- Could you tell me a little about your background, where did you grow up and when did you embark on your professional journey?
- What captivated you about perfumes and perfume-making?
- Travel seems to be an important part of your life, how do these journeys inform your work?
- Why did you choose Japan as your current base? Does Japanese culture inspire you in some ways?
- Can you describe your day-to-day life – How does the day usually start and end for you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What keeps you focused and passionate today?
- Has your relationship with your job changed over time?
- Any new upcoming project you would like to share with us?
1 I am from Birmingham in the centre of the UK and I lived in London and Rome before coming to Japan. I have always loved reading books, and was known by my friends for being an avid letter writer ( I would quite often send people thirty page letters from wherever I was), but it wasn’t until I started trying to capture smells and perfume in words that I realized where my real niche as a writer lay. One day I just started an evocation of Guerlains’ Mitsouko on a paper and found it incredibly exciting – the challenge of making something as ephemeral and ungraspable as a perfume come alive on the page. I then came up with an idea for a book, a guide to perfume note by note, found a literary agent, started my perfume blog The Black Narcissus, wrote some articles on olfaction for some magazines and then ended up publishing ‘Perfume: In Search Of Your Signature Scent’ last year.
2 Perfume is something unnameable (if you don’t know its identity), yet very emotionally arresting. It stamps itself on time, meaning that you can relieve moments in life with it, accentuate feelings and experiences with other people: it is a form of invisible bonding. Aesthetically, it should be appreciated the way music is – as an art form. One thing that fascinated me as a teenager growing up on perfume was its volatility and changeability; if you take a pair of shoes out of a box, or a record out of its sleeve, it remains the same, every time, but the second you put a perfume on your skin, it is already evaporating and evolving; shedding layers and revealing meaning . I would be obsessed with the top notes of a particular perfume and then be perplexed how different it would be a few hours later, trying to understand the inner workings and coming to enjoy each scent in all its stages. The best perfumes are like mini chamber symphonies.
3 From a young age I was very interested in other countries. I was perfectly satisfied where I was growing up, but also had a boundless curiosity about what other places were like as well. Studying foreign languages at school was like a gateway into another consciousness, and going to Paris for the first time as a twelve year old was mind-blowing for me in terms of taste and smell, as were the arid smells of eucalyptus trees in the hot afternoon sun of Crete when I was seventeen; each place imprints itself on you in unique ways; the scent of the plumeria trees down by the Mekong river in Laos; the pungent plum blossom of Japan in January; they are signifiers that make your existence. It is not only childhood smells that evoke emotions but for me an ongoing process that perfume allows me to self consciously punctuate in time. I guess in some ways I am trying to preserve time in the way that photographs immortalise visual memory.
4 I came to Japan on a whim in my late twenties as I wanted to immerse myself in a culture that was totally different from the one I was brought up in and was nothing like any other I had ever experienced. Japan is fascinating on a number of levels in that it is an ancient and very complex culture that was sealed off from the rest of the world for centuries and thus retains an inherent ‘mystery’ which my naturally very analytical nature is always trying to decipher. Sometimes I admit I am flummoxed and frustrated by the impenetrability, but in general I am always in awe of the dignity and finesse of the people as well as the fine tuned aesthetics that are ingrained in this society. It is a place I feel safe, inspired, and creative.
5 I teach English for university entrance examinations part time at an evening preparatory school. The other days I research and write about the perfumes I get sent by independent perfumers in the post, the fragrances I discover at departments stores and specialist perfumeries in Tokyo when out and about, or the vintage perfumes I collect from flea markets and antique stores. My perfume reviews are not hermetically sealed but absorb everything that is going on in my life and in the world; they get absorbed into my Black Narcissus posts like a diary.
6 I am naturally passionate (Neil actually means ‘passion’). On days when I am tired or feeling less naturally energised I just read the New York Times or a novel or watch films on my projector, but there are always ideas for new pieces circulating at the back of my brain and then usually a new perfume that I smell will stir me into writing something. Life itself always provides new impetus.
7 Sometimes I feel a little jaded by the sheer volume of new perfume releases (it seems now that anyone can be a ‘perfumer; if they just mix a few oils together and come up with a ‘concept’, when the true geniuses of the art form like Jacques Guerlain or Edmond Roudnitska were more like alchemists that created real magic. There is a huge difference for me between a masterpiece perfume and something just reads as ‘quite a nice smell’, but on the other hand, there is always that promise of the next ‘holy grail’; I don’t think I am ever unexcited when the postman knocks on the door with a new scented parcel.
8 I am writing a book on Japan, and how living here has impacted my life in a profound and unexpected ways (like becoming a cabaret performer!)It might even become a whole life memoir, I am still pondering different angles on how to approach it all; my life thus far has been very intense and I don’t know how I would fit it all in….
Getting a set of scent samples from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is like getting a box of chocolates from an adventurous chocolatier dabbling in strange flavours that you savour and morsel and wonder over confluences. Some you love, some you are not sure of, some you take a nibble and pass over to the person next to you to get their verdict, but you always love the sense of boldness and playful experimentation, the inventiveness, all in the interest of pleasure, and nailing an emotion.
Viva La Frida! immediately caught my attention : a green, cassis-y (actually guava) fruit floral taunt that I would love to walk into a party in summer having spritzed myself with it just at the right moment prior to entry to get maximum olfactory attention and glee, as watermelons miraculously appear before your eyes, lush and wrapped in dark green foliage, hidden jasmine and gardenia flowers: a burst of summer freshness. The base is light and green (Cristalle….Vert De Bohème;) easy on the skin; the whole unusual, fun.
”Frida’s vivacious fruit paintings are some of her most luscious and evocative, as well as deeply life affirming.
I have long wanted to create this fragrance filled to the brim with fruit, flowers, and watery green leaves from Frida’s own Mexican cornucopia. The world that she created at La Casa Azul was brightly colored: her house, her clothes, her jewelry, the flowers she wore in her hair, and her entire persona. (No doubt through all of her physical and emotional pain, the colors and fruit imagery were panacea).
Viva la Frida!
To be able to paint a vision of Frida’s garden in scent is heaven. I love Viva la Frida’s stark contrasts: the sense of watery refreshment needed in the heat of summer, the glorious colors and flavors, down to the deep shadows from the bright sun onto parched earth.’
Maybe next year.
Three weeks ago, on the last day of term, D travelled up with me to the city of Atsugi. We checked into a hotel there, met after work at our favourite Indian restaurant that caters almost exclusively to the diaspora and feels like a vacation in itself, and wandered the streets. Now that travel is off, it is fascinating to explore deeper in places you already know: Atsugi is a fully non-picturesque place and emphatically non-touristic, but it has a special energy that is more down to earth (home, uncoincidentally, to yakuza and other gangsters: the teenagers shout louder, are slouchier, very un-Tokyo; there is a certain buoyancy and don’t-give-a-fuckness that is refreshing, plus a hilarious novelty in the fact that we were staying there for the first two days of the summer holiday.)
It was roiling hot; absurd. I needed perfumes that would meet the time, something fresh and invigorating for the morning, maybe a more sensual scent for when the sun went down. I had my Discovery Box of J F Schwarzlose perfumes with me, having noted already previously that they were all very unfussy and bright, with an energy and newness that felt perfect for exploring the backstreets of a city somewhere in the depths of Kanagawa, far away from the stricter fashionisms of Yokohama, Ginza, Shibuya, and Shinjuku.
Berlin is a city we spent several summers a decade ago and both miss : the artistic anarchy meets elegance; the underground, permissive hedonism and messy, diverse, beautiful people and architecture. The original Schwarzlose parfums from the 1920’s would have been entirely different one presumes, suited to the powdery and floral musky times before the horrors of fascism rose up once again and smashed it all into nothing.
Resurrected recently as a new embodiment of current Berlin, smelling the range as a whole you can easily imagine a flock of young new things meeting on a street corner in Kreuzberg, each wearing one of these niche-ish but approachable modern scents that would fill the air with a sense of the fun of the evening ahead. Rather than overthought and overagonized fragrances (not haute parfumerie; more like pleasing pret a porter); these are the kind of scents that if you were staying in the city and stumbled across a boutique, you would probably just sniff and walk away unthinkingly with a bottle or two for the immediate appeal. I loved IA-33 immediately.
From the brand:
‘In the 50s 1A-33 was the decade-long bestseller of the traditional Berlin perfume brand. In addition to the perfume, there was a large range of soaps and powders of 1A-33. And even today the extraordinary fragrance formula of the noble perfume convinces with the lovely lime-tree blossom, magnolia and jasmine in the heart notes and the fresh top notes of mandarin and spicy pink pepper. The lime-tree blossom extract symbolizes the famous “Berliner Luft”; the air of Berlin, which swings around the beautiful boulevard of Unter den Linden in the middle of the city – but not only that makes 1A-33 a Berlin scent: The name of the fragrance itself embodies the German capital. It is based on the former license plate on Berlin cars. 1A stands for Berlin, the number 33 for the company’s location in the district of Moabit.‘
I tend to struggle with linden/ lime blossom notes in perfume, much as am mesmerized by the smell of the flowers themselves on the breeze; a sickly-dreamy scent, almost hops-like, that drugs you into a fantasy on a hot summer’s afternoon. I do love how Olivia Giacobetti used linden, however, in her well-loved La Chasse Aux Papillons for L’Artisan Parfumeur, with tuberose and orange flower, which this lovely reminds me of a little: 1A-33 doesn’t share the ‘French flair’ in that scent but it is similarly joyous and exuberant. In fact, although the base accord can’t live up to the opening (just an attenuated version of the beginning, slightly woody, a little boring), the top notes of this perfume are to die for, the mandarin and linden-jasmine a burst of pure optimism that smells more like neroli and is a scent option I absolutely need in my life.. It was the perfect scent to come down to breakfast in at the hotel, showered, ‘yey it’s the summer holidays!’ before meandering randomly through the city until we ended up having ‘Crap River Date Vol. 3’ down by the Sagami river, which in truth, though thoroughly nondescript in many ways, we had to ourself, sittingt under a wisteria tree, blissfully happy, feeling extraordinarily cinematic.
The other perfume I would like a full bottle of from Schwarzlose and which I wore out the previous evening successfully is Treffpunkt um 8 Uhr (‘Rendezvous at 8 o ‘clock ): a rasping vetiver masquerading as a mangotastic floral that gradually cedes to the aforementioned vetiver but with a glass ceiling of powderiness to preserve a more conciliatory texture.
“ In the golden twenties of Berlin it symbolized the legendary Berlin nights, in which the international art scene came together. Celebrities, such as Marlene Dietrich or Josephine Baker, were well-received guests in the clubs of the city and contributed to the glitz and glamour of the scene. Treffpunkt 8 Uhr was considered a sporty men’s fragrance at that time. But that did not stop the famous French dancer and actress Josephine Baker from wearing it. Today the fragrance is officially a unisex perfume and convinces with the fresh ginger and mango chord in the top note and the seductive vetiver heart in the base note. There’s no better olfaction translation for the anticipation of a date that is hinted in the name of the fragrance! “
Trying the other fragrances from Schwarzlose on the balcony one evening, Rausch (‘the ecstacy of a Berlin night’) didn’t do it for either of us simply because it is just another cypriol/oud/harsh ambered wood number that is probably perfectly well constructed but which I simply don’t want to smell any more; D took more to Leder 6, formerly known as Fetisch, which is a soft, supple sweet leather that is worth trying if you are a leatherhead looking for some new positions. On him it smelled quite nice, if undaunting (which, having seen some of the basement clubs in Berlin firsthand, is not necessarily an entirely bad thing).
Leather & Saffron Flower.
Milk & Vanilla Pure: Jungle Essence™.
Incense essence & Styrax resinoid.
More obviously ‘clubby’ and bright is Altruist, which Schwarzlose rather awkwardly describes as a perfume for ‘feminists, cyborgs and survivors’ but which for me is more simply a contemporary twist on the 90’s gay club freshies like Armani Acqua Di Gio Pour Homme (but better). Winner of the 2017 Art & Olfaction award for best independent perfume, this club cologne is very zingy and zesty (bergamot, lemon, ‘aqual’, ‘Ginger Pure Jungle Essence’, nutmeg, Rose superessence, vetiver, cedarwood and ambramone – and much more) : sprayed on a t-shirt before going out I would not contradict the idea that this perfume has’ transparency, imagination and contrast’, despite its dancefloor familiarity.
And speaking of the dancefloor – definitely one of the joys of being in Berlin, which lives for techno and electronic music (we have had some fantastic nights out there), the company also has two disco roses that are quite nice and would smell great on a newbie who is debuting on the club scene. 20/20 is a modern rose patchouli you have smelled before but which is well-balanced, convincing – she whispers, shouts in your ear over the belting music, cradling her cocktail with black nails; you look her straight into the eyes (this perfume would probably draw you in).
‘20I20 celebrates the centennial of Berlin’s ‘Roaring, Golden 1920s’ – a legendary era of glam, excess and irreverence – internationally known as “The Roaring 1920’s”. The formula of 20I20 is a contemporary interpretation of the theme: A burst of floral, fruity sweetness mingles with spicy patchouli and cool freshness of rose and geranium – 1920’s glamour reissued for the new Twenties and today’s fragrance lovers of generation X, Y & Z.The scent is a new interpretation of CHIC, Schwarzlose’s iconic 1920’s perfume, that was a sensation 100 years ago with its fine blend of patchouli and velvety sweetness. CHIC’s original formula was determined in an elaborate process from archived original bottles from the 1920s and interpreted in a modern way by J.F. Schwarzlose perfumer Véronique Nyberg (MANE). Tradition inspires creativity when 1920 meets 2020 – in Berlin, the place where anything goes.’
I think I prefer Trance, which smells like a freshly slapped arse; rose-cheeked powder, sensual, marred slightly by a generic Montale-ish ending, but potentially very sexy indeed – powdery with Turkish roses, spices, ciste absolute and absinth, for a slinky-dink winking night seraphim.
Atsugi was a great way to begin the summer holiday, maneuvering through a place you always work in but never get to properly circumnavigate and know better, its circuitry scribed into your brain scars with fresh spatial awareness until it becomes part of your own map. We like to wander down backstreets, take random roads : at one point, after we had finally left the dreaminess of the river and had discovered a delicious Indonesian restaurant where we had amazing turmeric ayam soup, we emerged out onto the main road leading back to the station into heat that was almost terrifying. It was like being baked alive, the sun too hot to withstand. I thought to myself about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how the prime August days were already roasting hot even before what was about to happen; we took a right, and to our astonishment, down some suburban road was a jazz bar, Mcarthur’s Garage, that we read opened two days after the Declaration of the End of the War on August 15th, 1945. It was closed, but fascinating to behold. A dip in time. We will be back.
We have had days at the beach, in Hayama and Kamakura. I swam and dived off rocks for the first time in five years, coming up from underwater so happy that I could do again what I could not before for so long because of my leg condition and operation: it felt amazing. On Sunday we went for the last time this summer holiday and D was wearing Nebbia Spessa, the ultimate ozonic/aquatic from Filippo Sorcinelli which is made for the sea and the sun on the beach (next year I might try Schwarzlose’s Zeitgeist, which would be absolute melon-hell for those who don’t like ozonics : a dazzling oceanic with a contrasting cuir base (Sexiness:
Amber Xtreme & Peru Balsame, Calone & Algae Absolue ; Changeability:
A faceted musk complex – Nebulone and Edelonide; Avantgarde:
Leatherwood). It is a curiously compelling summer perfume, that reminded me a little of Montale’s Sandflowers; just meant for sandblasts:
– sometimes these extraordinarily solar/aqua perfumes can be brilliant on the hottest of days even if they are not my own familiar territory (I would have to be feeling very bold to wear this, but I can imagine it happening). I just know that I love summer, and anything that reminds me of it, and though this was the Summer of 2020, of viral contagion in masks, with almost no socializing, or travelling, at least not to far away places, everybody distanced – but still out and about and enjoying themselves; (generally speaking Japan has found a good balance; social co-operation with the natural consumerist hedonism of the nation (yes, really – the people can not be kept down for long: all of the beaches were officially closed but you would never have known when we went, even if people were not packed together like idiots for the sake of defiance like in many other places)).
The Yokohama Museum Of Modern Art had a lot of virus safety protocols in place for its Triennale, a three-yearly big art event that marvellously, this year D was also featured in (as part of an installation piece by Australian artist Ellena Knox). While the main building of the museum was slightly too frigid both in terms of its relentless air-conditioning and the froideur of the staff – but at least corona-sensible – Plot 48, another building near the port area where D was featured, was far more conducive from many angles: we saw him on the screen as soon as we walked into the space, which was thrilling for me, and very much for him too (I have seen Warhol exhibitions, Yayoi Kusama, many artists in that gallery, and to see D in the same space was amazing – great for his Art CV and our pluralist Double Lives – being watched daily twirling and untwirling in thread, by hundreds of people). We wandered out blissfully afterwards into unknown backyards of Yokohama, and down through Sakuragicho and Kannai, our usual watering grounds, just traipsing in the sun, not thinking, stopping for beers in new (old) izakaya, browsing through bric-a-brac in a lazy, happy world of our own.
It’s now September, though. Tomorrow: back to school.
Our cat Mori – pictured – is approximately thirteen years old, a proud and very independent creature that we found in the forest by chance by the lake one day out of the blue and who is a big and important part of our lives. She smells divine – immaculately clean – just of fur, or sometimes picking up the perfume in the house (last night I could smell delicate wisps of Mona Di Orio Musc as she sat by my pillow; it was dreamishly beautiful on her), a very athletic alpha-female cat who spends a great deal of her time outdoors, running around, killing birds, jumping across rooves; (the only way she can come and go is to jump from our balcony to the neighbour’s roof and then take it elaborately from there, a repetitive feat that always surprises people who see it for the first time). All the fresh air keeps her fit; clean-smelling; white ruffled.
In terms of allegiances, Mori is definitely D’s. He is very much a cat person – I am not, really. Cats tend to run away from me when they see me on the street while D can coax them; I can take them or leave them, an attitude that she has also largely taken towards me (we always valued our mutual independence ; she sits with him, often sleeps next to him; they have a special communing with each other that I am not usually part of and don’t mind. I prefer just watching them together as I find the proximity of an animal to me in too large doses not conducive to relaxation), although her beautiful curled up presence – inexpressibly cute – is very calming in winter, and we seem to have precisely the same temperature cues (she loves how hot we keep the house in the colder months, and I am convinced this is one of the reasons she is in such good shape).
The strange thing is though that in recent months, the last half a year, maybe, or even longer, Mori has taken to staring at me during the night, fixated. D is bemused by this, as am I, but it is as though she is besotted with me all of a sudden, and can’t take her eyes off me. Guarding me. I often wake up, sometimes with a start, to find her right by my pillow, eyes on me. Looking into mine. Watching. It is somewhat unnerving. She needles to be stroked at all hours of the night, and sometimes I wake up to find her wedged under the small of my back, almost crushing her when I turn over unaware. She never did this before, and it is slightly affecting my sleep. It’s like being under strict feline surveillance; she will lick my arm; I wake up to warm rasps. It is bothering me and I am not entirely sure what to do. A lot of people I know keep pets downstairs, locked up at night, and let them be eagerly let out come the morning for breakfast, tails wagging. We have never done this – she has free reign – scratching all the paper shoji screens and going in and out as she pleases – but I find it almost disconcerting waking up to be sharing the same breathing space, too close; eyes staring straight into mine (“She keeps staring at you all through the night”, D has told me): I just can’t sleep in a normal relaxed manner. What is this ? She seems to be in tip top health condition, has the usual appetite (we only give her good quality food), and is as affectionate with Duncan as she always is. It’s just me. Is she worried that I am ill? Can she sense my soon-to-come demise? Can any cat people reading this tell me what might be the cause of this recent, but peculiarly prolonged, human obsession?
I have a fascination with neroli and orange blossom and am always glad to try new ones. Musc, one of Mona Di Orio’s perfumes for her collection Les Nombres D’Or, is not what I was expecting (something difficult, hard, sour; deliberately difficult…….). Instead, this is a heliotropic, vanillic confection of a neroli, a cherub supping on angelic sugared almonds on untarnished rose clouds of musk. Unanimalic: pure innocence; delightful, not coquettish, like some of the recent Guerlain orange blossoms with the Guerlinade and the heavier vanilla, but removed. Celestially oblivious. I love this: so deliciously gentle. Anima Vinci takes the very opposite scale of neroli, always a little brusque in its green petitgrain bitterness on the branches, almost revelling in its headclearing harshness at first (perhaps too much for me in truth), with the citric aspects of the orange flower heightened further with mandarin, bergamot and lemon – (wince) – all cut through with woodier, more oppositional and masculine notes of vetiver and sandalwood. Once the initial, quite mouthpuckering neroli head notes have dissipated, this intriguing scent, very present and in the room (if you met someone wearing this perfume you would definitely never forget them) becomes a lingering, green, almost acerbic sport neroli with a memorable freshness and sass.
I read an online comment recently expressing surprise that when I talked about ‘layering’ in the introductory passages of my book, I didn’t mean it literally: ie. actually spraying one scent physically on top of another. This can work, if you have a particular inspiration, but it is a little like listening to two songs at the same time: they cancel each other out. It had thus never occurred to me to wear fragrance that way. Rather, although on the whole I usually tend to wear only one perfume at a time, for compare and contrast and interesting synergies in the air around me and in my brain, I will sometimes wear two complementary or thematically linked perfumes on different parts of the body, or even just one on each wrist, in order to get a plusher, more interesting effect.
What about wearing a dipytch or tripych of perfumes with the same family DNA? I find that Guerlains can work very well in this regard. I have a bottle of Shalimar Parfum Initial that I quite like but will never love (it is just ……..less intelligent), but I do like the base: I thus sprayed some Japanese jinbe pyjama trousers I float about in with copious amounts of this scent and the base accord lingered for days; it worked very well with either the vintage Shalimar edt I have, some very precious extrait of Vol De Nuit I discovered recently and also, just for the hell of it, some vintage Jardins De Bagatelles for some tuberose lift (gorgeously given full colour camera close ups by the soft powder surrounding me in the air : doing this allows you to really focus in on a scent, see hitherto unseen facets, create individualistic sillages).
Of course, this will not work in the vast majority of cases. Try mixing up all the Dior Poisons and you will have a dog’s dinner of indigestible incompatibles (or, my god, Miss Dior and ‘Miss Dior’! -). I think the Muglers can work : Angels and A*Mens and Aliens of various varieties can be combined quite happily if you want that bombastic burnt sugar bombshell quality that can be quite intoxicating on the committed: I can also imagine the Chanel Nº5s being effective worn together. A spray of L’Eau or Première after a day of working the original, in vintage or otherwise, would undoubtedly be accumulatively pleasing.
Yesterday was one of the best layering experiences I have had: one of those combining of scents where the fusing of two fragrances undoubtedly flatters both and creates a new illusion. D has unfortunately gone back to work (a two week, rather than the usual five week summer break – on Monday he looked like a ghost when he came home after the first day); I have been by myself, either just at home, or at the beach, though I am still not yet convinced of how much fun it is going there by myself. It has been nice, though, meeting for dinner in the evening in Kamakura. The other night I surprised myself by wearing Sisley Eau Du Soir, in the original black bottled version to go to a Spanish restaurant : it was dark and sparkly and Iberian and elevating, if a tad insistent (as always). Yesterday I felt like something softer, muskier. Caron Pour Homme Un Homme fits the bill nicely for this mood, although it is sometimes a bit too old school, too powder puff lavender/vanilla: I feel like an ancient Pomeranian being taken for a walk on the promenade despite the perfume’s supposed Gallic masculinity. Jump from 1934, when this classic was released, to 2015, and we have the bizarre Caron Pour Un Homme Sport, a beautifully blue green flanker/reiteration that D got last year, August B.C, and wore to Neneh Cherry at Billboard Tokyo. It is like nothing else: taking the original lavender vanilla DNA of Ernst Daltroff’s deceptively simple creation, it adds a ton of grapefruit and mint, some mandarin, cedar and verbena, to create an entirely different scent that somehow, wears perfectly with the original (and, strangely, smells a little bit like pineapple) . Spraying on the Sport yesterday – D has moved on to other scents now and hasn’t taken to this as much as I hoped – I found that the more peculiar aspects of the newer version were immediately neutralized by equal amounts of 1934, which in turn was made more robust and stimulating by its much younger and leaner descendant. The amalgamated effect was brilliant – I had scent sensations that reminded me of when D and I would both wear Jean Paul Gaultier’s lavender vanilla Le Mâle back in the nineties – fresh, rich, full; new; alive.
THE PERSIAN RUGS OF BELGRAVIA : : XANDRIA, X’IAN, BYZANCE, TANGER, LEVANT + INDUS by ORMONDE JAYNE (2020)
The new Silk Route Collection by London-based Ormonde Jayne is a very Anglified, crisp and clean collection of perfumes based on the trans-Asian route of historical lore from the Middle East, India, China and beyond but only lightly; without the names on the bottles you wouldn’t necessarily know you were being taken on a journey to the Mystical East. All of the fragrances in the range are quite nice: nice being the operative word. In eschewing the heavier clichés of the ‘oriental’ category, which has been done to death, these fragrances merely touch on the themes of the Spice Trail as a butterfly alights on a flowering orchid; calibrated, refined; wearable to the office, social functions; dates.
Tanger and Levant are like twin mandarins; the former a well-made, light-as-a-feather mandarin/amber leather that keeps its tangible tangerine note sultrily throughout its duration on the skin. It is a chic little perfume that would perfectly in a bar after work somewhere in London, with a certain suave and insinuating presence, and is definitely my favourite of the set. Your partner, just a couple of minutes late, is drinking a Negroni in heels and Levant, a modern peony rose with an orange, tangelo and jasmine fore note; a floral on point; like a distant relative of modern Chloé.
Another interesting pairing for a South Kensington dining establishment could be Xandria and X’ian. The fresh peppered oud is now a very (over)familiar face around cities worldwide but Xandria is a very well-blended, more rounded than usual guaicwood and coumarinic scent that veers towards the masculine with its warmer heartnotes of cinnamon, rum and rosewood that resonate like coffee, but unlike many of the type, this perfume has a heart; if you are looking for a birthday gift for a significant other or a brother-in-law with taste this would probably make a good option. I personally prefer X’ian, though, a dry-as-flint nutmeg and sandalwood pepper musk with a tangy rhubarb twist that has a certain airy, flirtatious ease; a rose manqué that hovers about you as aridly as a dragonfly. Similarly high pitched and unweighed-down is Indus, a young, carefree and easy lychee garden rose that is more appealing than Damask, another rose in the Silk Road Collection I find overburdened and overbusy. Ancient Persian princesses won’t be swooning in their graves over this youthful elixir, but well-groomed and handsome hot things in the City will undoubtedly turn their heads to take a second glance if a touch of this refreshing fruit rose (blackcurrant, Armenian plum, Chinese patchouli, musk) were to drift towards their consciousness upon this obviously attractive woman’s sillage.
With not a hair out of place, the Route De Soie collection is very well kept and translated, fitting the stated Ormonde Jayne ethos of aiming to include ’the quality of English craftsmanship, the art of French perfumery and the sensuality and natural harmony of the Orient” – the outlier for me being Byzance, messier, less restrained, and which to me smells like an overripe, even rotting durian fruit (or strawberry flavoured cough linctus). Official notes for Byzance include cassis, milk and pink pepper; vanilla, iris, moss…..it is an oddball disco scent that at least brings a more exuberant and less fine-tuned aspect to the perfumes in the collection, like a Sex On The Beach cocktail drunk through a coloured twisty straw in Bangkok. A wink in its eye. And closer, somehow, to the Asia that I have long lived in and experienced up close and personal.
THREE ARGENTINIAN FLORALS: VERANO PORTEÑO (2017) + BLONDINE (2017) + A FUEGO LENTO (2018) by FRASSAÏ
Genuine sultriness has become more of a rarity in recent perfumery with the ‘stingy maximalist’ approach often being taken towards current feminine allure (cheap/uninspired/uninspiring ingredients mountained on top of each other to conceal the vapid flimsy at the core). So it is nice, on a hot August day, to sample some sensual modern florals with integrity.
Frassaï is the brainchild of an Argentinian jeweller, Natalia Outeda, based in New York, and the perfumes in the range certainly also have glimmer and gleam. A Fuego Lento is a very vivid orange flower and precision-pointed jasmine sambac, infused with a persuasive accord of blackcurrant bud and flouve odorante (sweet vernal grass) in the top that forms a lucent contrast with the tolu balsam, civet and suede in the heart; a veritable rush. I tend to like the fragrances of Rodrigo Flores-Roux (Arquiste Flor Y Canto; Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Desire, one of the best white florals I know; this is slightly similar ); his is a clean but photographic approach, flowers that are heady and fresh, but not generally too sickly. Although this perfume (“A cabaña nestled in the shadow of the Andes mountains glows beneath a cascade of mysterious stars. Inside, a fire burns as two souls surrender themselves to the night”) will certainly be too brash, even headache-inducing for some, to me its obvious, bright sensuality is beyond dispute.
Verano Porteño (“ the feeling of Buenos Aires during summertime”) is another fragrance in the portfolio signed off by Flores-Roux, this time a green magnolia jasmine, with a cool backdrop of maté tea, vetiver, cedrat and alhelï (wallflower), a paler jasmine counterpointing what to me is the the heart of the scent: ‘southern magnolia’. This kind of pristiner-than-thou perfume can feel prim and synthetic in the wrong hands (and this blend is certainly very measured, soignée), but if you like crisp interpretations of just-bloomed flowers – to me this is almost like a modern magnolia take on Diorissimo – you may find yourself revelling in this perfume’s bathed, dressed-up sillage.
Blondine, based on the 1920’s French fairy tale of a young girl who is so entranced by the flowers in an enchanted forest that the more of them she picks, the further she finds herself away from home – where she is “surrounded by precious jewels, exotic fruits and mouthwatering dainties“, is a perturbingly effective blend of pointedly carnal ambrous animalics (castoreum, tonka beans, cocoa, salted butter caramel and ‘blond musks’ ) set against more innocent notes of tiger lily, ashok flower, pear leaves and green mandarin. For me, this is a little too obviously let’s-get-it-on, in the manner of Tom Ford Violet Blonde or the slavishly sloe-eyed sandalwood that was Jean Louis Scherrer’s Nuits Indiennes from 1994, but it is undoubtedly quite sexy, one to sarong to on the sanddunes in the dying light of summer.
More appealing to me personally, and apparently sold out at the Frassaï website, is Tian Di, a ‘ritual for the senses’ by Olivier Gillotin (10 Corso Cormo), a perfume that really works as a spiced woody peach in the manner of some of the best Lutens. An orris-softened sandalwood and ‘Chinese incense’ base given internal umami-ish heft with ginger, star anise, red chrysanthemum, frankincense and a central feature of ‘peach elixir’ (the perfume is based on a mythical place on Mount Kunlun where the peach trees only blossom and bear fruit ever 3,000 years), this is a brisk, peppery, neo Fille En Aiguilles with a sweet. darkened mahogany heart you can climb into and hide in on a hot summer’s afternoon, quite moreish and additive. And, like the rest of the (mercifully) small collection – (I drastically prefer more a more carefully, considered, manageable first number of perfumes from a brand), even if the base accords don’t quite have the complexity or longevity of the finest vintage – this definitely still reads to me as wearable, viable, Real niche Perfume.
Although all pleasure, joy, and spontaneity has been drained out of the creative process by the new ugliness surrounding the screen as I attempt to put up this post using the imposed new techno-horror format on this ‘blog’, I will try this as a ‘test run’ just to say that I finally found a vintage parfum de toilette of Nahema.
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I just squashed a mosquito on my right arm and bizarrely, it smelled raspberry pleasant. It brought to mind this old piece.