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The Corner of 高山 and Fifth Ave

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The Corner of 高山 and Fifth Ave


I rarely buy blind. So when my wife called from New York and asked if I REALLY wanted Neil Morris for Takashimaya, I hesitated. But then I remembered a few things:
  • Exclusively at Takashimaya's NYC store.
  • Chandler Burr gave it 4 stars (excellent)
  • Nominated for a FIFI in 2009
  • Somerville Metro Man's review on Basenotes
  • His statement (here) that "From a reviewer/ perfume aficionado standing Takashimaya is Neil's masterpiece, so far. It is the one Neil Morris scent I think everyone should sniff."
Yup. Neil Morris for Takashimaya, and nothing else.

Flash forward to my wife's return. Time to see what, exactly, I had bought. With all the "colorful" notes - black currant, mandarin, plum blossom, jasmine tea, cherry blossom - I was expecting something more akin to red wine (Buzzlepuff and Haunani have even compared Neil's scents to pinot noir in other ways). Well, my surprise was only due to my poor absorption of Somerville's review. NM4T is exactly as described. I can only add this: a weird combination of white wines - extremely sweet and extremely dry. No red, Red.

Here is what Neil said about the scent, from the packaging:

"I am honored to have been asked by Takashimaya New York to create a fragrance especially for them. I wanted to create a scent that would encompass the beauty and serenity of the Japanese culture and also incorporate the stylish sophistication of Fifth Avenue."

My fellow "Neilies" know as I do that the man has a huge talent for creating perfumes suggesting times, places, and even ideas. I guess I should kick myself for doubting that Neil could pull this one off. But really - I think you have to agree - it's pretty hard to evoke, in an olfactory way, the idea of Japan, let alone Japan plus Fifth Avenue. I mean, how would you do it?

The answer, my friends, is Neil Morris for Takashimaya. Next to Neil's normal rabbits out of hats, this one is his disappearing skyscraper.

The scent begins with a very breezy, airy, natural accord. A combination of citric edibility, aldehydic sharpness, ozonic freshness, and fruity sweetness. In some ways it's classic Neil Morris, but there is something different. It definitely suggests nature - a certain calmness and naturalness, as well as an "organic" feel - but in a more understated way than Neil usually does. It was reported by Sandrina on Fragrantica that Neil drew inspiration from several places, including a Japanese garden at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston. An habitual stroller of J-gartens, I can certainly see the influence. I also see parallels with two of my NM faves - the fruity Hula and the new, ultra-fresh Vapor. I was wary that fruit might dominate, ruining the scent for me. Happily, it never does. Like many revered fragrances, this one shows that knife-edge balance between warring themes which captures one's attention and then gets permanent mindshare.

Moving forward, the aldehydes become more pronounced, and the floral notes as well, but. neither so strongly as to deserve "pour femme". Instead, thanks to the persistence of the aldehydes plus some new notes, an "unnatural" feeling begins. The scent gradually gives way to an illusion of being in the vicinity of women wearing beautiful, classic perfumes. As these notes gain focus, I could swear I was walking down a Manhattan sidewalk on a crisp morning. As the "urban" notes predominate, and are joined by the woody base, I could almost believe that I'm inside a very expensive but airy and expansive store. The fresh air never leaves completely, and there is a sort of interplay between these outdoor and indoor themes which remains until drydown.

Which drydown - I must say - is exceptionally pleasant.

Normally, I'm not much of a drydown guy. Give me a nice, linear fragrance with a heart of gold - bursting through the topnotes, and remaining as the base, and I'm good. It doesn't take much drydown to please me. Unless the basenotes are truly nasty - a rare showstopper - I just don't care.

Until now. The drydown which emerges from Takashimaya is rather subtle, but it's just so enjoyable, it's almost worth "mandomizing" before bed, so that I can wake up to the base. Neil's description: "A precious base note of cedar is enriched with accents of oak, tonka, orris, and oud, for a warm, sophisticated finale." Well, whatever. He clearly did something to cedar, but it's not what I would expect from any one of these costly contaminants, let alone the whole bunch. I think I get the oak, but that's about it. Leave it to Neil Morris, who practically wrote the book on olfactory suggestion, to come up with a variation on cedar which suggests just plain old je ne sais quoi. I have absolutely no idea what it is, but it rivals my wife's kimono chest for woody sniffability.

Overall, the scent leaves me with the pleasant illusion of having been whisked from some natural setting, to downtown New York, into an upscale shopping experience of some kind, and back. The gentle freshness of the aerial beginning reminds me of my visit to the mountain city of Takayama (高山, literally, "high mountain"), or the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon. In either case, the floral notes are subtle, never overtaking the fresh air of the natural setting, as they do in the floral explosions of some other styles of botanical gardens. Never succumbing to fruity notes either, Takashimaya transforms into something urban, yet inviting - that kind of wonderful fragrance that you just want to breathe in deeply when you enter a really posh store, filled with exquisitely dressed and scented ladies. Finally, Takashimaya returns to something rather traditional and woody - something simple yet beautiful - the traditional side of Japan in a nutshell.

I asked Neil if he could tell me about the act of composing the scent. His answer is a mesmerizing peek into the creative mania of the perfumer, caught up in the pursuit of an elusive idea...

"NM for Taka was a true labor of love. Actually, I worked on it day and night for 6 months and my business partner and friend, David, was going to have me committed if I didn't back off on it a bit. I was consumed by the project. I wanted to get it exactly right! I went through 45 iterations and numerous sub-iterations before I struck pay-dirt, so to speak. And yes, I did take a walk over to the Japanese Zen Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for some inspiration. I had my umbrella with me because it felt as if a thunderstorm was brewing on that Sunday in August. I sat there quietly for about and hour with my eyes closed, allowing my nose to 'see' the experience of sitting in that lovely place."

"A distant rumble and a soft rain was a blessing! It brought more scents to life as the rain connected with the warm foliage and at that moment I had it!!! I knew what was missing and what I wanted to capture! More Bamboo, more Wood Tones and a hint of the dampening, cooling stones. I went back and tuned it further to encompass my experience."

"It was almost perfect. Sometimes creating a new perfume can be so personal - and so lonely. I needed a shoulder to lean on so I called my dear friend and fellow (wonderful) perfumer, Sarah Horowitz in California. I knew she would understand what I was going through and she told me to take a weekend OFF and go down to the Cape with friends. She said: 'Don't bring it with you, don't talk about it, put it out of your mind and have some FUN! Then when you come back, sit and meditate on what needs to be done to complete it and do it!' And that's EXACTLY what I did! It worked! Neil Morris For Takashimaya New York was born!!!"

Any doubt that the perfumer creates the equivalent of music, painting, poetry, or stories, is laid to rest by Neil's admission of the same obsessive joy that comes with these other acts of creation.

Somerville Metro Man is right. If you're a Neil Morris fan, you need to sniff this one. And if you're not a fan, you need to anyway. After discovering Neil Morris for Takashimaya, you may very well be one.
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  1. MFJ's Avatar
    That was a beautiful painting of a review, RP....
    Thank you for sharing man!
  2. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    It's a pleasure, Matt. Thanks for your kind comments. You know, going to bed again last night with this scent, and waking up with the base, just relaxes me. The base is truly ingenious and multi-faceted. I still get hints of the opening even now. Yet, it's all very nicely integrated and sleek. And I still think it's rather nifty that you can have a perfume that is so wearable, and yet (like Dans Tes Bras) it's "one step removed" from perfume in a sense, in that it tampers with the "I'm wearing perfume" idea quite a bit ("she's wearing perfume" in the case of DTB, "they're wearing perfume" in the case of NM4T). Perfume is just such an amazingly difficult medium of expression, and yet these guys and gals do it. They manage to make something that smells good, but at the same time stays consistent with (or better still, supportive of) any required themes. Just blows me away. As a scientist, I know the difficulty for the average person to simply pour out a liquid accurately, let alone carry out a reaction with it. But to play molecular music in people's minds with a matrix of substances? To find compositions of matter that support ideas? Honestly, I'm still a bit in awe.
  3. JaimeB's Avatar
    That description makes me want to sniff it. I don't think I've ever smelled any of the Neil Morris scents. Too bad I no longer have friends in New York who can get this for me... but I will start to try to check out some other things by Neil Morris. High praise from you merits some investigation! Thanks for the lead.
  4. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    No problem, Jaime. If you're interested, just PM me your address and I'll send you a sample of Takashimaya. I also have full bottles of his Flowers For Men: Rose, and Midnight Forest. For any others, Neil has samples on his website, and you can substitute any not listed by purchasing a different one and noting the substitution in the buying comments. I recommend a large set of samples.

    I think that Takashimaya may be Neil's most broadly likeable scent, although my personal favorite is still Red Sky. I plan to buy a bottle of that one shortly, when my samples are gone (Neil's samples are huge and very concentrated).

    I find Neil Morris scents to have some similarity to Tauer - they dare to go where others fear to tread. At one end of niche - say The Different Company - you have ten very polished offerings that fall very close to designer, perhaps just outside of it. Of course, they're a fave of mine. At the other end, you have selections like Neil Morris, which offer an unanticipated variety of things all over perfume-space, from the odor of a French bakery to classic feminines to a mineral-and-violets art frag. In that sense, from a dozen samples, you're likely to get 3 wtf, 2 lol, 3 meh, 2 aok, 1 wow, and 1 omg (Neil being much more prolific than Andy). His scents are all over the map. But he is almost bound to have something very attractive for you and unlike anything you've smelled elsewhere. What's even more interesting to me is that he is able to do so much without (presumably) the aromachemical resources of the biggies, who I assume have access to new captives that small perfumers do not.

    If I were to linearize his collection along the wearability axis, and measure it in Tauer points, he would have entries everywhere between Lonestar Memories and LADDM, and perhaps beyond in both directions. So expect some diversity, and take your time to find the love frags!
  5. JaimeB's Avatar
    Thanks, Red, for the scope-and-breadth assessment of Neil Morris. I went on the Website and saw a couple that I might be interested in: Midnight Tryst, Midnight Forest, and Swoon all seemed worth investigating just going by the notes in the pyramids.

    Thanks again for the useful and informative disquisition on such a wide collection. I'll let you know if and when I sniff some samples!
  6. ECaruthers's Avatar
    OK, the combination of enthusiasts has me interested. Of course I'll start with samples, just in case I turn out to be anosmic to the narcissus that SMM says is in all his best fragrances. What size are the NMF samples? How many test wearings do you get from a sample?

    Thanks.
  7. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    The samples are 2.5 mL, and very concentrated. I'm talking honest-to-G_d parfum. They are unlike fragrances that most men wear, so you have to get used to that, or else you will overdo it and basically go WTF. For instance, I use 1/2 to 1 light spray of Red Sky for a wear. A single small spot on my arm, and I'm sillaging all day, still smelling it at night, and detectable the next morning. I JUST finished my first sample of Red Sky, and am starting on my next. Two sprays of Takashimaya on my forearms (1 each) at bedtime, and they smell like cedar perfume chests the next morning. I can typically smell the scent 24 hours later in the PLACE that I sprayed. So you should expect a dozen or more wears (with refreshers) from a sample. You could be a full-on Neil Morris activist with only samples, to be honest.

    And then there are the fragrances that are strong in and of themselves - like Cathedral. Like I said - parfum - but a powerhouse at that. A single spray of Cathedral on paper had the paper (and the scent that missed it) literally gassing out our downstairs. We had to seal the test papers in a bag when we were done with them.

    I think you'll like Neil Morris scents. They cater to people who want to stretch their sense of smell. Perfect for people who are paying close attention to olfaction itself.
  8. Somerville Metro Man's Avatar
    Red-Beautiful review of Takashimaya and I agree with everything you said about it. Nice piece of writing.

    JaimeB-I will be very interested in your take on Neil's scents. I think Red hits on it perfectly that they cover all points on the scale and you have to calibrate yourself to where you fall on it. Unfotunately for me I fall on a very broad swath that I could concievably just wear Neil's scents and none others.

    ECaruthers-I hope you're not anosmic to narcissus because in my opinion it is the note that Neil uses to its best effect. Heed Red's warning these scents are strong and you don't need nearly as much as you do of others to know you're wearing it.

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