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Monday, 29 November 2010

Christmas Gift Guide And Prize Draw On Ca Fleure Bon

Over on Ca Fleure Bon today is a compendium of Christmas gift ideas designed to appeal to perfumistas everywhere (and "normal" people too, for the most part). And here and there, perfumistas or normal people with large wallets. : - )

All the contributing writers, myself included, were urged to "Think outside the bottle" in coming up with our suggestions. As the only Brit on the team, I have gone with a domestic theme, as you can see here.

Oh, and there is the opportunity to win some hand and body lotion in a prize draw - you just have to leave a comment.


Photo of Christmas present from 1happycorner.com

Sunday, 28 November 2010

"Weird Wafts" - An Occasional Series: No 2 - Goratna Aftershave (With Added Bovine Urine)

We all have our own personal bêtes noires in the fragrance world, our Room 101 scents, our most feared scrubbers. I thought I had "sniffed it all" when it comes to the dark underbelly of the fragrance market, but then I finally got round to reading last Saturday week's edition of The Times (I did say I'd been a bit sidetracked lately...), and spotted a feature on an Indian brand of aftershave containing cow pee. Well, not just aftershave by all accounts - the company in question, Gou Brands Private, also makes a range of toiletries such as shampoo and skin cream, all containing either cow urine or dung.

The rationale for including bovine waste in these products is twofold: their alleged medical benefits on the one hand, plus a desire to protect cows (a sacred animal in the Hindu faith) from being slaughtered once their milking days are over. Two of the ailments which bovine waste claimes to cure are bad breath and cancer. The association between splashing on urine-soaked aftershave and having fragrant breath is rather lost on me, though it may be that that particular health claim is specific to another urine-based line of products, a fizzy drink range called Gauloka Peya. Gauloka Peya was launched by the fundamentalist Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and is available in four flavours: orange, rose, lemon and "khus", a type of scented grass. Hmm - sounds like a case of "RSS drink" rather than "RSS feed"...

The Times goes on to report: "Om Prakash, the director of the RSS Cow Protection Unit, was bullish. 'This will end the market for carbonated fizzy drinks.'" Goodness me - I sense that the likes of Coca-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes should be running scared...or even, er...."p***ing themselves with fear". And the Times journalist is on stunning form with his punning headline:

"A golden opportunity to whiff of cows' eau de toilet".

I would link to the full article, but The Times' archives are now subscription-only.


Photo of Goratna aftershave from Sulekha.com

My Gourmand Eyebrows - The Sequel

Fifteen days after I had my eyebrows professionally shaped, Mr Bonkers finally noticed them this morning.

"You've been plucking your eyebrows again" he remarked sternly, frowning in disapproval. "You look all weird."

Drat!! I really thought I'd got away with it...

Friday, 26 November 2010

Down A Rabbit Hole But Popping Up On Ca Fleure Bon

It is a week since my last post, and predictably I have indeed disappeared down the rabbit hole of the monstrously large database alluded to in my Ormonde Jayne piece. The subterranean depths I currently inhabit are not of Chilean miner proportions, though it is getting to the point where food parcels would not go amiss. Mr Bonkers has eaten all the pizzas in the freezer and is just starting on the boxes. Conversely, Charlie Bonkers is enjoying Alaskan wild salmon - tinned admittedly - which was destined for human consumption in dainty sandwich form. However, we are right out of kibble, and though quite adventurous for a cat (creamy pasta sauce scrapings being a particular favourite), Charlie has not yet developed a taste for Cheerios.

But as luck would have it, my first post for Ca Fleure Bon appeared today over here. In true Blue Peter style (as UK readers over a certain age will understand), it is "something I prepared earlier".

My Ca Fleure Bon post is a tale of canine pulchritude and thwarted ambition, all loosely connected (would you expect anything more?) to the theme of perfume.

Now I had three posts in mind for this week, but I fear my time has not been my own. Indeed other people's time has also not been my own, with my seamless working transition from GMT to PST. Bonkers will be back, just as soon as I can nail this upcoming US trip, or sooner if I am feeling particularly fed up. If I had a dollar for every time I have listened to the message: "If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time", I would be so well off I wouldn't need to work at all. And the sad fact of the matter is that I know neither my party's extension, nor my party, nor - in some cases - whether I should be ringing that particular company in the first place. Frankly I am just grateful for any party who is a real person and picks up the phone. Most people are "away from their desk" so much of the time that they can't possibly really need one, so by my reckoning about 90% of the desks in any given office could be removed and recycled. Why, there's another green initiative no one has thought of...

And meanwhile, I give thanks for Thanksgiving, giving me a breather from all these main menus and voicemail graveyards!


Photo of Meg from Clare Chick's Flickr site

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ormonde Jayne - A Fragrance Capsule Wardrobe In A Slidey-Out Box

At the heart of my work in market research lies the concept of the "strike rate". This is basically the conversion rate of interviews you manage to set up from a given database of contacts. Sometimes the parameters are very straightforward: "Here is a list of 20 of the client's customers - recruit as many as you can." This is the case currently with my daytime job. By night, however, I am working on another project on the West Coast of the US (a shift pattern known as "time zone moonlighting"), and here the parameters are a lot more tricky.

For I am trying to achieve an "interlocking sample", which involves looking for a selection of people, each of whom must meet a kaleidoscope of different criteria which will add back to a larger overall segmentation. To take a totally different example, it is rather like looking for "bald, left handed, politically right wing speedboat owners in Oslo" AND "right handed, left of centre canoeists with a comb-over in Bergen" AND "ambidextrous, politically indifferent Harley Davidson owners with a full head of hair in Trondheim". You get my drift.

And all these variables have to total the overall requirement in the sample for bald people, people in Trondheim etc. Now my database is large - very large - and these highly specific respondents may well be out there, but the $64,000 question is whether I will find them in time, because the details on the database are sketchy at best, and there is a cut off point when you are supposed to have your ducks in a row and go out and interview these people, though you will invariably be knackered and cross-eyed when the time comes.

This morning, as I was still fretting over the difficulties of the US sample, I sprayed on Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir for the third day running. It is soft and comforting, and I haven't much time to agonise over my perfume choice at the moment. Then I remembered that of all the perfume houses I know, Ormonde Jayne is the one with the highest "strike rate" in the sense of my liking almost all the scents in its range.

And I hasten to add that the reason I say so has nothing to do with the fact that their PR lady recently sent me a Discovery Set - or only in the sense that as a result I have been able to test the last three scents in the line that I had not got around to sampling before, namely Orris Noir, Zizan and Isfarkand. By contrast, Jean Paul Gaultier could send me a pantechnicon crammed to the gunnels with every scent they make, tossing in a crate of body lotion and a metallic leatherette tote bag for good measure, but it would not endear the house to me any more. If anything, such a delivery would be likely to inspire a post along the lines of: "If you could only wear perfumes belonging to one brand, is there a house which could put you off scent forever?" With arguably a slightly snappier title.

But going back to Ormonde Jayne, my strike rate with their scents is not the only remarkable thing, but also the fact that they have the potential to form a "capsule wardrobe" of fragrances, ie a set of scents to cover all bases, whether in terms of notes, family, mood or occasion. Now it would be an easy enough task to put together such a thing from one's entire collection of scents - or if not easy exactly, it could be done with a bit of time and head scratching - it is the sort of thought process we naturally go through when people ask: "What would your top 10 or 20 perfumes be?"

But from a single house, and one with such a small range as this it is impressive. For sure, I could probably pick myself out a great capsule wardrobe from either Chanel or Guerlain, but there is more to go at with either of them. And compared to Ormonde Jayne, my strike rates with Chanel or Guerlain are much lower - it's a very rough guess, but maybe 30-40% for those two vs an 80% hit rate with Ormonde Jayne. So OJ scores highly on BOTH strike rate (as in "my liking the scents at all") AND on capsule wardrobe potential. Why, that is its own little interlocking sample right there!

To take just the nine women's scents, plus Isfarkand, which I think could easily be positioned as unisex, here is my own stab at assembling the capsule.

OSMANTHUS (fruity floral with herbal notes)

Casual everyday wear - cropped trousers and a top with a bit of interesting detail (ribbons, wacky buttons)

CHAMPACA (light floral with tea and basmati rice notes)

Serene and zen-like scent suited to gym or pilates/yoga wear ie stretchy, Lycra-enriched cotton bell bottoms and ballet wrap top and pumps.

TIARE (sparkling, citrussy chypre)

Crisp business attire or smart casual (pencil skirt, tailored blouse). There is a sort of review here.

SAMPAQUITA (light floral with exotic flowers)

Feminine, girly - floral tea dress for summer, or a flippy Boden skirt.

FRANGIPANI (heady floral with exotic flowers)

Ultra feminine summer holiday outfit with more va-va-voom and a come-hither look, eg sarong and bikini, halter neck maxi dress and jewelled sandals. Would make a good bridal scent contender.

ORRIS NOIR (dark woody oriental with iris)

Winter casual clothes - cashmere sweater, wool trousers or skirt, thick ribbed tights. Shades of slate, heather and periwinkle. Would go well with most of the Brora and Toast catalogue. The best choice for funerals, notwithstanding the comment on black outfits below - Ormonde Woman is a little too spiky for venues encouraging public displays of emotion.

ORMONDE WOMAN (dark woody oriental with black hemlock!)

"Little black dress" or other black outfit of any kind, as long as it has a bit of edge - asymmetry, unusual fastenings, scary funnel neck, apertures where you least expect them etc. A "go-to" scent for female investment bankers wearing wide gauge black pin stripe suits.

TOLU (resinous woody oriental - rich and sumptuous)

Very formal winter party wear - ie cocktail dress or full length gown in a fabric of velvet or brocade, preferably in shades of emerald green or burnt orange. May be accessorised with fur, depending on your stance on such things.

ISFARKAND - crossover with Champaca as a quiet meditative scent suitable for gentle forms of exercise and with Tiare as a discreet business scent. Also works well with a "boyfriend cardigan" and Ugg boots. Maybe also a coatigan, provided it is not too shaggy and hippyish.

TA'IF (dusty rose oriental with saffron and "EAT ME" dates)

"Wild card" scent in the range - combines the sombre, buttoned up snuggliness of Orris Noir with the rampant sensuality of Frangipani. "Covert pulling gear" is the closest outfit description I can come up with, which could range from dark skinny jeans and boots to a short vintage dress and a leather jacket. Touches of lace would not go amiss. Or red, but definitely not for the leather jacket. Escaping bra straps (ideally Aubade or Chantelle) in contrasting colours are permitted. May also be worn ironically with any of the above ensembles.

So there you have it - feel free to tweak and rearrange the outfits, the way I used to enjoy doing on those cut out paper dolls on the back page of Bunty... Meanwhile, I must dive back into the database of contacts and see if I can winkle out some no-handed Green Party keep fit enthusiasts in Kristiansand. Or their Stateside equivalent, obviously. And if my posts become sparse / "spotty" in the near future, you will know I have disappeared down the rabbit hole of my 16,000 entry Excel spreadsheet.




Link to Ormonde Jayne Site

Photo of Ormonde Jayne discovery set and perfumes from the company website, photo of a human jigsaw from gamerevolution.com, photo of a puzzle from kids-strategy-games.com, photo of a capsule wardrobe from business-bombshell.com, photo of Bunty comic from dgthekneelo.com, photo of database from sibis.com.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hairy Story No 2 - My Gourmand Eyebrows

My gourmand eyebrows? "Enough of this nonsense already!" I hear you cry - or the US readers amongst you at least - because we don't use "already" in that way over here. Do not be alarmed, for the nonsense will abate soon - I am planning a serious post about some perfumes soon. Or maybe not a serious post, but I promise it will be about some perfumes. At least in part.

But meanwhile, on to my eyebrows. I was feeling unstoppable, you see, after walking out of the hair salon on cloud nine and several inches taller, not all of them due to build up of "product". And yes, Cloud Nine is from the same meteorological series of styling products as Wella High Hair Finishing Spray Firm and Sebastian Flaunt Halo Mist.

So I went home, gouged off all the bits of hair clinging to my face like hirsute iron filings to a magnet, then went straight back into town to have my eyebrows professionally shaped for the very first time, astonishing as that may sound to the average, well adjusted self-groomer. Okay, I have made desultory attempts to pluck the most impudently wayward hairs - only from underneath, the way you are supposed to - and very, very occasionally I have committed the brow equivalent of self-harming, and shaved a cm off one end with a Bic razor. For I am a bit mad like that: as a brooding teen I once managed to "shave" the hair on my arms and legs using just a pumice stone, which was the only implement that came to hand when the depilatory urge struck me.

So yes, I think my new High Hair emboldened me to have the bushy circumflexes that pass for my eyebrows licked into shape. "Licked" being the operative word as I was soon to learn...But first I had to agree to a general styling plan. The brow technician (I believe that is the term) had quite thin, straight and emphatic eyebrows, like those lines you dash off quickly underneath a person's name on a greeting card envelope, typically at a slight angle, though not as much of an angle as Spock's eyebrows, which are getting on for crossed chopsticks, or would be if they went down a bit further. I will call the ones I mean "Underlining Flourish Eyebrows", or UFEs for short. Anyway, the technician explained that I was not going to have her kind of eyebrows, but just a tidier, more defined version of my own. The brow version of those lipsticks people call "YLBB" ("Your lips but better").

And so I lay down on the couch and relaxed while the technician did some initial gentle plucking before applying wax to three different areas of each brow. As the warm lava crept across my skin, I suddenly realised that it had a noticeable fragrance, namely a comforting, foody smell.

"What's that scent?!" I exclaimed. "Is it toffee?"

"Chocolate hazelnut" replied the technician. I am so rubbish at this spontaneous note recognition lark, but at least I was in gourmand territory.

"Goodness me" I continued, "Is wax normally scented?"

"Oh yes", she said. "We've got a So Berry Delicious one too."

So that was all very strange - a pleasurable gourmand scent but in a bizarre context. Having Nutella smeared on your eyebrows felt as odd as using Hollandaise sauce conditioner or an exfoliating granola scrub. Actually, those two might just exist.

And how do my brows look now, after all that fragrant waxing? They are not UFEs, I am happy to report, and I think I have successfully navigated between the Scylla and Charybdis of eyebrow disasters, namely thinner, "Cruella de Ville" circumflexes and "TinTin dashes", about which Katie Puckrik warned me on her blog.

For the record, Mr Bonkers hasn't noticed I have had anything done. He did, however, say I looked "mad" in one of the photos of my new hair-do, which may have been a subliminal response to my covert brow realignment. Whatever...I like them, and anyway, it won't be long before my fringe grows back.

But meanwhile I've got the gourmand scent munchies and must track down a sample of Montale's Chocolate Greedy. Now, do they do a hair putty in that?


Photo of plastic arch from chinatopsupplier.com, photo of Spock from 1905529261.blogspot.com, photo of wax from omnisiz.com, photo of TinTin from suite101.com

Monday, 15 November 2010

Hairy Story No 1 - More "Hayrick" Than "Puckrik": Taking Katie's Mane In Vain

Earlier this year I went to the hairdresser's and asked them to sort out my barnet. I told them that if they could see their way to integrating the different tiers of the lank and straggly mullet I had somehow managed to acquire, that would be much appreciated. A bit of sleight of hand - or more correctly, "legerdeciseaux" - was duly deployed, but what made the biggest difference was the flamboyant blowdrying exercise, which miraculously jeuged up my hair into a blowsy edifice, perilously secured in place by a fine but glutinous mist. My hair was freshly washed, yet looked greasier than when it was dirty. That is the effect of the "product", without which none of this sticky spun candy floss effect would have been possible. Do I mean spun candy floss? Actually, that might be more for your backcombed beehives. Anyway, you can read more about the original transformation and its link with avocados, salt and Hawaii here.

Studying my reflection in the mirror at home, I decided that the hairstyle I had accidentally come away with had vague echoes of Katie Puckrik's curly bob, as seen in this latest video review of Marc Jacobs Bang: a kind of "Mock Puckrik", if you will, or "Muckrik" for short. Though as you may infer from the reference to hay in the title, it was very much "mock" in the sense of travesty. After all, mock turtle soup is traditionally made here with calf's head and feet, which sounds like a mockery of even mock turtle.

Yes, my hairdo, whilst faintly reminiscent of Katie's in terms of cut, was markedly inferior in terms of its wave definition and staying power. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the true Puckrik involves spectral rollers, supplemented by an arsenal of volumising products.

My money is on one or all of the following, which sound as though they would kick the crap out of any fine, flyaway, limp or otherwise disobedient strands of hair they found cowering behind an ear or, God forbid, trying to flick out in the wrong direction:

•Rene Furterer - Anti-Dehydrating Structuring Mousse - Strong Hold
•Kerastase Resistance Bain Volumactive Shampoo/Mousse
•Helene Curtis ThermaSilk Volume Infusing Mousse
•Suave Professionals Amplifying Shampoo
•Pantene Pro-V Full & Thick Collection

But there again, Katie may just eat burnt toast.

Right, so my new hairdo may be a pale imitation of the real thing, but it is an improvement on the early feathered "Quatro" that was there before, which felt so right in 1974 - a time when even silver jumpsuits were no more of a head turner than a chunky knit coatigan today. I have been back to the salon twice and asked for it again by name - well, I've asked for a "Puckrik" rather than a "Travesty", obviously. Which reminds me of the time my mother sent me to Sainsburys to buy her a lemon. "Not just any lemon", she called after me. "Bring me back an 'epitome' of one." From that time to this, I only ever buy epitome-type lemons - you know, the ones with symmetrical knobbles at either end and a perfect Bronnley's lemon soap shape.

Reverting to our hairy story, Katie is aware of my low level trichological stalking behaviour, and seems reasonably relaxed about it. Possibly because the "Mock Puckrik" is frankly too poor a parody to pose a real threat of clashing coiffures. The 5500 mile distance between LA and The Midlands must also be a comfort. Moreover, even if Katie were ever to be based in London again, our locations would still not be particularly close, and remain separated by a perpetually congested section of the M6.

By a spooky coincidence, while looking just now for a photo of me in 1974 to see what sort of hairstyle I DID wear that year, I found this snap of my second cousin forklifting me into the air on bales of hay . It is hard to make out the exact cut I had back then, but it looks to me like some kind of overgrown and wayward pageboy with the side parting from hell. My cousin appears to be sporting a curly mullet.

So it seems as though I have at least had consistently bad hair down the ages. A "mane manqué", if you will...

Mr Bonkers has just come in to take a look at this post, while waiting for his evening meal to go ping. "What has all that got to do with perfume?" he inquired imperiously. "Ah, because it is about mine and Katie Puckrik's hair, and she is a perfume pundit. That's the equivalent of you wearing the same Spiderman T-shirt as Victor Wooten - you know, the one you saw him play in and really liked."

"Ah", said Mr Bonkers portentously. "....But I didn't."




Photo of mock turtle soup from Wikimedia Commons, photo of Suzi Quatro from cbgb.com, photo of Victor Wooten by Eric Tinsley, other photos my own.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Flittersniffer - Now Also A Flitterwriter!

My Facebook friends may already have caught up with this news, so I thought it time to make a little announcement on the blog as well. For starting later this month, I shall be submitting a monthly post to Cafleurebon, as one of their panel of regular contributors. My slot will be the last Friday of each month, and instead of writing a Bonkers post on or around that date, I will put up a link to my piece on Cafleurebon, so regular readers or anyone who happens to be curious can simply hop over there.

I was flattered and surprised to receive this invitation, as I consider Cafleurebon, despite its relatively recent arrival on the perfume scene, to be a "proper" blog with heavyweight writers such as Michelyn Camen, the site founder and Editor in Chief. Michelyn has worked in the beauty industry for over 20 years, and is perhaps best known in the blogosphere for her insightful interviews with new and established perfumers.

Cafleurebon will shortly have eight regular contributors on board, writing on different frequencies, from monthly like me to several times weekly, and all with distinctive authorial voices. By picking me to join their ranks, I think they were seeking to mix things up a bit with some lighthearted content. At least I hope so, because that is all I know how to do. As these new writers come onstream, the plan is for the blog to take on more of the feel of an online magazine - not unlike the colour supplements in the weekend papers, but without the restaurant reviews, the problem page and special offers on spring bulbs.

I think I will be writing under the assumed identity of my real self, Vanessa Musson, and in anticipation of this - as eagle-eyed readers may have noticed - I have started to test drive "Vanessa" as a screen name in the interests of cross-blog coherence. But I shall still answer to Flittersniffer, FS, Ms Bonkers, Bonks or anything else people may care to call me, for it is my inherently "flittery" nature which has facilitated this blogger equivalent of moonlighting in the first place...


Photo of aeroplane pens from spacekids.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fascination Perfumery - Chewing The Cud And Working The Floor

In the early days of this blog I wrote about my discovery of Fascination Perfumery in Lytham St Annes here.

Last Saturday, before driving up to my friend's party, I popped into the shop again. Well, "pop" is hardly the right term to describe my two hour visit - or was it two and a half hours? I rather lost track of time, as you do in that Aladdin's Tardis of a perfume store. I am sure I said goodbye to Lynn(e) the proprietor (one year on, I am still unsure about the "e") at least three times, but it was a real struggle to tear myself away.

My original post about the store gives you an idea of the wide range of niche brands stocked and its "rummage sale" style of merchandising, with every inch of counter space jam-packed with bottles. The EPOS payment terminal nestled in a forest of Serge Lutens testers, and I am surprised that more customers didn't pick up the latest addition, Cuir Mauresque, and peer intently at the label, waiting for it to say: "Pin approved" or "Return terminal to merchant".

This visit followed a similar pattern to last time. Lynne and I shot the breeze with a barrage of quick-fire questions to each other about anything and everything: our respective views on new releases, favourite notes, attitudes to naturals vs synthetics, the retail scene in London vs the rest of the country, the blogosphere, perfumistas we both knew and so on. However, Saturday is - as you would expect - the store's busiest trading day, and there was a constant stream of customers throughout the time I was there. Well aware of this, every time a prospective punter appeared, I would melt into the nearest fixture so as not to inhibit a sale. As a result, our marathon conversation was hilariously disjointed, with a number of our questions left hanging in the air - we simply couldn't remember them when the latest customer left just a few minutes later, purchase in hand.

Yes, that is something which struck me very noticeably on this occasion: the fact that almost all the customers made a purchase, and if they didn't it was often down to the fact that the specific scent they were after had been discontinued. There were no gaggles of young girls loitering by the fixture of celebuscent testers, surreptitously spraying themselves from top to toe. Most of Fascination's clientele came in with a definite intention to buy: I observed an equal mixture of people requesting a scent by name and those who entrusted themselves to Lynne for guidance. A lot of the customers were regulars and Lynne was clearly already familiar with their preferences. "You like jasmine, don't you?", I overheard her say to one middle-aged lady whose older sister was set on buying her a bottle of perfume as a birthday gift. She tested Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, Bvlgari Voile de Jasmin, TDC Jasmin de Nuit and Versace pour Femme, and plumped for the Versace.

I must confess that I didn't make a purchase, though my eye lingered longingly at one point on a bottle of Etro Etra. And I managed to test a shedload of things along the way, partly as a result of my own forensic rummaging, and partly thanks to Lynne drawing my attention to new releases or scents she thought I might like. Unfortunately, I was much too pumped up to recall most of these with anything approaching a coherent impression, but the list below features most of the ones I sampled (based on deciphering the usual heap of scent strips I disinterred from the depths of my handbag today):

Hermes Eau Claire des Merveilles (great improvement on the original, as in less orangey, salty and weird-woody)
Annick Goutal Rose Absolue (straight up, dewy, blowsy, girly rose)
Annick Goutal Rose Splendide (extremely green, sappy rose)
Calandre Metal (metallic chypre!)
Amouage Memoir (much more like Epic or Lyric than expected - ie dusty/herbal/spicy number - can this be a false Memoir?? I was expecting complete sensory overload. Aha - maybe it was Man, not Woman!)
Amouage Ciel & Reflection Woman? (memory is fuzzy, but I remember both as being fresh, watery, very pleasant and inoffensive)
Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque (another uncongenial SL in classic musty style)
Creed Aventus (not too overtly manly, crisp and slightly bracing - I could almost wear this)
Etro Via Verri (refreshing for reasons now lost to me)
Lubin Gin Fizz (as above, though there may be a clue in the name)
Floris Bouqet de la Reine (slightly aquatic? fruity floral)
Bvlgari Man (forgettable but nice, with added perk of Clive Owen's photo on the scent strip)

Yes, I am afraid that the actual sniffing experience was secondary to the fun of chewing the cud with Lynne - and her right hand man, Lorenzo, from time to time - though he was busy with customers a lot of the time.

Towards the end of the visit I had become almost as much of a fixture as the Creed display or the bargain bin of miniatures, to the point where a couple of customers mistook me for a sales assistant. One lady, whom Lynne had just informed that Dune body lotion was no longer available, stood forlornly in front of the Dior stand, before turning to me to inquire what might be the next best thing. Now there is a tricky question for a neophyte SA!, for in my experience there is frankly nothing like Dune - which I once heard described as "a Gothic beach scent". Rather lamely, I replied that Midnight Poison, while not hugely similar, also had a bit of a melancholy feel to it. Clutching at straws, I fully admit. But then, a breakthrough...another customer inquired about men's shower gel, and I was able to tell her that there was a JPG one for men in stock (I had just watched a chap buy a tube on Lynne's advice as a substitute for Joop!). "It's £19", I continued, on a roll, and the lady said she would take one.

Yay! Next time I visit - if I gauge it right - I may get to work at Fascination a whole Saturday, which would simply be the best fun that can be had.


Fascination website

Photos are all my own

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Perilous Process Of Picking A Crowd-Pleasing Scent

I have just come back from my friend's housewarming party "up north", and am feeling decidedly delicate. This is despite probably having had the least to drink of the 40+ revellers, though I suppose 2-3 glasses of Chardonnay is still a lot for me... Though it may not be the drink - can you get a hangover from excitement? Or perhaps I have the sugar equivalent of DT's from the Swizzle lolly I "just felt like" at 1 o'clock this morning, not half an hour after I had put away a generous serving of lemon meringue pie and cheesecake. Or maybe I am just jaded from a fitful night's sleep disturbed by nightmares about being in a Middle Eastern war zone and having to run the gauntlet past armed guards to retrieve a knitting bag from a minefield...

I may be feeling fragile, but at least the house is nice and quiet. Charlie Bonkers is snoozing in the bedroom next door, unaware (in her blissfully deaf state) of the fireworks cracking off all around the neighbourhood, while Mr Bonkers has gone out to "earn money for crunchies".

Yesterday, as I was setting off, Mr B asked me if I wanted him to choose a perfume for me to wear that day, using the aleatory method featured here. He is on a bit of a roll with this method at the moment, having picked out my SOTD on Friday on this random basis. I tipped my turquoise travel bag of samples and small decants onto the floor and he barked out coordinates:

"Third from the left!" That was Chanel La Pausa, and to be honest I wasn't really in the mood for iris, but neither it seems was he, for a follow up command was quickly issued:

"No, I don't mean that one - the one two to the left of that!" APOM pour Femme. Okay, I thought to myself, that would be fine. Suddenly though, Mr Bonkers' eye was drawn to a small spray vial of L'Air du Desert Marocain.

"Nope - I've changed my mind - that one with the purple label - THAT's the one I want!"

"If you say so", I replied, retrieving it from the melee. I was more than happy with his choice, but correctly predicted that Mr B might not care for it. Having apprised him of the desert theme, I watched him lean in for a tentative sniff, with the "Tauerade" at the most potent point of its trajectory.

"Ergh! Camel dung!" Mr B exclaimed, visibly recoiling. Well, clearly that was a glib, facetious comment on his part, prompted by the exotic context with which I had just furnished him. I am not sure how he would have described the opening without that frame of reference. But it was perhaps foolhardy for a non fragrance-lover to sniff a Tauer so early in its development. That's like Mrs Bonkers Senior, a lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker - though we have managed to press her into a single Babycham or Snowball on Christmas Day - suddenly downing several shots of Jack Daniels in quick succession, before lighting a crafty fag.

So when Mr B suggested trying the aleatory method again for what would have been my scent of the day - and evening - I stood firm, explaining that I couldn't entrust such a weighty decision to chance, if that is not too grandiose a term for Mr B's arbitrary and mutable leanings.

So...the first thing to consider was what the hostess would be wearing at her party, so as not to clash, or appear to be trying to upstage, her own choice. Which I suppose is why female wedding guests are generally discouraged from wearing white, or indeed any colour of frock involving an 18ft train and/or a crinoline. Okay, fine - that ruled out Scandal, as well as any "statement white florals" such as Carnal Flower, Marc Jacobs, Fracas or Joy.

Then I suddenly remembered my friend's aversion to overt vanilla, which knocked out whole swathes of my favourite scents from Guerlain Plus Que Jamais to Diptyque Eau Duelle, and Floris Snow Rose to Sonia Rykiel Woman Not For Men!

My friend isn't particularly keen on "weird" perfumes either, so that put paid to a number of scents I had been toying with (because of their tenuous connections with bonfire night and its concomitant baddies, images of burning wood, nocturnal goings on etc) - namely PG L'Ombre Fauve, Damien Bash Lucifer No 3, Guerlain Bois d'Armenie, and Bvlgari Black - here I may have been thinking back to the toxic (literally and figuratively) July 12th celebrations in my home town of Belfast...

Now, the alert reader may have twigged to the fact that in vetting a SOTE for the party, so far I have only catered for the preferences of the hostess, while the tastes of the other 39+ guests remain unaccounted for. The enormity of this crowd-pleasing concept was not lost on me.

So what did I choose in the end, you may wonder? Well, it was more a case of being chosen than doing the choosing, because of an accident early on with an atomiser of Natori, which led to my whole neck area being covered in that. One arm also had lingering test sites of Bois d'Armenie and Lucifer No 3, though these had been rejected as contenders, and then over the course of the day I additionally acquired patches of the following during my visit to Fascination Perfumery in Lytham (separate post follows shortly):

Jesus del Pozo Duende
Hermes Eau Claire des Merveilles
Etro Etra
Etro Via Verri
Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque
Floris Bouqet de la Reine

As if that weren't enough, on reaching my friend's house at 5 o'clock (who was busy preparing for the party, stirring a cauldron of mulled wine with one hand, emptying 24 bags of crisps into a big glass bowl with the other, and and sipping a mojito with the third), I realised that I had one wrist still going scentless and spare, while the Natori from the morning on my neck was now largely residual.... so I added a few squirts of FM L'Eau d'Hiver for good measure, also on top of the Etro Etra on the other wrist, as I figured that might layer quite nicely.

In short, therefore, the whole notion of picking a single scent to wear - which would encapsulate my perfumista persona whilst not offending the sensibilities of the consensus - had gone totally out the window, basically. Starting the day by wearing the reject test scents (particularly pungent ones at that) was perhaps an error of judgement, which set the tone for the random chaos that lay ahead as I slipped into "kid in a sweet shop" sniffing mode at Fascination. Now, FM L'Eau d'Hiver might well have been an appropriate choice on its own for an innofensive SOTE, but as part of the muddled palimpsest that was my arms and neck, who can say??

Yes, I know, I might as well used Mr Bonkers' selection method after all...for everyone was far too merry to care what perfume I was wearing, myself included.


Photo of record from coverbrowser.co.uk, photo of Swizzle lollies from sweetheaven-online.co.uk, photo of tyre pyre from dailymail.co.uk, photo of camel shadow from igougo.com and photo of mojito from best-mojito-recipe.com

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sean John I Am King And An Unforgivable Error?

The other day I was in our local shopping centre, a dismal place mainly occupied by cheap shoe and card shops interspersed with empty units where businesses have ceased trading, presumably because they went bump. Our town seems to be the kiss of death to retailers, though T K Maxx and charity shops representing all the main ailments continue to thrive. In the centre are a handful of mobile stalls where you can buy blingy urethane handbags for £5.99, convert your gold jewellery into cash, have your laptop repaired while you wait (astonishingly!), or your eyebrows threaded in full view of passers by.

My attention was suddenly caught by a new perfume shop that had opened up in exactly the same spot as the previous one which had closed. Clearly the owners must have thought they could make a go of it where the other shop had failed. Although I was familiar with all the mainstream brands stocked, I stepped inside and hovered near the door, scanning the fixtures for (relative) bargains of anything reasonably congenial.

Meanwhile, the sales assistant approached a chap - in his 30s at a guess - who was standing in front of the men's section looking puzzled.

"Can I help you, sir?" came the friendly inquiry.

"Well yes, actually. I was staying over at a friend's last night and he let me borrow his deodorant this morning and I really liked it. So I am looking for the cologne that goes with it if there is one."

"Fine, sir - so what was this deodorant like?"

"It was black."

No further questions were forthcoming.

"Oh I see, well what about this one here, sir?" said the assistant, proffering a bottle of Sean John I Am King.

"Ah yes, Sean John rings a bell, that'll be it!" exclaimed the man, beaming with delight.

I couldn't help noticing that I Am King comes in GREY packaging, whereas the customer had clearly stated BLACK. And he had only applied deodorant that morning so you would think the memory would be fairly fresh. So when I got home I googled the Sean John range and found out that the packaging for Unforgivable is jet black. And there is an Unforgivable deodorant.

To complicate matters further, there are THREE other Sean John scents which need to be ruled in or out of the inquiry: Unforgivable Black (2008), I Am King Of The Night and Unforgivable Night (both 2009). The first is in a black bottle, while the latter two have black and gold packaging - not quite as deep black as Unforgivable or Unforgivable Black - more of a charcoal in fact - but definitely black enough to be described as such by someone hastily squirting his armpits with a canister of that general hue. However, the two most recent launches were limited editions, and having quickly checked the shop's website, I saw that it doesn't carry any of the three. Plus I couldn't find any evidence of deodorants for these other Sean Johns, though I cannot be sure on this point.

So did the customer suddenly remember that he had in fact meant grey, not black? Or had the SA run out of Unforgivable and taken the view that the two scents were close enough for her to offer him this as a covert substitution?

To gain "closure" on this incident, I thought I should look at the notes of the two scents to see how similar they are. Note the emphatic nature of the capitalisation, which only serves to reinforce Sean John's regal status...

SEAN JOHN I AM KING

top notes: Tangerine, Orange, Cranberry, Crème de Cassis, Champagne
middle notes: Water Accord, Lemon Crème, Key Lime Pie
base notes: Sandalwood, Labdanum, White Moss, Powdery Notes, Cedarwood, Vetiver

SEAN JOHN UNFORGIVABLE

top notes: Sicilian Lemon, Champagne Accord, Morrocan Tangerine
middle notes: Mediterranean Air, Iris, Clary Sage, Lavender
base notes: Cashmere Wood, Sea Moss, Amber, Tonka Bean

Hmm, now I am fairly rubbish at imagining how scents might smell based on their note listings, but I Am King sounds a lot fruitier and less aromatic to me, and it would seem that a couple of reviewers agree.

Here is Grottola's verdict on Basenotes:

"egotistical fruit juice cologne"

And Robin, of Now Smell This:

"I Am King is not fancy or fun; if anything, it’s a mid-grade, boring sport fragrance — for young women."

And then I found someone who had actually written (after a fashion) about the difference between the two in an Ezine article:

"Comparisons, if any to Unforgivable Cologne, the first fragrance launched by Sean John cannot be completely shunned. First, the mix of notes is so typical of Sean John and his fragrances. You would find the strong citrus-y opening note in I am King Cologne, though in the Unforgivable, you could find a milder version of the opening note itself. One place where Sean John fragrances score over other fragrance lines is the uncompromising mix of French berries, which is so typical in these fragrances."

I love the notion of the "uncompromising mix of French berries".

Well, the berries may be uncompromising, but the fact remains that the customer may have settled for a compromise by so readily accepting a grey Sean John scent instead of a black one. Unless he happens to suffer from "monochrome blindness", which the sales assistant correctly anticipated, and he has in fact ended up with the scent he smelt in his friend's bathroom.

Photo of Stafford town centre from ajphillips.co.uk, photo of Unforgivable from escentual.com, photo of I Am King from askmen.com, photo of squares from tileinn.co.uk, photo of Creme de Cassis from fotopedia.com

Monday, 1 November 2010

Astoria Perfume Wand - How To Magic Away £125 In One Easy Wave!

The other day I got a sales call from the Royal Bank of Scotland - from someone in the bank's Wealth Management team. As soon as the chap gave his name and mentioned the words "Wealth Management", I stopped him in his tracks and explained that I have never had anything he might consider "wealth" to manage, that's even before my business took a knock in the recession, and he seemed happy enough to abort the call.

Puzzled at having been targeted in this way, I took a moment to refresh myself with the definition of "wealth" in the eyes of financial institutions, and found this on the Moneywise site:

"While the big international private banks look for minimum investable assets between £5 million and £10 million, UK private banks are keen to appeal to a wider market and therefore may look to a minimum of £250,000 to £500,000."

The article went on to say that the definition of wealth management is actually more fluid than that, with banks such as the HSBC considering a client with investable assets of just £50,000 a person of interest - in terms of offering investment advice at least to these "mass affluent" customers, under the auspices of its Premier Service.

These tiers of affluence remind me rather of the distinction between "niche" perfumes, "masstige", "prestige", "mass", "luxury" and whatever else counts as a fragrance category these days.

But as someone who has not even used their Cash ISA allowance for several years running, I do think that on balance I was probably right to cut that salesman short, even though we didn't get into the nitty gritty of his asset thresholds...

And then this morning I received two mini-catalogues in the post: one from a high end jeweller's which went straight in the recycling basket - Entwined Ring £6,995, anyone? (their list broker wants shooting!) - and one from Braybrook & Britten, which I kept because it has some sweet two-toned earrings designed to look like slices of Seville oranges, at just £45 the pair. A possible Christmas present idea for Mr Bonkers to give me, I thought, if he has any change left after buying the new top of the range MAC laptop he has his eye on...

Also in the Braybrook & Britten catalogue was this very fetching perfume atomiser - not sure where the name "wand" came from. Following my recent confusion over the correct term for "smelling strips" / "fragrance blotters", I wouldn't mind someone adjudicating on when an atomiser becomes a wand.

According to the blurb, this elegant sterling silver atomiser was made "in the same workshop that produces our Mont Blanc style silver pens". Did you spot that weasel word "style"? I missed it on the first pass, I must say.

"Proper glass phial and good quality mechanism", the description continues. So I should think at that price.

"It's exactly the sort of thing Audrey Hepburn would have pulled out of her purse with a flourish." Top marks for a vivid imagination. Presumably she would whip this stylish accessory out of her bag having previously decanted L'Interdit into it with the funnel thoughtfully provided.

Do I sound a tad bitter at the fact that this item is a little out of my budget? Even more so than those metallic purse sprays you look at wistfully on Ebay now and again that cost all of a fiver? Ah, but when you are used to the plastic version from Accessories for Fragrance at 40p a time even a fiver sounds extravagant...

If money were no object, I would love to wave goodbye to £125 and buy this wand. The Wealth Manager I would probably have appointed if I had that kind of cash to blow might consider it a pointless frippery. However, it is nowhere near as frivolous a frippery as the partially silver plated bee honey dipper next to it, which will sting you for £75...


All photos from the Braybrook & Britten website