Category Archives: Green


It takes a certain bravery to try something new. The ‘requirements’ for men’s perfumery are so entrenched, so unbudging, that it would be impossible to overemphasize how tired the whole enterprise often feels. Mainstream fragrance is often conservative at best, only inching very slowly, trendwise, in unchartered directions, sometimes even exacerbating already exaggerated masculine tropes – Dior Sauvage, Paco Rabanne One Million – to the point where an entire gender becomes shackled.

H24 is the first Hermès men’s fragrance release in 15 years, the last being the innovative, now-modern-classic Terre D’Hermès, a flinty, grapefruit, mineralistic vetiver suspended in Jean Claude Ellena’s minimal, but very tenacious, central concept that in the unfolding years has become highly popular. I personally find it tiring, but when it first emerged on duty free shelves back then it was very original – there was a new refinement and elegance; a toned silhouette with less brute muscle, more sinew.

Christine Nagel’s brand new creation for Hermès is entirely different to its predecessor, and even more groundbreaking: a futuristic take on freshness; green and clean, both alien and human, without a traditional masculine edict in sight. I am trying to imagine ‘your average man’ picking this up from the shelf in a department store or airport from the huge selection available and selecting this one as their first choice rather than a much safer bet : to a large extent the public’s scent receptors have long been formed on what is current, what they smell around them. If the norm for women is endless percolations of the candy florachouli, years, even decades, of Angel, Coco Mademoiselle, La Vie Est Belle, Flowerbomb, and all of their imitators, anything outside those socially accepted parameters becomes perilous and risky for the average consumer. People like to sink into their comfort zones. Men even more so.

Christine Nagel, the intrepid nose at Hermès, was adamant, nevertheless, that such widely accepted clichés would not form the basis of, nor even appear in, the new addition to the house’s collection, expressly avoiding the inexorable aggro-ambers that form the basis of the vast majority of men’s fragrances. Instead, she worked with the designer for the Hermès men’s collection, Véronique Nichanian, to capture the more evaporative but stimulating concepts of ‘workshop steam, cashmere, and botanical extracts’ through an unusual combination of clary sage, rosewood, a ‘co-distillation’ of narcissus, and a synthetic called sclarene that smells of metallic, freshly ironed steam. The result, at least on first play, is like nothing I have ever smelled before – in itself a wonderful thing.

The top notes of H24 are what make me nervous about the perfume’s commercial potential. There is a sharp, almost sour, fruity piercing of sap and light in the opening accord that is unplaceable (because it simply has never existed before) which, despite or because of its oddity, feels immediately optimistic, futuristic. Even dazzling. I do think that there will be an immediate divide between those who are put off by this novelty and unfamiliarity – the sensation of synthetic photosynthesis; a scything away of the funge of the past; mind-clearing — and by those who are attracted to its pristine newness. The middle section, green, perhaps more feminine, and for me with strange, distant echoes of the piquant verts of the seventies and eighties like Lauder’s Private Collection (the perfumer has referred to H24 as a ‘high tech chypre’), has a dreamy, almost melancholic interplay with the proactive energy of the main, and this is my favourite part of the scent: there is a vague nod to the past, in some distant galaxy – but with a fresh, youthful poise. The final accord is a more placid, metallic musk fused with the constant, but pleasant, leaf – like haze that is there throughout the perfume’s duration, with less impact on the senses and emotions, a little flat, a touch unmoving perhaps – yet as a holistic whole, I know I would still very much enjoy smelling H24 on a new generation of younger, more boundlessly emancipated beings.


Filed under abstract moderns, Green, Masculines














June is the greenest month. It rains all the time, the whispering mountain undergrowth, tangled and heaving:  steamy with life and tingling death. Raindrops lodged in a spider’s web, collected; slowly descending along the veins of the leaves of new hydrangea like glass tears. Stems, blades of grass seething with chlorophyll :  the slow camera of photosynthesis. If there are bitter greens: benevolent greens, Tindrer, by Baruti, is definitely the former, a piercing loam violet shrouded in morning mists that is chilling as a gothic fairytale. Disconcerting  (it makes me shiver), it is as if this perfume exists on two simultaneous temporal planes; one deep below, where the twisting violets grow over the roots of an old oak tree, and above – an ozonic hiss of cold, silent death.

A friend of mine has often stated that if he were to choose his own exit,  absinthe would be his chosen conduit. Dying in the gutter, but staring at the stars. Thick with green,  poisonous anis, this liqueur –  this perfume – laced with wormwood, fennel, poured viscously over sugar cubes to sweeten the venom (‘patchouli and woods attempt to induce the wearer into a comforting, disinhibitive state, while sobering oakmoss and amber ease you back into the material world ), it is a decadent’s headache in a bottle. Wear it, drink it: :  intoxicated to the point of annihilatory bliss, he blurredly makes his way out, staggering into the moonlit Japanese garden to find a place among the gnarled roots, the damp moss, lie, and make his hallucinatory passage. Still conscious, he feels his way half blind towards a shaded space beneath a boxwood, writhed with ivy and potent green notes of every shade;  breathes in the air; supine; a toxically fresh herbarium of witchery in dark, coniferous chrysanthemum and aglaia bush of black copal and fir trees gradually closing in; mysterious, daunting like the stunted, clipped and menacing topiaries of vengeful Bonsai.

Hermia : the flash of the new mock orange in summer hidden in greenery as he discovers himself awakening to a new clarity. Daylight. Bird song. Subtle unobtrusion ; the rarity of morning : orange blossom, vetiver, cassis and basil are fresh, simple, there is an ease. Mesmerizing though the darkness of the forests and the secrets of the woodland inevitably are, I prefer this green, freshing uplift to the doleful siege of the dark pine forest. Yes, the final denouement of Almah Perfumes’ Green Crowne, as cheering a scent as I have discovered in recent times, might ‘merely’ be a clean, shampoo-sheened modern skin musk, but I personally prefer such gentle, mood boosting presence to the ominous, malevolent descent into coniferous murk and blackened woods that are my bane; the vivacity of those green, Calyx-like scents with their eye-brightening openings that freshen the senses into sunlight : basil, bergamot, cardamom, marjoram, citruses, a verdant perfect equilibrium of loveliness. Though the pall of this sombre season with its deep verdurous gloom is always numbingly hypnotic – (the woods are lovely, dark and deep…………….but I have miles to go before I sleep……………), I ultimately need more scintillant uplift  –  the promise of growth –  life; citrus, flowers, meadows – and sun rays –  to resist its raindrenched,  Orphic pull.










Filed under Green, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY




IMG_5600 2




IMG_9418 3




It is unexpectedly balmy for February, almost hot: yesterday I was overdressed in Tokyo, too many layers – in Shinjuku, after my last Saturday lessons for this term (so pleased to get my full three day weekend back again), to see D perform as Leon Charmé at Kings Of Tokyo, I had a couple of hours to kill having failed to get cinema tickets to see Bombshell, battling the winds that were so strong at times they could knock you over – but at least not cold – traipsing around looking what was on at other movie houses but nothing : and looking at perfumes that suit this time of year when I feel a certain loopiness in my veins as spring surges forth. Wanting to kill some time by just sitting for a short while in a local park and assessing some of the perfumes I had on me, I found myself instead being stopped by the police. Spot-checked, frisked by three young officers (in face masks: I myself, at least yesterday amid a maelstrom of emotions about the coronavirus, just got to a certain point of fuck it, look at all the surfaces everybody is touching, all the people on the trains, it’s in the air now, it’s really hard to avoid, and I just find the masks so encumbering and muzzling); outraged and indignant, as these three men invaded my space and mortified me, for absolutely no apparent reason, I found myself being very sarcastic and critical (in Japanese) with them: why weren’t also they also patting down and emptying the pockets and the bags of all the other people in the park? This is clearly racism; I am not a criminal, why are you doing this? This is SO ANNOYING   because recently there have been a lot of dangerous people about, we have to do random spot checks – what’s this in your coat pocket? Essential oil infused vaseline. Lemon. And in this pocket? The same. IyokanOrange. And in this pocket. Also perfumed hand balm. YUZU. And this? Grapefruit essential oil. SMELL IT (thrusts bottle under the nose of young officer, who obediently lifts up his face mask and takes a hesitant sniff as though it were going to be a bottle of poppers) And how about in this pocket? PERFUME  (a bottle of tampered-with Bergamote Soleil by Atelier Cologne, to which I had obviously added more bergamot, a blend  I intended to spritz onto my person as soon as I entered the cabaret that was near by; Duncan was there getting ready with all the performers back stage wearing Ungaro Senso). Me, in the vicinity;  searched, bag rummaged through; foreigner card checked (thank god I had it on me, else you know what could have happened – read my piece on The Other from the beginning of January if you want to know further); all humiliating and annoying, but it as I thought about it afterwards, wow, I was so supercilious and dismissive, but the three police officers were actually constantly apologetic, very polite, and looked almost sheepish as they rode off on their bicycles. I can tell you why this is: I had just watched Spike Lee’s excellent BlackKKlansman that morning, and you can be sure that any black Americans caught in a similar situation in the US , incensed, as I was, might not even be alive. All of this speaks volumes.





On my hand, but also seeped way too much onto my work clothes (which I am about to have to wash, as this perfume very quickly became a classic ‘scrubber’ for me, as in scrub that shit off it is disgusting ) was ‘Unexpected Mona 7753’, a green. exuberant floral that is supposed to somehow capture the enigmatic smile of the most overrated piece of art in the history of the world by Leonardo Da Vinci,  the one that millions gather mindlessly around solely because it is famous, neglecting masterpieces elsewhere in the shadows of the Louvre that are yearning to be gazed at, rather than this dun mystery of dullness that the hordes gather around solely to take selfies. In this regard, the perfume is quite good; it is modern (full, ‘floral’), perhaps with a slight retro twist (the green top accord definitely reminded me of Estée Lauder Private Collection, a perfume my mother was wearing the last time I saw her in Italy, and which smells phenomenal);  a fierce contradiction between an ivy/galbanum/bergamot/ vetiver greenness, with fruit notes of Barbary fig, Ma Khaen berry, and a woozy sandalwood, heliotrope and tuberose centre that on me very quickly became quite nauseating, stuck to my acrylic work coat and pervading my nostrils as I was searched, and delicately manhandled, by Tokyo’s finest (let’s just wash those humiliating memories right out of the clothing fibres, arigato very much- I am still stinging from it). While the Mona Lisa does have some intrigue – and I did really like those curiously beginning top notes –  after a while, on me at least, this smelled vile. 






Le Jade by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is another perfume that also obliquely references Private Collection, with its chrysanthemum top notes, a ‘nouveau retro’ green chypre that uses a pleasing overdose of the Japanese imperial flower, the kiku, a sharp, piney floral smell I personally really like despite its overabundant usage in pomp and circumstance, funeral and emperor’s ceremonial; (this year the new head of state rose to the Chrysanthemum Throne  as his father abdicated, the first emperor to do so in two hundred years). There is something severe about this floral smell that I like, and it works perfectly in a mossier, shaded context. The same perfumer’s Taj Garden is described as a ‘supremely happy flower garden fragrance’ with notes of waterlilies, marigold, sambac Jasmine subtle Indian spices with leafy green notes, and this also is a pleasant ensemble indeed; a scent to just spray on without too much thought in the morning for a spot of pleasing uplift. How I would love to be just sitting in an Indian garden with peacocks roaming right this moment.







At a picnic in August, 1976, it is quite possible that one of the kaftan wearing attendees might well have been wearing liberal doses of the lovely Eau Libre by Yves Saint Laurent, one of the first ‘unisex colognes’ that was apparently popular for a while (I had never even heard of it until I saw a bottle in Z’s collection), a very easy, relaxed hedione/ vetiver green citrus oakmoss number that on me dries down to a lovely Chanel Pour Monsieur-like finish. BlackKKlansman, the absurd, but apparently true life story of an African American police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the late seventies; impersonating a white supremacist on the telephone and talking to Satan at the head of the Organisation, the Hitler worshipping David Duke (a current Trump supporter), and then having his Jewish colleague penetrate the organisation from within, is also immersed in this period;  The racist, ant-Semitic bile and hatred that spews from the characters’ mouths quite difficult to withstand, and yet Lee somehow melds it all together very skilfully and naturally in an outrageous comedy/ political statement movie that heavily critiques the discrimination that is inherent in the nation’s police force (even to this day); but also contains a love story, ‘hi-jinx’, and plenty of flares, huge Afros and indigenous print tunics along with the mellow and smooth score by Terence Blanchard and classic soul and funk tracks; again, Eau Libre would have probably been doing the rounds on these characters, unthreatening, easy, the CK One of its generation.










Hurwitz’s own confection celebrating a day out with friends in a meadow in 1976 is a delicious rhubarb and strawberry creation, green and tart; a perfect splicing of the two fruit notes with green leaves, galbanum, virginia cedar – a perfume I will be wearing when I feel like something simple, fun and emotionally energising ; I would also love to be able to hand it out to nephews and nieces like sweets for its celebration of summertimes memories and fresh air. As is well known, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is an insatiably prolific perfumer who creates fragrances from every whirl of the spectrum under the sun, literally every angle of the scentosphere; if you want rich and sweet she has it, floral, woody, she has it all covered. While some of the perfumes can feel more like unfinished sketches, experiments in seeing how far she can push certain ingredients or themes, I also like this boldness. Vert et Noir, for instance, is insanely green – breathtakingly so – a ‘vegetal fresh’ eau de cologne of cucumber, sharp chlorophyll green notes, lettuce, ozone and vetiver, black pepper – the dark soil to the foliage. I like the barbedness of green perfumes like this, the piercing sharpness that cuts straight through the bullshit::  mace, sprayed directly into the eye.














IMG_8368 2





Even for the most optimistic person, the 2020’s have not started well. Whole swathes of Australia on fire (and still burning):  apocalyptic scenes that strike fear and dread into the heart. World War III seemingly about to start between the US and Iran (and what is coming next?); right wing quasi or actual dictators in power across the globe stirring up nationalistic fervour in the hearts of the masses; Brexit finally happening (a woeful disaster, but I am not ready to talk about it); and now a potential pandemic of the coronavirus that, whether exaggerated or not, is not very uplifting or reassuring – I woke up to the headline in the always  downbeat and boringly pessimistic Japan Times this morning proclaiming JAPAN SEEKS TO PREVENT PANIC AMID OUTBREAK (…..a nurse was infected in Sagamihara, which is just a couple of train stops along from where I am working today in Atsugi; who knows who has got it; whether the masked populace is careful enough… could go crazy.) At any rate,, the ‘world economy’ is certainly going to take a hit; none of it bodes especially well.






We all exist at the macro and micro level, all of us in different proportions. Some completely shield themselves from the wider realities in computer games and books and binge watching; or by sealing themselves off – if they can bring themselves to do so – from social media and the TV (wise, once in a while I think, for mental respiration). Others, the more politically involved, quite rightly clamour and campaign and demonstrate to try and change things and veer us in a better direction. Without them, what would actually happen? I don’t know. I suppose I am somewhere in between. Engaged, out in the world, but also hiding. I have my limits. I try to inspire my students and instil a sense of self-worth and positivity in them by exposing them to different ways of thinking and from not shrinking away from being themselves. This is the next generation, and I believe in global thinkers. I hope I can help them on a good path.





At the same time, I know I am not Gandhi. Like most people, I am selfish. At the macro level, I know that the burning of fossil fuels is what is causing the fires in Australia, and yet I cannot do without my kerosene stoves and Delonghi electric heaters in winter as I am too susceptible to the cold, and this old house – which we both really love living in – is just such a heat loser that there really is no other option. Were I completely committed to the earth, I would move into some modern triple glazed apartment in the centre of suburbia, and be warm (but die a soul death). Hopefully, by hardly using the air conditioners in the summer, unlike everyone else who has them on all the time, I balance my carbon guilt out. But we are all part of this mess altogether. As the newspaper said the other day, there is a strange poetic justice in the fact that because of  global warming, the very industries that have caused that change – the energy companies that keep us heated and pollute the skies – are the ones that are going to lose out in the long run. This has been the warmest winter ever, historically, globally – hence all the flowers that were out when I went for a bicycle ride yesterday.



Again, at the human level, this is catastrophic. For me personally, it is delightful. Freezing winds and biting temperatures are hell for me – it is like dying inside. I have virtually no defence against them; after the second time I had serious pneumonia I went through some kind of weird metamorphosis where my body became ultra sensitive to the cold; it penetrates deep into my tissues. ‘Brisk’ weather is fine – I have just been for another bike ride this morning and it is beautiful outside – only two degrees, but deliriously sunny and bright, and even with the world in a state of shit, nothing could deter my spirits from enjoying the beauty of nature and the pleasure of being alive in such moments; I was wrapped up, and in any case could feel that spring is approaching; though there will probably be some late, unexpected snow in the middle of March (which I adore – snow, for limited periods only, is a very beautiful and magical thing). Still, the buds are sprouting, the green is burgeoning; sap is flowing through bark; flowers are in a frenzied push within themselves as they can’t wait to prove themselves and burst forth – and neither can I.




It is interesting. The Black Narcissus has never been only about perfume. I think some people would prefer that it were, that I just gathered all the latest releases and blurbed about them like an industry insider, but it has never really been about that for me, in honesty. If I look back, politics, the world, philosophy, life itself, and of course my own experiences and psyche are all woven up into a living tapestry that is ongoing; a diary, really, or a continuing piece of performance art that you can tap into at will. While it sometimes makes me feel vulnerable, as I know I do overexpose myself, simultaneously it is gloriously liberating and I cannot deny that I am proud of it. If the coronavirus were to invade my lungs tomorrow and I were to perish, this, essentially, would be my legacy. It contains so much.





Perfume is usually the starting point though. My sense of smell is so alert, scent giving me so much pleasure and ecstacy, like an electrical socket into the life force, that it is often the best portal for me to enter or talk about different experiences within the world of olfaction, yet not be limited by it; the Proustian memory rush has become a cliché, perhaps, but only because it is so true and universal: our sense of smell really is undervalued in ‘developed’ societies, and his In Search Of Lost Time is the perfect example of how much our existences exist eternally within the scented molecule; lodged in our heads somewhere, waiting to be opened again, with all the rush of emotion and experience therein. I feel very lucky, to have this acute sensitivity (which we probably all have, but so many seem to me to be closed off to); the overwhelming, elating profusion of everything.





So is it trivial and silly to be trying to talk about the grand and the real; the global and the dreamlike/ luxurious in one probably incoherent passage? I don’t know. Possibly. But then again, if we were only to immerse ourselves in the ‘news’ (which is so sensationalistic and problematic to begin with; I know that the papers here WANT us to feel panic and feel permanently petrified about the coronavirus as that is what sells copies, so in truth, for a few days I haven’t been reading anything about it. I might say to Duncan, what’s the latest?, but I refuse to be dragged out into a quagmire of hysteria about it (at least, not just yet – who knows what I will be writing on here come next week…….)) Can one seriously combine perfume reviewing and talk about what sometimes feel like an encroaching armaggeddon? I don’t know: :  but I am going to do it anyway.






We are multifaceted creatures. We exist on many different levels, from the dark mysteries and impulses of our secret subconsciouses when we sleep, to our deeper conscious emotions to our social selves and our sense of being part of the human race and possibly even something bigger beyond that. For me, perfume forms a latticework within all of this. It can release tensions, be a refuge, a link to the self, a barrier  – and I mean that in a good way : it can contain the self, bring you back, while also maintaining a distance that ironically also pulls others emotionally closer…….so I will not be wearing a surgical mask today because they have all sold out and we have twenty here at home which we will keep for emergencies only  – but I will be wearing plenty of my home made citrus balms, which smell delightful, I must say; simple classic vaseline with overdoses of bactericidal, viricidal essential oils in varying proportions of yuzu, iyokan orange (the most beautiful orange smell known to mankind); lemon, and bergamot – these are perfumes in that serve intrinsically as literal physical protection, and aesthetic and emotional uplifts.




Citruses pierce through the grime of the larger grimness. They don’t elevate my spirits in the way that more voluptuous perfumes do (for that I will usually need flowers). But sometimes we need simple fragrances that scythe through the mould of overloaded media anguish or the daily hassles of our lives – sharp awakenings that give you that immediate boost as you head out of the door. I also get this feeling from the best green fragrances, the amalgam of leaves and of chlorophyll; there is an immediacy to them, almost an urgency – perfumes such as Jacomo’s Silences, a waxy, hyacinth laden bayonet of hissing green is utterly brilliant in this regard, like the opposite of a lobotomy. St Giles’ The Tycoon, a scent that D sometimes wears, is equally effective in this regard: it manages the feat of staying penetratingly green all day; a masculine, citric fusillade of pomelo greenness that nobilizes the surroundings while also giving a flirtatious wink of come inside. The best green perfumes do this; No 19 is audaciously forbidding in its utter lack of any sweetness of guile; so forthright in its iris and galbanum; at first anyway, before it later reveals that it definitely does indeed have a soul (and a very fine one); I was wearing the original Envy by Gucci also during the colder period at the end of December and the beginning of January,  as a work perfume just lightly  on my coat; the iced lily of the valley underlayed with chic urban green notes like a buffer to the air around me (although there was a musk synthetic, finally, which I think that can also be found in Secretions Magnifiques, that ultimately made me stop wearing it). Musks are the bane of the modern green perfume; they are hard to escape, but this depends on what kind of green scent you are looking for. Not everyone wants to be quite as uncompromising with the notes vertes as I do.






Tokyo Bloom is one of those undeniably pleasing compositions:  I would imagine that this is one of The Different Company’s more popular products in the Tokyo department stores where it is sold. The top accord is delightful  – a sparklingly vernal green departure of basil leaves, galbanum, blackcurrant buds, fresh green notes and dandelion (as a child we kept rabbits, and the scent of dandelion leaves -the food they loved the most, more than lettuce, ripped from the garden or anywhere we found them is very nostalgic for me). If the scent could maintain this accord for longer, I would be buying this perfume on a regular basis, as I love this smell, but it later becomes more shampoo generic with a star jasmine, white musk and cyclamen sheer ambered base that smells more girl on the Yamanote line than how I would usually prefer to smell. Still, I will wear it, perhaps a spritz on the hair for freshness – the kind of scent you can imagine giving other people a boost as you walk by them – a momentary shift in perception.






Florentine perfumers L’Erbolario and Erbario Toscano, both within walking distance from each other in that beautiful living museum of a city, sell a wide range of perfumes that are inexpensive and very nicely executed. Primavera Toscana is a simple, herbal and floral composition crowned with an addition of mint (‘the dewy droplets of a fresh Tuscan Spring morning’) that the D has already taken to and will wear when it gets a bit warmer, while Primaverde is a fruited green floral with notes of papaya and clearly an homage to the lovely Calyx by Prescriptives, which I used to really love on my friends when I was at sixth form college ( high school )  in the eighties. Easy, unthreatening, this is definitely on the right side of serotonin and will be perfect on a shirt cuff – just a drop  (if I actually survive the pandemic through to the beginning of the spring term.)






To the greenest. When it comes to unbridled and iconoclastic, there are few perfume houses less risk-averse than Gorilla Perfumes / Lush. The company can always be relied upon for inventive weirdness in perfumes that are very girding, individualistic and odd; I don’t think the perfumer Mark Constantine actually gets enough credit for just how original his compositions are  – there is punk rebelliousness to them that is very English; the scent of gardening and bonfires and a mixing and matching a la Vivienne Westwood; Sid Vicious meets David Attenborough meets a black adder, sidling aimfully through the forest foliage. I will admit that I can’t wear the majority of their diverse collection myself (with the exception of a handful) as they are just so jagged , bizarrely self-contradictory and potent. I do like some of these new additions to the firmament though.  What is interesting about this recent collection by new Lush co-perfumer Emma Dick, is the way in which she has taken the DNA of the Constantine signature, yet implanted fresh new roots that clarify the formulae a little, streamline them. I am planning to write more about these perfumes soon, which to my knowledge are a Florence only edition, at the especially Sappho, which I really like, and Confetti a coffee/rose/violet that would be better suited to the weather when it turns into April). For now, though, let’s just briefly take a look at  Nero and Fresh As, which was obviously originally called Fresh As Fuck – because it is – almost blindingly so – a brain-piercing coniferous blast of Siberian pine over dry orris and tagetes that will annihilate any lingering doubts as you leave your abode on a bright, lung-filling morning. If petitgrain can be deemed a green note – because in many ways it is; the bridling oil from the leaves and bark of the bitter orange tree, and a note I sometimes avoid for its migraine potential  – it goes straight to my cortex – the very life force of the citrus aurantiumits fierce citricity goes beautifully in this blend, with a clear, medicinal finish that combines neroli and bergamot almost to the protective, and defensive, point of armour.








Filed under Green, THE WORLD





































Although I have never been one for gardening myself, I love the smell of it. The scent of soil on a cold day as Duncan digs in new flowers; the grass mown by someone else as I lie on it; my mother patiently spending whole days in her beloved green space weeding and planning and pontificating alone under the sky and the apple trees. Especially at a time like this, the New Year.








Smelling Comme Des Garcons new Clash Series yesterday, Vetiver Radish, earthy as sore white root vegetables wrenched up from the earth to the light of day – all ozone and pure vetiver  – the spade searing through cold humus – I was taken into such a space;  a refreshing cologne I would wear either in winter to accentuate the freshness in the air and the space I want around me or to aerate a dry vetiver note come summer. While the Chlorophyll Gardenia in the series struck me as a little too familiarly tropic tiare, Celluloid Galbanum is also a pleasing green floral I would be happy to become a new trend on the light-stepping Tokyoite; a snappily green opening, clean and new, enveloping a floral that reminds me a little of the kind of muguet magnolia perfumes you sometimes come across in gift stores in Sarasota; even a hint of Vivian Westwood’s Boudoir meets Libertine, the florals kept at bay from blooming too heavily by the green notes, while the almost powdered undertones hint at something deliberately trapped; unexpressed.








I have noticed that there seems to be a new tendency right now for perfumeries here to include some much more affordable ranges in their arsenals, or at least to have smaller sizes so as not to break the bank. Nose Shop Shinjuku and Ginza realises that not everyone will fork out for an Unum or an Orchestre De Parfum: to keep the flow of casual shoppers happy you also need to have realistic pricing, so there are several lines that fit into this category such as the Kerzon line which has quite an appealing set of fragrances in its range. Elemi, not usually a headnote featured prominently in many perfumes, is a green, terpentinic resinoid that is used in traditional Catholic incense. Bright, herbaceous, it is less heavy than myrrh and is a counterpoint to balsams such as benzoin. ‘It is impossible to do without this mineral freshness, as sharp as flint…’ says the company’s website, and both D and I enjoyed it on him yesterday; light, subdued, a halo of velvet green clarified frankincense.








Japanese perfumer Miya Shinma’s line of fragrances is stocked at Isetan and most of them are quite distinctive and original. Feuillage Verte startled yesterday in its niche-contoured context with a very old school, civet-like undertone that thrust me immediately into visions of going outside into a fresh green world of Henri Rousseau and thinking, what animal has done its business here, under what bush, and where? This is not as displeasing as it might sound, as I realized after a while that the perfume, green with bamboo, young leaves, citruses, cardamom, and rosewood, also has an old school jasmine I remember from vintage First and Joy and the like; a carnal heart palpitating, invisibly, from somewhere in the burgeoning undergrowth.











Filed under Green

















You can get so accustomed to never smelling anything new or innovative in mainstream perfumery that when you do come across something different it can come as a shock. The use of a very fresh, green, bright and convincing Roman chamomile accord at Gucci guru Alessandro Michele’s request in the new Memoire D’Une Odeur is unusual and arresting, utilizing an unfamiliar (to most people) floral/herbaceous note as the lead in to a ‘unisex’ fragrance in an almost fragile, vintage looking bottle focused on the memories of childhood and innocence.







Chamomile is a strange and risky choice for what the brand is hoping will be a big commercial hit. I find this quite commendably bold and risky  – not that Gucci doesn’t already have enough euros in the vaults if things go haywire –  even if the smell of the flower itself has always personally given me feelings of ambivalence.  I have never liked Roman Chamomile essential oil (the variety that Alberto Morillas has based the perfume around, adding light floral notes of Indian coral jasmine, fading to transparent woody skin musks); neither do I especially like the German chamomile variety,  used in aromatherapy for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties due to the presence of the naturally blue soporific azulene.  Something about the smell, a peculiar hay/honeyed inner friction,  rubs me up the wrong way; my innards don’t sit naturally with its aromatic composition. Similarly, although for a while I tried drinking chamomile herb tea at night to help me sleep (these days I only drink rooibos or peppermint), ultimately, there is something about a lot of chamomile teas that just smell to me of warmed catheter; the dozing night ward………….and as soon as that aspect becomes apparent to you it becomes repulsive to say the least (and don’t even think about adding vanilla or honey to it, because it just makes that hot bladderbag aspect of the stewing flowers even worse…).








While it is interesting that Michele assumes that chamomile forms an important feature in all of our childhoods (Roman chamomile has been grown in household balcony pots since the 16th century in the city so perhaps the scent is better known to Italian families), in our own household growing up there were no herbal teas, no variants of Darleejing, Assam or the bergamot–infused delicacy of Earl Grey either: I was not familiar with any of them. Among my schoolfriends and family you drank PG Tips or Typhoo in a mug with some milk and maybe sugar and that was that. In fact, the first time I ever drank anything different,  tea-wise, was at university. I was in my law student friend Sarah’s room on the floor below mine and I remember that one afternoon she offered me some chamomile tea. I had never had it before and had no idea what it would taste, or smell, like (I was yet to discovery aromatherapy) but as soon as she opened the paper box and plunged the paper-sacheted infusion into a cup of hot water I had a Proustian rush of such extreme proportions that suddenly I was running along the river with my brother, my grandfather and his dog Candy, panting in the fresh early morning air, carpets of chamomile flowers crushed underfoot giving off the most beautiful green-appled leaf smell of happiness; wrapped up in hats and coats and red wellington boots through the trees; the stream flowing beside; I remembered vividly how I had picked up the flowers as we ran along like daisies where bees could nest inside yellow like a hotel; sheltered; I instinctively pressed those fragrant heads together, releasing the smell that replenished my young brain, suffusing heart and smell; trapping that memory there forever in my limbic system.







I don’t remember precisely what that make of particular herb tea was, but it was fresh, airy, green, and it captured the exact smell of the living flowers in nature rather than those sun-dried, malted, heavesome counterparts I can’t abide. Though unobtrusive and subtle –  perhaps, ultimately too tentative in its entirety, Memoire D’Une Odeur shows no hesitation in putting the greener, more living memory of chamomile flowers in the main thrust of its composition, in a pleasant, even emotive release that takes contemporary commercial fragrance to newer pastures.





















Filed under chamomile, Flowers, Green, Herbal



















Hello again, and welcome to Winter.





Apologies for the absence: I have been up to all kinds of things, both good and bad, but can’t write about them right now for various reasons (this unforthcomingness is not in my nature but has been thrust upon me).






I have succumbed to my natural biorhythms. Every year, I go in familiar waves, and now the student evaluations are over – them rating us, not the other way round, I can lay my performing monkey aside and drift back into reveries of Christmas and New Year. It has been a good term, actually, but although my colleagues will be gearing up heavily for the final push before exams, I will be hiding away in Kamakura, nesting and writing, and finally having a breather after what has easily been the most eventful and memorable year of my life.






Anyway. To Perfume. I have backlog of scent I would like to write about, and will take my time with them. But today is a lovely crisp, sunny day after what feels like weeks of cold damp relentless rain ( I hate, hate rain unless it comes at precisely the right moment) and a green, forested perfume seems like a good way to inch my way back into Narcissus conscious again.





I recently received a sample set of perfumes by January Scent Project, an East Coast independent perfumery outfit by artist John Biebel, who creates the perfumes and designs the artwork (I really love the presentation of this brand) for a set of fragrances that are unusual, at times even freakish, but which have a certain plaintive, medicinal man-o’-the-woods sanctity running through their veins : you can feel that nature and space are very important for this person; alongside a certain goth sensitivity, heartfulness, and rebellious originality.





Eiderantler, which sounds rather like a Cocteau Twins b-side, is curiously described as an ‘ivy fougere’. It has not an ounce of sweetness, at least not initially, but has a frank delicacy to it of woodland branches and fresh air : green leaves, ivy, moss and balsam fir wreathing through  an oak, lavender and fine hayed vetiver scent that creates a discreet aura of stepping through undergrowth and inhaling cold, clean air. It would be too ‘deliberate’ and self-serious for me, perhaps, but it was the perfect match for our friend Skyler who stayed the other night with their partner: androgyny was a requisite in the perfumes I chose for them and this one rung all the bells : for the fact that it was ‘bold yet quiet’, and seemed to have ‘revelations waiting to happen’. Living in Hawaii (the sound of which, all those tropical flowers on the air, makes me really want to go to Honolulu – if I can only put up with the music, which I think would drive me bananas), they were shivering in the cold of Japan on Wednesday morning as we tried to heat up the place with kerosene, but determined to go hiking nevertheless; stopping off at temples, whose solemness and ancient gravity is only augmented by cold raindrops on tall trees;  unnerving, at the marrow level, in its judgmental austerity ; the dark-leaved ivy of the Eiderantler – on the skin – a numinous allegory.








Filed under Fougère, Green





We had an absolutely fantastic day last Thursday. Meeting up with a Japan Times journalist I had got in contact with with a view to doing an article on the sense of smell and the adventure of seeking out your own perfect signature scent, I was able to turn one of my long held dreams into reality: taking a writer on a ‘tour’ of the city (although in the end it was just one tiny swathe of it), and opening their eyes and olfactory senses to hitherto possibly unthought of possibilities in the realm of perfume and then have them turn the spoken words into a newspaper article   – which in fact will be published here in the next couple of weeks.



I have been reading Kaori Shoji for years (the Japan Times is delivered daily as a package with my beloved New York Times, and she is often a featured writer, particularly for profile pieces, cultural commentary, language lessons, and film reviews). As a bilingual returnee student who spent her formative years in New York but then came back to Japan, I have always felt that Ms Shoji has a sharp awareness of, and fondness for (and unflinching criticism of, where necessary) both ‘East’ and ‘West’; there is a wryness and melancholy sometimes, and yet simultaneously an absolute lust for life and a thirst for stimulation and realness in her writing that I can totally relate to. I instinctively knew she was the person to do the interview.




We met at Harajuku station, where I had carefully scented myself pleasantly (in a thematic of green tea and lemons – it was a REALLY hot day – I couldn’t smell like a powdery, sweating odalisque); and we went to a cafe for iced tea, where I was interviewed , we chatted, and I felt (as she took notes – so glad that it wasn’t a dictaphone, as I would have felt far too self-conscious) that I could say anything – I was on fire; in fact she could hardly get a word in edgeways.




So nice, though, to be in that relaxed space where you meet someone you immediately like and get on with naturally and can just communicate uninhibitedly (and SUCH a stark contrast to my disastrous radio interview I had a few months ago which I may not even have written about on here as it was just so embarrassing: LIVE, in front of two million people in Europe, with an ear infection, a terrible connection, a typhoon outside with multiple echoes, and questions I could hardly hear and were not  connected to what we had agreed on : : “So Neil, how does one go about attracting the opposite sex with the right aftershave….?”





Jesus. No – that was a horrorshow that I had rather forget. This, instead, was a meeting of minds. Someone who wears scent on occasion, likes certain smells (hurrah! She loves green tea – my instincts were right!)  but at the same time is not au fait with the goings on of the industry, the wild obsessions of crazed perfumistas, nor fully aware of the fact that this whole realm of decent perfumes exists beyond what we agreed was the sick, poisoned miasma of duty free, which she was surprised to discover we both scorn and loathe in equal measure.




We three – Kaori, myself, and Duncan, after the initial conversation, then went off to my favourite essential shop shop nearby, Seikatsu No Ki (Tree Of Life) as I thought it might be useful to get a primer on the palette- the basic ingredients used in perfumes-  in case she wasn’t familiar with them.  We had already ascertained in prior emails that she loved incense, which I had in mind as a possible direction to go in, but I also wanted to show her just how good pure ingredients can be on their own, putting some raw vetiver oil on my arm that was evocative of all  kinds of reveries connected to a high school boyfriend she had once had; the smell of him after kendo practice……she liked this so much that I can imagine her returning to get some for herself  to wear as a secret perfume.




From here, the sun radiating brilliantly down through the shade of the avenue of zelkova trees, we walked up the Omotesando boulevard to visit the Comme Des Garçons headquarters in Aoyama. For me, Rei Kawakubo’s perfumes and ethos really do represent a vanguard against the moronic platitudes of cheap perfumery: this brand, I feel,  has real integrity ( and I was so delighted to see that none of the formulae seemed to have been messed with, many of which are in my book  – the first chapter in fact begins with the green leafed innocence of Calamus ), and, having learned that Kaori once went to a Catholic school in America I thought ooh, how about some religious guilt ….I wonder how she will react to Avignon (starting in surprise; eyes closed as she inhaled it from her arm…………..oh wow, that is naughty) : it smelled fabulous on her, sexy if standoffish, with the softer incense notes rising up later in contrast with the harshness of the censer; Black Pepper, one of Duncan’s signatures – a ridiculously erotic perfume – also smelled great on her; dressed in black, like all the costumed assistants, who stood back and let us get on with what we needed, this gave Kaori an almost intimidating aura of grave don’t fuck with me that matched her delicate fierceness perfectly. Rejecting Incense Series Kyoto – we both agree that that perfume doesn’t remotely capture the essence of the city in the way that Avignon undoubtedly does; loving and being amused by Rhubarb and Peppermint, I also sprayed on the spicy original Comme Des Garcons scent on myself ,as well as White, which I bought for D as a present a quarter of a century ago on a cold winter’s day in London. It still smelled lovely.





Having been photographed outside, and inside,  the Comme Des Garcons store (all sweaty-faced and shiny….I cannot imagine going to a newsstand and seeing my face staring back at me, but anyway), we decided to have a quick look in Prada just along the way as, both being total cinephiles, I wanted to hear her reactions to the overpriced pop and movie collection (Tainted Love, Pink Flamingoes, Marienbad, Purple Rain) just as a contracts to the CdGs, which are actually far better value. Amused, but not sold, as time was running, we hailed a taxi and drove the short distance to Roppongi where I had made a prior appointment at- the quiet haven of scent consultation and Japanese aroma that is Parfums Satori.





‘Perfume’ (which the founder and perfumer had several copies of, dotted around the premises, bookmarked for customers) features a selection of fragrances from the Satori range, because I genuinely feel that they do present a completely different face of perfume to the majority of mainstream and niche; subtle but perturbing; dry, emotional, poetic, and I was interested to see how Kaori, as a person of Japanese heritage but American upbringing, would feel about them. Perhaps a little over eager and uncouth in my enthusiasms – I can’t really do the sit quietly and be ultra polite thing, especially when the conversation has been flowing just so damn wonderfully – in the taxi we had been condemning the current racism, chewed the cud on women’s situation in Japan, the film industry and how it works for movie reviewers, I could have talked all day; to then just be expected to sit and wait to be shown everything was impossible (especially because I am just so contained and repressed at work all the time) ; so, more like a puppy just bought on Christmas Day that yaps excitedly and just bounds about the house unfettered I went about the shop, taking liberties and picking up things randomly from the perfumed shelves to show Kaori. Wasanbon? ‘I love the smell of that – it is my favourite sugar’. Try this then. “Oh my god!” Pure pleasure. As was the eponymous Satori, the lovely spiced sandalwood that is at the helm of the collection and which smelled differently, but great, on each one of us (on that day it reminded me a little of Mitsouko).  We marvelled at the extreme oddness of Hana Kiraku, with its fundaments of melon and miso in search of replicating a particular species of magnolia (“Oh my god, this one is making me high”) ; the almost shockingly green, mind-clearer that is Oribe; then Satori-san introduced her latest perfume from last year, Mizunara, in Japanese and English, explaining to us the story of its inspiration: a particular species of oak tree found in the north of Japan, and the whiskey distilleries of Hokkaido, and the particular smell of the clear mountain air over 1,000 feet. By this point, we had all almost fallen into a dream-like state: one of those curious situations where you feel the membranes and boundaries between people have dissolved and you are existing in the same fluid, the same space :where you imagine that you are seeing the same imaginings and feeling the same sensations. Although too masculine for me to wear on skin, with its base of whiskey and woods and its crisp green top notes of rosemary, clary sage, galbanum and juniper, there is nevertheless a very natural, elegant expansiveness to this scent – it has space within itself – the smell of nature – that sent us all into an afternoon reverie. By the time we all left, and Kaori said she had to go, I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.














Neil and Satori.jpg


– me pictured with the perfumer Satori Osawa next to her perfume organ.


(You can tell how much I like having my picture taken)





What a great day though!


Filed under autobiography, Green, Masculines, Oakmoss, Woods














I am something of a voluptuary. Or at the very least an indulgent, sensualist aesthete, pretentious as that must sound. A Dionysus with a healthy helping of Apollo, I like to swim in my senses until I reach the other side.





Sometimes there is a schism, though, a disturbance………the sheer difference between my ‘different worlds’ quite  uncanny.








Take Saturday. I had just finished the final pre-examination classes, an entire day of teaching,  and was exhausted, run down, drab in my salaryman Japanese black suit and coat, I just wanted to eat, grab a taxi, and go back home to bed. Sunday, I hoped to just slob in the house and do nothing, hoping there was nothing that had been artfully arranged by Duncan on the social calendar.







There was. Carnival Aquaria, an event that he had been asked to help out at by the mysterious Mistress Maya, somewhere miles away in the north of Tokyo, which would involve trains, a hotel, a costume….








A dilemma, then. What to do? Stay at home passively, tired, absorbing Netflix and calories, or thrust myself, against my ‘instincts’, into an unfamiliar zone, with new people, even when totally not feeling up to it? Spend the day alone wondering what would be going on there while I was not ( but snug, and warm in my comforts), or be active and sociable, and just let myself get taken up by the unknown, the flux and the flow?






Somewhat unwillingly – initially – and perhaps unsurprisingly, for you reading this I imagine, I opted for the latter.








The event, a medley of different performances and a dance night, was held at an art space in Kiba, an area of Tokyo I had never been to before (this is a city that has so many train stops you have always never been to, such a labyrinth: it just takes years and years to get to know properly) and, to my surprise, we ended up spending twelve hours there, in a black box of odd people, injudiciously put on champagne duty (it was only later that I realized that these bottles were being sold at 18,000 yen a pop, almost 200 dollars, and we had been necking it back ourselves and doling out extra second and third classes to the invitees when they were only supposed to be getting a ‘welcome drink’; the owners of the event space were quite horrified I think as they watched their profits going down the (gullets and) the drain, the freaks behind the bottles clad in outlandishly bizarre outfits that had an eye-widening effect on the typically black-wearing art types who entered self-containedly, and reservedly, to watch a ballet trapeze artist, a shakuhachi flute player, bondage rope tying, some cabaret, a Persian santurist, and various other ephemera (see the top two pictures for an idea of what it was like).









It’s very strange how these things work, however. Such  a PARADOX.








I am a person who is resolutely not interested in clothes. I get criticised by friends and family alike for my boringly conventional tastes. I never buy them, just when I absolutely need to, and even then I find it an ordeal. I wear the clothes my mother sends me in the post for my birthday and Christmas. I have two pairs of shoes to my name. I just don’t choose to express myself in that way (I do that through music, perfume and words). I like what I wear – just plain black, blue, sweaters and jeans and straight coats with the odd colourful scarf maybe, and I certainly wouldn’t just wear anything, no no no and I do have some curious, snazzy ties that I like to wear to work to confuse people, but ultimately, as far as I am concerned, life is just too short to be spent continually thinking about I am presenting  myself to the world, to constantly think about clothes. I know they are important and that that is what the world sees of us, but I just can’t be arsed. I find them shallow and think that far too much importance is placed by humanity on thinking about what it is wearing. Arrogantly, perhaps, I think I hopefully have enough aura in an of myself not to need to rely on the codified, predetermined (fashion is actually really boring in many ways) outer strata.







And yet totally contradicting this is how I feel wearing one of Duncan’s creations. Again, I am dressed by other people, as I would never make the effort to go out and look for rags to stitch together for this purpose, but when D, who is a dab hand at picking up things from recycle bins and second hand thrift shops puts something together and I get in the mood, I can find it quite transformative and liberating; Burning Bush, this wild alter ego of mine, a kind of creature that elicits very strong reactions from people who come into contact with it (I feel this is a genderless being, more anima, or spirit animal, which is how people usually take it – I don’t entirely understand it myself, to be honest, I just know there is something magical about it) –  almost a form of performative alchemy and disappearing inside something that I find extremely, extremely, cathartic.






I was got up in a big powder blue babygro with fox fur trimmings, a knitted balaclava, sea green wig, and a faux-fur eskimo-like hood (someone referred to me later in the evening as a seximo‘ or a Doraemon fever dream was another onethings that had been thrown haphazardly into our bags in the morning , and which had not been fully decided on until they were put on, including the makeup, which was applied in my usual cack-handed way by just dipping my fingers into the oil pots and slapping it on in the dressing room upstairs using a tiny mirror and laughing to myself as I was doing so. As it turned out, the creature that emerged – coming down the stairs to the art space, figures parting for me to make my entrance – was something like a cuddly, and fluffy, Vishnu/Russian iconographic monster with no obvious reference points really but that somehow, I felt, stood proudly on its own. It was just born. It suddenly existed, in and of itself. A new persona. No longer me, and yet even more me (feel free to analyze and comment on this).

















Perfume. To maximize the fluffiness, in scent terms before leaving the house that morning, the house a bomb site of huge proportions, scouring my perfume cabinets in my bedroom prior to leaving I had settled on Heliotrope by Perfumer H, a meringue like confection of almonds and vanilla that smelled excellent and peevishly innocent sprayed lavishly on all the soft and feathery textures I was dressed up in, plus, for an extra ironic camp factor as I served (and quaffed) the champagne, on the wrists, and the neck, some Elizabeth Taylor Diamonds and Rubies parfum, a big, orchid cherry mother that I have reviewed before and actually think is strangely gorgeous. Although I couldn’t properly smell all these through the strangely waxen perfume of all the stage white smothering my face, I did feel the effect was rather good, augmenting and embellishing the individual I was inhabiting. Projecting me further into the audience. To further the warm effect of his own prawn headdress and burnished bodystocking, the D plumped, fetchingly, for the vintage Shiseido Feminite Du Bois extrait.







Later, eventually fired from champagne duty, we were free to just mingle and dance, and I, though the biggest ‘samugari’ (person who feels the cold) in the world, did actually come very close to overheating after a while in my symphony of furs (Duncan was practically naked), to cool down, intermittently I would go outside on the streets, lurking on bridges and terrifying passers by (although this is Japan, and people keep their reactions generally hidden. They just keep their heads down. I went to the convenience store to get some water, and the clerk did her best to act normally).






I found myself in the Kiba park, in the freezing cold, and felt like something unearthly and fantastic, night time joggers wondering what the hell they were witnessing as I chuckled to myself like an arctic, mythical babooshka, coated in cherries and vanilla, and the clouds above me shone spectrally, full of magnificence.

























The next day, hungover in downtown Tokyo, skin like a dried persimmon, eyebags unconcealable in the bright light of morning, drinking oversweeted cafe au laits in old fashioned coffee shops, and after a row in the early morning, things seemed less bonny and phantasmagorical – but still, madcap though these antics may have been, I feel that they definitely, in some way, really punctured through something and I briefly entered immortality; we had danced maniacally with our friends on the dance floor joyously to Divine’s Native Love (there is a video, but I don’t think I should put it up) – – – yes you read that right, I had danced – – – although the legs still aren’t a full capacity this was most definitely possible – – – and somehow, for me, such experiences, while not happening with great regularity, beautifully stop, for a moment, this conveyor belt we call life with its inexorable conclusions and let you enter pure spirit, not that you need a bizarre costume to have such clarity and mindfulness, but for a person whose life is so not dominated by the clothes that he wears, being changed unrecognisably by the outer appearance and having the reactions that this characters almost always engenders ( I have had the coolest imaginable lesbians coming on to me in Tokyo clubs, been chatted up by all kinds of people that wouldn’t even look at me in my usual incarnation) is very……. interesting, and though this is not something that I want all the time – Burning Bush makes around five appearances a year – I think of this spirit animal, this other being, as a breather; a temporary escape, even a form of savage – and quite primal – performance art.























On the subject of art, and of artists, more and more of whom I seem to be meeting and possibly collaborating with these days, it isn’t often that a visual artist – people who are often so fully immersed in their field that they forget that they even have other senses – indulges in niche perfumery and comes up with their own scent collection, created entirely by themselves. It is easy to become quite skeptical about this (especially when there are so many Firmenich ghost perfumers), as it can seem to me sometimes that niche perfumery has become increasingly about having the means – ie. the money, to have a ‘start up’ and ‘venture’ and put out a ‘collection’ created by other people with all the usual blather about ‘precious essences’ and the like, when in fact a whole lot of it is derivative nonsense without a great deal of substance or depth or even olfactory interest. I have received whole boxes of releases from various niche companies that I haven’t even reviewed on The Black Narcissus simply because I couldn’t come up with any words, really, to fill a paragraph. They just smelled thin and boring or were dressed up with words and images that far superseded, in interest terms, whatever the liquid inside the tube was meant to convey. Last week, after meeting my friend Yoko and doing piano duet practice at a rented Yamaha hall for our one-day-we-will-actually-do-it concert (which we are planning to have a whole film made for by the end of the year by my extremely talented filmmaker friend Michael Judd, starring Burning Bush and Yoko – we will perform in black beneath it, like the great days of Silent Cinema) I actually gave her a whole bag of cast offs that I didn’t want any more and which I might do some cursory reviews of here in order, if nothing more, to try and remain relevant and contemporary), things like Feather Supreme, by Jusbox, and the Dear Rose collection, by a fashion doyenne and her rock star daughter (or was it the other way round?), and some quite nice Roja Doves, and some sweet oudhy thing by Ex Nihilo, those kind of scents, and she was extremely pleased with them but wondered if I had anything green, as the spring is on its way – I have just heard the uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, outside on this cold sunny day, or at least I thought it was that bird, a beautiful harbinger at any rate, and I was thinking of giving to her the II by Cire Trudon that I reviewed the other day, a delightful sharp green perfume that I am sure that she would like, and then also, now, having given them a second chance last night, I might give to her the Paul Schutzes as well as I have realised that there is something quite interesting about them (god that was rather a long paragraph, sorry).





Not that I wouldn’t quite like to keep this set of quiet, diffident, very urban and urbane perfumes in my permanent collection for a sense of variety from my usual, more luscious, affairs, because I kind of would, but because I do actually like the idea of someone else wearing them far more effectively than I ever could. Plus, I love girls, and women, in unconventional sharp, woody – masculine if you like-  perfumes : I love the internal play, and the effect that they have on me, the revelatory layers that can be conjured up with just a spritz of an unanticipated scent on a female acquaintance (or for that matter, a stranger): when quiet depths are suggested; sylvan pools, when my monster skin just eats it all up and amplifies and crushes all subtlety (which is why my signature, Chanel No 19 vintage parfum, is so brilliant on me, an entirely different perfume  – a sexual, vetiver leather iris but still with that elegance and greenness, a place I can hide………)






Paul Schutze, an Australian multi media artist who works with installations, photography, and ambient composition, is a name I was already familiar with  as one of his pieces, Rivers Of Mercury, is on a quite brilliant compilation I once bought many years ago called Oceans of Sound, compiled and curated by musicographer David Toop, a melange of all kinds of ephemera you would never think of usually putting together, like Debussy and The Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Erik Satie, but which all works quite brilliantly in a dreamy combobulation of exotic atmospherica, including the sound of water in a Kyoto temple, Suikinbutsu – so I was quite curious when his latest venture – perfume – arrived in a box with his name on it sent in the post.







Dismissing the trio of scents initially as being what Duncan calls – of that ilk – your typical sharp incense niche contemporary style – in fact to me these smelled even more rasping and aqueous than usual (if they were the artists’ materials themselves; dark room chemicals, solvents for paint brushes, they would have made more sense to me),  but still there was something that  emphatically quiet and strangely thoughtful, and in keeping with the artist’s longstanding resume in the art world, those scents that you think you ought to come back to at a later date because they definitely contain something ) –  last night, the frivolities and almost sensorially overwhelming visuals and smells of Sunday night’s extravaganza still vivid but fading in my mind as I made pasta and we had a very early night, just before hitting the sack I decided to try them out one more time.






My nose was in a different frame of mind, on this occasion, to the last time I smelled these, and they definitely opened up for me more. Behind The Rain, a damp, and very green, vetiver laced with lentisque, mastic, fir and fennel, and a frankincense heart, is a introverted but moody and brooding scent that I can actually almost imagine wearing myself if I found myself in the right clarity-seeking frame of mind, with hints of an old limited box collection I had by L’Artisan Parfumeur called Sautes D’Humeur, or Mood Swings, containing two very original and before their time perfumes, D’Humeur Jalousie – probably the greenest perfume I have ever smelled, and D’Humeur A Rien, an annihilatingly depressing church-like/ terpsichor – the smell of the asphalt after the rain – that put a smudge of grey death on even the most cheerful of days, and was thus locked away, for a long time, only brought out for amusement purposes, for entertainment, upstairs, at dinner parties.






Behind The Rain, my favourite of the three that I received, is more nuanced than either of these old Artisans, more contained (you feel a definite ego at work in these perfumes, the mantra of the self, the will of the artist imposing his vision, something very tasteful and almost pure – which is in keeping with Paul Schutze’s ambient music, so far away from my own, deliberately bad tasted wild abandonment). The difference in temperament exhibited here quite fascinates me; the interiority of it, and whether I should keep this one, therefore, myself, or give it to Yoko, is something I haven’t yet quite decided on yet.





I think that she can have Cirebon though, and Tears Of Eros, much as am attracted to that name. As with Behind The Rain, both of these other Paul Schutze perfumes are quite  subtle creations that smell contemporary and cool ( you can imagine the punters at the Carnival Aquaria, serious in their art spectacles and Yohji Yamamoto-draped blackness wearing this type of fragrance – they would be perfect for the interlaced canals and vast spaces that are characteristic of that area). Cirebon is a sharp green orange cedar, with bergamot, bigarade, petitgrain and orange flower tempered by a cedar and ‘cyclamen/magnolia’ (both imaginary flowers in perfumery as no essence exists) but which to me smells overwhelmingly of clary sage –   an essential oil I have used in the past but which doesn’t suit me temperamentally (if you use it while you are drinking, even just in the room in an oil burner, it can have quite deleterious effects and you might fall asleep in the bath; it can also make you aggressive);  a weird smell, actually, almost turpentine-like, and not an ingredient that is mentioned here, but which in my mind the perfume is dominated by, at least on initial inspection.





On the skin, it is more subdued, with a citrus/wood amalgamation that puts me in mind, almost, of the original Tommy, a perfume I detested back in the day, almost to the point of phobia – it was also very prevalent which made it even worse – but which I still emphatically perfectly understood the entire attraction of; very sexy, that bitter counterpoint the whole point, a constant suggestion. This one is similar but more subdued, more……..clever, more orangey, and I like the idea of Yoko – who hasn’t worked in seventeen years but is going back, finally, at the end of this month, in order to get financial independence for her and her kids and maybe get that divorce after all  – wearing some of Cirebon on her wrists underneath her newly purchased black suits. Such touches can be the markings of success.






Tears Of Eros, is by far the weirdest of the three perfumes I am writing about here today. The most artificial, and metallic, with a silvery hyacinth and ambergris heart and guaiacwood/’green incense’ accord that I can’t entirely make head or tails of. Incomprehensible, it is just strange, with an eventual, quite stirring, dirty, labdanum underlick lurking at the heart of its centre, that, after an hour or two, finally emerges. Penetrating, but with an air of mystery. Unknowable.




































Filed under abstract moderns, Antidotes to the banality of modern times, autobiography, Green, Incense, Mastic, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE







It’s funny how a perfume, even a relatively insignificant (for me at least) scent such as Gucci Rush 2, which I found the other day for next to nothing at a used goods centre in Fujisawa, can set off chains of memories and associations; plunge you back into periods of time and places you had recently forgotten about, both in the physical appearance of the bottle – jolting you into a different pocket of spatial experience, remembering it visually and rationally – as well as the scent itself and its more abstract, emotional content:  :  :  :   A far more watery, deeper, rabbit hole of remembrance.



For me,  Rush 2 – a pleasant, subtle and unobtrusive green floral based tentatively on the original more vanillic/gardeniac/patchouli amalgam, Rush, that was a big hit in the 1990’s and more of a night bird –  this being warier, sharper, hinting vaguely of that original perfume but with lighter flowers (freesia, narcissus) and dominantly green notes (palm leaf) – more reminiscent in fact of Gucci’s other successful scent from that period, the ubiquitous and verdant-as-stinging-nettles-Envy; for me this perfume  is nothing but Taiwan. Taipei was where I first smelled it and experienced it, in the apartment of my Chinese Canadian friend Katherine, who had just bought the perfume for its lightness and unspoken chicness – a gently persuasive and understated smell that just perceptibly scented the rooms in which I found myself staying.




Taipei is a city that is underdiscussed, crushed under the weight of the mainland hegemony, the country not even recognised by the majority of the world, almost a secret metropolis that I found very engaging, easy to be in, safe and relaxed, yet tropical and humid in summer and early autumn, with a bird caged green fuchsia loveliness; long, trailing plants and liana-like tendrils hanging beyond the wet vicious cycle of air conditioners stacked up on balconies; night markets and fruit sellers hawking the most delicious mangoes I have ever experienced; the mangoest mango juice dripping down my face, a fraction of the cost of the extortionate fruit in Japan, imported and cosseted in cradling fruit nets to up the exclusivity; here they were everywhere, and pungent with green and orange mango-ness.



While Katherine was at work, I would wander the city at my leisure, noting the similarities with Japan but also the differences. The National Palace Museum, housing the biggest collection of Chinese art in the world – all smuggled out of China during the People’s Revolution – was cool and dark and utterly beguiling, with 5,000 year old exquisitely crafted ceramic animals, cups, pots; I completely lost myself within these other worlds, and the seraphic beauty of the contrastedly sunlit upper floor tea rooms where I wrote postcards and drank jasmine and looked out onto the ever stretching vistas of the murmuring metropolis.



















I almost didn’t get there.









This was 2001, just after the September 11th attacks, the very same month, and the world was jittery, shocked within; afraid. There was a darkness, a pall, both inside and out ourselves, a profound disturbance, not only the humanitarian catastrophe of the World Trade Center destruction itself and the sheer sense of grief and disbelief, but also at the ramifications of what was to come, a sense that that was that; that everything would change irrevocably from now on,;that the world would react badly – wrongly- which it did; that there were almost premonitions palpable in the clouds, in the air; a schism.





The night before I was due to fly and spend this long weekend with a friend I had made at a language school – and who I have since completely lost touch with – we had also heard that Aaliyah, an R n B singer who both the D and I loved listening to in the hot summer months and who had  a voice like an angel, had just died in a plane crash in the Bahamas, burnt to death in her seat after recording a pop video there just after it had taken off and we were very shocked: just 22, uncliched and fresh, her music had formed a soundtrack to recent times and we couldn’t believe that her life had just been severed in one horrifying moment. Flying, after the attacks in New York, had therefore taken on entirely new ramifications and feelings – you just didn’t want to. I almost cancelled, but had paid the money, and love to visit new places, and wanted to see Katherine, and so eventually decided to fly to Taipei as originally intended.




Already feeling deeply uneasy because of everything, at the airport, my passport was questioned, the ground staff insisting that I couldn’t get into Taipei on a standard British passport, that I needed a visa. They were refusing to let me board the plane, despite the fact that I had repeatedly checked beforehand to make sure of the visa and entry requirements, and, already rattled and nervous by the month of upsetting global events, as I stood there arguing with them at the check-in desk as passengers went on ahead before me, I was verging on a meltdown.




Suddenly, out of the blue, as if by miracle, and by unbelievable coincidence, I spotted a face that I recognized, in an airline company uniform – Shizuka! – a student I had taught at an international language school in London six years previously and who I had not seen in the interim period and who I had no idea was even working at Narita airport. Astonished, I beckoned her over, she equally surprised and pleased to see me, and breathlessly explained the situation, that the staff were mistaken about the visa, that I had to get to Taiwan, and within minutes she had talked me out of the problem and I was on board.








I love staying at other people’s apartments or houses, languidly taking a bath and soaking up the unfamiliar surroundings, especially when they have gone to work and you have the whole place to yourself and feel deliciously and irresponsibly cut off from reality. Gucci Rush 2 was the subtle scent of the air, the music the new Radiohead album of the time, Amnesiac, which I recorded from her CD onto cassette, and sprayed all over the tape card with the perfume to set the memories firmly in place (contrived; yes, but effective – for years the scent subtly lingered, even on the plastic of the music tape itself as I put it in the machine it would give off scent and I love that; I love the commingling of music and perfume, a double anchor of temporal marking, indeed a memory pod, a time capsule that can be unearthed when you least expect it – like suddenly coming across a bottle of the perfume in Japan, seventeen years later – seventeen years – that reality astonished me, can that much time have just slipped by so rapidly and unexpectedly? – a fusion of  taste and of visual memories encapsuled within a simple, but precious, cassette case.







The heat and the unfamiliarity of Taipei wavered outside, while I lay languishing in the bath water, listening to the electronical miserabilia of England’s greatest nihilists, never my favourite music by a long shot, but still technically excellent; incisive – knife-like, cold as ice, this album more suited to my personal tastes than the anthemic guitars of the more popular earlier material, but crucially, crucially  – an insurmountable barrier – my own experience of listening to this group had been tainted – no, fully traumatised, by a singularly awful experience I had had on a bleak day in November the year before, at my local train station in Kitakamakura, the sky grey and white and unforgiving, one of those days when life feels that it has completely lost its savour, the wind too cutting, the joy sucked out of existence.





I had walked down the hill to the station and on my headphones was listening to Radiohead’s previous and similarly desolate album release, Kid A, something of a masterpiece of its type, hinting at the loneliness and perhaps pointlessness at the heart of things, if you choose to look at life that way (I am a person who tends to listen to music that accentuates the mood or atmospheric conditions rather than alleviate them; on happy sunny days I blast out pop music that fills me with a heaven like ecstasy that the years can never dampen, I layer optimism with optimism, but for me the reverse is also true – on grim days I wallow in the dark, as it is soothing, somehow, and on that particular day, having no idea of what was about to come, I had intuitively chosen the Oxfordshire professors of doom as my music of the day.)





I was listening to the song National Anthem, a chaotic, sardonic rock track filled with a grinding guitar riff and maniacal brass, and had the music on so loud that it drowned out everything around me;  I was entirely immersed in my world of grey as I sat down on a wooden bench at the station waiting for a train bound for Kamakura to see my friend Yoko for lunch, and was semi-nonplussed when the person next to me kept looking at me in a curious way as if to say how can you be listening to music at at moment like this? I carried on with it, unaware that the train across the tracks where I was sitting had stopped moving and that people seemed to be reacting to something terrible and dismaying.






Finally, my eyes strayed across the tracks, the music still pounding, and then I saw it. Or rather, her. A middle aged lady had jumped in front of the train and committed suicide, and her dead body was slumped against the wall, her eyes closed as if in the x shape of an extinguished anime character, but faced in my exact direction as if she was looking at me. 






It was a moment of the purest horror. Thrusting off my earphones I stood up, wide-eyed, gasping, my hand across my mouth, the solemn passengers on the train staring out from the windows and seeing, but not seeing, my obvious reaction to what was lying beneath them on the tracks, as people at the station looked down not knowing what to do or where to place their eyes.






Quickly, and effectively, so as not to disturb the commuting of thousands of people, the Japan Railway staff came running, up and down the tracks looking for the body, even though she was staring me right in the face. I was numb with the hideousness of what I was witnessing, as they finally located her, and dragged her across the tracks, a severed limb coming loose as people screamed on the platform and she was placed, in a shroud, a a white sheet, stained with red, on the tracks and I suddenly started running.





Pure adrenaline, running, running, as fast as I could, I just had to get away from there, I couldn’t stand there watching it any longer, and I ran and ran until I got to Kamakura station, where my friend had been looking at the train boards and the fact that there had been an ‘accident’ and was worrying and wondering if I was alright.
















As dreadful as this experience might have been, in fact, though you may be shocked to be reading all of the above, this is practically a daily occurrence in the Tokyo region, commuters jumping in front of trains a regular ‘nuisance’, but nevertheless one of the most popular ways to commit suicide. Scorned and reviled for the ‘inconvenience ‘ it causes pain to hundreds of thousands of commuters, as well as the financial burden it gives to the remaining relatives, who are forced to pay fines and give extortionate amounts of money for the ensuing ‘clean up’, I sometimes wonder if, the clear despair notwithstanding, it is all in fact just a big middle finger, a final fuck you to the establishment and a final act of notice me, willingly oblivious rebellion.





Rather than the tut tutting irritation of many passengers ,though, who consider such acts as the ultimate in selfishness, as I masochistically put back on the Kid A, perhaps to just swallow myself up in her death and not just brush it away, and one of the saddest songs of all time, How To Disappear Completely came on, I was just hit with the most profound sadness I had experienced in recent memory; sheer sympathy that that lady – well dressed, with her greying shoulder length hair, should have gone to such extremes. I remember tearing up on the train to work that evening, temporarily lost in an abyss of great sorrow and shock.













In Taiwan, hot, lush vegetation everywhere, with Katherine, who showed me her favourite Taiwanese restaurants, and took me to the coast where we walked along the promenade eating ‘stinky tofu’ in the sweltering late summer heat, going to cafes together and meeting her Taipei friends, wearing her green, delicate floral that permeated my days ; and even with the distinctive and unavoidable voice of Thom Yorke:: that follow up Radiohead album, more rich and layered and less skeletal than their previous creation, didn’t sadden me…….it was a new era, the incident at Kitakamakura station was something from two years before; and though each time I went there again initially I just couldn’t get the events out of my mind’s eye – I would move down to the end of the platform to get away as far as I could from it all and pretend it hadn’t happened – it was a new day, and hot, and I love summer and can hardly be depressed at that time of year no matter what has happened. I lose myself in that shimmering feeling, that to me feels like endlessness, even when you know that Autumn is soon approaching. It was just one long weekend, full of new cultural and personal stimulations, but it was very enjoyable, and although I only saw Katherine one or two times after that – she has since gone somewhere but I never got the address -I think I would like to go back to Taipei again.








I can never listen to Radiohead though any more. I do think that what happened to me while I was listening to their music (surely the ‘ultimate’ Radiohead experience; actually witnessing a suicide while having their music as the ‘soundtrack’ ) made it impossible for me to ever want to hear another song of theirs again as long as I live. Temporarily, in Taiwan, it had seemed ok – it was brand new music and I was so stimulated by my surroundings I didn’t care- but now,  what I saw and heard on that horrible afternoon are so seared in my psyche that I have no desire to ever revisit it.
















I had thought about none of all this for a very long time until I saw that ten dollar bottle of Rush 2 standing there on the shelf of the massive emporium among thousands and thousands of other goods for daily life; clothes, bric-a-brac, furniture, kitchenware the other day; I couldn’t even quite precisely remember now what it had smelled like: just that it had been green, and fresh, and that someone I had long ago spent time with – -Katherine, had once worn it.






I didn’t hesitate for a moment in buying the perfume, though, taking a work break on a sunny day in Fujisawa and killing time by just looking round the shops – this place once in a while yielding something interesting and cheap, the translucent pink bottle in the right pocket of my work coat, waiting for me to try it on me when I left in the evening. A blast from the past. A pleasant anomaly. For some strange reason I was quite excited to see it again.





But I am not sure that it is exactly as I remember it. It certainly smells different on a Chinese Canadian girl who only wore light florals and was kooky and intellectual and savagely ironic about everything she came into contact with : plus, we were also two decades younger. On me – well my skin is actually very male, it kills flowers and sprouts woods, which is why I cannot bear anything ‘woody’ or acrid -and so, amusingly, this perfume, while smelling delicately, intelligently feminine on a woman, almost strays too much into my dreaded zones of sports fragrance ‘manhood’, would you believe and yet, spritzed lightly over the head and settling in microscopic droplets on my hair and onto my work clothes it does, definitely, smell rather intriguing. Rather unexpected and suave ( perhaps from a slight hint of vetiver and oak moss in the base). Duncan thought so when he met me at the station, the big freeze that happened suddenly, yesterday, as the Tokyo region was blanketed with its biggest snow fall in years and most transport slowed down or came to a standstill, commuters lining up by the hundreds for taxis and buses as the winds howled and the big snowflakes came down and settled , as they stood shivering, on their heads. Snug in my multilayered clothing, the icy atmosphere surrounding me, the anti-intuitive choice of this more vernal, discontinued perfume somehow worked nicely; the leaves and imagined flowers could breathe uninhibitedly in the lung-piercing air, a very urban, and self-contained abstraction; as some of the thoughts I have just related to you swirled about me, like the snowflakes in my mind.






Filed under Flowers, Green