittedly sometimes fey, manicured, even prissy boulevards of Tokyo’s coolest of the cool, would be like true aliens to the botoxed, barbarian invader, a ‘man’ who dreams of women shiny and fertile as caviar eggs and men like club-wielding, steppe-gallopping marauders. The sleek, non-pheromone-emitting immaculateness that glide like light here would be pure anathema to this blustering supremo – truly a ‘them ‘, and the beautiful beginning of this perfume – an almost blinding white opening accord of unsweetened orris root powder; carrot; seaweed and a tiny hint of herbaceous lavender does indeed put you in a futuristic space away from all this clammy, testosterone-tainted carnage; a Shinawaga art museum like the Hara, where D and I sometimes have lunch and look out onto the serene garden of contemporary stone statues framed by trees and bushes; or perhaps the Roppongi Museum Of Modern Art with its galactic French restaurant housed high up towards the ceiling where visitors go to enjoy themselves after taking in a major exhibition. The scent, powdered and musked, with notes of ambergris, magnolia, hinoki and ambrette, is translucently impactful and quite peaceful :
Neanderthal Them ‘echoes a message from a time we have not yet experienced. It is a portrait of an optimistic future full of technological advances, hinting at an improved human life and the progress of generations to come.
Unconventional molecular materials, transparent woods and fresh, floral top notes combine seamlessly with natural essences of ambergris and sea kelp to create a clean and captivating fragrance that ignites our optimistic imagination in this era of uncertainty.’
And it kind of does. Although the perfume gradually does transpose to a synthetic sandalwood note that for me is completely unacceptable (if it were able to maintain the first note over a longer period I would wear this as an occasional mood enhancer, but I just can’t do that typical ending); that being said, I know a lot of people do enjoy that accord, and this perfume does smell rather au courant; very of the here and now. Not the raging to hold on to the embattled past.
The culture wars are so complicated so fraught, and I do understand the confusions that people feel over how fast things are changing in terms of identity politics – it is a fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar. But rather than a ‘live and let live’ way of thinking, a general tolerance and empathy to others and their struggles, it sometimes just feels that everything and everyone is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, and I just sincerely wish that this were not the case.