I have just three work days left. And I couldn’t be happier to spend three weeks at home in Kamakura writing, reading, taking secret trips to the beach. On August 31st I will be doing an interactive live Zoom event with Art & Olfaction : 70 Years Of Vintage Perfume, so I hope to meet you in person. Suffering from stage fright I would like it to be more akin to a discussion with friends, rather than a ‘presentation’ (enough of teaching already!), but I had better start gemming up on my D’Orsays and my Lucien Lelongs.
It is an alternate universe. We were supposed to be going back to England. Obviously, that is now thoroughly off the table. Just the idea of getting on a plane and travelling across the world feels completely absurd; impossible to imagine. I am content in some ways not to be going anywhere: the realities of this ‘hiatus’ year have seeped in to all of our bloodstreams now: we accept. At the same time, we literally can’t leave the country even if we wanted to. And I am not just talking about the inevitable quarantines.
Japan has mandated very strict rules on the comings and goings of non-Japanese (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/business/japan-entry-ban-coronavirus.html) – leading to an international outcry. Though I understand the motivations to a certain extent – everyone is afraid, and all societies are ethno-centric/culture biased to a certain extent, afraid of the Other, it does somewhat feel like an infringement on our human rights. It also doesn’t really surprise me: I sussed out the core feeling many years ago – the country might arguably be less racist than other places, but it is certainly more politely xenophobic (and thus I have used it like a surrogate mother to suit my own ends and creative purposes). I adore the place to a degree, but I know that it will never truly love me back. We know our limits.
Had we gone back home it would have been fun, if busy. The usual flurry of family visits, dinner with friends, perfume window shopping in London, late summer evenings in the garden with black birds and wood pigeons, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and freshly made fish and chips (sheer heaven, and something you just can’t eat authentically here); cider and beer in proper pint glasses and sparkling wine with my cousins.I was looking forward to some car rides into the countryside with our families, and maybe also having a day in Cambridge with D – it has been decades since were there together, and scouring the charity shops of Leamington Spa, tea and scones (all the clichés) at the white Georgian Pump Rooms next to the river Leame; the perfume shop Cologne & Cotton, which, for soap and huge bottles of colognes, fluffy towels and unusual niche fragrance labels is a perfume lover’s bliss.
Last night D brought him take out salads and for dessert, mont blancs, very popular here in Japan with their mounds of puréed sweet chestnuts centred with thick cream. This was an unusual purple mountain potato Kamakura take on the classic with a different colour and texture, but delving into the bottom of the paper cup I spooned some of the base into my mouth; meringue. I was at a summer christening in England ; raspberry trifles, mum’s homemade fruit salad (my favourite; she would overdose on the lemon juice – I see myself on the stairs, maybe nine or ten, spooning endless red coloured fruit into my mouth along with ‘pavlova’, and knowing me, probably a a small beaker ferried off furtively of sparkling wine just to see what all the fuss was about as adults swanned about tipsy in floral dresses and open shirts reflected through the cut class decanters and vases filled with sweet peas from the garden and roses.
The Proustian rush, overdone as a motif in perfume writing as it might be, is truly a miracle of the human consciousness. It is not a question of (slap thigh – ) Oh, this reminds me of so and so or this or that – it is actual time travel. There is no music cue nor lacuna ellipsis : you are just there. Surviving in the memory. Or reliving, reactivating what was lived (and still exists) : placed there as a mockery of the usual space/ time continuum.
Although meringue was never a favourite of mine, especially (nice, but under that brittle egg texture enamel lurks something distracting); still, that air-biting crunch piercing down through sugar clouds of bake-petrified yolks, led to gelatinously layers of peel-fortified lemon curd or else delicious raspberries (a fruit I only properly enjoy when it has been ‘treated’ – the hair-rubbered mouthfeel of the fruit straight off the vine is repellent to me in a way that strawberries, equally delicious and fragrant but texturally favourable do not – (the white/pink/red fleshed juiced anatomy of those divine creatures easy to gorge on by the handful).
Trifle in summer. Could anything be more English? The raspberries and jelly at the bottom of the glass bowl tinkered with yellow custard a delight. Cut roses, or roses on the stem in the garden, still light at ten in the evening, another thing I associate with the fruit. As a child I would not just inhale, but suck up the scent of the most luscious roses like a honey bee. Plunge my face into the petals and beyond to drink in the rose perfume – another form of travel in itself; spatially/spiritually altering). A rose in all its glory (uncapturable); all of its nuances (indescribable); the nobility of its crimsonous coolness tainted with microspider; aphid unawaredly sharing its joy.
Rose oil, extracted, doesn’t replicate the living flower respiration, green from the stem, the thorns, and the roots. I have smelled some very beautiful essential oil extractions, and enjoy the darker rose ottos like oil paints in chypres, but I find that jasmine, the rose’s royal rival, has been more efficiently immortalized in scent. Department store ‘roses’ disgust me unreservedly; oudh roses kind of bore me (but I get the point); sweet Turkish loukhoum roses like the original Rose de Rosine I can do and I loved the original Voleur De Roses by L’Artisan Parfumeur which I wore quite a lot in my early twenties), but I don’t like rose to be too over-eager, too virtue over vice; it should be composed; and needs both.
Rose Trocadero by Le Jardin Retrouvé, which I have mentioned before in conjunction with reviews of rose perfumes by Diptyque and Tom Ford doesn’t reach deep into these categories (it is more of a snapshot than a faithful rendering), but with its raspberry and blackcurrant-tinged crispness and fresh erect ‘rose in a summer garden’ impression it is less fruited and fussy than Goutal’s Rose Pompon and its fellow blackberry-budded clones. I quite like the edp of that perfume and would gift it to an ingenue or burgeoning debutante in a voluminous tea dress, but there is something very conservative, sub-fashionista about most rose perfumes; they are the most restrictive from the feminist perspective. Nice little girls doing precisely what they are told; a fettered ugliness of societal and chemical fascism I abhor (something about Big Beauty behemoths in Switzerland churning out reconstituted patchouli and recriminatory musk bases makes me just want to scream out my lungs into the void). Rose Trocadero is pretty and full, without being too anodyne. Though a little repetitious – what you get is what you get – it is nevertheless a pleasing rose soliflore that got me mulling on all of the points in this piece in the first place. Something about that first spritz brings back wonderful memories.
Mona Di Orio’s Rose Étoile De Hollande is a very different beast: less pretty in frills and more intent, serious, inward-looking. A woody rose blend mixed with real artistry, on my skin the hints of peach and clove as well as what smells like Bulgarian roses soon warms up to a cedar and leather aroma with a dry down of subtle patchouli that is like a distant cousin to Shiseido/ Serge Lutens Feminité Du Bois but with more room inside the perfume for maneuver. Understatedly carnal and very (obviously, as is usually the case with this house) overtly dignified, this is not a perfume I could love personally but can imagine becoming an outright obsession with the right rose lover : a calm lethality.
Ormonde Jayne’s new Damask, part of La Route De Soie collection to be released in October, is a savvy, niche/ commercial fresh rose ( a mineralic lemon / pear/ pink pepper musk, jasmine and blackcurrant with a brief rush of rose top notes) that will tickle the senses of the casual browser but which I didn’t like as much as other perfumes in the collection such as Levant and Tanger. Ta’if Elixir, a new version of the popular dark rose by the London-based house, is much more replete and exotic with its new heartcore of Cambodian oudh – a warm, animalic addition that works well as a more languorous reprisal of the original. If you like Ta’if, I would recommend layering it with the new version for deeper emanations from the skin – the two complement each other perfectly.
The roses are still in full bloom in Yokohama : we had a wonderful Sunday just traipsing around in the very hot sun (and possibly had mild heatstroke as a result, sleeping for an abnormally long time that evening and the following morning ), but as I leaned in to smell a yellow-orange rose that reminded me of both of my grandmothers I thought to myself cornily that at rose is a rose : the scent is virtually identical. Japanese roses, English roses: the fully scented ones usually smell very beautiful. That smell I remember though, the almost splenetic, lemon- raspberry rosum gorgeousness of my childhood roses that dazzled and bowled me over in our garden on Dovehouse Lane continues to somewhat elude me – both in the roses that I encounter, and in perfume.