Category Archives: Woody Florientals












The perfumes of Comme Des Garcons are quite often sold in modern art galleries here in Japan, which makes sense when you think of the continuously avant garde fashion creations of founder Rei Kawakubo, as well as the conceptual inventiveness of many of the fragrances and their futuristic, ‘anti-perfume’ philosophies. In terms of design, also, the bottles of Comme Des Garcons scents – sleek, ergonomic, if often impractical – fit nicely into the context of an art museum gift shop, placed neatly next to stylish unnecessities, note pads, and odd-ball eccentricities, and thus I was not at all surprised to see a quartet of CdG perfumes yesterday when we went to the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.



I was in need of some mental clarity and aesthetic simplicity after the gorging of Christmas and New Year, and this is a place I find serene. Unlike the huge national museums of Ueno, which are good when you are in that ‘grand’ kind of mood but too municipal and crowded with spectators otherwise –  or else the Tokyo Museum Of Contemporary Art, which is in a quite ugly, post-nuclear area of the metropolis that makes me not really want to return to it (despite the allure of the current Yoko Ono retrospective), the Hara is in a formerly private residence turned small art museum that has a pale, dream-like melancholy to it, with a beautiful traditional Japanese niwa and appealingly ramshackle sculpture garden – run down, almost, yet sleek and perfectly white inside, with an excellent architectural balance between building and light, both natural and artificial, that makes for a very calming, and re-equilibrating, gallery experience.





IMG_0732 (1).jpg









Tucked down a residential side-street somewhere between Gotanda and Shinagawa, I can feel my mental and spiritual temperature cool a couple of notches in this space. And the current exhibition, a collection of contemporary photographs from the Deutsche Bank Collection, may have been rather small and not overly extensive, yet it hit the mark acutely with a series of pictures that unpretentiously captured quite touching moments in time and humanity, including pieces by photographers across the globe that gave me that familiar feeling in the chest that signifies that an aesthetic target has been hit, and quite possibly my emotions as well. With the world teetering ever further into turmoil (and it’s only the beginning of the year), such a seemingly disparate collection of cross-the-board humanism provides a tangible, if fragile, contrast.




One series of photos that struck me particularly were four black and white photographs of clouds by the British artist Cornelia Parker. Placed side by side on the wall I felt something instantly – a moment of transience, or just a poetic juxtaposition perhaps – or maybe I was just somehow recognising the English sky and feeling momentarily homesick, but in any case there was a sense of the evanescent being captured at a pin-prick in time,  a tension between silence and motion that struck a chord. Reading the title of the piece afterwards, however – ‘Unrecognized Object’, the work was then invested with much deeper added meaning through the peculiarly sinister fact that the pictures had been taken with the camera of the Nazi SS commandant of Auschwitz, the lens used therefore loaded with history and evil, even while the artist was taking pictures of something as simple and innocuous as floating afternoon clouds.




The piece worked for me on both levels. On a level of purely artistic execution, yet also with its added, disturbing significance. And this is how, in some ways, the perfumes of Comme Des Garcons also function -an interplay play between brain and nose, between ideas and purely abstract conceptions and the physical reality of smell – just substituting the visual for the olfactory. Although it would have made more sense in some ways for the museum to perhaps have included ‘Serpentine’, CdG’s release from last year that was created to capture the grass and the air of Hyde Park in London along with some of its pollution (and coincidentally where I also saw a fascinating installation by Cornelia Parker two decades or more ago, where the Serpentine gallery was filled with curiosities from Victoriana Britain along with the actress Tilda Swinton asleep in a glass case: visitors, including myself, pressing their noses right up to where her face was, watching her breathing and ‘sleeping’ – the fact that such a famous person had become an exhibit, an object to peer at, was genuinely mind-altering –  I can remember running through the rain in the park afterwards, strangely invigorated by it),  the latest release by the unrivalled Japanese trendsetters also plays – albeit less successfully, perhaps – with the idea of ‘perception distortion’, with the interplay between an idea or preconception that has been placed in your thoughts, and the physically perceived odour of the fragrance itself.





In truth, however, I am probably over-intellectualizing a scent that I don’t find particularly intellectual (or even especially interesting) – though I do, on a very simplistic smell-level, think it is quite nice. Like Le Labo and their intentional misnomers (‘tuberose’ smelling like orange blossom, ‘orange blossom’ smelling like jasmine, and so on), Floriental, a somewhat misleading name, purportedly contains no flowers (though I don’t actually believe this) and is not a classical ‘oriental’ either, despite the presence of labdanum in the base –  even if does, admittedly,  smell quite  au courant in that oudhish, Western Exotic manner. Rather, Floriental is a sweet, warm, rich and quite inviting spicy woody ‘red’ perfume: unoriginal yet appealing, with that heated synthetic santal (described in the press notes as ‘lavish sandalwood’) we know so well from other such Comme Des Garcons staples as the popular Wonderwood, yet with the texture and timbre of such eighties spiced scents as Nina Ricci’s ginger-lipped RicciClub or Ungaro’s baroque, tapestry-like Ungaro III Pour Homme. Essentially a very hot-sillaged mood enhancer: gingery, peppery, woody and balsamic –  the scent does, strangely, have a florally-hallucinogenic aura to it, whether from that name that has been planted in your head or in the amalgamated flora of its whole, and I find it quite enjoyable for its rambunctiousness and positivity (there is a very extrovert and uplifting aspect to this scent that would work well as a silent self-introduction at a party), even if it is not something I would ever contemplate wearing myself. For me, one of the other Comme Des Garcons perfumes on display in the gift shop – Zagorsk, holds far more appeal,  with its cold, Russian incense, its hushed, snowed-in violets; the sense of remote, Siberian air…. more artful, whispering and austere, and more in keeping with the hushed and cerebral ambience of the quiet, tree-surrounded Hara.































Filed under Flowers, Woody Florientals


decadence copy

Decadence is relative. It can be Nero, Fellini, ‘The Last Days of Sodom’, or Otto Dix. It can be thick, sweet aouds, like the new Tutti Frutti collection by Roja Dove. It can be the classical Guerlain parfums – their very nature powdered and liquorous, sensual and indulgent;  Caron, vintage Dior or Patou, or the modern, Roman equivalents in the Italian houses of Profumum, I Profumi Del Forte; Nasomatto. Strong, come-to-me fragrances redolent of ransacked flower beds and steeped, ancient woods: skinned, animalic musk;, sloe, sweet-fingered unguents, and the lavishness of unbridled sexuality veering into putrescence.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘decadence’ in two different ways. The second, more common contemporary definition is ‘luxuriously self-indulgent‘, in which case I plead guilty. I always was. I live for beauty and for pleasure, I am Dionysian, and perfume, as the ancients knew, is a bridge to the divine: a way to escape the mundane, grey realities of the daily grind, to bypass the stultifications of the physical, caged strictures of the world and to be transported in a second to an alternative sphere of reality in which your soul sings and you transcend the barriers of matter (a decadent description, perhaps, but that is what perfume is to me). When I spray on Vol De Nuit, or  Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfum – now there’s a decadent perfume house for a good current olfactory example of this concept –  I am embellishing the moment, transforming it; twisting it in my direction and lacquering it in art, because though the smells out there in nature are pure, triumphant and ecstatic – where we come from and where we will return – the man-made, to me at least, is equally beautiful (which is why I choose to live near cities). Forced to live in the stark terror of mountains and their spirit-choking ‘purity’, I would surely choose to throw myself off one.

Which brings me to Marc Jacobs’ first supposedly ‘mature’ release, ‘Decadence’. Although that second definition, that ‘go on, be a devil’ trope used in chocolate advertising, has taken precedence in the current parlance, the first, and original, definition of decadence is, according to the Oxford, something ‘characterized by, or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline‘. Which seems very appropriate to me, given the absolute lack of decadence in a fragrance with that name, and the general plunge into sickening cheapness and triviality that is the current domain of most mainstream perfume. Like Lalique’s appalling Living or Balmain’s dire Extatic, Marc Jacobs, ‘purveyor of women’s dreams’ and seemingly ever relevant in New York fashion and beyond, has taken an extremely tame and very standard current fixture – here the vanillic woodsy (‘warm liquid amber, vetiver and papyrus wood’), and then packaged it up into a glittering and clasping handbag shaped bottle that will appeal to the unthinking masses; a sweet, brain-melting accord that I expect to soon be smelled in many a dress-coded club under EDM speaker pounding lasers…………..smooth, inviting and both familiar enough yet appealing enough for him to self-consciously lean in; run his strong but manicured hands over her immaculately depilated and beautifully toned little body and and invite her –  a shine-buffed and long haired creature straight out of the fashion pages – back to his hotel room.

This section of the perfume is fine, in a way, if intensely mediocre and dull – but only ‘decadent’ in its relativity to the mindboggling banality of ‘Dot’ (Dot for god’s sake: I could never get over that name – the tweeness of Carey Mulligan and ladybirds all chemicalized up in a dainty little carbuncle of a bottle); Daisy, and Lola, all of which I loathe with an absolute passion. Yes, the vague hint of something a bit more ‘oriental’ is a bit more ‘sensual’ than the other workaday fragrances in the Marc Jacobs lineup, but, despite the alleged existence of ‘rose, jasmine sambac, orris, iris, saffron and Italian plum’, the perfume, in the head and heart notes, smells cheap as shit. Confused and ill-blended:  Oh my god that’s stomach churning’ says Duncan as I proffer up the bottle.

Which means it will be a hit. In the blandly homogenized culture in which we live: conservative, under surveillance; morally prissy, commanded by conglomerates, the exigencies of the dollar, the yuan, the euro, that sleek of bulimia (no: listen – real decadence is enjoying the food; savouring the vine, the moment, the grape, the skin, the sex, not recording it on your smartphone and photoshopping your perfect ‘happiness’ into a fucking selfie as the Zuckerberg lens hones in on you and ‘tags’ you in your pretend, one dimensional universe of pre-ordained tastes and ideas of beauty. It is surrendering, animal-like, to the human passions, the natural beauty that lies all around us (and, far importantly, within.) LIVING. And not like Lalique.

Yes, there can be no doubt. In this cheapened, wizened universe of exquisitely manipulative ‘trending’, three-second attention spans, and gloss, ‘Decadence’  – this chemical, riskless, dull and soulless, perfume –  will, I am sure, for the aeons of brainwashed ciphers out there in the world, probably pass, indeed, as something dangerous and beautiful……………………. as ‘luxurious self-indulgence’.


Filed under Woody Florientals