Saturday, November 29, 2008

Review: IN FIORE Bois d'Eté

Even if this weren't named 'Summer Wood,' I think it would still make me think of one. The first time I tried Bois d'Eté Parfum Solide, it very strongly reminded me of the bamboo grove behind my childhood summer farmhouse. The grove was perpetually shady and slightly damp from the little dribbling creek that ran along beside the house, and smelled like sap and cool, loamy earth.

In Fiore Bois d'Eté is like that. Stem-y, green, bitter, and very distinctly galbanum. In fact I don't think I've encountered a fragrance as strong on it as this. Bergamot, neroli, petitgrain, and vetiver are detectable, as well, and nicely support the principal. A simple but forceful herbal blend, I find it stimulating in a palate-cleansing sort of way and also a little zen.

In Fiore perfumes come in solid form, and as such, it's hard to overdo it and overwhelm one's neighbor -- a good thing in this case, as I think otherwise the raw green of it would be too aggressive. In any case, for myself, I rather like perfume solids, precisely for their discreet range, and because this compact is so attractive, I really enjoy toting it around and taking it out of its velvet pouch to dab some on every now and then as a little pick-me-up salve.

The body balms and face oils and serums are exquisite and worth some obsession, too, despite In Fiore's somewhat laughable and relentless puritanically-organic yet gilded-lily vibe.

images from

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: SHISEIDO Koto 琴

Extraordinary kotoist
Sawai Kazue performs Midare Rinzetsu ('Disorder').

A 40-minute practice/discussion session:
Her first piece is the famous classic
Rokudan no Shirabe 六段の調 ('Six Levels Melody/Etude') by 17th C. composer Yatsuhashi.

SHISEIDO KOTO falls into the perfume subcategory of the floral green chypre -- a favorite of mine and Koto is my favorite representative of it. And this is no small feat, as its nearest relations are the more well-known Vent Vert (though reformulated) and Ivoire, which are lovely in their own right and which also happen to be from one of my favorite perfume houses, Balmain. Also in the company of Yves Saint Laurent Y, Chanel Cristalle (edt), Paco Rabanne Calandre, Shiseido Murasaki, etc. Yet Koto manages to best them all -- and with a lot of grace.

Altogether airy and elegant, Koto is a subtle grafting of misty white florals onto a sheered-out chypre base. Lily of the valley, though sometimes troublesomely high-pitched for me, is here muted by the sweetness of an oldschool but light gardenia, which is then dried out by clean, soapy, very slightly bitterish transparent woods. For me, it is the perfect balance of floral + green chypre elements. Understated, cool, level, and eminently wearable.

As for its relation to the musical instrument... I have to say the name annoyed the hell out of me at first. In a certain way, the choice of the koto (which is the national instrument of Japan) might be seen as a perpetuation of that really really really tiresome image of 'spare elegance' that seems fetishistically to constitute 'Japanese-ness' in the Western imagination, only worse in this case, since it is Shiseido itself that is doing it, and further complicated by the fragrance being a version of the rather non-Japanese genre of the chypre. But I've sort of come to a resigned peace about it. Shiseido Koto is like the koto in some respects -- it has a clear resonance and is discursively melodic but still structured -- like Midare.

But, at least in the 'Pure Mist' eau de cologne concentration, it mostly makes me think of a zephyr breathing flowers and cool rain.

Review: CHIDORIYA Hinoki Balm

Happy accident: I've just recovered this balm from under some shelves/drawers in my closet, where it somehow had lost itself, probably some two or three years ago. Passing over what that says about the state of my closet and speaking to product longevity -- still in perfect condition! Shouldn't be too surprising, I guess, given camellia oil (the main ingredient in the base) has an extraordinarily long shelf-life and hinoki (Japanese cypress) fungicidal properties.

Chidoriya's Hinoki is a simple and authentic hinoki essential oil scent -- none of the ozonic flinty opening of Comme des Garçons Monocle Series Hinoki fragrance.

images from

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Suit on the Stair

Tan jacket, Prince Albert tie: I passed
you in the library
last Saturday 1:57.
I was the one in black.
The Mishima? Well, no,
it isn't my usual fare.
It fell into my hands, somehow.
As if it knew
it was coming,
that little lift of eyebrow and lip --
you supercilious shit. Anyhow,
should you judge
a book by its cover -- isn't that
the irony of his life? Beauty,
a fierce whip to the unlovely; and
no less
by your offhand grip.

[I would like
to hand you off to a court of the blind,
to petition where
the might of beauty enjoys no right;
no natural nobility, or divinity -- merely
the same vanitas that is everywhere
the same sentence.
A suitable vengeance
to dress you in. Let me tie
for you such coils -- though
what do I know
of what arcana roiling under your skin?]

OK, he might have been wearing the ordinary Four-in-Hand, but it looked to me like the Prince Albert and as that is my favorite knot, I took some liberty. I like the Prince Albert because it makes a fairly compact knot but balances against the tongue better than the F-in-H, and I think narrower heads in general just much more flattering than the broad, squat-triangles of the Windsors. Actually, I prefer almost anything to the full Windsor, which, especially with heavy fabrics, always looks caricaturish to me and seems normal only in morning dress (or on a thick neck). The Prince Albert is a lot less obvious and stentorian and very easy to dress down.

A mini tutorial on the Prince Albert:
image from

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: ORTIGIA Fico d'India

Transliteration of the Italian fico d'India may be Indian fig, but it is really neither fig nor from (the real) India. Less glorified, it is a type of very garden-variety cactus -- the prickly pear.

It grows in almost every continent, and is common in the Mediterranean and North Africa, besides Mexico and the Americas. The green succulent pads have a mild vegetable taste when cooked, sort of like a cross between green beans, okra, and artichoke; and the bright magenta fruit has a sweet, watermelon-apple-kiwi flavor.

However, that said, Ortigia Fico d'India (an acqua di colonia), confoundingly, smells rather more like a fig/figuier fragrance than a prickly pear one -- certainly not the fruit, anyway. Very grassy and vegetal and somewhat like Profumum Ichnusa, i.e. fig leaf with an undertone of something vaguely milky.

Ortigia's copy calls Fico d'India a 'dry, almost velvety scent, which mirrors the plant: dusky pale green with explosions of remarkable orange flowers.' Well, it doesn't seem to me at all velvety or particularly dry, though green and fresh like aloe -- and not too interesting. But pleasant for the Bath & Shower Gel, which, enhanced with olive oil and collagen, is wonderfully moisturizing. Its bottle looks quite nice, too... but I think they've transformed Dionysus into a woman! Or hermaphrodite.

ortigia product images from
cactus image from
detail of floor tile mosaic in Pella, Greece, of Dionysus on leopard, also from

random find: ortoPilot

I happened onto this on youtube today: acoustic cover of Crowded House's classic 'Fall at Your Feet,' made even more affecting and vulnerable by some skinny geeky quite adorable young guy who, I gather, heads a group out of Manchester called ortoPilot. Really talented.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: ORTIGIA Melograno

More on pomegranates (and Ortigia)! My favorite perfume representation of it so far is Ortigia Melograno. Santa Maria Novella Melograno, I think I prefer as a fragrance, but as a representation of the fruit, Ortigia's is comparatively the truer. However, pomegranate doesn't seem to get translated into scent very faithfully, and even Ortigia's isn't exactly literal, either. But unlike the more common resolutions of it into grenadine, here, the whole of the fruit is captured -- from the dry, bark-like tough peel, to the acidic sweet of the pulp, and the bitterness of the seed and pith. And in Ortigia Melograno, it makes for a somewhat difficult but rather addictive complex of tart yet syrupy yet bitter.

Cold sniff of it is amazingly like the smell of the energy drink Bacchus-D, which is a strange piercing contrast of ginseng and fruit, a little like the intense bitter/sweet contrast of cough syrup. On the skin, the first few moments are somewhat like citrus paint thinner, but that mellows into a general herbal-ish bitterness, and then, a fruity cherry-like tobacco-ish sweetness emerges over the dry, somewhat leathery woods; the final drydown sort of reminds me of the dusty sweetness of the insides of an antique chest of drawers. No idea of its official notes, but it seems to me primarily: pomegranate, dry patchouli, and a touch of labdanum.

It isn't perhaps immediately appealing. And, I think, requires a dark mood. Neither of which is likely to win it legions of fans, but both which of which seem quite appropriate to the pomegranate fruit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

winter fruit: pomegranate

I always look forward to pomegranate season. It's my favorite winter fruit, besides persimmon, and such a strange one at that, with a lot of evocative lore. But it surprises me that there seems so little reference to its resemblance to the heart -- ventricled chambers, arils like briolettes of blood, and the calyx a little like artery stems.

It's even more surprising, in view of the native mythic-religious possibilities in the heart or blood. Life, death, regeneration, sacrifice, passion, wine, etc. All of which are manifest in the story of Persephone, as well as the cult of Dionysus, and in striking transcription (along with even the pomegranate itself!) in Christianity.

above images from: and
painting detail from Botticelli's Madonna of the Pomegranates.


kyria eleison! Descend,
to the heart of December. Winter
comes. To the heart,
a hard fruit, but swollen with a thousand
drops of blood, rubies, pave-set and
glittering with the rage
of life. Descend,
to stillness and earth. To rest,
unmoved; yet moving unseen,
under the royal calyx,
swallowed in a secret of sleep, gestation:
to ascend
to agony
to love in vain spring. Exultet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review: ORTIGIA Zagara

Hard to resist something that looks like this.

By way of some probably dubious associative alchemy, this stylized tableau of palm, orange tree, and leopard manages to conjure up in me vaguely 'moorish' images of dry, hot sun, startling jewel-like oasis flora in dust and scorched rock, and lattice-shaded, tile-lined baths. The romance of that is suspect, as is any exoticization in my view, and I suppose the iconography is pretty heavy-handed, but clearly, Ortigia uses it all with good effect, indexing the North African influence on the eponymous island and on Sicily, generally, with Tunisia just a stone's throw away. Though it seems to me, as far as this toiletries/perfume line is concerned, the influence is more about historical imagination than fact -- which is probably why it is so seductive.

So, basically, even before I tried anything Ortigia, they had me in the bag. Luckily the scents and the products themselves happen to be really nice, too.

Zagara is a dry, aromatic rendering of orange blossom, more herbal than floral, and in fact more like neroli than orange blossom*. Neroli usually gives me a headache from its aggressive sharpness and orange blossom, especially as a featured note, sometimes makes me gag from its indoles, but not here. Nothing indolic and nothing too pointy, and weighted by a good dose of woody petitgrain that dries out the entire composition, giving it a very pleasant bitterness over the citrusy floral notes. Fairly linear as a fragrance but nice to wear as a light, casual scent -- I'm surprised how much I like it, really. And I think even more as a scent for bath toiletries. Feels both rejuvenating and calming to sit in a Zagara-scented bath.

The bath oil is especially nice. A little viscous but disperses completely in water, foaming slightly; lightly moisturizing; and scented enough to linger a bit on the skin after-bath, though the salts seem a little stronger. Overall, lovely products and worth giving in to.

And I really capitulated: the first time I used this bath oil, I put on The English Patient soundtrack. Even more questionable association-magick... but a measure of Ortigia's success.

*'Neroli' refers to steam-distilled extract of bitter orange; 'orange blossom absolute' refers to solvent-extracted bitter orange.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: FLORIS White Rose

Champagne and roses. There is a little scene in Colette's Chéri, in which Chéri is asked what he will drink, now that he is married, maybe chamomile, but he answers, 'Pommery' -- but the memory of another champagne, rose-scented, sparkling, vintage 1889, intrudes upon him. It was what his lover Léa had always reserved for him alone.

I don't know why that, out of the entire book (and its sequel), should have struck me so much and stayed with me for all of these years, acting as sort of a Proustian madeleine -- and for
Chéri, too, as he affects nonchalance in front of his dinner partner and the rest of the restaurant while privately brooding over the loss of Léa, which is an irrevocable loss, not merely the end of an affair with an aging demimonde but the loss of what she was, now that she, much older than him, self-consciously, with clear-sighted realism, has put herself out to pasture and him out of her life. That old-fashioned rose champagne Chéri remembers perfectly captured for me the entirety of all of that. The hard brilliance of chandeliers, the cheerful noisy indifference of the restaurant, and the sad jealous memory of something relinquished, a little démodé and comforting and close, of Léa's powdered, wrinkled, beautiful skin.

Floris White Rose is that champagne. It's a burst of crisp, dry brut, sparkling and citrusy, infused with a cold, sharp, almost shrill, rose and a violet that recalls old-fashioned talcs and lipsticks. In fact Floris calls White Rose a 'compliment to the early days' of the house and unsurprisingly so, to me, anyway, as Floris as a perfume house always seemed to me be stuck in some gilded, vaguely Belle Epoque time. And it's nostalgic in another way, too -- it also reminds me of dolls' heads. That sweet, slightly plasticky, artificial scent of toys. White Rose leaves a ghost of that, after the aldehydes and champagne have burnt off and the fragrance settles into its sharply green but sweet and lightly powdery violety-rose. There is for me something a little sickening in it, but even that itself is somehow kind of nostalgic. And so totally appropriate to
Chéri, coddled, dandied, selfish, and haunted by a fantasy of his perpetual boyhood with Léa.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Slow Burn

Sky darkening. Listening to Sigur Ros Untitled 03. Some day I want to see the Northern Lights.

To NT.

Vestigia, I dreamt of you this morning.
The worst mawkish letters all begin like that.
And yet I had meant
the words to be branded into you new
as when the kinds of this world
were first named.

In my dream you were
an electrician -- and flammable -- so unlike
you. You
looked like you, though,
even if your face was watery (well,
seven years can do that).
But still the same chromatic bronzes
of skin, hair, eyes.
I think I can still play the scales.
You were testing for live wires
in a dead house,
not mine (but only too obviously,
interpreted, mine). Oppressive symbolism
is apparently what I have got left
to say.
I did less meaning,
I never thought to sing of you or to you or for you --
but this morning, I dreamt of you.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Review: CHANEL No. 22

It's interesting, how tastes change. In the 60s, Chanel No. 22 was advertised as the 'Perfume of Romance,' and the romance here seems rather more innocent than fatal, with images of young women as brides or otherwise tra-la-la-ing in spring.

I must admit, I did not appreciate No. 22 upon first acquaintance. That was about ten years ago but I very distinctly remember recoiling in disgust. Could there be a more aggressively powdery, virulent, and, well, perfumey perfume? At the time I knew nothing of the Perfume of Romance campaign but I'm sure I would have been nonplussed by its virginal vibe, despite the wedding-day association that white florals tend to have.

Even now, it does not strike me as particularly youthful or naive or, um, unspoiled -- nor do I think it would strike many people so these days. In fact, it seems to me definitely with-knowledge. There is a slight but sustained thread of incense [warmer in the current parfum; cooler in the current Les Exclusifs eau de toilette] that runs all the way from the bright, nose-tingling hit of citric/mandarin opening aldehydes, through the glorious profusion of flowers
[most prominent in the pre-Les Exclusifs eau de toilette], the classic rose-jasmine-ylang Chanel melange also present in No. 5 and added to it a soft, non-indolic orange blossom, tuberose, and a mass of beautiful white roses, and finally into the softly sweet, dusty, vaguely vanillic, and vetiver-tinged powdery finish. And this undercurrent of dark in a composition purportedly about 'purity' is genius.

When, finally, I recognized that for what it is (or what it seems to me), No. 22 changed my tastes. Year Zero. It is Rose White, quite grown up, and who underneath her white-suited impeccable tastefulness has a backbone and an impure thought.

Rose White, sub rosa

To BR.

I am the dark of this dream
and you its white rose,
dazzling as the tunneled beam
to which each shade goes.
You come in silent aspect,
prophet in repose,
and your reproach I expect
before the cock crows.

Wake me on the other side,
I won't know your face.
You, no longer the white bride;
myself, I erase.
But from here before the tide,
.............I look at these cliffs
of Dover; I remember
the cliffs
of your shoulder.

I've always loved white roses. In fact, most white things: snow, clouds, paper, wolves, foxes, steamed buns, even larvae hold a certain alien attraction, but I don't know when the color graduated to something of a cipher to me. Possibly, when my name was changed. Itself a pretty traumatic event.

But even before then, I remembering being strangely, guiltily, attracted to the Brothers Grimm story Rose White and Rose Red. In it, just under the skin of the clear-faced moral, there was something vaguely profane that fascinated. Insofar as the 'profanity' is growing up, of maturation and loss of innocence etc, itself, I suppose this must be the case for instructional fairytales
generally, and now, I find it all a bit evilly insidious. But of course I wasn't conscious of it then; only that I felt somehow a little secretive about liking the story; and then, somewhat later, I found it too embarrassing to admit to liking anything premised on such totally unkosher ideals of femininity (unless it was some revisionary projection of reclamation), since it was the wintered-occlusive, quiet, and restrained Rose White that I liked and not her more outgoing sister with clearly the more grrl-power potential. So, these things fester. I fester. Etc. Evolution of a personal cipher.

And the Motherwell is called 'Signs on White.' But none of this is absolutely necessary to the poem, or necessary period.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why 'worse than weeds'?


They that have power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow:
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.