Category Archives: Woods










In the dry heat, sandalwood can be a boon. To tether loose ends. And while many ‘sandalwood’ perfumes these days can be sickeningly ‘cashmeran’ and buttery in their base notes  – an accord both D and I I avoid like the plague –  it is possible to find alternatives that make up for the lack of true Mysore sandalwood oil available by playing with other ingredients to make individualistic boisé perfumes that will see you through to the evening, and beyond.





Santal Nabatea, from Mona Di Orio’s Monogram collection, doesn’t ‘read’ as a sandalwood per se, but I like its dry peppered elegance. Inspired by the culture that flourished in the 4th century BC around Petra and the Arabian peninsula, there is something in this very wearable perfume that reminds me of the long disappeared bright, wood floral for men, Insensé by Givenchy: black currant bud and oleander in the top notes along with apricot and a tart dose of freshly pressed black pepper cede to opoponax and tonka bean in a way that is subdued and unimpinging but also quite contentedly ‘lost in your own reverie’. You can imagine actually touring the ancient palaces of Jordan wearing this, leaving your hotel fresh and clean.





Olfactive O promises to find you a ‘perfume for your personality’ ( ; the idea is that you read the description of the character traits provided and select the scent that seems closest to your inner self. I am not sure if people can be reduced so easily, nor whether any of the personas presented would directly speak to me (if I were a woman or otherwise), but Skin, the scent in the collection that is designed to be used either alone by itself or layered with other selections, is a nice rendition of a skin scent sandalwood/vetiver/iris that is well balanced and affordable.  Ambrette and beeswax add a touch of musky sweetness, while a fresher top note of magnolia adds a linen-close intimacy. The scent blooms on skin in a familiarly sandalwoody fashion that is nevertheless not overdone or flagrant : for those that like the Prada Infusion D’Iris style of office-wearable floral warmth but tire of that perfume’s insistency, this would make a quieter, pleasingly intimate, alternative.





Also from the UK is former Gorilla perfumer Simon Constantine, who has formed his own eco-conscious and ethically sustainable house Typically off the radar and olfactively challenging, I found this perfume at first quite off-puttingly weird; sweet spearmint-like ethereal floatings above banana and cardamom pod in a peculiarly high-pitched heart of Australian sandalwood, labdanum and benzoin   — the blend didn’t speak to me at all. As it settles, though, this turns out to be a very unusual and original take on the sandalwood trope that sings in its own key (probably A#) : and is strangely appealing. Centering. Even haunting. What is it about sandalwood? It is far from being my favourite note in perfumery, and yet there is something so cooling psychologically about the essence that warms the spirits while strengthening the outlook. For nervine sustenance, and if you like to prevail in the woodier notes in summertime, all three of these perfumes are probably worth your attention.










Filed under Sandalwood















Le Labo’s niche, omnipresent global blockbuster Santal 33 has had a big impact on the world of perfumery. Warm, synthesized sandalwood notes have become a legible handle for the person unsure of what non-mainstream perfume to buy while still wanting a product that is considered modish, and this scent is now the go to for many people for its ability to mould itself differently on the individual – the freshness of its papyrus and green fig milk iris contrasted cleverly with the fluidity of its Australian sandalwood. I would never wear it myself, but I did experience this scent on a friend at our 25th anniversary a couple of years ago; Yuta, a sculptor with a cheeky Scottish accent having lived in Glasgow when he was a student and picking up the dialect quite convincingly, sidled up to me at the party in some kind of hessian tunic and he smelled quite amazing.













Many budding independent perfumeries as well as mainstream cosmetic companies have followed suit with rivers of wood perfumes that now exist, many of which I find dull as dishwater personally   – about as exciting as chopping a log – and I don’t really know why I bought Comme Des Garçons’ Concrete when I know that neither of us likes buttery sandalwood (which this basically is, despite its concept of ‘cracked santal’ : getting into the heart of the sandalwood subject and reconstructing it olfactorily from the inside. (or something)).




But I do love the bottle. And I bought this, along with Black Pepper, in the same shaped flacon as a thank you to D for helping me with the book during the mad rush of editing and writing in the summer of 2018 : liberated, we had gone to Tokyo to let loose one Saturday afternoon and he had sprayed them both on together, at the Aoyama boutique, one on each arm, and we were enjoying the combined smells as we walked along, mingling with the perfume of the city. Black Pepper – which is intensely strong, and smells so completely of black peppercorns it blows people away, is still used on rotation, but Concrete now just sits on my desk. Sometimes I spray it into the lid as I quite like the scent that it leaves in the room, but in essence, this was a mistaken purchase (how many of those have you had yourselves, I wonder? And would be so profligate again now? …)




Asphalt Noire – I can’t be bothered to look into the reasons for the optional ‘e’ on the end of the name – but presumably to make the noun either masculine or feminine and therefore ‘unisex’, is quite a nice addition to these warming, sawdusty sensations that everyone seems to love so much. With its notes of cedar, tonk, amber, birch tar and narcissus, this is an airtight but soft woody scent with a certain je ne sais quoi, vaguely reminiscent of the sweet wood of L’Artisan Perfumer’s Bois Farine, which I always quite liked (the absorbency of wood can be quite fortifying when all you want to do is cry bitter tears) ; with its the musky, sandalwoodish base, I was reminded a little of Bulgari’s cult classic Black. The perfume is pitched at just the right octave – a little higher than boisés of  late – is easy to wear, and might be worth a sniff if you like these blonde-wooded confections that in fashion terms you can’t really go wrong with.





Talking of appearance, I am about to iron my work clothes and get in the shower, put on my face mask ,and go back to work. At my new desk. Not knowing what it is going to be like; whether I will panicked in some corner trying to keep a lid on things; whether my co-workers will be cold or just as normal; what the lessons will be like, how they will pan out – it is all rather daunting. I am nervous. Even the city I work in itself, Fujisawa : I find it so dull. I was so glad to be away from it. Because of its location, educational establishments, convenience, (very plain) beach, and restaurants – the place is thought of as an ideal place to live, especially for families (personally if I could never see it again I would be happy. Maybe in twenty years or thirty I might have a flicker of nostalgia, if I am still alive – but I would so much rather be staying here in Kitakamakura. At least I know that Kamakura is still here, though, to come back to each evening; cracked roads with plants and weeds and wild flowers everywhere; overgrown grass, magnolia trees, the woods; the temples..). Constructed just in time for the cancelled Olympics  – the island of Enoshima is close by and was going to be the host place of the sailing events – Fujisawa City recently decided to redo the ‘park’ in the centre, by the station, and every time I see it I feel angry. Aesthetically. Aesthetically furious.There was too much asphalt and stone there before as it was: now, although it has been expanded and has a lot of useful seating areas for citizens  – old people, students, the unemployed, the crazy  – to lounge around on  – they are done in a hideous, flecked fake marble effect, the rest of the ‘recreational area’ made out of plastic, stone, brick – a hideous hodge podge of failed design ideas, with a proudly presented centrepiece of newly brushed astroturf. Not even grass. My old/new ‘concrete’ reality.


Filed under abstract moderns, Sandalwood

























As a teacher, my second worst lesson of all time was probably my final, ‘Christmas’ lesson at the end of 2019; the last lesson I ever did in the decade Pre-Corona era and the low point of my recent Japanese teaching career (the number one most dreadful lesson I ever taught I think was about twenty years ago when I was teaching English in a big classroom one-on-one with a ten year old girl who did not at all want to return to Japan from her coddled and idyllic Sound Of Music life skipping on the prairies of Switzerland with her kindly American live-in teacher and nanny who she loved so dearly, and who, undoubtedly seeing me like this




















– cried continuously for the first fifty five minutes of that  hour (trust me, you can be sure I was looking at the clock); my main achievement being that I got her to eventually progress from protracted, inconsolable weeping to slow, viscous tears and snivelling nose wipes by the final, agonising, five minutes. Never has the ringing of a school bell been more welcome).

















(Mr Chapman :

 ‘Right, you are you sure  know what your homework is for next week, then?’)

















(New online English lessons with Mister Chapman !: )









‘See you next week, children !!’

































The second worst lesson I have ever had involved a big error of judgement on my part. Exhausted, as I always am at the end of the year after the stress of the student evaluations in November (them rating and judging us), as well as the hectic pre-exam final push to get the more academic students into the highest level universities, as a wind-down I decided to let most of my classes watch films as I simply didn’t have any energy left to present anything of my own. Juiced out: It’s the Chapman Movie Club! Let’s watch movies in English! A film of their choice (when I say ‘just watch films’, I do of course, for the pedagogically judgmental among you – mean something pre-seen by me with much of the dialogue and vocabulary written down for study and written comprehension questions  : it is a useful exercise, and largely, they love it); rented at my own expense from one of the dwindling CD/DVD rental shops that do, amazingly, still exist in Japan (places like Blockbuster vanished a long time ago in the UK), shown on a projector on to a big classroom wall, me at the back, relieved, once the lights go out, that I can just sit there. 






Not as restfully as you might imagine, though. I am constantly watching the reactions for the students. Checking their comprehension. Plus, the movies themselves are often quite unbearable. I was of course pleased by the laughing, happy faces of the children watching Disney’s truly execrable Aladdin –  and Will Smith’s muscular blue genie, while making them giggle uproariously, was also strangely sexually attractive to me as well (as were the protagonists of Avatar, a film I also saw againg in a class recently and was quite happy to feast my eyes on : what is it about blue-skinned people?;) But the sub-pantomime ‘acting’ and CG in Aladdin were so bad, so flimsy, so elementary school year end drama, so ugly, that my toes and organs were curling and crimping internally each time I had to watch Princess Jasmine’s clueless facial expressions (Naomi Scott at the very least deserves a Golden Raspberry), Aladdin’s chronic gormless innocence; their utter absence of screen chemistry, the hideousness of the costume design, my god it was dire; such eyesores these blind orientalist taffeta wardrobe consultants come up with ! Ugh. It was quite a hard watch. Gruelling. Admittedly, eventually, I did come to see that the dreadful director Guy Ritchie – the man ‘who destroyed Madonna’, according to an article I read recently probing why it is that she can now only go out with 25 year old dancers that are about 36 years younger than her since being married to a man who stood up to her and ‘broke’ her (discuss) : I saw that overall, he had in fact crafted something that, though so lightweight it practically floated away on its own ‘special effects’ magic carpet, at least wasn’t cynical and self-knowing and wise-cracking in the usual brain splintering mode and did, on later appraisal, constitute an overall entertainment that worked very well with most younger students. It was at least better than Toy 4, requested by an even younger class (let’s face it: I am just not designed to teach infants) : an animation that was torture for  me; the first forty minutes involving the travails of a plastic fork – sorry spork, with eyes and a wiggly pipe cleaner mouth and an incredibly annoying toddler with a high-pitched, squeaky voice that I just yearned to quickly become road kill. Intolerably sappy and cutesy, I was constantly having to prevent myself from jabbing pencils in my eyes watching it while maintaining an adult smile. Reader, it was tough.  Once again, I grudgingly admit that Pixar’s undeniable talent did eventually make itself known by the third, irresistibly sentimental installment, with Randy Newman’s tearjerking score and the overwhelming innocence and cuteness and goodness of Tom Hanks’ Woody and his love for a ceramic Bo Peep too heartfelt for grown up skepticism (by then I was trying myself to conceal my hot, welling crocodile tears). Still, I was so, so GLAD. WHEN. IT. WAS. ALL. OVER.











So you can easily see that in comparison to all this sappy, technicolored corn, I must confess that my higher level returnee class’s choice to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, came to this thrill seeker as an immense relief. Relatively speaking, I was in my element. It was darker, the stakes were higher. It got the pulse racing. It brought back memories of seeing the first installment over a quarter of a century ago with my little sister – I remember her crying with terror as a man’s arm was ripped off in the first pre-internet Jurassic Park when we all went to the cinema in Cambridge together, the blood spurting out from the hole where the limb had once been as I tried to cover her eyes and stop her popcorn from scattering on the dirty, sticky floor. Strange, then, that a similar situation should  happen again over 25 years later in my own classroom. 












Full chock with suspense, live action, propulsive music, dinosaurs, close encounters, kinetic, heart thumping sequences, as well as easy-on-the-eye actors





– chunks of man-meat in the form of Chris Pratt, and the feline-green eyed pleasures of Bryce Dallas Howard –









this film also contained a lot of pseudo science and high level technical and paleontological vocabulary that made teaching (and vocab tests ) easy to set up for the following weeks’ classes. The boys lapped up the action and sat forward in their chairs with anticipation of the next chase or volcanic eruption,  and though frequently terrifying – I later, to my horror, read online warnings about this film saying it really wasn’t suitable for children under 15 and that kids in America could be found weeping in fright in movie theaters in the summer of 2018, it seemed to be working well.










That is, until one scene, in which a gravely injured,  genetically modified killer dinosaur is being given a lifesaving blood transfusion from a tyrannosaurus rex; I saw my students (11-14) blanching and looking away at the sight of vials and needles and syringes of thick red dinosaur life fluids flowing through plastic tubes into the veins of the scaly, reptilian wounds (the producers of this rather brilliant film – I genuinely like it – or was it just a reaction to Toy Story?  – were clearly feasting quite a lot on eighties horror film tropes to excellent effect); however, what I realized was that as a jaded adult just writing down the words of the actors on paper lackadaisically when I was preparing the film in the classroom alone upstairs  – by the end of the year I am totally sociophobic  : how I love quarantine! !  – I am not missing any of this at all  –  I had, with my years of horror films and thrillers ingrained in my viewing tendencies not properly taken into consideration how all of this would play out in the context of the classroom. BAD TEACHER  :   as the needle jabbed in and dinosaur blood splattered in hot red splashes onto the face of one of the frightened characters I saw one girl tear up; blood trickling down his astonished face; she had been already clutching at her face in fright in previous instalments and now looked stricken;  another boy went pale. I felt sick. 












How could I not have foreseen this?













Racked with guilt as I saw them off at the entrance, the freezing cold of December outside in the miserable city of Fujisawa whistling through the building with a hollow-hearted ‘Merry Christmas everyone !! (the students had left in silence, not really saying anything, leaving my classroom and just loping towards the entrance), as I left school, putting on my many coats and scarves, and walked emptily towards the station, I felt like The Worst Person In The World .















(Mr Chapman says ‘Merry Christmas !!! and a Happy New Year’!


































When we came back to school after the New Year break, worrying about parental reprisals and the kids having nightmares,  the first thing I did  (I had forgotten about all of this about two days later..) was to apologize to the students in that class for what I felt had been a genuine mistake on my part; I took the girl in question aside before the lesson and said I was truly sorry for making her watch something that had obviously petrified her, but she looked me in the eye and insisted, adamantly, and I know she meant it, that despite the fright she had endured watching the film she actually loved the feeling  :  “It’s like riding a rollercoaster at an amusement park!” she exclaimed with her Californian accent, and said she really wanted to continue to the end of the film (as did the rest of the class, unanimously).  Phew.  Perhaps it had just been my lack of energy, my flatness, that had created that particular atmosphere on that day, not just the mauled and maimed bleeding humans on the screen. I realized then, that the whole experience had actually been something of a thrill for them (how could it not be, given the education system here? but I digress….). To maximise the impact,I also bought some speakers to amplify the sound, the psycho strings and and roars of T-rexes and velociraptors and excruciating screams to bring the final chapters to an exhilarating conclusion; the kids were all huddled together in their cinema positions messing around and poking each other and scaring each other throughout, and. surviving all the way to the horror of the climax, it turned out to be something of a bonding experience for all.
























Dinosaurs are exciting. Fascinating. Unbelievable that they once existed (and what does that existence mean for Creation Theory? Were they lurking in the backdrop in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, hiding behind giant fig leaves? ) There are obviously no words for how terrifying an actual tyrannosaurus rex would be, breathing down on you in the flesh (how long would you last before it crunched you up in one foul-breathed bite, bones and flesh swallowing down without even blinking its giant, dotard, Trumpian lizard eye?) Although I was never as fully into those illustrated encyclopaedic books on these creatures as some of my science nerd friends at primary (elementary) school were, what is great about the Jurassic Park series is that eventually, once you get used to and start believing the effects, you are immersed in the impossible; you are watching dinosaurs running around before your eyes gleefully chomping on each other and on rednecks and conservatives (it is always the anti-environmentalists and greedy oligarch bastards who get gnashed and shredded for lunch in the mouths of these beasts). It is all something of an exhilarating carnage; a pop corn escape from reality. The stench of the breath bellowing into your face; hair blowing like L’Oreal in a hurricane….

































How would this actually smell? What about a T-Rex perfume?













Notes from the Zoologist:





A Fantastical Cretaceous Apocalyptic Scent

A sultry heat wafts across the land, lapped up greedily by the abundant flora that thrives in its midst. Trees soar to majestic heights and plants flower for the first time, their petals spreading to give birth to a world rich in diversity. The Cretaceous period comes of age against a backdrop scorched by wildfire and lightning strikes. Over this turbulent landscape, a massive predator looms. Giants rule the earth, but even giants can be cut down within the powerful jaws of the fearsome tyrannosaur. Standing tall, the terrifying beast fears nothing, until that pivotal moment when a fire in the sky signals the end of their deadly reign.

Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex is a gargantuan scent that sinks its teeth into the world of delicate fragrances and rips it wide open. Primitive woods and florals seize you and snatch you away to an ancient era. Smoky, charred wood warns of the danger of smouldering fire, setting your senses on edge, while droplets of metallic rose oxide offer a chilling premonition of blood-lust. The mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex is sometimes menacing, sometimes fascinating, but never, ever ordinary.

Perfumer: Antonio Gardoni
Parfum Concentration: 23%
Size: 60 mL / 2 fl. oz.
Top Notes: Bergamot, Black Pepper, Fir, Laurel Leaf, Neroli, Nutmeg
Heart Notes: Champaca, Geranium, Jasmine, Osmanthus, Rose, Ylang Ylang
Base Notes: Resins, Cade, Cedar, Civet*, Frankincense, Leather*, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla






Leathery; raw; sharp, fleshy, and hard. I cannot pretend to have spent much time with this perfume, and I would rather die than wear it  – – I detest anything that smells of blood, or fire, or smoke, or anything burnt, charred, acrid (feel me shudder as I write that sentence); and yet ————– when I smelled this at the Nose Shop in Shinjuku a few weeks ago the last time I was in Tokyo, it stunned me: I sensed a fragrance of perfect balance, mildly horrifying, but tapping in to some kind of id sex drive that you are not sure you want to be tapped into – a cigarette-breathed, feral aggressor hunting you down and taking you mercilessly on the spot: : devouring you. Is this why we enjoy watching these hair-raising dinosaur films? Some kind of thantatos death wish?  The secret pull towards those gargantuan jaws filled with spikes of razor sharp teeth like ivory scimitars and decomposing carcasses rotting among gums and a tongue like a massive, prehistoric worm ready take you in;   lacerate you;   destroy you?













Filed under autobiography, Woods





We had an absolutely fantastic day last Thursday. Meeting up with a Japan Times journalist I had got in contact with with a view to doing an article on the sense of smell and the adventure of seeking out your own perfect signature scent, I was able to turn one of my long held dreams into reality: taking a writer on a ‘tour’ of the city (although in the end it was just one tiny swathe of it), and opening their eyes and olfactory senses to hitherto possibly unthought of possibilities in the realm of perfume and then have them turn the spoken words into a newspaper article   – which in fact will be published here in the next couple of weeks.



I have been reading Kaori Shoji for years (the Japan Times is delivered daily as a package with my beloved New York Times, and she is often a featured writer, particularly for profile pieces, cultural commentary, language lessons, and film reviews). As a bilingual returnee student who spent her formative years in New York but then came back to Japan, I have always felt that Ms Shoji has a sharp awareness of, and fondness for (and unflinching criticism of, where necessary) both ‘East’ and ‘West’; there is a wryness and melancholy sometimes, and yet simultaneously an absolute lust for life and a thirst for stimulation and realness in her writing that I can totally relate to. I instinctively knew she was the person to do the interview.




We met at Harajuku station, where I had carefully scented myself pleasantly (in a thematic of green tea and lemons – it was a REALLY hot day – I couldn’t smell like a powdery, sweating odalisque); and we went to a cafe for iced tea, where I was interviewed , we chatted, and I felt (as she took notes – so glad that it wasn’t a dictaphone, as I would have felt far too self-conscious) that I could say anything – I was on fire; in fact she could hardly get a word in edgeways.




So nice, though, to be in that relaxed space where you meet someone you immediately like and get on with naturally and can just communicate uninhibitedly (and SUCH a stark contrast to my disastrous radio interview I had a few months ago which I may not even have written about on here as it was just so embarrassing: LIVE, in front of two million people in Europe, with an ear infection, a terrible connection, a typhoon outside with multiple echoes, and questions I could hardly hear and were not  connected to what we had agreed on : : “So Neil, how does one go about attracting the opposite sex with the right aftershave….?”





Jesus. No – that was a horrorshow that I had rather forget. This, instead, was a meeting of minds. Someone who wears scent on occasion, likes certain smells (hurrah! She loves green tea – my instincts were right!)  but at the same time is not au fait with the goings on of the industry, the wild obsessions of crazed perfumistas, nor fully aware of the fact that this whole realm of decent perfumes exists beyond what we agreed was the sick, poisoned miasma of duty free, which she was surprised to discover we both scorn and loathe in equal measure.




We three – Kaori, myself, and Duncan, after the initial conversation, then went off to my favourite essential shop shop nearby, Seikatsu No Ki (Tree Of Life) as I thought it might be useful to get a primer on the palette- the basic ingredients used in perfumes-  in case she wasn’t familiar with them.  We had already ascertained in prior emails that she loved incense, which I had in mind as a possible direction to go in, but I also wanted to show her just how good pure ingredients can be on their own, putting some raw vetiver oil on my arm that was evocative of all  kinds of reveries connected to a high school boyfriend she had once had; the smell of him after kendo practice……she liked this so much that I can imagine her returning to get some for herself  to wear as a secret perfume.




From here, the sun radiating brilliantly down through the shade of the avenue of zelkova trees, we walked up the Omotesando boulevard to visit the Comme Des Garçons headquarters in Aoyama. For me, Rei Kawakubo’s perfumes and ethos really do represent a vanguard against the moronic platitudes of cheap perfumery: this brand, I feel,  has real integrity ( and I was so delighted to see that none of the formulae seemed to have been messed with, many of which are in my book  – the first chapter in fact begins with the green leafed innocence of Calamus ), and, having learned that Kaori once went to a Catholic school in America I thought ooh, how about some religious guilt ….I wonder how she will react to Avignon (starting in surprise; eyes closed as she inhaled it from her arm…………..oh wow, that is naughty) : it smelled fabulous on her, sexy if standoffish, with the softer incense notes rising up later in contrast with the harshness of the censer; Black Pepper, one of Duncan’s signatures – a ridiculously erotic perfume – also smelled great on her; dressed in black, like all the costumed assistants, who stood back and let us get on with what we needed, this gave Kaori an almost intimidating aura of grave don’t fuck with me that matched her delicate fierceness perfectly. Rejecting Incense Series Kyoto – we both agree that that perfume doesn’t remotely capture the essence of the city in the way that Avignon undoubtedly does; loving and being amused by Rhubarb and Peppermint, I also sprayed on the spicy original Comme Des Garcons scent on myself ,as well as White, which I bought for D as a present a quarter of a century ago on a cold winter’s day in London. It still smelled lovely.





Having been photographed outside, and inside,  the Comme Des Garcons store (all sweaty-faced and shiny….I cannot imagine going to a newsstand and seeing my face staring back at me, but anyway), we decided to have a quick look in Prada just along the way as, both being total cinephiles, I wanted to hear her reactions to the overpriced pop and movie collection (Tainted Love, Pink Flamingoes, Marienbad, Purple Rain) just as a contracts to the CdGs, which are actually far better value. Amused, but not sold, as time was running, we hailed a taxi and drove the short distance to Roppongi where I had made a prior appointment at- the quiet haven of scent consultation and Japanese aroma that is Parfums Satori.





‘Perfume’ (which the founder and perfumer had several copies of, dotted around the premises, bookmarked for customers) features a selection of fragrances from the Satori range, because I genuinely feel that they do present a completely different face of perfume to the majority of mainstream and niche; subtle but perturbing; dry, emotional, poetic, and I was interested to see how Kaori, as a person of Japanese heritage but American upbringing, would feel about them. Perhaps a little over eager and uncouth in my enthusiasms – I can’t really do the sit quietly and be ultra polite thing, especially when the conversation has been flowing just so damn wonderfully – in the taxi we had been condemning the current racism, chewed the cud on women’s situation in Japan, the film industry and how it works for movie reviewers, I could have talked all day; to then just be expected to sit and wait to be shown everything was impossible (especially because I am just so contained and repressed at work all the time) ; so, more like a puppy just bought on Christmas Day that yaps excitedly and just bounds about the house unfettered I went about the shop, taking liberties and picking up things randomly from the perfumed shelves to show Kaori. Wasanbon? ‘I love the smell of that – it is my favourite sugar’. Try this then. “Oh my god!” Pure pleasure. As was the eponymous Satori, the lovely spiced sandalwood that is at the helm of the collection and which smelled differently, but great, on each one of us (on that day it reminded me a little of Mitsouko).  We marvelled at the extreme oddness of Hana Kiraku, with its fundaments of melon and miso in search of replicating a particular species of magnolia (“Oh my god, this one is making me high”) ; the almost shockingly green, mind-clearer that is Oribe; then Satori-san introduced her latest perfume from last year, Mizunara, in Japanese and English, explaining to us the story of its inspiration: a particular species of oak tree found in the north of Japan, and the whiskey distilleries of Hokkaido, and the particular smell of the clear mountain air over 1,000 feet. By this point, we had all almost fallen into a dream-like state: one of those curious situations where you feel the membranes and boundaries between people have dissolved and you are existing in the same fluid, the same space :where you imagine that you are seeing the same imaginings and feeling the same sensations. Although too masculine for me to wear on skin, with its base of whiskey and woods and its crisp green top notes of rosemary, clary sage, galbanum and juniper, there is nevertheless a very natural, elegant expansiveness to this scent – it has space within itself – the smell of nature – that sent us all into an afternoon reverie. By the time we all left, and Kaori said she had to go, I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.














Neil and Satori.jpg


– me pictured with the perfumer Satori Osawa next to her perfume organ.


(You can tell how much I like having my picture taken)





What a great day though!


Filed under autobiography, Green, Masculines, Oakmoss, Woods







It has been a WILD week – the ascension of the new Emperor to the throne of Japan has brought in a ten day holiday for the majority of the country – and the last five or six days have been very intense and bizarre (for another post)…



Today, exhausted, I decided to take a bath in the pau rosa or rosewood oil, a present that my friend had brought back from a trip to the Amazon last month, bought from a floating market just down from the river from Manaus in Brazil, the town that famously has an opera house in the middle of the rain forest (famously captured fictionally in the brilliant, if utterly deranged, film by Werner Herzog from 1982, Fitzcarraldo).










This is a very beautiful rosewood essential oil, albeit drowned in a carrier oil I can’t quite place, but it certainly is, as it says on the bottle, great for aches and pains, and was very relaxing. I am now also wearing an old perfume by L’Occitane, Rosewood, which is clearly inspired by the original Feminite Du Bois, by Shiseido, which I have also put on and am enjoying……there is something about the fresh, almost spicy floral scent of rosewood oil, with its huge percentage of linalool (apparently this is an essential ingredient of Chanel No 5, I hadn’t known), that is unlike anything else. These perfumes take me back to my first few months in Japan; the smoothness of temple wood in the Autumn sunshine…..




It is also strange that as a child, for no discernible reason, I developed an obsession with the Amazon and once wrote off to the Brazilian embassy in London for leaflets and pamphlets all about Brazil. They came, in a huge manila envelope, and I would pore over them incessantly, memorizing facts, and assuming that one day I would go there. As it happened, I did get a job in Recife, and was considering going, but I had met Duncan, and couldn’t do it. Instead, I went the opposite end of the emotional cultural spectrum, and ended up here, in Japan.









Filed under rosewood, Woods











Most current perfumes featuring ‘sandalwood’ have what is to me a rather sharp, metallic, ‘endocrinic’ edge, or twang; that synthetic santal preparation that is a boon to the bank accounts of niche perfumery as everybody else seems to love it except me – I still yearn for the real thing, the more mystical resonance of bark.







Most men’s fragrances these days (and they are almost always ‘woody’) have a poreless intensity to them – a ballast of bludgeoning opacity that you, or at least I, contrary to their intended purpose, find myself wanting to flee rather than go up close.



















I like a proper sillage, a trail of scent that you occasionally catch on the air,  a brain and nasal dialogue with yourself on how much you are enjoying another person’s smell, what it is, what it conveys, the aesthetics.








Some perfumes have a ‘disappearing act’ built into their olfactory DNA. A-now-you-see- me-now-you-don’t, a hide and seek. A guessing game. Not being a perfumer, nor knowing anything whatsoever about chemistry, I have no idea how this is technically achieved, but I do know that possibly the best example of this curious phenomenon was when the D once wore Hermes’ Poivre Samarcande in Berlin; most of the time I couldn’t smell it when I was standing next to him, but could occasionally smell it powerfully across the street: strangers would come up to him in a bar, turned on and intrigued by the almost villainous aroma invisibly circulating around him and wanting to know what it was, and yet it would sometimes disappear, and then reappear, at unpredictable intervals. Up close, though, you would hardly know it was there.






Dariush gave me a bottle, in London, of Acqua Di Parma’s Colonia Sandalo Concentree, a sturdy, almost grave, unsweetened, very dignified, and yet somehow quite mysterious sandalwood scent that is very different from your standard niche contemporary fragrance of this type (all creamy, buttery, sweaty, and ‘sexy’). No – sometimes I really enjoy a more controlled scent that keeps you at a distance, yet draws you in, and I decided on this occasion (redistributing the pleasure), to give this one to D’s father- who wears the original Acqua Di Parma Colonia Intensa very well, as I had an instinctive feeling that with his pale skin type, it would work well on him.






It works marvellously. At the end of our trip, when the family picked us up at Norwich station, I kept catching, even before we got in the car, an orthodox, precise, yet softly sensual, powdered, straight, dark aroma on the air (the sandalwood is mixed with lavender, cardamom, tonka bean and citruses – there is nothing sweet or floral, the overall feeling  very English rather than Italian). Up close, from the bottle, I had found the perfume too condensed and powerful – there is an ‘amber’ note in the base that I would never personally take to – but back at the house, too, in the living room as we drank tea and ate cake on the sofa,the scent trail of this perfume was great : every time Rod would go out of or come back into the room, I would catch a drift of a presciently constructed wood perfume that took me back in some ways to my beloved original Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood – one of the only sandalwood scents of this genre that I have ever worn convincingly. Di Parma’s Sandalo is very dry, anhydrous – but in a good way. Clean. Blameless. Wholesome, but not aseptic (when I went back into the living room a few minutes after we had gone into the kitchen to have dinner, I even thought that Daphne had possibly lit some Indian sandalwood incense -in the space …….. the scent was floating in the room, in the air, like invisible smoke). Though some may find its formula too conservative, not obviously, nor sufficiently sandalwood, to me, this perfume is a shapeshifting presence, with a quiet, deeply santalian essence at the base that pulls me in : an understated, yet curiously penetrating, exemplar of gentlemanly refinement.













Filed under Sandalwood, Woods








On Thursday night we went to a Vietnamese dance and acrobatics show at the Opera House Saigon. Climbing the red carpet behind behind a European couple, I caught their joint sillage. It was exactly like all the duty free perfumes I had lacklusterly sampled at the various airports to and from; the slab of grey blue woody ‘amber’ for him; pink:orange, unthinking ‘floral’ vanilla for her.



While not overtly unpleasant, what struck me the most about their fused scent trail was the absolute absence of nuance or complexity. There was no sense of the perfume beckoning you to find out more; nothing elusive, mysterious, sensuous or daring. Sexual, perhaps, in a hammer and tongs kind of way. But nothing that made you wonder, feel captivated, or aesthetically switched on. With their block-like opacity without light, everything you needed to know was there in an extraordinarily simplistic manner: :





I am man. And I am woman.





The new duo of fragrances by Maison FK, both called Gentle Fluidity ( geddit?) aims to get past this dichotomy of his and her by presenting two different perfumes based on exactly the same 49 ingredients, but blended in different proportions. By not spelling out for you which is ‘for men’ and which is ‘for women’, you yourself make the choice.  Prominent notes include nutmeg, coriander, musk, juniper berries, ‘amber woods’ and vanilla (spotlighted more obviously in the more feminine scent) ; you are presumably supposed to gravitate towards whichever of the two (in actual fact quite contrasting perfumes) you feel more ‘comfortable’ with.





Although Francis Kurkdijian is a brilliant perfumer, with quite a few scents in the range I find impressive (though don’t actually wear), I have to say that for me, the concept and execution of these two new fragrances is a dud. Firstly, there is nothing remotely ‘gentle’ about either of them. The men’s one (because let’s be honest, these perfumes are just as strictly gendered as the ones that I smelled on the theatre staircase, they just aren’t physically labelled as such ) is abrasive and very forthright, with the juniper note at the front, and a familiar, Sauvage-ish  base (absolutely the order of the day: I noticed that Hermès had gone this route with their ‘vetiver’ remix of Terre D’Hermes, as had Kenzo in variants of their classic Pour Homme- everyone is getting in on the ‘liquid testosterone’ act).





The women’s one is equally unadventurous: the usual, thick and oversweetened woody vanilla. I didn’t try either of the sample bottles I received on my own skin ( because I  couldn’t bear to: if there is a real, gentle, or gender, fluidity when it comes to perfumes I already have it and I love the individualistic ambiguity that is the result).




Having said that, one thing I have realized recently is that in perfume criticism you can’t fully know what you are talking about until you have smelled the fragrance on different people and in real life situations. You make your pronouncements and then later have to (somewhat) change your tune. When we were checking in at Vietnam Airlines, as the woman at the counter walked past us to return to her post she left a delicious, modern vanilla with delicately fruited overtones behind her: as she checked our passports and issued our tickets, though slightly embarrassing, I was enjoying smelling her scented aura so much I felt compelled to ask her what she was wearing. ‘Gabrielle,  by Chanel’ she replied, a perfume I savaged upon its release for I am sure quite valid reasons but which, in an everyday encounter, smelled highly pleasant indeed.




Another of those ‘vanilla’ ( because is there anything else now for the modern woman, in truth ?) perfumes that I had to ask about was worn by a gorgeous singer in a club we went to: again, it was a perfume I had dismissed as not worth the time of day – Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent – but on her it was  a cafe au lait type affair that she smelled really  lovely in. Neither of these perfumes smelled INTERESTING or alluring as such though, if you know what I mean – just cute; embraceable.




Which I cannot do to the two new fragrances by FK. Yes, as the man is a technical wizard, I don’t doubt ( well I do, actually) that both of the perfumes will reveal more as they meld with different skins – presumably, some people, uncowed by the lack of gender specification, will ‘dare’ to try the scent more akin to their real nature and some curious results may occur in the wearing, but for me, this release is ultimately a cynical, and unadventurous attempt to jump on the ‘gender’ wagon ; in giving us merely his n hers but just erasing the name, this isn’t gender fluidity. Gender fluidity to me means just being free to do whatever you want unshackled by predecided cultural cliche. Something that is most definitely not the case with these two, very unfluid and ‘revolutionary’ new fragrances.


Filed under Masculines, Vanilla, Woods
















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.














Filed under amber, Cinnamon, Sandalwood, Spice



To reacquaint myself with the authentic Indian Mysore sandalwood extract in order to write this piece just an hour or two ago I gave myself one tiny spray of vintage Guerlain Samsara parfum. Just a small dot or two on the top of my left hand, by far the most natural sandalwood-based perfume in my collection (the original formula contained a massive 20% pure essential oil when it debuted) and a smell that you just don’t really get to smell firsthand in perfumery anymore. Head to head with some eau de parfum on my right, at first the pure perfume seems verging on odourless – compact and demure, without all the hairspray fuss and glamour of the other concentrations, no throw. But this is a sandalwood perfume that really, really enjoys to takes its time: where the eau de parfum concentration is now a delicately balanced, if still very strong, blend of jasmine, iris and sandalwood, the parfum, on me, in its full, later stages, is just the latter. Sandalwood as I like it: creamy, dense, sun-filled, languourous – slow, like liquid gold.

The original Mysore sandalwood essential oil, extracted from trees that were overharvested to the virtual point of extinction and therefore placed under protection by the Indian government, is unlike any other perfume component, in its sheer richness and glint; its anchoring, full-bodied self-confidence, and its laconic, sexual grounding. And while this is not my favourite perfume heart or base note by any stretch – I much prefer vetiver, patchouli, even cedarwood – there is something very ‘splayed open’ and courtesanish, to me, about sandalwood (it doesn’t leave much to the imagination) – it is also very easy to imagine how the trees, the wood and its inimitable aroma could have played such an important role in South Asian culture across millennia, in the form of wooden carvings, temple structures, in euphorical aphrodisia, and as an essential and founding component of Oriental incense.

Although I am not a person who likes ‘woody’ perfumes in general – to me they can feel like being trapped in my own funeral casket, too moisture sucking and weighty, enclosing and solidifying rather than languid and free (like flowers, which are always opening and reaching out towards the light), there are, on occasion, days when I do find myself more in the mood for the more form-fitting strength of this kind of perfume, particularly in winter, when I might use a Bois De Santal body cream that Brie sent me (probably the best sandalwood I have ever smelled; so sweet and spiced and eternally lasting), layered with vintage Shiseido Feminité Du Bois parfum, a divinely beautiful perfume that to me smells as though there must be some natural sandalwood extract buried beneath all that beguiling Moroccan Atlas Cedar, the plum and the spices and niggling base notes of vanilla that linger in the most dignified and elegant manner on the skin for hours.

Other sandalwood perfumes I quite enjoy the smell of are the quite classicist Santal Noble by Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier, Sandalo by Santa Maria Novella – which has an inspired note of thyme that cuts through the length of its duration – Narcisse Noir by Caron, which I ultimately consider a sandalwood perfume, and Serge Lutens’ collection of sandalwood perfumes, Santal Mysore, Bois De Santal and the last of his sandalwood creations, Santal Majuscule, with its calmly stupefying rose and cacao (although if I am absolutely honest I never entirely really believed in the quality of the sandalwood in that perfume; for me, the Australian or ‘East Indian sandalwood’ just never quite cuts the mustard; too thin and flat and unmysterious. Even if I do find true Mysore sandalwood to be a little too forceful and straight in its blatantly carnal message, I nevertheless still do feel that there is always, underneath, also something timeless and soulful about it that appeals to the heart muscle and soul).

When I was in my early twenties I got through several bottles of the exquisitely pleasing Sandalwood by Crabtree & Evelyn – my ultimate sandalwood and favourite of this genre for all time. If you could still buy this light, rosy, powdery, sunlit composition that was as dreamy and clean as a sunset on a beach then I most definitely would: in fact just writing about it here makes me crave the stuff quite badly – but they discontinued it a very long time ago. Does anyone reading this remember it as fondly as I do? I know I used to find that perfume so calming and soothing – soapy and talcy but also quite enveloping and sensuous… I think this is how I basically enjoy sandalwood best, in the desert-wind lightness of say, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau du Navigateur, or else full on oriental and packed with exotica, like Lorenzo Villoresi’s Alamut, a 1001 Arabian-inspired sandalwood that is the holy grail perfume of a Japanese friend of mine and which she smells perfectly gorgeous in (she is also the person who I give all my boisé sample bottles I receive to: as a fan of as-woody-as-you-can-get perfumes like Diptyque’s very literal Asian wooden temple Tam Dao or Comme Des Garçons Kyoto as well as Ex Nihilo’s Bois d’Hiver (2015), a very woody sandalwoody/cypriol scent that she adored so much she brought herself a full bottle from Harrods that summer when the small sample bottle ran out); as the most fiercely independent person I have ever known, Junko smells brilliantly contained in this style of perfumery; a mode of fragrance I personally just can’t get with on my own skin, but which I like to experience closehand as long as I am on the other side of the table).

There is something about Javanol, the synthetic molecule now regularly used in contemporary cutting edge perfumery as a substitute (or, to be honest, now actually preferred by the majority of people to the original, natural, sandalwood oil), that is addictive, sexy and in your face. Many of the scents that Junko has in her collection – aside the aforementioned Alamut, which I do think smells best on her – do contain Javanol (or Polysantol, the creamier variant) and if I hadn’t already found immediate recipients for the two new Escentric Molecules perfume based entirely around this note that I am writing about now here and that I received in the post from a friend, I would most definitely have given them to her as well.

Javanol smells fashionable, current. Sexy, in an urban vacuum kind of way; endocrinic, a bit pheremonal; ‘woody’, but in no way connected to nature or the outdoors. There is a no-nonsense, ‘get to it’ aura around this odour molecule – which is extremely potent and which I am really very sensitive to (if I even imagine I can detect an even hint of the stuff in the base of a perfume, it is what the Americans refer to as a ‘deal breaker’ – this happened with Guerlain’s expensive Spiriteuse Double Vanille and Tonka Impériale, both of which I had full bottle of but became detached from when I realized there might be something there , just hiding in the very base tones, though in truth it could quite easily just been a tiny smidgen of my even greater bête noire, ambroxan).

What Javanol does have, though, to its credit, is a certain dryness; a ‘stripped’ quality, and a strange, oxygenated freshness that is a million miles from the sweaty, almost indecently kama sutraness of the original, and natural, odour material; a Tindr or Grindr social media network hook up down the back alley behind a club instead of an elaborately staged, contortionist’s nightmare on an ancient bed of bleeding roses leading to procreation and a dancing Bollywood finale. It is the smell of the present, of what the new sex smells like, the new genders, the sloughing off of labels and traditions, and Geza Schoen, the perfumer of the very popular Molecule line, does an interesting job here of dressing and disguising the essential element at the heart of both of these fragrances – the Javanol, here, there, always waiting to take pronouncement – and presenting two very contrasting perfumes that go very different routes until they reach similar, inevitable conclusions.

Molecule 04 is very simple and futuristic; airy, almost invisible, citrus-like, with the familiar, fat-free glimpse of ‘woodsy’ featured from beneath, like a lemon-pip trapped inside an ice cube. I immediately thought of my neighbour’s daughter Aiko, who is never averse to a gender-subverting scent or two, and sure enough, she took to it straight away. ‘Nice’, she said, as she surveyed the scent on her wrists. It smells clean, fresh, laundered but wordlessly flirtatious and aura-constructing; a masculine/feminine conglomeration that smells quite hip but understated. Intelligent, quite fashionista.

Escentric 04, a very different beast entirely, was snapped up upon smelling it, somewhat to my surprise, by my other half. He always loves the pepper notes, especially a rambunctiously bracing, nose-tingly top note of pink pepper (he is always shoving whole poivres roses into salads as well, so you crunch down on their dried, crunchy stimulation when you are expecting the smoothness of avocado), and this perfume has a very pleasing initial pepper profusion that grabbed him, when he sampled the bottle, right from the get go. The D also has an inclination for anything rhubarby; berry -like; non-banal fruity that isn’t too sweet, and the fruit-salad accord of this perfume (very, very far from the candy cane syrup of the ethymaltol ‘gourmands’; there is something quite stark and Teutonic about the way that the barbed fruit notes are handled) is a heftier, more fun-packed Javanol perfume that forms a fetching complement to the far more transparent and subtle Molecule: a big boost to the senses of hedione and floral notes (rose, osmanthus, orris) that smell as red and pink and indomitable as its packaging.

Boxy, uncluttered, and of the moment, later – quite a lot later, Escentric 04 dies down to the much more predictable, more instinctual basenotes of pure Javanol, musk, and Ambroxan. Just that smell. Potently. Essentially, therefore, what you put on, is not what you end up with here. D goes out for the evening: spruced, and sprayed happily all over with a new burst of hedgerow, colour-blocked charm. He comes home, hours later, and the whole room is quickly fit to bursting – obliviously on his part – completely, with the inglorious, but involuntarily riveting – and for me, quite conflictingly sexual – smell of pounding, synthetic woods on human flesh.


Filed under Sandalwood



Forests, as David Lynch once said, are full of mystery.  They never fully reveal their depths. And some perfumes…..




Filed under Coniferous, Green, Woods