A Sunrise and A Soft Goodbye

shanghaijourney

One Last Sunrise

– a story and a review of Amouage Journey

The Peace Hotel, The Bund, Shanghai, late July 1937

He could never remember afterwards how long he stood at the French doors watching the sky above the Bund and over the China Sea bloom from its dark midnight blue to the paler, opalescent, star-flecked hues of gold and violet of impending sunrise. This would be his final sunrise in Shanghai, the last time he would stand by this balcony with this view of a future he could scarcely have imagined on the mean, narrow alleys of Kowloon where everything began so long ago.

How could he have known in that other life, when all he had been was the second son of a simple woodcarver from an endless line of artisans, Cantonese who came to Kowloon hoping to find better, richer, more prosperous lives than their hallowed ancestors?

Look at me now, Father, he thought to himself as the sky above the Bund grew ever lighter, look at me now with my flawlessly tailored suit and my movie star haircut in Shanghai’s most elegant hotel, watch me walk out the door of this hotel suite with my expensive suitcases, watch me as I walk up the gangplank to the SS Aurora with my first-class passage to Valparaiso and onward to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, see me as I leave this old and tired and uncertain world behind with my new name and my new life shining all its unknown and very modern promise in front of me.

He had come so very far from his old Wong Tai Sin of Kowloon self, today would go farther still, for today would be the day he left his old self and old Shanghai behind. Already, rumors and not so idle talk flowered in the teahouses behind Nanjing Road, already people pointed their fingers and their fears towards the Japanese in Manchuria, and it was time to leave his past and his cares behind him while he still could.

Big Earned Du would kill him as mercilessly as only he knew if he ever discovered how his affable, mild-mannered ‘left-hand-man’ had been skimming a quarter-inch off the books of four of his night clubs on Nanjing Road for over three years. If he knew how Left Hand Man scrubbed his loot and his conscience as sparkling squeaky-clean as any Chinese laundry at the baccarat tables of a very private gambling club in the French concession, a club not even the renowned Du Yuesheng, who ruled all of Shanghai and most of its vices with an iron hand in a silken glove would ever dream existed. He wouldn’t know about the many deposits to an account at the American Express offices or the other accounts at Rothschild’s Bank, have no inkling of the thousands of American dollars sewn into the lining of his steamer trunk as a safety measure.

Above and beyond all things else, Big Eared Du would never, ever know about his left hand man’s reasons or rhyme, or just how much the favorite torch singer of Ciro’s nightclub had been responsible for it all. She was the one who cooked up the plan along with her friend, she showed him how to cover his tracks, she taught him to feign Eastern inscrutability as his weapon to hide what his own, darker netherworld of Shanghai should never, ever know.

Or was it rather… that even an woodcarver’s son from Kowloon could leap free of all conventions and expectations, could come at the world roaring like the dragon of his birth year with all his Oriental fire, spice and essence?

Was it that a man like himself, so underestimated, overlooked and unappreciated could throw all tradition, convention and propriety to the wind for a woman who would have made his prim and proper family recoil in horror?

She was a thoroughly modern, audacious blonde South American contralto who sang Cole Porter and George Gershwin for the smart set at Ciro’s. She was the toast of Shanghai and a favorite of his boss, and yet – in a town that knew every secret and every vice everyone wanted to conceal, not even the boss suspected she belonged to his left-hand-man, although it would be far truer to say this: Big Eared Du’s left-hand-man belonged to her.

He had seen enough Hollywood movies to know that a man such as he, a woodcarver’s son from the wrong part of Hong Kong, Chinese to his core despite the Western clothes and his Clark Gable hair cut, would never be a hero, would never get the girl, never be anything else but a cardboard villain in a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was its own kind of outrageous fiction everywhere else but here.

Today, he was about to disprove all of them. He got the girl. He had the getaway. He had the promise of a new life ahead under the new name printed on his impeccably British passport, a passport that opened all the doors not even Big Eared Du could knock down.

He stepped out into the first rays of the rising sun. As he breathed in the morning, he breathed in his old self, the Bund and even Shanghai deep into his lungs and pores one last time in this one last sunrise, to say his bold goodbye to all he had been and a bolder hello to all he would become.

The bold, green bite of bergamot and a hint of the orange blossom perfumes she so loved all wrapped up tight within a dim sum totality of Shanghai spice and fire, the waft of burning incense and juniper berries from a passing temple on his way, the rich scent of tobacco from his cigarette case, a faraway musky bitter smell of leather as a portent of what lay ahead on another side of the world where Du would never think to look.

It was too late for regrets and second thoughts. He breathed everything in with all it promised this one last sunrise, held it deep within his heart, his senses and his lungs before he exhaled it back out over the Bund and the city, right before he made a wish on his birth dragon that whatever his future in a faraway land might hold, it would be a journey and a new beginning to a life the left-hand-man would never have dared imagine.

Yet a life the John Lee of his new passport – audacious, modern, a cosmopolitan man of the future – in his Uruguayan exile would never once have a single cause to regret.

TheBund1935

Notes for Amouage Journey Man: Bergamot, Szechuan pepper, cardamom, neroli, juniper, incense, geraniol, tobacco leaves, tonka bean, cypriol, leather, musk.

 

hudie

A Soft Goodbye

The French Concession, later that morning

“Are you sure you’ve packed everything you want to bring?”

She turned away from her view of the tree-lined boulevard toward the voice and the question.

One of China’s most illustrious faces laughed back at her as she indicated all the self-evident chaos of impending departure.

“Well, my clothes, obviously, jewelry, silks, presents for my brother and his wife, a few mementos… I’ve arranged with Lin to have the opium bed, the screen and the cabinet shipped tomorrow, but of course, I’ll be gone by then.”

It was time to close the chapter on her five years in Shanghai.

Five years as a runaway bride from an arranged marriage and a daring escape with her dowry to keep her, only in Shanghai, a purloined dowry and a pretty face was never enough for anything she ever wanted to do.

In Shanghai, what you were and what you had mattered far less than who you knew.

Yet luck had surely been on her side that night four years ago when China’s reigning celluloid Butterfly paid a visit to Ciro’s and introduced herself simply as Hu. That night, a burgeoning friendship was born between the chanteuse with her broken, halting Shanghainese and the celebrated movie star, a friendship that weathered all the storms two women with such vastly different backgrounds could create between them.

Even so, before the movie star, before the nightclub singer, before their respective histories even, they were simply two women and two instant friends, no more and never less.

She came to Hu and poured out her heart when she found herself eyeing the dashing stranger at Ciro’s who came every night with Du and eyed her right back, she told her friend everything there was to tell of seeming chance meetings on Nanjing Road and later clandestine dinners on her Sundays off in humble Nanshi restaurants where Du was never welcomed and she was not known, where no one would think to look and fewer would care to question the presence of the courteous, immaculate Chinese gentleman and the laughing blonde chanteuse.

She had never been one to give her heart away lightly, always kept her distance with a smile when those audaciously modern Shanghai dandies tried to dazzle her with promises as florid and enticing as their extravagant backstage bouquets.

Her left hand man was far more bold for being so discreet, for surprising her with the other, secret Shanghai she had come to know and to love through him.

One hot August night he presented her with a small, delicate sprig of blooming osmanthus and told her to breathe it in, all the way in, when somehow, all she loved about this mythical, mad city of contradictions and mysteries and sins both real and imagined came wrapped around this glowing little flower the hue of a Shanghai sunset.

This was their secret, this sweetly scented flower that laughed its fruity, honeyed path through the teeming streets of Nanshi, past the spice merchants shops and the unexpected surprise of a jasmine bursting out of its pot on an apothecary’s counter and sharp, sunshine puffs of mimosa, when the whispers of a lacquered cedarwood cigarette box told her sotto voce what depths he contained, when that little sprig of osmanthus stole her last objections and her heart away and never gave them back.

She told Hu everything, told her own celluloid story of a romance that could never happen, should never happen, and Hu, as all true time-honored friends would do, began with her help to weave a story of how to make it possible, how to make it happen, how to make her own love-struck movie so infinitely much more real than any flickering black and white dream in the dark.

Away from all of this, away from Shanghai, over the oceans and far away back home to Montevideo, away from her best friend and an uncertain future that loomed like a storm cloud over the western horizon in Manchuria, but how uncertain could her future ever be going home with the man she loved, a man who gave her his priceless gift of a sprig of Shanghai osmanthus?

“Oh, Hu…” she turned away from the balcony with a pang in her heart, knowing this would be a farewell, and who knew when they would see each other again in these precarious times?

“Do you think?”

Hu laughed outright, a laugh that all of China loved, laughed to see the question in her best friend’s face.

“Do I think you will escape, do I think our mad plan will succeed, do I think you’ll get away with it?” and four years of secrets shared laughed their own champagne bubbles beneath her words, “In Shanghai, everything is possible!” Hu walked to the balcony and reached out. She plucked a small sprig of osmanthus from the bush that bloomed in its porcelain pot on the balcony and tucked it firmly into her friend’s lapel beneath a jade brooch.

“I don’t believe. I know! It’s time to go – your ship sails in an hour!”

They hugged with all their history between them, hugged as hard as best friends would, before Hu marched her to the door and said:

“Now go with the Gods, darling. Go home – and say your soft goodbye to Shanghai.”

AmouageJourney

Notes for Amouage Journey Woman: Apricot, osmanthus, nutmeg, cardamom, jasmine sambac, mimosa, honey, cedar, tobacco, saffron, vanilla, cypriol, musk.

Created by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin in collaboration with Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong. .

Amouage Journey Man and Woman is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage e-store.

Image of Amouage Journey courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Much invaluable research came via The Chinese Mirror and the Ling Long Magazine archives of Columbia University.

Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Amouage. I thank the Very August Personage from the bottom of my storyteller’s heart for making this review so incredibly hard to write yet such an endless joy to research.

Also thanks to Ms. Hare, who kicked/shamed/double-dared me to finish it. Or else.

Refractions in a Jasmine’s Eye

mcescher1

-  a review of Amouage Opus VIII

In over three and a half years of perfume blogging, I’ve reviewed over five hundred perfumes. Some great, some spectacular and some… not quite so much. Some reviews have come easy and some have come hard, not because I hated the perfume (although that has happened), but because in order for me to haul out The Perfume Reviewer kicking and screaming (because she basically just wants to enjoy it), I have to find an angle, a hook, bait to reel the reader in.

In all that time and with all those marvels, nothing I ever review – and I’d like to emphasize this – is ever so hard to hook, angle or locate the bait as just about any Amouage.

Once upon a storied time – how can it be three years ago? – I dismissed Amouage as being too rich for my blood, just another hyped-up hyper-luxurious brand that couldn’t possibly live up to the accolades heaped upon it. I can’t afford even one of them. I’d cover my ears and sing “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” when my fellow friends and perfume bloggers sang its praises on their blogs. Finally, I gave in to my own relentless curiosity and those verbal, knowing smirks from those same friends and bloggers and ordered two outrageously expensive Amouage samples of Epic Woman and Ubar at First in Fragrance just to knock them down to an approachable, human size.

The rest, as they say, is history. Whether I’ve surprised myself writing narratives or merely bathetic attempts to just capture my impressions in words, by all the patron saints of perfume they are, every last one I’ve tried, really… all that and so much more.

It pains me more than you know to bang my head against the keyboard and tell you their newest release, the Library Collection’s Opus VIII, is no exception to that rule. It also proves just as slippery and elusive to decline and define.

I’ve long had the sneaking suspicion that the unisex Library Collection is where Creative Director Christopher Chong lets his inspirations run a little looser and freer and gives his perfumers license to write literature in essence, absolute and accords. If Opus V could be called Carnal Iris, and Opus VI Odysseys in Amber, Opus VII was a bottled Edgar Allan Poe tale all the best and sublimely Gothic ways titled Spenser’s Forest.

Opus VIII is a new tale in a new setting with countless plot twists and turns, this one as blinding sunshine bright as Opus VII was moody, magnificent darkness.

I don’t know how or even why, since it’s listed nowhere in the notes or anywhere else I could find, but on me, Opus VIII begins as incendiary green as a morning in early May. Jasmine sambac is indeed a greener, fruitier variety of jasmine, which might explain why I was kicked awake and aware by an emerald green punch of fizzy, razor-sharp Persian lime.

Lime! Not mojito, not caipirinha and not at all margarita, but a warm, bittersweet green sunrise as a heliotropic jasmine begins to unfurl and that blinding bright gilds its edges and everything begins to glow, everywhere you sniff. Was that a hint of banana leaf? No. It’s that heady jasmine. Or else it’s the sensuous sparks of saffron and ginger firing up the floral fireworks.

But instead of your usual summer fireworks imagery, see instead a jasmine sambac chrysanthemum bomb exploding in an endless hall of mirrors, some convex, others concave, and yet others flat, wavy and in varying hues of blues, golds and greens. You just don’t know where to look, never mind how to sniff. The florals are distorted and painted large on scented woody billboards advertising alternative, gravity-defying magic carpet rides of what flowers are able to do in a perfume if they’re allowed.

Once thing is certain – they’ve never quite done this before.

Ylang ylang, with those custard and banana leaf undertones dances and flirts with the jasmine in perfect step with frankincense adding its own lemony, woody allure.

Like all the Opus line and indeed most Amouages, Opus VIII is incredibly hard to parse. Just when you think you have it all mapped out, the figurative magic carpet is pulled out from under you. Up is down and down is up. Jasmine is not at all jasmine sambac, but instead a phantasmagorical jasmine, no! Wait! Orange blossom! Yes?

No… it’s this spicy, woody superstructure elevating all the flowers up and up – or is that down?

Reflections? Refractions? I could apply both words equally well to convey my impressions. I’ve worn this on at least twelve occasions and worn twelve different perfumes – sometimes, it’s that jasmine sambac core that dominates and sometimes, it’s the woody superstructure that shares certain similarities with a few recent masculine releases, notably Fate Man.

What I will have to tell you is that this journey through a sunlit hall of mirrors takes hours and hours, and as you make your way through this jasmine sambac labyrinth, you’ll never know what you may find or even how to find it. This is possibly the most cohesive yet utterly discombobulating perfume I’ve ever sniffed.

To say I’m confounded is understating the issue. I suspect that’s both the raison d’être and the modus operandi of Opus VIII. To offer up reflections of flowers – some real, some imagined – swirling around a jasmine sambac vortex suspended in a spicy, woody, deliciously bittersweet base that by both inspirations and perfumers’ sleight of hand all add up to endless and endlessly entertaining…

Refractions in a jasmine sambac’s eye.

The Library Collection’s Opus VIII will soon be available at Luckyscent, MiN New York, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

Notes: Jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, orange blossom, frankincense, saffron, ginger, vetiver, gaiac wood, benzoin, Jamaican bay.

Perfumers: Pierre Negrin & Richard Herpin in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Disclosure: A sample of Opus VIII was provided for review by Amouage. For which I thank the Very August Personage.

Illustration: M.C. Escher.

The Scent of a Man

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

- Of memory, madness and Amouage Memoir Man

Nothing fires up our emotions or long-buried memories quite so well as a scent. It need not even be a perfume, although I’ve come to find more often than not that perfumes obviously have a special place in my heart precisely for that instant superhighway from nose to emotion and a whole slew of associations, images, and long-buried film reels of memory and feeling rush out to greet me.

Any man or woman, but maybe perfumistas in particular, will tell you… Clothes, demeanor, appearance, personal charm – all of these are fine and good, but really, those sparks and stomach butterflies and twinges in our hearts begin with our noses.

For all our sophistication, excuses and pretenses, that much of the primeval, atavistic animal remains.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but I suspect that idea might have been bubbling away at the back of my mind that November night I wrote the short story that became ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’, which led to a book, which led to… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the course of my nearly three years as a perfume writer and over three hundred reviews, a select few are tattooed upon my soul in indelible, never-fading ink, often becoming so much a part of what defines me or my memory, it’s impossible to say where I end or the perfume begins.

When I’m confronted with this or that new perfume for review purposes, I myself often have startling reactions to the perfume I’m sampling. The best ones often involve a streak of spicy (and unrepeatable) language, or even inarticulate sounds that also can’t be repeated, which is no way to write about perfume.

Great art, so it’s said, has to be felt. This certainly applies to one in particular, which gave me such a violent reaction the first time I tried it I didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Violent not for being bad, but for unleashing a whole blockbuster movie contained within that sample vial, one recurring, intertwined silken thread in my own life that runs silver and black, unbroken for over thirty years. For the longest time, it was padlocked and chained away in a secret vault in my mind until that afternoon just over two years ago when a spray and a sniff blew the padlock and chains to smithereens and out came… a story.

The perfume was Amouage’s Memoir Man. The story was inspired by that other story, that one real life tale of heaven and heartbreak, secrets and sighs called… The One.

Every woman has one. The one who got away, the one who lingers on, the one you try not to think too hard about. It’s over. It’s done. You know you will never again burn so hot nor feel so much, you know how that story ends (more heartbreak), you’re all grown up now, you’re over it, such madness, such magic can never happen again.

Yet if you’re a writer, it can and it will. It comes out in unexpected ways, provoked by who knows what hidden muses laboring away in the dark – by a perfume, or by the way that perfume accentuates and underlines that story and the man who inspired it. He was and still is the only one I’ve personally known who it defines and explains so beautifully.

I will go to my grave stating that no matter what they say to the contrary on all the perfume fora and discussion groups on Facebook, when it comes to bottling up the Guy Thing in terms of high romance, cinematic scope, style and personal statement, no one does it like Amouage. No other line’s masculine-slanted fragrances slay me or my ragged, battered, bruised and disillusioned heart to quite the same degree so consistently, and for over two years, I’ve wondered, as I often do… why?

It took serendipity to figure that out, or was it something even more portentous? Call it fate…

Because last week, while bobbing along on a summery tide of Business As Usual, bubbling with plans and dreams and things to do and perfectly serene, someone had the idea to track me down.

That one. The one who got away. Someone I’ve known for well over thirty years and seen in many moods and several disguises, the one who inspired a fair-sized portion of the Devil’s personality as he is portrayed in my novel Quantum Demonology.

Call him the Memoir Man. Or L’Homme Fatal.

Throughout those thirty-plus years, we were friends, both part of a tight-knit gang who had known each other through high school and far beyond. Until that fatal party thirty years ago that made us both take a good, hard look at each other, and in an instant, all our past lives and all our shared history of friendship was scorched away by something much more dangerous.

There was no turning back after that.

Since then, many other people wandered in and out of our separate lives. Ex-wives, an ex-husband, girlfriends and boyfriends, all the detritus we humans tend to accumulate as we proceed through our lives, and yet… chance encounters just kept happening. Unlooked for meetings on the street. Catching up. We began again because we couldn’t not. We ended. And began other ends, other chances to break each other’s hearts in ways no one else could ever manage.

Our last meeting thirteen years ago was high drama and super-heated words, and as he drove away, I was so glad I’d never, ever see him again.

I would be sane, I would be sensible, I would be cured and inured and inoculated forever more. If it killed me never again to burn so hot, never again to feel so much.

I would. Damn it.

Meanwhile, a writer was born, and as writers will come to know, no experience is ever wasted. Somehow, slivers of that old, repeating story would insinuate themselves into my writing of novels and stories and even a perfume review that came unlooked for as an old, dusty padlock blew up… with a perfume. That padlock came back on after my review, locked a little tighter and with thicker chains this time around.

Yet I swore a secret oath to myself, for reasons I could never articulate, if I ever met anyone again, he would be doomed to wear (among a few others)… Memoir Man.

So it was, until last week. I was a (little too) grown-up now, I was inoculated, I was sane and serieuse and a sensational writer (at least in my own mind). I certainly wasn’t that white-hot fury of thirteen years ago.

When I received that message, I wondered how to respond. As I walked to meet him again after all this time, (don’t ask) I wondered how much havoc was wrought with both of us in thirteen years. I wondered about that inoculation. Wrapped up my heart airtight with metaphorical Kevlar before I left, just in case. I wore an Amouage. (Fate!)

Everything had changed. Some things never did. We would be sane, we would be grown-ups, we would be sensible if it killed us.

We would. Damn it.

Last night, I suddenly bounced around the room and began to upend my perfume cabinet, looking for That One to remind me. My little sample vial of Memoir Man.

Because to me, that was – and is – the scent of a man.

The Memoir Man.

Image: Robert Mapplethorpe

With thanks to Christopher Chong, who knows a thing or two about getting a girl in trouble…

________________________________________

Save the Genie! Find out more here.

Fortune’s Gates

fortuneteller2a

- Part Two of a story and a review of Amouage Fate Man

It isn’t every day an adventurer such as you has the courage to enter through Fortune’s gates, to have all the questions answered that so enflame your soul, seeking you to wander ever onward, ever forward, ever eyeing the horizon and the stories you may find there.

Did you not know that elusive far horizon moves with you as you whirl headlong through your life? Did you know that sometimes, the answers you seek are found not by moving forward, but by standing still?

Are you prepared for the secrets I shall see for you? Or shall it be you found me by a happy accident, around a corner, through an ordinary-seeming gate, to seek the answers to the questions you were unaware you wished to know?

You walked through the gates and found me waiting, thinking you were searching for me, but in fact, it was I who searched for you.

Sit, and I shall tell you of momentous things and all your incendiary dreams, all that urge you on to set your world alight, tell you all your restless heart will want to know.

What perfume shall be for such a one as you with such wings on your feet and such a fire in your soul? Indeed a perfume, for you are no ordinary mortal and I am no mortal fortune teller cloaked in faux mystique and superstition.

These are Fortune’s Gates, which only the brave ever find and none ever dare to seek, and this is where you perch on the verge between your old tales and your new hopes, this is where all your arcane secrets waft towards that far horizon that so eludes you. Like all secrets and many, many stories, this is a costly tale of uncertainties you have left behind, and all the hopes you have come to find, even as you fear them and even as you dream them into being.

Breathe them in. What do you sense in this fragrant cloud, do you see it reflected in my crystal ball?

Breathe in all your fiery hopes, inhale all its colors and its dreams. Can you sense that sunshine saffron burn, does that feisty, fruity kick of ginger lift you upward, even as an earthy whisper of cumin pulls you to the ground?

So much richness to your tale, so many secrets breathed into all the wormwood heartbeats… to go, to stay, to inspire, to wish, to instigate, to choose your path and unchoose other impossible mirages you must leave behind as you move ever forward, ever on.

To go, to do, to begin again, to start from nowhere and nothing known – that is what this scented song tells you must be left behind, if you ever want to find your far horizon.

Ah! That touched you, I can tell from the way you shift on your chair and your eyes slide to the door and your chin sets its hard and stubborn line. No one tells you where to go or what you can or cannot do?

If you truly had no wish to know what song you need to breathe or what answers you need to find, you never would have found Fortune’s Gates.

Sit still. Breathe it in and be inspired by the destiny you have come to claim. Did you ever suspect it would be so opulent or so deep? That rosy-tinted frankincense pulse that lies beneath and plays such an enticing calliope tune… this is where your game changes, this is where your time will stop an instant or two, this is where your new life begins and all your  old will fall away behind.

Crawl aboard that carrousel, do you see that gilded column of immortelle with all its sweet fragrant phantasms painted? This is what lies just beyond and straight ahead, not the clear cut answers you thought you sought, but the ever shifting, ever swirling dreams you have always denied, this the secret you never told.

The world was never meant to know you dream in such vivid colors, or scents exuded quite so sweetly.

This is the secret I tell you now – you will always paint another dream another day, always shift and change and gild it as it suits your purpose – a little more, a little less, a lavender and a labdanum shading to make it all seem more real and less a dream, but this carrousel never stops, not even for an adventurer like you, but then, there are none quite like you, yes?

It simply spins out your dreams into the ether and on to the world, out to where even your hungry soul stands still enough to build them up and make them real.

That hit you hard, I can see. Watch them as they spin out all your midnight fears, listen as they tell you as even I shall tell you that most arcane secret of all.

Nothing is predetermined, nothing is ordained just so, nothing is certain but this:

Your destiny is not a creature you can keep in a cage and feed with your dreams, your hopes and all the longing that hungry heart of yours can bear.

You shall find it and embrace it only if you set it free, only if you dare to paint it bolder still in darker hues and wrap your fragmented self in all its twilit notes, the sighs of sandalwood and cedar, the basso hum of labdanum and musk, the dulcet harmonies of tonka and licorice that urge you ever on.

Dare to believe in those calliope visions you paint so real, dare to hope for those twilit notes, stand up and face what you have never quite had the courage to face before.

Go back into the world now, go to find that far horizon that has haunted all your dreams, turn to the setting sun, breathe in all your secrets and all the courage you somehow doubt you have.

You have breathed in all your portent here. You have learned as it unfolded in your soul and on your skin, you have read its enigma as it breathed you back to the life that awaits you, a life unlike any you have known or any you can anticipate.

It is time to claim your fate.

amouagefate

Notes: Saffron, artemisia, ginger, cumin, mandarin, rose, frankincense, lavandin, immortelle, labdanum, copaiba balsam, tonka bean, labdanum, cedar, sandalwood, musk, licorice

Amouage Fate Man was created by Karine Vinchon – Spehner in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong. It is available directly from Amouage boutiques worldwide now, and in the US in October 2013.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage. With thanks to the Very August Personage.

Images: Amouage Fate presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission. Fortune teller via Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, original hamsa via deviantart, Wheel of Fortune Tarot card via Polyvore, Photoshop reprographics, editing and compositing, my own.

Destiny’s Doors

fortuneteller1a

- Part One of a tale and a review of Amouage Fate

How should I begin this reading for you? How to quell those butterflies of futurity that flutter in your dark, that fear of the unknown that so impels you all? If you had no trepidation of the future or even any hope, you wouldn’t be here with me, hoping against all experience for all your dreams come true. Or should that be – hoping against hope to quash that midnight black moth of fear that batters you and propels you through Destiny’s Doors, where I wait for those who dare to find me?

I am always here, you have just arrived, and time dances ever onward towards a destiny it too must fulfill.

Yes, I know, I know…I don’t come cheap. Few revelations ever do, and somehow, I get the impression that’s what you seek – a revelation of a future you don’t even have the courage to imagine. Or should that be some epiphany that even as one door closes – the one you chose to enter by, that tale you have told the world so far – another one opens, and yet another story begins for you?

I can tell you now…this is nothing more and never less than one ending to that old story of you, the one you write even as you sit with me across the table, and very much more than that new beginning for you, the one you need me to confirm.

That new beginning you so desperately want to believe in, the one you cling to on rainy days and Mondays. What shall it be, what shall I see for you, what clouds and visions will unfold in my crystal ball?

What perfume does your destiny breathe? Are you surprised that such a portentous thing should be a perfume instead of an amulet, a lucky charm, a  deck of Tarot cards?

Everyone does that, which is precisely why I don’t. These are Destiny’s doors, which open only for the most arcane of secrets – and people, too.

Close your eyes. Breathe in deep. Can you sense those omens of sunshine and spice? Do you feel how suddenly, your world seems so much lighter? It almost makes you want to laugh for joy, doesn’t it? Worries? What worries? This is kismet of a gentler, softer kind, but don’t mistake gentle for careless. If you do, that fiery, feisty spice and sass will come back to bite you, although I suspect it has other plans.

You expected Beethoven, star-crossed Sturm und Drang, an operatic overture of doom in baritone and alto keys. Major surprises can be good that way.

Destiny has other plans for you. Incendiary things, sugar and spice and several things nice, but I tell you now – you have to suspend your credulity just a little, give over control and have a little… faith.

Ah. That struck a chord, yes? Faith, hope’s less cynical sibling. Not something easy to come by in this disparaging day and age, which doesn’t mean you need it any less. This perfume will tell you how to find it, but I can tell – you know.

You know to find it in the beauty within the silky petals of a thousand flowers, roses, jasmine, narcissus, even, blooming all their glories, blinding white and ruby red against a blue eternal sky, emanating all their secrets on your skin and blowing their summer breezes into your soul.

Go ahead. Have all the faith and all the courage you can ever need when you doubt that destiny of your making.

Here’s another secret for you. This is not a destiny created for you, this is the destiny you create for yourself every instant it wafts in your wake. I am here to tell you, since otherwise, you would never believe and that is important.

Believe it.

Believe it as you waft through it, walk around it, breathe in all those arcane wishes and secret aspirations.

Now, the time has come to inhale those fires that inspire you to create that karma you claim as your own.

They burn far below that summer sun and spicy laughter, beneath that faith the flowers bestowed upon you, they burn as warm and as precious as frankincense tears to cherish and console you when all around you seems so cold and so indifferent.

What world would not acknowledge what you have to give with a fortune such as yours, with a singular perfume such as this?

This is not the song this perfume sings for you, this is not the destiny you’ll implore as you walk out my doors.

Ah, I sense it now, that tiny drop of fear you hide so well beneath all your sophisticated veneer, that fear of one door closing, the fear we all have of all we cannot know.

Most of all for you, I think, that fear that all your dreams are dreamt in vain, for nothing, for lack of a reality to manifest them in.

Close your eyes. Breathe them in, those dreams, for all reality begins in dreams, the daylight dreams that catch us unaware and the midnight visions that so bewitch us in our sleep and sets us free to build reality upon them.

I know those dreams. I can tell you what they mean, but you…you are in a hurry to know more, to know everything, to know what no one can ever know but you.

Every moment you breathe, every moment you create, every instant you remember…the sunshine of a flawless summer day, your fiery zest for life, those moments of beauty that catch you by surprise and take your breath away, those flickering flames of inspiration that always, always burn and impel you to manifest those haunting dreams – all will lead you to this sweetly scented secret.

Vanilla and benzoin will sing their chorus that great things await you, this silken chypre will whisper on your skin no pleasures shall be denied you, if you dare, if you believe, if you have the courage to follow where they lead and the imagination to envision it as boldly and as audaciously as you dare.

These are the secrets I could breathe alive for you, the perfume your kismet has made for you.

I sense nothing more for you here, see no further secrets in my opalescent crystal ball except one.

The time has come to claim the Fate that awaits you on the other side of Destiny’s doors.

amouagefate

Notes: Bergamot, cinnamon, chili, pepper, rose, jasmine, frankincense, labdanum, vanilla, benzion, castoreum, patchouli, oakmoss, leather

Amouage Fate Woman was created by Dorothée Piot in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong. It is available directly from Amouage boutiques worldwide now, and in the US in October 2013.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage. With thanks to the Very August Personage.

Images: Image of Amouage Fate presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission. Fortune teller via Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, original hamsa via Razanal on deviantart, Wheel of Fortune Tarot card via Polyvore, Photoshop reprographics, editing and compositing, my own.

A Renaissance Man

viggo-mortensen-pose-1870838438

- a review of AmouageBeloved Man’

Sometimes, assumptions can be dangerous. Dangerous, because assumptions lead to expectations, expectations are not always fulfilled, and disappointment can be deadly. If I have a credo I try my utmost to live by, it’s that I might as well bite the bullet and expect the unexpected. It’s one way to save what’s left of  my sanity.

This was brought home when I received the hotly anticipated Amouage Beloved Man, anticipated because c’mon, it’s an Amouage!, and hotly since Beloved Woman blew so many of us away last year, yours truly included.

Of all the many things I so adore about the house of Amouage, one of them is the unique way their masculine and feminine perfumes play off and enrich each other – as if they exude two sides of the same eternal stories; The Age of Opulence (Gold), Grand Adventures (Epic), Great Expectations (Jubilation), A Haunting Affair (Memoir), The Memory of Loss (Honour), or even Beautiful Chaos (Interlude).

It could be me and my own warped perspective, it could even be my warped nose for all I know, but every Amouage I’ve ever encountered tells a story to a degree very few other perfumes do, and that’s something else to love about them.

In my own not-so-humble opinion, Amouage creates some of the Best Masculines On Planet Earth. In the (unlikely, if not impossible) event someone walks through my door with the intention to stay a while, he is doomed in more ways than one. To wear an Amouage (or three) is a given. No questions and no quarter. I shall insist. Nicely. If all else fails, I’ll quote the Universal Law of Dividends With Compound Interest.

So what – or who? – is this Beloved Man? Inspired by the 1980 movie ‘Somewhere in Time’ starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, Beloved Man is a bit of a departure from the usual Amouage masculines, less operatic, brighter and more timeless in feel and aura. It starts with elemi on me, all a summer-bright, charming, citrusy burst of light and ‘Hello, there!’ On this woman, it makes a definite statement, a subversive statement to femininity akin to wearing a tux with heels. Slowly – it would be far too obvious to give it all away too soon – the bright beginning fades as floral notes begin to bloom.

Geranium, jasmine and iris, says my note list, but just as in Beloved Woman (also created by Bernard Ellena), they’re seamlessly, flawlessly blended. I could tell you that it begins with geranium and ends with a deliciously dark, grassy, leather-tinged iris, but as it shifts and moves and evolves and involves you through the hours and the day, it grows lusher, woodier and, dare I write it, even a touch melancholy, a surprising twilit twist on a perfume that begins with such a luminous burst of light.

If you somehow expected your usual Amouage rollercoaster ride (or wafts of Wagnerian scope, scale and pitch), you’ll be in for a surprise. Beloved Man is none of that. Instead of rewriting the rule book of machismo with a capital M, it tells its story in a lower, more understated key. The surprises in its depth will find you, not the other way around, like all the most evocative fragrant love stories, the ones we remember the longest and best. Next to Beloved Woman, it tells that other story of definition…no need to conform to a script, only a wish to transcend the rules we write as we go and the yearning we may find – through time and beyond it.

On a humdrum afternoon last week, a friend of mine dropped by. We talked about things old friends will talk about, and in the course of our conversation (I wasn’t about to waste an opportunity with testosterone in the room), out came Beloved Man. He graciously offered his left arm to Art. Up came the Armani sleeve, out came a generous spray to adorn some stellar Norse knotwork. We waited a couple of minutes for the fallout to evaporate. Next came the big surprise. Lo and behold, out of the mouth of this iconoclastic, volatile black metal aficionado, Amouage virgin and notorious thirty-something Lothario came the words:

It smells like me, but better.

Who knows – there might be hope for him yet!

But in the event I were ever to give Beloved Man to an exemplar of same, I think it would suit the kind of man who had nothing in particular to prove, a man who had no doubts about who he was or what he wanted. He has no wish to break or bend rules he doesn’t define himself, no desire to assume another identity or persona. He is, in a phrase, all of a piece. Intriguing, complex, infinitely curious and yet with a smoother, softer and no less masculine edge he isn’t afraid to show to an appreciative audience. A Renaissance man, as iconoclastic as he wants to be and as classic as he always is and also – as surely as he must be…

 A. Beloved. Man.

Some day, I hope to find him. In time – or beyond it.

Notes: Orange, grapefruit, elemi, geranium, jasmine, orris, saffron, cedarwood, gaiac wood, leather, patchouli, vetiver and musk. Longevity and sillage is outstanding (as are all Amouages), but it wears closer.

Amouage Beloved Man was created by perfumer Bernard Ellena in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Available as 100 ml eau de parfum (425$) from Amouage boutiques worldwide as well as Harrods in London, Tsum in Russia, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and coming in March/April, Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Amouage.

Image of Viggo Mortensen (My definition of a Renaissance polyhistor, used for illustrative purposes) via fansshare. Some rights reserved.

Anodynes

-     a review – and a story – of Amouage Interlude Man/Woman

Like so much else in his frenetic life, what he was doing now was absolute madness, rushing like the White Rabbit down West 14th Street so he wouldn’t be late, late, late for this very important date, wouldn’t miss this for anything on Earth, this seeming mundane insomniac four A.M meeting in a donut shop of all places because it was the last place anyone would think to look for either of them in this nowhere hour, too early to be morning and too late to be night.

She was too careful to leave much to chance, too cautious not to cover her tracks and leave back doors open for a speedy exit. Like any woman worth knowing, she had many secrets and kept them well.

One reason he was running down the street at this insane hour was simply because she knew all of his, too.

They had known each other since the days before everything happened, before they became what they were now, before the rest of the world demanded all of both of them with a fifty percent tax on top. Before life became so frantic with all the things they had to do to stay where they wanted to be and needed to do. Ever since, he had a deal with her – to meet once a year, no matter what happened or where in the world they were, in a location they both agreed upon at the meeting before.

He felt guilty that until forty-odd hours before in Hong Kong, he had forgotten all about it, so guilty he bought her an expensive present he thought she might appreciate. It was with him now with the companion he bought for himself in the hope it would remind him of her and of all this secret history that made him rush breathless into a donut shop at four in the morning to be greeted with the welcome, warm surprise of hyper-fragrant empty calories.

She sat at the last stool towards the back with a huge cup of Starbucks and an apple fritter she had yet to touch. She looked much as she always did at four A.M., with her hair up under a sixpence pulled down over her face and no makeup, her leather jacket making her look much younger than he knew she was.

“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said when he sat down next to her. “I was in Hong King when I got your message.”

“For shame. What do you do, put me up on the lost and found shelf the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year?” She mock-punched him in the shoulder.

“No. I just try not to cross the days off in the calendar until the next time. What on Earth were you thinking – to meet up at this hour?”

She laughed. “I had a deadline. This was one way I knew I could make it on time. I told myself yesterday I couldn’t get out of the chair until I finished, so I could meet you with a clear conscience.”

“Did it work?”

“Actually, it did. Otherwise I would have had to cancel, and that wouldn’t do.” She shrugged. “Life is crazy enough, don’t you think?”

“I know it is. You should have seen me have hysterics at the ticket counter in Hong Kong. I had to be on that plane.”

“I’m so glad. Where are you even these days?”

“Everywhere. Singapore. Paris. Los Angeles. Buenos Aires. Hong Kong. Shanghai. London. I go where they send me, and try not to complain about it.”

“Poor you. Doesn’t it get old, living out of a suitcase?”

“Of course it does. I heard that you moved, by the way.”

“I did.” She sipped her coffee. “I either bought real estate or I paid way more taxes. So…Manhattan. Just to make my life a little more frantic than it already is. ”

“Meeting an old friend at four A.M isn’t frantic? It’s almost enough to make me wish I drank.” That made her laugh, just as he knew it would. “That reminds me. I brought you a present.”

“Ah. You shouldn’t have.” Beneath the brim of her cap her grin spread from one ear to the other.

“I know. I did it anyway. I think it reminded me of you.” He put the glossy bag on the counter, and immediately, she pulled out the gift-wrapped box.

“Oooooh,” she cooed. “Perfume. Very, very expensive perfume. You realize this has all sorts of loaded significance, don’t you?” She opened the box, and although it was almost too quick for him to catch it, he saw the surprise write itself on her face, saw her face light up as her smile changed. “My favorite shade of blue.” She snuck a furtive look at the waiter behind the counter at the other end, and as he looked away, she removed the cap and sprayed her wrist underneath the counter. “Hello!” she exclaimed when she sniffed her wrist. “This is an entire novel in a bottle, you know that.”

“Of course I do. Perfect for a novelist!”

“That sounds so much more distinguished than mere ‘writer’. Hmm. It’s green, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s… a breath of fresh air in a window I fling open after working all night. When I look to see the sun is coming up outside my windows.”

He reached for her apple fritter and bit into it. “You mean, that moment when you stop whatever it is you’re doing and realize that for just a few seconds, it seems as if the world has stopped too, ” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.

“Yes. Like that. Oh! Wake up and smell the coffee, baby! Is that coffee?” She laughed again, and watching her evident, child-like pleasure was almost worth the panic attacks he just sidestepped to get there on time. “Fruity coffee!”

“You tell me. You used to write about perfume.” This was one hell of an apple fritter.

“Another life ago. Is that what you’re asking? You want the perfume writer’s scoop on your present? ”

“I guess I’m asking what you think, or if you’ll wear it, or…you know. I’m not usually in the habit of buying you perfume.”

She sniffed her wrist again. “Next time, I’ll just call you up at four A.M. and ask what you’re wearing.”

“The Wall Street Journal. Reading glasses. So not sexy. Or…” he suddenly remembered. “The counterpart to what I just gave you.”

She leaned closer right by his neck and breathed him in. “That’s outrageous. I do mean outrageous. Allspice with a green bite underneath it, and…oh! Leather! Sweet, luscious, supple, silky leather and am I getting…what is that? Tarmac? Rubber? Not just any rubber, and nothing in the slightest bit bad, but much more than a little…dangerous. Yes. Dangerous! That’s it! You’re the gazillionaire bad boy my mother warned me about. The guy who lights fires in hapless lovelies on five continents and always leaves in the morning. His secretary has been instructed to send roses. Not that it helps.”

He had to laugh. “I’m nothing like that. And you don’t like gazillionaires anyway.”

“True. ” She sniffed her wrist again. “But I love this. Why they always say a perfume has evolution, I don’t know. This is more of a revolution…it goes up and down and all around a thick, floral heart, like a spiral spinning around all the many contradictions that define it. It’s really busy in a very intricately crafted way. Frankincense that should be written out in capital letters, but no frankincense is ever so glorious as this…this is…the apotheosis of all the word and the material implies. Ah. But wait! There’s more!” She laughed again. “A novel in a bottle! We’re getting to that inevitable point of no return. There will be no happily ever after.”

“For four thirty in the morning I’m hugely impressed.” He was, too. No amount of money could have bought him a conversation like this one. Too bad he could only have it once a year.

“Hush.” She leaned in on him again and breathed in. “Smooth, but just… rough enough to make it interesting. A girl always likes a little bit of…rough.” As she said that last, her voice dropped to a smoky, sultry alto that gave one simple word a universe of meaning the scent he wore seemed to embroider upon, sparks and glints of heat, of firelight and wisps of rising, fragrant smoke from a roaring bonfire of exotic woods that only grew where dragons lived to guard the trees.

It was jetlag. It had to be. Or else it was these two infernally great perfumes. Worth every yuan he paid for them just to hear her say ‘rough’ like that.

“I don’t have enough time for bonfires,” he heard himself saying.

“I know. I don’t, either.” In the space of a heartbeat, her regret played across her face like a piano note and was just as quickly gone, but he caught it in the way she shifted on her chair and slightly away from him, as if wrapping herself just a little tighter and smaller. A piano note with the damper pedal down.

“So why do we meet like this once a year?” He found himself wanting to distract her from that hint of blue he saw in her eyes, illuminated by the light bouncing off the display case of cookies in front of her.

She blinked, turned back towards him again and lifted one eyebrow. “You mean you don’t know?”

“You’re the novelist,” he shot back. “You tell me!”

“Well, to remind each other that it’s the world that’s crazy, but you and I aren’t. You’re my anodyne, and I’m yours. Everything and everyone coming at us from all directions, constant streams of information, stress, noise and clutter and all that messes with our minds.” Again, he saw that lightning flash of regret that blazed over her face before it vanished.

“That there’s…” she went on after a while and a sip of her coffee, “these rare instances every blue moon, where everything just…stops, and you stop with it. When you breathe in, and you are all of a piece, you’re whole and entire and an entire, complex universe in one fleeting, shining instant. You don’t have to do, you don’t have to go, you just have to be. Like now.”

She replaced the blue bottle in its box, put it back in the bag and sniffed her wrist again.

“How do you know I’m not crazy?” He had to ask. Sometimes, he wanted to be just a little crazy.

“Because you brought me serenity…in a beautiful blue perfume bottle! And you wore your own to see me. That tells me everything I need to know.” She had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one he hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

But when he returned to the counter, she was gone, with only a trace of that magnificent, ambery, opulent trail behind in the sugar-scented donut shop. There was a card on the barstool.

On the front was her name, her new address, her email and phone number. And on the back, a quote from a poem.

The soul selects her own society

Then shuts the door

On her divine majority –

Obtrude no more.

Below, she had written “Hong Kong. Make the time for a bonfire. Oh. Yes. You’re going to need two more bottles of this.”

Which was when he realized that she had taken not just the bottle he had brought for her, but his own too, still in the Tsum department store bag.

He laughed, laughed so loudly, the waiter at the other end of the counter came over to ask if everything was OK.

Oh, yes. It was just about perfect. As perfect an anodyne – or an interlude – as anyone could ask for.

Image of Interlude Man & Interlude Woman: Amouage

_______________________________________

Notes for Interlude Woman (Perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner): Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, kiwi, frankincense, rose, coffee, orange blossom, helichrysum, jasmine, opoponax, vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oud, oakmoss, leather, tonka bean, animalic notes, musk

Notes for Interlude Man (Perfumer Pierre Negrin): Bergamot, oregano, pimento berry oil, amber, frankincense, cistus, opoponax, leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood

Amouage Interlude is available directly from the Amouage website and Amouage boutiques. It will be available at First in Fragrance from September 24th, and elsewhere Amouage is sold.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Amouage

With thanks to the usual suspect and Emily Dickinson, too.