Monthly Archives: June 2022

‘THE STORY OF PUREDISTANCE : 2002-2022’ by BIRGIT OECKHER (book review) + PURE DISTANCE M 2VQ (2022)

The new Puredistance M V2Q is the replacement model for the original cult leather M, the disappearance of which from the Magnificent 12 collection this year is bound to leave many of its fans aghast. As we learn from Birgit Oeckher (aka Olfactoria’s Travels, a much loved perfume web site that will be familiar to a great number of fragrance fanatics, myself included), in her unusual and intriguing new book release celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Dutch niche perfume Puredistance, Roja Dove, the perfumer and provider of the base oil for M, was no longer, for IFRA restriction purposes, able to provide the precise formula for this Sean Connery-as-007-inspired spiced leather aromatic. So, just like every James Bond, M, as we knew him, has been retired.

Having some insider insights into a perfume house’s mechanisms; its ethos, philosophy, olfactory evolution as well as a great deal of information on its founder, Jan Ewoud Vos – whose story and musings naturally form the majority of the text – is quite fascinating for a perfume lover, particularly one who genuinely likes many of the fragrances of the house at hand. The author has a generally understated way of writing – the biographical information sometimes rather perfunctory – though this changes as we reach the end of the book, where a passionate apotheosis bursts through the writing, which, as I put the book down after reading it in two sittings, made quite an impression on me in its very convincing portrayal of two human beings: the author and its subject – (Olfactoria was always a blend of the sublime and the amusingly honest, and here, also, it is a lot of fun to hear juicy tidbits of information on the background of perfume launches, such as the fact that the professional relationship between Mr Vos and Mr Dove, when they met in London in the latter’s ‘lair’ at the top of the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, was apparently quite ‘fraught’at times, their two very different personalities ‘clashing’); or, that while it might have been smooth sailing for some of the releases – a ‘yes, this is it!’ eureka ! moment for certain formulas, others had to be scrapped, after great expense, and started again from scratch – even switching perfumers where necessary – in order to get the desired and required effect. All of this accumulative information leads to quite a 360 degree portrait of the brand; giving a rare glimpse into its real essence.

The Puredistance lineup of twelve perfumes constitutes quite the collection twenty years into its existence, though we learn, to our dismay, that like some perfume rendition of the Hunger Games, the least popular fragrance will possibly be replaced annually by a new variant, or new perfume entirely, even if the original formula will still be available in the ‘vaults’ for lovers of that perfume, as long as stocks last and the legal rules applying to the storage of fragrances don’t affect that possibility. I am personally a particularly fan of Antonia, a green vetiver vanilla that suits me very nicely so find this fact rather alarming; I also very much enjoy the blinding white savon lilas marble statue that is Opardu (the first time I ever read one of Olfactoria’s reviews was for Opardu- she loves this scent), Number 12, which smells dazzling on D, Rubikona when I want something warm as comforting, as well as the truly exquisite Warszawa, another deep and velvety green floral with an unusual note of broom absolute that takes this dark, floral enwrapment into gorgeous and much more emotive textures (my own review of this one is used as the main description of this scent in the book, the author opting to occasionally include the opinions of other perfume writers for certain sceny descriptions in order to give more objective scope). Though the technically brilliant Antoine Lie authored the partially Bowie-inspired Warszawa – Jan Ewoud Vos’ icon, for his sheer artistry and unique expression of the self, which I was delighted to read, as a big fan myself, particularly the album that that track was taken from- I must admit that I am somewhat less attracted to this perfumer’s other very controlled, pointillistic, ultra-balanced work for Puredistance, a set of very popular perfumes that include White, Black, Gold, and the new M 2VQ; all masterfully done, exceptionally high qualiy, but, for me, too dry, perfect, lacking my required element of mystery. I completely share Kafkaesque’s horror of oud amber dominated Sheiduna (I am strangely anosmic to Pure Distance 1), but this is all just personal taste: no matter my personal opinions on each perfume, I still thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the genesis of each of these scents, how each was conceived, the reactions after it came out, the overall journey the brand has taken, all at least as much as the subcutaneous meta-text that Birgit has created here, alluding to her own sometimes complicated relationship with the brand (as well as herself, actually – she can be exasperatingly self-deprecating to the point where you just want to either shake her by the shoulders and shout ‘Snap out of it!’ Cher-style or else just give her a great big hug). We hear a lot of about the melancholy nature of Vienna, where she is from, how difficult it was to write the book because of self-doubt and procrastination (and an obviously very traumatic incident when she was still writing Olfactoria’s Travels, the negative catalyst that led to her rather sudden disappearance from the perfume blogosphere and the subsequent seclusion); this book, is thus, in many ways, like a miraculous reappearance of an old friend: a Rip Van Winkle. It is very nice to have her back, I must say, and there is hopefully more to come in the future as she states quite openly that she would like to write another book, perhaps a novel. I only hope that she doesn’t do things at a glacial Kate Bush pace, a new release perhaps every ten to twelve years or so, say; sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns and go for it. None of us live forever.

This is something that the Puredistance CEO would certainly understand, for while he clearly needs a lot of time alone to reflect and has experienced great lifestyle and philosophical change from studying Buddhism, Jan Ewoud Vos is clearly a man of energy with an individualist’s vision who refuses to compromise on his essential integrity (it is this, the apparent ‘saintliness’, that Birgit finds herself railing against in the latter part of the book, a curious combination of quasi-hagiography – which at times can become a little grating, almost deliberately, I had the impression – her natural skepticism and pessimism (her words, not mine) almost refusing to accept that this quite ‘moderate’ company – simple profit is never the ultimate goal – could actually be real. That the ethical, ‘small is beautiful’ mantra of the brand could be really true. Something stubborn, and Mitteuropa obtuse definitely comes through here, on both sides : a clash of the self-described cynic, with the unwaivering emphases of the Puredistance creator, making for an interesting inherent contradiction and overt ‘subtext’ in the book, a rebellious undercurrent; Oeckher ultimately coming to the conclusion that in the vile world that we are living in – and despite all the beauty, it really is so vile in many ways right now; so much flagrant corporate greed, selfishness, prejudice, hatred, violence, anger, shallowness; the sheer, sometimes unbearable noise of the current furious world we are inhabiting – we really do sometimes just need some refined creations of simplicity like Antonia or Warszawa to just be able to have a moment of aesthetic pleasure; stop, and just breathe. She seems to appreciate this profoundly. And that Jan Ewould Vos would decide to go for his personal history with such an idiosyncratic, even eccentric approach to his biography, is, I think, indicative of the man’s way of living itself; resolutely guided by his own instincts – as well as those of his tightly knit team, who all work from a former church – now Puredistance headquarters, in a church in Groningen, Holland – but uninterested in the standard or pre-indicated ways of doing anything (in this we share a great deal). If sometimes the central tenets of the brand’s philosophy are overemphasized throughout ‘The Story Of Puredistance’ (we get it! Puredistance is exclusive! Puredistance is elegant!), at least this is basically based upon the truth. The perfumes I have mentioned so far are all, in fact, undeniably tasteful and assured, the quality undeniable, and they are all to be found only at select perfume boutiques around the world, with a kind and personal service that is admirable (I have also been a recipient of this generosity so can vouch for it firsthand.)

Jan Ewoud Vos

Birgit Oeckher and I at Perfume Lovers London, 2014

Immersive, infuriating at times, I don’t think I have ever read anything similar.

TO BE CONTINUED

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GREY FLANNEL by GEOFFREY BEENE ( 1975 )

I was planning a thunderous opinion piece today – though the content will probably veer from what you might expect – but after an epic weekend, my brain refuses to unpack itself.

Instead, I am sitting alone, reading in the sun by the lake, wearing the unique and unmimicable violet green chypre by Geoffrey Beene, Grey Flannel.

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THE COOL UNORTHODOXY OF WEARING TWO SCENTS AT THE SAME TIME

This is not the first time we have discussed ‘layering’, an idiosyncratic self-customizing of the way you present yourself in perfume terms to the outside world. Obviously, there are endless possibilities ( some much more successful and pleasing than others : haywire selections often putrid disasters ); but it is always fun to experiment.

One possibly overlooked aspect of wearing two or more harmonious – or interestingly clashing – fragrances is that you get to smell them more clearly on yourself. There is no doubt that the nose becomes accustomed to a scent to the point where it can be almost undetectable to the wearer even if it is still present in the minds of those who encounter you. The good thing here is that your scent has probably been judiciously applied. The bad point : what’s in it for me ?

From the beginning of the year in the workplace I have been in green rose; I love the crisp distancing of galbanum enhanced roses, and drained to the dregs my beloved bottle of Parfums De Rosine’s Roseberry, which I always feel so comfortable in. Although much more comparatively more masculine with its blackcurrant/ oakmoss base, the cassis palm leaf gardenia oddity that is Gucci Rush 2 -its temporary replacement – feels great with a suit; it’s just that my nose picks up, as the day goes on, the woodiness of the base – an inch on the uncomfortable side for me – and loses the leaf freesia tartness of the opening. I almost become paranoid : does this smell right on me ?

This morning, a hot muggy day but in too frigid air conditioning, I instinctively opted for a generous spray of Puredistance Antonia on my right wrist: a galbanum drenched green soap rose entwined in ivy on a bed of vetiver and vanilla. It smells aloof, but comforting. Contrasted with Rush 2 sprayed subtly on the rest of my person, the warmer powder of the extrait strength green vanilla on one strategic point both complemented the sharper, androgynous chic of the leaf sheen elsewhere, while also bringing its entirety- as an anchor – more sharply into focus. On the bus this morning, I was in a dream of my own making.

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THE MOST APPEALINGLY, AND GRACIOUSLY UNADVENTUROUS GIEFFEFFE, by GIANFRANCO FERRE (1995)



Scouring the collection this morning for something to wear today, I could find nothing. Not a single scent that I could actively envisage enjoying.

And yet I don’t feel like going unscented (What problems I have!)

Eventually, starting to get a little agitated, but finding this in the downstairs bathroom, I finally settled on the rather dull and unadventurous Gieffeffe, – the Italian, ‘classier’ remake of CK One – even if it surprises me that I can even consider spraying on such an anodyne cologne as this; soapy, citric, fresh, inoffensive; crisply androgynous, boring. There are times, however, when you are withered and knackered, that all you can deal perfume-wise with is a mentally unthreatening pH neutral.

(NOTES:

TOP: Coriander, Bergamot, Lemon, Orange, Mandarin; Osmanthus;

MIDDLE : Nutmeg, Freesia, Cardamom, Jasmine, Orris Root, rose;

BASE: Musk, Cedar, Sandalwood, Patchouli; Amber.)

..

Back in the day, I remember I surprised myself by getting the brown-bottled Gieffeffe, the outlier in the series of three that were released when Ferre was still a name. It was a rather anachronistic patchouli-aldehydic spiced chypre, probably the first that got me into the vintage equivalents of the type, and a scent I am sometimes still nostalgic for (I don’t know if it was targeted for women or men, I just liked it. Does anyone else remember this one?). The larger release, the scent I think am going to now wear today – still in production because it is ultimately quite good – I remember scoffing at dismissively at the time for its bland anonymity; its too obvious-by-far aping of the far too ubiquitous-at-the-time Calvin Klein, when you could hardly move for young thinster ‘waifs’ trailing themselves against the walls in urban shopping centers listening avidly to Ironic and Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Nicer, more balanced; floral; less synthetic-fruity than its American originator, Gieffeffe is undeniably a rather soothing and blameless fragrance. Uplifting. A backdrop; a stasis. It smells grounded in reality. Safe.

Plus it’s nice to have variety. So chancing upon a cheap, still cellophane-wrapped bottle of Gieffeffe at a discounters a few months ago and thinking why not, it is funny how an unobtrusive pleasantry from the past that you dismissed nonchalantly with a tut and a wave of the hand way back when can thrust you back in time with almost rose-tinted glasses. It is not that I particularly enjoyed the nineties; but being projected through time to a specific time and place with a very pinpointed olfactory distinctiveness (literal time travel), is often, in itself, for me, inexplicably enjoyable.

Later on this evening, doubtlessly, a few hours in, I will probably start to find Gieffeffe overstaying its welcome : too ‘harmless’. It is possible I will be chafing.

But sometimes you do definitely just need a ‘reset’.

Something stabilizing (what are your ‘dependable dullards’, incidentally? I am curious to find out).

That, today, is all I want.

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a gardenia in my pocket


i am having one of those weeks where i am of no use to anyone and just want desperately to be alone

at lunchtime i went to a park and picked the most beautiful smelling gardenia

it sounds contrived but i forgot

and later i was confused, wondering where it was coming from

but these ¥1000 notes are totally infused with the smell of one flower

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DIPTYQUE GERANIUM & CITRONNELLE (2021)


Mosquitoes : : :

WATCH OUT !!!!

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FATHERS : : : : : MONTRI by PARFUMS DUSITA (2022)

All of the creations of Parfums Dusita are inspired by the poetry of the perfumer’s late father, poet Montri Umavijani, but the latest – his namesake, Montri, is the first to encapsulate the essence of the man himself as she remembers him. A dry, hot-spiced rose amber oud, with deep woody and tobacco/leather accents, Montri is a sensual, retro-masculine with a floral warmth that is immediately both uplifting and grounding; one for gregarious and sultry summer nights, but also nuzzling winter evenings with a spot of whiskey and a hint of comfortable solitude.

I was very fortunate a couple of weekends ago to attend my first Zoom presentation with Dusita founder Pissara Umavijani and a whole host of other internet Perfume People, though it being Paris time and Tokyo time simultaneously meant that it was three in the morning here after a long week, and I wasn’t quite at my most alert or presentable/sociable. Instead, I lurked in the backdrop, invisible, not making any direct questions, just watching the proceedings intently by myself and listening to the interesting story behind the perfume, as well as experiencing the novel approach to guiding us all through the olfactory structure: all participants had received in advance in the mail small bottles of the fragrance’s central accords: spice, floral, and oud as well as the finished perfume itself, and were invited to sample each one individually. We were requested to wait until the event before smelling everything – I am not telling you whether or not I complied – after which we would discover, step by step, how the different strata of the scent elided together as a whole. It was a fascinating way to be drawn into a new scent.

Before this, Pissara talked a lot about her father, a man yearning for new possibilities in human consciousness and wanting to transcend the common boundaries. We learned about how he would wander the streets of Paris, always with notebook in hand for the moment inspiration struck, picking up bottles of Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue (he really loved and appreciated Guerlain), a solitary man who wrote all of his poetry in English, adding both a layer of universality but also a certain (intentional) personal distance from his own beloved Thailand while doing so in order to find inner freedom. The perfumer’s affection for Montri’s work, and his character as a whole came through radiantly during the talk; it is difficult to imagine a more genuinely energetic and passionate individual – I have to admit I was quite smitten; P’s smile is dazzling and comes clearly through the airwaves even to a bleary-eyed weirdo hiding in the darkness of his kitchen in Japan; a laughter and natural animatedness that simply cannot be faked; the positivity she gives off thoroughly contagious. This aura is also very much infused in the new perfume, which follows her previous gloom-busting perfume, Anamcara, a (for me headache-inducingly overcheerful densely sparkling citrus wood), and its prior release, the brilliant Cavatina, a florally futuristic tribute to Diorissimo that I have slowly taken a real shine to over the last two years and sometimes wear when I feel like something springish and flowery to the max. I love it.

Like the darker, yuzu tinged Moonlight in Chiangmai, and the far more esoteric and dreamy Pavillon D’Or (still the most poetic of this house’s releases), Montri finds its place in the less feminine and ‘fresh’ taxonomy of Dusita’s thirteen perfumes. It is also the first to be overtly spicy: in fact, the array of spices and herbs used (saffron, nutmeg, oregano, cinnamon and coriander, with a dash of dried fruit) literally raises my body temperature when I wear it – there is a physically heating quality to this accord, which when sampled by itself, is quite reminiscent of vintage Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan and its evocations of pungent souk ; several participants exclaimed, in fact (there were a lot of exclamation marks) that they would happily wear this as a perfume all by itself (I would too) as it is so appealing. Intended as a tribute to Mr Umavijani’s calling as a ‘philosopher, observer, and traveller passionate about ideas, times and places’ the blend of notes melds readily with the deeper base Palao oud accord that forms the main theme of the perfume, which ‘evokes images of a library with wooden shelves, old books, and chairs with leather cushions; also a homage to Thai culture, its traditional fragrant ingredient’, the classic ‘hunkpapa’ tobacco facets taking me almost back to the intricate baroque of men’s eighties perfumery such as the always compelling Ungaro III. While the floral accord, a rose, orris and jasmine sambac is nice but less magnetizing to me than the others, by itself, quickly subsumed in the dry heat of the other ingredients, the rich Damask rose here fuses naturally with the oud beneath, creating a natural opulence. Personally, I think I might have imagined a more ‘haunting’ quality in a perfume with this theme – the final notes extended, perhaps, with some labdanum, musk…..the personification of the beloved in scent – the sandalwood, cedarwood and tonka here sturdy and reliable rather than emotionally affecting, but at the same time there is undeniably a real sense of energy, strength and optimism in this perfume: what it says about Ms Umavijani’s father only she and her mother (apparently more lighthearted and capricious) know, but as a work in itself, I don’t think it is necessary to know the backstory behind the perfume’s creation in order to enjoy it. It works on its own merits.

“The pen is me

And I am the pen:

In writing,

The pen gets lost

To become part of the thing

I cannot recall.” 

– Montri Umavijani

Speaking of fathers, today is my own father’s 80th birthday.

My dad (left) and uncle at a recent family gathering in the UK.

Mothers. Fathers.

It is always fascinating to me to hear about the details of all the variegated human relationships, how they differ, the nuances and ins and outs of emotional connections and the uniqueness of blood relations in families; no story the same, no matter what the country or societal background; each link, and its psychological impact, always a story unto itself. As is evident with the Dusita origin story, our fathers have a great influence on us, the special dynamics of mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter, often curiously distinct.

While Pissara Umavijani seems to almost venerate her father, as an artist and poet as well as the man who encouraged her to follow her own artistic inclinations and intuitions when growing up, the Gemini (him) / Sagittarius (me) antagonisms of my dad and I make our own relationship very different. As a non-conformist, rebellious, more academic and left-leaning, possibly pretentious ‘aesthete’ who yearns for nothing except a poetic, cinematic, transcendent existence, vs much more of a ‘realist’ – my dad spent his entire career in the automobile industry – we are like chalk and cheese in many ways, our irreconcilable political differences a perpetual thorn in the side for me (it’s better just to not talk about it), his own more straightforward, down to earth and blunt financial pragmatism quite different to my airy fairy refusal to ever properly plug into ‘reality’. He was undeniably often too aggressive when we were growing up, which left its own mark, but at the same time, his garrulousness and sociability (the man can literally talk to absolutely anyone without even a trace of self-consciousness, something my mother and I sometimes find mortifying when he goes up to complete strangers and starts chatting, but which is actually a wonderful gift and which by osmosis has helped me as a teacher and communicator), as well as his undeniably hilarious spontaneous wit and storytelling (fabrication spinning that even Donald Trump would envy), are typically Geminian : often quite brilliant ‘out of thin air’ tales that are spun from his own mind and the ether.

In this sense, then, there are some similarities between our two trajectories. While Pissara Umavijani’s father, Montri Umavijani, a poet, presumably enraptured the young girl in Thailand with his spare and beautiful poetry, my dad would also have us regularly spellbound on weekend mornings in the parental bed as my brother and I lay sprawling and transfixed, weaving stories that left you silent and completely captivated. It was the same for our cousins, who adored having him as their babysitter or the fun-to-be-with uncle who could always come up with a mysterious narrative or surrealistic yarn at the drop of a hat; in my childhood he was quite the force to be reckoned with.

firstborn me as a bald gay baby with my obviously delighted parents

me as a hot and petulant sixteen or seventeen year old; argumentative; hysterical; about to turn semi-goth, rigorously vegetarian; closeted; furious; my father (here close to the age I am now), and his mother, my lovely loopy grandmother, and my little sister, who adores my dad – (she recently came up from London so that they could watch Top Gun – Maverick together as it has special sentimental meaning for her from the time they were driving across America in 1996, in Arizona, listening to the soundtrack in the car)………



They are all having a picnic today, somewhere in London, and then he is going to be flying across the English channel in a World War II era spitfire, one of his ultimate dreams.






*

If we frequently clashed,

How can you not understand this maths problem? It’s so bloody easy”

: “How can you fail junior high school English: your own language

-and even physically fought (I can see us wrestling breathlessly in the hallway just before my mother came home from work one day), for me as a child, what was wonderful in spite of all of this needless aggro was the fact that they never tried to change me: I always felt encouraged. And loved. My dad has always got your back; loyal, behind you and would defend you to the death (really not something to be sniffed at: there are so many cold, distant, even downright cruel parents out there). True, in an effort to forge some father-son extra-curricular bonding, he occasionally tried to take me to car shows and airforce regatta (the utter tedium! the ugliness! ), and to one memorable football match where I sat in the stadium in the freezing cold rain reading a book, repelled by the stench of hot Bovril beef extract I had been given in a plastic cup and just willing it all to end as soon as possible so that we could go home, but in fact, they never insisted. Instead, I was allowed to go and dance to Tchaikovsky and Abba in my room without ever being teased for it; could lounge among the flowers for hours reading fairy tales to my heart’s content; my most precious memory of my father in my life so far probably being the time when I was crying in my bed at night, as a child, disconsolate at the fact that I was ‘different’ and imploring to know the reason why I had been created like this, and getting nothing but compassion and approval :

” So many gardeners are men, son, and love flowers; you have nothing to worry about”.

This was an extremely tender moment for me; and something I remember as very precious.

Complex, multilayered, mercurial, loving, my father is an important influence in my life, and I have more of him in me that any of us in the family fully realize. Mutual exasperation aside, I have inherited his spontaneity, reckless sense of adventure and a fierce desire to see the world (just like his own father, who was a seaman in the navy); his ability to keep going forward and retain his (exterior) optimism despite a lot of quite difficult obstacles being thrown his way throughout his life, which I have always found very admirable, truly impressive (after knee surgery he and my mother went to Cuba and he won second prize in a Havana hotel’s dancing competition as a fantastic middle finger to presumed decrepitude), and just as Mr Montri Umavijani is undoubtedly, wherever he may be now, very proud of his daughter for being who she is and creating what she has with Dusita – a person following her instincts and thrusting herself into an entirely new world in Paris to make perfumes in honour of his poetry, I hope that my own father, in his own way, feels similarly about me.

Happy Birthday dad

x

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DIOR HOMME COLOGNE (2022)

Dior Homme Cologne is a ‘refreshed’ and repackaged version of the 2014 light citrus musk that was released as a summer variant to the velveted, sweet iris of the original, groundbreaking Dior Homme. I loved the powdered, clean laundered air of the top iris note in the first editions of that scent as much as the next person – and applauded the absolute volte face it represented in what the possibilities it held for fragrances targeted at a male audience. If actually wearing Dior Homme, with the cloying, densely sweet ambered/tonka bean vanilla in its later stages made me want to actually claw the skin off my own face, I still do appreciate its relevance as a gamechanger.

Because I am not really one to go out of my way to try all the exhausting flankers of every scent release, the cologne version of Homme – actually a totally different perfume – had escaped my attention. Yesterday, though not quite as nifty as Robert Pattinson in my work suit and splendiferous tie, I decided to sample this, on a paper card, in the city, and just a little on the back of my hand so that I could wash it off as necessary.

First impressions: Francois Demachy, grand nez at Dior, sure knows how to nail the deal. Essentially, this is an aldehydic grapefruit musk with a healthy dose of steam-ironed freshness and Iso E Super to surround the wearer like a just washed forcefield, with some vetiver in there as well (not mentioned but I can smell it) on top of hidden iris, as a discreet link to the first iteration of Homme.

At first I was thinking: ooh, could I actually wear this? Could this be my next summer scent? Grapefruit is not often done well in perfume; here, it is bright, energized; the link to the floral heart of the scent apparently based on grapefruit blossom, the idea of a fleur de pamplemousse quite appealing as a light morning summer flutter. As the scent gradually settled, I realized what it was beginning to remind me of a lot: : a modern unisex tribute to Estee Lauder’s White Linen.

I did begin to feel strange after a ten or so minutes, though, I must admit, as if my identity had been hijacked. This wasn’t an entirely unpleasant sensation, as we all sometimes need a break from ourselves, but I definitely had the sensation of being on a plane, in the cabin air, and the artificial happiness of clean scents being pumped into the space to stop you choking on all the flatulent miasma. It was pleasant, but too generically ‘nice’. Eventually, I had to wash it off because the white musk base – still with traces of convincing grapefruit – was starting to bother me. In the same way thar Prada Infusion D’Iris, or Terre D’Hermes, which I always invoke as examples of perfectly crafted modern perfume that I nevertheless personally always find too one note and insistent, are very pleasant but also nerve-dulling, this is also one of those pristine juggernauts that are destined to sell by the bucketload, despite the internal sameness, because they just work overall : immaculate balance; good projection, an easygoing, relatable smell. This is perfect for a smart young person. Just not for yours truly.

It’s also quite interesting to look at the advertising for this fragrance. Robert Pattinson is up on high; sitting alone, in the sun, clean and groomed, smelling of just-showered floridian citrus, crisp and fresh; in self-contained solitude. No European supermodels clawing at his chest or mauling him in a elevator :

gratuitous male nudity as it is Friday












: the suggestion being perhaps that this is a scent more for just getting on with the day; feeling pep and preppy as you are doing so, not necessarily with shagging on the brain, unlike the louche aggression of Johnny Depp in the Sauvage ads, in which the actor is trawling through the desert with a scowl on his troubled face, the kohl melting under his sorrowful eyes, searching bitterly for more real estate and his old place in the firmament; stirring up his legions of rabid zomboid rottweiler ‘superfans’ who undoubtedly drink the pungent, injurious Sauvage eau de parfum by the gazillion in Manchester cocktail bars as funky evening aperitifs (naturally, sales of this megalith soared during the trial with Amber Heard; disgusting, really, when you think about it https://wwd.com/beauty-industry-news/beauty-features/dior-sauvage-johnny-depp-amber-heard-sales-fragrance-1235192960/). The world is fucked.





In comparison, away from all that sordid grubbing and defamation, the Dior Homme cologne is very neat: represents no danger: no threat; no sadomasochistic fantasies. Something to wear alone. A scent to get you through the day: innocuous, polished, unstained.




It smells of grapefruit.

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SHINJUKU by SOLVEIG




-photos by Solveig Boergen

Meeting a friend of a friend for the first time on a stairwell as we descended into the lower basements of the club in Shinjuku on Saturday night, she asked me to name her perfume.

I could not do so.

Probably back in the day, when a smell nut could identify all the main perfumes, this would have been a cinch, but at that moment, as I leaned in, nothing particular came to mind. Just a pleasant freshness: perhaps it had faded in all the urban humidity.

Anyway, she told me she loved my book, and I was delighted. After that, they got sucked up in the crowd when we eventually got down below and I didn’t see them again. But the next day, she said she felt as if she had stepped into another world coming to Kabukicho after all this time in relative seclusion (as did I ). Just one notorious nightlife area of Shinjuku, a neighbourhood which itself forms part of the biggest city in the world.

I feel her photographs of the street corner we were on capture some of the strangeness, deep man-made artificiality, and allure.

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TOKYO ALL NIGHT

Neil : We stayed in Tokyo all night. This wasn’t the plan.

Duncan: It completely wasn’t the plan but we made the most of it. Getting off at Tokyo station was a good call.

N: Way better than Shinagawa. If we had been stuck there all night I think we would have been bored to death.

Do you think we caught the wrong train because we are out of practice? This was the first night out in Tokyo for over two years, since right before the pandemic. It’s possible I haven’t actually been out in the proper heart of the city since 2019. Everything was as I knew it, topographically – I could practically walk around with my eyes closed – and yet as we ran to get the last train we got on the wrong platform and in the wrong direction. I could hardly believe it.

At first, I was so exhausted in advance – a real miseryguts knowing that we would have to grind it out until morning as there is just no other way of getting back. By dawn you are always desperate to get into bed. I thought we would probably just wander around Ginza and Hibiya and find some twenty four hour booze joints. But I wasn’t really in the mood.

D: Yes, had it rained we would’ve found a dive and dug in with croquettes and fried chicken but we were fortunate in that it was a warmish night and quite enchanting around there; quite lovely at that late hour. The area always has a silvery calm and spaciousness. The streets are so clean! Shinagawa is very banal by comparison.

N: We spent the night in Hibiya park. Aside from a group of rowdy young men in one corner having a night party for the first hour, we had the entire place to ourselves. Until dawn. I found it strangely magical.

D: I haven’t been there for so long…

We must go back and have a Weissbier at the German beer hall there this summer.

N: Definitely.

It was so peaceful just to sit there in the middle of the city. Just down the way from the Imperial Palace; breathe and take it all in. ..

One very big difference between you and me is that you cannot be still for a long time. Whereas I have absolutely perfected the art of not moving, staring into space: to be almost immobile. You had to keep going off for explorations.

D: Oh I need to move – too much sitting around makes me itchy for new vistas. I had to go and explore the park – in Japan you can do that without any fear. It’s so safe here. What a lovely thing that is.

N: But then the second time, you didn’t come back.



D: The first wander was a five minute round the block but the second time I delved much further and almost got lost.

I navigated back to the quad where you were by locating the ‘stiletto’ building we’d passed comment on earlier. I reckon it was a twenty-five or thirty minute saunter but it must have seemed much longer.

N: For a while, I entered that state of pure dread, when you think someone has disappeared.

I remember the same thing happened that weird time in China Town in Kuala Lumpur, where you just vanished off the face off the earth. Maybe we have seen too many murder documentaries on Netflix. But I had all these ‘the last time we saw him alive’ type nightmares. I could see you walking off, again and again in my mind.

D: Yes. Can totally imagine the Netflix episode… And yes, the Kuala Lumpur China Town experience is still very vivid to me – we lost each other looking at bootleg albums in the market. It wasn’t dangerous there but it was alarming!

N: The irony is that Tokyo is, and just feels, as you say, so safe. Where else would you wander around at three in the morning, and not for one second worry that something untoward would happen to you? Even in the middle of the park, on the central lawn, there was that strange little robot mower. When we got there at first, I thought it was some kind of armadillo or alien creature we had stumbled upon, just going from edge to edge doing its business in the park lamplight. In most countries, it would surely be stolen within a couple of hours, or vandalized; smashed. There was something quite tranquil about just watching it work, as though it were alive.

D: It’s hard to imagine a less threatening place.

I liked the almost imperceptible thrum of the grass-cutting robot as it made its way around the quad.

N: When you eventually came back, I was so happy. And then we just stayed on the park bench. You were asleep. On my shoulder.

It’s a good job I bought that hoodie along with us, actually as it started to get a bit cold – I had assumed that the club we went to beforehand – six floors underground in the middle of Kabukicho in Shinjuku – would be hideously over-airconditioned, so I had an extra layer, in my bag, just in case, when in fact in the end, it had been boiling hot. I couldn’t even venture from where I was just by the door and stayed by the fan. I just wasn’t used to being so compressed with other people. And so I think that missing the train afterwards was in a way, serendipity, as I had found the manic last-train-claustrophobia of the sardine level of squashed togetherness almost unbearable, and probably the evening would afterwards have just gone downhill in irritated bickering.

In fact, during that last five minute journey, propped up by jammed in people around me and not even holding a handrail because I couldn’t reach one, I just closed my eyes; tears under my mask. At first we were arguing ( or rather I was shouting) ; I wasn’t ever doing this again etc etc, I was never coming to Tokyo again etc etc. For me, in many ways it was all a bit unnerving.

I know I am much more neurotic than you generally, but weren’t you at all worried about the coronavirus, when we know that Shinjuku is the ‘hotbed’?

D: I suppose since Ukraine happened, I’ve more or less stopped worrying about the coronavirus. We are vaccinated and we still have to be careful but it is hard to believe that we won’t catch it one day. It is important to not let fear of it impede our lives too much. I think I am ready to re-enter the world now. It seems many others had the same idea last night – out for the first time in over two years.

N: It was rocking. And practically a reunion.

After some prevaricating, we had decided eventually to bite the bullet and go to ‘June Gloom’ – a performance and drag show event at Club Heist. It was great to see everyone after such a long time. Energizing. And I could hardly believe that I myself had actually performed at an event in that very same building, could hardly imagine the roles being switched as I looked on from the audience. I think I would just have too much stage fright now – or would I ? Part of me is aching to get to the piano keys again and do all of that once more.

D: I would like to return to the stage when the theme/venue is right for my act. I would definitely like to do a show. I feel it’s been so long that it would be refreshing now. I could do something new and intriguing. It’s good in some ways to have had a break. I mean we are still making movie shorts and generally being creative with our projects but yes, time is ripe for DWhom to come back methinks…

N: When we first got in there, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

D: It was alarmingly packed at first. But after a few drinks, the audience kind of adapted to the space and an intuitive osmosis happened. The crowd gelled as an organism and the night took off. But, I feel that venue is too small and a more spacious one is needed for future events.

N: I reckon so. Pleased they had such a good door though.

Die Schwarze Frau (the exquisite creature with the fan, standing in the dressing room door), sang ‘Gloomy Sunday’ – one of my favourite songs. It was nice to have live singing rather than just lip syncing as I feel it puts you in a different mode; a more direct receptivity. I said that at one point he ought to do some French chansons in cafes and smaller cabarets; he asked if I would be the accompanist. I think I would love that.

D: It would be a marriage made in heaven (and, well, hell – in a good way: obviously). It would be like the hags scene-within-a-scene in our movie Girl Goned – high/low absinthe-drenched gothic fin-de-siècle – quite dark it would be, non?

N: Yes, it would. Melancholic. But stagey. But with also real emotion.

Another dimension.

It was a super intense, colourful experience being out in Shinjuku again.

I both loved and hated it. But this was perhaps intensified further, I think, by the fact that we had already been out in Yokohama much earlier in the afternoon for a cinematic matinee at Jack and Betty, and our minds were already drenched and (over)stimulated by the film.

We saw ‘Titane: the Cannes Palme D’Or winner from 2021, directed by Julia Ducourneau.

It was crazy : disturbing, violent, but beautiful. Also tender. I loved it.

D: Me too! I was totally wowed by it. True body horror masterpiece with a peculiar, gross intimacy. I was reminded of other movies that have this highly original and intense aesthetic and that are a wild trip – such as The Devils, Possession, The Cook the Thief, his Wife and her Lover…

All the great little art cinemas in that area – so many movies to see.

(Ah, Frank Zappa on the movie poster – always happy to clock his face anywhere.)

N: Yes I think perhaps we ought to go and see it. I remember you put a Frank Zappa song on one of those first compilations you made me for me when you were still at university.

And talking about sensory overload: smell-wise, as the smell soundtrack yesterday you were wearing Pu’Er by One Day, the fourth part of the tea perfume collection I got the other day from Hong Kong. The Oolong hadn’t worked at all – too….rich and weirdly oolongy, but my instincts were right about this one. It smelled really nice on you – a delicate tea facet interlacing the sandalwood (the main note), vetiver and musks and cedarwood; honestly, you were just emanating this scent from the time we left the house at 1:30pm Saturday to when we got home at 7:00 am Sunday. The sillage was constant, but not overpowering. A proper ‘aura’ that melded right. I really enjoyed it. And for me, being truly immersed in a film, but having that extra element of scent throughout, is always thrilling. It augments the overall experience.

I was for some reason in typically overdone tropical ylang ylang mode (Chanel No 5 on one arm; Guerlain Lys Soleia and Ylang Vanille elsewhere as well as Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse for good measure); not sure it was necessarily the most perfect choice, but I did feel that we complemented each other well in our third row cinema seats. Flowers and vanilla and tea and wood. Merrily intoxicated all round.

D: I wonder if those nearby were also ‘merrily intoxicated’….

But yes – I took to Pu’er Tea immediately. It is a perfect blend for my skin and my scent aesthetic. I love that the sandalwood is tempered by tea and cedarwood. I am a huge musk fan – most of my favourite scents feature it. I felt this scent gave off a ‘glow’ and was good throughout the day. I might need a bottle.

N: I think so.

But back to Titane again for just a moment. I think you and I were both actually relieved to have seen a proper film: I can see why the director won the top prize in cinema for Titane. It was so visceral and invested; one of those films where your brain and perception is changed as a result of watching it (a sign of real cinema). It was almost difficult to talk for a while when we came out and I felt disoriented being in natural light. The images and sensations of the film were all circulating in the mind and physical body for a long time afterwards when we sat down on the street for an early dinner…..just looking out and watching the parade of people.

Do you think we were mad to then want to saturate ourselves even further with all the stimuli of Tokyo? Or is it just a natural reaction to weeks of working and being respectable and proper?

D: I think it was a perfect Saturday. Cinema. Show with friends. Beer, g and t, kebab, more beer in the park, napping on the park bench, nibbling on conbini snacks, chatting about the strange buildings in our midst, sauntering here and there in the depths of the night, seeing in the dawn and getting the first train and first bus back. I feel quite refreshed by it! I didn’t sleep well the night before but slept deeply after all that.

N: Yes. I am actually really glad we missed the train.

I think having all those hours to kill and just absorb the green was quite the serene antidote.

I also liked wandering around Hibiya and into Ginza, with nobody around, as night turned to morning.

D: Me too. Poor Godzilla. He looks so lonely and abject in the blue light of dawn. He really should find another giant lizard companion and go for a beer and yakitori. The world is kinder by far under red lantern light.

N: When we finally got on the bus from Ofuna, after the long train journey, I was exhausted. And so were you.

D: Yes. But I napped pleasantly. Maybe the Pu’Er Tea scent contributed to this sense of ease and peace. I really like its gentle refinement. (Damn how grey my hair is now! That mask was a big hit though! Bejeweled oji-chan!))

N: You got a lot of compliments. It was from Ofuna market, wasn’t it?

D. Yes. From that stall.

N: We slept in with the cat, and got up very late today – I think I finally got onto the futon just after eight. A little bleary eyed when I woke up, but psychically revitalized.

Overall, it was a really interesting day and night.

D: It was.

I’m sniffing my wrist again.

This is definitely a D scent.

N: It is yesterday.

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