Category Archives: Coniferous
























Rook was founded by Jordanian/British perfumer Dr Nadeem Crowe, who, as I found out yesterday when looking at this British niche house’s website, ‘is currently working on the frontline as an NHS emergency doctor, fighting the battle against COVID-19.’ 







I wish him and his colleagues all the best – I can’t imagine how exhausted they all must be.























‘Born in Jordan and raised in both Lincolnshire and London, Nadeem studied medicine at University College London (UCL). During his medical training he applied to the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and trained there as an actor before returning to UCL to complete his medical degree in 2010. When eventually signing to theatrical agents, Global Artists, his agent asked him where he saw himself in 10 years. “A practising doctor with a few West End credits under my belt,” Nadeem replied. Almost 10 years later, Nadeem has pursued those two loves, with a career in acute and emergency medicine as well as performances alongside Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” and most recently, “School of Rock” in the West End. “When I say I’m in a musical but I also practise as a doctor, people tend to reply ‘Those two careers are so different!’ But I consider both worlds to overlap more than you would first think. Both require huge amounts of dedication. Oh, and an element of performance. When people learn I also create my own scents, they automatically assume that that world is also detached from the other two. For me perfume sits comfortably in the middle. I spent years studying science and feel totally comfortable with pipettes, beakers and weighing scales. The outcome, though, is a piece of art. Scent is very theatrical.”




















My auntie Jean, also in theatre, was finally laid to rest yesterday by my parents at a very busy crematorium where half of the deceased on the day’s roster had died from the coronavirus. Birmingham, the city I am from, is one of the worst affected in the UK right now, along with London ; mosques and mortuaries overflowing in the city centre with the dead, and like everyone else, I have the utmost respect and gratitude for all the health workers, nurses and doctors across the globe such as Nadeem Crowe who are putting themselves in danger for the sake of others and to fight this thing before it decimates us any further. It takes courage, conviction and a strong sense of selflessness to put yourself in the line of fire with a contagion as deadly as this one. I bow down (I wonder if he also wears his scent creations when doing his rounds, and whether they give him some comfort while doing so? ) The UK, unbelievably, has the second highest numbers of death worldwide now – perhaps due to the extreme and immoral wealth gap  that pervades our society, as it does in the US, one that I feel is much more pronounced than the class divide here in Japan, which despite its own poverty –  increasing in certain segments of society – is still, ultimately, far more egalitarian.  The rich, on the whole, are less rich: the poorer, less poor. I am sure that nutrition also plays a part: there is no doubt that the way most people eat here is far more healthy; the food is better.  And while obesity is increasing in Japan, it is nothing like western countries such as the USA, Mexico, Germany, and the UK. We need a rethink: on diet; equality, the crucial importance of countries having good and affordable healthcare for everybody. Perhaps the virus will be the impetus for a semi-new slate: a chance to improve things for the world. I don’t know.











Speaking of mine and D’s own situation for a moment, I was reading  in the Japan Times this morning about the plight of ‘foreigners’ (one of Japan’s favourite words):  non- Japanese  – whose lives have been completely upended by the immigration restrictions that have been imposed on us: in essence, basically, no foreigners are allowed back into the country. Not even if they are put in quarantine. For the foreseeable future – even if the card holders have permanent resident status or are married to a Japanese national. Put succinctly: if you leave the country, you can’t come back. Which puts us both in rather a strange position: let’s say there were a family emergency of some kind, it would place us in a terrible dilemma – return to England and then be stuck there with no work, no ostensible future and possibly separated from each other but do the right thing, or stay here, and be absent; disqualified from being with family at crucial moments: marooned. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will not even be an issue, everyone is fine right now, but it is certainly a curious feeling that although this is also in many ways our ‘home’,  as much as the UK is, at the same time, in some ways we are trapped. 










Lucky, though, also, in many ways, because at least we are still employed (I have to go back to work on June 2nd, which you will be hearing more about I am sure as the time approaches! I am in confusion and some anxiety about it, I must admit, and will need some guidance from you ); D goes back next week. For preparation. We don’t know yet when the girls will be coming back for classes, but we are emerging. This estranged bubble from the outside world we have been hiding in is about to be burst. We have been in it for three months and have been co-habiting in harmony and happiness, if with the brook of fear always flowing constantly, as I am sure it does also for everybody else – somewhere not so deep in the conscious underneath. Still, other workers who have legitimate working visas and certification, who work here and whose livelihoods depend on being here, are in a much less fortunate position: they have found that if they happened to have been out of the country from March 27th, that is where they will stay. Indefinitely. Not allowed back. Or at least until Japan officially changes its current regulation.  (Japanese nationals who were abroad, and may have been infected by the virus, were naturally allowed back in, no questions asked.)









Which is probably why the timing of these perfumes by Rook, arriving unexpectedly in the post yesterday, was quite opportune. Some UK nostalgia. Not being able to go back to England this year as I was planning gives a slant of slight homesickness to any perfume that might smell of my country of birth in any way, and these fragrances definitely do. Particularly the house’s signature scent, Rook, which smells just like carbolic soap in a hospital – or a comprehensive school’s institutionalisingly bleak toilet with its three-quarter doored stalls. Oh, the memories. The fear. The pale light at the window. The sheer, transparent non-aborbent ‘toilet paper’. The black coal tar soap on the side, used by some, the smell of which both me and D have always liked, my brother too, with its extraordinarily medicinal, smoky, male simplicity that still plunges me into miserable memories of the showers in P.E at school (the hateful cold of winter, shivering as a skinny child after refusing to play rugby and being forced to go cross country running by myself instead as a castigation which I infinitely preferred and would facetiously ‘thank’ my furious PE teacher for as I ran off humming to myself revengefully under my breath; bristling with self-consciousness, scrubbing myself with that soap desperate to get out of there as quickly as possible and away from the eyes of whichever dubious teacher was there to supervise us, watching us). Later in life as adults we sometimes bought coal tar soap again from Boots The Chemist just for the nostalgic novelty of it, like the wintergreen mouthburn of Euthymol toothpaste: a hale, hair shirt reset from flowers and vanillic decadence. The smell of punishment: stark simplicity; catharsis. Disinfectant. It can be no coincidence that the creator of this perfume, then, is a doctor – the perfume actually smells of hospitals, of corridors and institutions, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Despite the very hygienic facet of the scent, there is also a spiritual warmth to it that I find appealing (D, on the other hand, thought it was horrific – pissy, an aspect I didn’t feel myself – and had to scrub it off quickly – perhaps it was the castoreum and civet note adding a touch of bodily sensuality underneath ; I personally felt that all of that was lost, though,  beneath the bale of antiseptic birch tar. ). It smells of cold. It smells of winter. Northern England. Of red-bricked buildings, and Orwellian wooden fixtures. My own skin, as a child. Peculiar, but in perfect balance. I am not sure I could wear this, nor know in what circumstances I would ever do so, but I will certainly treasure my sample, merely for my own nostalgic ruminations and memory stimulation. It is a very interesting scent – not bloody and burnt like so many charred, angered recent niche perfumes that just make me retch …… Rook feels more to me like a white, iron-barred safe haven.










The outside. I was always drawn to forests and woods as a child, and still am  (never mountains or hills, ‘rugged terrains’, vast plains, scorched meadows, nor desolate beach-scapes. I like to be tucked away in green, preferably by a body of water). Trying the other two perfumes by Rook in the collection yesterday, I was pleased to see that both Undergrowth and Forest, like the eponymous perfume I have already described, also fortunately manage to veer away from being too harsh and throat-coating, a problem I find with quite a lot of independent fragrances these days (do you know what I mean?)   – when you feel like you are downing a whole vat of creosote and terpentine and paint stripper at the local home decoration centre when all you were hoping to do was just smell nice.  Pine notes can have their own harshness – a quality I abhor in perfumery – even if their bactericidal haleness makes them natural disease fighters in nature – that feeling when you can sense the air of the fir and the conifers around you softly infiltrating your corpuscles and doing you good when you go for a long walk. In Forest, Dr Crowe treats the coniferous and terpentinic essences required for a convincing perfume of this nature with clarity and gentleness in order to create the scent of ‘wet wood and rain’. It is understated, familiar, but it works. With cedar notes cradling the chlorophyll, Forest is quite a relaxing, if melancholy, even slightly dour, natural smelling perfume with a slightly smoked tea underedge that does take me back to childhood walks with my family in forests – trampling happily along on twigs and across streams picking up pine cones and other natural detritus for my bedroom’s ‘nature table’. A good recommendation for those who are stuck indoors, pining for fresh air and a slightly hopeless return to the way things were – the old life.































This afternoon, later  – a grey, overcast, much colder Wednesday than it has been – we will be cycling around Imaizumidai, our neighbourhood, then down the back way for our provisions, probably returning home via the lake – an almost ‘secret lake’ whose name is too long and difficult to remember for some reason and which is known only to locals and thus often devoid of people except for the odd lone, solitary walker (though there were two yakuza there the other day very talking loudly on their cellphones, disturbing the silence and making other people quietly leave the lakeside with their slightly threatening demeanour: I stayed, to their slight discomfort, just reading my newspaper alone);  in the past we have also sometimes encountered out of towners in our neighbourhood asking where the lake was situated exactly, as the place is allegedly haunted : the more daring and rough and ready young Tokyoities occasionally break in the locked premises after dark  to watch the fireflies and spectres on late summer nights. The lake is also the place that we happened to find our cat Mori (which means ‘forest’ in Japanese: I named her as we left the gate), abandoned as a kitten with her shivering siblings and a broken leg, and who we took home with us on the spur of the instinctive moment cycling home with her nestled in the groceries in a plastic shopping bag, this time about thirteen years ago.









I feel no sinister sensations there at the lake myself – rather, I just find it very peaceful. Koi carp swim slowly through the waters with giant terrapins and herons, co-existing. Birds fly out suddenly from the trees, cawing. There is barely a ripple on the lake’s surface, the light reflected from the trees into the water in glassed, concentric rings. It is hushed and respiratory – a place to clear your head: breathe alone. ‘Undergrowth’ – which Rook Perfumes describes as being  based on the idea of ‘fresh garden mint leaves being pulled up from the soil; the sun breaking through as the clouds part’ is, I would say, the most wearable of the three fragrances I have tried by Rook – a pleasing, clear, yet earthy central orris note pierced with green notes, grass, brief tinglings of mint and fresh green leaves before a dry, taut wood note (patchouli dominating, with vetiver and delicate white musk) that smelled great on Duncan’s skin yesterday  – very held together, understated; quietly masculine; and a scent that I might suggest he wear later when we go out in order to complement our forested surroundings further – expatriate British exiles sitting on a wooden bench, staring out over the Kamakura water.























Good luck to Dr Crowe.



Filed under Coniferous










There is a very big generational divide in Japan when it comes to men’s fragrances, known here as ‘kolon’, or cologne – there being no real concept of an ‘aftershave’, particularly when half the Nihonjin males of the nation are heading towards electrolysis and the beardless pretty K-Pop androgyne becomes the culturally favoured norm. While boys in their twenties smell fruity and hair-gelled; of increasingly strong smelling fabric softeners, or of nothing, older men usually stick to their favoured aldehydic woodies like Auslese, Eroica, Bravas, and other, similar musky spiced much of a muchnesses that you sometimes smell lingering in the interior of Tokyo taxis and which younger people generally despise, at the gut level, as the smell of the jiji ; the old git, the antiquated, thin-stranded pate greased just that little bit too much and drenched in the wide range of auxiliary products available at every local Shiseido drug store – shaving cream, facial lotions, stick deodorants, and especially the popular ‘hair tonics’ which men in their sixties and over often wear (sometimes to very pleasing effect, you can feel your heart melting slightly), sometimes not  – (just trying too hard, slightly sad). Whenever men of a certain age gather for reunions and annual get togethers you are guaranteed to smell a whole conglomeration: unlike the UK, where you can pretty much share your dad’s aftershave, whatever that might be, on a Saturday night and get away with it  – I think a young man or adolescent here would rather die than wear his dad’s bygone-be-bygone smell of an earlier era: the Bubble they never experienced and never will, when Japan was in a hysteria of revisionist capitalist mayhem as it boisterously worked and drank its way into a frenzy of world confidence and consumer dominance, and the proud breadwinners reeked of these perfumes; their pomades and brilliantined thick black hair broached by the smell of yakiniku and cigarettes, in neon blinking after-office izakayas, and sultry hostess bars.


























This last Saturday night I couldn’t quite make up my mind, coming alone from the cinema in Shibuya, whether I wanted to transform myself into another being. As something of a middle-aged salariman myself (I dress pretty much identically to all the other workers here; black suit, shirt and tie, smelling usually of lemon and caucasian); on my way to Uguisudani to meet Duncan at midnight to see him perform on a huge stage in a stairwelled, ruched former cinema now host to all manner of creatures of the night all dressed up for dancing  – he was due on stage at 1:40am – I thought fuck it – I might as well just go for it and freakify myself into another entity (after all, D had provided me with a bag full of robes and accoutrements, including some former orange velvet curtains that he had stitched into a beautiful hooded garment, and which had been used, the week before, strategically, to mop up a tragically spilled, perfect, pristine 29.5ml parfum bottle of Bal A Versailles – I am sure my screams as it hit the kitchen floor disconcerted people in the neighbourhood: it tumbled from its badly designed box and eviscerated itself – but which at least been put to good use (and which, seriously, on this material, soaked and put in a suitcase for a week beforehand for maturation purposes smelled incredible).












Wondering where I could whip off my gear, and costume myself up, I was praying that the multi-use disabled toilet in Uguisudani station  – everyone uses them here, there is no social disgrace involved  – would somehow be free, and miraculously, it was. Someone else had also had the same idea just before me – you could feel a certain haste there still in the air; a man I will never know the identity of, who had obviously checked into the same restroom and abandoned all his spruced up little helpers for a night of seduction somewhere out there in the megalopolis; a bottle of mouthwash, a comb, and a full bottle of Shiseido Tactics that I didn’t even hesitate to put into my bag before emerging a few minutes later as an unrecognizable white-faced being drenched in the aforementioned Jean Desprez amber; on the wrists and the neck Antica Casablanca, and on the huge, freshly washed hair, reams of the original Guerlain Metallica, all of which just made me smell so decadent and swoonsome I glided along on a cloud of oblivious, carnation-kissed vanilla spice.













Today is Monday and I am at home trying to tidy, being gratefully subdued;  calming down. I have just found the bottle of Shiseido Tactics left out in the genkan, the Japanese entrance  –  among the other detritus; these weekends of performances and filming require such heavy baggage – clothes for the actors and for D’s stage wear, so many bits and pieces that the way we are going I sometimes feel that I will need another leg operation; we seem to be constantly going between Kamakura and Tokyo weighed down like a travelling circus (I love it); but at this particular moment, to be able to just sit in the silence of this house, and smell this old Shiseido perfume, is precisely what the doctors in white coats ordered.











Tactics is, it goes without saying, of the Old School. A classical, classic men’s aftershave.  When you look at all the notes, a whole orchestra of them from juniper, pine, galbanum and sage and thyme and mint and citruses through the usual flowers and mosses and tonka bean (and in this new version clearly some quite loveable white musk), you know what you are going to be smelling, but unlike the blousier, more obvious men’s colognes that I mentioned earlier – which sometimes just read as testosteroned Chanel No 5s; such hair, such throw,  this more subtle Japanese variable on a standard French theme is much more forested; seemly; and low key. Slightly reminiscent of other green masculine classics such as Christian Dior’s Jules, or Loewe’s Esencia, but without the bullfighting domination of those pituitary-charged men’s seduction pieces, Tactics also has the limed freshness of Sport De Paco Rabanne, a scent I still wear on occasion when I feel like recreating my own former lithehood; a leaf-freshed, subtle viridity that is actually very pleasing. I am glad that we have it. This Saturday was allegedly the last, or perhaps penultimate weekend of Josephine Baker for 2019;after this we are supposed (he always keeps it quiet until he reveals that er, actually, there is this other thing that we might have to go to next week….) to be calming it down a bit; having some normal weekends at home in the more conventional manner: cooking, reading the newspaper, going for walks, sleeping in. Talking. Tactics will be amenable and snuggedly sexy in this imagined environment (perhaps while he is wearing this, I should go for my ultimate autumnal cardigan fragrance, Hermes Equipage?); behaving, while the leaves turn to brown, as though we are ageing in any way that could be considered, by the majority of the world’s population, as graceful.







Filed under Coniferous, Flowers










Wednesday afternoon, the day before the D had to go back to work, we decided to have one last stab at Tokyo and the summer holiday before some relative seriousness takes over, and went up to Shibuya to see Bunkamura’s current Fantastic Art In Belgium exhibition.

It is always strange being thrust from the overwhelming youth fashion hub that is Shibuya  – the site of the famous Hachiko crossing, the panoramic, overhead rash of neon screens all flashing together noisily and disorientatingly, insanity inflicting, in town; hordes, throngs of people all moving in all directions, the real Lost In Translation Tokyo that visitors want to lose themselves in and marvel, as they recombine themselves, at the energizing, oriental futuristic – –  and then suddenly finding yourself in the dark, air-conditioned tomb of a respectable gallery, five hundred years past, underground, in the brain of Hieronymous Bosch, Reubens, Rops, Magritte, and other, morbid and otherworldly,  Belgiana.


It was so cold in there that a small majority of the skinny Japanese women moving about respectfully, wide-eyed, were making use of the gallery’s brown blankets offered at the entrance of the gallery to stave off the chill. D and I were also quite cold, but I was also pleased, from the olfactory point of view, that the canvas preserving temperature had allowed me to properly enjoy my scent of the day – Shiseido’s mythical InouÏ, from 1976 –  to perfection.


Leaving the house that afternoon, the air roiling and humid before a downpour, I had wondered. The civet and ambered sweet myrrh in the base of the perfume was troubling me. I have made that error a couple of times this summer, thinking that a scent choice would work because it felt right at home, forgetting that once the heat and the sweat took over it could all go disastrously wrong (animalics and my skin just don’t work very well if I get hot);  but it turned out that my intuitions on that day-  Inoui immediately came to my mind when I woke up that morning – I have two bottles – precious; very hard to get now – in the doleful, dolorous world of the Belgian exhibition,  there was a very dark and melancholy aspect to all of the paintings running through it all despite the disparate nature of the artists in question; black swans at twilight, sad, caverous forests; Flemish landscapes silenced in hushed snow; vulnerable souls prey to satanic attentions;  that my perfume, so soft, and enveloping, and mysterious – Inouï is a foresty, androgynous chypre, unusual yet familiar: with cypress fruits, pine needles, thyme and galbanum/oakmoss creating a quiet, woodland canopy to hide yourself in, reflect; while a warmer, jasmine /peach cedarwood heart make you less lonely – it felt like a soundtrack, a being.


An intriguing and perceptible presence in my own backdrop, the perfume worked quite perfectly against the sad pall of the paintings, in which demons and angels grappled with the virtues and the seven deadly sins; decadence wore masks of death, and you wondered what made Belgian, and Flemish, culture in particular, gravitate so strongly towards this crepuscular and life-snuffing melancholia. But this is what art does: it changes you, even if only momentarily, even if you don’t like it (but I did, I felt myself dropping, inexorably, into this world), so that you emerge back into the blinking sunlight of the outside, Orpheus-like, different than you were before, in a differing, darker, synapse-tweaked headspace.


Completing the long forested dreamline, Duncan was wearing Penhaligon’s beautiful Blenheim Bouquet, a perfect suffusion of lemon and coniferous notes that I love on him every time I smell it – so crisp and understated, gentlemanly, yet still up there in the peppery confines of the fir cones, when you scratch them and they exude those primeval nubs of power; of sap; of nature and life. At particular times I do love this genre of perfumery:  sylvan yet urbane, the pine needle and the sweat flower; Christian Dior’s Jules has some of this quality, as does Loewe’s beautiful Esencia; perfumes that can be erotic, but that still keep something back. I was very much an admirer, back in the day, of Givenchy’s lamented original Insensé Pour Homme, which I would like to have again, and which I finally realized, after a long bout of brain inquiry, was the perfume that Inouï somewhat kept reminding me of, at least on my skin. A feminine masculine (where Inouï is a masculine feminine), Insensé, a very original composition that was just too ahead of its time, and soon failed, infused a sharp, but slightly sweet, fruity, fir-laden main heart accord with florals – jasmine being prominent – with an aromatic, solar, love-inducing dry down. Though softer, more withdrawn, and more shadowy, Inouï offers a very similar ultimate accord; somewhere in between the male and the female: a perfume of  intelligence; not drowning in obviousness, gender clichés or vulgarity, but untenable, pensive: unreached.












Filed under chypres, Coniferous



Forests, as David Lynch once said, are full of mystery.  They never fully reveal their depths. And some perfumes…..




Filed under Coniferous, Green, Woods









Guest post by Robin




I’d written off Annick Goutal’s Nuit Étoilée about thirty seconds after I tipped a few drops of the 1ml sample onto my wrist, let it dry, and sniffed it. Quickly. Dismissively. Happily.


I’ve been trying to do that lately. I have too many perfumes. I’ve already spent too much. I will die with probably two or three hundred bottles, good ones, expensive ones, that are all still mostly full. (I have already written the note. It is in a drawer. When I die, please give my perfumes to my niece Nadia . . . Otherwise, I haven’t even thought of writing a will.) I can’t bear the thought of whoever empties my house of worldly possessions throwing out those venerable old beauties. I do not need another love, another Must Have. If anything, I should start saving my twenties for a bottle of Superstitious, the new Dominique Ropion creation from Malle slated to be released early next year. I’m pretty sure I’m going to want that one. But I do get curious, and I do receive samples. And if it’s not love at first sniff, out it goes.


So it was with considerable relief that I gave Nuit Etoilée the quick thumbs down. It wasn’t much of a stretch. A toothpaste-y mint note up front, a discordant immortelle behind it, some weird tonka-bean-like sweetness and a murky forest-floor/pine-fresh-cleaning-solvent undercurrent that instantly made me queasy. I wasn’t looking for ways to adore it, but Annick Goutal had made it easy to dump the rest of the vial on my neck (I’m Irish; I don’t like waste) and toss the glass into the recycling.


So off I went to my dear Ric’s for a morning coffee. He’s used to me by now. I grab the steaming cup from his hand, offer up my neck. “What do you think of THIS stuff?” It’s a routine he’s endured every day since we fell in love, two and a half years ago now, with responses that are predictably and endearingly short and sweet; Ric was quite happy with the scent of soap and water before he met me, and he’d be fine with soap and water now. There are four standard verdicts ranging from a tepid yea to an adamant nay: “That’s quite nice”; “It’ll work”; “Room for improvement”; and “NO,” with a snap back of the head. (To his credit – Ric really does have an excellent nose, although he’d deny it – the latter is saved for the vilest mainstream dreck loaded with ethyl maltol and throat-closing white patchoulis. He is surprisingly tolerant of aldehydes, nitro-musks, civet and castoreum.) Of all the fragrances I’ve thrust under his semi-willing nose, he’s liked maybe a handful. Most have been Guerlains, frequently from the Jean-Paul era: Champs-Elysées (actually Olivier Cresp’s), Jardins de Bagatelle, et al. Good taste, he has. This particular “What do you think of THIS stuff?” was said with a hint of I know already you’re not going to like it, but please humour me anyway, my long-suffering Love.

“Mmm,” exhaled that dear man. “That’s actually really nice.”

Reader, I bought a bottle.

Ric is a man of few words, and though I pressed him, he wasn’t willing to provide a flowery review. He liked it, he liked it a great deal in fact, and that was that. When my bottle of Nuit Etoilée arrived in the mail last week – the eau de toilette, by the way; I hear the eau de parfum is a little less green, a little more ambery – I was able to give it a second chance. I see what he sees in it. It has that same breezy, Jean-Paul Guerlain femininity. It’s fresh. It’s . . . pretty. There’s a fair bit going on. There’s a sharp orange note that works well against the oily greens. I wore it, and it lasted nicely. Projection was above average. I still could, if I tried, find that same initial reaction to it; the toothpaste-y mint was there, and the pine-scented cleaning solution, and the immortelle in all its odd-ball glory and the clunky tonka. But you know, it didn’t really matter. And it doesn’t matter. Ric likes it, and I love Ric. He is amazingly tolerant of all the perfumes I foist on him that make his nostril hairs burn and his stomach clench. It feels good to set aside my own prejudices and predilections and opinions – God knows I have enough for a dozen strong-willed women – and bring a sweet man a little happiness and pleasure. And sometimes, a fragrance doesn’t get any better than that.




Filed under Coniferous, Mint, Woods