Monday, 13 June 2016

(Bristol) Temple (Mead)s to Bath Spa(s): aroma M Geisha Vanilla Hinoki review

Source: Wikipedia
Okay, so the title of this post is a shamelessly contrived punfest involving two railway stations in the West Country. And though the journey between these stops is going in quite the wrong direction, it does at least nod towards the inspiration behind this latest release from aroma M perfumes, specifically Japanese hot springs or 'onsen', with their bathing tubs constructed of hinoki wood. To this I would add - by extension / association - impressive buildings fashioned from this revered species of cypress, such as Horyuji Temple (the oldest wooden building in the world, dating from 700-800 AD!), and the Ise Grand Shrine, aka Ise Jingu.

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 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. ;)


Tiffanie said...

Feeling delighted to read your thoughts on Vanilla Hinoki. I was gifted a lovely sample of the EdP and as well as the perfume oil. They are both lovely. I will try applying them both at the same time as Maria does in her video interview.

Vanilla Hinoki wafts and embraces me with a cloud of fluffy and soothing aromas. For me the scent opens bright and sparkling. I can definitely smell cardamom. Then comes something green and tropical. I want to say it is like lemongrass, but not quite. Next I feel the cypress. It has an aromatic, barely citrusy-herbal leaning that ties it to that not-quite-lemongrass. When the vanilla begins to surface I find the fragrance is addictive and delicious.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tiffanie,

Ooh, you have tried the perfume oil as well. Is it a slightly different scent or just a different delivery mechanism, as it were? I think Val said she found it a bit darker?

Then I love your image of 'not-quite-lemongrass' and I think I know what you mean - there is definitely a herbal / greenish facet going on. I do find it delicious but quite hard to pin down! I know I like scents with cardamom in - most recently the new Jo Malone with mimosa and cardamom - but I am not sure I can pick it out in isolation.

Unknown said...

Oh, I want to try this. I could do with some onsening right now....

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

Love this post Vanessa.
Portia xxx

The Scentimentalist said...

Sounds very good. And tempting. Vanilla not, as a rule, my bag, though I was delighted recently by Lush's Vanillary. Quite unexpectedly nice.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Wouldn't it be great to soak your cares away in a hot tub - have you ever done this in Japan?

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

I am glad you like it, and look forward to reading Val's take on Vanilla Hinoki. Am so grateful to her for her enabling on this one!

Vanessa said...

Hi Scentimentalist,

Not at all overtly vanilla-y. If you get on okay with the Lush one, I'd be very hopeful of your liking this, as it is not even as vanilla-y as Vanillary!

Tara said...

I thought this one was up your strasse, V. Hinoki wood apparently smells evergreen, so I think it's that fir/herbal effect. I think it's a beautiful fragrance and must go back and watch that video interview.

I got quite mesmerised by your cousin's wedding cake! Amazing. Nice that it's so personal.

Why wouldn't you wear your tour T-shirt outside? I bet you'd look super-cool.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Ah, it may well be the hinoki wood itself that is reading to my nose as the herbal facet? VH is beautiful and so unusual too.

Yes, the wedding cake was pretty special. Made by the bride's mother, who also knitted the 103 individual sheep favours for the table settings.;)

Re the band T-shirts, I am afraid all but one or two of my collection have a high round neck, that does me no favours at all, I don't think. Otherwise I might consider wearing them actually. Meanwhile, they make cool and comfy night attire in the summer!

Anonymous said...

Cut the neck out, like in the good old days ..... CQ

Anonymous said...

Such lovely piece of writing Vanessa, and informative to boot. I got so excited to see a Twitter notification at 02.00 I read it under my bedcovers and reTweeted it before going back to sleep. How sad is that? Bussis.

Vanessa said...

Hahaha, that's not a bad idea at that. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

Big big thanks to you for being such an enabler on this one. Am chuffed that you might have been firking about on Twitter on my account at that ungodly hour. I do hope you were able to get off to sleep again quickly! xx

Anonymous said...

I needed a pee anyway, and World Service sends me straight back into La La Land. xx

Unknown said...

We did. In a place similar to the one on your photo.... A private outside onsen just off our room with a view on the mountains. A wonderful experience.

Azar said...

Hi Vanessa,
Val sent me your way. I love this post. I also love C. obtusa. We have a five footer that has been sitting in a pot since last fall, waiting for its permanent place in the garden. I wonder if my familiarity with hinoki would help me to pick up that woody scent in Vanilla Hinoki? I will have to give it a try!
Azar xx

Vanessa said...

Hahaha, must try that one, as I have the same problem in the wee small hours, no pun intended. xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Azar,

Nice to hear from you! And good old Val for the tip off about my companion post. I am envious that you have one of these actual trees - I am sure you would be able to pick out the hinoki note in this perfume, no question!

Vanessa said...

Oh Sabine, how marvellous! Sounds' utterly idyllic. Even though it was a private onsen I hope you kept your towels on your heads. ;)