One of the most incredible things about perfumes is, beyond the way they smell, and the way they make you feel, is their ability to transport you to a place and/or a time, either a real one from your own memory or even a place or era wholly imagined. Hinoki is a scent that wells up positive emotions for me connected to my memories here in Japan, where I have lived since the 90s, and also a little from my earlier years in Canada.
The fragrance is a collaboration between Comme des Garçons, a house known for its olfactory creativity, and Monacle, a European magazine launched in 2007 which provides a briefing on global affairs, business, culture, and design. And more, but it’s the design element that I appreciate about this serial. Despite the hearty price tag, I admit to having purchased a volume or two before. It’s a pretty cool magazine.
According to its perfumer, Antoine Maisondieu, the inspiration for Hinoki comes from, and I quote,
“a perfectly still, slightly chilly spring morning spent soaking in an indoor/outdoor tub at the Tawaraya in Kyoto. It pulls together our memory of the mosses and trees outdoors and the sharp notes of the boxy hinoki tub.”
Now I’ve never been to the Tawaraya in Kyoto, but I’ve certainly been to Kyoto, I’ve been to onsens (or hot springs) literally hundreds of times, and I’ve had my fair share of sniffs of hinoki wood, whether it be in actual wood or wooden buildings or structures, or a variety of scented toiletry items here in Japan.
“Hinoki” in English is Japanese cypress, so it’s obviously from the cypress family and grows naturally parts of Taiwan as well as Japan. They are deeply rooted in Japan’s long history and the wood makes for a durable building material for architectural elements as well as for household goods in Japan’s humid climate. The scent of Hinoki cypress also has attractive health benefits. Hinoki cypress is antibacterial and insect-repelling.
One of the components in Hinoki is the essential oil, “alpha-cadinol” which, among other things, helps suppress the growth of wood-decay fungus. If have a chance to enter wooden temples and shrines that are over 1000 years old, chances are, they are made of Hinoki. Certainly, these old buildings are what I first think of when I smell this fragrance, but there are everyday traditional buildings that make use of wood, too. The wood is known for preventing house bugs such as termites, mites, and ticks.
Alpha-Cadinol is not surprisingly used in a lot of kitchen items like cutting boards, sushi mixing bowls, spoons, etc. are made of hinoki. Since Hinoki leaves suppress the growth of mold and bacteria, prevent oxidation, and protect food from spoilage, these cypress leaves are placed under fresh fish at sushi restaurants. And, the antibacterial qualities help reduce cavities. Trivia from Trine, my friends. And here’s more:
The smell of Hinoki cypress is energizing and refreshing, yet also calming and relaxing. This is why it’s popular at the hot spring. The forest scent component “phytoncide” helps lower blood pressure, treat irregular heartbeat, keep the autonomic nervous system healthy, improve immunity, and calm brain activity.
The Japanese even have this word, shinrin yoku, which translates as “forest bathing.” The idea is that going for a walk in the forest is really good for mind body and soul. I think the often-missed caveat is that you’d best be sure there be some hinoki in that there forest.
Anyway, back to the fragrance. I used to have an unadulterated 100% pure bottle of hinoki essential oil, but it is no more. But from memory, I can tell you, that this perfume from des Garçons indeed contains that essential extrait de hinoki, but also more.
This is a woody, conifer-heavy scent: calming, cool and misty, serene, mossy, botanical, and natural. There is an almost medicinal quality about it – that’s the camphor and pine I guess, and the opening is sharp, not quite in a lemon way, though – more like turpentine and varnish. But after the sharp opening, there is a lovely greenness – nothing leafy or grassy, rather more like a young tree branch being broken – no snap because it’s too damp. And there is bitterness, but only at the start. To me, Hinoki is one giant complex note of woody goodness.
- cypress, turpentine, camphor, cedar, thyme, pine, Georgy wood, insence, tree moss, vetiver
Now I really love this original fragrance, but there are negatives. First, it’s literal and linear, which might not be for some. You might prefer to sniff this stuff in your surroundings rather than on your person. And for some of you, if you’re reminded of a hamster cage – a clean one, at least, I wouldn’t be surprised. I personally do not make that association, but I can imagine the possibility. There’s a damp or wet texture to this that I like, but others may not. In addition, the price per volume is steep, and it may not be the easiest for many of you to get your hands on. Most importantly, however, the wee bastard does not last. It doesn’t fade per say; it completely disappears in less than a couple of hours. You say hello, and it says goodbye. Infuriating, when you’re in the mood for a long-lasting hinoki bath.
Like Monocle magazine, this scent targets men, and indeed there is a traditional manliness about it, but hey, I enjoy reading the magazine and wearing this scent. So bollocks to that! If you like very woody scents, regardless of your gender, get your nose on this!