People In Perfumeland – Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus

Today we hear more about Neil Chapman, an Englishman living in Tokyo, Japan. Neil is the writer behind The Black Narcissus, a wonderful blog that not only showcases Neil’s encyclopedic knowlege of perfume, but also his unique and quirky perspective on life.

Neil wrote the popular Vanilla series “Sweet Little Thing” here on my blog and will be in London next spring to do a talk for Perfume Lovers London on the topic. I hope to meet him in person then, for now let’s look at his answers to my questionnaire…

narcissus rain

A good day starts with : Coffee, lots of it, in bed, looking out onto the tropical plants on the balcony, while reading the New York Times from cover to cover with music on in the background. I don’t have (or want) a TV, so I get most of my information about ‘the real world’ from that newspaper.

I’d never leave the house without: Water. I have a kind of dehydrophobia, worse since the earthquake, when I thought I was about to be trapped under rubble, and I now have to have water with me at all times.

I always feel good when: I take a really long, hot bath with a great selection of essential oils.

My favourite thing in the world is: Not a thing, but a person, my partner Duncan. We are both hedonistic, eccentric, romantic dreamers and with him I feel free yet connected to the world. I have a lot of great, similarly minded friends as well. I am lucky.

The next thing I want to buy is: Diptyque Eau Moheli to take on holiday, and the new Brian De Palma film, Passion, on iTunes when it comes out on August 1st. I am a massive cinephile, but exasperatingly, films come out six months to a year later in Japan than elsewhere for some unfathomable reason. We are only just getting Soderbergh’s ‘Magic Mike’.

The place I always come back to is: the place I live in Kitakamakura. We live at the top of a very verdant, lush valley, with lots of famous zen temples. I love going to Tokyo – it is an incredibly exciting city – but I always love coming back here. The second you get off the train you can smell the trees, the flowers, the incense floating into the night from the temples. Right now the lilies are blooming everywhere.

My personal style is: Not much time to think about clothes, as I spend so much money on scent and on going out, but I would say quite simple, possibly even boring.

My favourite perfume: Probably vintage Chanel Nº 19 parfum. It embodies everything I love in a good perfume; elegance, integrity, and mystery. And in the vintage, the ingredients are of incredible quality; galbanum, ylang ylang and neroli vivid in the top; a stunning, cool powdered Florentine iris in the heart, and then, my favourite part, the gorgeously wistful vetiver leather of the base. It lasts all day, yet just keeps getting better and better as the notes progress on your skin. On a winter scarf it is so beautiful.

When I travel I am in heaven. There is nothing more spiritually and mentally refreshing than going to a new place. I have always found travel incredibly stimulating.

To relax I need space, enough free time, and an uncrowded schedule. I hate being rushed or constricted (terribly Sagittarian – freedom is always my number one priority!). Red wine always helps too, especially Spanish or Italian.

I like to gift people with perfume (people usually come to stay and then leave with a scent or two – I adore finding the right perfume for someone, the intuitive challenge); I also love to give friends compilation CDs I have made, mixtapes being another of my obsessions.

When I have a bad day I stomp about (or hardly move), swear the entire day long, and just try and get through it somehow. Fortunately, despite my moodiness, I am ultimately an optimist I think, and the next day I nearly always feel better, particularly if it is sunny.

I find my inspiration in looking; and in absorbing everything around me. I have always stopped to smell the roses.

Something I would never want to miss: A film by one of my favourite directors. I am always going up to Tokyo to see films as the city has a great movie culture.

My last mistake was: opening my big mouth. Honesty comes too naturally to me sometimes.

In my fridge there is always: apart from milk, Kiehl’s Eye Alert. Seriously, for eye bags after a wild night there is nothing better.

On my nightstand I keep: Maggie Tisserand’s Sweet Marjoram essential oil. I can’t live without it. I sometimes get overstimulated when teaching or writing, and this particular marjoram, less oregano like than most, is a brilliant sedative. I love the smell of it – so herbally warm and comforting – and it is guaranteed to help me sleep when my brain is in overdrive. It helps me dream.

The perfect weekend starts with: On a Sunday morning it would begin with a trip to the Tokyo Shinagawa flea market, which sometimes yields mind-bendingly exciting vintage perfumes (Caron, Guerlain, Dior) that people have just discarded, at often unbelievable prices. Frequently there is nothing, but just being there exhilarates my red blood corpuscles. Saturday I am just too tired from the working week to do anything, and spend the day just slobbing about, reading, or playing the piano.

My role model is: Not sure I really have one, but possibly Madonna. Despite her many flaws (which we all have, obviously), her drive, diffidence, relentlessness, and the sheer energy of her music sends me into ecstacies on the dancefloor even now, thirty years after I first heard it. I love dancing with friends at parties, and Madonna always comes on the stereo at some point. When I finally saw her in Tokyo in 2005 I almost passed out with the excitement.

Something I always want to be asked in questionnaires like this:

What is your next plan or adventure? I was supposed to be going to Madagascar this summer to explore the vanilla and ylang ylang plantations, but the plan was scuppered because of a huge locust invasion that is threatening the country. I was so disappointed, but now, instead, we are staying on a family run organic vanilla and cardamom farm in Western Java in August to find out everything there is to know about vanilla cultivation and the curing process of those delectable pods. I can’t wait!

Neil Chapman

Neil has me craving a trip to Japan: the lush flora, the incredible flea markets, the vibrant city life, it must be an amazing, but also a challenging place to live.

I love it when Neil says “Honesty comes too naturally to me sometimes”. I think that is what can make life more difficult, but it also makes him so endearing.

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52 Responses to People In Perfumeland – Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus

  1. cookie queen says:

    Does he need a maid? 😉

  2. Victoria says:

    I very much enjoy Neil’s blog, since he has such a distinctive perspective on everything he writes about. This was an excellent interview too. It makes me want to book a trip to Tokyo, Java and put on Chanel No 19 parfum. Thank you both.

  3. Sandra says:

    Neil should open a B&B for perfume loving people. 🙂

  4. Jordan River says:

    Mr Vintage; great to have this ray of light into your life. Well book into The Black Narcissus B&B after Sandra.

  5. janeykate says:

    Just taken a look at The Black Narcissus blog, it’s amazing as you said! Everyone, take a look at it!
    Jane x

  6. Aisha says:

    First-time commenter here, but I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now. I really enjoyed the interview, and his blog is wonderful. Thank you for sharing another great resource with this newbie.

  7. Tara says:

    Really loved this.
    The location of Neil’s home sounds amazing and I love the way he describes his partner and their relationship. Sounds like they have a great life. I’m sure they’ll have a wonderful time in Java.

  8. ringthing says:

    Neil sounds like a lot of fun 🙂 I really like his perfect description of vintage Chanel 19, it’s one of my favorites.

  9. Annina says:

    I want to swap mix tapes with Neil! Running off to spritz some No.19…

    Great interview!

  10. Thanks for the intro to a new perfume writer to love, and through him I found my way to The Silver Fox – yet another! What riches.

  11. FeralJasmine says:

    The Black Narcissus contains some brilliant writing, and I would follow for that even if I weren’t that interested in perfume. Also, Neil is one of the few bloggers who doesn’t soft-pedal his opinions when they are less than glowingly positive. I admire this a lot, because it isn’t easy to be honest when “speaking in public” as he does with his international audience.

  12. Lavanya says:

    I think this might be one of my favorite interviews here- loved the answers- very transportive!
    Thank you and Neil!

  13. Thanks for all the positive comments. It might actually get me back on the Narcissus……..!

  14. Deborah Lauri says:

    Neil is always a breath of fresh air in a stagnant world. His knowledge of perfumery blows my mind! BUT…I think it is the way he thinks & forms words to open our minds that is so special. He makes me laugh, cry & go trawling back through time-sometimes all in one sentence. I cannot wait for his book. GENIUS!

  15. Nancysg says:

    I have missed The Black Narcissus lately. Hoping he hadn’t decided to stay at the vanilla farm forever. Reading this interview reminds me how much I miss reading Neil’s blog.

  16. citypark says:

    Thank you for this great interview and the possibility to discover “The Black Narcissus Blog”. I enjoy reading both.

  17. ninakane1 says:

    Fantastic interview. xxx

  18. Tora says:

    Thank you for this moment with Neil. I absolutely adore his blog, his magical words, and unique perspective. I love the way he opens his heart in surprising increments for us to feel more cozy with him. And this interview is great. Thank you both!!

  19. It’s interesting actually, to see another person see things about yourself that you yourself cannot: this idea of opening up the heart in ‘surprising increments’ is very interesting to me. Do I really do that?

  20. Dearest Brigit
    Being a true devotee of Mr Chapman’s blog I was delighted to read this perceptive and gently revealing interview.
    Notes are duly made regarding Kiehl’s and a particular marjoram’s sedative powers.
    More though, the longings for vintage No 19 parfum and a trip to Japan grow and grow.
    Surely these are needs that needs must be satisfied soon
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy.

  21. Hey Neil and Birgit,
    Sorry I’m late to the party. Excellent meet and greet, I am often in awe of Neil’s writing, thanks for putting a human face to it Birgit.
    Portia xx

  22. Vanessa says:

    I’m late too, but what a delicious set of answers – I am now even more curious about Neil’s adopted home. And after a hard day’s gardening, his soak in the bath idea sounds very appealing. And I wish I lived near a flea market with such rich pickings.

    Madonna is the last person I would have called diffident, mind. 😉

    Hope to get down in the spring to the PLL event. Would be great to meet Neil – and you again!

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