Category Archives: Spice

HIDDEN: : GEM (1987) , VAN CLEEF (1993) + MISS ARPELS (1994) by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS

 

 

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Some perfume houses (Chanel, Guerlain, Caron, Hermès) have a uniformity of style  -such that even when you might not take to certain scents in the range personally, at heart you still feel that there is a stability in the stable. A general ease of quality ; a signature,  a DNA.

Dior (oh read it and weep…Diorella, Diorling, Diorama, Diorissimo); Givenchy, Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, all used to also have this quality before their cruel and vile degradations. I can hardly even bear to smell a single perfume at the Christian Dior counter now, knowing how attenuated and chemicalized the once sly, beautiful perfumes have become. The same goes for the dummies – factices! – masquerading as Opium or Rive Gauche.

Givenchy is now a joke  – I could never forgive them for the name Véry Irrésistible, particularly when enunciated with a Parisian, or I dare say, a Birmingham accent, and Givenchy Gentleman and Ysatis, two of my favourite perfumes, well, the less said about the new versions the better.

At least visually, however, even if the juices inside are fake news, there is still usually with most houses some kind of cohesion. Van Cleef & Arpels, on the other hand, has always struck me as a real hodgepodge smorgasbord of ephemeral, whoreish opportunism. The perfumes and bottles just come and go. They look horrible together on the counter. There is nothing that really binds them. And that goes for the smell of them, as well.

Yes, there are the seminal, enduring creations from the house: the beautiful First (1976), and Tsar (1989), which I despise from the depths of my heart but still grudgingly respect in that patrician, Blake Carrington kind of manner; and then, of course, the more recent Collection Extraordinaire, featuring highly wearable, smooth and classy (if quite pricey) creations such as Orchidée Vanille, Lys Carmin, and California Rȇverie that I would quite happily have in my own collection if someone were just to give them to me for free.

The main line, nevertheless, I find to be, on the whole, repugnant – Féerie (bleuurrrgh!), Oriens, Midnight In Paris and all their flankers just the standard, thin, trumped up chemical crap I can’t abide. There is just no relation to the other Van Cleef & Arpels perfumes, no family tree lineage or any particularly Parisian, Van Cleevian recognizability.

 

 

 

 

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That said, what of the forgotten perfumes, never blockbuster hits back in the day;  ones you might not even have been aware of at the time,  but were still there, the ones standing doggedly at their given places on the department store perfumery shelves (remember the days when that was virtually all the perfume that there was available?)

–  – This makes me quite nostalgic, actually, the way certain perfumes – Après L’Ondée, say, or Alliage, would be kept under the counter at their respective concessions by their sales representatives, but it didn’t matter because those perfume lovers that wanted those particular scents specifically knew they could make a beeline for them whenever they wanted. They were wanted, which is why they were in constant production. The perfumes were all solid quality; you could trust in them not to be changed to sickening, pale impostors overnight – they were your beloved, signature fragrance.

Both Gem (discontinued) and Van Cleef (also, but depending on your information sources, still possibly available), are perfumes  – real perfumes, from this valued, and cherished time, before the psycho, millennial split into toilet cleaners in fancy flacons (high street perfumery) and the vastly priced, decentish perfumes presented to us as the Exclusives, the Extraordinaries, the Private, and Privé Collections and all the rest; the two-tiered approach that every perfume house seems to have adopted now.

Although I knew neither at the time, these two deleted Van Cleefs are both clearly sturdy, well-made perfumes, rich with essence. Gem, which I have no recollection of, and which I experienced for the first time only very recently when I found it for around ten dollars at a Tokyo ‘recycle’ store a couple of weeks ago, had just been tossed into a wicker basket somewhere among the general jumble of the store alongside a whole load of perfumes into the general perfumed bargain bin, and I initially walked (actually limped, like John Merrick) away from the shop deciding to not waste my money………I don’t know, the jewellers  – Cartier, Chopard, Van Cleef, Boucheron – never really appealed to me as much as the couturiers…..the matching of a Balenciaga gown with Le Dix, or Worth with Je Reviens –  there is a romance there, a duet between scent and silk, fabric and fragrance, that seems more inherently harmonious that the diamond hard surfaces of precious stones that clash like teeth.

Somehow, though, I did a double turn. I was curious. Having smelled the nozzle briefly though (spice?! not what I was expecting) I then, despite myself, found that I was going back to get it.

As it turns out, Gem is now quite a sought after cult item, going for hundreds of dollars on ebay with delirious references to Guerlain Mitsouko and Rochas Femme, a ‘perfume of perfumes’, almost, and it in fact does have some of those classically rich, spiced chypre facets, although in truth to me it is more like a cross perhaps between vintage Opium parfum, and the fruitier, more orange laden KL, by Karl Lagerfeld, just with an extra, mesmerizing aspect of rich (and quite naughtily) animalic jasmine.

With its complexity, depth, opulence and spiciness, this is quite the scintillating perfume, actually, (the plum-filled Kenzo L’Elephant and even Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Kouros even came briefly to my mind for a moment when I was analyzing it later) –  a real eighties ‘bitch in furs’ scent – quite dated for its time of release (Duncan guessed 1964 when I gave it him to smell!) and yet perfectly, eminently, full of that classic powerhouse, lip-glossed Dynasty attitude (though I still can’t quite decide whether Alexis or Sable Colby would wear it better). My bottle doesn’t feel at its optimum state – it hasn’t ‘turned’ as such, it just feels a little bit self-marinated, but I know that I will be definitely wheeling this one out again at some point in the future, either to gift to the right person (someone with the real panache and gall to properly carry it off), or else as an adjunct to costume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is a used ‘brand’ (the Japanese word for ‘designer’ – there is even a shop devoted to old Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags and jewellery in Kamakura called Brand Panic) emporium in Ofuna, about twenty minutes from where we live, that sells perfume – Chanel Chance and Coco Mademoiselle extraits at overpriced rates – but when they first started out they used to also have plastic shopping bags out the back that they would bring out for me; loot made of perfume that had seemingly just been thrown out in the trash but which they would allow a crazed foreign scum queen like myself to happily rootle through – full, or almost full, bottles of L’Interdit eau de toilette and the like – I once also got yet another Van Cleef & Arpels perfume, Miss Arpels (ever heard of it? I didn’t think so), in a weirdly shaped, off-centered octagonal bottle with an unintelligible olfactory message; something a bit green tea-ish, melon, magnolia,  and peonied – an unfinished oddity by Jean Claude Ellena – who also created First – that I didn’t really like in all honesty and gave to my Japanese teacher (who wore it quite well, in a tediously inoffensive, green floral kind of fashion.)

Van Cleef, though, another scent from that trash bag that had remained hidden from my radar for some unknown reason, was different.

This is an odd one: familiar, but at the same time quite original, created by a perfumer I have never heard of before, Pascal Girout, who seemingly only made this. I sometimes like that idea, though – of a perfumer labouring over one perfectionized fragrance every single day until it is perfect :  then never trying again…

Classed as an oriental by Fragrantica (tonka bean, musk, vanilla and cedar; with orange blossom, geranium and sandalwood in the centre), this is nevertheless, like Gem, considerably spicy and cloved, flawless in its construction (it is impossible to discern any seams or any edges between any of the notes), yet fresh and tingly also  – all marigold, raspberry, neroli and a touch of galbanum:  a curiosity, pebble-smooth, caressingly soft (in that original Kenzo Le Monde Est Beau kind of way), yet to me, quite obviously androgynous. Actually wearing Gem in public would feel quite self-consciously camp to me and hard to imagine, whereas this, more savory, less sugared, is almost Brut by Fabergé or Ambush by Dana: a freshly shaven face eating Kola Kube sweets on a dappling Autumnal day (last summer, when Olivia was showing me the fantastically opulent treasures of her perfume collection, all of which I wanted to steal, she proffered up a small bottle of Van Cleef to me and said have you ever tried this? It’s gorgeous……………very unsurprising, in truth, this synchronicity, given that we are both equally drawn to the delicious and warm in perfumery; more, in general, than the cool, the calm and the collected…)

After I had picked up that first bottle of Van Cleef and smelled it  –  I have since come into possession of the treasured parfum for a song as well – delightfully dense and close – as I recognized  immediately that it was something I would like, I sprayed it all over my freshly washed grey and white lined hoodie as we prepared to cycle back to our house. The scent melded perfectly with the cotton, in that neat, cuddling refuge kind of way (very much a scent to stay in with at the weekend and just escape from the world outside), but, impulsively, on that particular Saturday, for some strange reason, rather than cycle back the usual route, which until that moment we had never deviated from as it was flatter, and generally more scenic – a ride past the temples –  I suddenly had a whim to go the much longer back route with its much steeper inclines ; hell on the knees, but good for the heart; and then, inexplicably (she must have been calling), to go into the woods, even though it was completely impassable and impractical on a bike. Perhaps I just wanted to see the lake, where the koi carp swim and which is rumored to be haunted. It’s a lovely place, though, and a good place to rest.

Still, we weren’t expecting – because they were hidden, or at least hiding themselves under a wooden litter bin just by a sharp drop into the forest  (there are poisonous snakes in that part of the woods as well, mamushi that bite, with pictorial explanations of what to do if that happens)  –  four tiny kittens to come suddenly mewling in desperation from under their temporary cover, so wet and bedraggled and in quite a wretched state from their abandonment and night in the forest and running towards us; one of them, with an injured leg, but the fiercest and dazzling newly born blue eyes, making her way straight towards me, crawling up and refusing to let go:  this, then,  her first ever taste of perfumery, as she nuzzled under my hood…

The park keeper in his hut over the lakeside became aware of all the commotion as we were surrounded by tiny fur balls meowing, and came out and said that he would have to take, or ‘confiscate’ the rest of the kittens –  so I have no idea what later became of her siblings, but Mori (‘forest’ in Japanese, the first name that came), clung on to me so fiercely and was so ridiculously cute that I instinctively refused to let go, and we took her home, cycling with her in the shopping basket,  where she still is lording and queening it up, in our eccentric, perfumed nest, eight or nine or so years later.

The perfume still reminds me of that day, too, and it always will.  I like knowing that it is just there in my collection; enjoy its robust, nerve-soothing predictability. Van Cleef, a scent I probably would never have discovered if it hadn’t been for that strange, lucky Saturday, is thus forever immortalized for me now:  in a fun, and life-changing, sweetly perfumed memory tinged with fur.

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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…….

 

 

1

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.

 

 

 

2

 

 

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.

 

 

 

3

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.

 

 

4

 

 

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.

 

 

 

5

 

 

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).

 

 

 

6

 

 

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.

 

 

7

 

 

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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Filed under Cinnamon, Perfume Reviews, Spice