There’s a scene in Studio Ghibli’s animated film “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki, where the characters travel by train. The heroine Chihiro sits calmly next to her ghostly friend “No Face” and gazes out of the window, as the sun sets and the sky surrounding them turns a dark pink, almost like the world is about to end. Noone knows what will happen when they reach their destination, but instead of hurrying the plot along, Miyazaki lingers on their journey as the characters travel in silence. It’s a beautiful, evocative scene, and to me sums up aspects of the Japanese culture that Westerners find so fascinating. In particular the emphasis on quiet contemplation and languishing in the stillness.
For Clara Molloy founder of perfumery Floraïku, the Land of the Rising Sun holds a similar appeal. “I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was 16. I was living in Paris and I always went to see Japanese movies - I loved anything by Studio Ghibli. To me, everything that was Japanese had this touch of sophistication, being full of fantasy and also being about narrative. When you land there you feel it’s a place that’s far removed from the rest of the world, with all their rituals, crafts and festivals. For me, it’s more than a different country, it’s more like a different planet.”
During a grey, overcast morning (to match my state of mind), I’m trying one of Floraïku’s scents called First Dream of the Year. It’s a cheery concoction of grapefruit and orange blossom oils, as well as iris concrete absolute as the Floraiku assistant explains, “In Japanese it’s said the first dream of the year is the most important dream, as it indicates how the rest of your year will go. If you dream of egg plants, or the phoenix bird, or Mount Fugi it means you will have a very lucky year ahead of you.”
Floraïku clearly encapsulates Molloy’s love of the country and its culture – you might called it an olfactory love letter to Japan. It comprises 11 stunning scents, grouped into O Cha (tea), Ikebana (flower) and Kodo (incense) ceremonies. There are also two Shadow scents designed to respectively brighten or intensify the other nine.
The bottles are just wonderful. Each fragrance comes with its own Haiku poem, inscribed on the bottle itself, with a special lid that’s been beautifully illustrated in the style of an ancient Japanese silk painting, with each design referencing the perfume itself. Customers take home their chosen concoction in a bento box which holds their 50ml eau de parfum (a cute opaque brick of a bottle) as well a 10ml travel scent. The decorative lid even doubles up as a travel case - which you can embellish with your initial or a special kamon symbol - you pop the travel bottle inside and leave the larger size at home to adorn your dressing table.
In each perfume at least half the ingredients are natural. Clients sit down and are offered a tea, hot towel and green tea biscuit while they sniff out each one. As shopping for scent goes – it’s a beautiful ritualistic experience, far removed from Harrods’ shiny, bustling perfume halls on the ground floor. The boutique itself, part of the department store’s Salon de Parfums on the 6th Floor, has been designed like a traditional ryokan (Japanese house), with straw and silk motifs, making it even more of an escapist haven.
The names of the scents themselves are lines of the Haiku poem Clara composed for each one. For example, Umbrella for Two, part of the O Cha Ceremony - a tart bouquet of blackcurrent, genmaicha tea and a rich dry down of cedar oil- has the accompanying poem:
Our eyes raise to the sky.
One umbrella for two
While Cricket Song, from the Ikebana Ceremony collection is a rich, voluptuous magnolia number, with the Haiku:
Walking in the darkness
A cricket song
How torrid the heat is!
The perfumes echo the delicacy and detail of Japanese craftsmanship, settling beautifully on the skin without too much sparkly fanfare. As you would imagine, these aren’t overtly glamorous scents but something far more intriguing. Scents designed to be applied slowly and carefully, to luxuriate in, like reading the words of a poem, as opposed to frantic spritzing on as you dash out the door.
Once your perfume is chosen, you’re given the option to combine it with one of the two Shadow scents. You can make it “lighter” with the glistening, bright Sleeping On The Roof, or “darker” (depending on your mood) with the more enveloping, vetiver-based Between Two Trees.
Clara stressed that the perfumes shouldn’t be mixed, i.e. worn directly on top of each other. “It’s not layering; you wear them side by side on different parts of your body – like a shadow. It’s a way of respecting the perfume and its integrity. Wearing these different scents makes us feel and remember different parts of our lives.”
And Scents and the City’s favourites? Tricky to narrow it down but I Am Coming Home, is a sprightly concoction of white tea and ginger oil – guaranteed to wake you out of your morning grump. While The Moon and I is just right for the overcast autumn evenings, the rich matcha tea notes and warm cedarwood making your want to curl up with a cup of tea, reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
Floraïku is stocked exclusively at the Harrods Salon de Parfums (6th Floor) 87-135 Brompton Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL. Nearest tube: Knightsbridge.