I was too busy gazing at Mount Fuji floating above the clouds the other day to remember that April 2nd was actually the ten year anniversary of The Black Narcissus. Then the next day, I had an absurdly busy day in the freezing rain doing all my pre-work errands in one day, including getting my third Moderna vaccination booster somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Yokohama – lost and drenched; then yesterday I was pretty much out of action because of that, curled up under the covers, unable to move.
Today it is sunny again, though; I am back to almost normal energy and thought that maybe I should rectify the situation. After all, a decade isn’t nothing.
In 2008 I started writing about perfume. Just one day, I sat down and did it. And I loved it. Prior to that, having been an obsessive of scent all my life since childhood – like music, perfume has been the soundtrack of my existence, as I am sure it has been for most of you – once the Internet became more commonplace and readily available, I would sit down and feast my brain for hours on all the classic perfume review websites that became popular from the beginning of the 2000’s. You know the ones: Bois De Jasmin, Perfume -Smelling Things; Olfactoria’s Travels; Now Smell This, Fragrantica: there was just something so utterly compelling and absorbing and addictive about being able to read about what is essentially invisible and ephemeral but which I had been buying and wearing and smelling myself for decades in beautiful wording; I would read and re-read certain descriptions of perfumes again and again – and it almost felt like meditation. Divorced from everything else in the world, just one perfume at a time, in its own context; described; embellished; sometimes captured.
Before this, in the late nineties I had only had a couple of books on perfume – John Oakes’, which I read until it collapsed; and Susan Irvine’s, in which I first saw the Caron bottles that made my eyes stand out on daffodil stalks of lust (Caron was never available in the UK, at least where I grew up, and I had never even heard of it until I saw the pictures of Nuit de Noël, Nocturnes, Tabac Blond in all the illustrated photographs which must have accumulated many hours of ogling and coveting in total: perfumes, in the pre-digital age, beyond my grasp and knowledge. Scents that felt like magic talismans to me; untouchable.
Around this time – I can’t remember when, exactly; to me, pre-writing feels like some inchoate darkness of nothingness where I was still alive and overly sentient as ever but just floating in the ether, unanchored by any testimony – my friend Helen, who I grew up with listening to Prince and dreaming over perfume back home – she lived just five minutes down the road – rapturously collecting our free samples from the department store or scratching the perfumed strip Christie Turlington and Linda Evangelista adverts in Vogue and opinionatedly holding forth about those that we esteemed vs those that we scathed – one day out of the blue sent me a photocopied version of Luca Turin’s original; Le Guide which she had carefully downloaded and printed out, and which became practically a sacred text to me. The fact that it was in very difficult French made it even more potently out of reach; some parts I immediately set about translating, almost as an academic exercise, like the ones I would do at university; if the translation came out well and sufficiently, beautiful I would feel a great sense of personal satisfaction and pleasure and then enjoy sending it back to H who enjoyed it just as much – it sent us off floating into dreams. Where the sites on the Internet were entertaining and exciting treasure troves of information, this – from twenty years earlier – took it to an entirely different level to me, to the level of extreme beauty. Something beyond the everyday – to a place sealed off in eternity.
Although D and I in our time together in England and Japan had always been creative, organizing themed costume parties, art events, immersive piano recitals and the like, for a long time, I still felt very stunted internally – I think he did too until he started doing performance art and making films – without even entirely quite realizing how or why. Friends had often told me I should write, but I didn’t have a subject (apart from myself!) ; I think they said this because of the famously long letters I would send to them from various locations, Rome, Cambridge etc, probably unbearable to look at now). However, when I surreptiously started on my perfume reviews, at that stage a combination of intuitive blurting and meticulous editing that I honed like a miniature sculpture, I felt a sense of achievement and happiness I had never felt before, and I kept doing it on a regular basis until I had described every scent in my possession and had made something I called The Menu, literally a thematically categorized, nerdish guide to my own collection – including all the samples (!) that I would offer up to guests when they came round for dinner. What would you like to try? Wait here a minute. Or : come upstairs and let’s try that one on. All great fun. People loved it. And then I started to get the idea for a full book.
At this stage, developing confidence, I was planning to try and get a publishing deal the old-fashioned way. Get a literary agent; find someone willing to publish; pick up my work at a bookshop. Feel delighted. Gloat. Which is pretty much what happened, actually, although it was a lot of hard of work and a lot more difficult than it sounds. Firstly, most agencies are primarily looking for the next fiction big deal – and I am strangely incapable of investing time in fictional characters – there is just so much going around me and inside me in real life that I can’t even contemplate creating non-existent entities as vessels for my themes: I love literature – it was my specialization at university – and personally feel that I learned the central tenets of existence through it, my philosophy hugely shaped by the writers I read against the clock and wrote fraught, deadlined essays over.
But I can’t come up with such works myself. And perfume is not an easy sell. Fragrance itself, as an everyday luxurious, but essential commodity, is, obviously – it is a multibillion dollar industry. But most people don’t want to read books on the subject: the odd, typically realized magazine PR-type article will suffice for most people, who, in my opinion, on the whole just sniff something they find at the airport, at their local retailer, or on a friend and ask what it is and then buy it and wear it for a while: they don’t need all the wordy fragrant verbiage we perfume lovers churn out, it is actually quite an odd idea for a lot of people I have found, as though you were writing in ancient Sumerian or Sankrit. Somehow, though, with the help of Helen who sent off a lot of very nicely presented applications for me, because I would have made a pig’s ear of it all, after a whole series of rejections, one London-based literary agency – liked my writing style and my idea of a perfume book on scent divided into a note by note thematically organized structure (original at the time and since taken up elsewhere, but before that most books were either alphabetically or chronologically ordered), showed some interested in my project: I was convinced that this would make perfume more relatable to the general public and be a commercially viable idea, and one that I could make appealing and enjoyable to read – and my agent eventually agreed.
The problem at this stage was that I had absolutely zero web presence. The Luddites, or the original technophobes, emerged at the time of the Industrial Revolution, which started in Birmingham – which happens to be where I am from and perhaps explains my uselessness when faced with modern technology. I had made no inroads on the internet at this stage, and we just had the crappiest dial up which took an eternity to connect. The book idea was still pitched at various bookfairs by my agency though, and apparently almost got signed, but my complete absence online was deemed too problematic – and understandably so (it almost seems quite arrogant of me now to have presumed otherwise! Who the hell did I think I was ? I was just an English teacher who had sniffed a few perfumes – hardly Michael Edwards). The thing was that I didn’t especially like the word ‘blog’ or being thought of a ‘blogger’ – it just doesn’t sound particularly impressive or interesting, almost denigrating, like a geek slogging away at their computer day and night for minimal gain – who knew how rich the Youtubers could get – or so I snobbishly thought at the time. I just wanted to be somehow launched on the world and ‘discovered’. But this was completely unrealistic.
And so at some point, D proposed, insisted, I start a ‘blog’ of my own. I resisted. I didn’t like the idea of being instantly read by strangers; it felt too close to the skin. Too immediate (precisely what I love about it now: and he absolutely knew instinctively that this is how I would feel). So one day, ten years ago during this very same spring holiday, he dragged me into the front garden, took a picture of some narcissus flowers that had opened and then another of an old Caron Narcisse Noir box from the collection, got on WordPress, typed up one of my reviews from the Menu: and minutes later we were live.
In the same way that I wanted nothing other than Burning Bush for my cabaret alter-ego, if I had a blog it was always going to be called The Black Narcissus. Firstly, since childhood I have been captivated by Greek and Roman myths, which feel removed and eternal, existing on an immortal plane somewhere beyond: for me, they are sometimes a form of refuge. (When I went to Crete as a seventeen year old I was completely ravished by it: in heaven. Just everything about it: the ruins at Knossos. The searing sun. The food. The men, wearing Kouros. The scent of eucalyptus. Duncan’s mother’s family is also from Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite, and one of my dreams is for us to go there one day and just revel in that environment for a whole summer: maybe meet some Greek Cypriot relatives and eat bucketloads of oregano-feta salads and yoghurt spooned with thick honey – is anything actually more delicious? ).
Secondly, since very young childhood, when I was always reading books in the garden next to the rosemary, I have always adored flowers, and the words ‘narcissus’ and ‘hyacinth’ are somehow especially resonant for me: wet and green and delicious sounding; the sybillant ‘s’ sound exquisitely floral: onomatopoeic in their lexical representations of the living flowers. The origin of the legend – of both flowers, actually – is of course quite a sad one, like many ancient metamorphoses, and whether I am narcissistic or not is not for me to decide: (probably, to some extent). I am certainly introspective and not afraid to stare into the reflection and the inner abyss, though I like to think I am also immensely interested in other people and the world outside, but I do have a melancholic side and a tendency to love music in a minor key, and horror films, and not to shy away from the darker side of things in genral, and so thought that a ‘black narcissus’ was perfect in this regard.
I have, I will admit, sometimes wondered whether there might have been writers who are ethnically of African/ Afro-Caribbean heritage who might have been understandably surprised that I took on this name, but at the moment of deciding on my blog identity, I felt that the obvious references to the Caron classic – that this was simply a direct translation of the iconic orange blossom perfume’s name – as well as the shrill, technicolour histrionics of the Himalayan monastery melodrama Black Narcissus from 1947, which I love, encapsulated everything I wanted to express as my personal perfume writing space, and seeing that no one else was using it, I didn’t hesitate.
In a word: thrilling. As an impulsive person by nature, being able to think, photograph or trawl images, write, and post within seconds was, and is, like a dream come true. If that sounds incredibly naive, you are probably right, but although many of the pieces I wrote initially were very thought out and properly considered, as you know, many others are not; just a snap here, a sentence there, a ramble, a splurge – whatever is happening and whichever perfumes I smell and how they fit into the immediate environment of a particular emotion on a particular day. Write. And press publish. And although at first I had no idea who was reading – if anyone – (as those of you who also have websites, you will probably know how difficult it is to recruit readers, or ‘followers’, which I always think sounds unpleasantly acolyte or disciple-like: but without anyone reading you are ultimately just a tree falling silently into the forest; and it all definitely takes a very long time, unless you are the hot young latest thing who taps into the ‘beauty’ zeitgeist and you do makeup tutorials and videos and this is so sexy! kind of posts – but I myself am actually rather camera-shy).
Gradually, readers did emerge from the cosmos, though, and started commenting. Perfume maniacs, people who liked a good story: and I thrived off the interactions – and still do; even more than ever if anything – particularly in these ever increasingly difficult times we are living in. Back then at the beginning, The Black Narcissus was more exclusively perfume-based I would say; Neil Chapman slightly more in the background as I tried to create wordpaintings of perfume; sometimes perhaps too self-consciously, but I was often pleased with the results nevertheless, and I liked carving out my own space (isn’t this the thing with having something that you have created; that you know it is uniquely yours, because no one else can do precisely what you do, even if it is only, in the grand scheme of things, a mere drop in the ocean of what is beingn said?).
After a year or so of posting regularly, one day I got a message from a writer who was setting up his own perfume magazine called ODOU in the UK. He had read some of my stuff and asked if I would like to contribute; I said yes straight away and so I reworked a piece I had written around that time that I had called Perfume Haters, which he then featured in the first or second edition. I have to say that seeing myself in print was amazing; I then also did something for the literary magazine Shooter, a paen to perfume called Through Smoke; the ODOU piece the following year then winning the Jasmine Award Literary Prize, a truly exhilarating day in London where I got to meet a lot of the most celebrated perfume illuminati like Persolaise, The Candy Perfume Boy and Pia Long, who was also in the running with me – we were sitting next to each other at the back of the auditorium when the winner was announced – and who is now making her own perfumes as well as creating scents for houses such as Zoologist.
Those first years (2012- 2016, say), feel relatively ‘innocent’ to me now. Though in hindsight, we do often see our past experiences through rose-coloured spectacles, and probably if I were to go into the archives – which I don’t very often but find very interesting when I do as I have no idea what exists there – it is an Alice In Wonderland of The Self – I would find a lot of sturm und drang and psychomelodrama along with all the enthusing over Japanese fleamarkets and ‘recycle shops’ which were lot more abundant and full of eye and heart-busting vintage perfumes at that time: I don’t think The Black Narcissus has ever been just a repository of perfume note information, as I always wanted more and just can’t help myself, but it was, at least when I first started out, a lot more parfum.
That was then though: and this is now. The last five years have been crazy. For me, and for the world, everything has been far, far more tumultuous and difficult – a real rollercoaster ride of the nerves, and this has also been reflected very clearly on here. I simply wasn’t able to divorce myself from my own circumstances. From a personal perspective, for a start, in 2016 I suddenly found out that I had a degenerative condition of the knee in which in both legs almost all of the cartilage had worn away or disappeared – a genetic inheritance that was inevitable but probably not helped by living at the top of a steep hill in Kamakura, which I used to walk all the time and which became extremely painful. Soon, this necessitated a major operation, two months in a Japanese hospital and sixth months off work during which I had to learn to walk again, a rather difficult experience that was nevertheless greatly expedited and improved by being able to post from the hospital bed – almost immediately after surgery – and having exchanges with the truly lovely people who often frequent these pages. This was an extremely positive aspect of my memories from that time (five years ago today as I write I would still have been getting around the hospital in a wheelchair, writing ridiculous posts about god knows what and having fights or a lot of laughs with the nurses). Getting home after all of that I found that having all that time was actually wonderful for writing…….and probably if I could somehow do this as full time as a job I would, although I do think ultimately that working and being in the ‘real world’ teaching high school students is also good for me in many ways as it keeps me grounded, and gives me the feeling that I am doing something good for the world, rather than just indulging in extreme perfumed decadence.
On the subject of which, after a slide into a deep personal lowpoint around February 2018 (the aftermath of severe medical situations is underdiscussed), one very cold, miserable, grey rainy day full of fear and self-loathing in Kamakura I received an unexpected email that my book had finally found a potential publisher – and thus began the whiplashed ultra-energizing into London meetings and trying to put a book together at breakneck speed while working; both deliriously exciting and indescribably exhausting, with a strong dash of David & Goliath, followed by the delight of receiving the gold-finished tome in the post – a day I will never forget – and the promotional terrors of being on BBC radio live and making a commercial with an Italian notebook brand, beloved by Hemingway: Moleskine, being in the Japan Times, and then writing for Japan Vogue, among other things – I definitely had my Warholian more than five minutes of mini-fame, and it all happened because I kept writing non-stop on here and gradually got noticed. This was an amazing time in many ways; an unforgettable whirlwind of activity, drenched in perfume; I had it coming out of my eyeballs; I was able to read Perfume translated into Italian, and even got to be published in China.
At the same time, while all of this was going on (and a whole lot more), the world was moving generally in a violent and terrible direction, and I found that it was actually completely impossible to keep it all out of my ‘perfume blog’. Perfume has been a constant throughout; either new releases or vintage, or posts on smell in general, or on Japanese culture, as I love writing about that as well, and sometimes cinema, music and art, but the olfactory has always been the main focus by far as in many ways I feel we do live through smell, even in very difficult times. And yet the Outside will have its way and infiltrate absolutely everything.
Sometimes, it has been overwhelming. I am sure you have felt exactly the same. For me, beginning with the nationalistic fervour and lies of Brexit and then the threat of the possibility of Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States in 2016 – just writing that name has already polluted this post but it feels unavoidable to mention – was something I felt as akin to dark clouds looming over my spirit in a way that felt more than just political or emotional but also psychical, on quite a deep level – on a blood and brain level – and I know a lot of people, especially the more sensitive, feel and felt very similarly even if others close to me just thought I was going completely overboard and losing the plot. Each to their own. For me, though, it is all linked: the jingoism, the idiocy, the aggression, the bigotry, from Bolsonaro to Putin and now the unforgivably awful war that is happening as we speak – it is all in the same vein. Of macho bullshit and racist (and homophobic) intolerance. And then coupled with the excruciating two years of the pandemic, which thankfully we seem to be moving out of (hopefully?), but which was happening concurrently – precisely why kind Vladimir chose this time; cynically exploiting the vulnerability, with the madness (and it was madness) that ensued in societies as a whole, each with their own list of problems seemingly designed to drive you personally nuts, it has been a very very intense – to put it mildl – half a decade.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know, being the person I am, I have been unable to divorce all of this from the perfume writing. The impulse to express is strong, but it is of course heavily coloured by what is going on around you. And sometimes I have embarrassed myself with almost incoherent posts of rage, or highly emotional outpourings about trapped in windowless rooms pre-vaccination or about the great impotence you feel watching Russian armies pointlessly rampaging through Ukrainian towns and massacring civilians ; or the intolerable rise of the hypnotizing demagogues in general, or people attacking other for wearing masks : all of it has pushed us to the limit of what we can deal with, and sometimes I have possibly ‘gone too far’.
And yet I think of The Black Narcissus as a continuing diary, a life lived in real time documented in words and pictures through the prism of smell, experience felt in any given moment and then described, no matter how unsettlingly, which is why I never delete posts, even if I don’t think they are very good or find them slightly mortifying. To me, they are all part of the tapestry, and in any case, the more honest those posts are, the more responses I seem to get from readers. When I think of all the words that exist in this space; not just the posts themselves but all the fascinating conversations that ensue in the comments section, I feel that writing this blog has truly been a thing of wonder. It has not just been nicey nicey, politey politey perfume chat, which can be relaxing and pleasant in its own right and certainly has an important place in this world – but also extremely beneficial – and it would seem mutually. For me, particularly during the double whammy of Donald and Covid – at the height of the berserkness generally, when I was reactive as a keg of kerosene, being able to vent on here and get such thoughtful, intelligent, understanding, sharp, and often hilarious responses was incredibly therapeutic and defusing for me psychologically; others contributing to various discussions also seemed to feel the same and we would toss in a Scent Of The Day as well for good measure just to retain some sanity and humour and keen perspective. Although tougher on the soul, I think of this latter Black Narcissus period as even more important to me.
So thank you. Some of you have been reading this off and on, or even continually, since its inception (arigato; it has been amazing). Others have tuned in more recently. Thank you to you too. I appreciate it all. All the personal interactions and musings on perfume and everything else have been like a life saver for me ; the whole a precious testament, and I intend continuing ad infinitum – as long as I am allowed.
Recently I have been concentrating on my Japan book – a far-reaching memoir, wide in scope, very personal, quite intense, and which I have written quite a lot of this spring holiday, I am really pleased about it how as these things don’t always flow, but this definitely has), and I will be presenting some of it to my agent soon when I am happy with how the sample chapters sound; and then hopefully will be working on a full book release at some point in the not too distant future if anyone seems to be interested. Simultaneously, I will, of course, be writing on here, continuing the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly cycle of experience and expression with you.
For me, it is a joy.
53 responses to “TEN YEARS OF THE BLACK NARCISSUS”
You have been there from the start, O Fragrant Wonder! xx
Dearest Neil, warmest congratulations from Wales from one blogger to another. Your writing has kept me entertained, informed and transfixed throughout the years. I know how hard it can be to keep going some days (entire week sin my case) so I applaud you even more heartily for your wit, wisdom and beautiful prose. Love Sam xx
Thanks very much Sam. Your own creation is brilliant, I must say – hilarious and down to earth and beautifully written. Vive le perfume writing!
Congratulations Neil! And a huge thank you to Duncan for forcing your hand with that first post.
Thanks G – that means a lot and I a LOVE that you sometimes dip into my meanderings wherever you are. It’s a lovely way of keeping in touch. xxx
How many people can spend hours crafting something so wonderfully well written, and then still sound so utterly themselves? Quite apart from it all being so very, very entertaining, I love that when I read your writing I can so clearly hear your voice, as though you were in the same room speaking to me.
I also thought the concept of a blog was somehow beneath you, a watered down thing. Well done Duncan. I am very, very pleased that The Black Narcissus exists, for everything it has helped you to achieve, for the fulfillment it brings you, for the endless enjoyment it brings me to read it (never missed a single post) and above all for the connection, because having you move to the other side of the world was not great.
And I am so pleased that you are making progress with your new book!!!
I mean, the Japan thing (do you think anyone will be interested?) might be a load of crap for all I know: so far it has all come out in the ‘automatic’ style – ie. without thinking, but usually that is a good sign with me. I am going to be asking you some questions about various aspects soon privately.
And thanks for the compliment and for commenting (which………you know you could have done more……………..x).
My favorite writers: D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, Patricia Highsmith, Lawrence Durrell, and Neil Chapman.
My deepest congratulations on a decade well spent.
Diving more deeply into perfume was absolutely a pandemic hobby for me. I suppose this means I have already been reading for around two years! The words always feel like a thread, coming straight from your mind, weaving this ethereal yet intensely sensual tapestry of experience for the reader to share. Being so particular, yet on a level that is so relatable, forming this holographic representation of any given experience that one feels as though they could almost step into… you are so insightful and naturally talented.
(I’m not Black, but as someone imbued with American social justice rhetoric, I admit to having wondered about the name. I think highly of your capacity for self analysis and perceptions of the world and was comforted by that brief consideration.)
I mean it’s obvious that I would have to have thought about this, as I am sure that some people like yourself have also thought about it, but as I wrote, the name came to me strongly based on the perfume and the film and the words and what they represented and once I had started there was no turning back. I do still love the name.
As for your compliment….I don’t know what to say. I probably won’t be able to write another word ever again now!
One thing I have realized that is indisputable is something that only occurred to me earlier while watching yet another Netflix murder mystery (why do we keep watching them?) I come from an era when perfumes came out and there were no names attached to them. There was just…Poison, Obsession, Rive Gauche or whatever, and you formed your own opinions about them based on your own experiences. I think this is probably where the justifiable accusations of narcissism might come in, as I DO write about perfumes too much from my own perspective! I should be interviewing perfumers about their motives and inspirations and technical achievements as since the whole niche thing blew up and everyone now knows their names this is really quite remiss of me!).
Thanks so much for commenting here Z.
Yes to continuing writing as you are and yes to the Japan memoirs!
Thanks. Yes to your own blog thriving as well and to more collaborations please!
Congratulations on a decade of essays! I’ve loved reading them these past couple of years 🙂
Good to hear the next book is in formation – looking forward to it.
Thanks for the encouragement.
Let’s catch up very soon – in the next few weeks?
Congratulations on ten years of this most incredibly well written and wide ranging blog! I went back and found that my first comment was in 2013 (about Amytis that I wore last week). So I didn’t start reading you at the very beginning, but relatively early. I believe Olfactoria led me to you. Many hours spent reading wonderful thoughts about perfume, Japan and life.
I miss Olfactoria; and I was remiss in not mentioning how much she helped me in the early days by giving me a mention or two and an interview alongside my guide to Vanilla. It’s actually quite difficult to get readers at first when you start doing this, especially if you just arrive out of nowhere.
Amytis feels like aeons ago…..wow. A curious scent, unlike anything else. Has it lasted well?
Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
I find that my bottle of Amytis has changed little over the years. Still the enveloping mossy forest floor. When I bought the bottle it was early in my perfume collecting years and didn’t realize that dark greens are one of my favorite types of scents. I had been a one bottle at a time fragrance wearer for decades, but entered the world of niche in my 50’s. And now happily discover new scents ( helped by my daughter Duabaiscents).
I LOVE green scents as well. Please give me a list of your favourites in case there are some I have yet to discover!
For some reason, I can’t seem to reply under your last comment. I hope this shows up. In response to your question as to my favorite green fragrances I would note the following
Masque Milano Hemingway- lots of different vetivers
Slumberhouse Sibet-green fir trees, but not Christmas
Slumberhouse Baque- a forest
Soivohle Green Oakmoss- spring green
Parfum D’Empire Mal-Aime- green herbs
Parfum D’Empire Corsica Furiosa-green leaves including tomato leaves
Mona di Orio Bohea Boheme – green suede
Senyoko Migration de L’Arbre- too complex for me to summarize but a complex green scent with a lot of facets.
Scent Trunk Labdanum- a limited edition that may still be available from Scent Trunk
Aedes de Venustas- the namesake of the brand. Includes a green rhubarb note I jump for.
I didn’t include some of the more widely known green scents, but I find so many are worthwhile.
A great list!
It’s good to hear some of what this blog and these years have meant to you. I’m still sorting out what the years since 2016 have meant to me, but a disturbing part has been increased dangerous problems for a particular subgroup of patients that I served, due to an ugly mood in my country and new support for policies that did nothing but harm. For over a year I didn’t wear perfume, not due to any sort of renunciation but because my focus was so intensely elsewhere that I didn’t think about it.
In America, our current relative reprieve may be temporary for all we know, but I suppose that most reprieves are temporary. And I do feel that beauty is part of the solution, so the fact that you have been weaving words into beauty for 10 years is important. Really important.
That is nice to hear, thankyou. As you know, recently I was talking about the ‘frivolity of this blog and worrying about it, but I tended to agree with the comments that followed and just decided to keep going with it as before, as positively as possible.
But I am like you. I do think that what seemed to be a sudden swing in the mood around 2016, but were probably more repressed and angry ‘winds of change’ that were simply unexpressed until certain individuals noxiously and potently tapped into that rage and deliberately let it spread like wildfire around the globe, have irreparably changed things – or at least for the time being. I am so sorry that certain groups in society have had to bear the brunt of this pent up bigotry/animosity, but also all the more respectful of people like yourself who protect and work for them.
It is no wonder that perfume takes a backseat in such circumstances. At work I have not worn much at all – often just natural citrus hand balms and the like – although masking gave me more possibilities to wear SOME scent in school, which I quite liked. At home I have not been especially adventurous because I haven’t been anywhere, so have tended to stick to a lot of familiar or comforting classics.
I think when you do feel like really going for it, perfume will give you a lot of pleasure and have extra resonance.
Congratulations!! Ten years is indeed something. I loved reading your account of how it all began and how you progressed over the years. You’re an extraordinary writer! I discovered your blog in, I think, late 2014 and lurked as a reader for a while. Thank you for sharing your many experiences with us, the good and the bad, but always the fragrant.
And thanks to you too. I love your ethos and writing style and whole approach as well. I am glad we are connected!
Congratulations on 10 years of this wonderful blog! It is truly some of the best and most enjoyable writing (perfume related or not) out there. Keep it up! Can’t wait for your Japan book!
Oh thanks. Who knows if anything will come of it, but I certainly intend to try.
Thanks again for reading my self-indulgent blather and for this compliment – it means a lot!
Congratulations Neil! Thank you for the past ten years of your interesting and enjoyable blog. I am wishing you (and us) many more years of your awesome writing!
Hi F. I think you have been on here one of the longest! Thanks for always being there. xx
I really appreciated your honesty during the pandemic and during the T years when we were both going insane together on top of all the perfumed fun. I hope life is good for you!
Happy 10th year blog anniversary! What a lovely post to commemorate the occasion. Oh those heady days when blogging was popular in the early 2000s! Niche & Indie perfumery was was busting out all over too.
I lurked for quite a while before leaving a comment on the Cruel Desecration of Yardley English Lavender In 2016. That was a travesty that could not go uncontested. I would offer to send you a bottle of the newest formulation of YEL but it’s so weak ( although true to the original formulation) I don’t think it is worth bothering with.
I look forward to reading your Japanese memoirs and will purchase a copy of your Perfume tome as soon as I get back to civilization.
I have loved our exchanges. You are a fierce mthfckr !!!
Wonderful—congratulations on the anniversary! Since I first came across Black Narcissus, I’ve enjoyed every single post I’ve seen. It speaks to me meaningfully as a perfume lover and as an ex-Japan resident (and still a Japan lover). I’ve had that very bottle of Narcisse Noir on my shelf for some time too, dark and deep and waxy; the book, signed by you at Roullier White, is never closed for long without being consulted. Long may you continue your tapestry; the reason it’s so rich is that you weave your personal experiences into it without fear or favour. Thank you for all the information (new things to hunt down!), solace (empathy, comfort, beauty!), and entertainment (Black Narcissus unleashed!) you provide. I do hope you are feeling rewarded in return. Looking forward to the new book; based on your posts so far about Japan, I should find much that resonates.
Thanks so much for what you say here – I do absolutely feel rewarded in return by all of this, even if it can churn me up somewhat sometimes. I think if you write something that is personal and unleashed (a good way of putting it), there is an inherent vulnerability involved there, which is why I wouldn’t want to have those kinds of mad posts all the time. I also enjoy more arch and removed writing as it has a pleasure of its own.
As for the Japan book, it is something I really want to do and always have, but quite difficult to work out how to FORM – there is so much to say that I get overwhelmed. Also the danger of getting cancelled if you say the wrong thing etc etc etc – it’s a thorny business!
I so enjoy your writing, on everything, Congratulations!
Thanks very much for saying so. I adore doing it so this is wonderful to hear.
Well done, dear Neil! Ten years is a huge achievement indeed, with a great book along the way. I’m sure your one on Japan will be a delight.
Thank you very much. I enjoy your blog very much too (that piece on Rosine was great though typically I forgot to comment – I must more: I like your perfumer-based approach, rather than my self-obsession – and the gorgeous sun of South Africa).
Thanks for the vote of confidence on the book – it will be quite an intense affair I imagine, not everyone’s cup of green tea, but then I don’t want to just do something polite and standard, but to try an encapsulate my experience of being here, which has, as with everything, been all over the place. ..
Ah, thanks. dear Neil. You have a very personal approach, which comes across so well. I wouldn’t expect anything less from your Japan book.
Thank you for every word, Neil. I started reading so many perfume blogs back in 2012. I think you even had a list that I used to find them all. Now I only read yours. I felt a kindred spirit was out there, with the way you saw the world, and the way you wrote, so intelligent and pithy. I felt so much for you when you went through the surgery, and how hard it was to teach during the pandemic. You are so far away geographically and culturally but you bring us close and show us everything. I feel so lucky to have found your blog and to have your book. And when you rave about a perfume, I almost always buy some to try. From Ferre by Ferre with the photos of Monica Bellucci to my new signature scent Odor 93 by Meo Fusciuni, those reviews really struck a chord. Congratulation on 10 years of bringing us such wonderful stories. And please thank Duncan for the initial push. XO
Tora, thanks for everything too – the amazing vials you have sent me and for the encouragement. I am kind of horrified you only read this perfume blog as you are missing out on A LOT of perfume, surely, by doing so, my god – I only touch a thousandth of what is going on, so you should be checking out way more, but I am really happy that my expressing how I see things has connected us in some way – there is something miraculous in that.
And for some reason I am totally thrilled that you also love Odor 93 – can you tell me how it smells on you and how people react to it etc? That was one of the rare contemporary scents that truly wowed me as well, so it is great to have it corroborated. It’s so haunting and gorgeous. Are you like a spectral tuberose wafting about in it?
Still slowly and clumsily pecking on the tablet, but had to write. Neil dear, I could write pages and pages telling you how much your writing has meant to me. How much you and Duncan mean to me. But you already know what I would write.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. I remember all those times you describe. The insanity during your surgery and recovery , then around the 2016 election, then with COVID (or rather, the human behaviour on display through the scariest of those unvaccinated months). And all the times you had me fascinated with your descriptions of living in Japan, perfumes, your travels with and without Duncan, your childhood blisses and agonies, your self-discovery (although you’d already had a keen awareness of who you were very early in life) and self-expression during your time at university.
The writing and publishing of your book!!!!! Heady times in England for the launch especially.
Your meltdowns were magnificent, and often very moving to me. I’m sure your readers felt privileged to have you share that kind of honesty with them. I did, and do. I think I know you better than many of my friends because you’ve disclosed the kinds of things they haven’t, would never. There’s some beauty in the intimacy you’ve created here. A connection, as corny as that sounds. A sense that we can all be that open here, in safety. There’s no less corny way to say it.
Your readers are a huge part of that sense of being among good friends. I’ve never seen such brilliant contributions to the conversation on any other site, fragrance or otherwise. You’re just too good to attract the idiots. Too far above their level. WE are!
Congratulations on ten years, dear N. Looking forward to the next ten.
Robin, your phrase: “There’s some beauty in the intimacy you’ve created here. A connection, as corny as that sounds. A sense that we can all be that open here, in safety.” speaks volumes and I agree so much. There is such a feeling of intimacy and safety here. When Neil sheds his skin, we all feel tenderness for that rawness. And I love it so much that you mentioned Neil was just too good for the idiots!! Right on!
When Neil sheds his skin, we all feel tenderness for that rawness. That is gorgeous.
It’s so true, isn’t it? We’re lucky to have Neil — and each other. How lovely to read your note this morning, Tora. Thank you.
There are plenty of …..simpler places to discuss perfume on the net without me needing to contribute to the general dumbing, even if my absurd writing style alienates more people than it attracts.
What you say about the rawness creating a space of safety and intimacy..I am fascinated by this as it is a beautiful byproduct of it all rather than the original intention (not that I am sure what the intention actually is). I think what it might be though is a strong sense of wanting to ‘be’ in the moment and to capture that moment as vividly as possible in all its spontaneity and truth: so much that is printed is very planned and ‘removed’ in its journalistic voice – a kind of familiar magazine tone that can be relaxing in a way, but also distancing as you are aware it is a commercialized, edited, pre-ordained ‘tone’ that doesn’t really convey any sense of the person writing it as they are just conforming to a set pattern. I can’t bear to write like that – the reason I love being on here is precisely because I can communicate something instantaneously, even if sometimes I ‘go off’ and then afterwards semi-regret it (my most insane was surely the Odor 93 post – hilarious that this perfume, in that context, is what got you…)
My feelings for what your own writing on here means to me are equally strong – what you write means a LOT: I love what we share, and think that although I am the one who has essentially written a continuing diary – quite a strange thing when you think about it, in that, as you say, we can go back to things that feel quite recent, like my operation, the election, the pandemic, and it is all there in pretty much chronological order, with the further past thrown in in between – at the same time, although it is me who is being ‘exposed’, I also build up a picture of you and other regular contributors as well; a life is gradually transmitted in intermittent portraits, and I have a real sense of you being REAL. I love this.
Thanks for being there : I have learned a lot, and feel that we have ‘borne witness’ together.
Congratulations, and a million huzzahs as well!!! You are truly one of the most dynamic fragrence writers I can think of. I love the evolutoin of the The Black Narcissus over the past ten years, and how you have kept this so very real. I love that you don’t shy away from what is going on in the real world, and that just helps to further enhance how much we need fragrance to be an escape, and armour, at times. I look forward to many, many more years of your worderful writing, and to many more published works as well. I am so happy I have been here with you for a major part of this journey, you have kept me enchanted with your writing and become a friend as well.
I feel the same, Brielle. A very mutually beneficial friendship. Thanks for reading and writing and being a true perfume lover of the deepest order and kindred spirit! One day we will definitely be partying in Kamakura and Tokyo x
I am looking forward to that day, and will let loose.
Congratulations! Here’s to the next ten years and can’t wait for the Japan book.
Many congratulations on your ten year anniversary of what is surely one of the most unique and enjoyable blogs I’ve encountered! I really relate to those early days you describe, the growing familiarity with the perfume world – poring over blogs. I too found it all surprisingly deep and emotionally satisfying. I like writing about perfume (though more about the creative process of making art I suppose), but I just don’t have the guts to write in such a flowingly immediate emotional way as you do. You say you cringe at some of the emotional or personal posts you’ve written, but it’s those I also love, I’m sure I’m not alone in that either. One of the funniest was the time you wondered into an excruciatingly high-brow incense and Haiku event, with your friend wearing – I think it was thigh-high leather boots? the other one that really made me laugh (and relate to as well) was you storming out of a perfume depratment in a strop because they wouldn’t let you pick things up and try them on! I’ve had my share of strops too, totally related to it. Mostly I just love the free flow of your evocative perfume descriptions.
Many congrats again Neil, this blog has been and will continue to be a favourite read for me!
So nice to read this. I love your painting and worldview and way of writing as well. Let’s collaborate again on something soon, please!
Yes! How about a painting/writing collaboration? You choose 5 of your favourite perfumes and describe them in 500 words (maybe as an experience or what it evokes etc? Without mentioning perfume materials or notes), but dont tell me the name of them, then I’ll paint five 5 by 5 inch paintings in response to your 5 descriptions. Then you could ask readers of your blog if they can guess the perfume. Whoever guesses correctly gets a painting and a 2ml sample of the perfume? Or something like that?! There’d be no profit in it for us, or we could raise money for a charity? I’m open to ideas …