Monthly Archives: April 2023

somewhere in tokyo


Filed under Flowers


I was going to write ‘a beautiful new way to wear perfume’ at first here but then realized that people in Japan have of course been wearing purificational powdered incense before entering temples and shrines, or before meditating, for hundreds of years.

Despite being a longtime lover of Japanese incense, I have somehow overlooked the tradition of incense for the body, opting for stick or coil incense in the house; sometimes scenting draws and cupboards with boxes of this ghostly, spiritually exquisite craftsmanship for its softly lingering memories on fabric, but, not, until now, ever having directly encountered wearable powdered incense that can be directly applied to the skin.

My first reaction on taking the bottle of Zukoh out of its wooden box and applying it to the back of my hand was something like wonder: a panic that it would run out too quickly when I was keenly aware of its olfactory power to root me in the here in now – it couldn’t possibly be more Kamakura.

The powder is shaken out gently from the apothecary bottle almost as though you were putting some ground cinnamon or cloves onto confectionery; it feels odd, at first, to be putting a dry, pulverized perfume on your skin rather than a liquid- though if you have ever used talc at all then this sensation will be familiar – but what is unfamiliar here is the deeply redolent and austere atmosphere of Japanese temples that surrounds you all at once upon application. I felt immediately grounded, calmed down, tranquillized.

Beginning very spicily with camphor-tinged tones of solemnifed cinnamon and cloves, the simple, but beautifully synchronized blend of ryunou-giku (chrysanthemum japonica), fennel, and a touch of ylang ylang gently folded onto a sandalwood and balsamic, dreamy ansoku-koh (Sumatran benzoin) base, Zukoh is definitely a very private scent – with sufficient sillage to intrigue passersby if you were to put on enough – but essentially meditational, skin-close.

Lovers of Mark Buxton’s Comme Des Garcons by Comme Des Garcons perfume from 1994 (now horribly reformulated) will like this – the spice-averse surely won’t – , but for anyone who wants to step out of themselves or their surroundings for a moment and enter a different sphere, to just breathe a little, I can’t recommend this enough. I will be going up to the Hinoqi store in Shibuya to investigate the brand’s other natural perfumes at the earliest opportunity.


Filed under Flowers


The rules on mask wearing here are gradually, gradually, easing. The maskless are becoming more visible on buses and trains. On the streets. In shops and department stores (it still comes as a shock), but they are definitely still in the minority.

But where it really comes as a shock is in the workplace. At school. While we, the teachers, are instructed to still wear them – even though the powers that be upstairs now don’t; highly problematic for me and I am basically not wearing one, just have it under my chin to whip up just in case but basically can’t bear to wear one any more as I can’t breathe – some individual students who have also reached their limit in being permanently masked up – three YEARS of never showing your face! – are taking advantage of the new rule wherein it’s basically up to you. The vast majority are still complying – like teaching a room full of surgeons -but some are starting to go barefaced. And for me, it is psychologically quite discombobulating.

I have got used to eyes. Seas of eyes. But eyes are unique, and completely identifiable, beautiful, but they constitute only a relatively small part of the face. And yet with almost all students, I have only seen their eyes – they dutifully keep on their masks for hours on end, even where I have constantly taken mine on and off to drink water or have a break from the bondage – some for a couple of years; it is all I know. And so to suddenly see whole faces is genuinely shocking. I walked into a classroom and didn’t know who it was: the loss of mask can radically flatter a person’s face as a whole or do the opposite; sometimes I felt that faces were looming and melting before me like wax, features blobby and unexpectedly off-kilter (the mind adjusts relatively quickly, but it is still very strange); in other cases far more fine featured; in others, utter facial beauty.

I have been looking forward to this moment, because you realize how removed human contact has been; something vital has been missing. But at the same time, all these faces IN YOUR FACE will take some getting used to. There is a very vivid urgency to fast moving features; it’s like a whole new language I have to learn. Strange new territory.

Another collapse of face for me right now relates to an extended piece/photo essay that some of you may have read on here relating to a rare and secret Chanel perfume that I had the chance to smell while in Hawai’i.

I put up, and removed (twice) this article about my amazing introduction to the scent at a museum in Honolulu, which was commissioned by Chanel for the heiress and socialite Doris Duke (for the record; it was an unnamed, musty, deep woody musk aldehydic in the vein of Lanvin My Sin, a touch of the original Givenchy L’Interdit, with a hint of the warm spice of Nuit de Noël), a dazzling experience, but delving further into the philanthropist’s life story, the piece, as a whole, necessarily became much more immersed in sinister, murderous undertones, and for the sake of some individuals who were going to be quite inconvenienced by this, I decided to remove it. I may well put up an edited version up later, although that would be a shame in a way as it worked as it was (some of you may already have read it).

Integrity is very important to me, but I also had to tread carefully so as not to cause trouble. (Also, I don’t want to find myself mysteriously run over one night on a lonely path)


Filed under Flowers


After all the extreme overstimulation of the last few weeks, I am ready for a bit of downtime and quiet. The new term has begun, and that is my focus. I feel like calm. No music. A lot of sleep.

And yet I am not quite ready for something as anodyne as L’Eau Papier.

A nutty ‘rice-steam’ fragrance with musk, sesame, and mimosa essence from Grasse, this is a gentle, skin-warm whisper of mid-tempo olfaction that will work for those who like ‘peau’ perfumes; but which for me just isn’t sufficiently silent and papery.


Filed under Flowers

grey air


Filed under Flowers


Jasmine sambac is my go to happy note when the sun is bright and the mood is clear. A big fan of the sambac/tuberose combination found in Heeley’s Jasmine OD (Bubblegum Chic) and Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Desire, I was happy to rediscover A Fuego Lento (‘slow burn’) again recently from Argentinian brand Frassaï. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores Roux (Tom Ford Jasmine Rouge, Arquiste Flor Y Canto) is a master of this genre of contemporary white floral : tight, fresh and clean (despite the listed notes of civet, suede, and tolu balsam – indoles tamed but present, civilized, the flowers still genuinely romantic), and this is something I will definitely be reaching for in the coming late spring and early summer months.

A gorgeous sambac is the headliner in A Fuego Lento, made a little tarter with some blackcurrant up top and greener with a touch of flouve odorante, or sweet vernal grass, and a more bodied orange blossom, for anchoring, in the heart. Although there is nothing complicated to write about here – I don’t think this perfume is exquisite, as such, never straying any further than its own natural, dreamily gentle comfort zone – but for me, that is precisely why it is lovely. It is just what it is meant to be. Easy and light. Sensual. A simple, well made sambac jasmine/white floral melange with a comforting, sillage that floats close to the body : pretty much the perfect daytime floral.


Filed under Flowers


Of course, men in woods.

But it isn’t that often that you actually smell a woman walking by softly encased in a perfume of warm woods, at least outside of Japan, where this more stress-levelling form of aroma, reminiscent of hinoki wood onsen tubs at hot springs, or sandalwood incense, is thankfully becoming more common. Elsewhere, it’s virtually all fruity florals still with fake vanilla, yahdy yahda which gets so very, very, tiresome and predictable. Sometimes I just yearn for a much bolder, more riveting, boisé sillage to drift by my consciousness: a different, less cliched sensuality. One that doesn’t make me roll my eyes.

The seventies were full of ingeniously complex, inventive, and truly perturbing woody chypre perfumes such as Lancôme’s Magie Noire, Shiseido’s Inouï, and Rochas’ Mystère; perfumes that I adore, and that beguile, but can also almost frighten, with all their lichens and oakmosses and sassafrilla barks and scary patchouli roses lurking underneath- so it is easy to understand why the dark aspects of sorceresses apparent in these fragrances might be offputting to a younger Instagram Tiktok generation taught only to be cute.

Woodiness in feminine perfumery didn’t just grind to a halt in the seventies, obviously. The groundbreaking Feminité Du Bois by Serge Lutens for Shiseido from 1992 was the first ever women’s cedar based essence and was hugely influential, resulting in countless imitations such as the lovely L’Enfant Terrible by Jovoy, not to mention Dolce Vita by Dior, which I always personally found sparklingly lacklustre in comparison to the Shiseido. We had Armani Mania, Givenchy Organza Indecence, the Neela Vermeires, where sandalwood usually plays a vital role, the (overly) stark woodiness of the Byredos, and, of course, the legendary Le Labo Santal 33, which put woods very firmly back on the map for anyone who was interested (I have only ever smelled this icon once here, though, on a Japanese male artist friend of mine, who wore it brilliantly), but even so, for me, there is always room for more.

Ormonde Jayne Woman is another modern woods classic by iconic perfumer Geza Schoen (also the creator of yesterday’s feature, Molecule 01 +Iris) which has now been on the market for over twenty years but with its reputation as a sensual mood booster is still going strong.

A soothing, cozy, wood perfume based on an unusual central note of black hemlock spruce absolute, I actually used this scent in my scent workshop (it was featured in the official catalogue) as an example of how women’s perfumes need not subscribe to the central, overly prescribed tenets of ‘how to smell sexy’. With coriander, cardamom and grass oil over an emotionally empathizing ambered sandalwood, vetiver and cedarwood, Woman (though I wear this happiliy) is a very homely, intelligent perfume that works equally well when with other people or by yourself on a forest walk.

Mysore sandalwood from India is something I miss. I remember when I posted once, may years ago, on my favourite sandalwood perfume ever by Crabtree and Evelyn (read here for a full sandalwood odyssey) and Tora and I bonding over how much we loved and missed it. The Australian version used in many contemporary perfumes due to its easier availability, just isn’t the same – and neither are the synthetics.

Maher Olfactive’s Waking Dream is an intricately composed Mysore sandalood/ iris and amber triad, which settles eventually into a tranquillizing synergy you can sink into – Ida Meister’s detailed review of this perfume on CaFleurebon can’t be bettered so I will leave that here, but this definitely another wood scent that embodies the theme of today’s piece: that woods, when divorced from an ambroxan/fougere/citrus aggression, can have an entirely different, ungendered, intriguing dynamic.

Aqua Dos Açores is a brand from Portugal whose inspiration for its perfumes comes from the Azores island chain. While their ocean inspired Azul was a little too abrasive/aquatic for my tastes, the peculiarly fresh and fecund tropical flower fest that is Flores reminded me of Hawaii the second I smelled it (while actually in Hawaii)- almost as though it was capturing something – hot tendrils and moist air – as it happened.

Canto, the newer release, is an entirely different kind of scent – less the islands themselves than the ships that are travelling to them. Guaicwood, carnation absolute, cabreuva wood oil, fir balsam and benzoin grace a mellow and natural smelling sandalwood with a delicate whisk of saffron and pepper that becomes very rounded and legible – the kind of scent that bestows calm and confidence and could become a daily signature. My friend Aiko has been borrowing my bottle the last few days – her response (‘I loovvvvve sandalwood!’) precisely the response that I was hoping for as I knew it would suit her busy – but yoga-loving self. Adventurous, but very instinctive, in her scent choices, I somehow knew that she would gravitate towards Canto. The days when she would wear popular, scintillating pink fruities, are, I think it is safe to say, probably in the past.


Filed under Flowers


So back to reality.

There will be no dripping white florals, such as DSH’s nectarous Cross Pollination, a lovely bedtime orange of island breezes I shall wear as a private reverie scent, in my workplace today (though I am sorely tempted). No lush stinking tuberoses. No floating plumerias. But there may be neroli – I have made some delicious new citrus handbalms with oils that I got in Hawaii to slip inside my suit jackets, and I do like pairing those up with a touch of Matiere Premiere’s Neroli Oranger, a personal favourite that smells fresh and clean and optimistic and which I think is going to be my scent of the day.

But what about something anti-intuitive, like Escentric Molecules’ 01+ Iris? Could I possibly start wearing this one a little later in the term?

A bottle of this perfume was kindly sent to my event by Scent Bar LA, and I immediately registered it as something I could wear (and commandeered accordingly). While the ‘Molecules’ alone by themselves don’t appeal, and I found the + Mandarin variant weird, the + Patchouli too biscuity and persistent (D wore it and I thought I liked it, then decidedly didn’t), the iris equivalent has a mellow and easygoing, benevolent vibe that I can imagine pulling off, particularly when inside I am feeling precisely the opposite. It is also improved upon, I feel, and personalized, if teamed up with a little essential oil of vetiver, a combo I have already tried and really liked for a taming/wildness compatibility.

What concerns me about wearing a scent like this – a very familiar accord to the 21st century nose, like a toned down Prada Infusion D’Iris/Vetiver but woodier, more transparent and perhaps manly, is not being able to control the projection of the perfume and feeling paranoid that I am somehow filling up a room with just one spritz when I can’t even smell it myself (the Molecules are, of course, famous for this very phenomenon: you become quickly anosmic, whereas for others your smell is never out of sight: is this what we want from a scent? To be domineering the airwaves with stealth and quiet resolution? Have you had any Molecule experiences of your own, in terms of compliments, aversions?)

I experienced something similar to this sillage conundrum when D wore the beautiful Poivre Samarcande by Hermès for a time around 2008. He could barely smell it on himself at all, and neither could I half the time, but during one night in the Schoeneberg district of Berlin, a stranger sniffed it on the wind from across the street and came rushing over to compliment him on how amazing he was smelling (when perceptible, I did find it really sexy as well, I must admit, though I did find the sheer unpredictability of its throw verging on alarming).

No. You have talked me out of it. It feels a little too risky for a school environment, even if its quotidian ‘rightness’ – I might actually feel a little too conformist wearing this in truth – would give one an air of contemporary competence. Social acceptance. Even trustworthiness (a feeling I probably don’t elicit drenched in Flos Mortis.) The iris and the wood are in nice balance: all is metallically aerated; suppressed to just the right iota. I feel probably that it might possibly even be quite sexy on me .

But not today.


Filed under Flowers


You can’t help your taste.

And so, much as I often feel like a true outsider in what I like – and what I don’t, I have learned to just go with my own flow and wait for my flower to open: because when I am confronted with what I find personally to be very ugly, I just close up inside like angry buds. Waikiki Beach was rather like this : never have I been more disappointed by a place in all my life.

While grateful and excited to be there, dropped straight into the heart of things, across the street from the historic Royal Hawaiian Center, my heart sank quickly, clenched, as we walked along the street with its stunted decorative palm trees; Guccis, Pradas, American Cheese Cake factories, holidaying tourists in shorts and socks and saggy t-shirts; just as with Disneyland – I remember D in the Riki Tiki Room or whatever it was called.. politely staring in front of him years ago to endure the clockwork spectacle though he was dying inside from the aesthetic vacuum that confronted him, where I receive no pleasure whatsoever myself either; or ‘resorts’ – which are deemed beautiful by the vast, probably sensible majority, but whose furnishings I almost always detest (we are addicted to the Netflix ‘Love Is Blind’ series at the moment, an emotionally gruelling reality show in which contestants first fall in love with each others’ voices through a wall and then go on ‘honeymoons’ to see if the physical connection works out, potentially ending in acceptance or rejection at the altar.. – the cultural differences between the American, Japanese and Brazilian versions are beyond fascinating, but the ‘paradises’ they make love in on their very first night together are on the whole, to me, completely hideous, with their plumped up cushions and matching wallpapers and carefully placed silver pineapples (I have long believed, in my heart, that almost all ‘interior designers’ are actually blind); at least in yesterday’s episode, in which the couples in Brazil stayed in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, in wooden huts with minimal overload, surrounded by tarantulas, sloths and macaws, I could watch the scenery quite happily and even momentarily wish I could stay there – the vegetation – the vast, glorious, natural, unmoulded untethered vegetation that closed in on the glass windows of their love nests – and which was certainly the true star of the show.

The hordes all unthinkingly descend on Waikiki Beach but there is nothing to enjoy. It is all hotels and bars, happy happy reggae, convenience stores selling flip flops and beachballs and not much beach. Admittedly, the banyan trees, which feel sacred, clustered with invisible, hidden, ecstatic birds – huge roots hanging down in self-protection – provoke true awe, and these trees are to be found everywhere in Oahu (I now know the inspiration behind Avatar) – but incredulous as you may be to read this, I am sure that the beaches in Britain are actually better. Granted, there may not be palm trees, but in the north coast of Wales, for example, the Gower Coast, if you get the weather (and that is the problem), in full sunshine is completely dazzling. Spectacular. As are the beaches where we holidayed as a family when I was a child, down in Bournemouth and Cornwall, and the agrophobically beautiful, windful space and solace that can be had from strolls on the end-of-the-world beaches that are everywhere up on the coast of Norfolk.

No one is forcing you to stay just on one street in one district in one tiny part of one island in the chain of Hawai’i, though.

And my pretentious (I can’t help it), utter aesthetical horrification in that one touristy area began to dissipate the second we turned a corner and explored other blocks, on the very first night. Suddenly the plastic veneer of the restaurants and stores with their sickening fonts disappeared, and you were plunged into other neighourhoods with real buildings, mysterious contents; plants, trees; neon grocery stores, a sense of realness.

A couple of days later, after all of the hubbub, when Christopher and Christine drove us around the coast, to the east of the island, at sunset, past the velvet undulating green mountains that made my jaw drop, it was as if we were in another world.

Which we were.

We stopped off at – (at least I think it was) – Kailua beach; strolled towards the sands.

Or, rather, in truth, I let the others go ahead because I just wanted to immerse myself in the utter beauty I was experiencing at my own pace, as if in a trance.

Plumeria trees everywhere. Gorgeous, sprawling vegetation; birds twittering (the birds in Hawai’i! – they are so abundant and calm and in their own, glorious world) … I was finally getting the experience I wanted.

I was awestruck .

The beach was only a beach. Nothing else. Nothing manmade. No artifice. No contamination.

So dreamy, and beautiful.

Back in the city, on later days, all of this had seeped into the blood. You could avoid the tacky areas, explore.

Away from Kalakaua Avenue, which made me feel ill, the streets were wider; more organic.

Trees, succulents, flower bushes on every corner, in every nook.

And in this more hazily tropical context, some perfumes suddenly made a different kind of sense to me.

In smelling Dusita’s uniquely unusual Erawan, in the past, I had only been able to sense clary sage, an essential oil I am very sensitive to (it has psychotropic effects and its coarse, almost rancid greenness can make me shudder, even if I appreciate its vital role in fresh, chypric perfumes such as the original Miss Dior and Ma Griffe).

In the humid air, the poetry of Erawan, with its strange, jungle lightness, made much more sense; lighter, an ethereal buoyancy I hadn’t noticed before. The coumarinic liatrix, with a muguet/ petitgrain clasp in the top, all lift, but also hold the central vetiver Haiti/ clary sage at the heart. It is soothing, refreshing; enigmatic.

Under the tree, at that moment, I felt the perfume – and the perfumer – talking to my spirit directly.

Likewise, if the sickening pink and blue trash at Duty Free that goes for fragrance these days is like the perfumes at Daniel K Inouye airport: brash, chemical bouquets of tack that slur the soul, the cool earthiness of the extraordinarily elegant Sillage Blanc, a less talked about Dusita, but one that is essential for those that seek a touch of distance and aloofness and escape from all of that, is someone, at ease, unstressed, getting ready to go out at the top of their condo; post bath, in robe, about to dress, in white, for the cool evening outside.

If a tad strident in its potency (I recommend the tiniest amounts of this scent, in strategic places, as it lingers for hours), the beauty of the green, patchouli aromatic trail this perfume leaves – in the vein of Cabochard and other classics of its type but freshened in an unfussy, streamlined modern way with light florals bound with artemisia, Persian galbanum over (a less sweaty than those of the fifties), powdered leather and oakmoss – is unparalleled in the niche market, in a class of its own.

In Honolulu, I yearned for this person to leave their apartment once ready; walk from their doorstep into the evening light and let me swoon, on the air.


Filed under Flowers

Scents I wore in Honolulu: Pu’er Tea by One Day, Spirito by Meo Fusciuni, Patchouli of the Underworld by Electimuss and Bon Monsieur by Rogue

guest post by D

Our arrival in Honolulu had actually been delayed by a day (as we had fallen foul of an ESTA entry visa scam) and so the airport protocols had been a tad stressier than desired (= understatement). However, we sorted it out and the first day at the museum was a breeze with all the staff supportive and encouraging and the building itself attractive and relaxing with its courtyards and cloisters seen to fine effect in the blistering sun.

They certainly knew how to build attractive and sturdy structures back in the nineteen twenties. The Museum of Honolulu opened in 1927 and was designed to be a modern interpretation of a traditional Hawaiian building. It houses one of the most extensive collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art and objects in America.

The perfumes sent through by niche perfumers had caused quite a stir among the museum staff, although Christine, the very person who instigated Neil’s participation in the Cross Pollination show, and head of Education and Engagement, is allergic to scented products and had been suffering the olfactory onslaught for over a month.

Aforementioned scents were stacked on a couple of trollies and my eyes immediately alighted upon the white boxes of One Day, Hong Kong-based perfume company, who had kindly contributed their tea range to the perfume workshop event, as I already know and use their Pu’er Tea fragrance. We settled on this as the perfume for me to wear (only very lightly out of deference to Christine) during the talk, as it is one of the most gentle and serene accords, soothing to myself and calming to Neil, who was nervous about talking in front of over 160 people. The top note of pu’erh tea is just a touch sweet, adding moisture and some enigmatic grace to a woody earthy middle and base of cedar, cypress, patchouli, frankincense and vetiver. It’s mellow and modern, yet also intriguing, and I love the way it develops on my skin.

Maybe the calm spell worked, as Neil pulled off his talk with aplomb…

For the workshop, we decided to come sans scents but after the events were done, I settled on Spirito, by Meo Fusciuni, a modern aromatic with a pleasingly harmonious aura of forest green – perhaps because my skin foregrounds the cedar and vetiver. Also, I love the way musk blends accords with a velvet touch and I am often drawn to scents incorporating musk. This was designed to be an evocation of Emily Dickinson’s meadow walks, though for me it is more sylvan and sensual than that might suggest.

An interesting thing happened as we waited for a bus to take us to the University of Honolulu campus to meet our friend Skyler. The bus was delayed by twenty minutes, so one of the people in the bus queue, a gent from El Salvador, struck up a conversation, immediately noting that we smelled great and pulling out a bottle of Tom Ford’s Leather from his rucksack, which he brandished with pride – and this without knowing anything about our reason for being there.

Though in rather different ways, I found both Pu’er Tea and Spirito to be refreshing scents for the Hawaiian heat.

With Christine now at a safe distance in mainland America on a business trip, I continued my scent journey by delving into richer, warmer territory, and intrigued by the name, I took up Patchouli of the Underworld by Electimuss, a very ambery, woody, leathery patchouli, with a sweet metallic opulence to it.

Neil said it was like a modern Shalimar and although not the kind of scent I would usually wear, I really enjoyed the middle stages where a certain spiced greenness emerges which was counterintuitively cooling. Is this the chill of the underworld asserting itself through the dense toffee opening?

This scent certainly has a charming sillage and though sweeter than I am used to, is definitely one I will be coming back to – perhaps in winter when Neil wears Shalimar – or Bal A Versailles.

We planned one final blast for the last evening as Skyler was taking us to a drag cabaret hotspot called Kat’s Closet in China Town. For this, we had prepared outfits purchased from Bailey’s Antiques, which specializes in aloha shirts that range in price from 20 dollars to 600 or 700 for the real vintage ones that hang from the ceiling, out of reach of most hands and budgets. The emporium has been frequented by many famous people, including Nicholas Cage (our vacations often follow in his footsteps it seems – Honolulu, New Orleans…) and had been recommended to us by our friend Christopher.

I managed to score an excellent $20 polyester chrysanthemum short-sleeved shirt – wholly 70s – which would go perfectly with the flairs and Cuban heels I’d brought. Neil picked up a rather more costly – but not extortionate given its splendiferousness – red sequined jacket for Burning Bush.

My all-synthetic, predominantly beige outfit demanded a manly 70s-esque number – Bon Monsieur by Rogue, purveyor of devilishly fine and dandyish confections (like Hove perfumes but with added twist and natty packaging), completely measured up. The citrusy, lavender facets of this soapy masculine scent helped to deodorize me with a gentlemanly clean but hopefully mischievously rakish olfactory vibe. (You’ll have to take my word for it.) A sartorial/olfactory combo I shall be revisiting with some relish.


Filed under Flowers