TEXT: Ksenia Golovanova, author of the telegram channel Nose Republic
Japanese theme in perfumery seems almost inexhaustible, but we periodically turn to this well to refresh our own sense of beauty. In a new review – samurai, sumo wrestlers and the peculiarities of Japanese cuisine, reflected in good perfume.
A lot happens in Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls, one of the most beautiful films of the 2000s: apple trees bloom wildly in spring, red momiji maples burn in autumn, and tragic heroes dressed in Yoji Yamamoto costumes tirelessly move through Japanese landscapes and seasons. The Dolls fragrance, re-shot by perfumer Mark Buxton on a fragrant film, respects the unhappy original source, but at the same time allows itself a little humor: the central accord of maple syrup, ylang-ylang and apple blossom really smells a little “doll-like” and sweetly – the rubber top of a baby doll …
Matcha is a Japanese green tea powder with an unusual taste and no less peculiar smell, which is difficult to reproduce in a perfume. Even the “matte” scent of the French brand Teo Cabanel, which revealed the theme better than many, is self-critically called Je Ne Sais Quoi (“something,” “I don’t know what”), although one can catch both the green sweetness characteristic of matcha and its recognizable bitterness. … Matcha Meditation is perhaps the first perfume in which there is everything for which an emerald drink is loved – freshness and delicate astringency, milky-nutty notes and those very meadow shades in the aftertaste, very delicate. The illusion of matcha in the first minutes is so convincing here that the inevitable transition to the next phase of disclosure – a flower heart with orange blossom – seems almost a betrayal: return it as it was, nothing else is needed! But the milk greens inevitably go away, and there is even some sad and poetic symbolism in this – it quickly loses its taste and real matcha, which is good only in the first minutes after brewing.
From English the name of this brand is translated as “flanneur” – the one who wanders aimlessly around the city and does it, let’s say, with style. But the word “business traveler” suits the brand’s spirits much better: upon arriving in the city of N, he clearly and quickly closes all his affairs and spends the three hours left before leaving for the airport on the main museum or a visit to one, but famous, tourist restaurant. A similar feeling comes from Gallivant perfumes, most often based on first-level associations: Amsterdam – tulips, London – rainy roses, Istanbul – cardamom and other spices. However, Tokyo, the main bestseller of the line, benefits from such a frontal approach, because there cannot be too many scents with hinoki, sandalwood and incense. Moreover, this composition lives on the skin in an interesting way: usually resinous-woody perfumes promise a lot of freshness at the beginning, but towards the end they are pretty candied; here, on the contrary, at first it is sweet, and then the sweetness flies from the brazier into the sky, and only the dry, cold ash of Japanese kodo incense remains.
At the beginning of the year, the “beast” brand Zoologist released two fragrances about Japan at once, more precisely two new versions of Macaque perfumes, which we wrote about in the first part of our review – with yuzu and Fuji apple. They were collected by a young star of American perfumery Mackenzie Riley, who did a lot of research work before going to the laboratory – and her perfume, according to the testimony of those who have already managed to smell them, is really good. But there is also a local look at the Japanese theme in the Zoologist line – the fragrance Nightingale by perfumer Tomoo Inaba, which was inspired by a poem from a poetry collection of the 13th century. It was written by the younger sister of the Japanese empress, who was about to become a nun, and on the day of her tonsure she read these lines to her, giving her a farewell gift – a rosary made of oud wood and a blossoming plum branch. All of the above – oud, plum blossom, poetic scroll paper – smells like “Nightingale”, the most beautiful and delicate scent of the collection.
One of the first gastronomic discoveries for a tourist in Japan can be shiso, or shiso – Japanese mint with beautiful carved leaves, on which local restaurants like to spread pieces of fish and wasabi balls. If you chew on such a leaf, incredibly juicy and oily, your mouth will be filled with a green, slightly fruity and spicy freshness, not very reminiscent of the types of mint we are used to. The same freshness – complex, unusual and very gastronomic – is characteristic of the best siso perfumes, such as Herba Fresca, Guerlain or Shi-sõ of the American brand Nomenclature. The latter, among other things, is also good for its sea, deep-sea coolness – when you use it, you feel satisfied with the life of an oyster in the clean bay of Hokkaido.
In 2018, the Americans DS & Durga released two fragrances at once, united by an amber theme, but at the same time completely different in character – Amber Teutonic, airy and well-ventilated, like a clearing in a pine forest, and Amber Kiso, dense and unbending, like armor. The dramatic divergence in their smells is explained by the dissimilarity of stories: both there and there depict a forest, but if in the first one finds the fragile and vulnerable soul of the composer Mahler (see our review), then in the second one gets solid, practically invulnerable wood. Kiso is a locality and a boron of the same name in the Japanese prefecture of Nagano, whose century-old thujas, cypresses and firs were traditionally used for the construction of Shinto shrines and rich mansions. And also – for the vestments of samurai: the best cuirasses were made of leather and pieces of hard wood, varnished. This samurai armor is what smells like Amber Kiso, a leather scent with a strong spirit of pine resin, incense and soot. Very “power” perfume: you put on and stretch into a string, as if a volume of Bushido is clamped between your shoulder blades.
In addition to the classic line, Le Labo has a collection of City Exclusives – fragrances dedicated to the cities where the brand maintains boutiques. They are sold only at the registration address: London Poivre 23 – in London, Dubai Cuir 28 – in Dubai, and the wonderful Gaiac 10, bitter and dry smelling of fresh cedar cut, – only in Tokyo. But the brand also has another Japanese ambassador, albeit unofficial, – Labdanum 18, which the Japanese themselves, including perfumers, often compare with the sweet, oriental scent of bintsuke – with this wax sumo wrestlers style their complex hairstyles. Intricate knots on the backs of the rikishi (as professional wrestlers are called) are designed, among other things, to cushion the blow when falling on the head, and Labdanum 18 copes with the cushioning of reality just as well – smooths out the sharp corners of the day with its powdery and resinous aroma of vanilla, chocolate patchouli, amber and wood chips …