Whenever you tell a non-perfume person that you love perfume, the first question they usually ask is : “Have you read Perfume?”
The answer is, naturally: “Of course“.
How could I not have? Patrick Süskind’s novel, ingeniously centered around an acutely sensitized triptych of the olfactory : an odourless anti-hero with by far the most advanced olfactive apparatus in the world; the utterly foul stench of humanity (hilariously disgusting from the off), and the contrasting beauty of perfume, is a work of utter brilliance, translated into 49 languages and a seller of over 20 million copies. Darkly, almost savagely comic, it is an involving and fast paced sensorial thriller that enters unchartered and unrivaled territory in being exclusively written from the vantage point of smell ; a sense-drenching immersion into the world of the olfactory, so richly and sensually written that it is almost deranging.
This must be why my re-reading of the book over the last few days is only the second in my life: it is almost just too much. Having spent an entire day marinating in the obsessional mania of the protagonist, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, the greatest nose in history, a total psychopath who lives entirely through his nose and is oblivious to all else, I almost felt insidiously infected with the pungent madness of not only the character, but also the author.
In fact, taking the book down from the shelf, I had not quite remembered just how quixotically intense and horrific the story really is: exhilarating in the extreme, but also quite horrible; disturbing. It is strange how you forget key details with books and films, just as we do with events in real life: I remembered it more romantically – red-haired maidens and rose petals in Grasse, possibly because I was just casually sweeping through it as a floppy haired university student in Rome; probably also because of all the exquisite detail the writer goes into of perfume making in the south of France and Paris; the techniques of distillation and enfleurage, the flood of ingredients, all the flowers; the pomades, the powders, the concretes, the absolutes; it is gorgeous to read – forgetting the deep levels of insanity that the killer – born with no smell, and therefore compelled to create the most magnificent scent for himself – descends into. Süskind captures this derangement so well, delivering us Grenouille’s corrupt and splintered, monomanic mind and logic so lucidly that with the incessant, breathlessness of the prose, which carries us along like a tidal wave of madness, we are almost in danger of surrendering to insanity ourselves.
The entire novel is actually rather nasty. Despite the florid sensuality, a rather hollow nihilism. And it leaves something of a bitter aftertaste. No human is rendered pleasantly. All are grasping, greedy; there is no goodness. The ending, the last paragraph, is disappointing, something of a squib compared to the torrent that comes before it (I often find this with literature: the perfect ending is a very rare thing indeed). Cruelly sardonic, full of hatred for humanity, it is difficult to tell sometimes whether the triple-distilled misanthropy in this fable comes from the alienated protagonist and his contempt of the stench of other people, all people (except virginal maidens of a particular physical type) or from the author himself – Suskind has long lived as a recluse, either in Munich, or somewhere near a French lake, never allowing interviews nor photographs, holing himself away from the world, which surely speaks volumes). Cascading, undulating, fragrant (or reeking) in every paragraph, gripping throughout, Perfume is an inimitable meisterwerk that fully deserves its reputation, while also being so odiferously potent and sadistically overwhelming that I am sure it might be another few decades before I take it down from the shelf again for another reading.
Sarah Baker is one of the few head honchos of niche outfits these days who actually has some fun. From collaborating with Donatella Versace for her excellent art/ Dallas Dynasty spoof-book Baroness, to genuinely outrageous perfumes such as Jungle Jezebel – which smells just like bubblegum, bananas, tuberose and several unmentionables, Ms Baker knows not to take herself too seriously (though the perfumes in the range, such as the divine Leopard, are certainly no joke).
Still, it is refreshing not to have to listen to the entire hullabulloo of overdone cow dung spiel that accompanies so many fragrance releases these days – even if the natural oud extracts used in the last two releases, Loudo, and the new, filthily shimmering Gold Spot actually do, at least initially, have the undeniable and unmistakeable reek of steaming fresh cow pats.
If Loudo – a sweet, white chocolate ‘n cherry natural oud with tooth melting vanilla sweetness (if you ever liked Chopard’s Casmir from back in the day you are likely to like this) provoked us naughtily with the idea of a little girl or boy playing secret games in the attic that were, it turned out later, the ‘seeds of your adult prowess’, Gold Spot – a beautifully balanced dark chocolate natural Laotian oud sprinkled with gold citruses that genuinely sparkles – is that same girl now glittering in lamé.
‘Gold Spot looks to the gilded heyday of Hollywood as its primary inspiration’, Ms Baker tells us. ‘The gold spot is what technicians of cinematic lighting call that perfect spotlight that makes every Hollywood star literally glow. True stars flourished in its liquid sensuality….. ….indulging themselves in bed all day with broadsheets and butterscotch bonbons.’
I love the idea of these dames and starlets just lounging around all day in satin sheets eating butterscotch, oozing wit. And the perfume is very sensual; its creator Chris Maurice, who made this as part of an ‘Oud Trilogy’, certainly knows how to hit the primal G Spot: – this is hilariously very innocent and lewd simultaneously. With its simple, up for it frivolity and golden glow, Gold Spot could be a great one for a New Year countdown party at a club, though I would still say that just to be on the safe side it might be better to spray this a good while before leaving the dressing room and in not too corpulent dosage; on first spray, the animal is real : so definitely not one for the office Christmas party – unless you are trying to get shagged senseless on the photocopier – or the first meeting with your dainty future in-laws.
We both admitted to each other this evening that Sunday, when we could hardly move, felt shit, ached all over, were extremely sensitive to the touch, had light fevers (soup and food had been made in anticipation of this eventuality, expecting inertia)(; slight headaches, little energy, extreme light sensitivity (his iPhone light you see blinding the way above to read his book – Gabor Mate’s When The Body Says No – The Cost Of Hidden Stress; I hardly dare read it, being a deep down recipient ; I myself am re-reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, forgetting just how amazingly potent it all is – the last time was thirty years ago, I think on The Spanish Steps):
this fourth vaccination – Pfizer, the first time (necessary ? who knows anymore , you tell me: I have lost the thread : we haven’t discussed Covid, and neither have you: I think we both have had it, back in August; we don’t know for sure, but hasn’t everyone ? )
– but in any case; despite or probably because of, the sheer utterly relaxed, inescapable, nestlike horizontality – the gorgeousness of the faithful house cat most definitely helped in this regard; she mops by your side; sidles up to either one
– where you couldn’t argue or fight; be particularly bothered by the continuing horrors of the world ( newspapers were tried to be read limply ; but dropped like warm lettuce ); nor care about any drama of any kind, but simply exist, en absoluto, from minute to minute, stretching to hours – into night
– made this, possibly, each of our favorite day of this year
I am delighted to be able to announce that on March 25th, 2023, I will be giving a talk at the Honolulu Museum Of Art current exhibition “Cross Pollination” entitled The Language Of Flowers, as well as a workshop on perfume appreciation on the 26th called Scent Literacy.
I have never been to Hawaii before. And can hardly believe that I will be. I think for many Americans the land of Aloha is probably just ‘home from home’; for many Japanese too – by far the most common foreign holiday destination, akin perhaps to the Costa Del Sol, Portugal, or the Greek Islands for Brits, just a short trip away, whereas the mere concept of ‘Hawai’i’, for me, feels almost impossibly far flung, tantalizingly tropical and out of reach. A realm across the Pacific, floating on breezes of hibiscus, pikake, plumeria, ginger lilies and orchids….. When the email came, inviting me to give an olfactory angle to an exhibition devoted to the visual: art pieces and objects related to flowers from different cultures and time periods across the world, I could hardly believe it (as if my mind was being read): Honolulu was actually at the top of our list of destinations; we love cities, I am a total vegetation geek; I adore flowers and their perfume, which is why this is such an amazing opportunity – I am imagining that they will be everywhere.
After several attempts to get into Hermes, I finally got to smell what I was after: Hermessence Violette Volynka. For the vintage perfumista, ‘violets and leather’ immediately conjures up Balmain’s Jolie Madame, or Christian Dior Fahrenheit: of the two, Volynka is momentarily closer to the latter – a brief flash of violet leaf clarity before a smooth, chamois lipstick patina of powdered, Hermes leather quickly takes over – elegantly sultry; composed; stylish; complete; a dusky, full bodied floral; warmer violet tones coming in later to settle down into the sueded tones of musked, quiet luxury that put me in mind of sloe-eyed slow dreamers like Ombre Mercure by Terry Gunzberg or the now defunct, magnetically perturbing Tom Ford Violet Blonde. I thought this was good – a scent of high aesthetic competence, sensual and subtly sexed, that you will basically take to instantly or not (I did not; there was something too gently nonagenarian and soaped; white-cardiganed, in the later stages I am not yet quite ready for ; I didn’t feel at ease).
Surprisingly, I found myself instead liking both of the recentish Byredo releases, Young Rose, and Eyes Closed.
I don’t know why I say ‘surprisingly’, really, as I also liked Mumbai Noise and the strange, mentholated blackcurrant oddness that was Mixed Emotions: perhaps it’s because in the past I had no time for the (admittedly exciting and photorealistic ) modern hyperflorals like Flowerhead, Infloressence and La Tulipe, nor the burnt amberwoods that sear through so many of this house’s creations like burning torches. Recent releases, though, have been gentler, more benevolent: both Young Rose and Eyes Closed founded on orris; cushions of sweet, powdered iris that give a pleasant lift to the senses with a positive immediacy. Young Rose is a Sichuan pepper soaked rose Damascena, couched in ambrette and musk; a perfume that smells happy and optimistic in one direct hit. So with the world as it is at the moment, sinking further and further into neo-Nazism and bigoted brutality, if people, young or old, want to go round smelling like this then that is absolutely alright with me.
I knew nothing whatsoever about Eyes Closed before trying it – in some ways the best approach, when sampling a new fragrance as you have no preconceptions – you just inhale and let your brain do the rest. Eyes Closed could signify a number of things (giving up/resignation; sleep; obliviousness) but on first inhalation I could tell that this was all about trust; about someone you love telling you to close your eyes before giving you something special, a surprise. The perfume sent me whirling down an instant tunnel of familiarity and safety, contentment; I couldn’t place the memory exactly (some childhood Christmas? a cosy wintery evening spent with D?) But anyway, a calming gingerbread iris spiced up with cinnamon, cardamon and carrot seeds and a curiously medicinal papyrus patchouli drydown unexpectedly, on a melancholic winter’s day among the crowds of Christmas shoppers rather caught my fancy. I would have to wear this properly over a day to decide if this is completely me; but first impressions are vital with any olfactory composition; a perfume should always speak to you with immediacy : and this one did.
I am not a nose. But my nose isn’t bad either. And so when trying Vetiver Java by Perris Monte Carlo, a brand I am quite drawn to overall for its plush, generous take on individual notes (the jasmine, mimosa, lavender, are all great – a convincing, hybrid take on classicism and the contemporary, though I am not entirely sure I like the bottles), I realized that the Javan vetiver at the heart of this composition is precisely the same as the one I am currently using in remixing an old bottle of Monsieur De Givenchy (1959), an original vintage edition I found recently, a little drab and bland now, sitting with sloped shoulders at the back of the barbershop, its best days far behind it, but which is perking up nicely with the big dollops of a Japanese brand of imported Indonesian vetiver oil I have added – along with a fine quality lemon that is bringing out the verbena and lemon leaf aspects of this suave, aromatic Lazarus-like enough for me to decide that this will be probably be one of the perfumes I will be wearing for the upcoming Christmas season and New Year.
The only reason I mention my (admittedly) eccentric and rabid adulterations – today I am also getting a different vetiver oil today to add to my Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental, which is just….boring – is that this oil, a rather rough and beardy vetiver which is not particularly refined, is actually very cheap. Just a handful of dollars. So if this is the main component of Vetiver Java (which it is), it does feel like a bit of a rip off. At $225 for 100ml (in niche terms only mid-brow, but still not a cheapie), my first impression of this was that there was nothing but alcohol and essential oil, unadorned.
(A friend sent me a link to an interesting podcast, the other day, incidentally, about how much the ingredients in perfume really cost, and whether lovers of any particular perfume, when financially pressed, would ever go for a copycat/dupe : I would like to know your thoughts on the subject; I am too pretentious and aesthetically conscious to fill my shelves with fakes with dumb names in ugly bottles personally but it certainly did all make me think).
Creator of Vetiver Java, Gian Luca Perris – the brand uses different perfumers for its creations, including Jean Claude Ellena for the superlative florals mentioned above – describes the selection of this particular vetiver note as follows:
«I have been smelling different qualities of vetiver – Haiti, Bourbon – with bold and intense scents, but too clean, transparent, linear. Then, I lingered over a vetiver from the island of Java, less used in perfumery, which I found intriguing, pungent, smoky, burned-like, with surprising floral, green and spicy nuances. It wasn’t love at first sight, but at the end the arrogance of its intensity conquered me.»
I like the idea of an ‘arrogant’ essential oil, and agree that there is something brusque, but magnetic in this specific varietal that works, eventually, when you get used to it (for me anyway – I have quite a lot of it, currently, two weeks in, on my winter coats alongside vintage Chanel No 19, sighing each time I walk by them or put them on). If you are not going to give me exquisite orchestration in a perfume then I am also, in general, at least drawn to fragrances that highlight one note and do it well; Aurelien Guichard’s Matiere Premiere range manages this expertly in scents such as Neroli Oranger and Encens Suave; you can smell the quality of the essences, they speak for themselves (they sing), but they are also arranged and blended in a way that is cleverly synergistic. For me, there should, with a luxury end perfume, never be the sense that I could just do this at home ; yes, there are tinkerings of citrus, here, in Vetiver Java, a base musk, and what I refer to personally with horror as ‘the endocrine’: a sour, industrial note that is way too prominent in many other famous vetivers (and perfumes in general these days) such as Chanel Sycomore, which I have decided, definitively, I now don’t like (I was on a bit of a spree on Wednesday evening, going around everywhere, spraying Vetiver Extraordinaire by Malle in copious amounts- again, ‘meh‘ – Hermes Vetiver Tonka – ditto, though I have it and sometimes it is perfect for the nutty coumarinic blanket of the base (and which you definitely couldn’t do by yourself).
Trying other vetiver centered scents while I was at it as well, Dipytque Vetyverio – blah; for lightweights!! – Bruno Jovanovic’s ‘Mon Vetiver’ for Essential Parfums – fresh, pleasant, but not for me, with vetiver perfumes it can sometimes feel as if can never get exactly what I want. Though Nose Shop in Yokohama, where I was voraciously sniffing, do carry the always undervalued collection by Patricia Nicolai, ( and which I want to get to know better), they unfortunately don’t feature her strange, vegetal caraway floral Vetyver, which we used to have a bottle of but used up, and which I always thought was alluring in that unique transformationally-compressed-into-dry,hermetic mist way that her perfumes often have. Kerzon’s intriguing and inexpensive aquatic patchouli vetiver Isle St Louis keeps drawing and then repelling me with its flashy interior contrasts but at least it is challenging and original, unexpected (like Samuel Gravan’s Vetiver Absolute, another more interesting patchouli vetiver, sour and bewitching and quietly psychological that I got through a whole bottle of in England over the summer).
I don’t know: perhaps I am just too difficult to please.
Strangely, a week previous to attending the annual purification ceremony of the Ji-shu sect of Pure Land Buddhism with our friends, Yukiro and Ken, Neil had, unwittingly, whilst exploring some back streets near his workplace, stumbled upon Shojokoji, the temple in which this ritual was to take place. Shojokoji is an imposing institution and Neil was surprised that after twenty odd years of working in Fujisawa, he had not come across it before. But Japan can be like that.
Ken had long been curious about this ceremony because the beliefs of the Ji-shu (‘Time Sect’) are based on the teachings of Ippen Shojin (1234-1289), a charismatic figure, whose ecstatic nembutsu dance gained him thousands of adherents in thirteenth-century Japan. And so, excited by the prospect of a Buddhist ritual performed by (as I rather glibly imagined it) dancing-Dervish-like monks, we gathered on a Sunday evening in late November to witness the spectacle.
Ippen travelled around Japan on foot, embracing poverty and spreading his doctrine, much as you might expect of the founder of a Buddhist sect. His brand of Buddhism appealed to ordinary people because it promised enlightenment based on chanting the name of Amitabha, the primary Buddha of the sect, and dancing – other Buddhist practices were deemed unnecessary and fruitless. The sect would provide a purified space (hence Pure Land) where anyone could reach enlightenment. Ken explained this sardonically in the intermission: to get to paradise all you needed to do was a nembutsu dance – “ONLY that”
Unfortunately, Ken and Yukiro were delayed by thirty minutes owing to a suicide on the train line – sad to say, there have been many delays caused by suicides of late – and so we bided our time in a cafe on the top floor of Saikaya department store, drinking beer and wolfing down a typically retro plate of tamago sando (egg mayonnaise sandwiches) – immaculately manicured white bread triangles with a jarringly strong margarine taste to them, certainly fitting in with the glassed off 80s-ness of the restaurant floor of Saikaya. And I can definitely say that margarine tastes just as awful now as it did back then.
Meeting Yukiro and Ken at the station gates we grabbed a taxi to the temple, arriving several minutes late for the ceremony which had already begun. A monk accompanied us to the main hall and we were surprised by the extent of the temple grounds.
After removing our shoes and placing them in the plastic bags provided, we were ushered into the ceremonial space, a rather large and chilly hall.
About two hundred people were seated on tiny folding chairs placed on the tatami, and they were observing the ceremony in absolute silence. The inner sanctum was occupied by around twenty monks chanting sutra, engaged in various ritual formations. Scrolls were hung up behind them and there were many lanterns and candles. Around the perimeter of the sanctum were seats for the sponsors who were also required to participate in various ways during the ceremony, including at one point moving items from one plate to another with chopsticks.
I only observed one female adherent involved in the ceremony itself and she was among those seated around the edge. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the ceremony but we did get a few images of the ceremonial space afterwards when everything had been tidied away:
At first, we remained standing in the entrance area as we had to wait for Neil, who insisted on taking a trip to the outside toilet to placate his bladder in advance of an indeterminately lengthy performance. It would have been too disruptive to use the inside toilet. As an inveterate claustrophobe, he dislikes the possibility of being seated in the middle of a row rather than on an aisle seat and so arriving late to crowded events provides him with ample cause for panic. After some fussing over how to seat us noisy late-comers, and Neil fidgeting over where to sit, we settled down into our row near the front of one of the banks of low seats placed on the tatami mats.
The air, dry from all the burning of candles and incense – a characteristically serene but austere kyara blend – made me cough initially, which further contributed to my feeling of being a bothersome intruder. The ceremony, however, was calming and the close harmonies of the chanted sutra were riveting. Occasionally a younger monk would emerge from his line and do a series of movements going from kneeling to standing prayer position several times, which is the modern version of the sect’s dance we presumed, admittedly not as ecstatic as we’d hoped. (Might you move a little faster and maybe spin around a bitjust for us?)
I could tell Yukiro, who has a predilection for fiery and passionate performances, was dying a death. And half an hour in Neil passed a note along saying ‘I can’t stay beyond 8’ which was a good thirty minutes away. Fortunately, there was an intermission where everyone queued up to buy souvenir manju – rice flour dumplings filled with sweet chestnut paste which were still warm, presumably from having just been steamed. There was a sigh of anticipation and a palpable delight amongst the crowd as the boxes of manju were fished out and dished out. The shared enjoyment of simple pleasures here can be very grounding. One of my favourite things is a postcard by one of my students which I keep on my desk. The assignment was to make a ‘postcard for peace’ and this is what she came up with:
Eat together! Stop lobbing bombs, sit down and share some food.
Returning to the temple, the second part of the ceremony was rather moving, although unfortunately it was preluded with a long explanatory talk by one of the head monks which felt like purgatory. Again I could sense Yukiro and Neil growing impatient.
The climax of the ritual essentially involved a gradual extinguishing of all the lamps and candles until we were in total darkness. No exit signs or devices or corridor lights to provide even a glimmer of light. That was quite extraordinary – for how often in modern life do you experience a *t o t a l* blackout? And in a public ceremony in our health and safety-conscious era? For me personally, never. Cinema can come close to it but there is always some device or exit sign in view. It was disconcertingly beautiful and almost felt like being weightless ,
in space. . . . . . .
Then a monk who had climbed to the top of a small structure next to us suddenly flickered some kind of light and the spell of complete blackness was broken. Candles and lamps were gradually relit and the ceremony drew to a (relatively) rapid conclusion with invigorated chants and more of the standing sitting dance. We’d come back from the other side.
The finale was accompanied by a rather grim aroma – not unlike the burned meat fat you smell in yakitori restaurants; a decidedly bitter aftertaste. Not knowing anything about the practices of the sect, I can’t really say if this was intentional or not. (Neil said that this was the result of using flaming incense sticks to relight the candles and indeed there are times when even the incense sticks in our kitchen smell almost bacon-like from being inappropriately burned. )The ceremony had a satisfying combination of elements with a pleasurable dip into void. We queued to receive a piece of paper with the nembutsu chant printed on it and pondered the bizarre ritual we’d just observed. We all agreed the blackout was rather special and very memorable.
And yet owing to my limitations, I always have ambivalent feelings about organised religion. Watching this, it did strike me how absurdly random religious practices are. I must qualify that statement, not random in the spontaneous sense, as everything doubtless has a very specific symbolism and is completely meaningful in its context, carefully ordered and evolved over centuries. Understandable on multiple levels as fulfilling the needs of humans for creating meaning to fill the void, bringing people together in peace and prayer, confronting death, and satisfying our appetite for ritual.
At the same time, if the earth and everything on it were to go up in smoke tomorrow, none of this would ever happen again in exactly the same way; well, the laws of physics and of probability may disagree with this hypothesis, and future species of what? aliens? alternative life forms? may come up with something not entirely dissimilar, but essentially, it’s an elaborate iteration of a complex set of circumstances which are probably impossible to replicate…. and of course the same could be said of all of human culture. Each belief system is just another construct, when all is said and done. And that is why I prefer art to religion – you get to play with your own systems of meaning, selfishly and indulgently, rather than slavishly following those of others.
So religion to me is both absolutely sensical and nonsensical.
Of course, pragmatically speaking, anything that prevents human beings from ripping each other to shreds (and that includes religion, the law, dancing, music, communal traditions, breaking bread et cetera) has got to be good.
It was a relief to get some night air and we headed into town for Korean food.
Are you wondering what became of Ippen, the wandering dancing monk, who, as it turns out, was something of an art lover? Well, his sect enjoyed considerable popularity in his lifetime, but after his death, as is often the case in such matters, he had his writings burned and then many of his followers jumped off a cliff in the hope of being reborn with him. The extremity of these acts resulted in a sharp decline in popularity of the sect, which was evidently eschewed by the establishment and the populace, who preferred hassle-free enlightenment with a bit of ecstatic dancing thrown in, to lemming-like self-immolation. After all, there’s only so much crap you can take.
Some of his followers had kept copies of his writings and established the practices of the group but Ji-shu remains to this day a minor sect of Pure Land Buddhism.
I have no idea what this perfume smells like, other than that it is supposedly a musky, woody carnation, very emblematic of its era.
What gorgeous design though !
I am, as you have probably guessed, back at the Man Ray exhibition at the Hayama Museum Of Art, where I managed to furtively take this picture, from behind, of the coveted Schiaparelli Sleeping bottle; as well as the ultra-rare Succes Fou, in its current Japanese museum context (I could not get any closer : the ladies were eyeing me like ravens).
Still, it gives you an idea anyway : art, culture, and perfume all feeding off each other at a particular moment in time.
It is such a beautiful day.
In a year of extremes, one of the main takeaways I have personally is D and I’s deep realization – after considerable strife post pandemic abnormality – that socially we really are quite different. We knew this already, of course, but it has really come to a climactic head : an actual crisis. Whereas he is much more socially open, far less neurotic, I am much more intense as a person and must privately regroup; in my job I have to be witty and charming all day long and thus feel no need whatsoever to entertain and be continuously ‘light -hearted ‘ in my private time, meaning that several times in 2022, now that things have been ‘opening up’, we have been at serious loggerheads over what to do on a number of particular occasions (I did not even entertain the idea of going to the party at Toyoko’s studio in Sendagaya tonight for example – he is there having a ball by himself, which is how it should be ) : and it was precisely this clarity of mutual understanding that was desperately needed: it was necessary to reach some kind of compromise, or it was possible that we were going to go under. I am not saying I would be a po-faced mummy if you and I were to spend time together; I do have a personality, and I do like the odd get together here and there, for sure, but overall, I have to say that in general, joking around and smiling like an asshole for hours on end only has so much attraction and appeal for me: I think forced hilarity is one of the very worst things imaginable for someone like myself (and humanity in general), and I would literally rather just sit morosely – or rather, quite happily – staring at a blank wall than have to laugh when there is no actual laughter, which, to someone like me, is such an unbearable burden on the soul (there was an interesting comment I read somewhere on the Internet the other day about ‘the false cheer and heavily synthetic inspiration of so much online life’, which really struck a chord with me, and which is one reason why The Black Narcissus is the way that it is, and why I vastly prefer, for the traditional end of year joshing that is the big group bonenkai party in Japan, a rather irregular one on one, when amusement and quipping and hahahahhhggh gufffaggughn is not a requirement, and where I can just spout forth, listen to my friend’s stories, respond naturally not worrying about being judged, in this gorgeous, sparkling place that is situated by the sea
——— and just generally damned be my natural self.
From this perspective, today’s end of year catch up with Yoko – who I only get to see every once in a while – talking over wine on the terrace, then drowsing through the beautiful and eclectic art of the brilliant Man Ray, as well as ogling priceless Lucien Lelong and Schiaparelli perfume bottles, has been a lovely respite from the enforced cheerfulness of the every day routine. So much space here: space to actually (re)connect : most definitely a ‘wild success.’
If the word ‘ambivalence’ were to be stamped on one perfume – one that I both really like and strangely dislike simultaneously – it might be the original Eau De Givenchy.
There is nothing else like it. Although officially categorized as a fresh floral with fruit facets, for me, whenever I smelled it – quite frequently, as a day to day basis on a couple of girls I knew who wore it back when I was seventeen – to me it always smelled like a marine, before that was even a category. Co-author Daniel Moliere ( the other perfumer was Daniel Hoffman) clearly had a proclivity for the wet and watery, creating the intriguing aquatic hyacinth Huis Clos for Diptyque in 2003 (as well as the horrifying fresh watermelon floral, Fleur D’Interdit, for Givenchy in 1994), but he also made the very dark, starkly masculine, aromatic fougere Santos de Cartier in 1981, a perfume that could hardly be more different.
These contrasting tendencies can be found in Eau De Givenchy – a very original composition that combines dour, melancholic, briny, even slightly pissy elements – oakmoss musk sandalwood (vetiver patchouli ?) against a very vivid springtime meadow of narcissus and cyclamen and other vernal flowers – cyclamen, or the idea of cyclamen the key to my eye – – bracing herbaceously and energetically in the top notes with grapefruit, mandarin orange and mint : at once outdoorsy and lighthearted, quite liberating in many senses for its unsweetened androgyny, its post 70’s dose of fresh air
—- while also to my mind somehow depressive, insistent – deliberately diffident and passive aggressive.
I never entirely liked Eau De Givenchy when I smelled it on my friends at school, while also respecting them for wearing something so ‘intellectual’, stern, and overtly unsexy (though it actually is) ; yet still always inhaling deeply, fascinated when inhabiting their space. This scent clung to me, to my deep seated memories of that time, which is why, in my shop the other day I couldn’t resist buying a sealed and cellophane wrapped vintage soap, still in its unopened plastic case.
It still smelled great ; weird ; potent : undiminished: exactly as I remember it in the early eighties. D hated it immediately – ‘sickly’ was his intuitive response, and I must agree that there definitely is something clammy; enticing, but offputting, here, as if Anais Anais had drowned herself sadly in a rock pool, reeds willowing gently beneath her feet like Ophelia.
But I also know that I have a miniature in my collection somewhere, and there might easily come a day in the spring – a private day, alone, when I might need it ; when I suddenly feel like showering down to the nub with the soap, not with preservation, but total abandon – like Emma Corrin dancing naked with the beautiful Jack O Connnell in sudden torrential storm in the brilliant, and naturalistically stark and passionate new film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover; then wear this curiously disturbing gem : corn blues and honeysuckle and eglantines ;: drenched in a vivaciously mournful, late April rain shower.