Sometimes you smell a perfume that, despite your inner misgivings, for whatever reason they may be, just totally hits the spot.
Sometimes you smell a perfume that, despite your inner misgivings, for whatever reason they may be, just totally hits the spot.
The widening gap between the words and the smell is getting hard to take.
I write The Black Narcissus because I adore the potential of what is written on the screen to evoke the invisible olfactory sense – ungraspable and difficult to communicate linguistically- but a challenge I always enjoy, endlessly.
Yet I am also fully conscious of even my own tendency to be verbose or to reek of hyperbole at times, to want to drench myself and you in Baudelarian decadence and the dying breath of flowers (see I have already started doing it), to arouse the senses in this simultaneously overstimulated, but sensorially flat world that we find ourselves in.
I live for beauty, I understand it. But with the sheer diluvial number of new perfumes available, it seems the purveyors of these scents are not only competing for shelf space, now, but also for the sweet lies of breathiness, PR, and supposedly seductive bullshit.
Venenum Kiss, described as “opulent and poisonous” by this new fashionable niche brand who have set up shop in Paris, is a nice name for a perfume : I am all for Poison (especially if it is by Christian Dior). But if you are going to give a scent that name, you had better deliver the goods.
“Les sillages sont tonitruants..the sillages are thunderous” intones the card inserted neatly in the white, satin bag that the promotional edition of the perfume comes in.
Er, actually they are not, mon petit amour, they are subdued, boring as hell, and thoroughly, thoroughly, typical of practically any oudhish (though that note is never mentioned) modern woody oriental out there on the generally mediocre, and very deeply oversaturated, market.
“Wherever you go at night, you succumb to this same hypnotic smell. The obsessive caress of amber and suede, the velvet breath of rose and saffron…. the strong and intense feel of an electric night in the Orient”….
The lover, here, is all eyes and come to bed with me glances, but I find myself yawning and demurring and thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast.
How will I get out of this…….
In truth, Venenum Kiss isn’t at all a bad perfume per se. It is a well-blended scent with its own internal harmony; the apricottish top notes blending neatly into a rose/saffron/wood/ambered structure you have smelled a million times before, but they are well done. Some people, especially those that have never come into contact with a real perfume before, might be beguiled. In terms of texture, it is quite close to the skin and touchable, suave – and modish, certainly – if not directly kissable, but you certainly wouldn’t be poisoned by it, for god’s sake, writhing in paroxysms of agony and ecstasy as she or he derides you dismissively and slams shut the door (and there I go again).
No, you, or at least I in any case, would remain unmoved. Totally. And this has suddenly reminded me of a kiss at dawn, in Rome, I once had and that had almost forgotten.
I was at the age we are at our most (conventionally) attractive. I was twenty one, blonde (‘il biondo inglese’) and living in Testaccio, just down the road from Keats’s final resting place in the beautiful Protestant Cemetery (see my piece on Caron’s Violette Precieuse for more on that), and would be out clubbing on an almost nightly basis. Testaccio is a fascinating part of Rome – such a beautiful city; writing this is making me deeply miss it – but although the well known landmarks are equally astounding – wandering in the Foro Romano at dusk; the exquisite pleasures of the Villa Pamphili, where we would lounge about all day on the grass, drink prosecco and just talk about life, love and death; the beautiful and flower-strewn, winding streets of the ancient Trastevere area (just down the road from my apartment where I was living with three university friends), Testaccio had an appealing, grittier quality, combining ancient Roman graveness – the pyramid that St Paul saw before he was martyred part of the cemetery wall, old villas and churches, fused with the more dangerously erotic realism of night time Roman seediness: married men courting Brazilian transexual prostitutes from their cars, eh bambina, as they trotted about in their high heels and tossed back their synthetic hair, loud and feisty like something from a film by Pedro Almodovar; gay boys lounging about like lizards on the crumbling walls as night turned to day; it was all heady, and exciting, and very, very beautiful.
But I could’t get a break. Not even a kiss. I had been there for six months, and although these people are possibly the most beautiful in the world, or so they say, it just wasn’t happening. This is partly because of my extreme selectiveness: it takes a LOT for me to fall for someone, almost impossible, actually (and smell is a huge contributing factor in all of this: I am so easily turned off!) but it was also a terrible clash of tastes. My friends would try to convince me that this person or that person was gorgeous at some club or restaurant or bar, when I all I would see personally was unoriginal, well-groomed horror (fashion, and neatness is another ultimate turn off for me). Particularly when it was always just so. In that typical, commodified Italian manner: slick; narcissistic; designer. People I did like were unavailable or so shocking to my friends (what, him? Rachel would spit at me, you’ve got to be joking), and so nothing ever actually happened.
But then one night I decided just to go with the flow. Okay, I’ll go out with you, Armani model. Cheek bones, tall (another no-no for me), typically handsome in that bland and beautiful fashion model way, but absolutely what other people like, what is considered attractive (as in all likelihood Venenum Kiss probably will be).
Not me, though. I can’t remember how the evening progressed, but it probably included dancing at the Castello dell’Angelo or just hanging out in the Campo Dei Fiori drinking wine, but I do remember that the inevitable moment came as the sun came up and it was time for this chaste little English boy to go home. There was a tennis court somewhere I think, down near the river, and we were standing against the fence; and then this typical, well-defined, perfectly proportioned face came closer to mine, much to my great indifference (though half the population of the world would probably have been swooning). And, as usual, my instincts were quite right. I felt absolutely nothing.
His kiss just tasted of ashes.
After Kabuki in Ginza the other day, we decided to stroll down Showa-Dori to peruse some perfume.
The forbidding Dior store, a towering glass edifice of the utmost, gleaming luxuriance, is a place that I have never before entered, but a sudden whim ( wanting to reacquaint myself with Patchouli Impérial) led to the flourished opening of the heavy, thick doors by the footman, past the twitching and shifting of the assistants, and to the Dior Collection Privée. Or, at least, a selection from it.
Not finding the patchouli, nor the Vétiver, which I remember liking last time I tried it in Harrods, we decided, anyway, to try some other perfumes from the range. Duncan sprayed on the pleasant, but somewhat nondescript, Gris Montaigne; on myself I tried Ambre Nuit (quite nice, ticks most of the boxes), and, on the other arm, Oud Ispahan, Dior in-house perfumer François Demachy’s supreme recent take on some very familiar, Orientalist, themes.
The perfume is effortless. Vivid, and perfectly constructed. Damascena rose essence; Indonesian patchouli; sandalwood, an intense and endless Laotian oud, and to pad out the gaps between the ingredients, suffusing the whole with a powdered, animalic sensuality, a rich and tactile dose of labdanum absolute.
It is flawless. Strong, proud, and expertly crafted.
But I find it boring. Really boring: it is just there, on the skin, triumphant, fashionable, and rather too pleased with itself. The idealized, and perfected, fusion of Paris and the East, perhaps, but, for me, too staid. It clogs the mental pores. There is no room for personal interpretation here, no air, no quirk – just Ispahan Oud : thick, expansive, and diffusive on your skin: too stubborn and expensive (45,000 yen, or 432 dollars) to budge.
No, I hate it (and so does Duncan). It eventually has to be scrubbed off, as I dart into a toilet in Printemps department store to try and get rid of the smell (it proves an actual impossibility – this perfume is very tenacious, demonstrating the obvious quality of the ingredients used).
Still. Instead, around the corner at the modish department store EstNation, I decide to overlay the remains of the Dior with some Montale Aoud Rose Petals: harsh, maybe – piquant, but a perfume I own myself, know to death (along with Aoud Flowers, Aoud Queen Roses, and the most extreme of them all, the fantastically dark and sharp Aoud Lime), to me, more familiar and pleasing smells with which to lay to rest the Ispahan.
I am much much happier here in Montale’s unpretentious, fierce embrace: its freshness and simplicity, its grand oud obsession unleashed at least a decade before anyone else even started thinking about incorporating this classical Arab aromatic ingredient in Parisian perfume and made us sick to death of smelling it: good value, long-lasting scents with sharp and curious beginnings, but always trailing, and memorably seductive, sillages.
EstNation is in fact the only place that you can get Montale’s perfumes in Japan (including two Japan-only exclusives – Mango Manga and Rose Tea), and although they don’t stock the perfume house’s entire range (which is huge – for that you have to go to the Place Vendôme in Paris), the selection, for Tokyo, is quite impressive.
I pick up Royal Aoud, which I don’t really remember. Wow. The notes for this perfume when I look it up are listed as kumquat, grapefruit, oud, and Indian spices, but to me this just smells like a leather saddle; a stallion’s neck in sunshine; muscular, dense; each hair smooth, fragrant, and lit up by the hot afternoon light. Warm; elegant, lustful. Animal. I am not really a horse person, but here I make an exception. I love this beast, and want it: the smell of the sleek, equable blend making me want to caress, kiss; hold on tight.
Yes. Unlike the Dior, with its overly thick and tasteful, door-locked rendering of oud, Montale’s Royal Aoud has some kind of undeniable life here inside its veins.
Spritely. Feral. Real.
When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s, inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…
Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.
This is, in fact, the stated theme of the scent, by the way, the ‘interlude’ in question being the moment when the fragmentary moments of madness surrounding you coalesce and you suddenly find yourself; rise up like a pillar of calm selfness from the swirling, anchovy mixed-pizza of worldy mobocracy : fragrant, smooth and serene.
My first initially astonished impressions of Interlude Woman were of peculiar, dusty old sweet figs and a rather prominent (and somewhat nauseating) kermit-green kiwi, whizzing about sherbetly on a melon-leather carousel…………….bizarre and with a very distinctive air of quease…..
* * *
One commentator on the Fragrantica website nailed it more succinctly:
“Sometimes a scent comes along that can be summed up with three letters, and Interlude is one of them………
W T F
She then amusingly goes on to describe it as smelling of ‘moldy basement, over-ripe cheese and bad air freshener’, while another person smells ‘roach motels’, and yet another that she could ‘vomit from this smell of deep choking smoke…..‘
What were Amouage thinking? Perhaps we should let creative director Christopher Chong elucidate:
” The Interlude moment is a reflection of all the trials and tribulations one overcomes to attain personal satisfaction and achievement….”
mmmmmm…. but must perfume be so masochistic?
* * *
Interlude is certainly not an easy ride. The perfume is in fact so complex that it emerges almost as a Rorschach test of individual interpretation: there are so many notes in this ‘air of disorder’ that everyone will smell different things. I myself got no cockroaches or cheese: for me it was all about this unhinged oudh-wood depth straddled disgracefully by Queen Kiwi, but if this review is leaving you confused perhaps the perfume would be more readily imagined olfactively if we ogle the notes…..
kiwi (by far the most prominent note in this scent)
immortelle (maple syrup, burnished copper, burnt licorice………)
(in the top…….)
and then, in the heart and base, swarthier, more Amouagey bloops of
oudh (this is, ultimately a ‘fruit oudh’)
leather (quite prominent)
jasmine (bleurrgh! jasmine and kiwi!)
orange blossom, rose
……in other words, notes that do not form a naturally harmonious posse; more a team of unknowns who must club together to make this thing work like an episode of Survivor.
Thankfully though, the notes do actually begin to elide and collaborate with each other, and after the intial mess (and it is a mess) subsides, and you begin to transcend your ‘chaos’, a vision of a suave and contained, rich, stylish person gradually materializes: enigmatic and attractive – the kiwi-agar-chypre concept finally coalsceing into a well-dressed, mysterious and tasteful red-blooded woman.
This lingering end accord in Interlude is quite beautiful actually ( I stupidly put some on just before going to bed, regretting it immensely at first, but found myself gradually snuzzling up to my wrist as it settled into its curious, intelligent, oudhy night-flight groove, a veil of middle-eastern intrigue that was pulling me in to its story….)
It is undoubtedly very original, and if someone walked past you of an evening wafting Interlude you would certainly prick up your ears (having sat with a nose peg in her basement squinting and puffing for an hour before leaving the house..) and, having eventually understood where all the woody, fruited vom of the beginning was leading to, I started to rewind the scent gradually in my mind, comprehending more what the perfumer must have been intending all along. Ah. I see. It is leading to this…
In some ways, for this reason alone, Interlude can be seen as a very brave attempt at breaking new ground, as it is a well known fact that top accords are the key factor in most people’s purchases of a perfume: for the average attention-deficited consumer it all hangs on those first few minutes, and this perhaps accounts for the fact that the lovely people at Harrods’ Amouage counter looked so sheepish and oh- no- here- we- go- again when I first sprayed this perfume on in August – then mimed a polite, thin-slipped smile in response. They knew that first impressions, in this perfume’s case especially, can be disastrous….