– and he doesn’t leave it there, uninterested on the table, but takes it with him; slipped in his briefcase.
– and he doesn’t leave it there, uninterested on the table, but takes it with him; slipped in his briefcase.
Hello again, and welcome to Winter.
Apologies for the absence: I have been up to all kinds of things, both good and bad, but can’t write about them right now for various reasons (this unforthcomingness is not in my nature but has been thrust upon me).
I have succumbed to my natural biorhythms. Every year, I go in familiar waves, and now the student evaluations are over – them rating us, not the other way round, I can lay my performing monkey aside and drift back into reveries of Christmas and New Year. It has been a good term, actually, but although my colleagues will be gearing up heavily for the final push before exams, I will be hiding away in Kamakura, nesting and writing, and finally having a breather after what has easily been the most eventful and memorable year of my life.
Anyway. To Perfume. I have backlog of scent I would like to write about, and will take my time with them. But today is a lovely crisp, sunny day after what feels like weeks of cold damp relentless rain ( I hate, hate rain unless it comes at precisely the right moment) and a green, forested perfume seems like a good way to inch my way back into Narcissus conscious again.
I recently received a sample set of perfumes by January Scent Project, an East Coast independent perfumery outfit by artist John Biebel, who creates the perfumes and designs the artwork (I really love the presentation of this brand) for a set of fragrances that are unusual, at times even freakish, but which have a certain plaintive, medicinal man-o’-the-woods sanctity running through their veins : you can feel that nature and space are very important for this person; alongside a certain goth sensitivity, heartfulness, and rebellious originality.
Eiderantler, which sounds rather like a Cocteau Twins b-side, is curiously described as an ‘ivy fougere’. It has not an ounce of sweetness, at least not initially, but has a frank delicacy to it of woodland branches and fresh air : green leaves, ivy, moss and balsam fir wreathing through an oak, lavender and fine hayed vetiver scent that creates a discreet aura of stepping through undergrowth and inhaling cold, clean air. It would be too ‘deliberate’ and self-serious for me, perhaps, but it was the perfect match for our friend Skyler who stayed the other night with their partner: androgyny was a requisite in the perfumes I chose for them and this one rung all the bells : for the fact that it was ‘bold yet quiet’, and seemed to have ‘revelations waiting to happen’. Living in Hawaii (the sound of which, all those tropical flowers on the air, makes me really want to go to Honolulu – if I can only put up with the music, which I think would drive me bananas), they were shivering in the cold of Japan on Wednesday morning as we tried to heat up the place with kerosene, but determined to go hiking nevertheless; stopping off at temples, whose solemness and ancient gravity is only augmented by cold raindrops on tall trees; unnerving, at the marrow level, in its judgmental austerity ; the dark-leaved ivy of the Eiderantler – on the skin – a numinous allegory.
After gleefully combing the plush kitsch bric a brac emporia at the Silk Center and an exhibition on Saudi women’s headdresses at the Yokohama EurAsian Art Museum on Saturday, we went for a slow and relaxing dinner at the Cafe de la Paix for beef stew comfort food, red wine, and a view of the yellowing ginkgo and zelkova trees outside – as autumn, though still warm here, alights its inexorable touch of melancholy in the air, and lends the perfect November backdrop to the grander, more atmospheric side of Yokohama, the area near Osambashi Pier, Marine Tower and Yamashita Park.
It is sometimes quite nice to just linger in one or two blocks of a city, in detail, taking your time ( we marvelled at the richness; just how many intriguing places there are packed into one dense area – I imagine that this is what New York must be like in the fall, a city I should already have been to..) : I love boulevards, apartments, misted windows; unknown happenings hidden in stone buildings ………after a while we had made our way to yet another place down a side street down another side street ( the fact you will never discover all the bees in the honeycomb; the dive bars, the cheap eateries; a boxing gym, old wooden houses.. it is this that I love about cities; the evolving labyrinth you can never a hundred percent know).
Stormy Monday – rather than Gloomy Sunday – was a neon lit, tucked-away live house we eventually found with GPS; instruments ready for a rock set.
Star of the show – and this woman really is quite something – was Emi Leonora, a legendary punk jazz prog rock chanteuse and brilliant pianist, who mainly improvised her songs, beginning with a guttural, but melodic pitch perfect howl, and with jazz and classical pianistics, joined gradually by her tight-as-fuck band on guitar, drums and bass, rising and apotheosising up into Zeppelinesque/King Crimsonesque rock funk mesmers that had us in thrall and writhing on our banquettes as she glissandoed and arpeggioed up and down the piano like the instrumental break in David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. Again and again like a thunderstorm in your heart.
The singer was wearing Chanel No 5. Greeting her when we came in ( D has miraculously already shot her in his film, somehow collecting a whole fistful of strong Tokyo divas in his recent years of flitting about different scenes and theatres and venues) in pivotal scenes of madness;she gave off powdered musk emanations of carnality I recognised – so womanly, fleshy, disturbing in the lower notes but damn sexy; but couldn’t quite place until I saw the bottle next to her things on our table
Great to smell this aldehydic classic in a new context. Of fierce aesthetic and mind, Emi has been a fixture of the Tokyo demimonde for three decades in various guises but is still constantly trying out new things ( this was only the second time the band had performed together apparently, which was miraculous. They were a pulsating organism ). I felt she was fully alive, agitating the moment and reacting to it in the moment; yet the perfume felt, and smelled, like a nod, despite the rebellious middle finger of the music – to classical taste – she is a lady underneath. There was also a happy birthday – the bassist had just turned sixty, followed by a raucous song with cake and candles in celebration of that; and then another announcement, to the absolute delight of the audience, that they had just got married. Inspiring.
I am increasingly questioning my subjective perceptions when it comes to perfume, realizing more and more that scent truly does smell quite different on different people and that when testing out new fragrances I need a model.
It is also always fun to give perfume to people as presents, so I took some samples along with me to the film shoot on Saturday, an absolute riot of a day that ended with a mayhem in a bar scene in Fujisawa via a quite outrageous one filmed in the woods somewhere outside Totsuka, but began with a serene and exquisite scene at a tea house in Kamakura ( pictured ), titled The Way Of Tears, a lesson in which the abducted students at the Academy are taught the correct way to cry – with homework – as part of their ‘sensitivity training’.
Michael, pictured left, has what I call a really good ‘canvas’: his skin brings out perfumes in a very clean and huggable way; we had a flea market sale a few months ago to raise money for Spoiled Identity, featuring clothes and bric a brac and a slew of perfumes I didn’t need anymore, and he decided to pick up some vintage Chanel Egoiste (1990), a sweet cinnamon spiced sandalwood that always smelled vile, even nauseating, on me but which on him was stunning : an entirely different skin interpretation with a warm, gentle aura I would never have recognized as being the same perfume.
Liquid Illusion is a another sweet perfume I somehow thought he would be able to pull off. Although I briefly considered keeping the small bottle for myself ( with almondy heliotrope over a dry, rooty iris note, what could possibly go wrong?), but there is something about the insistence of the dry amber, irone, iracine and obstinate tonka bean in the base note that I knew would just gradually grate on me : he loved it unhesitatingly straight away, though – a perfume you would ‘inhale greedily in an elevator’.
Rumi, the kimono clad sensei in the centre of the shot, whose tears flowed almost too freely for the scene (I think she is actually something of a grande actrice but just hasn’t realized that about herself yet), had not eaten breakfast that morning, neither before nor after going to the specialist shop to have her dress fitting in Kamakura, in order to be able to carry off the strictures of her many layered kimono and feel right for the part. She felt faint ( and looked very pale ) when we all met at Kamakura station, just managing a small energy drink through a straw, and emitting a faint scent of incense powder that was beguiling and befitting her generally mysterious atmosphere. A perfume lover, embroidery teacher and couture maker, she told me that recently, rather than her usual French classics – she loves Ricci Farouche in particular – she has taken to wearing traditional Japanese incense in special powdered forms, as skin scent; and invited me to come round one day this month or the next to sample them myself – an invitation I am definitely going to take her up on. It sounds like the way to also perfume myself, come my month-long planned hibernation this December.
I proffered Gold Leaf to her, a new, very gilded, rich, mellow fruit of an autumnal ambered chypre to her that is beautifully blended, enigmatic and sure to be very popular addition to the Dawn Spencer Hurwitz line of perfumes that covers the full spectrum of the fragranced alphabet; although I personally don’t enjoy East Indian or Australian sandalwood notes on my own skin, so would not be able to pull this one off myself, I agree fully with Tora who sent me the sample that this perfume somehow takes her to the edges of a memory she can’t quite place; locating you in a ‘nostalgia of the present’.
The teashop, down a side street in Kamakura with a traditional room at the back, was a tranquil little place, selling glassware, wooden furniture, and all kinds of tea related paraphernalia; there were even gold-leaf covered chocolate ganaches placed on ceramic trays in the entrance which I thought was an odd coincidence. Rumi had found Gold Leaf a tad too sweet given her current more austere predilections, but after we had finished the scene – which, despite the dark sardonic comedy of D’s script – with the students learning various techniques of crying, from the one single tear rolling down the cheek of each attendee, to full wailing, but which despite the hilarity of those filming and watching left all the actors looking curiously, genuinely desolate by the end, I offered the sample of Gold Leaf instead to Michael. On him it smelled very complex, burnished, a little too ‘mature’, perhaps, I thought at first, but he was immediately intrigued by its obvious elegance, and the concept that perfumes really do differ tremendously depending on the individual ( an idea that he said he had never really considered before). As the day of filming continued in different locations, the scent began to feel more at home on him, perhaps more pleasing, ultimately, than the less emotional Liquid Illusion, whose name I hadn’t initially realized the complete aptness of until immersed, Saturday morning, in D’s strange, captivating, and poetic, vale of tears.