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Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Bonkers Road Trip!

After six months of unemployment, I have just gone back to work. Yay! Urgh! Eek!

And Bonkersaboutperfume will be taking another break from tomorrow, as I am going away on a work trip until the Easter weekend. I have meetings in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, and am driving over in my own car, Maurice the Mini. As it turned out, transport arrangements were somewhat up in the air until late on Friday... Maurice went in to a garage on Wednesday for his annual MOT inspection, and didn't emerge. First there was talk of a leaky radiator, which took a while to replace. Then on Friday there were dark mutterings about a faulty temperature gauge.

The garage inquired whether the gauge had been like that when I took the car in - "that's if you'd notice" - they said, in a thinly-veiled-contempt-for-lady-drivers-kind-of-way. Well, I was able to reassure them that, being a completely un-hands on vehicle owner, I look at all the dials more than an averagely responsible motorist would, because that is my only way of telling if the car is about to blow up because I haven't put oil or water in it since 2007, type of thing. Anyway, Maurice was delivered back to me at 4pm, just in time for the big adventure.

If I get the chance to post while I am away, I will. Mr Bonkers has even threatened to put up a post in my absence if he is feeling inspired... (for "inspired", read mischievous!) We'll see. The trip also means that I will probably not be able to keep up with other people's blogs as much as I would like, which I am sorry about. I have a really old and rubbish lap top, you see, and rely for the most part on Internet cafes to pick up emails, many of which are coin operated. Some (the ones in casino chains like Spielothek) are also in complete darkness, which can be a little disorientating at 11am.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Guerlain "Moins Que Jamais" And The Benefits Of Maceration?

If I had to answer that sudden death, old chestnut of a question: "What is your Holy Grail Scent?", Guerlain Plus que Jamais would be it. Created in 2005, PQJ is a sensuous floral oriental with citrus, ylang-ylang and vanilla. It has the trademark powdery trail of a classic Guerlain, but not cranked up to the max as with the sneezefest that is L'Heure Bleue. This is Guerlinade for the 21st century, which I would place in complexity somewhere between the behemoths of Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue and Shalimar, and the rosy musk crowd-pleaser that is Idylle. Here are the notes:

Lemon, bergamot, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, orris, vanilla, amber, tonka bean, vetiver.

Totally smitten by this elegant and feminine fragrance (which only suits the aspirational me, I should point out, not the everyday scuzzy me in cat hair-beflecked cords and pilled sweaters!), I bought a 15ml decant of it from a seller on Scent Splits in July 2009. The decant smelt very thin and sheer, not as rich/powdery/sweet as what I know of PQJ from decants and testers I have tried in the past, never having owned a FB myself. The juice frankly smelt diluted, yet still recognisably of PQJ, or PQJ given a modern treatment with most of the Guerlinade stripped out to accommodate contemporary tastes.

So first of all I contacted the seller, who agreed that she had once smelt a different batch that was a bit deeper in intensity, but she just assumed that this is how it is these days and didn't think it a big deal, whereas I was feeling distinctly disappointed and shortchanged.

Anyway, I followed the chain up to the bottle owner, who initially - quite understandably - seemed a bit piqued that I had challenged the quality of her bottle or was implying that she had doctored it in any way (which I wasn't, though the thought inevitably crosses your mind). She told me where she had bought her bottle - it was the first time she had ever smelt the scent, so unlike me she had no point of comparison and thought it pleasant enough.

I then contacted the SA at the store in New York, explained who I was and how I was not the bottle owner, but had come by a portion of it, which I felt was not a true representation of the scent. So I sent him samples from my decant from the bottle bought at his store and a Perfumed Court sample that smelt just wonderful - which I later learnt was also bought at his store, just months previously!

The SA tested them both and agreed that the sample from the 15ml decant was inferior on all the aspects I had flagged up, also on longevity.

So the next step was to mail the bottle owner with samples of what I had from her bottle (as a control and to check nothing untoward had happened to it before it reached me, like the postal service keeping it in a depot at 100 degrees or whatever!), plus a sample from the Perfumed Court bottle bought at that same store, and a third sample from an extra of PQJ I got in a swap that also smelt like the second one, ie just lovely!

On testing the samples, the owner was surprised at the marked differences and could now see why I was determined to pursue this quality issue. So when she was next in New York she popped back to the store where the SA was up to speed with the saga and replaced her bottle without a quibble. And at the end of October I received replacement product from the owner.

So looking back, what might have been up with the bottle? The SA agreed that it smelt different, without going quite as far as to state that there was something technically amiss with this batch of the scent. And he did point out that he had received no other complaints from customers who had bought a bottle around the same time. Ah, but hold on, just as my bottle owner had never smelt PQJ before, how many purchasers of any scent have smelt other versions before? The answer is probably a high proportion of perfumistas and a low proportion of the general public, especially when you factor in husbands buying scent for their wives or other gift scenarios. And the fact that PQJ is not available in every mall. In fact it is barely in stores at all! Nowhere in Britain, anyway...

Then the SA also drew my attention quite rightly to the fact that with a fragrance high in natural ingredients some variation is to be expected, however, as I put it to him, at what point does a perfume not smell sufficiently like itself to be considered commercially acceptable? But whatever his private view on the matter, customer service prevailed, for which I owe him a huge thank you!

A big thank you is also due to Lovethescents. For before sending the SA in NYC samples A and B for his evaluation, I carried out a mini-poll on the differences between the two to check it wasn't all in my head. Eight people agreed with me in blind tests, four of whom were beauty industry professionals. Two of these were Guerlain staff in Canada, with Lovethescents acting as my go-between to carry out a "dummy run" of approaching Guerlain staff about the issue, armed with yet another set of samples! And four test subjects were ordinary members of the public.

I should also mention that I checked out the reformulation angle with Guerlain HQ in Paris, and compared bottle formats and strengths (A and B were both bee bottles and EDP - bought within months of each other as I mentioned), so there was no possibility of pinning the blame on a relaunch.

A chance conversation with a Guerlain SA in London (at a store stocking the Export lines, but not the Exclusive range to which PQJ belongs) may have shed light on the mystery. The SA had visited Guerlain's production facility outside Paris, and speculated that my bottle might have come from a batch that was not macerated for the requisite time. She reckoned this could account for its weak, thin consistency, just as a very young wine lacks the depth and character of one that has been aged for its full term. In short, maceration is the key to good "body" in a perfume. It is only a hypothesis, but maybe for whatever reason this scent may have been untimely ripped from its macerating equipment before it had steeped and soaked and mulched and infused and wallowed and luxuriated and generally lounged around sufficiently.

I guess any scent would turn out a bit peaky and wan if it hadn't been allowed to macerate properly...

Seriously, after speaking to this lady, I had to know in more detail what maceration was exactly, and the answer seems to be a "warm fatty version" of enfleurage:

"During enfleurage, flowers are spread on glass sheets coated with grease. The glass sheets are placed between wooden frames in tiers. Then the flowers are removed by hand and changed until the grease has absorbed their fragrance.

Maceration is similar to enfleurage except that warmed fats are used to soak up the flower smell. As in solvent extraction, the grease and fats are dissolved in alcohol to obtain the essential oils."


And the final twist in the tale is that the owner went and put her new bottle up for sale on the same split site where I bought my original decant. Which I initially thought was a shame, given the lengths I had gone to to get hold of the real McCoy for us both. But then again ignorance is bliss, and if it wasn't for me the owner would never have known there was anything the matter with her fragrance and she might still be enjoying the weaker version to this day. So in a way I spoilt things for her, possibly irrevocably, for which - if true - I am very sorry.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

"Weird Wafts" - An Occasional Series: No 1 - Boudicca Wode

Every now and then in my sniffing rounds I come across a scent that is downright weird. Sometimes it gets put straight into my "bag of hell", to languish indefinitely until it goes off or some MUA swapper with esoteric taste inquires about it, and sometimes I steel myself for a second wearing, because I feel the scent is notable enough to warrant a less knee-jerk response. And so I thought I might write about these reluctant re-trials of uncongenial scents in an occasional series. "Occasional" because I consciously try not to put myself in the path of these more avant-garde fragrances. They invariably disagree with my mimsy, timorous skin. A few are utterly terrifying.

So first up is Boudicca Wode. I have Suze-R to thank for the sample, which she sent along with my decant of Damien Bash Lucifer No 3. Boudicca is an edgy British design house founded by Zowie Broach and Brian Kirkby in 1997. This, their first scent, was created by Geza Schoen, the perfumer behind some of the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke and the Escentric Molecules series. I haven't tried the Biehl range, but the Escentric Molecules were well weird in an inoffensive, ethereal, deeply synthetic kind of way that didn't bother me at all. I'd go so far as to say that I "quite like" Escentric Molecules Escentric 01 (the bottle with all the lines), on account of its sheer brazen modernity and airy woodiness. Mr Bonkers and his mother were not fans, however, and made me walk on the opposite pavement during a day trip to Llandudno last summer. So clearly, I do in fact dabble in weird, and in the works of Geza Schoen. Isn't "Geza" a curious name, by the way? More like a diminutive than a name in full, along the lines of our notorious footballer, Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne. Or indeed, the Left Coast Nose's Other Nostril, Bazr.

Anyway, on to Wode. It comes in two versions: Paint and Scent. Paint is the one that goes on blue, mimicking the original characteristic of woad paint from the make up arsenal of the spear-wielding warrior, Queen Boudicca. She of the curious conical "bra armour" also sported by Madonna.

Happily Scent doesn't stay blue, but turns transparent, like the inverse of invisible ink as deployed by child secret agents everywhere. Funnily enough, when I was applying the Scent variant using the dab method, just as I was tilting the vial to get a bit on the end of my finger, a great spout whooshed up and landed on my desk diary. It is now deeply impregnated with the stuff, and I am waiting anxiously to see if it turns blue and blots out all my appointments in Germany next week.

As for the smell of Wode, here is a description from the Boudicca site:

"The fragrance opens with herbal spicy notes of juniper berry, cardamon, nutmeg absolute, clary sage, coriander seed and angelica root. A touch of fresh hesperidic and lighter floral notes add airiness. Through rare elements like black hemlock extract and the smell of raw opium, you will enter an olfactive space where saffron, tuberose absolute, tonka bean, styrax resin, and treemoss slowly unfold round a musky leather heart. Amber and animalic notes like synthetic castoreum and cistus labdanum deepen the lingering impression of warm and radiant flesh."

I pretty much agree with all of that, except that I get no "fresh hesperidic and lighter floral notes" whatsover. "Warm and radiant flesh" isn't the first image that springs to my mind either - it sounds far too inviting. What I do get is a dank, leathery, musky scent, like old, damp flagstones. There is a pronounced mouldiness about it too. It reminds me of that carrot in an advanced state of putrefaction which I came across behind the washing machine the other day. It had been living on top of the washing machine when we were in between fridges, and must have leapt to its death during a spin cycle. Wode is not a million miles away in fact from Eau d'Italie's Sienne L'Hiver, which may even have actively intended to replicate flagstones. Which is not to forget the leather or the fungi. I am also getting a slight resemblance to Cruel Intentions by By Kilian, which is more woody and less leathery, but which has styrax, castoreum and musk in it. Amouage Silver has a very similar animalic quality, come to think of it. Neither of these being my cup of tea either, it goes without saying.

Robin of NSTperfume speaks of Wode as being an example of "weird-little-niche-oddity-fun", and I am afraid that I beg to differ here. "Fun" and "weird" are not words I would tend to yoke together, indeed in most cases - for me and my delicate epidermis - they constitute nothing short of a contradiction in terms. The same issue came up in a recent guest blog by Signature_Scent on the Left Coast Nose, where we were discussing CB I Hate Perfume's Memory of Kindness. For anyone not familiar with the scent, this is straight up tomato stems in a warm greenhouse. I gave MoK credit for its stunning verisimilude, but added that I don't wish to smell like tomatoes. Signature_Scent commented: "I know what you mean about not wanting to smell of what CB I Hate Perfumes have to offer. But it is at least fun and novel."

I think I am definitely in a minority here for not finding novelty and weirdness per se fun. Which is not to say that a novel and weird perfume would never be fun - I do like Escentric 01, at considerable personal cost to my immediate family. When I first applied L'Air du Desert Marocain I thought it was insanely dusty, but I gradually got into its strange aridity and now I love it, and consider it a major league "pulling scent", if such a phrase were not also a contradiction in terms in our household.

All I think I am saying is that I would rather perfumers focused their efforts on creating the holy grail of a "true" lily or "gardenia" than pursued the cause of weird for weird's sake, losing sight of wearability in the process. No more Secretions Magnifiques, for example. Nothing with lighter fuel please - or tear gas either - Lonestar Memories, I am looking at you.

But - and I cannot stress this enough - this is my own personal and very solipsistic view. Because my skin/nose/psyche is hyperosmic to a variety of pungent perfume ingredients, more scents register as weird and distasteful to me than they would to a more "olfactorily centred" perfumista. Or indeed a man, for that matter, with a man's inherently more robust skin. So I don't expect many people necessarily to agree with me, but as I am troubled by these odd scents I thought it would be cathartic for me to review them, so I shall.

Now as I recall, Wode mutes down some 8-10 hours later into a rather wearable "whisper of leather" type scent, for which it deserves honourable mention. But ideally I would rather not wait till I'm tucked up in bed for my daytime scent to be tolerable.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Estee Lauder Intuition - The Missing Link?

You don't read much on the perfume boards about Estee Lauder Intuition. I am not sure I have ever seen it listed as someone's SOTD, nor have I come across a person wearing it, heard of anyone receiving it as a gift, or wanting to. You don't hear it cited as people's top lemming, and I doubt whether you can order a sample at The Perfumed Court. Just checked - you can't. My next door neighbour owns a bottle, but these days she favours Chanel Chance and Coco Mlle.

But I have a significant connection with this scent, for it is the only one I owned between the time of its UK launch in 2001 and my being struck down with "sudden onset perfume mania" in January 2008. I don't know exactly how or where I came to buy Intuition, but I shall take a flying leap and say that it could have been in a duty free shop in Lanzarote, where we holidayed that year. The fact that I don't remember anything about the circumstances of its purchase tells you all you need to know about my near indifference to perfume until comparatively recently.

I also have next to no memories of actually applying this scent, which doubtless explains why it was 98% full eight years after purchase. I probably wore it on a handful of special occasions that are now lost in the mists of time. Once perfume mania had taken hold, I was quick to have another sniff of it to remind myself what this haphazardly acquired "signature scent" actually smelt like. Only to find that the juice had gone off - not surprisingly, given its twin habitats of sunny bedroom windowsill and en suite bathroom. The dark amber liquid was a dead giveaway, had I known its significance at the time.

So, not long into my new hobby, I decided I should replace the bottle, as a tribute to the fragrance that connects the old "normal" - or some might say "sub-normal" - me with the current "abnormal", bonkers about perfume person I had abruptly become. I got a bargain on Ebay for about £15 and vowed to take greater care of it in future.

Any readers who have not tried Intuition may be curious to know a bit more about it. Classed as a "vanilla oriental" on Osmoz, it was created by Alberto Morillas, and the notes are as follows:

Top notes: Mandarin, Bergamot, Grapefruit

Heart notes: Gardenia, Rhododendron, Freesia, Double Delight Rose

Base note: Mineral Amber

I would liken it a little to the original Stella in terms of overall "vibe". Though Intuition has rose and amber like Stella, it is not noticeably rosy by comparison, grapefruit and citrus generally being the dominant characteristics both in the opening and for a large part of its development (though, not liking grapefruit as a food or drink, I may be picking up on the note more than anyone else would). Stella is more obviously feminine and sweet in its rosiness, but both scents have the same warm, powdery, amber base and a similar level of projection. By "powdery", I don't mean the sort of powder as you get in a classic Guerlain, but rather the modern, synthetic equivalent that stays just the right side of "furry", and which could be best summed up as "fuzzy". Some of Morillas' best work (ie scents of his that I particularly rate!) is also on the fuzzy side of things eg Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline, Armani White for Women, Armani Sensi and Kenzo Flower Oriental.

Going back to the comparison with Stella, I much prefer Intuition, but only when it mutes down into the drydown after about three hours - before that I still get too much grapefruit.

Here is one of the rare mentions of Intuition in a blog site review (The Scented Salamander). Mimifroufrou is actually writing about Amber Ylang Ylang, but at one point draws an interesting comparison between the Private Collection scent and Intuition:

"It (AYY) has the same soft, understated ambery aura. But where the diffusion of Intuition seems very calculated and is a veritable technical achievement in the art of the discreet sexy sillage, Amber Ylang Ylang is simpler in its aim to warm you and make you feel comfortable with just a suggestion of golden-skinned Mata-Hari, albeit safely held captive in between the leaves of a good adventures book."

I would agree that Intuition is sexier than AYY - and Stella, for that matter - as long as you have got well past the grapefruit business. I have to say that I am only dimly aware of the presence of the heart notes, even though you would think gardenia and freesia might register. I'll bet they are acting as a floral buffer between the citrus top and amber base, absorbing some of the hesperidic sharpness, but the overall effect is so blurry that I really cannot single out any flowers at all.

So would I wear Intuition now on a big night out? Almost certainly not, though it is a perfectly pleasant (grapefruit gripe aside), slightly sultry designer scent that used to fit that bill in the past, before I discovered "the drunkenness of things being various". And not only various, but in many cases, better.

But Intuition will always hold a special place in my collection - as a "missing link". Wikipedia gets to the heart of the matter:

"Transitional fossils (popularly termed missing links) are the fossilized remains of intermediary forms of life that illustrate an evolutionary transition. They can be identified by their retention of certain primitive (plesiomorphic) traits in comparison with their more derived relatives, as they are defined in the study of cladistics."

In a sense, my original bottle was a sort of "fossilized remains" - it was rancid, certainly - and I am sure you could have stood a spoon up in it. Moreover, it definitely "illustrates an evolutionary transition" in terms of my appreciation of scent, in the sense that I was on the cusp of a epiphany. And it is characterised by "certain primitive traits" (fuzziness! prominent grapefruit!) in comparison with its "more derived relatives", such as Guerlain's Plus Que Jamais, a superior floral oriental of more recent vintage. Okay, so I may be using "relative" in the loosest sense possible.

And I haven't studied cladistics either, come to that, but intuitively I know I am on to something here...

Friday, 5 March 2010

When You Don't Go To "Go-To" Fragrances - Try The Bonkers Way Of Picking A SOTD

So there is this phrase I come across a lot on the various perfume boards, namely a "go-to" fragrance. It's an American phrase, with sporting origins:

"Being a player on an athletic team who is relied upon to make important plays, especially in clutch situations: the team's go-to receiver."

When used in a perfume context, this term seems to have two meanings: firstly, a "go-to" scent is one that "is relied upon" because it will fit in with a particular outfit or occasion. I don't think there is such a thing as a "go-to" scent for ANY occasion, like a master key or universal screwdriver, though I may come back and revisit that hypothesis in another post...I have certainly heard perfumistas speak of a "go-to" scent for the school run, or for meeting the mother-in-law, seducing the husband etc. So I gather that some people possess an assortment of "go-to" fragrances for which they "reach" without hesitation as though they were a tried and tested Litte Black Dress or a comfortable pair of pumps.

Which leads me to the other nuance of "go-to" which I detect, namely that when selecting her SOTD, the owner of the "go-to" fragrance goes to it pretty smartly. Time is short and people are busy and that is the whole point of its being "go-to". If a perfume can be relied upon and has been proven to work in that setting in the past, there is no need to deliberate or agonize about what to spray on as a finishing touch - you just GO TO IT.

Now the concept of "just going to" anything is positively alien to me. I am the world's worst deliberater and agoniser. I recently accumulated enough matchpots in the selection of wall colours for our living room that I could have painted the Forth Road Bridge with them. As often as necessary. It is well known amongst my friends that in a restaurant I will have to ask at least TWO questions about the menu, before tentatively making my choice. I once famously asked in a cafe what exactly "Mushrooms on toast" consisted of, to be told with remarkable equanimity on the part of the waitress: "Well, that would be mushrooms and two bits of toast."

The thing is, I am terrified of making the wrong choice about anything in life. I am a market researcher by profession, and clearly hardwired to investigate and compare all possible options with the rigour of a consumer watchdog programme before saying: "I'll have the blue one." It is a most inconvenient trait, to be truthful, and whilst I may end up with a more energy efficient fridge, a longer lasting washing up liquid or a car with the highest residual value, I am sure the immense mental energy expended in studying the minutiae of these products is shaving years off my life and my own residual value.

And it is the same with perfumes. The concept of "go-to" fragrances in the reliability sense is not lost on me. I can readily think of one that would work well in a business meeting or down the gym, if I went. No, the problem is that I suffer from acute option anxiety when confronted with the plethora of perfumes that could fit the bill in any given scenario. There are simply too many "go-to" fragrances in any category, rendering the term instantly null and void, as I remain rooted to the spot, racked with indecision.

Empathetic to the stress of my constant dithering, Mr Bonkers came to my rescue the other morning and devised a whole new fun way to pick what I shall pompously dub an "Aleatory Scent Of The Day". I asked him what I should wear that day and he shouted out from the bathroom: "Top shelf, third row from the right, second one back." I rushed to the fridge and started counting. Unfortunately those precise directions led me to the cardboard box containing dozens of samples. I reported this technical hitch back to Mr Bonkers. Quick as a flash, he barked out new instructions: "Same thing on the next shelf down."

Well, that worked, but the chosen scent was Bvlgari Jasmin Noir, about which I had recently been taken to task when Mr B claimed that I had inadvertently stealth perfumed his jumper sleeve. Apprised of this unhappy selection, in no time at all I had been issued with alternative instructions.

"Okay, the one in front of that." That grid reference proved to be EL Sensuous, which I had worn only the day before.

"Right then, bottom shelf, original order - third row from the right, second one back."

"Are you counting minis in that?" I inquired, as I spied a 10ml of Micallef Hiver at the head of that row.

"Certainly not. You're going two back - full bottles only - and I don't care if it is tomato ketchup, that is what you are wearing."

Reader, I am delighted to report that it was Jasper Conran Woman, which I would characterise as an upbeat "go-to" business/daytime scent. Like Cristalle, or Omnia Crystalline, or Jo Malone Lotus Blossom & Water Lily or Infusion d'Iris, say. Or Armani She White, thinking about it. But that's the thing - I must stop thinking about it. I must just trust the coordinates - or go quietly mad...

Hold on a minute - I just looked up "mushrooms on toast" in google images and there were loads of different presentation styles - creamy sauces, parmesan, chives, chilli. So, perhaps bizarrely, it is mushrooms in the end which totally vindicate my mental condition of being overwhelmed by diversity.

And I'll let Louis MacNeice, the poet from my home turf of Ulster, have the last word, for he clearly feels my pain too...: - )


World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

"How's it hanging?" The Rise Of The Perfume Pendant

There has been a fair bit of publicity lately for Ajne's new range of perfume pendants, including one featuring their latest scent release, Vanille. Ajne being of course the Carmel-based niche perfume house famous for its all-natural fragrances and celebrity clientele. Well, reader, I bought it - in silver - because I already own a 0.5 oz bottle of Calypso, a sultry tropical floral launched last year and featuring notes of frangipani, jasmine, cardamom and vanilla. I have to say that Ajne are quite sketchy on their note information, and until recently I thought there was ylang-ylang in Calypso too. And maybe there is at that.

Going back to the perfume pendant, it has a 36" chain which makes it very low slung. Haight-Ashbury groin-level slung, though there again that is the fashion these days. I am inferring this from the length of the chain on my other pendant from Penhaligon's, which is also sporran-like in its latitude. So yes, I am a two perfume pendant household, though strictly speaking the Penhaligon's one is not quite comparable as it doesn't come pre-filled with perfume; you are meant to fill the ovoid shaped receptacle (opaque, but I shan't hold that against something fashioned out of sterling silver!) with whatever you fancy - it comes with a built-in dipper. I will of course never put any perfume inside because, Flittersniffer that I am, I wouldn't be able to commit to just one scent - whether a Penhaligon's or otherwise.

So, in summary, the Ajne pendant is a perfume bottle first and a piece of jewellery second, while the opposite is true of the Penhaligon's one. I have put the Ajne pendant round my neck but it doesn't come very naturally to "wear" a perfume bottle. To be perfectly honest I felt a bit like a St Bernard, even though it isn't remotely cask-like or bulky. Or an explorer with a water bottle slung round their neck - you know, the sort made of goat's bladder or dingo hide or whatever roadkill came to hand. So the Penhaligon's pendant I wear and the Ajne one I treat like a miniature perfume bottle, though you will catch me fiddling with its chain now and again - it is quite a sensuous feeling to just let its silvery links slip through your fingers...

Which reminds me: the two are both silver, but the Penhaligon's pendant is very pale, shiny silver, while the Ajne bottle is a darker colour, more like a tin can to be frank, and not as silvery as in the illustration. This may well be to do with it being filigree work by "Bohemian jewelers practicing age-old metallurgy techniques that have been passed down for generations". I tend to this view not least because I have an empty Czech mini perfume bottle my brother bought me which has some silver filigree work in a similarly dark colour.

As for the new Vanille scent, I like it - it is exactly as described on the Ajne website: "Gourmand vanilla and toast".

It is deep and rich and has a burnt note, like the vanilla of Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille but without the tobacco, or the vanilla in Guerlain's Spiritueuse Double Vanille, but without the spirits and not double, thankfully. After sampling the Ajne, L'Artisan's Vanilia will forever come off as a synthetic vanilla flavoured chewy sweet by comparison. This is the SL Musc Koublai Khan of Vanilla scents, I think it is fair to say, and I mean that in a good way. The company reommends layering it with other scents, but I only own Calypso and a couple of samples that may have evaporated by now, and Calypso is probably vanilla-y enough...

I would LOVE to own Printemps and Fleur Blanche, money being no object (these are all insanely expensive), and I wouldn't be surprised if a smidge of Vanille added a lovely rich oomph to those pretty florals.

I also read on the Ajne site:

"Did you know scientific research indicates that the sultry scent of vanilla increases the element of attraction by over 10 times? Well then, you may be intrigued to learn that the soul of Vanille is deep, luscious vanilla from Madagascar..."

They have also asked that people send in their Valentine's experiences while wearing this scent. Expurgated versions, I presume. But of course they haven't reckoned with the intractable Mr Bonkers, who actually refused to sniff this, fearing the intensity of its essential oils.

The last thing to mention perhaps is the celebrity aspect to Ajne fragrances:

"Celebs that have selected Vanille ~ Debra Messing, Kate Walsh, Judy Greer and Denise Richards"

I happen to know that a number of actors in Mad Men are Ajne customers, though I can't recall which, and I doubt any of them will have copped for Vanille. Felicity Huffmann wears Printemps I believe, and as a huge Desperate Housewives fan I would be lying if I didn't admit that the thought of sharing a scent with a celebrity of her calibre is disconcertingly appealing. A sort of fragrant stalking, if you will. Which is harmless enough, I suppose, if pricey. But anyway, I don't happen to own Printemps - I just aspire to being scent twins with Felicity. And the flipside of all this celebrity endorsement malarkey is that Paris Hilton apparently likes Vanille, but I am trying to rise above this titbit of news. Even Britney is allegedly partial to the brand, which I don't even wish to think about.