Category Archives: operatic

THE JOY, THE HORROR : : WHITE DIAMONDS PURE PARFUM by ELIZABETH TAYLOR (1991) + POSSESSION by CORDAY (1937)

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As I work my way prodigiously through Z’s vintage perfume collection I discover new (but old) things.  One such essence is Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary White Diamonds, which I smelled in vintage extrait for the first time last night, pouched in its little black felt coochy bag, resplendent as a Fabergé egg. My eyes widened with desire as I carefully

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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unstoppered the bottle to smell a scintillating liquid containing everything : as though Ysatis were a minted American tourist travelling  in Versailles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The thing is gorgeous.

Full, rounded (‘Egyptian tuberose’, narcissus, jasmine, all the flowers, you name them, over woods and musks and aldehydes and violets and sandalwood and amber and musks),

 

 

 

 

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‘ the fragrance dreams are made of’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At least initially.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Soon, though still beautifully constructed by Carlos Benaim (Carolina Herrera, Red Door, Flowerbomb); a familiarly smug and soignée presence emerges: that of the self-satisfied woman of a certain age without a glimmer of doubt, not a hair’s breadth, of who she will be voting for come November’s election. You hear her slam her SUV shut; lock the big white gate behind her. Lights out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AT THIS POINT WHITE DIAMONDS  MAKES ME WANT TO SCREAM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I cannot hear the word Possession and not think of the electrifying film by Andrzej Żuławski from 1981 in which Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill brilliantly out-Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton themselves as a married couple plummeting into psychosis in Cold War Berlin, an extended allegory on the fury of love; an apotheosis. It is a film once seen, never forgotten, the pivotal scene where Adjani torments into full throttled hysteria in a train tunnel jaw-dropping to behold, the conclusion agonizing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The very idea of possession is terrifying. Not only demonic, but also romantic. Being ‘possessed’ by someone. I always find songs about lovers not wanting to breathe or sleep, or be away from their beloveds for even one second extraordinarily creepy – Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing being the worst contender :  “I Don’t want to close my eyes…….”; the idea of another person staying up all night watching you; people ‘making love’ all night long, wearing each other out, it could almost make you yearn for a Gwyneth unconscious uncoupling (and let’s not begin a conversation about her erotic candle).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, Possession the perfume is not excessively possessive nor will require you to dial up the local exorcist, but is rather a very clingy floral aldehyde in the manner of all of those perfumes like Lanvin’s My Sin and any other Ernst Beaux doppelgängers that inherit the earth like zombies somnambulating across the perfumed landscape wide-eyed in search of the original Chanel No 5, which this is quite obviously emulating. Sweet, precious, this perfume is very heartfelt and lovely; musky and floral, but

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SORRY I NEED SOME FRESH AIR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19 Comments

Filed under CLAUSTROPHOBIA, Floral Aldehydes, Floriental, occasionally sickening scents, operatic

THE BLACK NARCISSUS FOR VOGUE JAPAN

 

 

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It is with great pleasure and delight that I can announce that from next year I will be writing about perfume for Vogue Japan.

 

 

 

This is a turn of events that is extraordinarily exciting for me. I am daunted, but cannot wait. Frothing like a latte. Just call me Anne Hathaway, clutching her cappuccinos hysterically on her way to the offices in Shibuya to meet Meryl Streep. A rabbit in the headlights. Absorbing all the glitz. Smelling all the fumes. Foaming at the gills. An amazing way to start the new decade. Because although I have always thought that fashion is a double headed beast, at once nothing (it can be foolish, vacuous, pretentious, elitist; passive aggressive; ridiculous; disastrous for nature), and everything (profoundly influencing all the things I love most in the world – music, cinema, perfume; literature; the visual universe around us, the people on the street, how we present ourselves, the smell of the city; the tip of the iceberg)  – to a person to whom aesthetics matter almost more than anything else in this life –  the visual, the sensory, art, basically – creativity is of the most fundamental and sacrosanct importance. ‘Beauty’. I suck it up with continuous pleasure. We both do. Urban creatures. Living near the biggest city in the world (in the nature-surrounded refuge of zen temples, Kamakura where we cool off and gain calm) but I adore Tokyo. We are there all the time.I am addicted. I love the extremes. The quiet ancient beauty of this restrained, austere, but atmospherically profound place I live in, and the constant stimulation of the great metropolis of thirty three million people under an hour away that provides, constantly, never-ending, exhilarating stimulation and energy and is the coolest place I have ever known. It is beautiful to be there. Busy, crowded, maddening, but simultaneously serene. Gliding through neon at night; swimming in it; I love to watch people, photograph them, thrive in the energy. The gender blasting, outlandish and creative ensembles worn by people on the street; the sleekness; the style. Because although I am not such a fashion horse myself (as you know, the money goes on perfume)  I have always kept on eye on what is happening, in magazines and on television, since I was old enough to think. ‘Fashion’ leaves a vivid, temporal stamp on any given month or year…….it marks our passage. Without it, where would the pleasure be in dipping back into past decades, whole time periods? The beauty of an old zeitgeist captured eternally in celluloid? In a pop video, a film, a photograph, a news reel, all captured in the current…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As teenagers, Helen and I would leaf through Vogue at her house, marvelling at the bewildering, almost alien beauty of the models (we could never quite get over the beauty of Christy Turlington and Karen Mulder; the supermodel years of Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell – we would stare into the pages, feasting on it). My younger sister Deborah and I would rip out pages all the time and plaster them over our bedroom walls.  And the perfume adverts. The mystery and delirium of a new ad campaign (Coco, Poison, Anais Anais…..which are your most pungent memories?); the sealed enticement of the late 80’s scent strips you could rip open like glued velcro on the bus and release the latest fragrant sensation into the collective air….these were all very formative influences on my life. The photo shoots, the fashion stories, the faces, presented an almost obscene unattainability of covetable desire; I would buy Vogue Hommes, and Uomo Vogue when I lived in Italy; obsessed with this picture or that; pasted on my university bedroom walls……it always seemed like the apex of a rarified world that was in another stratosphere. Until now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Madonna. When her single Vogue came out in 1990, after the complete transformation of Like A Prayer, and yet another vampiric, chameleonic shift into the gay underground world of Paris Is Burning and its ravishing capturing of larger than life queens and their vogueing balls in NYC, just the word Vogue itself is now synonymous with something fantastic and shimmering; we danced that entire summer to that song, my sister and I, like a million other people around the world mimicking the video, striking poses (: ‘on the cover of a magazine’), and to think that I might now actually be part of all that from next year is almost absurdly stimulating (feel the exclamation marks exploding in my mind and bloodstream…D and I went out to have a celebration dinner last night). It will give me great new challenges as this decade comes to an end and we enter the 2020’s; present opportunities to flex my flexibility as a writer. I am in the mood for versatility. My book: ‘Perfume, In Search Of Your Signature Scent’, is what got me into this position, and I have come to feel quite proud of it in many ways despite its flaws and lacks – I feel it is a moment in time; frozen in binding,  a diary that has been confiscated. I put my absolute heart and soul into that tome – my blood, sweat and tears if you like –  and I hope that it in some way inspires people and lets them dream a little; it was designed to be very immersive. At the same time, I relish the opportunity to be able to smell brand new things and report on them, to revel in the now, and to try my hand at different kinds of writing. The Black Narcissus will always still be perfume + , because I can’t help myself; I cannot be limited to a scent flacon. To me, perfume has always meant much more than that – it leads to so many other things; memory, life, experience, other art forms, culture, people and how I interact with them, politics, everything – to me it is inherently psychological. Having said that, a more society-wide olfactory objectivity based on what is going on in the higher echelons of commercial creativity is also appealing to me from a different angle – I will definitely be meeting a lot of new people through this venture – and since I plan at some stage ( I have already written several chapters) to publish an autobiographical book on my years spent in this fascinating, vexing, unleavable place full of the most superb contradictions, I cannot possibly say no to this new adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan Vogue here we come!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PS. D and I first properly laid eyes on each other when dancing, extravagantly, in tuxedo and bow tie to Vogue at a summer ball…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Beauty’s where you find it……”

 

 

 

 

44 Comments

Filed under Flowers, inexplicable happenings, Japan, LUXURIANCE, New Beginnings, operatic, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, pretentious aesthetes, Psychodrama, SELF-OBSESSION

SHE SELLS SEA SHELLS…… DUNE by CHRISTIAN DIOR ( 1991)

 

 

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Apricot dunes; the glow from a studio-lit, ochre trompe l’oeil sunset; seagulls on the soundtrack; the glistening ‘ocean’ beyond. A seasoned French actress, distractedly reaches down into the pillowing sands and scrutinizes, with her smooth cream hands, carefully placed pebbles, starfish and seaweed.

 

 

 

On the beach, pensive, to a backdrop of golden, solar rays…

 

 

 

 

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It is probably quite hard for the perfume youth of today to imagine how exciting – and rare an occurrence – it once was when one of the great ‘houses’ – Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Givenchy, Christian Dior – released a new scent. They were like monuments, fortresses, designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also infallible, made to last. Perfumes that, naturally, were not designed for everyone, but once, if they did catch your senses and made you hers, would then become your perfume, to buy again and again, your signature: huge money-making engines for their parent companies, who relied desperately on these gleaming olfactory colossi to line their coffers for couture.

 

 

 

Rather than the constant floods and inundations of scent that we are treated/subjected to now, ever intrigued but over and underwhelmed, we were almost starved of new perfume back in those days. What you saw was all there was, and if you were bored by what you were smelling you just had to wait. A long time. Many years would pass between the launch of one major scent and the next, and to budding young perfume obsessives, always on the look out for new perfume adverts in fashion magazines like Vogue, the arrival of a long gestated new perfume always felt like a real, magnificent, event.

 

 

 

The concept for Dune had apparently already been thought out and worked on behind the scenes at Dior back in the 1980’s, but it was presciently decided that the next project, the purple hearted, bullet shocker Poison, was more scandalously fitting to the Joan Collins times (and their instincts were most certainly right in that regard), with the result that the project was somewhat put on a back burner for a while until the radical explosion of all things ‘natural’, pared down, marine and ozonic occurred in the following decade, when Dune then suddenly emerged as if out of nowhere: a heavily, but immaculately, made-up Venus, transpiring from the foaming waves of luxeful Perfumia to claim her crown.

 

 

 

 

At the time, I myself was a second year university student, back home for the summer, working, believe it or not, on a golf course. Although I am the last person on earth to play golf (those pastel colours; checked trousers, all that ‘gear’…….) it was, in many ways, the ideal job for me at the time: entirely solitary, surrounded by trees and nature in my wooden hut, just listening to music, looking at the sky, and finally having definitively enough time to properly read the long novels I had always wanted to read as the hours of green and blue stretched on before me ( I have great memories of losing myself entirely for days on end in great big nineteenth century tomes such as Anna Karenina). There, with the kettle boiling quietly, the birds in the trees, the occasional customers coming for a round of mini golf – I merely had to collect the money and hand out the tickets, and then take the flags down at the end of the day – passing the summer quite nicely, saving enough money to set myself up in Rome that November: I was immersed in aloneness, literature, music and perfume, and, more importantly, the great and exhilarating unknowingness of an upcoming Italian future.

 

 

 

 

Dune was released during that summer. It was a period in which samples were given out more freely at the department stores, and, as usual, I managed to get a lot of them, vials and vials of the scent which I would try on my hand while sitting outside, or even soak the cassette liner notes of the tapes that I had in the hut with their contents, to make the scent last longer, to be opened and experienced at will, so that in this way Dune formed an almost permanent scented backdrop to that carefree period and is seared in my memory as such (maybe that’s why my Prokofiev Violin Concertos I+II tape went all funny – the very reels of music themselves were drenched in sea broom and soft burnished powder of mollusc).

 

 

 

 

Although I was never entirely sure if I actually liked this scent – and certainly never wore it beyond the confines of my golf cabin – despite the fact that there was something too full, opulent and strangely off-putting about it, I knew that I was extremely fascinated by it: that weird combination of ambery, salty warmth, and floral, quite definitely duney seaness that all felt so peculiar and uneasy, yet new; compelling. It had a certain thrall. I had simply never smelled anything like it before.

 

 

 

 

Yes, this rather groundbreaking perfume, which felt, almost, as if it had come from another planet, had been proudly announced by Mothership Dior to be the very first ever‘floriental oceanic’, a very unusual concept at the time, when anything that reeked of the sea simply didn’t seem suitable, somehow, for a fragrance. It was a forceful, clinging floral amber scent with top notes of sea broom and lichen, peony and lily, immersed in a smooth marine compound, edged with rich and salty flowers, benzoin, ambers, and musks. Desperately original and popular when released, I later soon got sick of smelling it in Rome, where, together with the ultra-swimmingly sweet Trésor, it blotted the air all around it with its comeliness, the women of Rome taking it to their commendable, tailored bosoms (these women were always just so deeply perfumed ; profumatissime) with an overly great abundance of maquillaged enthusiasm.

 

 

 

To me, Dune always felt self-satisfied and overplenished somehow, more a performance than a perfume, with several acts, all perfectly balanced (the original formula was extremely complex): warm, emboldening and luminescent, but still, always that unsettling contrast between those sandy, decaying seashells whitening in the sun, and the more demure and feminine flowers and balsamics lurking beneath, an aesthetic tension which, when all is said and done, makes Dune the enduring creation that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In a old and crowded box, dusty and thrown in together like trash, I recently retrieved a vintage parfum of Dune – the one you see in the picture – for a dollar at a fleamarket as you know I always do, and for that price I thought; well, why not. I was quite intrigued to smell this perfume again, to be able to reappraise its flaws, and its charms. And besides, I had never smelled it in extrait.

 

 

 

As you might expect, the current formula still on sale worldwide at Christian Dior counters is said to be a rather unsatisfying reformulation of the original perfume that was released, which was bolder; more detailed; a more extreme and delicate arc between the marine notes, the florals, and the sandalwoody ambers (these new versions of the Diors seem more like snapshots, somehow). This little bottle I got in Tokyo, a considerable amount of which proceeded to spill all over me when I eventually got the stopper off coming home on the train, was unboxed, the label worn off as well, but the perfume inside, dense and full, rich,was still fresh, intense, and rather pleasing. This smell is at once entirely familiar to me: stamped in my brain, nostalgic, comforting, even, yet still retains that inherent strangeness that the original formula always had and that made it distinctive: that insistent, almost sickly amber that also inhabits the base of Cartier Must parfum (a scent I adore); the emotional component coming I suppose from that sense, beyond the immediate, concentrated perfume essences in the heart of the perfume, of an enlivened, agoraphobic dream vista; a beach stretching off for miles and miles, and miles and miles, into the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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27 Comments

Filed under amber floral musks, Oceanic, operatic