Naming a fragrance after the national musical instrument of Japan is indicative of Shiseido's thought-process: melodic, graceful, with a refinement that eludes Western appreciation for fuller scores which span contrapuntal levels like in the form of a fugue or canon, koto and the music played on it is an entity of its own. The "chypre" basic structure on the other hand is a classically westernised transliteration of the latter musical idea, interpolating themes woven into clusters of notes: a floral heart, a powdery base, a fresh ~often green or citrusy~ start. You get whiffs of each motif as the fragrance evolves on your skin like voices taking turns into singing the same melody, out of synch yet harmonically. In many ways for a Japanese company such as Shiseido to issue chypre fragrances (Murasaki is another interesting case) is like borrowing the contrapunto of Palestrina and spinning it on its head. Koto doesn't smell as perfume-y or powdery as most Western chypres do, retaining the discretion and natural feel that Japanese audiences appreciate more.
The composition of Koto is based on a two-pole magnetic compass that points to instantly perceived charisma: On one side the starchness and dryness of a classic chypre accord smelling green but not too earthy. On the other side, a floral chord of crystalline (but not too high-pitched) and "clean" notes of lily of the valley (muguet) with a smidge of rose and gardenia. The two elements produce a dry yet expansive and fresh wave which envelops the body lightly. A hint of leathery, resinous touch at the base with indefinable woody notes is underscoring the green mossy stages. Lovers of the original Vent Vert and the more soapy Ivoire by Balmain might take note, as would those who like Y by Saint Laurent, Jacomo Silences, Chanel Cristalle and Paco Rabanne Calandre. Koto is certainly less agressively green than vintage Vent Vert or Silences (no galbanum or quinolines here) and less oakmoss-rich than the original Y, but it falls within the group's characteristics nonetheless and can be nicely shared among the two sexes.
Koto by Shiseido circulates in an Eau de Cologne Pure Mist version (which is satisfyingly sufficient if you're not demanding of your scent to stick around into the night) and is a Japan exclusive. Yet it makes some appearences on online auctions from time to time. It's definitely approachable enough in both scent and price point to grace more collections than it does at the present time.
For our readers, a good-size decant of the fragrance will be given to the lucky reader among those who state their interest in the comments. The draw will be open till Saturday 30th May midnight.
The song is "Itsuki No Komoriuta", from the CD compilation "The Koto- Japanese Healing Music" uploaded by Starfires.
Painting Green Teapot and Japanese Bowl by Helene Druvert.