Category Archives: Rose

THE WITCHY CHYPRES II : : : CORIANDRE by COUTURIER (1973) + BELLE DE RAUCH (1966) + PARFUM RARE by JACOMO (1985)

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I tend to do the olfactory in blocks. Or perhaps you might want to call it seasons, or periods, or phases – weeks where I only want vetiver or patchouli, months where I am desperate for vanilla and opoponax-laden orientals; tropical white flowers, oranges, or lemon. Right now, it is rose. Heavy, brocaded, spiced, velvet-rose-leather, ornamental chypres: grand, sensual, yet mysterious – like weighted winter curtains to shut out the cold and the outside world in a vast, rococco mansion hidden in the country.

We ventured outside today, properly, for a walk : for the first time in a week, and walked around our neighbourhood, the light exquisite and clear, the air full of clarity and the optimism of a brand new year. Call me naive, but I believe in this time. A time to just recoop and relax and regenerate……………. illness sometimes has the positive flip-side of allowing you to cocoon and shelter and not think: right now, also, we are nearing the end of Season Seven of Dynasty, having watched about 180 episodes since starting it at the beginning of 2016. We are entrenched. Of course I know that this 1980’s soap opera is laughable, ridiculous and over the top, but it is also completely mesmerizing for a myriad of reasons, dramatically; aesthetically (we watch it on DVD boxed sets, on a big screen, with a projector, and it is divine); observing the atmospheres and the fashions change, even though the characters are by and large continuously in the same place and trapped in the same entitled, and privileged, locations (though this familiarity of place is also exactly what makes it so addictive. Despite the absolute artifice, it feels real, like lived experience).

I am fascinated by witnessing, through the flamboyance of the clothes and the styles and the heavily, lacquered makeup – in particular the passionately beautiful face of Joan Collins –  the real passing of time, and of the gloriously outdated (and really quite gasp-worthily grotesque and sometimes amazingly beautiful) clothes that these women wear every time that they walk into the room; dazzling; outrageous: the quintessence of late seventies, then early to late eighties fashion that is now nothing less than a joke in some quarters, but which nevertheless, for whatever reason, on me exerts a magnetic, and irresistible, grasp.

And then the perfumes. Every dressing table replete with them. De-labelled of course and carefully photographed so as not to reveal what they are, but you know just from from looking at these women that they smell amazing; strong, overpowering, but perhaps this is one of the things – all this luxe and opulence and sartorial and olfactory unafraidness – that is making me crave these particular scents, these seductive temptresses with claws. As I wrote in my piece the other day, or rather last year in fact (so glad that we have left that one behind and are starting on a new period of time, even if today, I am already harking on about the perfumes of the past, sorry), I have been smothered in all my spiced and luminous roses: Krizia Teatro Alla Scala, the original Armani (divine, and surprisingly masculine in its tranquil and elegant in its inimitable way), and I finally drained my last drops of the beautiful Nombre Noir. Oh well, I can only hope that it one day crosses my path once again. But I am always, in any case, drawn to these scents that are compacted and compressed with their multi-tiered complexities, that radiate out the way that the best perfumes should. Not  just cheap, vanillic auras that promise easy sex and no secrets, but wry, enigmatic sphinxes with a hint of the inscrutable; come-ons that say yes, but which warn you, simultaneously, to keep a distance.

In my first dealings with what I call The Witchy Chypres (because they are: these scents are like sorceresses: Magie Noire, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, Sisley Eau Du Soir and Jean-Marc Sinan, these perfumes really are Alexis Colby Carrington at her most devilish and haughtily delicious), I describe these cool, semi-precious elixirs as being like black panthers –  an animal that, as I child, I would lie in bed and fantasize over and over again that I could just turn into, at will, and then transform, at my whim, into a great soaring bird that could escape any danger or threat and just disappear out the window and into the night.

Today’s perfumes, which I believe still fit into this category of dark, alluring, lip-glossed magicians, are perhaps more lithe and cryptically veiled in the concern of their own elegance; less sly ‘man hunter’, more held together, solitary; a preoccupation with the day and its intricacies, but not necessarily with the eyes that are inevitably cast upon.

Coriandre, for instance, which I have in vintage parfum (current formulations of the edt are said to be wan and uninteresting) strikes me as having quite a lot of similarities with the great 1000 by Patou, which I am still to review  ( well in fact I have, somewhere, a maniacally detailed account of the pleasures of opening the original parfum in its beautiful, beautiful boxes and flacon, and then applying the scent, but I lost the papers that I wrote it on, something that has happened quite frequently, in fact) – but in any case both of these cultivatedly high class fragrances are focuses on roses, violet, and patchouli and a magnanimously complex plethora of flowers and herbs and spices that support and cradle their spirits and create something beguiling and understatedly masterful. Coriandre, of course, as its name would suggest, has a noticeable green aspect in the head notes featuring angelica and coriander, though not in any overly distracting way; more as a side point to accentuate the full-bodied (but slender) form of its more sensuous, woody, base notes that on the right person, and in the right circumstances, might really be quite tempting, erotic ……………..reclining, stretched out, in a room somewhere in your imagination, in the moonlight.

Belle De Rauch is a more obscure perfume than Coriandre (De Rauch being one of those perfume houses that was popular in its day but disappeared a very long time ago), a boxed and immaculate parfum that Duncan picked up for me one day from an antiques shop in the nearby town of Zushi. Rich, oiled, but a precursor of some of the other perfumes mentioned here, this immediately struck me as being really quite ahead of its time. While pretty and ladylike aldehydes were generally the order of the day in 1966, this curious and attractive perfume, in extrait, is intense, emboldened, witchy, in its herbed and spiced roses on a bed of thick, natural Mysore sandalwood essence. It has almost feral, yet simultaneously mannered intimations, of a fierce, intelligent, and marvellous woman, self-satisfied and perfectly put together,  who will take no crap from anyone:  neither her husband, nor her lover.

Parfum Rare, by Jacomo, or Coeur de Parfum, as it was also known in its original form of release from 1985 – the perfume was later tweaked a little and released in 1987 as Parfum Rare – is another hard to find perfume that all true lovers of deep, incense enriched roses simply need to have in their collections. In parfum, this little nugget of ancient Egyptian Cleopatras is so tightly constructed with all manner of spices and balsams and animalics, so dense with perfumed ingredients for its occultist, brooding femme fatale, that it is verging on gloomy and subterranean………sealed; doomed, evenas though you were an archaeologist stumbling upon the tombstone, and golden, glinting, cursed jewellery, of Queen Nefertiti.

Such perfumes – the witchy chypres –  might seem outmoded to some people now,  reaching out desperately for an overdone plenitude of intricately embellished and deepily embodied roses and dark ingredients that no longer feels du jour and instant and social media-ish and light; but this is, I think, the whole point: not every perfumed person wants to be a likeable goody goody two shoes smelling friendly, and accessible, and fabric softener trustworthy; more shampoo- fresh and wholesome than a nun or a bar of health food shop cranberry-filled granola. Some people wear their perfume more like an amulet or armour, for protection and carnal self-hypnosis………defences that can come down, certainly; but which remain, at the outset at the very least, like fortresses of rich, indefatigable glamour; of sex that you are probably never going to get;  and of a bewitching  interiority of dignity, aloofness, and enticement.

I love them.

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ENGLISH DAWN: : : :: ROJA DOVE ROSE PARFUM (2016)

 

 

 

 

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One of the first things I noticed when I first arrived back in England, standing in my parents’ garden in the early morning light, my mother’s great love and a place just overflowing with flowers, trees, and plants – was that roses really smell like roses. 

 

 

 

 

While the place I am lucky enough to live in here in Japan, Kamakura, is certainly not devoid of smell stimulations – osmanthus, jasmine, wisteria in particular can be especially hypnotic when blossoming in spring and autumn; the plum blossom and narcissi at the end of winter piercing and heartrending; the gentle, pale pink drifts of sakura cherry flowers the very quintessence of Japanese beauty, at the same time, that most English of flowers – the rose, while grown here in many houses’ gardens here, is unscented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will often see a stunning looking rose on a stem here on my way home and lean down to smell it, but usually there is nothing, or merely a hint of a very faint, overcultivated rosiness, almost as if, just as with the cruel mastery of the bonsai, the roses have been deliberately bred to have no scent.  As with much in Japanese society, the visual and the conceptual always supercede the olfactory. It is the correctness of the rose that counts, not its fragrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admittedly, when grown in profusion – in the sea-front rose gardens of Yamashita park in Yokohama, for example, when the breeze blows from the city or the sea across the heads of the flower tops, standing afar you may then catch a glimpse of true rose perfume and remember what the flowers do smell like, but this is still nothing like the wilder and thornier, raspberry-gleaned beauty of the ragged-edged sturdiness of the roses I encountered in my garden back home which were actually replete, and lush, with the full-bodied, emotionally irresistible scent of full blown roses in English summertime – a smell that almost seems, to me,  to contain the entirety of life itself, a secret just waiting to be unlocked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The majority of recent rose perfumes, in my view,  have been terrible. Either the perfectedly commercial, synthetic sweetnesses I intuitively reject for their ‘wedding day’ primness and banal and ugly sexual conservatism; the hystericality of all the metallic, purity-pinkness that I always abhor; or else over-egged wood and oudh puddings pillaged in slavery and patchouli. Unable to breathe, or bloom. Thick set. The rose essences struggling. Dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rose Parfum, by contrast, a very pleasing new release by Roja Dove, seems to have instinctively realized these concerns of the true rose fancier, flowering off in a totally different direction to the majority of contemporary roses, both veering in a saporously classical direction, while simultaneously revivifying the note into something fresh and new. I really like it. Unfolding, this perfume comes across like a slightly bitter green hybrid of Nahéma and Nº19; the peach-soft down rose of the former contraposed against the verdurous iris galbanum of the latter, a dew velvet poise that took me immediately by surprise ( I had forgotten that new perfumes can still actually smell beautiful ) and which drew me to immediately wear the perfume on my first few days back in England. It was perfect for long train rides and staring out of the windows on green fields and old memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While certainly not as magical as either of those ultra- classic perfumes (which I consider to have achieved perfection in the art of perfumery), Rose Parfum nevertheless also has a more distinctly English quality to it than its more languorous French counterparts. Though it may lack the typically suffusive Parisian powderiness and musk, it also has a certain crispness and briskness, a sense-lifting pleasure, a brightness, like rose buds themselves when they flower in the bud-green mote beams of dawn. And though the perfume’s dry down might not have been quite as well developed as the opening, veering into a slightly pot pourri sourness, on my skin at least, at the same time, neither did this truly ever irritate. I wore it comfortably, all through the day , and if you are a rose lover ( I had forgotten, almost, that I am), I most definitely would recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SUBDUED, CONSIDERED: : : ROSE + LEATHER + VELVET by PERFUMER H (2015)

 

 

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In these times of brash crassness, not only politically and culturally, but also within perfume, it is nice to come across a new line of scents with a sense of detachment. A fullness of essence, but also an undeniable, quiet dignity.

 

The initial five fragrances in Lyn Harris’s new collection comprise two light hearted and exuberant creations (Heliotrope, which I reviewed recently, and the zingingly and refreshingly green Cologne, which I am definitely going to wear soon when Spring fully awakens), and three others – Rose, Leather, and Velvet, that all vibrate at lower, more reflective – even depressive – oscillations.

 

 

 

 

 

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ROSE

 

 

I must confess that I am tired of rose. This is not the fault of the flower or the aroma itself, but of the sheer avalanche of chemical, synthetic pink pepper ‘peony’ bouquets over the last few years that sicken me to my stomach. They have ruined one of my favourite essential oils, very nearly ( I can still enjoy the scent of a good rose otto, just about ), but it has been a two pronged assault: either the Salvatore Ferragamo Stella Mcartney Paul Smith Valentino plastic bride horror, or on the other, the fake oudh/ rose pseudo oriental harem that provokes equal levels of olfactory lassitude.

 

 

Perfumer H’s rose is not a scent I would personally wear either, but I do like it. Rather than a shrill soprano, this is a fulsome contralto: liquid and aromatic, the rose at the heart and within the perfume calling to you with magnetically soft fougere accents beneath –  gentle, uncliched patchouli; black pepper, carrot seed and smooth, delicate musk – a beautiful woman in a trench coat, perhaps, at twilight, on some secret assignation.

 

 

 

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LEATHER

 

Again, Perfumer H takes the route less travelled with Leather, avoiding the standard bitter hide quinoline of most cuirs or leathers and giving us in its stead a melancholically grey suede  – frowning but good hearted –  on a bleak, winter afternoon. Smelling this scent I was immediately reminded of the Arab perfumery I visited many years ago in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town,  years before the whole oudh craze began, when I experienced so many new kinds of smells that it was as if I had landed on a new  planet.

 

Besides the Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese oudhs that were so pungent and animalic I could hardly comprehend my nostrils, there were also other incensed, medicinal, clay-like scents on display in that fascinating purveyor of perfumes that transfixed me completely even though I didn’t quite know how to process or make sense of them. Perfumer H’s leather is no way near as ‘difficult’ from a western perspective, but it does very much remind of some of those perfumes, with their tendrils of Catholicism woven into the Islamic textures. There is a very cool (in all senses) aspect in this perfume, with iris, and Earl Grey tea accents layering the soft kid leather of the heart. It is a sophisticated scent, suave and seductive, but with just the right level of disengagement to make you want to find out more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VELVET

 

 

 

 

Duncan was wearing Velvet when we spent an afternoon in Jimbocho two Sundays ago – the place you can see in these non sequitur photos. This scent has a quite classical feel to it – masculine but refined, a woody aromatic chypre with an orris/spice and oakmoss, frankincense/ patchouli undertow, that leaves a nuzzling, prickly sillage in its wake –  more like the tangible rasp of tweed to me than the smoothness of velvet, but it is certainly an excellent modern update of a bygone format. Gentlemanly – letting you read between the lines and slowly feel out its personality. Thoughtful. Sensual. But prudent.

 

 

 

 

 

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INTO THE LABYRINTH: : NOMBRE NOIR PARFUM by SHISEIDO (I98I)

 

 

 

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I had wondered if this day might one day happen. Whether I would, in my ever-thrilling voyage into perfume, discarded by the Japanese as worthless flotsam in the bargain bins of flea markets, ever come across one of perfumery’s truly coveted holy grails: Shiseido’s Nombre Noir. A perfume so rare it has become legendary among scent lovers, long discontinued (and all remaining stock apparently destroyed with bulldozers), there are very few bottles left available in the world, now, the ones that do exist usually going for mind-boggling prices (around a thousand dollars seems to be the standard). It is a perfume that has been enraptured over, exaggerated, mythologized to the point that its very name for many of us has an almost talismanic energy. A black, pulsing, Japanese jewel. An amulet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As well as the usual flea markets and antique shops I frequent, I have recently discovered a place in Tokyo, whose proprietor, an Indian man I can’t quite fathom, lets me buy things at often absurdly cheap prices. He says he is always open but never is, but still lets me know when the latest cardboard boxes will be arriving in advance so I can get first pick (then call him up, and one of his assistants might then let me in even if the shop is officially closed); a shambolic jumble of shabby old makeup, shower gels, half used perfumes and then, occasionally, something beautiful like Jardins De Bagatelle or Infini, boxed, new, ready for my eager hands to take over to the cash register and pay.

 

 

 

On this occasion he had told me that there would be a delivery on January 3Ist, and so there I was, catching the train up from Kitakamakura, wondering expectantly what there might be. We were rummaging around in the box in tandem, where I got some half-used Givenchy Gentleman and Kouros, some Indian ‘essential oils’, and a couple of other things, when for some reason I looked down towards the floor for some reason and found that I had to adjust my eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can it be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sotto voce:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Duncan, don’t say anything or make a reaction of any kind but look directly beneath me. That, there, is one of the rarest perfumes in the world.

 

 

 

I have never smelled it. Oh. My. God. Oh my god it’s Nombre Noir. I can’t believe it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Out on the street, practically gagging with excitement I had to smell it immediately, opening the box (as you can see, this would have been some kind of special deluxe set with an eau de parfum or toilette and parfum extrait presented together), and although it would have been an absolute coup to have had them both, something in me strangely quite liked the fact that there was this mysterious lack, this voided indentation. The black, satin shadow. It added depth and secrecy, a story. A luxurious vortex of usage. Where was that other bottle? Who had it? What did she, or he, look like? Could it still be lingering somewhere in the refrains of some tucked away, Tokyo apartment?

 

 

 

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I still had the parfum, though. The grand prize. And I couldn’t believe it. Unused, it would seem; solid in its black sculptured glass. Precious. And although part of me hesitated momentarily (should you really be violating this prized collector’s item?) I just absolutely had to find out what the fuss was all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stood in the wintery sunshine and I opened up the bottle…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luca Turin:

 

 

 

 

The fragrance was, and still is, a radical surprise. A perfume, like the timbre of a voice, can say something quite independent of the words actually spoken. What Nombre Noir said, was ‘flower.’ But the way it said it was an epiphany. The flower at the core of Nombre Noir was halfway between a rose and a violet, but without a trace of the sweetness of either, set instead against an austere, almost saintly background of cigar-box cedar notes. At the same time, it wasn’t dry, and seemed to be glistening with a liquid freshness that made its deep colours glow like a stained glass window. The voice of Nombre Noir was that of a child older than its years, at once fresh, husky, modulated, and faintly capricious. There was a knowing naivety about it which made me think of Colette’s writing style in her Claudine books. It brought to mind a purple ink to write love letters with, and that wonderful French word farouche, which can mean either shy or fierce or a bit of both.

 

 

 

 

Christos, Memory of Scent :

 

 

 

 

 

There is this rare, elusive category of perfumes, the Perfect, Discontinued scent. It is the most sought after, exclusive, masterfully blended kind of perfume. It was so perfect that it had to stop existing. Its ingredients so pure and rare that they are no longer available. Every now and then a bottle appears here and there and everybody is either spending four digit prices or fantasizing about it. The lucky few that have smelt the Discontinued masterpiece are witnesses of its perfection: nothing available now comes near. Of course the Great Discontinued is nothing more than a metaphor for youth and nostalgia: what is now discontinued was once commercially available and what is now available will at some point become vintage. Somehow the present is never as good as the past sounds. A place revisited is never as good as the first time. Past youth seems so careless when looked at over once shoulder. It seems that turning the head 180 degrees towards the past forces the eyes to squint just enough to make everything look a little more appealing. The myth of perfection never seen and yet as real as our hopes is as old as the Unicorn. As much as I like to think of myself as someone evolved enough to see the unavailable for what it really is (non-existent) Ι have many times drooled over the essence of Unicorn and fantasized about a bargain bid.

 

 

Nombre Noir is my Unicorn. Serge Lutens’s ability to guide a perfumer in capturing the essence of a dream in a bottle and Shiseido’s aesthetics were a match made in heaven and Feminite Du Bois is a testament to this. Imagine this combination accompanied by the ultimate perfumery legend: a scent so rich in fragile damascones that it starts dying the moment one opens the bottle. A composition so rich in top quality osmanthus extract that it wasn’t worth selling. And a packaging so mysterious and intricate that added to the exorbitant cost of the product. Legend has it that a Unicorn can only be lured into the trap by a virgin. I was a lot luckier. A woman in black brought this Unicorn to me. Amazed at the generosity of my perfume friend I received a generous decant of the rare essence and this is my encounter with it.

 

 

Nombre Noir is not a dark fragrance. It is a luminous and abstract scent. It opens with a very strong and abstract aldehyde accord that seems to hold captive a rose in its heart. The combination of intensity and light brings to mind a marble sculpture. Although it is bright and almost translucent it has a volume and weight that are disproportionate to the impression it creates. Although it looks light enough to lift like a feather it is in reality unmovable. I have never encountered this combination of lightness and strength in another perfume. From a distance it smells velvety but up close it has a peppery sting. The rose itself is an over-ripe red bloom with its petals wide open exposing sweet and powdery golden anthers. What is more vivid in this rose is not the photorealism of the rose scent itself but the reality of the velvety texture of its petals. It is not sweet but it has a mature fruitiness, a fuzzy, sticky abstract fruitiness. As time passes the red rose becomes paler and whiter. Softer and younger. Underneath the topnotes there is this exquisite, old-fashioned  heart of iris, vetiver and greenness that supports the top and lifts it like a balloon. I thank the gods of marketing dynamics that made this accord, which was so typically feminine a few decades ago, so undesirable to modern female perfume buyers that it has lost all its past associations with this gender. Having lost its collective memory load it is now reinvented and perfectly suitable for men. The heart of Nombre Noir has a lot in common with Chanel No I9 and Jacomo Silences  but with a completely counter-intuitive brightness. In the drydown the abtract rose is still there but now it is fresh, pale and coupled with a delicate suede note.

 

Nombre Noir has nothing to do with darkness. It is all about regeneration. Watching its development is like watching a slow motion video of a bud blooming and dying, but in reverse. Maturity is followed by youth, freshness and potential. This is not a beautifully done rose dominant fragrance because everything about this flower is abstract. More important than the flower itself are the fuzz on the petals, the dewdrops, the dust.

 

 

 

ELENA VOSNAKI: PERFUME SHRINE

 

 

 

 

Have you ever lost sleep over the notion of an unattainable ideal? Have you longed and ached for that which you have not even experienced? Are you like the hero in Steppenwolf , a lone soul in search of the sublime revelation of self in the whirlwind of a crumbling civilization? Those questions might ring silly to someone who hasn’t known the pang of desire that a beautiful perfume stirs in the soul. And Nombre Noir is one such beautiful but unattainable perfume.

In a revelation of Lachesis I happened upon a little stash of it out of the blue; the elusive Kooh-i-Noor that had been escaping me for long. Or so I thought. Years passed since the last batch of this black glove has been produced and I wonder how much of its initial beauty has been smeared like mascara after a hard night partying. I will probably never know. What I do know is that it was immediately and unknownigly admired by my discerning companion who proclaimed it “beautiful and haunting”. It is just my luck that he always loves the rare and expensive things, I guess. For what is worth I will cherish the little I do have and not break my neck in vain.

 

 

Nombre Noir was created in 1981 by nose Jean-Yves Leroy, one of the in-house perfumers for the Japanese brand Shiseido, under the artistic direction of Serge Lutens and Yusui Kumai, aiming to create their first “western” fragrance. Lutens chose an extremely expensive natural osmanthus and a synthetic aromachemical, a big-stock damascone molecule of rosy-woody with prune. In The Emperor of Scent, Turin called it “one of the five great perfumes of the world” and lamented its passing, creating a stampede on Ebay for the elusive golden juice of olfactory paradise.
The perfume became infamous for its breakthrough packaging designed in collaboration among Serge Lutens, Shuichi Ikeda and Masataka Matsubara. “The most unremittingly, sleekly, maniacally luxurious packaging you can imagine: a black octagonal glass Chinese bottle nestled in exquisitely folded black origami of the most sensuous standard.”
Despite its high retail price, however, Nombre Noir was losing money because of the packaging, according to rumours. And then it disappeared, to be lamentably discontinued shortly thereafter. The real reason seems to be because the high percentage of damascones contained contributed to the perfume being photo-sensitising.

 Damascones are potent aromacemicals synthesized in the lab through a difficult procedure that is reflected in their price. Because of that and their diffusive odour profile they are usually used with restraint, except for cases when the perfumer wants to make a point, like in Poison with its exaggeration of alpha and beta damascone or indeed in Nombre Noir. Alpha-damascone is rosy floral with a fruity aspect atop a camphorous note and winey nuances while beta-damascone has tobacco shades along with plummy sweetness.
 Alas their deterioration upon sunlight is another reason they are usually kept in minute quantities in perfume compositions. Except for Nombre Noir. And that was the death toll on it.

The furore started with Turin’s quote and perfume lovers the world over were losing precious sleep over not having experienced this ingenious marvel of nature and lab mechanics. Everyone who followed the perfume community had heard about it but they thought it exiled in distant Peoria.

 

 

To me the fragrance of Nombre Noir is akin to a sonorous sonata that is echoed across a vast hall full of oxidised-metal (so as to look dark) chandeliers. There is the high ceiling of cedary notes, like those in Feminite du Bois but scaled a bit down, that keeps the atmosphere somber, yet the plush of the velvet cushions and the brocade curtains lend a baroque fruitiness to the proceedings, like dried raisins and prunes left out for all to savour, not unlike the hyperbole that is Poison by Dior. The sublime rose accord is laced with a boozy and tea-smokey note, restrained and not old fashioned at all, recalling to mind the unusual treatment that was destined to it in the exclusive Lutens scent Rose de Nuit. I can see how this could be worn like nocturnal ammunition against the crassness of a crumbling civilization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trailing Duncan down the streets of Ginza as he wore this scent for the first time for me, so I could experience it from afar and from different angles, I had to ask myself honestly, and as objectively as possible, if the perfume lived up to this adoring reputation. Was it as unique and divinely beautful as people had said? Would you, the people reading this, be missing out on an essential and integral experience of la vie parfumée if you had never smelled it?

 

 

 

I think the answer might be a tentative no. While beautiful and compelling (both of us did really like it right away), it is also quite familiar. This is not a perfume that just appeared out of nowhere, from the cavernous gloom of Serge Lutens’ heart, but was part of that early nineteen eighties trend of gothic/new romantic roses; chypric and gallantly glamorous new scents that marked the end of the seventies with a new taste for urban excess; the sound of Roxy Music’s Dance Away and Avalon, the sharply tailored creations of Yves Saint Laurent at the peak of his powers: fashion, and perfume, as costume. If you are familiar with Sinan, or Knowing by Estée Lauder, then you will have a rough idea of the ‘electric rose’ family of perfumes that Nombre Noir falls into, but in truth I would say that it is more a continuum of themes that were explored in Shiseido’s exquisite Inouï (which I prefer), the richness of Féminité Du Bois, and it is quite obviously also the prototype for Lutens’ later Rose De Nuit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nombre Noir is, undoubtedly, a very opulent and gorgeous rose. A power perfume. Glowering, concentrated, and smouldering in its deep wooden essences, smooth, with a high quality osmanthus absolute in the oiled and unctuous top notes that puts me in mind, for a moment, of vintage Patou I000 parfum. But where I000 is all elegant poise and almost overstated refinement, very French, very Parisian, I do find that Nombre Noir is somehow very definitely Japanese; very Tokyo in the middle of the burgeoning bubble economy, the time when it was released; I see rich women in the latest sharp-shouldered fashions; heavily made-up Japanese Grace Joneses channelling Shiseido’s angular, almost kabuki maquillage: business lunches; chic, expensive bars in the heart of Shinjuku; long, and thickly enamelled nails (the perfume is dispensed onto the skin like a brush for vernis à ongles, a pinpointed nail applicator, and this feels apt; the scent goes on almost like paint, like an ointment; a nuclear fissioned dot of scent that will bloom like a viper on the pulsepoints and whisper its sexual, state of the art story): ‘the bridge between west and east’: the message that perfume is here: the scent a rich, deep sanctuary of luxe and unspoken glamour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Definitely unspoken, somehow: secrets locked inside a hard, lacquered black box: a passive-aggressive tension between silence and a dressed-to-kill clamouring for attention. Something watchful and guarded (despite its veneer of vermilion extroversion): a sense of brilliant containment.

 

 

 

 

 

So while I ultimately, after repeated testings of the perfume, don’t personally feel that Nombre Noir is as essential, or quite as exquisite as others seem to think, it is nevertheless one of, if not the very best, of its stylish and, ostentatiously era-specific kin. I can imagine some women smelling quite stunning in its grasp as they left their apartments at night for assignations in the depths of Tokyo’s labyrinthine, neon honeycombs:  – a perfume like a shield or concealed weapon; an armour. As the rose blooms and reaches its strongest point, a beautifully dry and apricot-touched, resinously potent note of marjoram and coriander-laced cedarwood begins to grow, that lasts for hours, and becomes quite seriously hypnotic, drawing you in, shutting you out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One last detail that I almost forgot: the price.

 

 

 

 

 

Five hundred yen.

 

 

 

 

Two pounds seventy.

 

 

 

 

Four dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Rose

BLOOMS A ROSE IN THE DEEPS OF MY HEART…… Rose Volupté by Sonoma Scent Studio (2012)

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I like a big rose. A rose that is generous and of itself; a lovely rose: not a mean, thin-lipped rose; nor a methane-dipped rose, a high street rose or a sneering, clipped, high-octane rose; a fashion rose or a bridal rose; a cheap, leering acid rose, nor some dusty old, crabby rose, no: I like a full, joyous pronouncement of a rose, a rose that knows who she is.

 

The world, though, it seems, loves scents like L’Eau Chloé, a mingily pertinent fragrance formed of rose water and green things and reduced-fat patchouli, but I most certainly don’t: we smell far too many of these perfumes around us in cities, especially in Japan, where immaculately turned-out young women walk the streets of Tokyo, untouchably beautiful, a red-blooded, heterosexual male’s idea of paradise; girls with the flawless patina of a Shiseido commercial but in the flesh, slender young things in the all latest fashions and just a touch of rose to finish: nothing too thick, now, and a touch acidulous if you please – I maintain you, sir, at arm’s length with my thorns, my scent a barrier not a come-on, my artificial rose with its just-so projection perfected in the laboratory for this very purpose to offer that strange, iced chasteness, that modern-girl impenetrable whim of here-and-now Ginza sexy: this, this hideous perfectionism we smell in all the roses of the day such as Stella, Paul Smith Rose, and, especially, here, the vile Eau Des Quatres Reines by L’Occitane, which from personal exposure I would say is by far the most popular female scent in the country: you smell it all the time, as though, like everything else in Japan, it were accepted by the group and thus sanctioned, even by young mothers!

 

Young mothers, yes, those saintly, desexualized mama-san as they are called, poor creatures in my view, who, unless they rebel and refuse to conform, will often be co-erced into fascistic, nasty, Lord Of The Flies groups they cannot escape from even as they smile and present their iron-haired, A-line skirted, guilt-racked personas to the playground. The Occitane perfume, with its hints of salted, musks under penetratingly sharp, artificial rosey top notes, fixed, unchanging as it hangs in the air around train stations and department stores is the rose du jour, accepted, sucked into the mainstream, worn constantly, and I can tell you quite passionately that I loathe it.

 

No: give me an unfettered, uninhibited rose any day, a rose of love, not of conformity, a rose which springs directly from the heart: give me Nahéma, Montale Aoud Rose Petals with its blackness of the desert and Turkish Delight, give me Caron Rose, with its cherished poetical heart of Damask, or, if we need pearlescent dew drop roses, Fleurs de Thé Bulgare by Creed: just don’t dilute it with ‘market trends’ , fear of trying, or with ‘what women want‘: give it to me straight and liberated and heartfelt. Or don’t give it to me at all.

 

 

Rose Volupté, a huge, blowsy thing, belongs in this latter category of mine; roses with heart and soul, a big Valentine’s Day rose that is as rounded, enveloping as imaginable; powdery, effusive, diffusive: a tampy, musky pink rose of thick material: balanced – an undeceiving, happily direct perfume.

An oriental rose, with ambered base notes of labdanum absolute, vetiver and sandalwood, and a heart of heliotrope and cinnamony plum, all leading the perfume somewhat into the ‘old fashioned’ category, but neverly over so in my view, more pleasingly, just slightly, retro: top notes fruity and full, flowered like sugared raspberries on a summer trifle, and as multitiered, the geographical strata of the perfume leading down to pillowy, benzoiny, classic oriental skin scents, generous and feminine, soft:  Teint De Neige’s rosier, more bosomy country cousin.

 

While the perfume might lack a certain psychological complexity ( I find it rather ‘straight’ and ‘thick’ in some ways) this is simultaneously very much part of its appeal. Rose Volupté is simple, lovely, and it wears like an honest statement of love for the flower, and for perfume come to think of it, not some anorexic urban cipher and her puny, half-hearted, haughtily prettily ‘rosy’ emanations.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose

Lady In Red: Pour Une Femme by Caron (2001)

Lady in Red, is dancing with me.

I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight.

Never seen you shine so bright….

A made-up, quintessentially vermillion ‘date perfume’ for night time and silk, this beauty by my side has the hairdo of Jennifer Rush and smells indelible, typical; I move my head slightly back.

However, as the candles flicker, our wrists flick glinting champagne glasses, and we sway and smooch to Luther Vandross, the intensity of her opening gambits fades, and the heart of her fragrance is slowly and gradually revealed – an intense, seductress sweet rose and spiced frankincense/benzoin accord that goes quite beautifully with her gown.

Image Image Image Image     I will never forget the way you looked tonight.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose, Slinky

Straight to the heart: PARFUM DE MAROC by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2010)

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Yesterday we looked at the bizarre, if highly memorable, Arabie by Mr Lutens and his magician/alchemist/sidekick Christopher Sheldrake, an innovative blend in which the desserts and spices of the Middle East were whipped up into an impossibly smooth and sultry, if for me indigestible, perfume.

I love spices: they reel me in, especially now that we are living in the days of the anodyne and the measured in perfume, where to smell merely pleasant, clean or worst of all, unthreateningly conformist, is the order of the day. (How often do you trail behind a person on the street wearing a gorgeously spicy scent? That sensation in your brain and stomach when your limbic system is momentarily thrown off course and the instinctual drives kick in and, like a blinkered horse, you forget your surroundings and all you can think about is that scent and its associations…..?)

The perfumes of Mandy Aftel, which I have only recently had the chance to smell for the first time, are composed entirely of natural essences, and they deliver a kick to me physically; involuntarily, somewhere between the groin and the heart (though I felt something in my upper legs for some reason upon sampling the new Oud Luban extrait recently; it literally had my muscles twitching….) Intellectually I wasn’t entirely sure about its curious blending of blood orange oils and the extraordinarily dirty and suggestive essential oil of oud and the Indian essence Choya Ral, but at the same time it was so feral that while my mental protective mechanisms went pitifully into place, my body rebelled as I sat there in the dark watching a film, and it got me quite frankly aroused……)

I have not yet written much about aromatherapy on this site as I am concentrating more on perfume, but for me the two go hand in hand in daily life, and I have been intimately involved with aromatherapeutic oils for at least twenty years (and seen a miracle or two in that time as well). Let’s just say I am a believer.

Where essential oils are like medicines for me, indispensable for my sense of well-being and feeling of a therapeutic connection with nature (the souls of plants!) perfumes are my hedonistic side; aesthetic and sensual pleasure, shameless artefacts of beauty that are ephemeral, invisible, to be consumed in a way that makes them unique and enjoyably guilt-ridden.

Having these two separate sides of myself fused – the medicinal and the purely fragrant and luxuriant – is an odd sensation for me, because on the whole I do view them quite differently. I realize, obviously, that most perfumes contain natural oils and so will also have some physiological effect on the organism, but this is very different from the way a bath of rosemary, geranium and peppermint makes my heart beat like a drum, or the way marjoram oil at night soothes my spirits like the anaesthetic waters of Lethe; or how a candlelit bath of vetiver sends me to a slow-breathing netherworld of the deepest, most earth-centred tranquillity.

Can natural perfumes find a pleasing in-between? Be subtle and complex enough to please the senses aesthetically while delivering the physiological goods? I have already written some favourable reviews of the all-natural, and very delicate, scents by Frazer Parfums (which see), and judging from Oud Luban and Parfum de Maroc, which is a very excellent rose/spice fragrance, Ms Aftel really does manage to stride the bridge between the two worlds extremely effectively.

Going back for a moment to what I was saying about encountering people that are doused attractively in spice, aside Duncan’s mother Daphne and her clouds of Opium and Jacomo’s Parfum Rare, and my friend Georgia who wears Caron’s Poivre exquisitely with its fiery, moody, blend of pepper and cloves, the spice scent that springs to mind the most in this conversation is the original perfume by Comme De Garçons, that groundbreaking spice blend based on perfumer Mark Buxton’s memories of the Moroccan souk. It is a great scent, but too many fashionistas and art people were wearing it at the time of its launch (1994) whether it suited them or not, and when a person chooses a perfume for ‘the wrong reasons’, especially with something as distinctive as this clovey, cinnamon balsam-laden thing, in my opinion the perfume can just sit on the skin unwantedly and smell wrong.

Comme des Garçons was a very dense perfume that contained every spice under the sun over incense: it smelled mainly natural and was originally made for CDG founder Rei Kawakubo as an mood-enhancing elixir to steel the nerves, yet allow you to relax in its warm aura, all the while in the full realisation that you were wearing something emphatically cool. It was the perfume that brought spices, and the edible, back into the fold when the trends in perfumery were going in the opposite, more anorexic,  directions of Eau D’Issey and CK One, and for that we must be grateful.

I mention this perfume because it was what Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc vaguely reminded me of the first time I tried it on (after all, both scents are based on the same specific geographic location, the Moroccan spice market). But where in the CDG souk-fest the spices and other elements feel pressed together and fused in the laboratory, Parfum De Maroc allows for no such artificially induced compression and bursts from its bottle unsuppressed, natural essences of a very sensual Turkish rose absolute layered over a prominent base accord of cardamom and myrrh essential oil ( an essence I have used in face creams and whose odour I know intimately), all swirling, diffusively and suggestively, while a captivatingly spicy accord of galangal ( a more fiery relative of ginger ), black pepper, saffron and nutmeg lower your defences as they choreograph themselves around the soaring red rose – surely the star of the show. It is a scent that needs red, orange, gold, rich fabrics, and a person with a warmer heart than mine to wear effectively: it is gorgeous, but on me I find the perfume almost torrid, the untamed nature of the pure essential oils used, particularly the myrrh, almost intimidatingly rich and heart-filling (Parfum De Maroc would work amazingly as a grief or shock-absorber….it is the perfect antidote to cold of all kinds….)

Still, if I wasn’t quite comfortable wearing this heady perfume on myself I still had an urge to keep smelling it for some reason, and so I then committed what might be seen as something of a perfumista sin …

Like other essential oils, which I sometimes evaporate in oil burners placed in different parts of the house, I decided to try ‘burning’ Parfum De Maroc, just to see, letting its Arab vapours fill the entire house with its florid coils of quietly pulsating heat, and I must tell you that the smell, as it slowly made its way around corners and into each room as I caught its poignant, exotic warmth, practically made me swoon.

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Filed under Flowers, Rose, Spice