The Twilit World of Falling Wisteria – Maiko

– Part Two of Aroma M Geisha Perfume Oils

In this part of the Gion district of Kyoto, the atmosphere is different. Here you will find all that is traditionally associated with ‘geisha’ in the Western mind, the elaborate hair with the cascades of ‘falling wisteria’, the graceful white-painted face with the alluring neck left semi-bare, and the elaborate folds of obi that designate not the geisha, but the maiko, the geisha-in-training who are learning all the geisha art. Artlessness, they well know, must be learned by first studying artifice, so in these tea houses, you will find a younger vibe, more in tune with twilight than night.

In this twilit world the maiko show their skill and are eager to entertain and to please. Here, the perfumes are lighter and airier, but no less complex and certainly no less surprising than their sisters among the geiko.

Follow me down this Kyoto street and into this tea house, and meet the maiko of the twilit world, a world where even the wisteria sparkling in its ebony hair knows to dance a singular tune, and the rustle of a heavy silk kimono contains a music like no other, artless in all its studied, careful art.

Geisha Green

Absinthe, the famous La Fée Verte, has been used in several modern perfumes, but this is no regular wormwood scent. It starts with a sweet, deep viridian kick to the senses, sharp with mandarin and blackcurrant yet none of blackcurrant’s sometimes animal vibe, and dries down in the course of several hours into another, equally haunting green fairy, the kind that won’t quite let you go, not that you mind. Apparently, the aroma of absinthe is known for not just being a famed aphrodisiac (I’ll attest to that one!) but a creativity enhancer, and I can see why. I put this on, and find myself daydreaming the story arcs of my next two novels…

Notes: Absinthe, blackcurrant, mandarin, violet, amber and tonka bean.

Geisha Blue

I had a day last week that qualified as a Day To Forget. The kind where nothing works out, no one understands you and might as well be speaking in ancient Sumerian for all you understand them, the kind where the kid won’t cooperate no matter what he’s bribed with and the day’s miseries drag unending on…and on. When peace and quiet finally arrived, I was so frazzled and exhausted, I didn’t know what to do. I applied this blue-green wonder on the strength of Lucy of Indie Perfumes’ beautiful review, and for the first time in over twenty-four hours, my shoulders sank down to their proper place, I could breathe, think and…relax. So much, I went to bed and slept like a happy baby, even with two cats on top of me. Valerian may work for you, but Geisha Blue is my new favorite chill pill. Some days, you need all the aromatic help you can get, and relief gets no better than this.

Notes: Blue chamomile, green tea, leafy greens.

Geisha Pink

The sweet fruity perfume is a genre much maligned among perfumistas, mainly for being so ubiquitous. In the case of Geisha Pink, that’s a shame, because Pink is a several miles above anything sold to garrulous mall-rat teenagers at Sephora. It is indeed sweet, fruity with plum and orange, and with a long, soft, vanilla cashmere-ish drydown that lasts, but not so long you get bored with it. I may feel too old and jaded for Pink’s girlie vibe, but I happen to know the perfect teenager, who will now receive a perfect – and perfectly unusual – Christmas present. She’ll be the envy of all her Cosplaying friends with Geisha Pink!

Notes: Sugared plum, orange, vanilla.

Geisha Blanche

White in many cultures symbolizes innocence and purity, and the white collars of a geisha’s inner kimono accentuate the erotic appeal of the neck. Geisha Blanche is a stunning, summery, airy floral scent with a special touch of lychee which elevates those white blooms and makes them dance above your skin. Dance they certainly do – this is the happiest, coolest summer day in a vial, and even if you’re not a fan of white florals, that lychee might make you reconsider. It’s nothing like the insipid floral blends you see and smell everywhere yet perfect as it is – and as perfectly feminine as you can make it! Wear it for a June wedding, even if you’re the bride!

Notes: White flowers, lychee.

There’s very much to love and admire in all the Aroma M Geisha Perfume Oils – their truly unique hybrid West-meets-East approach to perfume construction where they evolve in surprising and delightful ways, the underlying uncompromising aesthetic idea behind them, and the sheer range of scents in their stunning Yuzen paper packaging. Whether you’re a diehard Oriental fan (Geisha Noir & Rouge), you’re a Green fiend (Violet, Blue and Green) or you like your florals light, airy and a touch eccentric (Geisha Blanche & Pink), there will be a Geisha for you. I’ve read reviews that said something about ‘plastic doll head accord’, but I don’t get that at all.

What struck me most, apart from their evident beauty and surprising longevity, is their extraordinary ability to evoke or promote a mood. All the perfumes I love with a fury evoke certain moods and ambiences, aspects of persona, situation or moment I wish to enhance or tone down, yet all the Geisha line went straight for the jugular and created moods I wasn’t even aware I wanted. Noir…a night to remember, Rouge…a spicy, hot, invigorating kick to my writer’s block, Violet, a singing Mallarmé poem in a perfume, Green…la Fée Verte, which makes you dream visions and think possibilities, Blue, a calming, relaxing, centering deep, deep breath of a perfume that was the perfect ending antidote to an awful day…Blanche and Pink, floral, flirty and girlie, the perfect present for a floral, flirty, young girl I know who loves all things Japanese.

As for me, I know I’m in deep, deep trouble when I look at my scribbled wish list in my perfume notebook – and find six names!

For a magic carpet ride into another world I never knew before, and an experience I know I’ve never had before, I thank Maria McElroy. And Lucy, who introduced us!

So I come across another waka poet from another time and place, the lady Otomo of Sakanoue, and echo these words…

“How fine you are

So thinks my heart

In a rushing torrent

And though I

Dam it up

Soon, it is sure

To burst…”

The geisha, meanwhile, walk the streets of Kyoto’s Gion in the Floating World to this day, still weaving their enchantment for all to see in this compelling video.

Image: Wood-block print by Utamaro, c. 1820, ‘Geisha and Maiko’

Disclosure: Samples provided by Maria McElroy/Aroma M for review.

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.