Monday 3 April 2023


A picture of Neil Chapman (aka Black Narcissus) taken by Duncan Hume

It’s time for the second of my lost pandemic interviews, and this time it’s from early 2021 when we seemed to be ricocheting between lockdowns and restrictions. Neil Chapman, aka The Black Narcissus, is a renowned perfume reviewer and writer, and also the author of Perfume: In Search Of Your Signature Scent. We managed to arrange an e-meet and, two years later, it’s time to finally share the fragranced memories and recommendations that he revealed during his “Stephen’s Six”.

What is the first smell that you can remember?
This would be the smell of the carrot and beetroot salad emanating from the canteen on my first day of school. I had the sense of an entirely new world starting some kind of separation from what had gone on before, with alien and unfamiliar smells that were scary, but also strangely exciting.

Advert for the perfume First from Van Cleef & Arpels
What perfumes did your parents wear?
Both of my parents wore really great scents throughout my childhood and adolescence, and that was a very big influence on me. The first I remember though was Estée Lauder's Youth Dew, which my mother would wear with a fur coat on important nights out. She usually went for lighter florals, such as Van Cleef & Arpels First or YSL Rive Gauche, but this was much spicier and heavier - but it really wrapped her up in a sense of occasion. Smelling it now I still don't feel it is really “her”, but it does remind me of the drama and emboldening aspect of an “event scent”.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
There were two main perfumes of my twenties, with the first being Calvin Klein Obsession For Men. I wore it through my late teens and through university in extraordinary amounts, buying all the body creams, talcs, deodorant sticks and soaps with my student loan money. It was the first scent I felt truly represented me. Then when I went to Italy I switched to Christian Dior Fahrenheit, which was a lot more aggressive with its gasoline and violets. A totally brand new creation that smelled like nothing before it, Fahrenheit was perfect for dancing all night at clubs in Rome.

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
My biggest perfume mistake was probably one night in Japan where I was in a wintery amber mood and wore three or four different ambers, including Obsession parfum as well as Givenchy Pi, to a Noh theatre performance in a pretty enclosed space. When I took off my coat, many people in the audience started coughing, and I was quite mortified. I had really overdone it, but sometimes I do get carried away.

Advert for Chanel No.19 perfume
You can only choose one perfume?
If this were a case of only wearing one thing for the rest of my life, I would probably say vetiver and bergamot essential oils. I wear vetiver on the skin and carry a bottle of bergamot in my pocket, with the lid on, upside down, and love the scent it gives off. In terms of an actual perfume, it would have to be a vintage Chanel No.19 parfum, whose evolution on skin over a 24 hour period is nothing short of extraordinary, and the perfume I ultimately smell best in. I never wear it in the warmer months, so that would leave me unscented for about five months, which is kind of unthinkable.

What perfume should I try?
It depends on your tastes, obviously, but I am currently besotted with Meo Fusciuni's Odor 93. It’s a truly haunting and hypnotic, dank, powdered and almost fungal tuberose that I find completely entrancing.

Neil Chapman’s book, Perfume: In Search Of Your Signature Scent, is available from all good booksellers as well as on Amazon, and his perfume website can be found at [Photograph of Neil Chapman © Duncan Hume]

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