Category Archives: Citrus

LOVE, IN THE AFTERNOON : : : AGUA FRESCA by ADOLFO DOMINGUEZ (1993)

 

 

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I have always had a problem with petitgrain. Extracted from the leaves and green twigs of the bitter orange tree, like basil and aniseed, the essential oil of petitgrain pierces straight to the headache centre of my brain and brings pain.  If neroli is the bride, and orange blossom the dream, then petitgrain is the cortex; the bark: the gnarled and chlorophylled  life at the heart of the being (sometimes I have so much of this power I don’t know what to do with it – and the pithing exuberance of petitgrain represents this).

 

 

 

Used in perfumes, though, in well-judged pinches, petitgrain, not diluted, but distributed through other citruses and herbs and woods, can be utilised to deliciously crisp and snap-gathering effect to the senses. Agua Fresca, by the Spanish designer Adolfo Dominguez, is one such scent: I picked it up eight years ago or so in Barcelona, where we had gone for a weekend with Duncan’s parents in a blanketing, sweltering heat wave.

 

 

 

I love the traditional European perfumeries, the profumerias; little corner shops painted white with glass cabinets stacked high with all kinds of perfumes, old and new – those places where you suddenly espy a scent from your youth tucked away in a top right hand corner slightly dusting in its cellophane box waiting patiently for use. We had wandered aimlessly down some stoned, shadow-canopied street escaping the heat and chanced upon one such premises: as I love random and spontaneous holiday scent purchases, those that douse your perfumes in experience – when I saw the word ‘fresca’, and realized that this was a clear, and convincing modern cologne I could happily wear, with one spritz on the back of the hand I was immediately sold. If crispness is a virtue, then Agua Fresca is a saint.

 

 

 

 

You will know already that I hate men’s fragrances: and yet there are days when I want a scent that nips things in the bud: no flouncing or olfactory flamboyance, no drama – just some pleasingly constructed discretion. Agua Fresca is one such scent. The initial spray is always bracing, though not sharp: petitgrain in profusion and at the centre, with other citruses – bergamot, mandarin, tightened with small doses of herbaceous reverie in the form of leaves of marjoram, juniper berries, rosemary, artemisia, and pine (but only scattered like miniature, verdant seasonings throughout the liquid of the scent – not the lothario herbariums of more bolstered, classically Don Juan offerings): rather, a Greek chorus centered around a column of light –  softened, for a more diffuse harmony, by gentle murmurings in the base of vetiver, cedar wood and coriander, the whole having nothing more than a clean, no strings attached, lemon-scented benevolence.

 

 

 

 

I used up all of that first bottle on that weekend, fusing the scent irreparably with my memories of us sitting in a basilica square at night, in red tapas bars covered from floor to ceiling with framed pictures and hams; or strolling with thousands of others down Las Ramblas and up to the celebrated fountains and fireworks at night.  This was a scent that could fit into my pocket and that I could spritz continually for those mood-binding top notes and the cleanliness they instantly bestowed, but also, equally (and rarely), enjoy the entirety of the base in its no-nonsense, no fuss, cold cream simplicity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waking up yesterday I had one of those sudden, arbitrary, olfactive turnabouts when you realise you want a totally different scent model for the day and evening. I had a hospital appointment in the morning in Oguchi, Yokohama, but later in the afternoon was planning to do some record shop scouring and some perfume reconnaissance before going to a barbecue party in the evening at the house of a well-to-do Tokyo society friend of Duncan and Yukiro’s who invites all the art crowd and fly by night types and models, dancers, who last week lent us some spaces (for a wild day of filming – my goodness), While apprehensive about what to wear from my jumble sale heap of a creased and unlookedafter clothes wardrobe, I thought I might at least smell good – I was planning to later in the day go to a sento or public bath, and then change clothes and scent completely – like Clark Kent – and had settled, eventually, on Les Parfums  de Rosine Roseberry, a green wine-lees and blackcurrant rose scent that always garners good reactions from people when I wear it; again, that crispness that for some reason I was craving yesterday, but with some romantic, Bulgarian rose flourishes that would bring people I didn’t know closer. Agua Fresca would have been way too ordinary,  too male, too prosaic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was perfect, though, for the hospital ( I suddenly remembered, or noticed, in one of my  cabinets, that I had found a bottle again of this perfume last year or so ago at a Tokyo recycle boutique but it had somehow slipped my memory). A specialist had recommended this place – I need to have a stubbornly lodged left kidney stone lasered: it is causing no trouble, but is growing and needs to be got rid of, so I had travelled up to the clinic to schedule an operation – just a morning procedure – in the summer holidays when I can just relax at home and drink water and not worry about classroom excruciations (I have a terrible fear of being floored and humiliated by a random decision on the part of the stone to just exit itself while in front of the students – I have yet to experience this renal mortification – touch wood –  which is why I am determined to get rid of the damn thing before that happens). Naively, I had optimistically anticipated a wait of an hour or two at most, before my journey up to Tokyo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the rainy season here in Japan right now, and god is it gloomy. Almost no sunlight; intermittent torrential rains (parts of the country evacuated; floods widespread); sometimes, in these parts, it just pours downs for hours in huge, glassy raindrops, but most of the time it is just grey; white clouds and oppressive humidity:  unmoving. Then it suddenly feels cold, then pressured again- all the rooms dark, or just white sky through glass, through blinds, like in the hospital waiting room, where I ended up yesterday finally spending seven hours waiting to see the specialist, and being moved around the wards of the building for various x-rays and tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some alligators, those that live in places where the rivers run dry and turn to desert, have the ability to burrow down right through the sands to a cool space of temporary dwelling and slow down their heart rates to about three beats a minute –  for months – in a state of extreme hibernation, or torpor, almost resembling death- until once again the rains come again and they retreat, slowly and vertically, back to the surface,  in order to rehydrate; open their eyes again, wallow; bask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not very good in administrative, rigmarole situations. Hell, for me is a bank, a post office, an immigration centre: I too have to control my own heart beat and breathing, so as not to go loopy, the suppression I feel in such places so great ; psychically hibernate in order to deal with all the people facing forward with their public expressions in close proximity: waiting, self-consciously blinking: mutually frustrating, palpitating; dummy.

 

 

 

 

 

I was very glad for perfume. It astonishes me quite frequently how many people seem to just not care how they smell to others, yawning and stretching like warm, musted old camemberts…………to me it is  insulting. There were several such people there yesterday, consciousless slobs out of autonomic control, but at least I was all dressed up for the occasion (if dressed down – Agua Fresca is very subtle); a citrus and shampoo-soaped shower early in the morning; my lemon hand balm I always make myself with essential oils; the air conditioning too fierce, snuggling into a jacket in various seats in the blank space of a room as I was called up and sent to one place or another – but all along, my scent accompanying me nicely, like an invisible friend. If the compressed light through the wan, frosted window panes slowly filtering through this drab suburban neighbourhood of Yokohama was mournfully lacking in life, it also allowed a strangely comforting, cushioning escape into the self that was offset by my shell of Iberian petitgrain and herbs; a delicate, if assertive virility, that made the process of waiting, and waiting, less objectionable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The television was on throughout. I hate television. J-pop, banal variety shows, concert performances, opera – without it I suppose, the audience in the waiting room would have soured to pulp –  catatonically bored out of their minds; for me, also, it was sometimes occasionally diverting, to puncture the non-ticking continuation of the out of sight clock,  but essentially, as it always is for me in its sheer stupidity, as the hours went by, slowly, it became intoxicatingly maddening; invasive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, in my bag I had brought along with me Territory Of Light, the novel by Yuko Tsushima, which I had found at the Kinokuniya book store in Shinjuku two weeks ago while looking for my own book there (it was out of stock, but had graced the same shelf) – and like eggshells within eggshells, I read almost the entire book – strange, interior, the dream-like diary of a woman trying to keep it together when her husband leaves her, or she leaves him, trapped in her dreams and nightmares- while sitting and occupying my own space, the edges of my consciousness dimmed, distanced, but also contoured cleanly  – with the galvanizing scent of bitter orange leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(continues below)

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Filed under Citrus, diptychs, dreamscapes, petigrain

BLANK SLATE ::::::::::: SESAME CHAN by ANIMA VINCI (2018) + MUGLER COLOGNE : LOVE YOU ALL (2018) + ALL ABOUT THE BOOK LAUNCH AND MY STRANGE, INTENSE, TRIPLE LIFE

 

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Sometimes it is difficult to distill experiences into words. Especially when they have been  among the most intense and memorable of your life (this post might take several chapters; or alternatively, realistically, as time gets swallowed up in the living of the regular week, not even amount to much at all – yesterday I went back to work, shaved my beard off, and became someone I am not again, with all the damage that entails to the body and the soul). The flight home was exhausting, memories gestating in my head, the bifurcation of cultures, the rabbit hole of my existence.

 

 

 

England was fantastic. It was great to have our own pad in Pimlico to slink back to this time, rather than carting suitcases on the underground and half-sleeping on other people’s sofas (those days are gone: I am too old). It meant we could retreat and conserve energy. And wake up on white, Georgian streets, and see England with new eyes. Night taxis past the Houses Of Parliament and the London Eye; gliding silently past midnight clad in new perfumes to demarcate new experience: I had been given a bottle of a perfume by Anima Vinci, and also something entirely not me (and yet me: I wore it in great profusion……after meeting Monsieur and Madame Persolaise for a catch up at an Indian restaurant, though exhausted from the night before – the launch and the gathering afterwards – there was one more assignation to Dalston to go to the house of one Lyall Hakaraia : a fascinating creature from New Zealand who lives in  permanently flower drenched air, on this occasion an almost suffocating pleasure of lilies, hyacinths and tuberoses, his own club in the basement – Femmetopia – but it was too cold for me to dance; my heating needs are now beyond reptilian – Garrick, the host of the party where I played with Anne Pigalle (did I really?) there, resplendent in what looked like black Issey Miyake……it felt like a stage set, I was in The Matrix, Lyall in silk Japanese dressing gown, classical music coming from Radio 3 as they waited for JT Leroy, who was staying there and drinking at a pub around the corner………(surreal).

 

 

I had been unable to bear the smell of all the fried onions on my clothes, to the extent that I couldn’t even wear my coat (death for me): instead I had had an emergency shower and different, boring clothes, and sick of bloody No 19, which I have been signaturing all over the shop, felt like a new skin: : :: Mugler’s Love You All sprayed all over me like a waterfall: all steamed, laundry fresh ultramodern neroli and probably lime and the most innocuous, almost angelic, white musks, for that moment it felt strange but absolutely right, and our host made motions of pleasure as he inhaled me brushing past, climbing the stairs away from the revellers in the basement to the unbelievable florality of the reeking fleurs du mal of the living room and kitchen where we sipped neat Zubrowka vodka and rambled coherently about all kinds of nonsense until it was suddenly 3am and we had to leave in order not to miss our morning trains.

 

 

 

Back home at my parents’, I was completely drawn to wearing Anima Vinci’s delicious Sesame Chan, a perfume of extreme, soothing comfort that fits me like a glove and is my new favourite scent. Those that like Hermes’ Vetiver Tonka will in all likelihood also like this warm gourmand based on vetiver with delicately balanced notes of ginger, hazelnut, cereals, sesame and an eventual base note of pure, soft vanilla……I was LOVING myself on the train ride home, past fields of green, lost in thought and a novel, constantly aware of the aura around me: sweet, but not too much so, fresh, light, yet long lasting and completely pleasurable ; for me this is a perfectly blended comfort blanket and I am going to wear it today in Tokyo as well (tonight, in a sharp reverse from yesterday’s dungeon of condensed office culture I am attending the launch party of a Canadian poet, Joy Waller, and her first published book of poetry, Pause: Heartbeat, at which a range of foreign Tokyoites are going to interpret some of her works, including Duncan, who will be Icarus, and myself and Lola his Grecian tormentors (Burning Bush in a sack and a rake….I am getting whiplash just thinking about it: sometimes I feel that my own life is happening beyond my authorisation and I just watch it salaciously).

 

 

 

It was somewhat similar at the Launch party. The day before, I had been on BBC Radio London, live, which was a terrifying experience (have I already talked about this? probably), but it was so heightened and heartbeaty arriving at Broadcasting House, getting through all the levels of security, going up to Jo Good’s floor, where she was doing her show, talking about all kinds of things: Brexit, the price of tuna steaks, Neil Chapman’s perfume book – and feel free to call in and ask him any questions about fragrance! I am also going to ask him to guess what I am wearing…….as I sat in the lobby, knowing that I would be on after the news and a song::: holding my bag o ‘ perfumes close to me, knowing I would be talking live and having absolutely no idea how it would turn out…Neil you are on in five; Neil you can come in now, as the new single by Bananarama was playing –  who were being interviewed after me – I now wished I could have hung around a bit longer and met them as I used to love their early stuff, but I was already being ushered out at that point, the fifteen minutes having gone by so quickly. Ms Good was a lovely woman; really enthusiastic, and she loved the fact that I had taken so many scents in for her to try. I found myself quite enjoying myself by the end, getting into my stride.

 

 

 

It all took its nerve toll, though, and although D and his parents came round in the evening, fresh from the Norwich bus and staying at the Windermere Hotel next door to hear me on the radio – like families gathering around the wireless in the 1940’s there was something very special and beautiful about this, my mum having also called up having just got back from the hairdresser’s, hearing something about tuna steaks and then not being able to believe her son was on the radio, she and dad gathered around the computer back home……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day though I had to be alone to get my act together for the evening. The Launch. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are times in your life that you know are going to be defining moments. And this was definitely one of them (hopefully not the apex, but who knows? Perhaps this was my small moment). Whatever it was, it involved people from my life coming together – ‘characters’ from my book : girls, women from the past -(and present, we are still in contact) Rebecca, Natasha, Julianne, Julia, of course Helen, but in the flesh – friends from university I hadn’t seen for twenty five years (Lesley! Artemis, it was divine to see you, seriously), my family, and Duncan’s – plus The Perfume Society, hosted by Jo Fairley, who had just rushed across London fresh from winning a Jasmine Award, and though I have realised that in truth I am not entirely comfortable with eyes and attention on me (hence not wanting to teach any more – at times I feel violated by it: : :I get more and more sensitive as I get older, not less – I thought it was meant to be the opposite); this was different: in essence a celebration. The book, with its gold-embossed pages, was piled up on a table near the entrance. The handsome duo of my cousin Dominic and his husband Scott arrived (both architects/ designers) and seemed quite taken with it; there was Mrs Dalloway from The Black Narcissus too, and Catherine, standing shyly in a corner (very nice to meet you!), Samantha from I Scent You A day, with a friend (so sorry we didn’t get to properly talk: it was like that with everyone though: I was jealous of people being able to just relax and have conversations): Emma we hardly spoke at all, which I regret: Rachel and Sally, hardly at all either (sorry!): a lovely Japanese lady who has given me some introductions to perfume people in Tokyo (I am trying to get a Japanese co-edition put out for the small but passionate fragrance lovers of this city), all kinds of people, but in truth within the swirl of the champagne and the food – which I didn’t touch, weird for me I didn’t even get a chance to relieve my bladder- and with everything going on I had to be interviewed in front of everyone and read from the book, and I was not entirely present. At the time, or immediately afterwards, I couldn’t even remember anything I said: : afterwards I realised that despite feeling like the heaviest person in the world, heavier than lead, an animated corpse jolted by electric batteries to come alive and say something, as though I was rallying myself and battening down to the primal basics, eventually I started flowing; Jo was down to earth, relaxed and saying very nice things about the book, and I let my eccentricities out – I do remember quite a few times that people were laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

I signed books – by the end of the event there were none left, or maybe one (Georgia, I can’t believe you bought four, or was it five?) and we all piled next door to a cocktail bar, where everyone met and talked and the time went in no time in a blur of booze and love, and we found ourself in yet another taxi going home.

 

 

 

 

So: the book is out. It came out in America on April 2nd. There have been some extremely glowing reviews from The Perfume Society, Persolaise, I Scent You A Day, Australian Perfume Junkies, The Fragrant Wanderer, and Old Herbaceous (thanks very much), all of which I am so delighted with, – you never know how things will be received,) so it does seem that my crazed and pressurised labours of last year were not in vain. I expect the intense and touching memories will eventually decompact themselves and I may write more on all of this again, but for now I have to get ready for Duncan’s piece tonight, again on stage: : what has happened to me! Am I an extroverted introvert or the other way round: (how about you?). His piece, based on another’s poem, on the intense desire to escape life, or at the very least reality. Which, ultimately, in many ways, is what my book is basically about. The desire for beauty, and the transcendental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reviews:

 

 

 

 

 

https://thefragrantwanderer.wordpress.com

 

https://perfumesociety.org/delve-into-the-best-perfume-book-weve-read-in-years/

 

https://iscentyouaday.com/2019/03/22/perfume-in-search-of-your-signature-scent-by-neil-chapman/

http://persolaise.blogspot.com/2019/03/persolaise-review-perfume-in-search-of.html

 

https://scentsandsensibilities.co/category/books-i-like/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Citrus, Gourmand, Neroli, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT reviews, Vetiver

EAU DE VERVEINE, SAIGON

 

 

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Greetings from Saigon; Good Morning Vietnam, etc; Tao Dan Park, where I inaugurated my remixed Verveine Naturelle by Cadentia – a full, if unvarying inexpensive verbena cologne that comes in huge 500 ml bottles – but which I have freshened and diversified with essential oils of bergamot, lemon and vetiver for extra development and interest.

 

It works a treat in this weather – hot and humid but nothing like Japan in August; this just feels lush and tropical. I have chosen a vetiver theme for the holiday : emptied/ sprayed virtually a whole bottle of a Florame eau biologique into my unusually early packed suitcase last week : the organic, dry, earthy vetiver with a slightly bitter adjunct of lavender mellowed down beautifully and has suffused all my clothes. Thus, for day, this cologne which I have decanted into varying sized spray bottles to secrete on my person works perfectly for day wear; at night I can shower and use something aldehydic with vetiver in the base (Calandre, Caleche), or a more ‘gentlemanly’ vetiver – last night I wore Vetyver by Roger Et Gallet which worked nicely during our first foray into the city, which, far to the south of Hanoi, where we went three and a half years ago, feels more expansive, languorous and less furrow browed : there is an openness.

 

 

For nightlife – who can resist a disco called Apocalypse Now ?  – I have Guerlain Lys Soleia, vanilla tropical lily that goes better with the vetiver than you might imagine and Unum Opus  1144 – a lemon opoponax amber: D is rocking his Comme Des Garçons Black Pepper, which is gravely seductive but a bit full on : I might try to find him something else while we are here. Mind you, it might be suitable for the Revolutionary Museum, which we are about to head off to, having come back for a quick sojourn at our hotel

 

 

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It’s so nice to be away !

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Citrus, postcards from the edge, Vetiver

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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Filed under Citrus, Flowers