MA ROBE SOUS LE VENT by GUERLAIN (2016)

IMG_2981

IMG_2980

Camilla-Duchess-of-Cornwall-arrives-at-the-Church-of-St-Mary-Magdalene

Main-Skirt

Unknown-1

Continuing with our ‘Wind Series’- we last looked at Balmain’s exquisite Vent Vert – which, translated into English, we find to mean ‘Green Wind’ – a name that might be construed as a colicky baby burped on her mother’s shoulder, the uncomfortable result of too much Vietnamese, or even strong gales recorded around derelict and mouldering building sites in Chernobyl, but which any case, loses all the poetry of the original French when the English speaker comes to understand the proper definition; equally, Ma Robe Sous Le Vent – ‘My Dress In The Wind ‘ sounds, and is, stupid. Is this a humdrum polyester casual maxi just blowin’ on the line, in the breeze, after it comes out from the washing machine? Or could it be that this wan and worthless concoction is designed to be an evocation of Marilyn Monroe’s immortalized sewer moment, as gusts of underground gases come billowing up in and around her underpants?

Whatever Thierry Wasser’s intentions, I am in all honesty quite DELIGHTED that this crap little perfume exists. According to Monsieur Guerlain, a website I very much enjoy for its exhaustive Guerlainophile attention to the tiniest detail, a bottle of the most venerable French house’s most successful contemporary perfume, La Petite Robe Noire, is sold somewhere in the world every three seconds, and this recently rejigged version, a supposed eau de parfum intense, was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumer to be sweeter for the American market, for those who found the original incredibly uninspiring French version too unsugared. SWEETER? What, the faux-black cherry caramel of the original synthetic dessert just wasn’t quite enough?

Apparently not! So, as a result, this more recent edition of the neverending fruitchouli bandwagon, allowing Guerlain to compete for market share with Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, Mugler’s Angel, and Lancôme’s abominable La Vie Est Belle, has notes (allegedly: they elude me) of blueberry, Bulgarian rose, candyfloss, patchouli, white musk and vanilla that smell even cheaper, and tackier, than any other perfume I have possibly ever smelled.

maxresdefault

Still, if this new version, of what is already a global success for Guerlain, makes major inroads into the North American market ( you can imagine some lady living in the back of beyond, when asked what perfume she is wearing, and answering in full, in god knows what pronunciation, “Oh, it’s just a spritz or two of GUERLAIN LA PETITE ROBE NOIRE MA ROBE SOUS LE VENT EAU DE PARFUM INTENSE ( and someone gunning her down in response ) – becomes a mega-hit, then I am glad.

YES. Keep my beloved perfume house afloat financially. Let the spondoolas from the trash that sells wildly flood the Champs Elysees so that the precious vaults of beauteous perfumes can be properly archived and maintained. If people have no taste, that is FINE. Let Guerlain rake in the coffers from their cheap-as-chips concoctions with disproportionately high prices, so that all the perfumes that we DO love by this house, and there are so many, can be kept alive, nurtured, and preserved; and that new ones, perfumes with imagination, creativity and fine ingredients, are still to be created.

20 Comments

Filed under Antiperfume, Floriental, Fruity Floral

VENT VERT by BALMAIN (1947)

4ac6998ed7a748e7302819c57b772aae

I was once in a cafe at a planetarium giving a private English lesson. As we sat, plants in various places obscuring corners and faces, I found myself trapped within a prism. Lime green. Yellow. Tangerine. Pouring into every moment of the building, and my head, my brain, behind my eyes; mind-plumbing, synaesthesic. Yet familiar. I knew this. Where am I?

As my student talked and I made the right eyes and gestures and noises, my conscious lolled back inwardly into this colour : paralyzed, stopped, as though I were confined inside the glowing, neon spectrum of a rainbow section.

Gradually, it began to dawn on me that this space I was now inhabiting, entirely different to the one I had entered, was due to perfume. Some really, really, really, strong perfume. Not so much ‘overpowering’, as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Not ‘clouds of perfume’ that had overtaken the surrounding air, but as if the air itself had been stolen. An extrait. An extract, of almost nuclear strength, worn dab-handed in unthinking profusion by a lady who was probably lunching there with her large group of friends and who had gladly let the muguet, lemon, basil and mind-searing galbanum of the perfume’s dandelion-leaved brightness flood the room like a burgeoning, radiation of sunbeams.

It was Vent Vert. Eventually I realized. The knowledge finally swelled up through my body. The vaults of my mental perfume repository identified a positive. I suddenly had a flashback to white polka dots on spring green packaging – a laughing, Parisian, illustrated woman at the Balmain concession at Harrods, the Mecca of my late teens and early twenties where I would on occasion travel down to London by train, stand in awe and exhilaration at the vast range of beautiful perfumes on offer there, and try to muster up the confidence to look knowledgeable and classy enough to resist the hauteur of the assistants.

At that time I was very much in love with Ivoire, but I was still, in many ways, intrigued by the the slightly passé , behatted ladies of these bygone perfumes at the small, but important Pierre Balmain counter, which, even if reformulated – not that there was talk of such a thing at that time – had something vogueish and recherché.

Many years later, in Japan, I managed to acquire a miniature eau de toilette of the 1990 reformulation of Vent Vert for next to nothing and finally got to know the perfume properly. I have always rather enjoyed it – on some days I even have sudden cravings for it – even if I never truly understood quite what it was trying to say with its maximalist collection of flowers – hyacinth, neroli, freesia, jasmine and violet; its zesty combination of citrus fruit – lime, lemon, bergamot and chlorophyllized greenery, that come at you all at once with a whoosh of aldehydes like a photosynthesized burst of sunshine from the bottle.
But taking or adding ingredients to or from a meticulously inspired fragrance formula, in my view, is like removing words or lines from a poem; notes from an original score; and to me, this version of Vent Vert has never been the perfume, as others contend, that fully captures the greenness of the spring breeze carried over fields of grasses; shrubs and new leaves, the very essence of nature and the outdoors. To me, though lovely, Vent Vert feels about as nature-identical as a painted backdrop in a Hitchcock film.

This takes nothing away from Vent Vert’s April May vivacity, its brio and its chic. I find it to be an extremely carefree and happy composition in its 1990 Calice Becker reworking ( the aggression of the galbanum notes of Germaine Cellier’s notoriously green original – perhaps designed to scythe through the smoky environments of 1940’s interiors – one can imagine a tightly fitted suit, and a sharply conspicuous sillage slicing through a room and turning heads – were toned down (for commercial reasons, once green perfumes had essentially gone out of fashion by the end of the 1970’s), to a less tobacco-congested early nineties audience)), yet the pristine eau de toilette vaporisateur I now have in my possession is still intensely green and extremely effusive, with a sharp blast of galbanum at the beginning that does in fact still evoke for me some of the bitter cruelty of Germaine Cellier’s other contemporary shocker, Bandit: such throw: such great DNA – just a couple of sprays on tissue a few minutes ago on this beautiful sunny day have now completely filled up this room.
It is easy for me to imagine, therefore, how the 1990 parfum, used in even greater concentration on that mind bending day at the planetarium, could not only have spread through the air as I sat in that space trying, in vain, to concentrate on my lesson, but actually, actively tinted it.

One of my holy grails has always been to get my hands on the original vintage extrait of Vent Vert. In a very different structure and design, the classic flacon that was used for all the Balmain classics ( I also have much treasured extraits of Miss Balmain and Jolie Madame, upstairs in my cabinets, all in the same bottle), a bottle of vintage Vent Vert extrait or even eau de toilette is one of those ‘can only dream ofs’ that have never come up at the once bountiful fleamarkets in Japan, only the modern editions.

One day, though, standing outside the Studio Alta screen, a popular meeting place, in the busiest place in the world, Shinjuku ( over three million people pass through the train station every day) ; the height of modernity, technology and business in Japan, a maelstrom of people and skyscrapers and the quintessence of futuristic Tokyo urbanity – and a place I really love and feel at home in, quite strangely – my friend and fellow mad perfume cohort Zubeyde then came hurrying towards me excitedly along the street – we were meeting so she could show me some of the secret perfume bargain hideouts in her neighbourhood, later – and she presented me , quite unexpectedly, with a small box, wrapped in a simple paper bag. I had no idea what it was, but it turned out to be vintage Vent Vert extrait.

I was beside myself. She had not known I had long I had sought to own this long gone precious classic, but it was soon all I could think about…….how the human brain can blot out what is surrounding it and immediately hone in, in pure concentration, ignoring the visual and auditory noise all around; and, clasping the bottle, focus, voraciously, on the prize, in that moment, lost to everything.

Opening up the box, and extracting the stout little flacon from its firm indentation, I could not, of course, resist smelling it there, right there on the spot, at the crossroads with all the hubbub of the heart of Tokyo swirling all around me – but as I inhaled that bygone, coutured, oiled and fifties bitterness, I could tell right away that, unfortunately, the top notes had gone ( a situation I tried to foolishly remedy myself by later misguidedly adding expensive galbanum and violet leaf essential oils to somehow resurrect Cellier’s intentions, only making it so green in the process it was like ingesting poison)…..but before I had succumbed to this tragic and stupid temptation, I had at least had the opportunity to properly acquaint myself with the faded heart, and the base notes, of this brilliant, iconoclastic perfumer’s original ideas and execution.

What I did glean from this fascinating shadow of Vent Vert’s former self (I am hoping that some readers who know intact versions of the vintage will shed some light on the differences on the original construct and the later versions; how green the top notes really were), is that although the perfumes do share many similarities – the list of notes presented for both perfumes by Balmain is, of course, is almost identical- on a deeper level, they seem to differ almost completely in temperament: : two manic depressive sisters with very contrasting personalities.

Vintage Vert, even in semi-evaporized, softer, skeletal form, strikes me as far more melancholic, more serious than the reworked later version; austere; drier – as all Cellier perfumes are – more intent. While the almost chirpy second Vent Vert I know so well and enjoy and am wearing today, bright and fresh and mood-lifting, makes me think of a gleefully competent hostess at a country gathering or garden party, dressed up in crisp whites and greens and interacting happily with all those that surround her, the original perfume, more strange, more introverted (despite its reputedly hyper-aggressively green facade), seems more akin to the earth, foliage and undergrowth : the green, more mysterious shadows that can be glimpsed, and smelled, in the quieter, grassy beyond.

22 Comments

Filed under Flowers, Green

IN PRIVATE: : THE PERADAM by APOTHEKER TEPE (2015)

f31245e1d1817b36de86e1b5c87129ef

The very first few seconds of this strange and curious perfume from the house of Apotheker Tepe remind me of Guerlain’s fragile but stoic masterpiece from 1906, Après L’Ondée.

True Iris, or orris, as I have written before, stops time. I am lost for a few suspended moments within the cool, white haze of its clay; its powdered, floury shimmer. Dry as dust; iridescent. A loneliness. Iris can be actively depressing – see Le Labo’s Iris 39 – but it is raining outside as I sample this perfume; big, warm late-May droplets onto the dark green hydrangea leaves, camellia, and ivy of the front garden beyond my window, and an iris scent (the imperial flowers, set to come into flower in a meadow specially for them quite soon at the back of Meigetsuin temple just down the hill in the valley) can only accentuate the beautiful, and removed, sense of isolation. At this precise moment, as I write this, it is a feeling I enjoy.

The allusions to the classic Guerlain here are very brief. Where Après L’Ondée is virtuosic in concealing the complexity of its cold, seamless poetry, The Peradam (‘that which you have been seeking’) is a modern, stripped down niche perfume, a very pared and contoured composition formed principally of three, natural ingredients that vy and court with each other until the final skin scent is expressed : iris, sandalwood, and jasmine absolute. I smell none of the lily that is mentioned in the other reviews that I have read, an addition that would have made the composition more expansive, but this is still a quietly intense, but also very private perfume that although not quite my thing personally, could be, for the right wearer, a treasured elixir.

I often find with iris perfumes that although I can be seduced, in a chaste and unsexual manner, by the crêpe grey blue mists of the opening notes, it is almost as if I become extra sensitive to what comes next; that I can’t bear for that suspended, gossamer fantasm to be ruined. This does not mean either that I want a completely untempered iris soliflore – I found L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Iris Pallida to be far too stark and depressing; and though also serotonin-challenged, I do enjoy and wear Hermès Iris on occasion for its aerian clarity and freshness, even if it does not quite have the powderiness that I ultimately want to find in this type of perfume (Après L’Ondée is perfection in terms of art, technique and inspiration, but quite absurd on me both in terms of skin chemistry and personality – far too abstruse and dignified, feminine).

But I don’t really like my iris sweet (Iris Ganache), and I don’t like it too woody either (Aedes De Venustas’ Iris Nazarena has an opening salvo of perhaps the most beautiful iris extract I have ever smelled – I was hypnotized for a few moments in Shinjuku Isetan a couple of years ago when I smelled it, but then it later begins to go down the familiar stripped down synthetic woods of modern life that for me would have rendered it unwearable.) Iris Palladium by Les Eaux Primordiales takes a more centred, savoury approach, but for that style I already have my Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfums (see post below) which takes a truly gorgeous iris and manages to combine it with cacao, tuberose, saffron and yet never becomes too voluptuous or sweet.

There is definitely a place, in my book, for more androgynous, boisé irises. Not every ‘powdery iris’ needs to end up as charmingly self-confident as the almost camply feminine perfume Chanel Misia or Editions de Parfums Iris Poudre. Armani Privé’s quietly intoxicating – if somehow incomplete for me – La Femme Bleue, for example, contains a beautiful iris note combined with a cedar wood, sawdust-like balsamic aroma that leaves a quite compelling sillage in its wake and almost makes you dream, while always keeping you (quite deliberately, I think) continually at arm’s length. The Peradam, to me, reads as still more private, personal and contained. Though the essences contrasted in the perfume with the excellent iris note – an indolic jasmine grandiflorum that reminds me of the potted pastes you can get in Indian markets, more tinctured and putty-like than the newly opened flowers; and a dose of true Mysore sandalwood sourced from sustainable trees that grounds and anchors the perfume and ultimately become its signature – might from these descriptions sound risqué or even flamboyant, in fact, to my nose, they are surprisingly muted, if still tenacious (and more carnal as hours pass), as if filtered through the bottom of thick glass, or seen looking down from the surface waters of a clear pool to the deeper, murkier sediment of the base.

Ultimately, I prefer my perfumes more generous in spirit. The Peradam, I think, will appeal particularly to the more unexpressed, even passive aggressive individual, one who appears tranquil on the surface to the untrained eye, but who to the perceptive will be transparently burning from within and probably needs such a perfume to help him or her express what they find, in the majority of their daily lives, to be inexpressible. In a world of dressed up trash, though, where perfumery is often nothing but an unthinking, vulgarising lacquer, at least this perfume is psychological. You could, in certain moments, even describe it as passionate, obsessive.

13 Comments

Filed under Flowers, Iris

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME: TUBEREUSE CAPRICIEUSE by HISTOIRES DE PARFUMS (2009)

 

 

 

 

: THE STENDHAL SYNDROME: TUBEREUSE CAPRICIEUSE by HISTOIRES DE PARFUMS (2009)

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers

SIN GARDEN : : : ROSE DE NUIT by SERGE LUTENS (1993) + REVE INDIEN by FRAGONARD (2006) + NOCTURNES by CARON (1981) + BOUDOIR SIN GARDEN by VIVIENNE WESTWARD (2007) + FERRE by FERRE (1991) + ROSE MUSC by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2007) + ATTAR by ISABELL (1996) + BLOSSOM LOVE by AMOUAGE (2017)

18582204_1574107392631519_6850557279508873652_n

It was very strange coming out of hospital. This time last week exactly, I was sitting on my bed, all my things packed up, waiting for my neighbour and ‘Japanese dad’, Mr Mitomi, to come and pick D and I up in his car and take us back to Kitakamakura after two months in my swaddled, beige cocoon. It was raining quite heavily, and I felt quite afraid as I had only ever walked outside once before that moment and was terrified of slipping over and having to start all over again.

I was leaving. And just wearing casual, realworld civilian clothes – jeans instead of those big, shapeless, pyjamas, felt like a big psychological step up: the staff see you differently. You are no longer theirs.

I said goodbye to the nurses, my surgeon; said goodbye to my physio: the lift doors closed, and we went downstairs to the entrance, me and my walking stick, as I leaned on D heavily and we figured out how to pack me, and my newfangled legs, into the front of Mr Mitomi’s car.

As we drove off, I felt queasy, seeing the institution I had been in so long get smaller and move away into the distance; the straggle of electicity lines and all the shops and buildings and cars and people emerging and disappearing as we entered the city of Yokosuka and real life; the sheer velocity and level of movement after being stationary or self-powered for so long disorientating. I am not one for car sickness, but I felt a bit dizzy, lost – while at the same time unencumbered and newly liberated.

We drove along the coast of Hayama: past the Imperial summer palace, where the guards stand year round to protect the emperor and his family outside the gates, as the rain slapped the windscreen and the sea opened up into vast vistas and the hospital suddenly seemed to me like the most claustrophobic place on earth. I felt as though I could hardly even breathe just remembering it, wheareas ten minutes previously it was all that I knew. I had been scared to leave it; unwilling, even, but now as we sped away from it and it came into a different, new focus, it was like a kaleidoscopic vision, a reversed telescope of myopic constriction in which I realized the full extent of my long, addled confinement, and the ceilings seemed miraculously tiny like a doll’s house; my room just a dot in the world in which I was stuck, but deluding myself that I was free and happy, when really I was just dealing with the day to day and suppressing all anxieties as much as I humanly could while in the very necessary, and lengthy process of healing.

Meandering along the coastline to Zushi, and then to Kamakura, former ancient capital and Zen centre of Japan, I was unexpectedly dazzled anew by its beauty, even though I have lived here for twenty years. When you have only had visual banality, and pastel pinks and creams, and sense-nulling hospital realities for so long, to see classical Japanese temples and traditional buildings, the boulevard of cherry trees in the rain; the umbrellas, the black, shining lacquer, the wood, the sheer refinement of it, I felt, almost, as if I were seeing it all for the first time.

The road up to Kita-Kamakura, the quieter, lusher, less tourist-infested area at the top of a mountain valley where we actually live, was joyously familiar to me but also so lush, green, dazzling – so wet and verdant and beautiful I felt almost alienated by it. The species of azalea that was flowering in one of the temples, a deep, dark venemous pink, looked so salacious and drenched with colour against the verdant backdrop as we drove past it looked like paradise.

When we got to our street I felt overwhelmed. It was difficult getting out of the car, and it was extremely hard getting up the steps and into the house. It was as if I had lost all the abilities I had developed in the hospital and were bungling each movement, stolidly stuck and hobbled and devoid of free movement (they had warned me about this: everyone finds it extremely challenging the first week back apparently; your body is completely unadjusted, and going from the space of the walking circuit and the physio room, having the freedom of the wheelchair to vent your frustrations and roam virtually inch of the hospital and the gardens as I did, to suddenly being reduced to a more cramped and unergonomic space – and our house is full to pieces with objets and curiosities and old Japanese furniture that get in your way, was perplexing to the joints and mental wiring and I practically had to be hoisted into the house and onto the new rental bed into the kitchen; the place I must stay and sleep and live for the next few months until my legs can make it up the stairs. My world has been reduced.

At first, on that first day, last Saturday, despite my great relief on the one hand that I was out, away from the clutches of the nurses and the food and the slowly exhausting hubbub of the ward, at the same time I almost felt panicked at being so closed in. In just one room. I was depressed at my knee situation, really tired, and as I lay on the bed, with the cold grey outside, I found myself actually missing the hospital. Confused. I didn’t know what I was feeling, and just wanted to sleep to block it all out.

From one perspective, it was quite interesting – I had some brief insight into how incarcerated, institutionalised inmates might feel leaving prison, a conflicting maelstrom of claustro and agoraphobia and not knowing where you belong or should be, but I didn’t like the sense of feeling so out of control, no longer the owner of my life. I just lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling.

But a long, long, sleep can cure many things. Eleven hours of the deepest sleep – both of us sleep so much better with the other in the room – was a sturdy, solid tunnel back to the other side. I finally had dreams again. Vivid ones, a nightmare, but I slept so well and profoundly and woke up in my own home. Back. Conscious. A sunny day – much happier, delighted to have my possessions around me and my perfumes (I asked for certain bottles and vials to be brought down from upstairs: PERFUME: just so decadent and full and delightful and practically evil in its sensuality compared to the anodyne, bland restraints of the hospital, where I tried, and failed, as you know, to fully restrain myself but nevertheless, did (for me, anyway). No. The entire time I was there I was ultra-sensitive and paranoid about smell, way too worried, and now, back home, it was time for me to bask. BASK. And slowly uncoil.

Playing music loud in the kitchen I just found that I was starting to spontaneously cry from the sheer pleasure. The total release of it. From being cooped up all that time, tamped down, wanting stimulation to get through the days but also always trying to be sensitive to others; watching films with headphones on, or with the sound turned down low with English subtitles so as not to disturb the patients in the room next door; of constantly being aware, basically; of all the other people coming in and out of my room; of being the ‘weird foreigner’ who refused to have the bright fluorescent lights in his room, and brought in his own lamps, like Colette.

Smells, perfume: I have had a week of leisure and beautifully brain-dead relaxation. Which is why I haven’t written anything, and haven’t wanted to. I have just wanted to absorb. And not think. To move beyond the hospital by means outside of myself, by other people’s words and actions. To be entertained. Re-Westernized. To be a couch potato, a bed slob. Immerse myself in easy pleasures.

I promised to myself that on leaving there I would do nothing but watch TV programmes on Netflix for a week in a marathon of binge viewing (there was no internet in my room in hospital; just RuPaul’s Drag race initially, and then I would perhaps, possibly, move on to something else. Initially, I watched 28 episodes over a few days, continuously,from morning until night: toxically or intoxicatingly gay depending on your perspective: outrageous, foul-mouthed, but soulful and real at the same time. I just needed camp and humour and ridiculousness and anything to dislodge me from the prim and properness of the hospital and the internalized Japaneseness. And I have loved it, actually – it has been fantastic therapy, just doing my exercises and trying to get used to walking around the kitchen while blasting out Madonna records and trying not to dance because it could be dangerous and EATING WHAT I WANT. All the fresh fruit. And D’s cooking. Oh lord how unbelievably good that Indian takeway was the other day. Heaven. I could hardly believe how delicious it tasted.

And I have just marinated myself totally in perfume. Layer upon layer. I didn’t shower for five days. Or was it six? I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t care. I had to retreat and recalibrate myself from the inside, and lie on my dais inhaling scent and indulging my senses. A total sloth. Instead, I washed on occasion but covered myself and the bedspace with pure vetiver essential oil – so deep and decontaminating and deodorizing that my clothes hardly smelled at all when I finally decided to face the contortions of the shower ( a kind of nightmare of moving from chair to chair downwards with D holding on to me for dear life ), a coating of oils, both my own and from nature, that blended with all the perfumes next to my bed in a wonderful, self-deluding melange, just luxuriate, spray: spray, pour, dab, stink up the house – fuck it.

The first perfume I sprayed on was Caron’s Nocturnes. It was lavish and bliss. I have discovered that, contrary to what I would have expected, I really like tropical white flowers against a backdrop of vetiver. What seems anti-intuitive – that cool, deep, dry/wet, earthy, post-monsoon mystical masculine essence of roots, juxtaposed against the febrile fecundity of the most luscious white florals, might seem like a study in opposites, but when I used to always walk up the hill- and I hope to again, despite the terribly steep incline at the top – in the rainy season I would come home at night in the muggy steam of the mountain and smell the vetiver grass hidden in the shadows (it is used in Asia to stave off floods), so dark and deep you can almost feel yourself being dragged down into the soil; and, amidst the droplets of mist and moisture, jasmine, honeysuckle, and another white flower whose name I don’t know whose smell is positively indecent it is so animalic and single-minded in desiring to be pollinated, clammy almost, too much, certainly, but overpowering in a way that is positively delirium inducing, especially after a drink or two and the dull odours of the working day.

Nocturnes is not like this, but it does have vetiver and vanilla in the base, and the stephanotis/ jasmine/ mandarin aldehyde brightness of the top was the perfect start of my delicious nose mayhem, like a colouring book finally being being filled in, a monochrome man being doused upwardly in thick, redolent notes of flowers, fruits, spices, unguents and unsuitable bases.

Trying or wearing perfumes like this would have seemed just over the edge inside, hospitalized, but here I can just do what the hell I like, my homemade patchouli incense drifting over there by the window (inexpensive camphor Japanese o-koh sticks coated in the essential oil and left to dry….love it; clouds of the most sinuous patchouli smoke tinting the room’s surfaces as I indulge and see what is next); the thick, vetiver oil on my blankets and clothes drying down into tindered, Indonesian mellowness.

I reach out for Sin Garden, Boudoir’s flanker from 2007; a scent I was unaware of previously until recently (I love the original Boudoir and consider it genius; absolute knickerbocker naughtiness perfected; exactly the right balance of cheeky beauty and filth). And Sin Garden, in my hospital bed, an old bottle, from the nozzle, smelled extremely sinful indeed, in that context, like a woman’s armpit unwashed for weeks but still untowardly erotic and feral. I think this must have been the sandalwood musk of the base that had collected, during its time of unuse, in the last spray around the mouthpiece of the flacon, but was not representative of the scent as a whole which, when sprayed and allowed to breathe, was merely – but quite enjoyably – a precursor of the later, standard vanillic fare we have come to know so well in contemporary flower bomb perfumery. Also a successor, perhaps of Rochas’ quietly torrid Tocade from the early nineties. Heliotropic and gentle in the opening fusillade, vanilla and softness in the base, I have quite enjoyed it.

If you want ‘sin’, though, and sometimes I really do, then you truly can’t get very much more licentious and wanton than Ferre by Ferre, a nineties perfume I wrote a little about in hospital and which lay there in the drawer next to my bed like a tight, frightening hand grenade, but which is so sexfully ripe and bustiered Monica Bellucci it could practically turn a gay man straight. For me, this is the real flowerbomb and utterly seductive.

Another perfume I had hidden away, but which was quite reprehensible in a repetitive, uncoloured, clinical environment, is Attar by Parfums Isabell. A quiet shocker, this one, replete and of itself and kind of perfect, if you like your smells to be naughty. I think this was probably the first ever ‘dirty’ perfume I ever bought.

Long disappeared now and probably an obscure perfume to be talking about (although it wouldn’t surprise me if some readers remember it with some nostalgia), back in 1996, before ‘niche’ really took off as a concept, this range of flower-inspired perfumes by New York florist Robert Isabell was released, and I remember coming across the full range in a now-closed department store near where I worked in Kannai, and being curiously transfixed by this perfume in particular. Back then, I don’t think I could have identified this as being an spiced, animalic rose incense – to me, it simply smelled filthy and reprobate, but compelling and rounded at the same time, something that made you blush, like a lick across the face, the base compound composed probably of labdanum and civet, but which blended beautifully with the soukness of the savoury spice and the dust-pollened flowerheads of the top.

A friend of mine was so taken with this perfume when she stayed at our house for a period of time that I ended up giving it to her as a present (it ended up getting smashed at her house back in Dorset and drenching the carpet beneath in lust), and I hadn’t seen it again, until a couple of months ago – I found it on my ‘last night out’ before all this knee surgery nonsense – for almost two decades. Coming home here and wearing beastly amounts of the perfume was thus a great memory jolt. I wore it the other day, as I lay in my unwashed squalor, in large and obscene amounts on one of my arms and was still shocked by just how sticky and rude this perfume is. It lasted all day. It is insatiable. It is the scent of a sex addict.

Reve Indien by Fragonard is probably more my own kind of skin scent for the sheets, less overblown, and so nice to return to physicality again after the self-containment of the hospital ward. This kind of sink-into-you, balsam plumbed softness is definitely my kind of bag. Though overly alcoholic at the outset, it is a powdery vanilla amber opoponax blend that soon settles down to a delicious layer of kissable goodness: an unbothered Shalimar, without the pomp and circumstance and the carefully strategized accord gradation from citrus and orris to leather. Less complex (and clever), I find this Fragonard scent to be more just a simple, sensuous liquid you can trust.

My sample of Rose de Nuit, sent to me in hospital along with a whole selection of rose and orange blossom vials in a wonderful bubble-wrapped selection pack by Tora, I have found to be more problematic. Difficult. Purposefully forfending you against liking it too much. Unbalanced. And this is odd, because although I have only smelled this perfume once before – at the Serge Lutens shop at the Palais Royal in Paris over a decade ago, where I bought Sarrassins and Cuir Mauresque (when in fact I should probably have bought Tubereuse Criminelle and Fourreau Noir – an ambered lavender perfume I still crave), I remember smelling Rose de Nuit on the counter there and thinking ah yes, leather jacket, very 80’s, very Knowing: that neon red pink rose of a certain ilk that was in vogue at that time and which Serge Lutens was obviously still hankering after (his first scent for Shiseido, Nombre Noir, was not so very far away from that style either; all those plummy damascones and maquillaged,, lipsticked poses).

But something in this is off. Either it has turned, or it is one of the ‘remakes’ that the Lutens store is passing off as the originals. I have known about this first hand for a long time, from my own purchases of the standard line (Un Bois De Vanille was criminally changed, for example), but also realized this fact keenly last summer at my brother’s house in London, where Olivia took out some treasured Miel De Bois from her vast and very enviable niche collection and I was very excited to see the honeyed weirdness that I thought had been shelved from the permanent range. However, not only were the labels on the box completely different, but the scent inside was nothing like as shocking or amazing as the boxy honeyed urine of the original – probably Lutens’ most contentious and divisive scent (the friend I was writing about who loved Isabell’s unwashed morning after kiss, Attar also loved this; alongside Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarette, these are the only scents that she likes ie. DIRTY). Some scents are supposed to be that way, though. Something has happened chez l’oncle Serge, and Rose De Nuit to me just smells like a wrong amalgam of rose molecules, some animalics, and a nasty pepper that reminds me of a very difficult meal I once had at a Thai restaurant in Yokohama. The waitress kept assuring me that westerners were unlikely to enjoy one particular item on the menu, a pepper soup of some kind, but I assured her that I LOVED pepper in large quantities and it would be fine. She was of course right: although I usually enjoy everything there is at Thai restaurants, this was inedible, as though an entire pot of black pepper had been poured into some mysterious fish broth, just unpalatable and impossible to get down. The confusion of notes in this particular sample of Rose De Nuit definitely reminds me of that meal. It just doesn’t work for me. And in any case, when it comes to retro, I am not often convinced. I prefer to wear vintage originals or else something modern; not a throwback that doesn’t quite have all the necessary ingredients to pull off the effect. Give me Jean Marc Sinan instead for an eighties animalic rose. It reads more convincingly.

There are no such problems with Rose Musc. I wasn’t even sure who this perfume was by – which is quite good when approaching a scent unbiased and openminded and applying practically the entire contents to your person, but any rate, this is a gorgeous, rich, longlasting rose and musk scent, soft and pale pink in the opening, with a carnal labdanum and ambergris base that clings to the skin lovingly and potently all day. One can imagine it being part of an all-day tryst, mingling with sweat and sex and yet still maintaining its essential composure. At times almost suggestive of an updated and modernized Ombre Rose parfum by Brosseau, with its hints of pressed face powder and warm skin,this is an appealing, if in some ways simplistic scent that makes a perfect partner to the other rose I fell in love with in hospital by Sonoma Scent Studios, Velvet Rose. The two are like night and day, but complementary.

Blossom Love, the new perfume by Amouage, is another marshmallow potion for the sensual and openly amorous, based on rose, cherry blossom and an amaretto almond/vanilla theme that I naturally immediately take to. There are few flavours or smells on earth that I am more born to like more than bitter, sweet, lovely almond, be it in the form of annin dofu, the Chinese dessert based on apricot kernels and almond paste that forms the heart of Serge Lutens’ Louve ( I also like his Rahat Loukhoum – give me Turkish delight!), or a drink of Amaretto liqueur itself (straight, on ice, or mixed with milk). I have considered getting L’Artisan’s cherrytastic Traversee du Bosphore numerous times and still might (though I am always slightly troubled by the leather/apple/tulip ‘Istanbul’ish high accord you have to get through to get to the gourmand amande I am always searching for), and am immediately in favour of anything almondy to add to my more sometime sweet-toothed repertoire.

Arab perfumery uses this sweet, baklava like combination quite often in its female-oriented fragrances, and one of my favourites is the inexpensive, (and perfectly constructed) Bakhoor Al Arais by Swiss Arabian, which I have written about before. But I also once bought an even cheaper oil roll on in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, which has a large Arab/Pakistani community and shops hidden away where you can buy all the reekingest, strong, sweet, gorgeous middle-eastern/South East Asian perfumes you could possibly want for the price of a single high street brand name disaster. These perfumes usually pack a punch, but I remember an occasion when we walked down the hill from our house to the station one summer and I was wearing this particular scent and we were both loving it. Almondy, sweet and smooth and balanced as hell. Gorgeous.

For some reason I often really suit this kind of sweet, enveloping scent (so edible and suggestive on a warm late spring/early summer evening), and if I didn’t know about the existence of such cheap alternatives and this were the first time smelling this kind of smell in the Amouage, I would probably fall in love. It has all the stated ingredients – pink flowers, tonka bean, ylang ylang, amber, in finely rendered proportion and on first application is rather appealing, although in the base there is a Montale-ish synthetic oudh musk (the ‘suede’ note? )not mentioned in the listed notes that I find a tad flat and generic. The packaging is delightful- a cherry blossom pink on the box and the bottle that match the perfume inside perfectly, but at up to eighty times less expensive, I think I will personally wait until the next time I am back home in England and find myself fancying a foray into the Other Birmingham, where the perfumes, if not ‘sinful’, exactly, are equally enticing and pleasing on the skin, and can be gathered up for your pleasure, at a tiny fraction of the price.

31 Comments

Filed under Flowers

SEVENTEEN THINGS I HAVE REALIZED IN HOSPITAL ( vol. 7)

IMG_2672

16. PEOPLE ARE GOOD
I really do believe this, and not just because every day I am serenaded with muzak renditions of Disney’s A Whole New World and Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are ( alongside Richard Clayderman’s shimmering Ballade Pour Adeline at 11.30 am.)
I think I may have misguidedly given the impression that I have been locked away in some grim institution led by severe, unsmiling Japanese staff who forcefeed me fish. This is not the case, even if I feel that I have eaten enough fish to feed the five thousand. I just sometimes wish there had been those nice loaves to go with them as well.
But seriously. People are good; well meaning; kind-hearted and compassionate with the right intentions: and I am not only talking about the staff in this hospital or all the friends that have visited me or all the well-wishers on here or the support I have had from people I know from around the world, but about human beings in general. I believed it before, and I believe it even more so now.
Sometimes I meet people : care-worn adults; cynical, reticent students, who have decided that no one can be trusted and that all unknown people in their lives must be treated with suspicion: but to me this is closing yourself off from life and all kinds of possibilities. I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t any malicious and twisted people around: there are. For whatever reasons- innate, circumstantial, or both, these people have turned fully towards the dark and the negative, but my instincts, very strong, are piqued immediately with such people in any case: the warning antennae know.

 

I really feel that mort people are basically good, even if far from perfect, innately. We human beings do of course have inherent, seemingly inbuilt vital flaws: greed, cruelty, lust for power, violence, fear of The Other; and many other unpleasant traits that essentially stem from insecurity and a terror of being left behind or failing in some way. It isn’t easy for a person to feel secure and truly happy in their own skin, hence our snobbery, one-upmanship, shallow, meaningless materialism,the pretentious vagaries of fashion, and any other aspect of the weaknesses of human culture that serve to make us feel, temporarily at least – because it never lasts – that we are ok, better, superior.
No. Human beings are very far from perfect ( which is why I have never been able to take the Garden Of Eden mythology seriously. It is just too illogical:
if these creatures, swanning about innocently in this primordial paradise had been created ‘perfect’, by the Supreme Being, to begin with : flawless, immaculate, sinless, surely they wouldn’t have ever ‘sinned’, or even been capable of it to begin with,because of their divine, harmonious, and faultless construction. To then punish them both ( for using the bodies that they had been bestowed with, that they had no hand in; for following their instincts that were presumably part of their design from the beginning ) seems ridiculous and ludicrous- sick, even – and don’t tell me it was the fault of some hissing, egg-laying tree snake.

 

All that guilt and misogyny and ‘honour’ , all that deeply ingrained shame and unseeing judgement and penitence, the desire to be perfect when it was always impossible from the start…God what a lot we have inherited!
But the atrocities and horrors of the world aside, going on since time immemorial but continuing even now ( do you think that the killing and hatred will ever stop?) I still feel inside myself that despite all of the unthinking insanity and deep hatred of difference – because most people are so susceptible to simplistic, button-pushing influence – I believe, ultimately, that people are essentially good. In here I have felt it very keenly.

 

 

 

17. I really am completely, and utterly, obsessed by smell

 

The entire time I have been here, every hour, minute and second of each day I am conscious of smell. Hyperconscious, really, almost problematically so. I feel that I have breathed in every atom of the hospital, from its foulness to its over familiar, quotidian hum.
At night, I wheel slowly round the ward and can’t stop myself assessing the odours emanating from the shared rooms. Inhale the air analytically, as I pass.
The patients lie there, encircled by tent curtains under bright lights: silent: but aware of each other; you can tell. Some rooms smell foetid; others merely warm with breath, but I pass each one then pass my own and try to see how bad it seems to smell, from the outside ( even if in many ways I will be immune ); my own body smell and the traces of perfumes, and the weeks that I have spent here, commingling.

 

 
Note:

 

 

 

Apologies for the length, the incoherence, the rambling, the ponderous bullshit ( which has turned out even worse than I imagined it would as my phone – oh thank the lord I will be able to write on a proper computer with immediate internet access: this phone has mangled up all of the spacing and pictures, and again, won’t let me correct anything properly).

Usually I wouldn’t put something up that is so shoddy. But I just need to expurgate everything tonight. I don’t want any of this lingering about me tomorrow.
This all started out as a piece about Japanese food. I spent a whole day writing about it and then deleted it all by mistake, which made me so angry I could hardly contain myself ( that was the day I had that huge problem with the flirtatious nurse and blew up in the x-ray room. In the end, by the way, we just kind of learned to live with each other and ‘made up’- though she never again really looked me in the eye……)
A few days after that, to just pleasantly while away time in other parts of the hospital, I decided to just write about some aspects of my experience here, and it somehow just turned into this sprawling mess that I didn’t quite know what to do with ( and the whole thing tapped out letter by letter on my iPhone….)
Really, of course, it needs to be massively edited and reordered. Possibly posted in small segments. With proper spacing, and everything the way I like it.

And some readers may possibly stop reading, because of today’s manic bombardment, but if that is the case then I am sorry, but so be it.

Ideally it would have turned into a proper account of my time in here, but time has caught up with me. I am leaving tomorrow. And I instinctively feel that I just have to put this up now, to leave these feelings here in the hospital, like a magnitude of combined sensations pressed into one.

From here I will be writing things differently.

Tomorrow, at 10 am, I am going home.

26 Comments

Filed under Flowers

SEVENTEEN THINGS I HAVE REALIZED IN THE HOSPITAL ( vol. 6)

 

IMG_2094
14. I am really quite good in a wheelchair

I am! And this is surprising. I am famous in my family, and all those who know me, for my hopelessly hamfisted clumsiness and tragic ( if often amusing for others ) lack of spatial awareness. It is taken as a given that I should never drive. It was confirmed in ‘intelligence tests’ we took at school when I was 15 or so and ranked in the country’s lowest percentile when it came to problem solving in this category ; ‘if shape A is reversed, which of the following shapes would it be?’ requested the alarming, multiple-choice question ( the page was absolutely full of them), but try as I might, in my head I simply couldn’t turn it around, in the same way that at home, I literally am incapable of working out which room is directly above or below me. An architect I certainly could never have been.

I am not sure precisely how much spatial awareness is required to drive a traditional hand powered wheelchair, but I do know from the moment I got into mine for the first time, it was like a new duck taking to the water – effortless. Where many of the wheelies move slowly, with little, unsure, grasps of the wheel, I knew intuitively how to curve, fit through narrow spaces, and come to a sudden halt. Necessary, because I have often been caught ‘speeding’ ( it’s actually really rather fun- like riding a bicycle as a kid ) and told I might crash into other patients.
In any case, from the moment I was allowed by the doctors to use one, this brilliantly designed vehicle represented energy and some freedom; I was no longer confined to my bed, could get outside and round the entirety of the hospital, and could burn through some built up frustrations.

 

 

15. I like solitude even more than I realized

 

Have I been lonely, seven weeks ( and counting ): the single foreigner patient, the jovial but aloof one, stuck in the only private room on the fourth floor rehabilitation wing of a dreary, out-of-the-way suburban hospital?
Not at all.
There have been moments of claustrophobia, and anguish, of course – particularly at the beginning, which as you know was a horrible kind of purgatory for me, but I always knew that I had D at the end of the line, and in those first, hideous, oppressive and overwhelming post-operative days he was like an angel, comforting, patient, and constantly there by my side.
Later, however, once I had got used to my second room, I also got used to the solitude. I have actually kind of loved it. The truth is, I find being alone infinitely preferable to small talk or fake conversation, the repressed and fixed phrases of the Japanese office, uncomfortable, overdone banter, or vacant-eyed, glib repartee. My visits, I have found quite exhausting. I wanted them, needed them, certainly, and have been extremely grateful to all the people (many ) who have taken the time to come down to this hospital in the middle of nowhere just to see me for an hour or so, but after they have gone ( I find I get overanimated and super energized during the conversations) I sink into a coma of sudden tiredness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers