Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Abusive caramel: Musings on Thierry Mugler Angel, and Angel Muse

It's taken me a while to psych myself up to writing this review, to whose imminence I alluded a few posts ago. This is because I was putting off the day when I would try Angel Muse again on skin, a preliminary step to even my own meandering and tenuously on-topic style of fragrance writing. I felt I needed to feel fairly robust before exposing myself to what I can best describe as 'abusive caramel'. This notion of 'toffee as terrorist', 'fudge as felon' etc is not as fanciful as you might imagine, for one of the only two occasions on which I remember my mother crying was when she was making caramel tarts. A tin of boiling condensed milk exploded on opening, splattering the entire kitchen with scalding streaks of toffee, and resulting in her being carted off to hospital with second degree burns to her face, neck and arms. I am a reluctant cook at the best of times, and have studiously avoided trying to replicate that particularly perilous recipe.

Fast forward to 1992, the year the original Angel came out. In a post from 2011 about my pre-perfumista perfume-wearing past, I included my purchase of Angel in the 'SA-driven impulse buys at airports' category, in this case Berlin Tegel in December of that year. I can remember the main thrust of the assistant's sales spiel, in which she set about reeling me in with talk of a novel chocolate note. Team that with a curious blue juice and sparkly festive star-shaped bottle, and in the homeward bound pre-Christmas hustle I must have been an easy sale.

Would you look at that list of notes? There is pretty much every flower, fruit and confectionery ingredient known to man in there, with the possible exception of Rice Crispies and nuts.

Top notes: melon, coconut, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, bergamot and cotton candy

Middle notes: honey, apricot, blackberry, plum, orchid, peach, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, red berries and rose

Base notes: tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, dark chocolate and caramel.

Now I don't intend to link every review I write of a perfume to memories of a past boyfriend(!), as I recently did in my account of Ruth Mastenbroek's Oxford and the medieval lutinist who forgot he actually was my boyfriend.  But I feel moved to mention that Angel is inextricably bound up in my mind with a tempestuous rollercoaster of a relationship in the early 90s. (Please excuse the 'r' word, but it really is most apt.) I felt intensely alive the entire time, but not always in a good way, and when a potted spider plant went flying across the room one morning, narrowly missing my head, I finally upped sticks and left. At one point I even developed an eating disorder, and recall episodes of binging on Thornton's toffees...and well, you can imagine the rest. But how odd that toffee should yet again show up in the context of 'abuse', however administered.

And years later, here I am trying the latest Angel flanker, and trying very hard to keep an open mind. I am grateful to Liz Moores of Papillon for the sample, which I was most eager to try, having heard that several of my fellow bloggers took an instant liking to it.

These are the notes I could find, which are decidedly sparse compared to original Angel!:

Grapefruit, pink peppercorn, hazelnut cream, vetiver, patchouli

Well, well, I wrote that comment about Angel only missing nuts before I found this list!

And despite having the most sensitive grapefruit radar of anyone I know, the opening salvo of Angel Muse is promptly drenched in a sickly nap of candy floss-cum-gooey Ferrero Rocher innards. It is syrupy, but in a hard, cruel way, like the confectionery equivalent of the lava tide that engulfed Pompeii. The vetiver, such as it is, is keeping its head down, but is horribly aware of its impending fate. There is no overtly chocolate note this time, though the patchouli vaguely hints at it. In this case, its purpose is to ground the goo and give it its malevolent heft.

As Angel Muse wears on, the brooding, discordant hostility lifts, and I am left with a wispy gourmand trail not unlike Dries Van Noten, but less nutty. It manages to be distinctive yet inoffensive, but I cannot bond with Angel Muse in its more benign phase, for the damage is done. So yes, Angel Muse 'speaks' to me, and it has indeed inspired this post, but the 'Angel' bit is if anything even more of a misnomer than it was in the case of the original.

Now with wings!

As a lover of most gourmand scents, I was frankly surprised at the capacity of Angel Muse to serve up such painful memories in this punch-packing poisoned patisserie of a perfume. As I was mulling over how much of these bad vibes to share with readers, I decided to take a quick scan of other reviews to see whether I was out on a limb with my more downbeat take on Angel Muse, and was heartened to read this assessment by Jtd of Scenthurdle, who also detected a jarring quality:

"Muse streamlines the flavors but not the dissonance. Forget Innocent, Angel EDT and the extrait. Muse is the true successor to Angel."

"Muse is different, creepier. It gives me the shapeless fear of sitting through a dogmatic, atonal modernist piano piece."

Yes to 'dogmatic'! The opening of Muse is arresting, in your face, provocative and intentionally annoying. I don't want to be badgered and bothered by my perfume, thank you very much, even if it does settle down later to something the right side of captivating.

Angel or Angel Muse? Better the devil you know? I think so, for the Angel I just met may be wanner than its gutsy gourmand antecedent, but is on balance worse.

And don't even get me started on that horrid shade of blue, an ill-assorted affront to the copper trim. So here instead is the Blue Copper butterfly, a much lovelier creation in the kingdom of winged things.

Source: bentler.us

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A brief Bonkers hiatus!

I am mindful that I have missed my usual posting day of Sunday by quite some margin. I have even missed the slightly slipped day of Monday, which I note was the date of the last post. I do hope to resume perfume-themed(!) blogging soon, as I have been trying a bunch of interesting and/or provocative things lately. I have, however, been overtaken by snagging issues on the ongoing bathroom refurbishment, compounded by problems with a leak downstairs and a faulty dishwasher, and topped off by two challenging work projects and the erroneous transfer of my electricity supply to a neighbour with an eerily similar address(!), which took me four hours to bottom out and resolve last night. Oh, and I have also been getting to grips with a new secondhand smartphone with a different operating system to my old one - working out the right way round to insert the SIM card (after watching a few YouTube videos) was a major challenge to a technical numpty like me. And I have even been exercised by the question of whether the leather case I bought to go with it smells sufficiently of leather to be the real deal. First world problems of the first water, as you can see!

Anyway, the cumulative impact of all these wayward occurrences has been to put paid to any proper blogging, and to throw me into a bit of a ball juggling tailspin, to mix my metaphors. I have been living off processed food for days, and the house is inexorably silting up with bits of fluff, scattered cat crunchies, and Truffle's not inconsiderable collection of abandoned grape and pear stalks. And when the Post-it notes proliferate to the extent pictured above, you just know something is up.

Hmm, yes, the fruit bowl is looking decidedly unlike a cornucopia. Speaking of loosely harvest festival-related matters, I was speaking to a friend the other day about past blog posts of mine for which I have a particular soft spot, and mentioned my review of ELDO's Like This from 2010, with its autumnal pumpkin theme. 'Ooh', he said, 'you should post it again, if you think some readers will have missed it.' To which I replied that normally I think it is the height of laziness by bloggers to regurgitate old copy in this way, but I promised to mull it over. The upshot of my cogitations is that I will insert a link to it at least. I am not entering the Jasmine Awards this year, for a number of reasons, not least the rather material fact that I don't believe I have written anything in 2016 that remotely approximates to what the judges are looking for. But if I had written my 'Like This' review this year, I might have taken a punt on it...

And finally, till I sort myself out and get back to perfume reviewing in earnest, here is a never seen before photo of my very own coach(!), captured on my travels, and earmarked for just such fallow occasions.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Results of the elephant perfume bottle giveaway!

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Editor 5807)
So Saturday night's deadline for the highly desirable(!) elephant perfume bottle prize draw has passed, to the rather timely accompaniment of Bonfire Night fireworks. The name of anyone who met the entry criteria and didn't explicitly exempt themselves themselves went into the trusty Random.org virtual number generating hat. Now if the winner actually meant to exempt themselves but didn't say so in so many words, I shan't be offended if they decline the prize, and have taken the liberty of drawing the draw twice so that I have a back up contestant to whom I can offer this most prized pachyderm(!) instead. For I am mindful that it is a rather singular ornament, and when it comes to adding the finishing touch to your home interior, it may not have quite the impeccable style cachet of a Fornasetti candle, for example.

Ooh, I could spend hours deciding which one or half a dozen of those I would choose if money and mantlepiece space were no object.

But back to the giveaway...

The winner is:


Let me know if you would like to accept your prize and I will get it off to you!

UPDATE: Blacknall has kindly offered to pass her prize along to the second person whose name I drew, who happens to be:

The elephant- and perfume-loving CYNTHIA!

A worthy (and entirely fortuitous) runner up! Will try to contact you, Cynthia, as I am mindful that you may no longer be checking this post after the initial result was announced.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Cheap smells for men that don't smell cheap - suggestions please for a reader on a budget!

Grooming Tiger ~ Source Wikimedia Commons (byKoshy Koshy)
Most of the blog-related mail I get these days is from perfume houses inviting me to try their range, or from PR companies trying to get me to write to order on this or that product for money, or to develop 'collaborative synergies' with brands, that you just know would amount to the same thing. These I bat off pretty sharpish, as you can imagine.

Then just as I was sitting down to marshal my thoughts about Angel Muse, an email came in from a male reader, whom I shall call P, inquiring about budget scents for men that I would recommend.

"Can you recommend a good value men's fragrance? Quite a short question I know, but one which is ever so perplexing when on a budget."

I liked P right off the bat for his use of 'perplexing', as you can also imagine. P didn't say what styles of fragrance he wears at the moment, but maybe his taste is a broad church and price is the main driver.

P's approach to me is quite timely as it happens, as only the other day I found myself moved to comment on a post entitled 'Shared Atmospheres' on A Perfume Blog about the rights and wrongs of curbing the wearing of fragrance in public spaces. I came down on the side of freedom, even at the expense of being personally affronted by other people's perfume choices.

"And I do smell a LOT of things I don't care for in the general ambient air, as much on men as women it must be said."

Source: Harper's Weekly via Wikimedia Commons

The distinction I would make is that whereas there is ample choice out there for women, so in theory it is easy enough to smell delightful on a shoestring, I wouldn't say the same is generally true for men. There is a lot of what I would call 'sport colognes' or 'gym & tonic'-type men's colognes, in the same general vein as Chanel Bleu, but nowhere near as classy. A chap serving in my local Coop was wearing one such scent the the other day, and his sillage in and around the checkout area nearly drove me to do my grocery shopping online! So my point is that it is harder to pick out decent options in the men's category that are also a real bargain.

And it seems Blacknall agrees:

"A larger proportion of men seem to be wearing aggressive fragrance (actually it's not fragrance properly speaking so much as olfactory artillery)."

So while I am not for a minute suggesting that any of the colognes P currently owns are remotely of that ilk, the relative scarcity of non-offensive options at the less spendy end of the spectrum makes the search that bit more of a challenge. But I immediately recalled a few fragrances I have sniffed on male friends and liked, only to learn to my surprise when I asked them what they were wearing that they were in fact pretty darn cheap, and clearly punching above their price tag. Examples of this are Activist by the Body Shop and Lynx Excite, which I even felt moved to blog about, here and here respectively!

So I wrote back to P this morning with the preliminary results of my brainstorm, and of a quick google of men's style/grooming blogs.

"Thanks for your email - that's a short but big question, hehe, as it depends so much on what styles of perfume you like and how much you want to pay.

And to be honest, I mostly cover women's fragrances, but I could ask around for you from the male blogging community. Or if you are a member of Basenotes, which is mostly populated by men, you could lob in a question there.

I personally like L'Occitane Eau des Baux on men (a vanillic woody amber number), and have smelt one of the Body Shop's range on a friend that impressed me - Activist, also an oriental. See, that is the style I like. ;) Also thought Lynx Excite (Axe in the US) wasn't bad on another friend. 

If you like Oud, there's one in the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range that is cheap, and Jovan Intense Oud is a drugstore scent that smells like a poor man's Roja Dove at a hundredth of the price.

Bottle kindly donated by Liz Moores

I have heard good things of the Paul Smith range, but I can't tell you which.

And it is worth cruising the perfume aisle of T K Maxx for discounted scents from Penhaligon's or L'Artisan.

Check out this link - it mentions Activist I see! And a Paul Smith! I can endorse the 4711.

Also I have seen a few mentions of Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene, and remember that as good. 

Good luck in your hunt and let me know if you would like me to approach anyone else."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Nevit Dilmen)

So that is where I am up to so far, and on a whim I decided to share P's inquiry with readers in a blog post to see if anyone has some more suggestions. Roger & Gallet Jean-Marie Farina just popped into my head, and P could of course also play around with the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range for days, on account of its enormous selection...featuring everything from oud to marshmallow to wet shed and beyond!

Oh, and if P likes Hugo BOSS the original, Lidl's X-Bolt by Bellini is a fantastic dupe at £3.99. Here's my review of that one, that caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph, no less. ;)

Then I see Old Spice is also mentioned in the link I sent P - the one and only scent I ever remember my father wearing, or at least keeping a bottle of the stuff on the bathroom shelf. I wasn't at all close to him, mind, so there was no question of me ever sitting on his lap and inhaling the smell. He wasn't a smoker either, so you can forget any Proustian pipe tobacco associations, that other friends associate with their fathers. So yes, nothing retro and paternal to bring to the party.

Editor's note: I cannot believe I have just spent an hour googling pictures of three childhood homes in Belfast, one with an epically bad avocado suite, above which Father's Old Spice bottle would have been perched - sadly I am unable to fetch up any photos from Rightmove or Lettings sites that do justice to its monstrous green splendour.

And I am assuming that P would prefer colognes that are overtly marketed to men. I say that, for we might otherwise collectively think to recommend some feminine fragrances a man could carry off with panache and aplomb, especially once you get into the realms of niche, though for cost reasons we are of course not going there. ;)

Aha, I see Panache is also an aldehydic perfume!, formerly by Lentheric, and reviewed by I Scent You A Day. I don't believe there is a fragrance called 'Aplomb' or 'Budget', or I would be tempted to pop them on the list too.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Bonkers about Perfume turns seven! (And ponders on the 'seven year itch'...) Plus an elephant perfume bottle giveaway ;)

Photo courtesy of Annette Tudor of Tiers & Tiaras
Well, notwithstanding the elephant pictured further down this post, with its reputed ability to remember things, I appear to have missed my seventh blog anniversary by a day(!). That is not actually much of a margin for me, taking the long view. I am sure I have missed it by weeks or even months in past years. For yesterday I found myself engrossed in the task of sourcing a specific combination of wool shades for a couple of custom beanies I intend to knit for Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, and the significance of the date completely passed me by. Portia won't need the hats imminently, as it is of course spring down there, but I do like a challenge and to get ahead of myself. And to avoid doing the housework instead. So that was tangentially perfume-related at least, in the course of which I also learnt how many subtly different shades can loosely be construed as peach!

But yes, seven years - how did that happen? 579 posts to date, which isn't much by today's fast paced, news ticker-type media standards, but I guess each one takes me 4-5 hours on average. Which sounds like an awful long time in terms of the output achieved, but I must have rather a ponderous blogging MO. ;) On a whim I did a quick calculation and that adds up to 413 working days ie more than a year of just blogging!

I mention the 'seven year itch', because I feel I am at a bit of a crossroads. For a while there I thought I was in the perfume doldrums, but my interest can easily be rekindled by a well-timed recommendation from a friend who knows my taste well - big thanks are due to Val CQ Sperrer, Undina, Tara, and Sabine in particular for periodically recranking my perfume mojo. But what has changed for sure is that when unleashed in the perfume department of even a high end emporium like Fortnum & Mason or a specialist store like Bloom, I am no longer that 'kid in a sweet shop' eager to try everything in sight, preferring to stand back, chatting to whomever I am with, and sniffing the odd scent that is pointed out to me - usually because someone has literally handed me strip sprayed with the scent in question! So I appear to have very little self-motivation anymore to seek out new things, which is a new phenomenon.

Still getting a kick from well organised top colours

It doesn't bother me though, as my stash has grown to such unwieldy proportions that from a purely practical point of view it would be bad news if I was lusting after umpteen full bottles of this and that. A 10ml decant of most fragrances that take my fancy these days is quite enough, thank you.

I do additionally seem to have experienced a bit of 'decanter's blues' - a very niche condition as you can imagine!- whereby every time I go to make samples of scents, I get drenched in at least one if not several of the perfumes I am decanting. This is mainly down to a mix of leaky nozzles and the issue of 'blow back' once the vial fills up to a certain level. A level that seems to be getting lower, haha, or that is my observation.

And I guess I was also very chastened by my recent experience of getting rapped over the knuckles by the Royal Mail for attempting to post bottles internationally. That put a real spanner in the works just as I was setting out to monetise some of my stash, and I am indebted to the recipients for helping share the loss. Occasionally even now I am tempted not to bother with a hazard sticker on packages containing one or two samples within the UK, but I cannot risk being caught out again, or I might end up sharing with Rolf Harris in Stafford clink after all!

So given the limited opportunities to offload my perfume collection further afield - I could hold an open house, like Lila das Gupta recently, but Stafford is rather far away for people! - I have turned to knitting as a potential little income stream instead.

My avatar for Runraglan Knits

Oh, and of course since my diagnosis of eyelid eczema in the summer, I have been wearing makeup very sparingly if at all, so as not to tempt fate. I don't think perfume is a trigger, but often I don't bother putting it on either unless there is something I particularly want to try, which as we have just established is not very often these days. A little bit of me thinks it has to be better to limit the amount of chemicals coming into direct contact with my skin. Which isn't like me at all, or the me of old. Why, I have even blogged about the risk or otherwise of chemical overload in the early days of Bonkers, including in my post an amusing quote by Tania Sanchez on the subject if anyone is curious. At the time I was more concerned about my moderate alcohol consumption than being a 'walking chemistry set', but seven years on, the reference to people with allergies has rather come home to roost...certainly as far as toiletries more generally are concerned.

All of which sounds a little subdued or even downbeat, which truly wasn't my intention, yet every so often I start to wonder if I should leave blogging to the old timer behemoths and the new generation coming through, and redeploy the time gained to other activities, like cleaning the house(!), eBaying unwanted belongings, or writing the book that friends have claimed is 'in me'. But you would think that if such a book ever was in me, it would have long since worked its way out again by now...

Yeah, I confess to being an absolute shocker for lacking application, tending to tick off the quick and easy things on my 'to do' list rather than the big ones, to get that instant buzz of faux productivity, when you may only have put the bin out, paid a bill, and picked up the grapestalks the cat has strewn over the carpet. That said, I am proud that I lost my eBay seller's cherry this year, an idea that had previously languished for years in the 'too hard' box, even though I knew it would be a good way of decluttering for profit.;) And my new knitting venture, Runraglan Knits, now has its own Facebook page as of this week, and a few orders in the bag.

This is also almost the first anniversary of my having Truffle, who - although she is starting to bring in the odd field mouse now (all alive and intact, I hasten to add, and safely escorted off the premises!) - is an endless source of delight and amusement in my life. Here she is at just this time last year.

To lighten the tone, in case the above did come across as a bit 'heavy' and overly introspective, I shall announce the rather frivolous giveaway I came up with to mark this year's anniversary, namely an elephant perfume bottle. I wouldn't rush to put actual perfume in this, mind, as I have no confidence whatsoever in the hermetic properties of that stopper! The petite pachyderm has his own blog post, mind, from which I shall reprise a couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

For example, I love the refreshing directness of the seller's description:

"Not your cheap tacky tourist muck, but made by our own workshops in Cairo."

Then there is the reference to unexpectedly sumptuous materials:

"The gold used, which we always assumed was gold paint, is, in fact, 12 carat gold."

Not forgetting the reassuringly humane working conditions:

"Everyone who works for us is over school leaving age and the working conditions are good." I just checked, and it is only 14, but moving on...!

As someone with a lively interest in packaging materials, I greatly appreciated his conscientious packing strategy.

"It will, of course, be carefully packed in industrial quantities of bubblewrap in order to foil our postmen."

'Foil them' in terms of making it impossible for their postmen to break it, I assume? It is surely not illegal to send glass ornaments from Egypt?, though I could believe anything in my current state of postal paranoia.

So there you have him - 12 carat gold, eh?

To enter, please tell us where you are at in terms of your own perfume interest (I exercised restraint and didn't say the 'j' word!). Or alternatively, why you love elephants. Now I would understand if you didn't wish to win this uniquely exotic prize - I quite understand that pachyderm-themed receptacles are another decidedly niche interest - but hey, somebody might.

I will close the draw on 5/11 at midnight, which seems apt: "Remember remember the 5th of November!". I know the elephant won't forget to remind me that it is time to pick a winner.

Editor's note: I have a sneaking feeling I may have offered this perfume bottle in a past draw, and in our metaphorical Janis Ian-style game of basketball, his name wasn't called, hehe.

And finally, though I have said it numerous times before, it bears repetition, namely that my interest in and affection for the people I have met through this hobby has never wavered, and if anything gets stronger from year to year. So whether my perfume mojo is firing on all cylinders or quietly sputtering away like those gas rings you haven't turned on properly, I remain fiercely attached to my fumehead friends who help me weather the bumps on the road in perfume terms - or deal with the ups and downs (I would say "vicissitudes" but it sounds awfully wordy, even for me) of life in general.

Coming up soon...musings on Angel Muse!, and a bathroom makeover special, in which I share all the many lessons learnt along the way in my capacity as self-styled 'clerk of works'. There will be no perfumes kept in the bathroom, it goes without saying. Which takes me right back to the beginnings of Bonkers again...

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Dreaming spires and spirals of smoke: Ruth Mastenbroek Oxford review

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Tejvan Pettinger)
At the Smelly Cakey Perfume Meet Up in London the other weekend, we were lucky enough to have perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek in our party, and the day kicked off with an interesting talk she gave in Fenwick about her creative process, materials, and the three perfumes she has released to date, plus a fourth one that is currently in development.

As I mentioned in that post, Oxford is the scent inspired by her reportedly hedonistic university days, when she smoked Gitanes, and generally lived life in the fast lane rather than the library. I do think that perfumes named after places - Oxford, Paris, New York, Moscow etc - though rather Ronseal-like in their way, have an advantage over more obscure and nebulously evocative names such as Skarb, Pohadka, Blamage and Blask. Even if you haven't been to the place in question - and let's face it, who has been to Timbuktu or on an Escale à Pondichéry? - you can often conjure up the scene quite well in your mind. And when it comes to somewhere as squarely on the tourist trail as Oxford, the chances are that many of us will have been there - to visit, if not necessarily to study.

I will come back to my own recollections of Oxford in a bit. As you will see, these are a very mixed bag indeed, but I shall get straight to the perfume itself, which is most distinctive, although facets also remind me of a handful of other scents.

On Ruth Mastenbroek's website there is a brief synopsis of Oxford the perfume's persona:

"Daring, rough and chic...Oxford captures that moment in life that you discover you can make your own choices, your own mistakes.

An explosion of fresh, green, basil and peppery notes bursts from a herbal heart of clary sage with sensuous jasmine; vanilla, amberwood, and oudh bring a cashmere texture to the base."

Before going any further, will you check out that Oxford comma after 'amberwood'! Well played. ;)

Source: Ruth Mastenbroek

In my last post I said I thought Oxford reminded me of Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet, on account of the crisp, herbal opening, not that I have smelt the Penhaligon's scent in ages. I didn't really observe Oxford last time beyond the top notes, but having worn it several times now I can confirm that the opening reminds me more of one of the Eau de Sisleys - maybe No 2? - crossed with a muted version of Puredistance Antonia. Not so sappily galbanum-forward, more a diffuse herbal bouquet. The comparison with Antonia persists into the beautifully creamy drydown, because of the combination of sundry greenery, jasmine, vanilla and amber. Okay, so there is no amber listed in the notes of Antonia, but I detect an amberlike warmth in the base all the same. That is my favourite part of the development of Oxford (or should that be the Oxford Movement?), and the soft, pearlescent, pudding-y quality of the perfume in its later stages also conjures up Cloon Keen Atelier's Castana and a hint of Fils de Dieu (du Riz et des Agrumes) by Etat Libre d'Orange. So lovers of rice pudding-cum-junket scents are in for a treat here. A junket, even!

I can't say I smell anything remotely suggestive of cigarettes, louche behaviour or late submission of assignments - it is more redolent of the refined English rose that Ruth embodies today - hmm, she was wearing what I believe are known in some circles as 'cigarette pants', though.

But enough of the perfume, lovely as it is. What do I associate with Oxford...?

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by SirMetal)

Well, not my university days, for starters. I spent those in the mock Tudor cloisters of Queen's Belfast, huddled in a duffel coat over a bar heater, my bed just feet from a two ring Baby Belling bearing the telltale tomato-y traces of overexuberant tinned ravioli.

But I did have girlfriends who went to Oxford, who snuck me into their room in halls at St Anne's College, which I had to vacate in the morning before I was discovered by a 'scout' (the university word for a housekeeper / chamber maid).  We dined on beef and Guinness pie at Brown's, the epitome of fine dining in 1978, and made daytime pilgrimages to Blackwell's and the Bodleian.

By the early 1980s, I was living in High Wycombe, and thought nothing of jumping on a bus and travelling the 23 miles to Matthew Arnold's city of dreaming spires. High Wycombe at that time was dominated by the chocolate factory of Stewart & Arnold, and was also home to the floppy haired New Wave musician Howard Jones. But I was already a fan of The Monochrome Set by then and spent my 24th birthday at a gig in the grounds of Exeter College, standing on my own nursing a bottle of Heineken, and trying not to look like Jilly No Mates.

During the winter of 1983 I dated a postgraduate music student at Magdalen College I shall call M, whom I met on holiday that summer (the ill-fated and entirely inadvertent one spent in a nudist camp). I did not go out with him till well after we were back, I should add, by which time he had put his clothes back on again.  M was very wrapped up in his work, so much so that an enjoyable weekend in his student digs up the Cowley Road was unexpectedly followed by a six week hiatus in communications. Eventually I summoned up the courage to write to him, asking if the radio silence was because of something I had said, only to learn that he had been so engrossed in the absorbing task of transcribing medieval lute music that it had quite slipped his mind that he had a girlfriend! So that was the end of that.

Source: Wikipedia (by Henry Flowers)

When I moved to Swindon in 1984 to take up my first job, there were other visits to Oxford - mostly with colleagues to characterful pubs by the river such as The Perch Inn, where we made the most of the long summer evenings.

Later in the 80s, the Headington Shark appeared, a draw to rival any of the architectural gems of the city proper. Although living in Stafford by now, Oxford periodically exerted its gravitational pull. My mother died in the Churchill Hospital there a decade later, and sadly I didn't make it in time to be with her at the end.

And then in 2013, The Monochrome Set played in Oxford again, 30 years on from that Exeter College gig on my birthday. Which shows how the band and its music have cast a long shadow, and completes the circle of real and imaginary cigarette smoke.

So yes, perfumes named after place names embody the creator's own story, but they are also an open invitation to the wearer to wreathe them in their own memories, and give them a bespoke spin...

What are your associations with Oxford?  (The perfume or the place.) Do share in the comments!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

'In the midnight hour, she cried: "Myrrh, myrrh, myrrh"': Puredistance SHEIDUNA review

After eight years, I would probably describe my interest in perfume as 'mature'. That's 'mature' in the sense of being in a plateau phase - I don't mean to imply that I am any more knowledgeable about the subject of fragrance than I was when I first got into this hobby. And the recent twitchiness of my skin means that my interest has been going backwards if anything, not helped by the slew of 'nouveau niche' releases that continue to flood the market, many of them a sorry epitome of style and hiked price over substance.

But as jaded and scent-shy as I have become of late, my perfume mojo never fails to perk up at the mention of a new Puredistance release. For while the Dutch brand trades on an undeniably luxury platform, their products are developed slowly and thoughtfully, with quality ingredients and a high degree of attention to detail in every aspect of the marketing mix.

So when a sample package arrived the other day with SHEIDUNA, the latest addition to the still not overly populous Puredistance stable - I know, I know, they are still on a roll with their CAPITALISATION OF NAMES - I fell upon it with glad cries, metaphorically speaking. In the PR material for SHEIDUNA I had noted that the planned colour scheme for this scent was based around orange and red, and was pleased to see the use of 'red brown paper', if that makes sense, for the outer wrapping of the parcel.

Inside the black outer cardboard was the usual white 'padded coffin'-style coffret lined with sumptuous gold satin. The perfume itself was delivered this time in a small, refillable purse spray (as opposed to the Travalo used to present Penhaligon's Juniper Sling); of particular interest to me as a long time bottle splitter and sample maker was the inclusion of a small gold funnel to use when decanting from the full-sized test tube bottle of SHEIDUNA the company is clearly confident we will one day wish to own.

But back to our muttons. Readers, it is a very fine funnel indeed, of sturdy construction with optimum hole diameter and smooth, well finished edges. And I speak as someone who owns a whole clatter of tiny, tinny, sharp and useless funnels I got in a job lot from China. And even some of my better quality ones have such a narrow aperture that perfumes of higher viscosities sometimes refuse to pour through the blessed things at all. So, never mind the perfume, big fat tick for the funnel right off the bat!

On a side note, I have to mention that in her nice little card with the parcel, Puredistance's PR lady, Mary Gooding, wrote Sheiduna in lower case. Yes indeed! I like the idea that she kicks back from time to time and doesn't stand on capitalised ceremony.

And before getting into the perfume itself, a quick word on the name. You can readily see where Puredistance are going with SHEIDUNA: it is another of those sultry desert-inspired numbers, like Ormonde Jayne Ta'if and l'Air du Désert Marocain, for the likes of which I personally have a quite voracious appetite. And if this were a game of Countdown it would be the work of a moment to make 'SHEIK' and 'DUNE' out of the name. Okay, if you had a 'K' and an 'E' admittedly, but bear with me. (Just checked the PR material and the name was in fact invented from the words 'She', 'Sheika' and 'Dune', 'sheika' being a married woman / wife of a sheik. I didn't guess 'she' - not a high enough word score, obviously, to be on my radar, but I was in the right ball park as you can see.)

Interestingly, I read in a Basenotes comment that 'sheiduna' in Arabic means 'female devil'. I cannot find anything to corroborate this spelling in Google, though 'sheitan' comes up. From this it is surely a short hop and skip to SHEIDUNA as female dune-dwelling devil.

Then further to the Billy Idol song of the title (Rebel Yell, slightly adapted), I don't know why, but the song 'My Sharona' by The Knack popped into my head as soon as I thought of SHEIDUNA, and has remained an annoyingly persistent earworm ever since. It is possibly that song title that has made me now associate SHEIDUNA with the VW SHARAN, the Kia SEDONA, and other (not usually capitalised) SUVs of that kidney. That is after all just the sort of rugged vehicle you need when exploring the challenging terrain in question.

Source: Wikipedia

Here is the official Puredistance statement of the scent's inspiration:

"SHEIDUNA is a rich and intense Perfume inspired by the panoramic views and feel of golden sand dunes in the desert during sunset - soft female curves changing from deep gold to warm, orangey red - embodying a promise of sensual comfort and silent seduction."

I must say I had never thought of sand dunes in quite that way before, but come to think of it their globular nature does rather lend itself to such comparisons. The other key aim of the creative brief from Puredistance founder Jan Ewoud Vos was 'to create the perfume marriage between Oriental Sensuality and Parisian elegance'.

Orange and red Persian rug from Central Casting

Then I greatly enjoyed trying to decipher the notes which passed back and forth between perfumer Cécile Zarzokian and Jan Ewoud Vos during the development process. I see that Catherine Deneuve, Eva Green and Charlotte Rampling are cited as muses, and that the perfume should be sensual, veering towards sexual, without tipping over into vulgarity. Or was it supposed to tip over slightly into vulgarity? I can't quite make out the snippet which may or may not say: 'Hint of vulgarity'. So of course I had to write to Mary and ask for clarification, also of the word that on balance probably isn't 'Cabillaud', which is 'cod' in French. Mary told me that my phantom cod was in fact 'Cotillard', the surname of a French actress, singer-songwriter, environmentalist and spokesperson for Greenpeace (Wikipedia informs me).

Marion Cotillard ~ Source Wikimedia Commons (George Biard)

I didn't get any further with the vulgarity issue, mind, for Mary replied:

"I spoke with Jan Ewoud about deciphering the rest of the post card and he explained that the card is meant for feeling, not analysing. Please take the feelings and emotions you have when viewing the cards with the earliest hand-written notes and messages between Jan Ewoud and Cécile Zarokian to bring you a little closer to the development of the concept. 

I hope this proves to be an interesting endeavour for you!" 

It certainly did. I like a bit of mystery at the end of the day.

So how does SHEIDUNA smell?

Well, first up, here are the notes;

Lemon, tangerine, blackcurrant, aldehydes, Bulgarian rose essence, geranium, clove, vetyver, patchouli, amber woody incense, benzoin, myrrh, tonka bean, vanilla pods and musks

Eyeballing that list I was immediately reminded of the notes of Puredistance 1, with which there is a surprising amount of crossover.

Fresh tangerine blossom, cassis, neroli bigarade, magnolia, rose wardia, jasmine, natural mimosa, sweet amber, vetyver, white musk

Diptyque's L'Ombre dans l'Eau and Baume du Doge by Eau d'Italie also sprang to mind, with their crackling tension between (respectively) blackcurrant and orange notes - and myrrh. While the mixture of aldehydes and incense inevitably conjures up Serge Lutens' La Myrrhe.

Tried burning the stuff once but it was myrrh trouble than it was worth

In the opening to SHEIDUNA, the crystalline texture of the myrrh coupled with the amber base convey a simultaneously warm and granular feel, as befits the sandscapes which form the thematic backdrop to the scent. (Purple prose alert!!) The prickly heat effect is further reinforced by a coruscating canopy of spiced aldehydes. To my nose there is a vaguely odd aspect to the scent at this point, possibly because of the juxtaposition of fruit and the amber woody incense accord, or just the latter on its own packing a punch - I can't quite put my finger on it. The feeling of oddness varies from spray to spray - depending perhaps on how liberal I am with the application. But if you are happy to wait a little while, SHEIDUNA soon gets into more classical 'desert oriental' territory. I LOVE the drydown in particular, when the scent becomes a fuzzy caressing tingle of ambery incense. I am sorry, I have tried several versions of that sentence and they all sound a bit louche. Yes, there is a lot going on here that I cannot begin to describe, but as ever with Puredistance scents, you really can't see the join.

Puredistance display in Fortnum & Mason

SHEIDUNA is opulent and elegant and mysterious and completely its own thing: it is not simply an oriental spin on Puredistance 1 as I at first wondered - and if you like any or all of the fragrances mentioned earlier there is a good chance you will enjoy it, singular opening notwithstanding. A perfume with three separate notes that smell of vanilla already has a lot to commend it in my book.

I also tried SHEIDUNA out on the trusty sounding board that is my elderly friend - Facebook friends will recognise who I mean. She didn't want to sniff my skin itself, as she got enough of a whiff some inches away. 'It's creamy', she remarked, adding: 'It's nice', and as an afterthought: 'I wouldn't call it delicate.' Which may have been a reference to SHEIDUNA's powers of projection...or the fact that it does contain a 'hint of vulgarity' after all. ;) My elderly friend seemed to approve either way.

And as well as Rebel Yell, I am minded of a track by The Monochrome Set called Rain Check; it is a surprisingly jaunty ditty about cheating death, who is depicted as a black caped figure swinging his cane and smelling of (presumably) funereal incense:

"The scent of myrrh on your skin..."

SHEIDUNA, the scent of myrrh, and so much more.