Tag Archives: NEIL CHAPMAN PERFUME IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT

THE BLACK NARCISSUS FOR VOGUE JAPAN

 

 

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It is with great pleasure and delight that I can announce that from next year I will be writing about perfume for Vogue Japan.

 

 

 

This is a turn of events that is extraordinarily exciting for me. I am daunted, but cannot wait. Frothing like a latte. Just call me Anne Hathaway, clutching her cappuccinos hysterically on her way to the offices in Shibuya to meet Meryl Streep. A rabbit in the headlights. Absorbing all the glitz. Smelling all the fumes. Foaming at the gills. An amazing way to start the new decade. Because although I have always thought that fashion is a double headed beast, at once nothing (it can be foolish, vacuous, pretentious, elitist; passive aggressive; ridiculous; disastrous for nature), and everything (profoundly influencing all the things I love most in the world – music, cinema, perfume; literature; the visual universe around us, the people on the street, how we present ourselves, the smell of the city; the tip of the iceberg)  – to a person to whom aesthetics matter almost more than anything else in this life –  the visual, the sensory, art, basically – creativity is of the most fundamental and sacrosanct importance. ‘Beauty’. I suck it up with continuous pleasure. We both do. Urban creatures. Living near the biggest city in the world (in the nature-surrounded refuge of zen temples, Kamakura where we cool off and gain calm) but I adore Tokyo. We are there all the time.I am addicted. I love the extremes. The quiet ancient beauty of this restrained, austere, but atmospherically profound place I live in, and the constant stimulation of the great metropolis of thirty three million people under an hour away that provides, constantly, never-ending, exhilarating stimulation and energy and is the coolest place I have ever known. It is beautiful to be there. Busy, crowded, maddening, but simultaneously serene. Gliding through neon at night; swimming in it; I love to watch people, photograph them, thrive in the energy. The gender blasting, outlandish and creative ensembles worn by people on the street; the sleekness; the style. Because although I am not such a fashion horse myself (as you know, the money goes on perfume)  I have always kept on eye on what is happening, in magazines and on television, since I was old enough to think. ‘Fashion’ leaves a vivid, temporal stamp on any given month or year…….it marks our passage. Without it, where would the pleasure be in dipping back into past decades, whole time periods? The beauty of an old zeitgeist captured eternally in celluloid? In a pop video, a film, a photograph, a news reel, all captured in the current…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As teenagers, Helen and I would leaf through Vogue at her house, marvelling at the bewildering, almost alien beauty of the models (we could never quite get over the beauty of Christy Turlington and Karen Mulder; the supermodel years of Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell – we would stare into the pages, feasting on it). My younger sister Deborah and I would rip out pages all the time and plaster them over our bedroom walls.  And the perfume adverts. The mystery and delirium of a new ad campaign (Coco, Poison, Anais Anais…..which are your most pungent memories?); the sealed enticement of the late 80’s scent strips you could rip open like glued velcro on the bus and release the latest fragrant sensation into the collective air….these were all very formative influences on my life. The photo shoots, the fashion stories, the faces, presented an almost obscene unattainability of covetable desire; I would buy Vogue Hommes, and Uomo Vogue when I lived in Italy; obsessed with this picture or that; pasted on my university bedroom walls……it always seemed like the apex of a rarified world that was in another stratosphere. Until now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Madonna. When her single Vogue came out in 1990, after the complete transformation of Like A Prayer, and yet another vampiric, chameleonic shift into the gay underground world of Paris Is Burning and its ravishing capturing of larger than life queens and their vogueing balls in NYC, just the word Vogue itself is now synonymous with something fantastic and shimmering; we danced that entire summer to that song, my sister and I, like a million other people around the world mimicking the video, striking poses (: ‘on the cover of a magazine’), and to think that I might now actually be part of all that from next year is almost absurdly stimulating (feel the exclamation marks exploding in my mind and bloodstream…D and I went out to have a celebration dinner last night). It will give me great new challenges as this decade comes to an end and we enter the 2020’s; present opportunities to flex my flexibility as a writer. I am in the mood for versatility. My book: ‘Perfume, In Search Of Your Signature Scent’, is what got me into this position, and I have come to feel quite proud of it in many ways despite its flaws and lacks – I feel it is a moment in time; frozen in binding,  a diary that has been confiscated. I put my absolute heart and soul into that tome – my blood, sweat and tears if you like –  and I hope that it in some way inspires people and lets them dream a little; it was designed to be very immersive. At the same time, I relish the opportunity to be able to smell brand new things and report on them, to revel in the now, and to try my hand at different kinds of writing. The Black Narcissus will always still be perfume + , because I can’t help myself; I cannot be limited to a scent flacon. To me, perfume has always meant much more than that – it leads to so many other things; memory, life, experience, other art forms, culture, people and how I interact with them, politics, everything – to me it is inherently psychological. Having said that, a more society-wide olfactory objectivity based on what is going on in the higher echelons of commercial creativity is also appealing to me from a different angle – I will definitely be meeting a lot of new people through this venture – and since I plan at some stage ( I have already written several chapters) to publish an autobiographical book on my years spent in this fascinating, vexing, unleavable place full of the most superb contradictions, I cannot possibly say no to this new adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan Vogue here we come!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PS. D and I first properly laid eyes on each other when dancing, extravagantly, in tuxedo and bow tie to Vogue at a summer ball…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Beauty’s where you find it……”

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, inexplicable happenings, Japan, LUXURIANCE, New Beginnings, operatic, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, pretentious aesthetes, Psychodrama, SELF-OBSESSION

“PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT” – THE TOKYO STORY, featuring MIZUNARA by PARFUMS SATORI (2018)

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We had an absolutely fantastic day last Thursday. Meeting up with a Japan Times journalist I had got in contact with with a view to doing an article on the sense of smell and the adventure of seeking out your own perfect signature scent, I was able to turn one of my long held dreams into reality: taking a writer on a ‘tour’ of the city (although in the end it was just one tiny swathe of it), and opening their eyes and olfactory senses to hitherto possibly unthought of possibilities in the realm of perfume and then have them turn the spoken words into a newspaper article   – which in fact will be published here in the next couple of weeks.

 

 

I have been reading Kaori Shoji for years (the Japan Times is delivered daily as a package with my beloved New York Times, and she is often a featured writer, particularly for profile pieces, cultural commentary, language lessons, and film reviews). As a bilingual returnee student who spent her formative years in New York but then came back to Japan, I have always felt that Ms Shoji has a sharp awareness of, and fondness for (and unflinching criticism of, where necessary) both ‘East’ and ‘West’; there is a wryness and melancholy sometimes, and yet simultaneously an absolute lust for life and a thirst for stimulation and realness in her writing that I can totally relate to. I instinctively knew she was the person to do the interview.

 

 

 

We met at Harajuku station, where I had carefully scented myself pleasantly (in a thematic of green tea and lemons – it was a REALLY hot day – I couldn’t smell like a powdery, sweating odalisque); and we went to a cafe for iced tea, where I was interviewed , we chatted, and I felt (as she took notes – so glad that it wasn’t a dictaphone, as I would have felt far too self-conscious) that I could say anything – I was on fire; in fact she could hardly get a word in edgeways.

 

 

 

So nice, though, to be in that relaxed space where you meet someone you immediately like and get on with naturally and can just communicate uninhibitedly (and SUCH a stark contrast to my disastrous radio interview I had a few months ago which I may not even have written about on here as it was just so embarrassing: LIVE, in front of two million people in Europe, with an ear infection, a terrible connection, a typhoon outside with multiple echoes, and questions I could hardly hear and were not  connected to what we had agreed on : : “So Neil, how does one go about attracting the opposite sex with the right aftershave….?”

 

 

 

 

Jesus. No – that was a horrorshow that I had rather forget. This, instead, was a meeting of minds. Someone who wears scent on occasion, likes certain smells (hurrah! She loves green tea – my instincts were right!)  but at the same time is not au fait with the goings on of the industry, the wild obsessions of crazed perfumistas, nor fully aware of the fact that this whole realm of decent perfumes exists beyond what we agreed was the sick, poisoned miasma of duty free, which she was surprised to discover we both scorn and loathe in equal measure.

 

 

 

We three – Kaori, myself, and Duncan, after the initial conversation, then went off to my favourite essential shop shop nearby, Seikatsu No Ki (Tree Of Life) as I thought it might be useful to get a primer on the palette- the basic ingredients used in perfumes-  in case she wasn’t familiar with them.  We had already ascertained in prior emails that she loved incense, which I had in mind as a possible direction to go in, but I also wanted to show her just how good pure ingredients can be on their own, putting some raw vetiver oil on my arm that was evocative of all  kinds of reveries connected to a high school boyfriend she had once had; the smell of him after kendo practice……she liked this so much that I can imagine her returning to get some for herself  to wear as a secret perfume.

 

 

 

From here, the sun radiating brilliantly down through the shade of the avenue of zelkova trees, we walked up the Omotesando boulevard to visit the Comme Des Garçons headquarters in Aoyama. For me, Rei Kawakubo’s perfumes and ethos really do represent a vanguard against the moronic platitudes of cheap perfumery: this brand, I feel,  has real integrity ( and I was so delighted to see that none of the formulae seemed to have been messed with, many of which are in my book  – the first chapter in fact begins with the green leafed innocence of Calamus ), and, having learned that Kaori once went to a Catholic school in America I thought ooh, how about some religious guilt ….I wonder how she will react to Avignon (starting in surprise; eyes closed as she inhaled it from her arm…………..oh wow, that is naughty) : it smelled fabulous on her, sexy if standoffish, with the softer incense notes rising up later in contrast with the harshness of the censer; Black Pepper, one of Duncan’s signatures – a ridiculously erotic perfume – also smelled great on her; dressed in black, like all the costumed assistants, who stood back and let us get on with what we needed, this gave Kaori an almost intimidating aura of grave don’t fuck with me that matched her delicate fierceness perfectly. Rejecting Incense Series Kyoto – we both agree that that perfume doesn’t remotely capture the essence of the city in the way that Avignon undoubtedly does; loving and being amused by Rhubarb and Peppermint, I also sprayed on the spicy original Comme Des Garcons scent on myself ,as well as White, which I bought for D as a present a quarter of a century ago on a cold winter’s day in London. It still smelled lovely.

 

 

 

 

Having been photographed outside, and inside,  the Comme Des Garcons store (all sweaty-faced and shiny….I cannot imagine going to a newsstand and seeing my face staring back at me, but anyway), we decided to have a quick look in Prada just along the way as, both being total cinephiles, I wanted to hear her reactions to the overpriced pop and movie collection (Tainted Love, Pink Flamingoes, Marienbad, Purple Rain) just as a contracts to the CdGs, which are actually far better value. Amused, but not sold, as time was running, we hailed a taxi and drove the short distance to Roppongi where I had made a prior appointment at- the quiet haven of scent consultation and Japanese aroma that is Parfums Satori.

 

 

 

 

‘Perfume’ (which the founder and perfumer had several copies of, dotted around the premises, bookmarked for customers) features a selection of fragrances from the Satori range, because I genuinely feel that they do present a completely different face of perfume to the majority of mainstream and niche; subtle but perturbing; dry, emotional, poetic, and I was interested to see how Kaori, as a person of Japanese heritage but American upbringing, would feel about them. Perhaps a little over eager and uncouth in my enthusiasms – I can’t really do the sit quietly and be ultra polite thing, especially when the conversation has been flowing just so damn wonderfully – in the taxi we had been condemning the current racism, chewed the cud on women’s situation in Japan, the film industry and how it works for movie reviewers, I could have talked all day; to then just be expected to sit and wait to be shown everything was impossible (especially because I am just so contained and repressed at work all the time) ; so, more like a puppy just bought on Christmas Day that yaps excitedly and just bounds about the house unfettered I went about the shop, taking liberties and picking up things randomly from the perfumed shelves to show Kaori. Wasanbon? ‘I love the smell of that – it is my favourite sugar’. Try this then. “Oh my god!” Pure pleasure. As was the eponymous Satori, the lovely spiced sandalwood that is at the helm of the collection and which smelled differently, but great, on each one of us (on that day it reminded me a little of Mitsouko).  We marvelled at the extreme oddness of Hana Kiraku, with its fundaments of melon and miso in search of replicating a particular species of magnolia (“Oh my god, this one is making me high”) ; the almost shockingly green, mind-clearer that is Oribe; then Satori-san introduced her latest perfume from last year, Mizunara, in Japanese and English, explaining to us the story of its inspiration: a particular species of oak tree found in the north of Japan, and the whiskey distilleries of Hokkaido, and the particular smell of the clear mountain air over 1,000 feet. By this point, we had all almost fallen into a dream-like state: one of those curious situations where you feel the membranes and boundaries between people have dissolved and you are existing in the same fluid, the same space :where you imagine that you are seeing the same imaginings and feeling the same sensations. Although too masculine for me to wear on skin, with its base of whiskey and woods and its crisp green top notes of rosemary, clary sage, galbanum and juniper, there is nevertheless a very natural, elegant expansiveness to this scent – it has space within itself – the smell of nature – that sent us all into an afternoon reverie. By the time we all left, and Kaori said she had to go, I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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– me pictured with the perfumer Satori Osawa next to her perfume organ.

 

(You can tell how much I like having my picture taken)

 

 

 

 

What a great day though!

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Filed under autobiography, Green, Masculines, Oakmoss, Woods