Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Scent Crimes Series: No 5 - The Tester As Tommy Gun

Over on Katie Puckrik's hugely entertaining blog, "Katie Puckrik Smells", there's a discussion going on at the moment about whether the new Cartier X L'Heure Folle fragrance smells of "repulsive rotting fruit". I can't comment on that particular scent, not having smelt it yet, but I was instantly reminded of a very unpleasant experience involving a tester of Mona di Orio's Nuit Noire and a trigger-happy SA...

We have all passed through department stores and airports and encountered the SA loitering with intent, holding a tester of a new fragrance release. She may proffer you a pre-sprayed paper strip from a fan of the things she prepared earlier, or ask if you would like to test the perfume on skin. These promotional staff can be a bit pushy at times, and you may feel as though you have been pressganged into trying something that is unlikely to be your cup of tea, like (in my case) the latest D & G range, Armani Idole or some Z-list celebrity scent.

But worse, far worse than this modest level of hustling, was the time I was forcibly perfumed in Paris by a SA recklessly toting a tester of Nuit Noire. I had already been out sampling for several hours at this point, and every inch of arm and hand was already spoken for. So when the SA asked me not if, but where I would like to try this scent that she was clearly on a mission to push or bust, I replied that I didn't really have any space left. Then before I could blink a spray struck me smack in the clavicles, then I was hit again, and again, until the SA had fired about five squirts around the entire circumference of my neck and upper chest (it was summer, so my scoop necked T-shirt gave her a reasonable target area).

It didn't take long for this miasma to reach my nose: a disagreeable blend of the abovementioned rotting fruit and spices - and civet - which is a Room 101 note of mine, as you may know. Nuit Noire is a heavy, cloying fragrance, conjuring up hot, sticky nights in exotic, far away places, all infused with a distinct air of menace. Pleased with her handiwork, the SA exclaimed brightly: "There! You will smell this one more than all the rest! And I've put enough on to last at least eight hours!"

And she had as well. Very quickly I started to feel nauseous and headachy. Out in the street, I felt trapped by my own sillage - victim of the scent equivalent of "necklacing". I stumbled to a cafe and went to the bathroom, where I tried to wash the stuff off. I stuck my neck under the tap and rubbed vigorously with a bar of unscented soap. I wasn't very successful and the headache soon turned into a migraine, whereupon I retreated to my hotel to lie down and wait for morning, by which time the stuff would surely have evaporated.

Nuit Noire? Black night indeed... And Mr Bonkers is also quite safe - I will continue with my strategy of soap gentrification, but I promise not to "stealth perfume" you any time soon!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tales From MUA: Does Equal Mean Fair?

Six months on, I am still getting the occasional request to swap through Makeupalley. I tend not to initiate things these days, though I daresay I will again when I next have an insatiable lemming for some scent or other. The pre-Christmas run up was fairly quiet, then I received a message on Christmas Eve, asking me if I wanted to swap away my bottle of Valentino V Absolu. Well, absolutely I do, for this blind buy in T K Maxx was a horrible mistake, albeit a bargain one. I thought it would be a more intense version of the very pretty figgy number that is Valentino V, but they were barely related as it turned out. The swapper said that in addition to the fragrances on her list, she also had Jennifer Lopez Still. I have never smelt Still, but the notes sounded a bit sweet, so, in a state of excited anticipation, I went to check the swapper's list instead. There I found just two items - not just in the fragrance category - but at all. And they were a Chopard and a Salvatore Ferragamo, neither of which I had tried either, but the brand names didn't fill me with confidence. Plus the Chopard one is described in one review as having a "sweet, fruity, raspberry nuance". The least scary word in that description is "nuance", but in that context it still makes me nervous. Then the Salvatore Ferragamo scent was not named, though there was an intriguing note next to it saying what it was NOT called.

So I wrote to the swapper, thanking her for her interest and explaining that she appeared only to have a few items available, none of which I fancied. Okay, so what I actually didn't fancy was another blind buy (or rather swap), but it amounted to the same thing. I didn't wish to trade.

On Boxing Day I received a reply. In the act of backing down, the swapper may have been having a final go at persuading me: "okay well just thought that chopard fragance would be equal to a valentino :-)"

To which I replied, with a smiley of my own to keep the tone light: "I'd say it would be equivalent, but as I am sure you'll agree, there's no point in swapping for something you don't want. : - ) "

Over the holidays, I have been pondering the significance of the swapper's remark. Is there in fact a philanthropic aspect to swapping that has passed me by, one that goes beyond the RAOK involved in tossing a few extra wishlist samples into a package? Namely that if you don't like something, you should exchange it anyway for something else you (probably) won't like either, knowing that the other party will at least be happy with the bottle they receive?

Ah, but there's the postage costs, and the bother of parcelling the thing up and taking it to the post office... Sorry chaps, but in my book, when it comes to full bottles rather than samples - at Christmas or at any other time of the year - it isn't better to give than to receive.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Asquith & Somerset - The Soapy Route To Stealth Perfuming

Last month I related how my partner, who dismisses all perfume as smelling of "craft shop", and only uses soap and water himself, had responded favourably to the scent of Heyland & Whittle Tea Tree soap on my skin. It was so unusual for him to like any soap other than Palmolive, his default brand - which I personally think has quite a strong, industrial fragrance - that I decided to nurture this embryonic appreciation of quality soap whenever the opportunity presented itself. My good friend Lovethescents once suggested spraying my partner with cologne while he slept, in a bid to get him to develop a liking for the stuff, but I was concerned that such a daring stunt of "stealth perfuming" might backfire, although the principle of exposing and acclimatising him to the thing he purports to hate remained sound. Thus it was that I came up with the idea of a gradual process of in-home soap gentrification. Slivers of Palmolive in the bathroom, en-suite and guest cloakroom would be replaced with delicately scented cleansing bars from the finest purveyors of soap, notably Asquith & Somerset, whose ranges often turn up in T K Maxx @ c£7 for three 150g bars. In the last couple of months I have successfully managed to infiltrate Asquith & Somerset's aromatic "Green Fingers" variety, swiftly followed by Patchouli & Sandalwood. Emboldened, I actually gave my partner a box of Olivia Care Verbena scented soap (very similar packaging to A & S!) for Christmas, and he immediately used a bar in his Christmas morning shower!

Which is not to say that he is going to be splashing on Chanel pour Monsieur like the lad in the Lynx advert before the year is out, but it is nonetheless a small but significant step in my spousal olfactory reprogramming mission...

Festive Fragrance Fantasy Fulfilled - Sophie Conran "Delight"

I am pleased to report that this Christmas not only did I receive the double oven glove I so badly needed - in time to be immediately deployed on turkey manoeuvres - and some Belgian chocolates (admittedly bought as a gift to myself), but I also received a beautiful scented candle: a single wick, medium-sized votive called "Delight" by Sophie Conran for Portmeirion. It came in a ridged white ceramic pot (I have a teapot, cup and saucer and milk jug in the same series) and smells very subtly of lime and basil. The attractive mauve box with purple spots will be ideal for storing perfume samples. "Delight" has a luxe smell and presentation but is more reasonably priced than those scented candles I reviewed recently in my Molton Brown post. What can be better than an affordable fantasy?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Break

Bonkers about Perfume is taking a short break for Christmas, as I am the reluctant Maitre D' of festivities in our household. Wish me luck with the turkey - cooking does not come naturally to me and I am always embroiled during the Christmas countdown in agonies of indecision about whether to roast the bird hard and fast or more slowly, with or without foil (whether tent only or fully wrapped in the stuff), in an oven bag, on a vegetable trivet, with or without bacon, with or without stuffing, brined or not, and with its legs pointing sideways or towards the back of the oven. Not forgetting upside down for all or part of the time. For I feel compelled to assess not only the entire spectrum of possible oven temperatures but also the karma sutra of turkey cooking positions! And it is of course true that if you are the least bit hesitant during the cooking process, the turkey, like Alsatians, can sniff fear. So that is what my kitchen will be mostly smelling of from tomorrow, when I embark on the stuffing and the soup.


(Or winter holiday thingy or other cultural equivalent... : - ) )

Hold on a minute....embroiling....that's another cooking method I should perhaps consider!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 4 - The Lazy Sell

'Tis the season to be relieved of more of your money than you planned to spend in the Christmas shopping frenzy, which now of course starts as early as February. We are perhaps more suggestible at this time of year because of the festive lights and piped carols, and I am as prone as the next man to buying six sparkly clutch purses in one go - in different colourways, admittedly. (Well, maybe not the next "man"). But people can get carried away and part with too much cash at any time of year - on potentially inappropriate items even - that they (or the recipient!) may live to regret.

Thus it was that I was in a well known high street chain last summer standing behind an elderly man who was being "advised" by a sales assistant on fragrance choices for two female relatives. He was 85 if he was a day, and didn't look particularly affluent. Before I reached the perfume counter, he had already made one purchase - of Gucci Flora - but I am not privy to the background to that sale. Next up, though, he asked for help in choosing a scent for his daughter. "How old is your daughter?" came the very reasonable question from the SA. "Forty-four." "Right, so how about DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Blossom, then?" said the SA, giving the tester a quick spritz on a paper strip, which she proceeded to waft in front of his nose. "Mmm" the old man mumbled non-committally, before walking out two minutes later, nearly £100 lighter, with the bottle of Flora and the 100ml size of Be Delicious Fresh Blossom. The SA had taken more time presenting the size options than she had on choosing a scent for him!, and in such a way that the fellow may have felt a cheapskate if he didn't buy the largest bottle available, a humungous globe-like thing the size of a small child's head.

How pained I felt as he walked out with these two hastily sold purchases! I wanted to rewind the scene and intervene, asking the questions the SA had not bothered to put to him. "Do you know what perfumes your daughter already owns? Is this for day or evening? Is your daughter outgoing and bubbly or more quiet and reserved? Are there any particular flowers she likes?" And so on... If he genuinely wanted to spend a ton on perfume for these two relatives (which is a moot point), I wanted to suggest he buy each woman two 30ml bottles of different scents, thereby hedging his bets and not condemning the women to years and years of use of something they did not care for. Given the chance, I would have gladly gone to meet his daughter and the other unspecified Flora recipient, chatted to them about their tastes and come back with a range of samples for them to try. On the basis of those trials, the man could have gone to the shop and confidently asked for x, y and z, knowing his generosity would be appreciated.

But unfortunately that was all fantasy, a parallel universe I inhabit in my head where perfume buying is based on people's known preferences rather than the first thing that pops into the sales person's head, which may well be what's on promotion at the time...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Choco Chanel

Just back from my visit to Bruges: a 600 mile round trip with some tricky weather in parts (snow and ice). Belgium is one of the smallest countries in the EU, yet has a disproportionately long list of safety equipment you are required to carry in - or affix to - your vehicle while over there. These comprise a first aid kit, warning triangle, spare bulbs, reflective vest, fire extinguisher (accessible from the driver's seat - it was in the boot), headlamp deflectors, bag of Werther's Originals etc. Now that I am home I realise that I should have strapped the fire extinguisher into the front passenger seat and made my partner's mother sit in the back, but I'll know for next time...

Once in Bruges, much of our energy was consumed by the hunt for a parking spot and our efforts not to knock over cyclists, but we did manage to fit in a bit of sightseeing and shopping. There are approximately 175 chocolate shops for every one selling perfume, and we did find a lipstick made of solid chocolate, but no fragrance bottles as such. We spied a fragrance bottle shaped like a diamond in Bruges's Diamond Museum, but unfortunately it came with a generic pink "house scent" already in it - otherwise I might have bought the empty flacon. We also found diamonds made out of chocolate, indeed we came across pretty much every combo of chocolate and Bruges-themed artefact, plus a variety of unmentionable body parts, but sadly not a single choco-flacon.

Thus it came as no shock only to find three stores selling perfume at all: the department store INNO, which had most of the usual designer suspects, and one or two wild cards like Private, the new scent from the brand IKKS. I have since learnt on Nstperfume that this is a "trendy French sportswear brand", which would explain why I haven't heard of it. The notes in Private include mandarin, blackcurrant, white flowers, amber, praline and vanilla, so I am faintly surprised to have been so taken with it, but then again I tried it immediately after Ferre Rose, which struck me as a "poor man's Paris" of a foghorn rose, supported by a bowl of fruit and a bouquet of overly sweet flowers. These included a Japanese variety of gardenia called Kuchinashi - not to be confused with the naan bread of that name. : - ) The most striking thing about the INNO offering were the prices, which were right up there with Stockholm. Case in point: Kenzo Flower Oriental 50ml came in at 75 euros, which is of course near as dammit the same in pounds these days.

The other main outlet (see photo!) was ICI Paris XL, which had an even more comprehensive selection of designer scents, plus the odd niche bottle (I spotted a few Guerlain bee bottles at the top of a display case about 12 foot off the ground - so not exactly your eye level best sellers then...!). There was also a bunch of old classics like Balmain and Scherrer and brands that I class - perhaps unfairly - as "lower end designer" (all at floor level), for example Mexx, Laura Biagotti, Trussardi, Sergio Tacchini, Iceberg, Armand Basi, Orlane and Azzarro.

I tried the Azzarro Twin for women (the white one), whilst trying to erase from my mind associations between the bottle and "personal massagers", however impressionistic. Twin's main notes are listed as rose, peach, almond tree flower, iris and musk, and I must say I found the almond note quite disagreeable, like cotton wool crossed with Bakewell tart.

The final - and most unexpected - perfume outlet was a shop selling soft furnishings and ornaments from Morocco, called Dar Mima.

It carries the Les Parfums du Soleil range of perfumes by Moroccan botanist-turned-perfumer Abderrazak Benchaâbane, who just pips Francis Kurkdjian as the nose with the most unspellable surname. I tried all the range briefly on paper and none seemed to bowl me over at the time, but I have kept one of the strips - sadly with no indication of which scent is on it (semi-pro!) - and I keep coming back to sniff its beautiful soft drydown.

The six eaux de toilette are: Sultane des Coeurs, Mogador, Soir de Marrakech, Festival, L'Agdal and Casablanca. I think the one on the paper strip might be Soir de Marrakech - it does remind me stylistically a bit of L'Air du Désert Marocain or PG L'Ombre Fauve, and I have managed to find notes for it as including amber, musk, vanilla, patchouli, and citrus oils.

The other perfume highlight of the trip has to be giving my partner's mother a bottle of Coco Chanel EDP on the Thursday morning, her 75th birthday. She has only discovered perfume at all in the last year, and has recently gravitated from Burberry Women to Coco, with minimal input from me. Her sillage was creamy and warm like a sable stole, cocooning her in this winter wonderland. Well, metaphorically, anyway, as we both ended up buying hats.

Back home, the novelty chocolate Santas and Leonidas boxes of truffles are safely stowed in the fridge. The latter have a shelf life of six weeks apparently - even the creams - but will be lucky to see the New Year in. And we will be very disappointed if we don't spot a shop selling an edible bottle of "Choco" - or perhaps "Cocoa" - Chanel on our next visit...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Leonidas Break

Okay, so it doesn't have quite the same ring as "Kit Kat break"...

I am off to Bruges tomorrow till the weekend, on a trip with my mother-out-of-law to celebrate her 75th birthday. I should imagine that there will be more general sightseeing involved than perfume sniffing as such, but you may be sure I will check out any perfume shops that happen to cross our path... Not to mention the chocolate ones.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Buyer of Back Up Bottles: Strategist or Squirrel?

My mother knew a woman once who kept 52 2lb bags of sugar in her wardrobe. This was not during the war or the period of rationing that followed - I don't believe the oil tanker drivers were even on strike at the time. The woman could not explain her hoarding behaviour, and died some years later with the sugar stash intact. Thinking about it, my partner gets a bit anxious when the household supplies run down to the last four litres of milk or six toilet rolls, and he has yet to see the petrol warning light come on in his car.

Some people may buy extra bottles of the same scent for similar reasons, namely to prevent even the slightest hiatus between their running out of one bottle and being able to get to the shops to buy a replacement. I would say that a hiatus is more problematic in the case of toilet roll and milk, but everyone has different priorities.

Another reason for buying back ups is because a scent has actually been discontinued, where fans of a particular fragrance buy up any remaining stock while it is still in circulation, much like Monsieur Eme in the novel Musc. (See my post of 27th October.) Out of my collection of c50 full bottles, I must own up to one back up bottle of Michel Comte's Shared Water for Women. I found the last case of it in Western Europe at a perfumery shop in Germany - Parfuemerie Nidderau above - and bought one 50ml bottle. I am not sure I would have bothered if Shared Water hadn't been such an unusual scent, inspired by the icy waters and Alpine flora of Switzerland:

The notes are:

Top: Mountain Narcissus, Purple Shiso, Bergamot, Lily of the Valley, Violet

Heart: Freesia, Orchid, Vanilla

Base: Patchouli, Vanille, Vetiver, Moss, Basmati Rice

A third - and perhaps the most common - reason why perfumistas back up their bottles is in anticipation of a reformulation by manufacturers, for example in response to the latest IFRA restrictions, which have in their sights fragrance substances such as oakmoss, birch tar, coumarin and natural jasmine. Lovers of classic fragrances such as chypres are those whose collections are most in jeopardy, and it is they who are investing in single and sometimes double back ups of a beloved fragrance. Now it may be the case that certain perfumes I love are going to be changed beyond recognition, but I tend not to keep up with the latest developments. and as a general rule am more inclined to confront change after the event. If I don't like what has happened, I decide then how to respond rather than aiming off for the eventuality by buying back ups. Just as I turn up to the railway station sometimes to find my train has been cancelled, or my station is closed, and have to figure out a Plan B on the fly.

For the way I see it, if the formulations of all my favourite perfumes remained intact, I would still need many lifetimes to get through all my bottles and decants and samples. So if I went and bought back ups for even 20% of them - hypothetically assuming 20% might be at risk for one reason or another - that's another litre of the stuff that I won't get round to using. Making me not unlike the lady with the bags of sugar...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies - The Molton Brown Scented Candle

We all have a candle habit to some degree. Yet back in the 70's, when the miner's strike was in full swing, candles were pretty much just a form of emergency lighting, kept in the cupboard under the sink along with the torch, the Brasso and the Brillo pads. At Christmas we might have splashed out on some red dinner candles to go in the brass candlestick holders for which the Brasso was intended. But there was only really one gauge of candle back then - tall and thin - whereas candles have become so diverse and so much more of a lifestyle statement these days, notably the scented ones. I consulted the National Candle Association to see how many different shapes are formally recognised. I found "taper" (my "dinner" candles), pillar (= "church"?), container/jar/filled candle, votive, gel (pardon?), birthday (forgot those!) and tea light.

Ah, tea lights. I do not normally fantasise about tea lights, for such are guests' expectations of grotto-style living room mood lighting that they have become a staple purchase from the supermarket. Invariably, about three out of twenty will have an inverted wick, that you will try to dig out to no avail, before chucking the whole thing away - though not before briefly wondering if you know anyone who does the candle equivalent of composting.

No, the candles I fantasise about are all variants on the "container candle", starting with these from Molton Brown with their gorgeous boxes, which presumably act as pull out drawers with the candle inside. I love the different coloured fronts of the boxes, echoing each scent. I think I am drawn to pretty much all of them except the purple one. I always worry that purple things mean berries, and that way lies DKNY Delicious Night...

The scents range from the fairly graspable Heavenly Gingerlily (no relation to Michael Hutchence) to the downright recherche yuan zhi, naran ji and toko-yuzu (I am okay with the yuzu part). They all seem to be called "Aircandelas", by the way, which is a new one on me. Here is a description:

"This long lasting blend is encased in hand blown glass and will burn for over 80 hours. The wax is hand made in the Suffolk countryside and the glass hand blown in Lithuania."

Hmm - I wonder why the blurb puts the emphasis on "countryside", as if the hand making of wax was a bucolic pursuit like cheese making or pressing cider. Perhaps they are afraid we will think the candles were made in Ipswich. I sense that not even "hand made in Ipswich" has quite the ring the PR people are aiming for. Whereas in the case of Lithuania, the whole country sounds exotic and romantic and we wouldn't recognise the name of an Ipswich equivalent if we heard it.

Now comes the rub - these candles may last 80 hours, showing admirable staying power, always assuming the wick doesn't do its ingrowing stunt again - but at £49 a pop, they will have to remain a forlorn fantasy. You get ever so many tealights in a bag by comparison, even if they only last 4 hours each with a good wind (or rather without one).

But if you think the Molton Brown line is expensive, Jo Malone does the grandaddy of all container candles - weighing in at a colossal 2.5 KG and costing £260! I haven't inspected one close up, but I'll wager that it is "multi-wick", a term reserved for the big league of jar candles. Now, £260 would buy you eight 30ml bottles of Jo Malone fragrances! It is no contest in my opinion...

Yes, I am afraid you can keep your statement candles this Christmas. I'd rather have lots of perfume to spray on myself and a bag of tealights. I can even put up with the obligatory bit of wick digging.

Vera Wang EDP - The Sequel


I was reapplying the Vera Wang later that day when the bottle slipped out of my fingers and its contents spilt all over the dressing table and floor. I took this as a sign from on high that my ironic wearing of an ultra-feminine bridal scent simply had to stop.

Chastened by this mishap, I will dig out more persona-appropriate scents for the foreseeable future, and meanwhile get used to the heady floral whiff of my ironically smelling furniture and carpet!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Art of Wearing Perfume Ironically: Vera Wang EDP

Today, on a whim, I put on Vera Wang - that's the perfume, obviously, not the bridal gown. It is apricot in colour, and the bottle is a sort of rounded tetrahedron shape - or an angular bell! - and it's the one that isn't wearing a crown or covered in graffiti. I have no idea how I came to apply Vera Wang today from the little mini of it I bought on Ebay last year. It doesn't go with my outfit (tatty brown cords and a pilled cardigan for cleaning out the car). Nor am I a particularly feminine person, even when I make an effort - I should point out that the rather ladylike hat in my avatar picture is not mine, and its owner not even a friend of mine. I do not move in hat wearing circles, or no more than tangentially.

For anyone unfamiliar with Vera Wang, the notes are as follows:

top notes

Mandarin Flower, Calla Lily

heart notes

Bulgarian Rose, Gardenia

base notes

White Stephanotis, Sheer Musks

According to Osmoz the inspiration for Vera Wang's first fragrance was ‘the intense romance and passion felt between a man and a woman on their wedding day and beyond’. My decision to wear this scent is getting sillier and sillier by the minute.

I guess the answer is that I wanted to smell something unashamedly pretty today, something overtly perfumey and lush. The weather is cold and wet, and I wasn't in the mood for something dark or dank or wistful or attenuated: no Etro Messe de Minuit or Eau d'Italie Sienne L'Hiver, no FM Angeliques sous la Pluie or other "pathetic fallacy"-type scent. Nor did I fancy something "intellectual" and "difficult" like one of the Amouages or Mitsouko, or something with a pain barrier like SIP Magazine Street or PG L'Ombre Fauve - or even EL Private Collection, when I am not in a rampantly green frame of mind.

No, I wanted something that smelt of sweet flowers and lots of them. On a warmer day than this. I realise that it has been a most incongruous choice, given my defiantly unmarried state and today's scuzzy outfit. The height of irony, no less.
Though I did happen to be at a wedding when I pinched that woman's hat...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Kate Moss Velvet Hour: The Unbearable Naffness of Bottle

In an earlier post I spoke of the limited budget perfumers have at their disposal to create celebuscents, and decided that I owed the ones which smell half decent a new respect because they had been developed on a shoestring. Kate Moss Velvet Hour is one such, featuring notes of blue pepper, freesia, cashmere incense, patchouli, nutmeg, sandalwood, amber, ebony and wood. Blue pepper? I am not knocking it, for it smells very nice. The scent was created by a nose I have never heard of - Emilie Copperman of Symrise - marketed under licence to Coty, and billed as an "enigmatic, woody floral". And d'you know, it kind of is! It is smooth and silky and a bit peppery and a bit dark, but not in a Gothic, Czech & Speake kind of way, more in a "not daytime" way. Yes, this is definitely a going out scent, though its sensuality is subtle and restrained. I do not foresee any writhing on slippery fabrics in the back of a taxi, as per the latest ad for YSL Parisienne.

So far so good, and I should point out that this scent is cheap as chips - a gift set of the 30ml size can be had for as little as £9.99, and I have been thinking of buying myself one for Christmas. But I hesitate....because the bottle - cheap, plastic, and a nasty shade of blue - is hideously naff. I have seen vinegar bottles in transport cafes with more aesthetic appeal. It is like some ugly, squat UFO or inverted mushroom. Now I don't like to think of myself as superficial, but that bottle is seriously getting in the way of a sale. And this is by no means the only ghastly receptacle to be found in the celebuscent sector at the moment - in my view most of the Britney Spears bottles are absolute shockers, especially the Fantasy range (glittery grenades), although the chunky glass bottle used for Believe has a pleasing geometry to my eye.

But the key difference here between Velvet Hour and the Britney range is that I like the Kate Moss scent but hate the bottle, hence my dilemma.... Maybe I should bite the bullet and just decant the whole lot. Extreme measures, but it may be worth it!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

"I'm just mad about saffron" - Tom Ford White Suede

I could have included this new release from Tom Ford in my Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies series, as at £100 per 50ml I can't see Santa granting my wish, not in these credit crunched times. I should count myself lucky just to get a present marked Lucky Dip (Girl Age 45-55). I guess I am still harbouring a tiny hope though, and don't want to snuff that out completely by classifying this particuar lemming as "forlorn"!

Moreover, the distinctive thing about White Suede - apart from its high price and inclusion in a White Musk Collection though it doesn't appear to contain musk - is the fact that it does contain saffron. Here are the notes:

"Rose, saffron, thyme, mate tea, olibanum, lily-of-the-valley, amber, suede and sandalwood"

Now, as it happens, there are no fewer than SIX other scents I really love that have saffron in them as well, namely:

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if

Penhaligon's Lily & Spice

Les Parfums de Rosine Rose Kashmirie

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue

L'Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant

Divine L'Homme Sage

This has to be more than mere coincidence - and now that White Suede is going on the list I can only infer that I really must love the saffron note, even though I am at all not sure how it smells. It is that yellow wispy, frondy stuff you use in proper curries, right? That stains your work surface terribly - or am I thinking of turmeric? It is very expensive, I do remember that. And oddly enough, I used to have a cat of that name, who was ginger with a white bib. I am going to have to get some saffron from Tesco's and have a jolly good sniff - you never know, it might actually work out slightly cheaper per ounce than the perfume.

Though I still want the perfume very much.... Have you got that, Santa? Or for that matter, any Tom Ford executives who might happen to be reading this...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who's Your Daddy? Hugo Boss Deep Red

Hugo Boss is a designer range for which I had little time until the other day. The name alone has an air of boardroom bombast; it conjures up a man with taut pecs and a distasteful swagger. Some of the bottles are clumpy and functional. The latest feminine release, Boss Orange, smells like furry orange squash (as in the drink, not the pumpkin). That said, I did own a bottle of Hugo Boss Femme quite early into my hobby, which I thought feminine and pretty at the time. 600 perfumes later, it struck me as a bit girly and pink, and has since gone to a good home in the States.

Then the other day I was re-reading a survey in The Daily Mail (I know, I know, anyone would think I actually take the paper, given how often I quote from it!), where 50 high street perfumes were rated by a panel of critics, and I noticed that Hugo Boss Deep Red was awarded 4 out of a maximum of 5 points. And one of the judges was Roja Dove, no less. And the accompanying comment also intrigued me: "Over-the-top sexy. Men will instantly want to go to bed with women wearing this."

So next time I was passing Boots, I had a spray from a tester and was very pleasantly surprised. I got a light, sparkling and clean hint of fruit, followed by a languid musk and vanilla trail. I am not a fan of fruity scents as a rule, least of all ones containing blackcurrant (see my post on DKNY Delicious Night), yet the fruits in Deep Red were reeling me in. The name "Deep Red" suggests a heavy evening scent to me, the fragrance equivalent of brocades and velvets, yet this perfume is gauzy and light, but with a sensuous drydown. I could see it working equally well for day or night.
top notes

Blackcurrant, Pear, Tangerine, Blood Orange

heart notes

Ginger blossom, Freesia, Pittosporum, Hibiscus seeds

base notes

Mysore sandalwood, Cedarwood, Vanilla, Musks

A week on, and I am now the proud owner of a 30ml limited edition bottle in brushed silver (from Ebay). It is slightly scuffed here and there, but the juice smells fine. I am even thinking that if I was condemned only to wear designer scents - excluding Chanel, just to make the challenge harder - this would end up being a wardrobe workhorse. Am I embarrassed to admit I like a Hugo Boss fragrance as much as I do? Well, I guess I am blushing slightly, though it is more a Touch of Pink than Deep Red....
PS Does anyone know what Pittosporum is? Sounds to me like a form of dry rot or possibly an early prototype of homo sapiens.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 3 - The Aroma Chemicals Study That Was Just A Job

As noted in my bio, I am an industrial market researcher by profession, and routinely work in the chemicals industry, typically carrying out customer satisfaction audits with a client's key accounts. In 2000 I was asked to carry out a five country project on benzyl-based aroma chemicals used in both industrial and fine fragrances. I visited purchasing and marketing managers at companies like Givaudan in Switzerland and Paris, Haarmann & Reimer in Germany and Quest International in the UK. (Some of their names have of course since changed.) I also remember driving up windy narrow roads in Grasse to visit a company called Astier Demarest Leroux. It was beautifully warm and I may have had an Orangina or two in a honey-coloured market square...

I was talking about perfume ingredients with people at the hub of fragrance manufacture - and I didn't care. It was just another project to me (albeit in some very picturesque settings). I could have been talking about guttering, flanges, blind rivets or firemen's hose. Looking back at myself 9 years ago compared to the rabid perfumista I am now, I am gutted that I didn't make more of the opportunity I had to ask these influential fragrance specialists more searching questions. So was that a scent crime? Maybe not so much a crime as a profound regret, the way people might be sorry that they were somewhere amazing like New York or Rome, but chose to stay in their hotel room all day watching the shopping channel.

But then again, I had a job of work to do and my own personal agenda might have interfered with - or even derailed - the detached and objective process of the customer audit. It is probably sour grapes, but it helps me to live with myself...!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Proustian Pulling Power of SIP Black Rosette

I have only been wearing and enjoying perfume seriously for just under two years, yet even those dark days of scentless philistinism which lasted from childhood to the age of 48 were illuminated and enriched by the occasional olfactory memory. For example, the scent of Yardley Honeysuckle talc, Lentheric Tweed edt or Bronnley's lemon soap reminds me of my late mother. We all have our own store of memories unlocked by scented objects from the past, fragrant equivalents of Proust's famous madeleine.

At a dinner party last year one of the guests, a quietly spoken, deeply religious man of about my age, challenged me to find in my collection a scent that would "conjure up" an old girlfriend from his teens, one who, I inferred, had made a considerable impression on him, as she was still in his thoughts 30 years on. He had no idea whether she had worn perfume at the time - and if so what - but just wanted to smell a scent that he could connect with her in some way.

"Okay" I said brightly. "I'll have a go. So what was she like then?" His reply came as quite a surprise, for I had not suspected a wilder youth. "She was feisty and loud and had a sort of Goth-punk look going on. She chain drank tea, smoked like a chimney and chewed gum all the time to disguise the fact."

After the initial shock wore off, just one scent popped into my mind as the perfect synthesis of his girlfriend's habits: Strange Invisible Perfumes Black Rosette, with its notes of black tea, rose, leather and spearmint. The Perfume Posse ladies captured the personality of this scent in perhaps the two best sentences ever to feature in a review:

" The rose peeps out… of the mouth of a dragon, all fire and smoky blackness, with that same stick of Wrigley’s tucked behind its green scaley ear. Strangely perfect."

I rushed upstairs and fetched my vial, which our guest eagerly applied. And sniffed. And sighed deeply. And said: "Yes, that's her!" And was happy for a fleeting moment to be 18 all over again...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies - The Luxury Atomiser

I spotted this gorgeous set of Hermes travel atomisers on the Fashiontribes website yesterday, and thought "I have to have it" - by which I mean I have to have that picture on my blog, to slaver and fantasise over in the countdown to Christmas. I even got as far as ringing up a Hermes store in London and inquiring about the price: £120 per 10ml atomiser - empty! For an extra £40 (varying according to the fragrance chosen), you can have the atomiser filled with your favourite Hermes scent, making a grand total of just £160 for 10ml of perfume.

Ah yes, okay, but is that atomiser not the most desirable small leather (and metal!) good on the planet? Money is irrelevant when it comes to things of such exquisite beauty. Or it would be, if I had just a bit more of it... For anyone with more cash to splash, the orange and brown colourways are the only ones left in stock till next year, though as the SA pointed out to me, they are the traditional Hermes colours. I was torn between the yellow and the orange, but the orange it would have to have been for now. I hope they do a lilac or magenta one next year, which I shan't be able to buy either, but if you are going to indulge in fantasies, they might as well be bespoke...!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Toxic Shock! - The 250 Chemicals in Perfume

The day I left for Sweden the Daily Mail ran a feature about the extraordinarily high number of chemicals women routinely apply to their bodies in the form of beauty products and perfume - some 515 in total across all categories, of which 250 separate chemical ingredients in perfume alone. I have felt vaguely troubled by this ever since, even though I know you shouldn't believe everything you read in the papers.

There was a debate about the article on Nstperfume while I was away, in which Tania Sanchez intervened to defuse the scaremongering tone of the article, describing it as an "odd grab-bag of largely useless fright warnings". She took a number of the chemicals mentioned as being of particular concern, and countered the allegations against some of them by saying that the link with cancer etc was not proven, or that the chemicals would only be harmful at much higher doses. In the case of other chemicals, she considered them to be generally harmless, always allowing for the odd person with allergies or sensitive skin who might find them bothersome.

Tania pointed out that some of these chemicals routinely found in lipsticks, body lotion, deodorants etc are also used in other everyday items such as eye drops, acrylic paint and PET bottles. She found this wider usage reassuring, while another poster begged to differ:

"Just because something is in.....acrylic paint, or commonly used in moisturisers and lipsticks, or in our plastic bottles, doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy for us to use everyday, all day on our skin, for pretty much our entire lives."

That is really the nub of it - as with pesticide residues or radiation levels from mobile phones - no one seems to be sure about the cumulative effects of these potentially harmful things. Women (and men!) are using more and more grooming products than ever before, which in turn have segmented and diversified to a mind boggling degree. I am still unsure as to the difference between body scrubs and butters, oils and lotions, "washes" and milk... My partner's mother (aged 74) has never used moisturiser but occasionally smears Vaseline on her eyelids if they are feeling dry.

My own mother (for whom Pond's Cold Cream was the cornerstone of her beauty regime!) also used to say, however, that "you eat a peck of dirt before you die". Or in this case - you aborb a tonne of chemicals transdermally... Yes, there is more to life than trying to live as long as possible. I don't smoke, but I drink - always the recommended weekly allowance for a woman, and sometimes a few units more! And it appears that for women over the age of 50, health risks associated with alcohol consumption rise sharply. Or I think that is what I read somewhere. So I should probably cut my drinking back by about two thirds if I am really serious about my health.

So in summary I may be a walking chemistry set, but when it comes to the old liver and kidneys, the benzaldehyde in my favourite perfumes may be the least of my worries... : - )

Friday, 27 November 2009

"Wanna gimme??" FAOK - The Rise of Forced Acts of Kindness?

Perfume enthusiasts who engage in swapping will doubtless be familiar with the term "RAOK" or "random act of kindness", referring to the various forms of extras they enclose with the official swap items. I was approached the other day by a member on Makeupalley asking me to give her a particular designer perfume sample for free, and laying on the pressure pretty hard. She is in her early twenties, has nothing to swap, "no money what so ever" (sic), and is dying to try this particular scent, which would be her "first perfume ever".

Given that there is literally half a ml left in the vial, I advised her to head down to Boots and help herself to a tester of this fragrance. A couple of visits would have delivered as much perfume as is left in this sample. Failing that, I suggested that if she was really that keen on acquiring it, she ask someone in her family and friends to give it to her for Christmas.

The non-swapper's response to this broadsided me: "Could I not just have it if there's not much left?" So I replied that it would cost me more in postage, packing and general faff to get the tiny sample to her than it was worth, and for the moment all is quiet.

I do hope this is not the start of a general trend, for random acts of kindness are no longer random - or even kind! - if made under duress...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Swedish Perfume Trail

Last Friday I flew to Stockholm for a long weekend, which included a solo sniffing trip in Stockholm's finest perfume emporia. But before leaving Liverpool airport, I had a little nosey round the Duty Free there to see what new releases they had which my local outlets had not yet caught up with. So I tried Victor & Rolf's Eau Mega, undaunted by the incredibly naff chocolate money top thingy, and it was much as I expected - big pear note, been there, sniffed that. I also had a spritz of D & G Rose The One, and in the opening I got a fleeting but very true representation of a rose, swathed in a green and powdery accord, but then I lost it and thought that maybe this is your run-of-the-mill designer rose scent after all. So the jury's out on that one till I can test it again...

Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime, which finds me in Stockholm's top department store, NK, which I would liken to Selfridges in the UK and Neiman Marcus in the USA. It had a designer section which flowed seamlessly into a more niche area, which in turn flowed into a concession of Cow, a high end and funky cosmetics and perfume chain. Within this relatively compact area I was immediately struck by the preponderance of bath and body products from brands such as Voluspa, Abahna, La Source, Compagnie de Provence, Crabtree & Evelyn, India Hicks, Harn, Molton Brown and the quirkily named "Björk & Berries". I had always thought as much, but the profusion of such brands was definite proof that the Swedes are indeed a very clean nation.

In terms of niche fragrances, for NK proper as opposed to the Cow concession I spotted the following: Diptyque, Apothia, Keiko Mecheri, Acqua di Parma, Piguet, Juliette has a Gun, Costume National, Bond No 9, Creed, M Micallef, Neotantric Fragrances, Library of Fragrance, Byredo and CLEAN, and possibly a few more I missed. Looking back, that is quite an unusual mix of brands which I have never seen together anywhere else in Europe... The Byredo counter didn't have the new Baudelaire, but sent me over to the menswear department(!), where, right in the midst of the suiting and booting, there was a stand with men's colognes, including Byredo. Baudelaire also smelt as I imagined from what I had read of it so far: a bit spicy, dusty and fundamentally blokey, so thumbs down to that one too.

In the designer area I at last tried a scent I have been curious about for some time, because it contains some of my favourite notes - Helena Rubinstein's Wanted. In the event it was a very pleasant blur on my wrist, not because I can't recall it properly but because it was innately blurry in style. I asked for a sample, but to no avail. I don't suppose I'll miss it, but I would have liked to have given it another shot.

I more or less ignored the Cow concession in NK, as my next stop was its flagship yet bijou store in Mäster Samuelsgatan. Here again I was struck by the eclectic mix of fragrance brands: E Coudray, Cumming, Laura Mercier, Vicolo Fiori, Etro, Comme des Garcons, Humiecki & Graef, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Les Parfums de Rosine, Carthusia, CB I hate Perfume, Profumum and Stephanie de Saint-Aignan. I have never seen Cumming, Humiecki & Graef, Stephanie de Saint-Aignan OR CB I hate Perfume anywhere before, so that was exciting for me. : - )

Space constraints meant that Cow didn't stock the full range of some of these lines - not that I carried out an inventory as such! - but that was my impression. My first question was: "Do you have Havana Vanille?" and the answer was sadly not. So I contented myself with a sniff of CdG's Daphne on skin, which was a disagreeable spicy number. I also tried (from the Red series) Carnation and Harissa. Both were as fiery as I thought they would be, and if you were a carnation lover (which I am not), Carnation did seem to me to be the real deal. Then I had a little spritz on skin of CB I hate Perfume's At The Beach 1966, and rather liked it, but didn't ask for a sample because the SA was tied up with cosmetics customers at the crucial moment. I wondered whether to dabble in the Humiecki & Graef line, but the reviews - and odd names (Skarb / Geste / Askew!) - had rather put me off.

The final stop was the new Byredo store in the same street. It was small and clinically white, and they had mini bottles containing the top, heart and base notes of each of their range, as well as the finished compositions. By way of experiment, I sniffed the three bottles that make up Fantastic Man, which was mildly interesting but ultimately pointless, as the scent for sale is after all the blended version rather than its component parts. So I asked for a sample of it instead (to give to a male friend), and after some concerted rummaging in drawers, the SA drew a blank. So I decided to call it a day at that point and went for a long walk on one of Stockholm's many islands, before heading out later that night in a curious Wanted-Daphne-L'Eau Nirique-Fantastic Man-Ta'if melange.

Then yesterday at Skavsta airport I dared to test not one but three of the Neotantric range of fragrances, which I realised just today are actually Swedish. It was a bit early frankly to try perfumes with such wanton names as Manic Love (Women), Sex Goddess and Dropps of Me (I swear there were two "p"s on the tester bottle). All three were unspeakably awful in ways I am not sure I can accurately convey. All I will say is that if you are tempted by the wacky names to try these yourselves, please resist the urge, for they will spoil your day. I also retested Gucci Flora, and though the drydown was quite inoffensive - pleasant even - at some point in the development there was a discordant note that troubled me. Badass patchouli maybe?

So in summary I would observe that the Swedes are very hygienic (I even saw the CLEAN range at the bus station!), not averse to whimsy or eroticism as exemplified in the Neotantric range, while the lack of samples confirms my belief that things in Scandinavia are only available at a very high price - as in a full bottle purchase - which in turn would have cost up to twice as much as in Britain.

But you have gotta love a city whose underground network includes stations named Bro, Tibble, Sockenplan and the splendidly Star Trekky Nockeby Torg. I'll be back, and next time I'll bring my own empty sample vials...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Madness Interruptus

Bonkers about Perfume is taking a short break till Monday. I am off to Sweden for a long weekend, where, amongst other festivities involving minimal alcohol consumption on account of the eyewatering prices (their ultra cheap store chains - if they have them - would be "ten pound shops" rather than "pound shops", let alone "dime stores"!), I hope to hit the upmarket department store NK, the new Byredo outlet, and if I can find it, Stockholm's answer to Les Senteurs, the quaintly named "Cow". Indeed the "if I can find it" comment applies to all three...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Start Them Young - Violet And The Sacred Vial

I was visiting a friend's for supper a while back, and as well as taking round the usual bottle of wine, I decided on a whim to bring along a 1ml sample vial of Borsari's Violetta di Parma as a gift for his seven year old daugher, Violet. I figured that though she was probably too young to be wearing perfume yet, she might at least be curious to sniff a scent that smelt of her name, and who knows what seed of interest I just might plant in her impressionable young mind...

As I entered the hall, Violet came down the stairs to greet me, ready for bed in pink pyjamas and hugging a teddy bear to her chest. I explained the reasoning behind my gift and proffered the little organza bag with its lone vial of scent. In a flash Violet had scampered back upstairs to bed with it, whispering a shy: "Thank you".

Some time later I thought to inquire of my friend in an email how the Violetta di Parma was going down. He wrote: "Violet is guarding her perfume as closely as if it were the meaning of life itself in elixir form".

To which I replied: "She's very astute for seven."

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A Probably Preposterous Notion - The Unrepresentative Squirt

Yesterday I retried Guerlain's new release, Idylle, for the second time. Its modern take on a sweet, rosy musk accord instantly reminded me of Narciso Rodriguez for Her, just as the majority of reviewers had already observed. Yet when I first tried Idylle, my overriding impression was of a run-of-the-mill fruity floral, with no discernible musk. In the same sniffing session I also retried YSL's latest, Parisienne, and was pleased to find that the same image sprang to mind as the first time I smelt it, namely of "disgruntled purple talc". For there is a dark and restless quality to the powdery note - it is indignant almost - if that were not an absurd anthropomorphism.

But the Idylle is really nice, in this NR for Her / JHAG Lady Vengeance kind of way. So what is different this time? I don't think the theory of suggestibility is responsible here, prompting me to agree with the consensus on this fragrance about its common characteristics with NR for Her. For if that was going to work, would it not have done so first time round? So, assuming my nose was in good working order both times and not distracted by testing too many scents at once (it wasn't), I am going to stick my neck out here and say that the first spray must have been unrepresentative, namely that the nozzle did not deliver the musky element to my nose, but only a hefty dollop of sweet bright florals.

I have wondered about this before in cases where I have subsequently done a 180 on particular scents. I came to the conclusion that it must have been a different combination of notes I sprayed the second time, for how else could I have failed to spot the civet/pine needles/bizarre cumin-heliotrope accord/stonking tuberose/muddiness of non-specific origin (insert disagreeable note) there?

To avoid such irregularities, should I have shaken the bottle prior to spraying, squirty cream-style? Surely not! What about a slight tilt, to make sure there is no sediment at the bottom that is meant to permeate the whole mixture for a rounded fragrance? Equally silly, if we are talking a perfume that is relatively new, as opposed to some turn of the century vintage number with bottom feeders and all sorts in its murky depths.

Yes, an "unrepresentative squirt" is a preposterous notion - a scent has to be homogenous, with no surreptitious pooling of musk molecules half way down the bottle, like a huddle of school kids smoking behind the bike sheds. And yet this theory squares with my experience, so - having established the other day that I am a diehard solipsist - I intend to run with it for now!

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Loneliness of The Solipsistic Nose

"No man is an island" according to the poet John Donne, meaning that it is a human instinct to crave company. When it comes to matters olfactory, though, the sad fact of the matter is that "Man - or woman - IS an island", in the sense that we are all isolated in our own sensory corners, experiencing perfumes in potentially very different ways.

This thought struck me most forcibly of late when a friend smelt my new HGS, Penhaligon's Amaranthine, on me and remarked that she didn't care for it and that it was very similar to Chloe Narcisse. I had not smelt Narcisse at this point, but given that it is currently discounted to under a tenner in my local Superdrug, the comparison was distinctly unsettling. Had I just shelled out £60 for a 50ml bottle of Amaranthine to find that it is merely a re-invention of a 90's drugstore fragrance? The rest of the evening was overshadowed with this gloomy possibility, and the next day I hot-footed it to Superdrug, where the SA helpfully dug out a tester from below the counter.

A few seconds later I was relieved to detect no marked resemblance between the two scents. The Narcisse I found cloyingly sweet, orangey and spicy, like a mix of CK Eternity and marmalade. Amaranthine, on the other hand, is a tropical white floral with green notes and a creamy, vaguely dirty, spicy base.

But hold on a minute.....the key qualifier in all this should always be "to my nose", for even if others agree that the comparison between these two scents is unfounded, that does not invalidate the impressions my friend formed of Amaranthine versus her memory of Narcisse. Yet our instinct is to say: "That's rubbish!" and to believe in the superior smelling powers of our own nose, and that the way odours appear to us is how those odours objectively are - and I am not even talking taste here - merely perceived similarities or otherwise.

Every day on perfume sites someone will lob in a question along the lines of: "Please does anyone know of a scent that smells like Light Blue (or whatever)?" and people will pile in and volunteer the strangest suggestions (in my view), based on their ideas of what most closely resembles the scent in question. Sometimes I comment, but often not, because the thread appears to be groaning already under all this weight of misinformation, such that I feel there is little chance of my view standing out as "the answer" to the question, not that anything similar to Light Blue springs to mind for the moment!

This is arrogant of me, I know, but it is simply symptomatic of the solipsistic state that is being a perfumista! Even Luca Turin, who as a biochemist can deconstruct many more components of a scent than the average person, has a subjective nose at the end of the day in terms of exactly what he smells, again regardless of whether he likes it. Caroline Herrera 212 he famously likened to the sensation of getting "lemon juice in a paper cut", while I got a flatter-smelling second cousin of Narciso Rodriguez for Her. 212's a bit one dimensional, granted, but softly smooth and musky with no discernible lemon - though knowing Luca he was probably being metaphorical...

So when the strips are down, perfume enthusiasts must resign themselves to the fact that appreciating scent is a lonely business. We shall never know exactly what anyone else is smelling and whether they love the same perfumes as us for the same reasons. Lonely - and humbling too - when we realise that our nose is not better than the next person's, merely different. I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it...!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Curate your Chanels the Budweiser Way!

In a former life I used to be a product manager for a range of chilled foods. Every office at the company had its own fridge for storing product samples. It was absolutely ingrained in us that you pop a chilled product back in the fridge immediately after use. And like those forensic scientists who can age a corpse on the basis of its degree of maggot infestation, I could take one look at the bowing foil lid of a non-refrigerated yoghurt pot and know the precise moment when it would blow, projecting its creamy ectoplasm in random directions.

Fast forward 25 years and I am still very conscious about the ravages of unchilled storage as it applies to perishable foods - and latterly also perfumes. From my research on Basenotes I have learnt that the Osmotheque perfume museum in Versailles curates its ordinary scents at 10 degrees C and its citrus-dominant ones at 4 degrees C. I also gathered that glass atomizers preserve a scent better than plastic. But please don't ask if a glass atomizer at ambient temperature keeps a perfume longer than a refrigerated plastic one - my research didn't grapple with such fiendish interlocking variables...

But on the premise that cold was better than hot, during the brief heatwave that struck the UK at the end of June I bought a second hand beer chiller on Ebay for £50. It is set to 10 degrees and the citrus fragrances will jolly well have to take their chances, for I am darned if I am going to buy a separate chiller for them. The chiller contains most of my 50 full bottles, a box of plastic atomizers, and bags and bags of minis and samples. I still have two drawers' worth of overflow FBs, glass atomizers and more samples, so in retrospect I could easily have filled a fridge twice the size. Things have got to the stage where when you open the door, a bottle that you are not reaching for teeters to the edge of a shelf and falls off, like one of those rare snack vending machines that actually "vend".

I find the intermittent whirr of the fridge (in a cold spare bedroom) quite comforting, though the recent appearance of icy stalagmites just above the top shelf is a little concerning. For as well as heat and light, perfumes don't much care for humidity of course, but you can't have everything. It might not be a bad idea to defrost it, come to think of it.

So, not a perfect solution, but it's got to be a cut above the bathroom cabinet. : - )

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Lidl Suddenly d'Or - a Swiss Ghost Story

Anyone familiar with the European discount chain Lidl will be aware that it sells both food and non-food items on a pretty random basis. On one day last week they had a delivery of guitars, apparently, and you can routinely find everything from spaghetti hoops to crocs via shower curtains, table soccer games and the occasional security camera.

One day earlier this year I noticed two new own brand perfumes named Suddenly D'Or and Suddenly Fleurs, selling at the ludicrously cheap price point of £3.99 for 50ml! My nose was drawn to Suddenly D'Or, a pretty decent fruity floral. I bought a bottle on the spot - £3.99 is a bargain by any standards. It smelt to me like a perfume that cost up to five times that ie what I would consider as the lower end of the designer market. Or at least three times, say - comparable in quality perhaps to those frequently remaindered lines like Elizabeth Arden. A few weeks later, I ran across a promotional display for the new Ghost scent, Ghost Luminous. The bulbous-bottomed bottle looked uncannily like Suddenly D'Or and the scent was even more reminiscent of the Lidl one! Notwithstanding the chronology of events, I assumed the Lidl scent was most likely a knock off of the Ghost, and not vice versa...

I felt I couldn't ask Lidl outright if they had modelled their scent on the new Ghost release, but I could at least ask them what the notes were, to see if I had correctly identified a strong resemblance. My phone call to Lidl customer services was met with a refusal. They could not help me because their Swiss supplier would not permit the release of this information. I tried to explain that the note information I was after was very much in the public domain for all designer and niche scents, and that I wasn't trying to extract the precise chemical formulation from them. So I asked the lady to go away and put my question to the supplier again.

Weeks passed, when "suddenly" I received a letter from Lidl's Product Quality Services department in Scotland:

"On receipt of your query we contacted our Quality Assurance Department who have advised that the fragrance used for our Perfume consists of apple, lime-tree blossom, violet, melon, jasmine, lily of the valley, peach, rose, iris, musk and sandalwood.

If the product is not to your liking, please return the item to your local Store for a refund."

But I do like the item! I like it £3.99's worth and more! With trepidation, I googled a note listing for Ghost Luminous - common notes are highlighted in italics:

"Bergamot, pineapple, orange, blackcurrant, melon, apples, sea breeze accord, champagne, jasmine, lily of the valley, raspberry leaves, violet, rose, freesia, sandalwood, vetiver, powdery dream, candied raspberry and peach sweet.

Okay, so the Lidl one is not an exact replica, but eight of the eleven notes listed for it also feature in Luminous. Even to my neophyte nose, that counts as a "ghostly resemblance".

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Scent of 'Suffering To Be Beautiful' - Avon Anew Ultimate (Day) Cream

Today I am tentatively retrying an anti-aging day cream from Avon. It comes in a sleekly contoured brushed gold pot and its rather involved product name (helpfully also given in French) is etched on in a black, slightly space agey font not reproducible from the modest list of options available in my blog settings.

The product inside also sounds pretty futuristic and leading edge. For it is apparently "powered by pro-sirtuin TX technology". And although sirtuins might sound to you and me like dwellers of a distant galaxy, I learnt on the site that they are in fact a family of proteins that "have been shown to reduce cell death by protecting cells against reactive oxygen species and DNA damage". I had to look up "reactive oxygen species" in Wikipedia to make sure this wasn't yet another alien race out of Star Trek - but they turned out to be none other than those pesky little mischief makers, free radicals. So far so good.

On further consulting a Cosmeceutical Peptide Glossary (no, really!), I noted that the particular sub-group of sirtuins we are talking about here are Heptapeptide-6. In an article in the journal "Nature", Dr. David Sinclair explained their role: "What we think is that if a cell is at a point of deciding whether to live or die, these sirtuins push toward the survival mode and let the cell try a little harder and longer to fix itself." said Sinclair. What valiant little enzymes! I am liking these sirtuins more and more. Never mind their role in anti-aging creams, The Samaritans should be trying to hire these guys....

But though the science does indeed sound wonderful, the experience of applying this sirtuin-rich technology on my face was not a happy one. I spread some over my top lip, which was immediately yanked upwards into a bee-stung sneer. And boy, did it sting! While the inevitable seepage made my tea taste horrid and undrinkable! But worse than the rictus I have now developed is the smell....which is the smell of burning flesh. I quickly googled "Avon Ultimate" and "burning flesh" and could find no one else with the same impression as me. However, I did find a review of a Prescriptives moisturiser (for the curious - Prescriptives' Good In Bed(!) Skin Restoring Night Moisturizer with sunless tanners) which likened its smell to "burning flesh and cat pee", and attributed the odour to the tanning chemical DHA. I can find no ingredients listing that would confirm the presence of DHA in my cream, so maybe these plucky little sirtuins simply don't smell too clever either. This is a blow, but according to the Avon website, if I can just grimace and bear it the Ulimate cream will "restore the look of natural volume and cushion" (sic) in just three days. So if no more posts appear by that time, assume I have either died of dehydration or seared my eyeballs.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Hidden Truth Behind The Weaselly Sales Blurb

I was flicking through the Fragrance brochure of a high street retailer at the weekend, and my attention was caught by this quote from the magazine's Beauty Editor: "If you're thinking of a celebrity perfume, remember they're created with the help of experienced 'noses', for an elegant scent."

Well, yes they are, and yet that statement leaves so much unsaid....notably the fact that perfumers creating celebrity perfumes are typically constrained in terms of the briefs they are given and the budgets they have to work with. So just because you have a great perfumer developing your product, if you tie their hands in terms of costings, you won't get to see that greatness fully deployed. As the saying goes, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Chandler Burr, the NY Times perfume critic, cuts to the chase: "They use cheap ingredients to be more affordable and make more money", and goes on to liken celebrity scents to throwaway fashion.

The position in which perfumers find themselves reminds me a bit of my partner, a bass player, who has toured Europe and even played The Albert Hall. But there are also times in every session musician's life when they inevitably find themselves down the pub playing Mustang Sally...

The perfumer Yann Vasnier, who has developed perfumes for Sarah Jessica Parker and Baby Phat (Baby What?), summed up the process of working for mainstream companies with diplomatic vagueness: "Working for bigger projects is really competitive, challenging, a lot of different factors must be taken into account." His answer is interesting, for it reveals another aspect to this question, namely that while the perfumer may not have the wherewithal to make a silk purse, if he makes a half-decent smelling one in polyester, that almost certainly constitutes a greater technical feat than if he had come up with the next Chanel No 5 with unlimited funds. In other words, the achievement is entirely relative. So next time I am passing a tester of a J Lo or Kylie scent that actually smells a cut above lolly water, I will remember that the ingredients in these celebuscents probably cost tuppence halfpenny, and treat them with a new respect...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

6.11.09 - "DKNY Delicious Night" Day

Remember, remember the 6th of November...that title needs some explaining, I know.

Well, sudden onset perfume mania struck me on 29.1.08, and not long after the initial frenzy of Internet research I began buying carded fragrance samples on Ebay. The very first one was DKNY Delicious Night. I had high hopes of this scent, as I had seen a review of it illustrated by a twinkly backdrop of the New York Skyline. Of course this reeled me in immediately, even if you could only just make out the spire of the Chrysler Building in the shot. As a total newbie, I was also mesmerised by the description of the mysterious and sultry sounding fragrance notes:

Frozen pomelo, crushed ginger, chilled blackberry martini accord, purple freesia, night-blooming orchids, satin jasmine petals, purple iris, molten amber, incense, myrrh extract, patchouli and velvet vetiver.

Here was a intriguing mix of very cold and very hot things, smooth textures, exotic fruit, strumpety flowers that only come out to play after dark, and sophisticated cockail ingredients. It simply couldn't get any better than this.

The reality was a raspy, fuzzy scent that reminded me principally of Ribena and steel wool. It was cacophonous and rough - and chilly, all at the same time. At this tender stage in my perfume appreciation I could so easily have been put off from further exploration. Luckily I wasn't, but the presence of the carded sample in my drawer all these months has had a strangely dispiriting effect - acting as a symbolic reminder of the many disappointments that can ambush a budding perfumista in her quest for the Holy Grail Scent.

And then yesterday a swapper on MUA asked to take Delicious Night off my hands, along with a bunch of other scents I was not sorry to lose, mostly of the berry-centric variety. As I type, Delicious Night is on its way to a new life in the USA, and the spell is broken. My sampling future looks bright, and I will never again be seduced by things "satin", "night-blooming" or featuring "chilled blackberry martini accord".

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 2 - Confusing Stella Flankers

I am not a big fan of flankers as a rule, though occasionally they are an improvement on the original. The most notable example of this in my view is Opium Fleur de Shanghai, a 2005 Limited Edition that was conceived as a lighter, more summery interpretation of the heavy-hitting 70's original, and which I find infinitely more wearable.

Ordinarily though, I find all these "L'Eau", "Eau de Printemps" and "Eau Legere" versions deeply irritating, along with the various suffixes that afflict men's fragrances, such as "Intense" and "Extreme". Estee Lauder winds me up no end with White Linen, Pure White Linen and now Pure White Linen Light Breeze and Pure White Linen White Coral. These flanker names are getting to be like those ever increasing lists of random items you have to memorise, of the "I went to market and bought myself a XXX" variety.

But my biggest disapproval is reserved for the Stella McCartney range of perfumes, a line so muddled I have long given up testing them as I can never remember what I already know. The line now comprises: Stella, Stella in Two, Stella in Two Peony, Stella Rose Absolute, Stella Nude and not one, not two, but FOUR different editions of Stella Sheer (2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009).

Rather than spawn any more Stella-named fragrances, I would urge the house to consider a perfume just called "McCartney". Which will give me time to prepare myself mentally for the McCartney Extremely Intenses and In Three Peonies that I know will be coming along shortly.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A Soapy Tale

As I mentioned in my opening post, this blog was largely prompted by my partner's total lack of interest in perfume, and my wish to find an outlet for my musings on the subject. Along with 40% of British men, he uses no form of scent, moisturiser or other male grooming product except for soap and anti-perspirant, and falls into the category of "retrosexual"(!) according to a recent research survey by Mintel. Before learning of this amusing label, I had come up with my own classification of his fragrance leanings as "Palmolive/industrial".

So imagine my delight when I walked into the living room last night to be greeted by the comment: "Whatever you have got on today doesn't smell like 'craft shop' - in fact it's okay, actually - like an expensive soap." I approached and proffered my wrist for him to smell - I was wearing Poussiere de Rose by Les Parfums de Rosine. "Ugh!" he exclaimed, recoiling. "That's not what I smelt - that's horrible." After a bemused pause, I remembered that I had just been to the bathroom and washed my hands. "Could it possibly be the soap I used to wash my hands that you are smelling?" I inquired, crestfallen, as I extended three fingers in his direction. He took a sniff. "Yes, that's it! Nice. Like I say, expensive soap."

Well, well, Heyland & Whittle Tea Tree is the surprise soapy interloper than won my partner over. He doesn't want me to smell of feminine roses, or heady jasmine or sultry tuberose - no, he likes his woman to smell of tea tree oil. Which explains a lot...

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Ubiquitous Sweet And Other Postal Oddities

Perfume fans who have ever bought a bunch of samples from decant sites such as The Perfumed Court will be all too aware of the peculiar postal practice of enclosing a single boiled sweet with your order. The most popular choices seem to be a Bali's Best Latte, Espresso or regular Coffee Candy, though I have received tea flavoured sweets and the ones with a hole in that we call Polos and the Americans call Lifesavers. Unfortunately, I don't like coffee, so along with a number of other perfumistas who have latched on to this idea, I recycle these candies in perfume swaps on Makeupalley. It would not surprise me to learn that certain individual sweets have clocked up many thousands of miles to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic. What is slightly concerning is the introduction of non-regulation confectionery lines to the swapping scene. I am speaking in particular of ADHD-inducing, lurid, sugar-encrusted jelly snakes, of which I once received a bag so substantial it completely overshadowed the 5ml atomizer that was the focus of the trade.

As well as confectionery, swappers often pop in extra perfume samples - from your "wish list" if you are very lucky, or from their "wish-to-be-shot-of list" if you are not. Along with the sweets, some of these less aspirational samples commute regularly to and from America. Another popular enclosure is samples of lotions - usually the ones that come free in magazines and still have a telltale blob of glue on the reverse. Their main (and valuable) function is to add a soupcon of truth to the Customs Declaration form, in which the contents are always breezily described as "cosmetics samples".

Other freebies include Scratch 'n' Sniff panels from the same magazines, scented cocktail umbrellas (there's a bizarre invention!), and what I tend to lump together under the heading of "Alternative Tea Bags" - which is my book is basically any tea blend that is not English Breakfast, which is the one variety the rest of the world seems not to drink. The most bizarre freebie inclusion was without doubt a "collagen-placenta-face mask" from Russia. Sheep's placenta, no less, as the helpful small print pointed out.

My partner, though utterly indifferent to perfume, finds this sweet sending ritual highly amusing. He has already made serious inroads into my stockpile of coffee candies, but that's okay. He recently began swapping guitar effects pedals on a forum for bass players, who are as you can imagine a group of rufty tufty, hard-boiled, hairy musicians. For the hell of it, he has now started to slip in a chocolate lime with the pedals, tucked into a corner of the newspaper wadding. Already there has been one reference to this in a feedback comment: "Hey - nice packaging!! : - ) " And so the ubiquitous sweet continues its unstoppable march...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 1 - Bathroom Storage

As a serious lover of perfume have you ever found yourself visiting the bathroom at a friend's house, and being confronted with the disturbing sight of perfume bottles lined up on the window sill, on top of the bathroom cabinet, in the bathroom cabinet (if you are looking for aspirin or are just plain nosey!) or - shock horror - lined up on the edge of the bath? For a committed 'fumehead this is a really distressing thing to encounter, for we know that heat, light and moisture are the enemies of fragrance and the bathroom can often be the confluence of all three.

I remember spotting a bottle of No 5 (and another designer scent I will not name so as to protect my friend's identity!) tucked behind the taps on the edge of the bath. My friend's husband had just had a shower, so I could barely make out the bottles in the clouds of steam. What does one do in such a situation? One's instinct should be like that of a social worker, namely to file a report and have the bottles taken into care - or at least put them on the "at risk" register and issue their owners with a verbal warning. But on that occasion, I kept my own counsel, and left those fragrances to take their chances in the life-threatening steamy jungle of their suburban habitat.

Mind you, I have only recently learnt to care for perfume. Before the onset of this perfume hobby in February 2008, I owned precisely one bottle of Estee Lauder Intuition, which had sat variously on my bathroom and bedroom window ledges since 2001, and had quietly turned rancid without my noticing it some years previously.

But since my failure to act on behalf of the endangered No 5 bottle and its bathmate, I have become a more conscientious vigilante when it comes to the environmental health of fragrance - wherever I see it...For example, I got a friend in Germany to throw out a bottle of Bvlgari Omnia which had gone off in her guest cloakroom, and suggested to my hairdresser that he should remove his colognes from the window ledge of the en suite and transfer them to a bedroom drawer. A friend in Sweden no longer keeps her perfumes in the bathroom cabinet as a direct result of my intervention. At Stansted airport earlier this year, I complained to the SA that the fixture on which a tester of B by Boucheron had been placed was far too warm and brightly lit to keep it in good nick.

So go on, next time you nip to the bathroom at someone else's house, keep your eyes out for vulnerable perfumes and do your bit for the perfume loving community!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fascination - The Les Senteurs of The North?

On a recent day trip to Blackpool with the family, we made a detour to Lytham in Lancashire so I could visit a perfumery shop called Fascination. My partner and his mother quickly realised that this was a grave error of judgement, for once let loose in the shop it was apparent that I was going to be some considerable time browsing in this veritable Aladdin's Cave of scent. So they went off, visited every other shop in the town, had a cup of tea, walked by the front and finally returned forlornly a good hour and an half later and begged me to come away.

For Fascination, despite its unprepossessing exterior, was as its name suggests absolutely fascinating, crammed from floor to ceiling with stock of designer and niche brands alike. I would compare its range to a cross between Les Senteurs, Liberty's, Boots and your granny's attic. They had the new releases from Serge Lutens, Amouage, Creed, Czech & Speake and Acqua di Parma to name but a few, but also the latest Prada or YSL - all at prices comparable or slightly better than in London. They also carry some niche brands which you don't come across very often, such as Acqua di Genova and Lubin. Additionally there were a number of unusual - and possibly discontinued - US designer brands like Alfred Sung and Jesus del Pozo, which I have read about on perfume sites but never encountered in Europe before.

In terms of store layout the approach was the polar opposite of that adopted by Les Senteurs. Although there were some elegant wall displays of bottles, the counter tops were bristling with stock and testers, which had Amouages taking their chances rammed up against Serges - you could miss so many gems if you didn't take your time and proceed inch by inch along the counter with forensic care, like the police combing a field.

The proprietor Lynne (not sure about the "e") was happy to chat to me for the entire time I was there, breaking off - quite properly - to attend to the customers who dropped by. At a guess, these were mostly regulars: well heeled residents from the surrounding area - the NW is an affluent retirement destination and also classic "Footballers' Wives" territory. Having quickly clocked that I was one of those perfume nuts from sites like Basenotes, Lynne proceeded to quiz me about my views on a variety of niche releases. I felt flattered that she assumed I would have tried all the scents in question already, which for the most part I had.

Eventually I let myself be dragged away by the rest of my party, though not without a mini of an obscure designer scent and a bunch of free samples. We headed off to watch the Blackpool Illuminations, which were impressive, though nothing could make me light up as much as Fascination - a "must sniff" stopover for any perfume lovers venturing "up north"...