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.
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.
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.
On a side note: What’s your favourite city? I’d love to know.
I think mine is probably Tokyo. I so MISS IT.