Category Archives: Masculines

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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Filed under Fougère, Lavender, Masculines

“PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT” – THE TOKYO STORY, featuring MIZUNARA by PARFUMS SATORI (2018)

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

What a great day though!

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Filed under autobiography, Green, Masculines, Oakmoss, Woods

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Filed under Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Masculines

THE DANDIES : : : ARSENE LUPIN LE DANDY by GUERLAIN (2010) + AURORA by CHARLES WONG (2018)

 

 

 

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The D is something of a dandy, and recently we re-discovered that we even had a perfume of that name in the collection that we had totally forgotten about :  “Arsene Lupin – Le Dandy” (a bit of a mouthful ), but which is also a dark leather glove of a violet patchouli fougere that he wears most suavely and insinuatingly – the perfume he was donning at the museum in Tokyo on Saturday (my own aroma being Roger Et Gallet’s The Vert combined  with Brossas’ Jasmin Lilas); a scent that was not out of place in that self-consciously chic 1930’s environment, the period when the famous French detective novels were still being written by  Maurice Leblanc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I  remember the first time I smelled this final creation by Jean Paul Guerlain (for his former house) at the  boutique in Hibiya I was a bit nonplussed: as this, and especially the Voyou (or ‘hooligan’) part of the then newly released Arsene Lupin  duo, just seemed too traditional and obviously of an overly familiar ‘certain ilk’ that traces back decades; immediately recognisable as just ‘one of those’: however, I must admit that meeting up after work the other day, all I could smell, from particular distances, was a luxuriantly held back incense, and dense slightly powdery patchouli with a provocative warmth to it (I wasn’t sure at first if it wasn’t just the regular incense sticks I burn all the time at home: often, the balsamic powder and aromatic elements, and particularly the patchouli,  in that blend fuse with the clothes in his wardrobe and it is hard to sometimes tell where the incense or the perfume begins or ends).  However, once my nose sharpened its focus and I honed into the realities I realized that what I was detecting was definitely a perfume. The warmth, the manly depth, in this effortlessly put together blend by a master perfumer comes from sandalwood, cardamom and leather – – smooth, unfetishistic – while the piercing green top accord, which is what makes Arsene Lupin so distinctive (within its genre) – a  bracing violet leaf and artemisia coupled with coriander and pepper and bitter orange, gives the perfume its undeniable gravitas. Although a little on the potentially ‘gravely self serious and self important ‘ tip on the wrong person, on D, the aura of the perfume is rather elegant:  all velvet breeches, brogues, a monocle, and a fine library to match  –  and very seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Also founded on a study of striking contrasts is the recently released Aurora by Charles Wong, a fresh, green tea-like aromatic scent that would make a nice signature for a young, uncomplicated fop. It seems to me sometimes that men’s fragrances – although this is billed as unisex- rely on the olfactory prototype of gradually reconciling clashes more than feminines, which go more for harmony and ‘general attractiveness’ : a sharp grasp and assertive space staking at the top, followed by a sturdier, more cosy-uppable base that instils confidence and makes you move in closer and, one imagines, eventually  ‘relent’. Like Le Dandy, this is a perfume with undeniable charisma: Charles Wong is an author, fragrance enthusiast, and France adoring bon viveur from Hong Kong who travelled to Grasse to create this, his first perfume  – a fresh, modern clothes horse for the new age (Arsene is definitely a few decades his senior): a juxtaposition of  oak moss, amber and sea moss in the base (quite potent), with greener, more limpid and sparkling top and heart notes of water lotus, bamboo, fig leaves, blackcurrant bud as well as aquatic notes of ‘rain’, ‘fresh water’, and ‘sea’ throughout the heart and top – all tenacious, if never entirely  aggressive. As you can imagine from the note description, this fragrance is quite reminiscent of the nineties’ style of perfuming men in blueprints such as Giorgio Armani’s bestselling Aqua Di Gio ( which I almost miss, now in comparison to the newer Neanderthals) although Aurora is more subtle, and less ‘everything all at once’ than the aforementioned aquamarine juggernaut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Guerlain’s Le Dandy, which is a tad smudged and too intense when bunched all together on the skin up close, the concentrate of fresh intensity in Aurora is, for me, too much to lean in and kiss. From a distance, however – used judiciously in beknownst-to-you-only locations on the body, in tandem with a crisp white shirt, nice grooming, and dandyish vestments, this is a scent that I know I would be drawn to if the right person was wearing it, as the central olfactory conceit –  a constantly evolving play between the lower and higher octaves that hints at intimacy (from the space left in between), as well as the optimism of the clean, lotus-fresh top accords –  is insistent,  youthful –  and, in its own way, curiously passionate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fougère, Masculines

THE SECOND (AND THIRD AND FOURTH) TIME AROUND : : CORIOLAN by GUERLAIN (1998) + EAU DE MINTHE by DIPTYQUE (2019) +AENOTUS by PUREDISTANCE (2019)

 

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Masculinity, like any socially enforced identity, can be exhausting. Rupaul’s popular assertion that  ‘we are all born naked, and the rest is drag‘, holds quite a lot of truth for me : I am quite happy to wear my suit and tie for work, have always enjoyed, to a certain extent, how this conventional costume (and it is a costume) looks; but at the same time I am still always very aware that it is certainly only one possible, culturally arbitrary form of dressing my male body: other ways might include my jeans and flower t shirts and colourful hoodies and sweatshirts for the weekends, my more ‘gentlemanly’ jumpers and straight coats and lavish scarves that I like to offset plain colours with, or the occasional extravagant nocturnal performance rags (all furs, silk, animal prints and Robert Smith goth hair) of my spirit animal, Burning Bush –  most definitely another form of costume, yes, but also strangely liberating, like manning a submarine – closed off; immune, the people like fish in the aquarium of the  deep wide ocean.  Clothes, for me, are both a burden and, it goes without saying, a cover, a way to hide; an expression of the self, yes, the external manifestation thereof that we must all be judged by on a daily basis – as we cannot walk around naked; yet in my own personal case, deep down I am not entirely sure how much, if at all, these outer layers of garments ever truly really represent my inner spirit.  Only that I feel heavier, more imposing, stricter, definitely older, and much more world-weary in my daily formal wear, while simultaneously ‘appreciating’, to some degree, the difference in the superficial quality of social transactions this ‘smartening up’  incurs in the people I encounter all around me: ladies and gentlemen pay me more attention at the check out counter of the supermarket; the expressions of anodynely quiet approval as I get on the bus, given by respectable Japanese older figures (the western import of this form of clothing long universally accepted as a worldwide, homogenizing conformism for the masculine body; a way of fading into the crowd as a work slave). These clothes are effortlessly normalizing.  I fit in. My shoulders, broad already, are even broader. I can sink into this role quite easily. You might even say it becomes me. It is limiting, goading, oblivious, though  – and I can only imagine, with all the extra polish and facepaint and varnishing  and accessorising that society demands, how time consuming, and often quite simply extremely tedious, all of the garnishing and smoothing and prettifying, must all be for expectation-conforming women.

 

 

 

 

I feel exactly the same way about perfume. Fragrance. Scent. Most of the current ‘feminines’ on the market, like many of the women I saw in the UK recently with their extraordinarily heavy make up, false eyelashes, facial contouring, sculpted eyebrows, and plumped up glossy lips and hair, have the extravagance, and exaggeration, of the classic ‘female impersonating’ drag queen (the line between the two has very definitely blurred in the last decade or so as Drag Race becomes mainstream and becomes absorbed by the heterosexual majority); these are sweet, oversaturated, almost comical, perfumes, foreshadowing only one attribute of the female persona and coming across as almost clownish; and yet men have famously long had it even worse with their testosterone boosting potions, even if the thick, woody, oudhy sweet chocolate of the everything-but-the -kitchen-sink trend of some recent men’s fragrances has steered things in a slightly more ‘abundant’, and femininely peacockish, direction.

 

 

 

 

 

Some fragrance tropes seemingly Die Hard, though, particularly the classic fougere, a winning formula that never entirely goes out of style (or at least commercial relevance). I can occasionally quite enjoy this type of perfume when it is done well – say Rive Gauche Pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent, or a similar apres rasage called Eau De Berlin by Harry Lehmann that we once bought in Charlottenburg and which D smells quite nice in every once in a while, as there is a crisp, unfussiness to this type of accord that can aura the body with a certain nonchalant elegance ( I have always loved the original Sure Deodorant For Men for this reason – cheap, simple;  a fougere crossed with a touch of Guerlain Shalimar – I wore this yesterday (but oddly, would never consider it for even a moment when I go to work, where in perfume terms I strictly cross dress – with a suit, anything too manly scent-wise and I would start to feel like a Marvel character -). Yes, despite the recent trends of sweet and sickly for both sexes, it seems that a certain pendulum has swung back in a more traditionalist manner – unsurprising, given the current political climates – and a perfume such as Diptyque’s ‘new’ Eau De Minthe, which is a real throwback to the classic eighties perfumes such as Drakkar Noir, all granite-jawed nutmeg and mint, patchouli and a fresh fougere-ish base founded on geranium and rose, might, in the wrong hands just come across as a tired old rubbernecking cliche. What is interesting about this scent though, from my perspective, is the context – Tokyo – in which it is being sold as a regular part of the popular Diptyque collection, neither marketed specifically at men or at women; Japan, despite its entrenched sexism and lack of real gender equality in the workplace, is, at the same time, far more adventurous  – particularly the younger generation – when it comes to experimentation and simply wearing what you want to, especially before university students join companies (when, depressingly, each April, you see them all, like drones, all wearing exactly the same thing, the dreaded ‘recruit suits‘ ; university boys turned into office men, all in virtually identical suits, white shirts, brief cases, shiny shoes; previously fashionable university girls, now in regulation knee length skirts, suit jackets, white blouses, and hair in regulation pony tails as they join the predetermined conveyor belt that will lead them from their twenties, into retirement, and the old people’s home…..)

 

 

 

 

 

All of this notwithstanding, though, as I say, I do feel that Japan is more open-minded in many ways when it comes to trying different kind of fragrances, and although I can imagine young men naturally gravitating towards this one – because the fougere formula has always been sexy, let’s face it- I can almost even more easily imagine women of  all ages, tired of pinky and perky and ‘peony’ roses and peaches, finding a certain relief in donning a more toned down yet vigorous perfume such as this one; a subtle spray under the collar or shirt sleeve here and there a calming refuge from all the expected girliness, which in this country is a monstrous albatross around each female born here from birth. That such a traditionally ‘male’ smelling perfume is presented without gender directives, in quite attractive visual presentation as well (I have always had a soft spot for Diptyque) strikes me as some kind of progress, actually. Where Maison Francis Kurkdjian over emphasised the point with their recent, disappointing, ‘Gender Fluidity’, here, although some female consumers will definitely read Eau De Minthe as being male, in terms of marketing, it is determinedly not even an issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puredistance’s new Aenotus, a ‘master perfume’ by Antoine Lie, is far more typically masculine in its approach than anything else in this house’s line of perfumes – M  (a rich, powerful yet indolent old-fashioned leather that could be worn very well by a dandy of any gender) included. According to the company, while M has a perfume oil strength of 25%, which is high enough as it is  – the newest perfume has one of 48% – a fact that, in my view, does something of a disservice to the ingredients in the blend : a fresh extravaganza of orange, mandarin, lemon, yuzu, mint, blackcurrant bud and petitgrain that you experience in the initial blast as being quite potent to say the least, but which is overtaken, quickly but surely, by the bulk of the perfume, which is a long lasting, eventual ‘skin scent’ of oakmoss, patchouli, and musks that you have smelled too many times in your local locker room (well, you probably have – I can’t say that I have). . When Duncan wore it, at first we both found it simply too strong and too ‘typical’, somehow; too much of a throwback to every other perfume aimed at men that you know already, although admittedly, when I came back into the room every now and again, he most definitely had a mellow and very ‘manly presence’ to him that you can imagine some people taking to, if such conservatism and paternalism were a desirable and projectable part of their signature. Personally, in terms of Puredistance, I am much happier, on occasion, wearing Antonia or Warszawa (also by Antoine Lie), which I wore at the weekend and found intriguingly ambiguous, calming, reserved, and sensual in its blend of velveted base notes and high quality flowers. It is quite beautiful. I just need a little more mystery or non-obviousness to my perfumes, something beyond, no matter how high quality the ingredients therein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday was the penultimate day of Golden Week : today, the country goes back to work. Entrenched as a cultural phenomenon, and probably ‘infecting’ tens of millions of people across the land as we speak, is the illness known as gogatsubyo, or ‘May sickness’ – feelings of depression, physical unwellness, fatigue, listlessness, due to the ‘warmer weather’ (I love it! and I have always preferred this profusion of green and floral abandon to the prim festivities of the cherry blossom) and the fact that the quotidian reality has to sink in after the uncharacteristic freedom of having ten days off in celebration of the new emperor and empress  (while many of my colleagues were visibly delighted at the thought of having so much time to do as they wanted, as we approached this ‘magical time’, some others felt quite dismayed at the idea that they somehow had to fill up the days with something  – almost as though, without being told what to do and having a ready made exhausting work structure, their whole set up and get up would just collapse). What was interesting was that this dread of going back to work, with the symptoms already set by society, was already affecting people’s potential enjoyment of the holiday before it even started; a curious negativity wrapped up in the ingrained guilt at not constantly working that I am, at the cellular level, completely immune to. I just wanted it to continue.

 

 

 

 

 

Acutely aware of all this, but trying to put it to the back of our minds on our last day out of the holiday (yesterday we just holed up at home, hardly even getting out of bed) ,h eading into the poorer, more working class area of Bandobashi in Yokohama and to explore an old shopping arcade there, for some reason I had decided that morning to wear the aforementioned roll on Sure Deodorant and some vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, wanting something, soapy,  easy and reassuring; I was not in the mood for all the tropical florals and coconut I had been wearing all week as though I were a walking olfactory advertisement for a holiday in Polynesia; and as it happened, going down an unfamiliar street, we made an impulsive and spontaneous stop at a bicycle shop, seeing a sleek and funky bright yellow bike on sale out the front that would be perfect for Duncan to start accompanying me on the  frequent circuits of our neighbourhood and beyond I now do on a regular basis – good for the continuing rehabilitation of my leg muscles and for general health as well – plus I just love the smells of the flowers and the greenery, and the feeling of physical strength growing as the neighbourhood goes from spring, through cherry blossom to early summer and I feel just generally more vital from doing so and remember the rush of my childhood when we were always cycling around one place or another.

 

 

 

 

 

You can’t really get more manly than a bike shop (well you probably can, but I wouldn’t know), and part of me was glad, at that moment, that I happened not to be drenched in vintage Loulou parfum – Olivia, the bottle is almost empty! what a glorious piece of perfumery this thing is ! I LOVE it – as I have been the majority of the week ; it might have seemed slightly awkward and out of place (Paco Rabanne was working quite nicely, thank you). As the D filled in the details for the delivery and made the payment, I kept catching unspoken drifts of the Guerlain Coriolan he was wearing that day – another recycling  of the ‘classic masculinity’ that Guerlain tried to press upon the public in the late nineties even though it was very off trend at the time and therefore sunk without trace; yet this is one of those very complex, refined, delicate, yet sensual masculine perfumes that could hardly be more French if it tried; far more poetic than either of the above reviewed perfumes. This is a soft, linen shirt of a Parisian gentleman; soft chamois leather, gorse and benzoin, with ylang ylang nutmeg and ginger (just sprinkles; nothing intense), herbal accents and fine citruses, drying down to what I realized might possibly have been the inspiration for Jean Claude Ellena’s Terre D’Hermes, a bone dry, mastered and reawakened vetiver.

 

 

 

 

 

While I was definitely rather enjoying the subtle and erotic scent that the D was giving off as we sat down at a traditional Japanese restaurant down the arcade (in a part of Yokohama that s really like the land that time forgot – absolutely stuck in a time warp, which is sometimes exactly how we like it), to me, there was also something quite irritatingly perfect about the vibe that it was giving off, something almost fauxintellectual; while soulful, attractive, and genuinely blended, there is a faultlessness to Coriolan that makes me glad that we only have a miniature bottle in our collection; a full one, used too copiously, might begin to get on my nerves. Ultimately, I prefer, I think, perfumes that are less self-serious (or much more); lighthearted, flamboyant, like the 1899 Hemingway by Histoires De Parfum that D picked up in London, which has the most gorgeous sillage I have smelled in a tobacco and coumarin perfume; or the Nutmeg and Ginger cologne I picked up on Sunday after lunch in one of the recycle shops near the arcade that I am sure he will wear more pointedly and effectively than any babe magnets made precisely for that very obvious purpose: extraordinarily simple, based mainly only on nutmeg oil, there is a sense of not pussyfooting it around when you are talking only about arid spices with a touch of underlying woods. He smells really hot in it. Rather than a grand orchestration of accords that are ‘known’ to represent masculinity in an immediately recognisable, almost embarrassingly obvious, manner, here, a more spritely virility that doesn’t even recognize itself as such, will be the much more pleasing, and to me, sexually arousing, olfactory result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fougère, Masculines

ALL OVER MYSELF ::::::::: CRISTAL Pour Homme by AMOUAGE

 

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On Monday morning at Strawberry Fields in Kamakura I had a naughtyish splurge on a cache : for sixty pounds sterling, a vintage 30ml Opium parfum, a No 19, a Caron Fleurs De Rocaille extrait, but these were kind of thrown in, really, because the real purchase, and prize, was this vintage edition of Amouage Cristal for men ( or possibly Gold? Experts please weigh in ) that was roaring to me silently from the top of the glass shelf.

 

 

 

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The bottom of the bottle says Cristal, apparently a rare perfume on eBay that sells for around 1,000 dollars  – the Japanese internet has one for half that

 

 

 

 

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but the notes do seem to match those of Gold, an intense ( though this word doesn’t do it justice, not remotely ; I have never known anything like it ), aldehydically animalic, musky soapy floral that smells just like a pristine extract of Madame Rochas parfum on United Arab Emirates steroids and cristillated to spectacularly nuclear strength.

 

 

 

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The second I sprayed this oily, golden slick of perfume on the back of my hand I experienced a delirium tremens of being enveloped, head to toe, in regal downiness and flowers; rose, jasmine, but most specifically a powdery sandalwood and overall smell that reminded me very specifically of Imperial Leather soap – which I have always loved, and can use up a whole bar of in one long sitting…………….despite the swirl of richness gradually coalescing into one skin smell, the overall feeling is definitely that familiar scent; I use the talc and the deodorant spray, and having this too as the main event after all that initial background pampering will be orgiastically pleasurable for me. I was practically WRITHING on the train back home in olfactory arousal: tending and loosening like a cat in heat ……  perhaps the sublimated civet, that I experience without consciously sensing it: some secret code of sensuality immersed in the blend that makes it just so horny yet so MAJESTIQUE.

 

 

 

 

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To me, anyway.

 

 

 

 

D was having none of it.

 

 

 

 

 

“it smells……. pissy, or something” he said when we met in Ofuna : “I don’t like it”.

 

 

 

 

 

“UGH”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on Basenotes :

 

 

 

 

“Musky, soapy floral, like taking a bath in the clawfoot tub of my gtandmother’s house in the seventies “

 

 

 

says one reviewer.

 

 

 

“I got through the initial blast of granny’s partially soiled bloomers, tiptoeing around the house trying to avoid my wife”,

 

 

 

 

says another.

 

 

 

 

Most other reviewers spin variations on this ‘old lady’ incontinence theme ( WHICH I DON’T GET AT ALL ::: I JUST SMELL SWOONWORTHY ARAB PRINCES IN WHITE ROBES )

 

 

 

– an (ageist, sexist ?), scaredy-cat reaction to a man’s scent that veers from the usual, ‘masculine’ brutality? Or maybe Duncan is right after all and I am just blind : though he does like the beginning, which is glorious: derailingly erotic for me personally, there is something in the base he can’t abide. A grimacing recoil.  It almost makes me fearful, like some dreaded halitosis I am unaware of, that my olfactory apparatus has gone awry. Why does it smell like that to him ??????

 

 

 

 

As another reviewer of the perfume says,    (as I mentioned I think this perfume must be Gold, (though please correct me if I am wrong) / could the ‘cristal’ on the glass be just referring to the material of which the bottle is made? It does feel ludicrously expensive]]

 

 

 

 

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Yes. That was what I was wanting to say.

 

 

 

 

Wow is precisely the word I would use to describe this extravagant creation.

 

 

 

Which obviously I am only going to be able to wear indulgently alone, doors locked and bolted ,at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under amber floral musks, Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Civet, Classics, Floral Aldehydes, FUCK EVERYTHING, Hairy Masculines, LUXURIANCE, Masculines, Musk, New Beginnings, occasionally sickening scents, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, pigs, postcards from the edge, Powder, Psychodrama, Urine

he also smells amazing in ungaro pour homme 1 deodorant

 

 

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Filed under Fougère, Masculines, Patchouli

GENTLE FLUIDITY by MAISON FRANCIS KURKDIJIAN (2019)

 

 

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On Thursday night we went to a Vietnamese dance and acrobatics show at the Opera House Saigon. Climbing the red carpet behind behind a European couple, I caught their joint sillage. It was exactly like all the duty free perfumes I had lacklusterly sampled at the various airports to and from; the slab of grey blue woody ‘amber’ for him; pink:orange, unthinking ‘floral’ vanilla for her.

 

 

While not overtly unpleasant, what struck me the most about their fused scent trail was the absolute absence of nuance or complexity. There was no sense of the perfume beckoning you to find out more; nothing elusive, mysterious, sensuous or daring. Sexual, perhaps, in a hammer and tongs kind of way. But nothing that made you wonder, feel captivated, or aesthetically switched on. With their block-like opacity without light, everything you needed to know was there in an extraordinarily simplistic manner: :

 

 

 

 

I am man. And I am woman.

 

 

 

 

The new duo of fragrances by Maison FK, both called Gentle Fluidity ( geddit?) aims to get past this dichotomy of his and her by presenting two different perfumes based on exactly the same 49 ingredients, but blended in different proportions. By not spelling out for you which is ‘for men’ and which is ‘for women’, you yourself make the choice.  Prominent notes include nutmeg, coriander, musk, juniper berries, ‘amber woods’ and vanilla (spotlighted more obviously in the more feminine scent) ; you are presumably supposed to gravitate towards whichever of the two (in actual fact quite contrasting perfumes) you feel more ‘comfortable’ with.

 

 

 

 

Although Francis Kurkdijian is a brilliant perfumer, with quite a few scents in the range I find impressive (though don’t actually wear), I have to say that for me, the concept and execution of these two new fragrances is a dud. Firstly, there is nothing remotely ‘gentle’ about either of them. The men’s one (because let’s be honest, these perfumes are just as strictly gendered as the ones that I smelled on the theatre staircase, they just aren’t physically labelled as such ) is abrasive and very forthright, with the juniper note at the front, and a familiar, Sauvage-ish  base (absolutely the order of the day: I noticed that Hermès had gone this route with their ‘vetiver’ remix of Terre D’Hermes, as had Kenzo in variants of their classic Pour Homme- everyone is getting in on the ‘liquid testosterone’ act).

 

 

 

 

The women’s one is equally unadventurous: the usual, thick and oversweetened woody vanilla. I didn’t try either of the sample bottles I received on my own skin ( because I  couldn’t bear to: if there is a real, gentle, or gender, fluidity when it comes to perfumes I already have it and I love the individualistic ambiguity that is the result).

 

 

 

Having said that, one thing I have realized recently is that in perfume criticism you can’t fully know what you are talking about until you have smelled the fragrance on different people and in real life situations. You make your pronouncements and then later have to (somewhat) change your tune. When we were checking in at Vietnam Airlines, as the woman at the counter walked past us to return to her post she left a delicious, modern vanilla with delicately fruited overtones behind her: as she checked our passports and issued our tickets, though slightly embarrassing, I was enjoying smelling her scented aura so much I felt compelled to ask her what she was wearing. ‘Gabrielle,  by Chanel’ she replied, a perfume I savaged upon its release for I am sure quite valid reasons but which, in an everyday encounter, smelled highly pleasant indeed.

 

 

 

Another of those ‘vanilla’ ( because is there anything else now for the modern woman, in truth ?) perfumes that I had to ask about was worn by a gorgeous singer in a club we went to: again, it was a perfume I had dismissed as not worth the time of day – Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent – but on her it was  a cafe au lait type affair that she smelled really  lovely in. Neither of these perfumes smelled INTERESTING or alluring as such though, if you know what I mean – just cute; embraceable.

 

 

 

Which I cannot do to the two new fragrances by FK. Yes, as the man is a technical wizard, I don’t doubt ( well I do, actually) that both of the perfumes will reveal more as they meld with different skins – presumably, some people, uncowed by the lack of gender specification, will ‘dare’ to try the scent more akin to their real nature and some curious results may occur in the wearing, but for me, this release is ultimately a cynical, and unadventurous attempt to jump on the ‘gender’ wagon ; in giving us merely his n hers but just erasing the name, this isn’t gender fluidity. Gender fluidity to me means just being free to do whatever you want unshackled by predecided cultural cliche. Something that is most definitely not the case with these two, very unfluid and ‘revolutionary’ new fragrances.

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Filed under Masculines, Vanilla, Woods

SCENT OF MALE : JULES by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1980 )

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Notes:

Artemisia, galbanum, lavender, bergamot, black pepper

Sage, jasmine, cyclamen, basil, rose, cumin

Leather, costus, tonka bean, oakmoss, amber, civet, musk

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The last time I was in Paris you could still buy Jules. That was almost a decade ago, though, and even in reformulation I doubt that it was destined to remain very popular. Jules is just too intimate, too husky and sensual, to appeal to the fashionable common man.

The gravest mistake in contemporary men’s perfumery is the conflation of masculine and macho. Almost any scent released onto the market these days that is targeted at homo erectus is fuelled with clichés. Granite-jawed, gym-locker hardness: wooden aggressions with slim concessions to ‘freshness’ (immaculate,  GQ grooming); the latest spice; ozone; citrus. And though these perfumes can occasionally work on a subcellular level as Pavlovian lust-flaggers (the heterosexual woman, the homosexual man responding with their pituitary gland in a spike of involuntary sexual arousal), on the aesthetic, and more importantly on the spiritual level, they surely evoke emotions more akin to disdain .

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I was at Helen’s house in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, sitting with the kids and looking out into the garden and the park beyond, the big trees that stretch their arms out across the wide, March skies. We were there for a while, talking, catching up and relaxing, when Helen’s partner Steve arrived back from his studio in the city centre after a bike ride in the evening air.

As he passed by us through the kitchen, Steve left the most troubling, imperceptibly resonant scent in the air around him: part fresh, clean sweat; part vintage Jules. A scent I recognized immediately because I own a small bottle myself, but mostly because it has, along with Loewe’s darkly coniferous Esencia, over the years, become his own signature. It suits him perfectly.

In scent terms, Steve and I are opposites, as we are in several other ways. He is cautious: I am a car crash. He loves comedy: I can’t stand it. He is meticulous: I am a slob. And while he would smell ludicrously wrong in anything even remotely vanillic, sweet or balsamic ( I am personally not convinced he can even carry off the bottle of vintage Guerlain Vetiver they have hidden upstairs in their bathroom – though that is partly because I want to get my hands on it myself), it is equally true that I myself just smell indelibly wrong in any scent that is even slightly redolent of a forest. Pine, fir, myrtle, juniper are of course all beautifully spruce, natural essences that I like aromatherapeutically (though I will admit that I do find them slightly depressing), but for some reason, on the skin, they remain to me too morbidly sylvan, too starkly prickly, rough and alive.

While Duncan is also drawn to these herbaceous, fir tree formulas and smells good, if a touch tightrope, in Christian Dior’s most animalic scent (and I smell horrible in it, like someone’s sweaty crotch), Steve’s skin chemistry – pale skin, black hair –  works with this subtle yet penetrating  scent in completeness. I hadn’t smelled this scent in a very long time, but my sensors were immediately prickled ( I would say he had sprayed some on just a few minutes before), the air in the room suddenly tingling for me almost on the genetic level; imbued with an ionized, sensating clarity of the veins (the outside air; the body chemistry; the sage, cyclamen, artemisia laden, sour herbaceousness over finely calibrated animalics), all of which essentially summed up for me what I love so much about perfume: that a scent can speak for you, enhance you, enlarge you, and, most importantly, affect another person in a way that can only be described as psychotropic. This smell was, in the most elegant and understated way, pure sex.

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There is a blooded, bodily, leg-haired, at-ease-with-himself aura that surrounds Jules. Interestingly, the perfume was created by Jean Martel, whose only other creation seems to have been Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, another easy-going, indefatigable classic that I wear myself sometimes as I love its warmth and aromatic balminess. While I don’t often go for ‘pour homme’ type scents these days, there is something special, real, lovable, about Paco Rabanne, as there is about Jules, a scent that doesn’t feel that it needs to brag. Steve, a brilliant portrait painter incidentally, is kempt, handsome, but not overtly ‘sexual’ in that boring, eyebrow-raised, current manner. He knows who he is, takes care of his appearance, but isn’t in any way a peacock (though it has to be said that anyone who wears Jules may have such strutting tendencies subcutaneously….)

In recent times though there has been an exponential,  narcissistic, looks-obsessed gym culture in which males – no matter their gender or sexual persuasion – are expected to be gazing constantly; defiantly, into the void of beauty.  With their slender, calorie-counted, machine-toned musculature, assiduously cared for facial hair and coiff, theoretically I suppose I should probably be lusting after them now that I have entered my middle age (or so I am told), while in truth such paragons of manhood leave me completely, and utterly, sexually cold.

Actually, come to think of it, this has nothing to do with age – I have probably always been that way. When I lived in Rome, I was pursued by a couple of classically beautiful Armani models who, much to the great consternation and disbelief of my friends, I just didn’t fancy, no matter how hard I tried to. Immense regularity of feature; straightness of leg, neatness of garment…….. er, no grazie. Give me unselfawareness, a natural body, let the testosterone flow more surreptiously, uninhibitedly, in the veins.

And going even further than the prissy, coutured preeningness that turns off all sexuality in my body, there is even, currently, particularly among gay men – and thus probably in the straight male population as the unstoppable metrosexualisation of the male goes unabated –  a very big trend for shaving and depilation that makes me just want to take the first flight to Iraq. In this world of hard, trained, orange crustaceans and fresh, mascara’d young chickens, one must keep one’s nether regions trimmed, neat and plucked – despite the ubiquitous hipster facial beards that also bore me to death – (creating the visual illusion of size, supposedly), but to me, these prim, men’s-magazine-influenced approximations of maleness couldn’t be physically less attractive. I personally like hair, softness, snuggling animalness, not this diamond-cut, gleaming sculpture of white-teethed vacuousness. Add a scent, be it your high street Armanis, your Dolces, your Adidas, whatever sports scent to go on top, or else your Monocle-approved prickly, ‘directional’ oud or glistening high quality citrus, and you then have a pore-closed fortress of a person, preened and ready for the selfie: infallible, no remove for manoeuvre:  the direct, chemical, all-at-once scent (which, unfortunately has no real basis), suturing the whole image up so damn neat and tidily (I have a horrifying image, actually, of meeting, if I were single, one of these unimpeachably turned out individuals, self-approvingly grinning on a blind date in some bar, dressed up in Vétiver Extraordinaire or some other nifty niche men’s choice, and me there choking to death claustrophobically in the perfection of our smiling, android mate calls; desperately wondering, eyes darting about the environs, how I could possibly make an exit….)

Because, you know, in truth, many, or probably most of these crisp, sharp nothingnesses that we are exposed to these days as ‘scents for men’, despite their puffed male credentials, have no balls. It’s all flash, synthetic woods, industrial lime, and easy, friendsome, laundry musks.

Scents like Jules , while somewhat outdated I suppose in some regards I will admit – unless you happen to be lucky enough to be able to meld with them perfectly and carry them off winkingly (but not too ironically), treat sexuality in a far more erotic, genuine, gently manipulative manner. Their subliminal urinousness (which needs to be kept subliminal in order for the perfume to obtain its mysterious power), derived from the clever infusion of animalics with piquant plant essences, creates an intriguing aura of warm stealth: tentative yet resolute, attractive yet a touch dangerous, that hovers, flirtatiously but good humouredly – and this is the key –  about the person.

I am very sensitive to these internal machinations within perfumes, and on Steve the other day there was a definite, immediate change of atmosphere seconds after he had entered the room: a hunted fox; some predatory, shallow-breathing maleness that I experienced personally in my own body physically. Just a sniff: hanging on the air, but libidinously…..deep rooted, carnal : : : the smell of a man.

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