Category Archives: Citrus

BLACK MIRROR, AND THE PERFUMES OF MAISON FRANCIS KURKDIJIAN : : ABSOLUE POUR LE MATIN (2010), AQUA VITAE (2013), PETIT MATIN (2016) + AQUA CELESTIA (2017

 

 

 

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Utopia and dystopia are often very close, at least for me. Perfection is perfection, but it can be cold – even terrifying. Black Mirror, a very British series made by Netflix that we have started watching recently through the recommendations of several friends, is a brilliantly realised, fantastically acted, if extremely discomfiting, ‘science fiction’ set of dramatic pieces taking place in the present or not too far away future that deals with issues related to the internet, to social networks;  virtual reality, and our complicated, addictive, and potentially lethal relationship with computers.

 

 

 

Each episode of Black Mirror is separate: self-contained, but there is an accumulative, quite disconcerting effect in gradually working your way through the series, the sheer realism and convincing potentiality of each story making you come to the conclusion that if we are not careful, what makes us human might be irreparably, irrevocably, changed if we continue to blindly (hence the black of the mirror?) continue to strive for technological ‘progress’ no matter the cost to our souls, pushed, to the side, by the quest for Convenience, and the innate inquisitiveness that human beings have to develop things just because they can, or more likely, for profit –  which is at the heart of everything –  the tech firms that control us and hook us on their apps; their programs, their soon to be omniscient artificial intelligence.

 

 

 

Though compelling – even essential – viewing, due to its unflinching – you might even call it sadistic – precision, coldly dissecting hypothetical realities in which, for example, human beings of means can have chips fitted into their brains that allow them not only to rewind their own memories but their partners and other people’s as well (what would this do to relationships?); use an app that recreates a deceased loved on in the body of an android (poignant in the extreme, but creepy as hell); have versions of themselves made as self-policers, trapped inside a computer but with exactly the same sentience (bringing up ethical issues of cloning and mind/body separation), and virtual reality games which plumb the darkest of your fears and are so terrifying they can literally kill you  – it is all cheering, uplifting stuff, and typically British, somehow, in its almost gleefully misrerabilist nihilism: I find myself watching it, my eyes wide open unable to turn away, but then filled with a cold, dis-eased chill afterwards that leaves me feeling very strange (one episode, dealing with a new form of punishment for violent criminals in which the convicted perpetrators are then drugged, awakened, and punished over and over again by the public who join in enactments based on the kind of crime that the perpetrator (allegedly) committed in a form of repetitive Sartrean hell  – basically 45 minutes of anguish and screaming – left us so unsettled that we didn’t want to watch any more of the series for quite a long time afterwards (because, though obviously extremely through provoking what kind of ‘entertainment’ is this, exactly, why do we do this  to ourselves?) It is, undeniably, a brilliant creation. So thought-provoking and relevant; prescient. And yet there is so little levity in the mix that you sometimes just want to simply switch the mirror off. 

 

 

 

 

Series 3, which we recommenced, after a break, with recently on the big screen in our projector room upstairs, transported the believably scaring dystopia of the UK to the relatively cheery and sunny shores of the USA, alleviating  – for me at least, as a Brit, some of the sheer horror that the first two series engendered in us. Episode One, ‘Nosedive’, featured the always intriguing (and very beautiful) Bryce Dallas Howard as a woman living in a not unfeasible world where all people, fitted with connected-to-smart-phone-contact-lenses, continually clutch their phones (so nothing new there), but a new system in which users are allowed, or rather, forced, to rate each person and encounter they have with each person that they meet, no matter how long or short the time they spend interacting, be it online, or in the flesh- giving them a rating out of five stars, and resulting in a beaming falsity and ‘HI!’s so bright they make your jaw ache. Anything though, a poisonous pleasantness, to maintain your crucial ‘rating’, the raison d’être of existence – which leads to truly toxic, Mr bluebird-on-my-shoulder levels of happy fakeness. A ‘4: 3’ – at least initially-  Lacie is full of ambition and desperation to ‘make it’ to the ultra-desired statehood of a 4.5, the point at which, like some form of digitalised caste system, individuals enter the high life with all its special dividends, opportunities, and most importantly of course, status: ACCEPTANCE.

 

 

 

 

The price you pay for this ephemeral, ethernet ‘happiness’, of course, is a life of incredibly shallow superficiality (not so different, in fact, from all the likes and the dislikes of our actual Facebook real world that we are living in, hence the inherent, frightening tensions at the heart of the entire series) all shark white, dazzling smiles, white clothing, and venomously cheerful have a nice days that would lead any sane person to recreat to a solo community of 2ness and be done with the entire atrocity, except that we human beings have an inborn need to be with other people, to be judged positively, to be truly approved, and the truth is, the majority of us will do whatever it in fact takes, to get this condonement.

 

 

 

 

While nervously laughing and grimacing as I watched this world of blinding whiteness and lethally unforgiving hygiene, the ad-perfect, synthetic demeanours of the characters so desperately trying to impress each other, I was reminded, in my smell brain, in olfactory terms, of many of the (in truth, equally brilliant) creations of the popular house of Francis Kurkdijian – a precise, futuristic, and light-refracting perfumer whose fragrances – with such indefatigable equilibrium, impenetrable formulae and such absolute seamlessness, have an almost anti-natural quality (Kurkdijian, even when using the finest naturals, somehow alchemizes natural materials into something unrecognisably beyond); to me, his perfumes always have the mark of an ultra-perfectionist. No sloppy, indistinct easy nicheness for this elegant, imaginative perfumer. No. In many ways he is in a league of his own. I think that he is brilliant, actually. But the citruses, in particular, like Absolue Pour Le Matin, Aqua Vitae, do disturb me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of years ago or so, I was given a bottle of the former, and a small sample bottle of the latter, and while I was sufficiently impressed by both of them to try them out on my work wear – surreptitious spritzes on the cuffs of my white shirts – and I enjoyed, to a certain extent, the clean, laundry musked patina of FK’s constantly CK One-quoting infallibility that I was giving off like an annihilating angel (sometimes it feels that this perfumer’s mission is to be cleaner than cleaner than cleaner than Clean, to the point where all mush, and  ligament, and marrow and human imperfections are sucked off; bleached into eternity: and gleaming replicas are found scenting in their place; a pleasantness, an erasure, almost, to the power of fifteen), ultimately, something inside me rejected the strictures of such a philosophy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aqua Vitae is a perfect case in point. A bright lemon and balsam modern perfume shot through with invisible steel, the benzoin and tonka-lasered in from the future – all in obviously perfect ratio (Kurkdijian is a master mathematician)  – the result, in many ways, is rather lovely, if still somehow oddly alarming in its almost eugenically poised aura  – a daytime scent for a new spring day that I enjoy keeping in my collection but approach with some trepidation (am I totally overreacting here?!)……but in, it I feel that I am losing something of myself rather than projecting or augmenting or presenting myself in a certain idealised light that I can do with the best of my perfumes….in Aqua Vitae I feel that I must smell like one of the terrified, grinning, smartphone-brainwashed ciphers in that episode of Black Mirror, my natural humanity tenderwashed; neutered. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absolue Pour Le Matin takes this forgiveless approach even further, with a sharpness cutting through its matinal rapture that very nearly severs the optic nerves: a note of ‘white thyme’ ( I love thyme in real life), but a cloned clone idea of what thyme was like three hundred years into the future, shimmering at the bottom of a lake, vitalizing the citric, metallic elements, but also rendering them too grimly clean and insistent (they grow, in stature, until I feel that the perfume is taking over my mind and I can hardly breathe, let alone even think straight anymore. This one I will not be wearing again (though Petit Matin, a more recent rendition of a similar theme, I do like better;  more lemony than thou, perhaps the most lemony perfume I have ever smelled, and I can somehow imagine myself walking into the teacher’s room one day in this on a bright day in June, and watching the now smiling heads turn in recognition, and pleasure)….

 

 

 

 

 

The recent Aqua Celestia, another example of the white masked ( I wrote white-musked initially, but Autocorrect changed it ‘for me’ – you have no idea how much I detest that invisible, always watching ‘intelligence’ –  and I kind of liked it) perfume takes this idea to hitherto unclimbed, truly stratospheric heights; perhaps Monsieur MK’s most spectacularly clean scent so far, it is an aldehydic soap and ice mountain of fresh mint, lime, blackcurrant and mimosa over stalacticial musks that positively shimmers in its crystallinity and which made me yesterday, when I reacquainted myself with the range in Yokohama Takashimaya, where the collection has pride of place, briefly transport myself, snow-like, to some kind of beauteous, synthetic heaven. As I stood there among the hordes of shoppers and the fluorescent lighting, I was temporarily mind-wiped – and not unpleasantly. This initial impression is sheer perfection, and if I were to obtain a bottle somehow (not likely, given the price of the thing), but let’s say hypothetically, I can imagine myself, when the weather in Japan gets so hot and muggy and you fear your own bodily stench so strongly that you will do almost anything you can to ‘impart freshness’, I can imagine myself breathing this happily from my maniacally double washed white, shirts, hoodwinking those gladly inhaling around me that I am some kind of hyper-secure, upstanding citizen: :: a saint, with a heart of glass –

 

 

– -like the airbrushed, whitewashed, depilated congregation at the wedding that Lacie is so frenetically attempting to get to despite every conceivable thing going wrong for her, her ratings continually (and quite comically) getting lower and lower and lower with each disastrous encounter she has : : :  a  disastrous conclusion to what was supposed to be the ultimate success in social climbing. Poised, perfected, with just the correctly, judiciously applied amount of sensuality, you can imagine the 4.5 and above congregation at her old ‘best friend’s’ wedding in the odd, pert spritz of Kurkdijian’s A La Rose (a quite beautiful and dewy modern rose that will achieve approval wherever you go); the more prissy, for masculin, and feminine, duos of Amyris and Pluriel, beautifully crafted, as always, but which I am not very fond of (even when FK gets more sensual – and he undeniably does; after all, this is the man who created Indult’s Vanilla legend Tihota and Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male, not to mention his own legendarily dirty Absolue Pour Le Soir; but even in these more carnal creations, such as the recent Grand Soir, an amber I rather like and would probably wear, even in these, they still have, somehow, those Kurkdijian parameters (and this is definitely a compliment as well as a criticism – something in me truly admires the deftness and civilising touches that the man’s perfumery brings), but yet.….even at their most ostentatiously sensual, they don’t ever, in my view, truly let go….. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike Lacie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As she staggers, one misfortune after another, towards the wedding ceremony, slapsticks in mud, shrieks hysterically, and loses every shred of her dignity and social standing, her ‘rating’ plummeting down precipitously through the threes and the twos to an eventual, inevitable, zero, Lacie (un)ironically does finally reclaim her real humanity, cursing and letting the truth out like a ‘madwoman’ and condemning her, in this cruel and mercilessly ‘perfect’ world at least, to a life of hopelessness and nothing. In keeping with the general tenets of Black Mirror – the ultimate message always seems to be that we are fated to be controlled (and eventually, destroyed) by the exigencies of the internet and the flawless surfaces of each persona- in terms of perfumery you might say also that in at least one urban sphere of the niche fragrance market that we are expected to inhabit –  the innovative world of Francis Kurkdijian – you must always put forward a clear, diamond cut luminescence, a shield, almost, that keeps the chaos of the real biological body, firmly shut within. Hidden from sight. Denied. And while never less than compositionally impressive, and always immaculately presented, pinpointed and quite aesthetically stimulating for me, with each new release, these perfumes, in some ways, do also,  bring the disturbing, inhuman future of Black Mirror just a little closer each time to reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under abstract moderns, Citrus, Lemon

OPTIMISM ::: POUR MONSIEUR by CHANEL (1955 )

 

 

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As a high school seventeen year old stripling, of a morning, before leaving my house, I would always raid my father’s after shave collection ( these were literally ‘after shaves’, the lighter, fresher, apres rasage format of men’s traditional fragrances that are often subtly different and more pleasing).

All of these were impeccable, scents I retain in my collection and wear even now : Eau Sauvage, Kouros, Paco Rabanne, Givenchy Gentleman, and  Chanel Pour Monsieur. All of them fresh with complexity and aromacy: none of them the chest-beating machos ( Jazz, Tsar, Drakkar, Safari) that make me want to take my life.

The above creations suited me quite nicely, ( alongside Armani Pour Homme and Givenchy Xeryus that I had also bought for myself), but it was Chanel Pour Monsieur alone that had, and still has, the unique capacity to not only transform my own mood, but the air itself.

Essentially an aromatic citrus chypre, this curiously uplifting, innovative yet traditional cologne is based on lemon, verbena, bergamot, cardamom and neroli with lightly spiced undertones of lavender, nutmeg and a gentle, almost vanillic oak moss. While the eau de toilette can sometimes veer into almost flyspray-like citronella briskness, the after shave, for me, as a teenager, splashed on my face and neck and wrists, was nothing short of heaven.

I would walk through Malvern Park on the way to Sixth Form College; Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, Keats and Bronte in my rucksack along with my French and German textbooks, look at and smell the sky, the trees, the flowers all around me and they, and my life itself, would be truly ameliorated and intensified by the beautiful smell that was emanating from my skin, a blissful harmony of nature and man-made art that has not been replicated since. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was a sensation that made me ecstatically happy.

 

I believe that this beautiful, softly exhilarating effect comes from the brilliant contrast between the citric uplift of the top accord, experienced simultaneously with the pliant and softly sensual mosses of the base, like new April sunshine filtering down through young leaves onto the soft, mossy bed of a forest clearing- a facet  this perfume has in common with Guerlain’s Mitsouko ( after an hour or two these scents smell virtually indistinguishable on my skin).

But where there is something miserable and dour for me in Jacques Guerlain’s grimly beautiful masterwork, Pour Monsieur, while a touch old fashioned for me sometimes, nevertheless achieves a feat that cannot be dismissed lightly. Almost thirty years after I first started wearing this beautiful perfume, on this bright, sunny morning in January, Japan, in its understatedly joyous, lemon-leafed, contrapuntal elegance, I feel almost exactly the same as I did back in those days of future-forward, world-is-my-oyster oblivion: that Henri Robert’s most uninvasive of citrus masculines: refreshing to the senses and the spirit:  glassed, nuanced, liberating -really is optimism, bottled.

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IN SHADOWS…………ALPONA EXTRAIT DE PARFUM by CARON (1939)

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Christ In the Sepulcher Guarded by Angels William Blake, c. 1805

 

 

 

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‘IN THE MIDDLE of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of: how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there….’

 

I always think of Dante’s Divine Comedy when I think of Alpona. Like the opening canto of the Inferno, in which Dante Alighieri finds himself awakening in the midst of a dark green canopy of trees, Alpona, though ostensibly a citrus chypre, has something inchoate, resinous; boscous, as though one were being transported through a temporal portal into a new, but vaguely terrifying, world.

 

 

The effect is achieved with a highly unusual combining of accords that are most inventive. Most present to the nose is the deep essential oil of the green bitter orange, its oil glands piqued and pressed and accentuated with furtherings of grapefruit rind and thyme, unsweetened and verdurous, leading down dark, umbrous paths of forested pine trees, dry myrrh; santal, cedarwood, earthen patchouli and rich, Ernst Daltroff murmurings of oakmoss.

 

 

Alpona is a most peculiar and fascinating perfume. And I can think of nothing else that remotely resembles it. Once the base notes come into play, with their, soft, poisonous caress of what almost smells like bitter almonds (a strange note of raisin also making its unusual presence known), the scent becomes more knowing, comforting: a tree shaded, fir-needling papousse. But Alpona, perhaps Caron’s most impenetrable and ambiguously androgynous perfume, never really lets its ultimate intentions be known.

 

 

 

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(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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DAY OF THE DEAD / CALACAS by LUSH (2013)

 

 

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I love Thursdays. I can secretly go off at lunchtime (see ‘The Evil Machinations Of The Black Narcissus‘ for a more breathless and heady account of these adventures), and hunt for perfumes.

 

 

One I found recently, for about six quid, and that I had never heard of before, was a scent by Lush (not Gorilla Perfumes, this time) mysteriously  entitled  Calacas. Previously called Day Of The Dead, in its former incarnation, this is a strange and striking concoction that once experienced, casts a strange, hypnotic – if kind of simplistically direct and harsh – spell. You know as soon as you smell the thing that you will never quite be able to ever get its sharp, sweet, taut insinuations out of your nose, or for that matter, your brain. 

 

 

 

 

Designed to smell like a Mexican festival, the key notes –  natural and pungent smelling, in the young, fresh, and sense-exciting top chords- are bright and sassed up oranges and limes doused, in a painted wall of sweet neroli. The perfume immediately  flowers; swells and fills up the whole room, like music from the mariachi

 

 

 

 

(interesting aside: when we went to Mexico, a decade or so ago, although I didn’t entirely take to the place for some reason – maybe its peculiarly dark energy, when I was expecting just the opposite – there was also the unfortunate but also rather hilarious fact that every time a mariachi band approached our table and started singing, in those rich, baritone timbres of sincerity and plangent romantica, I would find myself bursting into tears. I am not a person who cries, almost never, in fact, but I was a blubbering mess in Taxco and Guadalajara and Mexico City each time it happened and it was driving Duncan insane. “Just stop bloody crying will you, it’s embarrassing. What’s wrong with you? Go to the bathroom and dry your eyes for god’s sake ”

 

I don’t know. It just touched me in a way I couldn’t quite explain…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

But this. Superficially similar to other lime/orange blends such as Diptyque’s more benign little Oyedo –  if that is what is was called, I can’t be bothered to check at this very minute   – (and which I semi-like and have considered buying in the past, as I do have a real thing about all orange perfumes even though it always smells, to me,  like hardboiled sweets), Calacas nevertheless has a much darker, more ominous pall. Beneath all the sun-stripped citruses there lies a cool, almost scarily cold accord of frankincense olibanum, fused with a very persistent nitrile musk that remains forever as it worms its way into your subconscious. .

 

 

 

 

Duncan really took to it immediately. He adores lime. And this smells great on him. Really curious; like nothing I have ever smelled before. But somehow I feel that when this is the scent of the day – and I am now reluctant to allow it – I find that I am simultaneously in its thrall, perpetually intrigued, but also irked. Its personality is just so intense and unforgiving (and yet totally original and effortlessly compelling at the same time, the exact notes absolutely hit right by the perfumer – whoever created this is really clever), the perfume eating up the day, and the air all around it.

 

 

 

 

 

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THE RECENT HERMES RELEASES: : : EQUIPAGE GERANIUM (2015), EAU DE RHUBARBE ECARLATE (2016) + EAU DE NEROLI DORE (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

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You could do far worse than the contemporary line up of Hermès colognes. From the crisp, citric classicism of Eau d’Orange Verte (green, subdued and angular as it always smelled), the plush, more obvious pink grapefruit of Eau De Pamplemousse Rose; the calm, blue mysticism of Eau de Narcisse Bleu and the more sensual Eau de Mandarine Ambrée (the one I am closest to buying at the moment because it reminds me somewhat of vintage Calvin Klein Obsession and immediately makes me feel happy); and, now, Eau de Néroli Doré and Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate, these clear and relatively reasonably priced fragrances are clean, fresh, but effectively pleasing spring and summer scents that work well as taut, spritzy pick-me-ups.

 

 

 

As with the Hermessences, I like some more than others. Eau de Gentiane Blanche doesn’t really grab me (though I appreciate its pale and watery oddness), and though I enjoyed certain facets of Iris Ukiyoé,  Epice Marine, Santal Massoia, and Vanille Galante, ultimately, neither did they. The ‘new’ rhubarb, Rhubarbe Ecarlate  (which in fact smells almost embarrassingly familiar), also courts my ambivalence. It is quite nice, and should probably be a commercial success I would imagine with its faint vanilla custard note running through it (white musks), reminding me of particularly nostalgic boiled sweets you can still get from a confectioner’s shop in Hurst St. in Birmingham  ( Rhubarb and custard. I have always loved that combination). Over this soft and malleable skin scent base note is layed a fine, fruity, and indeed, truly red rhubarb accord that bursts forth from the flacon, appealingly rendered but a touch unimaginative, coming across rather like Rose Ikebana and Eau De Pamplemousse Rose’s sturdy, but perhaps less intelligent, younger cousin. That this is Christine Nagel’s first work in her new position alongside Jean Claude Ellena comes as something of a surprise, then, as it feels like a copy – albeit more rounded and smooth – of her co-worker’s own oeuvre, as though only just esconced in the Hermès studios she is as yet still afraid to really experiment.

 

 

 

Ellena’s own neroli (for which Tunisia and Morocco apparently had half of their annual neroli crop bough up by Hermès) is more successful in terms of creativity – a raspingly smooth, almost bitter, very natural orange blossom scent that is very neroli-centric and indeed smells clean and golden with an unusual underlay of saffron. I like it better than the recent Eau Des Sens by Diptyque, another orange blossom effusion (is this the latest ingredient du jour?)  because it smells less synthetic to me and more refined. Neroli lovers should definitely give this one a spin – it would make a very pleasing travel companion I would imagine, but my partner is a confirmed neroli-hater and I would never personally get away with it ( I sometimes secretly spritz on some Annick Goutal Neroli on sunny days when he is not looking, though, my personal favourite interpretation of these provocative and pungent, smell-me early summer flowers).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Surprisingly, given how awful most reformulations or ‘reimaginations’ of classic, discontinued scents tend to be on the whole, Jean Claude Ellenas’s remixes of the classic Hermès masculines are more successful than I would have imagined. I was happy to reacquaint myself with Bel Ami Vetiver again recently- a beautifully rich and elegant scent that seemed like a real Duncan contender to me when I smelled it the first time, and better than the current formulation of Bel Ami which feels a bit doctored. (The original was great -like a hairy, gay 70’s porn star having a quiet night in at home in his leather dungeon) but I personally find it, now, a bit other era – only someone really working the theme with confidence and with the appropriately hirsute physique  could properly carry it off, in my opinion. The vetiver remake – more held together and now –  is more up to date, modern and more easily worn.

 

 

 

Another classic by the house, Equipage, by Guy Robert (Calèche, Doblis, Madame Rochas) was already the epitome of male elegance for me – one of the most appealing of the traditional cigar-smoking, properly orchestrated masculines – I have a vintage bottle that I dip into from time to time on an autumnal Sunday, say, in a thick-knit woollen sweater as the golden light of yellow leaves filters through the garden. Complex, citric, aromatic, floral (lily) and delicately spicy, Equipage represents the thorough dignity of the thinking male without the bulging thongs of the chest-thumping 70’s ballbearers. There are few classical male scents this intricate, light, yet simultaneously trustworthy, full and self-assured.

 

 

 

The geranium variant of Equipage seem to me to be Ellena at his more experimental and playful, taking a fresh and powdery, yet still quite manly fougère accord, draining out some of the smudged old-school musky animalics that date this kind of perfume easily, and flushing it with a cool, Hermesian fraîcheur, the geranium flower note hale, uplifting and fresh from the bathroom (in fact the whole very much reminds me, in its overall projection, with its rose and sandalwood and cloves, of Imperial leather soap,  a creamy and soothing smell which I have always loved and sometimes ask people to bring me from England when they come to stay). Its appearance in Geranium Equipage makes the perfume very wearable, humorous and life-loving – cool, neo retro at its very best.

 

 

 

All housed in similar bottles, now, as you can see in these pictures, the Hermès full collection of perfumes may represent a certain clean, held-back conservatism, bound very firmly by the Parisian laws of chic, and now, packaged quite homogeneously as well. But there is plenty of poetry and playfulness within these scents too. They basically all smell good, imbued with a luxurious feeling of calm and glassy detachment. In these woefully crass and oversugared times, I have to say that I do admire the dignity that the house seems almost effortlessly to maintain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ô DE LANCOME ( 1969 )

 

 

 

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I find wearing Ô de Lancome almost unbearably nostalgic.

This is one of those perfumes that is indivisible from my own life and my family; the walls of our old house in Olton, Solihull.  My mother used it, my sister had her own bottles kept proudly on a glass shelf as a pre-teen child, and I would wear it also, sometimes, the scent so appealing with its poignant optimism of late spring and summer; its cool sanctuary of lemon and lemon leaves, petitgrain and orange, and white shaded groves of honeysuckle and jasmine flowers that breathe tangibly – but just indistinct enough –  to pluck. Snoozing on the grass, lost in blissfully shallow summer dreams, dusk would gently then approach, and with it, late light sleep in cold white sheets, and that familiarly reassuring, softer, darker and more tenebrous, basil-vetiver finish.

I have referenced this perfume before, in relation to Lancome’s Trophée and another, quite similar citrus scent – the vanished Quiproquo by Grès (also by perfumer Robert Gonnon). They share the same refreshing lemon green leaf top notes and the effortless, balanced finesse. But only Ô de Lancome has that soft, panoramic serenity that seems to contain every aspect of summer, from the joy of intense sunlight as you run and tumble on the flower-edged garden lawns, to the moist, whispering secrets of the darkness of plants when you hide, oblivious and excited, among their leaves. The comfort of cotton blankets as the sun is going down; and the inherent, unavoidable dread that it is all, all of it, going to pass.

A few moments ago I went out to the local shops to get some things for a late breakfast. Unthinkingly I picked out something fresh from the cologne section of my perfume collection (kept downstairs for last-minute ease), sprayed it on the back of my hands, and went on my way out the door. The sensations that this vintage Ô de Lancome – which I have not worn for a very long time – then provoked in me were astonishing: pure emotion and a flood of memories, but not just photographic snapshots of particular parts of our old house and our old childhood bedrooms, but more like complete immersion in them. I could see my younger sister’s dresser and her incipient perfume collection; feel the light in the garden from my parents’ room at the back, the flickering shadows of the white on the walls like trespassing on my own past.

They live in a different house now, a much nicer one. Lighter, more spacious, more dreamy, more tranquil. And with a much, much bigger garden (my mother’s pride and joy). We all enjoy gathering there – it’s a place that you can sprawl, relax, and forget some of the darker times we had at Dovehouse Lane. But that old house from my childhood is still the place I dream about: in my subconscious it’s the place I always go back to, never the new place. And though in the physical, corporal sense I know that I can never return there – and wouldn’t necessarily even want to – I also realize that now, in a different, more profound and spiritual, almost metaphysical olfactory sense,  I can.

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Filed under Citrus, Flowers, Lemon

RICKI AND THE FLASH : : BERGAMOTE SOLEIL by ATELIER COLOGNE (2016)

 

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I love citrus. In fact, if I were a fruit, I would probably be a lemon (before Facebook inexplicably shut down my account on the day of my birthday last year, my FB alter ego, to stop my students from looking me up, was Lemon Peel). While I love all vegetables and fruit without exception, lemons, oranges and grapefruit are at the top of the pile for me somehow, so rich in truth clarity and sharpness: I always love how the citric acidity tears through your system and the sheer life force in those oil pores present in the fruit’s skin burst open from their untouched membranes and releases pure, unadulterated essence. Where most essential oils have to be dragged unwillingly from their giver – boiled, distilled, or drowned in hexane – the citrus oils are all libidinous, at the height of their potencies and waiting to burst forth: you just have to give them a squeeze.

 

Despite all of this and my large consumption of citrus fruit – particularly all the delectably tart, Japanese varieties such as the iyokan, whose thick, oiled skin is a veritable perfumed bonanza of citric power so strong you can fill an entire room with it when you open one- rarely am I satisfied in fact with a citrus perfume. It’s like with tea and coffee. I am ultimately more of a coffee drinker – I drink tons of it – but am not that fussy about where it comes from, from truck stop to fast food to gourmet (though it must always be real coffee, never instant, which somehow feels like poison). But I can drink it in cups, mugs, paper cups, anything, in the same way that I am fairly easy perfume-wise when it comes to anything ambery, coconutty, almondy – even if it is not one hundred per cent perfect I will probably wear it at least once or twice as I basically like that kind of smell. With tea, though, I am extremely selective. Phobic, almost. Probably traumatized by too many bad cases of ‘builder’s tea’ in the UK – luke-warm, malty, over-milked ‘English Breakfast’ muck served in stained mugs –  even a hint of those foul gustatory memories makes me heave and as a result, like some high falutin duchess, I will only drink ‘English’ tea out of bone china cups and done my way: piping hot, either Earl Grey, or Darjeeling, or if it’s Ceylon or Assam, with the perfect addition of cardamon and nutmeg (delicious, actually, the way we drink it every morning). The cheery English clarion call ‘You want a cuppa tea?’ actually fills me with dread.

 

From an olfactory point of view it is the same with citrus perfumes. I am unbearably fussy. They never get it right. They are either too musky  – I don’t like the classical citrus template in the familiar mode of 411 or Guerlain Eau Du Coq or Eau De Cologne Imperiale at all (I certainly don’t need any rosemary or neroli in it, nor any powder or Tonkin musc), too herbal  – Eau De Guerlain, Eau d’hadrian -or else they contain too many harsh, synthetic modern wood notes either (almost impossible, now, to evade). Bergamot is one of the, if not the most exquisite essential oil(s) existing in our fragrant universe,  and it is an oil I love both in perfumery – think of how it floats haughtily and beautifully above in Shalimar parfum –  and as an essential oil for its healing properties – if you ever get a cold sore or a sore throat, this oil is simply the best (my body and bergamot are naturally in sync). Plus, unlike the revolting, gasoline-and-dill-pickle smell of tea tree oil, which is effective but whose scent I can’t abide, bergamot smells beautiful, and refreshing, into the bargain. Rarely, however, is it done justice in a competently rendered, bergamot namesake perfume.

 

New York based Atelier Cologne has really made a name for itself with its citrus perfumes over the past few years, and Bergamote Soleil is the latest addition to the ever expanding line. While I was unimpressed with the recent Cedrat Enivrant (too ninetiesy sport spritz), Pomelo Paradis (too synthetic boiled sweet – too ‘yellow’), Grand Neroli (initial impression: fantabulously citric symphonia – later, boring) and Orange Sanguine (nearly there! adorable beginning, really like it, not so fussed about the musk note later that reminds me of Etat Libre d’Orange’s horrifying Secretions Magnifiques), Bergamote Soleil has perhaps the most deliriously enjoyable beginning section of any Atelier Cologne citrus perfume so far – quite immediate and appealing  (though I am yet to sample Mandarine Glaciale, which also sounds quite nice: in a review I wrote last year or so, if you remember I was also going crazy about Tom Ford’s Mandarino d’Amalfi though even that, ultimately, failed my stringent and unforgiving skin tests as it faded to its unenlivening, standardised baseline).

 

Bergamote Soleil  almost gets there for me, in its charming and positively smile inducing head notes. Yum, we are talking a fresh, citric green (cardamom and jasmine) revivifying spray that would be positively delightful on a sun-filled morning in late July. Although it doesn’t smell especially like bergamot as such – more like lime and lemon and other things – The Different Company’s Bergamote is a more classically bergamot citrus cologne, for example, as is Ermenegilda Zegna’s fresh, but rather po-faced, zipped up Italian Bergamot –  this zinging, cheerful perfume has that uplifting, citrus bouquet fantasia aspect I have always really enjoyed in such pleasing perfumes as Caron Eau Fraiche (probably the closest I have ever come to finding a perfect combination of mandarin, orange, grapefruit, lemon, bergamot and  lime – like a multi-faceted floral bouquet, its ultimate identity becomes something new as the citrus essences fuse) or even reminding me slightly of the lime-focalized beauty of the modest, but beautifully crisp, Sport De Paco Rabanne, one of the best citrus blends for men ever created. Bergamote De Soleil has that similar carefree, summer sensation, when you just splash on your citrus cologne and forget all your worries because the sunshine is literally blasting them back into the shadows: it is this that I love about summertime – never do I feel more alive, yet drowsy and happily in the moment, unlike in Autumn, when the doubt and the melancholy begin to creep back in, and life is revealed again in all its ultimate sadness.

 

“They drove all night long taking turns… The minivan was the same one they had when they first met. He spotted it instantly, driving along the line of bergamot trees leading up to the villa. The table was already set for lunch. He wasn’t surprised to see them. It was as if they had always been together. This moment was a blessing and a reminder of so many treasured years.”

 

This quotation is written on the back of the bottle of Bergamote Soleil and I like this idea: a romantic vignette, a small story, that you can reflect upon as you pick up your bottle of scent – the memories of summers past, and treasured places (and what a glorious idea, an avenue of bergamot trees – this imaginary picnic must have taken place in Lombardy or Calabria) and spray.

 

It was also a sweet, nostalgic romanticism that suited, perfectly, the film I was watching as I analyzed this perfume last night – Ricki And The Flash, the latest work by Jonathan Demme (most famously the director of the Talking Heads’ live concert film Stop Making Sense and the horrifying serial killer classic Silence Of The Lambs, but more recently of more heartfelt, humanist dramas such as Rachel At The Wedding, which, with its in depth and convincing analysis of friction filled family dynamics I rather enjoyed). Centred on characters being plunged back (comically) into their past and starring a hugely enjoyable Meryl Streep, both the perfume and the film were ideal ways for me to relax, expand my soul, and fully properly enjoy the first day of my spring holidays.

 

 

The day before, Monday, the last day of term, was exhausting. One of those days that you somehow have to just get through. It was freezing cold, pelting it down with rain and sleet, and I had to attend graduation parties at three different schools 50 km or more away from each other;  the rainwater seeping into my shoes and socks soggily as I traipsed my way back between three different cities, drenched and cold and back and forth congratulating students and smiling benevolently (but genuinely – some of them did very well this year and I became quite close to a few of them), but at the final school, the main headquarters, I was then required to perform – me in front of a hundred Japanese people – the usual scenario – as I did my well practiced slow, ballad version of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (effective) and a non-rehearsed (not even once) with-the-head-of-English-on-lead guitar atrocious performance of David Bowie’s Star Man (mortifying). I felt like such a fool, and I was so glad to get home to bed afterwards, much later that night when it was finally all over, as the rain continued to pour down, and I dropped like a shivering dead weight onto my waiting bedroom pillow.

 

 

Yesterday morning when  I woke up though it was glorious. Beautiful, sunny weather, clear skies, much warmer. The Japanese spring, rather like this post, is all over the place – even more so these last few years – and there is, I’m sure, some ancient, cliched idiom or other about how this constantly changing weather mirrors a ‘woman’s mood’ or something typically derogatory, but it really is, at the moment,  vastly changeable and unpredictable. The previous Monday the temperature had gone up into the seventies – as hot as an English August in July – and then the next day plunged back into winter. The magnolia and plum trees are all out but their flowers are getting blown away or touched by the cold;  the much heralded cherry blossom will soon be on its way, though, already budding, and you can feel the country’s growing excitement on its behalf (which will never wane: the Japanese love love love their sakura to the death).

 

 

Yurakucho, though still in the very centre of Tokyo, has a fair share of flowering trees itself and this was where I spent the afternoon and evening yesterday – a perfect place for entertainment, and an area that we often enjoy going up to to eat (god the food you can eat in Japan is good, particularly Chinese, exquisite), go to one of the bars along the rail tracks, or to see a film in the number of cinemas that are dotted around the district. Near Ginza and Hibiya, the whole area is a total pleasure centre, basically , both aesthetically pleasing, futuristic and traditionally Japanese, and packed with places to enthusiastically spend your hard earned money in. Hankyu department store is the probably the next best place for perfume after Isetan, Shinjuku and Beauty And Youth in Shibuya, so it’s always a nifty place to just pop into for a spray before you go on to your next destination – in this case, as is often the way with me, the cinema. Although I couldn’t find any films that I was desperate to see when I read through the Japan Times earlier in the morning, there were still three potential films I was partly interested in: The Martian, The Lobster, or Ricki And The Flash.

 

 

With the wonderfully sunny weather, though, and all the flowers coming out on the trees, my mood was really  up and after the coldness I had felt, both literally and emotionally, the day before, plodding about soddenly in my Mr Chapman teacher guise wishing the day would end,  I knew, instinctively,  I needed warmth. Ridley Scott’s The Martian is probably solid entertainment but I wasn’t in the mood for ‘effects’; The Lobster is some grim, Greek dystopian nightmare about failed human relationships that I just couldn’t face at that particular moment, and so with some scented Soleil spritzed quite happily on the back of my hand,  I went, instead, to the Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho film to watch something bright and sunny.

 

A family drama centered around a ‘failed, ageing rock singer’ (though I would say she was more just a woman with integrity who just refuses to compromise her dream even if it means abandoning her family), Rick And The Flash chronicles the family drama of a character named Ricki (Meryl Streep), a penniless singer who sings with her backing band The Flash in rock bars in downtown L.A with her boyfriend the lead guitarist (played by real life rock musician Rick Springfield), and who is called back to her family in New York State when her daughter attempts to kill herself following the break up of her marriage. A typical, and I suppose, predictable, ‘fish out of water’ type of scenario ensues in the comic screen play by Diablo Cody as the ‘alternative’ Ricki (all leather trousers, heavy make up and wild hairdos) fights with the more upright, acrimonious, and uptight, well to do and resentful members of her former family, held together by her rather prim ex-husband (Kevin Kline) and second wife back in his gated, suburban mansion in Indianapolis.

 

 

As the critic for the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote in his review of the film, the entire confection is more like Easy Listening than Rock N’ Roll, and  it is true that  the threads of the story were perhaps too easily tied up at the end in standard, feel good fashion and that some of the peripheral characters were rather fuzzily drawn,  but who cares:  I thought Meryl was fantastic – one of her more believable castings I would say, funny, sexy and unselfconscious; and yes, the liberal, humanistic, everyone-of-all-races-and-sexual-persuasions-and-social-groups dancing together at the smile and cry ending  may have been a little idealistic and fantastical, but in these dangerously fascistic and highly divisive times (tell me that Donald Trump isn’t going to be the next president), who is complaining. For one night, at least, I was happy to try and believe that such unity between people is possible, that ‘love can conquer all’, etc etc, and I sat there at the front of the cinema completely in my element, alternately tearing up, laughing out loud, and beaming ear to ear. I loved it.

 

 

I have to say, though, that the perfume, still there on the back of my hand in tandem at this point,  wasn’t working quite as well. There are times when a rubbish film will just fade into the background as a delicious perfume takes over the concentration instead. But much as the sunny beginning of Bergamote Soleil had appealed to my sensibilities in the beginning, in its short, initial stages, as usual with Atelier Cologne fragrances, the ending, for me personally, was drab and uninspiring.  ‘Slovenian moss’ and ‘white amber’ or whatever it may, allegedly contain yes,but in reality this accord is just a lingering, and tedious smudge of nondescriptness. The Cedrat Envirant on my left hand had long become annoying in its standard masculine prescriptiveness, but at least it had some discernible character in its finale, unlike the Bergamote. It was not a bad smell exactly, just far too uninspiring to part with money for : the disappointing and yawning chasm between the gorgeously brightening initial notes and the boredom of the drydown would prove just too much of an ultimate irritation for me every single time I sprayed it on (do you think that I am being too picky, dear reader? Can one be too picky when it comes to putting something on your skin? It’s just that I consider the base accord in a perfume, ultimately, to be by far the most important. It’s the part that you have to live with. The part that remains on your clothes. Don’t you?)

 

The citruses I like best personally all work from top through to bottom: either the green orange- leaf dignity of Hermes Eau D’Orange Verte with its delicate, delicate base note of patchouli, or else the convincingly well made sunny brightness of Miller Harris’ Citron Citron and its sturdy but deftly done note of vetiver. Or else, ideally, I like it to just smell, somehow (using the perfumer’s magic box of tricks) continuously, continually of citrus (as that is the point, isn’t it, ultimately). Of the classical Guerlain colognes, only Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat really manages this feat  as it lays off the musk, just leaving a faint whisper of orange, while the more contemporary Cologne du 69 brilliantly manages to drift down from heavenly citrus notes to a feathered and meringue like vanillic eiderdown. I personally like a more attenuated, yet continual aura of lemon or orange or bergamot throughout the duration of a ‘citrus’ perfume on my skin if it is at all humanly possible, rather than just a drab and annoyingly persistent musk accord –  a briefly enjoyable dose of short-lived sunlight, lovely and fresh – that then ends, to your chagrin, most disappointingly, as it disappears completely away from view, like the sunshine draining away in September, in a  – for want of a better word – flash.

 

 

 

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Filed under Citrus, Flowers