I have become quite interested recently in the concept of neurodivergency. Used to describe a wide variety of ‘disorders’ or mental differences ranging from severe autism to those on the spectrum to those whose brains simply work differently to the majority, I wonder, sometimes, whether I also belong in the category of the neurodivergent.
Firstly, the dreams. I dream so intensely, all night, every night – full, blistering oneiria with incredible detail, emotionally wrought; often exciting; erotic, frequently terrifying, exhilarating but exhausting – a lot also have soundtracks (D has seen me waking up singing a theme or song before); to me this is entirely usual, and yet, when I ask people around me – students, teachers, hardly anyone seems to dream or at least remember their dreams, and then I almost feel alienated and embarrassed as though I were a different species, realizing that my brain is so much more febrile and wild; porous and delicate than the average person but I don’t feel remotely sad about this either – to me my dreamlife is such a rich universe that I almost feel pity for those that don’t have it. I often feel too sentient; empathic like a sponge; slightly psychic. Extremely oversensitive to light, noise, atmosphere; colour; smell. Exhausted by too much human connection, even though I am a teacher – the eternal difficulty for the extroverted introvert.
So far so good (at least I think so – is it strange to just accept yourself?). The other side to this, though, of course, is ‘imbalance’, if it needs to be seen that way (I keep telling students, and this is one area I do well in and which is very important to me, as I feel it is my mission to encourage these young vulnerable people not to be too down on themselves about not being perfect in a culture that tends to be perfectionist; that you don’t have to be good at everything; that the widely held, and very guilt-ridden belief that perseverance and endeavour can triumph over everything is utter nonsense, because it just is – no one can be good at everything and neither should they necessarily want to be – the human tapestry of possibilities and potential so vast and multicoloured that there are always and always will be people who can do something you cannot and vice versa; and because I have myself heard very technically sound pianists pounding away like machines on the keys at migraine inducing levels at day long ‘happyokai‘ recitals of eager child to adult amateurs in staid, pleated dresses and mini tuxes and yet you just know that no matter how much they practice like furious automatons in their houses at night they will never actually be able to play a lick of music ,and that listening to even a couple of hours of this innane furiosity made both me and the d feel like our heads were going to explode; I truly believe in proclivities, natural abilities, inclinations; interests; we are not like hot irons that can be hammered into shape by convention even if other people try to make us believe we should be – and although it is always good to try different things (if you want to), when it comes to lacks, and inabilities, I believe that desperately trying to overcome them when you lack the innate ability is like flogging a dead horse.
My own disabilities definitely include a great lack of spatial awareness – a very chronic clumsiness that could be termed dyspraxia (oh the smashed perfume bottles!) I have to focus for a long time and try desperately hard to work out which way to put a gas cylinder into the kerosene heater, something a lot of animals and young babies could certainly work out more quickly. I think I may also be slightly dyslexic when it comes to numbers (in fact I know I am). While I can work out percentages in my head so am hopefully not 100% clueless, it is quite easy for me to forget my PIN number at the bank; very easy for me to get numbers the wrong way round (the students also laugh, but have largely got used to, my total inability to count; I invariably hand out the wrong number of papers to be distributed around the classroom — ‘Mr Chapman, er, two more please‘ is a frequent refrain – a problem that became rather more serious when – and this embarrasses me to admit but here we go – back in 1993 when working at an international language school in London, and on a day trip to Cambridge, I failed to count the number of students on the bus home (my mind went totally blank and I was just faking it as the bus driver was urging us to leave), leaving two Russian girls behind in the city who only by chance saw our very bus going by one of the colleges, hailing it down furiously and shouting at me in outrage as I sat slumped, red-faced, at the front near the driver’s seat mortified all the way to the drop-off).
Yes. I knew instinctively that I never could, nor would want to, drive a car (and have never even had one driving lesson – no one needs Neil Chapman behind the wheel on the road), and though I did my very best, I managed to get an abysmal grade E in my maths O level, the British equivalent of a junior high school diploma, without which you can’t go to university, meaning that when the system changed to GCSE the following year, I had to go to the secret maths dunce class on afternoons when others were outside playing tennis or doing drama club, just scraping a C with a great deal of perseverance (and utter, utter boredom).
Anyway. Mathematics. My discalculia.
How is all of this relevant to perfume?
Well, primarily for the fact that in trying to review this collection by new Italian brand D’Otto, with perfumes created by the excellent Paolo Terenzi, a perfumer with a mind-boggling number of Italian niche fragrances under his belt, most famously for Tiziana Terenzi, I simply couldn’t work out which was which ( compounded by the fact that when viewed upside down on the futon, the vials seemed indistinguishable) It has actually been hard to do this review this morning as I have been so confused, eventually having to spray each on on tissue with big numbers written in black marker pen and even then I have not been sure that I have been describing the right one. A baboon could do a better job.
I also fail to entirely understand the concept behind the names of these scents (it seems to be a given now, in the independent perfumery world, that practically any new launch by a new scent outfit must embrace a visual, artistic, historical or topographical crux around which that house tries to distinguish itself from all the others clamouring for attention in a very overcrowded market; hence we have endless brands trying to embody international cities; colours; music; movies; years in history; elements; animals, the list goes on and on and can be fun and interesting sometimes even though personally I just prefer an enigmatic title of something like Arpege that doesn’t try to explain away too much about the olfactory composition with other conceptual constructs but rather just is what it is; here, the idea, apparently, is that each piece in this initial collection of five fragrances corresponds with a particular painting from the early twentieth century period of abstract art; hence we have Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klee etc each represented in perfume – which I get, but what’s with all the f****** numbers?)
Scrutinizing the five samples from the D’Otto collection, I was at first completely incapable of working out which was which. My brain…..went into warp hole incomprehension. 3+5, 5+3, 2+6, 6+2, even just writing this has scrambled the wires (I gave up the Japanese written system the first week I was here as I just can’t imbibe it mentally – sonically and aurally, I have absorbed quite a lot over the years, but my number phobia stretches to other alphabets as well, blimey I am limited! ) As a selling point, I don’t think this is particularly smart . Even if you are a mathematical genius drawn to numbers, do these perfume names draw you in? (the bottle design does, but..) is there an enigmatic inscrutability here that I am just not getting because it is numbers themselves that just don’t appeal ? (I remember my mathematician friend George, who I was joined at the hip with at university explaining to me in frustration one day that my quick-damning prejudices against his mystifying studies ) were just locking me out of a whole beautiful universe that I would never be privy to : and for a brief moment, I may have regretted my temperaments and leanings and wondered how it would have been if I had been born an entirely different person.
But now to the perfumes themselves.
1+7, which I can recognize because there are no other perfumes with the same digits, is really rather beautiful.
Although I intensely dislike the painting this perfume is allegedly based on (I have an aversion to all shades of brown so cannot, for example watch westerns or any film with that palette) and have no synaesthesic nod of recognition smelling and looking (to me 1+7 definitely smells green and white), this is a scent I would like a full bottle of. It is lovely. The opening is totally delightful, reminding me of the green, citric shampoos from the 70’s I have waxed lyrical before about on here; the whole, gentle, fresh, natural, like wind blowing through the trees in spring. I feel calmed by this. I smell hope.
5+ 3 is also very handsome perfume. As one Fragrantician says, this is quite reminiscent of vintage Serge Lutens’ Chergui – I was thinking Cedre at first, but no, they are right, it is Chergui, so if you miss the original version of that strange and unusual blend that many people still pine for and feel like a denser experience, you will really love this; it is deep, mysterious, with a gorgeous tobacco honeyed mystery to it that could prove quite magnetic on the correct wearer. Again, I personally sense zero connection to the Mondrian, with its clean lines and primary colour palette – this to me would be a deep honeycomb amber with flecks of coral and dark orange – but perhaps that is just my weird cerebellum.
3.5, which I keep confusing with its anagram – is an obvious homage to Christian Dior Hypnotic Poison – a higher quality version thereof, and indeed very luminous, positive, like the happiness promised by the cheerful painting – if potentially a little bit sickly (this is the full Italian diva ; radiant and self confident – you can just feel her, bare-shouldered and self-confident, swanning into the gala). I like it, even if I have never been drawn to the works of Paul Klee – I just don’t like them – and can find no bridge whatsoever between the picture and the smell.
2.6 is the only perfume from the initial D’Otto collection that I can see any resemblance / match to the painting the scent was inspired by. Dark, bitter, this is the kind of wood scent that has me running for the hills and has been done many times before by houses like Byredo, but if you like such scents, the familiar, creosote dark brown/ blackness, 2.6 is a fairly convincing rendition.
It might smell good on you, but I must say that I don’t like 6+2 at all; to me it is just yet another overdone woody where the inchoateness of amberwood chemicals cancel out each other into a black hole of manly – but then I am just not able to appreciate any perfumes of this type in the first place – I just have an intuitive aversion to this whole genre.
The original inspiration that this scent is based on (by far the worst match!)
is also, I must say, just so hideous to me personally that I literally hesitated whether to insert this one into this piece. Looking at the above painting just makes me insane – it is wrong to me on every level, to the point of nausea. But I guess that is the point. These things are very subjective :: for the perfumer who has come up with a high quality batch of perfumes that many will find pleasurable (I do recommend trying the sample set if any of these sound appealing), these paintings – all considered masterpieces by the establishment – are representations of what he was seeing in olfactory form. For me, however, strangely, there is virtually no correspondence between the two.Then again, my brain is different…