The Scented Salon – Singapore with a side trip to Bhutan
Welcome back to The Scented Salon at The Fragrant Man. This is a place for discussion, education, and appreciation of fragrance. A place for the dissemination of various opinions by readers, as well as my own. A place for us.
I am whooshing through the interwebs to talk with people in various cities about fragrance. Today we are poolside in Singapore talking with Woon Tai Ho.
Tai Ho is an art collector and author who also runs his own boutique media consultancy. His modules on dealing with hostile press and crisis management are popular with governments and multinational companies in Asia.
Jordan – Welcome to this salon Tai Ho. Which scents suit you in tropical Singapore? Is there a person in the fragrant industry that you admire?
Tai Ho: Thank you for having me Jordan. I met Issey Miyake while holidaying in Ubud, an artist’s colony nestled on a mountain cliff-top in Bali. We bonded. One evening he gave me the fragrance he had just released, L’Eau d’Issey for Men. It was a spiritual scent, crisp at the cusp of delivering a surprise. This is the last fragrance I wore.
Jordan: It was a ground breaking scent when it was released in 1994 with its yuzu (a Japanese citrus), lemon and tarragon top notes followed by a heart of blue lotus, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cedar, sandalwood, and vetiver with a touch of tobacco leaf made for a light woody dry down.
I revisited this scent recently in a store and it smelt different, like it has been made by a committee, probably made up of accountants replacing the original ingredients with low-cost synthetics. There are also many perfume ingredients that are now banned or restricted due to allergens in less than 3% of the population. This is another reason why a fragrance can smell different to what you remember. Or maybe I have changed and the scent has not.
There are still seasonal flankers, there have been flankers for years. One of the better ones is L’Eau Bleue D’Issey for Men in a blue and silver bottle. This is a lime and ginger twist on the original.
Tai Ho: I don’t wear scent today. A scent is a body mask, a disguise. In some ways, wearing a fragrance is presenting yourself as someone you are not. We all excrete skin oil. People today bathe all the time and are not overripe with odor. I find I like the smell of other human beings including myself.
Jordan: Aha, I was hoping that in my travels I would find a man that was not interested in personal scenting. Thank you for your perspective. I will send you Dzongkha and Neroli Portofino to see if they resonate with you. We can talk about them here at a later date.
Recently you were giving media training in Bhutan for journalists. Is the media all government owned or are there independent media operators?
Tai Ho: Yes, I flew to this landlocked country in the Himalayas. They have recently become the world’s first organic nation. Bhutan is also well known for keeping a Happiness Index of its people; a quality of life index in contrast to the usual GDP indicator of a country’s success. I was working at a privately owned media academy.
In Bhutan there is a monastery clinging to the side of a mountain. I climbed for 5 hours up to The Tiger’s Nest and then 5 hours down. Let me tell you about this Fragrant Journey. I had a mountaintop scent experience.
I climbed the mountain. Prayer flags were flapping all along the steep trail. As I climbed I saw prayer stones assembled by other climbers and I built my own as I climbed. I felt the cool air and smelt the fresh sweat cooling my body. From the temple I could smell the aroma of Bhutanese incense. I felt I was one with the universe. All my senses were heightened and I felt very much in the moment, vividly alive in the present. I felt I entered another dimension and the scent was otherworldly. If I was looking for a scent, it would be this – a light spirituality.
Jordan: Wow to that. A metaphysical moment.
Jordan: You prefer a gym with a pool. How much time do you spend at the gym and poolside?
Tai Ho: Afternoons, daily.
Jordan: You published your fifth book in Feb 2013. I loved your first book, the genre-defying To Paint a Smile. I took a day off work to read it. Your latest book, Riot Green is your first novel and is the story of a prodigy set to the backdrop of the art world in Asia in Singapore, Hong Kong and China. The title Riot Green refers to colour; the unravelling of the true identity of green, a secondary colour that hides behind the primary colours of yellow and blue.
Jordan: As a writer what is your creative process?
Tai Ho: I write in the morning. From the breakfast table to the writing table is a whole minute – the commute is called discipline.
In the afternoon, I do a workout everyday and reflect by the pool. This takes me away from the characters of my book and when I return to write again, the distance allows me to look at what I have written. It took me a year to write, all of 2012, at a time in my life when I was falling out of relationship dependency (10 years) into independence.
Fiction is a piece of imagination, but in order for the reader to come into your world it has to be rooted in reality. And this reality consists of relatable characters, people you and I know. Once you have strong believable characters, they can transport you to the fictional world. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter – they have very strong characters that transport the readers to a fantasy world.
Fiction is about imagination. Imagination is about characters. I was a slave to the characters right to the ending.
Jordan: What is the challenge of writing fiction?
Tai Ho: You wrestle to deliver truth. And the irony – not to make it stranger than fiction.
The Gaining of Knowledge
Jordan: The background of Riot Green is based on your own encounters with the art world. How did your art journey start?
Tai Ho: The journey began when I was a student. Art galleries were the places I went to, to de-stress. I would become a bit lost in them and have continued to be so ever since. I started collecting in my 20’s.
Personal Art Collection
Jordan: What are your art preferences?
Tai Ho: Contemporary art, abstract, from anywhere in the world, strong colors. No scenery. My homes are designed to be art galleries where I can live with art. Some of the pieces in my collection can outrage other people with their confrontational messages. Others are expressions of colour and light. A man wearing a nón lá by Hong Viet Dung, an artist from Viet Nam was one of my first large pieces. It is a blend of silhouette, shadows and light in vivid red. Another painting I have is called Truth – it is of a naked man on knees with a Bible on his head by Roland Ventura, a Pinoy artist. His piece called Grayhound was auctioned recently at Sotheby’s for $US1.1 million. Tan Swie Hian’s calligraphy will always grace my life. His artistry was the subject of To Paint a Smile. Last year I bought a drip painting by Liêu Nguyên. There is a photographer from Myanmar, Hla Myint Swe, whose work I love.
The Purpose of Art
Jordan: What is the purpose of art?
Tai Ho: To transcend the everyday. Art is a reflection of the human condition, and today art can be in any medium on any platform to convey a wide array of emotions.
The best art conveys conflict which when resolved transports the human phase to another level.
Jordan: The Museum of Arts and Design in New York recently had an exhibition called The Art of Scent curated by Chandler Burr. Chandler, the former New York Times perfume critic and the author of several books, is now the Director and Curator of the Center of Olfactory Art at this museum. At the exhibition the language of art criticism was used to varying degrees of success to describe perfumes.
What do you think of this development Tai Ho? Do you think perfumery is art, artisanal, design and manufacturing, molecular architecture or something else?
Tai Ho: Scent is both a science and an art. It is a variation of the growing space art occupies. For instance, architecture was not considered art, but now with installation, architecture and contemporary art are one and the same thing. Scent in its purest sense is definitely a form of art backed by hopefully an organic process of manufacture instead of an industrial one.
The Love Angle
Jordan: Love is…
Tai Ho: Love is… best when it is exhausted, when it has come back all grown up.
Love – at this ripe young age, I must confess love and I have a warm and cool relationship. When I was younger, I confused it with lust, older I confused it with comfort, and now I am just confused. There are times when I feel piercingly sorry that there isn’t someone special, then there are times when I desperately wish there was a back door out of a relationship.
Hopefully when I am older and wiser, it will be a blissful reunion, where raw emotions have been stitched into a warm skin I can wear without taking it off.
Jordan: Thank you for your fragrant words Tai Ho. Write On.
The physical book is $SGD20 from Asian bookstores
or direct from the Candid Creation Publishing $SGD18.70 ~ $US15 ~ €12
Woon Tai Ho runs The Green Orange a boutique media consultancy – modules include: navigating a changed media landscape; psychology of media interaction; looking and behaving as the expert that you are; body language and voice in communications; imagining; overcoming the ‘hate’ factor; handling emotions in an interview; handling hostile media and crisis management.
L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme
Perfumer: Jacques Cavallier 1994
Classification: Woody Aquatic
L’Eau Bleue D’Issey Pour Homme
Perfumer: Jacques Cavallier 2004
Classification: Woody Aromatic
Bhutan – Nation of Change
Coming up in The Scented Salon
– a visit to Medina in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to explore the Islamic world view on fragrance and its cultural relevance
a chat with Dr O in Vienna and a look at his private collection
The Science of Smell Vs The Quantum Unicorn Accord
Daniel returns to Malaysia after a cologne shopping spree in Paris and Rome. He really needed to update his wardrobe from designer-label-mainstream-generic to niche. We have a look at his choices before and after his trip.