Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Dare to Love?: Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia and Beautiful Magnolia Intense review

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Peter Deak

I have been thinking a lot about my interest in perfume lately...where I am up to with it now, and how that compares with the early days of my hobby. Then I was in Boots the other week buying benign emollients for my face - I will do another skin post sometime, as there have been further developments on that front - and succumbed to the prominently displayed tester of the new fragrance from Estee Lauder, "Beautiful Magnolia Intense", this year's flanker to last year's Beautiful Magnolia, which was in turn a flanker of the 1985 scent Beautiful. I find this hard to imagine, even though my recall of the original is sketchy - I feel sure Beautiful Mk I was a more robust and busy composition, with a list of notes as long as your arm, and a semi-retro feel, but there you go.

I asked to smell Beautiful Magnolia by way of comparison with the Intense version, not realising when I was in the shop that either of these newer releases was in any way related to its 80s ancestor. Beautiful Magnolia is a floral aquatic created by Anne Flipo and Laurent Le Guernec. It is a sprightly spring floral, but is too watery(!) for my taste - aquatics were never my thing...Issey Miyake, here's looking at you. I could only find one "print" review of Beautiful Magnolia, on Colognoisseur: Mark Behnke rates it as a new take on "debutante rose grilled cheese", though his wife was troubled by its distinctive aspect, namely a sharp note from the addition of mate tea. Which also bothers me, I have to say. I am minded of the spikiness of Illuminum White Gardenia Petals, the perfume that turned out to be Kate Middleton's actual wedding scent as opposed to the one we all got PR samples of that was a completely different animal altogether, and which I much preferred. I commend Mark's review to you, as he has a lovely turn of phrase, and to call Beautiful Magnolia "a grilled cheese with tea" is spot on.

Notes: magnolia, lotus, mate, magnolia (again!), gardenia, solar notes, rose, musk, sandalwood, cedar

I looked up Anne Flipo's other past work to check that my recall of her style as leaning towards light airy feminine scents is correct. Interestingly, Lancome's La Vie est Belle is one of hers (with Dominique Ropion), also L'Artisan's Mimosa pour Moi (which I regret not buying while I still could), and Fleur d'Oranger, plus the sweet ambery leather number, Sonia Rykiel Woman, of which I have a small decant left somewhere. Laurent le Guernec meanwhile has created a slew of Bond No 9s (not a favourite brand of mine), but intriguingly was also one of the two noses behind Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely, which shares the same demure style as Beautiful Magnolia, to which I would add Hugo Boss Femme.

Femme was one of the first perfumes I discovered as a newbie: I found myself in Dusseldorf late one Saturday afternoon, and was suddenly possessed to sniff a tester in a branch of the Douglas chain of perfumeries (in Flingerstrasse ;)) just before closing time. I only went in to look for a bag to keep samples in, which I still have in fact. Hugo Boss Femme is a simple, innocently girlish scent, and though I have long outgrown it it brings back potent memories of the excitement I felt back then at the start of my fragrant j*****y. I scored a carded sample that day and went on to buy a bottle, which I later sold after falling deeper down the rabbit hole of niche.

I didn't care for Beautiful Magnolia as much as Lovely or Femme, but how much of that is down to the intrinsic qualities of the perfumes and how much to my happy associations with the latter two is a moot point. I had smelt so little back then, whereas my nose is pretty jaded nowadays and Beautiful Magnolia has a much higher bar to beat.

Moving on, Beautiful Magnolia Intense is a chypre floral and a somewhat darker (relatively speaking!) proposition. The perfume isn't dark by any means, or only the degree of dark that can be obtained by drawing diaphanous net curtains rather than the heavily lined black out variety. I couldn't find the name of the perfumer(s), but will assume it is the same duo unless someone knows any different. 

Notes: violet leaf, mandarin orange, cardamom, iris, magnolia, patchouli, musk, leather, Virginia cedar, vanilla bean

Beautiful Magnolia Intense (I'd abbreviate it to BMI if it wouldn't risk possible confusion with the more well known acronym for Body Mass Index), is a subtle and fairly fleeting skin scent, a tender floral with a powdery dusting of iris. It is smoother and creamier than its aquatic cousin, so more to my taste, and the addition of cardamom and leather lends the composition more interest and sophistication. For anyone who finds La Vie est Belle too sweet, or who likes the subtle take on leather of Bottega Veneta, I'd say this might hit the spot. I also prefer BMI (am going to risk it!) to Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial, which is quite heavy on the patchouli.

Now while I like the perfume - and its pleasingly rounded and chunky bottle - the marketing campaign for Beautiful Magnolia Intense is the usual trope-ridden guff to which the industry remains hopelessly wedded. Like almost all advertising nowadays, the promotional video features a racially diverse couple: an arrestingly beautiful brunette in a pale pink off-one-shoulder pleated gown, cavorting in some romantic paradise with her equally handsome beau. The strapline is "Dare to Love", and each stage of the scent's development purports to mirror those of a relationship: "A whirlwind of emotions, An intense love affair, note by note". You may just be able to make out the exact pairings in the photo above, which imho are only more of the same fragrant flimflammery.

But Beautiful Magnolia Intense the perfume is very pleasant indeed, and if I hadn't been ruined by niche scents - am on Hera autopilot most days at the moment! - I'd be happy to wear it a lot in the summer, with frequent reapplications, mind. I dare to like it, if not quite love it, and I say "dare", because there is a fair bit of sniffiness in the blogosphere about mainstream scents (to which I am not immune), but I do like to lob one in here from time to time when it distinguishes itself from the cookie cutter herd. I'd conclude by saying that Beautiful Magnolia Intense is "grilled magnolia cheese" topped with the merest smear of mango chutney. Any thicker, and you might have to start worrying about your actual BMI...;)

[Samples kindly provided by @staffordbeauties in Boots, Stafford.]

Monday, 18 April 2022

Papillon Perfumery Hera review: a nasal nutraceutical in a Grecian gown

Source: protestantedigital.com

When a little package landed on the floor the other day with a sample vial of Hera, the latest creation by Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery (due for release on 16th May), it could not have come at a better time. For I have been in a bit of a "mood tunnel" lately, a reference to a recent episode of the Daily Trip, one of the guided meditation series in the vast compendium of "mental health interventions" that is the Calm app. ;) For anyone not familiar with it, it also includes sleep stories, a library of soothing music and ambient sounds, self-help podcasts, masterclasses in useful topics on everything from stoicism to screen addiction (you may need the former if you are trying to give up the latter), and is peppered with pithy aphorisms for just about every occasion. In this particular episode, the author/presenter of the Daily Trip series, Jeff Warren, talked about how some days "everything seems awesome!", while other days "everything sucks" (insert "seems great" and "is s**t" for English sensibilities). The thing I wanted to mention from this talk on moods is the takeaway that once you realise you are in a mood tunnel, that very acknowledgement of the fact means it loosens its hold over you...

A key reason for the tunnel may warrant a post of its own, for I have been doing a ton of research recently into so-called "nutraceutical" remedies to try to fix a new - and irritatingly recurrent - skin condition on my face (seborrheic dermatitis: the third in an unholy trinity of facial eczema varieties I have acquired), and I may just have chanced upon one or two things that are making a difference.

But anyway, I mention all of that by way of scene setting: the perfume's arrival was perfectly timed, and its ability to switch up my mood instant. 

Turning first to the inspiration behind Hera, this latest addition to the Papillon stable was originally conceived as a wedding scent (and "auspicious amulet") for Liz's eldest daughter Jasmine, who graciously allowed her mother - after a decent interval! - to release the scent publicly as part of the Papillon line. Indeed it will be the last release for the foreseeable future, while Liz takes a well earned break. 

Without delay, here are the notes of Hera, including jasmine as a fragrant nod to its eponymous wearer:

Jasmine, orange blossom, ylang, rose de mai, orris, narcissus, heliotrope, ambrette, musk

The significance of Liz's choice of the name Hera for the perfume may be inferred by readers brought up on Greek mythology, namely that she was the "protector of women, presiding over marriages and births". I also discovered that Hera is "commonly seen with animals she considers sacred, including the cow, the lion and the peacock". Well, Jasmine being her mother's daughter is almost certainly going to be able to rustle up a companion menagerie comprising pretty much any combo of animals - now also including some quite big and scary spiders! - though these have probably been annexed by the goddess Arachne already...(Oh, I just noticed that one of Liz's spider family is in fact called Arachne - "no flies on her", hehe...not least because they've all been eaten.)

Other surprising things I learnt about Hera are the fact that she was both the wife and sister of Zeus, a rather cosy arrangement not typically replicated in modern marriages, and that she reportedly had frequent fights with Zeus over his affairs and illegitimate children. I love the euphemistic use of the word "recourse" in the following quote from Liquisearch:

"The legitimate offspring of her union with Zeus are Ares (the god of war), Hebe (the goddess of youth), Eris (the goddess of discord) and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth)...Hera was jealous of Zeus' giving birth to Athena without recourse to her (actually with Metis), so she gave birth to Hephaestus without him. Hera was then disgusted with Hephaestus' ugliness and threw him from Mount Olympus. In an alternate version, Hera alone produced Hebe after being impregnated by a head of lettuce or by beating her hand on the Earth, a solemnizing action for the Greeks."

Source: dasil.ca

I am still reeling from the lettuce reference, the practicality of whose use as an artificial inseminator strikes me as most implausible. Anyway, the moral of all this is that with Greek myths it pays not to delve too deeply; the Olympian crew were a pretty rum bunch, as further detailed in this bizarre and startling post by a travel insurance company, presumably in a bid to drum up package holiday sales to Greece. It turns out that Hera's father / father-in-law Cronus swallowed his own children whole, such that it is frankly a miracle Zeus and she ever made it to adulthood.

But enough of these delinquent deities, how does Hera the fragrance smell, you may well ask?

Well, I have tried it three times now: on the first go the perfume opened with a sunny bouquet of sultry flowers with a juicy undertow, thanks to a piquant spike of ylang. Then quite quickly a muted powdery cloud passed over the sun and stayed there for the rest of the perfume's development, with the sensuous floral notes peeking through here and there like a box of wriggling kittens. On the second two samplings, the perfume went more or less straight to the cloud cover stage with no discrete bright opening. I should point out that my skin greatly amplifies musk and heliotrope in every scent I have ever tried with those notes in, and it seems that with Hera too, it has a tendency to grab the basenotes from the off. And ambrette is in itself a type of musk, as I understand it, so the entire base of the scent happens to be what I tend to magnify at the expense of the rest of the composition. I would LOVE to do a wrist-to-wrist comparison with someone whose skin showcases the brighter florals for longer, as they are a gorgeous assortment. 

Which is not to say that the iris-ambrette-musk accord is not very beautiful in itself, as it really is, and there is zero hint of the dreaded "laundry musk" that spoils so many modern perfumes for me, even before the magnification issue. Nor can I take a lot of heliotrope in more vintage compositions - as in L'Heure Bleue, for example, or Les Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, both of which made me slightly queasy. In Hera the accord comes off as a really delicate, perfectly blended, wistful trail, with no note more prominent than the rest - which is no mean feat when heliotrope is in the mix. And for anyone who is not a massive fan of iris, which I guess I am not really, this isn't an overtly iris scent that tips into Chanel No 19 territory. Rather it is the cloud behind which I mostly only glimpse the brighter notes, so they are damped down by the iris and it by them, as it were. Yes, this impeccably tasteful composition hovers quiveringly between a sensuous summer floral and a powdery high end boudoir scent: it happens to skew more towards the latter on me, but your olfactory mileage may well vary, so please do give it a whirl.

Source: mosaico.com

The original image that popped into my head when I first smelt Hera and caught more of the floral notes was that of "a vintage sundress with staves", to convey the summery vibe of the opening counterbalanced by the formality of the drydown; in the end though I decided that a sundress was too casual a garment, even one reinforced by bits of metal. I would also describe Hera as a "cheerier Apres L'Ondee", of which there are echoes in the base. I could definitely have featured Hera in my "Careless Whispers" series of scent reviews if I was still keeping it up, as it would fit right into that category. But in the end I have gone with my "nasal nutraceutical" image, to mark the fact that I was in my mood tunnel and Hera gave me a jolly good shunt along it. Then I teamed it with that of a Grecian gown, though from memory Jasmine's actual wedding dress was a fabulous black sequined fishtail number.

In short, Hera is fantastically understated and sophisticated, and "Juno what, it may be my favourite Papillon scent yet!", which as a big fan of Bengale Rouge I don't say lightly.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

"Bleak since I was ten", and a whiff of murder: The Perfume Killer by Linda Hagan mini-review

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts...I have been feeling rather "off" and existentially rattled lately, owing to the traumatic events in you-know-where, though there may be a glimmer of hope in the talks in Turkey today...?

Something unexpected did happen recently which cheered me up though...ex-Mr Bonkers was having a big clear out of travel books and B & B, hotel and pub guides, some of them from as far back as 1987, which I will have used on holidays and work trips. I took them all home with me, though they are hopelessly out of date, for I can't bear to throw a book away and no charity shop is likely to want them. In amongst the pile was an old school magazine of mine from 1971, which I was curious to see again after 50+ years. There was a photo of me in The Gondoliers and a poem about the Pakistan Tidal Wave for which I had won a prize sponsored by the UNO (to mark 25 years since the founding of the League of Nations). How quaint that name sounds now. It was rather a depressing poem - with a lot more mud where that came from! - and I will only quote some of it, to give you the idea:

The Pakistan Tidal Wave

"Alone on a delta
Surrounded by rotting carcasses and human skeletons;
Faced with the problems of starvation,
A small Indian boy,
Crawling like a fly on the face of the earth;
Lost and homeless, eating mud,
He gnaws the bones of his friend
To keep alive"

But more memorable even than the magazine is this poem that fell out, which I wrote in the final year of primary school.

It is nigh on illegible, yet I can just make the words out. 

Cathedral Cloisters

Alabaster icy cell
This is where the spirits dwell
Among the gloomy catacombs
Among the cold damp marble tombs
Black coffins, sarcophagi, graves and vaults
12th century martyrs who had no faults
Immortalised in cold grey stone
Their remains? Ghoulish black bone
Frozen bishops, onyx people
Rugged steps up to the steeple
In the belfry one iron bell
Tolls for sinners lost in hell
What an awesome place is this!
Gargoyles leer, stone serpents hiss
Despite the stained glass
And the mown grass
And the humming of the bees
And the white magnolia trees
My feelings are of fear and dread
I can
the dead

Ex-Mr Bonkers said: "Well, I know how much you love all those 'forensic prostitute' programmes on TV and thrillers with 'Bones' in the title, and this just proves that you have been bleak since you were 10!

And my lock screen on this netbook is a sarcophagus, as it happens - of one of our landed gentry in a local church (St Mary's, Ingestre).

So, having set the scene of me being a person with a fascination for the darker side of life, it is time to talk about the book I have just finished and greatly enjoyed, namely "The Perfume Killer" by Linda Hagan. This novel, written during the pandemic, could not be more tailored to my interests: set in my home city of Belfast, with my alma mater of Queen's University featured on the cover and many of the locations in the book well-trodden haunts from my student and schooldays, it is a gripping murder mystery with a multi-faceted perfume theme. For starters, part of the killer's signature is to leave the stopper from an empty perfume bottle by the body of the victim, which happens to be that of a scent also worn by the female Chief Inspector (and lead character) investigating the case. All we know is that it is a fragrance by Gucci, and that it is "unusual" and not particularly new. Well, that is half a story if you ask me, and sent me scurrying to Basenotes to identify older scents it could possibly be. I am thinking it might possibly be Gucci by Gucci edp, of which I have a decant myself. Gucci III or L'Arte di Gucci are much older, but I can't see the female lead wearing either of those earlier fragrances, as she is not that old herself.

There again the bottle itself doesn't sound like anything by Gucci - here is one of the police team who tracked it down: 

"It's French and expensive. The bottles are in the shape of a cat and the stopper is the cat's head complete with ears."

Yet elsewhere the bottle to which the stopper belongs is described as "heavy" and "blue".

Source: parfumo.de - rare, but neither blue nor cat shaped!

To add to the confusion - and cast the whiffy net of suspicion more widely - there are two characters in the book who collect artworks featuring perfume bottles (one a witness and one the slightly creepy pathologist on the case!) - while the pathologist also owns a sizeable collection of old perfume bottles, which he keeps in his office, including a heavy blue one that matches the one whose stopper was left at the crime scene.

So there is another mystery within a mystery that remains unsolved...never mind who the murderer is, what is the blinking perfume - and what bottle is it in?!

I shan't give anymore away, but for any perfumistas who live in Norn Iron (and I can think of at least two of my acquaintance) it is a must read, though I would recommend it to any fan of crime novels. Reading between the lines the main character may even have gone to my school, and the aforementioned witness to my brother's school nearby, though neither are named.

The author, Linda Hagan, is in her early 70s and only took to writing fiction relatively late in life after a career in education and academia, which as a would-be writer myself I find encouraging(!). She lives in the seaside town of Carrickfergus, with its imposing Norman castle. The area features prominently in the action of the book, and I also had an incident there as a small child. We had gone to see the castle on a train as a treat for me on the occasion of my fifth birthday, but the outing ended badly when I took a bite out of a glass of Fanta in a cafe on the quay.

Source: Michael Kooiman via Wikimedia Commons

What perfume-themed books have you enjoyed, other than guides / directories etc?

Here is my list below (in no particular order, and with links to my reviews - am not including Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney as I didn't enjoy it and didn't finish it!):

Perfume, The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (so obviously that I never reviewed it!)

Monday, 28 February 2022

How a pair of old curtains and three lengths of downpipe led (very circuitously) to Shangri La (by Hiram Green)

Shangri La by Hiriam(!) Green ;)

My friends on Facebook will recall that my Elderly Friend has a time-honoured tradition of pressing a random selection of gifts on me just as I am about to leave. The other day she added a new twist to this custom, by giving me a large slice of M & S Apricot Roll (highly recommended if you do not eschew sugar and/or ultra processed cake) and a pair of old curtains for me *to dispose of*. She recently gave up driving, so is more constrained in terms of carrying things into town to a charity shop, for example. I mentioned that there was a textile recycling container at the tip, and that I would take the curtains there, together with a motley collection of other items earmarked for recycling, from three bits of sawn off downpipe to an outsized cardboard box, a couple of beaten up plastic drawers that used to hold cassettes, a black bin bag full of said cassettes(!), a mouldy old blanket which proved to be the "canary in the boot" that signalled a leak beneath the spare tyre, and some broken fairy lights.

Having got rid of everything in its appropriate receptacle, I returned to my car, noticing as I did so that someone had shoved a load of books in the paper bank reserved for things like old telephone directories, junk mail and magazines. I had a little rootle around and rescued four of the misplaced titles, including a hardback by Compton Mackenzie called The Red Tapeworm with an interesting dustjacket - a third edition from 1955! (Which looks like it might even be worth something...or more than the nothing I paid for it, certainly.) Hmm, I see it is a satire on the economic measures imposed by the UK Government in wartime, so it might be hauntingly topical as well.

Now next door to the tip is a large charity warehouse, so I usually reward myself for my green compliance with a rummage in there, and this visit did not disappoint. I came away with two framed prints (one antique!), a monochrome teapot with a nod to Mary Quant, a tea caddy, a mug, and a book by Julian Barnes - a snip at £15 for the lot. Back home, I made tea with my new accoutrements and knuckled down to the task of integrating this latest clutch of books. 

Sancho and the Duchess (engraving by R Staines)

This proved to be no easy feat, as my sitting room is already brimming with tottering tsundokus - like my father before me, I do suffer from a touch of bibliomania - and I spent an hour or so emptying out knick-knacks from shelves in a bid to free up more space for the even greater surplus. Having integrated the vast majority of spare books, I only had a few small format ones left, and set about looking for any kind of receptacle or nook where I could stash these. My eye lit upon several decorative boxes on top of a bureau, the largest of which I thought might serve my purpose. I fetched all three down and opened them: the smallest was home to half dozen highlighter and marker pens (so that is where they went!), while the other two contained perfume samples.

The juice has done a runner!

What was odd was that ALL the samples in one box had evaporated! I don't know if they had had very little perfume left in them anyway, or whether the seal of the box was defective, or what had occurred, but they were empty. Forgive me for the trivial comparison, but to chance upon so many expired samples in one place had a whiff of the Jonestown Massacre about it, as though the vials had collectively agreed to lie down and give up the ghost at the same time. And I must confess that at this relatively jaded stage in my perfume hobby my first thought was relief... Here were twenty or so scents with which I no longer had to engage...and yes, I know that is ungrateful of me. I did duly sniff all the vials, mind, to remind myself of how they smelt - there is invariably a trace of fragrance left around the nozzle - but I think I will chuck them presently.

"I was here first, you know"

The other box contained an eclectic mix of things that I had meant to review one day - and may still do perhaps - along with designer rejects, and samples of such extreme obscurity that I have absolutely no idea how I came by them, or who the brands even are - and if they still exist. A couple of samples caught my eye though...Slowdive and Shangri La by Hiram Green, the innovative Dutch perfumer noted for his hyper-realistic vegan range. I parked Slow Dive for now to retry at a later date, and immediately dabbed a bit of Shangri La on my wrists, intrigued by the name, which struck me as an ironic counterpoint to the state of the world at the moment.

Top notes: citrus notes

Heart notes: peach, jasmine, rose, iris, spices

Base notes: vetiver, oakmoss

Well, how beautiful is this? Shangri La is classed as a chypre, and I was initially reminded of Mary Greenwell Plum and 4160 Tuesdays Goddess of Love & Perfume: after a juicy citrus opening blast, Shangri La also showcases a luscious fruity floral bouquet including peach, with oakmoss in the base. The texture is unctuous and rich (Think Patou Joy if you are not familiar with the other two) without being cloying, though it might still be a bit full-on for some until it has settled down. A number of reviewers have compared Shangri La to Mitsouko, with caveats of course, given the latter's status as a towering  behemoth of the 20th century. Shangri-La is more cheerful, and less overtly retro, austere, and "dusty" to my nose. It is also twisty turny in its development: at times faintly spicy, or powdery (thanks to the iris?), with bright darts of peach and jasmine periodically peeping through. Whatever facet greeted my nose, it was just gorgeous, in a wistfully vintage way, and I don't say that lightly.

And so, speaking of things being twisty turny, this is the story of how a pair of old curtains and other detritus eventually led me to Shangri La...a tender ray of sunshine for these dark and ominous times.

Still no room for the last few books...

Monday, 14 February 2022

Pink grenade : how Viktor&Rolf Bonbon (flower)bombed my search for myself

Source: Soundcloud

It's Valentine's Day again... regular readers know better than to come to Bonkers looking for inspiration on the Ten Best Rose Perfumes to give your loved one, or anything else of that predictable romantic ilk. Which is not to say that I haven't written posts in the past tailored to this (sadly increasingly commercial) occasion - several may come up in this link - but the post that popped into my head to write this morning is more pink in its inspiration than the classic deep red of rose and heart motifs...

For at the weekend a friend in the US sent me a link to a Luxe magazine article; it lists the "37 Best Perfumes for Women", with the byline: "Find your signature scent". You can immediately tell that this piece was aimed at a mainstream audience, for perfumistas prefer to own fragrance wardrobes, on the basis that "more is more". Anyway, each of the 37 perfumes listed had won a separate category, which included "Best Luxury", "Best value", "Best floral", "Best for night", "Best as gift" (another notion we don't hold with, unless the person has specifically requested said scent as a gift!), "Best over 50" (Dior J'adore- pardon?!?), "Best for young", and so on and so forth in that reductionist and inevitably doomed pigeonholing vein. FYI, Black Opium was "Best for night", which says it all right there. And how Byredo Bal d'Afrique could take the prize for "Best earthy" beats me. Where is the oakmoss and patchouli? And right at the top of the list was the perfume deemed "Most popular"- or should that be "Best popular" for the sake of consistency? - namely Viktor&Rolf Flowerbomb.

Seeing this accolade awarded to Flowerbomb fired me up with indignation, which may have coloured my reply to the friend:

"Ah, that list had more of a 'designer' bias than the niche perfumes I am mostly into, and when that happens I always wonder if the perfume house has chucked them a load of money to promote their product. I say this, because Viktor&Rolf gets a mention, and if I do an Internet search for my blog - Bonkers about Perfume - up comes a load of images of V&R bottles as the first result, even though that clearly has zilch to do with the search terms. So I tend to completely disregard 'Best of' lists in women's magazines, sorry!"


I may have been a bit harsh there, but I have been really exercised by the monotonous regularity with which Bonbon ads bombard the search results for the blog, the butterfly-shaped bottle serving as an additional taunt, in view of my online "flittersniffer" identity. It doesn't happen with any search engine, mind - just on Microsoft Bing, which I have on my netbook. Google has no ads, whether accessed through my Firefox browser (desktop PC) or Chrome (phone). I spend most time on my netbook though, so the pink-winged bottles will continue to torment! Do let me know if you use Yahoo or any other search engine (eg Duckduckgo?), and get ads as the first search result.
I would also be interested to know whether you would assume that Flowerbomb really is "the most popular perfume" through its own merits, or whether a massive marketing budget has managed to lob it front and centre of consumer consciousness, like a great big pink grenade on a mercenary mission. And I don't necessarily even mean by greasing reviewers' palms with silver - which is mere supposition on my part, after all - it could be by aggressive in-store promo campaigns, or saturated magazine advertising, or SEO-jiggery pokery, or any other kind of above or below-the-line spending.

Anyway...I guess I got myself a bit worked up - more over the nefarious power of brands to buy exposure and/or influence than the mere fact of my blog not having the prominence you would expect for an exact match of the search phrase. Tomorrow I will sally forth as is customary, and hoover up any out of date Valentine's bargains I spy in the form of flowers or foodstuffs. I would say "in a therapeutic act of 'self-care'", but I have come to dislike the expression "self-care" every bit as much as "uptick", "put food on the table", and "baked in". "Baked in" being my newest and most irritating mot du jour - usually used in connection with Boris's character flaws rather than to denote the inclusion of dried fruit in a cake. That's assuming you have the funds to put the ingredients for food on the table.

Then tonight I am off for a girls' night in with two friends. As an offering I am taking a large jar of Sauerkraut, a partly used bottle of magnesium tablets, and a small hot water bottle cover I knitted for the hostess's son's puppy**. Oh, come to think of it - that is red (though it looks more like "hot pink" in this photo, haha).

Happy Valentine's Day, however you are spending it!

**NB The hostess and I do have a long and honourable tradition of unconventional present exchanges - packets of quinoa, half bars of chocolate, open bottles of wine and life-limited fruit have also featured.

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Thierry Mugler Angel, and my chocolate-sniffing - and eating! - prime

There has been much mention of the designer Thierry Mugler in perfume circles lately, following his death last week at the not very old age of 73. I had never seen a photo of him before, and must confess to googling "What happened to Mugler's nose?", which was on the oddly chunky side. I learnt that it had been reconstructed following a gym accident in 2017. Which only serves to validate my determination not to join one. I must also admit to never really having been a fan of Mugler's perfume line: some of the scents come off as a bit synthetic, though I remember liking a couple of those gourmand flankers from about 10 years ago, the names of which escape me now - the Basenotes site is down or I would look them up. Then I never got to try Aura, though its bottle is pretty amazing. When I see a bottle as intricate as that my inner St Ivel brand manager wants to cry out: "Think of the tooling costs!"

And then of course there is Angel - packaged in probably my most unfavourite blue - a sort of "dirty Man City" colour - but another cracking bottle, and one that I even owned, despite this being many years ago in my stoutly "civilian" days. I remember the year (1992) and where I bought it (Tegel airport in Berlin, which doesn't even exist anymore). It is rare for a perfume to survive while an airport gets discontinued, haha. I gather the site is being turned into a residential area with homes for over 10,000 people, shops, and an office park, while the terminal buildings will be integrated into the Beuth University of Applied Sciences. Never let it be said that this blog is not educational - also to me. ;)

Anyway, I had just finished a work project in Germany - I think to do with accidents caused by fireworks, but don't quote me on that - and decided to treat myself to a bottle of perfume in the airport duty free, as normal people do. I was accosted by a sales assistant brandishing a tester of Angel, and promptly fell for her spiel about it being the latest release blah blah, and bought it on the spot before the top notes had even landed. I do remember suffering a little from buyer's remorse, as I could not quite reconcile myself to this cloying, chocolate-patchouli-vanilla meringue cloud at first. Over the years I came to bond with Angel more, and to appreciate its extraordinarily distinctive and original scent for the time - it is the first modern gourmand fragrance, don't they say? I did end up throwing my bottle away, presumably because it had turned - my perfume curation habits left a lot to be desired back then. Here is a post I wrote about my pre-rabbit hole perfume-owning CV, which formally logs my Angel purchase in the airport category.

I only have a sample now

But there is something more to say about Angel, which has nothing to do with how it smells per se, but rather its ability to connect me with that younger self, in the prime of life and at the peak of my career, such as it was. I have already touched on this topic through the lens of a perfume in another post, namely the rather unwieldily named biehl. parfumkunstwerke mb03. There too it was my many (and often arduous!) business trips that the scent called to mind.

The photo of me above was taken in 1991 I think, in Chicago, after the hardest couple of days of my working life. I had flown out the day before from Manchester on the only plane in the UK whose captain dared to fly due to the extreme high winds - I thought if he is willing to risk it so will I. The flight was massively delayed as it consolidated passengers from all over the country, and I didn't get to bed in my hotel in Chicago till about 6am local time, only to have to get up again at 7am for a presentation at 9am. I then spent the next 13 hours on my feet in the boardroom of my English client's US distributor's offices, defending a report I had written on the North American market for the particular kinds of large pharmaceutical plant the English company made. There were 13 men in the room, including two representatives from the client organisation, who remained mute throughout. With the exception of the Chairman of the company the rest were sales managers for different territories, who didn't like the news I had to tell them of a huge spike in demand of which they had collectively failed to take advantage, especially in Puerto Rico. To make matters worse the area manager for Puerto Rico was the Chairman's son. The sales managers spent the long day querying the findings on every page and generally trying to shoot my report down in flames, while the Chairman also remained mute...till 10pm, when he leaned forward unexpectedly like a living statue breaking its pose, and spoke: "Leave it...she's right." Whereupon the meeting abruptly broke up, and the Chairman, the client team and I went out for an awkward and very late dinner. I do remember the monkfish being spectacular, and strangely at odds with the insanely stressful 48 hours that had gone before.

They had run out of standard length taxis!

Now I hadn't bought Angel at this point, but I very much associate it with that whole period of my early 30s, when my stamina and mental resilience were in another stratosphere compared to my much older self today.

I will end with another chocolate-themed tale - also work-related, but fictional this time! For I entered a short story competition in Good Housekeeping in the mid-80s, back when I actually was that brand manager at St Ivel alluded to earlier. There was a word limit and a requirement to incorporate a box of chocolates - the prize I won (for third place!) was also a box of chocolates as it happens, as the competition was sponsored by Lindt.

Room Service

The phone rang. Julia was surprised such an elegant period piece actually worked. That it might be a reproduction did not occur to her.

"Miss Murray? Could you come down a moment please? The manager would like a word."

Julia replaced the receiver with a bemused air and reached for another of the Lindt chocolates donated by the hotel. The standard of service really was first rate with extra touches like this and the rose, which she planned to press later in her directory of cash 'n' carrys. The only gift she could recall receiving in a hotel was a "Conference Survival Kit" - a useful but prosaic collection of paperclips, drawing pins, pencils and aspirin.

Julia went hurriedly downstairs vigorously crunching a hazelnut cluster.

"I'm sorry Miss Murray, but you have been given the Romantic Luxury Suite by mistake, which is reserved from tonight. Would you mind moving to a single room?"

Julia struggled to conceal her embarrassment. "But I've started on the chocolates." Having accepted these as compensation for the error, she was shown to her new room, with its familiar orange and brown decor and a posy of plastic freesias. The sense of anticlimax was acute. Though she attempted to study her papers for tomorrow's meeting, Julia's imagination strayed back to the other rooms, which, given different circumstances, had such potential...

She put down her work and picked up a competition form which had lain at the bottom of her briefcase for several weeks: "Win a holiday break for two at The Castle Hotel". "For the price of a stamp", she mused, biting into a praline. "Ludlow is my ideal location for a romantic weekend because...(15 words)" Julia scratched the back of her head and began to write.

To illustrate my story, here is the late Charlie Bonkers, grudgingly tholing a Lindt wrapper bauble on her head, "Stuff On My Cat"-style.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Back on "Civvy Street": how my perfume intel sources have come full circle...

YSL Libre

It is fourteen years ago this month that I first became passionately interested in perfume, one rainy Tuesday afternoon while idly googling ones worn by a friend to confirm my impression that she liked strong scents with sweet flowers in them. A great deal of sniffing and sampling, shopping, swapping and hanging out on Basenotes, Makeupalley, and in person has gone down since then, not to mention a lot of blog reading and writing and commenting. I was thinking back the other day to how my sources of information on developments in the perfume world have evolved in that time. Before I fell down the rabbit hole I mostly encountered new perfumes in airport duty frees or was given bottles of classic scents by boyfriends. After being struck down with "sudden onset perfume mania", I sought out information on fragrance websites, blogs and forums, then got chatting to perfumistas (virtually and IRL), and also started receiving news of releases directly from some of the perfume houses. If I had to call it, I'd say the peak of my interest in perfume - and in writing about it - was between 2009 - 2015 approximately, since when everything has been in slow decline, hehe. Sorry if you discovered Bonkers late!

I still hear now and then from a few perfume brands, but have increasingly have noticed that they mostly want to send you samples in return for a review. Case in point, from a "luxury vegan brand":

"If you’re interested in trying out the products, then I’d love to send you some samples to test and create a ‘Christmas Gift Guide’ with on your blog."

My standard response to such overtures is that I might write about their line if I like it and can find my own (invariably oddball) angle from which to cover them. It used to be that the house in question accepted that explanation and sent the samples in the hope that I would be inspired to write about them...these days I rarely hear from the PR person again. Now I know that Bonkers will have lost traction in terms of traffic and SEO indices and whatnot (not that it ever had much of all that to start with!), making it an inherently less interesting site for brands to engage with, but there is definitely a more transactional element creeping into the relationship between perfume bloggers and fragrance houses - more like the one that has long obtained in the beauty sphere, say.

As time went on, I mainly heard about new things directly from fellow perfumistas, and just lately the wheel has come full circle and I find I am having perfume conversations with my friends (aka "civilians", to reprise Tara's term for "normal" perfume consumers - ie people who have a few bottles to their name, or one signature scent, which they may refer to simply as "Chanel", or "Coco" (Mademoiselle)).

There have been so many interactions of late between my friends and me on the subject of perfume (in its many guises) that I thought I would document a few here.

The new book by Jean-Claude Ellena & Lionel Paillès: "Petit lexique des amateurs épris d'odeurs et de parfums"

Yesterday I received an unexpected package in the post from my old tutor friend in France who came to stay in my house in the summer. It is a new work by Jean-Claude Ellena in collaboration with Lionel Paillès, a French scent critic and author. There is a photo of Paillès on his Instagram page where he is holding the book, whose cover is a rather fetching shade of purple. I have only had a quick glance at it so far, but it is essentially a dictionary of some 170 terms associated with perfume - whether in a concrete or a more abstract and subjective sense - and the pair share the task of explaining the words, in the process of which they let their minds wander "free associatively" where they will. Once I have read it, I may come back and review it properly. If anyone has come across an English translation, do let us know in the comments.


The Icelandic perfume boutique-cum-museum, and its musical nose

Just today, the friend who gave me the sample of Alien I mentioned in my last but one post (and some Salvador Dali perfumes in 2019), drew my attention to this dear little museum in Reykjavik, tucked away downstairs from a perfume and aromatherapy shop called Fischersund. Those rough hewn stone walls make it look all the more inviting! I was reminded of the mini-museum of perfume bottles I visited in Barcelona in 2012, to which Undina has also been. But I feel confident in saying we have neither of us made it to this Icelandic museum.;) What is also noteworthy and surprising about the fragrant venture is its link with an Icelandic band(!).

"The cozy aromatherapy shop is located in the former music studio of Jónsi, the frontman of prolific Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Jónsi founded the store alongside his sisters and extended family."

Not only founded the store, but Jónsi is the family's self-taught perfumer, and the store sells his eclectic and evocative range of scents. According to a feature on Fischersund in the FT (the sumptuous photos are more atmospheric than a Toast shoot!) Jónsi's first creation, No 23 - not to be confused with the Ava Luxe scent of that name - "references smoke in the air, tarred telephone poles, mowed grass, a beached whale and tobacco leaves with notes of black pepper and Icelandic Sitka spruce". 


Source: Atlas Obscura

YSL Libre & Armani My Way

Goodness, I have had not one but two different friends recently ask me if I had tried YSL Libre(!): one had tested it at an airport while the other had progressed already to buying a full bottle, which she produced out of her suitcase during a recent stay. The first friend also sampled Armani My Way at the airport and liked it even more than Libre. I had not heard of either of these scents, but tried Libre from my friend's bottle and have now also caught up with My Way, after managing to find a sales assistant in Boots armed with a key to the cabinets.

Both are musky white florals, My Way being the more sparkly and bright of the two. The two key differences to my nose are that Libre has a lavender note that gives it more of a herbal twist, while My Way is a straight up floral bouquet, like a more bergamotty version of Dior New Look 1947 perhaps, with echoes too of Elie Saab. I did quite like My Way - as did Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur, I see, who likens it (in a good way) to "grilled cheese" - but Libre did not agree with me at all on account of the musk, which made me feel a little nauseous as the day wore on. I could do a post on my extreme sensitivity to musk molecules one day - if I haven't already done one, which is possible!


Source: armanibeauty.co.uk

Vilhelm Parfumerie Purple Fig

Another complete surprise - for in this case I hadn't heard of the perfume house, never mind the scent in question - was Vilhelm Parfumerie's Purple Fig, which the friend who invited me for Christmas dinner showed me (quite rightly) within moments of my arrival. Her husband had given her this 20ml travel spray as a gift, thoug it was her own discovery (in Liberty's) - she loves all things smelling and tasting of figs.

Top notes: Sichuan Pepper, Angelica Seeds
Heart notes: Galbanum, Green Fig, Jasmine Absolue
Base notes: Vetiver, Cashmere Woods

The founder of Maison Vilhelm, Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm is his middle name), is Swedish, but lives in Paris. In the introduction to the brand, he writes:

"Within identical bottles, fragrances are so many narratives that call to all senses, housed in a hefty bottle of spun glass, dressed in a saffron yellow label that nods to a piece of Bakelite found in a Parisian flea market." 

I particularly love the ghoulish backstory to Purple Fig, namely that it references one of the items on the menu of a Danish doctor condemned to death. Undina will be pleased to note that they also do discovery sets of 3 x 10ml sprays. (The 20ml size is fittingly termed the "Nomad".)


My SOTE not being "me"

Last week saw a pub gathering for ex-Mr Bonkers' birthday, for though he is not the least bit bothered about birthdays he is always up for a trip to the pub, something I don't believe I had done for nearly two years myself. Six of us came - the same faces as mustered for a similar celebration at the start of 2020 before the pandemic shutters came down, and we even managed to take over the same small room off the main bar that we had done back then. I had put on a dab of House of Cherry Bomb's Immortal Beloved, which is now unequivocably my favourite winter perfume, and one of the three men there (not ex-Mr Bonkers, whom long term readers may recall is as uninterested in perfume as he is in birthdays, but a fan of Penhaligon's) asked to sniff me. When I drew my wrist back, I could see the look of disappointment on his face. "Oh", he said, "that doesn't smell like you at all." When I pressed him to elaborate, he added: "I would have expected something more exotic and multi-tonal."

"That's me told!" I thought, but in truth I was impressed at the forthrightness of his statement, and the fact that he cared that my chosen scent should be congruent with his perception of "perfumista me". ;)


Source: House of Cherry Bomb

Which seems a fitting note to end on...the realisation that without the input and interest of my "regular" friends I might end up fading away in more ways than I knew!