Tag Archives: Comme des Garçons

HEAT ME UP WITH CINNAMON : Ambre Narguilé by Hermès (2004) + Vanille Cannelle by E. Coudray (1935) + Rousse by Serge Lutens (2007) + Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997) + Ambre Cannelle by Creed (1945) + Noir Epices by Editions de Parfum (2000) + Cinnamon sherbet by Comme des Garcons (2003) +..







It is  absolutely freezing here in Kamakura today. Grey, icy, miserable, with the possibility of sleet or cold rains tumbling down this afternoon as I have to head out into the sticks to do my evening classes.


Ugh. While the temperatures this week, hovering just above or below zero, might seem positively balmy to some of you reading this, especially those suffering under the current deep freeze in North America, the particular problem here is the heating systems, or lack thereof. With a country as hot and humid as Japan is for much of the year, the traditional houses here are not insulated at all, and there is no central heating as Europeans know it, with the hellish result that any heat generated by the detested ‘air conditioners’, those nasty machines that make you sweat yet always seem to have a top layer of cold wind circulating to make you shiver unpleasantly at the same time, or the throat-drying, and dangerous, kerosene heaters we are compelled to use in our house to keep warm, seems to immediately dissipate the minute you switch them off, disappearing like a bastard through the draughty cracks in the doors and windows. I HATE it, and am really yearning for the stolid, stable heat of English hot water radiators, for the suburban living rooms where it is so warm you can just lounge about in a t-shirt and not even think about being cold, or else for spring to just hurry up and arrive.


January, a time of overwork, tons of pre-exam classes, and basic lack of physical well-being, is thus usually somewhat miserable for me, an overextended period of gloom and grey, with no possibility of any warm sunshine for at least another three or four months, and of nothing but neurotically obsessing about how many layers to wear the whole time (the misery of a sweat soaked t-shirt beneath those hot layers, as you deliberate between the dilemma of keeping on the wet t-shirt and hoping it will dry, or having to head into a public convenience and contort yourself into ludicrous positions as you renegotiate your clothing).





Moaning aside, though, to generate some warmth right now, both physical and psychological, one of my pleasing and simple comforts is herb tea, especially just before bed. I have experimented with many kinds of tisanes over the years (lemongrass, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm) and know now which ones have the strongest physiological effects on me personally. Whereas in the morning I need hot, steaming coffee and lots of it, at night my tea of choice is rooibos, a South African plant that is incredibly soothing and sends me to sleep even when I am overtired and agitated. This winter I have been experimenting quite a lot with my night brew,  adding different combinations of spices for an added boost, in particular ginger, my vanilla pods from the Javan plantation, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and it has really struck me recently quite how carnal, almost animalic in fact, cinnamon can be, particularly when combined with natural vanilla pods. Where spices like cardamom and nutmeg have a fresh, bracing quality; ginger Chinese verve and fire, and cloves an almost uptight, dark elegance in comparison to cinnamon, my night teas, especially if left brewing for a long time, sometimes take on the slightly naughty aspect of the filthiest orientals: a trace of civet; a very human, bodily aspect that can be almost disconcerting but also deeply mollifying, in a childlike way, when the cold air is surrounding you, and your senses concentrate instead solely on this mothering,  sensual taste. The thick, body-hugging glug of mulled wine that has been steeped in cinnamon sticks;  cinnamon hots; the smell of cinnamon-sprinkled buns and cakes drifting out from a city bakery as you walk along that dark path with hands tucked in coat pockets as if the world couldn’t really be as bad as you thought ( your senses perking up without your even noticing and you find you have plumped for that Starbucks hot cinnamon roll and latte instinctively,  realizing to your horror that you have just consumed 800 calories in one indolent go). Oh well: cinnamon is a palliative: a remedy. Though it is not my favourite spice (that would be clove, or cardamon, or even perhaps saffron), I do think that there is nothing more balancing and heart-repairing in the world of spice. It is the great balancer.

The effect of cinnamon in perfumery is similar to its culinary use –  surely the most trustworthy and unthreatening of the spices; easy, familiar, emotionally warm, and although it does not usually feature as the main theme of many fragrances – probably because it is seen as precisely too foody –  blended, usually, with orange, mandarin, balsams, exotic florals and other spices for the oriental cargo effect (Cinnabar, Opium); or with animalic ambers and vanilla (Obsession, Obsession Men, Cuir Mauresque) – all of which feature a prominent note of the spice that lends their blends a touch of  patisserie snugness and repose, the perfumes we are looking at today are more overtly cinnamonic: tailor-made, surely, for these darker months of winter…….




Sunday: 6pm. It has been raining; dark, freezing cold.


You have just done something really bad – been shouted at and belted: and after bawling out your eyes in your bedroom upstairs, and are lying prostrate, aimless, and self-pitying, on top of the bed covers; the taste of hot, angry tears still swirling in your head.

Then – suddenly, after who knows how long, the warm, delicious smell of your mother’s baking apple pie finds its way up the reproachful bannisters, and, gradually, life is again alright.

Warm apples, slow-burning cinnamon; mouth-watering aromas of rich buttered pastry; the lilting promises of melting vanilla ice cream.


This is Ambre Narguilé: an exalting perfume that seems to provoke obsessive reactions in some people (an olfactory method of regression therapy? ‘Remember the pain. But also remember the good times….’), a scent that is truly designed for cuddling up.


An hour after spraying it on, after the sweet shock of the apple strudel opening, Ambre Narguilé is an edible and addictive patisserie classic; gorgeously moreish and emotive with a vivid cinnamon underlay. To get to this point, though, you do have to go through stages of ambery, sugary bulimia; and to be honest, I’m not always sure I am going to make it each time as for me it is just that little bit too sweet. Still, I seem to have got through most of my bottle in one way or another, and I do feel that this scent has really stood the test of time. It is is worth seeking out if you are having a crap week; it is freezing with rain; and you need a sweet, sensory escape.


The perfection of the perfume’s  ending, as it hugs to your skin in the softest, dessert-like caress, is the sheerest wintry succour.







Discontinued, so probably hard to find now, but I once had the pleasure of using the E Coudray Vanille Cannelle bath oil on a cold winter’s night when staying at a friend’s house, and with the ambery vanilla-orange thickness tumbling from the lip of the bottle I just melted into the steaming hot water in total bliss. That bottle, of the very old Parisian type, standing beside to me on the side of the bath like an old friend, just added to the sensation of romance and escape: a perfectly judged dose of cinnamon, and sweetly clinging vanilla, in the manner of the best, most delicious, French cakes.





Rousse (‘the red head’), one of Serge Luten’s less talked about orientals, is a very different, but equally appealing, scent possessed of red-raw spices that jump out and devour you; the fiery taste (and 3D texture) of real cinnamon sticks and cloves in an ambered, woody, and resinous Lutensian setting. It is direct, pungent, and somewhat simple-minded (in the manner of Louve, Lutens’ cherry-almond), but if you like to wear your spice on your sleeve, as I most certainly do, this rough, flushed, russet perfume is perfect: a chic cinnamon bomb to take on the night.






A serious cinnamon. As you’d expect from Mr Lorenzo, Incensi is a languorously layered, complicated scent with a certain integrity, the incense of the name not prominent until the drydown where the main feature in this curious blend is more a ginger-bolstered cinnamon emerging from a blast of strange greenness (elemi, leaf notes, galbanum) than the more liturgical scent you might be expecting: the preferred, cooler incensed notes of antiquity lying calm and serious beneath like a cellar  (frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, styrax), while the note of cinnamon –  unsweetened, potent,  and vaguely ecclesiastical, remains curiously prominent throughout.


A cinnamon scent, perhaps, for Pope Francis.







If you are male and have always secretly wished you had worn Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium – that brilliant and unforgettable classic for women from the 70’s –balsamic, spicy and orange-laden – but were just too embarrassed to buy a ‘women’s’ perfume, for whatever reason, then here’s your chance. Ambre Cannelle is apparently a part of Creed’s men’s range; and admittedly there are fewer flowers;  its physiognomy has more sinew, it’s formula perhaps more refinement, but this scent was obviously the inspiration (along with Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew) for the whole swooning-Jerry Hall-Roxy-Music-addict phenomenon that was Opium – just thirty years before. It is quite a nice scent, actually, with a sexed, ambergris/ musk base that clings to the cinnamon-amber-flecked accord with air of tightened, bodily mystique.


It IS somewhat old fashioned, though; check it out for yourself first before committing (in a floor length fur coat).







A very well respected and original cinnamon spice that many cite as their favourite from the Frederic Malle line, for the tightly woven structure; the dense, spiced treatment of orange and geranium over arid, woody finish, and I can certainly see the Noir Epices’ fan club members’ point, but on this occasion, I am afraid, I must beg to differ.


While I can certainly see the appeal of this perfume’s  fat-free structure (no musk: no fluffiness: no soft, vanillic contours), its stark angularity,  like Campari and orange, which I like in theory for its bitter sunset red but in reality can’t drink, the vile bitterness of this perfume’s orange makes me shudder. I find it quite unendurable on my own skin, though I have to say that I was astonished to find that the perfume I was complimenting on my friend Justin one night at karaoke – warm, sensual, compelling and sexy – was in fact Noir Epices.


Yet another argument for the fact that some perfumes really do smell utterly distinctive on different people.






Of the three jaunty little perfumes in the Comme Des Garcons sherbet series, to me, Cinnamon is possibly the least successful. The Rhubarb is surely a delight: the Mint the greenest, mintiest thing you’ve ever smelled, but the cinnamon, with its contrasting (jarring?) notes of hot and cold, is less loveable.



On the other hand, the freshness of the scent and its resemblance to more spicy, ozonic scents like Issey Miyake Pour Homme make it the most commercial of the three, and rather an original take on the note of cinnamon. Like all the sherbets, it is quite fun.






Other cinnamons:

VANILLE CANELLE/ COMPTOIR SUD PACIFIQUE Just what you’d expect from Comptoir– a warm, sexpot aroma of cinnamon in a sweet, ready to wear (for evening) setting.

CINNAMON SPICE/ BODY SHOP Serviceable perfume oil that does the trick in a mumsy, down-at-the-shops kind of way.


CINNAMON TOAST/ DEMETER  Olfactory holograms for cinnaphiles with bulimic appetites.



Do let me know if there are any other good cinnamon perfumes you can recommend that I am not aware of: I imagine there must be quite a few good ones out there that I haven’t mentioned and I am really in the mood for this smell and taste.




Let’s cinnamon!


Filed under Cinnamon, Perfume Reviews, Spice


Yesterday I discussed some perfumes by the ever popular Comme Des Garcons, including the latest (and bizarre) Eau De Parfum. The original, groundbreaking CDG scent was a warm, spicy incense created by British/German perfumer Mark Buxton. I had the good luck to interview him this summer about his work with Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Comme Des Garcons, as well as talking about his own eponymous new line, Mark Buxton Perfumes, which includes some very appealing and inventive perfumes such as Black Angel and Sleeping With Ghosts. You can read the interview here on the Aesop Register.


Also, the lovely Birgit at Olfactoria’s Travels is giving me a guest post over the next couple of Fridays where I will be discussing my passion for vanilla. On this freezing, rainy cold day I can personally think of nothing better.

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Filed under Flowers


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


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.









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.






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….


















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.


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…













Filed under Patchouli, Perfume Reviews

OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)







Hinoki, or Japanese cypress, is a very beautiful smell that you cannot really avoid if you live in Japan. It is more smoky than cedar, more lemony than cypress, a soothing yet powerful essence that the Japanese use as a building material for temples and shrines, as an incense, in bath salts essences, and to make the wooden rotenburo, the open air hot springs that the people so revere. Even the soap you use before you enter the waters, at my favourite onsen in Hakone, is hinoki scented.


I love hinoki. Unlike other evergreen essences it does not have a harshness – the lung-searing directness of pine, the depressing forest-floor darkness of fir. It is antimicrobial, like those; pure, but also somehow tranquil.



In fact, I like the essential oil so much that I once made a rather lovely homemade blend of Moroccan rose otto, patchouli, a touch of ylang ylang extra; then clove, iris, and a big dose of hinoki, the essential ingredient at the centre of the perfume that took it almost to the realm of the spiritual.

A small dab here and there was great on a winter jumper.









Monocle magazine’s ‘collabo’ with the ever-quirksome fashion legend Comme des Garçons sought to capture the Nippophilic air of a perfectly designed onsen, taking the essence of hinoki and combining it with an appealing chart of ingredients (on paper, or the computer screen at least): camphor, cedar, pine, thyme, frankincense and a strong dose of turpentine, that, like the latter, with its well known paint-stripping qualities, somehow succeeds in desapping the hinoki like a particularly virulent form of Dutch Elm’s. The addition of these moistureless greens somehow lessens the title note, a vascular desiccation that sees the tree juices sucked out, along with their Japanese spirit.



I know that some people love this fragrance, and rhapsodize on its evocations of ancient, shinto-filled forests. I cannot agree. Real Japanese incense has a smouldering liquid at the heart of it – never simplistic or linear, it seems to contain the carnality of humans even as it renders that animality to smoke: it is sensual while being severe.



The incense note in the Monocle fragrance is dead. Dry; it signifies ‘urban’ in the worst sense of the word (cut off from nature, believing every word of the latest ‘directional’ hype). The result is a flat, ashen little scent for fashionistas that I wouldn’t give the time of day.














As for Comme Des Garcons, I have bought a fair few of their scents over the years (the original spicy eponymous scent and its offshoots White and Cologne; Calamus, Incense Jalsaimer and Kyoto, and Vettiveru), and although I can never fully get into the company’s taut efficiency, I still find them intriguing as a brand, like to try out their modish offerings. At one of the Tokyo boutiques on Sunday, where I always feel horribly boring in whatever I am wearing as it seems that nothing less than a mushroom smock, a bustle and striped leggings – the full industrial rumpelstiltskin caboodle and hair of razored black asymmetry (and that is just the boys), will do. But scootling uneasily among the racks we did come across the new ‘Play’ series, which comes in colour-coded thematics of red, green and black, and thought they deserved a sniff. Black seemed the most inviting, and I got Duncan to spray some on. He immediately went for it, pepper hound that he is, declaring it full bottle worthy.



Though the notes – birch, black and red pepper, pepperwood, thyme, and citrus notes – sound harsh, the scent is in fact quite comforting and warm, a pleasing grey smudge of scented charcoal; snuggly almost, the notes of violet and black tea ceding to a masculine base of tree moss and soft incense. It was familiar, somehow (we both felt this, and I was struggling to come up with what it was – the first minute reminded me, strangely of Tuscany by Aramis, which I always thought was a beautiful scent), and easy to wear. The longevity on the skin was unexceptional, but overall the creation was aromatically satisfying, if slightly lacking in depth.




Still, I was ultimately unmoved. In recent times, Japanese aromatherapy companies have started to produce more indigenous essences, such as hinoki, hiba (which I like even more – a darker, richer, smoky cedar that I scent the house with), shiso, and yuzu among others. I was even startled to find an oil of my favourite winter fruit – iyokan – the other day, which is the most gorgeous orange you have ever smelled, a lip-smacking joy in wintertime when you rip off that thick, oil-filled peel.





For the time being, If I want the smell of Japan I will stick with these. Sometimes you don’t need to tamper with nature.








Filed under Japanese Cypress, Japanese Perfume, Masculines, Pepper, Perfume Reviews, Woods