Category Archives: Jasmine

MADAGASCAN JASMINE by GRANDIFLORA (2015)

 

 

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by Olivia

 

 

 

 

 

Last summer, on a warm night in Paris my boyfriend (editor’s note: The Narcissus’ younger brother) and I sat at a little candlelit table outside a brasserie. The embers of the hot day stretched into the night and the air was close and languid, the sky above us hung with fairy lights. As we sat there, buoyed by wine and holiday thrill (it was his first trip to Paris, and I’ve always loved it) a man approached us clutching garlands of jasmine. As in many European capitals at the height of the tourist season (and probably elsewhere too) this happens quite a bit in Paris. Men approach you with armfuls of roses or jasmine flowers and offer (or pester) you – or more typically your boyfriend! – To buy them for a couple of Euro. Normally I have to say that I’m not swayed by it – it seems a little cheesy somehow (particularly the overpriced, always flat scented roses encased in their little plastic cones) but on this particular night, on seeing our reluctance and perhaps recognising the hour (it was already late) our seller, instead of fading back into the night put the flowers under my boyfriends nose. ‘Just smell them, I promise you won’t be able to resist the perfume. They come from Madurai.’

I’ve rarely seen a person visibly swoon, but as Greg smelt the jasmine something about him melted, his eyes glazed and the words ‘Oh my god’ left his lips, and then ‘that’s outrageous.’ The little garland was 5 Euro. He bought it immediately, knowing it couldn’t last longer than a few hours but needing to possess even momentarily, a slice of this pure, unadulterated beauty. The scent of that little, unprepossessing lei was utterly intoxicating. Bewildering even. Smelling it, the outside world rushed to a remove and the space between us was filled, suddenly, thrillingly with invisible gold.  I know how hyperbolic it sounds, but those flowers were truly a tumble into a dreamlike state: so potently honeyed and lush, brimming with exotic, liquorous nectar. So beautiful! We kept that little ever-wilting bundle for months afterwards, smelling it occasionally as it faded inevitably into crunchy sepia potpourri. Even in its demise its dying puffs were a reverie against the grunt of London outside.

Like anthomaniac vampires clawing desperately for the next fix of indole, we’ve since been trying to find a true perfume replica. It should be something with depth and body, with the decadent gilt of honey and a waxy tang that hits you incandescently with a swish and swoon. Not too polite or watery (personally I’ve never really got on with scrubbed up Febreeze jasmines – too mannered and dull) but not necessarily a hairy backed monster either. Slightly Oriental perhaps, and bolstered by little touches of this and that here and there. But essentially: that smell, trapped in amber, mummified.  An Empress jasmine. While Greg has taken to wearing the strident A La Nuit (even to work – how wonderful), my closest findings so far have been the divine Amouage Jasmine Attar (a gorgeous, truly catnippy elixir) and Dorin Jasmin Fullah (slightly ‘browner’ – redolent of the Syrian sands, indolic and more classic somehow, but nevertheless a real beauty.) Indult Isvaraya has the ‘right’ sort of jasmine buried inside it, but here it is braided with mothy patchouli and a dry umami plum so that it becomes coiled, sylvan and ritualistic. I love it actually, but for this purpose it doesn’t fit.

Treasure hunting through the shops the other day I came across a little bottle in smart grey glass. The modest olive green label houses only two words, in a small elegant font: Madagascan Jasmine. Can there be a more alluring name for a perfume? Yes, admittedly it’s purely descriptive and there are no hyperbolic allegories flounced overhead, promising nymphean powers of attraction and magnetic allure. But for me at least, within those two words lies a world of romance, of intrigue, of complicit and yielding seduction: thick, verdant groves and steamy exotic air hanging heavy with the scent of starry little flowers.

Created by perfumer Michel Roudnitska for the Sydney based florist Grandiflora, this perfume is in essence a soliflore study of the Stephanotis Floribunda variety of jasmine, commonly found in the heady climes of Madagascar and often used in bridal bouquets. A greener variety of the genus than the more commonly used (in perfume) jasmine sambac, this plant is a spindly climber with tough stems and large constellations of small starry flowers that orbit the axil of every waxy leaf. Like an Impressionist painter working en plein air, Roudnitska worked from a plant on his desk crafting drafts, honing roughs, studying every nuance of the living flower. He has created something really remarkable.

This perfume moves in small, delicate circles between clear, raw verdancy and honeyed flowers, by turns snappy and crisp and sweetly sultry. Aloe ooze slips coolly from fibrous stems mimicking the chilled verdure of a florist’s fridge. Then the botanical blast ebbs as the nectar of the flowers rises up, their pregnant stamens lolling heavily with pollen. It is neither squeaky clean nor furrily indolic, but almost alchemically, entirely natural – and living. It drifts from the bottle the way a photograph develops in a dark room: from blankness, ghostly forms begin to swirl in dark waters until like an apparition they solidify in front of you.

While this is a true soliflore, its finery and deftness of touch renders it much more than simply a study. There really is something reaffirming about it.  This is jasmine caught in a butterfly net and bottled gingerly, preciously for posterity. It feels encapsulated. When I smell it, I feel pulled down into a portal: here is the damp darkness of the forest, its steamy floors and strange cacophony of unrecognised sounds and songs. Here is the rich fruity soil and the flutter-by hummingbird dancing with the flowers. Here is a little box of Madagascar on my desk, a jar of titillating primordial nectar. It manages to feel both ancient and essential in its evocations of nature, and as a perfume, entirely modern thanks to its linearity and minimalism.

It isn’t my Empress Jasmine (it’s no where near close enough to the sultry/slutty Queen of Sheba border, and slightly too green at times for me – but this is just a personal thing. My skin often does awful, industrial solvent things to green perfumes.) However, this perfume is so exceptionally beautiful in its own right that I felt compelled to own it – even if I only ever use it as a little magic carpet for my nose. It is an otherworldly lullaby, a paean to the astounding, humbling, unfathomable beauty of the earth – transient and long, long lived; fragile and resilient; spiritual in it’s awesome design and synchronicity.

Roudnitska recommends the perfume for yoga. I’d agree that there is a great deal of meditation within it, and a sense of the devout somehow. When the built up, smokily urbanised, terror pocked world we live in seems in tumult, when pandemonium abounds and your heart feels heavy from the evil lunacy that leaches from every news report, it can be a small balm to be thrust back into the beauty of nature. The heartbreaks of reality aren’t diminished, but a little balance is restored in your soul. To be reminded that somewhere out there, beyond the mayhem, flowers are perfuming the jungles of the tropics. Untouched, unseen and doing it anyway just as they always have. That the world is still beautiful and how lucky we are to share it for a little while.

 

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THREE SHOUTS OF: : : : : JOY by JEAN PATOU (1930) + ODE by GUERLAIN (1955) + SNOB by LE GALION ( 1952)

 

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THREE SHOUTS OF: : : : : JOY by JEAN PATOU (1930) + ODE by GUERLAIN (1955) + SNOB by LE GALION ( 1952)

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A STAIRCASE JASMINE: : : ROUTE D’EMERAUDE by ISABEY (2012)

 

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Jasmines come in all shapes and sizes :  svelte, buxom, overloaded, even coy. Usually, though, they keep their jasminisms clear : “Je suis jasmin” , “ Io sono gelsomino” –  their titular blooms clear and precise even as they rasp away at your ear and nose and do their sensual, jasminesque thang.

 

 

 

Route D’Emeraude, apparently inspired by a journey to the opium-growing Golden Triangle area of  Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, initially also makes its green, green-tea sambac main theme very clear in its overtures: quite giddy and humid, top-registered and gleeful –  very much a South East Asian variant of the flower rather than the Patou-like Jasmine de Grasse and its smoother, Chanel-owning cousins.

 

 

 

 

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Similar to the sambac jasmine used in By Kilian’s Imperial Tea ( for anyone who has been to these countries or at least experienced their luscious wares, this smell will be all too familiar  –  the jasmine tea I bought from Vietnam last summer I opened for the first time the other day, for example, and found it almost embarrassingly sensuous and perfumed, particularly at the office). Fragrances that use this more carnal and tropical essence of jasmine smell very vibrant, exotic and extroverted.  Isabey’s Route D’Emeraude also takes this tack in making a refreshingly jubilant scent that seems made just for a  starlet (actual or imaginary):  bare-shouldered, smiling, and descending a white staircase as perfume spirals flirtatiously from her person.

 

 

While the green notes in the top accord allow the jasmine flowers at the heart of the perfume to unfold themselves at their own pace in the opening,  it soon becomes clear  that rather than a delicate sambac soliflor, what we have here is a full bodied, semi-oriental multiflor, with quite adult tuberose and orange blossom underlaying the sambac, alongside intimations of a woodier, ambered, musk-driven benzoin adding to the intemperate and ‘intoxicating’ throw of the perfume as well as  a crucial and anchoring, spicier element of cinnamon.  In its texture, scope and overall sillage (quite extensive, I would imagine, if sprayed) one is reminded slightly of Nuits Indiennes by Louis Scherrer, with its licentious sensuality, but conversely also, of more proper American allegiances to coiffeured and society perfumes such as Estee Lauder’s Private Collection or even the perfumes by Elizabeth Taylor. An ‘event’ scent, in other words – and a creation that I quite like for its plushness and sense of occasion, although at heart (and only she knows where she comes from), this creature is perhaps a touch  less artistic – even trashier, possibly –  than she would ever dare to admit.

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HOT BANANAS!!!! LADYBOY by GORILLA PERFUMES

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Greetings everyone and a very happy 2013 to you. Thanks for being part of The Black Narcissus: I am meeting some lovely, really interesting people on here and am very much looking forward to some more exchanges over the next twelve months and beyond. Don’t be shy! Let’s rant, wane and wax together…

I hope you had a lovely Christmas/holiday period and are rested and ready for the new year. Myself, I emerged, reluctantly, from my cocoon yesterday and went off into Tokyo to research vanilla perfumes for my latest Sweet Little Thing guest post over at Olfactoria’s Travels (it will come out on Friday, so please have a look if you are interested in the various discoveries of my bean odyssey). Stopping at Lush in Shinjuku, which was SO packed with people bargain hunting at the sales it almost precipitated a claustrophobic panic attack, I tested their sandalwood-heavy Vanillary, which is an effective little perfume in its heavy-hitting, jasmine absolute, coconut-incense-stick kind of way, very erotic and in-your-face, but then came across a small perfumed sensation and forgot all else: LADYBOY.

That name!!  The pungent, rotting bananas of the top notes!
The bubblegum, nail polish and eyelash-heavy violets! I simply had to get a bottle – and it just so happened, on that day, to be 50% off as well (only the Shinjuku branch stock this perfume, which shows its oddness): I suppose it was never likely that a large chunk of the populace would go for a perfume that smells of melting hot bananas and amyl nitrate.

Now, the banana is not a note we often find in perfumery, and my Ladyboy has the most overt banana as its main note I have ever smelled…..

But what other bananas are there?

Probably my first exposure to the note of the genus musa was in J Del Pozo’s Quasar, a blue-sporty fragrance from 1994 that nevertheless had a very innovative top note of fresh green banana leaf that I always thought should have been the mainstay of the fragrance (it wasn’t – what came later was always a disappointment). It imprinted itself on my brain nevertheless. A brilliant banana did come, later, in the form of Vanille Banane by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a scent I discovered while staying in Paris: fresh, delightful banana, halfway between the clean, unripened fruit, and those chewy, artificial, 2p banana sweets you grew up with from the local shops – dry, fresh, a touch acidic- but it then folded, unfortunately, into the ‘classic’ Comptoir vanilla, which always errs on the side of the sickly and plastickly sweet. You would have to be a really cute party bopper to pull that one off effectively, and I unfortunately couldn’t, on my skin.

A very unusual banana tree note was later to be found in Jean Patou’s Sira Des Indes, a very languid, almost sardonic, tropical perfume that features a top note of banana leaves before turning to a more voluptuous, if beautifully blasé, animalic floral: I wish this perfume had had more success because the combination was very interesting, though clearly ultimately too decadent to ever find mainstream success.

One perfume I own that combines flowers and banana delightfully is a rare scent I found at the flea market one Sunday – Jazmin by Le Jardin De Jimmy Boyd, a Barcelona-based perfumer whose jasmine flowers morph effortlessly into banana leaves and then morph back again….an effect that is either simply the quality of the jasmine flowers used (which might have a fruity-tropical facet) or is a trick by the perfumer….either way this is by far my favourite jasmine and the watery, luscious banana green of the top notes only makes it better.

Aside these, I know of few banana perfumes, so please let me know if you are aware of others.

So….Ladyboy. But before we get to Ladyboy, let’s talk some more about bananas.

For me, I am not sure if the banana would necessarily feature in my Fruit Top Ten (would it yours?), but I do love the taste and smell of the fruit and am also somewhat obsessed with the banana tree growing in our back garden (which has grown to unexpectedly monstrous proportions), as well as the smaller ones growing in pots on my balcony and in the hallway upstairs. Kamakura is strange in that it has winters not much warmer than England but fully tropical summers, as hot as Borneo and equatorial Africa, which means you see snow on palm trees in February, and frost on the poor banana trees which tower back up again in August, never to fully bear fruit as they die on the vine at the beginning of November; a sterile frustration I always feel as the baby bananas start to cluster in June…..

But to that fruit top ten:

(I would love to hear yours as well by the way, as I am a fruit freak. I basically love all of it, though I am somewhat less partial to kiwi and melon than other fruit (which is why I never go for those appallingly melona melona scents like Eau Emotionelle and Après La Mousson….and why I wasn’t overstruck on the kiwi perversions of Amouage Interlude…)

Off the top of my head:

1. pineapple

2. papaya

3. grapefruit

4.  lemon

5. strawberry

6. apple (not Japanese: English, or the like)

7. plum

8. cherry

9. orange/satsuma/Japanese iyokan

10. rhubarb?

Basically I go for the tart, and the fluffy dessert flesh of the banana doesn’t even seem like fruit to me, somehow, more a species all of its own: a beautiful alien: creamy, pulpy, feathery (goodness writing this is really making me crave a banana….!), and yet Duncan and I, despite this, did have a whole party one summer based around the fruit.

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Before your minds turn toward filth and assumptions, let me say that we also had a beautiful wintery party in Tokyo called Kirsch, but I can see that I am digging myself into ever deeper holes by talking about cherries and bananas, oh dear.

Kirsch was held at a 1950’s café-diner in Ebisu called Kissa Ginza, and all was red, and all was cherry, and it was sublime, if chaotic… Delicious Banana, meanwhile, came from a postcard we found one day. As is well known, Japanese English is often hilariously, atrociously bad on a daily basis, or else almost surrealistically strange and simple, like the innocent declaration ‘delicious banana’ which is so saturated with itself and its nothingness we quickly picked it up and turned it into a party, which I must tell you about here if you have nothing better to do.

Delicious Banana was one of our strangest festas (and we have had many), for a number of reasons. Firstly, the venue: a curious, three-storied art café called Mogura (mole), which was as tight a fit as a fairy-tale, and had very poor air conditioning, which brings us to the second point: it was, or seemed like, the hottest day of the year, seriously, seriously boiling: sweltering like you couldn’t imagine (around 36 degrees, though hotter in my memory, with about 80% humidity). I remember us carting records, cds, decorations and white Casablanca lilies all the way from Kamakura (at least 90 minutes away), and arriving covered in lily powder, our clothes ruined; we bought heaps and heaps and heaps of bananas and hung them everywhere……the guests came all in yellow, and we had little kids running around in banana hats, plus the menu, all devised beforehand of course, was exclusively banana (it’s a wonder I ate a banana ever again…)

There was banana salad; banana tacos, banana desserts… bananas were coming out of our ears and we were wilting from the heat along with the bananas that were stringing the stairwells…

The music, which I spent a lot of time on, was all tropicalia-tastic, and I remember almost swooning with pleasure dancing to ‘One Day In Your Life’ by MJ with my beautiful friend Takako in temperatures that were not fit for human beings upstairs….the heat, the sun pouring through the skylights…we almost became our very own banana flambée of human melée; the climax being when I ended up trussed and decorated by five or six women ( the other strange thing about that party: for some reason it was exclusively female apart from Duncan and myself, hilarious given the name of the event) and, in some kind of fertility ritual, all of which happened spontaneously, I was dressed up and made up by the women in some Wicker-Man-like sacrifice (though in honesty the end result was more like Carmen Miranda….)

The party is imprinted in my memory as fun and banana bliss, and as the place it was held no longer exists, just writing about it here feels like some sad, beautiful tropical resurrection…

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So there I was in thick makeup, anyway, covered in fruit, and here I am now wearing Ladyboy. And like the Delicious Banana party with the women congregating around,  and showered with the fruit, is there an internal joke to the perfume?: the lack, or the covered-up fruit of the Thai transsexual or ‘transvestite’ an implicit feature of the creation?

Who is to say? Simon Constantine, the perfumer at Gorilla Perfumes, strikes me as a very nice kind of person and I can’t imagine any gender or homophobic malice; strangely, the rich banana of the top note segues beautiful with a powdery, thickly scented violet that might recall makeup, but also those delectable, hot, coconut, banana and tapioca desserts that Thai cooks make so exquisitely, and the ‘invisible banana’ is an interesting sexual motif dangling enigmatically in the mental void of this ladyboy in any case; it is possible that I put too much stock in the name of perfumes sometimes but then I think that the names of scents, like the names of paintings and mixtapes, are crucial, making linkages in the mind that  involve the participant and open vistas and connections in the soul that when truly inspired…

I have also been to Bangkok and it was dizzying; being driven at night in a tuk-tuk bicycle taxi to a restaurant where the delicious smelling lime-chilli fish had me drooling and weeping hot involuntary tears it was so spiced as the lights on the water bobbed and the mysteries I could never understand lay mercilessly on the other side of the bay….

While we were there I don’t know if we actually ever met any real ‘ladyboys’, but I have met my fair share of Asian crossdressers or whatever term you find most suitable, and I am happy to wear a scent in their honour; the humour, the true beauty, the confusing gorgeousness; all of this is served well in this perfume…

The smell of nail varnish, of hair spray, of the little cabaret’s dressing room and its fairy lights on mirrors conjured up by the acetatey sheen of the initial, artificial banana smell; the bizarre addition of seaweed added to the mix, which I can’t thankfully detect ( I HATE seaweed, the smell and the taste of it, which is a problem living in Japan! ) but which I imagine adds some leathery temperance and wearability under the banana banners; the perfume becoming, eventually, an eminently wearable perfume of oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum, the scent definitively no longer a joke if, in fact, it ever was one.

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FAG ASH LIL : : : JASMIN ET CIGARETTE by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2006)

 

 

 

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The Etat Libre d’Orange perfumes all have a very human quality.  The first impressions are generally flashy and ‘philosophical’, but the ends usually smell like real peoples’ lives.  In the case of Jasmin Et Cigarette, rather than designing a perfume to be worn in a late night bar, the company hilariously put the end result of this scenario (the morning after) actually in the perfume.  And so the top note of a beautifully fresh, living jasmine flower,  delicate, alive, kidnapped directly from nature,  is soon taken over, convincingly,  by the stale aroma of cigarette butts stubbed out by Saturday night careless punters in some overflowing,  snooker club’s ashtray.  Having myself actually on occasion at teenage parties mistakenly drunk from a beer glass in which someone’s fag had been extinguished, and paid the subsequent wrenching,  bog-heaving price,  I must say that I personally find this mouth of ashes hard to take.

 

On some skins, though, that resinous tobacco note, like swirls of cigarette smoke encircling a floral smelling shirt, achieves the Dietrich-ish pall the perfumer probably intended:  a tanked-up floozy; laughing, not giving a shit, and raucously lording it up in some late night saloon with her mates.   On my friend Laurie (the only perfume she will wear),  I have to say that this perfume really does smell kind of glorious. Strangely trustworthy and endearing; peculiarly vulnerable, with its contradictory angles of fag and flower;  butt and bloom, there is real poetry.

 

 

The majority though  (the moral majority…. …yes)  will obviously just smell spent,  trashed and unacceptable in this perfume ; a weeny bit dirty and annihilated.

 

 

 

Probably one to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

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Invisible jasmine: WHERE WE ARE THERE IS NO HERE by CB I Hate Perfume (2012)

The Criterion Collection essay on Jean Cocteau’s final film, The Testament of Orpheus (1960), the inspiration behind this peculiar new scent by Brooklyn based CB I Hate Perfume, states that the plotless, surrealist film is ‘simply a machine for creating meaning’. The same might be said of Christopher Brosius, with his willfully abstruse desire to create a ‘perfume with no smell’ (but still with, ironically, a price tag).

Before we cry the cynical emperor’s new clothes, though, it is worth looking closer. While I can’t say that I really like this fragrance, it is most definitely quite interesting. Brosius has taken the basic classic template of natural jasmine + sandalwood essential oils, used in all the traditional Indian attars, as well as being the main theme of Guerlains’ 1989 great foghorn Samsara (which could literally be smelled from great distances: I distinctly remember a friend’s mother descending the staircase back in the day and being astonished that I could smell her well in advance of her coming into view) and almost stripped them of their singing voices by locking them within two powerfully effacing synthetic accords, ISO E Super Hedione and a special accord of ‘invisible musk.’

The effect is rather like Lady Gaga arriving at the American Music Awards, encased in her giant, acrylic translucent egg – life, a heart, beating somewhere within, hidden from view by a carapace of lab-created ectoplasm. Mysterious, perhaps, but also rather silly.

‘It is completely intangible, and almost undetectable. Yet it has great presence and allure. Like the ghost of a flower, it touches the subconscious of those who wear it – and those who encounter it’. So goes the press release for Where We Are There Is No Here, and to a large extent it is spot on. When the harsh, IKEA-like top notes dissipate (probably the brash combo of the very detectable, high quality sandalwood and the synthetics that bring to mind cheap wooden cabinets fresh out of polyurethane), there is a very real tenderness at the heart; an embodied character, possibly female, approaching, looming, receding, with a breath of unwashed body and hair. Touching, almost unpleasantly invasive, despite its attenuation. A person you feel you already know, somehow; an un-perfume, a ready made, artificial sheath of identity. Slowly the jasmines (Egyptian, Indian), make their floral presences felt and the scent begins to make some kind of sense with its air of down to earth familiarity, of a life in the process of being lived.

At the same time though, the scent, is emphatically not, as claimed by the company, ‘the world of poetry. The world of the imagination and of the surreal’. While inventive, and strangely persistent, I find it utterly lacking in any kind of beauty. Perhaps I am simply behind the times, however, stranded in some Elysian fields where perfumes simply smell good. Maybe such heavily elaborated concepts are the future, and Christopher is not just a practitioner of pretentious fashions, but of art. As Cocteau himself said,

‘Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly’.

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