Friday 30 October 2009

The Ubiquitous Sweet And Other Postal Oddities

Perfume fans who have ever bought a bunch of samples from decant sites such as The Perfumed Court will be all too aware of the peculiar postal practice of enclosing a single boiled sweet with your order. The most popular choices seem to be a Bali's Best Latte, Espresso or regular Coffee Candy, though I have received tea flavoured sweets and the ones with a hole in that we call Polos and the Americans call Lifesavers. Unfortunately, I don't like coffee, so along with a number of other perfumistas who have latched on to this idea, I recycle these candies in perfume swaps on Makeupalley. It would not surprise me to learn that certain individual sweets have clocked up many thousands of miles to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic. What is slightly concerning is the introduction of non-regulation confectionery lines to the swapping scene. I am speaking in particular of ADHD-inducing, lurid, sugar-encrusted jelly snakes, of which I once received a bag so substantial it completely overshadowed the 5ml atomizer that was the focus of the trade.

As well as confectionery, swappers often pop in extra perfume samples - from your "wish list" if you are very lucky, or from their "wish-to-be-shot-of list" if you are not. Along with the sweets, some of these less aspirational samples commute regularly to and from America. Another popular enclosure is samples of lotions - usually the ones that come free in magazines and still have a telltale blob of glue on the reverse. Their main (and valuable) function is to add a soupcon of truth to the Customs Declaration form, in which the contents are always breezily described as "cosmetics samples".

Other freebies include Scratch 'n' Sniff panels from the same magazines, scented cocktail umbrellas (there's a bizarre invention!), and what I tend to lump together under the heading of "Alternative Tea Bags" - which is my book is basically any tea blend that is not English Breakfast, which is the one variety the rest of the world seems not to drink. The most bizarre freebie inclusion was without doubt a "collagen-placenta-face mask" from Russia. Sheep's placenta, no less, as the helpful small print pointed out.

My partner, though utterly indifferent to perfume, finds this sweet sending ritual highly amusing. He has already made serious inroads into my stockpile of coffee candies, but that's okay. He recently began swapping guitar effects pedals on a forum for bass players, who are as you can imagine a group of rufty tufty, hard-boiled, hairy musicians. For the hell of it, he has now started to slip in a chocolate lime with the pedals, tucked into a corner of the newspaper wadding. Already there has been one reference to this in a feedback comment: "Hey - nice packaging!! : - ) " And so the ubiquitous sweet continues its unstoppable march...

Thursday 29 October 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 1 - Bathroom Storage

As a serious lover of perfume have you ever found yourself visiting the bathroom at a friend's house, and being confronted with the disturbing sight of perfume bottles lined up on the window sill, on top of the bathroom cabinet, in the bathroom cabinet (if you are looking for aspirin or are just plain nosey!) or - shock horror - lined up on the edge of the bath? For a committed 'fumehead this is a really distressing thing to encounter, for we know that heat, light and moisture are the enemies of fragrance and the bathroom can often be the confluence of all three.

I remember spotting a bottle of No 5 (and another designer scent I will not name so as to protect my friend's identity!) tucked behind the taps on the edge of the bath. My friend's husband had just had a shower, so I could barely make out the bottles in the clouds of steam. What does one do in such a situation? One's instinct should be like that of a social worker, namely to file a report and have the bottles taken into care - or at least put them on the "at risk" register and issue their owners with a verbal warning. But on that occasion, I kept my own counsel, and left those fragrances to take their chances in the life-threatening steamy jungle of their suburban habitat.

Mind you, I have only recently learnt to care for perfume. Before the onset of this perfume hobby in February 2008, I owned precisely one bottle of Estee Lauder Intuition, which had sat variously on my bathroom and bedroom window ledges since 2001, and had quietly turned rancid without my noticing it some years previously.

But since my failure to act on behalf of the endangered No 5 bottle and its bathmate, I have become a more conscientious vigilante when it comes to the environmental health of fragrance - wherever I see it...For example, I got a friend in Germany to throw out a bottle of Bvlgari Omnia which had gone off in her guest cloakroom, and suggested to my hairdresser that he should remove his colognes from the window ledge of the en suite and transfer them to a bedroom drawer. A friend in Sweden no longer keeps her perfumes in the bathroom cabinet as a direct result of my intervention. At Stansted airport earlier this year, I complained to the SA that the fixture on which a tester of B by Boucheron had been placed was far too warm and brightly lit to keep it in good nick.

So go on, next time you nip to the bathroom at someone else's house, keep your eyes out for vulnerable perfumes and do your bit for the perfume loving community!

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Fascination - The Les Senteurs of The North?

On a recent day trip to Blackpool with the family, we made a detour to Lytham in Lancashire so I could visit a perfumery shop called Fascination. My partner and his mother quickly realised that this was a grave error of judgement, for once let loose in the shop it was apparent that I was going to be some considerable time browsing in this veritable Aladdin's Cave of scent. So they went off, visited every other shop in the town, had a cup of tea, walked by the front and finally returned forlornly a good hour and an half later and begged me to come away.

For Fascination, despite its unprepossessing exterior, was as its name suggests absolutely fascinating, crammed from floor to ceiling with stock of designer and niche brands alike. I would compare its range to a cross between Les Senteurs, Liberty's, Boots and your granny's attic. They had the new releases from Serge Lutens, Amouage, Creed, Czech & Speake and Acqua di Parma to name but a few, but also the latest Prada or YSL - all at prices comparable or slightly better than in London. They also carry some niche brands which you don't come across very often, such as Acqua di Genova and Lubin. Additionally there were a number of unusual - and possibly discontinued - US designer brands like Alfred Sung and Jesus del Pozo, which I have read about on perfume sites but never encountered in Europe before.

In terms of store layout the approach was the polar opposite of that adopted by Les Senteurs. Although there were some elegant wall displays of bottles, the counter tops were bristling with stock and testers, which had Amouages taking their chances rammed up against Serges - you could miss so many gems if you didn't take your time and proceed inch by inch along the counter with forensic care, like the police combing a field.

The proprietor Lynne (not sure about the "e") was happy to chat to me for the entire time I was there, breaking off - quite properly - to attend to the customers who dropped by. At a guess, these were mostly regulars: well heeled residents from the surrounding area - the NW is an affluent retirement destination and also classic "Footballers' Wives" territory. Having quickly clocked that I was one of those perfume nuts from sites like Basenotes, Lynne proceeded to quiz me about my views on a variety of niche releases. I felt flattered that she assumed I would have tried all the scents in question already, which for the most part I had.

Eventually I let myself be dragged away by the rest of my party, though not without a mini of an obscure designer scent and a bunch of free samples. We headed off to watch the Blackpool Illuminations, which were impressive, though nothing could make me light up as much as Fascination - a "must sniff" stopover for any perfume lovers venturing "up north"...

Tuesday 27 October 2009

The Ultimate Signature Scent: Musc by Percy Kemp

Following a tip off from a perfumisto in Canada, I have just finished reading my first perfume-themed novel since Patrick Süsskind's Perfume. Written in French by an English national, Musc is a humorous and somewhat surreal account of an elderly Parisian lothario and ex-spy, Arnaud Eme. Having successfully seduced women all his life while wearing a particular cologne, Monsieur Eme is horrified one day to find that the manufacturers have reformulated it, which completely throws him off his stride. The rest of the book is devoted to the poor chap's obsession with acquiring outstanding stocks of the old formulation, his attempts to have the original scent custom-made for him etc, and the story culminates in a bizarre dénouement I shan't mention for fear of spoiling the story!

Monday 26 October 2009

Jasper Conran Woman - A Four Star Sleeper

Today I am wearing Jasper Conran Woman, a discontinued and now heavily discounted designer fragrance, which I feel deserves a lot more acclaim than it has received - and this despite Luca Turin's favourable rating in Perfumes: The Guide. He awards it four stars, describes it as a "bright, balanced, classic citrus eau de cologne", and likens it to Chanel Pour Monsieur, no less!

Yet for some reason this lovely scent is under most people's radar, even in the UK - I am not sure of the distribution situation in the USA. JCW is classified by Osmoz as a "fruity chypre", which you can make of what you will, but I certainly think it comes over as a poor man's Cristalle, as in a good, affordable substitute. These days, you would be hard pushed to pay more than £9.99 for a 30ml bottle in a gift set with body lotion!

I cannot identify the perfumer behind JCW, and the note information is sketchy:

Top notes - lemon, petitgrain, ginger

Heart notes - ylang ylang, bourbon geranium

Base notes - wood, oriental notes (sic!)

Interestingly, I seem to be drawn to any scent with ylang ylang in it (Ajne Calypso and Penhaligon's Amaranthine being two of my favourites), and have developed a recent appreciation for geranium (Agent Provocateur Strip), so between those notes and the bracing citrus aspect, it is perhaps no surprise that this scent should exert such a pull!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Bonkers Flacon

Am always on the lookout for avant-garde looking perfume bottles, and this one is a major contender... She - if it is a she? - has John and Edward hair and an eerie voodoo doll presence. Not sure where the atomizer mechanism is situated, mind, if indeed there is one.

Perfumista Track Marks?

Last night I noticed a recurrence of a red rash on the side of my neck, that has been troubling me on and off for several months. Perhaps my skin is rebelling against the daily application of an ever changing assortment of perfumes, which in fairness must have come as a bit of a shock to it, given that I only started wearing perfume in earnest at the age of 48.

Maybe this is the time to experiment with more recherché sites such as the crook of the elbow or behind the knee?

"Wanna swap????"

I am currently in between contracts (I don't think it is customary for market researchers to say they are "resting"), so I have been doing a lot of perfume swapping on Makeupalley. It is an excellent way to upgrade and refine your collection with minimal outlay. It can also be a source of some irritation, especially when people approach you with the peremptory opener: "Wanna swap???"

Yesterday I was asked if I "wanna swap???" for Jessica McClintock. Well, I have no idea who Jessica McClintock is, but clearly - on principle - I cannot possibly want her or her perfume, if that is what was on offer.

"Sudden onset perfume mania"

In February 2008 I was diagnosed as having a hyperactive thyroid, having previously suffered for two years from an underactive thyroid. I feel it is no coincidence that this diagnosis coincided with weeks of frenetic online perfume research, compulsive wrist sniffing, quizzing of friends as to their preferences, memorizing of fragrance classifications and general perfume-related mania. This all came totally out of the blue, for during most of my adult life I had been involved in serially monogamous relationships with just a handful of perfumes and hardly ever wore the stuff or paid much attention to how it smelt or what was in it. I am happy to be gripped by this new hobby, for I might never have fallen into this fascinating olfactory paradise (well, mostly it is a paradise...) were it not for an underlying ailment that gave me absurd reserves of energy and purpose!

So why start a blog some 18 months later? Well, the short answer is that my longsuffering, non-fragrance wearing partner has become heartily fed up with my talking to him about perfume all day long, as he hasn't the least interest in fragrance. He doesn't mind my having a hobby, even an obsessive one, but he doesn't want to know the minutiae of it. Which is fair enough, really. As things stand, he thinks the many hundreds of perfumes I have sampled in the past year and a half ALL smell of "craft shop", pretty much. By "craft shop" he means those shops that just sell "stuff" you don't need: sparkly clutch bags, vintage teddy bears, scented drawer liners, soap with bits in it, pot pourri and candles, that type of thing. So I decided I needed an outlet for my random musings on perfume as a matter of urgency.