The Floating World of Flower and Willow

– Part One of a two part series on Aroma M Geisha Perfume Oils


For a perfumoholic such as myself, there is no greater thrill than the thrill of discovery. Where will I go, what wonders will I find, will I find something, smell something, embark upon a journey to a destination or a mindset I have never known before?

In the case of Aroma M, the answer is a resounding, definite…yes.

Maria McElroy, the perfumer and creator behind Aroma M, began as a painter who then took up the study of aromatherapy, and next went to Japan for seven years to immerse herself in many different aspects of Japanese culture, among them kodo – the Japanese art of perfume, ikebana, shiatsu, the Japanese tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism. It gives her Geisha perfume oils a unique aesthetic sensibility that is apparent from the moment I pop open those tiny wondrous vials – the compelling sensual refinement so apparent in all Japanese art forms, and the more opulent, compartmentalized Western approach. Leave your preconceptions behind, open your mind – and breathe as we go.

Dive down with me into ‘The Floating World of Flower and Willow’ of the geiko of the Gion district of Kyoto, where there is no other reason to exist but pleasure. Live for these transcendent moments of sensual beauty, as a geiko plays the shamisen and warmed sake steams in the fragrant air around you, lose yourself in the sinuous lines and effervescent colors of kimono and flower and the evocative perfumed air of the geisha who entertain you with their art. Your cares and the outside world do not exist here, time itself stands still, and only the fleeting mood of this moment of all sensual delights dictates your whims.

Here, the geiko reign supreme, the fully fledged geisha who have completed their training as maiko in all the artistry of geisha, in this teahouse you find not the painted faces of maiko we normally associate with geisha, but the natural, mature beauty of geiko whose art lies in their very artlessness, their ability to make even the striking of a chord on the shamisen, the pouring of tea, the soft musical rustle of hand-embroidered silk an exquisite art form of its own. Like these stellar perfumes, which are not so innocent and far more knowing than they would have you believe.

Geisha Noir

Notes: Spices, amber, tonka bean.

Once upon a time, even here in the decadent West, perfumes existed that put the ‘Oh!’ in …Oriental. O as in opulent, Oh as in audacious, Oh as in…Oh, wow!

Not a few have said that Geisha Noir reminds them quite a bit of what Shalimar used to be before reformulation, and I can see why. My mother loved Shalimar, and she would surely be all over this. Geisha Noir is a definite after dark perfume oil to wear when you have definite after dark events on your mind. Spicy, rich, and very heady, I wore this to bed the other night and had the kind of dreams I really can’t repeat on a perfume blog, but let’s just say that waking up alone was …heartbreaking? Animalic and unabashedly, devastatingly sensual, if you miss the former glories of Shalimar, run, don’t walk, and try this. It lasts and lasts, weaving its siren song around your skin for hours, but what you do with it is up to you!

Geisha Marron

Notes: Muguet, white Japanese magnolia, chestnut blossom, mandarin, bergamot, grapefruit.

Every spring, I’ve always wondered why no one has ever tried to put the soft, lilting fragrance of the dark pink chestnut blossoms into a perfume. I need wonder no longer. Marron is the most ‘Western’ of all the Aroma M line, with its evanescent blend of muguet, magnolia and those glorious chestnut blossoms, sparkling with a citrus kick at the outset of bergamot, mandarin and grapefruit. It settles down to a warm, inviting aura of the muguet – not quite so innocent here as we’re used to – magnolia and the chestnut blossom, and is suggestive more than demanding. It would wear perfectly for a Sunday afternoon promenade, but wouldn’t be amiss at an intimate dinner for two. It begs to be appreciated up close and personal, but never shouts its presence. Unusual, alluring, and uplifting!

Geisha Rouge

Notes: Tonka bean, tobacco, vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, clove, sandalwood, Japanese incense.

Spice, this dedicated hedonist will tell you, is nice, and with Geisha Rouge, spice gets no nicer than this. Not one floral note detracts from these woody, fiery glories that bloom in an exotic language all their own…with that sharp, hot spark to your senses of star anise, clove and cinnamon, and an imperceptibly subtle shift toward the dry down of Japanese incense, sandalwood, tonka bean, vanilla and tobacco with its leathery undertone. If clove deters you – as it does for some – rest assured this will not remind you of the dentist in the slightest, for here clove and star anise dance in their flawless kabuko tandem with cinnamon and Japanese incense for hours, never cloying, never boring or biting. This is a perfume of embers that glow in the space above your skin to remind you of possibilities, hopes and ardent dreams to make your own. Geisha Rouge was one of my favorites – for its exuberant spicy, fiery kick, and for the way it galvanized my creativity. I really need to own this. Whoever knew that spice could cure my writer’s block? My Devil will be so grateful.

Geisha Violet

Notes: Violet, lilac, Japanese lotus, bitter chocolate

In my former life, I trained as a pastry chef, so it’s no stretch for me at all to imagine the pairing of violet and chocolate, used to decorate and accentuate so many classic chocoholic delights. I detect only a whiff of lilac and lotus, but lots and lots of very floral violet, its inherent sweetness undercut by the bitter chocolate just enough to make it a different violet than the blushing ingénue of classical perfumery. I can imagine this would be innocent on someone young, but on someone who isn’t, that chocolate note edges it ever so slightly toward gourmand territory, a wonderful place to be, and either because of the chocolate or because I’m no ingénue, makes it just naughty enough to suit my fancy. Naughty violet suits me perfectly. I can resist anything except chocolate, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I never would have thought that violet could be …subversive, but on me, this is, and precisely for that reason, this is a must for violet lovers.

What is immediately apparent is that all of these perfumes share a common aesthetic vocabulary that is neither distinctly Japanese nor emphatically Western, but a fertile and highly creative hybrid of the best of both worlds. They have a unique ability to evoke a mood and an atmosphere I haven’t often come across in niche perfumery, yet they are also distinct enough to take you on that magic carpet ride to…elsewhere and otherwise, to another place and time, to a different headspace and an alternate mindset – where all that pleases the senses lives, breathes and thrives in a district of its own. Where a geiko can recite a poem by the famous female poet Ono no Komachi, while all these perfumes sing along:

If, in an autumn world

A hundred flowers

can untie their streamers

may I also openly frolic

as fearless of blame?

With a little help from Aroma M, the answer can only be…yes!

Stay tuned for the next review of Aroma M – titled Maiko…

Aroma M is available in several leading department stores across the US and directly from the Aroma M website.

Disclosure: Samples provided by Maria McElroy for review.

Image: Courtesan, Katsushiko Hokusai, 1812-1821

Poem by Ono no Komachi, translated by Hirschfield and Aramati.

11 thoughts on “The Floating World of Flower and Willow

  1. Gorgeous post! I love the Aroma M line. So glad you agree. Right now my favorite is Violet. Noir always get appreciative comments whenever I wear it. Yes, I love the cross pollination of sense-culture these perfumes put you into.

  2. Beautiful review, as always, Sheila! I agree about Geisha Noire being similar to pre-reformulation Shalimar, except I like Geisha Noire even more (I know, that would be considered scandalous by most). It just wears better on me.

  3. Lucy – as the Great Facilitator who made the introduction, this is of course all your fault! 🙂 You are a dangerous woman to know! 😉 I perfectly understand why you love Violet – I do, too, but Noir is, gotta say it, something else! And so are Rouge and Marron! None of the Aroma Ms are quite like anything else I've tried, which is precisely what makes them so special!

  4. Carrie…I completely understand about Noir – and I can't wear Shalimar at all – partly because of my mother's memory, and partly because it just doesn't work on my skin. (If we're talking Guerlain Oriental and or/chypre, Mitsouko works so much better). Glorious stuff…so long as I don't wear it to bed! That dream was MOST…disturbing! 😉

    But the one I want for the here and now, the one I've decided I can't live without…is Rouge. SO that's where I'll start, I think!

  5. I love Noir too, really do. But Violet really speaks to me. In my language. I was so shocked when I first put it on. How did she know to make it this way? It's like a moment in a poem by Keats or something.

  6. LADY, WHERE YOU AT? It's September 2, and I needs me my SLS fix…

    Hope that whatever you're doing, it's just good-busy, hectic-but-fulfilling Life keeping you from the page, rather than problems preventing posting.

  7. Muse, my dear, I'm SO sorry to be MIA, but trust me, life got in the way in a BIG way…

    It's all good – I have not one, but TWO upcoming reviews you should find within the nest 24 hours…and there will be much, much more! XOXOXO

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