Sunday, 3 March 2013

Smelly Cakey Drinky Things On Toasty Meet: Lion Cupboard Love & The Fellowship Of Fumeheads

Angela Flanders store
The Smelly Cakey Drinky Meet - I added the bit about the Things on Toast - was the brainchild of "professional Moomin" and trainee perfumer Pia Long, known to many as Nukapai on Basenotes.   She thought it would be fun to recreate the Basenotes outings of yore, whereby a gaggle of perfumistas would go on a crawl of perfume emporia and high end tea rooms in central London, for as long as nose and stomach could stand the pace.

The chosen day for the meet-up dawned dry and preternaturally early.  My alarm roused me at my friend's house in Teddington at 7.30am.  I must say that 8am is a foreign country to me at the best of times, but there was nothing for it but to leap into action.  I arrived at the chosen rendez-vous point, Patisserie Valerie in Spitalfields, at bang on 10.30 am for a 10.30 - 11 am start.  I was delighted to spot Tara - in the dark coat whose precise colour was a memorable object of confusion on our first meeting - loitering outside, just slightly more unfashionably early than me.  Little did we know that three others had already preceded us and were installed at a large table indoors, while Pia herself stood sentry at a door round the other side to intercept stragglers.

People continued to dribble in over the next half an hour or so, but we got stuck into breakfast without ado.  My conventional-looking scone paled into insignificance beside Tara's humungous chocolate croissant, while Nick's millefeuille was so substantial that he had to abandon it somewhere around the "cinq cents" mark.

Tara, looking unfazed by her enormous croissant
Replete from our cafe stop, we ambled a few streets to our first perfume shop, Angela Flanders, a line with which I was unfamiliar.  Our party more or less filled the store, and we quickly descended on the testers and smelling strips.  A speed sniffing marathon ensued, as we attempted to winkle out our personal favourites, of which the friendly assistants made us samples to take home.

Nick and Pia at Angela Flanders
I sniffed ten scents on card and a further umpteen from the nozzle, which - although not a recognised sampling technique - pretty much does the job on the whole.  I am careful not to touch the nozzle with my nose, however, lest a Health & Safety-conscious SA should ask me to desist on hygiene grounds.

The strips I have retained were mostly drawn from three of the four ranges, the fourth (The Artillery Range) being more geared to men, as a cursory dabble confirmed:

Signature Fragrances: Bois de Seville, Melissa, Ottoman

Collection Florale: Mimosa, Bouquet d'Amour

Collection Noir (sic): Figue Noire, Oudh Noir

Sarah McCartney at Angela Flanders
I additionally tried Precious One on card - an elegant and understated floral chypre, which won a FiFi in 2012 in the Best New Independent Fragrance category - and Aqua Alba, which has not yet been assigned to a category by the looks of it.  It features an intriguing whisky note and was a popular choice with quite a few of us.  I requested samples of these two, plus Bois de Seville (a spicy woody, orange scent) and Oudh Noir (for an oud-loving friend).

One perfume which I sniffed and admired on Lisa (aka Wordbird) was Parchment, another Signature Fragrance with spices, citrus, vanilla and amber.  If my memory serves me, this is the one which Lisa initially thought smelt of fish, but the impression was happily fleeting, and Parchment quickly morphed into a yo-ho-ho-Long John Silver-type scent of the most evocative kind.

Somewhat creepy candles by Cire Trudon
Our next stop - again, within easy walking distance, even for someone as encumbered with luggage as me - was Bloom Perfume in Spitalfields, which carries an eclectic range of candles and fragrance, Parfumerie Générale and Nasomatto being two examples of relatively well known brands I spotted there.  Others included Jovoy Paris, Jardins d'Ecrivains, Phaedon Paris, Ann Gérard, Vero Profumo, Nez à Nez, Grossmith, Nasomatto, Blood Concept (which I had tested and rejected in Zurich), Magnetic Scent, Testa Maura, Undergreen and Six Scents.  I didn't clock several of these houses at the time, but have since looked them up on the store's website!

It was a squeeze in Bloom, and testing a bit of a genial bunfight.  Accordingly, I curtailed my explorations to the Jovoy range (where my sniffing was exclusively nozzle-based), Ann Gérard (I sprayed Perle de Mousse and Ciele d'Opale on strips), and Vero Profumo's Mito (which was awarded precious skin space on account of its iconic status on the blogs!).

Of the Jovoy range, I was drawn to a fig one - L'Arbre de Connaissance - and duly bought a sample.

Notes: citruses, green leaves, fig, sandalwood, patchouli, fig tree wood

The Ann Gérard trio piqued my interest, on account of Bertrand Duchaufour being the nose - I liked Perle de Mousse best (notes are listed below).  The third, Cuir de Nacre, was a leather scent not to my taste.

Notes: aldehydes, ambergris, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, cloves, galbanum, gardenia, green mandarin, hawthorn, ivy, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, mastic, musk, pink pepper, vanilla

From L to R: Perle de Mousse, Ciel d'Opale, Cuir de Nacre
My first impressions of the hugely feted Mito were not favourable, as it opens with a really tart, almost sherbety and granular burst of citrus, very reminiscent of Guerlain Sous le Vent.  However, I continued to sniff my hand over the course of the day and into the evening, and - as with Puredistance Antonia, with which I struggled initially - the later stages repay one's patience.  The central phase was green and spikily springlike, owing to the galbanum, I imagine, with shades of Miller Harris Fleurs de Bois; the drydown, meanwhile, had a more luminous green facet blended with the sweeter florals, as the magnolia and jasmine kicked in.  I love magnolia as a note, and it lent a tender quality to the final stages of the scent's development, in stark contrast to the acerbic opening.  I think I may have to buy a sample by mail order at this rate.

Notes: bergamot, magnolia, jasmine, galbanum, hyacinth, cypress and moss

After Bloom, we took a bus to Piccadilly and were strolling along Jermyn Street when we spied a branch of Geo F Trumper.  A shade too early for our tea at Fortnum & Mason's, we happily killed the requisite time in this store, a temple to gentlemen's grooming, though its perfume range is aimed at both sexes.  I was especially drawn to the ample selection of dainty nail brushes and shaving soaps in wooden boxes - the sandalwood one in particular.  But that belongs more properly to another post...

3pm saw us settled at our table in the upstairs - and as Pia was at pains to point out, comparatively less expensive! - tea room in Fortnum's.  Tea was £6 a pot, but what a pot!  Scones were £6 the pair, but came with a perfectly spherical "boule" of clotted cream.  I opted for one slice of Welsh Rarebit (at £9.50 each, there was no way I could run to two), but as it turned out, one was perfectly filling, deliciously savoury and fluffy, and topped with two rashers of good back bacon.  

The nonpareil of Welsh Rarebits
The other important aspect of the day to mention was the systematic sampling we undertook - at Patisserie Valerie, on the bus, and at any point in our wanderings where it was practical, basically - of British perfumer Sarah McCartney's range, 4160 Tuesdays.  Sarah joined us for the whole day - in person she was delightfully down to earth, quirky and flamboyant, and these qualities are reflected in her offbeat and unusual scents.  She generously offered us each a large sample of our choice, and after wavering between What Katie Did At The Weekend - a "fruity floral with a twist" - and "The Lion Cupboard", I was swayed in the end by the woody mystique of the latter.  The Lion Cupboard was created by Sarah for her sister, and takes its name from an ornate Victorian cabinet decorated with lion's heads, in which their late father used to store his hats, gloves and scarves.  This comforting fragrance comprises a mix of notes Sarah associated with her father's hug.  

Here is the description on the Les Senteurs website, which stocks several of the scents in the range: 

"A medley of masculine scents including juniper (think well-iced gin and tonic), mint and aniseed (tooth powder) meld with lavender, patchouli and golden helichrysum. Dark, deep, woody and reassuring. Spicy, warm and resolutely masculine."

NB Any knitters out there may also be interested to learn about Sarah's 5 Degree Woolly eco-knitting movement!

As well as sampling Sarah's fragrance range, we smelt one of Pia's creations on blotters - an aldehydic peach scent.  There was also a fair amount of informal swapping of our unwanted niche stash, while Lisa delighted the group by handing out packets of Welsh cakes to anyone keen to try them.

Special mention should be made of the "Ladies' Powder Room", with its gilded baroque mirrors and supplies of individual hand towels.  No broken hand dryers or futile shreds of paper towel for such an august establishment.

Sadly, I had to cut and run at that point, as I had a particular train to catch home, but the others repaired to the perfume department of Fortnum's for a final sniffing foray.

And then, in what seemed like no time at all, I was home, blissed out on scents and good company.  The Lion, The Cupboard And The Welsh Rarebit from Central Casting.  The fellowship of fumeheads is indeed a wonderful thing, and many thanks are due to Pia for her hard work in organising this most enjoyable and memorable day.

Tara, Lisa and Sarah at Patisserie Valerie


  1. Oh lord, you mentioned the fish! I have to say it was 'good fish' - lovely fresh raw salmon. It smelled like something I wanted to cook and eat.
    What a wonderful day out it was!

  2. That sounds like a great day out. And I keep getting reminded that I so want to smell the Ann Gerards...

  3. Hi Birdie,

    Oh my goodness - you've been commenting on Bonkers all this while and I had no clue you were Lisa! How on earth did that escape my notice...! : - )

    I trust I mentioned the phantom fish note quite tastefully - and as you point out in your comment, it was freshly caught and raring to leap into the frying pan. Though it was an incongruous note to encounter in a perfume, even briefly.

    Fantastic to see you on British soil! I think I feel the Welsh cake munchies coming on...

  4. Hi Asali,

    Nice to hear from you! Since writing this post, I have resniffed the Ann Gerard strips, and both Ciel d'Opale and Perle de Mousse are suddenly quite delicious. Whether they would be equally so on skin I can't tell, but I am tempted to buy samples of both of them now as well as Mito. The former has a lovely honeyed *linden* note that you of all people might enjoy, while the latter is a pretty, yet offbeat green floral (the lentiscus factor, I reckon).

  5. Ah, the Fine Fellowship of Fumeheads:-)

    You've reminded me that I have Angela Flanders and Sarah McCartney samples that I look forward to trying, and that I do want to order Aqua Alba by Angela Flanders, which I'm hoping will include a good recognisable peat note.

    Fumes and Tea at Fortnums - I think that would be my idea of a perfect day.

    Thanks for the vicarious visiting pleasure,

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  6. Hi Anna,

    Apparently Johnny Walker consulted on the whisky note, so I am sure the peat note in Aqua Alba would live up to your expectations.

    You have a treat in store if you have yet to explore these two ranges - do let me know your thoughts. I could do with another session myself!

    You would certainly have enjoyed the day - and I must say that the Fortnums visit was a highlight, not least because the staff didn't mind us staying for two hours.

  7. Oh, what a divine meet-up... not to mention a post title that had me feeling as though I were about to go through the wardrobe doors straight into Narnia. :) Thank you for regaling us with this marvelous tale... and for providing photographic proof of the Welsh Rarebit of the Gods.

  8. ooh how fun!! what, of all the new scents, did you love the most?

    I love the 5 degree woolly movement - which I guess I have been involved in but didn't know I was until this post!! But that said, I do want to make that sweater. (If we turn the heat down another 5 degrees, I'll have to start wearing gloves around the house, too, and I'm not quite ready to start that home-fashion trend)

    I love fancy bathrooms -I have always want to put a chandelier in mine.

  9. Hi olenska,

    It was indeed a truly Narnian experience, in that "pinch yourself-did-I-dream-that-teapot?" kind of a way. Fortunately, without witches, though a few of the scents we tested cast a bit of a spell... : -)

  10. Hi Carol,

    It's a tricky question, because I only tried a few scents on skin on the day. I would have to say The Lion Cupboard, because the opening of Mito was so offputting, but I did love where it went a few hours later. Now I realise that won't cut any ice with you, as you like instant gratification from your perfumes!

    Also, I think the fact that Sarah was with us, telling us the back stories to the scents and snffing us wearing them, helped us bond with her creations more. They felt more personal and special somehow. Perhaps there's food for a whole other blog post there...

    I am additionally very curious to try Angela Flanders Precious One at more length, also the Ann Gerards. I think I may have overlooked Melissa by Angela Flanders, which has a radiant lemon and honey thing going on on the scent strip as I type!

    I have the heating at about 16C by day and 18 or 19C at night, so I am trying to do my bit, also to keep costs down. I don't have any more layers I could wear, mind, as I always have four on at any time. Scarves indoors, but no hats thus far...

  11. What a spectacularly fun day! It sounds absolutely marvelous -- every, single bit of it! I'm so envious of the fun company in pursuit of both good perfume and food.

    Thank you for the chance to live vicariously a little and to spend the day in London, shopping, eating and sniffing. I'm so overwhelmed by the sights, photos and descriptions, I don't know what to comment on in particular. Except for that very chic bathroom with the mirrors and hand towels, and that delicious looking Welsh Rarebit!

  12. Hi Kafka,

    It was a bit overwhelming, in a good way! Definitely a case of sensory overload. I was quite happy to spend a solitary Sunday, as all my batteries had been well and truly charged.

    It would've been lovely to have had you along, though the sales assistants might have looked askance at Zola. Hey, I might have looked askance at Zola!

    No, seriously, I hope you make it back to Europe some day - would be great to meet you - and Pia is thinking of doing more of these events...

  13. Lovely fun post about a really fun day.

    Lion Cupboard really was wonderful on you, V.

  14. Oh what a day! :)

    Btw, I have to add, I believe sniffing the nozzle should be listed as a sampling technique as I do it regularly before deciding to use up more of my nose on a strip.
    Certainly when you are trying to smell your way through a large collection.

  15. Thank you for a warm and quirky report of our day, Vanessa!

  16. That was quite the yummy day, all around, Vanessa! Glad to hear that you enjoyed the drydown of Mito. Since we seem to have opposite tastes, mainly, it won't surprise you to hear that I love that big citrus top to Mito, which to my nose is quite lemony and sunny. :)

    Enjoy your Lion Cupboard. It sounds wonderful, and what a great name!

  17. Hi Tara,

    Wasn't it a brilliant day? I am so glad you could make it!

    I have been enjoying Lion Cupboard since my return - the drydown is especially cosy, and almost goes a little sweet on me, which I rather like.

  18. Hi Ines,

    Thanks for endorsing my nozzle-sniffing method! Anecdotal evidence from other fumeheads suggests that certain stores take a dim view of it. Though I don't know why they should, as it saves on paper. As long as basic hygiene is followed, I think it is a good technique.

  19. Hi Nukapai,

    A big thank you to you for having the idea and making it all happen! You should definitely run tours as a sideline...You also came up with the original walking maps/routes round perfumeries, as I recall?

  20. Hi Suzanne,

    I am not surprised that you were not fazed by the exuberantly citrus-y opening of Mito. You are of course another fan of Antonia, which also has a tricky opening in my book.

    I think you would appreciate The Lion Cupboard - it is smoky and mysterious, but not overly masculine - like M7 to my nose, say, to stay with our Puredistance analogy!

  21. Only when I read one of your stories I realize how much I miss reading them! You just have to write more often!

    I enjoyed reading your account of the meet-up. It sounds like a lot of fun.

    I wasn't that excited about Mito but since I am an Antonia fan maybe I should try and procure a sample?

    I have a question for you: how do those Ann Gérard bottles look in real life?

  22. Hi Undina,

    Thanks for your encouragement! I seem to have been caught up in the hunt for work interspersed by occasional bursts of same, but I have lots of posts in mind - if not travel ones as such. I am doing much less travel for work at the moment. Well no foreign trips at all, sadly, and they were always great sources of inspiration!

    As a lover of Antonia you should definitely try Mito, which has a similar sharp opening, and softer development.

    The Ann Gerard bottles look quite substantial and luxurious, with chunky tops as you can see, but they didn't move me particularly. Plus I am not really one for big cursive scripts which are written all across the bottle.

  23. Just found you. I had a lovely time too. Must do it again.

  24. Wow this sounded like so much fun! I really do love Aqua Alba by Angela Flanders and am glad you like it too. You gals should definitely organise perfume tours!

  25. Hi SMc,

    Thanks for dropping in! It was a pleasure to meet you and to sample your range. In preparing this post, I also came across your interview with Lila for Basenotes, which was a jolly good read on so many levels.

  26. Hi Joshua,

    Another vote for Aqua Alba - I expect it will be a good seller for them.

    And I believe Pia is considering organising perfume tours! You should come along on the next one. :-)

  27. Hi Joshua,

    Will keep you posted!

  28. Vicarious living through Bonkers--yes! What a treat after a dreary week. I envy that feast/crawl/fellowship/smell symphony!

  29. I'm so envious of your day with perfumes and wonderful scents. I wish I could attend one of those too. I love how you describe each fragrance wonderfully.

  30. Hi Cheryl,

    I am glad you could enjoy the day vicariously, for as I recall, your particular logistics are a bit tricky in terms of easy popping to London...

    Sorry you couldn't have come along in person - it was indeed a multi-sensory treat!

  31. Hi Megan P,

    Thanks for your encouraging words about my scent descriptions. I never think of myself as particularly adept in that respect, which is why Bonkers is full of so much other random stuff...

    Wish you could have come along - the world needs lots more fumehead meet-ups! Someone - Undina perhaps? - should draw up a map of where we all are the world over, and pinpoint the optimal meeting location for each cluster of perfumistas. :-)