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Saturday, 30 October 2010

Molotov Cocktail May Have To Be Mothballed

It looks as though I may not be able to use up my BNTBTBB tub of Cocktail body lotion after all, even though we cleared up the issue of the Best Before date the other day, and I had vowed to rise about the pervasive gasoline note.

I am sure I could have gone on applying Cocktail with impunity and abandon long after its notional expiry date of last Monday, but unfortunately Mr Bonkers has asked me to desist from using it. The last thing I would want to happen is for an ostensibly innocuous unguent to morph into an incendiary device, thereby jeopardising tthe fragile domestic harmony which has reigned since Mr Bonkers smashed up his computer the other weekend in protest at our sluggish broadband speed. (I am in charge of utility provider selecton...).

I note in Wikipedia that there is a dizzying array of recipes for Molotov Cocktails:

"Other flammable liquids such as wood alcohol and turpentine have been used in place of petrol. Thickening agents such as tar, strips of tyre tubing, sugar, animal blood, XPS foam, egg whites, motor oil, rubber cement and dish soap have been added to help the burning liquid adhere to the target and create clouds of thick choking smoke."

Crikey! But Mr Bonkers detected yet another variant. "You smell like Friar's Balsam", he declared shrewishly the other day, as I was getting into bed. Which was pretty cute of Mr B's olfactorily challenged nose, as he was at the bottom of the stairs at the time.

Well, I had to Wiki that as well, as it is one of those remedies of which I am only very dimly aware, like Tiger Balm, that root that sounds like gingivitis, and sundry plants ending in -wort.

I immediately warmed to Friar's Balsam, on hearing it described as:

"An Antiseptic Vulnerary & A Stimulating Expectorant", whose constituents are partly in dried form, partly in "liquid exudate". Exudates are very topical in our household at the moment, because according to the vet, Charlie Bonkers (the cat) is currently suffering from crusty green/black exudate around her claws, for which she is being treated with a succession of different antibiotics.

The main extract in Friar's Balsam is Styrax tonkinensis @ 47%, which sounds like something straight out of Caron's Yatagan, and certainly not like something I would care for. That particular ingredient always makes me imagine an evil constellation called Castoreum and Styrax...

Coming in at 4% are myrrh tears (Commiphora abyssinica &/or molmol). At that concentration they are likely to be imperceptible, but wouldn't you just love to see myrrh cry? : - ) Several generous slugs of styrax would do it for me.

Now one of the many alternative names for Friar's Balsam is Balsamum Traumaticum, doubtless a reference to its healing properties for wounds as diverse as chapped lips, "indolent ulcers", herpes simplex - but not, apparently, complex - fissures in places where the sun don't shine, and the intriguing-sounding urticaria, which turns out to be a persistent rash. But as I do not wish to cause Mr Bonkers undue traumaticum, I have switched to moisturing with Garnier Summerbody Moisturising Lotion Sun-Kissed Look (with natural extract of apricot).

Getting a Sun-Kissed Look feels faintly inappropriate at Hallowe'en - a startled and irritated look is more like it, as the youngsters in their ghoulish get ups make their annoying rounds of the neighbourhood. And as regular readers know, I am ambivalent at best about FRUIT in a scented product, but this is rather pleasant. Sometimes it leaves my shins covered in yellowish streaks, prompting another life-threatening illness scare, though only till the next bathtime, but it is certainly an improvement on petrol.

Hold on, I may just have thought of something to give those Trick or Treaters when the chocolate bars and carrots run out...


Photo of Molotov cocktail from Wikipedia, photo of Friar's Balsam from well.ca, photo of Trick or Treaters from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Widow's Oil Worries And Will I Wear The Wearings Challenge?

Ever since reading this disturbing post by Kevin of Now Smell This here, in which he sets out a highly credible method for calculating the projected lifespan of one’s perfume collection, I have been intermittently haunted by the all too real prospect of my sloshing fragrance lake outliving me by a factor of...oh, too many to contemplate.

A current nightly habit has only served to confirm me in my pessimistic outlook. Yes, from the end of July I have taken to spritzing on Agent Provocateur edp from my 5ml miniature. This was originally prompted by a mild concern about the age and condition of the scent – the animalic notes have become more pronounced of late – but it soon developed into a regular bedtime ritual. You should know that this mini was by no means full when I started wearing it to bed, and although its opaque design precludes inspection of the fill level, the light splishing sound I hear when I shake it suggests it isn’t approaching empty either. Though I have been wearing it every night (pretty much) since July 27th. That’s about 95 days, give or take! To use…what…3ml, maybe? Admittedly I am only squirting it on my neck area and not on my wrists, which must easily be halving my rate of consumption, but still...50 days at full spray rate equivalence remains a sobering statistic.

Given the gourd/amphora-like shape of the AP mini, I am worryingly reminded of the Biblical prosperity parable about the widow whose tiny remaining quantity of oil miraculously stretched to filling lots of other jars, thanks to the prophet Elisha's timely intervention. She was then able to sell the surplus oil and pay off her late husband’s debts. (For anyone for whom the tale is a fuzzy Sunday School memory, read it again here.)

My dismay is compounded by the fact that in my case I didn’t believe I only had a teeny bit of perfume in the first place. I knew I was awash with the stuff – and yet it still seems to grow exponentially, as fast as I try to consume it...And the other difference between me and the widow is that I would much rather the perfume wouldn't mushroom in this manner, on the basis that freshly conjured oil is an easier commodity to offload than perfume that has been around the block a bit...

To get a proper handle on this consumption rate issue, I decided to devise my own measuring method. You see, Kevin actually took a number of empty perfume bottles, refilled them with water and sprayed them till they were empty again. (I am not sure I would have the stamina for that.) Then he divided the total number of sprays in the bottle by the number he favours on a daily basis for that style of scent, to come up with an estimate of how long his various bottles will last. That is probably a more sophisticated method than I require, as I spray all perfumes the same way, unless they are very weak, in which case I might reapply them in the course of the day. That might explain the distinction between Kevin’s 10 spray-ers and his 5 spray-ers (ie the 5 spray-ers sprayed twice), although there is no 6 to go with his 3 spray-er category, which would have equated to a top up application.

So anyway, I thought I would take a 1ml vial (standard Perfume Court issue) and wear that and only that for as long as it takes to drain it. Armed with the this key fact of the "number of days to empty" (not unlike the fuel gauge on Mr Bonkers' Ford Focus, come to think of it), it just remains to tot up how many ml I own across the 60+ full bottles, dozens of decants and hundreds of samples, and multiply one figure by t’other.

All very well and good in theory...However, problems began to surface as I surveyed my collection of samples to find the perfect 1ml candidate. Clearly I want to use up a 1ml vial I already own – decanting something specially into a clean vial seems wasteful, even if there might be a particular scent I feel I could wear for days on end that is not currently in a 1ml format.

It is also important that the 1ml vial is not my only example of that scent, otherwise I won’t have any left for reference once the experiment is over. And it shouldn’t be one which I had earmarked to give away, which knocks out several more.

And the fill level must be exactly 1ml, and not something that might be 0.9ml or 0.8ml, like so many vials in my sample collection. That’s the tricky thing, because the vast majority of samples I own I have tried once or twice already. Then there are the manufacturer’s samples and others gathered in swaps that are more than 1ml but not a precise figure either - 1.5ml or 1.2ml, 2ml even - again mostly partly used. Then there were some other 1ml vials which might have been contenders, were it not for the Luckyscent or Posh Peasant label obscuring the fill level. Of the few where I decided to rip the label off, none was an exact 1ml measure either.

And finally, assuming all other criteria are met, the crunch question is whether I am prepared to wear this particular scent day in, day out, for as long as it takes to use it up?

Extraordinarily, out of hundreds of samples, only Safran Troublant and Perfect Veil were left standing at the end of the screening process. Oh dear - I am going out tonight to dinner with friends and don’t think my companions would appreciate spicy sillage, but at the same time I would like to make a bit of a statement with my chosen perfume. And Perfect Veil is, well…too veil-like really.

Right then, in order to conduct this test, it is clear to me that I will have to pick a week where I am not going out socially. Now believe me when I say that I am no gadabout, no glad rag-clad girl about town, but on balance I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for this experiment to happen any time soon...


Photo of widow from biblestories4kids.com, photo of Agent Provocateur from cheap-perfume.co.uk, photo of a bottomless well from apforums.net, photo of samples my own.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Grosjman On The Gurney - The Sequel

At the end of last month I had a suspect mole removed in hospital, and found myself unexpectedly chatting to the consultant about my perfume hobby while on the operating table. (Original post here.)

I have now had the biopsy results back from the consultant who performed the procedure - as his letter is also a little surprising, I thought it worth quoting here:

"Further to your operation on 30 September, I am pleased to be able to advise you that the lesion removed was a benign seborrhoeic keratosis. There was no sign of skin cancer.

I trust the wound is healing well. Incidentally, I enjoyed your account of the operation on your blog."

!!!! : - )


Seborrhoeic keratosis is not my own! (photo from aad.org)

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bonkers About Perfume Is One Today!

Well, well...it is hard to imagine that I have been blogging for a year already - it seems to have flown by, though Mr Bonkers might beg to differ. I couldn't resist looking back at my first post to remind myself of how it all began.

So I reckoned at the time that the underactive thyroid which flipped over into being overactive had a major role in precipitating "sudden onset perfume mania" and its associated symptoms of frenetic online research into fragrance families, splurging on sample orders from The Perfumed Court and scouting for unsniffed bargains (some of which I lived to regret) in T K Maxx. Having a newfound interest wasn't the problem, if only I could have kept it to myself...

"...my longsuffering, non-fragrance wearing partner has become heartily fed up with my talking to him about perfume all day long, as he hasn't the least interest in fragrance. He doesn't mind my having a hobby, even an obsessive one, but he doesn't want to know the minutiae of it. Which is fair enough, really...So I decided I needed an outlet for my random musings on perfume as a matter of urgency."

And so Bonkers about Perfume was born. Over the weekend, I asked Mr Bonkers if he felt I had successfully channelled my obsession into the blog. On balance, he thought not, and drew my attention to the the following areas of our domestic life which he felt had suffered:

Mealtimes have become increasingly irregular

Sometimes we sit down to a hastily improvised meal at 11pm or later. It will invariably be some form of fusion cuisine, fashioned out of scraps left over in the fridge because of my persistent failure to visit a supermarket. Innovative multi-cultural combinations of seafood sticks, cottage cheese, beetroot, a cold sausage, a samosa, a bit of quiche and some cold lentil splodge are not uncommon. Most recently garnished with slices of cucumber that Mr Bonkers brought home in error the other day when sent out expressly to buy a courgette. (And this despite having been issued with a store plan, diagrams of the chilled and ambient fixtures, and a sketch and verbal description of the target vegetable. "Glossy, dark green" clearly needs tightening.)

Some days you don't get dressed at all

I fully intend to get dressed, but often the research for a particular post ends up taking longer than I planned, or I struggle to find images to illustrate it...and before you know it it's 8pm and you might as well stay in your pyjamas. I spent an hour tracking down these cake pictures, for example. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find photos of mad hatter birthday cakes in anything approaching the public domain. Let alone one with a single candle. The one above may conceivably say "Happy Birthday Briony", but I can't swear to it, and at least "Briony" begins with a "B". In putting it up regardless, I am banking on the deteriorating close sight of my typical reader. And a bottomless tolerance of eccentricity in all its manifestations.

Lie-ins are a thing of the past

The problem being that Mr Bonkers often retires to bed very late, as is the wont of musicians, while parcels can be delivered any time after 9am. Mr B is a light sleeper while I wear ear plugs, the net result of which is that Mr B usually staggers downstairs to receive deliveries on my behalf. Not always of perfume - it could be related paraphernalia such as decanting supplies or promotional material for my Perfume Studio sideline.

The house smells

Yes, I cannot deny that sometimes, after a particularly comprehensive testing session, there may be a bit of a cacophonous fragrance fug in my immediate vicinity - Mr Bonkers would say I contaminate whole rooms.

I am repeatedly badgered for my opinion on perfumes

Mr Bonkers has long since resigned himself to the routine and unpleasant task of sniffing my person in response to my request for a second opinion. Just occasionally, he doesn't have the strength and will tell me to go away. When he is editing a tune in his recording studio he mostly wears headphones and will simply not hear. It is perhaps only a matter of time before he tumbles to the benefits of wearing headphones all the time, even if this means missing the occasional offer of a cup of tea or a handful of chocolate buttons from my secret stash.

The "family-friendly" outlet theory is fatally flawed

It would be all very well if I confined my musings on perfume to the blog, as per the original idea, but the fact of the matter is that having written a post, I clatter downstairs, often in the small hours, to find Mr Bonkers cracking open the emergency Pringles, and exclaim excitedly: "Oh, you should have a look at this one - you'll like it - you get a mention - and you'll love the illustrations, especially the one with the meerkat holding a tester bottle. You see, basically what it's about is this....."

So, I have decided to set myself a couple of "New Year's Resolutions" for the next year of blogging - or however far into the future I get. I must be quicker and more business-like in my approach, and spend less time delving into a subject or agonising over photo choices. Perhaps I should blog a little less often, or make the posts shorter - or be less anal about spellchecking them. And when I am done, I should just go downstairs to join Mr B (hopefully before it's technically tomorrow) and ask him how his day was. Or how he rates Stoke's chances in the Premiership, or what he makes of the kerfuffle over Rooney. If I really get my act together, we might eat a meal that wasn't the culinary equivalent of a patchwork quilt. And if I could restrain my urge to test so many things, I might not smell of one either.


Photo of cake from sweetretreat.ca, photo of painting from yvonne.parcella.ws, photo of butterfly cake from www2.everybody.co.nz, photo of "Van's off the wall" my own (from a bar in the Algarve).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Slippery Snippet

So the new moisturising régime is going pretty well, I'd say. This week I squeezed the final dregs out of a tube of DKNY Gold body lotion (I had had it for some years, admittedly), and also finished a bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Vera lotion that I bought as a cheap alternative to after-sun for our last foreign holiday. That would be 2007, then. Which all feels very satisfying - why, I am getting through my moisturiser collection faster than I can drain a 1ml vial of perfume...(separate post on that subject follows shortly.)

Then the other night I decided to do each leg in a different cream - just because I could. Now I may not use moisturisers very often, but I do like buying them - T K Maxx is an endless source of bargains, for example - though the two I applied on the occasion in question were both gifts:

Clarins Eau Ressourcante Crème Corps Veloutée

B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful Cocktail Body Lotion


Velouté? That's a word I associate with cooking sauces (the ones I don't make), and also mushroom soup, for some reason. Aha, that will be why. So the Clarins went on one leg and it was rich and luxurious and smelt of the sea and saunas. It just goes to show how long it is since Mr Bonkers and I had a bucket and spade holiday, because the cream contains Sarsaparilla, Hibiscus, Robinia and Longan, and apart from a vague notion that Hibiscus has red flowers and fetches up in most flavours of herbal tea, I can't visualise any of these ingredients. And I thought Sarsparilla was a place in Texas.

The Cocktail body lotion has ylang ylang in it, which I love, and a curious diesel/paraffin odour, which I don't. I have heard this note variously described as "germolene", "moth balls", and "chemicals". This may be why the pot is still almost full after a year, athough the purple label and lid coordinate nicely with my Roja Dove candle and the Paul Klee print on the bedroom wall.

Like the Clarins, Cocktail is sumptously thick, though it felt a bit drier on application than I remembered. Then to my surprise I found a Best Before date on the base - 25.10.10 - which is Monday! Well, I have never come across that before. I thought moisturisers were only unfit for use when they had separated into oily puddles, oozing brown fluid. And certainly when they start to grow fur.

There is no way I shall be able to use this 175g tub by Monday, though I will give it my best shot, diesel fumes or no. And even after that it is probably still fine - as in not posing a health hazard - it may just have less of a hydrating effect.

The next morning I asked Mr Bonkers to sniff each leg and tell me what he thought of their residual scents. He doesn't like bending at the best of times, but submitted to the task and pronounced both limbs to be perfume-free. "They smell a bit sweaty, mind."

So clearly I need to wash more, then moisturise some more. I am clearly getting the hang of this skin care lark.




Photo of octopus from Wikimedia Commons, photo of soup from diglounge.net, photo of Paul Klee print from Amazon, photo of Cocktail from company.co.uk

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Love Me Naked - Rose Body Wash: Full Of Eastern Promise...

Every year I make the same New Year's resolutions:

Eat more fish
Exercise
Moisturise


Some years I throw in a couple of extra goals, usually "hydrate" (ie drink after exercising) and "exfoliate" (scrub before moisturising). You would think I would have no problem actioning resolutions with such a high degree of assonance - hmm...I should maybe change the "fish" one to "skate" next year - but clearly not, or they wouldn't be brought forward with such weary familiarity every January.

But the selection of Diane Kruger to front the recent CK Beauty advertising campaign - with its subliminal suggestion that women over 40, to whom the scent is allegedly targeted, should make every effort to look her age, ie 34 - has fired a bit of a warning shot over my bow, and I am starting to moisturise more. Just a bit, you understand, because I come from the generation to whom moisturising was not a top of mind activity. Make up removal with Pond's Cold Cream, chapstick in winter, and very occasionally a dab of my friend's Nivea - the one in the little blue tub - or was it even an actual tin back then? I'd use Nivea if my shins felt itchy after swimming, say. And that was pretty much the extent of my skin care measures for several decades.

The other thing to mention is that I vividly remember eye creams in particular being quite painful to wear until I was well into my thirties. They would migrate into your eyes during the night and wake you up with a start, stinging like billy-oh! My vegan lodger tried to put me off these creams by claiming that the active ingredient was made from minced up female deer's privates, an image which continued to haunt me until I was at least 40 and began an eye area moisturing régime in semi-earnest.

But the rest of my body tends to take its chances, and is dry more often than it is silken or smooth. Part of me thinks - as I may have said in a comment somewhere - that to start intensively moisturising at this late stage in life would be a case of closing the stable door after the collagen has bolted, but then again - to take an exercise analogy - if I believed that I wouldn't have bothered to take up Pilates...

So I am now moisturising a few times a week - on the fronts of my legs - and the backs when I can remember. My "décolleté" too if it looks particularly quilted in the morning.

And as a preliminary to this I am regularly using Love Me Naked - Rose Body Wash in the bath. This slippery, rose-scented gel is like molten Fry's Turkish Delight - there is no other way to describe it. You know those magazine tips about spicing up your love life by fashioning scanty underwear out of slices of kiwi fruit and strawberries, then accessorising the whole outfit with drizzles of chocolate paint and mounds of whippped cream? Well, it feels slithery and decidedly unsoaplike and just a little bit naughty, as if it were erotic confectionery rather than a cleansing product.

The rose scent is very pretty - just like rose petals / rose water - well, I keep coming back to Turkish delight. The manufacturer, Naked, boasts that its product is 97% natural, as opposed to conventional body washes which use things like parabens, SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) and petrochemicals. Their slogan is:

"97% natural, 100% transparent".

And they go on to explain the reasons why they included the 3% of less palatable ingredients:

"You may also ask why only 97% natural? Well, the remaining 3% is made up of things like the preservative system (stops the product going bad after opening ) plus things like emulsifying agents which are necessary to stop ingredients from separating ( we don’t like divorce ). However some of our products are actually 99.5% natural as they didn’t need as much help to behave."

To be honest, I am not sooo bothered about the natural aspect - it is a nice bonus, but not a feature of toiletry products which I seek out. I tend to follow my mother's advice on such matters: "You eat a peck of dirt before you die." (Related post here.) Ah well, you might argue, but the proverb makes no reference to WHEN you die. If you drop down dead at 40 from ingesting all this dirt in various guises, it might be time to question your attitudes to green products.

So I mention the natural aspect to Love Me Naked for anyone for whom that would be an important feature. Meanwhile I just slather it on and smell like Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum and a Fry's chocolate bar.

And this all inevitably begs the $64,000 question...does Mr Bonkers Love Me Naked? Well, the short answer is that he would find the naked me a lot more endearing if I didn't smell of roses, 97% natural or otherwise.


Thanks are due to my friend Louise - Boots the Chemist's No 1 fan in Sweden! - for introducing me to this product.

Photo of Love Me Naked from the Naked website, photo of Nivea from Express Chemist's website, photo of a chapstick from Wikimedia Commons, photos of Fry's Turkish Delight from cherishedtelevision.co.uk and chocolatemission.net, photo of rahat loukoum from sportswise.org.uk

Monday, 18 October 2010

Speed Sniffing In Bath - Beyond Crescent Row...

On Friday Mr Bonkers and I took his mother to Bath for the day, as she had not visited it before. Mr Bonkers himself has been to Bath numerous times for gigs, but like all musicians can never remember any specifics of where he has been - however exotic and attractive the location - other than whether the "get in" was problematic, and whether the caterers remembered to segregate the vegetarian options in the finger buffet.

As for me, I used to live in Wiltshire - and before that I lived in Buckinghamshire and dated someone who lived in Wiltshire - and though I realise that Bath is actually in Somerset, relatively speaking it used to be down the road. And my father is from Bath originally, and lived there from just before the First World War till he left home sometime in the 1930s. (And yes, he was quite old when he had me, in case you are wondering...)

So the first stop on our itinerary (after a quick drive through Royal Crescent, which we figured was too far to walk to, but too iconic and familiar a backdrop in period dramas to omit from our itinerary) was the street where my father lived. We had a house name to go on but not a number, and cruised up and down in a low gear peering at gateposts to no avail. My cousin has since told me that the house is still there, but no longer known by the same name. So it looks as though we were stuffed from the start.

Next stop, after parking up at a Travelodge just outside the city centre for a bargain fiver, was Debenhams for me and Mrs Bonkers Senior, while Mr Bonkers scurried across to an Apple shop to look at laptops. Mrs Bonkers Senior made a beeline for hats, scarves and gloves, where the over 70s usually have no trouble whiling away a few minutes, while I hi-tailed it to the perfume aisle and set about scanning the fixtures at breakneck speed for any new launches.

The first display to catch my eye was the one for Benefit's newish fragrance range, Crescent Row. Inspired by Bath's Royal Crescent from which we had just come!, the scents all bear the name of a fictitious resident, each with her own personality - not unlike the ladies of Wisteria Lane - but in scent form only, and housed in brightly coloured cocktail shakers. I have never felt any curiosity to try this line, as the vibe of the Benefit brand is a bit too cutesy and retro for me. The whimsical names of the set are very much in keeping with their girlish image: Laugh with Me LeeLee, Something about Sofia, My Place or Yours Gina...and the most recent additions: So Hooked on Carmella, Garden of Good & Eva(!) and Lookin' to Rock Rita.

To be fair, the dolls house display stand and the intricate packaging concept - each bottle comes in its own miniature house! - is very well done. I can only assume that Benefit is targeting a much younger demographic - the one to whom the Harajuku Lovers scents appeal perhaps? So I didn't stop to try any of these, though I gather from reviews on beauty blogs that they are youthful, pleasant and not particularly groundbreaking.

I continued on my search for something new in Debenhams and found Marc Jacobs Bang. The tester had run dry, so I asked the SAs if they could start a new one. This request caused a little consternation, but to my advantage as it turned out, for they pressed three carded samples into my hand instead. I decided to try Bang at leisure over the weekend and it was much as I imagined, a rather intensely woody/spicy number that I would classify as falling just the wrong side of the gender divide. I have heard it dubbed "Niche for the masses" and read comparisons with Comme des Garcons (I think with CdG 2?), with which I would agree. It is more intense than Kenzo Power, for example (which I would wear), but less so than CdG 2. Indeed, if I had to rank them in order of potency, I would say Bang is Bang, CdG 2 is Big Bang, and Power is a Whimper. And as anyone who read my CK Beauty review the other day will know, "whimper" is by no means a bad thing in my book...

Still in Debenhams I spied a most unexpected fragrance release: Orla Kiely edp from the edgy textile designer of that name. I used to have a yellow and brown leaf mug of hers, which I recently smashed, and keep meaning to replace. For I am a big fan of her bold, retro, floral patterns, but her stuff is on the pricey side, so a mug was about the limit of my buy-in to the brand. If I had to design a signature scent for Orla Kiely (pronounced "Kylie", which was a surprise to me), it would have to be something offbeat and quirky, along similar lines to Tilda Swinton's Like This perhaps, or anything by Humiecki & Graef. A lower case, typewriter-style of font would definitely be involved...

The notes I could find for this scent are:

Rose, geranium, bergamot, fig, chocolate

The packaging has the naive simplicity of the original Daisy bottle, with a stylised orange flower top. Sadly, the scent itself was disappointing. It came across as a heavyish fruity floral to my nose - I think the chocolate and fig may have weighed the composition down. I felt quite crestfallen to be honest, for the combination of Orla Kiely's Irish roots and artistic flair could have resulted in something much more original and interesting.

By this time, Mrs Bonkers Senior had exhausted the browsing potential of the millinery department, and we decided to go for lunch in a Georgian tea room just opposite the Roman Baths, where we marvelled at the high ceilings, dainty sprigged wallpaper and imposing chandeliers. I had predicted to Mr Bonkers that there would be two types of cafe in Bath: oldfashioned tea rooms and alternative, wholefoody-type places with names like "The Jumping Bean" or "The Funky Satsuma". I wasn't far off it as it turned out, because we later came across the "Juice Moose Cafe" and an eaterie just called "Wild", which had a turquoise blue bicyle parked outside, propping up a board with the day's specials.

After a sustaining lunch of jacket potatoes, I inquired about ticket prices for The Roman Baths, but at £30 odd for the three of us, we swiftly decided against it. I had been once myself, many years ago - and Bath is such a uniformly beautiful city anyway that you don't really need to "do the sights" as such to see some remarkable things. The architecture, the characterful shops, the street entertainers, and even the well dressed residents going about their business are an endless source of fascination.

As we ambled through the town centre, not batting an eyelid at the sight of a man playing a violin while walking a tightrope, it wasn't long before I spied a branch of Space NK and headed inside, while Mr B loitered outside watching a busker and Mrs B Senior eyed up the cruets in Lakeland.

My request to photograph the fragrance fixture was turned down - for "intellectual property" reasons. This meant I got off on a slightly awkward foot with the two SAs, though I tried to shrug it off by inquiring brightly after Diptyque's two new fragrances, Eau Duelle and Vetyverio. Unfortunately, the Eau Duelle tester was running very low and the SA was careful to spray only the tiniest amount on my knuckle. Which is a shame, as that was the standout highlight of the day. I didn't get the citrus notes I had read about, just a burst of cold spices in the opening, which soon segued into the most amazingly creamy and slightly "dirty", smoky vanilla base - containing two types of vanilla, as I now know - one lighter (Firnat Vanilla), and one richer (Bourbon Vanilla).

The notes are as follows:

Firnat vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, bergamot, cardamom, pink pepper, elemi, juniper, saffron, calamus, frankincense, cypriol, black tea, musk and amber.

Created by Fabrice Pellegrin of Firmenich, the inspiration for the scent is the spice route, as he explains:

"Eau Duelle is based on two contrasting scents - smoky frankincense, dark and animalistic, and fresh white vanilla, sweet and light." The result? "An
interplay of shadow and light that is a weapon of seduction for both men and women alike." It occurred to me that the striking monochrome livery of the Diptyque brand perfectly echoes this dark/light counterpoint...

The scent itself reminded me very much of PG L'Ombre Fauve (with notes of amber, musk, woods, incense and patchouli), but with less of a barnyard feel and none of the painful medicinal opening. It is a nicely cleaned up version, which still retains a hint of danger. The other perfume with a similar drydown is Les Parfums de Soleils Soir de Marrakech, which includes notes of vanilla, amber, musk and patchouli - see my review here.

I also tested Vetyverio, which I dimly remember as being freshly green and rosy, but it was eclipsed by Eau Duelle, as were the scents from the Tocca and Honore des Pres range that I also tried on card (Colette and Sexy Angelic). And I doubt I was in Space NK for more than 5-10 mins when Mr Bonkers and his mother came in to retrieve me, and we carried on with our leisurely potter, popping into any shops that took our fancy: Jigsaw, Brora, Sweaty Betty, Coast, Habitat, various vintage and "stuff" shops - it is all a bit of a contented blur now.

The final perfume I tested that day was prominently displayed in the window of Jollys, Bath's original department store (now part of the House of Fraser group). This was Plum by Mary Greenwell, makeup artist to the stars, who created it in collaboration with François Robert, the distinguished perfumer behind most of the Les Parfums de Rosine line.

Plum is in fact exclusive to the House of Fraser, and I would characterise it as a classic and very feminine fruity chypre. It smells luxurious and expensive like Fracas or Joy or Roja Dove Scandal, or - given the fruity aspect - like an updated Mauboussin for the "Twenty-Tens".

Top notes: peach, blackcurrant, plum, bergamot and lemon.
Heart notes: gardenia, tuberose absolute, orange flower absolute, rose absolute and jasmine absolute.
Base notes: precious woods, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, amber and white musk.

Plum is definitely a "big frock" fragrance for special occasions, a bit too "perfumey" and full-on for my taste, though I thought it very well made. I would try it again if I came across it, and will recommend it to the Scandal-loving friend who tipped me off about CK Beauty.

Then by the time I emerged from Jollys the shops were closing, so we meandered back to the car, past a late opening hairdresser's where the clients were sipping white wine and reading magazines as their highlights marinated on their heads, past cosily lit restaurants and pubs welcoming early doors drinkers, past a venue where Mr Bonkers suddenly remembered having played, and past the rushing waters of the weir at Pulteney Bridge, dramatically uplit against an ink blue sky.

On the banks of the river we paused for a moment to consult a map of the area, and were amused by the event-filled biography of the city's legendary founder, Prince Bladud. Banished from the royal court after he contracted leprosy, he lived as a swineherd until a chance roll in the pigs' mud brought about a miraculous cure.

Bladud returned to court, was welcomed by his mother, and went on to rule as king for twenty years, and found the city of Bath somewhere along the way. Tragically, he met an untimely end making the first recorded attempt at human flight using homemade wings, and crashed to his death near New Troy. Read more about the story here. Bladud should have quit while he was ahead, if you ask me. Founding Bath counts as a pretty decent legacy on its own...


Photo of Royal Crescent is from Wikimedia Commons, picture of Marc Jacobs Bang is from apetogentleman.com, picture of Eau Duelle is from the Diptyque website, the photo of PG L'Ombre Fauve is from Luckyscent and the pig photo is from bluedogjewellery.typepad.com. Other photos are my own.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan Royal Palm: Tripadvisor In A Bottle

Since the advent of the Internet, there has been a growing trend away from using travel agents in favour of booking flights and hotels independently, a trend which Mr Bonkers and I have also followed to organise our holidays. Or - to be precise - which I have followed, since I am the designated "researcher" in our household. My favourite websites for planning work trip and holiday accommodation are Hotels.com. Booking.com, Trivago and perhaps the granddaddy of them all, Tripadvisor...

I have singled out Tripadvisor in the title of this post on account of its widely varying and often harsh critiques. I always use its reviews in conjunction with information from other sites, because if you relied on Tripadvisor alone, you would only feel confident booking a luxury five star hotel costing upwards of $1000 a night. And you still might be disappointed.

That said, the Royal Palm Hotel in Mauritius gets a rating of 89% out of a possible 100 on Tripadvisor, is ranked No 1 out of 24 hotels on the island, and gets uniformly rave reviews. I have just checked the rates and they are 395 to 980 euros per person per night, depending on the time of year. Sounds like a pretty safe bet if I had that kind of money.

And for a much smaller outlay there is Royal Palm, the hotel's "signature scent" insofar as a building can be said to have such a thing. The perfumer Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan worked for two years with Jacques Silvant, the General Manager of this luxury hotel on the Indian Ocean, to capture the scents of Mauritius in a bottle. The note listing from Luckyscent is as follows:

Grapefruit, jasmine, iris, cardamom, cinnamon, pink pepper, black pepper, clove, vetiver, cedar wood, leather and incense

Speaking to the Mauritius Tourist Office, Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan explained: "We were agreed that we wanted to create a scent that was both very fresh and very grounded, appealing equally to men and women, and which took its inspiration from the island's fruits, spices and precious woods." (my translation)

On first application I get a strong burst of spices - I can detect non-colour-specific pepper, cinnamon and clove, though not cardamom - and any grapefruit notes are lost in this feisty opening salvo. Throughout its development, Royal Palm remains sheer, green and softly spicy. Right off the bat it reminded me of Parfums 01630 Lentisque, with which it shares three notes: jasmine, iris and vetiver. And while there appears to be less overlap compositionally with PG Papyrus de Ciane, Royal Palm smells like a much more wearable and accessible interpretation of that same green/resinous style.

I came to hear about this scent via lovethescents, and no sooner had she tipped me off about it when I coincidentally received a sample as a swap extra.
Strangely, I can't find a single review of Royal Palm on any of the perfume blogs - I say "strangely", because it seems deserving of greater accolades.

And while the Royal Palm Hotel gets a very high rating on Tripadvisor, my own hastily assembled team of reviewers, namely Mr Bonkers and his mother, were less forthcoming in their praise of its eponymous perfume - and in that respect more typical of contributors to the site. The three of us were about to set off on a day trip to Bath, and I thought Royal Palm would be a refined choice of SOTD for such an elegant city.

"What on earth is this?!" inquired Mr Bonkers tetchily, after I had pressed him into giving my wrist a hasty sniff.

"It's the signature scent of a five star hotel in Mauritius."

"Huh", he replied, "Smells more like the bins on a caravan site in Rhyl."

Mr Bonkers's mother reluctantly applied her nose to the same spot.

"Sweatshop", she remarked, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "Sweatshop in Asia somewhere - you know - where they make T-shirts for a pittance."

Goodness - I didn't see any of that coming. Maybe she could smell the cardamom that I couldn't? Does cardamom + vetiver = sweat?

Undeterred by this slew of criticism, I dabbed on a bit more Royal Palm. This may be the closest I get to a holiday this year. Mrs Bonkers Senior meanwhile had applied a generous swoosh of Burberry Women, and Mr Bonkers was his usual scentless self. Looking back, I should have left some more space for the scent testing opportunities that lay ahead...


Photos of Royal Palm Hotel from free2.co.uk and questtravel.com, photo of Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan from ilemaurice-tourism.info, photo of spices from flickr.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Calvin Klein Beauty: Because Blandness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

The other week the friend to whom I introduced Roja Dove Scandal was on holiday in New York. One day she popped into Saks, randomly sprayed Calvin Klein's latest release, Beauty, and instantly decided that I would like it. When she told me this I was chuffed that my budding perfume protégée had thought fit to divert some valuable sightseeing time away from the Empire State Building, Staten Island Ferry and Ground Zero to perfume testing in a department store, especially with a friend in tow who was not "of the faith".

Beauty was already on my radar, although I hadn't tried it at that point, and my friend's recommendation spurred me on to acquire a couple of samples on Ebay. I had read the rather sparse note description on Osmoz, which only lists ambrette seed, jasmine and cedar, but I like those well enough. According to the press release, the overall effect is meant to be that of a "neo-Calla lily", and I like lilies well enough too, real or illusory.

The problem with the CK scents I have tried to date is that they are either harshly synthetic citrus, or overly gourmand OR spicy OR fruity (respectively CKIN2U, Euphoria, Obsession and Escape).

So the sketchy notes for Beauty looked encouraging. And the positioning of the fragrance to women over 40 also appealed to me. This is another reason why I have passed over CK fragrances until now - they all seem to be targeted at attractive, 20-something "his and her" clones, who are invariably pictured semi-naked and entwined in one another's arms. Some of them could even pass for twins, but you prefer to think they just met on set that day.

Which is not to say that I can relate to the specific sort of over-40s beauty which Diane Kruger represents in the adverts - even if she weren't only 34, haha! Yes, actual age aside, Diane's hair is way too blonde, her skin too fresh and luminous, and her white evening gown much too elegant for me to feel anything other than a stunted, grubby troll in her shadow. This is an impeccably groomed "ice queen" style of beauty, as typified by Betty in Mad Men, and is one to which it would be frankly hopeless for me to aspire. I would have to start exfoliating and stop biting my nails before I even got off the starting blocks, and to achieve that exact shade of "Light Natural Blonde" would take at least a dozen packets of Garnier Nutrisse, and a ton of Pre-Lightener Creme, and I still might end up looking like Courtney Love after a night on the tiles. Well, not the lips, obviously.

But none of this reality check stopped me from wanting to try Beauty, and I have worn it now about four times. It is much as I imagined, and just as Octavian describes it on 1000 Fragrances:

"Beauty is uncomplicated, easy to understand and universally known."

Yes, Beauty is familiar and relentlessly pleasant, and in my view none the worse for that. I get a lemony burst in the opening, then the only flower I can pick out is jasmine in that rather indistinct floral accord typical of so many modern scents, before it mutes down to a woody musky base, in which I think I may also detect vanilla. This fragrance strikes me a little bit like a mainstream take on Promesse de L'Aube, and given the shocking price of the Parfums MDCI range, even the palest of imitations are to be welcomed.

Beauty also reminds me of Chance (not the hyacinth note, but the musk and the amorphous structure), J'Adore L'Eau Cologne Florale (the lemony aspect and the magnolia notes, though J'Adore is fruitier and more watery, where Beauty is more musky), and Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile (like J'Adore, but more soapy and a tad plasticky). But if you merged the profiles of all those scents in one big olfactory computer e-fit, you would be in roughly the right territory. Beauty is a "luminous, lemony, woody musky floral" and if it turned up in my Christmas stocking, I wouldn't be sorry. I wouldn't have a clue where to put it, but I wouldn't be sorry.

Robin of Now Smell This, who - out of all the "proper reviewers" - has the most congruent taste with my own, sums up Beauty as follows:

"There is nothing really distinctive or interesting about it: it’s just adequately pretty and wearable, and my sentiments are firmly with the reviewer on MakeupAlley who noted that 'elegant and sophisticated shouldn’t mean dull'”.

They are right of course - ideally, elegance shouldn't be boring. CK Beauty is "pretty and wearable", and more sophisticated than any other scent in the line - and a bit bland. But why I am so taken with this new release - and why I chose to write about it even though there are better noses and brains on the case already - is precisely because, RELATIVELY SPEAKING, for Beauty to be understated and elegant is pretty good going for a Calvin Klein scent and worthy of comment. Put another way, it is easy for Beauty to shine versus the other fragrances in the line. Not unlike the old adage about banging your head against a brick wall - it is so nice when you stop.

Added to that is the fact that out of all the perfume bloggers I know, I am the one most likely to be satisfied with a scent that is merely "pretty and wearable". On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is a preference for accessible, inoffensive scents and 10 is a liking for scents that are rampantly weird, my taste probably sits at around a 4. Some days even a 3. If Beauty was a perfect representation of leaves falling on reindeer fur that has been rubbing against lichen, bark and petrol-doused tyres, frankly, you wouldn't endear it to me any more.

CK Beauty isn't really a beauty, but it is certainly "personable". Or as my mother used to observe (somewhat cryptically): "Handsome is as handsome does." And Beauty comes in a simple, sleekly stylish bottle. Who knows, it could even turn out to be a "go to" scent. And I never thought the day would come when I would ever be IN2 A CK...


Photos of CK Beauty and Diane Kruger from moodiereport.com, photo of Calla lily from Wikimedia Commons, photo of Promesse de L'Aube from Luckyscent, photo of J'Adore L'Eau Cologne Florale from ideal.az

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Armani Sensi - Sultry Sweetness Without The Swagger

There are perfume houses to which I pretty much tune out because I dislike so many scents in their line - Jean-Paul Gaultier, Hugo Boss and Givenchy are three which spring to mind - and then there are other companies where I like a fair few of their offerings, but whose image irks me slightly. Giorgio Armani and Tom Ford are in the latter camp. I associate both brands with excess testerone and slick tailoring, and Armani is the sharper-suited of the two. A wider gauge of pinstripe, if you know what I mean, or a slight sheen to the fabric. I accept that these associations with the Armani brand may be totally off, but I am picturing champagne-swilling City traders, luxury car salesmen and footballers. Ever so slightly spivvy in my imagination, whereas the Tom Ford wearer is more urbane and less conspicuous in his consumption. Yes, both brands feel very male to me, though I know their range includes scents for both genders. The problem with Armani might have a lot to do with its bombastic logo, which looks even more bombastic when affixed to underpants.

And some of Armani's bottles are a bit over the top as well, either in a tacky, blinging sort of way (Diamonds, Idole) or because they are overly embellished - or "bediggled", as my mother would have said. The Onde series with their fussy little tassles is a case in point. Give me quirky red graphics on an anti-perspirant can any day (White For Her).

Mind you, I must confess to a sneaking affection for the tasteful, if slightly pseudy opulence of the Privé Collection, with their sleek dark wood packaging topped with oversized coloured pebbles. It is a more tasteful take on Versace Crystal Noir, and also reminds me of ancient standing stones and those cute pieces of treasure in Buccaneer.

I happen to like several of the Armani Privé scents, but what troubles me about this range is the persistence with which its sales assistants push the layering concept and try to talk you into buying two bottles for the price of two. This says to me that they are either not confident about each scent being able to stand up on its own OR they are just plain greedy. But the combo of Eclat de Jasmin and Rose Alexandrie which I was nearly talked into buying costs a whopping £140.

Also, some of the products seem oddly mismatched to their marketing: the adverts for Armani Code feature insanely good looking people shooting each other smouldering looks and proffering their best profile to camera. The message is clear: this perfume gets you laid...in style...in a backless gown with crossover straps...so be sure to wear a multiway bra. But in my view none of these scents smells remotely seductive: to my nose Code is a cheap and rather pungent orange blossom, Diamonds is raspberry lolly water and Idole is a big pear note that simultaneously takes your head and your nail polish off.

So where is this anti-Armani rant all leading, you may be wondering? Well, there is an Armani scent in a simple, classic bottle, which eschews the twin extremes of brash swagger and contrived artiness, and still manages to be genuinely sultry - the now sadly discontinued Sensi.

Sensi was created in 2002 by Alberto Morillas, whose somewhat blurry creations I seem to be drawn to. Harry Fremont (of Gwen Stefani L by L.A.M.B, Juicy Couture Juicy Couture and Vera Wang Princess fame) also had a hand in this one. I don't normally like his work, as his scents tend to be on the sweet side - indeed Sensi is nudging the upper limit of my sweetness tolerance - but together they have pulled off a beauty here.

Here is the note listing from Osmoz, which classifies it as a woody oriental, my favourite sub-category of the oriental family:

Top notes: kaffir lime, acacia farnesiana, jasmine
Middle notes: cape jasmine, barley
Base notes: palisander wood, benzoin

This scent list is by no means exhaustive - I swear there's a fair old dollop of vanilla in the base.

What does Sensi smell like? Well, being a Morillas it is, as I say, pleasantly indistinct. Sensi is a warm, woody, sweetish, vanilla-ish jasmine that is very comforting - there may be a hint of spice in there to stop the sweetness becoming cloying - as for what spice, I am obviously not the right person to ask. When you first apply it there is a faint "note de Tupperware", but this plasticky quality quickly wears off. I think the benzoin may be the culprit, but the effect is short-lived in any event.

I could only find one review of this scent by a blogger, who is also one of the Sniffapalooza contributors. Unfortunately it is in Portuguese - I might have made a reasonable fist of it had it been in Spanish. How Sensi managed to live for seven(?) years almost completely under the blogosphere radar is a mystery to me.

Another fan speaks up on www.handbag.com, concerned at the decision to drop Sensi:

"I have just reached the last drop of Sensi, and I'm gutted that it's been discontinued. Can anyone recommend something similar?"

I would reply, but this time I am stumped, for there is nothing I have smelt which is like it. "Kaffir lime", "acacia farnesiana", "barley" and "palisander wood" don't show up singly all that often, never mind as a foursome! On googling kaffir lime, I note that it is an ingredient in Thai cooking, and has a bumpy texture, not unlike a brain.

As for acacia, Octavian Coifan explains how this smells in his post about the note here:

"The basic acacia scent is a mix between orange flower notes, very green and sweet accents."

"Palisander" appears to be a type of Brazilian rosewood, while barley is...well... barley is (amongst other things) a soup ingredient - one I might well experiment with now that the replacement stopper has come for my blender. I imagine that it adds neutral body to the composition, like cornflour to a casserole.

So there we have it - a unique, silky, sweetly sexy scent with highly distinctive notes - and what does Armani do? Knock it on the head, that's what it does, one can only presume because it wasn't selling. Did it have the same advertising budget behind it as all its predecessors? I have no idea. What I can say is that I have always been aware of Armani Code and She (even before I became a PPP ("Proper Perfume Person") - but I chanced upon Sensi at Stansted airport, right before the axe fell. Should have bought a bottle - though it is still knocking around on the likes of Ebay.

Ah well... I might write to the press and complain. I can see the headline now: "Sensual Sensi's Surprise Demise Censured As 'Senseless' By Incensed Scent Critic". Oh all right then, maybe not.


Photo of Sensi from productwiki.com, photo of David Beckham and Ronaldo from guardian.co.uk, photo of standing stones from discover-cornwall.co.uk, photo of Armani Code advert, kaffir limes and Armani Diamonds all from Wikimedia Commons.