I have been cooking a lot with laurel bay leaf these past few weeks. Our own plant has been struggling, but there is a big tree on the street that I pinch branches off at night. Although the fresh leaves are said to be too pungent and bitter, I don’t find that to be the case; the leaves are small, and beautifully fragrant, and I like to use them either dried or straight from the source. I like them in profusion: sometimes up to, or more than ten leaves (or even more: I adore this taste). You end up picking them out of my stews and sauces at the end of the meal – I am finding that a garlic/ fresh rosemary-from-the-front garden ground down / salt / sugar olive oil base with all the right tomatoes – fresh, and in purees, and then bay leaves added (I also love paprika – I made a very heartwarming Hungarian goulash type thing the other night which we gulped down greedily like children in Hansel and Gretel) – creates an almost savoury perfumed deliciousness that I can’t quite imagine achieving with other herbs – I personally can’t stand too much basil / tarragon / marjoram / fennel / parsley / oregano for example. Laurel leaves are more complicated in their aromatic makeup, with hints of thyme, and sage – hence their use in the classic bouquet garni – but there is something sweetly floral about them – a hint of almond blossom, something almost liquorous.
In Italy, there is in fact a popular digestivo made solely from laurel leaves macerated in alcohol – liquore di alloro- a Northern Italian equivalent of the French Chartreuse, which by law can only be made by the monks who originally perfected the recipe of 130 different botanicals used in secret to create the legendary medicinal curative of 53% proof. I have tried Chartreuse before, and don’t dislike it (like absinthe, it feels almost otherworldly drinking it – you shudder like Toulouse Lautrec), and don’t dislike bitters generally – D, conversely, grimacing, cannot touch them with a barge pole – but I derive a strange satisfaction from that convulsive sense of them doing something beneficial to my innards – treating poison with poison. Alloro, though. Just bay laurel leaves. I almost feel like trying to concoct some at home. You never know how long you might have to stay inside.
To avoid the dreaded ‘bay confusion’, it should be noted for the sticklers here that Bay laurel (laurus nobilis) is of course a completely different species of herb to the ‘bay leaf’ used in Jamaican Bay Rum preparations (pimenta racemes); the latter is warmer and much spicier – and similar in odour and flavour to allspice and pimiento berries. I love both bays, though bay rum aftershaves in the manner of Old Spice and the majority of gentleman’s haberdashery bay concentrations are a tad too ‘grey gabardine Carey Grant leering hunkpapa’ for me personally. D will sometimes wear Czech & Speake’s saucy Cuba which has a strong bay rum note ; Aramis’ womanizing Havana has a hard, spiky bay rum at its angularly exiled heart, but anything too bayrummy always feels to me a bit too bitter-breathed, shaving-creamed manly for me to take too much of in one go. Olympic Orchids’ extraordinarily potent Bay Rum is oppressive. I feel almost harassed by such smells. Close, but no cigar. Still, pimiento, like clove, is a wonderful winter spice, and most bay rum aftershave preparations contain both of these fiery stud-like nails, alongside herbs and woods, and also flowers to create their arousing, yet almost sedative effect.
Geo F Trumper’s very singular take on bay rum
is almost scandalously simple ( there are scores of angry men online lamenting its lack of a true bay rum feel), but this precisely is why I sometimes wear my bottle: it is just cloves, cloves, and cloves, with an aftertaste of bay leaf- quite similar to Caron Poivre , but without that glorious carnation’s black, inchoate heart. Still, I like it, sometimes, even if just for a brief blast of spicy eugenol on a cold, rainy morning when, shivering, I can’t for the life of me think of anything else to put on.
Santa Maria Novella’s justifiably famed ‘Pot Pourri’ is sold both as a macerated preparation of flowers and spices in decorative lidded glass or porcelain bowls, to subtly/powerfully fragrance the home, as well as an eau de toilette (which is very popular in Japan among those in the fashionable know). Deep, rosed, almost sour and ineffably pungent, this is the scent that assails you from every angle when you enter the glorious apothecary in Florence, a recipe that has been continued in the same manner for centuries. Pot Pourri contains large quantities of bay laurel (see the picture at the top), which is probably the most prominent note in this elegant and mysterious blend of treated essences along with resinous cloves, vinegared flowers and herbs such as thyme, lavender and carnations over peru balsam and patchouli; it is a smell that once experienced, never leaves your smell brain (thank you so much, Georgia, for bringing me my first ever encounter with this potion all those years ago in Japan; for me, this is inextricably also the smell of our old house in Kamakura ); immediately recognisable – in fact, those that remember my prevaricating, a few years ago, over whether to buy an extortionately priced vintage bottle of Coty Chypre, will probably remember the antique shop in Shinjuku that still has that bottle ( I was there just a couple of weeks ago or more, though time has started to lose its graspability a little at the moment, as you know); locked inside a wooden cabinet with a dusting, glassed window; the same price; now less affordable than ever……….when I went in to check, the entire space full of British artefacts; mirrors; vases, lampshades; chandeliers was scented with the carefully placed ceramic dish plied with some Santa Maria Novella, creating a very pleasing, quiet and refined moment. For those who enjoy the yearning dark stars of chypre such as Clinique Aromatics and the like, the aqua di colonia of this curious perfume by Santa Maria Novella is most definitely worth seeking out. It is unique.
It is quite interesting that I have been so drawn to bay laurel recently. Looking into its aromatherapeutic benefits today, I find that it is good for the heart, arthritis, the digestion; is anti-influenza/ colds, and was often used in fighting off the plague. I have obviously come to it instinctively. In large doses, I found out this morning that like nutmeg – which I have also been using huge quantities of, intuitively – it can almost be a narcotic (hence my swooning, perhaps, over my own laurel-stuffed chilli chicken and roasted turnips that we had for dinner last night) – burned into the air at the rituals of the Delphic Oracles as an offering to the gods. Laurel is warming to the soul – a sanctuary – literally in the case of Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus and the nymphs Creusa in Thessaly, a ‘proud huntress’ who yearned only to be free and live in the forest, unattached, but was chased and hounded by the God Apollo until, in a moment of desperation as they reached the river bank, she was transformed – to the god’s astonished eyes —- into a living laurel tree.
In Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology’ (1942) , we are told that Daphne is relentless in her desire to be undomesticated, left alone (“Daphne was another of those independent, love-and-marriage-hating young huntresses who are met with so often in the mythological stories”): and there is indeed something very beautiful, if tragic, in the idea of this fierce spirit being liberated into the leaves I have been consuming these last few weeks without even being conscious of these old and ancient tales (I had obviously been ‘resting on my laurels’ somewhat in the Classics department , a term I had never really understood before, but which now of course I see is a a reference to those conceited champions and emperors who wreathe themselves in laurel leaves, but then become complacent and indolent, feasting on their former glories). With this aromatic, delicious tree, I love the link to D’s Greek Cypriot roots – his mother is also Daphne ; the power of the demi-goddess; the symbolic extrication, and refuge into nature.
“But Daphne flew on, even more frightened than before. If Apollo was indeed following her, the case was hopeless, but she was determined to struggle to the very end. It had all but come; she felt his breath upon her neck, but there in front of her the trees opened and she saw her father’s river. She screamed to him : “Help me! Father, please help me!” At the words, a dragging numbness came upon her, her feet seemed rooted in the earth she had been so swiftly speeding over. Bark was enclosing her; leaves were sprouting forth. She had been changed into a tree : a laurel.”
Michael Judd is a brilliant photographer, filmmaker and performance artist from Australia who lives in Nagoya and Osaka : like us, he has something of a double life, teaching in the week for four days or so then indulging in his imagination on extended weekends, where he absorbs the neon ghosts and soul of the city into his eerie, velours celluloid.
As Belgium Solanas, the mesmerizing alter ego that often has cabaret audiences ( myself included ) in tears – there is often something overwhelmingly dreamlike and touching in the distilled cinematic melancholy of the performances : Michael appeared in Duncan and Yukiro Dravarious’s hilarious comedy horror film Girl Goned from two years ago and is going to edit their new opus, ‘Spoiled Identity’, the first scene of which we filmed in Golden Week ; analytical, sincere and unflinching – his is a towering, formidable presence.
At Space Witches, an art performance event held in the bowels of deepest Shinjuku, Belgium came on stage, an hour or so after midnight, like an alien air hostess meets Judy Garland meets Sean Young replicant from Bladerunner, holding a copy of Bowie’s Heroes, to a medley of songs glitch-edited over Laurie heartbreaking Anderson’s O Superman, a spellbinding staging that culminated in a spontaneous hugging of my friend in the audience,
A male and female pro-wrestling couple, jostling in the throng of the most packed together electric honeycombs of Shinjuku had earlier spotted D and I ( and smelled me) in Giorgio Red; the girl had apparently said to her boyfriend ‘Follow That Hair! : they then jumped in the cab with us, and the man was soon in emotional floods of tears at the end of Solanas’ performance, which in its lack of tack and its deadly, heart rending earnestness left a black hole of emptiness and longing in the pit of your heart ( in a good way ).
An alien being emitting much needed empathy for this world.
I was standing next to Laurie when they embraced, and could smell commingled sweat (from all our dancing ), and traces of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Gem coming off from the silver dress, an elegant, spiced and long discontinued floriental from the late 80’s I had given Michael in lieu of a flacon of vintage YSL Opium parfum, which for some reason I had always thought he should wear on stage.
Opium, an almost mythical monolith of a perfume, stills smells sexy, and so FAMILIAR – almost too much so – as though it were imprinted in our collective DNA, but inevitably the current formula is vastly thinner and less complicated than the original distilled tiger cordial of resins, spices, vanilla, flowers, mandarin oranges, and seemingly a million other ingredients doused in balsams and patchouli that for me is the very essence of late 70’s and early 80’s glamour. Scoring a sealed bottle of the extrait recently, I decided to send it to Michael. He won’t be able to wear it in the classroom ( where he usually is to be found in Gorilla Perfume’s Breath Of God), but as Belgium, I am excited to sense that opiate of Studio 54 excess drifting from the stage……. perfume, in this context, can consolidate, re or de-emphasize an art piece, or simply take you to an added dimension.
Off stage, as guests and performers chatted and drank together in the interval before the next act ( a hypnotic, bald, female Buddhist stripper covered from head to toe in exquisite calligraphy), Michael took my hand and said we had to go and take some photos up on the streets outside. Handing me his camera, I snapped away outside ramen bars and coin lockers, and felt, for a few minutes, that we had actually gone back in time, almost as though we were Jerry Hall and Helmut Newton
, like ripping through the fabric of time
We came to the cinnamon hotel somewhat by accident, having realised only shortly before leaving Japan that we had booked only five nights, not six – and might otherwise, , like Joseph and Mary, spend Christmas Day looking for somewhere to sleep.
The Fusions Suite Saigon, where we initially were staying, was a great refuge from the streets, a real haven, but it is also actually quite energising to go from all the green and white, hip international vibe of the last place and be somewhere more traditional for today; decor red, with mahogany furniture; cinnamon left on your pillow as a gift.
Cinnamon has actually become something of a theme on this trip. On the second day, when sightseeing near the main Saigon cathedral, for some reason I felt like going in the Catholic bookshop to see if there were any curious artefacts. Naturally, I made an immediate buzz line for the essential oils they happened to be selling – and though I am not usually the greatest of cinnamon lovers (I prefer clove, ginger and nutmeg as perfume notes), I sensed something rather lovely about this oil; a fragrant cassia aspect; mellow, emotional, not bitter and harsh like most cinnamon bark or leaf essential oils (which I never buy).
Unstoppering the oil again later on a bench outside the central city post office, I decided I would have to go back and get the remaining bottle: there is something spacious and cavernous about this oil; like the cool, ancient depths of a wooden cabinet. Rich, and full of hotness – but also, lingering within, shadows.
Later, looking up information about Saigon cinnamon, it turns out that my instincts about the characterfulness of this oil were right; this varietal of the spice (Cinnamon Loureiroi) is considered the finest form of cinnamon, and is usually by far the most expensive.
It is also delicious. I have just been (perhaps inadvisably) chewing an edge of the cinnamon bark that the lovely lady on reception gave us after we arrived, and my entire body is now suffused with a strange kind of heat (it feels good). This bark is also used in the preparation of pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle dish whose broth has a delicate flavour of Saigon cinnamon that laces the herbs and the citrus. It thus feels fitting.
We are going to the central market after I put this post up, and I might, like the lotus, try and source some cinnamon bark to take home with me. My perfume brain is craving an intense cinnamonic pot pourri now for the kitchen; oil on bark, for a winter warmer each time we come home to the house. It will also make an olfactory souvenir of this trip, which has been stimulating to say the least (yesterday, after the taxi incident of the night before, there was a heavy rainstorm, practically a monsoon, which was almost too perfect for clearing the air and my head, and we just lingered for the entire afternoon under umbrellas at a cafe of a sculpture park, calming down; watching young cats unfurling and stretching at the base of trees
Tonight, we will embrace the full madness of the city again, because we just have to: Â a thronging, place full of life that will undoubtedly celebrate Christmas as it does with everything else. With great passion.
When my dad picked me up at Solihull station late last night after a fabulous time in London and Portsmouth (more on that later), I asked him if he had just been eating ginger nuts – the deliciously ginger tasting hard sweet biscuits that they eat every morning with their early morning tea (and which I dunk into the brew for that cheekily delectable half melt – I don’t care if it makes me a pleb) : : : but then, as the powerful, not smell, not hallucination – maybe holographic brain insertion (all I could smell was ginger nut biscuits and I thought that the car was choc-a-bloc full of them, even though I knew that this was an impossibility), my head began to reach further.
It couldn’t fool me. IT also was so familiar: what was this? I knew this smell. Had a perfume leaked? (I was so laden down with samples and bottles and goodies that one bag had completely broken on the platform at Leamington Spa; had I, in my typical clumsy oaf non spatial awareness just thrust it down onto the concrete and damaged one of my preciousnesses without realising? Oh so plausible an explanation. ) But it felt internally familiar. A comforting sediment. In my psyche. And then I became aware that what I was smelling was very similar indeed to the perfume I made when I came back from Java -(called, imaginatively, Java- please read my review) :: : :: all cacao, coffee, patchouli,and cardamom: distinctly similar: : : and then I realised, oh no, has the Gorilla Perfumes Cardamom Coffee I picked up at Persolaise’s (jesus the man is generous), a scent I liked immediately as I love cardamon so much – D and I never drink tea without it, sometimes with fresh ginger as well – you can’t beat it – has it leaked?
-At this point my head was so full of ginger nuts though,:: : my head had become a ginger nut: I could hardly think straight, my dad was speaking ginger nut
– hauling my load into the house as my parents went to bed, I knew that this was one of the intensest perfume experiences of my life. As I emptied the ruined bag and saw the smashed bottle in the bottom corner, the glass pulverised like sugar crystals, with not a drop remaining, I saw that a full thirty millilitres of this pungent, sweet, chocolatey spice drink had been unnaturally liberated from its thick, chunky confines and had filled the entire car and house. Like chemical warfare (but the very best kind). The gingerest, cardamomest (because the oil really did come through, clearly, once I saw it), biscuitest, smellfest I have ever had. An amazing thing to go through actually. ALL IN ONE GO. Because much as I was disappointed by the loss – this would make a really lovely wintery comfort perfume and I would also have enjoyed spritzing it round the house for a perfect, ersatz, Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house bonanza – the sheer, diluvial pleasure of such a huge wave of ginger (because it does smell like ginger, like ginger confectionery), all at once, was like a sugar junkie or the ultimate ginger nut enthusiast having the best, purest, and most ecstatic hit of his life
In the cold it’s difficult to get away from the cliches of heat, but it can’t be helped : as the temperatures drop we are as instinctively drawn to rich, heavy fragrances as we are warm, fuzzy blankets.
Both Sandalwood Temple and Tiger By Her Side, new releases this Autumn, feel well suited to these winter criteria; thick, chewy, scents to block the draughts both literal and figural; sweet, textured ( if somewhat simplistic ) perfumes to seal out the blues.
Sandalwood Temple is all about the santal, even if it is lamentably the ‘East Indian’ variety, not the liquid, buttery rose gold that is the essence of Mysore: meaning that it is slightly flatter, less voluptuous, than the worshipped, essential variety. Still, buttressed with cedar, vetiver, and Madagascar vanilla, there is a nutty, palpable heft to this perfume that is appealing; just the right sweetness, an illusion of coconut, and a fortifying aura of calm, soul-thickening contentment.
Tiger By Her Side, ‘inspired by ancient myths of Egyptian priestesses, whose perfume adorned powers enabled them to walk with the tiger by their side, and connect to their true power, unleash their innate wildness’ is an amber patchouli rose incense theoretically, but in practice a sweet, spicy gourmand not unlike Hermessence Ambre Narguile: undaunted, glistening streaks of cinnamon in amber: oily, potent and playfully strengthening. While not quite a tiger ( more a puffed up pussycat, really ), I would still recommend this one as an early winter booster and furred, stretched out playscent.
I reek of ginger these days.
Diluting and blending an entire bottle of the essential oil in a tub of extra virgin coconut oil (melted and resolidified in the refrigerator), this has made a glad salve and excellent treatment for all of my recent ailments, and with palpable results: there is no better natural remedy for damaged or sensitive stomachs or for rallying up the joints when they are inflamed.
Give me ginger!!
GINGER!!!!! Five O’Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens (2008) + Un Crime Exotique by Parfumerie Generale (2007) + Ginger Ale by Demeter (1997) + Ginger Musk by Montale (2006)+ Versace Pour L’Homme (1984) + Ricci Club by Nina Ricci (1989)
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.
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.
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.
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