Monthly Archives: December 2022

TWENTY TWO OLFACTORY MEMORIES OF 2022

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.

Neil

x

49 Comments

Filed under Flowers

BENEATH THE FIG LEAF : ATHENEAN by HEELEY (2021) + FICO D’INDIA by ORTIGIA (2011) + FIGUIER EDEN by ARMANI PRIVÉ (2012)

In ‘A Handbook Of Symbols In Christian Art’ by Gertrude Grace Sill, we are told that :

‘The fig, the figleaf and the fig tree are all symbols of lust, which originated after the Fall, when Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen. 3:7). The Tree Of Knowledge is sometimes a fig tree instead of an apple’.

The fig tree here represents temptation; awakening; but also subterfuge and hiding; sly : evil.

In contradiction , we are also told that

“The fig itself represents fertility as well as lust, because of its many seeds. In a positive sense, the tree is used to represent fruitfulness and good works”. Just as in many cultures, where figs are seen as celebratory, there are two or more sides to everything: the Buddha, sitting beneath a fig tree, achieved enlightenment.

The religious and cultural ambivalence towards the fig match my own feelings towards this plant. I love the smell of the leaves, and sometimes pinch them when I walk past a garden which houses a fig tree growing to extract the darkly green juice from the strong hairy leaves; the scent drawn from the vessels within the leaf invigorating and pure; resolute and full of health. I like dried fig: we had a very nice confiture de figue with our Christmas dinner, a cooked ‘co-production’ that we both enjoyed; the sweetness went well with the meat. And yet I find the fresh fruit quite repulsive (figs are not even botanically a fruit, apparently, but rather an ‘infructescence’, or inverted flower; pollinated by specific fig wasps, the females of which, while searching for nectar, often get trapped inside, eventually devoured by the fig itself, like a Venus Fly Trap.) Texturally, the soft squishiness of the pulp, oozing with seeds against the about-to-split eerieness of the skin, is instantaneously problematic, so I never try or buy them. And yet the generalized figginess of the fig is something I find attractive, from the shape of the beautiful leaves to the overall scent (if you are going to be standing naked, deeply ashamed of your physical reality, it might as well be with a fig leaf – a flattering form against the body ; the lactic sap of the fig veins, as a complement tp the flesh and blood pulsing of the human skin..)

The Black Narcissus is essentially a diary, and if I were to scroll through what I have written this year, I am sure I would find quite a lot of joy. There have been a lot of good experiences to be grateful for. But this year has also been very brutal; intense; chaotic. At times it has felt almost apocalyptic. Even if you don’t have problems of your own (and who doesn’t?), the sense of a world shifting seismically, of being out of control and veering intocalamity, has been very palpable from the beginning of the year. The horrible war in Ukraine forms a continual backdrop to everything; peace immediately shattered, then impacted globally in the economic fall out and misery that is spreading across continents and affecting hundreds of millions of people (thanks Putin! Great job! ) The ex-prime minister of Japan was shot; tyrants everywhere rose up; societal currents became more and more inflamed, brim full of hatred and mutual loathing and deliberate misunderstanding even as the world itself often literally went up in flames as environmental catastrophe loomed. Anyone whose head isn’t totally in the clouds will have been affected by all of this in some way; the lingering effects of all the splintered anger; the violence, the oppression, the revolt, the after effects of the coronavirus, whether psychological (and they have been phenomenal) or physical, in terms of recovery ; even before getting to your own issues, be they health, relationships; financial; the dread and terror of death, it is a pretty much undeniable fact that universally, this has not been a restful year.

I myself reached some kind of tipping point in the summer, which is why I disappeared from here for a couple of months. I was so burnt out I couldn’t even dream. When I can’t dream – waking up from the boredom of repetitious actions and unfinished sentences like scratched records – I know my soul is tired. In such circumstances I can’t write a word. I am sure that a numbed resignation, weariness, suppressed stress, is a contagion that has affected many people reading this in one way or another over the last three years ; we became so used to it that we no longer express it because seems so obvious; a shared understanding. So we stopped talking about things – because it just became too self evident, about whether or not we had had the virus ourselves, because we were just too tired to do so anymore and it became easier to discuss pleasant things — like perfume. We need these delicious distractions.

If the fig represents self-knowledge – and fig leaves have been fluttering at the peripheries of what scents have been worn this year – then 2022 was for me a year when I categorically came to some important personal realizations. Forgive my self-indulgence if I explain (or repeat myself) further. I have become much more aware, and unashamed of my own natural limitations as a human being this year; less willing to compromise on what I know will damage my delicate equilibrium (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, actually has involved compromise). Because of all the rows starting at the beginning of 2022 with D, connected to the fact of having to socialize with people I am not interested in – we have actually acted on this now and it is working well. Aside an all nighter at our house with two good friends – when the ingenious Antonia/ Bubblegum Chic amalgam unleashed its beauty – I haven’t been meeting anyone aside a couple of one on onee parties before the end of term; Christmas Eve, we went up to Tokyo together, where I found the exquisite Dior Dior; we had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant in Okubo, then went our separate ways for a few hours; he to an underground party at Mistress Maya’s, I wandering Shinjuku to find a film I could watch at one of the many cinemas (another, worrying, slightly sad, but also illuminating thing I have realized this year : I am just not getting stimulated by Tokyo any more : I don’t dislike it, but you would have thought that two years away stuck in Kamakura, would have made everything feel new and refreshing; in fact, however, the opposite is true; the fashion (all beige and baggy still with boys and girls in pale faces and red/orange eyemakeup, bores me to death; I feel like I know every corner from memory; nothing feels new or especially interesting. Is this age, or just saturation?). The loneliness of walking in the cold on Christmas Eve was a little piercing at first, but then as I pounded the streets looking for a suitable entertaining, headclearing; I went to a small cinema to see an old French film (La Boum 2 with Sophie Marceau); we met up afterwards in the centre of Shinjuku and came home happily together : YES! SOLUTION! – this will be the modus operandi henceforth.

Everything came to a head, for me, in the summer. In the intense heat, both of us had been occasionally reaching for Heeley’s Athenean, a very green fig – they can’t be too green for me – with a white tea and cedar base that we both like, and a melon note that we don’t – and yet somehow, what irked initially faded into the background and I don’t notice that note any more : it just forms part of the flesh. When it is sweltering, this sharp fragrance worked really well sprayed onto a t-shirt; robust but Greek-romantic with an unsentimental staying power that cuts through the sweat and grime). It now has a pride of place in the bathroom downstairs.

The summer term is my purgatory – it lasts for eighteen weeks, and I am only really ‘there’ for about nine or ten. The rest of the time I am on autopilot, just getting through: I have realized succinctly, slightly embarrassedly, but not really, that once I pass over a certain threshold of working I am poisoned like Chernobyl and there is no going back until I am on holiday again. I am just built that way: I have inbuilt limits. Yet the trip back to England, so loaded, so fraught, so emotional, so important, felt like anything but a holiday and was constantly looming on the horizon. It was wonderful and vital, to see family and reconnect, even when painful memories were unearthed. Still, it felt like overcoming an invisible hurdle: not seeing everybody for so long was not healthy; so there was no question we would be going back for the full summer holiday then coming straight back to work in September. And yet the knowledge, the fear of interaction; the worry over Covid (knowing that no one was wearing masks and not having had it yet; knowing that the National Health Service is going down the pan and that we probably couldn’t have got treatment even if we were sick); just the fretting over everything as the term boiled to its conclusion meant that my filament went; thus we semi-deliberately caught corona at a party – maskless throughout in close proximity in a club underground with no ventilation – everybody got it, with precisely the same symptoms; D was ill for a week; I just worked and drank wine through it; very hot to the touch, a horrible sore throat, but as the rapid antigen test said negative I just thought fuck it and carried on.

Being in England was both familiar and strange. After the confinement in one place for so long my senses were alive to the newness and the sameness; the differences from Japan; the overall, comparative sense of relaxation in the UK but also the comparative great lack of general finesse. Still, ambling about beautiful places like Leamington Spa and Norwich on nice sunny days when the temperature was so pleasant – little of the stereotypical cold rainy Englishness here: long summer evenings; the shivering clouds of morning that almost always dissipate; the enjoyment of browsing for perfume unpestered, I tried Ortigia’s Fico Di India twice: once with D in Leamington; such an airy place that I have loved since childhood, only half an hour or so from where I grew up with a beautiful, reedy river and park; we drifted into Cologne & Cotton, always a fantastic place to buy big bottles of delicately scented lavender and orange blossom eaux de cologne; at the back of the shop they had the Ortigia range – I loved their Ambra Nera straight away, a proper dense amber without annoying fake sandalwood endings, and their Indian Fig was undoubtedly also very alluring, the type of perfume you pick up three or four times to keep smelling and get a proper angle on. Warm, heavy, and sultry, this is quite the dark narcotic fig; orange blossom and cedarish dark woods, and probably vanilla with fig leaf, cactus and fruit – a real, slow-lidded seductress. Smelling it again with Emma in Jarrolds – Norwich’s biggest department store, where you can just spray at your leisure without worried suspicion and overeager staff like you have in Japan – it was bliss to be left alone. E told me that one of her teaching colleagues wears the body lotion of Fico D’India, and that it apparently smells rather gorgeous under clothes, so if you like the more full-bodied, semi-hippiesh fig style (like Miller Harris’ old Figue Amère: click this also for more figs in the pantheon), you might also gravitate towards this Ortigia.

.

Armani’s Figuier Eden, worn later in the month, turned out to be a very ironic choice of perfume for D at the airport in the crowded, overheated nightmare that was Abu Dhabi airport on the return trip as our journey soon descended into hell. After a week of severe stress, with flights being cancelled with no notice, mad scrambles and hours on the phone and family eruptions, frantic rearrangements with work, we then had to pay for the privilege of a multi-legged horror show back which involved London>>Abu Dhabi>> Kuala Lumpur>> Tokyo, as documented in September, which took at least 73 hours. We left Windsor very early Monday morning to get a taxi to Heathrow, and arrived Thursday afternoon, blind with tiredness, in Kamakura. It took me days to just even see properly and shake the brain fog. I was already feeling foul and sweaty by the time we arrived in Abu Dhabi International Airport- a place with no feng shui, so horribly designed that nobody can sit down anywhere; the perfumes blaring everywhere as loud as foghorns and absolutely what you don’t need when all you want is fresh air (I spread on a vetiver selection anyway), D much more sensibly opting for the far more temperate fragrance, Thé Noir by Le Labo, which had a stabilizing effect on the nerves; a fresh and calming sense of reliability.

By the time we arrived in Kuala Lumpur we were already fatigued, but a shower and a stay at the airport hotel was very reviving; you may remember my dipping my finger into a hot essential oil burner of jasmine sambac and being elated, though I think that any posts written at that time are probably too confused and illegible as my mind was scrambled. KL airport is a lot more user friendly than most; aerated, spacious, which was good, seeing we were destined to spend a lot of time there. Like hundreds of thousands of travellers in this year of chaos, , having waited for hours for our departure, our flight was cancelled due to ‘technical difficulties’ and, after great confusion, incompetence and endless waiting we found out that the next one wouldn’t be for another 24 hours. D had had some final quick spritzes from the Armani stand as we made our way to the gate, and to my slight surprise, Figuier Eden felt perfect; cool and collected; clean; fig leaf, grass and tea for a green lift; mandarin and bergamot, with a contrastingly elegant iris and amber; nothing to shout home about, but definitely very pleasant: lingering for hours as we descended into the next bewildering stages of our odyssey back home, being forced to leave the airport and enter Malaysia, even though it contradicted the ‘promise’ we had made to the Japanese government on the SOS phone app, – which in itself took an entire evening for us to work out how to do in London – and which was mandatory at the time Covid-wise to get back legally into the country.

The adventurer in me loved the detour to Putrajaya, the bus, the mosques and Hindu and Chinese temples, as a rainstorm pounded on the windows and the palm trees outside, and the luxury of the hotel – the Marriott – was certainly not a problem. The food was incredible, the rooms grand with fine views over the muddy estuary of the riverbanks, statues and coconut trees, but we still felt quite ill at ease. Refused a room for two, it didn’t occur to me until afterwards, when I checked, that homosexuality is actually illegal in Malaysia, punishable by death.

Initially excited looking at our respective rooms, if perturbed by the overly strong artificial floral lemon being pumped into the ambience, we had been comparing the views and planning where to rest, sleep, shower etc before the meals in the restaurant downstairs. Seeing this information on our phones, however, we suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. Under threat. I respect, to a considerable extent, local customs and traditions, religion, and laws, and am not about to go on a damning indictment of Malaysian society or its Islamic principles (though quite how Islamic such Shariah law is remains open to interpretation – this was obviously also a big issue for many during the World Cup in Qatar). Also, it is doubtful that tourists, diverted into a city they had no desire especially to be in – effectively against their will, we had zero choice – would in any way be ‘hunted down’ and prosecuted just for being our natural born selves. Still, with D’s Paradisicial Italian Fig ironically still lingering on his skin, the mood descended rapidly into something akin to fear; fear of persecution (even physical harm, no matter how irrational it might seem now; the Religious Police do exist – just look at what is happening in Iran with all the executions); fear of fucking up the electronic reentry procedure back into Japan – which felt, at that moment, like HEAVEN ON EARTH ITSELF: we were suddenly so desperate to just get back there, to get back home, where nobody gives a shit about what happens behind closed doors, and where sexuality is effectively a total non issue because it is private. At a distance of just six and a half hours from where we were trapped, it felt like a deeply desirable haven where we might feel a little bit more safe.

In that moment, waiting for a terrifying ‘knock on the door’, I began to imagine, or wonder, what it must have been like to have been Jewish, in hiding, waiting for the Nazis during the Second World War. Waiting to be attacked, and then killed, for merely being who you are. Holding your breath in desperation behind a heavy wooden door. Captured. Then sent off to a death machine, a concentration camp. All because of one, despicably distorted viewpoint.

While my luxurious experience in Putrajaya obviously has nothing, really, to do with any of this, the recent exponential rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial has brought this homicidal prejudice very much back into the foreground this year and is by far one of the most horrifying aspects of the recent rapid shifts in world perceptions for me in 2022. Trump hosting ‘Ye’ and other uncloseted fascists down in Florida; the mainstream acceptance of Jew-hating and bigotry in general, the unleashing of human’s worst instincts and tendencies sanctioned by this man, who I have written quite enough about already, but which I feel 100% vindicated over as I was right : his influence on humanity has been more pernicious than anyone in recent memory; more than we even knew. The Bolsonaro refusal to concede tells us all we need to know; the man who deliberately destroys the rainforest; no human receives more contempt from me ; all I know is that the broad currents of intolerance and the anti-Asian violence, the shooting of gay people in clubs (I wrote about a vogueing. gay pride event on a US airbase in Yokota earlier this year; the person who invited us – a marine who hosted Joe Biden on the base and was personally responsible for much of his visit, was later at the club in Colorado : he and his partner moved back there, and three of his friends were seriously injured, one killed when they all went out for the night…). There has been so much rabid antipathy and bitterness unleashed it could and actually does, make me cry.

In many ways, despite some definite highs and plenty of distinct, distilled, positive and enjoyable experiences, many hopefully documented on The Black Narcissus – I will be glad to put this year behind me. It has just been far too much. The tiger sure bared its teeth! Even ripped open a few jugulars: and then feasted ( I am ready for next year’s Chinese rabbit). That said, I do continue to have hope for the coming year. There are plenty of more benevolent, humanistic tides shoring up the meaningless, violent negativity. There is a feeling of life everywhere: there was in England, there was in Malaysia, there is in Japan. Human beings, in my view, are fundamentally decent, just too easily led by egomaniacs and fucked up by false philosophies. America has shown some sanity in recent months in rejecting the lies and instability; Europe has come together, to a large extent, for Ukraine. Periods of turbulence and misery come and go. This is the way that it is. There are still seeds of optimism.

As the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said:

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I tell you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. “

19 Comments

Filed under Flowers

LAYERING TO MAKE YOU SCREAM

We had friends over the other night for a pre-Christmas party.

Staying in the guest bedroom / perfume office, one of them emerged, while we were watching a film in the other room, so fragrantly resplendent I actually screamed.

OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? !!! I beseeched.

“I’m not sure.

Let me look again..

“One of them was something called…..

///\\ ..Antonia?

“The other one was – I don’t know, you have so many I just sniffed round and grabbed the ones I liked..

.was it ‘Bubblegum Chic‘?…..?”

OH MY GOD REALLY?

(there had been quite a lot of wine)

But… But..

You smell INCREDIBLE! !!! I would never have thought of wearing those two together.

You are a genius!

“They DO smell kind of amazing together”.

I would never have picked these up at the same time..

I would have thought them to be dissonant.

One (Antonia by Puredistance), a verdant lush floral: sharp ivy leaf and galbanum over green rose, vanilla and vetiver; pretty, firm; dignified; the other, James Heeley’s Bubblegum Chic (recently rechristened Jasmine OD) an already very exciting unleashed tuberose jasmine sambac; the first gorgeously restrained, the latter unrestrainedly gorgeous – perhaps why they went so unexpectedly well together; the beauty of the initial clash, as the perfumes rose up in the air together nothing less than INSANE.

14 Comments

Filed under Flowers

DIOR DIOR by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1976)

Rootling through the recycle box in the Inokashira neighbourhood of Tokyo yesterday afternoon I immediately recognized the houndstooth pattern. Assuming it was Diorissimo, Dioressence, Miss Dior or Diorella, all of which I know as intimately as my own body, I was about to put the 10ml bottle down when scrutinizing the label more carefully – my eyesight has seen better days – I saw the words I have never before seen: DIOR DIOR.

Pouncing (“D! Look!) , and firmly grasping this and a parfum extrait of Chanel No 22 – they both came to 1900 yen, or about fourteen dollars – on my way to the counter as a Christmas present to myself, once outside, in the cold winter night I unstoppered the bottle and applied some to the back of my hand, knowing nothing whatsoever.

It was instantly recognizable; familiar; explicitly a perfume by Edmond Roudnitska. Diorella – that superciliously easy, supremely elegant melon/decaying lemon, but here with added narcissus, lilac and a very pronounced indolic jasmine; the same civet-licked mossy base ; superb in its diabolical chic; caressingly gentle; poised; self assured: translucent as a dragonfly’s wing. I now like this beautiful rarity better than any other Dior.

Excellent reviews by Angela at Now Smell This and by Elena Vosnaki at Perfume Shrine tell us all we need to know – if you need further information – including the fact that Dior Dior was a total commercial disaster at the time and quickly withdrawn from the market, making any available bottles now extremely hard to find (the prices on ebay for a parfum – my bottle was just an eau de toilette splash- are quite astounding).

Coming at the end of the seventies, when spice, sports greens and leathers were in, it is easy to understand why an understated floral aldehydic chypre, with echoes of No 5 (so not Dior!) would just not be what the ladies wanted. It is too delicate; too Diorella; your mother already wore Diorissimo, which you can easily discern in the DNA : you were over this old template; it didn’t feel disco. Round the corner were the last dregs of the caravanserai 70’s and the new, heavier epoch (Dioressence and Jules), before the house’s subsequent complete turn around later in the 1980’s with the drastically robust iconoclasts that were Poison and Fahrenheit, creatures of an entirely new era, temperament and commercial viability.

Back in 1976 instead, Dior Dior (‘doublement Dior’, as the advert says; a double dose of that gauzier, old world-fitted nonchalance), was an anomaly; not quite there; unfashionable.

But so lovely.

8 Comments

Filed under Flowers

merry chevrolet

14 Comments

Filed under Flowers

“Perfume, The Story Of A Murderer” by Patrick Suskind

Whenever you tell a non-perfume person that you love perfume, the first question they usually ask is : “Have you read Perfume?”

The answer is, naturally: “Of course.

How could I not have? Patrick Süskind’s novel, ingeniously centered around an acutely sensitized triptych of the olfactory : an odourless anti-hero with by far the most advanced olfactive apparatus in the world; the utterly foul stench of humanity (hilariously disgusting from the off), and the contrasting beauty of perfume, is a work of utter brilliance, translated into 49 languages and a seller of over 20 million copies. Darkly, almost savagely comic, it is an involving and fast paced sensorial thriller that enters unchartered and unrivaled territory in being exclusively written from the vantage point of smell ; a sense-drenching immersion into the world of the olfactory, so richly and sensually written that it is almost deranging.

This must be why my re-reading of the book over the last few days is only the second in my life: it is almost just too much. Having spent an entire day marinating in the obsessional mania of the protagonist, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, the greatest nose in history, a total psychopath who lives entirely through his nose and is oblivious to all else, I almost felt insidiously infected with the pungent madness of not only the character, but also the author.

In fact, taking the book down from the shelf, I had not quite remembered just how quixotically intense and horrific the story really is: exhilarating in the extreme, but also quite horrible; disturbing. It is strange how you forget key details with books and films, just as we do with events in real life: I remembered it more romantically – red-haired maidens and rose petals in Grasse, possibly because I was just casually sweeping through it as a floppy haired university student in Rome; probably also because of all the exquisite detail the writer goes into of perfume making in the south of France and Paris; the techniques of distillation and enfleurage, the flood of ingredients, all the flowers; the pomades, the powders, the concretes, the absolutes; it is gorgeous to read – forgetting the deep levels of insanity that the killer – born with no smell, and therefore compelled to create the most magnificent scent for himself – descends into. Süskind captures this derangement so well, delivering us Grenouille’s corrupt and splintered, monomanic mind and logic so lucidly that with the incessant, breathlessness of the prose, which carries us along like a tidal wave of madness, we are almost in danger of surrendering to insanity ourselves.

The entire novel is actually rather nasty. Despite the florid sensuality, a rather hollow nihilism. And it leaves something of a bitter aftertaste. No human is rendered pleasantly. All are grasping, greedy; there is no goodness. The ending, the last paragraph, is disappointing, something of a squib compared to the torrent that comes before it (I often find this with literature: the perfect ending is a very rare thing indeed). Cruelly sardonic, full of hatred for humanity, it is difficult to tell sometimes whether the triple-distilled misanthropy in this fable comes from the alienated protagonist and his contempt of the stench of other people, all people (except virginal maidens of a particular physical type) or from the author himself – Suskind has long lived as a recluse, either in Munich, or somewhere near a French lake, never allowing interviews nor photographs, holing himself away from the world, which surely speaks volumes). Cascading, undulating, fragrant (or reeking) in every paragraph, gripping throughout, Perfume is an inimitable meisterwerk that fully deserves its reputation, while also being so odiferously potent and sadistically overwhelming that I am sure it might be another few decades before I take it down from the shelf again for another reading.

18 Comments

Filed under Flowers

F I L T H !!! ! – GOLD SPOT by SARAH BAKER (2022)

Sarah Baker is one of the few head honchos of niche outfits these days who actually has some fun. From collaborating with Donatella Versace for her excellent art/ Dallas Dynasty spoof-book Baroness, to genuinely outrageous perfumes such as Jungle Jezebel – which smells just like bubblegum, bananas, tuberose and several unmentionables, Ms Baker knows not to take herself too seriously (though the perfumes in the range, such as the divine Leopard, are certainly no joke).

Still, it is refreshing not to have to listen to the entire hullabulloo of overdone cow dung spiel that accompanies so many fragrance releases these days – even if the natural oud extracts used in the last two releases, Loudo, and the new, filthily shimmering Gold Spot actually do, at least initially, have the undeniable and unmistakeable reek of steaming fresh cow pats.

If Loudo – a sweet, white chocolate ‘n cherry natural oud with tooth melting vanilla sweetness (if you ever liked Chopard’s Casmir from back in the day you are likely to like this) provoked us naughtily with the idea of a little girl or boy playing secret games in the attic that were, it turned out later, the ‘seeds of your adult prowess’, Gold Spot – a beautifully balanced dark chocolate natural Laotian oud sprinkled with gold citruses that genuinely sparkles – is that same girl now glittering in lamé.

Gold Spot looks to the gilded heyday of Hollywood as its primary inspiration’, Ms Baker tells us. ‘The gold spot is what technicians of cinematic lighting call that perfect spotlight that makes every Hollywood star literally glow. True stars flourished in its liquid sensuality….. ….indulging themselves in bed all day with broadsheets and butterscotch bonbons.’

I love the idea of these dames and starlets just lounging around all day in satin sheets eating butterscotch, oozing wit. And the perfume is very sensual; its creator Chris Maurice, who made this as part of an ‘Oud Trilogy’, certainly knows how to hit the primal G Spot: – this is hilariously very innocent and lewd simultaneously. With its simple, up for it frivolity and golden glow, Gold Spot could be a great one for a New Year countdown party at a club, though I would still say that just to be on the safe side it might be better to spray this a good while before leaving the dressing room and in not too corpulent dosage; on first spray, the animal is real : so definitely not one for the office Christmas party – unless you are trying to get shagged senseless on the photocopier – or the first meeting with your dainty future in-laws.

8 Comments

Filed under Flowers

the perversity of being

We both admitted to each other this evening that Sunday, when we could hardly move, felt shit, ached all over, were extremely sensitive to the touch, had light fevers (soup and food had been made in anticipation of this eventuality, expecting inertia)(; slight headaches, little energy, extreme light sensitivity (his iPhone light you see blinding the way above to read his book – Gabor Mate’s When The Body Says No – The Cost Of Hidden Stress; I hardly dare read it, being a deep down recipient ; I myself am re-reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, forgetting just how amazingly potent it all is – the last time was thirty years ago, I think on The Spanish Steps):

this fourth vaccination – Pfizer, the first time (necessary ? who knows anymore , you tell me: I have lost the thread : we haven’t discussed Covid, and neither have you: I think we both have had it, back in August; we don’t know for sure, but hasn’t everyone ? )

– but in any case; despite or probably because of, the sheer utterly relaxed, inescapable, nestlike horizontality – the gorgeousness of the faithful house cat most definitely helped in this regard; she mops by your side; sidles up to either one

– where you couldn’t argue or fight; be particularly bothered by the continuing horrors of the world ( newspapers were tried to be read limply ; but dropped like warm lettuce ); nor care about any drama of any kind, but simply exist, en absoluto, from minute to minute, stretching to hours – into night

– made this, possibly, each of our favorite day of this year

11 Comments

Filed under Flowers

THE BLACK NARCISSUS FOR HONOLULU MUSEUM OF ART : : : “THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS”

I am delighted to be able to announce that on March 25th, 2023, I will be giving a talk at the Honolulu Museum Of Art current exhibition “Cross Pollination” entitled The Language Of Flowers, as well as a workshop on perfume appreciation on the 26th called Scent Literacy.

I have never been to Hawaii before. And can hardly believe that I will be. I think for many Americans the land of Aloha is probably just ‘home from home’; for many Japanese too – by far the most common foreign holiday destination, akin perhaps to the Costa Del Sol, Portugal, or the Greek Islands for Brits, just a short trip away, whereas the mere concept of ‘Hawai’i’, for me, feels almost impossibly far flung, tantalizingly tropical and out of reach. A realm across the Pacific, floating on breezes of hibiscus, pikake, plumeria, ginger lilies and orchids….. When the email came, inviting me to give an olfactory angle to an exhibition devoted to the visual: art pieces and objects related to flowers from different cultures and time periods across the world, I could hardly believe it (as if my mind was being read): Honolulu was actually at the top of our list of destinations; we love cities, I am a total vegetation geek; I adore flowers and their perfume, which is why this is such an amazing opportunity – I am imagining that they will be everywhere.

If you happen to be around……

17 Comments

Filed under Flowers

REACTIONS: : : VIOLETTE VOLYNKA by HERMES (2022) + YOUNG ROSE (2021) + EYES CLOSED by BYREDO (2022)

After several attempts to get into Hermes, I finally got to smell what I was after: Hermessence Violette Volynka. For the vintage perfumista, ‘violets and leather’ immediately conjures up Balmain’s Jolie Madame, or Christian Dior Fahrenheit: of the two, Volynka is momentarily closer to the latter – a brief flash of violet leaf clarity before a smooth, chamois lipstick patina of powdered, Hermes leather quickly takes over – elegantly sultry; composed; stylish; complete; a dusky, full bodied floral; warmer violet tones coming in later to settle down into the sueded tones of musked, quiet luxury that put me in mind of sloe-eyed slow dreamers like Ombre Mercure by Terry Gunzberg or the now defunct, magnetically perturbing Tom Ford Violet Blonde. I thought this was good – a scent of high aesthetic competence, sensual and subtly sexed, that you will basically take to instantly or not (I did not; there was something too gently nonagenarian and soaped; white-cardiganed, in the later stages I am not yet quite ready for ; I didn’t feel at ease).

Surprisingly, I found myself instead liking both of the recentish Byredo releases, Young Rose, and Eyes Closed.

I don’t know why I say ‘surprisingly’, really, as I also liked Mumbai Noise and the strange, mentholated blackcurrant oddness that was Mixed Emotions: perhaps it’s because in the past I had no time for the (admittedly exciting and photorealistic ) modern hyperflorals like Flowerhead, Infloressence and La Tulipe, nor the burnt amberwoods that sear through so many of this house’s creations like burning torches. Recent releases, though, have been gentler, more benevolent: both Young Rose and Eyes Closed founded on orris; cushions of sweet, powdered iris that give a pleasant lift to the senses with a positive immediacy. Young Rose is a Sichuan pepper soaked rose Damascena, couched in ambrette and musk; a perfume that smells happy and optimistic in one direct hit. So with the world as it is at the moment, sinking further and further into neo-Nazism and bigoted brutality, if people, young or old, want to go round smelling like this then that is absolutely alright with me.

I knew nothing whatsoever about Eyes Closed before trying it – in some ways the best approach, when sampling a new fragrance as you have no preconceptions – you just inhale and let your brain do the rest. Eyes Closed could signify a number of things (giving up/resignation; sleep; obliviousness) but on first inhalation I could tell that this was all about trust; about someone you love telling you to close your eyes before giving you something special, a surprise. The perfume sent me whirling down an instant tunnel of familiarity and safety, contentment; I couldn’t place the memory exactly (some childhood Christmas? a cosy wintery evening spent with D?) But anyway, a calming gingerbread iris spiced up with cinnamon, cardamon and carrot seeds and a curiously medicinal papyrus patchouli drydown unexpectedly, on a melancholic winter’s day among the crowds of Christmas shoppers rather caught my fancy. I would have to wear this properly over a day to decide if this is completely me; but first impressions are vital with any olfactory composition; a perfume should always speak to you with immediacy : and this one did.

15 Comments

Filed under Flowers