Tag Archives: 2010s scents

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire: CASTANA by ATELIER CLOON KEEN (2012)

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Chestnuts, or ‘kuri’ in Japanese, are a winter staple in Japan. In Tokyo, and in most cities and towns in fact, there are chestnut vendors who trawl the streets at night with their tinny transistors wailing the traditional Edo period ‘chestnut song’ among the cold, steaming red neon: the nuts, in their shells, fragrant, unpeeled, and roasting hot as you grab a quick late night snack before the last train home.

 

 

Marrons glacés, Mont-Blancs (with which I now have something of an obsession, when combined with a piping hot cup of caffe latte on a cold rainy day in winter) and anything chestnutty in fact, are very popular here( they are also traditionally eaten pickled): the tiny, shrivelled, squirrel brains both nutritious and unique in texture, and aroma, and flavour.

 

But although I was always familiar with the famous Christmas time song by Nat King Cole, as a person who grew up in England,  I am almost embarrassed to say that I had never tasted one before I came to this country. In my family at least, they were never part of our lives. I think the only chestnuts I ever knew were those we used for playing ‘conkers’ at school; the gorgeous, friendly plonk as those spiky green bonnets fell to the grass with their moist, white, inner encasings…. I used to love collecting them, and shining them, and in fact probably just kept them more as treasures on my bedside table than I did smashing other kids’, but I am sure I never ate one (though I did have a strange thing for acorns, but I’ll save that for another time..)

 

 

 

Castaña (Spanish for chestnut), is one of the few perfumes that have a distinctly nutty aroma, and the first I know of to feature the chestnut. Cloon Keen is a perfumer and candlemaker based in Galway, and though it is rather clichéd of me to say so, to me there is, undeniably, a distinctly ‘Irish eyes are smiling’ aspect to the scent. It is warm, benevolent; optimistic in-woolly jumper (and generous figure): a person you trust and like, flitting and fussing about the kitchen, taking care of you with a loving smile and a twinkle.

 

Beginning with a creamy, rich and edible chestnut over sweetened, cherished vetiver, the perfume progresses to milkier, more sandalwoody tones. While the top accord features a lemon-floral note (cassia and jasmine), the scent remains buttery (yet clean and appealing) throughout its duration on the skin. I find it quite a simple scent, probably too much so in some ways ( and I have never been a fan of the ambroxan-like note embedded in the white musk base), but despite these slight misgivings that is only a question of personal taste: I know many people enjoy those warm, musky strokes and I would very happily smell it on another person, as Castaña is just one of those scents that is uncomplicated and lovely, very easy to wear on a daily basis without even noticing it until it becomes your smell. It is also quite inexpensive, which is a boon in the niche market of today where buying a scent really can really put you out of pocket.

 

 

Castaña is slightly reminiscent of another scent, actually, another vetiver/nut combination,  almost as though Hermès Vetiver Tonka (with its gorgeous heart note of hazelnut – see my review), had, in his second year at Cambridge, come back for the Christmas and New Year holiday; all geared up, flighty and full of literary pretensions, to  then be brought gently back down to earth by his loving; less educated; but more more emotionally open, mother.

 

 

 

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Filed under Chestnut, Perfume Reviews, Woods

HOT BANANAS!!!! LADYBOY by GORILLA PERFUMES

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Greetings everyone and a very happy 2013 to you. Thanks for being part of The Black Narcissus: I am meeting some lovely, really interesting people on here and am very much looking forward to some more exchanges over the next twelve months and beyond. Don’t be shy! Let’s rant, wane and wax together…

I hope you had a lovely Christmas/holiday period and are rested and ready for the new year. Myself, I emerged, reluctantly, from my cocoon yesterday and went off into Tokyo to research vanilla perfumes for my latest Sweet Little Thing guest post over at Olfactoria’s Travels (it will come out on Friday, so please have a look if you are interested in the various discoveries of my bean odyssey). Stopping at Lush in Shinjuku, which was SO packed with people bargain hunting at the sales it almost precipitated a claustrophobic panic attack, I tested their sandalwood-heavy Vanillary, which is an effective little perfume in its heavy-hitting, jasmine absolute, coconut-incense-stick kind of way, very erotic and in-your-face, but then came across a small perfumed sensation and forgot all else: LADYBOY.

That name!!  The pungent, rotting bananas of the top notes!
The bubblegum, nail polish and eyelash-heavy violets! I simply had to get a bottle – and it just so happened, on that day, to be 50% off as well (only the Shinjuku branch stock this perfume, which shows its oddness): I suppose it was never likely that a large chunk of the populace would go for a perfume that smells of melting hot bananas and amyl nitrate.

Now, the banana is not a note we often find in perfumery, and my Ladyboy has the most overt banana as its main note I have ever smelled…..

But what other bananas are there?

Probably my first exposure to the note of the genus musa was in J Del Pozo’s Quasar, a blue-sporty fragrance from 1994 that nevertheless had a very innovative top note of fresh green banana leaf that I always thought should have been the mainstay of the fragrance (it wasn’t – what came later was always a disappointment). It imprinted itself on my brain nevertheless. A brilliant banana did come, later, in the form of Vanille Banane by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a scent I discovered while staying in Paris: fresh, delightful banana, halfway between the clean, unripened fruit, and those chewy, artificial, 2p banana sweets you grew up with from the local shops – dry, fresh, a touch acidic- but it then folded, unfortunately, into the ‘classic’ Comptoir vanilla, which always errs on the side of the sickly and plastickly sweet. You would have to be a really cute party bopper to pull that one off effectively, and I unfortunately couldn’t, on my skin.

A very unusual banana tree note was later to be found in Jean Patou’s Sira Des Indes, a very languid, almost sardonic, tropical perfume that features a top note of banana leaves before turning to a more voluptuous, if beautifully blasé, animalic floral: I wish this perfume had had more success because the combination was very interesting, though clearly ultimately too decadent to ever find mainstream success.

One perfume I own that combines flowers and banana delightfully is a rare scent I found at the flea market one Sunday – Jazmin by Le Jardin De Jimmy Boyd, a Barcelona-based perfumer whose jasmine flowers morph effortlessly into banana leaves and then morph back again….an effect that is either simply the quality of the jasmine flowers used (which might have a fruity-tropical facet) or is a trick by the perfumer….either way this is by far my favourite jasmine and the watery, luscious banana green of the top notes only makes it better.

Aside these, I know of few banana perfumes, so please let me know if you are aware of others.

So….Ladyboy. But before we get to Ladyboy, let’s talk some more about bananas.

For me, I am not sure if the banana would necessarily feature in my Fruit Top Ten (would it yours?), but I do love the taste and smell of the fruit and am also somewhat obsessed with the banana tree growing in our back garden (which has grown to unexpectedly monstrous proportions), as well as the smaller ones growing in pots on my balcony and in the hallway upstairs. Kamakura is strange in that it has winters not much warmer than England but fully tropical summers, as hot as Borneo and equatorial Africa, which means you see snow on palm trees in February, and frost on the poor banana trees which tower back up again in August, never to fully bear fruit as they die on the vine at the beginning of November; a sterile frustration I always feel as the baby bananas start to cluster in June…..

But to that fruit top ten:

(I would love to hear yours as well by the way, as I am a fruit freak. I basically love all of it, though I am somewhat less partial to kiwi and melon than other fruit (which is why I never go for those appallingly melona melona scents like Eau Emotionelle and Après La Mousson….and why I wasn’t overstruck on the kiwi perversions of Amouage Interlude…)

Off the top of my head:

1. pineapple

2. papaya

3. grapefruit

4.  lemon

5. strawberry

6. apple (not Japanese: English, or the like)

7. plum

8. cherry

9. orange/satsuma/Japanese iyokan

10. rhubarb?

Basically I go for the tart, and the fluffy dessert flesh of the banana doesn’t even seem like fruit to me, somehow, more a species all of its own: a beautiful alien: creamy, pulpy, feathery (goodness writing this is really making me crave a banana….!), and yet Duncan and I, despite this, did have a whole party one summer based around the fruit.

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Before your minds turn toward filth and assumptions, let me say that we also had a beautiful wintery party in Tokyo called Kirsch, but I can see that I am digging myself into ever deeper holes by talking about cherries and bananas, oh dear.

Kirsch was held at a 1950’s café-diner in Ebisu called Kissa Ginza, and all was red, and all was cherry, and it was sublime, if chaotic… Delicious Banana, meanwhile, came from a postcard we found one day. As is well known, Japanese English is often hilariously, atrociously bad on a daily basis, or else almost surrealistically strange and simple, like the innocent declaration ‘delicious banana’ which is so saturated with itself and its nothingness we quickly picked it up and turned it into a party, which I must tell you about here if you have nothing better to do.

Delicious Banana was one of our strangest festas (and we have had many), for a number of reasons. Firstly, the venue: a curious, three-storied art café called Mogura (mole), which was as tight a fit as a fairy-tale, and had very poor air conditioning, which brings us to the second point: it was, or seemed like, the hottest day of the year, seriously, seriously boiling: sweltering like you couldn’t imagine (around 36 degrees, though hotter in my memory, with about 80% humidity). I remember us carting records, cds, decorations and white Casablanca lilies all the way from Kamakura (at least 90 minutes away), and arriving covered in lily powder, our clothes ruined; we bought heaps and heaps and heaps of bananas and hung them everywhere……the guests came all in yellow, and we had little kids running around in banana hats, plus the menu, all devised beforehand of course, was exclusively banana (it’s a wonder I ate a banana ever again…)

There was banana salad; banana tacos, banana desserts… bananas were coming out of our ears and we were wilting from the heat along with the bananas that were stringing the stairwells…

The music, which I spent a lot of time on, was all tropicalia-tastic, and I remember almost swooning with pleasure dancing to ‘One Day In Your Life’ by MJ with my beautiful friend Takako in temperatures that were not fit for human beings upstairs….the heat, the sun pouring through the skylights…we almost became our very own banana flambée of human melée; the climax being when I ended up trussed and decorated by five or six women ( the other strange thing about that party: for some reason it was exclusively female apart from Duncan and myself, hilarious given the name of the event) and, in some kind of fertility ritual, all of which happened spontaneously, I was dressed up and made up by the women in some Wicker-Man-like sacrifice (though in honesty the end result was more like Carmen Miranda….)

The party is imprinted in my memory as fun and banana bliss, and as the place it was held no longer exists, just writing about it here feels like some sad, beautiful tropical resurrection…

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So there I was in thick makeup, anyway, covered in fruit, and here I am now wearing Ladyboy. And like the Delicious Banana party with the women congregating around,  and showered with the fruit, is there an internal joke to the perfume?: the lack, or the covered-up fruit of the Thai transsexual or ‘transvestite’ an implicit feature of the creation?

Who is to say? Simon Constantine, the perfumer at Gorilla Perfumes, strikes me as a very nice kind of person and I can’t imagine any gender or homophobic malice; strangely, the rich banana of the top note segues beautiful with a powdery, thickly scented violet that might recall makeup, but also those delectable, hot, coconut, banana and tapioca desserts that Thai cooks make so exquisitely, and the ‘invisible banana’ is an interesting sexual motif dangling enigmatically in the mental void of this ladyboy in any case; it is possible that I put too much stock in the name of perfumes sometimes but then I think that the names of scents, like the names of paintings and mixtapes, are crucial, making linkages in the mind that  involve the participant and open vistas and connections in the soul that when truly inspired…

I have also been to Bangkok and it was dizzying; being driven at night in a tuk-tuk bicycle taxi to a restaurant where the delicious smelling lime-chilli fish had me drooling and weeping hot involuntary tears it was so spiced as the lights on the water bobbed and the mysteries I could never understand lay mercilessly on the other side of the bay….

While we were there I don’t know if we actually ever met any real ‘ladyboys’, but I have met my fair share of Asian crossdressers or whatever term you find most suitable, and I am happy to wear a scent in their honour; the humour, the true beauty, the confusing gorgeousness; all of this is served well in this perfume…

The smell of nail varnish, of hair spray, of the little cabaret’s dressing room and its fairy lights on mirrors conjured up by the acetatey sheen of the initial, artificial banana smell; the bizarre addition of seaweed added to the mix, which I can’t thankfully detect ( I HATE seaweed, the smell and the taste of it, which is a problem living in Japan! ) but which I imagine adds some leathery temperance and wearability under the banana banners; the perfume becoming, eventually, an eminently wearable perfume of oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum, the scent definitively no longer a joke if, in fact, it ever was one.

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Filed under Banana, Fruit, Jasmine, Perfume Reviews

DAYBREAK …..ARTILLERY No 4 by ANGELA FLANDERS (2012)

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Vetiver is my antidote.

 

 

Sometimes, after all the coconut-vanilla baccanalia of the night before, the lunging sweetness, I need a pointed clarity; a virile freshness. The length of a leaf; a clarified root….nature, in other words – a walk in the trees to refresh the lungs and head.

 

 

A good vetiver is a point of dignity. A no-nonsense striation of elegance in the plant world; less golden and voluptuous than sandalwood; more reserved and discreet than its fuzzy, soil libating sister patchouli.

 

 

For me it is also one of the few aromatic materials that almost do not necessitate a perfumer. Where rose or jasmine essential oils smell woozy and unfettered in their raw state and require dilution and embellishment before their setting in the jeweller’s ring, a good vetiver oil I can dab on neat. Once the initial cursory roughness dissipates, the complex, depthening, head-grounding oil resonates beautifully, and uninterruptedly, for hours.

 

 

At the same time, pure vetiver essential oil is not something I want to wear every time – sometimes you want a slice of citrus and some tonic in your gin, and vetiver oil combines so naturally with delicate florals and citrus notes that when watered down and freshened, it can have a regular, beautiful simplicity of early morning ablutions.

 

 

This is exactly what Angela Flanders has done with her Artillery Series; simple and inexpensive colognes formed around one key aromatic material: contemporary but pleasingly classical throwbacks to unfussy transparence and briskness.

 

 

 

The most fêted vetivers tend to be the sculpted and perfected citrus/woody/resinous interpretations, such as Grey Vetiver, Encre Noire, Sycomore, and Vétiver Extraordinaire, all of which are very fine perfumes, ‘urban vetivers’, if you like, for the impeccably-dressed and the chic. I can wear these scents for a short time as they buoy me up and make me feel as though I have rejoined the world, but, ultimately there is something quite passive aggressively proscribed about these scents for me. There is no room to move: I feel constricted within these never-ending, synthetic spines that give me headaches: so-called ‘masterpieces of vetiver’ that quite honestly leave me cold.

 

 

By contrast, Artillery N° 4 is grace and simplicity itself: an early morning, vitreous vetiver with the lightness of a cologne that to some may lack  panache, but which speaks to me directly.  The official notes for the scent say it begins with bergamot and lavender, but to my nose it is all about rosewood and lime and perhaps just a hint of clary sage; a glassy patina of linalool like the surface of a Canadian lake where imaginary reeds of vetiver sway, cool and thriving, down below in deep waters; an agile, herbaceous beginning that brings to mind the flinty diffidence of Penhaligons’ regretted Eau Sans Pareil – not a hint of sweetness or overemphasized lemoned counterpoint – only a call to the outside; to that walk in cold air that your body is telling you need –  before finally progressing in a very natural fashion to a light, airy, mineralic vetiver that lacks any pomp or ‘perfumer’s extravagance’  – and the very reason why I like it.

 

 

 

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Filed under Perfume Reviews, Vetiver

POUDRE DE RIZ by HUITIEME ART (2012)

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I love a perfume with a good story line, and the powdery, illicit backdrop of Poudre De Riz is a good one. It is a tawdry tale with a double dose of sensorial voyeurism, inspired by the French novel Inferno (1908) by Henri Barbusse: a man spying on a frantic adulterous couple in the boarding room next door through a crack in the wall; witnessing, and smelling their aromas; her bath, the splashes of heavy, sweet perfumes to cover up the scent of heat-coupled flesh; and, then, her last-minute attempts to make up her face with lipstick and powders, a disgruntled varnish to mask her true feelings before the arrival of her husband….

But he does of course notice:

“The air in the room was filled with heavy scents….soap, face powder, and the pungent smell of an eau de cologne…..” and the perfume, proficiently blended by Pierre Guillaume, is thus an attempt to capture this coagulation of emotion: of sex, concealment, passion (guilt?) and of the perfected and more preened face that we must present to the world..

Though I sometimes bore myself to tears with my own predictability (tiare monoï oil; coconut; vanilla, benzoin…..surely I am bound to like this perfume?) I really do: it is quite gorgeous and I just can’t help myself, the ‘rice powder’ of the name a pearlescent dust of sheen wavering over a sensual, but controlled and delicate, effluvium of aphrodisia that has none of the stinginess or bitter, ‘avant-garde’ snarl of some niche scents.

Poudre De Riz in fact immediately reminded me of a number of sweet, oriental perfumes that I have worn over the years, while remaining individual enough to merit a full bottle. The beautiful note of Damascena roses shining through slews of animalic, almonded musks comes straight from Louve; the soft, linty, vellutinous white powder Teint De Neige; and the ambered, cinnamony goodness a throw-back to my beloved Obsession For Men before it got spayed by reformulation; (the tolu over cedar and sandalwood note in the base also strangely took me back to that ribald old tropico-classic, Nuits Indiennes by Louis Scherrer…)

Still, the perfume works on its own terms, and all the notes are blended in such a way that despite the story and gourmand overdose, the perfume is never claustrophobic: my own skin always brings out the heavier, vanillic angle of a scent, but I can imagine on certain women that this could smell almost angelic….

 

 

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Filed under Orientals, Perfume Reviews, Powder, Rice, Rose, Voyeur

CLEFT OLD KIWI AND A KNEEFUL FULL OF LEATHER……..INTERLUDE by AMOUAGE (2012)

 

 

 

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When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s,  inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…

 

Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.

This is, in fact, the stated theme of the scent, by the way, the ‘interlude’ in question being the moment when the fragmentary moments of madness surrounding you coalesce and you suddenly find yourself; rise up like a pillar of calm selfness from the swirling, anchovy mixed-pizza of worldy mobocracy : fragrant, smooth and serene.

My first initially astonished impressions of Interlude Woman were of peculiar, dusty old sweet figs and a rather prominent (and somewhat nauseating) kermit-green kiwi, whizzing about sherbetly on a melon-leather carousel…………….bizarre and with a very distinctive air of quease…..

 

 

*   *      *

 

One commentator on the Fragrantica website  nailed it more succinctly:

 

“Sometimes a scent comes along that can be summed up with three letters, and Interlude is one of them………

 

 

 

 

W T F

 

 

 

 

 

She then amusingly goes on to describe it as smelling of ‘moldy basement, over-ripe cheese and bad air freshener’, while another person smells ‘roach motels’, and yet another that she could ‘vomit from this smell of deep choking smoke…..

What were Amouage thinking?  Perhaps we should let creative director Christopher Chong elucidate:

 

 ” The Interlude moment is a reflection of all the trials and tribulations one overcomes to attain personal satisfaction and achievement….”

                           mmmmmm…. but must perfume be so masochistic?

 

 

 

*   *      *

Interlude is certainly not an easy ride. The perfume is in fact so complex that it emerges almost as a Rorschach test of individual interpretation: there are so many notes in this ‘air of disorder’ that everyone will smell different things. I myself got no cockroaches or cheese: for me it was all about this unhinged oudh-wood depth straddled disgracefully by Queen Kiwi, but if this review is leaving you confused perhaps the perfume would be more readily imagined olfactively if we ogle the notes…..

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kiwi (by far the most prominent note in this scent)

 

 

‘nut’

 

 

 

 

coffee

grapefruit

 

honey

 

immortelle (maple syrup, burnished copper,  burnt licorice………)

 

marigold

ginger                   &

bergamot

 

  (in the top…….)

 

and then, in the heart and base, swarthier, more Amouagey bloops of

 

 

oudh                (this is, ultimately a ‘fruit oudh’)

sandalwood

                    leather (quite prominent)

vanilla

 

benzoin

 

musk

 

jasmine (bleurrgh! jasmine and kiwi!)

 

orange blossom, rose

and

oakmoss….(a chypre?!)

 

……in other words, notes that do not form a naturally harmonious posse; more a team of unknowns who must club together to make this thing work like an episode of Survivor.

 

 

Thankfully though, the notes do actually begin to elide and collaborate with each other, and after the intial mess (and it is a mess) subsides, and you begin to transcend your ‘chaos’, a vision of a suave and contained, rich, stylish person gradually materializes: enigmatic and attractive – the kiwi-agar-chypre concept finally coalsceing into a well-dressed, mysterious and tasteful red-blooded woman.

 

This lingering end accord in Interlude is quite beautiful actually ( I stupidly put some on just before going to bed, regretting it immensely at first, but found myself gradually snuzzling up to my wrist as it settled into its curious, intelligent, oudhy night-flight groove, a veil of middle-eastern intrigue that was pulling me in to its story….)

 

It is undoubtedly very original, and if someone walked past you of an evening wafting Interlude you would certainly prick up your ears (having sat with a nose peg in her basement squinting and puffing for an hour before leaving the house..) and, having eventually understood where all the woody, fruited vom of the beginning was leading to, I started to rewind the scent gradually in my mind, comprehending more what the perfumer must have been intending all along. Ah. I see. It is leading to this…

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In some ways, for this reason alone, Interlude can be seen as a very brave attempt at breaking new ground, as it is a well known fact that top accords are the key factor in most people’s purchases of a perfume: for the average attention-deficited consumer it all hangs on those first few minutes, and this perhaps accounts for the fact that the lovely people at Harrods’ Amouage counter looked so sheepish and oh- no- here- we- go- again when I first sprayed this perfume on in August – then mimed a polite, thin-slipped smile in response. They knew that first impressions, in this perfume’s case especially, can be disastrous….

37 Comments

Filed under Kiwi, Leather, Oud, Perfume Reviews

EMBALM ME NOW: I’M READY…. COMME DES GARCONS EAU DE PARFUM (2011) + LUXE: PATCHOULI (2007) + INCENSE SERIES 3: KYOTO (2002)

“A flower that couldn’t exist, in a bottle that shouldn’t exist….”

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It was a cold, clear day on Monday when I headed out to Tokyo to buy Kyoto. Junko and I have a tradition now of exchanging presents each year – I buy her a perfume, she gets me films – and though last year’s offering, the exotic and pungent Powder Flowers by Montale, had gone down quite well, I decided to try something different this time and go for incense,  something more contemplative and grounded. I love the challenge of trying to instinctively nose out what someone might like, to edge closer and closer towards their holy grail, and this time my inklings turned out to be right.

She loved it. We met last night at a bar in Fujisawa, where I presented birthday present 2012, and the look on her face as she kept on smelling it incessantly from her wrist was precious: she had obviously never smelled anything like this (at least not bottled). The cypress, cedar, teak wood, incense and patchouli scent was a very new departure for her fragrance-wise, and one that obviously hit the mark (‘think of it as the hinoki-avenued walk up to Toshogu temple in Nikko’ I said), and she seemed simultaneously emotionally enraptured and turned-on by the smouldering, auto-erotically charged smells of timber and spice emanating from her skin. It certainly suits her, especially sprayed onto the cuffs of her biker jacket.

The perverse thing is that I don’t really like ‘Kyoto’ myself. I love the city the perfume is named after, but personally don’t relate to its dry, simplistic olfactory rendering in Bertrand Duchaufour’s re-creation. To me it is just a typical, unmysterious blend of flat, modish, contemporary WOODs (direct, obvious) with no beauty or space between the rings of  bark. It is well made, yes, and effective as a basic beginner incense scent – but at most 10% successful in capturing the deeply austere spirituality of the real place, which is steeped in the indescribable.

No. Instead, take one incense stick from its paper box, purchased from the centuries old Kyukodo or Shoyeido incense emporia in the heart of the city, and light it in the entrance of your home. Soft smoke, exquisitely tendered and balanced – aloeswood, sandalwood, cloves, camphor, rose –  will rise, gradually, into the air, slowly changing your consciousness. This is Kyoto.

 

 

 

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I had taken the Shonan-Shinjuku line from Kamakura, getting off at Shibuya station around rush hour  (not recommended for the claustrophobic or agoraphobic), changed to the Yamanote and walked up from Harajuku station, down the twinkling illuminated boulevard of Omotesando, and then up to Aoyama, where the  Comme Des Garcons boutique nestles between a little temple and gleaming, futuristic architecture. While the requisitely hypertrended assistants fastidiously wrapped up my Kyoto I sampled and resampled the main CDG line, which is housed in one of many nooks of a giant white tardis.

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It was here that I came across a perfume I had somehow overlooked: the fascinating ‘Eau de Parfum’, a self-oxidising flower exhaling its last breaths somewhere in the stratosphere circa 2064. Given that the first CDG perfume, the one that launched Rei Kawakubo’s avant-garde perfumery into our consciousness (one of the spiciest clove scents ever made) is also called Eau de Parfum, it seemed strange that they would want us to confuse the two scents (which are completely different), by giving them the same title.  Nevertheless, there it lay, ruined in its tortured, self-imploded bottle that can’t even stand up, on one of the lower shelves, almost out of sight. Having no idea what to expect, I sprayed a couple of cards with copious amounts and to my surprise found that I liked it, though in theory I shouldn’t.

Comme Des Garcons is well know for its twisting and subverting of what is considered beautiful (or acceptable) in fragrance with wilfully abstruse concepts such as those found in the Synthetic Series and the industrialized abstractions of Odeur 53:  (notes of ‘flaming rock; nail polish; fire energy; washing drying in the wind; sand dunes; burnt rubber, the freshness of oxygen and pure air of the high mountains’); and Odeur 71 (xerox machine; washing fresh from the dryer; lettuce juice; electricity, dust on a hot lightbulb….)

I delight in the fact that such border-pushing exists in perfumery. And I don’t particularly mind if the person sitting next to me in the office smells of a pulsating photo-copier, an eraser, or a lightly-dusted lightbulb, but on me, on my own human skin, these mutated ozones and man-made chemical novelties simply make me feel sick. I would never.

Eau de Parfum is different. Here the human, the natural, and synthetic are fused in a blinding medley of white; a futuristic flower in bondage, wrapped in glue and masking tape and  sputnicked-off into ether. And it is strangely beautiful. Where with the Odeurs I have always found that the notes elbow and jostle with each other to outdo each other in weirdness (‘look, there’s an incinerated paper clip!), in Eau de Parfum they glide together, amassing whiteness; the more conventional hawthorn/lilac aromas a solidly pretty foundation upon which to layer the swathes of safraleine (a synthetic that mimicks the scent of saffron and suede simultaneously), ‘flower oxides’ and circumscribing it all, the familiarly toxic smell of freshly opened glue and packing tape.

The ‘flower in bondage’ idea has done before in Serge Lutens’ underrated Nuit de Cellophane, but that perfume was more a fetishized pneumatic tuberose/osmanthus babe à la Helmut Newton, wrapped in cling-film and emerging from her little Berlin S+ M photography session to a glass or two of champagne (and whatever else) with the fetishistic maestro of kink. Aside an acrylic top note like the cellophane that wraps a bouquet of midnight yellow roses, Serge Lutens’ creation was surprisingly conventional.

The Comme Des Garcons is different, more ferociously futurist. But although Eau de Parfum can shock with its plasticity, as with Cellophane, the natural components in the blend, such as the vanillic resin styrax lurking down in the base, do steady these tender flowers and make them relatable, as do the gentle laundry musks that while equally synthetic, we have come to equate with clean humanity.

Like the gleaming unperturbable blanc of the Comme Des Garcons store’s permaglass surfaces, Eau de Parfum is an essay in white.   A space-age lilac; its flower narcotized by the safraleine, as though these sussurating flowers, with gentle May hawthorn for company, were sent off into outerspace – lain down on suede and nudged into polystrene –  while equipment, pristine from the production line, awaits in boxes; adhesive-sealed and bubble-wrapped. The note of baby powder that lies like a memory within the liquid is like the gargantuan foetus suspended in its galactic amniotic sac in Kubrick’s 2001, a memory of something tender several centuries before….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Still in a trance from these science fictional musings I unthinkingly reached for another perfume in another outrageous bottle: Luxe: Patchouli, which I knew I didn’t like (on paper) but which I thought I would give another chance (a big, unctuously drippy spray) on the back of my hand.  Oh Lord I wish I hadn’t. If any perfume could make me puke it is this. And nowhere to wash it off…..

Any regular readers of The Black Narcissus will know that I am a big patchouli wearer, but this is only nominally a member of that illustriously earthy family that I love so much. No: this is is a troll. A foul, tepidly warm bowl of celery cream soup, steeped and fermenting in fenugreek, curry, lovage and simmering leaves of Javan patchouli.

I HATE this. Celery is one of my favourite foods, but this celeriac, salted celery-seed note in such a thick, creamy alliance (opoponax, vanilla, oak) gives me a powerful, nauseated, punch in the bowels.

I do try and remain objective as far as possible when reviewing perfumes, and the dry down (six hours later, when I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating)  has that warm, aromatic edginess that would go well on a studied, Comme Des Garcons freak. I mean this unfacetiously. The brand truly ‘pushes the envelope’ in fashion, and this perfume could match certain of the bizarre, origamied ensembles perfectly. It is original, I will give it that. But I honestly think that if for some reason I were forced to wear this monstrosity on a daily basis, I would contemplate suicide.

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Better, if need be, to wear Eau de Parfum, much as it would eventually pain me to constantly be in its clinical embrace. To be wrapped in acrylics; suffocated in industrial chemicals and leather, and sent out, supine, embalmed in lilac, into the forever…

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O sweet fig : FLAGRANT DELICE by TERRY DE GUNZBURG (2012) (+ miniature figathon for Nina: L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier; Diptyque Philosokos; Miller Harris Figue Amere; Angela Flanders Figue Noire; Sonoma Scent Studio Fig Tree; Carthusia Io Capri )

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The pantheon of figs is dominated by two classic creations by Olivia Giacobetti –  lover of the ficus carica and of transparent, fresh fragrances in general – and the very talented perfumer who did Premier Figuier (‘the first fig tree’) for L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1991 and Philosokos ( ‘fig lover’ inGreek) for Diptyque in 1996. Both of these scents capture the cool, lactic, dark-green essence of the tree’s lobed rough leaves.

The Diptyque creation is the stricter fig of the two; more spartan and verdant, the leaves of the tree forming the centre of the composition. A tiny hint of coconut adds a hint of sweetness, although this is soon undercut by a fresh (almost harsh), woody note of white cedar that lasts for hours on the skin. Philosokos is refreshing and headclearing, a ‘calm in the storm’ kind of fragrance that allows you to re-equilibrate yourself in hot situations. I have the parfum solide, which is probably the most discreet and gentle scent I own in my collection.

Premier Figuier is a milkier, more pregnant fig. I  fell for this around 1993 as it seemed to represent a new beginning in my post-university life and was probably my first ever niche purchase. I remember excitedly stepping out onto the King’s Road from the L’Artisan boutique (which felt so secret back then, tucked somewhere behind a little side street, veiled in black, a real showroom of unusual treasures for those in the know) where I had been instantly seduced by the gorgeously leafy beginning of this perfume (parasol lime, galbanum, fig leaf), but even more by the entwining, in the heart, of fig and woozy coconut  (one of my very favourite notes in perfumery), a fusion that seemed to hover from my skin in a dream-like aura. It was addicting and compelling to me, and it now occupies a special position in the taxonomy of my mental fragranced library  – me at twenty two. But the perfume also has another dimension- a persistent, almost sweat-like aspect, which comes from the addition of sandalwood and a note of dried fruit. This stage of the fragrance was always a bit precarious on me ( I don’t wear sandalwood well) – and probably what caused this fig, for me eventually, to lose its lustre.

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Following these very original olfactive innovations by Giacobetti there was a time for a while in the nineties when fig was the note du jour, much as iris, rose, and oudh have been recently, and notes of the fruit or its leaves were injected into various small perfumeries’ new creations, as well as in mainstream releases such as Dior Dune Pour Homme (1997) and Marc Jacobs For Men (2002), both of which are quite nice, if less poetic. Most figsimiles kept that insistent green note in the foreground, though, and the genre was at one point in danger of becoming tired.

Miller Harris’ Figue Amère was a very different affair. I am an admirer of this English perfumer’s work in general : there is a real integrity and quality to it, a lack of cheap sweetness and the whole curdling sexual package – her scents unfurl and go off in skillful and self assured new directions. While most Harris compositions tend towards the tastefully floral, incense, or citric, Harris does let her hair down (the hilariously pink disco Noix de Tubéreuse comes immediately to mind, as well as the literally unwashed hair smell of the Jane Birkin collaboration L’Air de Rien), and Figue Amère belongs to this more strongly colour-blocked territory. To me, this perfume is all purple; flamboyantly dressed fairground people, big wheels, and Black Love joss sticks. The scent is so lush in its heart and base (narcissus; angelica; sweet moss, cedar and amber) that the violet/fig/bergamot top notes soon get swallowed up in all this velvet crush : it is a rich blend that is warm and charismatic. For me, Figue Amère occupies its own special tassled turf of fig territory.

To move further along from the leaves of the tree – along its branches, its stems, and up to the curving inflorescence of those pulpy, seed-lined fruit and their heady pink flesh, we come to Figue Noir (2006) by Angela Flanders, a perfumer with a lovely little boutique just by the Columbia Road flower market in London. I spent a whole afternoon with Ms Flanders a couple of years ago, interviewing her over tea and cake as she told me the story of her life and perfumes. What I liked especially about her is her passion for her craft but also her nonchalance – she has a mischievous side to her as well – which is inspiring to see in someone who has been around so long. She is not jaded in the least, and her fig – nominated for a FIFI award – is a rebellious shocker: it smells like swelling, overripe figs falling apart in your hands; a hilarious, sticky mess. No, that is not it: Figue Noir isn’t as natural as that. It is more like a tongue-searing mouthful of glinting, hardboiled sweets: if you could buy them at the confectioners they would be pear drops. Great big fig drops.

The scent is almost mind-bendingly headachey in its synthetic overdoses but also actually somehow brilliant, its psychotropic examination of this fruit from within opening brand new and exciting figgy vistas in our giddy heads.

A warmer, more expansive and suffusive fig scent is the natural- smelling, tranquillizing, yet engrossing Fig Tree by Sonoma Scent Studio; an inspiriting, woody fig with rich balsamic undertones that draws you into its allaying, shaded spaces and allows you to stop what you are doing and breathe. While the beginning stages of extraordinarily verdant, harsh green fig leaves are almost unsettling, quite soon, richer, denser notes of cedar, tonka, patchouli and vanilla begin to be sucked up, drop by drop, up through the bark of this confidently imperious fig tree, and the scent, imbued with nutritioning sunlight, comes fully into its own.  A love-filled perfume to collect your thoughts; coalesce; regroup.

Completely on the opposite end of the ficus spectrum is the fascinating Io Capri by Italian perfumery Carthusia, a transfixing scent that I only discovered recently at a shop in Tokyo, but which transported me anywhere but: I was in Rome, in the cold, marbled atrium of an otherworldly, ancient palazzo on some hot September afternoon. I could smell the fresh, cool sheets of a hotel room; of a huge, beautiful, shining white bath and inviolable, hard, triple-milled soaps waiting, timelessly, on its sides. Strange, aqueous depths. Blue caves; Roman dolphins; the underworld. Weird. In fact, though I couldn’t stop myself from sniffing this odd creation, I had no ability mentally to break down this scent into its olfactory constituents; it remained a scented conundrum, incredibly fresh and clean in a way that made me just want to lie down and sleep. Deeply. In those sheets: the Foro Romano, the place I used to walk on cold days alone in the rain, out there somewhere – dogged, discordant – in the distance. It was only when I looked up the notes in the scent did it start to jigsaw into sense: a green, herbaceous fig with wildly discordant notes of mint, eucalyptus and tea fused with fig leaves that takes you to watery grottoes of Botticelli, of clifftop villas and lagoons. Gorgeously strange, Io Capri doesn’t suit me in the least but I might buy it nonetheless as it touches me in a way I can’t quite understand.

Which brings us to the present day, and Ms Gunzburg’s latest addition to this world of figs. This new perfume is called Flagrant Délice, obviously a play on in flagrante delicto, or being caught in the act – a criminal caught with his hand in the caramellized fig jar?  – or more simply a pun on the sense of flagrant, blatant deliciousness. Fortunately the scent does pretty much live up to its name, and I am enjoying this perfume at the moment as we get into the Christmas season.

This is a sparkly, gourmand fig, with a delicious base of tonka bean, almond milk and white musk, the fig main theme complemented with bergamot, mandarin, and surprisingly, a scintillating note of red currant that dances above it all like a sweet Yuletide posy. The warm richness of the scent – which in its entirety smells a little like licorice – is vaguely reminiscent of Hermès Vétiver Tonka, while the overall feeling is of a fig, fully realized, and happy. This is not something I could wear every day –  it is quite ‘thick’ – but if you think of it as Premier Figuier and Philosokos’ older, fruitier cousin, dressed up and festive in a Santa costume under the Christmas tree, it is a very attractive and welcome new addition to the fig club.

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La rosée du matin : SLOANE ROSE by ATELIER FLOU (2010)

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There is something quite brazen about calling a posh girl’s rose scent ‘Sloane Rose’, a perfume bafflingly described by its perfumers as ‘resolutely out of time’.

Perhaps she is. Stealing outside at her friend Rosine’s estate; pinching blooms; self-aware and cannily barefoot in the dawn. A delicate, blackberry-dewed rose, with succulent petals and a strawberry creamed wink in the underglow, as the lights in the house remain off and she revels for the moment in the freedom and privilege she was born into:

 

 

(‘ahhh…….Polesden Lacey………!’)

 

 

An effect, light and rather pleasing ma petite choux fleur, produced by rose of manila, orange; Scandinavian violet; a touch of cedar; and Chenaï jasmine sambac.

 

With its crisp opening, as the orange and the jasmine clasp the stems of this fresh morning English rose, the scent is simple, fruity and a little bit petulant.  Not daring, as asserted by Flou: but actually…….really rather scrumptious.

 

 

 

 

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THE DUSKY SLUMBERS: OMBRE MERCURE by TERRY DE GUNZBURG (2012) + LYS FUME by TOM FORD (2O12)

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Ombre Mercure is a woozy, classical modern – a salted, thicker Apres L’Ondée, diffused with the modernistic fumes of Violet Blonde, a touch of Une Fleur de Cassie, and some of the floral warmth of the first Gucci Eau de Parfum….

 

‘Reminiscent of loose powder, red lipstick and the classic chypres, it is especially designed for passionate characters’ says Mlle Gunzburg, a renowned makeup artist who released her first collection of fragrances last year, and I can quite easily imagine some people falling for this soft, gauzy perfume, which is definitely shadowy, as its name suggests, though not in the least mercurial.

 

Essentially an earthy iris butter with powdered violet over a ducksdown of patchouli, benzoin and musky vanilla, it is a very slow, drifting perfume, like mauve-reflected clouds in a painting. Seamless and unjarring; enveloping.

 

 

 

 

 

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What it lacks, though,  is that indefinable something, or ingredient – wit? – that would take it into the realms of the irisy sublime. On the other hand, its anchored slowness and immediate romantic appeal could easily make it someone’s signature.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lys Fumé is another immediately likeable perfume, though one that is not remotely worth its extravagant price tag. Having said that, it is an interesting take on the lily. Unlike many spotless, altar-inhabiting lilies, this is more like a lys of the underworld……….

 

As a part of the Jardin Noir collection, it succeeds in being, if not quite ‘smouldering’, then certainly, at the very least,  shifting and quixotic – a hip young Gucci-clad beauty sitting downstairs in some private members’ club, a bit unsure of herself, perhaps, but defiant. This perfume would rise in coils from her shoulders and slowly seduce.

 

 

The lilies are not smoked, as you might expect, but underlying the top notes of lily, mandarin and pink pepper, is a strange dusting of nutmeg and turmeric, an unusual note in a floral perfume that gives it a blurry, caliginous edge. A dollop of rum and a sultry base of styrax, oak and labdanum take this impression even further.

 

 

 

Lys Fumé is not as intriguing as I am perhaps making it out to be – like most Tom Ford perfumes there is something plasticky and self-conscious about the scent. At the same time, I can imagine being sat next to this girl with her fixed, restless gaze, and being intoxicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SCENTLESS IN JAPAN (or, why my life here is like a fragranced Jekyll and Hyde)+ THE COLOGNES OF GANDINI

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I haven’t yet written about the strange double olfactory life I lead in Japan, and plan to do so more extensively at a later date. Suffice it to say that I learned the hard way that the scents I had been wearing to the series of preparatory schools I teach at were utterly incompatible with the delicate smell culture, and nasal apparatus, of all who studied and worked in them. Admittedly, I had not been subtle. In my job prior to this one I had taught doused in Kenzo L’Elephant and Héritage, among others, the orientals I am naturally drawn to, but the sophisticated Yokohama adults I was teaching never seemed to complain (not that Japanese people would….)

It was in teaching kids that I got into trouble. Of course, common sense would dictate that sweet, smothering scents are not suitable for the classroom (and, wait for it,  WE ARE ACTUALLY NOT ALLOWED, IN ANY CASE, IN THE COMPANY’S RULES, TO WEAR PERFUME!!!).

Thus you find a person who lives through his nose, obsessed with how he and others smell, who feels worse than naked without a scent (particularly given the tendency of people from minority ethnic groups, as I am, to slowly become paranoid about the fact that they might smell different to the locals, that they might stink – a term called bromidrophobia); unable to express himself the way he should. Initially, knowing that foreigners can get away with murder in Japan if they just feign not to have understood properly, I thought nah, the kids won’t mind if I smell like a cake, mistaking children’s natural like of all things sweet for an adult male dripping with musky, ambered vanilla.

I remember standing outside the classroom after the first ‘English conversation training’ class I did with the Japanese teachers, and eavesdropping on them talking about this ‘spicy’, ‘sweet’ smell I had left in the room (Obsession For Men and the body cream to boot) and I stupidly took it as a compliment. It was not until I was given Givenchy’s Pi, in the pleasing edp form as a birthday present (heavier, orangier, richer) that things got out of hand, and a class of eleven and twelve year olds were literally screaming at me, hands over mouths, to open the windows. Gagging. At this point, given that the manager of one school had essentially ordered me to stop wearing perfume, I had to change my tune.

Little by little I became more and more extraordinarily hypersensitive to any comment about my smell, particularly the word ‘kusai’, (‘he stinks!‘) or in its more slangy, rude version ‘kusei‘ , and if I heard a student say this under his or her breath it was mildly traumatic for me at best. Yet, wearing nothing just never seemed a possible option for me: (it just…..isn’t). Instead, I decided to try a different tack and smell as nice, as pleasant, as FAULTLESS,  as possible.

Cue endless experiments over the decade with washing powders, fabric conditioners, shampoos and soaps, and of course, scent, but in fact fragrances that were completely different to what I would wear at weekends or when going out. To explain further, I will give you a basic description of my fundamental tastes, how I smell in my free time (when I am unshaven, a bit shaggy in my dress, rather than the well-groomed, perfectly shaven, besuited Mr Chapman I become during the work week…).  I can appreciate many kind of perfumes, and as a writer about perfume I obviously try to be as objective as possible,  but the ones I love best on myself can probably be divided into these categories:

1. The Orientals, especially vanilla: Shalimar, Vaniglia del Madagascar, Un Bois de Vanille.

2. Patchouli: Borneo 1834, Lorenzo Villoresi, Micallef, and particularly Givenchy Gentleman.

3. Vetiver: Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Racine, Vétiver Tonka, and so on, plus my favourite vetiver/leather of all time, and one of my favourites in any category, vintage Chanel No 19 parfum.

4. Oud/Rose (though like many committed fumeheads I am going off it in the current climate of oud overload). I have many Montale scents, though, and I have to say I wear them somewhat magnificently, particularly while dancing with no deodorant.

5. Tropical: Strangely, I  carry off the tropics quite convincingly: any coconut, tiare, ylang ylang or tuberose/gardenia scent I can wear quite nicely. I smell particularly good in Cacharel’s Loulou!

6. Clove/Carnation: my favourite spice, and a flower which smells great on a man à la Oscar Wilde.

7. Citrus/ Blackberry : Occasionally I yearn for a great, simple citrus, particularly with that mûre et musc undertone, such as Bouquet Impériale by Roger et Gallet, and of course the original Mûre by L’Artisan.

The list could go on, but let me tell you that none of the above are remotely acceptable in my workplace. You occasionally sniff the odd rule-bender: I have noticed subtle drifts of the odd spray of Bulgari Pour Homme or masculine scented deodorant, and some of the female teachers’ cleaner-than-thou deep repairing masks and other hair products circumvent the rules pretty succinctly, but since I cannot and never would even consider wearing anything sporty or ‘male’ (ie. all the scents on the current market sold at duty free or on the high street, where the ‘fresh’ citrus and ozonic notes fade to aggressive woody ambers……… I would rather die; it would feel like an enforced transvesticism like the tragic character in Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In), I have had to resort to another kind of cross dressing: women’s soft, citric sheer florals. Subtlely sprayed on one shirt cuff or two, or on the inside of my suit jacket.

By far the most triumphant choice in this regard was Clinique’s Happy, which not only did I get away with, but which had  girls swooning and following me down the corridors saying ‘ii nioi, ii nioi!!!!’, you smell so good, like flowers Mr Chapman, you smell like flowers………even in small doses it left a trail around me that smelled so pure, clean, pleasant; American, in the best possible sense. A straight man from the US even said to me once at the gym…. ‘Man you smell so good’, so obviously this really worked for me: I knew I smelled immaculate; fresh; godly. That perfume is really clever, and I have followed women down the street wearing it who smelled like angels, the problem being in my case that it gave me such intense headaches – sharp, pain down the nerves of my skull akin to a migraine, that I unfortunately had to stop buying it (I must have got through four bottles at least). I don’t mind suffering for my art, but this was too much. Antonia’s Flowers’ Floret, which has a similar mood, had the same effect on my skull.  I have read about the possibility of Happy being toxic, that there are some ingredients in it that probably shouldn’t be, but all that belongs to another post…….

In short, for work I can only wear something fresh, long-lasting, laundry-ish, to put in my Jekyll and Hyde collection. I have two wardrobes: work clothes have to go in a different room so as not to become ‘contaminated’ with the stench of the weekend libertine. No, they must smell fresh as a daisy. Currently I am wearing Guerlain’s Champs Elysées, which has unfortunately been reformulated (my previous mini had a gorgeously glassy, green-buddleia note, more almondy – this new version has a gassy ‘grapefruit’ smell in the top accord, but they both dry down in the same way, which isn’t perfect, but feels acceptable). I have succeeded also in wearing tiny amounts of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi, Gwen Stefani’s Music (!) and best of all, Summer by Kenzo, which makes me feel like I have just emerged from the sea, opened armed, like the Christ on sugar-loaf mountain statue in Rio. That one also gets compliments, as I trail through the school in sunny, wave-fresh confidence…

GANDINI

It will now be understood that I am always on the lookout for suitable scents, because though perfume may be banned in my school, as far as I am concerned they can go fuck themselves. Gandini, ‘Maestri Profumieri’ from 1896 (though no one seems to have ever heard of these ‘master perfumers’ until their wares suddenly appeared on the shelves this year or last) have a selection of ‘colognes’, which in fact have the strength and quality of niche eau de toilettes, that seem like likely candidates for my work wear. I am very drawn to Italian artisan perfumery in any case, as there is a simplicity, a goodness, much like the country’s cuisine, that does away with pretentiousness and just tries to make the composition as pleasing to the nostrils as possible. The Gandini scents are far from being mind-blowing, but given how nice they smell, they are also extremely good value for money.

ROSA ROSSA E FIORI DE PESCO

is the first one from the line that I have actually worn to school, and I quite enjoyed it. This is a glassy, pure and glinting peach and rose scent that has the quality of piercing, mid-morning summer light refracted through coloured marbles; children chasing after them as they roll off lazily into the grass. It is extremely clean-smelling, if perhaps a touch synthetic, but I enjoyed the sensation of feeling that butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth. The top notes of passion fruit and peach, combined with an osmanthus touch and ‘red rose’, have a clarity that was lovely on the way to work, although the vetiver and cedar dry down was a little insistent for my scent-free environment, almost a touch oudhish (and thus outrageous) in that context. Considering that it only cost thirty pounds for a bottle though, I can recommend this wholeheartedly as a peachy clean rose fragrance.

FOGLIE E FIORI D’ARANCIO

Heavenly cologne opening: citrusy, floral and fresh, with soft undertones. Like flinging open the shutters in an Italian palazzo after a night on cool sheets and a long, soapy shower and breathing in the new, sunny day. Shall we meet for espresso? Jasmine and orange blossom flowers are briefly hydrated in leaves of mandarin, lemon fruit and orange, before a more classical floral cologne heart appears over faint woody notes. At the centre is a great profusion of living, countryfied  orange blossom with just a hint of the mushroomy sensuality at the heart of the actual flowers.  There are hundreds of nerolis on the market,  but this  one is classically cheering, well constructed and airy. If you know you like orange blossom, and especially if you are in the mood for  a new scent to take with you on holiday,  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

LIME E BASILICO

I personally always felt that Jo Malone’s Lime, Basil and Mandarin cologne was somewhat overrated. Yes, it is lovely at first, but to me, or at least on my skin, it becomes confused in its later stages, even unpleasant. All the freshness disappears and you are left with a sourish nothing. Can Gandini’s Lime and Basil improve on things?

It can. A vigorous opening of lime, mandarin and bergamot, with a vetiver, thyme and basil undertow is very appealing: simple, with no extraneous fuss, and very natural smelling, a kind of more rustic version of Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte.  A vaguely floral accord underlines this (supposedly orris and lily), while a dry patchouli eventually emerges, all very sensual in the scent’s later stages. I can imagine a handsome, jaunty Italian tipo, late for an appointment, spritzing some of this on before running his fingers absent-mindedly through his hair, then darting out across the piazza to meet his friends.

MUSCHIO BLU

I am not a musk wearer, and certainly not to work, but I do like this blend that reminded me somewhat of  Gaultier Le Mâle, but purified: without that perfume’s rough, splayed, commercial quality. This musk is contained; sweet, light, with the colour and texture of blue Wedgewood china. The heart is of water lily, champaca flower and orris, giving the scent a powdery feel, while a faint top note of coconut and ‘noce’, which translates as walnut, adds a faintly gourmand edge. In truth, none of the notes given by Gandini are really perceptible, but the scent works as a gentle, enveloping, and innocent, modern musk. You would never object to sitting next to someone wearing this.

LAVANDA ED AMBRA ORO

Perfect, almost clinical herbal lavender as the alcohol clears, with sharp notes of coriander and geranium leaf, while the decluttered amber and cedar in the base become quickly apparent. Less weighed down than other amber lavenders, this is very pleasant scent, with a certain saintly aspect.

Yes, I like this line. What smelling Gandini brings home to me is just what a rip-off a lot of niche perfumes are. These are all high quality, well-made , enjoyable perfumes sold at a fraction of the price of other niche brands, meaning you can spray with abandon as colognes are meant to be sprayed, use them as everyday products rather than as precious elixirs to be treasured (I think perfumistas need both.) As for the peculiar perfume climate I work in, I think a touch of the Rosa Rossa might work, but the others…..no. They are made in a country where people are not afraid to smell good, where a scented aura around a person is not seen as offensive. Where perfume is truly appreciated, and loved.

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Filed under Basil, Citrus, Flowers, Orange Blossom, Rose