1.The ridiculously good smell of Rogue’s Jasmin Antique on my mother :
I had sent a bottle of Manuel Cross’s extraordinarily life-like jasmine to my mum a couple of years previously as I knew immediately that this was a good one, but it wasn’t until we met in Windsor at the Royal Adelaide Hotel in August that I got to experience this in person. Wow. Admittedly insistent and unwaning, the simple, but genius formula, of living jasmine flowers gently decorated with a little vanilla, clove essence and musk, drifting on the surrounding breeze is like no other.
The best jasmine ever made.
2. The gardenia in my wallet:
The very best perfume I smelled all year was honestly this : I plucked an exquisitely perfumed gardenia from a neighbourhood bush at night; enclosed it in my leather wallet, and when I opened it the next day the scent was almost obscenely beautiful. Paying at the cash register, with shop assistants registrably noticing the scent as I handed over my enfleuraged 1,000 yen notes, has never been more amusing nor so thoroughly ecstacizing.
3. Boiled ginger and fried chicken curry :
This year was the best ever at work for me: a serene and very unstressful, mutually respectful environment (and openable windows!). I have some lovely colleagues, one of whom, Mr K, with his openness, kindness, and insistence on a positive atmosphere, has made a huge difference to my daily life. You get to know each other’s foibles and habits: he spends all his money on mod cons for his expensive new home and motorbike, and thus economizes by eating the same thing everyday : very cheap fried chicken and Japanese curry. I am always microwaving ginger in rooibos for health : the two scents mingle: they are familiar to everybody around us.
4. One Day’s Pu’er Tea
All niche perfumeries have ‘discovery sets’ now where you can peruse 2ml vials of the often overextensive catalogue of fragrances in each collection. The bottles in this sample collection were bigger; enough to get a real handle. Sometimes I find that it is easy to overlook the best fragrances in any selection because you are drawn to the more unusual or outrageous: this was also true, at first, with Hong Kong perfumery’s One Day’s tea collection, which was immediately appealing to me, especially the Jasmine and Osmanthus. Oolong was by far the most unusual; Pu’er, essentially a sandalwood tea, the least surprising – but it was, eventually, also a real slowburner of love and recognition. The gentle, refined sillage glow of this on the D is probably my favourite perfume on him all year.
5. The smell of flying:
Everything about being on an aircraft headed elsewhere, from the plastic of the overhead lockers to the scents worn by the tightly dressed stewards and stewardesses to the slow familiar heat up of the onboard meals, smelled utterly exhilarating for me when we first sat down on our Etihad Airways flight and ordered a G + T : the sheer anticipation and blue of the sky and clouds outside.
6. The scent of crisp apples pinched from the tree in my brother’s garden :
Crisp cox; still with the leaves from the stem: the true beauty of the beginning of Autumn in England.
7. The WTF weirdness of Miskeo Brume:
New Australian brand Miskeo has two very modern, relatable, fine perfumes – Epices – a streamlined aromatic citrus, and Daim – a holographically fresh suede I would definitely recommend. Brume, on the other hand, is one of those unfathomable weirdos that made me exclaim, out loud, ‘Oh my god!’ when I smelled it. This is totally new, unchartered territory, a fierce, ozonic/ aldehydic green with juniper, lentisque, moss and seaweed lemon that practically takes your eye out.
8: The pore-sealing hideousness of Tom Ford Noir Extreme Parfum:
This overboiled nightmare, one of a whole plethora of too densified concoctions that contain everything but the kitchen sink, so compressed and everyman amber, sweetened and woodied, is very emblematic of the frightening direction that a lot of nauseating niche perfume is going in generally. The olfactory equivalent of the asphyxiated girl drowned in gilt paint in Goldfinger.
9. The lilies where I live:
The osmanthus tree in the garden; the perfect magnolia; the plum blossom and narcissus.
Yes. But the giant lily fest in July and August, growing wild in abundance in the mountains, luring me in, and occasionally staining my clothes with their overeaching pollen pistils as I ride by deliriously on my bicycle, most definitely takes the biscuit.
10. My sister in Fracas by Piguet
Good lord how this suits her.
The scent trail she left in the house, in the morning, when she had already gone off to work…..
11. Finally smelling Violet Volynka:
In the end, this very elegant, spritely, yet ever so slightly sluggish, violet leather perfume wasn’t quite my Birkin, but the thrill of finally smelling it after all the wondering and thwarting showcased the sheer founts of curiosity that new perfume releases can still provoke.
12. The new Ralph Lauren Polo vs Calvin Klein ‘Everyone’
Killing time, thinking, very naively, that I was about to board the return flight to Japan at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on a whim, with eyes rolling like a tombola I approached the CK stand with its cynically yawnworthily ‘hip’ and overexplicated photo essay on gender inclusivity and homosensuality and smelled the scent – which smelled of absolutely nothing. Ironically, the RL newest edition of Polo – always a typically manly brand – smelled of nothing but neroli. A rough source of neroli, admittedly, but just raw orange blossom. For me, the latter of these youthful skateboarders’ spritzes was much more interesting in terms of subverted gender expectations by far: men in flowers – – WE LIKE.
13. Vintage Farouche:
I came across a shop this year near one of my work places that blows my mind. Already, as you will remember, I have a massive vintage Shalimar; I have eyes on others; they have more stock they are going to bring in for me specifically so watch this space for more surprises. This year, the icing on the cake vintage-wise was the pristine supremacy of the Nina Ricci Farouche parfum, which in this untouched extrait has an almost tearworthy beauty beyond words: every time I glance in its direction, at its red velvet box, I feel an intense satisfaction.
14. Frederic Malle’s Synthetic Jungle :
It ate my brain.
15: The smell of the incense at Ryukoji Temple:
The Buddhist ceremony we attended at a temple in Fujisawa this November was intriguing and mesmerizing, all to an olfactory soundtrack of the most austere kyara and jinko Japanese agarwood incense. As the lights went out, and you were suspended in absolute darkness, very slowly being re-illuminated by the monk who was lighting the candles (as beautiful a metaphor on hope and life after death as you could hope for), in the pitch black, all you could smell was slow burning, beautiful smoke.
16. Fleur de Weil :
Just looking at the daily newsfeed on the miraculous Fragrantica can either induce extreme envy and terrible Fear Of Missing Out – or else give me a feeling of overwhelmed panic and inundation. How to possibly catch up?
This is why it is sometimes also fun to also explore the rejects; those that didn’t make it. Even from more recent times. The more inexpensive. The lost obscurities.
I was, of course already very familiar with the exquisitely benevolent Antilope by Weil from 1946; also, this year, the haunting Weil de Weil which was sent to me courtesy of the lovely Diane. Fleur is one I tried for the first time yesterday, having picked it up last week at Genio Antica in Ebisu; a failed perfume that nobody bought from 1995 in the manner of rosey Sophia Grosjman classics like Boucheron Jaipür and Trésor, but so much lighter and aerated, with fresh top notes of tagetes/ marigold, plum and pineapple and a sheen of soothingly disarming fields of wild flowers. This was only a miniature, but I now want a full bottle.
17: The erotic intemporality of Chanel Nº 5 modern edp :
I had a full, unfamiliar, heterosexual frisson with this perfume in the summer. My photographer and filmmaker friend Michael – aka Belgium Solanas, – introduced me to his artist/showgirl performer friend from Nagoya when we were at the fascinating Daikanyama party where we all caught Covid. Blinded by the gorgeousness and familiarity of her perfume, which she was wearing quite a lot of, I couldn’t at first place it. Quickly, we found ourselves sat in a corner slightly coy, sipping our drinks and eyeing each other while talking (she also liked me: the twist being that on that day I was Burning Bush…); Later, in October, we were to share a dressing room at a different event in Setagaya. When I walked in to get ready, seeing her half dressed from behind by the mirror, all I could smell in the room were magnificent blasts of the contemporary Nº5.
My god she smelled good.
18: The smell of cinema:
This was the year, after two years away, that I went back to the cinema. Beginning with No Time To Die, when I found myself literally weeping with pleasure as the grand and ludicrously sweeping credits came up on the screen, from the spectacular overwhelm of it all, the plenitude of sound; sitting and basking in the true happiness that is real cinema again. It being my dad’s 80’th birthday (he has spent his life watching planes and obsessed with aviation in general), my family paid for him to fly in a real World War II Spitfire over the English downs and the sea in June; apparently an extremely emotional moment that I wish I could have witnessed. Instead, I took myself off to the military airbase town of Yokosuka, where I enjoyed the undeniable thrill of the year’s most financially successful film, Top Gun: Maverick. Otherwise, we went for more typically arthouse fare like the brilliant Titane by Julia Ducouneau – which left us in a deliciously exhilarated mush in the backstreets of Isezakicho; the hilarious and bizarre Zola by Janicza Bravo, starring Elvis’s granddaughter, Riley Keough, as well as, most memorably perhaps, a beauteous cinema in Shizuoka prefecture where we melted in the strange holistic beauty that was Apichatpong Weerusthakul’s meditative opus, Memoria. The multiplexes had the expected smell of popcorn, artificial indoor lighting, and greyfoam seats; the art house cinemas a more thoughtful aroma, occasionally tinted with freshly opened bottles of locally brewed craft beer.
19: Eilish by Billie Eilish:
It is fascinating to meet your friends’ children. Aside from having mindblowingly clear, profound, and acutely mutually perceptive conversations on every possible topic with my best childhood friend Helen – who I was nervous about meeting initially, but who I then wished I could have talked with for days (how we lost out during the pandemic in all our isolation!) it was wonderful to spend a whole car journey listening to Billie Eilish’s excellent Happier Than Ever on the stereo with a true, teenage die-hard Eilish fan, Helen’s daughter Esther, avidly listening in the back seat. We had some very interesting exchanges; she eyeing me curiously (my favourite quote was when she said, after discussing our very differing feelings about weather and temperature: “You confuse me”.) She naturally, at home, had the eponymous debut scent by the singer, Eilish, which I was extremely eager to try (particularly on the young girl’s hand, who clutched the bottle as if it were a religious relic): when I eventually got the chance to see how it was – very briefly – I only had time for a couple of quick inhalations, I realized that this was in actual fact a beautifully produced gourmand vanilla that exuded from her skin like a golden chalice.
20: The smell of the ancients:
These are the only smells in the list I haven’t actually physically smelled myself – but oh how I wish I could. Currently researching everything perfume-related for my talk in Hawaii next year (!!!), I find myself longing at the pit of my stomach, when reading about ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, to be able to actually experience the detailed, lascivious descriptions of all the scent orgies, and the worship of perfume generally that went on in the past in so many different cultures : the unguents, the distillation, the ointments, smeared, drunk, eaten, bathed in… our olfactory lives, now, are so bland and psychologically repressed in comparison : : : : SOMEBODY BUILD ME A TIME MACHINE.
21. Hume’s Legumes
Few things make me happier than the aroma of D’s delicious vegetable stews and broths cooking downstairs. Drifting up from the floorboards, the smell is absolutely delicious. Fresh rosemary, lots of garlic and bay laurel with locally grown produce, weekends together are a true contentment (one of the great things this year on our street has been the new farm produce collective that has a market just thirty seconds from our house every Friday morning : a real boon of regeneration for the community as a whole). Hurrah for healthy, home-cooked food.
22. THE SMELL OF FRESH AIR
Because sometimes, after everything, you just want to sweep away all the bullshit on a brand new sunny or cloudy or rainy or whatever it is day, put your head out of the window, and inhale.
Thank you so much for putting up with my strange excesses this year, for reading my splurges and excesses. The correspondence and conversational exchanges we have on here have been a real source of pleasure for me.
All the best to you for 2023 : let’s make it a good one.