The more I travel, the more I adjust my expectations of the duty free perfume ranges at airports. Birmingham, with its new Chanel Les Exclusifs concession, was a very pleasant exception to this, but mostly you see the same old mainstream brands. There's always a bargain display plonked right inside the entrance and featuring the drossier end of designer brands like Joop! and Escada, which you wouldn't ever wish to buy if the prices were in fact bargains, which they never are. They are simply 10% off their prevous levels of impudent robdoggery.
Then there are invariably a few sales assistants loitering with intent in a major thoroughfare between the perfume section and the adjacent fixtures of confectionery and alcohol. Before you can say "giant Toblerone ingot" you will have been intercepted - and if you are very unlucky - bludgeoned into trying Jimmy Choo. No, sorry, that was a previous trip.
This time round the big push seemed to be on Oh Lola! No Lola!, more like - keep that VIBRANT FLIRTATIOUS LIGHT HEARTED "effervescent raspberry" number in its disturbingy bendy and fetishistic Georgia O'Keeffe flacon far from me, please...
So where is this jaded diatribe leading, you may ask? So did I do any sniffing at Manchester airport or what?
Oh okay, just a bit...
ESTEE LAUDER SENSUOUS NUDE
Yes, I tried the new Sensuous Nude flanker at last, having scoped the Estée Lauder fixture for months now to no avail. It really surprised me, for it didn't conform to my expectations of a nude scent at all. I thought it would be like Stella Nude or Il Profvmo Nuda (that I came across in Vienna - mini-review here). You know, a silky whisper of a scent evocative of cold cream and flimsy lingerie.
But no, the overriding impression of Sensuous Nude was of a dark woody vibe or even perhaps some kind of burnt nut. Now as it happens, I did scoff 100g of hot chestnuts in Zurich the other day and can confirm that it wasn't that kind of nut, even if it had been properly cremated rather than just the shell getting a bit scorched in the process. And I don't think I mean popcorn, but definitely a nut. I'll say hazelnut for now, but I am not sure really. Let's see if the notes give us a clue:
Notes: bergamot, mandarin, black and pink pepper, jasmine petals and lily of the valley, coconut water and sweetened honey, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, heliotrope and woody notes
Well, all right, there is sandalwood and miscellaneous other woodiness, and two types of pepper - which my amateur nose might also read as "a bit woody" - and then there is coconut water, which is crucially related to a nut. Though it sounds more like those bottles of nutriceutical water Madonna and Gwynnie et al are wont to swig after a work out, as opposed to the truly burnt nuttiness I get from Sensuous Nude.
Anotherperfumeblog has a much more favourable take on Sensuous Nude, and I am beginning to think I missed a whole lot by only spraying on card, which of course is also related to wood, and may have amplified the overally woody/nutty vibe. So given that I own Sensuous and liked Sensuous Noir much more than I expected, I think this one deserves a more considered retrial.
Valentino is a line I can mostly take or leave, though I have a bit of time for the original V, a pleasant casual scent with notes that include rose, something orangey, fig and amber. Their latest release is called Valentina and comes in a very, very pretty bottle. Taking its cue from the new Prada Candy bottle cap with integrated nozzle, Valentina also sprays out of its pea-shaped top. The bottle is unashamedly girly and fussily ornate and almost worth having for its ornamental value alone. Its colour scheme evokes Neapolitan ice cream: pink and white "ceramic" flowers are stuck on the side of the round glass bottle, while the top is black enamel. It reminds me vividly of the baroque cathedral I visited at the weekend in St Gallen, which was a veritable stucco frenzy.
Notes: Calabrian bergamot, white truffles from Alba, jasmine, orange blossom from Amalfi, tuberose, strawberry, wood notes, cedar, and amber.
Now Perfume Shrine has done a thorough review of Valentina here, so I will just add a few sketchy impressions - I have a sample of this so am able to try it on skin. And I will say right off the bat that it smells not unlike a wan, toned down version of Elie Saab that has been "white chocolatified". Valentina also has that utterly contemporary, slightly synthetic but well blended musky floral quality of Caroline Herrera 212, Jil Sander Style or CK Beauty, all of which I like and would probably like even more had I not come across the world of niche.
Valentina is slightly sweet, which might be the strawberry?, but not excessively so; I have to say that it is relentlessly mainstream in its overall vibe and doesn't live up to the artsy bottle. I see that the perfumers behind Valentina are Olivier Cresp (of Juniper Sling fame!) and Alberto Morillas, who is master of what I can best describe as the "fuzzy modern genre": Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline, the Kenzo Flowers, Armani Sensi - and I see he also did 212 - of which I had no idea till I just looked him up.
As Valentina wears on, the sweetness fades a little, and there is a definite Nestle's Milky Bar quality to it. For sometimes you don't want forbidding, high cocoa solid scents like SL Borneo 1834 - or even your poncy Green & Blacks or Hotel Chocolat slabs studded with goji berries and macadamia nuts - no, sometimes you just fancy the fragrance equivalent of bog standard white chocolate...and Valentina is a girly version of that. The scent gets progressively softer and more wispy, and the sweetness fades, but retains that creamy dessert quality throughout, faintly rounded out by the amber, like the crunchy toffee topping on a creme brulée.
VERSACE YELLOW DIAMOND
Let's face it, it is hard to take a fragrance line seriously when its bottles are adorned by tacky, outsize crystal pebbles like the top of a dolmen. The fact that Donatella Versace has been seriously tango'ed doesn't help matters either. Now before people leap to the defence of Versace's bottles, saying: "It's a diamond, not a crystal!" let me just clarify that I do know this really, having done studies in the diamond industry myself. However, if it was a real diamond it would be worth more than Manchester Airport cost to build. And between you and me, I think yellow diamonds are a bit naff, possibly because they look like less precious precious stones such as citrine, topaz (or the yellow topazes, anyway ; - ) ), and the rather wonderfully named "rutilated quartz". Curiously, I don't consider the brown variety - so-called "chocolate diamonds" - to be naff, and I wouldn't flick the deep blue Hope Diamond off the duvet either if it happened to land on my bed.
So enough of this gemstone snobbery, how does Yellow Diamond smell?
Notes: citron from diamante (is that a note, or a description of the top?), pear sorbet, bergamot, neroli, orange blossom, freesia, mimosa, nymphea, amber, palo santo (sounds like the location of a start up company in the Bay Area) wood and musk.
Well, I did smell this on card at least, and I got a very watery pear note, a bit of orange, and some powdery, vaguely sherbety mimosa. It didn't amount to much of anything though, and I am tempted to borrow Times Journalist Caitlin Moran's incomparable description of polenta as: "a certain amount of matter on a plate". Well, then that would make Yellow Diamond "a certain amount of fragrant matter on a paper strip". And I have just clocked that Yellow Diamond is also Alberto Morillas's work. Smells like the perfume equivalent of a "Friday afternoon car". No, that is unfair - he may have had an incredibly watered down, feebly fruity brief to fulfil. Moving on.
Yes, in closing I must just mention something that happened on the way out to Zurich. When announcing the imminent passage through the aisles of the duty free cart, the flight attendant said: "We do carry a wide selection of ladies' fragrances from brands such as Paco Rabanne and Calvin Klein." "We do carry?" Have you noticed that airline announcers always "do do" everything they do, as in: "We do know that you have a choice of airline, and we do thank you for choosing Cheapo Wings and we do hope to have the pleasure of your company on board again." But going back to the duty free selection, funny that Paco Rabanne and CK should be singled out for special mention. And take it from me, the in-flight duty free range was not chock full of bargains either...
And lastly, I will leave you with the new sexed up word for "cup-a-soup" I learnt from the Bistro Menu Card: "IN-CUP SOUP" - by analogy, we must infer, with in-line skating or in-store promotions. Sadly, a fellow passenger in my row quickly turned my "beverage" into "in-lap" and "on-trouser-leg" soup, as he clapped my table up in his haste to get to the toilet. whither I followed him shortly afterwards, to do some urgent in-toilet sponging.
Photo of Manchester airport from viewpictures.co.uk, photo of lily from projects.accessatlanta.com, photo of Sensuous Nude from fragrantica.com, photo of Madonna from oneresult.com, photo of Valentina from feelunique.com, photo of Milky Bar from goodtoknow.co.uk, photo of Versace Yellow Diamond from femaletrend.com, photo of Donatella Versace from people.famouswhy.com, photo of a dolmen from wikipedia.com, photo of cathedral my own.