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.

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