Sunday, 21 August 2016

'La vie est belle': thoughts on 'Lancôming' home to Limousin, and a curious confluence of perfume and porcelain - Part 1

I have just been away for a few days to France, visiting my friend L, who recently bought a house out there. Much of the travelling I do these days is gig-related, so it was unusual for me to go to a place where not only was no music involved, but where I was struck by the profound silence that reigned at night, though her village was also pretty peaceful by day. Lying in bed, the snuffling of barn owls in the eaves of the house opposite and the occasional gurgle of vintage plumbing were pretty much the only sounds I could make out. Ironically, I found the silence so extreme that I wore ear plugs anyway, to recreate more normal sleeping conditions. ;)

I left home on Wednesday morning, having managed to conceal the whereabouts of the suitcase from Truffle right up until the moment of departure.  From the baleful look on her face as I said goodbye I think she may have known all along anyway, the constant transferring of clothes and other assorted objects from room to room over several days in the run up to my trip being a bit of a giveaway.

I caught the train to Birmingham without incident, and had a luxurious amount of time to kill at the airport. Now that my hobby is in its 'mature' phase, I tend to walk straight through the perfume section of the Duty Free, but my resolve weakened at the sight of a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Poudrée. I had been curious to try Poudrée ever since reading Ines of All I am a Redhead's glowing review, and it was as lovely - in that dreamy, cold creamy, and finely milled powder kind of a way - as I had expected.

Source: Fragrantica


Heartened by my favourable take on the Narciso, I decided to pop to the Chanel Exclusifs section to retest Misia. I also got my first sniff of Boy, and had a spritz of the already familiar Coromandel and No 22 for good measure. I am still not sure about Misia - it reminded me of a rosier version of 1932, and there was something slightly suffocating about its stereo cosmetic powderiness - from both the violets and the iris/orris. I also thought I got a hint of lavender and heliotrope, but maybe it was the tonka bean playing tricks. I guess it is not a good sign if you even think you smell notes you don't care for in a scent. Plus it didn't have half the staying power of Coromandel, not that that really warrants a black mark in my book.

I also had a quick whiff of Boy on card, which struck me as a refreshing, faintly fougèristic, broadly unisex cologne with a lavender(!) twist, that didn't seem to bother me unduly. I would like to give it another go, as I was distracted by my Misia musings.

And to be truthful, the most memorable part of the visit was chatting to Kelly, the very helpful and knowledgeable sales assistant, about their (I think relatively new?) porcelain 'dipper sticks'. If anyone knows the proper technical term for these, please do let me know in the comments!

Some readers may be aware of my longstanding interest in perfume sample delivery mechanisms - I can only find this post (on the subject of 'olfcartophiles'), but there have been several. Over time, I have detected a gradual evolution from giving physical samples away to encouraging people to make do with cards, blotters, lengths of ribbon, Frédéric Malle-style walk in fibreglass Tardises, IUNX- and Mugler-style trumpets, bell jars and so on. This was my first encounter with porcelain dipper sticks, mind, and as I was about to board a flight to Limoges, the ceramics capital, the Stoke-on-Trent if you will, of France - or do I mean the Dresden? - I took a lively interest in this novel and niche application. They are white tubular things, thicker at one end, and looked ever so slightly like a certain feminine accessory that enables you to play tennis, swim and canoe, even if you have never previously engaged in such active pursuits. Or perhaps like a deeply disappointing satay skewer. Anyway, they certainly did the job here.

I asked Kelly how long the dipper sticks sit in their little wells before the scent is refreshed - it turns out that they are redipped once a week in small screw cap bottles that live in a cupboard behind the counter. Well, I thought, that is interesting. Kelly also showed me her tray of raw material miniatures, which guide clients through the process of choosing a perfume by enabling them to discover which notes they are drawn to - like the Ormonde Jayne Perfume Portrait idea, but without the blind sniffing aspect. And there was also a table with samples of the complete Chanel range laid out on it, organised by fragrance style, to help the customer narrow the field further to specific perfumes that might match their olfactory leanings. Here it is, together with the examples Kelly gave me for each - or rather at least one that I managed to jot down:

Citrus - Cristalle
Green floral - Bel Respiro, No 19
Light floral - Chance (make that dull, insipid floral for me!)
Intense floral - No 5
Aromatics - Bleu
Soft woody - Bois des Iles
Intense woody - Sycamore
Enveloping oriental - Coco Mademoiselle
Oriental - Coromandel

Now I was tickled by the idea of an 'enveloping oriental', however for my money the categories are transposed and I'd call Coromandel the true enveloper of the two. I mentioned this to Kelly and we went on to discuss the ubiquity of Coco Mademoiselle, which is now the biggest selling perfume in the world, you won't be surprised to learn.

Finally, Kelly mentioned the imminent launch of No 5 L'Eau, a lighter version of No 5 aimed at a younger market, or anyone who finds the original a bit aldehyde-heavy. I was quite happy for Eau Première to fulfil that role, but am intrigued to try this new interpretation.


After Chanel, I spied a display of Armani Privé scents, which was definitely new since my last visit. They favoured the 'bell jar' system of perfume dispersal, and I dutifully picked them all up and stuck my nose inside. What really caught my eye though were the geologically lifelike bottles of Rouge and Vert Malachite. Well, I say that, but to be honest the green one reminded me a bit of Shield deodorant soap from the 70s if anyone remembers that. No, seriously, they did have the marbling and sheen of an actual geode of malachite, but there was also a fake and plasticky aspect to the bottles that put me right off the scents - though if you ask me what they smelt like I would be hard pushed to describe either.

I certainly wouldn't have recognised Rouge Malachite from the company's oddly capitalised PR blurb, for example, which I found on Now Smell This:

'The singular meeting of an opulent, voluptuous and carnal Tuberose and a wild Sage along with the surprising vibration of AmberXtreme.'

I have resisted the urge to put a comma in after 'Sage'! Actually, come to think of it, Rouge Malachite was a little like a more demure Coromandel, and I note that both scents have a big white floral, amber, and benzoin in them, albeit Rouge Malachite is more about the tuberose to Coromandel's jasmine, plus there is a shedload of patchouli in the Chanel. I did like Rouge Malachite though. And I didn't mind Vert Malachite, but my inability to classify it in any way whatsover rather spoilt my appreciation of how it smelled. (Ooh, there's a meaty behavioural topic for another time!)


Next up, I swung by the Tom Ford fixture, drawn by the blingy ribbed allure of the bottles of Orchid Soleil and Velvet Orchid. As I was spraying one or other of these on a blotter - yes, blotters are still with us!- a man came up behind me and asked: 'Are you looking for something for yourself or your husband?' And he didn't even work there. ;) Yep, he was just another punter, who reached for the tester of Noir and pronounced it not 'Extrème' enough. 'I only really like the Extrème' he added, deftly reinforcing his he-man credentials, before vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared. Maybe he should have given Rouge Malachite and its AmberXtreme a spin(!) - the pair are unisex after all.

On a side note, the number of Tom Ford scents with 'Orchid' in the name is spiralling out of control if you ask me, like the whole sorry busy of confusing Stella flankers, which I elevated to the status of a 'Scent Crime' in this post from 2009. My nose had sort of had it by this stage however, so I shan't attempt to describe my impressions, which would have been sketchy at the best of times...And now I am scratching my head about another perfume by Tom Ford that was discontinued, and that I thought was also called Velvet Orchid - it contained a notorious blue cheese-inflected gardenia note and oozed a general aura of sex and depravity that was straight out of John Fowles' The Magus. Like a more complicated and corrupt version of Versace Crystal Noir perhaps...Velvet Gardenia, that was it!! So 'Velvet' may be shaping up as the new 'Orchid' in terms of irritating iteration.


Nasal fatigue notwithstanding, I couldn't walk on past the Jo Malone concession, yet another niche-ish line to have popped up at Birmingham airport in the past year. They didn't have any long porcelain dipper sticks, but they DID have short white porcelain cork-like stoppers adorned with black ribbons, also resting in scent wells. So obviously I had to ask the assistant how often they refresh / redip the stoppers in the perfumes, and the answer is every day! Make of that what you will - there may be a correlation with the relative evanescence of the Jo Malone range versus the Chanel Exclusifs in terms of adhering to the porcelain surface, or something to do with how the scent wells are designed to minimise evaporation - or it may be an arbitrary frequency on the part of each brand!, I don't know. I would be interested to sniff a Jo Malone 'cork' that has not been redipped for six days, say, to see if you can still smell the perfume in question or not. (And in case you were wondering, I failed to ask about the receptacles in which the dipping supplies are housed. ;) )

The assistant, whose name I also didn't catch, allowed me to smell a tester of the upcoming September release, Basil & Neroli, which is billed as a more modern take on the bestselling Jo Malone classic, Lime, Basil & Mandarin. As with the latter, I sense that Basil & Neroli may work beautifully on the right skin; but even if I had the right skin, I don't care for basil in a perfume, though I love it on the plant and in the mozzarella and tomato salad, so I was destined not to like this. The neroli gives the basil a good old run for its money, mind. To be honest, the basil seemed more sage-like to my nose, though I am not big on sage either. Anyway, please don't be put off by my lack of enthusiasm - if you like herbal citrus compositions it may be just the ticket.

After all of that, there was just time to grab a takeaway tea and rush to the gate as instructed, only to be kept waiting on the steps down to it - and in the bus to the plane - for a further 40 minutes or so, as you do.

PS Interesting factoid about Narciso Rodriguez!....My friend's niece, whom I met at dinner the other day, used to work for Kenneth Green Associates, which has Narciso Rodriguez in its marketing portfolio. During her time there she had the job of pre-spraying the ribbons-in-lieu-of-samples with perfume, and also did a stint of promotional work. Her top tip for clinching the sale was to give the ribbon to a small child, assuming there was one available, from whose possession the ribbon would eventually get transferred to the mother's handbag, who would marvel at this lovely smell wafting up from its interior when they got home, and go back to the store to buy a bottle! This lady is also one of the world's top experts in voodoo culture (no kidding), so she clearly knows a thing or two about making stuff happen...


  1. Hah, my bottles would be safe from you - it seems that I like those notes you despise : a.o. heliotrop, plus most oh herbs. Then again, you could kill me w Narciso Rodriguez.... 😀

    1. Hi Lady Jane Grey,

      That is funny about our contrasting tastes, hehe, but I wouldn't go as far as to say I 'despise' those notes. There are perfumes that I like out there with a bit of them in. It does very much depend on the individual composition.

  2. That sounds like a Duty Free I wouldn't mind to visit! Most of those that I visited in the last couple of years in the U.S. were so boring that I could cry.
    I need to re-test Misia and a couple more Exclusifs: I've just realized I couldn't remember how they smell.

    I saw those porcelain rods for the first time 4 years ago at Chanel counter in NY and was impressed. I liked the idea much more than sniffing a bottle's nozzle or wasting perfumes on blotters.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Birmingham Duty Free is gradually morphing into Harvey Nics! I am not surprised to learn that the porcelain rods aren't brand new at Chanel, but I don't think that Exclusifs outlet had them the last time I was there - I could only test them on card, I think.

  3. Weird about a new 'light' No. 5...
    And I love this line: " I guess it is not a good sign if you even think you smell notes you don't care for in a scent. " :D xox

    1. Hi Carol,

      The proof will be in the sniffing, I guess, where No 5 L'Eau is concerned - I am curious, I must say, as regular No 5 can feel 'too much' sometimes, though I do love it.

      I think I have a bit of a penchant for detecting disagreeable phantom notes in perfumes. ;)

  4. Bloomin eck, Birmingham beats the paltry offering of Manchester! That sounds like a delightful trip all in.
    Did the Chanel lady give you a 'mini tester' porcelain stick? I have one that was dipped into Bois Des Isles last year and still retains a teeny ghost of sandalwood. I adore it.

    1. Hi Odiferess,

      Birmingham has really come up in the world, I agree! Sadly no, I didn't receive a 'mini tester' porcelain stick. I feel sure she would have given me one if she had had one, but only offered me one of those square cards to take away.

  5. My only time testing Chanel Exclusifs, in Copenhagen 3 years ago, I know the various perfumes were presented on porcelain rods like the ones you describe. I bought my Coromandel back then, but am curious how I would like some of the new scents. However, no. 19 in perfume strength is still higher on the list of wanted bottles, so I may not get around to testing Misia and Boy.

    Having had no real luck with the few Jo Malone scents I have tried, a scent with basil in it may be just my thing. I am also still looking for a really feminine scent containing thyme. Anything with herbs tends to be unisex at best.

    1. Hi Ingeborg,

      Yes, it seems the porcelain rod system is far from new, but I have not seen / noticed it before, certainly. I really loved the drydown of Coromandel, it is becoming a new favourite, I think.

      Can't help you with a feminine scent with thyme - herbs do tend to skew things unisex as you say. There are some with clary sage in, mind, if that would help?

    2. Would certainly be interested to hear about scents with clary sage. I have to order some more samples before October, because I hope to visit Milan for a few days (work, but hopefully time for some shopping).

    3. I was thinking of Aromatics Elixir for one, but I see on Fragrantica that there is a whole clatter of them, including some feminine perfumes. I had it in my head that one of the Eau de Sisleys had sage in it but I could be mistaken.

      I also recommend the 'Perfumes by Note' section of Surrender to Chance, if they still have one. They used to when it was The Perfumed Court.

  6. Birmingham airport sounds quite luxurious with all those concessions-goodness. Curious about the samples. I was inundated with them in Paris at de Nicolai, and get quite a lot in CT at Diptyque.
    Yet another new No5 variant sounds like Eau P is not selling so well...

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      I am fortunate to have Birmingham as my nearest airport, and look forward to new things on my next visit. Have definitely got my duty free mojo back.

      Maybe you have a way with you re the samples? ;) I am the sort of person who struggles to find tradesmen or get served in bars, hehe.

  7. Good lord your duty free shops make the ones that I have been look like the McDonalds of the perfume world. I guess I know where I need to travel to now :). And I'm with you on Misia...just don't quite get it and I love my Chanel!

    1. Hi Steve,

      LOL at 'the McDonalds of the perfume world'! Pleased to hear that Misia has left you a bit bemused too. Overall I am a big Chanel fan too. ;)

  8. Misia was candy-like and seemed slightly downmarket for a Chanel. Malle's Lipstick Rose does the idea better, I think, and is probably a bit cheaper. A friend recently was handed samples spritzed onto ribbons and was distracted by the smell of the fabric itself..Annie

    1. Hi Annie,

      I quite agree that Lipstick Rose is my preferred take on 'backstage makeup'. I love the story of your friend being sidetracked by the smell of the fabric itself. I have a friend who is a textile artist / stitcher and she would probably be the same!

  9. ' Stereo cosmetic powderiness' :-D love it.
    I like the idea very much of you writing about how you feel about perfumes out of category. Personally I don't mind that as much as I mind the fact that so many perfumes I've tried in the last years, do not even last long enough for me to give them a category.
    I suppose Jo Malone didn't have the tea scents?

    1. Hi Asali,

      Interesting that lack of longevity bothers you - it has to be quite extreme to really wind me up.

      Sadly there were no tea scents at this concession, or I didn't notice them if so. I was intent on inspecting the stoppers and trying the Basil & Neroli number. ;)

  10. that does sound like a rather swanky airport duty free, and an enjoyable way to while away some time. No exclusifs in Edinburgh airport, nope, nor the city. (Not even in Harvey Nics, which makes the lovely Chanel lady there a little sad, as she used to be the Empress of Perfume at Chanel in Glasgow's House of Fraser.) Interesting about the once a week re-dip. I meant to ask her about that, and kept forgetting.

    And on that Chanel note, today I am currently remembering why I originally fell in love with No5, and baffled as to why I then abandoned it for 15 years. (Just found an almost empty bottle of the EDP in a box of study stuff I was sorting out, and am revisiting it. Very happily.) Never found a Jo Malone scent I could fall for though. It's a big blind spot for me.

    1. Hi crikey,

      I am not surprised at the lack of high end perfumes at the airport - hey, you can't fly direct to Limoges from Edinburgh, so go figure ;) - but that does surprise me about Harvey Nics. They have the Armanis at least, as I always make a beeline for them when I am in the store. Do check the Chanel lady's dipping frequency and report back!

      Glad you are rediscovering No 5. I might put it on myself, actually. ;) I cut my teeth on Jo Malone but progressively moved away, finding the compositions largely too pale and not so interesting, with a few notable exceptions. But it was a really important gateway brand for me and I am still interested to try the latest releases, which is not the case with many other houses.

  11. Great selection of perfumes here, V. Yes, the Chanel fragrance boutique at Selfridges has had those dippers for quite some time but good to see Birmingham Airport getting on board :)

    I came to the same conclusion about Misia as you but wish I'd realised before buying a bottle on the spot. Anyway, CQ is making the most of it now. I never clocked there was jasmine in Coromandel so will be on the look out next time I wear it.

    I do think Coco M is "enveloping" if that is a code word for suffocating, haha.

    I also tried Boy at Duty Free and liked it though wasn't anywhere near wowed, not that I expected to be. It was nicely unisex and the lavender was happily muted. Quite musky in the drydown.
    Thanks for this lovely round-up!

    1. Hi Tara,

      I think either Birmingham Airport is late to the party with the dippers or I am woefully inobservant. These things usually jump out at me as items of special interest.

      I remembered that you fell in and subsequently out of love with Misia but at least CQ is giving it a loving home. I wouldn't say I could detect jasmine in Coromandel either, which seems to be more about the patchouli and spice and general gutsy woodsiness.

      LOL at Coco M being suffocating. Its ubiquity is for sure! I wasn't wowed by Boy but then it is not a style by which I am capable of being wowed, I don't think. Colognes aren't really the wowing sort, is what I mean. I do agree that the lavender was nicely muted. And that is key for me as you may infer from the above!