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Friday, 30 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 2 (Belgium & France) - A "Drowned And Out In Paris" Sniffathon: IUNX Parfums Revisited

Photos of Hotel Costes, Paris

I have been back at work for three days, and am keenly aware that this is the season of "Best Fragrances Of 2011" retrospectives, while I am still have a backlog of (mostly scent-related) posts to write up from my recent work trips. I have enjoyed reading about other bloggers' top perfumes from this year, and have spotted a number of personal favourites amongst them. My own "Top Sniffs And Nasty Niffs" round up will be along shortly, however a chronological imperative(!) compels me to finish my travel posts first, starting with the final instalment of the Paris sniffathon, when I popped into the IUNX shop at the very end of the afternoon.

This was my second visit to the IUNX boutique, which is located next door to Hotel Costes at 239, rue Saint Honoré. I first discovered IUNX back in June 2009, around the time of my 50th birthday, when I enjoyed three gloriously warm days of solo sniffing in Paris. While JAR Parfums has just TWO points of sale in the world, IUNX is even more exclusive, for its dimly lit, dark red boudoir of a store is the ONLY place where you can buy their fragrance line.

The original visit - or visits rather, as I went back to make a purchase later that day! - predates Bonkers, but even then I kept records of sampling forays, and found these snippets about the IUNX experience:

"Had a great chat with the man at IUNX, who was from Donegal but insisted on speaking in French both times. This may have helped him forget I was from Belfast."

"I bought Eau Frappée, which smells like lemon sorbet and yellow rose petals. Opening is exquisite but fairly evanescent. Mutes down to a gentle musky rose. Bottle is 150ml @ 103 euros, and looks like Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. Comes in a black neoprene tubular case like a policeman's truncheon, topped off with a neoprene bow tie!"


I still have about 20ml? left of my humungous tube, which proved highly swappable on MUA on account of its rarity, and on that Tuesday I had no intentions of making another purchase, not least on size grounds. There simply isn't the room in either of my perfume fridges for one thing! But I did fancy catching up with the latest releases, and on spotting the same sales chap through the store window, put my head round the door and said hello - in English this time - as our French-speaking routine, however it arose last time, was too silly for words! : - )

"Hey," I added by way of an ice-breaker: "Aren't you the fella from Donegal?"

"Mayo!" he replied with mock-indignation, and we were off. Ron - as I now found out he was called - remembered my purchase from 2009 and invited me to resniff the other fragrances in their strange Plexiglas trumpets, which wafted the scents by means of a motorised fan. I was especially interested to try Eau Baptiste, which was a new addition to the range since last time. Meanwhile, Ron went back to sorting out a pile of thin white tubes that were mostly on the floor, with a few stuck vertically in the window display. I glanced across and inquired:

"What's with the straws, then? It looks like a game of Pick Up Sticks!"

"You are the second person to call those straws!! Those are NOT straws, they are....he mentioned a word I have forgotten, but which began with a "d", I think. Anyway, it turned out that these little straw-like tubes are a light reflecting window dressing accessory. I found an unrelated picture in Google images that nicely illustrates the general idea.

Going back to Eau Baptiste, it was a very "photo-realistic" perfume, to mix sensory terms for a moment. It had notes of wheat, orange blossom and acacia honey, all of which were clearly delineated, and it also smelt green and sappy, like the stem of a rose. It was beautiful and distinctive, but not necessarily what I would want to smell of.

While he carried on creating his straw installation, I asked Ron about his own early scent CV, and quick as a flash he listed his past love perfumes in date order: Azzaro, Eau Sauvage, Polo, Safari and Shiseido Basala.

I had not heard of Basala, and have just fetched it up on Google. Interestingly, while the note list has way more going on with it than your average IUNX scent, the bottle is red like the interior of the store....

Here is my quick take on the other scents in the line, created by Olivia Giacobetti, Queen of The Barely There style of scent to which I am generally so drawn myself.

SPLASH FORTE

Notes: red cedar, bay rum, peppered mint (sic), and Jamaican pimento/pepper

This was moderately spicy, but sadly I didn't care for the combination of notes at all. It was in the same vein as JM Pomegranate Noir, ie reminiscent of a Christmas candle or spicy potpourri. Also, I don't like alcohol in perfumes as a rule - as a note, I mean! - and don't even care for rum as a drink, except in Mojitos. A perfume that smelt like a Mojito I would in fact cross the street to try!

EAU BLANCHE

Notes: white linen, iris butter and teak wood

This smelt much as you might imagine from the notes - it was okay, but didn't have the wow factor for me.

L'ETHER

Notes: myrrh, white incense, sandalwood and rose essence

I didn't dislike this one, but it was rather too indistinct - the myrrh may have blurred it over in some way.

EAU SENTO

Notes: driftwood, cedar leaves, cypress and red algae

Now, as a huge fan of Parfumerie Générale's Bois Naufragé (a partial bottle of which came my way this Christmas, courtesy of the very generous Lovethescents!), I would have thought I would have liked this one, but it had a dank, discordant aspect to it. Oh well.



So I will just enjoy the rest of my Eau Frappée lightsaber, I think, though Eau Baptiste was most striking in a "lovely-but-not-really-a-perfume" kind of a way. The highlight of the visit this time was shooting the breeze with Ron about our respective childhoods growing up in Ireland. A beach ball bought in Salthill, a rag doll in Bundoran (on my side), versus Ron's memories of crashing the parental car. : - )

I also inquired about Ines' and Asali's recent visit. "Two fellow bloggers came by the other day - do you remember them? One had a red coat. And red hair. They may both have had red hair. No, don't quote me on that."

I have checked back and Asali is in fact a brunette, which is a good thing in hindsight, as the IUNX store needs all the colour contrast it can get. : - )

For some reason, I still didn't bother trying the Costes perfumes that are sold alongside the IUNX brand. It was the end of the day, and I had got it into my head that they wouldn't be my cup of tea, which may be totally unjustified. On the plus side, it gives me a reason to revisit IUNX next time I am passing. I will remember Ron is from Mayo next time...



Photo of Hotel Costes from tripadvisor.co.uk, photo of bottle from hotelcostes.com, photo of fibreglass trumpets from cafleurebon.com, photo of light straws from designut.org, photo of Shiseido Basala from fragrantica.com

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 2 (Belgium & France) - A "Drowned And Out In Paris" Sniffathon: JAR Parfums

I hope everyone had a good Christmas - the festivities passed off without incident here - well, apart from Mrs Bonkers Senior's and my failed attempts to saw off the turkey's legs with a paring knife mid-way through the roasting time. I am pleased to report that the bird did cook in the end, despite its semi-severed and floppily obstructive limbs, and Charlie Bonkers enjoyed the twin seasonal treats of cold turkey on demand and a warm slate floor in the conservatory. Unfortunately, the husband of one of the dinner guests was ill with the most virulent form of man flu on Christmas Day, so this morning - in my capacity as a one-woman "Soupe Sans Frontières" - I drove over to their house with a tupperware of leftover turkey and sinus-clearing spicy soup.

Now I feel as though the holiday is barely underway, but reluctantly I have to go back to work tomorrow. So I thought I would write up the penultimate instalment of the sodden Parisian sniffing report while the going is good...

JAR PARFUMS

After my chance discovery of the Fragonard Museum, I decided to seek out the Paris branch of JAR Parfums, the super-exclusive line founded by jeweller Joel Arthur Rosenthal in 1986. I was aware that Olfactoria had sniffed the range on her recent trip to New York, and as there are only two bricks and mortar sales outlets in the world, felt that I shouldn't miss the chance to try these perfumes myself, especially as JAR is widely considered to have created the "reference gardenia" scent.

I had jotted down the name of the street (though crucially not the number) from Denyse's walking guide to Paris, and clocked that it was just off the Place Vendôme. I headed for Rue Castiglione, and walked the entire length of it without spotting the store. So I popped into a shop called Valmont at No 8, which sold a Swiss brand of anti-aging cosmetics and the Il Profumo line of perfumes. I asked them if they knew where JAR was, and though the store was only a few doors down at No 14, they directed me to the Maison Kurkdjian boutique a couple of streets away, who promptly sent me back to the street I had just come from.

The reason I missed the JAR store is quite simply because it doesn't look like a shop. On close inspection you can just make out a single perfume bottle on display in the window, but it is small and easy to overlook. And then the plush, softly lit interior looks like a cross between a small salon at Versailles and the Sistine Chapel (the ceiling was covered in a large fresco of the sky shot through by a bolt of lightning). There was no till, no counter, no desk to speak of or shelf fixtures. The main items of furniture were a table in the centre of the room and a few ornate Louis XIV-style chairs (or one of the Louis's, certainly). On the table were a half dozen or so glass cloches arranged in a circle, and under each cloche was a scrunched up chamois leather impregnated with one of the JAR scents.

As I entered the store - or "perfume induction room" as it should perhaps more properly be known - a tall man got up from his chair at the back of the room and greeted me. I decided to come clean right away and explained that I was a blogger and that I was curious to try the line and take advantage of the fact that I happened to be passing one of JAR Parfums' only two branches anywhere!

"The gentleman" (I will call him that as I couldn't possibly refer to him as a sales assistant - his demeanour was more akin to that of a museum curator) invited me to sit down and take part in this highly ritualistic perfume sampling experience... He lifted each cloche in turn and I would trustingly stick my nose right inside it. In one or two instances he deliberately held the cloche further away from my nose, warning me that it might be too overpowering at close quarters. JAR famously doesn't publish the notes for its scents, and the gentleman remained pokerfaced as I wittered on regardless, telling him what I thought I was smelling. Most unexpectedly, he complimented me on my French. I thanked him, wanting to add that my French was really rather rusty at the moment, but didn't, because I could only think of the German word for "rusty" ("eingerostet"). : - )

NB I had deliberately not re-read Olfactoria's impressions of the range, so I really did enter into the experience with no preconceptions, other than an expectation that one scent would smell mindblowingly like gardenia... : - )

My off the cuff comments on the day are as follows:

FERME TES YEUX

"Dark", "sinister". It conjured up dank, disused cupboards and mould.

Verdict - Not A Perfume


JARLING

"Luxury soap."


BOLT OF LIGHTNING (as per the painting on the ceiling!)

"Carnal Flower, end of."


SHADOW

"Refined spices."


JARDENIA

"Blue cheese!!!" "Bleu des Causses!" "Bleu d'Auvergne!" "All the Bleu d'-type cheeses!"

At the moment of smelling this one, I had no idea that it was in fact the famous gardenia replica, while all I got was blue cheese. The gentleman was fascinated by this, because in his experience only the French get a cheese note here, while other nationalities of visitor do "read" this as a floral. Well, I studied French at uni, lived on The Riviera for a year as a student and used to work in a cheese shop, so maybe that predisposes my nose to have a Gallic take on Jardenia. : - )

Verdict - Not A Perfume


GOLCONDA (the original JAR perfume)

"The dentist!" "Evil clove!"

Verdict - Not A Perfume


DIAMOND WATER

"Falling into a bed of roses and being scratched by thorns." "FM Noir Epices".

And now that I have committed my thoughts to paper, I can afford to google a few reviews by others to see if they chime with my own reactions, and it seems I am in good company...first up is Luca Turin writing in the NZZ Folio:

"Gossip led me to expect something weird, and weird is what I got. JAR fragrances are uniquely shocking..."

And here's Robin of NST on Ferme Tes Yeux, the first perfume I tried, albeit I never got beyond the opening in this "ambient cloche environment":

"The top notes are downright unpleasant; it does improve as it dries down, but I found wearing it a somewhat disturbing experience."

And now finally I have been back to Olfactoria's New York report to see what she made of the line. Overall, she is much more positive, but then as we established at our recent meeting in Austria, she has "magic skin". Which presumably also applies to the skin on the tip and interior of her nose, given that she was also just sticking it inside the cloche and not testing on the usual sites of wrist and hand.

"My favorite was called Diamond Water, I also liked Shadow and Jarling. Golconda (Joey’s favorite) and Ferme tes Yeux were very interesting and I’m sure, given the chance to get them to know better, I’d love them too. I didn’t particularly care for Jardenia and the nameless, symbol only, one..." (Bolt of Lightning)

In looking for images to illustrate this post, I stumbled upon a fan page of JAR Parfums on Facebook, which quoted Rosenthal speaking of his distribution strategy:

"Part of the pleasure of perfume is where it comes from - literally the shop it comes from. If you can buy something anywhere in the world, as is almost always the case today, the pleasure and mystery of the source of the thing is gone."

Well, I agree with that up to a point - a very little point - not up to a two-sales-points-in-the-world point", for sure. But what troubles me more than the rights and wrongs of creating such an aura and mystique around its range in a bid to justify the high price tag**, is the stumbling block of the JAR range being so uncommercial in the first place. There's distinctive and original, and then there's downright weird. For me, at least three of the seven fall into the latter category and I only vaguely cared for two (Jarling and Bolt of Lightning), but I readily admit to not having a particularly discerning nose, plus I didn't try them on skin.

I do like the look of their jewellery though - which if anything is even more ultra-exclusive and -expensive. I spotted some nice pieces in the shape of a butterfly, an iris and lilac blossoms, but also this curious zebra, which on reflection sums up the JAR range for me.



(**I believe it is in the region of 320 euros per ounce for the pure parfum - the gentleman and I didn't broach anything as vulgar as the topic of price tags! Why, I did't even notice any bottles in the room, though there must have been some tucked away somewhere).



Photo of Rue Castiglione from flickr, photos of JAR store from yelp.com, Facebook and francescocatalano.it, photo of JAR bottle from boomerank.com, photo of cheese from keldelice.com, photo of JAR poster from thelondonseason.com, photo of JAR butterfly from culture24.org.co.uk, photo of zebra from tumblr.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

My mother used to say that Christmas is only one day, though to look at my shopping trolley - or trolleys, as I went on three separate expeditions yesterday to Asda, Asda again and Tesco - you would think I was laying in enough food for the Siege of Leningrad, a nuclear winter...or a very long caravan holiday, certainly. Instead of which it is pretty mild weather here at the moment and the supermarkets are all open again on Boxing Day.

But in my defence I have been away three weeks out of the last four, so the cupboard truly was bare. If a recipe calls for "fresh thyme" I am hardly going to have that in - a small bag of flour that hadn't already expired 12 months ago would be as far as my pantry staples might run to usually. So I was chuffed to note this year that I do - most remarkably - have a jar of fresh nutmeg, still in date. And a Christmas pudding that we didn't get to last year. My friend Clare said that they last for "years", which is good as she is coming to us and may be eating it...

In past years I have got myself into a right tizz worrying about the correct way to cook the turkey, as the advice on the Interwebs is so very contradictory, from the temperature you cook it at to whether or not to brine, erect a foil tent, stuff it, lay it on its tummy, buy a ready-cooked chicken, give up and have a bag of crisps down the pub instead etc.

But after years of angst-ridden experimentation, I think I have got the method more or less down to - not a fine art exactly - but a way that is more likely to work than not, say. Which doesn't meant that I shan't be taking other precautions, like laying in some emergency gravy and an emergency vegetarian alternative in case my nut loaf for the veggie guests is a little "slack".

Well, I guess I ought to sally forth again in search of said gravy (before it is gone!) and some other bits that I couldn't find yesterday, as you do. I always find myself in this headless chicken mode in the run up to Christmas, but I guess it is preferable to being a headless turkey at such a time.

And then I will be posting about the rest of the Paris visit (when I followed in the footsteps of Ines and Asali!), my meeting with Olfactoria and her family in Austria, as well as featuring the usual round up of silly travel-related nonsense, but for now, for anyone who missed it, here is a link to my Christmas post on Cafleurebon last year, a topic of perennial relevance, I sense!

Boxing Day 'BAH HUMBUG'! and A Glut Of Gift Giving Gaffes



Happy Christmas to everyone in Perfumeland and may all your fragrant gifts be lemmings, not turkeys!


Photo of red perfume bottle from 100christmastrees.blogspot.com, photo of green perfume bottle from giveawayshow.com, photo of fallen Christmas tree from Google images

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 2 (Belgium & France) - A "Drowned And Out In Paris" Sniffathon: Fragonard Museum

The next stop on my semi-random itinerary in Paris was the Musée Fragonard (9, rue Scribe), which I just happened to walk past as I headed towards Place Vendôme. I didn’t know Fragonard had a museum, and if I had, I would have expected it only to be in Grasse. It was in an elegant old townhouse. and as I walked into the empty foyer I was warmly greeted by the lady on the reception desk, who asked if I wanted to take a tour. There was no charge, for as later became apparent, the tour ends in a bit of a sales pitch in the shop downstairs. Several people came in just behind me and the receptionist performed a quick triage between those who wanted an English-speaking guide and those who preferred a French one. In my case, I was happy to take the next tour in either language, as my feet were starting to hurt by this point! Within 5-10 minutes the French guide, a willowy girl who could easily have given up tour guiding and applied to enter France’s Next Top Model, hove into view and escorted our small group of four upstairs, where the museum occupied a handful of rooms.

Cameras were not allowed, but I have found a few snaps on the Internet taken by bolder visitors than me. The first room housed some splendid alembics and other perfume-making paraphernalia. As we were given a quick run-down of the various methods of extracting essential oils such as steam distillation, maceration and enfleurage (for delicate flowers like jasmine and tuberose that can’t stand the heat apparently – much like my friend Geraldine, I thought fondly), I couldn’t help but think of Tarleisio, and her blog, The Alembicated Genie.

The guide went on to relate how Fragonard brings out a new release every year showcasing a particular note. Last year it was mimosa, this year fleurs d’oranger, while violet is up next in 2012. We also learnt that Fragonard doesn’t export its perfumes and its bricks and mortar presence is confined to in-house shops in Paris, Grasse and Eze. This sounded to me like an exclusivity policy akin to that of Puredistance in its early days, but I must say I don’t have Fragonard down as a luxury brand.

In the second room we were shown displays of perfume bottles through the ages, from early, tapering glass ones that women used to tuck coyly into their corsages, to later models in porcelain from Germany and the UK. The guide explained that the bottles Fragonard uses for the parfum version of its scents are made of stainless steel to maximise their shelf life. I was reminded of Montale and Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s similar use of steel, but had always assumed this was for aesthetic reasons unrelated to longevity.

The next exhibit on our tour was a perfumer’s “organ”, containing a couple of hundred different materials in little brown apothecary-style bottles, though apparently a “top of the range” organ might run to 1000 bottles! According to the guide, "noses" only work for a maximum of 20 years while they are in their prime, and as well as ensuring that they eat a balanced diet (no stinking hot curries, I inferred), don’t drink or smoke either so as not to compromise the sensitivity of their precision sniffer. I kept trying to remember the time I met Bertrand Duchaufour at the Penhaligon’s launch of Amaranthine. I could have sworn he had a glass of cava, but maybe not… : - )

In the final room we took a smelling test to see how good we were at recognising different odours. We were each assigned a spot at a long bench, and given a dozen or so bottles containing unnamed scented waxes, which we had to place on the picture corresponding to the note we were smelling. Examples of notes were cinnamon, mint, lavender, strawberry, pineapple, licorice and rose. It was a fun but relatively easy exercise, and all four of us got them all right! I think we would probably have managed to get most of them even without the picture clues, though the fruits were a bit tricky.

The talk over, the guide led us down to the shop, where she gave us a “tour” of the Fragonard parfum strength scents, available to buy individually or in sets of 3 or more for a greatly reduced price. Because we would be paying factory gate prices, even the starting price for a single 5ml mini of a parfum struck me as quite reasonable at 26 euros, and this price also fell sharply if you were willing to buy a humungous canister of 250ml, or whatever the biggest size was. The guide even whipped out a calculator to stress just how significant a percentage saving we would make if we opted for a bulk or multiple bottle purchase. She was veritably the Carol Vorderman of fragrance SAs!

The parfums I tested on card were:

ETOILE – overly sharp citrus bouquet

Notes: "lemon, apple, bergamot, ginger, gardenia, lily of the valley, jasmine, cedar, amber and musk"

EMILIE – overly sharp floral, despite the rather appealing note list below!

Notes: orange blossom, rose, jasmine, violet, lily of the valley, amber and sandalwood

BELLE DE NUIT – Fragonard's best selling feminine, recommended by the guide as the safe choice for buying as a gift for someone, and I would agree - it struck me as a pleasant, but mainstream light floral oriental.

Notes: mirabilis, violet, geranium, rose, plum, woods and musks.

DIAMANT – softly spicy gourmand oriental – initial impression was of something a little discordant, but this grew on me, and I wish I had tested it on skin.

Notes: mandarin, orange, pepper, rose, jasmine, plum, patchouli, vanilla, musk and caramel.

CAPUCINE – surprisingly sweet oriental given the note listing: very potent and powdery going on (with all the muzzy force of EL Knowing, if that makes any sense), but the far drydown was yummy in a Prada Candy kind of way, and I regretted not buying at least 5ml of the parfum.

Notes: green tea, bergamot, rose, jasmine, musk, winter woods

BELLE CHERIE – not yet released, but we were treated to a sneak preview. A fruity gourmand scent, again with a slight discordant aspect that didn’t go away, unlike Diamant. The lone reviewer of this scent on Makeupalley detected a "whacking great whallop of ethyl maltol", which probably gives it its sweetie shop character.

Notes: tangerine, star fruit, jasmine, heliotrope, lily of the valley, sandalwood, tonka bean and vanilla.

So in the end I came away empty handed, though Capucine and Diamant definitely merit a retrial. Seems like I will have to wait till I am back in Paris for that.

I would be interested to get anybody else’s take on the Fragonard range, namely views about the company's low key sales strategy, and whether the brand feels exclusive to you or not. Despite having taken the tour of the museum, I haven't changed my view of the brand, I must say, but I can't quite put my finger on why I don't quite consider Fragonard "a serious player".




Photo of museum entrance from france-for-visitors.com, photo of perfume-making equipment from inthemo.com, photo of perfumer's organ from whattoseeinparis.com, photo of Fragonard products from the company's website, photo of the shop from tripadvisor.co.uk

Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 2 (Belgium & France) - A "Drowned And Out In Paris" Sniffathon: Printemps & Guerlain

I am still "coming down" from the excitement of meeting Olfactoria again yesterday - together with her family this time - but Bonkers is nothing if not chronological, so I will carry on this account of my latest series of work trips with a report from Belgium and France. Nothing much happened in Brussels, except for a major bus-taking coup to my appointment, saving some 55 euros on taxis, which I promptly went and blew on a bottle of Tom Ford Violet Blonde later in the week. Oh, and the fact that within the space of 24 hours I was kerb crawled AND had a teenager give up her seat for me on the Metro. This prompted me to speculate whether I am now on that finely balanced cusp between cougar and care home... ; - )

Then last Tuesday found me in Paris. The day got off to an inauspicious start: I had to get up preternaturally early (for me) and caught a train out to a gritty and rainswept suburb north of the city centre. By 8.40am I was queuing outside a branch of McDonald's waiting for them to open. I was cold and wet to the bone (umbrellas being a liability in the prevailing high winds), and the day had barely begun. At 9am, the drive-by hatch opened (though unfortunately not the seating area), and I enjoyed the freshest egg McMuffin ever made, washed down by a piping hot cup of tea (for McDonald's!). I could even overlook the lack of milk just to have something warm to wrap my hands around.

By 1pm, things were definitely looking up. My meeting over, I was in position in the area around the Gare Saint-Lazare, home to the upmarket department store Printemps, with several more cups of tea inside me and a grim determination not to let the truly diabolical weather get in the way of a good sniffing session. It turned out to be an episodic day - or a "sodding epic" day, to borrow Mr Bonkers' robust phrase - and here are the highlights...

I had visited Printemps on my last visit to Paris in 2009, and remembered that it offered a good selection of niche scents in a compact area within the main perfume hall known as the Scent Room. To be honest, given the rather fluid floor plan, I couldn't quite work out the demarcation between the Scent Room and the rest of the perfume counters, not that it really mattered.

I decided to be quite focused in my approach and spent most of my visit split between the Jo Malone, Dior, L'Artisan Parfumeur and Etat Libre d'Orange counters.

JO MALONE

The tea range was nowhere to be seen, and the assistant was tied up with a "proper customer"(!), so I couldn't even blag a sample of Wild Bluebell (to replace the grapefruit one I was given in error in Germany!); instead I contented myself with having a quick and ginger sniff of a couple of the Intense Colognes.

Iris & White Musk

Does what it says on the bottle - pleasant enough, but forgettable.

Rose Water & Vanilla

Thick and throat catching, a bit like one of those treacly Guerlains.

I steered clear of Amber & Patchouli and Oud & Bergamot, as patchouli and oud are not my favourite notes at the best of times, never mind amplified by an "intense cologne" effect!

DIOR LA COLLECTION PRIVÉE

I asked to try a few of the Collection Privée range of which I had read favourable reviews, and the sales assistant also suggested one or two others for me to try.

New Look 1947

I already know and love this one, and cherish my small decant. I picked up the cylindrical 125ml bottle with its clunky magnetic top, fondled it for a bit and put it back again. I don't need 125ml of any perfume, though 150 euros was a reasonable price to pay, ml for ml. I shall wait to see if the lemming gets the better of me, in which case I can always pick it up in London for the slightly lower price of £120. I gladly accepted the sales assistant's offer to perfume me generously around my neck area. In this way she was able to mark her territory and hopefully reel me in to make a purchase later in the day. "With an EDP or EDT you'll find that if you really love it, you will use it up." And despite my collection of bottles now topping the 70 mark, I almost....almost...believed her.

Ambre Nuit

Soft, sheer, barely there, faintly spicy oriental. Very elegant - my next favourite after New Look 1947. I only tried it on card but liked it enough to look up the notes:

Pink Pepper, Bergamot, Spices, Turkish Rose, Amber, Balsamy (sic) Notes, Cedar, Patchouli, Gaiac Wood

Mitzah

Didn't get beyond a tentative sniff of the nozzle with this one. Heavy, spicy ambery, boozy fright wig of a scent. For all I know, the drydown might be spectacular, but I am not sure I could last the course to find out!

Bois d'Argent

A pantomime horse with Juniper Sling at the front end - with the merest hint of Craft, the most metallic scent from Andrea Maack - and Chanel No 19 Poudré at the back end. A very stylish and wearable unisex scent. "Pantomime" is in no way meant as a criticism.

UPDATE: I have now been given a generous decant of this by Tara, and it smells nothing like the scent I smelt in Paris. As a check, I have just sprayed Bois d'Argent on card, which clears up the discrepancy - it is a totally different animal on card, on initial spraying, certainly - then it becomes more like the decant version. On skin this is the faintest leather and honeyed vanilla, while on card the opening was bright and citrus-y with the iris peeking through. How weird!

Granville

As I think I said in a comment over on Olfactoria's review of Granville, this scent is forever destined to remind me of a local wine bar with the same name. That aside, it smelt just as I imagined, if not better: that MH Fleur de Sel-like, bracing, aromatic, seaside vibe. Not a genre that is really "me", but extremely well done.

Milly-la-Forêt

A ho-hum fruity floral not worthy of inclusion in the range, imho.

L'ARTISAN PARFUMEUR MON NUMÉRO COLLECTION

Having torn myself away from a purchase of New Look 1947, I headed over to the L'Artisan counter to check out more of the Mon Numéro Collection, being only familiar with Nos 6 and 8 to date. No 6 was an unfortunate mix of Fleur de Liane crossed with PG Papyrus de Ciane (beware of scents ending in -iane is the clear learning point here!), while No 8 was the pretty iris skin scent I remembered. The assistant tried to nudge me towards a purchase by playing the scarcity card: "This is the one developed for the Japanese market, you know, and when it is gone it is gone. No 10 has already gone, for example."

In fact, the only other ones left to try were Nos 3 and 4, both of which were resolutely not my thing. According to the SA, No 3 contained notes of lavender, vetiver and patchouli, while No 4 had notes of lavender, carnation, spices and muscat. The only useful comment I can add to that is "Yeek!"

ETAT LIBRE D'ORANGE

Moving on swiftly, I had a quick test of a couple of scents in the neighbouring Etat Libre d'Orange fixture: Sécrétions Magnifiques (which I had managed to dodge up to now: in hindsight - or in "nethersmell" - with good reason!), and Bendelirious, of which I had just read a review by the Candy Perfume Boy that day, so it was top of mind at the time - and very much the ditzy, va-va-voom floral he described.

Pausing briefly in the Hermès concession to cadge a sample of Santal Massoïa for Olfactoria (using my tried and tested "boyfriend with upcoming birthday" ruse), I started to wander vaguely in the direction of Place Vendôme. In view of the weather, I more or less gave up trying to navigate, but still managed to pass entirely at random a Maître Parfumeur Gantier outlet, two Guerlain boutiques, one of Annick Goutal, one of Comme des Garcons and one of Maison Kurkdjian.

GUERLAIN BOUTIQUES (and ongoing forensic inquiries about Plus Que Jamais)

I only actually went into the Guerlain boutiques, because I was either familiar with the ranges of the others, or didn't care for them in the main. Well, the former reason also applies to Guerlain, but I was on a continuing mission to find out what became of Plus Que Jamais - or Plus Jamais , as it should now be known since it was discontinued. In both stores the assistants tried to find me a substitute - namely Nuit d'Amour and (most oddly), Jardins de Bagatelle.

Try as I might, I couldn't seem to convey the fact that I only wanted this particular scent, or if I couldn't have it, I wanted to know why it had been axed. One assistant had heard that a specific ingredient in it was now on the prohibited list, so rather than reformulate the scent, they had decided to knock it on the head completely.

I find this terribly sad... If I get a moment, I might ring up the people at No 68 (which I didn't have a chance to visit this time) to see if they can confirm the truth of this. I would also like to know what the offending ingredient might have been that led to the premature demise of Plus Que Jamais, and whether they had had any inkling of the rule change. I sense not, for they can't have recovered their development costs during the scent's all too short lifespan.

Time to dive into another cafe for more tea and homemade creme caramel...

Coming up in Part 2 - the Fragonard Museum, JAR, and IUNX revisited (hard on the heels of Ines and Asali!)


Photo of Printemps exterior from routard.com, photo of Printemps display from parisdeuxieme.com, photo of Jo Malone Rose and Vanilla Intense Cologne, L'Artisan Mon Numéro No 8 and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais from fragrantica.com, photo of Dior Ambre Nuit from aufeminin.com, photo of Place Vendôme by night from destinationsperfected.com - no photos my own on account of the rain!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 1 (Germany & Switzerland) - Parfümerie Bauer, Rüdesheim

Apart from the duty free fragrance section at Birmingham airport on my outward journey, I didn’t expect to have any other sniffing opportunities on this trip - my itinerary mostly took me to rural areas, where you would struggle to find a McDonald’s (my go-to tea, toilet and wifi pitstop), never mind a quality department store or an independent niche perfumery. What I could count on though were Christmas markets – or Weihnachtsmärkte as they are known here. I encountered no fewer than three in fact: in Rüdesheim, Heidelberg and Rottenburg am Neckar. I wouldn’t say I am “marketed out” now, but let’s just say that if I see another pair of olive wood salad servers, felt wrist warmers, chunky candles in every shade of lurid, guardian angels fashioned out of wire and wisps of fluff, and stalls selling Glühwein and currywurst, I will scream.

Imagine my delight then to discover – tucked away behind the serried ranks of wooden huts lining the Rhine promenade in Rüdesheim – a perfumery called Parfümerie Bauer carrying an eclectic selection of niche and designer scents.



When I say eclectic, I mean things like the Les Notes Gourmandes range from Reminiscence, which I have only ever come across in Budapest. There it was, in all its pastel finery, next to the more usual suspects like Creed and Serge Lutens.

But what caught my eye immediately on entering the store was the enormous collection of miniatures, and I mean enormous. I have never seen so many gathered together in one place, and it took me a full forty minutes to get the measure of the selection, and to realise it is high time I got myself some reading glasses, for the labelling on some of these bottles was minuscule.



And at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I might also point out that the proprietor, Herr Bauer, complimented me on my competent handling of the glass fronts to the display cabinets, saying that I slid them back and forth "like a pro", and would be welcome to work there. : - )



Herr Bauer also asked me if I was by any chance related to the German perfume company called Mouson. I said I didn’t think so, and on seeing a poster for this brand at the back of the shop I realised that Mouson was spelled differently, though my name is pronounced just like that in German, with a round “u”, so I could see why Herr Bauer should think to inquire. I have since found a listing of the company's scent launches, starting around the turn of the last century.



Herr Bauer pointed out another curio in the shop, namely part of a collection of scent bottles belonging to Hugh Parsons, a British perfume house known better overseas than in its home markets – the fragrance equivalent of Beefeater Gin, if you will, which is another well known export brand.



A lone bottle of Amouage in a glass case on a plinth was another talking point, and I learnt that Parfümerie Bauer has some very exclusive customers in the Middle East and Africa, amongst them royalty and other dignatories. Herr Bauer drew my attention to a group photo in which he is posing – in some form of ceremonial dress - alongside his distinguished clientèle.



Things were getting more surprising by the minute! I also learnt that Parfümerie Bauer is one of only eight stockists in Germany of Lancôme Climat. By my reckoning that equates to one for approximately every 10 million inhabitants. Now is that a reasonable ratio, do you think? I have not tried Climat (I didn’t spot a tester), but it certainly sounds on the light side to me...



Oh, and I also did that picking up and fondling routine with a bottle of Après L’Ondée, but at 99 euros for 100ml (the only bottle size, sadly), that is more than I wanted to spend, and more perfume than I could ever use.

Finally, after much peering, I ended up buying minis of Private Collection parfum(!), Knowing parfum(!) and vintage YSL Paris EDT (I wanted to give those violent violets another crack of the whip, as it were). In return, Herr Bauer showered me with an assortment of unexpected gifts with purchase: a box of chocolates, a pen shaped like a lipstick bearing the name of the shop, a mini of Dior J’Adore, and a clutch of other designer samples.



So that was another example of "scent-related serendipity" on my travels... Oh, and on my way back through the market stalls, I succumbed (to the cold as much as the sales pressure!) and bought some wrist warmers too...




Photo of Lancôme Climat from fragrantica.com, all other photos my own.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Trio of Bonkers Trips: No 1 (Germany & Switzerland) – Doorstepping myBeautyBlog in Lüneburg

In everyone’s circle of friends, there is supposedly at least one person you could ring up in the middle of the night if you had to, say if you were having a personal crisis of some kind. I believe I have at least a couple of friends like that, but I trust I will never be in such dire straits as to feel the need to take them up on their kind offer. If I were them, I wouldn’t particularly relish being roused at bleary o’clock to lend a listening ear or some more practical form of help.

And then there are the friends you can disturb during the day – by just turning up unannounced, pretty much – and know (or be confident at least) that they will be pleased to see you at virtually no notice.

MyBeautyBlog is such a friend. She is both perfumista and make up blogger, The Non-Blonde of the German-speaking world, if you will - or “DACH-Gebiet”, as it is known in business circles (the acronym DACH being composed of the country abbreviations for Germany, Austria and Switzerland respectively). There may well be others, but I have only come across one other perfume blogger writing in her native German, namely Lena Brombacher of Olfactorialist – well, in both English and German in fact, for there are two versions of her blog. For of course the other well known blogger from that neck of the woods, Olfactoria of Olfactorias Travels, has opted to write in English, giving her blog international reach far beyond her home turf of Central Europe.

But for perfume lovers in the DACH-Gebiet who prefer to interact in their mother tongue, myBeautyBlog (real name Andreea) fills an important role, and her proudly advert-free blog is still going strong after six years. Andreea is in her early thirties but looks as young as Ari of Scents of Self actually is, though she doesn’t look her age either…! : - )

MyBeautyBlog and I “met” on Now Smell This, the mother ship of blogs where a number of my early fumehead friendships were forged. We first met in person in spring 2009 on a blind sniffing date in Hamburg, and then again in April of this year. We took a sightseeing tour of Andreea's home town of Lüneburg and enjoyed a memorable al fresco meal by the river in the company of her fiancé and his best man-to-be. And then in August it was thanks to a timely text exchange with Andreea that I discovered the Königsparfümerie in Dresden.

And so to the latest bonkers trip… After my first appointment near Hamburg at the start of my itinerary, I called Andreea on my mobile and asked her to guess where I was. “Er, round the corner?” she replied, sussing my game immediately. “Nearly – I am about 16km away. I know it is cheeky to call you out of the blue like this, but would you have time for a cup of tea?”

And so it was that some 40 minutes later, myBeautyBlog met me outside the university where she works. After a quick peep in her office, we adjourned to the canteen for that much needed cup of tea (on my side), and had a good old catch up on news, notably how the plans were going for her imminent winter wedding (now just over a week away!) To preempt reader inquiries the groom is predicted to wear Guerlain Cologne No 68, and the bride is hoping to be surprised with a wedding scent gift on the day. Well, I use the word “surprised” advisedly – I think the groom has been given some fairly heavy – and named – hints, including Parfum d'Empire Eau Suave and Kelly Calèche Extrait if my memory serves me.

At some point obviously we needed to sniff one another’s scent of the day: Andreea had applied hers to the nape of her neck, which made for some comical and ostentatious craning on my part, but if they did happen to notice, no one in the canteen appeared to be remotely fazed by this strange friendship ritual. I correctly guessed that Andreea was wearing a cunning mélange of Jardin sur le Nil and Jardin sur le Toit, while my own SOTD of Dior New Look 1947 had her foxed, but that was fair enough given that she had never smelt it.

After a pleasant hour or so of shooting the breeze, we said goodbye back at my car, but not before I had extracted my vial of Hermès Santal Massoia for Andreea (a big Hermès fan, as you may have gathered) to try right there on the spot, for those 4ml tubes do not lend themselves to being shared. We stood in the dark and cold for a couple of minutes as Andreea huffed her wrists – she liked what she smelt, but in no time at all the scent seemed to disappear, a phenomenon which she lamented as happening to her more and more often lately.

And I thought how curious we might appear to anyone passing by, two women standing by an open car boot, barely acquaintances really - from different countries and different generations - both intently sniffing the same pair of wrists, united by our passionate shared interest.

And then it was my turn to disappear, off to my next port of call…

Have a wonderful wedding next week, myBeautyBlog! And if and when you have a moment, do let us know what you wore on the day!


UPDATE: MyBeautyBlog's wedding report is now up on her blog here. It is in German, admittedly, but even for non-German speakers it is well worth checking out this and an earlier post for the lovely photos of Andreea's dress, makeup and bouquet.



Photo of Lüneburg from bach-cantatas.com, photo of myBeautyBlog from her website, photo of Leuphana university from ffb.uni-leuneburg.de, photo of Hermès Santal Massoia from stylelist.com

Saturday, 3 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 1 (Germany & Switzerland) - More Sniffing At Birmingham Airport

Just when I think I have got this travelling lark down to a fine art, St Christopher throws me a curved ball... (I think I mean St Christopher - St Nicholas is Christmas, right?). For the journey to the airport on this, the first of my three work trips, was more than usually fraught, starting with impromptu roadworks on all the main roads leading into Stafford town centre. Traffic was at a standstill, but luckily the taxi driver had already fallen foul of the gridlock with his previous fare, so we wove a circuitous route via the back roads and I made my train with minutes to spare. I was glad I had thought to reserve a seat, because the coaches were so full that in the absence of seats - or even standing room - some passengers had wedged themselves into the luggage racks, quite literally "stowing" themselves away...

On reaching the airport, I thought I would soothe my frazzled nerves with some stodgy comfort food, but the gristly grey sludge that passed for the filling of a Cornish pasty only served to put me more on edge. "Never mind", I said to myself: "The duty free section is always good for a spot of perfume therapy."

I had travelled through Birmingham only last August, so didn't expect a great deal to have changed in the fragrance section. I gave the Chanel Les Exclusifs counter a wide berth this time, for fear that an assistant would waft a blotter with Jersey on it under my nose. I could see the large size tester prominently displayed on top of the fixture and shuddered as I scuttled past, training my eyes on the Dior lipsticks straight ahead.

I did get nobbled by one sales assistant, who urged me to try Kenzo Flower Tag of all things. As it was one of the few scents in the line I had not sampled, I relented, though not before I had warned the SA that I wasn't exactly the target demographic for Tag and fully expected not to like it. The SA looked a bit taken aback, then downright puzzled as I added: "This is just in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you understand". In the event Tag reminded me of a weedier, more watery version of Hugo Boss Deep Red.

"It's got rhubarb", remarked the SA helpfully. I was impressed by her powers of intuition, for it so happens that I will cut a "rhubarb-forward" perfume a lot of slack, though in the case of Tag, it still wasn't enough. "I know", I replied, "but the overall effect isn't doing it for me."

"What about Kenzo Amour? That's nice - would you like to try that?"

"No, I do know that one, but I blow hot and cold with heliotrope, I'm afraid."

"Do like heliotrope, then?"

Which was my cue to melt into the nearby Tom Ford fixture, where I managed for the umpteenth time to pick up a bottle of Violet Blonde and put it down again. I went through a similar charade with both Bottega Veneta and Prada Candy - somehow the mere act of picking up the pack and fondling the smooth cellophane in my hand for a moment seemed to miraculously assuage some of my spenderlust.

So what did I actually sniff, apart from Tag? Here are some mini - or even micro nuggetlet - reviews of a few scents that were either new to me or which I was retesting:

Balenciaga Paris L'Essence

Green cut-glass violets

YSL Paris

Violent violets - as opposed to Parisienne, its younger cousin, which is (as I have said before) merely disgruntled purple talc. I didn't get the rose very much, though maybe it was busy stoking the furious violet furnace. Wasn't it Luca Turin who called this one "roaring rose"?

Chloe EDP Intense

Tautology

Estée Lauder Sensuous Nude (reprise)

Burnt hazelnuts (still), but smoother on skin than on the blotter when I last tried it in August. More of a cold cream and truffle feel to it as opposed to sharp fragments of shell.

Vivienne Westwood Cheeky Alice

Floral oxymoron

Supposedly the "sexier older sister" of Naughty Alice, you just know from the sales blurb below (courtesy of Now Smell This) that this simply cannot be so...

"At the heart of this cheeky and delightful fragrance is a fresh and floral bouquet that perfectly captures Alice’s femininity and impertinence. The delicacy of the lily of the valley catches your attention and subtly leads you to a voluptuous and noble fragrance of fresh peony mixed with a touch of rose, eternal symbol of womanhood."

Even allowing for the touch of rose, "voluptuous and noble fresh peony" is patently a contradiction in terms. Trust me on this - the musky, peppery, Kenzo Amour Indian Holi-esque Naughty Alice is the cheekier of the two, and frankly it is no more cheeky than a slightly upturned nose.

And d'you know what? - after about six hours they all smelt quite pleasant, even Chloé Intense (just about : - ) ).



Photo of Birmingham airport from bhxflightguide.blogspot.com, photo of pasties from flickr.com, photo of Kenzo Flower Tag from feelunique.com, photo of Chloé EDP Intense from comparestoreprices.co.uk, photo of Chloé EDP Intense from perfumediary.com