The concept of what constitutes ‘affordable’ is all relative. Those milling around the Guerlain counters at Isetan the other day willing to spend over 60,000 yen, on, say, on a full bottle of the middling carnation and benzoin perfume Oeillet Pourpre from the Art Et Matiere collection, objectively have much more money than the regular Joes on the street here in Japan where that amount of cash would make up more than a quarter of the average person’s monthly starting salary (the poverty rate is slowly rising in Japan at present, currently estimated to be around 16% of the population). In dollars that is 427, still not peanuts for the vast majority for people, myself definitely included – I simply don’t have that kind of disposable income and never will – but 60,000 yen feels more akin to 600 dollars in real terms here: unimaginable as a daily perfume. The yen has been sliding precipitously recently – like the pound – and such a price, for a perfume that is exactly the same formula as Guerlain’s semi-mainstream release of a few years ago, Lui, merely in a new and rather medicore bottle but tripled in cost, strikes me as something akin to outrageous.

In global terms, obviously, all of this luxury we spend our time feasting on is beyond unfeasible for most of the world’s population. We are living in a bubble. I have just been reading about the misery of climate catastrophes in Madagascar, where the population seems to be living in very dire circumstances scrabbling to make a living from day to day, and where even the production of vanilla, the country’s most important export, and which will of course find its way into the delicious elixirs of Guerlain, has been imperiled by a poor flowering and harvesting this year. Hypocritically, I don’t suppose I will try to do anything practical to try and rectify this situation ( I once met a Japanese man working in the field of vanilla bean trade and production who invited me to go out to Madagascar with him ; we lost touch), but it also doesn’t necessarily hurt to sometimes be aware.

Walking along the upmarket, if slightly twee and old fashioned – all ribboned teddy bears, sparkling jewellery, and porcelain knick knacks alongside bakeries and tea shops and specialists selling honey and coffee ; the dearly beloved shopping district of Motomachi on Saturday, dinky and chichi as ever and gearing up for Christmas, we passed by the youthful emporium United Arrows, always popular with the voluminously cream coloured baggy ungendered twenty year olds of today. While D had a look at the clothes (nothing ever fits me there so I don’t even try) , I had a quick browse through the perfumes and scented novelties, the imported French and Portuguese soaps, and of particular interest, the set of fragrances created by Jean Claude Ellena for Cologne Of The Cloisters meisters, Le Couvent Des Minimes.

Le Couvent Des Minimes is one of those mid-range perfumeries that offer appealing products which please all the senses – their Cologne Of Love , a really lovely orange blossom, nasturtium and vanilla perfume is divine and helped preserve my soul when I was in hospital and rehabilation five and a half years ago. I like the bottles and packaging of this brand very much personally – though with their themology and animal characters there may be a whiff of nicking from Zoologist. Still, they are good: and very reasonable. The above colognes are 55 pounds in the UK for a 50ml. The current equivalent, 7,500 yen here in Japan, feels a little more pricey, but still, given that they are all made by a perfumer like Jean Claude Ellena, who certainly needs no introduction, in trying one of these you know you are in capable hands.

We don’t do oud or ‘amber wood’, but I am liking the hibiscus wolf and the spike leaved kestrel

These two were quite pretty : the butterfly on the bottle!

Theria – the zebra – is a workaday iris, but then saying that is a contradiction in terms. Iris butter is expensive, and this is pure orris at the beginning, with a galvanizing cardamom and narcissus heart and vanillic cedar in the base that went a bit sweet on me but which struck me as a very good ‘off to the shops’ in-expensive-cotton-wear type of spritz (rich people need such things in our daily lives). Nubica, the lion, is also a nice amber patchouli that would be the perfect Christmas present for someone who likes the more exotic vanilla bean in their lives without it being too overcaloried; I like this one and would like to explore it further as a possible option for myself, even if in truth, I haven’t been in gourmand mode for quite a while now, finding the tonka and vanilla bean as a genre rather suffocating (wearing something like, say, the very overpriced and molar-melting Dior Feve Delicieuse now, in my current state of head, would be a gluttonous castigation, like the greedy boy in Roald Dahl’s Matilda being force-fed Mrs Trunchbull’s chocolate ‘gateau’.).

No. Instead, I think I would invest in the new Agapi – by far the most experimental, and indeed, singulier of this range which was the one I decided to wear for the afternoon as we walked away from the restricting shopping area and up to the hillside and trees of the Yamate Bluff with its addictive oddness (a quite original combination of cloves and ambroxan in the base over a heart of ylang and a piercing top accord of very realistic passionfruit melded with an orange cultivated in Cyprus, the mandora). This is one of those scents you are never quite sure of – in the shop it took me back for a few fleeting moments to when I bought my first ever bottle of perfume, Xeryus by Givenchy, down a rabbit hole back to my teenage self – a spray of forest freshness, the initial effect almost coniferous, definitely androgynous, engrossingly sniffable, and an unusual attention getter I would imagine – (a head turner for someone jogging by in a tracksuit, through the woods and past a outdoor swimming pool lido, closed and barbed wired off for the winter, and next to it, a Japanese archery practice – Kyodo – area, where archers in traditional uniforms and still poses, shot their arrows in comfortable silence).

‘Agapi’ – which means love in Greek, is, according to Le Couvent Des Minimes, an ode to this perfumed, ornithological scenario :

“High up in the branches of a tree, a pair of birds sing and dance with boundless tenderness. Sparkling citrus notes mingle with sun-drenched exotic fruit: a colourful, joyful and carefree fragrance…………… the inseparable lovebirds.”


Filed under Flowers


  1. gunmetal24

    This sounds intriguing. I will keep an eye if I ever see them around. And thumbs up for reasonably priced perfume. We need more of that really.

    I will be sure to be cautious of the vanilla cedar combo though. Not my favourite combination.

    • Definitely thumbs up for reasonably priced perfume. The whole scene has become insane, which is why I wanted to highlight these. If you can dig a passionfruit note, Agapi is really quite sexy.

  2. This is a well priced house I definitely need to try. The notes of Lysandra & Saiga seem like something I’d like, the bottles are tasteful (even if they are Zoologist inspired).
    Agape is the highest form of love, unconditional and enduring.
    I wonder what will happen to those $$$s luxury perfume houses in the pending post pandemic recession? There are so many of them nowadays. Huge layoffs in the USA mean not so happy Christmases for many this year. I see people going into the forest daily now to forage for food, Nepal has been hit hard by the lack of tourists.

  3. Wild Gardener

    Guerlain did the same price hiking thing in 2013 with Eau de Lingerie.
    They moved it from Elixirs Charnels to Matières Confidentielles and tripled the price.

  4. I didn’t realize that Oeillet Pourpre is the same as Lui! I got a sample of OP this fall from the Guerlain boutique in Las Vegas; while I like it a lot, I’ve already concluded that I don’t like it better than L’Artisan’s Oeillet Sauvage or Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet, both of which I already have.

  5. These all sound rather charming and quite wearable. There isn’t a one that I wouldn’t try on for a sniff.
    Guerlain is so out of touch with reality, it just bothers me.
    I worked for them, back in 97-01 and was disillusioned by the time I left, because I could see the trajectory the company was heading in. Before that they were a complete part of my life for years I had been wearing the fragrances, I’d had Shalimar since I was 12, used all their skincare and all of their makeup products. That was why I wanted to work for them, I adored everything Guerlain. LVMH ruined my adored maison, and turned it into this exclusive palace for only the elite. Have you seen how much the skincare is? Outlandish!! Just terribly sad to me.

  6. Hanamini

    I’ll be somewhere I can try these in a few weeks, excited to see what they are like, given the price point. Something without the agonising decisions and regrets (“I really must try to like this”, “I love this but can’t afford it”, “I should have bought this when I could”, etc). Take it leave it!

    As for Guerlain, well, lipsticks used to be great and I still use the powder blusher (the heavenly smell…), but I never buy any new smells from them. I wonder if a backlash against outrageously priced fragrances will ever arrive in a way that makes it noticeable in the department stores. Or maybe those will just keep going as candy jars for the extremely rich and temples of aspiration/depression for most of us. Though I will be visiting several as part of a perfume Saturday with my oldest child and her boyfriend. Part of their education!

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