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Saturday, 27 February 2010

Jean Patou Vacances: Does Anything Else Come Close?

I am grateful to Lovethescents for introducing me to Vacances, without question the most exquisite green floral I have ever smelt. Originally launched in 1936 by the design house Jean Patou to mark the introduction of paid holidays for French workers, it was created by Patou's in-house perfumer at the time, Henri Alméras. He is perhaps better known as the nose behind Joy (1930), the most costly fragrance of its day.

Vacances was re-released in the 1980s as part of a range of twelve fragrances known as Ma Collection, which included Colony, Adieu Sagesse, Que Sais-Je and L'Heure Inattendue. All have now sadly been discontinued again, and remaining stocks of Vacances are changing hands at up to $550 for a 75ml bottle. Since 2001 the house has been owned by Procter & Gamble, so a third relaunch is probably not on the cards any time soon...

Given this sorry state of affairs, I wondered what scents in my own collection might conceivably come close to Vacances, for when the sample I have runs out I doubt whether I will be able to access further authentic stocks of it for sensible money. The first step was to eyeball the notes, have another sniff, and decide what its dominant characteristics are.

Top Notes: Hyacinth, hawthorn, galbanum
Heart Notes: Lilac, mimosa
Base Notes: Musk, woods

The opening is sharply green, with galbanum and miscellaneous twigginess to the fore. The heart note of mimosa adds a cheerful radiance, before the scent mutes down to a whisper-soft blend of green notes nicely cutting the perfumey sweetness of the hyacinth and lilac. It is ethereal and feminine, with a delicate fragility that makes one think of tiny nodding violets or snowdrops rather than bushy cones of lilac or fat hyacinth bulbs.

So.... are there any scent contenders with galbanum AND lilac or galbanum AND hyacinth which come close in character to the elfin beauty of Vacances?

I thought, for example, of AG HEURE EXQUISE:

Notes: galbanum, iris, rose, hyacinth and sandalwood.

It has a pronounced green quality, but HE is more about the iris than the hyacinth and is markedly more powdery.

Next up was BLUEBELL by PENHALIGONS:

Notes: hyacinth, lily of the valley, cyclamen, jasmine and rose, galbanum, clove and cinnamon.

Bluebell, possibly owing to the spices, has a prickly green note throughout its development - not unlike those six needle injections they gave you at school in the 1960s. It does have a very true hyacinth note and the right degree of sheerness, but is ultimately a bit too needley to be considered.

The I had a sniff of A SCENT by ISSEY MIYAKE:

Notes: jasmine, galbanum, lemon verbena, hyacinth, musk, cedarwood and crystal moss.

It has the galbanum/hyacinth combo, but the problem with A Scent, as with L'Eau d'Issey in my view, is that the experience of this perfume is like a big damp fog, not unlike a recently vacated shower cubicle. It is modern and abstract and blurry and actually went a bit sour on me in the end, which is the last thing you'd expect from a Miyake. So although A Scent is not a bad candidate in terms of notes, it isn't nearly as "defined" as it needs to be. It is the scent equivalent of terrestrial television to Vacances's HD. Plus it is too modern and androgynous, lacking the dainty girlishness of the Patou.

I briefly thought of MILLER HARRIS FLEURS DE BOIS, which has the right dewy English garden vibe, but not the correct notes, other than galbanum:

Notes: galbanum, grass, lemon, green mandarin, rosemary, rose, jasmine, iris, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver and birch.

The overall effect is too astringent and not compliant and polite enough: I was getting tangled thickets and hedge clippings, flower stems and thorns. FdB is not like EL Private Collection (a heavy hitting galbanum floral), but like EL PC it has a certain angularity to it.

And then I remembered AG EAU DE CAMILLE, which gets onto the shortlist on account of its lilac and sheerness and pungent greenery.

Notes: honeysuckle, syringa, ivy and privet bloom.

Which led me finally to FM EN PASSANT, for its watery quality, femininity, and the lilac.

Notes: white lilac, orange leaves, cucumber absolute and wheat absolute.

Additionally, I briefly flirted with the possibility of MDCI Coeur de Mai, which also features galbanum and hyacinth, however, from memory the overall vibe is fruitier and there is simply too much going on with it!

Notes: hyacinth, lily of the valley, petitgrain, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, galbanum, black currant, melon, Moroccan mimosa, Bourbon geranium, black pepper, coriander, musk and precious woods.

And I also wondered about Balmain Vent Vert, which I haven't sniffed in a while, so please feel free to comment on any resemblance you may detect there. I remember it as being more lemony and aromatic than Vacances, but I could be wrong.

Notes: galbanum, lemon, basil, jasmine, rose, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood and styrax.

Right, so if I had to try to construct Vacances on the kitchen table, I'd use 40% Eau de Camille (for the lilac and that "dead", "flat" privet/ivy thing it has going on), 40% En Passant (to bump up the lilac quotient and generally prettify and feminise the scent, as Eau de Camille has a rather sombre character), and then I'd add 10% of A Scent to make sure we had some galbanum and hyacinth in there, even at the risk of introducing a bit of en-suite fogging. And 10% of L'Artisan's Mimosa pour Moi, to create the sunny brightness at the heart of the composition.

Now I am currently out of En Passant, so sadly I can't actually try this experiment, which might well have gone the way of Edward Lear's Amblongous Pie anyway...

http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/ns/cookery.html

But if anyone out there would like to have a go at making up my recipe, or can think of other scents that would make better substitutes for Vacances - either on their own, or plundered for their component parts - I would be glad to hear from you.

And perhaps if we are very lucky, and all stock up on Ariel and Fairy Liquid, Max Factor & Olay, P & G might just relent and bring back this wistful beauty.

Friday, 26 February 2010

When The Manufacturer's Samples Run Out - The Perfume Stores With "Funnel Vision"

In my recent review of Ormonde Jayne Tiare, I mentioned how the London shop had run out of official samples, but how the very helpful sales assistant was open to my idea of sending them a funnel and a 1ml vial in a plastic bag, which they could then fill from their tester and post back to me in a padded envelope. Which is exactly what they did. I like Tiare very much, I think it is FBW, and I may well buy a bottle one day when I am feeling more flush. My inclination to do so has certainly been reinforced by this excellent experience of customer service from both the initial SA I spoke to and the colleague who actually did the business while she was on holiday.

Following several fruitless inquries over a six month period about the availability of Havana Vanille samples from one of the London branches of L'Artisan Parfumeur, I decided to propose a similar strategy to them. When I first suggested sending my own decanting supplies to them, the SA who took my call said that that would not be possible, as they are not allowed to tamper with the mechanism of the testers. Thinking she might have imagined I had one of those refillable Travalo atomisers in mind, which attach directly to the pump mechanism of the bottle, I reassured her on this point and explained that it would be just like spraying normally, but into the funnel and my 1ml vial rather than on skin.

The SA immediately countered by saying that that wasn't "the sort of thing we do". Well, I don't suppose it is, any more than I imagine the girls at Ormonde Jayne are often called upon to decant into empty vials using the customer's own equipment. I can quite see how it could come across as an unorthodox request. But the point is that while the staff at Ormonde Jayne were receptive to the notion and viewed it as a somewhat convoluted sales opportunity, the SA at L'Artisan didn't wish to accommodate me by complying with my strange suggestion.

She did, however, say that she would put my name down on the waiting list for the next batch of samples. The thing is, I have had my name down on this list since the autumn - or possibly even late summer - and if more samples have come in since then, I can only conclude that they went straight out again to personal customers or people higher up the list - who knows? Thinking about it, I have never been on a waiting list for samples and actually received one from any perfume store/house I have had dealings with, so this appears to be a general failing. Now if they have samples in stock, that is a different matter - Ormonde Jayne, L'Artisan and Miller Harris have all been very prompt to send samples when they have them at the time of my inquiry.

So maybe L'Artisan think I am just an oddball, which I wouldn't particularly deny. Mind you, they have had two bottles of Premier Figuier off me in the past, so it isn't as though I am one of those fly-by-night fumeheads who is always on the scrounge for samples but never makes a FB purchase. And I was especially curious about this particular scent because it is by my newfound hero, Bertrand Duchaufour! : - )

But maybe I will receive a sample in the next couple of months after all. The thing is, by that time I might have fallen in love and purchased a bottle of something else that I have been able to try in the meantime... And it might very well be Tiare.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

US Post Office Queues: The Impatience of The Long Distance Swapper?

Having re-tested that Damien Bash perfume the other day I realised how little of it I owned, and Lovethescents kindly tipped me off about a decant seller on Scent Splits. My heart fell on reading the following disclaimer:

"I no longer ship internationally because these require a trip to the counter (long lines) as opposed to an automated machine (NO lines)."

Now I have been to the States a dozen or more times, and on each occasion I have visited a post office at least once: in big metropolitan areas like NYC, Boston and LA, and in smaller towns everywhere in between. I do remember having to queue, but not excessively. You have to queue at POs in the UK too, and the story is the same in Germany and France, Belgium and Poland - wherever I go in fact, unless you are talking a tiny sub-postoffice in Jutland or Ireland, say. But maybe it is a question of degree. A 45 minute queue would be jolly offputting, granted. 15-20 minutes is commonplace over here eg at lunchtimes, just before closing or on pension and benefit days, but I will put up with that.

So do the US sellers and swappers who won't touch international transactions all live in towns or cities with terrible service in their POs? I cannot rule out that possibility. Or do some of them perhaps have low boredom thresholds, such that they cannot bring themselves to wait for any length of time?

Now there are many US-based swappers and sellers who will do business with Europe - I have myself executed about 40 swaps with US-based fumeheads. So I am thinking either they have lightly used POs or considerably more patience. Another factor may well be the desirability and replicability of the trade: what value of items does this person want to buy from me / what prized wish list samples is the swapper offering me to make it worth my while queuing at the counter? And can I sell/swap for these items just as easily within the USA?

In summary, I cannot pass judgement on this reluctance to visit post office counters as I am not in possession of the full facts. People may quite simply not NEED to trade with European perfumistas. Only sometimes I know I have had up to 22 items on a swapper's wish list and still they have declined the swap.

For some people it may not be impatience which is holding them back from international trades so much as a fear of the unknown, for example where they mostly use their workplace's postroom to send mail, and are not accustomed to visiting a Post Office. Here is one swapper from MUA:

"I looked at the weigher at work, and it won't let me input an int'l address; it only lets me send to the US."

This unfamiliarity with external post offices may be compounded by concerns about the practice of "creative customs labelling"; this can be a moral dilemma too far for some, as in the case of the same swapper:

"So I asked our carrier at work, who I've known for years, and he suggested I take the box unsealed to the post office because of the laws and how strict they are about what's being shipped to certain countries. He said if they have any questions about what's being sent, they seize the package. Oye!!....I think I'm just too much of a 'rule follower' for intl shipments."

Well, hey, I can't knock somebody for their integrity, however frustrating to me on a personal level when a swapper has a particular lemming of mine! I guess I am more of a pragmatist in such matters, especially if the rules don't seem to make a lot of sense. After all, what are the chances of perfume samples causing an explosion or fire in transit? With all that bubble wrap around it which it is customary to put, I'd say it was damn near impossible...

But for those sellers and swappers whose only beef is the queues, may I draw their attention to the following list of services reportedly offered by these USPS Automated Postal Centers or APCs.

"Some of the features of the APCs are: weighing and rating letters, flats and parcels up to 70 pounds. Dispensing variable rate postage in any denomination for Express, Priority, First Class, Certified mail, International (under a pound) and Parcel Post."

Okay, so "under a pound" may not cover shipments of full bottles, but it would include the vast majority of sample swaps that I have transacted with US-based MUA members.

And then there is the online service of the USPS itself, where you print off your own postage. If I have correctly understood the site, there is the option of free pick up from home of the parcel you wish to send when your regular mail is delivered. I had a look at the "first class international" rates and they appear to be eligible for the self-printed postage. Ditto customs labels etc. You would need to weigh the item, but most people own kitchen scales, even indifferent cooks like me.

http://www.usps.com/welcome.htm?from=global_header&page=homepage

And meanwhile - after all that - I may have found a source of Lucifer No 3 in the UK...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Damien Bash Lucifer No 3 - One Helluva Great Sandalwood Scent


According to my blog stats, two posts which have attracted a disproportionate amount of hits in recent months have been the ones about Suddenly d'Or, the own label perfume from discount grocery chain Lidl, and about Jasper Conran Woman, a poor man's Cristalle which I believe deserves greater acclaim. What these two scents have in common that could explain their high "traffic" is the fact that they are relatively uncommon - or more exactly, that there are few reviews, if any, about them in the blogosphere.

So today I decided to write about another little known perfume which could probably do with a bit of PR - Damien Bash Lucifer No 3. I was tipped off about Lucifer No 3 by a Swedish perfumista friend, who was trawling The Perfumed Court for the ultimate sandalwood scent - when she came across Damien Bash, she decided to look no further...

I found a few reviews on Basenotes and MUA, a mini-review by Nathan Branch and - most interestingly - long reviews on TWO Polish blogs, of which more later.

Without further ado, here are the notes:

"Rose, jasmine, frankincense, black pepper, sandalwood, myrrh, labdanum, ylang ylang, and elemi."

Ylang ylang - I had no idea! Another one to add back in...

Now elemi is an ingredient I always have to look up. It is a fragrant resin with a honey-like consistency distilled from a tree native to the Philippines. Its smell is described as a cross between pine and lemon. I found a number of its aromatherapy uses for conditions such as bronchitis and excessive phlegm, but it was the industrial applications mentioned on Wisegeek.com that really caught my attention:

"The resin is mainly used in commercial lacquers and varnishes. Many boat caulks contain the resin as well. In addition, some inks also contain the resin. In China, it is used to make transparent paper."

I smell of boat caulks, how great is that? "Caulks" is as offbeat a term as Lucifer No 3 is a perfume...

So how does Lucifer No 3 smell exactly? Well, the first thing to say is that it is not as dark and sinister as the name suggests. It is about as dark as PG L'Ombre Fauve, which does have the word "shadow" in the title, so let's say we are talking some dappled shade but not pitch black darkness. And Satan doesn't put in an appearance at any stage of the scent's development.

The opening features a pronounced ylang ylang note, yet I managed to miss this entirely(!), perhaps because it is swaddled in a resinous cocoon. For me the opening salvo is generically "medicinal", as with L'Ombre Fauve and SIP Magazine Street. Gradually the frankincense, myrrh and sandalwood notes come to the fore, and it is this latter stage with which my friend was so smitten. Lucifer No 3 is a dreamy, meditative blend of incense and woods - creamy and almost vanillic rather than smoky or rasping - doubtless thanks to the balsamic quality of the resins. It is stronger than a skin scent, but the drydown is beautifully soft relative to the harsh opening.

Several of the few reviewers I found of Lucifer No 3 - mostly men, I infer - complain about the fleeting nature of this scent, but it has tremendous staying power on my skin.

I haven't smelt any of the others from this line, but I get the impression that No 3 is the most biddable.

And would you like to hear Mr Bonkers' thoughts on Lucifer No 3? Of course you would! Well, he declared it to be "the toilet cleaner they use (in the customer toilets) at the craft shop". And given that elemi has a piney fragrance, that is a pretty creditable effort on his part.

Now as mentioned earlier, there are comprehensive reviews of this scent on two Polish blogs: Profumo and Co W Nosie Kreci. I risked an automatic translation tool on the Profumo review and the result was predictably random - the comparison to Opium just about survives the unintentionally humorous mangling by the Google software:

"If I had Lucifer No. 3 compared to an odor, it would be very YSL Opium and its summer limitowanki."

After "caulks", "limitowanki" is the other verbal delight of the day! I own a bottle of Opium Fleur de Shanghai and that is a good analogy in terms of the overall vibe of the perfume, although I'd say No 3 is more incensey and less floral.

Further on, we read:

"Lucifer No. 3 with its aroma of cloves, smooth wood sandałowym ideal to wear for every occasion. Extremely addictive opiumopodobny smell nice golden glow surrounds the vector of spices."

"Opiumopodobny" means "Opium-like" according to the Free Dictionary, in case anyone was wondering if it was a Polish cousin of oppoponax. And yes, this scent is indeed extremely addictive, and you will want to spend the day with nose glued to wrist. If, after eight hours, you have a Devil of a job prising your nose off your wrist, you will understand just why elemi is so popular in caulking.
: - )

Friday, 19 February 2010

Four Wheeled Fragrances - Beyond the Magic Tree Air Freshener


I have been much preoccupied with my car this week - a royal blue Mini One, for any fumeheads out there who are also petrolheads! On Tuesday it had an oil change and on Wednesday I renewed its insurance. I have been busy calculating my average mileage, the length of my no claims bonus, and generally immersing myself in all manner of vehicular facts and figures.

The recent discovery of ylang ylang in Cuir de Russie prompted me to sample it again yesterday. Of all the leather scents I have tried, I find it the most feminine and wearable. It conjures up visions of petal strewn leather upholstery in the back of a white Bentley - the sort often favoured as a vintage bridal car. So Cuir de Russie seemed entirely appropriate to the automotive theme of this week's "to do" list.

This also got me thinking back to a project I did last year in the car industry. The topic was actually interior paint techniques used on "driver control interfaces" - that's "knobs" and "buttons" to you and me - but in my interviews with designers at the major manufacturers I sometimes found myself shooting the breeze in a more general way.

It was on that job that I learnt of the perfume dispenser system in the Maybach Zeppelin, a snip at 406,000 euros for the entry level model. : - ) I didn't glean much about the nuts and bolts of this gizmo, but it seems to be a souped up version of the Glade plug-in air freshener, with interchangeable flacons that sit inside a sort of snow globe on the central console. The other bottles are stored in a recess in the rear seat assembly. I'm sure my respondent said you could have up to seven different scents, but if you watch this video there seem to be only three on board. As I understood it, there are "factory fit" perfumes that come with the car - wouldn't you love to know what those are! - or you can supply your own, presumably decanting them into empty flacons that fit the dispenser. I found this video - the lady starts demonstrating the perfume system at around 6 mins 40 seconds.

http://www.worldcarfans.com/109030417628/maybach-zeppelin-first-video-showcases-luxuries

If you are not in the market for a Zeppelin, the Citroen Picasso offers a dash-mounted perfume dispenser (situated just below the hazard lights). Here too you can apparently swap scents over / supply your own, but I know even less about the mecanism behind that particular system.

And for those of you who are not thinking of buying a new car any time soon, with or without in-car fragrancing appliances, there is always the new car scent from the RAC (the UK-based motoring organisation). This claims to give even the most tired interior back its "new car smell"! A spokesman for the RAC, Prakesh Patel, said that many old cars can harbour "nasty scents such as tobacco, dog, stale milk and the 'ancient whiff of kebab'".

Jokily entitled "Eau de Voiture ~ Car Perfume", and with the proceeds going to charity, the scent is described as "an alluring blend of rich leather tones and dashboard walnut (my italics) created specially for your car", giving off "the aroma of a fresh forecourt purchase".

Yes, Eau de Voiture claims to put back not just any new car smell, but that of a more luxurious model than you probably own...For these days, the only leather trim in your average car is likely to be the sporty steering wheel and gear stick cover - if that.

I have squirted some of this ingenious fragrance at my work station and would say it smells more like a "just valeted" smell, ie a fruity sweet, chemically, freshly shampooed sort of scent, but NOT a NEW car scent as such. I get no leather and no walnut dashboard - not even the merest sliver of a veneer... I don't think I am getting box fresh polyurethane or PC/ABS either. That said, I will concede that it is a heck of a lot classier than those dangly Magic Tree air fresheners beloved by taxi drivers.

The fact that Eau de Voiture misses the mark is probably just as well, for one of the reasons why people buy new cars, apart from the smug glow conferred by the latest registration plate and - for the moment at least - the financial incentive of the scrappage subsidy, is this indefinable "new car smell". A cheap bottle of scent, had it smelled more authentic, could have done serious damage to the economies of our major car-producing countries, destroying at a squirt the recent volume growth attributable to the scrappage scheme that the industry so desperately needed. It's a sobering thought.

Meanwhile, if you want to kid leather yourself that you own a new Maybach or a vintage Bentley, may I recommend applying Cuir de Russie to the pulse points on your person before dabbing it liberally on all your driver control interfaces. Then lean back, close your eyes, and smell the magic...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"My name is VM and I'm a Ylangoholic"

I'm not sure about that spelling, but you are right to infer that I am addicted to the "intoxicating" scent of ylang ylang. And in case anyone is wondering, I am not also a member of AA, though I daresay "ylangoholic" would roll off the tongue more easily if you were half cut.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a thinly veiled Valentine's Day post, a mere two days late. Given the relaxed timing of my "Top Sniffs of 2009" piece, it would come as no surprise to find me celebrating V Day on Feb 16th. Well, "celebrating" is perhaps too strong a word - on 14th or any date this week. I did receive a Valentine's Day card from Mr Bonkers, intriguingly dated 2008. Could this be the last time he had feelings for me, so will future cards be similarly backdated? The possibility cannot be discounted. I did have to buy my own chocolates and Mr B wouldn't let me buy my own lilies - "too messy" - or roses - "too cliche'd". To his great credit, however, he pushed the shopping trolley round Tesco's on Sunday, which he hasn't done since November. There can be no greater display of togetherness. So yes, I am not "celebrating" V Day so much as nodding vaguely in its direction...

Which brings me back to ylang ylang. Just as I recently discovered saffron to be a favourite note of mine, so I have realised that ylang (single for the sake of brevity) pops up in varying degress in all sorts of perfumes I like or love, namely:

Guerlain Plus Que Jamais
Guerlain Chamade
Strange Invisible Perfumes L'Invisible
Chanel Bois des Iles
Chanel Cuir de Russie
Chanel No 5 Eau Premiere
Damien Bash Lucifer No 3
Penhaligon's Amaranthine
Hermes Vanille Galante
Cuir de Lancome (ylang ylang AND saffron!)
Ormonde Jayne Tiare
Estee Lauder Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang
Gianfranco Ferre by Ferre EDP
Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles
Agent Provocateur Maitresse
Natori by Natori EDP
Lanvin Arpege
Kenzo L'Eau Par Kenzo Indigo Pour Femme

I am, however, not a fan of the following ylang-containing scents:

Annick Goutal Songes (too indolic)
Be Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful Cocktail (strange smell of petrol)
Givenchy Amarige Ylang Ylang 2008 (synthetic, headache-inducing)
Guerlain Samsara (screechy sandalwood and general loudness)
MPG Fleur de Comores (spoilt by MPG's distinctive sneezy, fusty "house note", though the drydown was nice)

Overall, though, I have to conclude that I like most perfumes I have tried where ylang is present, and it is not THAT common a note, after all.

So what have I gleaned about this flower, which I read somewhere described as "jasmine for the poor man"?

Ylang ylang (sorry, that was lazy of me, wasn't it?) is otherwise known as Cananga odorata, a fast growing tree of the custard apple family. Yum! I am liking it more and more. Originally from the Philippines, the ylang ylang plant was introduced by the French in the late 19th century to the Comoros ("Comores" in French), a group of islands in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. Today, the Comoros export around 80% of the world's supply of ylang ylang essence.

I also learned that it takes 100kg of flowers to produce three litres of essential oil in a steam distillation process: the oil is produced in different quality grades (Extra, 1, 2 and 3).

As for the fragrance of the flower itself, I would characterise it as sweet, heady and "meaty" or "fleshy", with banana-like overtones. I did read somewhere that it is related to the magnolia, which I would also term a "fleshy" fragrance. Wikipedia is even more off the wall in its description of the scent (with additional recourse to hyphens):

"The fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli."

Okay, I hear where you are coming from with the custard, but...ahem... rubber?

The other important thing to mention about ylang ylang is its role in aromatherapy. It is apparently good for high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, skin problems, and - perhaps most famously - it is considered to be an aphrodisiac. In Indonesia, ylang ylang flowers are strewn on the marriage beds of newly weds. The Victorians, with characteristic reserve, used ylang ylang in macassar oil to condition their hair.

Now I wear a lot of ylang ylang scents, and haven't found them to be good in any of the above applications. Admittedly I have yet to try them on my hair. And it may be that they work best in certain scenarios if you increase the rubber quotient.

: - )

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Kristiansand New York - The Fjord In Central Park

I love Scandinavia. I have travelled all over the region, mostly on business, though the two trips to Stockholm last year were exceptions to this rule. One of my best work trips ever was to Trondheim and Alesund in Norway. I will never forget the seven hour coach trip between the two. I couldn't understand a word of the driver's commentary, though I managed to infer what was happening from other passengers' behaviour. There appeared to be a toilet stop in one town, a stop to change drivers in Molde, and we may even have taken a car ferry at one point, though it was very dark by then. I was the last passenger left on the coach at Alesund, and on production of my hotel address, the driver nodded solemnly and proceeded to negotiate the narrow lanes of the town to bring the bus as close as he possibly could to the hotel, rather than leave me stranded at the terminus at one o'clock in the morning. That's service for you!

So, being a bit of a Scandophile - or its charmingly improbable synonym "Septentrionalist" - I was more than glad to try the new men's fragrance, Kristiansand New York. My thanks are due to Britt Hovde Ross and Elisabeth Steen for sending me a sample, and to my good friend Lovethescents for pointing me in their direction.

Kristiansand New York - the name of the house and its eponymous fragrance - came about when these two women (Britt Hovde Ross is a former model and Elisabeth Steen an actress) met at a Soho store opening. Britt had harboured a dream to create a fragrance since she was a child, while Elisabeth had a marketing background in the beauty industry.

The pair teamed up with Drom Fragrances' perfumer Pierre Constantin-Gueros, who created the scent in Drom's Tribeca studio. The brief was to create a men's fragrance, which captured aspects of their adopted city of New York as well as their Norwegian homeland.

In an interview published in "Norwegian American Weekly", Pierre elaborates on the inspiration for the fragrance: "Kristiansand New York embodies the modern, cosmopolitan and fashion-forward New York lifestyle while paying tribute to the founders' native Norway, a rather quiet place with a lifestyle much closer to nature."

What Pierre has created is in fact more of a unisex scent than an outright masculine. In a recent press release he points out how until the middle of the 18th century there was no real difference between male and female perfumes. In his view, we should detach the scent from its marketing trappings, namely the bottle and ad campaign. Without those visual cues, it becomes difficult to determine whether a scent is masculine or feminine.

I do agree with him up to a point, though there are some pungent fougeres or citrus or ozonic colognes from the "Saddam Hussein School of Perfumery" to quote Tania Sanchez's?? glorious phrase, which I don't believe I would mistake for a feminine even if I was blindfolded. There is, however, a larger grey area than that officially designated as "unisex", where, in my opinion, a fragrance could indeed swing either way.

So what are the notes in this gender bending, cultural fusion of a scent?

Crisp greens, mandarin, exotic spices, white lavender, clary sage, smoky woods, golden amber.

This is my third day of wearing Kristiansand New York, and I can confirm its unisex credentials. It is very, very soft and muted on me, and to be honest I don't get the greens or the mandarin particularly, but a fuzzy combination of all the notes pretty much from the off. This may be due to the tricky tendency of scents to go "SPLAT" on my skin at the moment (or from now on?), as documented elsewhere.

Allowing for this blurry aspect, K NY reminds me of a cross between Kenzo Power and L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. If we were talking about voices here, Power would be a tenor and L'Instant de Guerlain pour Homme would be a bass, making....da-dah!....K NY a baritone, as it fits somewhere between the two. Power has a more pronounced bergamot note and a higher pitched peppery note over its woody amber base, while L'Instant de Guerlain is richer and borderline sticky sweet, but there is an echo of K NY in its very specific woody base. For the record Divine L'Homme Sage I would also characterise as a tenor (though not like this - it is too aromatic).

Britt explained to me: "We wanted something light and sexy but still with depth", and I feel this is exactly what they have achieved. Kristiansand New York smells unique to me (not that I am a huge connoisseur of men's fragrances) and very wearable.

Dare I report what Mr Bonkers made of it? (I have not yet managed to test this on my more receptive male friends, though one has expressed an interest in trying K NY.)

Mr Bonkers' initial response was that K NY made his eyes sting, but that is pretty much his default reaction to fragrance of any kind at the moment, so we can set that aside straight away. Some hours later, I approached with caution and gingerly presented my wrist for a second sniff. "It's better now - in fact I'd even say it's a bit gay." Decoding this apparently un-PC comment, what Mr Bonkers really means is that, far from smelling like something from the Saddam Hussein / Hairy Chest Wig School of Perfumery, the founders of Kristiansand New York have come up with an urbane, sexy and subtle woody-ambery scent that smells equally great on men and women...and for once, I find myself agreeing with him!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Why I Don't "Reach" For Fragrances

Since taking up this perfume hobby, I have been surprised by the number of times I have heard people refer to "reaching" for a particular perfume. To me, the word "reach" suggests an inaccessible, far away object for which a bit of a stretch might be required, like a spice bottle on the top shelf of the pantry, or a spare pillow on top of the wardrobe. Occasionally, during that rare phenomenon of a dinner party at our house, I may reach for the cruet, or probably ask for it to be passed to me, which is more polite. But where most domestic objects are concerned, no reaching to speak of is involved. I "pick up" a pen or a mug or a piece of fruit, the dirty laundry off the floor, or the cat. I don't need to reach for these things particularly, because I take the initiative of going right up to them first.

Oh, now there's another example of when I might reach for something - when I am immobilised because the cat is sitting on my lap and the TV remote is on Mr Bonkers' lap (its usual resting place, in keeping with gender stereotypes!). Mr Bonkers meanwhile has fallen asleep and cannot pass the handset to me to enable me to change channel from what he was watching but no longer deserves to watch, as his eyes are fast shut and he is snoring. Then I need to reach over most gingerly to grab the remote without disturbing the cat. Come to think of it, I have been known to reach for a glass of wine from the coffee table when similarly pinned down by a furry impediment. But you get my point. Reaching for perfume is not really called for, unless your bottle storage system is particularly un-userfriendly, such as on top of the aforementioned wardrobe along with the pillow and the car blanket.

I have to say that the majority of my perfume collection which normally resides in the beer chiller is so ram-packed in there that in order to get to the ones near the back a degree of "scrabbling" is required, some "concerted rummaging" and possibly a fair bit of "inadverent dislodging" and "accidental toppling", but not real, outstretched arm stuff such as I understand by "reaching", and which seems to be broadly confirmed by an online dictionary.

1. To stretch out or put forth (a body part); extend: reached out an arm.
2. To touch or grasp by stretching out or extending: can't reach the shelf.

Now if anyone wishes to place their perfumes deliberately out of comfortable reach, so that the daily act of picking one out is tantamount to a bingo wing-whittling routine with a Bullworker, that sounds like a pretty nifty example of multi-tasking for which I have only admiration. But as a pseudo-portentous way of saying "pick up", I don't buy it!

And if anyone's perfumes are unintentionally out of range, here is some helpful advice from a site giving ergonomical tips to electrical contractors:

"Arrange most materials and supplies that must be accessed repetitively so they are in front of the body and can be easily reached with the elbows in close to the torso. These items should be within the 'windshield wiper area' created when you sweep your arms in front of the body and at your side. Materials that are accessed only occasionally can be placed further out."

Right, I am now going to walk right up to a packet of nuts, place them in my windshield wiper area and grasp them with ease...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Les Parfums du Soleil - Reprise


During my recent Belgian trip (documented in the December post "Choco Chanel"), I briefly tested on paper the Moroccan range of unisex eaux de toilette, Les Parfums du Soleil, for which the interiors and jewellery store Dar Mima acts as sole stockist outside Marrakech. Thanks to Erika, the proprietor of Dar Mima, I am now in possession of samples of five of the six scents in the line, which I have been able to re-test more thoroughly on skin.

http://www.darmima.be/

The perfumer behind this range, as I noted in my earlier post, is Abderrazzak Benchaâbane, a botanist and photographer. Benchaâbane's interest in scent goes back to early childhood: he was fascinated by his mother's collection of herbal remedies and by the perfume sellers occupying a whole street in the Aattarine souk. His love of scent was further nurtured during his botany studies by his tutor, Camille Peyre.

A turning point came when Benchaâbane agreed to undertake the restoration of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, at the request of his friends Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who had assumed ownership of the garden in 1984. Under the close supervision of YSL and Bergé, Benchaâbane was also commissioned to create a fragrance named after the garden, which was to symbolise the beauty, culture and way of life of Marrakech. This wish to capture the essence of his city in fragrance also informs the Les Parfums du Soleil collection that was to follow.

The five scents tested are set out below, with note listings, comments by the perfumer (translated by me!), and my own impressions.

SOIR DE MARRAKECH

Notes: jasmine, orange flower, green lemon, amber, musk, vanilla, patchouli.

"Marrakech is an evocation of the sun and of the East, a harmonious blend of the scent of flowers in town gardens and the aromas of its markets. Oriental and heady, Soir de Marrakech is the expression of people's way of life in the red city."

This was the standout beauty of the collection: it has a dark, sensual edge like PG L'Ombre Fauve, but the quiet gentleness of Kenzo Power. The floral notes are especially muted on my skin. I found this scent very wearable and have no hesitation in pronouncing it FBW. At 50 euros for 100ml, Les Parfums du Soleil, whilst clearly positioned as a niche range, are priced in line with high end designer perfumes such as Prada.

FESTIVAL

Notes: green lemon, bergamot, thyme, star anise, geranium, Damascene rose, Turkish rose, lavender, iris, vanilla, sandalwood, vetiver.

Couldn't find any comments from the perfumer about this one. I quite liked it - it was astringent without being acerbic, and the star anise, geranium and lavender gave it a distinctive character that would work well as a unisex scent - but ultimately it wasn't really "me". Closest scent to this would be Urban Retreat's Reverie, though Reverie is quieter and more of a skin scent by comparison.

L'AGDAL

Notes: bigarade, mandarin, green lemon, grapefruit, patchouli.

NB My translation is very loose here!:

"L'Agdal - evoking sun-drenched fresh, citrus aromas from this thousand year old garden founded by the Almouahades dynasty."

Initially, I found the very sharp citrus notes quite offputting, possibly compounded by the bitterness of the patchouli. I don't remember ever smelling patchouli in such a intensely citrus context. However, the far drydown was as pleasant as Festival, and more "mainstream" in its interpretation of citrus by this stage.

MOGADOR

Notes: ambergris, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cedar, thuya wood.

"Mogador is a confluence of the trade winds, the aromatic riches of the forests around Essaouira and the scent of damp wood at the port or in the workshops of cabinetmakers. Woody, fresh and oriental, Mogador is a work of alchemy."

I did not care for this scent at any point. Mogador was like a rich, spicy, ginger cake - DSH Mahjoun springs to mind - with a strong and slightly rasping woody background that conjured up images of ships' hulls and barrels of rum! "Damp wood at the port" is a good catch-all phrase for it. The overall feeling of this scent is heavy, rich and brooding.

SULTANE DES COEURS

Notes: rose, jasmine, incense, vanilla, ambergris.

"Sultane des Coeurs is a perfume of refinement and seduction. Spicy and floral, SdC is a fragrant evocation of Oriental nights."

This was the biggest disappointment to me of the ones I tested, for from its name and notes it was the one I had most expected to like. I imagined an exotic floral-incensey number like OJ Ta'if or Kenzo Flower Oriental - or even Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain. There was a lot of incense and pepper, but I failed to detect the floral notes, or the vanilla and amber particularly. It just felt very grey and monotonal.

CASABLANCA (NOT TESTED)

Notes: anise, geranidum, sandalwood, iris

A sample of Soir de Marrakech is currently on its way to Katie Puckrik, who expressed an interest in trying it, following my enthusiastic description on her blog, Katie Puckrik Smells. I will come back and report her thoughts when she has had a chance to test it. Meanwhile, I am teetering on the brink of buying a bottle. My next work project may take me to Belgium, so let's see if I could make a detour to Bruges again...

Friday, 5 February 2010

"Spiky" and "Fluffy" Scents - Riffing off Rabbits


I took the cat back to the vet today. She has been suffering with her ears since Christmas (much like her owner!). There was a nasty infection, topped off with a polyp on her ear drum, which was thought to be benign, but needed daily treatment. The vet had a look and said I had done "a brilliant job" over the past month of removing brown gunk and administering antibiotic ear drops, and that the polyp had disappeared! The cat now hates me, but she has a clean bill of health, apart from being slightly puritic. I said I feel pretty puritic most days, but apparently it means "inflamed", not a "non-specific modern malaise".

Anyway, when I arrived at the vet's, the cat was yowling piteously in her carrying case. A man sitting across from me smiled sympathetically and remarked: "Mine does that." "It does?" I replied. "In that case, did you just bring a box in here, as it is awfully quiet if there is a pet in it?" He laughed and explained that the box contained rabbits.

In a few minutes, the rabbit owner was called in ahead of me, and as the vet closed the door behind him, I heard him say brightly: "So we've got Spikey and Fluffy in for castration today, have we?". I couldn't help smiling at the incongruous juxtaposition in that sentence. And it wasn't long before my mind turned to perfumes, and which ones I would characterise as "spiky" (losing the "e" probably), and which as "fluffy"....

By "spiky" I think I mean something along the lines of austere, craggy, cold, uncompromising and complex, and the fragrance family that most readily springs to mind is the classic chypre, but this is a pretty fluid and subjective definition all the same. As well as "oakmoss", which comes off as particularly spiky to my nose, individual notes such as iris, leather, incense, cedar, carnation - and spices and resins in general - all have the potential to be prickly in the right setting.

By "fluffy" there is firstly the notion of comforting and feminine and cocoon-like, and also a wider connotation of "feminine" in a ditzy, girly, pink way. : - )

Here goes - I am sure I will think of more presently. Please feel free to disagree with any of these and to make counter suggestions!

NICHE SPIKY

Guerlain Mitsouko
Guerlain Djedi (by repute!)
Guerlain Sous le Vent
Gres Cabochard
Ormonde Jayne Woman (hemlock)
Andy Tauer Rose Chypree
The Party in Manhattan
FM Le Parfum de Therese
Piguet Bandit
SL Iris Silver Mist
Creed Love in Black

DESIGNER SPIKY

Chanel No 19
Dior Poison
Clinique Aromatics Elixir
EL Private Collection
EL Youth Dew

See how "spiky" is dominated by niche scents? I guess because it would be tough to sell in at the mass market level.

CELEBUSCENT SPIKY

Kerry Katona Outrageous (only the grenade-style bottle - joke!)


NICHE FLUFFY

Perles de Lalique
Les Parfums MDCI Promesse de L'Aube
Pilar & Lucy To Twirl All Girly
Juliette Has A Gun Miss Charming
Farmacia SS Annunziata Kama
EL PC Amber Ylang Ylang
M Micallef Note Poudree
Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige
Romea D'Ameor Les Princesses de Venise
Crazy Libellule & The Poppies Les Divines Alcoves Amoureuse
B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful Keep it Fluffy(!)

Worth inserting Mark Constantine's own take on this one:

"Keep It Fluffy is a wonderfully smooth, comfy fragrance; it combines many comforting notes in a warm embrace. Smooth, natural, sophisticated vanilla and rose absolutes compliment the subtle musk base. Soft and gentle Keep It Fluffy wraps you up in a pink cloud and gentle caresses,"

DESIGNER FLUFFY

Guerlain Idylle
Thierry Mugler Angel (foody fluffy)
Agent Provocateur Original (retro boudoir fluffy)
Narciso Rodriguez For Her (ice blonde Scandinavian fluffy ie classy, ethereal fluffy)
Miss Dior Cherie (fruity foody fluffy)
Kenzo L'Eau par Kenzo Indigo pour Femme
Jeanne Lanvin by Lanvin
Nanette by Nanette Lepore
Judith Leiber
David Yurman (bordering on furry)
Ralph Lauren Love
Kenzo Amour (fluffy rice - special culinary sub category)

CELEBUSCENT FLUFFY

I'm not even going to go there, but there are an unseemly number...more of the generic girly pink variety, mind you, than the "powdery cocoon" type, properly speaking.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Bvlgari Jasmin Noir - Out of the Fridge and Into the Fire

In my previous post I mentioned how the "back row scents" from the LEC chiller were being forcibly excavated to make way for the contents of the defunct kitchen fridge. So on Tuesday, I wore Bvlgari Jasmin Noir for the first time probably since I bought the chiller in June and piled everything into it. That evening, the crisis safely behind us, I snuggled up with Mr Bonkers on the sofa to watch American Idol. Well, "snuggled" is perhaps overstating it, but my head did flop onto his shoulder at one point.

Then last night I was sitting on the sofa on the opposite side of the room, when Mr Bonkers exclaimed: "Whatever it is you are wearing today, it is making my eyes sting!" Yesterday's SOTD was Clarins Par Amour, a moderately strong woody rose, but not so potent as to cause a tear gas-type response some 10 feet away, I wouldn't have thought.

Suddenly, on an impulse, Mr B smelt the sleeve of his sweatshirt and let out an anguished yelp. "That's it - it's on ME! Whatever you were wearing last night has come off on my clothes. My eyes are actually watering - don't ever come near me in that one again."

Oh no, what an unfortunate and unexpected turn of events! And I find Jasmin Noir fairly low key and soft - also on Mr B's sleeve, I might add, for I sniffed it. But for now there was nothing to be done to rectify the situation. Mr Bonkers' distress was so acute, I might as well have doused him in petrol and wafted a lighted match tantalisingly in the space between us.

"Do you know what?" he continued crossly. "Up till now I would have described myself as indifferent to perfume. From now on, I think I am actively anti it!"

So that was definitely a low point in my two year hobby... Of course I had had no intention of stealth perfuming Mr Bonkers in this way, but one thing is certain. As soon as the new fridge is delivered and the perfumes can return to their home, Jasmin Noir is going straight to the back row again... : - (

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Flight of The Flacons - Rehoming the Dairy Product Diaspora

I know what you are thinking - that is rather a dramatic title for a post about anything, never mind one about the kitchen fridge packing up. But this latest domestic crisis has really rattled me, and epic Wagnerian language felt apt. To give you an idea of how stressed out I was by the demise of the fridge, I rang Vodafone this morning and explained that my phone wouldn't let me dial calls out. The customer service rep got as far as ordering me a new SIM card when I realised that the reason the phone wouldn't make calls was because after dialling a number I would hit the hang up button instead of the call button. See what happens when you lose your sense of smell for as little as four weeks? Whole sections of your brain turn to jelly beans, that's what happens.

So yes, I was very shaken by this incident. Yesterday I defrosted the fridge, as I do every few years at least. This involved removing the top shelf, which was stubbornly embedded in a small glacier, then dropping the whole freakish ice sculpture-shelf ensemble into the bath before waiting for global warming to do its business. This took all day, and when I turned the fridge back on last night, only the light came on, but there was no cooling action whatsoever.

A malfunctioning fridge is especially disturbing to me, for as a former brand manager of a chilled foods company I am painfully aware of the optimum temperatures at which food should be kept. Luckily the weather is still quite chilly, so I immediately packed up the most vulnerable perishables in two cooler bags with freezer blocks in the base and put them outside in the garden. This included the remains of Mr Bonkers' curry, and in the frosty atmosphere engendered by the miscreant appliance, a spirited discussion ensued between us about the likelihood of his leftovers being consumed by foxes in the night. An uneasy truce was eventually reached, on the basis of any animal predators' likely aversion to garlic.

Meanwhile, the milk is currently taking its chances in the utility room, along with a box of eggs, some carrots and a bottle of ketchup (which as you and I know is one of those foods that manufacturers have scared us into keeping refrigerated, but which used to live quite happily in the pantry when we were young). And anyway, the utility is pretty cold for a habitable room. Or a pop-in-and-out-of-able one, for you can barely swing a venting kit in there. Also, following the phone gaffe, when making a cup of tea now I am consciously trying not to reach for the Stergene, which also comes in a matt white bottle. (Opaque receptacles again - they are so slippery!)

This morning, after a couple of phone calls to Whirlpool and local service engineers, supplemented by a spot of due diligence work on the Which? consumer site and a live messaging session (my first in a business context!) with a lady at Comet, I bit the bullet and ordered another fridge, more or less identical to the one that has whirred its last.

It will, however, take a little while to come, so the realisation soon dawned that in such a home emergency, curating one's perfumes in a fridge amounted to a decadent luxury. So I have removed my fragrance collection from its LEC chiller and laid it all out on the floor, in groups equating to each shelf. My word - I didn't half pack a lot in there!

When the temperature comes down to 5 degrees, I will transfer the dairy product diaspora from the garden and the utility to its new temporary home. The bottles, decants and bags of samples will just have to stay on the carpet, now transformed into a sprawling refugee camp. The bedroom is unheated so I daresay they will live.

Yes, it has been a traumatic day, but one good thing that has come out of it, apart from the obvious convenience of being able to hold midnight feasts in the bedroom without going downstairs, is the fact that a whole bunch of "back row" scents are seeing the light of day for the first time since I bought the fridge in June! I'm looking at you, Jasmin Noir...