Category Archives: Lavender

TUSCANY by ARAMIS (1985)

 

 

 

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It is strange to think that there was once a time when you could pretty much recognize what perfume someone was wearing because there was only a limited number of perfumes that they could wear. If they weren’t wearing one of the Lynx anti-perspirant sprays (now Axe), a Superdrug cheapie like Hai Karate or Brut, an Adidas number, or a Sure deodorant stick  – actually quite a beautiful smell like a tribute to Shalimar – then the boys at school would definitely have on something you knew by heart –  it could be Jazz, Kouros, or Paco Rabanne. There simply weren’t that many fragrances around: at the local department store (there was no ‘online’), each couture house  –  there were no visible independent  brands, nor heritage Gentleman’s apothecaries in my town either – had a limited number of creations on their roster that you came to either love or reject. At Chanel you had Monsieur (a favourite) and Antaeus  – too hard-bodied and intent for me for the time; at Givenchy, Gentleman  – a perfume I fell in love with – and Monsieur, which was just too civet-lemon and ‘elderly’ for me at the time, and which nobody else at school would ever have considered wearing for a moment either for fear of smelling like a nonce. Each stand at Beatties, the department store that my mum worked for in Jaeger upstairs – had one or two fragrances for men only; at Rabanne you had the signature fragrance that everybody loved (including me), and the wonderful Sport – which I reviewed the other day. Armani had one – Pour Homme, my first fragrance love; Dior had none that I was aware of initially until Fahrenheit came along and rocked the masculine universe ( I went crazy for that one too). There was Quorum; Polo (my brother’s). Aramis had its legendary eponymous scent of wannabe oligarch – which some boys said the girls loved on them and which I tried once or twice but found too sour; and then, around 1986 or so in the UK the company brought out the far more preferable Tuscany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1986 was also the year that Merchant Ivory released their masterpiece, multiple Academy Award winning picture A Room With A View: a beautiful, romantic adaption of E.M Forster’s novel that showed Florence and the surrounding landscape in Tuscany at its very finest –   although secretly, all I cared about really was Maurice

 

 

 

 

 

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–  the author’s posthumously published novel on homosexual love that Merchant Ivory also adapted and which in truth was one of my main impetuses for wanting to go to Cambridge ( I had to believe that love was possible for me, and this looked like an impossibly romantic place that I would find it. The importance of this film in my own personal life story can never be overstated).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whereas a lot of period pictures these days featuring British stately homes and the calcified upper classes often fall into ersatz Costume Department replication and whitewashed colonial nostalgia, there is something very different about Merchant Ivory films that put them in a league of their own (the incisive dialogue; the perfect but not overly laboured-over visuals and exquisitely perfect details in every frame; the brilliant acting, the sweep of their productions)    –   that makes their films incomparable to any other literary adaptations of their ilk. A Room With A View, with its panoramic Florentine vistas; its gentle humour and soaring operatic arias, was certainly enough to make any fifteen year old boy’s heart swoon alongside Helena Bonham Carter over Julian Sands in a field of swaying poppies. It also made me start thinking about going to Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As a gaunt, vegetarian eighteen year old with literary pretensions  –  waxing very lyrically over Wuthering Heights, Keats and Tennessee Williams plays during my English literature classes (pictured, above left), after years of increasingly unbearable tension, I finally came out one evening to my friend Sarah – who took this picture of me and her brother and his girlfriend of the time  – while washing the dishes on a Friday night at an Italian restaurant in Solihull (where we had part time student jobs making  starters and desserts and cleaning and were insulted and shouted at by stereotypical mobster-like Italians back in the kitchen). It was one of those situations. She had had a crush on me, and was also going out with Darren, who I liked,  (and who, it turned out, miraculously also had a crush on me, to my rapturous astonishment when she told me as we were constructing a shrimp salad or overpriced vinaigrette avocado). Realizing it was impossible for her, she had the generosity to introduce us to each other and thus I had my first proper falling in love and appalling heartbreak, all in secret, all during my entrance exams, with the exception of my few loyal confidantes.

 

 

 

 

That summer, she and I also went to Rome, Tuscany and Umbria, arguing quite a bit and irritating each other  (in later years we have failed to meet up, one of the reasons being that she once chose to say to me ‘I prefer to remember you as you were’, something I will never forgive her for), but I do still have good memories; I see us in my mind’s eye rushing into the flocks of pigeons in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican like lovers in a Robert Doisneau photograph;  passionately alive; seeing the cypresses and hills at San Gimignano;  and deciding that if I did get into Cambridge, which was all I could think about at that point,  I would soon be dropping German with its impossible grammatical rules and noun endings and study Italian instead, eventually studying in Florence; and then living a truly magical year in Rome.

 

 

 

 

Tuscany the perfume, was an obvious fit. At that time I was into wearing loose linen white or cream-coloured shirts (as was D, up in Norwich, although of course I didn’t know him then; but he would also spend his Saturday afternoons cycling around the antique shops and second hand clothing stores, reading poetry in church graveyards and buying collarless grandad shirts). Around the release of Tuscany, there was a definite bifurcation of culture in the UK in terms of music, taste: everything, and he was definitely in my tribe. The charts had been a smorgasbord for many years prior to 1985; Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen could all have top ten hits, happily coexisting with the poppier fare; around the middle of the decade, however, it became something like an English version of the movie Heathers; kids divided into ‘casuals’ or ‘alternatives”, everyone with their immature and adolescent (and ultimately insecure) disdain for the other side. The ‘Kevins’ and the ‘Traceys’ liked the top 5 hits, they liked Whitney Houston and Starship; Phil Collins. Rick Astley. They wore pastel clothes and had mullets; highlights; white shoes. Scent-wise, it was all about Jazz and Dunhill; torrid bitter machos that the girls lapped up like no tomorrow in their sweet-lipped Exclamation! Impulse body sprays, and Red Door. I shuddered. I was far more into The Associates and David Sylvian, the elegance of Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, which was one of the first fragrances I sampled that I felt didn’t define me as photo-granite-jawed like all the bonehead action heroes of the time such as Mel Gibson and the dreaded Arnold Schwarzenegger ( I just wanted floppy haired male beauties). Tuscany, therefore, was ideal. It had grace and style, was aspirational (a house in Siena); felt organic and fresh. Most importantly,  everybody loved it on me – and several other friends then started wearing it as well, because, as I say, there really weren’t that many fragrances around to choose from; if it was good, it got around. Pre-Obsession, which, as I have written about before, was a definite turning point for me, the time when I reclaimed what was mine and would no brook no more ambiguity about my sexual identity or the person I was (i.e.. not a total knucklehead), it was Tuscany, that for a few summers, had the crown. I can see myself on August nights, getting ready to go out, looking in the mirror and splashing Tuscany onto my shoulders and neck before getting dressed. Satisfied. Immersing myself in its herbal pleasures. Its gleaming citrus. At that time, no one spoke of notes or what was in a perfume (adding to its mystery, actually  – you simply smelled it and liked it or you didn’t), marvelling at the unknowability therein, getting to know it in all of its stages throughout the day and which parts you liked best.  Perfumes were also a lot more complex and layered then as well; they had taken years to come to fruition; they were deliberately built to be monuments meant to last……….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the lemon and bergamot I loved in Tuscany, I think, that crisp top accord glinting on lavender and lime and a subtle underlay of tarragon and anise, basil, and orange blossom;  clean, but with depth; a gently aromatic wood base of patchouli, tonka bean, sandalwood and cinnamon, though to me it just smelled of sun and skin and (semi)-oblivious youthful happiness.  I haven’t smelled the reformulation recently (this perfume is still sold everywhere, attesting to the quality of its construction ), but I do know that the original had an effortlessness to it that felt very natural; it was a perfume that flowed. 

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THE SUMMER DIARIES vol 1 :LOHNA by HARRN (2016) +POUR UN HOMME DE CARON (1934) + POUR UN HOMME DE CARON SPORT (2015)

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It has been a languorous yet eventful summer and I am out of practice with writing so I will come back with a brief post on three perfumes we picked up on one of our recycle shop hauls : the simple, but timeless, Pour Un Homme, a perfume  I had always wanted in my collection for its soft ease but had never got round to buying, and a recent reiteration of the scent that I had never encountered before, the fantastic Pour Un Homme Sport, a welcome addition to the collection that has turned out a summer hit and D’s scent for most of August.

 

 

 

 

For those not familiar with Caron’s most famous masculine ( and probably the house’s bestselling scent) ,  this is essentially a potently subtle, fresh French lavender combined with a musky, civet-licked vanilla that will not suit everyone –  this was one of the perfumes I used at my book launch as an example of a good lavender scent : a lot of nodding all round, initially, then later, slight consternation as it ‘turned’ on some people’s skins and went sour or rangey.

 

 

 

 

On me it works. An intimate, soothing sensuality; manly, if you like ( James Dean wore this, apparently – an idea I find very erotic ), but really,  more androgynous, undefined; quietly self confident. Perfect for an afternoon tumble in the sheets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Carnally  discreet.

 

 

 

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Or not : depending what decade you find this classic being advertised in

 

 

 

 

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We had picked these Carons up in a great cache of fumes spree-d on one fun, sweltering day in Yokohama. I wanted more, and could have spent twice as much, but was trying desperately hard to act frugal and show some very necessary restraint  ( as we had unfortunately  haemorrraged quite a lot of money – more on that in the next post in the series ) and  I couldn’t afford it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With me, though, things I want – records, perfumes – often linger in my mind like taunts of regret-  sometimes things I only HALF want, but am materialistically intrigued by. Thus, when D said he had to go back the next day to the same area to buy a bizarre garment he had spotted that was perfect for a performance piece,  but had hesitated over because of the price – I gathered some coins and said he could go by himself, as I would be preparing my toilette for that evening’s night out in Tokyo and couldn’t bear getting sweaty beforehand;  but that if he was going back, there was something he should buy: Caron Sport  ( a combination of words – that sounds like an oxymoron but in practice isn’t ) : the lingering after/effect of which had remained lodged in my mind.  It was only ¥1500 ( about fifteen dollars), and, more importantly, something I could definitely imagine him wearing : on first impressions, a musky, minty, balsamic yet astringent smell,  almost vaguely similar to  Jean Paul Gaultier’s bestselling and cheaply shouldering Le Male, a scent we had both sometimes shared back in the day when we first met and still on occasion recall with affection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we were very excited indeed to have stage-side tickets to see the singer Neneh Cherry, someone I have always loved, but never seen in concert, at Billboard Live Tokyo in Roppongi. I got ready alone at home, taking my time,  dancing naked around the kitchen to her records, and we later hooked up on the train, me bathed and squeaky clean and happily sprayed head to toe for the occasion in another scent I had never heard of before but  picked up for five dollars on the same day:  Lohna by Harnn

 

 

 

 

 

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– a crisp and refreshing, uncliched combination of lavender and lemongrass (funnily enough, a west-meets-east harmony I have sometimes chosen myself in homemade herbal tea blends: somehow they can synergize quite beautifully), with undertones of mid-laundered cotton shirts that felt ideal for the hot summer’s day, and a perfume which is now fixed forever in my memory as The Scent I Wore To Neneh Cherry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Scent That Duncan Wore To Neneh Cherry was, and now always will be ( I love this self conscious STAMPING of a perfume on your memory like this : a deliberate etching in your heart and brain stem) : Caron Pour Un Homme Sport, a new version of the original that was released by the company in 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The base of this fragrance is truly great on D : a tonka/ benzoin/ white musk accord, a skin tattoo laced with a (slightly salty) real ambergris that leaves a silky,  but tangible trail of sillage down Tokyo escalators,  or on bike rides around Kamakura ( “ I am loving your bicycle sillage !” I shout into the wind ); the top notes strange but compelling :  leaves and twigs of lavender flushed through an anti-intuitive, brash, even almost amusing –  dose of grapefruit and mandarin and an unimagined twist of ‘Madagascar blue ginger’ , nutmeg and verbena tautened with a bodily essence of Virginia cedar.

 

 

 

 

 

The effect : revitalizing and clean, a tad cocky, yet warm and dirty: optimistic, uncomplicated, sexy  – and absolutely ideal for dancing .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An unsurpassable elegance……….. Moment Suprême by Jean Patou (1929)

I do wish I hadn’t opened this though.

The Black Narcissus

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I will confess that will power is not my strength. Chocolate; booze; tightly sealed bottles of vintage perfume. And coming home late last night after my first day back at work, and reading the exhortations to open and experience the beautiful bottle of Moment Suprême that I discovered the other day in an out of the way bric-a-brac shop in Yokohama, I had no choice: my pitifully low levels of resistance were destroyed.

Usually when I find a flacon of vintage preciousness I have some idea of how it will smell. Not so with Moment Suprême: I had vague remembrances from  somewhere, but had no concrete conception of the perfume that was locked within the bottle, and box, an undiscovered perfume that spoke to me, in its subdued presentation, of the twenties or thirties in the most elegant, and simple manner possible.

I was told that Moment Suprême was an…

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THE CRUEL DESECRATION OF YARDLEY ENGLISH LAVENDER (1913)

 

 

 

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Like any other perfume lover, the receiving of bottles of scent for Christmas, or a birthday, or any other special occasion, is reason for excitement. My in-laws are from Norfolk, home of the world’s finest lavender (I prefer it to the French or the Bulgarian, this very English, camphoraceous lavender with just the right balance of purpleness, herbs and fruit) and they generously brought over a bottle of Yardley English Lavender in my Christmas package when they came over in December. I was of course delighted to receive it, particularly as I totally associate where Duncan is from with the scent of this hallowed, ancient plant.  Daphne will always send me sachets of dried lavender flowers from her garden, which I love to put under my pillow, and we even once went on an fascinating lavender tour all together somewhere out in the countryside in Norfolk, being guided through the differing varietals and seeing the distillery plant where the essential oil is produced. I shed a tear as I saw the machine produce a pure drop of extracted lavender, and watched it drip slowly down into the receptacle beneath.

 

 

As for lavender perfumes, while I am not a massive fan of the note on myself, I do love it on the D, from Guerlain’s exquisite Lavande Velours, to Penhaligons’ suavely rendered Sartorial, to Serge Lutens Gris Clair. I have worn Caron Pour Un Homme on occasion, that sultry, musky vanilla fused masculine lavender that is still extremely successful among men back in its homeland (as is that other lavender classic, Eau Sauvage, another one of my youthful favourites when I was seventeen), but as a brilliantly health preserving essence (there is no other essential oil as useful as lavender), I only have the highest veneration for lavender anything in general.   I suppose in comparison to these other lavender kisses, Yardley’s English Lavender was always a very old fashioned scent – if you really want to look at it that way and adopt that tedious mindset-  but for me it was more like timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yardley English lavender, especially in the extrait form you see it above, the one I always bought for myself, was clear, removed from reality, refined, cold, and disdainful almost: unsweetened and unadorned, sharp yet soft; natural, very English, and utterly, utterly dignified. I would sometimes buy it to just wear at those moments where I just wanted quiet and repose, and even picked up a hair pomade once which I sometimes use even now by my bedside to relax me at night.

 

 

 

Sadly, Yardley seems to have gone down the trash-it-in-desperation route common to plenty of perfume manufacturers hoping to stay relevant and modern and in the process have utterly desecrated this once simple but beautiful scent beyond description. My relatives back in Norwich were not to know this of course, and I was still pleased to receive it (as I am virtually any perfume), and I know this is going to come across as me being ungrateful and petulant. Forgive me if that is the case. But the indignation I feel upon smelling this cheap common muck that is imposting in the place of the original perfume does need to be expressed. Where once there was a mauve, muslin clarity; thick glass pools that were dry and healthful, uplifting yet calming, now, once the brief and very incongruous top notes of real English lavender have dissipated, all you have on the back of your reeking hand is a vanillic, inexpensive ‘sexy’ bathroom spray chemical accord that has defiled and sacrileged what was once a pillar of perfumery for those who liked it quiet, dream inducing and classical in an attempt to make it pertinent and somehow ‘sensual’.

 

 

 

 

 

Absent mindedly picking up the new bottle today has suddenly and inexplicably set off this furious rampage, sorry

 

 

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(no!!!! look at it!! Sheer toilet cleaner! Surely the whole point of keeping perfumes like this is actually for the very heritage they represent: surely the olde worlde Anglophilia of the original products were the reason that they were still very popular worldwide in the first place ( I actually picked up my tub of lavender brilliantine in Dubai airport, where there was a huge array of the originally packaged Yardleyy products on display, for people from that region probably appealing as total Anglo-Exotica). But in not only giving us an ugly and unattractive bottle, but also taking away the heart of the original fragrance, with its delicately strewn bouqet garni of rosemary, moss and eucalyptus and replacing it with this ‘puking party slag’ overall vibe, Yardley have created an irreconcilable monster that will be incompatible, I would imagine, with virtually anyone. Who the hell will want this shit? The ‘young’ will still find it boring and old fashioned, or just think that it smells like something that belongs in a toilet. Older devotees will simply mourn the passing of the scent they originally loved, and shun it like the grave. As for me, I am just looking forward to having access to the real thing when I come back to England in August. Those lavender fields still waiting for me, hopefully, if we have time for another visit (Daphne and Rod, can we?), and that perfect, perfect essential oil that I would like to stock up on and bring with me back to Japan, to sprinkle on my sheets or in my morning bath water;  the smell of raw lavender flowers and leaves, sunning themselves in the late evening English summer light…..

 

 

 

This new and ugly bastardisation, on the other hand, can just go and screw itself.

 

 

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JICKY by GUERLAIN (1889)

 

 

 

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Sometimes I just take my giant green velvet box of parfum, open the lid, just look at Jicky undisturbed, and let its exquisite emanations reach my nostrils.

 

The flacon lies benelovent, secure in its felt indentation; safe in the knowledge of its beauty; and what I smell, in these moments, is a work of stunning, fleeting sensations: the living bergamot and lemon essences; a flourishing lavender; a garland of herbs from an English garden: verbena, sweet marjoram, and the tiniest nuance of mint. I am entranced.

 

But like Narcissus, leaning in at the edge, there lies trouble in these depths……what are the rude aphrodisia lurking down below in those  murky waters…..?

 

I take the bottle and apply the stopper to my skin, and at first, in essence, all is an excelsis deo of perfect harmony.

 

 

I inhale : no perfume has more soul.

 

 

But the citrus has now gone….

 

 

 

Smiling, warmer notes now appear with the lavender in counterpoint; wisps of sandalwood, and that suave, and – let’s not beat about the bush – faecal undertone (an unembarrassed, frank anality of musk, ambergris and civet, sewn together by les petits mains in the ateliers Guerlain with a more civilized accord of incense, benzoin and coumarin)..and it is here where Jicky, suddenly, becomes more difficult.

 

 

 

 

In a modern context, this scent is almost scandalous in its animality (and very, very  French – you can almost hear them laughing at us paling, moralistic Anglo Saxons running from its carnal openness): and so to really wear Jicky, therefore, to have what it takes, you have to be able to carry off this aspect of the perfume – which is never crude, more a deliciously francophile embellishment of the human ;  but if you can, if you can, it can be magical: an ambisexual, historied and haunting skin scent that is simply beautiful –  suited to people, not gender.

 

 

Jicky is a perfume for libertines.

 

 

 

I can’t wear it, but on Duncan, especially when he is in velvet-jacketed dandy mode, it smells wonderful.

 

 

Knowing, adult, and cultivated, a drop here and there is the perfect scented accoutrement.

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