Last Saturday I attended the opening of the new Lush megastore in Shinjuku, busiest station in the world; a throng of people darting and threading (to be more exact, gliding in various directions – there is a choreography; people rarely collide with each other here); emerging from stairs of stations, crossing en masse, meeting and parting and entering and leaving the reefs of unknown buildings – the animation of Saturday; thrilling in some ways, that weekend rush,and yet you do have to be in the right state of mind for it – the sheer numbers of people filling up every available space, slipping and pulling you along.
It seemed to me as if half of the people on the streets were crowded into the four story brand new Lush store, opening that morning, in which an extraordinarily potent olfactory cacophony of bath bombs and soaps, perfumes, body sprays, cosmetics (including a beautifully innovative sushi conveyor belt going round selling freshly made concoctions for face and body) gelled and glowed with neon signage, a hip, cosmopolitan crowd, congratulatory flower bouquets, and a range of fragrances currently exclusive to this retail space (they are stocked as well at the flagship store in Liverpool, which will be selling my book at the Fragrance Library, with Shinjuku also hopefully to follow).
My companion for the morning was Catherine, a perfume lover like no other (this woman truly lives for perfume – I have never known anyone else quite comparable – she lives and breathes the stuff). We met at the station – or rather I retrieved her from one of the labyrinthine exits – so easy to get untethered and lost in this warren, which can be disorientating if you don’t have your wits about you or get pushed, led along in the wrong direction – and we busily, once doing the tour of the place – an entire floor seemingly devoted to bath bombs and soap; another for sundries, intriguing books and esoteric vinyl (Lush even has its own record label), oceans of face products and shampoos, became firmly ensconced on the perfume floor, where, alongside familiar Lush/Gorilla Perfumes classics such as Lust, Vanillary, Breath Of God, Imogen Rose, and Cardamom Coffee (one of Duncan’s signature perfumes), as well as many, many others – I couldn’t help picking up the Old Delhi station perfume oil, all cinnamon, clove and jasmine, from this section; Catherine fell for the hardcore indole jasmine blast that is Lust – we found ourselves eventually more intrigued by the Perfume Library and its enticing range of perfumes from past and reworked to edgily brand new – that which perused, and smelled ad nauseam on each other, and on ourselves, and on paper strips until we were through.
There are shuddery vibrations to many of the more extreme Lush perfumes; like poisonous odorous flowers that forbid you to be touched. This comes, I think, both from the high percentage of natural essential oils that pervade the blends and give them a sense, almost, of being living entities rather than merely fragrance compositions, but also from perfumer Simon Constantine’s firmly idiosyncratic, almost waywardly fierce approach to making perfumes; perfumes with provocative names and sometimes quasi barbaric aromatic intensity that usually deliver on their promise. Some of the more virulently masculine scents in the range such as Smuggler’s Soul and Lord Of Goathorn are commanding and potentially quite erotically intoxicating on the right individual (but that individual quite obviously isn’t me – I can’t do burnt, smoky, or perfumes that remind me of woodcutters or Nicolas Cage chasing forest demons in the recent horror classic, ‘Mandy’). Still, they demand attention; they do feel alive. And much as I loved the name, Sweet Grandma
could only remind me of the Mother at the end of Pyscho – both Catherine and I exclaimed aloud how it smelled just utterly like mothballs; truly Gothic and ancient – naphthalene, when someone has taken out their winter clothes from storage and sits next to you on the bus :a becoated sarcophagus facing forward; hollow skull; eyesocketless; with a stroked and carefully brushed bun of natty, flaxen hair. Not having tried this one on skin – which apparently has notes of orange blossom and rosewood as main features – I can’t comment on its progression or structuring, but I will certainly be going back to the store when it has quietened down a notch as I think it is one of the most singularly strange perfumes I have ever encountered in my life.
The extensive wares in the Perfume Library vary in price, from standard niche cost up to the levels of Tom Ford and the like; Secret Garden, an intensely animalic and earthy perfume composed of osmanthus absolute, myrrh and immortelle was the most expensive of the line at 36,000 yen, while others (Cocktail, Assassin Remix, Two More Hearts) fell in between. Catherine was rather drawn to Death And Decay, which I have reviewed before – a light and slightly perturbing evanescence of lilies and powder, but though we both quite liked the violet cassie party girl vibe of Tuca Tuca, and the spriteliness of Pansy, it was V – a quite mesmerisingly velveteen violet perfume that hovers on the skin in a way I have never experienced before (for me it was like a retreat from everything in the later afternoon light of lace curtains; sun still emitting warmth onto your cotton sheets but not enough to give you the sense of a complete and utter escape from everyday responsibility, just you and the sense of your body in the bed, and the soft bedclothes, and the violets – downy, vanillic as a retort to the bitter green oddness of the top accord, which I find difficult, but not enough to prevent us from finding this perfume too singular to ignore – we both got a bottle); a mix of Ghanian ylang ylang, cedar wood, cinnamon, clove, and plush, plush violet flowers with the tang of the greenest violet leaf up top, V is a re-release of one of Lush’s first perfumes from 1995 especially for this event.
As is Salarium, a reorchestration of another original Lush perfume (though under a different brand name at the time) from 1989 that for some reason I find engrossing and addictive in its sheer saltiness and sexual intensity; although composed of oudh, neroli, oakmoss, and rose, you would swear instead that this is an eighties fougere along the lines of Drakkar Noir, with a dash of Kenzo Pour Homme ; like a cop from Miami Vice who has been brought back from the dead with mouth to mouth resuscitation after falling into the bay …..a scent that lashes and douses you in sea spray, leaving you strangely suspended. As usual, there is something that ambivalently affects me at the chest level in the initial spray, but the magnetism of the perfume is undeniable. I had to have it – and Duncan wore it the next day, leaving rock pools of planed and saline mistscapes in each room that he had been in, he leaving, again for Tokyo, a couple of hours before me.
Again, the train journey to Shinjuku. This time to film a scene for his new film, he with vast and heavy prop-filled suitcase in hand, me bringing up the rear later (the night before we had gone to a Thai karaoke bar in Yokohama to meet Michael, where an entire kickboxing team and their entourage had descended; fascinating, but as I enjoyed crooning Falling, from Twin Peaks, and Do you Really Want To Hurt Me? with a stranger, I was too tired; burnt out, actually; ; work has got progressively better as the term has gone on; more involved, but also more straining on my central nervous system; all the performing). It decentralises me, and the next day I woke up feeling subdued; you might even say subterraneaneous, or at the very least just encased in my own self: : : needing solitude and space.
Odd though it may have been, given the gloomy and rainy weather outside, the humidity oppressive through thick clouds, contrasted with the glassy ice gleam of air-conditioned air on the trains – I could feel it, from mouth down to my ventricles, that unnatural way of breathing, like snorkelling, which I could never do (always drowning in salt water immediately; I prefer to just dive down deep as far as I can with my natural lungs before returning to surface); the contradiction of moisture and dryness in the atmosphere complemented by my own choice of fragrance that day as I dreamed alone back up to Shinjuku, that strange hub of government, finance, pleasure, crime, and irrepressible energy; Unda Maris by Filippo Sorcinelli.
While it might be easy to mock such a self proclaimed aesthete and fashionista synaesthesiast such as this Italian renaissance man – organist, perfumer to the pope, artist – I do think that the perfumes from his extensive ranges – Unum, Nebbia, speak for themselves. They are refined; spectral, elegant. They let you dream. The Extraits De Musique, whose bottles are shaped precisely like organ stops, and whose fragrances are based on one particular sound from the church organ – are soft and inspired, variations on benzoin and frankincense and all other kinds of churchly resins just in different proportions to fit the musical note in question – are all very wearable, if not very affordable; in reflective mood I could happily wear several.
Unlike Nebbia Spessa, another marine fragrance from this perfumer, which is an almost sensurround asphyxiation under water, the concept behind the fragrance exactly this – the terror, and awe, of the ocean – Unda Maris is a far more ethereal, gentle, and unearthly experience. Like being bathed in the sound of the organ – I could say also the celestial chorus of Neptune, easily my favourite part of Holst’s Planet Suite, a piece I would listen to as a child at maximum capacity and be awed, subsumed, abducted by sea people (though that might be taking it too far);, nevertheless, the experience of wearing the perfume definitely bathed me in hush ; as sense of going under. If most perfume is a plus sign, a yang rush, then this is a benevolently minus yin submergence of benzoin and angelic frankincense with a photorealistic vision of a bay; not just the waves but the air and the clouds as well; like being transported to a different physical and mental reality; when D tried this on once I was almost derouted mentally as I kept actually feeling as though I really were on an isolated beach, with no sunshine; too saline and rock-beaten to cast off as merely an afternoon fragrance.
In the almost empty train car of the new Keio line, I found that the perfume, which I had applied quite a lot of (it is an extrait) put me in a state of peculiar tranquillity. In many ways not me – I do like marine fragrances sometimes, but they are more what you might call my perfumes for specialist occasions – this nevertheless is a scent I would consider buying as it seems to bestow a unique experience on me; the train carriage felt like an aquarium, I felt defleshed and cool, as if I were in some underwater kingdom, accessing caverns – my rib cages as coral – drifting slowly down the space inside, and look out at fishes and the undulations of anemones; the fruited notes at the centre of the perfume lifting the sea smells, while beneath, incense and almost dirty balsams played like body smell of the organist’s fingers on the keys; Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie, or The Sunken Cathedral, which I also once played for a piano diploma almost thirty years ago to this day in a huge church hall under a crucifix; the deep resonance of the drenched, submersed chords as the drowned building continues, periodically, to emanate its ghostly music
The next day, I woke up to a bad cold; throat and ear infection, dizzy, and have been off work all week, in bed ( I cannot teach when not able to properly hear or speak). Recovering my energy, which all but disappeared after the franticness of the teaching week and overstimulated creative and sensorial shenanigans of the weekend, I have realized that this is something I need to curb, as I need to be more respectful to the limits of my sensitivity and realise that our natural inclinations towards hedonism require temperance.
Sometimes I feel as if I am bleeding out in all directions, and feel unanchored.
Though unwell, however ( I am recovering today, the rest has done me good, my chest is clearing, and I can taste and smell again – at first I had pure anosmia, a further ‘cowering into self’…..no longer fully sentient, the world around you becomes ever smaller and less important); a little guilty; but not really – – – – – – – this is the first time in a long while that I have felt fully relaxed; even serene. Cloistered at home. But silent.