Category Archives: Bitch

NOTES ON MY NOTES ( vol 1 )

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We all have good and bad periods in our lives, times when we feel things are right and we can believe in the present and the future, and others when we feel lost. Much of the beginning of the twenty first century was like that for me.

Coming to Japan in 1996 for no other reason than pure escape, even though I had, in fact,  virtually zero interest in the country (it was truly a do or die situation for me at that time, it could have been Timbuktu), I went through a period of deep isolation and desolation before beginning to slowly bloom again when Duncan joined me here (we had briefly split up for a time beforehand, at my instigation, in my post-university London desperation).

Japan – alien, bizarre, yet simultaneously unsurprising –  took quite a while for me to settle into, but as its pleasures began to take hold, we made friends, and were soon in a drunken gaijin (foreigner) late-twenties bubble, working at low-reputation language schools and watching Japan from the outside while working and partying within it. This was great for a while, even if, as ‘Cambridge Graduates’ – an albatross of expectation that ultimately just makes a young person feel guilty and horrifically underachieving unless they have scaled the career heights and ‘made their  mark on the world’, deep down, we both felt unanchored, vaguely embarrassed,  and consistently anxious about the future.

I think that unless you have a solid ambition from a young age – to be a doctor, a journalist, a fashion designer, an entrepreneur- and are a liberal arts graduate – in my case  so pragmatically specializing in twentieth centry Italian and French literature, with a special focus on existentialism  (meaning that I could see through everything and could not believe in the value of anything whatsoever) – upon graduation from those ivory towers you can be really plunged into what is, essentally, a terrifying and all encompassing black hole.

 

QUE FAIRE?

 

For me it was like drowning. There was literally not a single job in the world that I actually wanted to do. Nothing appealed to me. Of course I realise that this is one of those ‘first world problems’, ‘white privilege’ and all the rest, when half the world doesn’t even have food to eat, but I was me, in my own situation, and my own milieu, and being aware of all that didn’t detract from the sheer angst my lack of direction engendered in me. I could see no future ahead of me. And that can be devastating for a young person.

I have never had any interest whatsoever in business, in just working for companies that make money for executives and stock holders – and the existence of Donald Trump and everything he stands for just vindicates my instincts in this regard  – these soulless, evil fucks.  And so all the twenty three year old students rushing to get jobs as investment bankers during the so called ‘milk -round’ in the last year of Cambridge, when you are sucked up by the City Machine and all the Big Companies just left me bewildered and at a loss. I was never going to even try doing anything like that. I would literally rather have died. But what else was there? As a language graduate, you could say that the world of the EU (weep, I am still fuming), and diplomacy, or translation, and interpreting, beckoned, but that was about as likely as me transforming one fine morning into a llama. Fakeness, excruciating politeness, the exchange of small talk and schmoozing among well dressed reptiles with underlying motives and blank-faced foreign counterparts and all that diplomatic goo is as alien to me as tilling the bank vaults and advising clients on their portfolios would be; and even translating, which sounded vaguely impressive in a way, seemed to me to be simply transforming another person’s words like a machine. I am too egotistical and selfish for that. I like my own words.

And so what else was there? The media held no appeal. Mainly because anyone I met from the TV, film, art or music sphere just seemed like such pretentious, insecure assholes that I couldn’t bear to spend even a minute with them. I had so many miserable evenings in London I can’t tell you. Publishing, another option, just seemed the same. I considered counselling and psychology for a while but then realized that realistically, I am just too porous and sensitive (I would have absorbed the clients woes too much, like a sponge). I even considered the idea, for a while, grasping at straws,  of becoming an aromatherapist – at least closer to my passions. It was just that I didn’t want to ever touch anyone.

One exciting option seemed to be perfumery.  There was a chink of light. Perhaps. And so with dreams of perhaps opening a shop one day and becoming world travellers sourcing ingredients, my best friend Helen and I enrolled in the Plymouth University Perfumery diploma course, a long-distance qualification that involved assessing aromatic materials (which I found I was quite good at), essays (the first one, on the essence of perfume itself got me good points), and then, as you might expect, just reams, and reams, and reams, of chemistry (100% impossible). The whole project, which we had been so frothing about the mouth about initially, was dead in the water before you could say opoponax.

It was just not to be. Although I infinitely prefer to associate with positive people – I have no time for negativity in my life any more, because what’s the point?– at the same time, although I deeply respect idealism and optimism in people –  I have never had any truck with the ‘anything is possible’ idea personally, particularly when I know that for me, certain things are truly not. To me, rather than pessimism, it is just enlightened, intelligent, realism.

I know myself. I am not an especially modest person – I know what I am good at. But I also know my limitations and what I can’t do. This extended from studying physics at school – so utterly dull it was hard to even be in the classroom let alone concentrate on what was in front of me (one classic punishment, which I think I have related before, was when my teacher at the time, Mrs Lakhani, who I actually liked, and who liked me as well in a  bemused kind of way, just said to her wilting, languorous fourteen year old yawning student, oh for god’s sake Neil, just go and water the flowers at the front of the school or something, will you? – cue an embarrassed school boy with a watering can, caught giving the geraniums at the front of that Orwellian building some water by the head teacher – ‘Chapman, what on earth are you doing?’….Mortified, yes, but at least I was close to the flowers, something I have always, since very early childhood, completely and utterly adored, and which could at least allow escape from that hellish, bunsen burner prison –  from history, chemistry, mathematics….I had no interest in any of it.

But perfumery without chemistry is like being a fingerless pianist (yes I know you can use your toes, but I was never that resilient or determined: I am a lazy bastard at heart) and even though I knew it was impossible, I did try for a little while. Helen, fearing the chemistry, wisely saw the light earlier than me and gave up immediately. I, stupidly, vainly, tried to learn a few basics about the fundamental elements of our earth, and nature, with a very patient friend of mine living in Japan called Soraiya, who I taught basic French to in return after work in Yokohama cafes, but she quickly had to let me down gently (when I didn’t even know if the sun went round the earth or vice versa), that this probably wasn’t going to work. 

It was the same with Japanese kanji. As a supposed linguist, you might think that by now, after two decades in the country, I would be a fluent speaker, someone who can compose haiku in Japanese or write a Tokyo-based novella in the language of my home country. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I can converse in the language fairly well up to a point (if I said to people I had been here four years, say, they might be mildly impressed, but for an expatriate of twenty years my level is shameful),  I cannot write a single sentence. Literally. And I knew I never would…

 

DEFEATIST !  I hear you cry.

 

I don’t think so. I know my brain. And I respect it. I was born with what I was born with. In Japan the crushingly prevalent idea is that if you try hard enough, you can do anything. I don’t agree. I actually hate that ‘Impossible is nothing’ bullshit. While mind over matter, endeavour, and the power of sheer will have led to remarkable achievements the world over I am sure, if you have ever sat through a four hour mammoth piano recital, the way I have, with the pupils and protegees of my piano teacher all rattling off pieces – Bach, Chopin, Beethoven – of enviable technical proficiency but with no soul – dry, robotic –  you will realise that it doesn’t matter how many hours of practice you put it, if you haven’t got it you haven’t got it. God……..it was like being raped with a hammer, actually, and D and I couldn’t take it any longer and just had to go out and get totally smashed, drunk out of our minds, to get back even a modicum of  spiritual equilibrium.

And you can forget about Kanji, or the Chinese characters that form a great part of the Japanese language. That was NEVER going to happen. While I can read a katakana menu (wow how impressive),  to this day, I am unable to distinguish the hiragana お (o) from あ (a). Even sitting here looking at these two symbols right now, which I have just copied and pasted, and which most foreigners here can memorize in one look, I am still literally unable to distinguish them. I think, thus, that I despite the obvious fact that I am not illiterate (like, say, the president of the United States), I am possibly a little bit dyslexic. The Roman alphabet – fine. I picked up Italian very quickly and was almost fluent within ten months of living there. Japanese takes me about twenty times longer to remember, and I think that this is partly because of the syntax and grammar, which still makes very little sense, but more the way it is written. If I can’t mentally imbibe even the a b c of the language, there is no way in hell that I was ever going to be able to read, let alone write, words like these with their ultra complex kanji, which just look to me like mangled, intricate insects :

 

 

 

 

躊躇(ちゅう・ちょ) – hesitation

朦朧(もう・ろう) – dim, hazy

憂鬱(ゆう・うつ) – depression

瀟洒(しょう・しゃ) – elegant; trim

 

 

 

 

You yourself might have different basic abilities and attributes to me, and thus think ah yes, but if you tried, if you really tried, you could probably do it. Er, No, I couldn’t. And I knew this the very first week I was here. I remember staring out at a building opposite from where I was teaching, with ‘words’ like these on the walls, and my brain just said nah, that is never going to happen: and that was that. I gave up upon arrival, but in a way I think that was sensible, because it saved me unnecessary heartache and hassle. I do occasionally think of how beautiful it would be to be able to read Japanese novels in the original, or enter the bizarre world of anime and manga in the same way the Japanese do, to read newspapers in Japanese, but at the same time, not wanting to enter too deeply into this culture is honestly a conscious decision. I retain the right to live like this, to be in Japan, but to not even vaguely attempt to be Japanese. Both D and I like, and insist on, keeping ye olde Nippon, which doesn’t really want us here, at a distance. We want to preserve the floating neon dream, not to understand every insidiously repressive intricacy of the real thing. We are dreamers, and it took us a while to truly accept that. I like not understanding advertising – something I have detested from the bottom of my heart for decades-  it has always just instinctively felt like pollution to me, real brain toxin –  and Japanese TV commercials are literally unbearable poison to me from every caricatured, racist, sexist, ageist stereotype imaginable, to the saccharine sheer stupidity of it all………..no, this is not anything I need to understand any more than I do already. Let me edit my experience my way.

Perfume and chemistry were the same. It was just not to be. The chemistry was fully impossible. And it always will be. I picked up Luca Turin’s The Secret Of Scent again the other day, thinking it would make good toilet reading, and I was really enjoying the first section about Nombre Noir and Chamade and all the rest of it and how this perfume love started him off on his path, but I had to give up by about page 10 when he started on all the chemistry  (I imagine that some of you had exactly the same response).

 

Frankly darling, it bores me to death.

 

So there went the perfume dream, anyway, at least in the traditional lab-coated sense. By this time (why am I telling you all of this?) I had left NOVA, a chain of language schools that sank in an explosion of infamy a few years ago with English teachers left starving with no salaries as the whole thing went under, and had immersed myself in a fully Japanese company of preparatory schools where I am the only full time foreign teacher ( I say ‘full time’, when really it is only four days a week, fulfilling perhaps the only ambition I ever had, to have a three day weekend): a decision that on the professional level was definitely the right way to go – real teachers, pedagogically sound, even if the Japanese teachers themselves are treated like slaves – I could never do what they do in a million years – but emotionally, I can’t deny that it was incredibly difficult for me for a long while; making me experience deep and lasting culture shock four years after arriving in the country and having done nothing but play in the seductive, and immersive, gaijin bubble.

I could write an entire book about my experiences of teaching in this company along with all the other things I have lived in this country, and one day would like to, but being the kind of person I am, and being weighed down in what I found an incredibly oppressive environment, so impersonal and rule-bound I found it demoralizing up to the point of dehumanization, I have to say that the start of the millenium really wasn’t the best time of my life.

 

Why didn’t you just leave? I hear you ask. Yes, but I had no idea what else to do. I didn’t have an MA, the requirement to work at Japanese universities – which, in truth is said to be quite unfulfilling in any case as students in Japan basically use up all their energies in junior high school and high school in cramming endlessly for entrance exams, university being their moratorium, a four year playground where you are essentially guaranteed to graduate and can just party and chill, explore fashion (killed dead the second you leave and get a job when you become a salaryman drone), and live the four years of freedom that you will spend the rest of your life yearning back to, absolutely the definitive honeymoon period for most Japanese, and not a time that anyone takes studying seriously; teachers I know who have jobs like this say that half of the students present at any lecture are asleep at any given time, the rest on their smart phones, and I am such a control freak I know I would find this quite intolerable.  I want my students to fully engage with me. But anyway, aside university positions, there were only school jobs with curricula I didn’t want to be bound by, or gabba gabba language schools where you talk to bored housewives and half-dead businessmen and hardly get paid anything, and in my job I have one hundred per cent creative freedom in what I teach and virtually zero interference. Perfect.

Except that I immediately felt so incredibly isolated and alone. Sitting there in that teacher’s room, paranoid and trapped inside my ‘Englishman’s’ head, I eventually started to slide into depression (went to counsellors too to explore some past and current traumas but was told that I was not clinically depressed, but was perhaps suffering from something called ‘depressed mood’). You don’t say. Then September 11th happened and things got way, way blacker and I could hardly see the wood from the trees. I knew things would never be the same again and I felt even worse, floundering.  Lost. The culmination of all this was 2002, when my heart was black as tar, I felt deep inside myself that I was instrinscially unloveable, and after flying back to London, came down with a very serious case of pneumonia that saw me hospitalized for eight days, followed by  a lengthy recuperation period at my parents’ house that was my own personal ground zero. This was a strange time for me, when I felt adrift and so very mortal, unfulfilled at the molecular level, anxious, and with very little, in truth, my relationship with Duncan aside, to cling to.

Perhaps this is universal, this cultural alienation having such a profound physical effect on the individual. In fact, upon returning to Japan after my convalescence, I remember coming across a novel, the fascinating Foreign Studies by Shusaku Endo, in which the protagonist had had almost precisely the experience I had, just in reverse. I know I have written about all of this somewhere (but I can’t remember where or when), so forgive me if all this repetition of my quite unremarkable life is dull, but this story, which I remember reading in a Starbucks in some Japanese hicksville town on the way to some school near the mountains where I had to teach roomfuls of eleven year olds I didn’t want to teach, blew my mind with its similarities to what I had experienced myself personally as I sat there still feeling frail from my potential brush with death and read of this neurasthenic ‘aesthete’ with literary and artistic pretensions, fulfilling the bohemian obligations of the day by going to live in Paris and ‘live the life’. Unable to shake off his innate Japaneseness and disappointed by the French realities, the monolithic heaviness of the stone buildings (I myself felt initially profoundly internally disturbed by the opposite flimsiness of Japanese architecture), the writer eventually finds himself so alienated by his adopted culture that he withdraws from society and succumbs to pneumonia just like me (the chest and breathing apparatus is definitely the most vulnerable area for sensitive people, no matter where they are from!)

In any case, I had survived, I was back in Japan, yes, but what was to become of me now? Was I simply going to malinger as an English teacher? Oh, the shame and failure. Yes, I enjoyed certain aspects of it, and it wasn’t as though we weren’t having fun or doing anything creative ( I had the odd piano recital, and we still had our themed parties twice a year or so), but at heart I felt dissatisfied. I know now that this was because I wasn’t expressing anything – not really, I wasn’t creating anything, not writing about perfume, not transcending anything – which I now know I do absolutely do need to do, and which, even just writing the Black Narcissus, has saved me in many ways. I live for beauty and pleasure, for the infinite, the beyond, the essence of what we are,and I can’t just passively consume the banal crap that constantly comes our  way and be happy. I need more. I can’t and won’t be brainwashed by this crass, capitalistic, simplistic and moronic world because I know that what we are presented with as the ideal, is a lie.

 

 

LA VITA E BELLA.

 

 

Does any of this rambling chime with anyone? Have you ever come through a period of malcontent and emerged the wiser? When even the ‘friends’ you were associating with for extended periods of time weren’t even making you happy?

 

During the beginning of the 2000’s I was, in truth, quite often bored with our weekends, not stimulated by the company we were keeping during these years if I am honest – 2002, say, to 2008 (WHEN I WROTE MY FIRST PERFUME REVIEW! MITSOUKO, I BELIEVE), which totally started things in a whole new direction….

 

People had sometimes said to me over the years that I should write, and I thought that maybe I should, but I could never think of anything to say. A novel was out of the question, as I could never imagine anything from a perspective other than my own  (such a self-absorbed creature!) As soon as I felt perfume flowing through my pen nib, though, it was an entirely different matter. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that it was akin to being reborn.

 

Around this time, though, we were living a fairly staid and quite ‘grown up’ (so overrated, as a concept!) way of life. A lot of our social occasions involved frankly dull English teachers, quite a lot of overly conventional gay couples and their female friends, where no one ever really said anything interesting and where the conversation was usually  grounded in such dull reality (Jesus, conversations about gas bills, ‘property’, visas, the daily ins and outs of schools, the price of fish, I was bored out of my skull). I like eccentric people, individuals, alive, real, vital; those that might have been hurt but have put it behind them, people who revel in the beauty of  life and the world and know instinctively not to talk about the realia of daily and all the tedious rubbish that can bog us down. Those who can see beyond all that. Beyond their bank accounts.

Now, at this time of my life, mid-forties  (easily the best, despite some problems – but then who has none of those? – I think we would both quite honestly say that; both professionally fulfilling, but also artistically, socially often quite frankly thrilling),  I can hardly imagine being so mired in, as I often was before, in what I superciliously, and quite  snobbishly sometimes refer to as the ‘quotidian mould’….

 

 

 

You know, I think I should stop here. This piece was supposed to be about something different entirely – I don’t know where all this retrospection has come from. Perhaps I just needed to say it. I don’t know.

 

 

I came across some old notebooks the other day in a drawer – notes I had taken on perfumes while out and about in Paris, London, Berlin and other places (there are so many reviews I have never completed or put up on this blog), and I thought that, for a change, rather than full-fleshed perfume reviews  it might be amusing to put some of them up for your casual perusal. Often just one liners or quips for later reviews that never happened, but which sometimes say all I have to say on the matter. Some of them amused me. Some of them were quite pleasingly succinct. And the more perfume reviews, I say, the better. I have written so much on perfume already on The Black Narcissus, some pieces pored over for days, the majority just splurged out and put up immediately, but I want to keep writing more.

I will continue this confessional later.

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L E T IT N O T H APPE N

 

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THE YLANG YLANG TERRORIST

 

 

Ylang-Ylang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The other day I came home with two small bottles of very good ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils, and, as you do, I decided to terrorize my perfume collection .

 

 

 

The tampering/contaminating/ disrespecting of a perfumer’s formula is something that that probably fills most real perfume lovers with horror. And, ultimately, when I look at my own triumphs and misdemeanours and weigh the whole thing up, I would have to agree. The formulae are the way that they are for a reason, the creation of a perfumer who has tinkered, and weighed up, and mulled over the details until he or she has liked what she sees and gives the green light.

 

 

 

 

This I know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if you disagree, though?

 

 

 

Or if you have perfumes lying around that you never really use and probably never will, because there just is something about them that gets on your wick, that is never quite right, or enough, or they have gone off?

 

 

In such cases, why not give a bit of perfume terrorism a whirl? See what happens? A bit of instinctive alchemy.

 

 

You have got nothing to lose, really, and it is certainly a whole lot better than the real thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The majority of the creations in my collection I would obviously never even dream of touching (all the usual suspects that you hear me going on about, particularly when they are in prime and pristine condition). And yet. I can sometimes find myself lifting up certain sacred holy cows and thinking, fuck it, why not. This old Mitsouko parfum is bugging me with its fustiness. I way preferred that nice eau de toilette that I had with all that bergamot.

 

 

……. .. . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Here we go then, some lovely bergamot……..yes, that will do nicely; one drop of ylang ylang and some lemon and we will wait until tomorrow……

(verdict: yes, quite good, I will actually wear it now – I am loving the velvety sharpness of the citruses versus the moss, though in absolute truth I have altered the base a bit too much and she resents me).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What other perfumes?

 

 

 

 

There have been quite a lot over the years, I must confess (has anyone else done such a thing, incidentally? Am I alone in my crazed audacity? Am I some kind of parfumeur manqué, who instead of wrecking other people’s work should concentrate on his own? have you also, behind closed doors and wrapped shut curtains, also performed midnight raids on portions of your perfume collections?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From time to time, I must admit though, when the mood strikes me, I do have to say that I bit of ‘personal remixing’ can be kind of fun.

 

The nervous anticipation of it all, to see if the experiment has gone awry, or if you are delighted when you wake up and smell it in the morning and it has worked….

 

 

 

 

 

Here then: a list of some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head (there are way more, I know there are, and I am sure that they will come up in conversation).

 

 

The ones that worked, and the ones that really didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

SERGE LUTENS BORNEO I840 :   This I have written about extensively before, my adding fine quality patchouli to the scent to deepen that note. In total I have probably had about four bottles of this perfume and it is the only way that I can wear it. If I get another one at any point (it is no longer sold in Tokyo) then I will do the same. Without that extra patchouli it was just a tad too soft. With it, it becomes mine.

 

 

SLIGHTLY DEGRADED CARON INFINI :   Two or so drops of great quality ylang ylang oil and BOOM she has turned into Madame Rochas. Initially I get a real brrmrmrmrmththgfhghg of perfume pleasure as the aldehydes and wood all spring into the action from the presence of the new floral invader and the whole thing smells gorgeous (it has just lost its identity, which to the holder of that identity is something of a problem).

 

Great to have by the bedside, though, and it does smell better than how it did before (just a faded old sad little aldehyde). I think you probably do hear the slight tones of regret though, lingering in my voice.

 

 

 

SERGE LUTENS GRIS CLAIR

 

 

Now this is a weird one. My mum was given a whole tester bottle free of this when she bought two other Lutens for me one Christmas, and though I quite liked it, and like it, kind of, on Duncan, I always wanted way more lavender in the top and less of that slightly irritating synthetic incense note that roars carbonically through the whole and dominates the composition.

 

 

Thus, over time:  a whole plethora of lavender oils, Mexican high altitude, Bulgarian, French (for some reason, Lutens perfumes dissolve the essential oils you might put into them perfectly, not going cloudy or off coloured like some perfumes do), and I have to say I way prefer it.

 

What we have now is a very natural lavender perfume that heals the senses, is fresh and exciting, yet maintains just enough of that original base note once the essential oils have evaporated to make it still an actual perfume. Christopher Sheldrake and his impresario would surely be shaking in their immaculately tailored boots, but they don’t have to smell it. This one is also on my bedside table.

 

 

SERGE LUTENS DATURA NOIR

 

 

NOOOOOOOOOOOO I hear you cry..but yes. As I wrote in my review of this, there is something just too imbalanced and precarious about the weird combination of top notes that I never felt worked. Just three drops of ylang ylang oil into about 40 ml of eau de parfum and wow she has grown at least three cup sizes. I mean Datura Noir was hardly Burt Reynolds to begin with, but now we have some serious cleavage.

 

 

 

And yet I prefer it. The ylang ylang smooths out the composition, makes it work from the very first go, yet dries down to the vanillic coconut Mata Hari that I was hoping she would be from the offset.

 

 

VOL DE NUIT VINTAGE EAU DE TOILETTE PLUS NEROLI

 

I know I know.

 

No, you stupid boy, you can’t wreck things like this. Just because there is some neroli in the listed notes doesn’t mean it is going to work. And it doesn’t.

 

 

I have regretted it ever since (though it was off to begin with so there wasn’t really anything to lose). Even so………

 

 

 

VINTAGE LAGERFELD CHLOE + YLANG YLANG

 

 

 

Yes.

 

 

Yes.

 

 

YES.

 

 

 

What smelled old and only slightly Chloë-ish ( I have great memories of this from when I was a teenager and so really cherish having a ‘live’ bottle in the house) has suddenly become CHLOE again.

 

With just two drops of ylang ylang oil it has been reborn (ylang ylang is famously used to lift all notes in perfumes to begin with, and seriously, it really works here. If you do have an old perfume that is tired and listless, you might want to try it as an experiment. In this one beautiful occasion, CHLOE IS BACK).

 

 

 

CK ONE + DOLCE & GABBANA POUR HOMME ‘COCKTAIL EXPERIMENT’

 

 

I know, what the hell was I thinking. MIXING TWO FULLY FLEDGED, AND UTTERLY INCOMPATIBLE PERFUMES TOGETHER. But I had come to hate both, and thought if I mixed them, I might get something new…..

 

 

LESSON: EPIC FAIL OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.

 

 

AS FOUL SMELLING AND REACTIVE AS AN EMETIC.

 

 

PUKE INDUCING, AND POURED DOWN THE DRAIN.

 

 

 

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA VETIVER

 

 

All my vetiver experiments have been dismal failures, I don’t know why. They just end up too tarry and viscous. And my beef with this Santa Maria Novella  was always that old fashioned musk in the base that I just can’t abide, and even when smothered in roots from the vales of Java it was never going to be anything different. Again, I just threw the whole lot out.

 

 

An expensive waste of money, this one.

 

 

 

DIORELLA + LEMON

 

 

I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.

 

 

 

 

In truth, vintage Diorella is a perfume that I adore, like everybody else, but what to do with one that has lost its top notes?

 

 

 

A dose of high quality lemon oil, shall we?

 

 

 

The jury is still out on this one. Obviously, you don’t mess with Edmond Roudnitska, and I do have a very intact parfum that I wear once a while on an early summer’s afternoon that I wouldn’t touch in a million years, but I also quite like my Limonella as well. Call me a presumptuous upstart, but I don’t mind this one at all.

 

 

 

THE PERFUMES OF HARRY LEHMANN

 

 

I can’t quite believe that I haven’t yet written about Harry Lehmann, because it is the most wonderful perfume house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, that makes ridiculously good valued perfumes that you get from urns, à la Caron, and they are really quite nice.

 

 

 

I bought several bottles of scent there (as would you: the containers are pleasing, and they are almost laughably cheap). Reseda is a delightful green N°I9 alternative, Eau De Berlin is just sexy as hell in a crisp fougère, Geo F Trumper Eucris/ Drakkar Noir kind of way but far more elegant (I would never touch that one); and there were several that I bought but that I can’t quite remember the names of (Duncan and the cat are asleep upstairs so I can’t go and raid the back of the cabinets to check). There was a lovely spiced cologne, though, that I bought a huge, beautiful bottle of, a scent that was a bit like L’Occitane’s exquisite Eau Giroflée/Eau Des Quatre Voleurs and surely enough, though it was nice, I was surreptiously adding nutmeg (one of my favourite smells) and clove in carefully graded amounts (for me anyway) until I got what I wanted.

 

 

This worked WONDERS, though I say it myself. The essential nature of the scent was left unchanged, it was just boosted by the ingredients that it was crying out to have added, and I am itching to do exactly the same experiment again.

 

 

 

Spices are precarious though. I love Duncan in nutmeg so much that I even added a whole load of essential to a miniature I had of Cacharel Pour Homme, the most nutmeg-prominent men’s scent to begin with, and although he smelled as though he were ready to dive into a Spanish rice pudding, I kind of liked it on him actually ( but was worried that it might sensitize and burn the skin.)

 

 

 

Likewise, a nice big vintage bottle that I have of Floris Malmaison, now sadly discontinued, I have also, I must confess,  had the nerve to spice up (just a bit) as well.

 

 

 

I wanted it a touch spicier. I adore cloves. And so cloves were added, a really nice essential oil, just to get that extra kick, especially now that eugenol has been tightly controlled by the fascist perfumed powers that be and we can never really have a proper spiced carnation again (and this one was thumbs up for sure ,as well). Coming home the other night I also added ylang ylang, because I just though well what the hell, why not?

 

 

 

 

Result?   Gorgeous. The ylang ylang lifts the whole perfume, which now has a really lovely bite, and yet it still softens and dies pleasingly down to a great carnation that lingers like a pillow on the skin .

 

 

 

 

(The recent edition of Malmaison was nothing like this, incidentally: it was sold down the river, conservatized, made palatable for the dull. A carnation should be fiery and florid and poetic, and unafraid. And, anyway, as you probably know, this was the signature scent of Oscar Wilde all those years ago and I and sure that he would understand.)

 

 

 

 

He wore it, in its original, audacious incarnation, as the scented accompaniment to all those musings. And he certainly wasn’t at all afraid of a little teasing, and a little rule bending, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ps. Forgot to mention Gianfranco Ferre + jasmine sambac absolute.

 

 

 

DELIGHTFUL.

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Filed under Antiperfume, Bitch, Bric-a-brac

A LA RECHERCHE DU SHOE PERDU…….. FLASH by Jimmy Choo (2013) + JIMMY CHOO by Jimmy Choo (2011)+ ILLICIT FLOWER by Jimmy Choo (2016)

 

 

 

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I am not a fashionista. And I am definitively not a shoe person. Since I was a young boy I have been vastly indifferent to them, loathed shoe shopping, hated the stress of it; the boredom, the heat and stuffiness of the shoe shops, the artificial lights boring a hole in my brain, the floor mirrors; the shoe ‘horns’ (what the hell are they?); the fact that I have to choose something that I have no interest in looking at in the first place, and also the fact that, in Japan, now an adult, I can’t find any shoes to fit even when I do find myself compelled to buy some new ones, always and only when they are starting to fall apart and my friends or relatives urge me aggressively to go and get some right now because you really need some new shoes ( I buy at most one pair of shoes a year I would say, when they get scuffed beyond recognition, and I still have trainers from about twelve to fifteen years ago which I like well enough and which look fine to me); but even when I do want to buy some new ones, even then I have to go to a specialist store in Tokyo for personages with overlarge feet called Big B, full of hulking trolls looking for something among the rank, ugly selections, which means I, when I have finally found something I can bear to hand over money for, I have to then slink shamefully out of said shop with an ugly brown plastic bag slung over my shoulders advertising to all the fact that on the Lilliputian island I inhabit, at least, I am a Caucasian with giant feet – an ungainly, unelegant maxiped (for the record I am only a UK size 10 1/2, or US 11, which hardly makes me King Kong)……..

 

 

 

 

 

But,  with the increasingly westernized diet that has crept in steadily here, the feet of the nation’s youth are also getting bigger as the youth gets taller, and regular shoe shops, not just ‘specialists for the gargantuan of foot’, are now, finally, starting to stock my size.

 

 

 

 

Yippee!!

 

 

 

 

This still doesn’t mean that I am about to be badgered into caring about shoes because I never will. In terms of my appearance they are the last thing I care about (also in others, I don’t tend to notice shoes on them unless they are especially spectacular): for some reason my eyes rarely stray down that far, despite (or because of) the fact that my father always chided me forebodingly as a child that you judge a man by his shoes and encouraged me to polish my school ones on a Sunday night, especially the bit at the back – no, don’t skip it! that is the part they look at the most! (this was absolutely guaranteed to make me want to do the opposite: my young brain figured that if someone were stupid and shallow enough to judge me by how the back of my shoes looked then they definitely needed to be as dirty as possible); and the fact that my mother and I would literally get into skin-scratching, hair-pulling frenzies of exasperation at the whole experience as I would huff from changing room to changing room, from shop to shop, refusing to take an interest in the leather-soled bullshit around me or else suddenly becoming so shoe-choosy that it was impossible to find anything that would please this evil, shoe-hating Little Lord Fauntleroy  – as we viciously skin-pinched each other in pure and unadulterated, momentary mutual hatred. Ah the memories. (And now, to boot, haha, as destiny would have it, I happen to have an extremely  shoe-centric partner, who gets complimented frequently on his choices, from nifty blue suede numbers and blue sequinned Wizard Of OZ, to pink converse (whoopee!) from Kenzo to Klein to Prada, who then also nags me about my lack of shoes………fat chance D, if I have a spare lump of cash you know straight away what it is going on………….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To those of you reading this who are shocked that ‘a gay’ is not inexorably drawn to the world of shoes à la Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (which, to me, is nothing short of anathema – that whole mincing, sour-mouthed, fag-hagged schtick that pisses me off no end for its insidious, limiting categorizations of the non-‘straight’ male, the assumption that ‘we’ are all shallow and so easily marketed to, shocked that I wasn’t genetically born to shop, that I wasn’t forever craving some more unneeded chaussures), well to all of you I say examine your conscience and your entrenched, if well-meaning stereotypes: darling my middle name is not f*&@5&  IMELDA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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YET!  and despite all of the above (amazing that I can get so furious about something as irrelevant as shoes….. Perhaps I need shoe aversion therapy or something, to be introduced slowly to them gradually  – here come the heel, are you ready, Mr Chapman? – until I can being to understand their inherent supposed attractiveness), my eyes, I have to say, do like a bit o’ beauty (as hopefully you may have noticed), and I can, most definitely  appreciate other people’s fashion aesthetically even if I don’t spend any time thinking about it myself (the exception being neckties –  I do love a nice vintage floral Léonard tie to go with my work suits). Don’t imagine I will wear just any old crap – I won’t ; I am quite fussy and narcissistic in my own way – but it must be simple and unfashiony: when I am talking about ‘what to wear’ I am almost always talking about perfume. (Also, while I am on the topic, surely skin, hair, aura are more important than what you don on your hooves – I am always amazed and visually insulted when a person traipses out in some blallywally pair of new boots or whatever expecting the world to come crashing down towards their feet when their flippin’ lips are chapped, their hair is smelly, or their skin is as dry as a locust’s arse. Some people stink but look ‘trendy’ (there’s nothing I hate more than a fashion victim), oh dear how they forget about the essentials. Who cares about your stupid feet if your face looks like a walnut?)

 

 

 

 

 

But to contradict myself now and come across like a total hypocrite: Despite what I have just ranted above, I do, very much, quite obviously, appreciate beauty of all kinds;  I used to read Suzy Menkes of the New York Times religiously before the more miserabilist Vanessa Friedman took over, she with the famous pompadour do who with her delectable prose can translate the fickle and shallow world of clothes and la moda into poetry and from which I get any knowledge I might have of the latest collections and who is creating them. I am also a deep cinephile, as may be obvious from some of my posts. I can swoon over light; colour; the sensations that flow through me in my chest when I am in thrall of good cinema, and one of the key components of this mystery that I can never solve (quite why I love film to the extent that I do) is surely the element of that capturing of a moment in time; the fixed, the plotted, but also the random, aleatory realities of the times; particularly the fashion, captured permanently on celluloid, fashion that immediately dates a moment and yet preserves it, makes it live again before your eyes: : : I  can thrill to the chiffons of the models in Cassavetes’ Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, feel my heart beat with pleasure at the camouflaged Dior boots (see, I knew they were Dior thanks to Suzie) running in slow motion across a Paris pavement from the assassins in hot pursuit in Brian De Palma’s deliciously oneiric Femme Fatale; smile in poptastic appreciation of the pink satin delicacies and blue Converse tossed into the shoe closets of the queen in Sofia Coppola’s gravely underrated Marie Antoinette (the only film that Duncan and myself will argue ferociously about :he thought it was shallow pop candy, I myself know that it was a delicate, delectable masterpiece)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And, for my sins, though I haven’t had a TV for 20 years now ( I don’t need it – mental pollution),  I do watch TV series sometimes on rental DVD, and for a while there, like every other idiot, I was glued to the ridiculous Sex And The City: that addictive, stupid, fun, engaging HBO series where a gaggle of wealthy, self-obsessed, vain, superficial, yet somehow just about likeable women met in Manhattan island restaurants to wail and toast and lament and laugh about their careers, their men, their apartments, their shoes..

 

 

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Yes, those shoes. Carrie was famously obsessed with them; would squeal with delight when that lantern-jawed fool she ended up marrying created a walk-in closet for them both as though she had entered the Pearly Gates themselves. The Louboutins; the Manolos; the Jimmy Choos. She was an inveterate shoeholic, and though I harbored a secret fantasy (which still makes me laugh to this day) that they would all somehow, most improbably, be mowed down by a combine harvester as they sashayed down Fifth Avenue in the final episode, I do know that even this obstinate shoe-phobe had those glamorous labels rammed into his skull. I learned from the show that you could, apparently, spend thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on shoes (  I would go into a coma from buying even two pairs) and that the holy triad – Choo, Louboutin and the others, represented the stilettoed, rarified zenith of those people who, mystifyingly to this shoe-autistic creature, spend hours and hours fantasizing about what to put on their feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UGH!!

 

 

 

 

(look about behind you, ladies ..here come the truck)

 

 

 

 

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Ahem. What is far, far more mystifying to me though, now that we are finally moving away from my initial shoe trauma and on to the related ‘perfume’ (inverted commas very much a necessity here, ladies) is how such a revered celebrity cobbler as Jimmy Choo, presumably licensing (whoring) himself out, could allow his (for shoe-philes, hallowed) name to be attached to such  trash as these two fragrances: Flash, the ‘brand new fragrance!’ and the original ‘Jimmy Choo’, which, to me, in all honesty represent new lows in the glitzy hollow shite that is presented to us these days as perfume. Perfumes that have no connection whatsoever to the apparent quality that the shoemaker is known for. That bring his image down to such an obvious, painful, degree.

 

 

 

 

 

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How can such a thing happen? I realize, naturally, that perfume has always been a way for the relatively moneyless to dream of high-end fashion, that, in buying a bottle of Miss Dior, they could taste a bite of the pie even if they could never in a million aeons afford one of the gowns for themselves. But in the case of Dior, in the old days at least, the perfumes themselves were of such good quality that you surely didn’t mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flash is, we are told, all  ‘about the cool rush of excitement and the sense of excitement a woman feels when dressed in a pair of sexy shoes. Its character, which is both heady and effervescent, captures this perfectly….the thrill of the red carpet, the fun of the nightclub, the glamour of dressing up. It captures a moment of sheer hedonism where adrenaline and confidence collide…..encased in a luxurious, shimmering, crystal faceted bottle, reminiscent of a paparazzi flash bulb, Flash is for the glamorous, urban woman. At once provocative and a little bit naughty, she challenges convention; she’s a risk taker, charming, audacious and magnetic…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R E T CH. 

 

 

 

 

These descriptions amount to nothing less than a gross, misleading deception for those brainless,

barbette twiddlies who haven’t got a nostril hair between them and believe whatever they are told by glossy fashion magazine beauty editors because they cannot for a moment judge a good perfume for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ugh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my piece on the new ‘toilet waters’, Like A Monster, which you can read here, I discuss how haute parfumerie and functional perfumery, (which is another way of saying toilet sanitizers) are, on some of the lower echelons of the industry, becoming virtually indistinguishable.

 

 

 

 

 

It has got to the point where these cheap

 

 

 

(god, Flash smells cheeeeaaaap)

 

 

 

 

 –    these cheap cheap cheap vile aromachemicals have come to form the main ‘bouquet’ of a fragrance, yet, personally, all I can think of when I smell these lavatorial accords is what have you got to hide there, missy?

 

 

 

 

Those sparkling, florachemicals from the sparkliest of toilets, those high class restrooms with surfaces so clean you could eat your dinner off them, that you don’t mind smelling in that environment, as anything is better than the alternative, yet when they are transferred to a perfume emanating from a real person’s skin just smell FOUL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But I am getting a bit carried away here again, spiralling down in a shoe-phobia induced frenzy, so let’s (deep breath),  for fairness’ sake, do a hand to hand comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left hand: Jimmy L’Original, et, sur la main droite, FLASH.

 

 

I have to tell you that this is not easy for me. As I type this I have just been eating my lunch, and I have both the Choos sprayed on tissue paper next to me on the computer. They are not pleasant, and to actually brave them on my skin strikes me as rather gallant – see what I will put up with for your amusement and pleasure ?- as the lunch – quite nice, actually, might be about to go into reverse….(though I doubt that we need any more vomit pictures right now, do we)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh, go on then.

 

 

 

 

No but right, here goes:

 

 

 

 

Jimmy (he sprays, lifts his hand up to his nose…..)

 

 

 

……..

 

Mmm, the first top notes of sparkly pear and fruit salad over new shampoo aren’t too bad; in fact, the first time I smelled this for a microsecond I wondered if it might be suitable as a work scent: ah but no, see how it swiftly cheapens, contaminates itself, the ill-matched, nasty, vulgarizing notes of ‘tiger orchid’ (in yer f*&^^^^ dreams!!), ‘toffee caramel’ and ‘Indonesian patchouli’, bleeurrrgh,  BLEEURURUR rising up like a tramp from the gutter we are find ourselves, ONCE MORE, in strictly toilet bowl territory: in fact I can vividly see that coloured water swirling, swirling round sweetly as the doo gets flushed down, finally, to eternity…

 

 

 

 

 

On the subject of which, ‘Flash’ is so irredeemably shit that I can only think in bathroom metaphors. Sorry. I can’t find a single nice thing to say about about it. The PR is a bare-faced lie; this is nothing but a rank, sickly, astonishingly banal and artificial concoction (‘strawberry’, ‘tangerine’, ‘tuberose’, ‘white woods’) that I am going straight to the sink to scrub off, ferociously, right now. Sorry. I just can’t.

 

 

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE!

 

 

NEW ADDITION 2016! More shoes!

 

 

 

ILLICIT FLOWER

 

Smelled this the other day at Takashimaya, and in comparison with the other two, this one is a masterpiece. Apricot, ‘grapefruit blossom’, a freesia-ish vanillic fruity floral, the opening stages aren’t so bad at all, but I am afraid (honestly, I do try to keep an open mind and be fair about these things), yet again, after twenty minutes or so we are back at the Grand Station restrooms of Cheapsville.

 

 

 

Yes, our Jimmy, that canny shoester, as usual, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All in all then, to conclude this noble, subtle and poetic post, I have to say in good conscience that all these perfumes are nothing more than sickly, trite flashes in the pan. A bedpan. To me, for such a well esteemed couturier to have allowed his name to be associated with such utter crap as these perfumes are is mind-boggling. It cheapens the brand;  soils the soles, and does nothing whatsoever to enhance what this papoutsiphobic louse (Yes! there is an actual medical term available for a shoe-hater!) would have liked the fragrance to do – rev up some interest in something that bores him to tears, to DEATH: the whole essence of what Monsieur Jimmy Choo is supposed to be all about – the SHOES.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bitch, Flowers

AMERICAN GIRLS, or, THE DAY I WAS ASSAULTED AT A YOKOHAMA WEDDING BECAUSE OF MY TASTE IN PERFUME: (HAPPY……by CLINIQUE) (1997)

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I was once slapped, really hard, across the face, because a girl’s taste in perfume differed from my own. As my cheek smarted, and her boyfriend and mine, and other onlookers (at a mutual friend’s wedding) sat gobsmacked in anxious silence wondering about what would happen next, it struck me quite forcefully how the conservative U.S sense of perfume can be so wildly different to the European.   To rewind…     The girl (whose name I am not allowed to use; I can still hear her drunk, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I will sue you! I will fuck you! I will fucking take you down if you print my name!”) was sitting across from me, and being the quintessential sassy American blonde, I knew I would have to interview her on her perfume tastes, as, all irony aside, I do love how American girls smell: so peachy clean, so apple-fresh ( I remember almost swooning when my friend Theresa wore  Tiffany at a bar one night…somehow we Europeans can never quite catch that strawberried, faultlessly clean halo of shower-gelled hygiene..) Yes, as this girl and I downed beers at the marriage after-party in a Yokohama Mexican restaurant, we quickly grew a fun and flirtatious rapport, and I remember us standing in the steaming cold outside, laughing and joking, as she smoked a cigarette, talked perfume and Texas, and her boyfriend wondered what she was getting up to. Excited about a project on perfume I was hoping to start, she was going to be the U.S correspondent: we would expand, we were going worldwide, baby. Back inside, my Nº 19 was quickly, rudely, dissed as too ‘woodsie and girly’ (she was a firm believer in men smelling like men, and I won’t even go into what her favourites were….) and, anyway, perhaps she was right. The Chanel doesn’t work every time on me as I am always waiting for the leather and vetiver to make itself known, not the powdery iris and neroli which sometimes predominates instead, and even I knew that on that particular evening I had made the wrong choice (a familiar agony for true perfumists, when you know you have selected the wrong scent on a particular occasion and you can’t relax for the rest of the evening….) However, her own choices also made me laugh out loud : every ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ ‘sexy’ perfume in the book that I ferociously, but good humouredly (or so I thought) dissed back. Ralph Lauren Romance? Give me a break. Vera Wang? Oh, don’t make me laugh… It was a body lotion she was carrying in her bag, though, something she thought was exotic and alluring and pretty, that caused the assault.  It was so bad, so truly vile ( Bath And Body Works ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’ I think, so pink, so chemical and not even remotely related to the smell of the sakura) that I just had to tell her my truth, not expecting for one moment that her exquisitely manicured hand would then coming smashing down across my face…..

 

 

 

 

 

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In all of this the only perfume we had managed to agree on was Happy, still one of the most popular perfumes in America and something of an institution in the ‘clean and perfect’ type of fragrance that renders a person so radiantly scrubbed their sexual organs are smoothed out into flesh-pink Action Man Barbie mounds; skin marbellized, made acrylic; immaculate laundry halations that mask the flesh beneath and create idealized, perfected, holograms in their place.   For this girl, Happy was summer, and girls in short white dresses heading out on the town; clean, confident, sexy, radiating wholesomeness. For me, it is the same, basically; a very cleverly blended citrus floral of grapefruit and orange and a whole bouquet of imaginary flowers (mainly ‘living headspace’ flowers, that apparently include morning dew orchid, West Indian mandarin tree blossom; melati blossom; high altitude laurel; Chinese golden magnolia and  Hawaiian wedding blossom… ) and it all just smells lovely, especially from a distance. Under the complex beginning of the scent there are no woods, or musks, or any other bother, and once the initial, rather heady (and very Lauder)  top accord dissipates, you are left with nothing more than a beautiful, very chemical trail of flowers and skin scent that screams

 

 

 

I AM HAPPY!!

 

 

I HAVE NO PSYCHOLOGICAL GLITCHES!

 

 

 

I AM BALANCED, FOCUSED AND HAVE NO INTESTINES!!!

 

 

 

 

 

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I can imagine that there are people reading this who have direct experience of this fragrance, either from wearing it themselves or smelling it on colleagues at work, and I would love to know your thoughts on the subject. Admittedly, the scent is extraordinarily conservative, safe, almost monstrously synthetic, and easy to hate if you prefer the more inner-thigh fragrances, but for me, after a long hot shower, and worn with a clean white shirt, there is nothing better for work. It suits my Japanese olfactory double life perfectly and would probably be in my own top ten of day scents, if it didn’t, unfortunately, cause me such excruciating migraines. I got through at least five bottles of the stuff in my time before I realized that it was poisoning me, perhaps literally (I saw an internet article about Happy which was very alarming, but it is not my aim to be libellous, so I might save that for another time……) It is, in my view, when all is said and done, a small work of quite original genius from certain standpoints – few perfumes have gained as many compliments from Japanese people on me, girls at school literally following me down the corridor crooning about how beautiful I smelled – and I have to say that, ultimately, this toxic, insidious beauty is something of a classic, if a dangerous one.     I wonder if Lisa or whatever her name was, somewhere across the Pacific ocean, still wears it when she goes out at night, strutting the Dallas boulevards in her shorts, blouses and clean-pressed whites, trailing Happy, punching strangers in the face.

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For more on Happy, see my post on my strange, schizoid perfumed life here: ‘Jekyll and Hyde and the colognes of Gandini…’

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Filed under Bitch, Citrus, Perfume Reviews