A few summers ago in London, I had an extraordinarily traumatic experience in which I thought I was about to go to the house of someone very close to me and find her dead. The night before had been awful, I had had almost no sleep, and was in a state of dread and apprehension as I prized myself off the mattress at the house round the corner I was staying in, priming myself to expect the very worst.
If things were as I feared they might be, ahead would be a nightmareish day of tremendous grief, upset and extensive meetings with the police and ambulance services, family calls…..in other words, grim. And in many ways, time was of the essence, even though I couldn’t actually get in to the house as it would require banging on doors to make other tenants to let me enter (the person in question, in the flat on the top floor, had been subdued by eight police officers during the night when becoming violent and hallucinating under the heavy influence of alcohol and put in the recovery position, so there was no way at all of getting into the house to check on her as she was unconscious; her phone smashed on the pavement outside; nor could I call up the police). In my exhausted, panicked, dazed state, I simply didn’t know what to do.
What shocked me more, when I woke up, after about 45 minutes of sleep in the early dawn, was my own callous and distancing coldheartedness.
Something inside me said fuck it – you know what, if this is really what the day has in store, then I am definitely not going out the house looking or smelling like this.
I am going to take a shower first (even if the clock is ticking).
And then I am going to put on some perfume.
And then I will face whatever it is that I have to face.
But this is what I am doing.
And so that was exactly what I did: I took a hot shower, and then, because I knew that she wouldn’t mind, I stole quietly into the room where the friend I was staying with kept her astonishing collection of perfumes; looked over what was there, and settled on Nahéma. Yes, that will do, I thought. That is perfect. The vintage parfum in the square bottle. A few lavish sprays of that one will suffice nicely. It will see me through. For a start, it is perfection in itself – the segue of powdery rose peach and hyacinth over that Guerlinade base: it is very beautiful.
But it also had a tightness; a hermetically closed pristine greenness in the beginning that felt like innocence; an inviolability; a sense of refuge and of elegance that I knew would help me over the coming hours in whatever contacts I was going to have with whatever people.
Before bracing myself to face the possible inevitable, on a cold but brilliantly bright sunny August morning in North London, I sat down at an outside table at a cafe on the town square that had just opened; ordered a latte, and then called up the Samaritans for advice. On how to proceed. Stating the problem, clearly, my voice breaking, I still managed to regain some composure, listening carefully to the calm and collected volunteer’s cautions and suggestions, all the while getting secret, surreptitious pleasure from the scent that was emanating upwards and making me feel wholer ; sturdier.
(This memory just flashed back to me now as I get ready to go out to Kamakura to meet D and a Japanese friend back from London for a week as I tried to decide what to wear.)
Waking up the other day, I suddenly, out of the blue, also found myself craving Nahéma, even if the vintage parfum de toilette (pictured) I have is compromised in the top notes and it doesn’t smell quite right when I spray it on skin. On a cashmere scarf though……mama mia. I don’t care if it smells feminine – to me it just feels timeless; borderless. And though this classic Guerlain doesn’t suit me in the way that say, Shalimar or Vol De Nuit do (ie perfectly), it is still quite soothing and calm; unerotic but that’s fine you know sometimes when you just want to float. And on fabric, the essential interior of the perfume is kept lingering and intact; velvet but fresh – truly stunning. I am going to wear it today.
As for that hideous, hideous day (and night) in London : as it turned out, after waiting outside for what felt like an eternity and then finally banging on the door of her apartment, having been very cautiously let in and forced to show ID to nervous and understandably suspicious co-inhabitants at the earliest time I thought I could do realistically so, when I pounded up the stairs and she eventually roused herself and came to the door, she didn’t even remember anything – had no recollection whatsoever of what had happened the night before. Oblivious. I was horrified, furious, but also unspeakably relieved and happy at the same time, even if directly after this I was to go up to my parents house by train to celebrate Christmas dinner (they were giving me a ‘summer edition’ as I always miss it being here in Japan). Pleased and moved though I was, I was so tired and upset I could hardly even speak.
That perfume ‘incident’, though. It still haunts my conscience.
Like a condemnation.
Re-remembering it today, I wonder what it actually means. That I could be so chillingly decisive in ‘preparing myself’, even in circumstances that amounted to a real emergency.
The steely resolve I experienced so strongly in that desperate moment of self-preservation first : : : come-to-the-rescue second.
One of the very best things for me about being older is the ability to accept a given mood. It just is what it is on that day. Where in adolescence or early adulthood a depressed state would send me into despondency as it felt as though that was the mood henceforth and I would never get out of it, ever : the more ecstatic days just….……ecstatic, now there is far more regulation and either full enjoyment, or else just simple resignation. I just ride with it.
Reading this you might assume that I am bipolar or manic depressive, but I am not – just inconsistent. Difficult’. I have friends with the condition, above, and it often seems to me to quite debilitating; they feel the darkness and lethargy and lowness gradually coming on, andare praying to keep it at bay but usually succumb; you can tell from social media posts, on the other hand, when they are getting too high and elated for their own good. A bit skewwiffy.
In my case, it is more a situation of how I wake up in the morning: once I have had the first cup of tea, I can immediately tell if it is going to be a good day or a bad one (or somewhere in between – which is probably how a lot of the world operates). The dreams end, I open my eyes, and then I know.
Tuesday, for example, was cold and grey and I felt like shit. Physically and mentally. I have some ailments going on, and the weather just compounded everything. I felt a lassitude that I found almost amusing – just plodding through the day, unsociable at work (retreating to an empty classroom to prepare DVDs because I couldn’t face talking to anyone); bog standard autopilot lessons; bored; home, and then bed. The very bare minimum. A mumbling automaton (“I can’t be arsed!), a waste of a day.
Where in the past, I might have worried about this , though : the whole ‘seize the day carpe diem ‘thing etc – I now feel the opposite; that there is a gloriously decadent luxury in not trying frantically to ‘make every moment count’ (an unbearable ontological pressure) – but instead merely treating the day as if you were a giant slug. Just existing. And then just waiting for the next one. Not resisting the state you are in but just surrendering yourself to it: strangely, this can sometimes be paradoxically liberating.
So much of this depends, unfortunately, on the weather her. One of the great benefits of living in Japan, despite its gloomy rainy season and occasionally frigid, cold bleak winter days , is that ultimately this country has a great deal of sun, sometimes weeks on end of it. It is divine. I know that I simply couldn’t live in England any more, or anywhere similar, and neither could D – we both NEED sunshine to be happy now (absurd how much the weather affects us mood-wise; it’s ridiculous!). My mother sometimes tells me of weeks on end of grey and rain and drizzle back home and I know that I would be too regularly glum and miserable to put up with it. Bright English days are exquisite – the light unique, the clarity of air ; but they are just too vanishing and ephemeral.
Yesterday, my head was clear. the chakras open; light passing through. It was one of those beautiful spring days where the narcissus flowers are out in full alongside the plum trees peaking, and there is a natural and immediate buoyancy in the air (Japan is an extremely seasonal based culture; the whole country obsessed with the seasons as though this is the only place on earth that actually has them), but it cannot be argued that they are beautifully distinct, and the fact is that as soon as February changes to March there is a distinct shift, not just in the world around you but also in the national tone and general consciousness : March is graduation season; April the season of new beginnings; and it all just happens to coincide with the inexorable blooming of the cherry flowers.
Having untethered some worries on here in the morning and feeling far lighter as a result (thanks again – the interactions we had yesterday honestly had me on cloud nine), I proceeded with trepidation to school, keenly aware that it was exam results day – the culmination of a year’s hard work on everybody’s part and the pinnacle of the entire educational cycle. While results for the prestigious Waseda and Keio universities had been very good overall, yesterday was the announcement of the all important Todai, or Tokyo University, the Cambridge/Oxford/ Harvard/Yale of Japan, incredibly hard to get into – grueling examinations in which students have to do brilliantly in eight different subjects and be all rounders – no escaping from maths and science as I was able to do with Cambridge (I would never have been able to get into Tokyo in a million years, having the maths skills of an acorn); no escaping from English and Japanese language arts for the science nerds; you simply have to be extremely good at everything.
Some pushy monster/helicopter parents here have, very annoyingly to me, been priming their children their whole lives for this moment, putting them on the education ‘escalator’ from practically the first moment they give birth: channelling their unwitting offspring through special nursery schools and kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, and all the while with all the extra lessons deemed required from the night preparatory schools like the one that I work for, night juku where the kids are given supplementary lessons to give them an ‘edge’ and to have a chance at securing a place at the most competitive institution in the entire nation ; a conveyor belt. To pass Todai is absolute kudos: a guarantee of a top job ; something to boast and be proud about for the rest of your life. It’s a terrible grind , though : an onerous burden to be placed on such young shoulders, and some students really seem old before their time; so very serious ;never been kissed nor done anything naughty; eighteen years old but they seem more like thirteen sometimes; astonishingly pure, obedient and naïve.
Where last year’s valley of the mummies on occasion actively annoyed me with their grave, prematurely geriatric severity, as though getting into this hallowed university were literally a matter of life and death – which I know it does feel like to them a lot of the time – but come on, sometimes you can lighten up a bit and remember you are actually a teenager – (plus we were in the pre-vaccination horrors of the pandemic and I couldn’t even think straight nor give a damn about what I was teaching particularly as I was far more concerned with trying not to die of bronchial monstrosities ); – this year, the students were a lot more emotional, moody; funny, prickly – and I warmed to them far more. I can do moods: it is my specialty.
So I had a real investment in their passing; more connected to them personally as young and interesting, thoughtful individuals: and having been privy to their private struggles from reading their essays, in which they revealed quite a lot to me (amazing how much you learn from reading someone’s inner thoughts rather than only gleaning information from how they behave in the classroom under peer pressure: there was such a wide variety of perspectives and of personality types coming through; really clever people with strong ideas and idealistic visions of the future or themselves – or else pessimistic but still poetic) ….it was quite a revelation. Japanese and English are so utterly different as languages it is extremely hard to be able gain a command of the written idiom and make it sound natural – which is why I have totally failed in my own Japanese ‘studies’, managing to communicate but probably sounding like a fool each time I open my mouth – but some of these compositions reached the level of beauty at times, and I loved encouraging them to do even better, to write ‘masterpieces’, which it seems that some of them may have managed to do in the exams – because a lot of them did really well.
It was also in my professional interest. As a teacher and colleague, I have some quite serious flaws. My desk is a mess; I am an administrative disaster these days, often spaced out and unwith it : just this term I was even given a warning that I might get pay docked if I don’t start checking my timetable more religiously every day. I am never ever late for lessons, but all the official differing office starting times (where everything is counted by the minute) etc I just find too anal and controlling even though I know that in this country you are required to do everything by the book. I forget to clock in, forget to do the register (!), come and go as I please (you are supposed to announce every movement; when you are going out to the convenience store, when you are going over to the other building for a moment, but I don’t because I just can’t stand it (low cultural IQ! arrogant white colonialist!) Maybe, but there is a meticulousness to detail here that I will just never be able to get on with, and I think it will always be a case of giri-giri – or borderline ok. Still, you don’t want to push your luck with these things when it is your living you are talking about : I think I have a kind of gaijin lease to some extent because I have been there so long and they trust me with my lessons, never interfering – nice to have established that kind of reputation – but you also have to play by the rules.Pull your socks up, I hear you say. Yes, Madam, I will. I will try.
The real proof, though, is in the pudding. The teaching is ultimately the only thing that counts. Without that capability, in this business you are nothing. So would any students actually be able to get in? Some seem guaranteed: they have that whiff of genius about them and just……would. Others are extremely intelligent but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have the requisite skills in every subject to pull it off – every year there are upsets, when students we have predicted will pass actually don’t – and vice versa. It is all a nail-biting conclusion, very exciting, sometimes very upsetting : after all the company’s entire existence is predicated on this moment, and the Todai course – the English part of which I share with a Japanese teacher, is really the ‘cherry on top’. The students’ interviews and photos will be put on the promotional posters to be distributed to the public. : a way to draw in the next generation of potential Todai-hungry, wide-eyed examinees.
As I approached work, in the spring balmy breeze, walking through Fujisawa station, I had my fingers crossed. Arriving at the main where everyone was gathered, they were all on absolute tenterhooks, electrified ; awaiting the arrival of students to give us the vital news (those that don’t tend to nurse their heartbreak alone, calling instead); but you never know what time or who will be entering the premises. What was so joyous and lovely yesterday was the sheer unfettered expressions of elation and back-slapping and hugs and handshakes (in a country with zero physical exchanges of such nature on a daily basis); panting, gasping, screaming actually: absolute and utter delight and joy on the faces of everyone, me included; I happened to meet one student, coming up the steps, and we went in arms around each other to eruptions of cheers; all in all, ten out of fifteen of mine passed, so me and Mr Uruma and the teachers of all the other subjects who sacrifice themselves way more than I ever could) must be doing something right. Sometimes I do feel guilty for the fact that I am no longer willing to go in on my days off or do ‘secret lessons’ in the weeks before the exams as the other far more hardworking and diligent staff do, but as when you know yourself, you know yourself, and I know from past experience that as a very delicate individual, if I push it too far, I get poisoned, and when I get poisoned, I go to a dark place, and that is something I now definitely want to avoid.
Yesterday, it all felt like a wonderful vindication somehow, a fantastic celebration of achievement and happiness that eclipsed anything else that might be happening in the world or in my own life: I was over the moon; felt part of something. Just as I know as leaving, I happened to notice some of the students sitting together and laughing on the grass nearby; and for a short moment I thought about going up to them again and slapping them on the back once more for another round of heartfelt congratulations. But then I thought better or it, decided just to leave them to it and to exalt in their moment, talking excitedly amongst themselves; flushed and beaming – as I made my way back to the station.
The Black Narcissus is primarily a perfume blog. This is because I completely live through my senses and am totally obsessed with how everything smells in every waking moment of my life and the fact that perfume affords me a huge amount of pleasure – an olfactory soundtrack, a bottled library of memories. Not that I am especially obsessed with the past, I don’t think: I live in the present : there were no halcyon days for me; all times have been multifaceted, light and dark, beautiful and terrible; yes, some periods have been lighter overall, more carefree and others more difficult and depressing, but despite the ups and downs, if I were to die tomorrow I would feel fulfilled. Ultimately I love life, and like all the other pleasures that mark the flow of time; music, photography, film, remembered experiences, perfume is an incredibly potent medium that encapsulates so much sometimes that it can be heartrending.
At the same time, it can feel incredibly shallow and boring. There is so much inane crap on the market, piled high with truly embarrassing, illiterate PR copy that is unreadable and often risible (when you find yourself exposed to too much of the overdesigned spiel from perfume companies, big and small, in their syntactic quagmire of hopeless hyperbole, where sentences don’t make sense, and the desperation to cover up the lacks within the perfume itself with all the ridiculous, towering excesses of inappropriately chosen words and often quite aesthetically abominable images sometimes create a dull, miserable abyss in the mind and soul of the thinking person; between the baffling and audacious claims and the quite often pathetically trite, mundane reality you are smelling on the back of your hand, it can all leave you more than alittle skeptical). Therefore, although sometimes I feel that I may have squandered my opportunities in not trying to become the number one prima donna of the perfume writing world (“I coulda been a contender ” : : after all, I won the Jasmine Literary Prize, have been in Japan Vogue five times and have a book that is sold in bookshops all around the world) – by not trying to jump onto the bandwagon more and ‘building up my brand’ or being a representative of the niche houses’ or trying to excitedly flog the latest foul flanker that is launched in the department stores or be the first person to get a scoop – imagine every day waking up and thinking you have to rush to your computer to bullshit your way through yet another ‘release’ that doesn’t excite you – I just wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be brain death for me. I want to do something more meaningful, more beautiful: I don’t want ugly adverts popping up on the screen and ruining the aesthetics of everything I have created, even if I could make money from doing so. I just can’t be bothered. My integrity is more important.
Which brings me to the main topic of this non-post. How I am supposed to keep writing about perfume when the world is falling apart? Of course I don’t have to write about perfume. I know that. And anyone who tunes in to this spontaneously hyperindulgent space will know that there are a lot of different things discussed on here, from the culture of Japan, to art and film, and especially current events and politics – because I simply would not be able to exist in the world ignoring what is going on around me (and inside of me). I could not merely ‘allude’ to the ‘difficult times we are living in’ or whatever and then plunge into the latest dire Dior nonetheless: it just wouldn’t feel right. Likewise the last two weeks I have attempted a tightrope between trying to discuss the utterly appalling war in Ukraine and days out in Kamakura, or the pleasures of a rose perfume on the wrist, or else the amusing horrors of python-like aubergines, or just devolving into maniacal tirades against Putin using ‘bad language’ (which I personally love and use whenever I feel like it as I feel it sometimes has more gumption and force that just newspaper formal politeness; sometimes you need to get real, like the billboards throughout Ukraine written in big looming red letters as a warning to the illegal invaders: JUST FUCK OFF RUSSIA).
Anyway, the point is that I am not entirely sure how to proceed. Do I just keep writing things randomly as they come to mind? Should I be waiting for that next holy grail perfume to arrive and then spend days, weeks, months, perfecting a flawless review, rather than the way I do write, usually, which is to jump off from the futon and just frantically type and find photos and then press publish? To be honest, the gap between the awful reality of the world right now and the poochy pamperings replete on here sometimes feels too guilt-inducing to enter into and I sometimes just can’t do it – I was just reading about the terrible ramifications for the global food supply now that the ‘breadbasket of the world’ in Ukraine and Russia is in chaotic upheaval and how it is going to potentially lead to starvation in many countries, not to mention the rapid rises in fuel costs, the economic devastation, the millions of refugees, the death and profound sadness and grief it is inflicting on so many……and all because ONE MAN HAS A GRIEVANCE AND A GRUDGE THAT HE WANTS TO AVENGE ON THE ENTIRE EARTH NO MATTER WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES. It is mind-shatteringly astonishing the way that one bad player can affect so much, and that he has chosen this precise time, just as we are emerging battered and bruised from the pandemic, to unleash this new hell. And so how am I meant to write anything other than about this, when all topics seem so petty in comparison? Does one just shut down a perfume blog and any other creative endeavour because one sinister fuckhead’s grotesquely horrendous actions have imperiled all of our safety and mental serenity? Or do you just plough on anyway in praise of mimosas and aldehydes and gardenias? Because you just need to offset all the evil?
I don’t know. That is why I am asking the question. All feedback/ comments very much appreciated. My own thinking is that probably, some balance is required, that while what is in the news naturally dominates our brains as it is affects us all, not just emotionally, but literally – (the whole world order is changing rapidly before our eyes! Don’t you sometimes just find your mind wandering or daydreaming for a moment and then remember? Thatheart-sinking feeling when you realize that everything has changed seemingly overnight and that we are still in the middle of it and have no idea what is going to happen next or what it is going to lead to? ……) – but still, we do, all of us, concurrently also have our own lives to lead; our complex, contradictory lives, with all the layers, problems, issues, joys and loves that entails; from the politer, more protected outer strata seen by others in our daily social interactions, to our most troubling fears and secrets; phobias; traumas; but also just the pleasing and absorbing and even wonderful daily minutiae of our lives – many of which are enormously pleasurable, just like watering the geraniums on the balcony. Is it wrong to actively feel positivity in such things, or is it in fact essential for the preservation of our sanity? I have never studied ‘mindfulness’, much as I believe it is important and very helpful to a lot of people (even if it occasionally carries with it an overprescribed whiff of commercial bandwagon) – because I ( perhaps erroneously )believe that I have been mindful the entire time to begin with. If there is one thing I know I have been doing throughout my life, it is in noticing, and feeling. And relating all of that, and connecting. The expression, and the catharsis. Which is precisely why I love writing about perfume on here; how it infuses our daily experience with an added dimension : augmenting the intricate web of experiences that make a life.
I feel like conserving my perfumes at the moment. Where usually I might strategically micro-overspray (for a general ‘atmosphere’ – do you do this ?) – right now I want to have a small, but more concentrated source. It gives me comfort.
The other day at work I was (quite out of the ordinarily) wearing a couple of sprays of Parfums De Rosine’s glorious Roseberry on my right wrist, next to a white cotton shirt, but hidden directly under a couple of thin black woollen jumpers.
I was amazed by firstly how totally gorgeous it smelled as the day went on – roses; chamomile; wine lees; an aura – but also by the fact that when you are otherwise unscented, the effects when pinpointed on one sole location – but slowly, unfurling and blossoming, through the air – can be quite marvellous.
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.
You can treat horror with horror, poison with poison, or just add a little levity with some sugar.
Suddenly, sharp citruses and vetiver feel unutterably wrong : I need cushioning. And yesterday – by myself, not much energy, I just lay on the bed and watched the Kanye West documentary to delve into a different atmosphere – to indulge in another time and space – before heading out to take back some DVDs, my one errand of the day before meeting the D after work for some tempura.
If it feels frivolous talking about perfume at this time ( and it does ), perfume is also a buffer zone; a protector: we can’t just walk around raw.
And I feel like scents that are optimistic and fun: easygoing; floral: sweet. I surprised myself in the afternoon by how strong the urge in me was to be DOUSED, despite the fact that I knew I would be getting on public transport. Perhaps Sunday’s somewhat epic diatribe on here had left me feeling squeezed out and in need of coloration : I woke up craving the complex and the rosy, a bit 80’s, and on one arm this spritzed myself rampantly with MCDI’s L’Aimee: a niche neo- Estée Lauder Beautiful ( which for me is a true comfort scent for some reason, even though I know I sometimes mocked it back in the day); on the rest of me I sprayed on Sarah Baker’s exceedingly pleasing and emboldening light/ dirty rose, her first perfume, Leopard.
Both of these perfumes have about a million notes, and that’s what I wanted : a true ‘composition’. Leopard on me is a fresh, musky rose violet with a strong tinge of cardamom and sandalwood, and a rather sexy, animalistic loukhoum-like undertone (civet) that makes me feel a bit horny and pleasantly riled, even if The Other proclaims it to actually smell a little bit like cat piss ( must be the cassis).
I personally felt delectably armoured and scented up as I proceeded to the bus stop, despite the fact a little girl kept turning around and her mother unembarrassedly opened the window. The point was, this combination made me feel cheered and veneered, and I will definitely be wearing it again.
Today, the same mood grips me. I suddenly recognized a yearning to spray on Escada’s ridiculous Cherry In The Air, which I have been rather enjoying this afternoonfor its simple, sweet sour fruity cherriness, alongside – because I am in the mood for contrasting abundance – another perfume from the Sarah Baker sample box, Charade : a rich woody ambered floral ( tuberose, jasmine), powdered and desserty, over a more joss-sticked, sloe-eyed patchouli leather finale that reminds me a little of Yves Saint Laurent Belle D’Opium, as well as the soothing, almondy, Arab liquid attars I used to sometimes pick up during my travels.