Greetings everyone and a very happy 2013 to you. Thanks for being part of The Black Narcissus: I am meeting some lovely, really interesting people on here and am very much looking forward to some more exchanges over the next twelve months and beyond. Don’t be shy! Let’s rant, wane and wax together…
I hope you had a lovely Christmas/holiday period and are rested and ready for the new year. Myself, I emerged, reluctantly, from my cocoon yesterday and went off into Tokyo to research vanilla perfumes for my latest Sweet Little Thing guest post over at Olfactoria’s Travels (it will come out on Friday, so please have a look if you are interested in the various discoveries of my bean odyssey). Stopping at Lush in Shinjuku, which was SO packed with people bargain hunting at the sales it almost precipitated a claustrophobic panic attack, I tested their sandalwood-heavy Vanillary, which is an effective little perfume in its heavy-hitting, jasmine absolute, coconut-incense-stick kind of way, very erotic and in-your-face, but then came across a small perfumed sensation and forgot all else: LADYBOY.
That name!! The pungent, rotting bananas of the top notes!
The bubblegum, nail polish and eyelash-heavy violets! I simply had to get a bottle – and it just so happened, on that day, to be 50% off as well (only the Shinjuku branch stock this perfume, which shows its oddness): I suppose it was never likely that a large chunk of the populace would go for a perfume that smells of melting hot bananas and amyl nitrate.
Now, the banana is not a note we often find in perfumery, and my Ladyboy has the most overt banana as its main note I have ever smelled…..
But what other bananas are there?
Probably my first exposure to the note of the genus musa was in J Del Pozo’s Quasar, a blue-sporty fragrance from 1994 that nevertheless had a very innovative top note of fresh green banana leaf that I always thought should have been the mainstay of the fragrance (it wasn’t – what came later was always a disappointment). It imprinted itself on my brain nevertheless. A brilliant banana did come, later, in the form of Vanille Banane by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a scent I discovered while staying in Paris: fresh, delightful banana, halfway between the clean, unripened fruit, and those chewy, artificial, 2p banana sweets you grew up with from the local shops – dry, fresh, a touch acidic- but it then folded, unfortunately, into the ‘classic’ Comptoir vanilla, which always errs on the side of the sickly and plastickly sweet. You would have to be a really cute party bopper to pull that one off effectively, and I unfortunately couldn’t, on my skin.
A very unusual banana tree note was later to be found in Jean Patou’s Sira Des Indes, a very languid, almost sardonic, tropical perfume that features a top note of banana leaves before turning to a more voluptuous, if beautifully blasé, animalic floral: I wish this perfume had had more success because the combination was very interesting, though clearly ultimately too decadent to ever find mainstream success.
One perfume I own that combines flowers and banana delightfully is a rare scent I found at the flea market one Sunday – Jazmin by Le Jardin De Jimmy Boyd, a Barcelona-based perfumer whose jasmine flowers morph effortlessly into banana leaves and then morph back again….an effect that is either simply the quality of the jasmine flowers used (which might have a fruity-tropical facet) or is a trick by the perfumer….either way this is by far my favourite jasmine and the watery, luscious banana green of the top notes only makes it better.
Aside these, I know of few banana perfumes, so please let me know if you are aware of others.
So….Ladyboy. But before we get to Ladyboy, let’s talk some more about bananas.
For me, I am not sure if the banana would necessarily feature in my Fruit Top Ten (would it yours?), but I do love the taste and smell of the fruit and am also somewhat obsessed with the banana tree growing in our back garden (which has grown to unexpectedly monstrous proportions), as well as the smaller ones growing in pots on my balcony and in the hallway upstairs. Kamakura is strange in that it has winters not much warmer than England but fully tropical summers, as hot as Borneo and equatorial Africa, which means you see snow on palm trees in February, and frost on the poor banana trees which tower back up again in August, never to fully bear fruit as they die on the vine at the beginning of November; a sterile frustration I always feel as the baby bananas start to cluster in June…..
But to that fruit top ten:
(I would love to hear yours as well by the way, as I am a fruit freak. I basically love all of it, though I am somewhat less partial to kiwi and melon than other fruit (which is why I never go for those appallingly melona melona scents like Eau Emotionelle and Après La Mousson….and why I wasn’t overstruck on the kiwi perversions of Amouage Interlude…)
Off the top of my head:
6. apple (not Japanese: English, or the like)
9. orange/satsuma/Japanese iyokan
Basically I go for the tart, and the fluffy dessert flesh of the banana doesn’t even seem like fruit to me, somehow, more a species all of its own: a beautiful alien: creamy, pulpy, feathery (goodness writing this is really making me crave a banana….!), and yet Duncan and I, despite this, did have a whole party one summer based around the fruit.
Before your minds turn toward filth and assumptions, let me say that we also had a beautiful wintery party in Tokyo called Kirsch, but I can see that I am digging myself into ever deeper holes by talking about cherries and bananas, oh dear.
Kirsch was held at a 1950’s café-diner in Ebisu called Kissa Ginza, and all was red, and all was cherry, and it was sublime, if chaotic… Delicious Banana, meanwhile, came from a postcard we found one day. As is well known, Japanese English is often hilariously, atrociously bad on a daily basis, or else almost surrealistically strange and simple, like the innocent declaration ‘delicious banana’ which is so saturated with itself and its nothingness we quickly picked it up and turned it into a party, which I must tell you about here if you have nothing better to do.
Delicious Banana was one of our strangest festas (and we have had many), for a number of reasons. Firstly, the venue: a curious, three-storied art café called Mogura (mole), which was as tight a fit as a fairy-tale, and had very poor air conditioning, which brings us to the second point: it was, or seemed like, the hottest day of the year, seriously, seriously boiling: sweltering like you couldn’t imagine (around 36 degrees, though hotter in my memory, with about 80% humidity). I remember us carting records, cds, decorations and white Casablanca lilies all the way from Kamakura (at least 90 minutes away), and arriving covered in lily powder, our clothes ruined; we bought heaps and heaps and heaps of bananas and hung them everywhere……the guests came all in yellow, and we had little kids running around in banana hats, plus the menu, all devised beforehand of course, was exclusively banana (it’s a wonder I ate a banana ever again…)
There was banana salad; banana tacos, banana desserts… bananas were coming out of our ears and we were wilting from the heat along with the bananas that were stringing the stairwells…
The music, which I spent a lot of time on, was all tropicalia-tastic, and I remember almost swooning with pleasure dancing to ‘One Day In Your Life’ by MJ with my beautiful friend Takako in temperatures that were not fit for human beings upstairs….the heat, the sun pouring through the skylights…we almost became our very own banana flambée of human melée; the climax being when I ended up trussed and decorated by five or six women ( the other strange thing about that party: for some reason it was exclusively female apart from Duncan and myself, hilarious given the name of the event) and, in some kind of fertility ritual, all of which happened spontaneously, I was dressed up and made up by the women in some Wicker-Man-like sacrifice (though in honesty the end result was more like Carmen Miranda….)
The party is imprinted in my memory as fun and banana bliss, and as the place it was held no longer exists, just writing about it here feels like some sad, beautiful tropical resurrection…
So there I was in thick makeup, anyway, covered in fruit, and here I am now wearing Ladyboy. And like the Delicious Banana party with the women congregating around, and showered with the fruit, is there an internal joke to the perfume?: the lack, or the covered-up fruit of the Thai transsexual or ‘transvestite’ an implicit feature of the creation?
Who is to say? Simon Constantine, the perfumer at Gorilla Perfumes, strikes me as a very nice kind of person and I can’t imagine any gender or homophobic malice; strangely, the rich banana of the top note segues beautiful with a powdery, thickly scented violet that might recall makeup, but also those delectable, hot, coconut, banana and tapioca desserts that Thai cooks make so exquisitely, and the ‘invisible banana’ is an interesting sexual motif dangling enigmatically in the mental void of this ladyboy in any case; it is possible that I put too much stock in the name of perfumes sometimes but then I think that the names of scents, like the names of paintings and mixtapes, are crucial, making linkages in the mind that involve the participant and open vistas and connections in the soul that when truly inspired…
I have also been to Bangkok and it was dizzying; being driven at night in a tuk-tuk bicycle taxi to a restaurant where the delicious smelling lime-chilli fish had me drooling and weeping hot involuntary tears it was so spiced as the lights on the water bobbed and the mysteries I could never understand lay mercilessly on the other side of the bay….
While we were there I don’t know if we actually ever met any real ‘ladyboys’, but I have met my fair share of Asian crossdressers or whatever term you find most suitable, and I am happy to wear a scent in their honour; the humour, the true beauty, the confusing gorgeousness; all of this is served well in this perfume…
The smell of nail varnish, of hair spray, of the little cabaret’s dressing room and its fairy lights on mirrors conjured up by the acetatey sheen of the initial, artificial banana smell; the bizarre addition of seaweed added to the mix, which I can’t thankfully detect ( I HATE seaweed, the smell and the taste of it, which is a problem living in Japan! ) but which I imagine adds some leathery temperance and wearability under the banana banners; the perfume becoming, eventually, an eminently wearable perfume of oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum, the scent definitively no longer a joke if, in fact, it ever was one.