Category Archives: Basil

Mon serpent, mon cygne…………… D’HUMEUR JALOUSE by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1994) + L’OMBRE DANS L’EAU by DIPTYQUE (1983) + EAU DE CAMPAGNE by SISLEY (1974)





I find myself in a green temperament;  aggressive almost, for fresh, sharp, verdant scents that match the shooting growth and push away the winter, the comforting sloth of my recent smothering orientals and let me feel like a snake shedding its skin.


And D’Humeur Jalouse is the snake: possibly the greenest scent ever made (please tell me if you know of one that is greener);:  almost painfully so at first – a serpent in the grass, the eyes of jealousy; spiked, strident tones of malicious stinging nettles and grasses, softened, only barely, with a sinuous touch of barely detectable almond milk to temper a rather curious,  olfactory sketch that is bitter, unusual, and solitary: green to the point of catharsis.







A movement from the river bank under the shades of weeping willows- a swan glides slowly by…..


Evoking a green riverside garden, the shadows of plants rippling the waters, L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (Diptyque’s most iconic perfume?) is at first intensely green  – a sharp, rush of galbanum resins entwined quite cleverly with the lush, tanging tartness of blackcurrant leaves, but from this compacted flourish there then emerges, unhurriedly, the quiet, more melancholic dignity of the Bulgarian rose: calm, romantic, yet austere,  rather supercilious and snobbish even, and thus, the main theme of L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (‘the shadow in the water’) is set.


As light fades, and the murmurs of evening approach, a soft base note of pot pourri-like rose, with the slightest hint of something like peachstone, finishes off a singular, enduring composition that breathes an air of familiar timelessness.




Eau De Campagne



The perfect green?



This classic scent from 1974 is the summer; the exhilaration of meadows; of stalks crushed underfoot, swords of sunlight infiltrating blades of grass.



Chlorophyll at dusk; ladybirds….











Filed under Basil, Blackcurrant leaf, Green, Perfume Reviews, Stinging Nettles, Tomato Leaf

BEAUTIFUL POISONS: FOUR PERFUMES FROM THE EARLY 90’s : Allure, Cabotine, Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme + Tendre Poison







The perfumes of the nineties do not have the ‘loud’ reputation of many eighties blockbusters, though this was still a period when the big houses – Dior, Lancôme and so on, still invested a great deal of time and money on development before launching an ‘event’ perfume, and the results were usually equally characterful (which is why all four of the perfumes below are still worn today: will today’s mainstream releases (La Vie Est Belle, anyone?) have similar longevity?




I have never liked this perfume personally, while admitting that it is a perfect execution of its obvious ideal – to turn a pale-skinned girl into a flesh and blood (ginger) lily.

It is beautifully done; a host of fresh white florals with green overtures; in essence a ‘soliflore’ ginger lily achieved with other notes, but there is, to me, a false modesty here: this innocence just doesn’t compute (that might be just my distaste for the sandalwood/neroli/green accord, though, which I personally find gratingly ‘coquette’.)

This sly perfume achieved a lot of success, especially in Japan where almost every woman wants to be as girlish as she humanly can, and on whom this perfume did smell rather erotic when I arrived here in 1996.


A touch dated now, but if it works, it works.







I have always felt that Tendre Poison, though attractively poised, is a somewhat presumptuous perfume, making steamy claims on your attention that you may not be willing to give.

Unruffled, this sharp-eyed vamp just comes on loud and sticks her claws in anyway – venomous, stalk-green galbanum over orange blossom and sandalwood; the embittered older sister perhaps of Cabotine ( more demure), Red Door (lower IQ), and Fleur de Rocaille (pseudo-chic).


It is very slinky, and sexy, to be sure, and recommended, but absolutely not tender, as its name erroneously suggests.












A big hit for Chanel worldwide and still going strong –  a ‘multifaceted’, warm, floral-sheened scent with vanillic undertones that doesn’t obey the usual structure of perfume in that what you see is what you get: no top notes, dry down, no secrets (surely the key to true allure?), no real development. Department store perfume workers apparently often recommend this as a solution to those who have no clue about perfume, or those who are just dilly-dallying, as many consumers seem to acquiesce quickly to its simple lack of pretence and apparent modernity:






I loathe this fragrance, while fully seeing its easy appeal. It is a true ‘all-rounder’: ‘sultry’ yet mild mannered: womanly, smooth-edged; clean, suitable for ‘office wear’ and ‘special occasions’ one and the same. It is well blended, and can smell acceptable on the odd lucky person, but for me is simply extraordinarily vulgar and crass. Whoever thought such a thing could be written about Chanel?


I woke up one summer morning at my parents’ house, and on opening the bedroom door was shocked to see that the feeling in the house had mercurially transformed; thick with banality: some throat-coating, oyster-pink air sludge.


And it wasn’t until my mum cheerily called out ‘I’m just trying Allure today’ that I realized what had happened.


A woman who smells so beautiful in her chosen favourites (First, Joy, Jardins de Bagatelle) had been rendered into a marketing-led dotard.







When they came out, I overdosed on both the Dolces, and ‘Pour Homme’ is the only scent that I’ve ever had strongly derogatory comments on ( I was so into the novel tarragon top note I didn’t realize how harsh I was smelling to the world).  I could never wear it again.


The signature scent for women, in that red velvet box ( in its original incarnation – I haven’t smelled the tamed down reformulation which was launched recently), is similarly problematic. That top note, that rich, gorgeous mandarin and basil petitgrain melting powderfully into those piquant divine florals – it’s all extremely addictive, and I was quite frankly obsessed with it for while. But with the potent, skin-clinging vanilla-musk-santal finale, as things start to get very messy with Basil, it is as though an Italian opera singer were having a nervous breakdown live on stage; foundation and mascara merging in a sweaty, oily mass of face powder under the breakers.  It can all get a bit much; a big smudge of olfactory OTT.



So, one for special occasions only, and in moderation. Dolce & Gabbana is certainly a gorgeous perfume, but it is overwhelming. I personally prefer it on older women.





Filed under Basil, Flowers, Lily, Orange Blossom, Perfume Reviews, Powder

SCENTLESS IN JAPAN (or, why my life here is like a fragranced Jekyll and Hyde)+ THE COLOGNES OF GANDINI


I haven’t yet written about the strange double olfactory life I lead in Japan, and plan to do so more extensively at a later date. Suffice it to say that I learned the hard way that the scents I had been wearing to the series of preparatory schools I teach at were utterly incompatible with the delicate smell culture, and nasal apparatus, of all who studied and worked in them. Admittedly, I had not been subtle. In my job prior to this one I had taught doused in Kenzo L’Elephant and Héritage, among others, the orientals I am naturally drawn to, but the sophisticated Yokohama adults I was teaching never seemed to complain (not that Japanese people would….)

It was in teaching kids that I got into trouble. Of course, common sense would dictate that sweet, smothering scents are not suitable for the classroom (and, wait for it,  WE ARE ACTUALLY NOT ALLOWED, IN ANY CASE, IN THE COMPANY’S RULES, TO WEAR PERFUME!!!).

Thus you find a person who lives through his nose, obsessed with how he and others smell, who feels worse than naked without a scent (particularly given the tendency of people from minority ethnic groups, as I am, to slowly become paranoid about the fact that they might smell different to the locals, that they might stink – a term called bromidrophobia); unable to express himself the way he should. Initially, knowing that foreigners can get away with murder in Japan if they just feign not to have understood properly, I thought nah, the kids won’t mind if I smell like a cake, mistaking children’s natural like of all things sweet for an adult male dripping with musky, ambered vanilla.

I remember standing outside the classroom after the first ‘English conversation training’ class I did with the Japanese teachers, and eavesdropping on them talking about this ‘spicy’, ‘sweet’ smell I had left in the room (Obsession For Men and the body cream to boot) and I stupidly took it as a compliment. It was not until I was given Givenchy’s Pi, in the pleasing edp form as a birthday present (heavier, orangier, richer) that things got out of hand, and a class of eleven and twelve year olds were literally screaming at me, hands over mouths, to open the windows. Gagging. At this point, given that the manager of one school had essentially ordered me to stop wearing perfume, I had to change my tune.

Little by little I became more and more extraordinarily hypersensitive to any comment about my smell, particularly the word ‘kusai’, (‘he stinks!‘) or in its more slangy, rude version ‘kusei‘ , and if I heard a student say this under his or her breath it was mildly traumatic for me at best. Yet, wearing nothing just never seemed a possible option for me: (it just…..isn’t). Instead, I decided to try a different tack and smell as nice, as pleasant, as FAULTLESS,  as possible.

Cue endless experiments over the decade with washing powders, fabric conditioners, shampoos and soaps, and of course, scent, but in fact fragrances that were completely different to what I would wear at weekends or when going out. To explain further, I will give you a basic description of my fundamental tastes, how I smell in my free time (when I am unshaven, a bit shaggy in my dress, rather than the well-groomed, perfectly shaven, besuited Mr Chapman I become during the work week…).  I can appreciate many kind of perfumes, and as a writer about perfume I obviously try to be as objective as possible,  but the ones I love best on myself can probably be divided into these categories:

1. The Orientals, especially vanilla: Shalimar, Vaniglia del Madagascar, Un Bois de Vanille.

2. Patchouli: Borneo 1834, Lorenzo Villoresi, Micallef, and particularly Givenchy Gentleman.

3. Vetiver: Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Racine, Vétiver Tonka, and so on, plus my favourite vetiver/leather of all time, and one of my favourites in any category, vintage Chanel No 19 parfum.

4. Oud/Rose (though like many committed fumeheads I am going off it in the current climate of oud overload). I have many Montale scents, though, and I have to say I wear them somewhat magnificently, particularly while dancing with no deodorant.

5. Tropical: Strangely, I  carry off the tropics quite convincingly: any coconut, tiare, ylang ylang or tuberose/gardenia scent I can wear quite nicely. I smell particularly good in Cacharel’s Loulou!

6. Clove/Carnation: my favourite spice, and a flower which smells great on a man à la Oscar Wilde.

7. Citrus/ Blackberry : Occasionally I yearn for a great, simple citrus, particularly with that mûre et musc undertone, such as Bouquet Impériale by Roger et Gallet, and of course the original Mûre by L’Artisan.

The list could go on, but let me tell you that none of the above are remotely acceptable in my workplace. You occasionally sniff the odd rule-bender: I have noticed subtle drifts of the odd spray of Bulgari Pour Homme or masculine scented deodorant, and some of the female teachers’ cleaner-than-thou deep repairing masks and other hair products circumvent the rules pretty succinctly, but since I cannot and never would even consider wearing anything sporty or ‘male’ (ie. all the scents on the current market sold at duty free or on the high street, where the ‘fresh’ citrus and ozonic notes fade to aggressive woody ambers……… I would rather die; it would feel like an enforced transvesticism like the tragic character in Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In), I have had to resort to another kind of cross dressing: women’s soft, citric sheer florals. Subtlely sprayed on one shirt cuff or two, or on the inside of my suit jacket.

By far the most triumphant choice in this regard was Clinique’s Happy, which not only did I get away with, but which had  girls swooning and following me down the corridors saying ‘ii nioi, ii nioi!!!!’, you smell so good, like flowers Mr Chapman, you smell like flowers………even in small doses it left a trail around me that smelled so pure, clean, pleasant; American, in the best possible sense. A straight man from the US even said to me once at the gym…. ‘Man you smell so good’, so obviously this really worked for me: I knew I smelled immaculate; fresh; godly. That perfume is really clever, and I have followed women down the street wearing it who smelled like angels, the problem being in my case that it gave me such intense headaches – sharp, pain down the nerves of my skull akin to a migraine, that I unfortunately had to stop buying it (I must have got through four bottles at least). I don’t mind suffering for my art, but this was too much. Antonia’s Flowers’ Floret, which has a similar mood, had the same effect on my skull.  I have read about the possibility of Happy being toxic, that there are some ingredients in it that probably shouldn’t be, but all that belongs to another post…….

In short, for work I can only wear something fresh, long-lasting, laundry-ish, to put in my Jekyll and Hyde collection. I have two wardrobes: work clothes have to go in a different room so as not to become ‘contaminated’ with the stench of the weekend libertine. No, they must smell fresh as a daisy. Currently I am wearing Guerlain’s Champs Elysées, which has unfortunately been reformulated (my previous mini had a gorgeously glassy, green-buddleia note, more almondy – this new version has a gassy ‘grapefruit’ smell in the top accord, but they both dry down in the same way, which isn’t perfect, but feels acceptable). I have succeeded also in wearing tiny amounts of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi, Gwen Stefani’s Music (!) and best of all, Summer by Kenzo, which makes me feel like I have just emerged from the sea, opened armed, like the Christ on sugar-loaf mountain statue in Rio. That one also gets compliments, as I trail through the school in sunny, wave-fresh confidence…


It will now be understood that I am always on the lookout for suitable scents, because though perfume may be banned in my school, as far as I am concerned they can go fuck themselves. Gandini, ‘Maestri Profumieri’ from 1896 (though no one seems to have ever heard of these ‘master perfumers’ until their wares suddenly appeared on the shelves this year or last) have a selection of ‘colognes’, which in fact have the strength and quality of niche eau de toilettes, that seem like likely candidates for my work wear. I am very drawn to Italian artisan perfumery in any case, as there is a simplicity, a goodness, much like the country’s cuisine, that does away with pretentiousness and just tries to make the composition as pleasing to the nostrils as possible. The Gandini scents are far from being mind-blowing, but given how nice they smell, they are also extremely good value for money.


is the first one from the line that I have actually worn to school, and I quite enjoyed it. This is a glassy, pure and glinting peach and rose scent that has the quality of piercing, mid-morning summer light refracted through coloured marbles; children chasing after them as they roll off lazily into the grass. It is extremely clean-smelling, if perhaps a touch synthetic, but I enjoyed the sensation of feeling that butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth. The top notes of passion fruit and peach, combined with an osmanthus touch and ‘red rose’, have a clarity that was lovely on the way to work, although the vetiver and cedar dry down was a little insistent for my scent-free environment, almost a touch oudhish (and thus outrageous) in that context. Considering that it only cost thirty pounds for a bottle though, I can recommend this wholeheartedly as a peachy clean rose fragrance.


Heavenly cologne opening: citrusy, floral and fresh, with soft undertones. Like flinging open the shutters in an Italian palazzo after a night on cool sheets and a long, soapy shower and breathing in the new, sunny day. Shall we meet for espresso? Jasmine and orange blossom flowers are briefly hydrated in leaves of mandarin, lemon fruit and orange, before a more classical floral cologne heart appears over faint woody notes. At the centre is a great profusion of living, countryfied  orange blossom with just a hint of the mushroomy sensuality at the heart of the actual flowers.  There are hundreds of nerolis on the market,  but this  one is classically cheering, well constructed and airy. If you know you like orange blossom, and especially if you are in the mood for  a new scent to take with you on holiday,  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


I personally always felt that Jo Malone’s Lime, Basil and Mandarin cologne was somewhat overrated. Yes, it is lovely at first, but to me, or at least on my skin, it becomes confused in its later stages, even unpleasant. All the freshness disappears and you are left with a sourish nothing. Can Gandini’s Lime and Basil improve on things?

It can. A vigorous opening of lime, mandarin and bergamot, with a vetiver, thyme and basil undertow is very appealing: simple, with no extraneous fuss, and very natural smelling, a kind of more rustic version of Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte.  A vaguely floral accord underlines this (supposedly orris and lily), while a dry patchouli eventually emerges, all very sensual in the scent’s later stages. I can imagine a handsome, jaunty Italian tipo, late for an appointment, spritzing some of this on before running his fingers absent-mindedly through his hair, then darting out across the piazza to meet his friends.


I am not a musk wearer, and certainly not to work, but I do like this blend that reminded me somewhat of  Gaultier Le Mâle, but purified: without that perfume’s rough, splayed, commercial quality. This musk is contained; sweet, light, with the colour and texture of blue Wedgewood china. The heart is of water lily, champaca flower and orris, giving the scent a powdery feel, while a faint top note of coconut and ‘noce’, which translates as walnut, adds a faintly gourmand edge. In truth, none of the notes given by Gandini are really perceptible, but the scent works as a gentle, enveloping, and innocent, modern musk. You would never object to sitting next to someone wearing this.


Perfect, almost clinical herbal lavender as the alcohol clears, with sharp notes of coriander and geranium leaf, while the decluttered amber and cedar in the base become quickly apparent. Less weighed down than other amber lavenders, this is very pleasant scent, with a certain saintly aspect.

Yes, I like this line. What smelling Gandini brings home to me is just what a rip-off a lot of niche perfumes are. These are all high quality, well-made , enjoyable perfumes sold at a fraction of the price of other niche brands, meaning you can spray with abandon as colognes are meant to be sprayed, use them as everyday products rather than as precious elixirs to be treasured (I think perfumistas need both.) As for the peculiar perfume climate I work in, I think a touch of the Rosa Rossa might work, but the others… They are made in a country where people are not afraid to smell good, where a scented aura around a person is not seen as offensive. Where perfume is truly appreciated, and loved.


Filed under Basil, Citrus, Flowers, Orange Blossom, Rose

SALAD ON A SATURDAY : BAIME by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (2000)






One of the most singular (and in some ways, peculiar) perfumes available, Baïme, by Paris-based Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, is a fresh-cut basil salad; savoury, green and piquant. While basil is occasionally used as a top note in fragrance along with citrus, it is rarely the main story. Here, however, like Diptyque’s classic Virgilio, basil leaf is the defining feature, and if you are not a lover of this herb, then you can immediately forget Baïme.



As a cool and distinguished scent though (perfect for a formal white shirt and suit) this uncompromising, androgynous green perfume is worth trying. The accord at the heart extends the herb salad theme with thyme, marjoram, and mint; and dries down to a very elegant base accord of spiced jasmine, vetiver and anise.


Filed under Basil, Green, Perfume Reviews