Tag Archives: Hermes

ON PERSONALITY, VERSATILITY, AND HERMES EAU DE NARCISSE BLEU (2013)

 

 

 

 

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The terrifying, and profoundly affecting, central conceit in Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris (made subsequently into brilliant, if entirely differing, film adaptations by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh) is the idea that we are, essentially, how others see us. Although this is hardly a new notion, especially for anyone who has studied existentialism or simply spent time analyzing the human condition, it is still put into very painful relief in the form of Rheya, the wife of the main protagonist and scientist, Kris Kelvin, a man who finds himself investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of scientists on board a spacecraft that is being inexplicably magnetized, radiated and manipulated by Solaris, the planet the spaceship is currently in the process of orbiting: an insidious, nocturnal, interference that manifests itself in the form of night visitations to the surviving crew members by people that they left behind on earth, many years ago, mostly dead.

 

 

They return, to visit their loved ones, looking and seeming identical, the planet’s advanced intelligence scanning each crew member’s memories of that person and reproducing them with perfect fidelity, except, and most crucially, for the fact that they only have that person’s memory to go by. Meaning that the replicant being – unmalevolent, new, unaware of his or her condition – feels strangely, and excruciatingly lacking: sensing, and suffering, from the fact that vital parts of their mechanism – their soul if you like – are missing, for the simple, yet deadening, reason that their reborn, reassembled selves are composed, solely, of one other person’s limiting, self-serving and subjective, view point.

 

 

 

As the implications of the narrative begin to unfold, I always find this to be quite a horrifying idea. Where the myriad of components of our personalities, some concealed, some revealed, some unformed, some exaggerated, are in a perpetual flux of opposities and contradictions, moods and nuances – an ever evolving, constantly shifting mass of contrasting moods and perceptions, the Solaris projection is fixed: locked: and limited, simplified annihilatingly by the absorbent and moulding – if loving –  gaze of another. We are trapped, in other words, in their vision; undeserved: simplified: trashed. I may be wild and anarchic, a hooligan, libertarian: rude, vain, aggressive, irrational, a dreamer inclined towards decadence and crazed romanticism – but I can also be conservative, quiet, logical, removed, and actually, to the surprise of some people, really rather introverted. Both libidinous and chaste. Stupid and intelligent. Compassionate yet vindictive. Spiritual, yet a hedonist. Multifaceted. Just like anyone.

 

 

 

 

And although it may seem like a somewhat spurious link, I think the ideas presented in Solaris are also connected, in some ways, to perfume and personality: signature scents, other people’s associations of us, and the varied, unfaithful, and promiscuous lives of the true and collecting perfumist. Unlike the civilians on the street, who usually probably have just one, or possibly two scents, often given to them by somebody else as a gift (can you imagine having your signature scent conferred on you? my mind thrashes instinctively in protest and rejection even imagining this), just to wear………. because, we ‘smell sensitives’ bond far more deeply with the scents that we have identified with and chosen for ourselves – knowingly -and use them, often, to externalize and exteriorize our internal feelings (….why do we do this? To reinforce them? Double them? Colour them and decorate them, make them manifest? What weird, space-probing extroversion is this exactly?).

 

 

 

 

 

When we feel erotically inclined, we know what to wear, precisely, to boost the body’s arsenal. Extroverted, gregarious, attention-seeking: they’ve got my name on them. Comforting, sweet……oh yes. Mysterious and complex….something vintage and difficult; impenetrable, androgynous, and cloaky, from my antique Japanese cabinets. Then, another day……. simplicity, to strip ourselves right down to the bright rind frisks of the lemon, the yuzu; iciness, colournessness. Negation; nihilism even – I Hate Perfume’s Black March, with its bleakness of black-branched, crow-cawing sky; its hints of death, of soil, and of winter.

 

 

 

 

 

So while we may have our standard, essential, familiar-to-others base character – in my case probably patchouli, vanilla, tropical flowers, and coconut, and I admit that these are the smells I most readily identify with (party boy: heat: dancing: summer), we all, all of us, have our secret sides, our private sides, our unexpecteds, our anti-intuitives – our mood-changers, if you like: the perfume that is our rebellion against type. Our clandestine, impenetrable, refuge.

 

 

 

 

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Rheya, in Solaris, is trapped, tragically, in her grieving husband’s remembrances of her, which centre around three pivotal characteristics. Firstly, her sensuality (less so in the Tarkovsky, but especially in Soderbergh’s version of the story – one of my favourite films of all time, incidentally, starring a beautiful, sad and bereft George Clooney as Kelvin, and the compelling, eerie Natascha McCelhone as his dead wife . We see their first chance meeting, on a train, and she is mystery and salvation itself; alluring; intellectual, all eyes and try-to-get-me gestures). Her strange beauty, which has such a hold over him, is the principle affirmation in her alien reincarnation. But also there is poetry, for this is what they bond over, initially – their shared love of Dylan Thomas’ ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And death shall have no dominion.

Dead men naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

 

 

 

 

 

And death shall have no dominion.

Under the windings of the sea

They lying long shall not die windily;

Twisting on racks when sinews give way,

Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;

Faith in their hands shall snap in two,

And the unicorn evils run them through;

Split all ends up they shan’t crack;

And death shall have no dominion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And death shall have no dominion.

No more may gulls cry at their ears

Or waves break loud on the seashores;

Where blew a flower may a flower no more

Lift its head to the blows of the rain;

Though they be mad and dead as nails,

Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;

Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,

And death shall have no dominion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly, though, what Kelvin seems to remember about his long-disappeared wife, now, is her depressive and hypersensitive nature, her strong, and ultimately fatal suicidal tendencies (he finds her dead in bed following a row, and is guilt-stricken and destroyed as a result). Rheya is thus confined to these three, simplified characteristics in her resurrected incarnation; a truncated, edited person, limited by his own projections of what she represented for him personally. Convinced, the first time, by the other vehement crew members to get rid of ‘it’,  sending the cloned version of his beloved out to her death into the lifeless atmosphere outside, Kelvin nevertheless again has numerous re-visitations by this wife-clone, this hampered, uncomplex creature who feels all the lacks in her constituents, keenly, painfully, to the extent that she no longer wants to ‘live’ any more because her memories, and her sensations, don’t feel like her own ( despite the love that they still feel, inexorably, between them). The scientist, is too profoundly overjoyed, however, to have been given another chance at redemption – even if it is by an alien life form that is tampering with his insecurites – and is unable to let her die again. And as expected, he pays the ultimate sacrifice as a result (or does he? The film is steeped in ambiguity and the lovers, in whatever form they have taken, seem to be destined for eternity……..ultimately, though ostensibly a science fiction film, I think of Solaris as a deeply haunting love story). The Soderbergh version is one of the most hypnotic films I have ever seen, actually, largely due to the set design, atmosphere, and the throbbing, shimmering soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, while the Tarkovsky, original film from 1972 is almost too intolerably exquisite for me to bear: profound perfection, but deeply depressing, touching some chord in me that I wasn’t entirely sure I needed to be touched. It sits there waiting in my film collection to be re-viewed, but where I have seen the Soderbergh version probably at least six or seven times, The Tarkovsky will just have to wait until I can steel myself again fully, to its beautifully, searing, unalloyed, unflinching poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

Essentially, I am fascinated by the theories at the heart of this story, of the limiting nature of human-to-human interaction, how we box people, categorize them, reduce them to one, defining buzzword, feeling, trait. Even on the blogosphere, among the perfume cognoscenti, we know the essential tastes of the better known writers, can imagine this one person constantly sashaying about in a tart, trumpeting tuberose; that one in an essential oil of Laotian oud, another in Indonesian vanilla, even if they are guaranteed in reality to be as complex, and conflicting in their desires and fantasies as we ourselves are. Maybe they also, like myself, need their rebellious sanctuaries, reactions against type, smells to help them escape the confining, and suffocating, constraints of society, stereotype, and ‘personality’, to be freed.

 

 

 

 

 

And I think that Hermès Narcisse Bleu, which I smelled for the third time yesterday in a Japanese department store and loved ( I will need to buy it), might be one of those saviours: those tranquil, nerve-calming smells of cool, stalactitian antidote: the shady undergrowth where I suddenly want to be not what is expected of me; to rebel internally and from without, to be invisible, swimming silently, more subtle……The Blue Narcissus, this time, not the Black.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a perfume that is austere; aloof, removed: almost daringly, and revitalizingly cold. Though the notes are listed simply as being of narcissus and galbanum over woods, I was reminded immediately of the melancholy distance of Hermès Hiris (one of my other go-to ‘refuge’ scents), as well as the green and beautiful escape chute that is Geoffrey Beene’s violet-leaved Grey Flannel. I smell iris, and green notes, and something crisp, unsweetened, even bitter and tannic in this scent- it almost repels you, startlingly, with its aversion to the the sweet, even while it draws you in with its understated, arcadian elegance. It speaks to me directly, and will be a portal. To my grotto, a place you can’t touch. A place of isolation, peace, solitude. My anti-reference point. My blue lagoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLARIS THEATRICAL ONE SHEET MECHANICAL • ART MACHINE JOB# 5136 • 10/09/02

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Filed under Flowers

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) +..

 

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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).

 

HELL!!

 

 

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…….

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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).

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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 BUN / DEMETER &

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!

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Filed under Cinnamon, Perfume Reviews, Spice

THE GOOD BOY: HERMESSENCE VETIVER TONKA + ROSE IKEBANA by HERMES (2004)

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Monday, November 5th: I have just come back from my piano lesson with Ms Tanaka. Today we were tackling a Schubert sonata, and I had my first introduction to Rachmaninov in the form of an Etude ( I am constantly playing Debussy and Ravel and we both felt it was time for a change). Ms Tanaka is hilarious, and the perfect piano teacher for me – she really knows what she is doing, but is so eccentric and over the top that we spend half the time laughing: her mix of deep respect for the classical composers, but irreverence to life in general, plus her appearance (something like a combination of Les Dawson and Brian May from Queen, with black frizzle perm and bright red lipstick) make these Monday lessons a lot of fun indeed. Plus she only lives a minute from my house, which for this lazy creature is a very added bonus.

Of course I can’t resist wearing perfume when I go round. I couldn’t be any more different to her Japanese students (sometimes our lessons overlap and I see them sitting there, in obedient silence as she goes over points of style and technique with them, nodding in acquiescence, naturally unscented). I can’t be like that, often argue with her about points of expression, and will always wear whatever I feel like that day, so poor Tanaka has learned to just put up with it. When I first started lessons I was in a Montale phase, all oudh and roses, which my neighbourhood now thinks of as my smell (Takashi from the wine shop on the corner says that scent of Aoud Lime and Aoud Rose Petals makes his heart go doki doki); my teacher also seemed to quite like it, though she is quite orientally inclined in any case – she bought me back some perfume from Tunisia last year and I hope she will do the same when she goes to Tashkent in the Spring. The time with Ms Tanaka is time I can completely be myself.

Usually, however, I find the classical music world so staid and ‘respectable’ it gives me a slow-burst feeling of repression. I have always felt this way: that mix of burning ambition and rivalry, plus something inherently ‘elevated’ in the music itself that sears into the hearts of the upper classes as something ‘to be done’. Yet I love it, always have done. I belong to a musical circle, do recitals at concerts, times when I find myself plunged into that world of delicacy and politesse, so very far from my real self but which in a masochistic way I do kind of enjoy. A different world; a mask.

Every year Duncan and I, along with my friend Yoko – my piano duet partner – get invited to an Autumn Concert at a family’s house in a suburb of Yokohama, a lovely annual event that nevertheless is a little stiffer than I would usually like things to be, and where I feel I have to behave. My posse, which also includes an old lady called Ms Ichihara (she of the Crêpe de Chine review) form the loucher, more boozy contingent (there is always a party after everyone has performed upstairs on the grand piano, a big spread of food  in the living room), and we tend to quaff the wine while the more virginal and teetotal types tend to be seated at different, further, parts of the table.

Every year I wear Vétiver Tonka by Hermès. In fact, I think this is the only time I wear this scent, as I have come to associate it principally with this day, this atmosphere, a time when I feel I have to be the ‘good boy’ (or try, at least). The Hermessences were launched in 2004 as an ‘exclusive’ line to complement the (already expensive) Hermès perfumes, a series of delicate olfactory études that initially were designed to conjure up the textures of various fabrics – silk, velvet, cashmere, and so on. These are scents of real luxury, well constructed and imbued with a certain ‘ennobling’ character. However, this clutched aspect, the sense of holding oneself in, combined with the excruciating experiences I have had at Hermès boutiques in Tokyo, where the levels of snobbery reach untold, futile,  proportions ( I actually had a bust up at the Marounochi branch as I could no longer tolerate the brittle little minx’s attitude as she sneered at me while I dared to pick up the perfumes…the assistants, who know nothing whatsoever about fragrance, not even what perfumes their own shop has – Do you have Rouge? Ah, Just let me see…..Do you have the new Hermessence? Ah, let me just see….seem almost afraid to touch the bottles they are meant to be selling, despite their ignorance about them, as though they were precious reliquaries in a museum. And when they do it is literally while wearing the kid gloves that Hermès is famous for. All the while looking at you as though you were dirt they had just stepped in.)

But this topic could make my blood boil and spill out the murderous fantasies I had upon leaving that place that day; good lord I was furious, my mind filled with such terrible things; and this post is tentatively entitled The Good Boy.

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The point is, I have very conflicted attitudes towards these scents, as some of them are very good indeed, though what they represent makes me sick. Still, despite my reservations I did buy the original selection box of small eaux de toilette when it came out, which at the time comprised Rose Ikebana, Poivre Samarcande, Ambre Narguilé, and Vétiver Tonka (now it is possible to choose which four you would like from the eight or nine available).

They have come in handy. Duncan got through the Poivre in no time, and the Ambre is fun when guests come round and I want to make them believe that there really is a scent that smells exactly like cinnamon apple pie, but the other two I use exclusively for choice Japanese social events.

Rose Ikebana is a watery, sharp grapefruit and rhubarb rose, with muted touches of magnolia, peony, and a smidgen of pepper. The overall aura of fresh green tea and spring leaves, this understated restraint, is perfect for when I need to get my nose in the air or at least feel ‘refined’ in an artificial context where I am guaranteed not to feel comfortable, as I did when I had to attend one of my student’s winning a national prize at the Okura Hotel in Tokyo, a grand old place with gilded banquet hall, and where a speech was given by the American ambassador. (If I wanted to feel refined and elegant on my own terms, I would wear Hermès Calèche, Chanel No 19, or Racine by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, but these are my scents, my personal, heartfelt perfumes that I don’t want to share in the wrong context.) Rose Ikebana gave me a sense of detached confidence; on my skin lasting all day despite its de-amplified, wan watercolours; there is also a drier, more cynical woody note that appears later on that is more masculine, sinewy, and the entire lack of sweetness or softness aids me in keeping my teacherly smile intact while I flatter the daughter’s mother, raise my hands in a yet another soft round of applause. The scent, which I do like in its limited way, will remain in my perfume cabinet and will fulfill its function again at a later date, I am sure.

With a carefully chosen perfume like this you can present a self you want. You can exteriorize, project a different identity. In general I want to be nothing other than myself, but as I have said there are times when I almost enjoy the perverse pleasure of dressing up, of being someone else. Rose Ikebana also contains the vaguely subversive notion that I am wearing something slightly feminine (when all is said and done, Rose Ikebana is merely a dressed down, but more expensive version of YSL’s Baby Doll). If I seem overly negative about a ceremony which was a cause for celebration, this was principally due to the fact that such levels of formality are painful for me, physically, one of the harder aspects of living in Japan. All false communication is to me essentially pointless, and proud though I was of my student’s achievements, I was desperate to get out of there. I remember when they dropped me off in the taxi in Ginza, I was practically suffocating, yet went to the Hibiya Guerlain boutique in order to drenched myself, to the assistants’ bemusement, in Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Bois D’Armenie.

Ah yes, there I am again.

Vétiver Tonka is different. I do actually like this scent, as I like the people who go to the yearly music party. Unlike Ikebana, which is based on concepts of silk and the Japanese traditional art of flower arrangement with its rigid aesthetic rules despite its seeming haphazard nature, Vetiver Tonka is based on the idea of the texture of wool, and it is a deliciously comfortable scent, as soft and gentle as the finest, cashmere sweater, worn with a nice white shirt underneath. Easy to wear, easy to smell, and eminently huggable. Beginning with clean, zesty citrus top notes of neroli and bergamot over green, woody vetiver, sweet, ambered tones of tonka bean soon make their presence felt, woven tight with gourmand notes of cereals and hazelnut. The gentle refrains of tonka and vetiver interlinked are riveting, ending with a perfect, balsamic base that lasts all day. It is a warm, trustworthy scent, urbane, adult, a perfume in which I just feel ‘good’ and eminently respectable. It is no wonder that it enjoys such a good reputation.

In the bath before getting ready to go out though, I have to say that I felt a momentary panic at the thought of coming out and putting it on. Of course I could have easily put worn something else, but it somehow felt like a preordained destiny, that I had to wear that.  It fits the aura I wanted to project perfectly, yet something about that tonka, which I always think of as having a certain poisonous, bitter, moisture-sucking quality, so insistent, felt like a cossetted, unyielding, Parisian straitjacket.

I wore it anyway.

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Filed under Perfume Reviews, Rose, Tonka, Vetiver

THE DANDY

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Charles Baudelaire categorized the dandy as a man who has ‘no profession other than elegance….no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own person. The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption…. he must live and sleep before a mirror….’

Yet the true dandy was no mere clothes horse. In cultivating a skeptical reserve with his direct opposition to the unthinking bourgeoisie, these beautifully coddled individualists were following a code which ‘in certain respects comes close to spirituality and stoicism’.

 

Dandyism was also not limited to the male of the species. There was, of course, Beau Brummel, but there was also Marlene Dietrich. And then Cora Pearl, the ‘quaintrelle’ (woman-dandy) courtesan, whose extravagant income was apparently sufficient to allow her to dance nude on carpets of orchids, bathe before her dinner guests in silver tubs of champagne, probably mildly bored as she did so.

 

Naturally then, the true perfumed dandy wears perfume for the beauty of the perfume alone; trends and petty concerns over seduction are of no concern. He might therefore wear any perfume in the pantheon; the flowers, the musks, the powders; she might pick a scent from the roaring masculines, a brisk citrus aftershave, and carry it off beautifully. This notwithstanding, the more established image of the powdered, exquisite gentle man or woman and her peacock consorts is served pretty well by some of the following scents and their decadent, nonchalant, graceful ambiguity.

 

“I wish to be a living work of art.’

 

(Marchesa Luisa Casati, renowned quaintrelle).

 

 

ACIER ALUMINIUM / CREED (1973)

James Craven at Les Senteurs told me that there’s a small but steady band of ‘epicureans’ who come to his shop for this obscurity from Creed, a most eccentric seventies’ concoction that is the perfumed equivalent of the decadent’s unlaundered nightshirt. A curious, metallic-noted orange blossom begins; then, ochred-acacia leaves of Autumn; musky, yellowing powders: leather: and a corrupt (but subtlely: this creature has taste) end of civet-hinged musks.

 

POIS DE SENTEURS DE CHEZ MOI / CARON (1927)

 

A collection of old-fashioned flowers for the modern dandizette; she or he who wants to spoil themselves in musky, forlorn sweet-peas, those fragrant flowers scaling trellises in summertime. ‘The sweet peas from my garden’ are powdery, rosy, infused with heavy, trembling lilacs.

 

 

EAU DE QUININE / GEO F TRUMPER (1898)

Trumper is the ultimate emporium for the London gent (really, you have to go), and this, to me, is one of their crowning glories. Echoes of the Empire and tropical malaria cures are conjured up by the curative sounding name, and the scent – a gorgeous, luminous and powdery thing laced with rosemary – is odd and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SIRA DES INDES / JEAN PATOU (2006)

A warm, overripe breeze. A foetid satiety, and a perfume perfect for the bronzed, sybaritic woman who wants nothing more than to lie down flat on her sunlounger with her gin. One can’t help but think of Sylvia Miles in Morrisey & Warhol’s Heat.

 

A pronounced banana-leaf top note conveys the sense of the tropics: full bananas, unswaying in the dead, still air: champaca flowers with their drowsy torpor, and an apricot-hued osmanthus over a salivated sandalwood/civet, these listless ingredients adding up to the most ennui-imbued scent I have ever smelled. Sira des Indes is smooth yet enticing, almost angry; and devastating on a woman over forty who just doesn’t give a shit.

 

 

 

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PARFUM D’HERMES / HERMES (1984)

Recast as Rouge (which see), Parfum d’Hermès, which has the same basic structure, just dirtier, can still be found in various corners of the world, and I know an antiques shop near my school that has a 400ml bottle that no Japanese person would ever touch (I will, eventually). I know they wouldn’t buy it because the rude animalics here are so blatant that all the flowers, spices in the world just can’t hide its intent. It smells of a dirty mouth covering yours; a Sadeian perfume that would work shockingly well on one of his followers, female or male.

 

CARNATION / MONA DI ORIO (2006)

Mona di Orio, the perfumer behind Carnation (pronunciation: in the French manner – meaning ‘complexion’ not the flower) seemed to be seeking here the smell of a virgin’s face after a day in the sun – easy prey, perhaps, for the creatures above from Parfum d’Hermès (or Pasolini’s Salò). It is a weird smell at first, something paint-like and sour in among the dirty blooms (wallflower, geranium, jasmine, tinted with musks and styrax), but progresses to a heavenly maiden’s cheek, white; the thick, healthy skin just ready to pinch.

 

HAMMAM BOUQUET / PENHALIGONS (1872)

The maiden’s male counterpart is Hammam Bouquet; fresh from the Turkish baths with a blush on his face.

Hammam is musky, powdery and pink, with rose otto, orris and lavender over the more manly exhalations of civet and musk. Once the boy gets his breath back, he dons his white powdered wig, his cape, and rushes back earnestly to the Old Bailey.

 

 

FRENCH CAN CAN / CARON (1936)

One of the lesser known perfumes from the illustrious stable of Caron (surely one of the Dandy’s favourite parfumeurs…)is French Can Can, made especially for the post-war American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line between coquettish and coarse without descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kick out from under the tulle. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, musk and amber.

Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can-can – and with the slogan ‘Dancers: powder, dusty lace’ presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff) ‘No: greying crinoline’.

 

 

 

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POT POURRI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828)

Only the dandy would wear a perfume called Pot Pourri. Bizarrely, this has recently become a massive hit with the art crowd in Tokyo (the brand’s reputed naturalness is popular with the refined eco-conscious). It is unusual, androgynous and beautiful: spiced roses, herbs, berries and grasses from the fields of Florence, fermented in Tuscan terracotta urns with darker, interior notes of resins and balsam. The result (medicinal, meditative, aromatic) is very individual; very…..dandy.

 

 

 

What else should be placed in the Dandy’s wardrobe?

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Filed under Flowers, Herbal, Musk, Orientals, Perfume Reviews, Powder