Category Archives: Spice

I WISH THERE WERE MORE SPICED WOMEN ::: TEATRO ALLA SCALA by KRIZIA ( 1985 )

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IN the mid-1980’s there was a mini, sudden, spice wave: Italianate, operatic; fur coats and roses steeped in mulled wine. With cloves and cinnamon, carnation, ylang ylang, mimosa, pimento, leather,  incense, even chocolate,  these piquant, extravagant, animalic floral bouquets screamed stilettos: full dressing, elaborately applied expensive French makeup and a sense of purpose : to be the last minute, and delectable crowning spritz or five for that exciting; hair perfect;  gala night out.

The most famous by far of these dark-lacquered divas is undoubtedly Coco, Chanel’s bird-plumed foray into drama; Gucci’s taloned and gilded L’Arte; then Fendi’s successful ( and now also defunct ) eponymous perfume that was so jam-packed with spices it practically fizzed. Teatro Alla Scala, by Krizia, another fine addenda to this short-lived ( but thrilling) craze of the olfactory extroverts even put its opera credentials right up there in its name, but it is, in any case, also inherently plush and rich and eventful : full-throated and sensuous;  less oriental than Coco, less all-spiced than Fendi, less tragic than Ungaro’s Diva ; more balanced, more knowing , and self-fledged in its heart (admittedly, I have added more clove oil to my own petit miniature ( about 20% of its total volume), just to make it even MORE lush and spicily histrionic – but that’s just because I am possibly insane).

 

At at this time of year especially, though,  I CRAVE to smell these kind of happy, screw-you, voluptuous scents. I want a woman to walk by me on the street looking gorgeous, whatever her age, in  total possession of herself, contented; and SLAYING me there and then as I drink in her trail  :::: her hot, tantalizing, humorous, life loving, spice- drizzling, neck-guzzling…….PERFUME

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WHEN I INTERVIEWED THE MAN WHO CREATED COMME DES GARCONS EAU DE PARFUM

 

 

 

 

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http://www.aesop.com/usa/article/mark-buxton.html

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La Bohème: DIVA by UNGARO (1983)

 

 

 

 

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” By the way, you’re such a diva”, a new acquaintance on Facebook said to me recently.

 

 

 

“He is”, said Duncan, picking up the thread.

 

 

Attention-seeking, a touch tempestuous and flamboyant, I suppose it might be true, but I do know one thing: I love that word. Diva. It evokes something besotted, rarified: a gilded, beautiful soprano on stage at La Scala. The audience in the palms of her outstretched, coloratura hands as she hangs on, virtuosically, to that tremulous, sky-piercing C and lets it voluptuously float, time-bound, to the rafters.

 

 

All eyes on her. They all have paid good money, there, for the diva.

 

 

Jacques Polge’s creation for Ungaro from 1983, a form of prelude or sketch for his later, more fleshed-out and carnivalesque Coco (1985), certainly lives up to its name: a voluminous, full-throated, honeyed spice-rose chypre that would conjure up crimson red theatre curtains even if you didn’t know its identity. But combined with the bottle – itself beautifully redolent of the ingenious draping techniques of couturier Emanuel Ungaro – and the name, Diva, placed strategically on red label in full centre of the flacon’s décolletage; this intentioned, orchestral plush of a perfume is one of those rare, fully realized executions- from head to toe – that in these often crass, vacuous days of contemporary perfumery feel as invaluable and priceless as a bruised and dazzling firebird like Maria Callas.

 

 

 

Sadly, though, Diva has not survived. Unlike Chanel’s Coco, which I was surprised to learn recently is still among the top-selling scents in the UK,  more highly ranked even than the insufferable Coco Mademoiselle (which, people, I DETEST) –  Ungaro’s first feminine, like all the finest operatic heroines such as Giacomo Puccini’s tragic Mimi, perishing selflessly in her frozen garret in the exquisite La Bohème, died a quiet, honourable death. In fact, though I own the parfum, which I found, to my intense delight, one fine Sunday morning at a fleamarket in Berlin, I had neglected even thinking about this gem for a very long time until yesterday morning, when it was suddenly cold enough for me to need my winter coat (coincidentally for a theatre performance in Tokyo), and there, in the typical rubbish of the pockets, I curiously happened to find one of those ripped out vintage scent-strips,  one I had ripped out naughtily one night from a pile of old magazines at some retro cafe in Kamakura.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is a Neiman Marcus ad.

 

 

 

 

 

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I really like those strange words……….’fully potent parfum’: ‘available in crystal bottle’; also, the ‘vivid, long-lasting eau de parfum’…..

 

 

 

 

I also love the dress: a woman captivated by her couture: both wearing and being worn by her creation, much as she would be by this perfume: one of those grand, foreboding, amber-roses of the early eighties, like Armani Pour Femme, Sinan, and Courrèges in Blue, that tread a beautiful, precarious tightrope between brassiness and elegance; between the sly, erotic assertion of one’s presence and the full-trumpeted proclamation of it. If you know Coco, and I know that you do, then, basically, you also know Diva.

 

 

The full-blooded, aptly patchouli’d and oakmossed, animal rose: the spice; the brocaded, baroque sweetness (though Diva has a significant note of honey and vanilla not as noticeable in Coco, plus an intriguing top note of cardamom). But where the Chanel builds on Diva’s theme, with glintier, prettier mimosas, fruits and more spice ( and indeed chocolate): the full Venetian gondola (Diva is more Paris, or Milan), Ungaro’s swan song is smoother, less harlequinesque: more brooding, definitely more tender and moody: more fur, in a way, than just fun-loving. Gorgeous, yes, but less forgiving. More contained. An undulous, begowned, prima donna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Straight to the heart: PARFUM DE MAROC by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2010)

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Yesterday we looked at the bizarre, if highly memorable, Arabie by Mr Lutens and his magician/alchemist/sidekick Christopher Sheldrake, an innovative blend in which the desserts and spices of the Middle East were whipped up into an impossibly smooth and sultry, if for me indigestible, perfume.

I love spices: they reel me in, especially now that we are living in the days of the anodyne and the measured in perfume, where to smell merely pleasant, clean or worst of all, unthreateningly conformist, is the order of the day. (How often do you trail behind a person on the street wearing a gorgeously spicy scent? That sensation in your brain and stomach when your limbic system is momentarily thrown off course and the instinctual drives kick in and, like a blinkered horse, you forget your surroundings and all you can think about is that scent and its associations…..?)

The perfumes of Mandy Aftel, which I have only recently had the chance to smell for the first time, are composed entirely of natural essences, and they deliver a kick to me physically; involuntarily, somewhere between the groin and the heart (though I felt something in my upper legs for some reason upon sampling the new Oud Luban extrait recently; it literally had my muscles twitching….) Intellectually I wasn’t entirely sure about its curious blending of blood orange oils and the extraordinarily dirty and suggestive essential oil of oud and the Indian essence Choya Ral, but at the same time it was so feral that while my mental protective mechanisms went pitifully into place, my body rebelled as I sat there in the dark watching a film, and it got me quite frankly aroused……)

I have not yet written much about aromatherapy on this site as I am concentrating more on perfume, but for me the two go hand in hand in daily life, and I have been intimately involved with aromatherapeutic oils for at least twenty years (and seen a miracle or two in that time as well). Let’s just say I am a believer.

Where essential oils are like medicines for me, indispensable for my sense of well-being and feeling of a therapeutic connection with nature (the souls of plants!) perfumes are my hedonistic side; aesthetic and sensual pleasure, shameless artefacts of beauty that are ephemeral, invisible, to be consumed in a way that makes them unique and enjoyably guilt-ridden.

Having these two separate sides of myself fused – the medicinal and the purely fragrant and luxuriant – is an odd sensation for me, because on the whole I do view them quite differently. I realize, obviously, that most perfumes contain natural oils and so will also have some physiological effect on the organism, but this is very different from the way a bath of rosemary, geranium and peppermint makes my heart beat like a drum, or the way marjoram oil at night soothes my spirits like the anaesthetic waters of Lethe; or how a candlelit bath of vetiver sends me to a slow-breathing netherworld of the deepest, most earth-centred tranquillity.

Can natural perfumes find a pleasing in-between? Be subtle and complex enough to please the senses aesthetically while delivering the physiological goods? I have already written some favourable reviews of the all-natural, and very delicate, scents by Frazer Parfums (which see), and judging from Oud Luban and Parfum de Maroc, which is a very excellent rose/spice fragrance, Ms Aftel really does manage to stride the bridge between the two worlds extremely effectively.

Going back for a moment to what I was saying about encountering people that are doused attractively in spice, aside Duncan’s mother Daphne and her clouds of Opium and Jacomo’s Parfum Rare, and my friend Georgia who wears Caron’s Poivre exquisitely with its fiery, moody, blend of pepper and cloves, the spice scent that springs to mind the most in this conversation is the original perfume by Comme De Garçons, that groundbreaking spice blend based on perfumer Mark Buxton’s memories of the Moroccan souk. It is a great scent, but too many fashionistas and art people were wearing it at the time of its launch (1994) whether it suited them or not, and when a person chooses a perfume for ‘the wrong reasons’, especially with something as distinctive as this clovey, cinnamon balsam-laden thing, in my opinion the perfume can just sit on the skin unwantedly and smell wrong.

Comme des Garçons was a very dense perfume that contained every spice under the sun over incense: it smelled mainly natural and was originally made for CDG founder Rei Kawakubo as an mood-enhancing elixir to steel the nerves, yet allow you to relax in its warm aura, all the while in the full realisation that you were wearing something emphatically cool. It was the perfume that brought spices, and the edible, back into the fold when the trends in perfumery were going in the opposite, more anorexic,  directions of Eau D’Issey and CK One, and for that we must be grateful.

I mention this perfume because it was what Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc vaguely reminded me of the first time I tried it on (after all, both scents are based on the same specific geographic location, the Moroccan spice market). But where in the CDG souk-fest the spices and other elements feel pressed together and fused in the laboratory, Parfum De Maroc allows for no such artificially induced compression and bursts from its bottle unsuppressed, natural essences of a very sensual Turkish rose absolute layered over a prominent base accord of cardamom and myrrh essential oil ( an essence I have used in face creams and whose odour I know intimately), all swirling, diffusively and suggestively, while a captivatingly spicy accord of galangal ( a more fiery relative of ginger ), black pepper, saffron and nutmeg lower your defences as they choreograph themselves around the soaring red rose – surely the star of the show. It is a scent that needs red, orange, gold, rich fabrics, and a person with a warmer heart than mine to wear effectively: it is gorgeous, but on me I find the perfume almost torrid, the untamed nature of the pure essential oils used, particularly the myrrh, almost intimidatingly rich and heart-filling (Parfum De Maroc would work amazingly as a grief or shock-absorber….it is the perfect antidote to cold of all kinds….)

Still, if I wasn’t quite comfortable wearing this heady perfume on myself I still had an urge to keep smelling it for some reason, and so I then committed what might be seen as something of a perfumista sin …

Like other essential oils, which I sometimes evaporate in oil burners placed in different parts of the house, I decided to try ‘burning’ Parfum De Maroc, just to see, letting its Arab vapours fill the entire house with its florid coils of quietly pulsating heat, and I must tell you that the smell, as it slowly made its way around corners and into each room as I caught its poignant, exotic warmth, practically made me swoon.

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Is that a camel I see there sleeping lackadaisically in my bed? ……………………ARABIE…..by SERGE LUTENS (2000)

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Celery, prunes, dates, vanilla, spices: at the time this seemed an affront to decency

(“Horrible…………………………………..vile pronounced my mother) – a smell that belonged to a restaurant and not on a human.

 

 

Years later, with the proliferation of anything goes in the niche industry, Arabie’s shock value has decreased (by about 10%), and the big-hearted heaviness of its familiar orientalist contours, with its gorgeous warmth of Iraqi dates, cumin and figs, along with its nutmeg, mandarins and clove, and that cloyed, clogged, foul rug of sweet, so very foreign sweetness, should ensure its survival as an eccentricist’s classic, a scent to don on; and dance, waywardly and obstructedly, the drunken Salomé Dance Of The Seven Veils.

 

 

 

Twirl. Surrender. But remember: this perfume’s main feature is a caramelized celery; and it is wild; and it is sick, and it really is not for the sheepish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HEAT ME UP WITH CINNAMON : Ambre Narguilé by Hermès (2004) + Vanille Cannelle by E. Coudray (1935) + Rousse by Serge Lutens (2007) + Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997) + Ambre Cannelle by Creed (1945) + Noir Epices by Editions de Parfum (2000) + Cinnamon sherbet by Comme des Garcons (2003) +..

 

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It is  absolutely freezing here in Kamakura today. Grey, icy, miserable, with the possibility of sleet or cold rains tumbling down this afternoon as I have to head out into the sticks to do my evening classes.

 

Ugh. While the temperatures this week, hovering just above or below zero, might seem positively balmy to some of you reading this, especially those suffering under the current deep freeze in North America, the particular problem here is the heating systems, or lack thereof. With a country as hot and humid as Japan is for much of the year, the traditional houses here are not insulated at all, and there is no central heating as Europeans know it, with the hellish result that any heat generated by the detested ‘air conditioners’, those nasty machines that make you sweat yet always seem to have a top layer of cold wind circulating to make you shiver unpleasantly at the same time, or the throat-drying, and dangerous, kerosene heaters we are compelled to use in our house to keep warm, seems to immediately dissipate the minute you switch them off, disappearing like a bastard through the draughty cracks in the doors and windows. I HATE it, and am really yearning for the stolid, stable heat of English hot water radiators, for the suburban living rooms where it is so warm you can just lounge about in a t-shirt and not even think about being cold, or else for spring to just hurry up and arrive.

 

January, a time of overwork, tons of pre-exam classes, and basic lack of physical well-being, is thus usually somewhat miserable for me, an overextended period of gloom and grey, with no possibility of any warm sunshine for at least another three or four months, and of nothing but neurotically obsessing about how many layers to wear the whole time (the misery of a sweat soaked t-shirt beneath those hot layers, as you deliberate between the dilemma of keeping on the wet t-shirt and hoping it will dry, or having to head into a public convenience and contort yourself into ludicrous positions as you renegotiate your clothing).

 

HELL!!

 

 

Moaning aside, though, to generate some warmth right now, both physical and psychological, one of my pleasing and simple comforts is herb tea, especially just before bed. I have experimented with many kinds of tisanes over the years (lemongrass, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm) and know now which ones have the strongest physiological effects on me personally. Whereas in the morning I need hot, steaming coffee and lots of it, at night my tea of choice is rooibos, a South African plant that is incredibly soothing and sends me to sleep even when I am overtired and agitated. This winter I have been experimenting quite a lot with my night brew,  adding different combinations of spices for an added boost, in particular ginger, my vanilla pods from the Javan plantation, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and it has really struck me recently quite how carnal, almost animalic in fact, cinnamon can be, particularly when combined with natural vanilla pods. Where spices like cardamom and nutmeg have a fresh, bracing quality; ginger Chinese verve and fire, and cloves an almost uptight, dark elegance in comparison to cinnamon, my night teas, especially if left brewing for a long time, sometimes take on the slightly naughty aspect of the filthiest orientals: a trace of civet; a very human, bodily aspect that can be almost disconcerting but also deeply mollifying, in a childlike way, when the cold air is surrounding you, and your senses concentrate instead solely on this mothering,  sensual taste. The thick, body-hugging glug of mulled wine that has been steeped in cinnamon sticks;  cinnamon hots; the smell of cinnamon-sprinkled buns and cakes drifting out from a city bakery as you walk along that dark path with hands tucked in coat pockets as if the world couldn’t really be as bad as you thought ( your senses perking up without your even noticing and you find you have plumped for that Starbucks hot cinnamon roll and latte instinctively,  realizing to your horror that you have just consumed 800 calories in one indolent go). Oh well: cinnamon is a palliative: a remedy. Though it is not my favourite spice (that would be clove, or cardamon, or even perhaps saffron), I do think that there is nothing more balancing and heart-repairing in the world of spice. It is the great balancer.

The effect of cinnamon in perfumery is similar to its culinary use –  surely the most trustworthy and unthreatening of the spices; easy, familiar, emotionally warm, and although it does not usually feature as the main theme of many fragrances – probably because it is seen as precisely too foody –  blended, usually, with orange, mandarin, balsams, exotic florals and other spices for the oriental cargo effect (Cinnabar, Opium); or with animalic ambers and vanilla (Obsession, Obsession Men, Cuir Mauresque) – all of which feature a prominent note of the spice that lends their blends a touch of  patisserie snugness and repose, the perfumes we are looking at today are more overtly cinnamonic: tailor-made, surely, for these darker months of winter…….

 

 

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Sunday: 6pm. It has been raining; dark, freezing cold.

 

You have just done something really bad – been shouted at and belted: and after bawling out your eyes in your bedroom upstairs, and are lying prostrate, aimless, and self-pitying, on top of the bed covers; the taste of hot, angry tears still swirling in your head.

Then – suddenly, after who knows how long, the warm, delicious smell of your mother’s baking apple pie finds its way up the reproachful bannisters, and, gradually, life is again alright.

Warm apples, slow-burning cinnamon; mouth-watering aromas of rich buttered pastry; the lilting promises of melting vanilla ice cream.

 

This is Ambre Narguilé: an exalting perfume that seems to provoke obsessive reactions in some people (an olfactory method of regression therapy? ‘Remember the pain. But also remember the good times….’), a scent that is truly designed for cuddling up.

 

An hour after spraying it on, after the sweet shock of the apple strudel opening, Ambre Narguilé is an edible and addictive patisserie classic; gorgeously moreish and emotive with a vivid cinnamon underlay. To get to this point, though, you do have to go through stages of ambery, sugary bulimia; and to be honest, I’m not always sure I am going to make it each time as for me it is just that little bit too sweet. Still, I seem to have got through most of my bottle in one way or another, and I do feel that this scent has really stood the test of time. It is is worth seeking out if you are having a crap week; it is freezing with rain; and you need a sweet, sensory escape.

 

The perfection of the perfume’s  ending, as it hugs to your skin in the softest, dessert-like caress, is the sheerest wintry succour.

 

 

 

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Discontinued, so probably hard to find now, but I once had the pleasure of using the E Coudray Vanille Cannelle bath oil on a cold winter’s night when staying at a friend’s house, and with the ambery vanilla-orange thickness tumbling from the lip of the bottle I just melted into the steaming hot water in total bliss. That bottle, of the very old Parisian type, standing beside to me on the side of the bath like an old friend, just added to the sensation of romance and escape: a perfectly judged dose of cinnamon, and sweetly clinging vanilla, in the manner of the best, most delicious, French cakes.

 

 

 

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Rousse (‘the red head’), one of Serge Luten’s less talked about orientals, is a very different, but equally appealing, scent possessed of red-raw spices that jump out and devour you; the fiery taste (and 3D texture) of real cinnamon sticks and cloves in an ambered, woody, and resinous Lutensian setting. It is direct, pungent, and somewhat simple-minded (in the manner of Louve, Lutens’ cherry-almond), but if you like to wear your spice on your sleeve, as I most certainly do, this rough, flushed, russet perfume is perfect: a chic cinnamon bomb to take on the night.

 

 

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A serious cinnamon. As you’d expect from Mr Lorenzo, Incensi is a languorously layered, complicated scent with a certain integrity, the incense of the name not prominent until the drydown where the main feature in this curious blend is more a ginger-bolstered cinnamon emerging from a blast of strange greenness (elemi, leaf notes, galbanum) than the more liturgical scent you might be expecting: the preferred, cooler incensed notes of antiquity lying calm and serious beneath like a cellar  (frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, styrax), while the note of cinnamon –  unsweetened, potent,  and vaguely ecclesiastical, remains curiously prominent throughout.

 

A cinnamon scent, perhaps, for Pope Francis.

 

 

 

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If you are male and have always secretly wished you had worn Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium – that brilliant and unforgettable classic for women from the 70’s –balsamic, spicy and orange-laden – but were just too embarrassed to buy a ‘women’s’ perfume, for whatever reason, then here’s your chance. Ambre Cannelle is apparently a part of Creed’s men’s range; and admittedly there are fewer flowers;  its physiognomy has more sinew, it’s formula perhaps more refinement, but this scent was obviously the inspiration (along with Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew) for the whole swooning-Jerry Hall-Roxy-Music-addict phenomenon that was Opium – just thirty years before. It is quite a nice scent, actually, with a sexed, ambergris/ musk base that clings to the cinnamon-amber-flecked accord with air of tightened, bodily mystique.

 

It IS somewhat old fashioned, though; check it out for yourself first before committing (in a floor length fur coat).

 

 

 

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A very well respected and original cinnamon spice that many cite as their favourite from the Frederic Malle line, for the tightly woven structure; the dense, spiced treatment of orange and geranium over arid, woody finish, and I can certainly see the Noir Epices’ fan club members’ point, but on this occasion, I am afraid, I must beg to differ.

 

While I can certainly see the appeal of this perfume’s  fat-free structure (no musk: no fluffiness: no soft, vanillic contours), its stark angularity,  like Campari and orange, which I like in theory for its bitter sunset red but in reality can’t drink, the vile bitterness of this perfume’s orange makes me shudder. I find it quite unendurable on my own skin, though I have to say that I was astonished to find that the perfume I was complimenting on my friend Justin one night at karaoke – warm, sensual, compelling and sexy – was in fact Noir Epices.

 

Yet another argument for the fact that some perfumes really do smell utterly distinctive on different people.

 

 

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Of the three jaunty little perfumes in the Comme Des Garcons sherbet series, to me, Cinnamon is possibly the least successful. The Rhubarb is surely a delight: the Mint the greenest, mintiest thing you’ve ever smelled, but the cinnamon, with its contrasting (jarring?) notes of hot and cold, is less loveable.

 

 

On the other hand, the freshness of the scent and its resemblance to more spicy, ozonic scents like Issey Miyake Pour Homme make it the most commercial of the three, and rather an original take on the note of cinnamon. Like all the sherbets, it is quite fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Other cinnamons:

VANILLE CANELLE/ COMPTOIR SUD PACIFIQUE Just what you’d expect from Comptoir– a warm, sexpot aroma of cinnamon in a sweet, ready to wear (for evening) setting.

CINNAMON SPICE/ BODY SHOP Serviceable perfume oil that does the trick in a mumsy, down-at-the-shops kind of way.

CINNAMON BUN / DEMETER &

CINNAMON TOAST/ DEMETER  Olfactory holograms for cinnaphiles with bulimic appetites.

 

 

Do let me know if there are any other good cinnamon perfumes you can recommend that I am not aware of: I imagine there must be quite a few good ones out there that I haven’t mentioned and I am really in the mood for this smell and taste.

 

 

 

Let’s cinnamon!

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HOT!!! : CUBA by Czech & Speake (2002)

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Decaying, plant-straggled Spanish houses falling into dereliction;  old  banged up cadillacs roaming the streets; rum, cigars; geckos; the music –  I have never been to Havana but would love to, as I imagine I would be in my element…..

 

Sometimes perfumers are given briefs in which they are asked to try to conjure up specific places (YSL’s Paris; Biagiotti’s Roma; Kenzo’s Tokyo, the entire Bond No 9 range, geared to capturing every nook and cranny of New York), and any scent attempting to convey a sense of Cuba will have to incorporate the torrid generalities that the popular imagination associates with the place. For most, Havana is surely all about smoky dance halls and sultry locals; that curious contradiction of control, extroversion and unrepressed repression, that energy  (which, incidentally, dazzled my parents when they went there a few years ago to celebrate my father’s successful operation to have both knees replaced;  the fantastic thing being that despite his recent convalescence, he managed to come second in a dance contest, twirling and sashaying about on metal joints with a Cuban lady in habañera dress, my mother clapping and cheering with great enthusiasm as the crowd voted them for the runner up, all revved  up into wild and generous hilarity…)

 

Cuba, the perfume, captures this sense of Caribbean ease succinctly. It is an intriguing scent from London-based Czech & Speake’s ‘aromatics’ range that is perhaps unfashionable in its sly referencing of 50’s hunk-papa aftershaves, while nevertheless avoiding being overly retro. The blend attains a very sensual, defence-lowering aura that is perfect for an unbuttoned, flamboyant shirt on the dance floor where it really blooms with sweat and heat.

 

A smooth blast of bay, tobacco and some distinctly rude animalics is overlayed in Cuba with a mojito – themed top accord of rum, lime and mint – like sipping an ice-cold cocktail in some tucked-in corner of a Havana bar. This then dries down to a heart of clove, vetiver, cedarwood and frankincense; quite hairy-chested and self-assured, but in a warm, benevolent mode that is charming and irresistible: a million miles away from the priapic abrasion of most men’s contemporary scents (which this is, I suppose; though it is not stated directly on the bottle or box, and I can imagine some offbeat girls smelling pretty dapper in it as well).

 

We were staying in a hotel in Tokyo in September and Duncan sprayed on a few good doses of Cuba before we left for the night. The perfume filled up all the space around us with a full, balmy orchestration that you could smell from top to bottom in its full range of timbres and aromas, from the tingling lime and bergamot-mint head to the overtly sexual base that quite frankly interferes with the rational thought process. It hung in the air before me, fully fledged as a tapestry, and was startling, though I must say  that this bottle, which I bought for him recently,  seems diluted compared to the samples we had when it was first released ten years ago. Perhaps the startling intensity of that first edition – which seemed to have more  humidor clout – was just too off-putting for some people. Even in this version the initial smell is  intoxicating.

 

Cuba is a night scent. It is not something you would (or even could) wear to work unless you want your colleagues panting in the elevator (Duncan was once literally physically accosted – much to my amusement – on the streets of Shinjuku one roasting summer evening by two guys walking past who were shouting out WOW WHAT IS THAT INCREDIBLE SMELL), but to be honest I think a half of that half would be panting from revulsion as well; this is one of those perfumes that probably goes too far for the contemporary nose, and I have read some very disparaging comments on it (to put in mildly) on several blogs and websites, so tread carefully if you are being reeled in by this review.

 

 

To me though, Cuba is simply a natural and very free-smelling composition: uninhibited, lithe, and while subtle in its own surreptitious way (only the initial spray makes a big noise), it lets you stand out from the madding crowd. It works best on weekends, best kept perhaps for dancing and celebrations, when its soft but emphatic tones – savoury, spiced, and  full of self-confidence – will rise up from the body; convince, and melt you.

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Filed under Masculines, Mojito, Perfume Reviews, Spice, Tobacco