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…
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 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.