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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Jasmine awards: a memorable way to start the day (very early!), plus Penhaligon's Ostara mini-review

Regular readers - well, even very recent readers of my last post! - will know that I am not a morning person. So you can imagine my great surprise to find myself at the BAFTAS venue in London last Wednesday morning at 8.30am. You read that right - actually in London at 8.30am! That's as opposed the bathroom, maybe. At best. I was a bit bleary-eyed, despite having gone down the night before (the trains to Euston would have been prohibitively expensive first thing). On the one hand, going down the night before was good, because it also meant I got the chance to meet Sabine of Iridescents for a meal and a quick recce of a French pharmacy in South Ken. Lots of lovely skincare brands, priced to reflect the catchment area. Plus we did rock up just before they were closing, so didn't even have time for a leisurely ogle. Over dinner, we had an in-depth chat about the German culture and language - in English, because my German is woefully eingerostet. I will just say though that my Pad Thai dish, while tasty, 'hätte wesentlich wärmer sein können'.

On the other hand, going down the night before was a high risk move, as it meant throwing myself on the mercy again of the cheaper end of the accommodation options near the Piccadilly Line. My hotel in Gloucester Road was in a very good spot, with a spacious lobby area remarkable for its enormous 'water torture feature' (as ex-Mr Bonkers was wont to call such things), but there the positives stopped. For only the second time ever, I felt moved to submit a review to the website:

Great location, staff perfectly friendly, the foyer looked nice!
Room was minute (208 - economy single), and looked out onto a high enclosed wall / well, giving it a prison-like feel. The bed was rammed between the two walls such that a power socket was almost unusable between the struts of the bed head. I had to boil the kettle in the corridor outside! Couldn't dry my hair in front of a mirror either. Bed sloped in both directions so my feet were higher than my head, *and* I thought I was going to fall out laterally. The toilet seat swivelled and the shower dripped all night. Slight smell of drains. Paper thin walls. One towel and one very flat pillow. Didn't sleep a wink.

So there was that. But I figured to myself in my sleep-deprived state the next morning that the beauty of a breakfast function is that you can keel over at 10.30am if you must - well, you can if you don't have to rush back to work straight afterwards, which obviously I didn't.

There was one other person in the lift going up to the floor where the event was being held. 'I will let this lady out first', I thought to myself, 'as she might be one of the judges'. Sure enough she was(!), but I sense the allocation of the awards in no way hinged on my last minute impromptu bellhoppery.

Having registered, I hurried to the toilets, where a number of impeccably groomed and beautiful women of all ages were applying the finishing touches to their already immaculate makeup. Meanwhile, I had multiple contact lens crises in quick succession, thinking at one point that there was a real possibility that I had put TWO lenses in the same eye, but it seems not. Liz Moores had asked me to take photos of my chosen outfit, and I did manage to take a quick selfie in front of a dispensing machine, over the precise contents of which I shall draw a veil. It was one of only two ensembles on the shortlist - the dress I had in mind was a little snug and I could anticipate a few strange looks if I persisted in standing for an hour in an all-seater auditorium.

Contact lenses inserted, the next hour was spent in major milling mode, mostly with other bloggers, but also with the friendly lady ahead of me in the tea queue. Of special note were the exquisite canapes dong the rounds - tiny wisps of smoked salmon, blinis topped with blueberries so minute they looked like caviar. Unfortunately I was way too nervous to sample any of these miniature delicacies, which verily were the amuse-bouche equivalent of your name written on a grain of rice.

The proceedings proper got underway about 9.30am or so: all the judges sat in a row on stage, while the President of the Fragrance Foundation addressed the audience from a lecturn. Maybe I need a public speaking engagement to get some wear out of that dress I rejected. One of the highlights of the ceremony was the awarding of prizes to a clutch of small children who had written poems on a fragrance theme. Richard E Grant was a judge in that particular 'Mini-Jasmines' category, but sadly not in attendance. 'We want the finest perfume poems available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!' A couple of the kids were in their school uniform, the others in flouncy party dresses, and all looked exceptionally sweet.

In case anyone hasn't caught up with the details of the winners in the 'grown up' Jasmines(!), here is the complete list. Persolaise won the blogger award, for which I had been shortlisted - that's a hat trick of Jasmines for him now! - while Thomas, The Candy Perfume Boy, next to whom I was sitting, picked one up in the digital category for a piece he wrote for Escentual - second time round for him! Thomas was shortlisted in no fewer than four categories, and while I dearly hoped he would sweep the boards this year, realistically there might have been practical issues with multiple bouquet storage in the small area by our feet. Meanwhile Liam Moore's online magazine, ODOU, won again this year in the Literary category. Big congratulations to all the winners!

After the ceremony, I spent an enjoyable hour with fellow nominee, Pia Long of Volatile Fiction, mooching in the shops north of Piccadilly, before we headed off to our respective lunch dates with friends. The scent of Penhaligon's new release, the quintessentially spring-like Ostara, lured us into the venerable brand's Regent Street branch, where we each bagged a sample and a hanky impregnated with the fragrance. Having tried Ostara on skin a few times now, I can say that it plays much more nicely with a human canvas than a fabric one. The hanky went incredibly indolic, such that I was not sorry to pop it into the wash when I got home, whereas on skin Ostara is a warm, sweet, radiant scent, nicely accented with spiky hints of green to evoke the trajectory of daffodils 'from bud to full bloom'. It also has a so-called 'solar note', as does Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia, to which it is quite similar - that's if you imagine a greener interpretation, as befits the spring rather than high summer theme. Ostara is the soprano to Lys Soleia's alto, type of thing. There are also echoes of Puredistance 1, in terms of its strong, warm, musky vibe, say. Going back to Lys Soleia, there is a lot more going on in Ostara than in the Guerlain scent, because of its 'whole of life' daffodil rendition - as you would deduce from the note list indeed! Also, the sharper facets ensure that Ostara doesn't tip into overly sweet territory for those with a low sugar threshold.

Pia sniffing Ostara


Top notes: bergamot, lemon and palm leaves
Heart notes: lily, ylang-ylang, tropical fruits
Base notes: tuberose, vanilla and white musk


Top notes: bergamot, clementine, juniper, red berries CO2, currant buds CO2, violet leaf absolute, green leaves and aldehyes
Heart notes: daffodil, hyacinth, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, hawthorn, wisteria and beeswax
Base notes: styrax resin, vanilla, benzoin, musk, amber and blonde wood

No appraisal - not even a mini-one - of Ostara would be complete, however, without a word on the name. To me it conjures up the German for Easter, 'Ostern', but I am also reminded of Ostrava, a town on the border with Slovakia where my friend and I accidentally ended up on a short train ride from Prague. Yes, so engrossed were we in our girly chat that we managed to overshoot our destination by some 180 miles, the truth of which error took some explaining to the bemused ticket inspector.

Royal Apothic Balmoral Rain

After Penhaligon's, Pia and I browsed in Anthropologie, toying with the testers of their fragrance line. None of the scents really grabbed me, but they deserve a big thumbs up for their small formats and pretty packaging. From there, we headed to Space NK, passing an amusing sign outside a house where the poet William Blake used to live. One wonders if he had ever availed himself of the Ministry's services? For his moustache, perchance? Here is Blake, waxing lyrical...

"What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

In the bijou branch of Space NK I learnt the disturbing news that my favourite cream blusher, NARS Penny Lane, had been discontinued. So after Pia and I split up at Bond Stree tube, I hotfooted it to Selfridges on a NARS blusher dupe mission. The sales assistants at the various concessions were surprisingly helpful in suggesting rival brands that might be worth trying, and the trail of recommendations finally led to Laura Mercier's slightly darker take on Penny Lane, called Canyon. Then in an unprecedented - and ill-advised! - splurge, I picked up not one but two brow pencils: a MAC in Lingering and a Suqqu in Moss Green. What between those and my Benefit Gimme Brow in Light/Medium, I hope to have the greyish-browny-taupe shade I sense my brows are craving thoroughly covered off. Plus I am happy to report that since returning home, I have had a professional plucking session for a fiver(!). And though I still need to grow my 'sprouts' back on one side, my eyebrows look related at last. Not twins, and maybe not even sisters yet, but first cousins, certainly.

A post-shopping cuppa with added lightbulb moment

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ladies that brunch: featuring redemptive French toast and a rose scent recce with OT's Birgit and Tara

Source: Foxcroft & Ginger
It is almost exactly a year to the day that I set off for Berlin, the first stop on The Monochrome Set's 2014 spring tour. On a whim at the airport, and notwithstanding the preternatural sparrow's fart of an hour in question, I decided to have breakfast, and was promptly confronted with an absolute travesty of a dish calling itself French toast. So remote was this all-but-eggless, deep fried monstrosity from the fluffy primrose layers of my recall, that the chef apologised profusely and gave me a full refund.

And now, here I was in Soho, cosily tucked into a corner of the edgily named cafe Foxcroft & Ginger - which I persisted in referring to as Foxtrot & Ginger, even though I neither dance nor have occasion to use police radio - with Birgit and Tara of Olfactoria's Travels, when I spied a French toast option on the menu for the first time since that fateful meal at Frankie & Benny's.

But I am running ahead of myself...there is a bit to say about the journey down to London first. For starters, it took a mere hour and twenty minutes this time!, owing to the fact that I had snaffled a Virgin ticket for just two quid more than I would have paid on my usual London Midland service that takes about two and a half hours each way. Also - and readers may find my wonderment surprising - there were refreshments on the train. On the train - fancy that! In an actual buffet car dedicated to the purpose, where a cup of hot chocolate cost 30p less than in the cafe at the station. By the time I had finished marvelling at the amenities of the Virgin service, I had arrived at Euston, and a quarter of an hour later, found myself disgorged from the Underground and standing on a sunny pavement in Soho with Birgit. As we waited for Tara to arrive, we chatted about Tara's recent visit, from which they were newly returned. I also admired Birgit's HSOTD (Hermes Scarf Of The Day: a beautiful cashmere number in shades of grey - I counted more than two, but fewer than totally torrid, hehe. ;) ) I can also reveal that it was tied in a 'cowboy knot' - I thought it might be a style called 'the waterfall', which I saw in a YouTube video once, but I was mistaken. It looks rather like the Maxi Cheche in this link, but with the two outer points tied in a cowboy knot as a last step. A very elegant and relaxed look, anyway.

Source:  Foxcroft & Ginger

Shortly afterwards, Tara popped up and we made straight for Foxcrop & Ginger - I mean Foxcroft...I only finally mastered the name today, would you believe?! - where the waiter directed us to the last available table downstairs. At the far end was a wall of white subway tiles, a sure sign that you are either in a hip and trendy eaterie or a turn of the century public convenience. Menus appraised, the others plumped for Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, which looked delicious, while of course I had to order the French toast in a bid to exorcise the painful memory of the last one. In fairness, it was more of a French Toast-Croque Monsieur fusion dish, owing to the addition of ham and cheese. Basically, it was the non-pareil of toasted sandwich-like entities, as you can see in the photo.

Unfortunately, we had to be pretty disciplined about the time, as Birgit had a theatre show to catch in the afternoon, however, we did manage to slip in a quick rose scent recce in Liberty, still on the quest of a Holy Grail rose perfume for my friend Jessica. It was great having the combined thinking power of Birgit and Tara and a very helpful male sales assistant as we speed sniffed our way round the perfume hall, scoping the fixtures for rosy inspiration. The top contenders were:

Acqua di Parma Rosa Nobile
Maison de Kurkdjian A la Rose
ODIN Milieu Rose
Keiko Mecheri Attar de Roses
Serges Lutens Fille de Berlin

Jessica is going to check them out on her next trip to the West End, and I will report back on her findings!

After the Liberty detour, we ambled down to Haymarket - or elbowed our way through the crowds, more like. Tara and Birgit lamented the fact that London is a lot more densely populated with tourists than Vienna. After picking up Birgit's ticket, we still had a little while to kill, so we walked round the block, enjoying the sunshine and loitering out of the wind here and there. On one of these street corners, we conducted a side-by-side comparison of Puredistance WHITE on my skin versus Tara's. I had written in my review of how my skin seems to amplify the coumarin facet of the tonka, making for a slightly dry, austere opening, and sure enough, the OT duo agreed that WHITE was 'sharper' on me than on Tara, whose skin seemed to grab the basenotes and go straight to that softer, more dreamy phase of WHITE's development. So to anyone out there who doesn't believe in 'YMMV' skin chemistry, we stick up two empirical fingers at that preposterous notion! Birgit and Tara also sniffed me wearing Opardu, but I will save those musings for a separate post.

Looking stylish despite the strong wind!

All too soon, it was time for the parting of the ways. Birgit and Tara's leavetaking was particularly poignant, as they had been constantly in each other's company for the past week. In time honoured perfumista tradition, I pressed a pair of tea towels on Birgit. I figured they would be thin enough to pack at least. Tara and I then made our way to Harvey Nichols. En route I clocked a number of young girls wearing jeans that were ripped at the knees. I suddenly remembered that the girl who was sitting next to me in the train down had worn a similar pair just like these pictured from New Look, and it was clear to me that denim's answer to self-harming must be a bit of a 'Thing' at the moment. I may be a middle aged old fogey, but I  really don't approve. When that trend is past, you will be left with a pair of foolishly mutilated jeans. It reminded me of that John Hiatt song lamenting those tempestuous rock stars who 'smash a perfectly good guitar'.

Source: New Look

Arriving at Harvey Nichols with a few minutes to spare, Tara and I stopped by Shu Uemura so I could buy a pair of their iconic eyelash curlers. According to Sali Hughes - despite their resemblance to an instrument of medieval torture - eyelash curlers are in fact an indispensable beauty aid for the mature woman, as long as you avoid crimping your lashes into the high kicking pose known as the 'hockey stick'. No danger of that yet awhile. So far I have only mastered one eye(!), and a look I can best describe as 'mildly surprised uplift'. As you can tell, I have been quite surprised lately, what with one thing and another. I kicked myself when I got home for not thinking to bring with me my Shu Uemura Hard Formula brow pencil, so that I could have asked the assistants to whittle it into a 'Samurai sword shape'. Well, that is how it is known, but to my eye it looks more like a canoe paddle or the bill of a platypus. Turns out that the pencil I have is not 09 but 06, which cannot be sharpened in that way anyway. Plus I think it's the wrong colour for my hair (Seal Brown), so in the bin it should go in my next decluttering putsch. Though I know I will struggle to throw away a 'perfectly good eyebrow pencil', if colour wasn't so key.

The sublimely sultry Tara

After roaming aimlessly round the top floor of Harvey Nichols, Tara and I eventually found the 'green bar' where we were due to meet Liz Moores of Papillon, who had kindly invited us to join her and her daughter Poppy (aka 'Pod')  for a drink. Readers, we could be excused for our failure to locate this stylish watering hole, a) because there seemed to be numerous bars and cafes on the same floor and b) because the seating was predominantly cream, with green accents. And when it came, what a drink it was!

An 'Enchanted Garden' no less, with edible glitter and pansies. I experienced collateral sparkling lip gloss(!) for the rest of the day - I had appreciably more glitter than the others, I should point out. It was, however, an age-inappropriate risk well worth running for the sheer fun factor and intoxicating deliciousness of this cocktail, which featured two kinds of fruit liqueur, vodka and champagne. I am used to drinking my alcohol one variety at a time, so this multiplicity may well have contributed to my feelings of pleasant muzzy-headedness on the train home. Which also took an hour and twenty minutes! A hop and a skip, merely exacerbating the dreamlike sensation I always get whenever I visit London.

Which was compounded further the next day by a 50th birthday party in a Wimpy...

followed by a bracing country yomp in all our finery.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Puredistance WHITE review: honky-tonka yellows and lazy hazy daisies

'Tonka beans blogger's own'
I seem to start every review of a Puredistance scent by saying what a fan I am of the house: their friendly people, their relaxed PR style and unstuffy approach to the very concept of luxury products which is the backbone of the brand. It may not be the case anymore, but for a while there I was the only blogger to have made the trip to their offices, tucked away in a lofty converted church in Groningen, where I  (very loosely) interviewed Jan Ewoud Vos over tea and apple cake. Of the six perfumes they have launched to date, I was very taken with Puredistance 1 and the startlingly upper case BLACK, but didn't get on so well with Opardu, much to my chagrin, as everything about its concept and composition should have appealed. And it wasn't just me - two fellow bloggers have sniffed me wearing it, and pronounced it to be pleasant, but not spectacular - and not to smell of very much beyond a veil of white musk. But more of that subsequent volte-face on this wistful lilac beauty deserves a post of its own, I sense.

So nowithstanding my underwhelmed reaction to Opardu, I was very excited about the release of WHITE, the capitalised counterpart to BLACK, one infers. It is a tribute to the palpable enthusiasm and verve of the staff at Puredistance that they can still whip me into a fervour of anticipation at this semi-jaded plateau stage in my hobby. I must admit that some of that excitement is due to the exquisite way in which they present their press packs. Well, I wasn't so keen on Opardu on that score actually, as the sample vial arrived in a clunky big black lacquer box, which frankly seemed like overkill, also on the postage front. But my sample of WHITE arrived in a flattish white box, which opened to form a sort of 3D picture frame-stroke-diarama, in tones of white and gold / cornfield yellow, featuring a white silk lining - and oh joy! - an actual dried daisy!

Readers, I inspected this flower very thoroughly, and its very fragility (I accidentally dropped it twice on the floor) tends to confirm that it is REAL. That fact is worthy of upper case letters, I feel. It instantly took me back to my childhood, when I used to make collages of 'found things', as well as pressing the coloured foil wrappers of sweets between the leaves of weighty novels - or flowers (and once infamously, a roadkill lizard!) in the pages of a beloved scrapbook. The whole pack had a lovely aura of an adorable interactive educational toy-cum-ornament-cum-picture. The company had also generously enclosed a coffret of all the Puredistance scents, which is a great aide-memoire, not least because I had drained my vial of Opardu and was keen to try it again.  But I will save that story for another time, as I say...;)

Accompanying the box was a rather attractive flyer with a radiant sun design in this same buttery, muted yellow veering to old gold. It features a handwritten note from Puredistance's PR lady, plus sketches of the key ingredients in the new scent for handy identification! Who knew that vetiver looked like a shaving brush?! (Or it does when it is in a bundle, say, while patchouli looks surprisingly like vetch.) There is also an account of the inspiration behind the fragrance, and a list of its 'ingredients' (unexpectedly partly capitalised!) and their provenance, to wit:

"Rose de Mai from France, Tonka bean absolute from Venezuela, Orris absolute from Italy, Sandalwood from Mysore, Bergamot from Italy, Musk, Vetyver from Haiti and Patchouli from Indonesia."

I am not usually one for backstories - or let's say I approach them with a certain degree of caution - but I rather like the premise for WHITE. Here is an excerpt from the leaflet:

"The main idea behind the creation of Puredistance WHITE Perfume has been to create a perfume so beautiful and positive that it gives the wearer an instant flow of happiness. We asked Master Perfumer Antoine Lie (who also created Puredistance BLACK for us) to create a white and golden dream; an intimate escape from harsh reality....In this era of global negativity our aim is to give our customers a positive, mood transforming perfume. We hope WHITE will make many moments in your life a little bit more beautiful and colour your world in shades of serene white and warm gold - instead of grey. ;)"

My bedroom: fortuitously in this exact colour scheme!

I like the addition of the smiley face - possibly also a reference to a certain film doing the rounds at the moment, hehe...? ;) But anyway, I like the concept - I have blogged myself recently on the subject of bad stuff in the news and the current, rather downbeat Zeitgeist - so it is a nice thought that Puredistance are seeking to yank people out of that slough of despond, and neatly bridge the gap between winter and spring with WHITE's combination of white and gold tones. For this perfume doesn't evoke simply white to me - it is richer than that. A fitting crossover scent for the chilly yet sunny days of early March we are experiencing at the moment...there are some yellow coloured flowers in gardens - daffodils, crocuses, tulips - but it could just as easily hail at any moment, and did do on Sunday! So the timing for a fragrance launch with that message - both weatherwise and in terms of counteracting negative events in the media - is spot on.

So how does WHITE smell?

Well, I have tried it three times now on consecutive days, with pretty consistent results, though I might get more or less of the floral notes poking through, like spring bulbs in our flowerbed analogy. My overriding sensation, however, is of a seamlessly blended nutty, woody, slightly peppery?, tonka-centric gourmand scent. The tonka itself has those characteristic overtones of coumarin and hay as well as vanilla, which lend it a slightly sterner, drier, more offbeat facet - possibly buttressed by the vetiver. Now I don't know what the scent of a daisy is exactly, but I imagine it might also be a bit austere and vegetal, so in that regard it is a fitting emblem to represent this scent, not least because of its teaming of these two signature colours within its own flower.

Then texturally - you know how big I am on texture ;) - WHITE is muzzy and musky - and warm in very much the style, if not the scent, of Puredistance 1. By the same token it is also quite tenacious. WHITE is 'thickish' and opaque rather than sheer, and although I did spot the odd appearance of iris, I can't say I detect rose at any stage. I should mention that my nose / skin tends to amplify anything on the tonka-heliotrope spectrum, and I see tonka as a halfway house towards heliotrope, although I may be completely wrong there. For me, tonka and heliotrope both hover around that vaguely almondy, milky foody territory, with just a hint of a bitter or anisic twist.

In terms of any other perfumes WHITE resembles, the only one that sprang to mind was PG Tonkamande, though it is a while since I sniffed that, and there is only partial crossover, notewise. On my skin, WHITE is so tonka-forward, at least initially, that it sets itself apart in that way. So overall I would say that I like WHITE quite  a lot; it does fit the brief of being warming and comforting in these troubled times. I particularly like its quieter phase about 1-2 hours in, when the coumarin-y aspect of the tonka has settled down, and the composition becomes a little sweeter and more floral (more the iris than the rose, in fairness). The feel of the scent on skin is also more silken and smooth than at the outset. This is when WHITE truly slips into its lazy, hazy, dreamy phase. And after my unexpected bonding with the later stages of MAAI, readers will not be surprised to hear that I am well up to a bit of waiting now when it comes to a perfume's development. ;) I can see myself progressively warming to WHITE, indeed. I would say that it is not an obvious perfume, but strikes me rather as something of a grower.

In the Puredistance literature, I note that the people on whom WHITE was tested 'immediately started to smile and then started to smell again, telling us WHITE filled them with happiness.' I would imagine they must be bigger fans of tonka bean than me. For that reason, I doubt that I will ever feel mad love for WHITE in its entirety, as I am not that keen on tonka bean when it's centre stage like this, and I think you really have to be to fully appreciate WHITE. But props to Puredistance for going a rather unconventional route with this latest release, nailing their white and yellow colours to the tonka mast!

Then on a whim, I googled the origin of 'Honky-tonk blues' which inspired the first part of my title. I knew it was a song, but didn't know what about. I learnt that 'honky-tonk' refers to both a style of country music and the rather rickety bars in which it was performed. 'Honky' on its own, meanwhile, appears to have been a pejorative nickname used for white people, possibly originating in Chicago's meatpacking plants. Well, we'll draw a veil over this nugget of info, as that way lies more gloom and negativity(!), except to curious that 'honky' should mean white.  And of course WHITE is designed to drive away the blues, by suffusing the world in white and yellow. Of which it does a pretty good job, I'd say, all things considered.

Not the right yellow, but still ~ Source:

PS A props credit is due to Victoria Frolova of Boisdejasmin, who gave me the tonka beans when I visited Brussels in 2012. I knew they would come in handy one day!

My equally colour-coordinated bedroom wool stash!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Déjà Vu from Signature Fragrances, and thoughts on tenacity and 'lasting impacts'

As readers may deduce from my recent reaction to Bogue Profumo's MAAI, I have come a long way from the days when only perfumes described as 'wispy', 'delicate' and 'subtle' called my name. I can take the odd heavy hitting diva scent these days - even one with animalic notes of all unlikely things! - and am more open generally to trying scents that would once have been firmly outside my comfort zone. So when I was approached last summer by Signature Fragrances, with an offer to try a couple of their 'extremely pungent' pure parfum strength fragrance oils, I was more intrigued and amused than alarmed, also by the company's tongue in cheek aim of allowing its customers 'to become EXTROVERTED' in the process. I wrote back with my address and in due course received a sample of Déjà Vu and Lola.

I'll be honest, because of the sub-title underneath of 'Fragrance Oils' (italics my own), I initially thought that Lola was 'a house within a house', ie that Signature Fragrances acted as the overarching stable for a number of individual fragrance oil brands. So for a while there I thought that Déjà Vu was actually called 'OVERBEARING DESIRE' and Lola 'MODERN TOUCH'. I have since read reviews by The Chemist in the Bottle and The Smelly Vagabond and put myself straight on this point - the wording doubtless refers to the fact that instead of being a perfume suspended in alcohol, each scent is a blend of multiple fragrance oils.

Now I didn't really care for either I am afraid - Déjà Vu was a big peachy amber number with an oddly plasticky vibe to it - the intense fusion of coconut and a boozy note, maybe? - so it was never going to appeal, sadly. Plus I am not really one for the texture of oils, to be honest, though in fairness it only felt sticky in the moments after application. Lola was quieter, though not especially memorable - I was going to retest it for this post, but I have been ill this week, and in my enfeebled state I am blowed if I can get the top off the vial now! So, sorry about that.

But the perfumes are not the focus of this post - I have encountered some fans on the Net, and they are undoubtedly of a very high quality / concentration, and in attractive, luxe-style packaging. It was just bad luck that I didn't like the ones I was sent. No, it is Signature Fragrances' marketing campaign that is on my mind at the moment...

To go back to the story, I wrote back, thanking Signature Fragrances for the two samples, and explaining that unfortunately they were not my thing. Undeterred by my reaction to these two, the company wrote back: 'If those were not to your fancy, then I'm sure we'll have some that will fascinate you.' I thanked them again, said: 'Very possibly', and we left it at that.

Then in November, the marketing emails - just the generic kind, this time - started coming thick and fast, triggered by the upcoming launch of a new clutch of scents on 25th of that month. 'You are special', read the first. There was talk of their fragrances being brought to the customer 'through tenacious pure oils'. As it turns out the tenacity of the oils was just the start of it.

By 5th December, I was deemed special enough to be addressed as 'Dear Signateer'. Which sounded oddly cultist - certainly not something I was aware of having signed up to.;) On 6th, I received a mailshot about a prize draw. On 18th the whimsical communications stepped up a gear in upper case urgency: 'Hurry! Indulge, Dab and Fascinate.' I was asked whether I had purchased a fragrance yet from their 'array of luscious perfumes crafted to leave you fascinated.' Ha! They were still hell-bent on fascinating me, I could tell, by now in on this running joke. ;)

There followed a bit of a Christmas lull, then on 16th January the marketing wheels cranked into life again. This time the focus turned to the company's sampling programme, on the basis of buy two, get one free, with free shipping worldwide - which was actually a very good deal in itself. Each vial was said to deliver a 'sensational experience that will last for the whole month'. That struck me as not beyond the bounds of possibility, given its pure parfum strength. Prospective purchasers were encouraged to 'select the drop down box to reveal your treasure'. Once again, there seemed to be an assumption on the part of the company that their perfumes would definitely get the thumbs up from the public, whereas people's success rate with any fragrance house is often a lot more patchy than that.

Then I learnt a little more about the owners, Solomon and Yinka, in this piece from the Croydon Guardian: it seems the duo are keen to bring the overt, rather than covert perfume-wearing MO of the Saudis over to Britain.

'The Saudis are very mature in their wearing of perfumes, the fragrances they wear are not in the range of Eau de Toilette. It's all about oils and robust fragrances crafted to leave lasting and iconic impacts.'

Okay, I think there may be a bit of a backlash in the market at the moment away from wimpy perfumes - hey, I am that soldier! - so the owners could well have their finger on the pulse in that regard. That said, I don't buy into the slight implication?? that the more pungent and robust the fragrance, the more 'grown up' / 'proper' the wearer. That's like saying that people who get up early in the morning are morally superior. ;) It's a little off-topic, but there was a great article on this very theme in the New Yorker.

Source: marketing email from SF!

But back to our chronology...Also on 16th January I had another email, this time featuring a quote from Armani; 'Elegance is not about being noticed, it's about being remembered.' On 20th, I had the same one again. On 23rd, 26th and 29th I had the one about the sampling service for £4.95 a pop. On 1st February I had an email offering 40% off the range, addressing me as 'Dear Signateer' again, and entitled 'I'll buy if the price is right.' Oooh no, I won't buy if I don't like or don't know something! The email had the strapline: 'Explore the diversity and united of scent', with a little 'TM' trademark sign over it, which was puzzling. Then on 5th February I received the 'elegance' email again, and on the same day, the one about the 40% discount. On 12th - and staying with our theme of exploration (a pre-Valentine's pitch no doubt) - an email landed entitled 'Explore, then treat her.' Forgive me, but that sounded slightly rude to my ear... ;) It went on: 'There is still time, fascinate someone!' It's the fascinating imperative again! They are wags, I thought. ;)

On 13th, I was urged to 'make someone happy' with a 10% discount. Ah, but the 40% one from earlier this month would make them happier? Also on 13th, I got the 'Explore, then treat her' email, which raised another guilty chuckle. On 16th I noticed that the sampling programme had been given a fillip by the renaming of the vials as 'little teasers'. Then the email of the 17th was a repeat of the one from the 13th - this time blending the 'Explore, then treat her' with the 10% discount. Also on 17th, I received another 'ENJOY OUR LITTLE TEASERS' email about the sampling service, along with the rather endearing slogan: 'When you're feeling sad, dab some perfume.' On 19th, I was invited to 'celebrate Great Britain in scent from the defining point of modern Britain'. On 24th I got the teaser email again, with the sad dabbing advice, which I judged sweet and poignant enough to bear a little bit of repetition! On 26th I got an oddly entitled email, which reminded me of that staccato style of some of the Library of Fragrance labels, which Jim famously dubbed 'a bit shouty'.

'Leave. an Iconic. impact on your. Friends.'

And that's it so far, but it is only 28th of February. To all of this I would say -  not 'Elegance is not about being noticed, it's about being remembered' exactly - but rather that it is about being remembered in a good way. I don't have a problem with pungent perfumes - there may be some really lovely scents in the range (I'm curious about the powdery floral Endure, for example), and the company's sense of humour has raised a few smiles along the way. However, thanks to this avalanche of marketing messages, I fear I just can't summon up the inclination to investigate further. It's the frequency of the emails that bothers me and also the assumption that I will like these perfumes and I will buy them. Yet 26 emails in, a purchase is still not forthcoming, and the messages simply leave a leaden feeling of 'déjà vu'....

I could liken it to the blizzard of pizza leaflets which are put through my door with relentless regularity. I have yet to take up the offers on a single one of them. As takeaway foods go, this Italian staple has now become 'pizza non gratis' as far as I am concerned, and that's even without any of them claiming that their BBQ Meat Feast with Double Pepperoni is 'The Most Pungent Pizza in the World'. ;)

Have you ever felt inundated by marketing communications from a particular perfume house? (I have a feeling Jo Malone might also be quite prolific, for example.)

If so, can you easily shrug it off, or does it affect your perception of / interest in the brand in question?

Props for beautiful, chunky bottles ~ Source: fragrantica


Another email has come in since I wrote this post - possibly not the last... Here is the title:


Hmm, that has something of the ominous quality of 'Read.My.Lips'?

Then the email itself:


Perfume has the power to make you feel unique.  Royalty have always used perfume to adorn themselves and express superiority."

'Superiority'? Another spin on 'maturity' perhaps?

Later we are back on familiar (fascinating ;) ) ground:

"The focus is on the perfume, so one dab will leave you fascinated and yearning for more."

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The trials and travails of committing to a Travalo

This isn't the post I intended to follow the one about Jessica's rose perfume quest, but I sort of fell over this fairly short and snappy - or should that be pumpy! - topic today, and decided to report on it while it was fresh in my mind. The seed for it was sown last night when I did one of those silly Facebook quizzes, in this case about which nationality best fits your personality profile. I got Australian, on account of my allegedly 'relaxed and even temperament'. On a good day, maybe. ;) Though as it happens, I have an Australian mother and the same birthday as Kylie Minogue. Frankly, I'd rather have her bottom and a birthday in March, but there you go.  One of the questions - the precise relevance of which continues to elude me - concerned the way one goes about making decisions. Was this:

- Impulsive and spontaneous
- Methodical and efficient
- Emotional and intuitive
- Delayed and avoided
- Laborious and agonising

(Or 'none of the above'.) Well, ask anyone I know about how I cannot choose a dish in a restaurant, even one I have had before!, without asking at least one, if not several, questions about the menu - see also the notorious Mushrooms on Toast incident in this connection. So obviously I clicked on 'laborious and agonising' - I'm a researcher!, I visited every bathroom showroom in the West Midlands! The act of completing the quiz, while just a bit of nonsense really, made me keenly aware of my tortured decision-making process, which I confronted again today when I decided to open a Christmas present of a twinpack of Travalos and their accompanying case.

What to put in them? Shall I fill one and leave the other for a future acquisition? Shall I leave both for now? Decisions, decisions...

I wandered from room to room, poking around in my boxes of bottles and very large decants that might also warrant siphoning off into this handy travel format. In a past post on Travalos I focused mainly on the mechanics of filling them, with just a brief aside on what scents readers might consider 'Travalo-worthy'. For I had only got as far as filling one at that stage, but have filled a few more since - and today my mind was exercised yet again by this same question.

In the end, after a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I filled the silver one with PHI Rose de Kandahar. After all, if I loved it enough to make it my one new bottle purchase this year, you would reasonably assume I would love it enough to commit some to a Travalo for trips away. And I put the black one back in the cupboard for another occasion...

Then I thought to review my existing collection of Travalos and decide whether I was experiencing any 'filler's remorse'. I don't know how many Travalos you own, but this is likely to be a much easier exercise to conduct than reviewing the wisdom of purchasing your whole bottle collection in the first place!

In my current collection are two atomisers that I was given, one filled with Shalimar Extrait and one with Juniper Sling. So while I can't take myself to task for the fact that those particular perfumes are contained in Travalos, I can decide if I would have kept the contents as they are if it had been up to me. And the answer is YES for the Shalimar and NO for the Juniper Sling.  Hold on, the Shalimar is just a purse spray shaped like a Travalo, of which more anon.

The interloping bullet-style purse spray

And here is my verdict on the rest, for whose act of filling I was responsible (Happy with decision - YES/NO):

Diptyque Volutes edt (black) - YES
L'Erbolario Meharees (red) - YES
Chanel 1932 (gold) - NO (this is elegant, but doesn't move me like the first two)
Ormonde Jayne Tiare (gold) - NO (as above)
L'Agent Provocateur L'Agent (pink) - NO (but I think it looks great in pink!)

I realise that strictly speaking - given the fact that no atomiser can really be reused - you could extend this review to one's whole decant collection, but there is something really special about a Travalo. I could certainly include the bullet shaped purse spray of similar size that looks like a Travalo, but it would have to be pretty high end to count, as this one surely is - costing £8 and up, say. For as I see it, the weightiness of the decision directly correlates with the cost of the atomiser and the fact that it contains so little juice - 4-5ml tops.

Yes, what I take from this exercise is the fact that in order to commit to a Travalo, I have to feel a visceral attachment to the scent, which I suppose is pretty obvious really, but it was interesting to me to nail it.

The remaining empty Travalo and its nifty stripy case

And now I have to ask...

Do you have a collection of Travalos, however small? 

Did you find the decision-making process as to what to put in them difficult? 

Do you regret any of your choices?

Have you ever tried to rinse out a Travalo? ;) (Which is a whole other controversial can of worms...;) )

And here's another thought...the branded Travalos at least, which are the only ones I have experience of, come in a fairly limited range of colours. This means that - given the inadequacies of my nose - if I acquire too many more of the things I may have to resort to labelling, which I am very reluctant to do, as it spoils the sleek look of the burnished metal exterior. So yes, another question would be...

Could you bring yourself to label a Travalo, however tidily?! 

Have you tried any Travalo knock offs, and if so, were they as good?

Saturday, 14 February 2015

'Really rosy yet cosy' perfumes: a 'hybrid' rose scent challenge

Mondo (1993) ~ Source:
So I am writing a post about rose perfumes, and it happens to be Valentine's Day. This being Bonkers, the emphasis is very much on 'happens'. Not because I am at all Bah Humbug about the event - well, leaving aside its most rampantly commercial excesses, that is - but because I am simply not that organised as a rule. Scurries to the archives to see if I have ever blogged on a Valentine's theme before...the answer seems to be twice in five years(!), so it has been a bit patchy, certainly. This post from 2013 still perfectly sums up my view of the day, while this one from 2012 (a day late, admittedly) features Kate Walsh's Boyfriend scent, which just three days later - and rather tellingly, looking back - I reported smashing on the kitchen floor.

But as I say, the Valentine's / rose theme this year is fortuitous; the trigger for this post was rather a request the other day from my friend Jessica:

"Can you recommend some rose perfumes that might suit me (personality-wise)? Roses never used to be my thing (although I did wear 'Paris' and 'Tea Rose' for a while in the early 80s), but I do seem to be drawn to rose-scented things at the moment for some reason."

Now this is interesting, for Jessica recently celebrated a milestone birthday - her diligent wearing of sunscreen down the years means you would never think it, mind - and when I passed that particular milestone I too found myself strongly attracted to rose perfumes... Make of that what you will.


But while I was delighted to note Jessica's budding interest in rose perfumes, my first reaction was: 'Ooh, roses, that's a tricky one.' So I wrote straight back, mumbling some psychobabble about my friend being 'a bit of a dichotomy, personality-wise', to buy myself some time. ;) And because she had found Tauer's PHI Rose de Kandahar too full-on - she sniffed me wearing it at our last meeting - I also asked for some general steers as regards 'fuzziness vs limpidity', 'strong and ballsy versus soft', plus any thoughts on degrees of spice, which features in a lot of my own favourite rose scents.

"I think what I want is something soft and comforting without too many other notes competing with the rose. A little spiciness would be okay, eg cardamom. I want it to wear every day, for myself, rather than to make a statement."

By way of background, Jessica is a singer songwriter and front woman of Would-be-goods (a band name to which I am itching to add a definite article, which I have almost certainly done in the past by mistake!). Regular readers may recall that Would-be-goods have featured in a few of my posts, most recently this one about a gig in London last summer, where I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy my first experience of passive vaping. In person Jessica is warm and demure, with a charming gentility, while the band's music has been characterised as 'classy, elegant pop tunes with a wispy European air' and 'clever, witty and biting lyrics'. Jessica's voice meanwhile is 'a sultry measured tone that sounds both educated and sensuous'.

The Lexington gig last summer

Now I say 'demure', but Jessica is also one of the few people I know who can really rock true red lipstick, and a friend of hers reportedly said she looked 'total badass' (that word again!) when sporting it at the gig in question. So maybe I wasn't far out with my talk of dichotomies...;)

Also worthy of note is the fact that Jessica has distant Indian ancestry and would ideally love the perfume to connect in some way to India - or at least as far as the Middle East if that could possibly be contrived. And she doesn't care for a lot of patchouli, owing to unfortunate hippie associations involving a third party, over the precise specifics of whom I will draw a veil...;).

Having given the matter some thought, and sifted through the best of the 'best of' lists of rose perfumes on the Internet for inspiration, the conundrum I am wrestling with at the heart of Jessica's brief is the fact that in my experience the rose perfumes which are 'all about the rose' - or mostly, say - such as Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare, Lancome Mille et Une Roses, Frederic Malle's Une Rose or Serge Lutens Sa Majeste La Rose, tend not to be what you would call 'soft and comforting'. While the powdery, cosy, contemplative scents like Parfum Sacre or Lush Gorilla Imogen Rose, Ormonde Jayne Ta'if or Rose Kashmirie, NV Mohur etc are more about the softness and do not smell that glaringly of rose - or not on my skin at least. Jessica revisited her sample of Ta'if in fact, and pronounced it to be insufficiently rosy, hehe, giving us a helpful benchmark.


I have discounted all the rose-forward Tauers as well, by analogy with PHI Une Rose de Kandahar, as they are all a similar intensity. Then FM Portrait of a Lady, By Kilian Rose Oud and Amouage Lyric have the requisite Indian / far away feel to them, but are also not overtly rosy enough to my mind. YMMV of course, as might Jessica's indeed, when she catches up with them. And I would say that most of the above perfumes have too many notes competing with the rose, though as long as the latter as very prominent, that aspect may well fall out of the equation.

Next up, I ran the question past Katie Puckrik, who came up with two suggestions: the new scent Spirituelle by Divine (which I have not yet tried) and Rose Splendide by Annick Goutal, which I smelt during my last visit to Fascination Perfumery, but by the looks of things may have muddled up with Rose Absolue in that post. It turns out that Jessica used to own and likes Rose Absolue, but again it lacks the cosy aspect.

Source: fragrantica

We are kind of back to 'spiky vs fluffy' territory, though for spiky substitute 'realistic'. And here we are of course trying to combine both facets in one, as well as incorporating Eastern influences and possibly a slight 'badass' undercurrent for good - as in bad! - measure. For even though Jessica envisages this as being more of an everyday scent, I think it would be nice if it had a hint of a sultry kick to it somehow.

My own best tips at the moment - which are cosy-ish and 'somewhat, veering to quite markedly' rosy - are Agent Provocateur Original and Tom Ford Cafe Rose. However, I could really use your help on this to generate some more contenders. Is the notion of a rose scent that is 'really rosy yet cosy' too thorny for words, hehe, or is the perfect 'hybrid strain' out there somewhere...? ;)

Oh, and this is not the sort of powdery rose look we are aiming for - that poor specimen is suffering from mildew!

Source: "Podosphaera pannosa 1" by Clemson University (Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, as we are on the theme of Asian-inspired perfumes, I was touched to receive a joky Valentine's gift this year from fellow blogger Sabine of Iridescents, who brought it back from her recent holiday in Thailand. Thanks, Sabine! My only other post today was a £1.50 Tesco coupon, which wouldn't even stretch to the smallest box of Ferrero Rocher...;)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Bonkers is shortlisted for the Jasmine awards!

As my Facebook friends may know already, I heard yesterday that a post from my 2014 archives has been shortlisted in this year's Jasmine awards. Administered by The Fragrance Foundation, 'the Jasmines', as they are colloquially known, are 'the premier awards for journalists writing on the subject of fragrance'. Thanks to a nudge from Tara of OT, I entered the competition this year for the first time, as much as anything to see whether my writing fitted the eligibility criteria in terms of both coverage and style. I was told, for example, that write ups of events are not normally accepted, but the post that got shortlisted is about a focus group down the pub, which perhaps was a sufficiently loose sort of gathering to escape definition as an 'event'. And we were foregathered there with the express intention of testing The Library of Fragrance range of perfumes, so this collective purpose may have redeemed us right there from any 'event-y'-type auspices.

I should mention that I am up against some very distinguished bloggers in this category: past winners Persolaise and Thomas Dunckley, the Candy Perfume Boy, plus Pia Long of Volatile Fiction, who was shortlisted last year. Of note is the fact that Persolaise has three entries in this category alone, while Thomas has no fewer than five spread across four categories.

The full list of shortlisted authors may be found on the Fragrance Foundation website here, including several other well known names on the blogging scene, such as Victoria Frolova (for articles in FT how to spend it in the Digital category), and Liam Moore, Alex Musgrave and Neil Chapman (all writing for ODOU in the Literary category).

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who has been selected and to wish them the best of British! And a big thank you is also due to Jim, David, Clare and Tony, my four focus group respondents, without whom this post would not have been possible. ;) Whatever the outcome, I am as pleased as I am surprised to have even got this far, and am looking forward to the ceremony on 18th March. To minimise travelling on the day, I have organised a B & B a few stops down the Piccadilly line, but I still foresee that my general aversion to morning may be woefully at odds with this breakfast event.

And I note that Sali Hughes, beauty columnist for the Guardian, whose skincare tips I have woven into past posts, and of whom I am not a little in awe, may be attending. Assuming I spot her in the throng, it will be all I can do to restrain myself from buttonholing her and begging her to sort out my eyebrows / hooded eyes / sun spots / turkey neck / everything.

Will be back shortly with a post about the thorny business of finding a very specific style of rose perfume for a friend...