I find it almost impossible to believe that this time next month I will be back in England. The next four weeks are the hottest, sweatiest, most gruelling of the year for me at work, the flight will be endless, Heathrow is hell, but D has come up with the brilliant idea of us just taking a taxi to Windsor, where we will rest and bathe and wake up in a beautiful white Georgian hotel, have breakfast, and be met by my family for lunch and a stroll around some stately gardens or other before being taken back up to the house.
The other day, in a new second hand perfume store I have discovered near one of my work places, there was a bottle of Penhaligon’s English Blackberry, which according to Fragrantica and the perfume house’s own website, doesn’t exist, but it does on other fora, and I also physically witnessed and held (and naughtily sprayed it, the fresh scent of blackberries – lovely – I would like to buy this) filling up the room, so I know full well that it does, and it immediately reminded me of the classic and originator of this type of eau fruitee, Mure Et Musc by L’Artisan Parfumeur, a full and established summer and autumn staple which I have on occasion been wearing of late, as I find it relaxing and easy and reminiscent of the reliable and elegant interiority of Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage Extreme (1982).
In terms of this genre as a whole, there has been a vast oversaturation of fruit notes in perfumes in the last couple of decades; usually as part of truly over-egged scent pyramids that go through a grim peristalsis of diabetic flowers and ‘balsams’, and end up in turgid vanilla and fake ouds with nuclear levels of sickening sillage. Vile. On their own, though, ‘solifruits’ can be lovely; comforting, charming, particularly fragrances based on the concept of berries – we discussed the pleasures of blackcurrant and cassis perfumes recently, but blackberries and other deep coloured bramble fruit of that nature (recently I have been really enjoying just leaving my Boujee Bougie Queen Jam candle for an hour or so, and coming back into a heartwarming concoction of fruits based on a Finnish summer recipe of bilberries and raspberries with a rich heart of rose) — also have their own particular olfactive niche of the untroubled and the fun ; it all just makes me want to go out fruit picking.
As a child, I used to immensely enjoy the days out at the fruit picking farms, especially strawberries and gooseberries ( I found the texture of raspberries problematic, even if their taste and aroma were exquisite ) ; blackberries also especially exciting with the extricating of the thorns; their fragile squidginess, and delicious taste.
In more recent times, when back in Norfolk with Duncan’s parents, he and I were also sent out to pick wild blackberries that had accumulated in great profusion along some local hedgerows, taking a tupperware container and filling it up to the brim, while eating great handfuls along the way. I loved it, and hope that we can all go out and do it again this summer, in Warwickshire as well.
Sometimes in life, it is the simple things.
– by Seamus Heaney
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
Everything that needs to be said about this most extroverted of florals is mentioned here: and like the Dandy, despite all the well deserved piss-taking and mirth, I also have a spot of affection for this fragrance’s sheer gregariousness (and it has just occurred to me: good lord there was a parfum/extrait strength of Amarige as well – what on earth must it have been like? Has anyone here ever tried it?
Are you personally totally averse to this unsubtle, monstrous Minerva, or do you, like me, sometimes find it to be retroactively cheering?
Picking up a stray bottle of this a few years ago just for the hell of it — Amarige really does smell like the beginning of the nineties – totally inescapable for a while — I found myself spraying on a little yesterday on my left wrist for a day of doing nothing but pottering at home and sitting on the tropical balcony and listening avidly to Kate Bush’s Never For Ever. Though unsuitable, it was suitable: my skin immediately bringing out the cedar in the base: buoyant and brash (good for these delicate times), perfect for housework — and I might have to do it again.
My biggest association with this most blaring of Givenchy perfumes though, is definitely with my friend Karen, who I know wore it for a long time as a teenager when trapped in a bad relationship with a smothering northern boyfriend (Amarige is an anagram of Mariage), but one day just finally decided that she had had enough. While stuck in a pub with him blathering and boasting away to his mates in some corner, glancing at her sometimes with a proprietary eye, she found herself drawn into a conversation with a wise and much older lady who, when hearing of her predicament, gave her the strongest advice that she could – from personal experience; then, when the moment was right (she had become her lookout and secretly ordered a taxi for K), told her to just do it, just leave —- and she did, leaving her stilettos behind on the floor; running, exhilaratedly barefoot through the snow.
We decided to just go out to the sea despite a very busy day in Kawasaki yesterday, somehow too restless to stay at home.
Although we missed the last order for the very restaurant we had travelled specifically down to eat at ( because we were sat talking on the beach ), we didn’t mind.
I wanted to be heavily scented, eventually settling on vintage O de Lancôme ( a lemon-leafed gentle chypre from 1969 ).
For D I selected a perfume from four decades later, Sappho by Lush ( 2019), an unusual tobacco jasmine vanilla that worked truly perfectly in tandem for some reason, scents floating in and out of each other with natural ease.
I needed such harmony today.
In a taxi on the way to the station on Saturday afternoon, the radio had been tuned into what I imagined to be the beginnings of Buddhist funeral rites for Shinzo Abe. Today in Atami, the polling stations – it is Election Day – were solemn and empty.
On the side streets, though, we saw several troupes of kids practicing taiko drums for an upcoming summer festival, the first post-corona ( we are not there yet I know, but people are ready ), the atmosphere focused; steady.
The way it is right now, it is difficult to write. Each day seems to throw up another event of catastrophic proportions, of violence. I have so much to say, but then wonder whether I should be adding to all the clamour and noise of the world, which is already bewildering, maddening, insanity-inducing; like a constant hammer to the brain; making us dazed, exhausted, and discombobulated; sometimes I feel my skull will just be split open from all the thinking; the sadness; the deep exasperation.
Where to start?
I may as well start with the place that I am from. On Thursday, as we all know, the sometimes amusing, but ultimately recklessly irresponsible and pathetically shameful and embarrassing prime minister of the UK resigned, leaving a shambles of economic rubble and general aroma of fiasco in his wake. Ultimately, despite all his verbal dexterity and buffoonish public school boy charm – he was basically incompetent and incapable of telling the truth, making a mess of the country that my family and friends live in, living only for the narcissism of being in the top position in the land and the megalomaniac caprices that this enabled him to act out willy nilly – he eventually could no longer maintain the mendacious house of cards, could cling to the railings of 10 Downing Street no longer ; forced to resign in ignominy —- oh that Etonian arrogance and sense of entitlement ; how I remember when I was at Cambridge and surrounded by these supercilious, puffed up ex-alumni from rich backgrounds and being unable to connect to a single one of them on any level whatsoever; a sense, almost, of planetary difference: that we were divergent species: that I couldn’t even talk to them with my more regular comprehensive school biography with its self-doubt and worries about the future ; because, at the end of the day, no matter the pomposity and verbiage and pretending to care, let’s face it, the upper class Tories despise all those of the lower classes and patronize them just like playthings, indifferent to their multiple sufferings; a viciously tiered and cold-blooded system that is all just about constant reinforcement of their cushy, inbred privilege. If they leave the nation in tatters with millions unable to pay their fuel bills, who cares. They will still always have their houses in the country. The masses can eat shit.
One utter liar out of the way, awaiting his presumably similar replacement in the conservative government, headlines flashing about this all Thursday – the war in Ukraine now just a mere backstory —– we wake up with blue skies on Friday only to find out that the ex-prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, probably the most recognizable Japanese person in the world, has shockingly been murdered at close range at a political rally in Nara; killed live on TV in front of the media. Whether you like his politics or not, and I didn’t, it makes no difference to the appalling sense of carnage and disregard for human life; it was a horrific way to die, and this seems to be the general theme of this year so far: BRUTALITY. A total disregard for the sanctity of human life. Someone shot through the throat and in the back, obliterating his heart, constructed with home made artillery by some ex-military weirdo with yet another grudge; dying on camera; slaughtered on Youtube (Neither D nor I have looked at the footage of this moment : yet : I am tempted, because like everyone else I have a prurient side, but right now it feels wrong. I don’t want to be another internet bystander gorging on death: and how much death there has been so far in 2022……)
It is horrible.
This country is shocked to the core.
But this is just yet another horrifying incident in a terrible, terrible year of guns and weapons. Death and destruction, all the time. We are becoming slowly inured to the plight of Ukrainians now; accustomed to it; the tragedy overshadowed by the other looming nightmares of each passing day. The war has been constant since February, but its influence seems to be spreading through the air like tentacles; like a virus. The air itself feels violent, somehow ( or is this just me ? )and it has become almost scary to just to check the news, even if I am almost ashamed to admit that the constant shootings in the USA are also now something that I tend to have a familiar, accustomized reaction to. Apologies to those litt￼h ji few who might find what I am about to say offensive, but whenever there is a new massacre, and they will be endless, unfortunately, despite my obvious horror and immediate sympathy for those involved and connected, at another level I also don’t entirely care. You might say that I am bored. I shut my brain off. Deliberately. Oh, I think – another one.Oh well. That’s a terrible shame, but at the same time, no one else in the world has this problem and I think, dismissively to myself, it’s ‘up to them’ (which it is) : that if this allegedly democratic country actually wants and allows this, then this is what they are going to get. It is just so obvious and predictable. Of course there will be gun massacres. It is not even in the very least surprising. Of course. It goes without saying. I act to myself as though I refuse to be affected by it. ‘Fucking idiots’ I chant inwardly. But deep down, none of this self-preserving attitude, trying to protect my own sanity by trying not to from think about the 26 people being gunned down in a classroom when I am a teacher myself – little kids’ heads being blown off as they are doing their lessons, organs mashed like pomegranates, teachers becoming bullet threshed martyrs when all they were doing is their job and looking after their charges – I don’t think that any of this means that I have become insensate and cruel – it actually just prevents the trauma of hearing about it penetrate too deeply into my very delicate psyche. I am sure you are the same. There is an accumulation of horror, and it is becoming hard to take. So I have to switch off. Of course I do care about it momentarily, reading about it on the train platform on my smartphone as I am about to go and teach my evening classes, but then I just sink into a deeply negative closed off coma of interiorized, blank, inertia.
Because – and sorry to labour the point – this is the obvious result of a —- to the rest of the world totally incomprehensible —- love and appalling veneration of guns. The more you have, obviously the more killings and deaths. And unless, as a people, you really try and do something about this issue, then it is only going to continue to get worse, and these ‘tragedies’ will become so commonplace that we will eventually just turn the page of the newspaper without even reading about the all too familiar details – the way we are going, we are all just going to become more and more desensitized to everything, cut off: (it also deeplypisses me off, I have to say, that while America constitutes only 4.25% of the world’s population, it has this heart-fuckingly domineering, brain-washing ability to pound our global consciousness down to such a profoundly depleting degree; every new outrage plastered over our minds and into our consciences at new volumes of fury and irreconcilable difference that something I just honestly want to retreat for weeks on end and just close down and it’s not even my own country).
Despite what I am saying here – it’s been a while since I’ve done a full blown Black Narcissus rant – let me try and breathe for a moment before this looks like total anti-Americanism – I have to say that we have just, in the last month or so, had a couple of typically hedonistic and super-American weekends.
Even if, psychologically at least I don’t think either of us is particularly well, in truth, and because doesn’t all of this, as well as the burn out from the pandemic, just somehow seep into your bloodstream and brainstream like black poison? : I myself have become increasingly sociophobic and unable to stand being with people for any real amount of time; the main reason for much of the tension and the relationship turmoil on top, rows so terrible that it has seemed that we might be breaking up…… Yet somehow, on the 4th of July,. I couldn’t resist going by myself – somewhat sarcastically, perhaps, initially at least – to see ‘Top Gun : Maverick’ at the US military base city of Yokosuka (only 11 minutes by train from Kamakura and a different world) but also an always contrasting stimulant- multicultural, more relaxed, and with great burgers – watching some stars-and-stripes flag-waving down by the sea by the battleships and submarines after coming out of the the undeniable, total exhilaration of Tom Cruise’s incredibly thrilling action blockbuster in which he single-handedly saves the future of cinema on the big screen); amiable soldiers in uniforms mingling with the local citizenry; country music sing-a-longs at George’s Bar……..we might feel like fish out of water walking by, but I still enjoy being in Yokosuka sometimes because, let’s face it, at the end in spite of everything, America itself is exciting. And therein lies the rub. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t all be glued to the TV shows we watch, be mesmerized by the films, dance to the music, intoxicated by the sheer blustering, money loving jingoistic power of it all.
Two weekends ago was an even more unique opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in America, and boy were we immersed – we actually got lost on base – illegal there- and spent hours in the middle of the night trying to get out, wandering around eerily quiet avenues with flags draped outside every door taking photos – I am surprised someone didn’t just shoot me from behind the curtains – D eventually having to dangerously flag down a car, the occupant and driver very surprised to find these two unaccompanied aliens just wandering around the Lynchian city (the base is a walled city; a world of its own; cut off it was truly surreal). We had had a lot of fun dancing, but I didn’t feel safe. I knew there must be guns about. And eventually, as we were escorted to the exit in a military car driven by its naturally very suspicious owner, and our release papers were examined, we were let out. I felt such relief.
It was also, as it happened, the day of the ‘Supreme Court’ s ruling on Roe vs Wade. As we went up to the west of Tokyo area where the base is located were absolutely reeling. But it was also, that very evening, excitingly, an invitation to – yes, you are reading this correctly – a drag queen vogueing ball on the Yokota military base – a paradoxical opportunity I felt I simply couldn’t miss despite my reservations about corona, as it felt historic, unlikely, bizarre, even, and probably the way things are going, never to be repeated. It was quite a night. Amazing. But the more fun and enjoyable details of that can wait until another post.
Our host – because naturally you can’t get on base without a lot of security clearance and with a direct sponsor – was himself a military serviceman, who, in his off-base extra-curricular time had recruited the legendary drag house Haus Von Schwarz from various club nights in Tokyo and was a huge fan of Y, , the mother of the house (D’s film co-director and best friend). Ironically, given the magnitude of the political moment in America, as we climbed into his air-conditioned car we found out that he was really quite high profile in the ranks, showing us videos of welcoming Biden on his recent visit there as he was one of the co-ordinators of the proceedings, as well as none other than the great-nephew of the most famous Christian evangelist of them all, Billy Graham. As a frightened gay boy growing up in a very hostile, right wing environment ,he had spent his life at permanent political loggerheads – to say the least – with his fundamentalist family back home who were all undoubtedly celebrating the court’s decisions, ululating in tongues and cupcakes at the culmination of their life’s work, something that was totally intolerable to him in every way in every fibre of his being and though we had only just met, the gloating that he knew was going on : he was unable to conceal the fact that he was very deeply distraught at the lack of freedoms this new ruling entailed, obviously shattered, barely holding it together as we waited in the extreme heat – 38 degrees and almost complete humidity – to get the correct papers to be escorted to the venue – a ballroom – where the unusual, and initially rather tentative, event was being held.
I am now entering thorny territory. Possible cancellation territory. So I will have to choose my words carefully. On the volatile topic of Roe vs Wade, I must begin by saying that I believe that abortion is an extremely delicate issue and that I can totally understand both sides of the argument : friends on social media who declare a fetus is not a human being I disagree with philosophically; to me, it obviously is, just at a different stage of development in the human cycle. Denying this humanity is like saying that a 100 year old person near death is also not a person with a valid life. In this sense, I at least understand the reason why so many people are vehemently against it, but it has also become, like most political issues, way too black and white. But at the end of the day, at least the way I see it,a person’s own body cannot be controlled by another person. Childbirth cannot be forced on someone. Abortion is a terribly fraught, devastating decision for most: I have friends who have experienced it for a variety of reasons and it has left virtually no one unscathed (to my knowledge); I have supported these friends when needed (though I think for most women it is a private matter, as it should be, categorically not the state’s business), as I have also supported a friend who was almost pressured into having the procedure but in her heart knew she didn’t want to go through with it; it was her decision. Ultimately, I personally believe that taking away a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body reduces the female majority of the population to mere inseminated livestock; walking incubators of wanted or unwanted babies with no control over their own destiny as individuals : it could even be argued that it is a form of slavery. And that some of the most backward states in the US – usually the most pro-slavery in the past – would take away the right to abort a child even in the case of child rape and incest – forcing that girl to gestate something inside her born of hatred and violence, devastating her in the process and in all likelihood destroying the life of the child itself – is completely unconscionable. In the purported land of ‘freedom’, it is a cruel joke.
And yet, although I think that there should be a total separation of religion and state, I can still understand how Roe vs Wade can be seen a moral issue, dependent on a person’s individual’s own religious or ethical beliefs. Like Shariah law, where homosexuals are thrown from buildings, and adulterers stoned to death publically, thieves’ hands chopped off, I can accept, to a certain extent, that clerics, who adhere to extreme interpretations of religious texts and somehow control the countries they originate in, truly, in the depths of their beings, believe that they are doing the right thing by creating laws that punish the ‘sinful’ in what I may personally feel to be a totally unacceptable and barbaric manner: the point I am trying to make being that whether I agree with it or not, I at least understand the original impetus for it. As a gay man who has struggled with many issues connected to being in an oppressed minority and a painful childhood as a result of it, the issue of LGBT+ rights is obviously very important to me, to put it mildly, and I plan to write about this at length from the perspective of personal experience; how for the same-sex couple nothing could be or feel more natural; that the opposite – being forced or expected to be with a person of the so called ‘opposite sex’ is deeply unnatural and quite simply, wrong for that person), but even with this said, I can understand – intellectually, in a way, at least – the objection to same-sex unions from people who believe that this ‘unholy union’ somehow violates and pollutes a ‘saintly’ institution, that of marriage, one that has existed for millennia between male and female in all cultures across the world, and that has been ‘perverted’ by the new non-traditional interpretations: I also understand that more conservative people, used to the traditional gender divide, find all the new identity politics disturbing and difficult to understand; feel threatened by it: big changes are afoot in how human beings express themselves; how much they can tolerate being put into boxes and categorized; trapped in stereotypical roles that feel wrong for them at the cellular level; but it is all undoubtedly happening too fast for a great number of people clinging to the past: and hence the current backlashes. It is a constant push and pull. As civil rights have always been.
I think what I am leading to is this:
IF – and this is a very very big if: IF I felt that the Supreme Court’s decisions were based on purely ethical/moral/ religious thinking; that the basis of the ideology were heartfelt ‘Christian’ values (very important to put Christian in inverted commas, because only a tiny percentage of so called Christians are actual Christians – as if Jesus would support guns! As if Jesus would support racism (NO: you actually can’t be a good person and be racist; it is an inherent contradiction in terms; Jesus was about compassion and forgiveness; love), then I could, despite my personal indignation, perhaps at least accept the essential integrity of the foundations for the legal decisions being made to take away our rights even if I myself think it callous, barbaric, judgmental and inhumane. I do believe that the majority of the Taliban believe firmly in the way that things are done in Afghanistan, for example, and I despite my own repugnance in their regard, I have much more respect for them than I do the Supreme Court, which is instead based fundamentally on the DOLLAR.
The court’s decision to expand gun control in the US, as well as preventing change on climate action (what? God not only hates the queers but also Nature? (!!!!) has blatantly exposed the corruption and evil at the heart of the supposedly just institution as well as its prime motives and blows all veneer of religiosity out of the water : ultimately, let’s face it, it is all about money, and protecting the rights of the rich. Conglomerates. Businessmen. Despite the wild west origins of America, and its long history of profound thirsting for the freedom of the individual and the need for physical security in such a vast, aggressive place, the fact that the highest institution in the country could make it easier for people to carry guns at this precise moment – so soon after the massacre in the elementary school in Texas – is more mindboggling and shocking to me than the overturning of Roe Vs Wade – unbelievably insensitive and morally wrong – and brings me inevitably to the thorny subject of Gad.
Gad is how I pronounce the word ‘god’ when I want to emphasize the deep disgust and hatred I feel for the invocation of a supposedly divine deity by those who co-opt this omniscient entity for their own materialistic greed. God is one thing: I am an agnostic: I don’t know what I believe. I am open to the idea, but am nobody’s fool. ‘GAD’, on the other hand, pronounced the American way, can go fuck itself. Nothing is more repugnant to me that the image of Donald Trump ‘praying’ to Gad with evangelists in a mega-church from a few years ago; corrupt doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are no words for the hollowness, the cynical, satanic emptiness; the creature who I believe is responsible for so much of what is going on in the world right now: even the death of Shinzo Abe, for all we know, could have been inspired by the orgy of gun death in the States, which is a tendency, a trend – America influences everybody, Japan too – much as the Joker stabbings in Tokyo last year were ignited by yet another sad loner watching a Hollywood Marvel movie and seeking the death penalty as his punishment (a trend here; people too cowardly to commit suicide by themselves in this weary and isolating world we are living in and instead inflicting non-ideological carnage on other people in order to receive the highest punishment by hanging). Look at the picture above; a gold machine gun being displayed at a Houston conference of the NRA, in my view the most vile organization that exists on the earth. Look how delighted, charmed, captivated the audience is by this gun : the woman to the right of the man holding it clasping her hands as though she is having a profoundly religious experience and feeling joy at the words of the sermon, of the priest. Instead, though she might have grandchildren who could be mown down at any given moment by the latest unstable young man who could storm into the playground and shoot her granddaughter’s eyes out, she is actually rejoicing here in the manufacture of a gilded machine gun. It defies belief, and I think this is the most nauseating picture I have seen all this year – and there have been many (this was in the New York Times yesterday) – including the charred and tortured corpses of Bucha. This is, for me, by far the most sinister.
During the ‘presidency’ of Donald Trump, due to my rabid opinion pieces on here where I almost lost my mind with rage, I would sometimes get into arguments with my parents and other people about this man; they insisting that I was exaggerating, overreacting, when in fact I feel 100% vindicated and think now instead that I was probably understating what a truly monstrous impact that man had, a bloated malignant narcissist who will soon be president again of a country that has gone completely and absolutely crazy (“FUCKING Trump” said our host on the base; he is responsible for all this!!!!!! , and he is right); from the hundreds of thousands of deaths from corona – all you needed was masks, just look at Japan – but that leering, orange monstrosity, embodying the sickening slogan in the rifle ad at the time of this page – CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED – ripped his off on the presidential balcony like the cartoon character that he is and jeered at those who just wanted to protect themselves, helping to create a million deaths in the ‘united’ states of america as well as directly influencing the disastrous policies of so many other places like Brazil as well (I pray that Bolsonaro, who is even worse, will be ejected soon; please -just another plundering, hate-filled bigoted vandal); his appointment of ultra-right wing supreme court judges directly impacting the gun laws in a free-for-all-fuckfest that will only benefit the shareholders of firearms manufacturers who are laughing all the way to the bank; a truly terrifying situation in which all Americans over the age of eighteen will be able to wander around with guns, legally, backgrounds unchecked, in a world that is increasingly troubled, toxic, too loud, too disorientating, confusing, overwhelming and debilitating, making it all too easy for any one of us to become sick with mental illness and thus, when the time comes, just shoot at random, just because.
No. Despite some of the hedonistic, perfumed fun times that I have been having – which I will write about later, as I can’t and don’t want to sustain this tone, which I just felt I had to try and get out of my system a little before I go out to do some filming – creativity the antidote- things truly do feel rather cataclysmic to me right now. There is a real ‘end of days’ feeling. A sense of things going very very wrong.
The new Puredistance M V2Q is the replacement model for the original cult leather M, the disappearance of which from the Magnificent 12 collection this year is bound to leave many of its fans aghast. As we learn from Birgit Oeckher (aka Olfactoria’s Travels, a much loved perfume web site that will be familiar to a great number of fragrance fanatics, myself included), in her unusual and intriguing new book release celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Dutch niche perfume Puredistance, Roja Dove, the perfumer and provider of the base oil for M, was no longer, for IFRA restriction purposes, able to provide the precise formula for this Sean Connery-as-007-inspired spiced leather aromatic. So, just like every James Bond, M, as we knew him, has been retired.
Having some insider insights into a perfume house’s mechanisms; its ethos, philosophy, olfactory evolution as well as a great deal of information on its founder, Jan Ewoud Vos – whose story and musings naturally form the majority of the text – is quite fascinating for a perfume lover, particularly one who genuinely likes many of the fragrances of the house at hand. The author has a generally understated way of writing – the biographical information sometimes rather perfunctory – though this changes as we reach the end of the book, where a passionate apotheosis bursts through the writing, which, as I put the book down after reading it in two sittings, made quite an impression on me in its very convincing portrayal of two human beings: the author and its subject – (Olfactoria was always a blend of the sublime and the amusingly honest, and here, also, it is a lot of fun to hear juicy tidbits of information on the background of perfume launches, such as the fact that the professional relationship between Mr Vos and Mr Dove, when they met in London in the latter’s ‘lair’ at the top of the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, was apparently quite ‘fraught’at times, their two very different personalities ‘clashing’); or, that while it might have been smooth sailing for some of the releases – a ‘yes, this is it!’ eureka ! moment for certain formulas, others had to be scrapped, after great expense, and started again from scratch – even switching perfumers where necessary – in order to get the desired and required effect. All of this accumulative information leads to quite a 360 degree portrait of the brand; giving a rare glimpse into its real essence.
The Puredistance lineup of twelve perfumes constitutes quite the collection twenty years into its existence, though we learn, to our dismay, that like some perfume rendition of the Hunger Games, the least popular fragrance will possibly be replaced annually by a new variant, or new perfume entirely, even if the original formula will still be available in the ‘vaults’ for lovers of that perfume, as long as stocks last and the legal rules applying to the storage of fragrances don’t affect that possibility. I am personally a particularly fan of Antonia, a green vetiver vanilla that suits me very nicely so find this fact rather alarming; I also very much enjoy the blinding white savon lilas marble statue that is Opardu (the first time I ever read one of Olfactoria’s reviews was for Opardu- she loves this scent), Number 12, which smells dazzling on D, Rubikona when I want something warm as comforting, as well as the truly exquisite Warszawa, another deep and velvety green floral with an unusual note of broom absolute that takes this dark, floral enwrapment into gorgeous and much more emotive textures (my own review of this one is used as the main description of this scent in the book, the author opting to occasionally include the opinions of other perfume writers for certain sceny descriptions in order to give more objective scope). Though the technically brilliant Antoine Lie authored the partially Bowie-inspired Warszawa – Jan Ewoud Vos’ icon, for his sheer artistry and unique expression of the self, which I was delighted to read, as a big fan myself, particularly the album that that track was taken from- I must admit that I am somewhat less attracted to this perfumer’s other very controlled, pointillistic, ultra-balanced work for Puredistance, a set of very popular perfumes that include White, Black, Gold, and the new M 2VQ; all masterfully done, exceptionally high qualiy, but, for me, too dry, perfect, lacking my required element of mystery. I completely share Kafkaesque’s horror of oud amber dominated Sheiduna (I am strangely anosmic to Pure Distance 1), but this is all just personal taste: no matter my personal opinions on each perfume, I still thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the genesis of each of these scents, how each was conceived, the reactions after it came out, the overall journey the brand has taken, all at least as much as the subcutaneous meta-text that Birgit has created here, alluding to her own sometimes complicated relationship with the brand (as well as herself, actually – she can be exasperatingly self-deprecating to the point where you just want to either shake her by the shoulders and shout ‘Snap out of it!’ Cher-style or else just give her a great big hug). We hear a lot of about the melancholy nature of Vienna, where she is from, how difficult it was to write the book because of self-doubt and procrastination (and an obviously very traumatic incident when she was still writing Olfactoria’s Travels, the negative catalyst that led to her rather sudden disappearance from the perfume blogosphere and the subsequent seclusion); this book, is thus, in many ways, like a miraculous reappearance of an old friend: a Rip Van Winkle. It is very nice to have her back, I must say, and there is hopefully more to come in the future as she states quite openly that she would like to write another book, perhaps a novel. I only hope that she doesn’t do things at a glacial Kate Bush pace, a new release perhaps every ten to twelve years or so, say; sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns and go for it. None of us live forever.
This is something that the Puredistance CEO would certainly understand, for while he clearly needs a lot of time alone to reflect and has experienced great lifestyle and philosophical change from studying Buddhism, Jan Ewoud Vos is clearly a man of energy with an individualist’s vision who refuses to compromise on his essential integrity (it is this, the apparent ‘saintliness’, that Birgit finds herself railing against in the latter part of the book, a curious combination of quasi-hagiography – which at times can become a little grating, almost deliberately, I had the impression – her natural skepticism and pessimism (her words, not mine) almost refusing to accept that this quite ‘moderate’ company – simple profit is never the ultimate goal – could actually be real. That the ethical, ‘small is beautiful’ mantra of the brand could be really true. Something stubborn, and Mitteuropa obtuse definitely comes through here, on both sides : a clash of the self-described cynic, with the unwaivering emphases of the Puredistance creator, making for an interesting inherent contradiction and overt ‘subtext’ in the book, a rebellious undercurrent; Oeckher ultimately coming to the conclusion that in the vile world that we are living in – and despite all the beauty, it really is so vile in many ways right now; so much flagrant corporate greed, selfishness, prejudice, hatred, violence, anger, shallowness; the sheer, sometimes unbearable noise of the current furious world we are inhabiting – we really do sometimes just need some refined creations of simplicity like Antonia or Warszawa to just be able to have a moment of aesthetic pleasure; stop, and just breathe. She seems to appreciate this profoundly. And that Jan Ewould Vos would decide to go for his personal history with such an idiosyncratic, even eccentric approach to his biography, is, I think, indicative of the man’s way of living itself; resolutely guided by his own instincts – as well as those of his tightly knit team, who all work from a former church – now Puredistance headquarters, in a church in Groningen, Holland – but uninterested in the standard or pre-indicated ways of doing anything (in this we share a great deal). If sometimes the central tenets of the brand’s philosophy are overemphasized throughout ‘The Story Of Puredistance’ (we get it! Puredistance is exclusive! Puredistance is elegant!), at least this is basically based upon the truth. The perfumes I have mentioned so far are all, in fact, undeniably tasteful and assured, the quality undeniable, and they are all to be found only at select perfume boutiques around the world, with a kind and personal service that is admirable (I have also been a recipient of this generosity so can vouch for it firsthand.)
Immersive, infuriating at times, I don’t think I have ever read anything similar.
This is not the first time we have discussed ‘layering’, an idiosyncratic self-customizing of the way you present yourself in perfume terms to the outside world. Obviously, there are endless possibilities ( some much more successful and pleasing than others : haywire selections often putrid disasters ); but it is always fun to experiment.
One possibly overlooked aspect of wearing two or more harmonious – or interestingly clashing – fragrances is that you get to smell them more clearly on yourself. There is no doubt that the nose becomes accustomed to a scent to the point where it can be almost undetectable to the wearer even if it is still present in the minds of those who encounter you. The good thing here is that your scent has probably been judiciously applied. The bad point : what’s in it for me ?
From the beginning of the year in the workplace I have been in green rose; I love the crisp distancing of galbanum enhanced roses, and drained to the dregs my beloved bottle of Parfums De Rosine’s Roseberry, which I always feel so comfortable in. Although much more comparatively more masculine with its blackcurrant/ oakmoss base, the cassis palm leaf gardenia oddity that is Gucci Rush 2 -its temporary replacement – feels great with a suit; it’s just that my nose picks up, as the day goes on, the woodiness of the base – an inch on the uncomfortable side for me – and loses the leaf freesia tartness of the opening. I almost become paranoid : does this smell right on me ?
This morning, a hot muggy day but in too frigid air conditioning, I instinctively opted for a generous spray of Puredistance Antonia on my right wrist: a galbanum drenched green soap rose entwined in ivy on a bed of vetiver and vanilla. It smells aloof, but comforting. Contrasted with Rush 2 sprayed subtly on the rest of my person, the warmer powder of the extrait strength green vanilla on one strategic point both complemented the sharper, androgynous chic of the leaf sheen elsewhere, while also bringing its entirety- as an anchor – more sharply into focus. On the bus this morning, I was in a dream of my own making.
Scouring the collection this morning for something to wear today, I could find nothing. Not a single scent that I could actively envisage enjoying.
And yet I don’t feel like going unscented (What problems I have!)
Eventually, starting to get a little agitated, but finding this in the downstairs bathroom, I finally settled on the rather dull and unadventurous Gieffeffe, – the Italian, ‘classier’ remake of CK One – even if it surprises me that I can even consider spraying on such an anodyne cologne as this; soapy, citric, fresh, inoffensive; crisply androgynous, boring. There are times, however, when you are withered and knackered, that all you can deal perfume-wise with is a mentally unthreatening pH neutral.
Back in the day, I remember I surprised myself by getting the brown-bottled Gieffeffe, the outlier in the series of three that were released when Ferre was still a name. It was a rather anachronistic patchouli-aldehydic spiced chypre, probably the first that got me into the vintage equivalents of the type, and a scent I am sometimes still nostalgic for (I don’t know if it was targeted for women or men, I just liked it. Does anyone else remember this one?). The larger release, the scent I think am going to now wear today – still in production because it is ultimately quite good – I remember scoffing at dismissively at the time for its bland anonymity; its too obvious-by-far aping of the far too ubiquitous-at-the-time Calvin Klein, when you could hardly move for young thinster ‘waifs’ trailing themselves against the walls in urban shopping centers listening avidly to Ironic and Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Nicer, more balanced; floral; less synthetic-fruity than its American originator, Gieffeffe is undeniably a rather soothing and blameless fragrance. Uplifting. A backdrop; a stasis. It smells grounded in reality. Safe.
Plus it’s nice to have variety. So chancing upon a cheap, still cellophane-wrapped bottle of Gieffeffe at a discounters a few months ago and thinking why not, it is funny how an unobtrusive pleasantry from the past that you dismissed nonchalantly with a tut and a wave of the hand way back when can thrust you back in time with almost rose-tinted glasses. It is not that I particularly enjoyed the nineties; but being projected through time to a specific time and place with a very pinpointed olfactory distinctiveness (literal time travel), is often, in itself, for me, inexplicably enjoyable.
Later on this evening, doubtlessly, a few hours in, I will probably start to find Gieffeffe overstaying its welcome : too ‘harmless’. It is possible I will be chafing.
But sometimes you do definitely just need a ‘reset’.
Something stabilizing (what are your ‘dependable dullards’, incidentally? I am curious to find out).