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.