Sunday 29 November 2009

Toxic Shock! - The 250 Chemicals in Perfume

The day I left for Sweden the Daily Mail ran a feature about the extraordinarily high number of chemicals women routinely apply to their bodies in the form of beauty products and perfume - some 515 in total across all categories, of which 250 separate chemical ingredients in perfume alone. I have felt vaguely troubled by this ever since, even though I know you shouldn't believe everything you read in the papers.

There was a debate about the article on Nstperfume while I was away, in which Tania Sanchez intervened to defuse the scaremongering tone of the article, describing it as an "odd grab-bag of largely useless fright warnings". She took a number of the chemicals mentioned as being of particular concern, and countered the allegations against some of them by saying that the link with cancer etc was not proven, or that the chemicals would only be harmful at much higher doses. In the case of other chemicals, she considered them to be generally harmless, always allowing for the odd person with allergies or sensitive skin who might find them bothersome.

Tania pointed out that some of these chemicals routinely found in lipsticks, body lotion, deodorants etc are also used in other everyday items such as eye drops, acrylic paint and PET bottles. She found this wider usage reassuring, while another poster begged to differ:

"Just because something is in.....acrylic paint, or commonly used in moisturisers and lipsticks, or in our plastic bottles, doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy for us to use everyday, all day on our skin, for pretty much our entire lives."

That is really the nub of it - as with pesticide residues or radiation levels from mobile phones - no one seems to be sure about the cumulative effects of these potentially harmful things. Women (and men!) are using more and more grooming products than ever before, which in turn have segmented and diversified to a mind boggling degree. I am still unsure as to the difference between body scrubs and butters, oils and lotions, "washes" and milk... My partner's mother (aged 74) has never used moisturiser but occasionally smears Vaseline on her eyelids if they are feeling dry.

My own mother (for whom Pond's Cold Cream was the cornerstone of her beauty regime!) also used to say, however, that "you eat a peck of dirt before you die". Or in this case - you aborb a tonne of chemicals transdermally... Yes, there is more to life than trying to live as long as possible. I don't smoke, but I drink - always the recommended weekly allowance for a woman, and sometimes a few units more! And it appears that for women over the age of 50, health risks associated with alcohol consumption rise sharply. Or I think that is what I read somewhere. So I should probably cut my drinking back by about two thirds if I am really serious about my health.

So in summary I may be a walking chemistry set, but when it comes to the old liver and kidneys, the benzaldehyde in my favourite perfumes may be the least of my worries... : - )

Friday 27 November 2009

"Wanna gimme??" FAOK - The Rise of Forced Acts of Kindness?

Perfume enthusiasts who engage in swapping will doubtless be familiar with the term "RAOK" or "random act of kindness", referring to the various forms of extras they enclose with the official swap items. I was approached the other day by a member on Makeupalley asking me to give her a particular designer perfume sample for free, and laying on the pressure pretty hard. She is in her early twenties, has nothing to swap, "no money what so ever" (sic), and is dying to try this particular scent, which would be her "first perfume ever".

Given that there is literally half a ml left in the vial, I advised her to head down to Boots and help herself to a tester of this fragrance. A couple of visits would have delivered as much perfume as is left in this sample. Failing that, I suggested that if she was really that keen on acquiring it, she ask someone in her family and friends to give it to her for Christmas.

The non-swapper's response to this broadsided me: "Could I not just have it if there's not much left?" So I replied that it would cost me more in postage, packing and general faff to get the tiny sample to her than it was worth, and for the moment all is quiet.

I do hope this is not the start of a general trend, for random acts of kindness are no longer random - or even kind! - if made under duress...

Tuesday 24 November 2009

The Swedish Perfume Trail

Last Friday I flew to Stockholm for a long weekend, which included a solo sniffing trip in Stockholm's finest perfume emporia. But before leaving Liverpool airport, I had a little nosey round the Duty Free there to see what new releases they had which my local outlets had not yet caught up with. So I tried Victor & Rolf's Eau Mega, undaunted by the incredibly naff chocolate money top thingy, and it was much as I expected - big pear note, been there, sniffed that. I also had a spritz of D & G Rose The One, and in the opening I got a fleeting but very true representation of a rose, swathed in a green and powdery accord, but then I lost it and thought that maybe this is your run-of-the-mill designer rose scent after all. So the jury's out on that one till I can test it again...

Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime, which finds me in Stockholm's top department store, NK, which I would liken to Selfridges in the UK and Neiman Marcus in the USA. It had a designer section which flowed seamlessly into a more niche area, which in turn flowed into a concession of Cow, a high end and funky cosmetics and perfume chain. Within this relatively compact area I was immediately struck by the preponderance of bath and body products from brands such as Voluspa, Abahna, La Source, Compagnie de Provence, Crabtree & Evelyn, India Hicks, Harn, Molton Brown and the quirkily named "Björk & Berries". I had always thought as much, but the profusion of such brands was definite proof that the Swedes are indeed a very clean nation.

In terms of niche fragrances, for NK proper as opposed to the Cow concession I spotted the following: Diptyque, Apothia, Keiko Mecheri, Acqua di Parma, Piguet, Juliette has a Gun, Costume National, Bond No 9, Creed, M Micallef, Neotantric Fragrances, Library of Fragrance, Byredo and CLEAN, and possibly a few more I missed. Looking back, that is quite an unusual mix of brands which I have never seen together anywhere else in Europe... The Byredo counter didn't have the new Baudelaire, but sent me over to the menswear department(!), where, right in the midst of the suiting and booting, there was a stand with men's colognes, including Byredo. Baudelaire also smelt as I imagined from what I had read of it so far: a bit spicy, dusty and fundamentally blokey, so thumbs down to that one too.

In the designer area I at last tried a scent I have been curious about for some time, because it contains some of my favourite notes - Helena Rubinstein's Wanted. In the event it was a very pleasant blur on my wrist, not because I can't recall it properly but because it was innately blurry in style. I asked for a sample, but to no avail. I don't suppose I'll miss it, but I would have liked to have given it another shot.

I more or less ignored the Cow concession in NK, as my next stop was its flagship yet bijou store in Mäster Samuelsgatan. Here again I was struck by the eclectic mix of fragrance brands: E Coudray, Cumming, Laura Mercier, Vicolo Fiori, Etro, Comme des Garcons, Humiecki & Graef, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Les Parfums de Rosine, Carthusia, CB I hate Perfume, Profumum and Stephanie de Saint-Aignan. I have never seen Cumming, Humiecki & Graef, Stephanie de Saint-Aignan OR CB I hate Perfume anywhere before, so that was exciting for me. : - )

Space constraints meant that Cow didn't stock the full range of some of these lines - not that I carried out an inventory as such! - but that was my impression. My first question was: "Do you have Havana Vanille?" and the answer was sadly not. So I contented myself with a sniff of CdG's Daphne on skin, which was a disagreeable spicy number. I also tried (from the Red series) Carnation and Harissa. Both were as fiery as I thought they would be, and if you were a carnation lover (which I am not), Carnation did seem to me to be the real deal. Then I had a little spritz on skin of CB I hate Perfume's At The Beach 1966, and rather liked it, but didn't ask for a sample because the SA was tied up with cosmetics customers at the crucial moment. I wondered whether to dabble in the Humiecki & Graef line, but the reviews - and odd names (Skarb / Geste / Askew!) - had rather put me off.

The final stop was the new Byredo store in the same street. It was small and clinically white, and they had mini bottles containing the top, heart and base notes of each of their range, as well as the finished compositions. By way of experiment, I sniffed the three bottles that make up Fantastic Man, which was mildly interesting but ultimately pointless, as the scent for sale is after all the blended version rather than its component parts. So I asked for a sample of it instead (to give to a male friend), and after some concerted rummaging in drawers, the SA drew a blank. So I decided to call it a day at that point and went for a long walk on one of Stockholm's many islands, before heading out later that night in a curious Wanted-Daphne-L'Eau Nirique-Fantastic Man-Ta'if melange.

Then yesterday at Skavsta airport I dared to test not one but three of the Neotantric range of fragrances, which I realised just today are actually Swedish. It was a bit early frankly to try perfumes with such wanton names as Manic Love (Women), Sex Goddess and Dropps of Me (I swear there were two "p"s on the tester bottle). All three were unspeakably awful in ways I am not sure I can accurately convey. All I will say is that if you are tempted by the wacky names to try these yourselves, please resist the urge, for they will spoil your day. I also retested Gucci Flora, and though the drydown was quite inoffensive - pleasant even - at some point in the development there was a discordant note that troubled me. Badass patchouli maybe?

So in summary I would observe that the Swedes are very hygienic (I even saw the CLEAN range at the bus station!), not averse to whimsy or eroticism as exemplified in the Neotantric range, while the lack of samples confirms my belief that things in Scandinavia are only available at a very high price - as in a full bottle purchase - which in turn would have cost up to twice as much as in Britain.

But you have gotta love a city whose underground network includes stations named Bro, Tibble, Sockenplan and the splendidly Star Trekky Nockeby Torg. I'll be back, and next time I'll bring my own empty sample vials...

Friday 20 November 2009

Madness Interruptus

Bonkers about Perfume is taking a short break till Monday. I am off to Sweden for a long weekend, where, amongst other festivities involving minimal alcohol consumption on account of the eyewatering prices (their ultra cheap store chains - if they have them - would be "ten pound shops" rather than "pound shops", let alone "dime stores"!), I hope to hit the upmarket department store NK, the new Byredo outlet, and if I can find it, Stockholm's answer to Les Senteurs, the quaintly named "Cow". Indeed the "if I can find it" comment applies to all three...

Thursday 19 November 2009

Start Them Young - Violet And The Sacred Vial

I was visiting a friend's for supper a while back, and as well as taking round the usual bottle of wine, I decided on a whim to bring along a 1ml sample vial of Borsari's Violetta di Parma as a gift for his seven year old daugher, Violet. I figured that though she was probably too young to be wearing perfume yet, she might at least be curious to sniff a scent that smelt of her name, and who knows what seed of interest I just might plant in her impressionable young mind...

As I entered the hall, Violet came down the stairs to greet me, ready for bed in pink pyjamas and hugging a teddy bear to her chest. I explained the reasoning behind my gift and proffered the little organza bag with its lone vial of scent. In a flash Violet had scampered back upstairs to bed with it, whispering a shy: "Thank you".

Some time later I thought to inquire of my friend in an email how the Violetta di Parma was going down. He wrote: "Violet is guarding her perfume as closely as if it were the meaning of life itself in elixir form".

To which I replied: "She's very astute for seven."

Wednesday 18 November 2009

A Probably Preposterous Notion - The Unrepresentative Squirt

Yesterday I retried Guerlain's new release, Idylle, for the second time. Its modern take on a sweet, rosy musk accord instantly reminded me of Narciso Rodriguez for Her, just as the majority of reviewers had already observed. Yet when I first tried Idylle, my overriding impression was of a run-of-the-mill fruity floral, with no discernible musk. In the same sniffing session I also retried YSL's latest, Parisienne, and was pleased to find that the same image sprang to mind as the first time I smelt it, namely of "disgruntled purple talc". For there is a dark and restless quality to the powdery note - it is indignant almost - if that were not an absurd anthropomorphism.

But the Idylle is really nice, in this NR for Her / JHAG Lady Vengeance kind of way. So what is different this time? I don't think the theory of suggestibility is responsible here, prompting me to agree with the consensus on this fragrance about its common characteristics with NR for Her. For if that was going to work, would it not have done so first time round? So, assuming my nose was in good working order both times and not distracted by testing too many scents at once (it wasn't), I am going to stick my neck out here and say that the first spray must have been unrepresentative, namely that the nozzle did not deliver the musky element to my nose, but only a hefty dollop of sweet bright florals.

I have wondered about this before in cases where I have subsequently done a 180 on particular scents. I came to the conclusion that it must have been a different combination of notes I sprayed the second time, for how else could I have failed to spot the civet/pine needles/bizarre cumin-heliotrope accord/stonking tuberose/muddiness of non-specific origin (insert disagreeable note) there?

To avoid such irregularities, should I have shaken the bottle prior to spraying, squirty cream-style? Surely not! What about a slight tilt, to make sure there is no sediment at the bottom that is meant to permeate the whole mixture for a rounded fragrance? Equally silly, if we are talking a perfume that is relatively new, as opposed to some turn of the century vintage number with bottom feeders and all sorts in its murky depths.

Yes, an "unrepresentative squirt" is a preposterous notion - a scent has to be homogenous, with no surreptitious pooling of musk molecules half way down the bottle, like a huddle of school kids smoking behind the bike sheds. And yet this theory squares with my experience, so - having established the other day that I am a diehard solipsist - I intend to run with it for now!

Monday 16 November 2009

The Loneliness of The Solipsistic Nose

"No man is an island" according to the poet John Donne, meaning that it is a human instinct to crave company. When it comes to matters olfactory, though, the sad fact of the matter is that "Man - or woman - IS an island", in the sense that we are all isolated in our own sensory corners, experiencing perfumes in potentially very different ways.

This thought struck me most forcibly of late when a friend smelt my new HGS, Penhaligon's Amaranthine, on me and remarked that she didn't care for it and that it was very similar to Chloe Narcisse. I had not smelt Narcisse at this point, but given that it is currently discounted to under a tenner in my local Superdrug, the comparison was distinctly unsettling. Had I just shelled out £60 for a 50ml bottle of Amaranthine to find that it is merely a re-invention of a 90's drugstore fragrance? The rest of the evening was overshadowed with this gloomy possibility, and the next day I hot-footed it to Superdrug, where the SA helpfully dug out a tester from below the counter.

A few seconds later I was relieved to detect no marked resemblance between the two scents. The Narcisse I found cloyingly sweet, orangey and spicy, like a mix of CK Eternity and marmalade. Amaranthine, on the other hand, is a tropical white floral with green notes and a creamy, vaguely dirty, spicy base.

But hold on a minute.....the key qualifier in all this should always be "to my nose", for even if others agree that the comparison between these two scents is unfounded, that does not invalidate the impressions my friend formed of Amaranthine versus her memory of Narcisse. Yet our instinct is to say: "That's rubbish!" and to believe in the superior smelling powers of our own nose, and that the way odours appear to us is how those odours objectively are - and I am not even talking taste here - merely perceived similarities or otherwise.

Every day on perfume sites someone will lob in a question along the lines of: "Please does anyone know of a scent that smells like Light Blue (or whatever)?" and people will pile in and volunteer the strangest suggestions (in my view), based on their ideas of what most closely resembles the scent in question. Sometimes I comment, but often not, because the thread appears to be groaning already under all this weight of misinformation, such that I feel there is little chance of my view standing out as "the answer" to the question, not that anything similar to Light Blue springs to mind for the moment!

This is arrogant of me, I know, but it is simply symptomatic of the solipsistic state that is being a perfumista! Even Luca Turin, who as a biochemist can deconstruct many more components of a scent than the average person, has a subjective nose at the end of the day in terms of exactly what he smells, again regardless of whether he likes it. Caroline Herrera 212 he famously likened to the sensation of getting "lemon juice in a paper cut", while I got a flatter-smelling second cousin of Narciso Rodriguez for Her. 212's a bit one dimensional, granted, but softly smooth and musky with no discernible lemon - though knowing Luca he was probably being metaphorical...

So when the strips are down, perfume enthusiasts must resign themselves to the fact that appreciating scent is a lonely business. We shall never know exactly what anyone else is smelling and whether they love the same perfumes as us for the same reasons. Lonely - and humbling too - when we realise that our nose is not better than the next person's, merely different. I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it...!

Saturday 14 November 2009

Curate your Chanels the Budweiser Way!

In a former life I used to be a product manager for a range of chilled foods. Every office at the company had its own fridge for storing product samples. It was absolutely ingrained in us that you pop a chilled product back in the fridge immediately after use. And like those forensic scientists who can age a corpse on the basis of its degree of maggot infestation, I could take one look at the bowing foil lid of a non-refrigerated yoghurt pot and know the precise moment when it would blow, projecting its creamy ectoplasm in random directions.

Fast forward 25 years and I am still very conscious about the ravages of unchilled storage as it applies to perishable foods - and latterly also perfumes. From my research on Basenotes I have learnt that the Osmotheque perfume museum in Versailles curates its ordinary scents at 10 degrees C and its citrus-dominant ones at 4 degrees C. I also gathered that glass atomizers preserve a scent better than plastic. But please don't ask if a glass atomizer at ambient temperature keeps a perfume longer than a refrigerated plastic one - my research didn't grapple with such fiendish interlocking variables...

But on the premise that cold was better than hot, during the brief heatwave that struck the UK at the end of June I bought a second hand beer chiller on Ebay for £50. It is set to 10 degrees and the citrus fragrances will jolly well have to take their chances, for I am darned if I am going to buy a separate chiller for them. The chiller contains most of my 50 full bottles, a box of plastic atomizers, and bags and bags of minis and samples. I still have two drawers' worth of overflow FBs, glass atomizers and more samples, so in retrospect I could easily have filled a fridge twice the size. Things have got to the stage where when you open the door, a bottle that you are not reaching for teeters to the edge of a shelf and falls off, like one of those rare snack vending machines that actually "vend".

I find the intermittent whirr of the fridge (in a cold spare bedroom) quite comforting, though the recent appearance of icy stalagmites just above the top shelf is a little concerning. For as well as heat and light, perfumes don't much care for humidity of course, but you can't have everything. It might not be a bad idea to defrost it, come to think of it.

So, not a perfect solution, but it's got to be a cut above the bathroom cabinet. : - )

Thursday 12 November 2009

Lidl Suddenly d'Or - a Swiss Ghost Story

Anyone familiar with the European discount chain Lidl will be aware that it sells both food and non-food items on a pretty random basis. On one day last week they had a delivery of guitars, apparently, and you can routinely find everything from spaghetti hoops to crocs via shower curtains, table soccer games and the occasional security camera.

One day earlier this year I noticed two new own brand perfumes named Suddenly D'Or and Suddenly Fleurs, selling at the ludicrously cheap price point of £3.99 for 50ml! My nose was drawn to Suddenly D'Or, a pretty decent fruity floral. I bought a bottle on the spot - £3.99 is a bargain by any standards. It smelt to me like a perfume that cost up to five times that ie what I would consider as the lower end of the designer market. Or at least three times, say - comparable in quality perhaps to those frequently remaindered lines like Elizabeth Arden. A few weeks later, I ran across a promotional display for the new Ghost scent, Ghost Luminous. The bulbous-bottomed bottle looked uncannily like Suddenly D'Or and the scent was even more reminiscent of the Lidl one! Notwithstanding the chronology of events, I assumed the Lidl scent was most likely a knock off of the Ghost, and not vice versa...

I felt I couldn't ask Lidl outright if they had modelled their scent on the new Ghost release, but I could at least ask them what the notes were, to see if I had correctly identified a strong resemblance. My phone call to Lidl customer services was met with a refusal. They could not help me because their Swiss supplier would not permit the release of this information. I tried to explain that the note information I was after was very much in the public domain for all designer and niche scents, and that I wasn't trying to extract the precise chemical formulation from them. So I asked the lady to go away and put my question to the supplier again.

Weeks passed, when "suddenly" I received a letter from Lidl's Product Quality Services department in Scotland:

"On receipt of your query we contacted our Quality Assurance Department who have advised that the fragrance used for our Perfume consists of apple, lime-tree blossom, violet, melon, jasmine, lily of the valley, peach, rose, iris, musk and sandalwood.

If the product is not to your liking, please return the item to your local Store for a refund."

But I do like the item! I like it £3.99's worth and more! With trepidation, I googled a note listing for Ghost Luminous - common notes are highlighted in italics:

"Bergamot, pineapple, orange, blackcurrant, melon, apples, sea breeze accord, champagne, jasmine, lily of the valley, raspberry leaves, violet, rose, freesia, sandalwood, vetiver, powdery dream, candied raspberry and peach sweet.

Okay, so the Lidl one is not an exact replica, but eight of the eleven notes listed for it also feature in Luminous. Even to my neophyte nose, that counts as a "ghostly resemblance".

Tuesday 10 November 2009

The Scent of 'Suffering To Be Beautiful' - Avon Anew Ultimate (Day) Cream

Today I am tentatively retrying an anti-aging day cream from Avon. It comes in a sleekly contoured brushed gold pot and its rather involved product name (helpfully also given in French) is etched on in a black, slightly space agey font not reproducible from the modest list of options available in my blog settings.

The product inside also sounds pretty futuristic and leading edge. For it is apparently "powered by pro-sirtuin TX technology". And although sirtuins might sound to you and me like dwellers of a distant galaxy, I learnt on the site that they are in fact a family of proteins that "have been shown to reduce cell death by protecting cells against reactive oxygen species and DNA damage". I had to look up "reactive oxygen species" in Wikipedia to make sure this wasn't yet another alien race out of Star Trek - but they turned out to be none other than those pesky little mischief makers, free radicals. So far so good.

On further consulting a Cosmeceutical Peptide Glossary (no, really!), I noted that the particular sub-group of sirtuins we are talking about here are Heptapeptide-6. In an article in the journal "Nature", Dr. David Sinclair explained their role: "What we think is that if a cell is at a point of deciding whether to live or die, these sirtuins push toward the survival mode and let the cell try a little harder and longer to fix itself." said Sinclair. What valiant little enzymes! I am liking these sirtuins more and more. Never mind their role in anti-aging creams, The Samaritans should be trying to hire these guys....

But though the science does indeed sound wonderful, the experience of applying this sirtuin-rich technology on my face was not a happy one. I spread some over my top lip, which was immediately yanked upwards into a bee-stung sneer. And boy, did it sting! While the inevitable seepage made my tea taste horrid and undrinkable! But worse than the rictus I have now developed is the smell....which is the smell of burning flesh. I quickly googled "Avon Ultimate" and "burning flesh" and could find no one else with the same impression as me. However, I did find a review of a Prescriptives moisturiser (for the curious - Prescriptives' Good In Bed(!) Skin Restoring Night Moisturizer with sunless tanners) which likened its smell to "burning flesh and cat pee", and attributed the odour to the tanning chemical DHA. I can find no ingredients listing that would confirm the presence of DHA in my cream, so maybe these plucky little sirtuins simply don't smell too clever either. This is a blow, but according to the Avon website, if I can just grimace and bear it the Ulimate cream will "restore the look of natural volume and cushion" (sic) in just three days. So if no more posts appear by that time, assume I have either died of dehydration or seared my eyeballs.

Monday 9 November 2009

The Hidden Truth Behind The Weaselly Sales Blurb

I was flicking through the Fragrance brochure of a high street retailer at the weekend, and my attention was caught by this quote from the magazine's Beauty Editor: "If you're thinking of a celebrity perfume, remember they're created with the help of experienced 'noses', for an elegant scent."

Well, yes they are, and yet that statement leaves so much unsaid....notably the fact that perfumers creating celebrity perfumes are typically constrained in terms of the briefs they are given and the budgets they have to work with. So just because you have a great perfumer developing your product, if you tie their hands in terms of costings, you won't get to see that greatness fully deployed. As the saying goes, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Chandler Burr, the NY Times perfume critic, cuts to the chase: "They use cheap ingredients to be more affordable and make more money", and goes on to liken celebrity scents to throwaway fashion.

The position in which perfumers find themselves reminds me a bit of my partner, a bass player, who has toured Europe and even played The Albert Hall. But there are also times in every session musician's life when they inevitably find themselves down the pub playing Mustang Sally...

The perfumer Yann Vasnier, who has developed perfumes for Sarah Jessica Parker and Baby Phat (Baby What?), summed up the process of working for mainstream companies with diplomatic vagueness: "Working for bigger projects is really competitive, challenging, a lot of different factors must be taken into account." His answer is interesting, for it reveals another aspect to this question, namely that while the perfumer may not have the wherewithal to make a silk purse, if he makes a half-decent smelling one in polyester, that almost certainly constitutes a greater technical feat than if he had come up with the next Chanel No 5 with unlimited funds. In other words, the achievement is entirely relative. So next time I am passing a tester of a J Lo or Kylie scent that actually smells a cut above lolly water, I will remember that the ingredients in these celebuscents probably cost tuppence halfpenny, and treat them with a new respect...

Saturday 7 November 2009

6.11.09 - "DKNY Delicious Night" Day

Remember, remember the 6th of November...that title needs some explaining, I know.

Well, sudden onset perfume mania struck me on 29.1.08, and not long after the initial frenzy of Internet research I began buying carded fragrance samples on Ebay. The very first one was DKNY Delicious Night. I had high hopes of this scent, as I had seen a review of it illustrated by a twinkly backdrop of the New York Skyline. Of course this reeled me in immediately, even if you could only just make out the spire of the Chrysler Building in the shot. As a total newbie, I was also mesmerised by the description of the mysterious and sultry sounding fragrance notes:

Frozen pomelo, crushed ginger, chilled blackberry martini accord, purple freesia, night-blooming orchids, satin jasmine petals, purple iris, molten amber, incense, myrrh extract, patchouli and velvet vetiver.

Here was a intriguing mix of very cold and very hot things, smooth textures, exotic fruit, strumpety flowers that only come out to play after dark, and sophisticated cockail ingredients. It simply couldn't get any better than this.

The reality was a raspy, fuzzy scent that reminded me principally of Ribena and steel wool. It was cacophonous and rough - and chilly, all at the same time. At this tender stage in my perfume appreciation I could so easily have been put off from further exploration. Luckily I wasn't, but the presence of the carded sample in my drawer all these months has had a strangely dispiriting effect - acting as a symbolic reminder of the many disappointments that can ambush a budding perfumista in her quest for the Holy Grail Scent.

And then yesterday a swapper on MUA asked to take Delicious Night off my hands, along with a bunch of other scents I was not sorry to lose, mostly of the berry-centric variety. As I type, Delicious Night is on its way to a new life in the USA, and the spell is broken. My sampling future looks bright, and I will never again be seduced by things "satin", "night-blooming" or featuring "chilled blackberry martini accord".

Tuesday 3 November 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 2 - Confusing Stella Flankers

I am not a big fan of flankers as a rule, though occasionally they are an improvement on the original. The most notable example of this in my view is Opium Fleur de Shanghai, a 2005 Limited Edition that was conceived as a lighter, more summery interpretation of the heavy-hitting 70's original, and which I find infinitely more wearable.

Ordinarily though, I find all these "L'Eau", "Eau de Printemps" and "Eau Legere" versions deeply irritating, along with the various suffixes that afflict men's fragrances, such as "Intense" and "Extreme". Estee Lauder winds me up no end with White Linen, Pure White Linen and now Pure White Linen Light Breeze and Pure White Linen White Coral. These flanker names are getting to be like those ever increasing lists of random items you have to memorise, of the "I went to market and bought myself a XXX" variety.

But my biggest disapproval is reserved for the Stella McCartney range of perfumes, a line so muddled I have long given up testing them as I can never remember what I already know. The line now comprises: Stella, Stella in Two, Stella in Two Peony, Stella Rose Absolute, Stella Nude and not one, not two, but FOUR different editions of Stella Sheer (2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009).

Rather than spawn any more Stella-named fragrances, I would urge the house to consider a perfume just called "McCartney". Which will give me time to prepare myself mentally for the McCartney Extremely Intenses and In Three Peonies that I know will be coming along shortly.

Sunday 1 November 2009

A Soapy Tale

As I mentioned in my opening post, this blog was largely prompted by my partner's total lack of interest in perfume, and my wish to find an outlet for my musings on the subject. Along with 40% of British men, he uses no form of scent, moisturiser or other male grooming product except for soap and anti-perspirant, and falls into the category of "retrosexual"(!) according to a recent research survey by Mintel. Before learning of this amusing label, I had come up with my own classification of his fragrance leanings as "Palmolive/industrial".

So imagine my delight when I walked into the living room last night to be greeted by the comment: "Whatever you have got on today doesn't smell like 'craft shop' - in fact it's okay, actually - like an expensive soap." I approached and proffered my wrist for him to smell - I was wearing Poussiere de Rose by Les Parfums de Rosine. "Ugh!" he exclaimed, recoiling. "That's not what I smelt - that's horrible." After a bemused pause, I remembered that I had just been to the bathroom and washed my hands. "Could it possibly be the soap I used to wash my hands that you are smelling?" I inquired, crestfallen, as I extended three fingers in his direction. He took a sniff. "Yes, that's it! Nice. Like I say, expensive soap."

Well, well, Heyland & Whittle Tea Tree is the surprise soapy interloper than won my partner over. He doesn't want me to smell of feminine roses, or heady jasmine or sultry tuberose - no, he likes his woman to smell of tea tree oil. Which explains a lot...