But why the West Country reference in the first place, given the strained and bracket-dependent nature of the puns in question? Well, quite simply because I am indebted to Val CQ Sperrer of Australian Perfume Junkies for sending me samples of this beauty - not once, but twice! For I was so instantly smitten with Vanilla Hinoki that Val figured I could do with reinforcements sharpish, to enable me to spray with abandon. And Val once lived in Bristol, you see, and still has family connections there.
Going back to the point about liberal application, this is also what Maria McElroy, the founder of aroma M perfumes, likes to do with Vanilla Hinoki: in a video interview with Carlos J Powell (Brooklyn Fragrance Lover), she can be seen dabbing the oil version of the perfume onto a couple of strategic points either side of her neck, topped up with two generous spritzes of the edp to the same areas. Indeed the very act of being cocooned in a discreet cloud of scent already evokes the weightless sensation you feel when soaking in a hinoki bath, as the steamy hot water and minerals infuse with the aroma of the wood itself, gently coaxing mind and body into a dreamy, near-meditative state.
|Source: aroma M perfumes|
Notes: Moroccan vanilla, hinoki, bergamot, clove, cardamom, leather, incense-like patchouli, amyris and cedarwood
Not being a lover of scents at the foody, sweeter end of the vanilla spectrum, Maria deliberately set out to choose a vanilla material that was not overtly intense or gourmand, but rather 'light' and 'airy' and potentially unisex - to help convey this floaty sensation.
|Horyuji Temple ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons|
So how does Vanilla Hinoki smell to me? I have been wearing it a lot lately, with minimal variation between wearings. The opening is characterised by a sharp burst of bergamot, like shafts of sunlight piercing the tree canopy at one of the mountain-based onsens. Straight in behind it is an accord of musk, vanilla and lavender that is at once both fluffy and soothing and granular in texture, almost like the gritty mouthfeel of wedding cake icing. And I know of what I speak, having been to two weddings in as many weekends! Now icing can make for a rather intense hit of sweetness, but the lavender tones everything down and keeps it cool and a little herbal / green. With a bit of a 'pipe clearing' effect without being overtly mentholated, if that makes sense. The wispy incense and touch of earthy patchouli in the base also help to keep the scent grounded and outdoorsy.
Oh I say, check out the clouds on that mountain-themed wedding cake from the other Saturday! You could bolt a little hanging hot tub amongst the trees on the side there, no bother...;)
Now the odd thing is that at no point does my nose definitively pick up on the hinoki itself - it is something of a wood-of-the-wisp if you will. I sense it could be hiding behind the lavender, which can skew woody after all - not least the erstwhile bushes in my front garden! - or behind the delicate spice sprinkles, to stay with our cake image. It is a testament to Maria McElroy's deft hand in creating Vanilla Hinoki that she could weave two of my most notorious nemesis notes(!), lavender and clove, into the composition in such a beguiling way.
|My mountaineering cousins' wedding cake! ~ Source: Hazel Martin|
And that is all I can offer up by way of a description, for the perfume doesn't really evolve as such on me, but just becomes more attenuated, like scalding hot bath water gradually becoming tepid. But by the time that happens, some hours later, the 'spa treatment' has well and truly done its relaxing work - your skin is pleasantly prune-like, and your mind totally tuned out to all but the thought of whether to have sushi or ramen for dinner.
But if that was the end of the scented bit, I haven't finished talking about onsens yet, oh no. For on closer reading I learnt that the rubric surrounding taking a dip is much more elaborate than you might imagine - or maybe not, given that Japan is noted for its ceremonies and rituals. For starters, if Wikipedia is to be believed, around half of onsen operators ban bathers with tattoos, a rule that was designed to keep out members of criminal gangs 'who traditionally have elaborate full-body decoration'. Any tattooed readers will be glad to learn that about a third of onsen operators have a more laissez-faire policy, while a further 13% will allow tattooed guests to us the facilities as long as they cover the blessed thing up.
Then in most onsens the protocol requires bathers to take off their shoes - swiftly followed by ALL the rest of their clothes, so I am not quite sure why shoes get a special mention! - and also to get washed before bathing, which is not as paradoxical as it sounds. Additionally, there is a whole etiquette around the correct deployment of your wash cloth or small towel. All very good advice from the See Japan website below, as you can...er...see. Or not see!
"You can bring a small towel with you into the bathing area, which can be used to wash your body and to hide your private parts (if you want) outside the water. You don't necessarily have to cover your parts, but it's a good idea to not show them off or draw attention to them anyway. It is recommended to take off your accessories and watches.... Don't put your towel into the water. Put it on your head, the edge of the tub or a rock near you."
I gather the real pros wear their wash cloths on their heads...;)
Speaking of pros, there are two other reasons for linking this post in with Val, apart from her kind gesture of fitting me up with ample supplies of Vanilla Hinoki: the first is the fact that her own review of the perfume is to be published shortly on APJ, and the second is that we are both keen fans of The Monochrome Set, who coincidentally have just been playing two gigs in Tokyo!
|Shinjuku Marz ~ Courtesy of Ken Kinoshita|
For going right back to the early 80s, the band have been 'big in Japan', as they say. Someone on Facebook asked whether I had thought of going along, so I explained that a long haul trip of that magnitude would drive a coach and horses through my 'acceptable cost per gig' algorithm. You can always count on fans who were at the concerts posting photos and videos, which is almost like being there...;)
|Courtesy of Yuko Shimbo|
In a further bid to 'get in the zone', I wore a T-shirt from the 2014 Japan tour at one point over the weekend (though not out, I hasten to add!), set one of my watches to JST so I could marvel at the to me unfashionably early times they went on stage - as in our lunchtime, imagine!- drank from my Japanese cat mug from MOMA, and got up to some Eastern-themed high jinks with my friend Gillie. In this photo she can be seen playing on 'wild foraged' percussion instruments in her zen garden.
Oh, and did I say I wore Geisha Vanilla Hinoki a lot...? Apparently the botanical name of hinoki cypress is 'Chamaecyparis obtusa', but teamed with Geisha and Vanilla that would be a bit of a mouthful.
PS Thanks to Yuko for the tip offs about famous buildings made of hinoki wood, and to her and Ken of prettypop for letting me use their gig photos. ;)