Monthly Archives: December 2022


I am not a nose. But my nose isn’t bad either. And so when trying Vetiver Java by Perris Monte Carlo, a brand I am quite drawn to overall for its plush, generous take on individual notes (the jasmine, mimosa, lavender, are all great – a convincing, hybrid take on classicism and the contemporary, though I am not entirely sure I like the bottles), I realized that the Javan vetiver at the heart of this composition is precisely the same as the one I am currently using in remixing an old bottle of Monsieur De Givenchy (1959), an original vintage edition I found recently, a little drab and bland now, sitting with sloped shoulders at the back of the barbershop, its best days far behind it, but which is perking up nicely with the big dollops of a Japanese brand of imported Indonesian vetiver oil I have added – along with a fine quality lemon that is bringing out the verbena and lemon leaf aspects of this suave, aromatic Lazarus-like enough for me to decide that this will be probably be one of the perfumes I will be wearing for the upcoming Christmas season and New Year.

The only reason I mention my (admittedly) eccentric and rabid adulterations – today I am also getting a different vetiver oil today to add to my Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental, which is just….boring – is that this oil, a rather rough and beardy vetiver which is not particularly refined, is actually very cheap. Just a handful of dollars. So if this is the main component of Vetiver Java (which it is), it does feel like a bit of a rip off. At $225 for 100ml (in niche terms only mid-brow, but still not a cheapie), my first impression of this was that there was nothing but alcohol and essential oil, unadorned.

(A friend sent me a link to an interesting podcast, the other day, incidentally, about how much the ingredients in perfume really cost, and whether lovers of any particular perfume, when financially pressed, would ever go for a copycat/dupe : I would like to know your thoughts on the subject; I am too pretentious and aesthetically conscious to fill my shelves with fakes with dumb names in ugly bottles personally but it certainly did all make me think).

Creator of Vetiver Java, Gian Luca Perris – the brand uses different perfumers for its creations, including Jean Claude Ellena for the superlative florals mentioned above – describes the selection of this particular vetiver note as follows:

«I have been smelling different qualities of vetiver – Haiti, Bourbon – with bold and intense scents, but too clean, transparent, linear. Then, I lingered over a vetiver from the island of Java, less used in perfumery, which I found intriguing, pungent, smoky, burned-like, with surprising floral, green and spicy nuances. It wasn’t love at first sight, but at the end the arrogance of its intensity conquered me.»

I like the idea of an ‘arrogant’ essential oil, and agree that there is something brusque, but magnetic in this specific varietal that works, eventually, when you get used to it (for me anyway – I have quite a lot of it, currently, two weeks in, on my winter coats alongside vintage Chanel No 19, sighing each time I walk by them or put them on). If you are not going to give me exquisite orchestration in a perfume then I am also, in general, at least drawn to fragrances that highlight one note and do it well; Aurelien Guichard’s Matiere Premiere range manages this expertly in scents such as Neroli Oranger and Encens Suave; you can smell the quality of the essences, they speak for themselves (they sing), but they are also arranged and blended in a way that is cleverly synergistic. For me, there should, with a luxury end perfume, never be the sense that I could just do this at home ; yes, there are tinkerings of citrus, here, in Vetiver Java, a base musk, and what I refer to personally with horror as ‘the endocrine’: a sour, industrial note that is way too prominent in many other famous vetivers (and perfumes in general these days) such as Chanel Sycomore, which I have decided, definitively, I now don’t like (I was on a bit of a spree on Wednesday evening, going around everywhere, spraying Vetiver Extraordinaire by Malle in copious amounts- again, ‘meh‘ – Hermes Vetiver Tonka – ditto, though I have it and sometimes it is perfect for the nutty coumarinic blanket of the base (and which you definitely couldn’t do by yourself).

Trying other vetiver centered scents while I was at it as well, Dipytque Vetyverio – blah; for lightweights!! – Bruno Jovanovic’s ‘Mon Vetiver’ for Essential Parfums – fresh, pleasant, but not for me, with vetiver perfumes it can sometimes feel as if can never get exactly what I want. Though Nose Shop in Yokohama, where I was voraciously sniffing, do carry the always undervalued collection by Patricia Nicolai, ( and which I want to get to know better), they unfortunately don’t feature her strange, vegetal caraway floral Vetyver, which we used to have a bottle of but used up, and which I always thought was alluring in that unique transformationally-compressed-into-dry,hermetic mist way that her perfumes often have. Kerzon’s intriguing and inexpensive aquatic patchouli vetiver Isle St Louis keeps drawing and then repelling me with its flashy interior contrasts but at least it is challenging and original, unexpected (like Samuel Gravan’s Vetiver Absolute, another more interesting patchouli vetiver, sour and bewitching and quietly psychological that I got through a whole bottle of in England over the summer).

I don’t know: perhaps I am just too difficult to please.


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Guest post by Duncan

Strangely, a week previous to attending the annual purification ceremony of the Ji-shu sect of Pure Land Buddhism with our friends, Yukiro and Ken, Neil had, unwittingly, whilst exploring some back streets near his workplace, stumbled upon Shojokoji, the temple in which this ritual was to take place. Shojokoji is an imposing institution and Neil was surprised that after twenty odd years of working in Fujisawa, he had not come across it before. But Japan can be like that.

Ken had long been curious about this ceremony because the beliefs of the Ji-shu (‘Time Sect’) are based on the teachings of Ippen Shojin (1234-1289), a charismatic figure, whose ecstatic nembutsu dance gained him thousands of adherents in thirteenth-century Japan. And so, excited by the prospect of a Buddhist ritual performed by (as I rather glibly imagined it) dancing-Dervish-like monks, we gathered on a Sunday evening in late November to witness the spectacle.

Ippen travelled around Japan on foot, embracing poverty and spreading his doctrine, much as you might expect of the founder of a Buddhist sect. His brand of Buddhism appealed to ordinary people because it promised enlightenment based on chanting the name of Amitabha, the primary Buddha of the sect, and dancing – other Buddhist practices were deemed unnecessary and fruitless. The sect would provide a purified space (hence Pure Land) where anyone could reach enlightenment. Ken explained this sardonically in the intermission: to get to paradise all you needed to do was a nembutsu dance – “ONLY that”

Unfortunately, Ken and Yukiro were delayed by thirty minutes owing to a suicide on the train line – sad to say, there have been many delays caused by suicides of late – and so we bided our time in a cafe on the top floor of Saikaya department store, drinking beer and wolfing down a typically retro plate of tamago sando (egg mayonnaise sandwiches) – immaculately manicured white bread triangles with a jarringly strong margarine taste to them, certainly fitting in with the glassed off 80s-ness of the restaurant floor of Saikaya. And I can definitely say that margarine tastes just as awful now as it did back then.

Meeting Yukiro and Ken at the station gates we grabbed a taxi to the temple, arriving several minutes late for the ceremony which had already begun. A monk accompanied us to the main hall and we were surprised by the extent of the temple grounds.

After removing our shoes and placing them in the plastic bags provided, we were ushered into the ceremonial space, a rather large and chilly hall.

About two hundred people were seated on tiny folding chairs placed on the tatami, and they were observing the ceremony in absolute silence. The inner sanctum was occupied by around twenty monks chanting sutra, engaged in various ritual formations. Scrolls were hung up behind them and there were many lanterns and candles. Around the perimeter of the sanctum were seats for the sponsors who were also required to participate in various ways during the ceremony, including at one point moving items from one plate to another with chopsticks.

I only observed one female adherent involved in the ceremony itself and she was among those seated around the edge. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the ceremony but we did get a few images of the ceremonial space afterwards when everything had been tidied away:

At first, we remained standing in the entrance area as we had to wait for Neil, who insisted on taking a trip to the outside toilet to placate his bladder in advance of an indeterminately lengthy performance. It would have been too disruptive to use the inside toilet. As an inveterate claustrophobe, he dislikes the possibility of being seated in the middle of a row rather than on an aisle seat and so arriving late to crowded events provides him with ample cause for panic. After some fussing over how to seat us noisy late-comers, and Neil fidgeting over where to sit, we settled down into our row near the front of one of the banks of low seats placed on the tatami mats.

The air, dry from all the burning of candles and incense – a characteristically serene but austere kyara blend – made me cough initially, which further contributed to my feeling of being a bothersome intruder. The ceremony, however, was calming and the close harmonies of the chanted sutra were riveting. Occasionally a younger monk would emerge from his line and do a series of movements going from kneeling to standing prayer position several times, which is the modern version of the sect’s dance we presumed, admittedly not as ecstatic as we’d hoped. (Might you move a little faster and maybe spin around a bit just for us?)

I could tell Yukiro, who has a predilection for fiery and passionate performances, was dying a death. And half an hour in Neil passed a note along saying ‘I can’t stay beyond 8’ which was a good thirty minutes away. Fortunately, there was an intermission where everyone queued up to buy souvenir manju – rice flour dumplings filled with sweet chestnut paste which were still warm, presumably from having just been steamed. There was a sigh of anticipation and a palpable delight amongst the crowd as the boxes of manju were fished out and dished out. The shared enjoyment of simple pleasures here can be very grounding. One of my favourite things is a postcard by one of my students which I keep on my desk. The assignment was to make a ‘postcard for peace’ and this is what she came up with:

Eat together! Stop lobbing bombs, sit down and share some food.

Returning to the temple, the second part of the ceremony was rather moving, although unfortunately it was preluded with a long explanatory talk by one of the head monks which felt like purgatory. Again I could sense Yukiro and Neil growing impatient. 

The climax of the ritual essentially involved a gradual extinguishing of all the lamps and candles until we were in total darkness. No exit signs or devices or corridor lights to provide even a glimmer of light. That was quite extraordinary – for how often in modern life do you experience a *t o t a l*   blackout? And in a public ceremony in our health and safety-conscious era? For me personally, never. Cinema can come close to it but there is always some device or exit sign in view. It was disconcertingly beautiful and almost felt like being weightless ,


in space. . . . . . .

Then a monk who had climbed to the top of a small structure next to us suddenly flickered some kind of light and the spell of complete blackness was broken. Candles and lamps were gradually relit and the ceremony drew to a (relatively) rapid conclusion with invigorated chants and more of the standing sitting dance. We’d come back from the other side.

The finale was accompanied by a rather grim aroma – not unlike the burned meat fat you smell in yakitori restaurants; a decidedly bitter aftertaste. Not knowing anything about the practices of the sect, I can’t really say if this was intentional or not. (Neil said that this was the result of using flaming incense sticks to relight the candles and indeed there are times when even the incense sticks in our kitchen smell almost bacon-like from being inappropriately burned. )The ceremony had a satisfying combination of elements with a pleasurable dip into void. We queued to receive a piece of paper with the nembutsu chant printed on it and pondered the bizarre ritual we’d just observed. We all agreed the blackout was rather special and very memorable.

And yet owing to my limitations, I always have ambivalent feelings about organised religion. Watching this, it did strike me how absurdly random religious practices are. I must qualify that statement, not random in the spontaneous sense, as everything doubtless has a very specific symbolism and is completely meaningful in its context, carefully ordered and evolved over centuries. Understandable on multiple levels as fulfilling the needs of humans for creating meaning to fill the void, bringing people together in peace and prayer, confronting death, and satisfying our appetite for ritual.

At the same time, if the earth and everything on it were to go up in smoke tomorrow, none of this would ever happen again in exactly the same way; well, the laws of physics and of probability may disagree with this hypothesis, and future species of what? aliens? alternative life forms? may come up with something not entirely dissimilar, but essentially, it’s an elaborate iteration of a complex set of circumstances which are probably impossible to replicate…. and of course the same could be said of all of human culture. Each belief system is just another construct, when all is said and done. And that is why I prefer art to religion – you get to play with your own systems of meaning, selfishly and indulgently, rather than slavishly following those of others.

So religion to me is both absolutely sensical and nonsensical.

Of course, pragmatically speaking, anything that prevents human beings from ripping each other to shreds (and that includes religion, the law, dancing, music, communal traditions, breaking bread et cetera) has got to be good.

It was a relief to get some night air and we headed into town for Korean food. 

Are you wondering what became of Ippen, the wandering dancing monk, who, as it turns out, was something of an art lover? Well, his sect enjoyed considerable popularity in his lifetime, but after his death, as is often the case in such matters, he had his writings burned and then many of his followers jumped off a cliff in the hope of being reborn with him. The extremity of these acts resulted in a sharp decline in popularity of the sect, which was evidently eschewed by the establishment and the populace, who preferred hassle-free enlightenment with a bit of ecstatic dancing thrown in, to lemming-like self-immolation. After all, there’s only so much crap you can take.

Some of his followers had kept copies of his writings and established the practices of the group but Ji-shu remains to this day a minor sect of Pure Land Buddhism.


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I have no idea what this perfume smells like, other than that it is supposedly a musky, woody carnation, very emblematic of its era.

What gorgeous design though !

I am, as you have probably guessed, back at the Man Ray exhibition at the Hayama Museum Of Art, where I managed to furtively take this picture, from behind, of the coveted Schiaparelli Sleeping bottle; as well as the ultra-rare Succes Fou, in its current Japanese museum context (I could not get any closer : the ladies were eyeing me like ravens).

Still, it gives you an idea anyway : art, culture, and perfume all feeding off each other at a particular moment in time.

It is such a beautiful day.

In a year of extremes, one of the main takeaways I have personally is D and I’s deep realization – after considerable strife post pandemic abnormality – that socially we really are quite different. We knew this already, of course, but it has really come to a climactic head : an actual crisis. Whereas he is much more socially open, far less neurotic, I am much more intense as a person and must privately regroup; in my job I have to be witty and charming all day long and thus feel no need whatsoever to entertain and be continuously ‘light -hearted ‘ in my private time, meaning that several times in 2022, now that things have been ‘opening up’, we have been at serious loggerheads over what to do on a number of particular occasions (I did not even entertain the idea of going to the party at Toyoko’s studio in Sendagaya tonight for example – he is there having a ball by himself, which is how it should be ) : and it was precisely this clarity of mutual understanding that was desperately needed: it was necessary to reach some kind of compromise, or it was possible that we were going to go under. I am not saying I would be a po-faced mummy if you and I were to spend time together; I do have a personality, and I do like the odd get together here and there, for sure, but overall, I have to say that in general, joking around and smiling like an asshole for hours on end only has so much attraction and appeal for me: I think forced hilarity is one of the very worst things imaginable for someone like myself (and humanity in general), and I would literally rather just sit morosely – or rather, quite happily – staring at a blank wall than have to laugh when there is no actual laughter, which, to someone like me, is such an unbearable burden on the soul (there was an interesting comment I read somewhere on the Internet the other day about ‘the false cheer and heavily synthetic inspiration of so much online life’, which really struck a chord with me, and which is one reason why The Black Narcissus is the way that it is, and why I vastly prefer, for the traditional end of year joshing that is the big group bonenkai party in Japan, a rather irregular one on one, when amusement and quipping and hahahahhhggh gufffaggughn is not a requirement, and where I can just spout forth, listen to my friend’s stories, respond naturally not worrying about being judged, in this gorgeous, sparkling place that is situated by the sea

——— and just generally damned be my natural self.

From this perspective, today’s end of year catch up with Yoko – who I only get to see every once in a while – talking over wine on the terrace, then drowsing through the beautiful and eclectic art of the brilliant Man Ray, as well as ogling priceless Lucien Lelong and Schiaparelli perfume bottles, has been a lovely respite from the enforced cheerfulness of the every day routine. So much space here: space to actually (re)connect : most definitely a ‘wild success.’


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If the word ‘ambivalence’ were to be stamped on one perfume – one that I both really like and strangely dislike simultaneously – it might be the original Eau De Givenchy.

There is nothing else like it. Although officially categorized as a fresh floral with fruit facets, for me, whenever I smelled it – quite frequently, as a day to day basis on a couple of girls I knew who wore it back when I was seventeen – to me it always smelled like a marine, before that was even a category. Co-author Daniel Moliere ( the other perfumer was Daniel Hoffman) clearly had a proclivity for the wet and watery, creating the intriguing aquatic hyacinth Huis Clos for Diptyque in 2003 (as well as the horrifying fresh watermelon floral, Fleur D’Interdit, for Givenchy in 1994), but he also made the very dark, starkly masculine, aromatic fougere Santos de Cartier in 1981, a perfume that could hardly be more different.

These contrasting tendencies can be found in Eau De Givenchy – a very original composition that combines dour, melancholic, briny, even slightly pissy elements – oakmoss musk sandalwood (vetiver patchouli ?) against a very vivid springtime meadow of narcissus and cyclamen and other vernal flowers – cyclamen, or the idea of cyclamen the key to my eye – – bracing herbaceously and energetically in the top notes with grapefruit, mandarin orange and mint : at once outdoorsy and lighthearted, quite liberating in many senses for its unsweetened androgyny, its post 70’s dose of fresh air

—- while also to my mind somehow depressive, insistent – deliberately diffident and passive aggressive.

I never entirely liked Eau De Givenchy when I smelled it on my friends at school, while also respecting them for wearing something so ‘intellectual’, stern, and overtly unsexy (though it actually is) ; yet still always inhaling deeply, fascinated when inhabiting their space. This scent clung to me, to my deep seated memories of that time, which is why, in my shop the other day I couldn’t resist buying a sealed and cellophane wrapped vintage soap, still in its unopened plastic case.

It still smelled great ; weird ; potent : undiminished: exactly as I remember it in the early eighties. D hated it immediately – ‘sickly’ was his intuitive response, and I must agree that there definitely is something clammy; enticing, but offputting, here, as if Anais Anais had drowned herself sadly in a rock pool, reeds willowing gently beneath her feet like Ophelia.

But I also know that I have a miniature in my collection somewhere, and there might easily come a day in the spring – a private day, alone, when I might need it ; when I suddenly feel like showering down to the nub with the soap, not with preservation, but total abandon – like Emma Corrin dancing naked with the beautiful Jack O Connnell in sudden torrential storm in the brilliant, and naturalistically stark and passionate new film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover; then wear this curiously disturbing gem : corn blues and honeysuckle and eglantines ;: drenched in a vivaciously mournful, late April rain shower.


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It is.

The gorgeous perfection of the ambery vanillic base !

The curves of the bottle; the exquisite top !

Thank you so much D x x


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Desperately Trying To Smell Violet Volnyka

While part of me is pleased that there are high school students unfazed enough by the general snootery at Hermes to spend the afternoon sniffing their entire perfume collection – perhaps as a gift for a friend (I very much doubt it); perhaps for the hell of it (much more likely ); another part of me is very irritated by the ridiculous procedures currently in progress at the store.

Though it is understandable that the top tier conglomerate might want to limit the number of customers on the shopfloor in the midst of the seventh or eighth wave of the panic (look how crowded it was just now !)

: putting a cordon outside – as OnWingsOfSaffron noted recently, having experienced the same phenomenon somewhere in Europe -‘to keep out the riff-raff’

fuck off !

is a physical provocation : a deliberate, symbolic keeping of the braying, baying masses salivating at the doorstep begging for baguettes that really doesn’t make you warm to the Hermesians, staring blankly from somewhere inside.

I didn’t have time on this occasion – again – to be blessed entry by the lizard on the door (exactly the same thing happened last week; ‘luxury shoppers’ glancing languidly at their conspicuously placed wristwatches…. debating whether or not they could actually be bothered )

Will I ever get to try Violet Volnyka ?


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the bodybuilder and the flower

I finished the teachers’ classes today. From April to November on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I do English conversation lessons with small groups of teachers ; sometimes exhausting, often enjoyable and intriguing, especially when for whatever reason some can’t join and you are left one on one.

I find that when alone, teachers – especially men – reveal more of themselves than when held back by the for-the- sake-of-appearances groupthink ; recently I have had some very interesting conversations about perfume and ‘aroma’ – as the topic is generally referred to here.

One teacher had gone down to Osaka to specifically seek out a contemporary Japanese perfume brand , Shiro ( his favourite fragrance is white lily ); another, whose main interests are Egyptology and bodybuilding, professed an obsession with osmanthus; today he brought in his all natural solid perfume by Seikatsu no Ki ( Tree Of Life); an aromatherapist I also often frequent : he carries it around in his pocket and let me smell it today in the lesson ; clearly a natural absolute in the base, animalic, with orange and apricot facets ; delightful to me that more people are interested in scent, and the art of the olfactory, than initially meets the eye.


Filed under Flowers