Category Archives: Tuberose

TUBEROSA

 

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Burning Bush, a creature from my imagination made flesh by my person ( see above ), an occasional entity I find quite necessary to embody in these dumb, fascistic times (no matter how ‘horrifying’ some of my old friends and family may find it), performed at a Tokyo cabaret this last Saturday night, singing a slowed down semi-acappella piano version of Kate Bush’s yearnful song from 1978, The Man With The Child In His Eyes.

It was an incantation : an exorcism; pure catharsis.

The scent: :  Dior Poison Esprit de Parfum Proche; Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion, and Roja Dove Tuberose Parfum.

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Filed under JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Psychodrama, religious hatred and death, Republican, Tuberose

AMERICAN SILLAGE : : : ESTEE LAUDER PRIVATE COLLECTION (1973) + PRIVATE COLLECTION TUBEROSE GARDENIA ( 2007 )

 

 

 

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Private Collection is an American classic. Extremely distinctive, there is nothing else quite like it. Green, lush, austere but yearningly romantic, melancholic yet somehow perennially optimistic, this powdery, vetiver-based, ravishingly and sharply green floral is a perfume that pierces the senses and remains lodged in the memory forever.

 

I should know. Not only did my mother go through a period of wearing this in the eighties, when I was about seventeen (she was never averse to trying new pastures when it came to fragrance, although with many selections, this was limited, like Private Collection, to only one bottle or two), but my high school French teacher would also wear this anomalous perfume in too high profusion in the lessons, creating an odd dichotomy between her dimininutive, dumpy presence, appalling French accent, and the plushly orchestrated delight of fresh flowers and grasses that would fill up the room like a crushed, vernal symphony.

 

 

I have talked before of what I see as the ‘rich divorcée’ accord in most Estee Lauder perfumes, a phrase that to me sums up virtually the entire early catalogue, from Youth Dew to Aromatics Elixir, through Cinnabar,  Knowing and Spellbound: that familiarly dense, compressedly aldehydic, ‘respectably perfumed’ aspect that forms the base of all this house’s creations (even the green dewiness of a perfume such as Pleasures, that nineties phenomenon, somehow withholds and extends this very ‘acceptable, take her to meet her future mother-in-law’ aspect that is at the heart of most American perfumery). No, it is undeniable. Madame Lauder’s perfumes have never been dirty, or daring (with the exception of Alliage), nor coquettish, licentious, nor filthy  – that would be the prerogative, surely, of the French, stereotypical though that last sentence surely is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I know, though, that real perfume connoisseurs reading this at this moment know exactly what I mean.  Lauder’s perfumes always kept you at arms’ length, even while inviting you to inhale their peculiar artistry, to sit admiringly in their undeniably impressive aura, and to feel that the person in question, is, undeniably, ‘all woman’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Private Collection, like Gabrielle Chanel’s own Nº19, was apparently created originally for Estee Lauder’s private use, and only later released to the public (“every woman should have this in her own private collection”), a canny marketing strategy that would feel glib and empty to me were it not for the fact that Private Collection really does smell, and quite intensely,  private.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps this is what made me feel so….not uncomfortable, exactly, but dislodged and quietly – at the back of my brain as I tried to learn the finer points of French grammar – mesmerized, offput, during the period leading up to the university entrance exams. Where I would have been there in my Chanel Pour Monsieur or Armani Pour Homme or Givenchy Gentleman, and the girls were all wearing Loulou, Poison, Anais Anais, or Lauder’s own new fluffy pink sweater-in-bosoms release, Beautiful, the elevated olfactory countenance of my French teacher’s perfume, which lawnmowered down all others in the room and filled it to every corner, was like watching a funeral casket from behind a privet hedge, your senses heightened, as you smelled the lilies, green roses, but most importantly, the most mournful flowers of them all, piled high on the gleen of the coffin, a glut of white chrysanthemum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It felt, almost, like intruding. And it is this bitter, doleful and more perspicacious aspect of Private Collection that raises the perfume above all possible banality and, by association, its more slatternly, easy-going peers. It is a classically American grand parfum that was created by Vincent Marcello (who I had never heard of before doing some research for this piece), but who apparently was a perfumer who is credited with only two other creations –  Halston Z14 and Caron’s legendary spiced leather, Yatagan.

 

 

 

 

This is revealing. Where a perfumer’s perfumography is often very extensive, their concoctions and signature style of scent creation lent out to all and sundry who want to use them (think Alberto Morillas or Bertrand Duchaufour), I often think that when a perfumer has only created a handful of perfumes (but classic and enduring ones), this shows us just how much time and effort, inspiration and execution must have gone into the process before the perfume was finally revealed to its eager public; I imagine him or her toiling fervidly behind confidential closed doors in their laboratory, adding and subtracting, sighing and elating, until the exact composition they had had in mind all along reveals itself to them like a slave in a piece of marble by Michaelangelo. The perfume was there, waiting to be exist; it just had to find the right moment to be released.

 

 

 

 

 

Like Yatagan and Halston Z14,  Private Collection is incredibly complex. Beginning with citric, and very incitingly chlorophylled top notes of leaves and grasses, bergamot and coriander, the mordant sting of chrysanthemum and reseda (a fragrant, herbaceous plant), along with Bulgarian rose, aldehydes, honeysuckle and linden, the perfume – immediately poetic, heart beating firmly beneath its worldly veneer – is on-point and extroverted, ready to show off the beautiful home and quintessential gardens; yet simultaneously, just under the surface, obviously, still, quite defensive and withdrawn. Mr. Marcello quite brilliantly counterpoints the pointed and imperious green notes of the grande facade entrance with a more wistful and emotive heart of powdery rose-kissed heliotrope, and a subtle, but lingering, endgame of vetiver, musk, sandalwood, and amber. With these deep psychological complexities, in the tensions between the dark green of the botanical shadows and the more urbane pleasures of the daylight, Private Collection is, thus, for me, one of the most paradoxical and contradictory perfumes that I know: and therein lies its brilliance.

 

 

 

 

In his seminal review of Private Collection, The Perfumed Dandy, who adores this perfume, it would seem, as he keeps returning to it, writes of it that is ‘a scent of solitary sorrow, a perfume of private grief and almost immeasurable melancholy, marrying nettles and lawn grass with oak moss and earth to achieve a cool, reserved opening of remarkable detached intensity.’

 

 

 

 

 

I think that this is a perfect way of describing the overall effect of Private Collection,  although unlike the Dandy, I could never wear this perfume on myself. Although I do have a few miniature bottles of the vintage parfum picked up at Tokyo fleamarkets that I treasure for memory’s sake, and which I am in fact wearing while writing this on a grey rainy day in Kamakura, much as I love it, ultimately this most arch of American perfumes is a little too recherché, polite, reserved and conservative for a person like me. Its inherent strictures would bring on irritation. Moreover, it made such an enduring impact on my psyche as an adolescent, that it is definitely too firmly rooted, now, in my past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Which brings us to Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. Fast forward almost a quarter of a century, and Lauder’s grand daughter Aerin, now at the helm of the formidable U.S cosmetics behemoth, revives the Private Collection name in 2007 with a brand new ‘niche’ perfume set aside from the main commercial lineup, Tuberose Gardenia. The fragrance community go wild at the prospect of a linear, American white floral containing these luscious, white flowers, and once again the canny institution has another commercial hit ….

 

 

 

 

Although I had smelled it once briefly in Harrods as the concept had piqued my curiosity (and I must say I quite liked the bottle), it wasn’t until recently, when I picked up a small, boxed miniature of this perfume at a recycle shop here in Japan that I got the chance to study this perfume in thorough detail. I was surprised, and not unpleasantly. Readers of The Black Narcissus will know by now that I have quite schizoid tastes, favouring either the grave, dark and unmistakably elegant, or else sweet, wild, flagrant tropicalia, with not very much in between. I love white flower perfumes of the jasmine, frangipani, tuberose and gardenia variety and find that I am wearing them more and more. Current work perfumes, usually worn (for me at least) discreetly at the wrist under white shirt cuff and under a suit jacket, include Dolce and Gabbana’s exquisite Velvet Desire (the perfect jasmine /gardenia – really, you must try it), Reva De Tahiti’s Eau de Tiare, and, perhaps amusingly, Elizabeth Taylor’s peachy delicious, and very Southern American Belle, Gardenia. I don’t quite know how these perfumes smell to other people, but to me, on me, they smell unclichéd, sensuous, and delightful, a drenched and floral riposte to the limitations of gender, nationality and boring limitations on freedom in general. I do feel liberated in flowers.

 

 

 

 

Given this, it would seem then that Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia would slot perfectly into my scent list for a surreptious scenting on a daily work basis, almost guaranteed in advance to be quite non-threatening, ‘clean’, yet pleasingly alluring, as is the case with most of the perfumes that comes from the ascetic land of the pilgrims and its hysterically deep-seated fear of nudity, dirt, and the flesh. That it is also based on two of my absolute favourite floral notes in existence thus means, surely, that this recent Estee Lauder was destined to be mine.

 

 

 

 

And it is, in many senses. I like it. But although I had been dreaming of an ideal marriage of white petals; creamy and clean and sun-riven with a delicately aquatic touch of sea breeze – the ideal, soothingly light sillage I would like to give off when passing by the students who are sitting near the blackboard –  in fact, Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia turns out to be much darker in essence and impact, more tenebrous and far reaching than I had presumed.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, there are the aforementioned flowers at the fore: pristine and fresh, along with a rather overly insistent note of neroli; and in its crisp, state-of-the-art technology, developed by the fragrance giant Firmenich, this perfume also lasts far, far  longer than I would have anticipated, whether on skin or on clothes (despite its being a tiny 4ml vaporisateur, I am thankful that it is one of those spray bottles that allow you to use the fragrance in miniature, infinitesimal spurts that are no more than what you need). Wearing this composition, even if the tiniest doses, I do, I must admit, feel very polished, pleasantly scented, and intriguingly, ‘professionally’ fragranced, throughout my working day.

 

 

 

 

 

Yet despite the listing of notes on Fragrantica (lilac, rosewood, carnation and Bourbon vanilla as well as the anticipated florals, none of which were featured in the original creation from 1973), and the sun-filled, white petalled overture, which really does smell of laboratory-approximated tuberose flowers and gardenias done in the California manner, soon, on my skin, this perfume turns into……………………………Private Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no denying it. Really. It is unmistakeable. The old, original perfume haunts the new one. And looking, just now, more closely at the various descriptions of Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, I see that the perfume was in fact created ‘to honor the memory of Aerin’s grandmother, by creating a new perfume which is based on the fragrance Private Collection created at the beginning of the 1970s especially for Estee Lauder’s use’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are suddenly enlightened. Private Collection lies at the very heart of Tuberose Gardenia, subtle, and hidden;  cleverly concealed within the essential structure: the newer perfume, being, I have thus realized, a form of palimpsest, a piece of paper on which the original writing has been erased, at least superficially, with brand new words inscribed on it anew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I think this is a touch of genius. It fascinates me. The full-circle, unintended linkage with my own memories of that first, unforgettable, perfume and the life I am living right now. That having worn Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia in my own classroom, now as the teacher, rather than the student ( I wonder if any of the Japanese teenagers in my class are having their own private cerebral reactions to my smell the way I did with my own language teacher), I can now see the ineffable connections reaching all the way back to my own past history as well that original perfume’s sombre grandiosity; its orthodox traditionalism and inheritance: the dense, dark green of its secret gardens; its strange, American beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Gardenia, Green, Tuberose

NINE AND A HALF WEEKS: : : : TUBEROSA by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1939)

 

 

 

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Off-white lipid tuberoses float in musked, Italian water: looming, moonstruck flowers that exhale blushlessly with a pure and florally animal sexuality – full, rude skinned smells to make the introspective, the loveless, and the anaphrodisically affected white floral hater shudder.

 

 

But for hot and uninhibited lovers of the flesh, these beautifully erotic flowers, aided and abetted and then captured in rich alcoholic liquid by those Florentine magicians of the monastery (their chastity very much in doubt as the fumes of this tuberosa rise up from the flacon) coalesce beautifully to produce an unfettered and uncensored perfume that is mesmerizing: rich, sweet, natural and heavy;  langid and dripping, like barely sated bodies in blissfully semi-conscious repose.

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ANGELS AND INSECTS: LA CHASSE AUX PAPILLONS by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1999)

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This uplifting, flowery delight by L’Artisan Parfumeur was recently being pushed by Yokohama Barney’s New York as a wedding scent: the window dressings, fancy as ever all swirling linden petals; pink blooms, tuberose princesses; and lepidoptera brides. I don’t know if it is especially nuptial – though that idea certainly does make sense, for the butterflies, fluttering in your stomach – but I do know that La Chasse Aux Papillons is lovely;  heady, joyous, light-winged and summery.

 

A whirl of leaves as you rush gaily past shrubs; a dizzying flourish of petals : tuberose, linden, orange blossom – the linden blossom crucial here, steering the perfume in a different direction from the majority of feverish hot house flowers and giving the perfume a slightly cooler, more mysterious edge, the whole an exuberant delight that I really like and have on occasion even considered buying – but for some, all the giddying, whirling about with the butterfly nets may leave you dizzy, s ick……..

 

 

A fragrance, then for the extovert I would say; for someone not afraid of display his or her colours, of reeling in admirers.

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Linden, Tuberose

SIX TUBEROSES

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It is cold, it is icy, and like many perfume lovers, I cannot only limit myself to the cosy and the spicy in winter: I find myself dreaming of summer, fast forwarding in my mind to that moment in May here (can’t wait) when everything goes ballistically pink and green; an explosion of lush life after the cherry blossom petals get blown and washed away from the trees by the last ferocious squalls of Spring and everything heats up; jungle like; humid, moist and fragrant. Sometimes I just want to branch out, rip myself out of the January mindset and let hot flowers bloom; I find myself dousing my skin in the ylangs and noix de coco that make up a sizeable part of my daily collection; the tuberoses, gardenias, the vanilla and the frangipani. I can’t just remain dormant and docile and huddled and feasting on gingerbread.

So today, though the subject has been done to death by every perfumista under the sun, let’s revel in the alabastrine lust of these floral beauties, let their noxious transulence asphyxiate us with their lone, sensuous purpose…..

 

THE TUBEROSE.

 

 

 

EAU DE TUBEREUSE by LE JARDIN RETROUVE

 

The tuberose is no rose. It is a voluptuary: a night-blooming flower from India and Mexico with white, fleshy petals and a sweet, unavoidably carnal aroma of hot skin and stamens. Victorian girls were forbidden to adorn themselves with tuberose toilet waters for fear they would swoon with certain discomforting thoughts (so difficult to avoid with a scent of such delirious candour), and the classic tuberoses,  such as this gorgeous creation by French house Le Jardin Retrouvé ( a perfume I found at the flea market) up the ante of this luscious facet to glorious effect. I am very partial to the billowy soft insinuations of perfumes like the dreamy original Chloë by Karl Lagerfeld, and Tubéreuse is of the same template, only stronger, more lush, more medicinal, more…..tuberose.

 

 

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CARNAL FLOWER / EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FREDERIC MALLE (2005)

 

A friend of mine, Yuta, lives down the hill from me in Kamakura with his wife Mikako. She has the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen: as translucently smooth as white porcelain. One Sunday in spring they came round to the house, and naturally, like all dinner party guests, they had to be found a perfume from the collection. This is usually fairly easy, as I have an idea what people will like and what will suit them. But Mikako wasn’t having any of it. My instincts towards grey-blue iris scents were rebuffed, as were all perfumes over five years old.

Determined, I kept thinking. And then, as I was looking into the living room, my eyes rested on the amaryllis flower that had just bloomed: giant, translucent pale-pink on a milky green-white stem.

‘I think I have found it’, I said.

‘What does it smell like?’ she replied.

‘Like that’, I said, pointing to the plant.

 

Carnal Flower is very original. Its creators wanted to make a classic perfume that actually resembled the living tuberose but which would be the antithesis to the standard, butter-saturated model set up by Fracas. The project was two years in the making while perfumer Dominique Ropion perfected the formula: a green, petal-centred perfume with florist-fresh top notes – the least sweet of the genre. It is a very unusual fragrance, like watching a plant growing in a sealed-off white laboratory. Crushed stems and eucalyptus leaves begin the scent, over light floral essences (jasmine, ylang), cradling the highest percentage of natural tuberose absolute used in any perfume (hence its rather extravagant price.) On me it smells wrong, but on Mikako, with her cool white skin, incredible. The coconut-milk/white musk finish, the tuberose stems, the green leaves, turned her quite simply into a cold, living flower.

 

 

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FRACAS / ROBERT PIGUET (1948)

 

Mention tuberose and most perfume lovers immediately think of Fracas, the benchmark to which all others of the type must match. A dense and potent woody floral with blasts of the most flamboyant white flowers, this is a perfume for women who like to make an entrance.

The bottle in my own collection was given to me by a friend, who in turn was given it by the late Isabella Blow, doyenne of fashion and extravagant headwear, muse of Philip Treacy, and stolid socialite of the art and fashion world. She wore so much Fracas, and carried so many little bottles about with her, that she could just hand out the perfume like sweets. Wherever Isabella Blow went, so did Fracas; to the extent that for her friends, the smell was her (isn’t that what we all secretly want from a scent?). At her funeral in September 2007, the air was ‘redolent with the scent of Fracas’, according to the Guardian, Alexander Mcqueen having decided to scent the air with her presence.

Though Ms Blow’s signature, Fracas is the preferred scent of many a diva and always has been. It is gorgeous, headstrong and sexy, which is perhaps why it is also loved by Madonna. In the Reinvention Tour documentary ‘I’m going to tell you a secret’, the singer is seen backstage, flustered and sweaty, liberally spraying her Rococo pink corset with what she refers to as her ‘Italian whore’s bath’. A huge bottle of Fracas stands in pride of place in front of her dressing room mirror.

 

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TUBEREUSE / CARON (2003)

While some tuberose perfumes verge on sickly sweet (Versace Blonde I am talking to you….) Caron judiciously allows the full sensual bloom of this flower to open without letting it cloy, tempering the florality with a delicious, creamy base; just a hint of truffle-like darkness. The result is a supremely wearable tuberose; delicate, beguiling, with an underlying texture of cool, white leather, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend for the true tuberose lover who wants to keep it close. Possibly my favourite.

 

TUBEREUSE CRIMINELLE / SERGE LUTENS (1998)

 

Until Carnal Flower came along, it was this cult creation by Serge Lutens and his wildly talented perfumer Christopher Sheldrake that had taken the crown of ‘most original tuberose’, principally due to a medicinal note of wintergreen that braced the florid top note with a shocking sensation of gasoline, rubber and Vicks Vapour rub. This highly unconventional (‘criminal’) beginning you either endure patiently because you love the beautifully petalled, fresh tuberose flowers that await beneath, or it is the principle reason you are obsessed with the perfume. I personally love it in all its perverse, ugly-beautiful glory, but understandably there are many who don’t.

 

 

 

 

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MICHAEL KORS / MICHAEL KORS (2000)

Sharpness of metal: a glinting blade slices clean through ripe, lustrous tuberose flowers to a backdrop of blue lagoon. The sky is brilliant. A fresh, watery accord of flowers cuts the air, leaving a sensuous trail in its wake. A vivid, widescreen floral: notes of fresh tuberose, ‘dewy freesia’, and ‘white wings peony’, with an interesting twist of tamarind for piquancy. It is this more androgynous note, contrasting with the sweet wetness of the tuberose, that gives the perfume its character.

A future flower is on the screen, sharp focus: near enough, almost, to make you wince. A new tuberose: shot; cut; frozen in time. And there the image stays, on pause; for this perfume is unchanging. What you see is what you get with Michael Kors. It is modern, sexy, but not up too close: I prefer the outer limits of its aura, meant to draw you up in as it tingles the air. Though not devoid of tenderness, there is perhaps too much harshness, as though the tuberose were revealing truer, chillier colours.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

 

 

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There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most certainly memorable; intensely so – seared as it was onto the collective memory when released to the world at large in 1985; a perfume that even the perfume haters were unwillingly forced to inhale on a daily basis as lustrous sorceresses clicked their heels on the pavements of world cities enveloped provocatively in mushroom clouds of venomous berries and plummy-cinnamon, purpled tuberosa musks…..

At this time, a project such as Poison was as secretive, as closely guarded, as a new film by Kubrick –  and unveiled with as much publicity and fanfare, with launch galas and champagne parties of the crème de la crème partying under the giant factice flacons and juicily indulging in the sheer excess of it all, the centre of the eighties, the shameless vortex of capitalist fun made even bigger, more implacable, in a smell.

The name that was saucily given to that aroma was the first thing that guaranteed this clever product would capture our attention (apparently it was seen as literally scandalous that the maker of such refined scents as Diorissimo and Diorella could come with such a monstrosity), but the juice itself was an entirely new departure in scent as well, so different to anything preceding it. How often can we say that now? In recent times, few perfumes can claim similar levels of pioneering, especially not in the commercial arena, where new fragrances are consumer tested, sanded down and sanitized to the sellable point where they smell pleasant (though that is debatable) and lack any obvious personality. With Poison, this real shock of the new, both in terms of marketing/advertising and the gloriously vibrant liquid within, really worked; the perfume was an enormous international hit, but was vilified in equal measure, being one of the three ugly sisters who were famously barred from restaurants and boutiques (the others being Obsession and Giorgio) due to their extraordinary potency: many simply cannot bear Poison.

 

 

I myself love it. Partly because it so beautifully captures my world of mid-eighties teenage self-discovery (all the bangle-wearing Madonna wannabes and naughty girls at every party I went to smelled of it, as did their mothers), but mainly because I just enjoy its daring, delicious, purple toxicity – that rich, sweet potion of pimiento spiced berries, coriander,  honey, opoponax, and carnal tuberose that glows from a woman’s skin with such brilliant alacrity. It is not a ‘pretty’ perfume, is not subtle, but to me Poison is a great classic; fruity, fun and ludicrously seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Note: The current version of Poison has been diluted and reformulated, as is often the case with formulae that are expensive or ‘difficult’, and the current perfume hangs her head, thinned and embarrassed, as though she has been through bouts of electric shock treatment therapy. She has been punished….

Yet I do still smell it on the streets sometimes: this must have been a big hit in Japan too, back in the day, as you sometimes catch drifts of the vintage jus surrounding Japanese older women glammed up for the theatre or some ladies’ function, especially in winter, when it warms the cockles and the lungs (just as Madonna herself still rocks that gutsy tuberose Fracas by Piguet, she herself no longer a young thing). Here, middle aged and older women are often very desexualized and put down by their male counterparts the older they get, an aspect of living in Japan that infuriates me to the core, and to me, their wearing Poison along with their furs and finery somehow seems like a quiet middle finger; a proclamation of self-worth and untapped, wasted sexuality. It smells wonderful.

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Filed under Floriental, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

JUSTIFY MY LOVE: Truth or Dare by MADONNA (2012)

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I must begin by admitting that I am obsessed with Madonna, and I don’t use the word lightly.

Ever since the glorious moment at the age of thirteen when I was struck by the celestially ascending laser-arpeggios of Lucky Star and its taut, quasar funk, she has exerted fascination over me. With her power; cold eroticism; that voice, and those beautiful, feline blue eyes that hold me like a medusa, it is a love/hate relationship that after more than a quarter of a century shows no sign of relenting. I am fixated.

 

I have dreamed about her continually since this time, probably more than any other person in my life – a fact I find almost inexplicable. Although I believe that Madonna has produced some of the most delectable, exhilarating pop music of all time, she is not my favourite musician, and I am not even sure I like her. However, a strange little book  came out in the nineties  – ‘I dream of Madonna’, that shed some light on the mystery and showed me that I am apparently not alone in having my subconscious so deeply penetrated by this beautiful, inexhaustible performer.

 

Despite my adoration, which I sometimes consider to be more like an addiction or virus (I remember in 1992 during the Erotica period feeling so possessed that I was literally anxious that she might be the devil, relinquishing the album to a friend so I could actually study for my finals), I don’t think I am actually what you might call a ‘fan’. Those uncritical hordes seem to be willingly ignorant of her faults, whereas I see them, in all their complexity and contradictions, with a sometimes painfully crystalline clarity.

 

For the fact is, despite her protestations, Madonna really is the ‘Material Girl’. It is a phrase that has become lazy shorthand for journalists but which ultimately encapsulates her. While I don’t for a moment doubt the woman’s sincerity in her spiritualistic soul-searching – Madonna is no fool – at the end of the day, those eyes are always on the money. It is a greed for mass-market success that has cheapened her music, and, unfortunately, her scent.

 

We need only look at her 2007 deal with Live Nation for evidence. Madonna is vastly wealthy, and at this stage in her career, could pick and choose her projects with a focus on quality and artistry. Take her time, make another classic. Instead, in a Faustian pact, Madonna signed a reported 120 million dollar deal with the tour and merchandising company that requires her to release albums every couple of years and then promote them by extensive touring (something that she herself admits to hating, apart from the first and last weeks of the shows, but which she does, as she mischievously says, because ‘a girl has to pay the rent’). Rather than leading to genuine inspiration – the five year hiatus between Bedtime Stories and Ray Of Light led to a startling transformation that surprised even me – Madonna now seems to be churning out music, enlisting of-the-minute producers with her unfailingly vampiric antennae, in a vain attempt to make her music sound relevant and of the moment. The commercial failure of her last two singles, the unconvincing bubblegum schtick of ‘Give me all your luvin’,  and the gay-by-numbers  ‘Girl gone wild’, suggests that the public (like me), aren’t buying it. We know she can do better.

 

 

But on to the perfume. Madonna’s late entrance onto the stage of celebrity fragrance – behind Rihanna, Mariah, J-Lo, Britney, Beyonce, and dozens of others is surprising, although the publicity for Truth Or Dare (the name comes from the documentary film from 1991 which I have seen more times than I care to relate), claims it has been 16 years in the making. Madonna, we are told,  characteristically oversaw every detail and had final stamp of approval.

It is this, Madonna  having director’s cut, that is so exciting for me as a perfume lover AND Madonnophile: we know that she has been smelling this perfume for years, on her skin, transplanted now onto my own, as though her DNA were somehow imprinted on every molecule. And here is the genius of the celebrity fragrance explosion from a marketing perspective: persona first, aroma second. We buy blind.

 

 

 

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The creation process was also apparently a tough slog, and not easy to get right, feeding into the workhorse legend that Madonna has built up of dogged determination and sweat. Her perfumer, Stephen Nelson, from fragrance giant Givaudan, was apparently terrified by her into tossing the latest vials of his formulas over her high security fences to get her verdicts (” TOO SWEET!!”, “LESS MUSK!!”) and it took over 200 attempts to get what she wanted.

 

 

What was always clear from the start was that any scent by Madonna would be a tuberose/gardenia composition. All fans know  that she loves these flowers, and will regularly arrive at interviews drenched in Gardenia Passion (Annick Goutal), or Fracas (Robert Piguet),  the classic tuberose which this  perfume is supposedly modelled on. Backstage, Madonna’s dressing rooms (always painted white to show her off to best effect, according to her brother, Christopher), are filled to profusion with these flowers and their exotic exhalations, which in such close confinement can be almost suffocating (wearing the scent liberally on Saturday night I feared I might also asphyxiate a Japanese couple who were standing in the elevator with me). The scent, therefore, had to be BIG. And it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like the moment when I finally saw her, in 2005, at Tokyo Dome for the Confessions tour, after 25 years of never quite managing to get to a concert, and almost passing out with the excitement (screaming so loudly I thought my head might burst) when this perfume arrived to me in the post I could barely touch the envelope. IT was within. I had to run around the house a bit to compose myself, get ready….

 

 

And despite my wariness and skepticism, I am still, at heart, a Sagittarian optimist, and was willing myself, as I pulled off the papal orb of the cap and sprayed the scent on my skin, to love it. In my head, having read extensively about it beforehand, I had imagined exactly how Truth Or Dare would smell.

 

The creamy white flowers; the ‘benzoin tears’ (so ‘Like A Prayer’!!), the ‘caramellized amber’; I had imagined it would be a gorgeous, enveloping thing that would make me swoon with pleasure and ecstatically start gnawing off my arm. Instead, what greeted my nose, as the alcohol evaporated, was a WHAAAATTT?!!  – a reeking miasma of shrieking, sugared florals; a familiar, tangy tuberose, and pungent whiffs of rhubarb on the boil at 78 RPM: Madame M at the decks, rocking the graphic equalizers up to +10 on the jasmine, neroli, n’ lily; the effect, on my skin at least, unhingeing. No modulation or gradation, just a big smudge of overbearing, floralicious sweet.

 

Under this oily, synthetic tuberose there is also a strange watery, plasticky note – a crackle of 12″ vinyl still unwrapped in cellophane – like chlorinated flowers in a San Diego pool. A chlorborose onslaught that continues for an hour or so, when a more pleasing white gardenia scent finally – FINALLY! – emerges against a backdrop of fruits. And at this point, the scent is quite nice: a decent white floral gourmand. But the Ciccone maniac is not yet satisfied; he keeps inhaling, yearning for an epiphany, for a mirage of the Madonna to appear (she MUST be there, surely,  somewhere in the mix), but the formula, ultimately, is too cheap for that to happen. While not a resounding failure, like Kylie’s  grotesque ‘Darling’, Truth or Dare feels incomplete.

 

The reason is this. During its creation, Madonna was constantly drawn, as you might expect, to high quality, expensive natural ingredients, but these essences, tuberose absolute and the like, cannot be used for the mass market. Thus, as she has often been doing recently, she compromised her integrity by going for a lower common denominator (the latest album has many such moments as well: the cretinously saccharine ‘Superstar’ makes me want to burn my entire record collection). But imagine if, rather than chasing another ‘deal’, she had, instead, insisted on the best, cost no object (like the fragrance houses of Amouage, Clive Christian and the like). We might then have had a perfumed grail of veneration, a bottle to covet and adore like some holy reliquary. Instead, we are left with a plastic bottle of fake gardenia nougat.

 

To be fair, at karaoke (where many, many of her highness’s hits were performed this Saturday), as the hours progressed, the scent became more pleasing to me, more fun (though that might have been because I was singing ‘Dress You Up’). But it was only hours later, after taking a bath and the top and middle notes were washed away to reveal the base, that I cracked it, realized what it was that was so familiar. Once the ersatz bouquet had faded, this is what I discovered: the entire backbone of the scent is in fact the relentless, never-ending smell of the Bodyshop’s legendary Dewberry, a scent that was once so strong it could fill a stadium. It was then that I really began to smile, and had a wonderfully nostalgic remembrance of the eighties: of Into The Groove, of dancing at teenage parties; the smell of Blond Ambition.

Madonna’s Truth Or Dare: notes of gardenia, tuberose, neroli; jasmine, benzoin tears, white lily petals; vanilla absolute, caramellized amber, and ‘sensual musk aura’.

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Filed under Celebrity Scents, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose