Category Archives: Green

PERFUME & PERFORMANCE: : : : CARNIVAL AQUARIA, BURNING BUSH AND THE STRANGE WORLD OF PAUL SCHUTZE: : : : BEHIND THE RAIN, CIREBON + TEARS OF EROS (2016)

 

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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).

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

MEMORY POD

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Green

NEW YORK STORIES : : : AD LUMEN + CODA + FOREVER NOW + CHEF’S TABLE by SCENT STORIES MiN NEW YORK (2017)

 

 

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It’s outrageous that I have never been to New York. Both D and I adore exploring the cities of the world, and I sometimes just start involuntarily daydreaming about all the places we have been together over the years, from Paris to San Francisco, Jakarta to Mexico City, Hanoi and Bangkok through Kuala Lumpur and Copenhagen, Miami and Rome, Seoul and Barcelona. Kyoto and New Orleans. All over the place. Berlin (where we have an apartment). Amsterdam. Hong Kong. But never New York (he once stayed there for a whole summer, but that was before we met). How can it be that I have never been to the city of cities, the one we know better than any other, from all the countless movies that are set there, that make the city itself the main protagonist so many times, that bask in their very New Yorkness: all the Woody Allens and Cassavetes and the Scorceses; all those eighties, Bloomingdale romances from Splash to Moonstruck to Desperately Seeking Susan to the street sprinklers and hot summer tensions of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever through to the tragic upscale beauty of the New York Ballet in my beloved Black Swan: I have lapped up it all, for decades, stashing the sensations thoroughly in my New York File; a lifelong mental treasure chest of aesthetics, clichés and imaginings that makes me certain that the city, when I finally get there one day, will never live up to the dream. Can the Brooklyn Bridge and the grand vistas of Manhattan, like Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, ever reach their formidable promise?

 

Somehow, despite what I have just said, I know they will. Yes, I might find people pushy and materialistic, colder than I expect as they just keep their heads in the game and try to ‘make it’. Maybe it is more dangerous than I imagine. It might be far less glamorous, more banal, than I fantasise it will be. After all, it is just a city. But somehow, I feel that the monuments and streets’ deep visual familiarity will probably only make them more fantastic and strange.I think I will love it. The architecture. The energy. I can just imagine myself wandering around the brownstone streets just gawping at it all;  thinking of my friend Georgia and how her dream was to go to NYC and come across Woody Allen making a film there and how that actually happened; the sounds of early Madonna and the Kids From Fame (god I love that era!), but the current culture too – the brilliant house music of Hercules and Love Affair, the electro hip hop of Princess Nokia. I would go to the clubs, Lady Gaga’s dad’s Italian restaurant, Central Park. I would not go to the Natural History Museum, site of the ugliest film ever made, Night At The Museum, but I would go to Met and all the others, walk around, lost and anonymous, and I would excuse myself for days on end from my friends that live there and would hopefully let me stay in their apartments,  in order to sneak out by subway – again, scene to a million film scenes – to all the marvellous perfumeries.

 

 

When actually in New York City (it still seems unimaginable, somehow) I am quite sure I would find myself wincing and trying to suppress murderous thoughts at times (my idea of hell on earth is a self-important, bearded Brookyln hipster), and would certainly feel that slight intestinal tension of gun terror that always underlies everything in America  – sorry, it does – as well as all the sights that I would have to see – I have a strange desire to go to Coney Island for some reason, but I would still be inexorably drawn to spend entire afternoons just exploring the temples of perfume luxury like Aedes De Venustas, with all its expensive, cushy niche, and the CB I Hate Perfume shop, whose full line I would like to know much better; the department stores on Fifth Avenue, just, because, and also, naturally,  MiN, a perfumery that is filled to bursting with stockpiles of unfamiliar niche that I would like to become more acquainted with (are we all not unfamiliar with at least 90% of what is out there now? And despite our malaise and fatigue, are we not even now still slightly intrigued that somehow, somewhere, we might find a new scent that really does it?)

 

 

One of my friends in New York sometimes sends me samples from MiN store out of the blue (this review of tuberose perfumes, for instance, was based on one such package), but yesterday, in the thick rainy blue of my self-possessed doldrums there arrived a parcel from my perfume friend Bethan back in England who is my ultimate supplier of new samples, many of which I think I should write about on here, just because they are new and hip, but then often forget to (because the perfumes are just so very uninspiring and forgettable). We have quite similar taste though in most areas – regarding quality, in particular – so if she says that this or that line seems to be more intelligent and interesting than usual, then my ears usually prick up. And yesterday’s package really gave me a boost.

 

 

Like the aforementioned Aedes, who a while back started releasing perfumes under their own aegis and now offer eight titles, all pricey, all good quality – heavy, spicy, fresh, contemporary – MiN New York has now come out with its own line of perfumes called Scent Stories  – ‘hand-crafted visceral moments of limited production’  covering a wide variety of themes, in two volumes so far; sixteen scents in all, $240 per 75ml, that strike me as well made and thought out ( I only have Vol 2 to review, a series of five scents, four of which I will discuss here ).

 

 

Firstly, Chef’s Table. Right now, as you know, I am not exactly able to go out shopping for groceries with the state of my legs (bags that unbalance me are a big no-no), so the D is responsible for bringing back food each night even if he has been working all day and is knackered. Frazzled, actually. Last night it was pizza and salad (which suits me just fine – after eight weeks in the Japanese hospital I could just live on Italian and Indian for the rest of the entire year, or even my life,  quite happily); lots of fresh basil and tomatoes, and as that was exactly the smell of the first perfume I tried out of the bag, I suggested a scented synchronicity. He tried some on, liked it immediately, and will wear it, the kind of spiky, aromatic green that is nice after a shower when you are hot and sticky in July and August and want to wear something grounding but stimulating to the nostrils.  Basil and tomato leaf has of course been done before, in Eau De Campagne by Sisley (1974), a green and grassy vetiver scent I sometimes like to spray on in the summer time, as well as the salad-like Baime by Maitre Parfumeur; Feuilles De Tomates Poivrees by Lostmarch, and the basilique of basiliques, Virgilio by Diptqyue, from back when they still had some genuinely weird perfumes on their roster such as L’Autre and Vinaigre. Virgilio is a dastardly basil scent that is really quite hard to wear, but Chef’s Table is easier; effective as a green, herbal, minty basil concoction that keeps its leafiness throughout but remains abstract enough not to let the culinary angles become too much of a distraction. Mint, basil, a pungent clary sage and a subtle tomato leaf note form the main basis of the perfume but in very nice balance with an invisible underthrow of rose, iris, and tonka that broadens the herbaceousness and makes the scent appealing and wearable. I like it. With more stamina and wherewithall than say, Guerlain’s Herba Fresca, head-clearing and androgynous, I would definitely recommend this one for those who like a basil note in their perfume – this is like eating pesto on a picnic in the grass on a cool, summer’s evening.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ad Lumen, a soft, clear skin scent,  is an entirely different kind of fragrance: a simple, but rather haunting, aldehyde rose musk that I find to be like a more futuristic take on Brosseau’s classic Ombre Rose, just without all the powder. Bergamot, Egyptian jasmine, rose, and musks are the listed notes, and while this is certainly not complex,  it is extremely long lasting and somewhat memorable, while envincing an alluring – gentle, but obsessional – emotion. Last night, as I turned over in my bed and turned over my sheets and duvet, I could smell Ad Lumen, but not on my hand itself, almost as though it were somewhere beside me but not quite on me. Like Tom Ford’s excellent Jasmine Musk, this is one of those perfumes that while not fascinating or exacting from an artistic point of view, could, on a live person, elicit quite an adhesive reaction.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next. The go-to smell for current niche urban perfumery is, of course, the woody, the earthy, and the incensed, and it seems that about half of the Scent Stories collection comes into this category in one way or another. Whether I like it or not, this is what the people want now. As you know, I am about as likely to wear one of these harsh, bracing, Nasomatto or Byredo oudh guaiac perfumes as I am to run for office, but the two woody scents from Volume Two of this collection are quite nice, not as searing and acrid as some of these perfumes can be and are slightly more attenuated. Forever Now, a scent I quite enjoyed last night, for instance, at least in its opening and end stages – the middle I found a bit busy –  is basically a well crafted frankincense perfume that has a lovely, ethereal, aldehydic opening, and a fresh and ghostly olibanum note at heart that is pleasingly spooky and affecting. Where real frankincense oil dissipates quite quickly, the perfumer has found a way here to clad the ghost with cedarwood, ciste absolute and santalum album in a way that makes the incense more hefty but which is just a smidgen too sweet for me personally perhaps (in a similar manner to  Annick Goutal’s fine Encens Flamboyant), but which still retains the footprint of beautiful frankincense throughout, pedestalled on a gentle, animalic, base. Quite lovable.

 

 

Coda (‘rock star chic’) is a pepper/woody scent with more than a passing resemblance to Guerlain Heritage (and thus Tom Ford Noir, which was an unabashed copy of that perfume). Spicy (‘ceylan’, cinnamon bar oil and nutmeg), with a warm, ambery base and fresh top notes (cypress, eucalpytus and mint), this is one of those perfumes that quietly scream big business; a jawline for days; shoulders; dark suit. It’s actually really quite sexy, if a touch insistent and stubborn, like an ego at the bar. That does seem quite New Yorkish though to me, I must say, and thus in keeping with the brand.

 

 

 

So. New York Scent Stories. Nothing astonishing here, and at that price, not scents that I am rushing to order online. But these are perfumes that are certainly rather handsome and approachable; well made and subtly salient scents that I might go back to, which for me is saying quite a lot, as I get choosier and choosier, more olfactively pedantic, all the time. In any case, the brand strikes me as being interesting enough for me to want to at least try the rest of the line as well as the rest of the MiN store if and when I finally make it to New York one day.  With things the way that they are at the moment, I don’t think the time is especially opportune – there are other places we are planning to go to next, at Christmas and New Year, somewhere in Asia, somewhere hot and exotic, to continue our journey of human metropolises and hopefully celebrate my being able to walk about properly. New York, though, still remains at the top of the places that I know I must go to one day. I still don’t know exactly why I have never made it there yet. Timing. Other plans. Or perhaps it’s because I have been so immersed in the place, in my film and music memory and imagination for an entire lifetime, that I almost feel as though I have been there already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On a side note:   What’s your favourite city? I’d love to know.

 

I think mine is probably Tokyo. I so MISS IT.

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BRACKEN by AMOUAGE (2016)

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I was never an ‘outdoors man’ even if I have always been something of a nature boy. Yet it was still strange that as a young child I somehow ended up being a cub scout. I don’t remember how or why I would have been enrolled in such an unsuitable organisation, with its toggles and songs and uniforms and ‘manly pursuits’, but I do know that I detested every moment of it except for our time in the woods and the forests when we went camping, and were forced- sorry, encouraged – to make bivouacs out of ferns and bracken and branches and twigs; tents made purely from the forest’s provision that you could hide in, close yourself off and inhale; a smell I will never forget.

It is said that the ‘fougere’ is an imaginary accord, as ferns have no smell, but this is not true. If you crush these filigreed, ornate and primeval plants between your fingers there is in fact a most distinctive, fresh, ancient, milk sap that I have always loved, the very essence of woodland and a window to another world. While I may not appreciate the beauty of mountains and grand vistas and rocks and great valleys, I have always adored the sylvan; the magic of the forest clearing and the trickling, hidden stream.

Amouage’s inquisitive and eccentric, ‘neo-hippie’ perfume from last year, Bracken, taps into this alternative, paisley green world of the great outdoors with a very original – if difficult – scent that was created to evoke memories, or at the very least, the stylings and ideals, of the flower power era: meadows of daisies, swaying pampas grasses, and love in the undergrowth – and I must say that I have never experienced anything else quite like it.

I will admit that our first impressions were poor. In fact Duncan recoiled in horror when he sprayed some on (he tried it first for me….”Oh my god…….it’s Toilet Duck!!!!”, and passing his hand over for me to peruse, before scrubbing it off at the sink, I will admit I did burst out laughing as he had nailed it completely in two simple words: suddenly, I had a flashback to the green toilet cleanser of my parent’s house when I was a boy; the urinous, central tang of chamomile and narcissus working with the citrus green, herbal notes of the top accord enough to provoke that remembrance exactly).

Trying the perfume again today, I see a more panoramic view. This is a very full, outspreading, complex, citric, green (fern accord) sharp, fruity (wild berries), floral (lily) and gently mossy composition that although quite odd, is also in another way quite beautifully harmonious. It definitely does have soul and spirit. Like Penelope Tree, the offbeat sixties model pictured here and the ‘alternative Twiggy’, it is the kind of scent that one in a hundred will fall for, but when they do, they will smell fantastic.

The evernew green of my childhood adventures – away from the tedious and moronic bondage of the cub scouts, I would spend my summer holidays playing in the woods all day long with my friends on our bikes, ‘our place’, where we made a secret cabin on an island in the middle of a bog where we could hide out from the adults; it was illegal to be there, we had cut our own hole in the wire fence of the private golf course the woods backed onto, but the heart pounding terror when someone was coming only added to the excitement and the sense of being trapped within a story; great lungfuls of searing fresh air, panting in mud and grasses, bluebells, great ferns….. none of that is really represented here (the closest I have ever come to a true ‘bracken’ like accord is perhaps English Fern by Penhaligons, a gentle, powdery scent from an entirely other era I find soothing and quite dreamy and evocative of the beautiful nature of England). But what is good about Bracken – such a risk-taking name for a perfume I think – is that for once I am smelling something bold and new, not that common these days in perfumery, whether it be niche, or otherwise, on every level from the concept and realization of the fragrance to the execution. An adventure.

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Filed under Fougère, Fruit, Green, Narcissus, New Beginnings

VENT VERT by BALMAIN (1947)

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I was once in a cafe at a planetarium giving a private English lesson. As we sat, plants in various places obscuring corners and faces, I found myself trapped within a prism. Lime green. Yellow. Tangerine. Pouring into every moment of the building, and my head, my brain, behind my eyes; mind-plumbing, synaesthesic. Yet familiar. I knew this. Where am I?

As my student talked and I made the right eyes and gestures and noises, my conscious lolled back inwardly into this colour : paralyzed, stopped, as though I were confined inside the glowing, neon spectrum of a rainbow section.

Gradually, it began to dawn on me that this space I was now inhabiting, entirely different to the one I had entered, was due to perfume. Some really, really, really, strong perfume. Not so much ‘overpowering’, as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Not ‘clouds of perfume’ that had overtaken the surrounding air, but as if the air itself had been stolen. An extrait. An extract, of almost nuclear strength, worn dab-handed in unthinking profusion by a lady who was probably lunching there with her large group of friends and who had gladly let the muguet, lemon, basil and mind-searing galbanum of the perfume’s dandelion-leaved brightness flood the room like a burgeoning, radiation of sunbeams.

It was Vent Vert. Eventually I realized. The knowledge finally swelled up through my body. The vaults of my mental perfume repository identified a positive. I suddenly had a flashback to white polka dots on spring green packaging – a laughing, Parisian, illustrated woman at the Balmain concession at Harrods, the Mecca of my late teens and early twenties where I would on occasion travel down to London by train, stand in awe and exhilaration at the vast range of beautiful perfumes on offer there, and try to muster up the confidence to look knowledgeable and classy enough to resist the hauteur of the assistants.

At that time I was very much in love with Ivoire, but I was still, in many ways, intrigued by the the slightly passé , behatted ladies of these bygone perfumes at the small, but important Pierre Balmain counter, which, even if reformulated – not that there was talk of such a thing at that time – had something vogueish and recherché.

Many years later, in Japan, I managed to acquire a miniature eau de toilette of the 1990 reformulation of Vent Vert for next to nothing and finally got to know the perfume properly. I have always rather enjoyed it – on some days I even have sudden cravings for it – even if I never truly understood quite what it was trying to say with its maximalist collection of flowers – hyacinth, neroli, freesia, jasmine and violet; its zesty combination of citrus fruit – lime, lemon, bergamot and chlorophyllized greenery, that come at you all at once with a whoosh of aldehydes like a photosynthesized burst of sunshine from the bottle.
But taking or adding ingredients to or from a meticulously inspired fragrance formula, in my view, is like removing words or lines from a poem; notes from an original score; and to me, this version of Vent Vert has never been the perfume, as others contend, that fully captures the greenness of the spring breeze carried over fields of grasses; shrubs and new leaves, the very essence of nature and the outdoors. To me, though lovely, Vent Vert feels about as nature-identical as a painted backdrop in a Hitchcock film.

This takes nothing away from Vent Vert’s April May vivacity, its brio and its chic. I find it to be an extremely carefree and happy composition in its 1990 Calice Becker reworking ( the aggression of the galbanum notes of Germaine Cellier’s notoriously green original – perhaps designed to scythe through the smoky environments of 1940’s interiors – one can imagine a tightly fitted suit, and a sharply conspicuous sillage slicing through a room and turning heads – were toned down (for commercial reasons, once green perfumes had essentially gone out of fashion by the end of the 1970’s), to a less tobacco-congested early nineties audience)), yet the pristine eau de toilette vaporisateur I now have in my possession is still intensely green and extremely effusive, with a sharp blast of galbanum at the beginning that does in fact still evoke for me some of the bitter cruelty of Germaine Cellier’s other contemporary shocker, Bandit: such throw: such great DNA – just a couple of sprays on tissue a few minutes ago on this beautiful sunny day have now completely filled up this room.
It is easy for me to imagine, therefore, how the 1990 parfum, used in even greater concentration on that mind bending day at the planetarium, could not only have spread through the air as I sat in that space trying, in vain, to concentrate on my lesson, but actually, actively tinted it.

One of my holy grails has always been to get my hands on the original vintage extrait of Vent Vert. In a very different structure and design, the classic flacon that was used for all the Balmain classics ( I also have much treasured extraits of Miss Balmain and Jolie Madame, upstairs in my cabinets, all in the same bottle), a bottle of vintage Vent Vert extrait or even eau de toilette is one of those ‘can only dream ofs’ that have never come up at the once bountiful fleamarkets in Japan, only the modern editions.

One day, though, standing outside the Studio Alta screen, a popular meeting place, in the busiest place in the world, Shinjuku ( over three million people pass through the train station every day) ; the height of modernity, technology and business in Japan, a maelstrom of people and skyscrapers and the quintessence of futuristic Tokyo urbanity – and a place I really love and feel at home in, quite strangely – my friend and fellow mad perfume cohort Zubeyde then came hurrying towards me excitedly along the street – we were meeting so she could show me some of the secret perfume bargain hideouts in her neighbourhood, later – and she presented me , quite unexpectedly, with a small box, wrapped in a simple paper bag. I had no idea what it was, but it turned out to be vintage Vent Vert extrait.

I was beside myself. She had not known I had long I had sought to own this long gone precious classic, but it was soon all I could think about…….how the human brain can blot out what is surrounding it and immediately hone in, in pure concentration, ignoring the visual and auditory noise all around; and, clasping the bottle, focus, voraciously, on the prize, in that moment, lost to everything.

Opening up the box, and extracting the stout little flacon from its firm indentation, I could not, of course, resist smelling it there, right there on the spot, at the crossroads with all the hubbub of the heart of Tokyo swirling all around me – but as I inhaled that bygone, coutured, oiled and fifties bitterness, I could tell right away that, unfortunately, the top notes had gone ( a situation I tried to foolishly remedy myself by later misguidedly adding expensive galbanum and violet leaf essential oils to somehow resurrect Cellier’s intentions, only making it so green in the process it was like ingesting poison)…..but before I had succumbed to this tragic and stupid temptation, I had at least had the opportunity to properly acquaint myself with the faded heart, and the base notes, of this brilliant, iconoclastic perfumer’s original ideas and execution.

What I did glean from this fascinating shadow of Vent Vert’s former self (I am hoping that some readers who know intact versions of the vintage will shed some light on the differences on the original construct and the later versions; how green the top notes really were), is that although the perfumes do share many similarities – the list of notes presented for both perfumes by Balmain is, of course, is almost identical- on a deeper level, they seem to differ almost completely in temperament: : two manic depressive sisters with very contrasting personalities.

Vintage Vert, even in semi-evaporized, softer, skeletal form, strikes me as far more melancholic, more serious than the reworked later version; austere; drier – as all Cellier perfumes are – more intent. While the almost chirpy second Vent Vert I know so well and enjoy and am wearing today, bright and fresh and mood-lifting, makes me think of a gleefully competent hostess at a country gathering or garden party, dressed up in crisp whites and greens and interacting happily with all those that surround her, the original perfume, more strange, more introverted (despite its reputedly hyper-aggressively green facade), seems more akin to the earth, foliage and undergrowth : the green, more mysterious shadows that can be glimpsed, and smelled, in the quieter, grassy beyond.

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Filed under Flowers, Green

THE FOREST

 

Forests, as David Lynch once said, are full of mystery.  They never fully reveal their depths. And some perfumes…..

 

Source: THE FOREST

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Filed under Coniferous, Green, Woods

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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