Category Archives: Flowers








“We began as a mineral. We emerged into plant life and the animal state, and then into being human;  and always we have forgotten our former states, except in early spring –  when we slightly recall being green again”.




– Rumi


(‘The Dream That Must Be Interpreted’)







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( NOT like this crap )

The Black Narcissus


Would you buy a perfume with this name? ‘Universal water’?

I used to get excited whenever I went into the L’Occitane shop. Sixteen years ago, when the brand had not become the great high street empire it has today, there was an element of mystique. The perfumes, often in delightful extrait miniatures, were of really high quality, some quite unbelievably good, such as their original clove/violet Patchouli (there have been two other completely different versions since, which were no way near as adorable); their wonderful Santal, Bois de Rose, Cannelle Orange, and the indelibly sweet and luscious Vanille Bourbon.

Yesterday, in Tokyo, in the of-the-moment-for-snoots Marounochi building, I came up the escalators to be welcomed by the dreary smell of duty free lounges, posh toilets, and the soul-depleting odour of industrial citrus. This was Eau Universelle, a scent with no personality. A pleasing generic sherbet lemon to begin with, yes…

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Calling all Narcissi. I am currently writing about citrus and colognes for my book. Any citrus favourites you might like to share? Any lemon oddballs like this one that I should include? Any citric obscurities that might have slipped my attention?


I await your comments.

The Black Narcissus






Strangely, I read the other day that Eau De Rochas is currently this venerable company’s best selling scent in France (I have never seen it sold anywhere else, although there is still a bottle on the dresser in the guest bedroom back in England).

There is a vintage bottle, also, in my collection, but for some reason I seem to never want to wear it.

This sharp, lemony perfume is an anomaly. A depressed, serotonin-dipping citrus – the image evoked, for me, of a valiumed up California housewife, staring out, trapped in suburban hell.

The sun blazes outside her white 70’s condo. But all she sees is clouds, in her pressed, grey slacks. The shadows under plants:  a schizoid effect achieved with two very opposing accords that constantly dim and sync with each other: a bright top note of Calabrian lime, tangerine, bergamot and Sicilian lemon, giving a quick flowing…

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SO in the mood for all this kind of thing.

The Black Narcissus
















The bazaar at the Salvation Army store in Tokyo is held every Saturday from 9 til 2, and on the infrequent occasions that we decide to go, D and I always end up scrambling to get out of the house in time when we would rather be staying in bed. Yet somehow the shining beacon of potential bargains always beams bright enough for us to make the long-winded journey to the bristling heart of the metropolis, Shinjuku station (the busiest station in the world – 3 million people use it every day) and from there a meandering trip to a nice little neighbourhood called Nakano-Fujimicho, where the Salvation Army has its headquarters.


It has a lovely, bustling atmosphere, very friendly and non-avaricious, Tokyoites and foreigners and people who look rather down on their luck rummaging happily…

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Like most  perfume lovers, I usually associate the great Germaine Cellier, one of the most daring and innovative perfumers of the twentieth century, with her fierce productions for Pierre Balmain and Robert Piguet : Vent Vert, Fracas, Bandit, and the gloriously androgynous Jolie Madame – all uncompromising, forward-looking perfumes that speak of intelligence, independence, and an emotive olfactory beauty.



We forget ( or in my case just don’t know ) that she also composed for Nina Ricci: a house with softer, more traditionally feminine codes that don’t necessarily tie in with our image of this legendarily provocative scent creator.




Yet if Fille D’Eve, one of the most suggestive and erotic perfumes in history, potentially indulged Cellier’s own sexual fantasies and took womanly carnality to an almost salacious extreme in its unveiling of naked pink flesh and the temptations of the serpent, Coeur Joie – a perfume I discovered only for the first time recently – hovers on the edge of tantalizing, but restrained, powder of peach blushes;  flourishes, then, into the cool of iris and violet and fecund jasmine rose, shimmering in an acknowledgement of classical aldehydes,  green-tinged with bergamot; delicately subdued …a gorgeously charismatic, but never overstated, secret, more yielding side of Cellier I had never known existed.












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bergamot #2




I had a bergamot bath this morning. Beautiful.  I don’t think there is any other essential oil I find more refreshing. I can’t use orange or grapefruit: in even small amounts they give me hives. Lemon burns. Lavender is too multifaceted for morning clarity; rosemary can make me feel aggressive. Cardamom is great when you find a good quality oil, but it is rare; that green, fresh and beautifully focused spice is like putting in a new lens: it brings you back to life.


Bergamot, for me, has similar qualities, but more delicate. It brings you round more gently : there is an inherent slight mystery in that scent, a quality removed. Despite its photosensitivity, I never react to it just in bath water, and as I float, immersed, in the morning silence ( just the birds and muffled ambient noise from the neighbourhood outside ) it is almost like a meditation: I dip a couple of notches into slight dream mode, while concurrently veining my way into consciousness.









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Bowie's Thin White Duke persona, smoking a Gitanes cigarette, 1976.



When we made our first excited forays onto the streets of Berlin ten years ago this summer, Duncan and I made our way, one rambling evening, to the cafe in Schoenberg where David Bowie and Iggy Pop were said to have spent their days plotting and scheming and smoking and just absconding, for a while, from the rock world of England and America. It was now just a standard place to get a drink, cosy with wide windows, comfortable cushions, and nice views of the road outside and the park across the way, a relaxing eatery, but just knowing that this was once the location where Bowie would hang out when he was here during the dark days of gloom and the continuing existence of the Berlin wall – visible from the Hansa recording studios where he made his masterpieces with Brian Eno during the ice and fog and the depths of the Cold War – was exciting: his ‘Berlin Period’, comprising the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger – all snarling funk, menacing, misery-laden electronica, desolate instrumentals and genuinely interesting experimentation as he struggled with cocaine addiction and the fall out of fame, one of my favourites of his oeuvre: legendary. It is natural, then,  that the great changeling and chameleonic innovator should now be synonymous in some people’s minds with the great mysterious and energizing city that is Berlin itself: a place that when we visited that first, delirious and heady summer, when we felt we were rediscovering ourselves, and found an ally: an edgy, conflicted city, fractured down the middle into East and West (a palpable, difference that is intriguing and aesthetically stimulating); a place laden with history and darkness but also thriving, creative, fun, and genuinely artistic, that was like an exhilarating injection of amphetamine in the arm. We loved the feel of it immediately and felt at home.







Parfumerie Vilhelm, a newish niche house from Paris that has poppy and upbeat titles in its collection (Darling Nikki, Morning Chess, A Lilac A Day, Modest Mimosa) has now released Poets Of Berlin, a fragrance that supposedly represents some of the Berlinesque current running through the liquid of its veins and which also explicitly references David Bowie, and his series of brilliant albums made there, as direct influences:







“Named for David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, Poets of Berlin is a subtly sugary confection of blueberry and lemon. But Poets of Berlin isn’t just empty calories: its vetiver undercurrent makes it the perfect perfume metaphor for the serious talent underneath Bowie’s glittery glam.”












Now, David Bowie was no idiot. In fact he was something of a genius. A genuine iconoclast and intuitive musician who spent his artistic public entire life in a constant process of reinvention; cutting himself off dead from his past entities, no matter how popular; attuned to everything related to his image and its effect; an artist who was hyperaware of everything ( I would imagine even smell and perfume too………. ), and I can tell you, that if he were to smell this affront to his memory, right now, I am sure that he would be spinning (or snarling ferociously) in his grave. Because although I am not an out and out Bowie Worshipper – I have plenty of friends that are though – his music has still given me an extreme amount of pleasure during my lifetime, and I do really think that if you are going to make a perfume that purportedly is directly inspired by the great man and his reputation in the city that he lived in,  it had better not just be some thick, sweet, and sickly cheap smiling concoction that smells exactly like every other candy floss floriental on the market – Marc Jacobs ‘Decadence’ I am looking at you – (and in truth smells closer to an international airport restroom), with a bogus concept – the simplistic contrasting of blueberry vanilla with vetiver – just obviously placed on the label completely after the fact. Because the fact is that this perfume, quite simply, is an insult.  The supposed ‘vetiver’ that allegedly runs under the ‘glittery glam’ (what?) of Bowie’s imagined shallow and empty pop exterior and represents ‘gravity’; the bogus vanilla that runs through the tacky base, which smells actually more like a Club Med poolside orgy with the local beachbums and sunburnt lager louts as cleavages are flashed drunkely in the moonlight than anything involving the real muse; the tagged on and to me cynical ‘poetical’ idea of this perfume – “hey, let’s link this with David Bowie!” – striking me as the most contrived and vacuous PR spin I have possibly ever encountered. The man would be fuming. Or grinning, and smoking, mystically. With a wolf’s glint in his bi-coloured eyes. Laughing at you and your silly, misguided commercialism. Or more probably, would simply come up with a brilliant, caustic and scathing song about it. That I would buy the 12″ mix of. Because, although not entirely disastrous in terms of olfactory makeup – the blueberry note is not so bad, even though it was nailed long ago far better in Britney Spear’s blueberry ur perfume Midnight Fantasy-  it is disastrous in terms of its totally fucked up name and mindless, unthinking thoughtlessness. This perfume, I must categorically argue,  is not the Poets Of Berlin.















Gallivant’s more strenuously subtle perfume, ‘Berlin’ comes a bit closer, for me at least, to the place that I have personally experienced and lived in on a number of occasions: a damaged place in many ways, but also a European centre of rebirth, creativity, and with its eye on the future. A clear, unisex, zesty composition based on grapefruit, schinus molle (a kind of conifer) and black pepper over a lightly woody black tea and patchouli, this is an energising, unthreatening, no-nonsense – an attribute I associate with many German people that I know – modern day scent that has a spring in its step (this does smell very urban); the newest trainers on the asphalt, fresh morning clothes; a self-assured keenness that is pleasant and attractive, sly sexy, and gently optimistic. Nothing to scream home about, necessarily, but well-blended, well-conceived, and a scent you would gladly be sat next to on a person riding the all night train system; beer in hand (god the beer in Berlin….it spoiled me forever; nothing has ever tasted good again since, seriously – we loved it); some clubber or other out for another fantastic night in one of the underground clubs there  (now that is the smell of Berlin: the  sweat smell of natural body odour and t-shirts on the dance floor; of horny young people living for the moment and the collectivity the city seems to inspire); or the aroma of the delicious and ubiquitous Turkish kebabs that we devoured hungrily on our way home practically every other night as we returned to our quarters ; the strong smell of German coffee, and hard black bread, drunk at dawn; the invisible scent of the Altbau stone edifices, and their cooling, yet cosy interiors; sekt; the grass and the elegant fountains of the outstretching parks. No. Perhaps cities, and people, especially, sometimes, are just too complicated, interesting, inspiring, to be ‘encapsulated’ in olfactory confections (especially if you don’t really even make the effort). Perhaps it is their uniqueness, the indefinable – felt emotionally, breathed in through the body in these places  – but not tangible, that makes their ‘pinning down’ in perfumery essentially pointless, quite a lot of the time, or at the very least, in the case of the  most complex and inspiring of beings, unattainable.














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