Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Shiseido Inoui: fragrance review, history & draw

Beware of the celebrity endorsement; it might get you in trouble hunting for rare, long lost treasures to the detriment of your wallet: The first time I became seriously intriguied by Inouï was upon reading an interview of Greek singer Anna Vissi, more than a dozen years ago, declaring her longing for a bottle of this discontinued Shiseido scent: "If anyone still got a bottle, I'm paying double for it". Makes a girl move earth and sky to find some, doesn't it! Inoui, or rather Inouï with the requisite umlaut, launched by Shiseido in 1976 and quickly vanished from the market in the late 1980s, its quirky name meaning unprecedented in the sense of stunningly gorgeous.

Stunningly gorgeous it might not be exactly, as I reserve this characterisation for truly seminal fragrances or those which exhibit a daring concordance of vision and orchestration, but the drops resting on my collarbone speak of its beauty in no uncertain terms: Inouï prettifies everything it touches, even though it belongs to the old-school austere, cool greens of the ilk of Chanel No.19, Alliage, Diorella, Calèche and Shiseido's own Koto which are crepuscularly silver, rarely breaking a smile, surely alien ~ in the letter of the law~ to my own warm-blooded, passionate Mediterranean nature.

There is nothing really warm or conventionally seductive about Inouï , the bitter galbanum resin and chilled alοof florals giving a Brechtian detachment, a sort of stoic Britannic phlegm even on the face of the gravest tragedy; or maybe -more plausibly- it's just the Japanese aesthetic of keeping one's cool and always appearing composed. At the time Shiseido was not yet in collaboration with Serge Lutens, the maestro who would bring Gallic passion to the Eastern refinement with Nombre Noir and all the rest of their collaborative opus, and suppposedly the company was meaning to break up with their oriental tradition at the same time, hence the name of the fragrance one would assume:
'An international product developed by the joint efforts of Shiseido staff in Japan, the U.S. and Italy, Inoui was introduced in 1976. Under the sales theme of the “New Working Woman,” the image was of a new woman with a cosmopolitan mind. She lived a beautiful lifestyle of jazz dance, yoga, jogging and other new activities of the time, while easily handling her work as well. “It's not her beauty. It's her lifestyle.” clearly expresses the concept behind the product.'
Thus ran the official blurb on the fragrance on the US site.Somehow it doesn't sound very fetching to me. I can think of better things. But times have changed; back then "modern" woman apparently dreamed about the "beautiful lifestyle of jazz dance, yoga, jogging and other new activities, while easily handling her work as well".

Yet history disproves this assertion of breaking with tradition: Saso and Myth of Saso, other Shiseido rarities, are unusual and unpliable with no "lifestyle" concept behind them, yet roughly contemporaries. But for every Saso there's a Koto; easy, breezy, refreshingly cool for active lives, so Shiseido is obviously consciously catering to a multitude of women and respective markets. Later on, the Japanese company launched a make-up line by the same name (and the follow-up, Inoui ID) which was put into stunning visuals by Lutens himself, the choreographing of the models an exercise in cobra mesmerising human eyes.

Inouï is a fragrance which, underneath the crashed stems and sap, lives and breathes in human form and yes, warms up somewhat with an exquisite jasmine heart, halfway between birth and rot, flanked by the pungent accent of herbal thyme, like a seasoned woman who knows what she wants and what she's capable of. This is why it feels at a crossroads between floral chypre and green floral; but Inoui is friendlier than angular No.19 by Chanel, soapier and sweeter than Alliage by Lauder and less BCBG than Hermès Calèche. It's so pretty, deep and undemanding that it poses a mystery on why it got axed so soon! Then again, might we recall the dire straits of Paco Rabanne's Calandre; who knew such an easy, loveable fragrance would become hard to get!
The opening accord in Shiseido Inouï is sap-like, crushed greens with a hint of soapy aldehydes and at the same time reminiscent of the lemon-peach top chord of classic Diorella: fresh, but registered an octave below, mossier. Soon the warmth of ripe jasmine anchors the peachy lactonic notes and gives oomph, fleshing the sketch of the greens and deepening the feminine impression. The impression of green floral sustains itself cuddled by a lightly mysterious base, like that in Y by Yves Saint Laurent, deepening as time passes, mingled perfectly in one unified chord, while its murmur is only audible to those who come close by.

Vintage batches (the only kind, really, since Inoui is long discontinued) crop up sometimes online, for really huge prices somewhat unjustifiably. Those which retain a fresh, green floral and a tad soapy note have kept well. If your catch smells sour, you've been out of luck: the perfume deteriorated through the years. There is an eau de parfum version and an extrait de parfum in sparse, architectural bottles, both worthy additions to a distinguished perfume collection.

Notes for Shiseido Inoui :
Top: Galbanum, Peach, Juniper, Lemon, Green Accord
Heart: Pine Needles, Freesia, Thyme, Jasmin
Base: Cedarwood, Myrrh, Musk, Civet, Oakmoss

Since it's such a rarity, one sample out of my own personal stash goes out to one lucky reader. Please comment on what appeals to this genre to qualify.


  1. My first international voyage and it was to Kyoto. After a week in Japan I still couldn't sleep so I walked through the city at dawn and saw the river where silk fabric was once rinsed, shopowners washing the sidwalk, a well -- no it was a shrine -- and a grandmother with a toddler scooping water -- not to drink but to complete a ritual. Fresh green things in the morning, crushed before heat. Wet coolness. I was 25 and wearing my first perfume, a green fragrance, Aliage.

  2. This, the Green tribe, is a genre of perfumes that appeals to me as a constant challenge: it is not the type of fragrances I'm drawn to in terms of something I would wear (this would be the Woods and Orientals) but some of them are so contrasting and complex, they open up a whole new world of impressions. So I keep smelling and wondering, and perhaps one day I'll even find one that works for me... Inoui, perhaps? ^_^

  3. What appeals to me in this genre? For a fear of sounding like the marketing brief about that sophisticated woman who can handle her work, too, I should say that the appeal is in responding to all sides of my personality: aldehydic for refined, green for a bit bracing and cool, fruity and lactonic for kind and inviting and (as my friends say) sweet. I love perfumes like that. Thank you for sharing a story and a sample to a lucky reader.

  4. thanks for the story and the generous give away
    I'm fascinated with the ability of these fragrances to imply "keep your distance- touch me not"

  5. I love the Greens. I love their Bronte-like romanticism. Unlike florals, romantic greens imply a bittersweet love - perhaps Love Lost...when I was a teen, that was the ultimate goal, to be some windswept Cathy on a moor - now? not so much :-D - but I still love what the Greens can evoke.


  6. Eva S20:05

    Floral chypres are my favorite genre (mitsouko-lover that I am)! Although I gather this is a greener scent.I've also just fallen in love with no 19, and a friendlier but related scent sounds just perfect. I think a pure floral can be too pretty, a greener or more chypre-like scent has that touch of sadness or melancholia that makes art perfect, the same way it is with music, novels, films...
    It is like celebrating the cherryblossoms in Japan in springtime-the prettiness and the bit of sadness because it wont last.
    Eva S Sweden

  7. Greens appeal to me because of its aloofness~ It speaks of a quiet confidence that isn't pushy or forceful but simply IS.

  8. Inuoi, ah,..I remember the 80s when I still a kid. clean soft floral, that's the only thing I remember. classic.

  9. Ha,ha,ha! The advertisement/perfume must be referring to the cool restrained 50's style of "jazz dance" in the ilk of Bob Fossey and NOT nodding to the hot, sweaty jazz dance taking place in the Harlem dance halls in the 30's, 40's...

    Very funny, I wonder who's in charge of writing the copy.

  10. Susan,

    what a beautiful memory!! Thanks for sharing. There is a sense of mystical "one with nature" in greens for me that corresponds well with your feelings there.

  11. Laurinha,

    that's a great perspective actually: lots of people are instinctively drawn to either florals or oriental/woodies and they find a challenge in greens/chypres. I wonder whether it's because apart from the "natural" image green evokes for eco-conscious consumers today, the actual fragrances smell quite artificial; for artificial read man-made rather than more "natural" (such as florals are perceived to be or citrus scents; technically an oxymoron since all are man-made, but hey!)
    There are certainly more challenging specimens within the genre, while others are friendlier and easier to fit. I hope you find out if this one is either! :-)

  12. Warum,

    fear not, your excellent analysis vastly compensates for the trite ad-copy they had used for the US market!(*shivering with dread at the tools used* I mean, yoga and jogging? Who got drawn to perfume because it would accompany above past-times???)
    Good luck!!

  13. Irina,

    there is indeed a certain aloofness in them, more so than in any other catefory, isn't it funny how it speaks so well in such terms to so many? I find it remarkable.

  14. Musette,

    I don't think I have totally overcome the phase of "the ultimate goal, to be some windswept Cathy on a moor". It still greatly appeals to me. Is it a sign of immaturity or masochism on my part?

  15. Eva,

    perfectly said about beauty that won't last evoking a certain sadness and melancholia. It is so.
    I think you would find Inoui quite pleasurable, although it departs from the spicy-fruity core of golden Mitsouko and veers more into the green-soapy aspects of No.19 and Caleche. It's very well bred and very pretty without being an air-head! Gotta love it. ;-)

  16. womo,

    like a force of nature, eh? Huh, now I come to think of it, force of nature and green+natural are two connotations wrapped in one in this genre. Good point!

  17. TFC,

    I would have been VERY surprised if they had referenced the sweaty jazz clubs of the 1930s-1940s all the while going on and on about "lifestyle", yoga and jogging and "other new activities" [sic]!!

    I think the launch of Inoui was specifically targeted to the then "nascent" "clean-oriented" American market (remember this is the time when Charlie and White Linen became a success) and to that effect it had a campaign that emphasised these qualities; of an active, sporty, career-trailblaizing woman.
    I believe Lauder did the same "thing" visually at the time (remember those ads?), only their efforts rang far more genuine somehow (Possibly because they are indeed an American company and they don't look phony doing darn well what they know how to)

  18. I wore greens as a teen/20something (Aliage, No 19)then moved immediately to the woody/oriental camp,where I have stayed pretty much for the past 30 yrs. That said, I will stray for a green that is redolent of forest floor and mosses. Thanks for the draw.

  19. Agreed, it does come across as phony. Not just the dance, but the yoga (it was hippie and fringe back then unlike now). Even jogging was a strange sport and running didn't gain any kind of momentum until Fred Lebow pioneered the races around the Bronx and eventually to Central Park in NYC.

    So, I guess my point is, it's not that hard to do some research and present something remotely plausible. But maybe that was the point, his scent was to appeal to the "wannabe"...;~)

  20. I haven't thought about this one in a long time...
    It was a real beaut.
    My kind of pleasure;-)

    [ Hope you are well and thriving , dear E ]

  21. Green scents really appeal to me because, unlike a lot of other scents, they do not seem to be trying to hard (to be approachable, to be sterotypically feminine, etc.). I think for this reason strong women who know what they like (rather than what others like) are drawn to them.

  22. I can't exactly say what appeals to me about green fragrances. I wore O de Lancome, a tart green fragrance, before I found Chanel no 19,,,my absolute favorite green! They seem never to go out of style, and denote a freshness and aloofness that appeal to me! Long live green!!

  23. I think I like that its so different from my own personality, cool and a little standoffish. Im not cool or very calm lol Thanks for the lovely giveaway and all of your posts, I learn so much and always enjoy my visits.


  24. class flirt18:11

    what a generous and exciting offer! what i like about these fragrances is that they are 'easy' to wear yet interesting enough to allow me a private smile, like i just heard a juicy secret...

  25. Oh, boy, green and green chypres. I can just say that somehow the earthy, fresh, snappy yet mossy and grassy green chypres of old are just so wonderful to me. I can't think of a modern one, (is Alliage still made?) but then, I am new to niche perfumes so maybe there is something to be had. I think what is so sad is that the oakmoss is now gone from new perfumes. I can tell the difference! Thank you for another chance at a rare sample!

  26. Hi, Alliage was my first purchase of a fragrance. I was in high school and felt so much like a woman stepping up to the Estee Lauder counter to buy it. The outdoorsy advertising in magazines got me interested in it initially, the sharp freshness of the green kept me. I have two vintage bottles that I'm using very carefully. It's unfortunate that so many good greens have been discontinued. I feel like I spend a great deal of time searching eBay to replenish my favorites. I'd like to try this lost fragrance,I'm sure I'd love it.

  27. I'll have to fish out my bottle of Inouï to check.

    I'm not so crazy after all things green as our Helg. It has something to do with my damn synaesthesia. The actual cut-grass smell that's the etalon for green doesn't smell really green to me, rather hay-coloured. Green is the olfactory equivalent of the taste of sorrel. At which point nobody follows me anymore. I'll get some galbanum to check that one but guessing from what I've smelled in fragrances, it's somewhere between pale yellow and jade green, not green proper. When I clean all the clutter from my table, I'll try to make a thing that smells green to me - something between spruce and lime.

  28. Anonymous20:43

    I consider greens - and I'd include chypres - as bracing palate-cleansers from my usual diet of warm, ambery orientals. I love the latter, but you need something from the opposite end of the spectrum once in a while!

  29. Just got the Inoui 60ml EDP yesterday here in Jakarta for only 20 USD. The extrait is available for 30usd which i'm going to buy next weekend. The EDP is sooo beautiful I prefer it to Murasaki yesterday. So happy to hear lots of people here love Inoui.

    1. Hola dónde compraste inoui estoy interesada pero no lo consigo


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