Thursday 31 December 2009

The Scent Crimes Series: No 5 - The Tester As Tommy Gun

Over on Katie Puckrik's hugely entertaining blog, "Katie Puckrik Smells", there's a discussion going on at the moment about whether the new Cartier X L'Heure Folle fragrance smells of "repulsive rotting fruit". I can't comment on that particular scent, not having smelt it yet, but I was instantly reminded of a very unpleasant experience involving a tester of Mona di Orio's Nuit Noire and a trigger-happy SA...

We have all passed through department stores and airports and encountered the SA loitering with intent, holding a tester of a new fragrance release. She may proffer you a pre-sprayed paper strip from a fan of the things she prepared earlier, or ask if you would like to test the perfume on skin. These promotional staff can be a bit pushy at times, and you may feel as though you have been pressganged into trying something that is unlikely to be your cup of tea, like (in my case) the latest D & G range, Armani Idole or some Z-list celebrity scent.

But worse, far worse than this modest level of hustling, was the time I was forcibly perfumed in Paris by a SA recklessly toting a tester of Nuit Noire. I had already been out sampling for several hours at this point, and every inch of arm and hand was already spoken for. So when the SA asked me not if, but where I would like to try this scent that she was clearly on a mission to push or bust, I replied that I didn't really have any space left. Then before I could blink a spray struck me smack in the clavicles, then I was hit again, and again, until the SA had fired about five squirts around the entire circumference of my neck and upper chest (it was summer, so my scoop necked T-shirt gave her a reasonable target area).

It didn't take long for this miasma to reach my nose: a disagreeable blend of the abovementioned rotting fruit and spices - and civet - which is a Room 101 note of mine, as you may know. Nuit Noire is a heavy, cloying fragrance, conjuring up hot, sticky nights in exotic, far away places, all infused with a distinct air of menace. Pleased with her handiwork, the SA exclaimed brightly: "There! You will smell this one more than all the rest! And I've put enough on to last at least eight hours!"

And she had as well. Very quickly I started to feel nauseous and headachy. Out in the street, I felt trapped by my own sillage - victim of the scent equivalent of "necklacing". I stumbled to a cafe and went to the bathroom, where I tried to wash the stuff off. I stuck my neck under the tap and rubbed vigorously with a bar of unscented soap. I wasn't very successful and the headache soon turned into a migraine, whereupon I retreated to my hotel to lie down and wait for morning, by which time the stuff would surely have evaporated.

Nuit Noire? Black night indeed... And Mr Bonkers is also quite safe - I will continue with my strategy of soap gentrification, but I promise not to "stealth perfume" you any time soon!

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Tales From MUA: Does Equal Mean Fair?

Six months on, I am still getting the occasional request to swap through Makeupalley. I tend not to initiate things these days, though I daresay I will again when I next have an insatiable lemming for some scent or other. The pre-Christmas run up was fairly quiet, then I received a message on Christmas Eve, asking me if I wanted to swap away my bottle of Valentino V Absolu. Well, absolutely I do, for this blind buy in T K Maxx was a horrible mistake, albeit a bargain one. I thought it would be a more intense version of the very pretty figgy number that is Valentino V, but they were barely related as it turned out. The swapper said that in addition to the fragrances on her list, she also had Jennifer Lopez Still. I have never smelt Still, but the notes sounded a bit sweet, so, in a state of excited anticipation, I went to check the swapper's list instead. There I found just two items - not just in the fragrance category - but at all. And they were a Chopard and a Salvatore Ferragamo, neither of which I had tried either, but the brand names didn't fill me with confidence. Plus the Chopard one is described in one review as having a "sweet, fruity, raspberry nuance". The least scary word in that description is "nuance", but in that context it still makes me nervous. Then the Salvatore Ferragamo scent was not named, though there was an intriguing note next to it saying what it was NOT called.

So I wrote to the swapper, thanking her for her interest and explaining that she appeared only to have a few items available, none of which I fancied. Okay, so what I actually didn't fancy was another blind buy (or rather swap), but it amounted to the same thing. I didn't wish to trade.

On Boxing Day I received a reply. In the act of backing down, the swapper may have been having a final go at persuading me: "okay well just thought that chopard fragance would be equal to a valentino :-)"

To which I replied, with a smiley of my own to keep the tone light: "I'd say it would be equivalent, but as I am sure you'll agree, there's no point in swapping for something you don't want. : - ) "

Over the holidays, I have been pondering the significance of the swapper's remark. Is there in fact a philanthropic aspect to swapping that has passed me by, one that goes beyond the RAOK involved in tossing a few extra wishlist samples into a package? Namely that if you don't like something, you should exchange it anyway for something else you (probably) won't like either, knowing that the other party will at least be happy with the bottle they receive?

Ah, but there's the postage costs, and the bother of parcelling the thing up and taking it to the post office... Sorry chaps, but in my book, when it comes to full bottles rather than samples - at Christmas or at any other time of the year - it isn't better to give than to receive.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Asquith & Somerset - The Soapy Route To Stealth Perfuming

Last month I related how my partner, who dismisses all perfume as smelling of "craft shop", and only uses soap and water himself, had responded favourably to the scent of Heyland & Whittle Tea Tree soap on my skin. It was so unusual for him to like any soap other than Palmolive, his default brand - which I personally think has quite a strong, industrial fragrance - that I decided to nurture this embryonic appreciation of quality soap whenever the opportunity presented itself. My good friend Lovethescents once suggested spraying my partner with cologne while he slept, in a bid to get him to develop a liking for the stuff, but I was concerned that such a daring stunt of "stealth perfuming" might backfire, although the principle of exposing and acclimatising him to the thing he purports to hate remained sound. Thus it was that I came up with the idea of a gradual process of in-home soap gentrification. Slivers of Palmolive in the bathroom, en-suite and guest cloakroom would be replaced with delicately scented cleansing bars from the finest purveyors of soap, notably Asquith & Somerset, whose ranges often turn up in T K Maxx @ c£7 for three 150g bars. In the last couple of months I have successfully managed to infiltrate Asquith & Somerset's aromatic "Green Fingers" variety, swiftly followed by Patchouli & Sandalwood. Emboldened, I actually gave my partner a box of Olivia Care Verbena scented soap (very similar packaging to A & S!) for Christmas, and he immediately used a bar in his Christmas morning shower!

Which is not to say that he is going to be splashing on Chanel pour Monsieur like the lad in the Lynx advert before the year is out, but it is nonetheless a small but significant step in my spousal olfactory reprogramming mission...

Festive Fragrance Fantasy Fulfilled - Sophie Conran "Delight"

I am pleased to report that this Christmas not only did I receive the double oven glove I so badly needed - in time to be immediately deployed on turkey manoeuvres - and some Belgian chocolates (admittedly bought as a gift to myself), but I also received a beautiful scented candle: a single wick, medium-sized votive called "Delight" by Sophie Conran for Portmeirion. It came in a ridged white ceramic pot (I have a teapot, cup and saucer and milk jug in the same series) and smells very subtly of lime and basil. The attractive mauve box with purple spots will be ideal for storing perfume samples. "Delight" has a luxe smell and presentation but is more reasonably priced than those scented candles I reviewed recently in my Molton Brown post. What can be better than an affordable fantasy?

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christmas Break

Bonkers about Perfume is taking a short break for Christmas, as I am the reluctant Maitre D' of festivities in our household. Wish me luck with the turkey - cooking does not come naturally to me and I am always embroiled during the Christmas countdown in agonies of indecision about whether to roast the bird hard and fast or more slowly, with or without foil (whether tent only or fully wrapped in the stuff), in an oven bag, on a vegetable trivet, with or without bacon, with or without stuffing, brined or not, and with its legs pointing sideways or towards the back of the oven. Not forgetting upside down for all or part of the time. For I feel compelled to assess not only the entire spectrum of possible oven temperatures but also the karma sutra of turkey cooking positions! And it is of course true that if you are the least bit hesitant during the cooking process, the turkey, like Alsatians, can sniff fear. So that is what my kitchen will be mostly smelling of from tomorrow, when I embark on the stuffing and the soup.


(Or winter holiday thingy or other cultural equivalent... : - ) )

Hold on a minute....embroiling....that's another cooking method I should perhaps consider!

Tuesday 22 December 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 4 - The Lazy Sell

'Tis the season to be relieved of more of your money than you planned to spend in the Christmas shopping frenzy, which now of course starts as early as February. We are perhaps more suggestible at this time of year because of the festive lights and piped carols, and I am as prone as the next man to buying six sparkly clutch purses in one go - in different colourways, admittedly. (Well, maybe not the next "man"). But people can get carried away and part with too much cash at any time of year - on potentially inappropriate items even - that they (or the recipient!) may live to regret.

Thus it was that I was in a well known high street chain last summer standing behind an elderly man who was being "advised" by a sales assistant on fragrance choices for two female relatives. He was 85 if he was a day, and didn't look particularly affluent. Before I reached the perfume counter, he had already made one purchase - of Gucci Flora - but I am not privy to the background to that sale. Next up, though, he asked for help in choosing a scent for his daughter. "How old is your daughter?" came the very reasonable question from the SA. "Forty-four." "Right, so how about DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Blossom, then?" said the SA, giving the tester a quick spritz on a paper strip, which she proceeded to waft in front of his nose. "Mmm" the old man mumbled non-committally, before walking out two minutes later, nearly £100 lighter, with the bottle of Flora and the 100ml size of Be Delicious Fresh Blossom. The SA had taken more time presenting the size options than she had on choosing a scent for him!, and in such a way that the fellow may have felt a cheapskate if he didn't buy the largest bottle available, a humungous globe-like thing the size of a small child's head.

How pained I felt as he walked out with these two hastily sold purchases! I wanted to rewind the scene and intervene, asking the questions the SA had not bothered to put to him. "Do you know what perfumes your daughter already owns? Is this for day or evening? Is your daughter outgoing and bubbly or more quiet and reserved? Are there any particular flowers she likes?" And so on... If he genuinely wanted to spend a ton on perfume for these two relatives (which is a moot point), I wanted to suggest he buy each woman two 30ml bottles of different scents, thereby hedging his bets and not condemning the women to years and years of use of something they did not care for. Given the chance, I would have gladly gone to meet his daughter and the other unspecified Flora recipient, chatted to them about their tastes and come back with a range of samples for them to try. On the basis of those trials, the man could have gone to the shop and confidently asked for x, y and z, knowing his generosity would be appreciated.

But unfortunately that was all fantasy, a parallel universe I inhabit in my head where perfume buying is based on people's known preferences rather than the first thing that pops into the sales person's head, which may well be what's on promotion at the time...

Saturday 19 December 2009

Choco Chanel

Just back from my visit to Bruges: a 600 mile round trip with some tricky weather in parts (snow and ice). Belgium is one of the smallest countries in the EU, yet has a disproportionately long list of safety equipment you are required to carry in - or affix to - your vehicle while over there. These comprise a first aid kit, warning triangle, spare bulbs, reflective vest, fire extinguisher (accessible from the driver's seat - it was in the boot), headlamp deflectors, bag of Werther's Originals etc. Now that I am home I realise that I should have strapped the fire extinguisher into the front passenger seat and made my partner's mother sit in the back, but I'll know for next time...

Once in Bruges, much of our energy was consumed by the hunt for a parking spot and our efforts not to knock over cyclists, but we did manage to fit in a bit of sightseeing and shopping. There are approximately 175 chocolate shops for every one selling perfume, and we did find a lipstick made of solid chocolate, but no fragrance bottles as such. We spied a fragrance bottle shaped like a diamond in Bruges's Diamond Museum, but unfortunately it came with a generic pink "house scent" already in it - otherwise I might have bought the empty flacon. We also found diamonds made out of chocolate, indeed we came across pretty much every combo of chocolate and Bruges-themed artefact, plus a variety of unmentionable body parts, but sadly not a single choco-flacon.

Thus it came as no shock only to find three stores selling perfume at all: the department store INNO, which had most of the usual designer suspects, and one or two wild cards like Private, the new scent from the brand IKKS. I have since learnt on Nstperfume that this is a "trendy French sportswear brand", which would explain why I haven't heard of it. The notes in Private include mandarin, blackcurrant, white flowers, amber, praline and vanilla, so I am faintly surprised to have been so taken with it, but then again I tried it immediately after Ferre Rose, which struck me as a "poor man's Paris" of a foghorn rose, supported by a bowl of fruit and a bouquet of overly sweet flowers. These included a Japanese variety of gardenia called Kuchinashi - not to be confused with the naan bread of that name. : - ) The most striking thing about the INNO offering were the prices, which were right up there with Stockholm. Case in point: Kenzo Flower Oriental 50ml came in at 75 euros, which is of course near as dammit the same in pounds these days.

The other main outlet (see photo!) was ICI Paris XL, which had an even more comprehensive selection of designer scents, plus the odd niche bottle (I spotted a few Guerlain bee bottles at the top of a display case about 12 foot off the ground - so not exactly your eye level best sellers then...!). There was also a bunch of old classics like Balmain and Scherrer and brands that I class - perhaps unfairly - as "lower end designer" (all at floor level), for example Mexx, Laura Biagotti, Trussardi, Sergio Tacchini, Iceberg, Armand Basi, Orlane and Azzarro.

I tried the Azzarro Twin for women (the white one), whilst trying to erase from my mind associations between the bottle and "personal massagers", however impressionistic. Twin's main notes are listed as rose, peach, almond tree flower, iris and musk, and I must say I found the almond note quite disagreeable, like cotton wool crossed with Bakewell tart.

The final - and most unexpected - perfume outlet was a shop selling soft furnishings and ornaments from Morocco, called Dar Mima.

It carries the Les Parfums du Soleil range of perfumes by Moroccan botanist-turned-perfumer Abderrazak Benchaâbane, who just pips Francis Kurkdjian as the nose with the most unspellable surname. I tried all the range briefly on paper and none seemed to bowl me over at the time, but I have kept one of the strips - sadly with no indication of which scent is on it (semi-pro!) - and I keep coming back to sniff its beautiful soft drydown.

The six eaux de toilette are: Sultane des Coeurs, Mogador, Soir de Marrakech, Festival, L'Agdal and Casablanca. I think the one on the paper strip might be Soir de Marrakech - it does remind me stylistically a bit of L'Air du Désert Marocain or PG L'Ombre Fauve, and I have managed to find notes for it as including amber, musk, vanilla, patchouli, and citrus oils.

The other perfume highlight of the trip has to be giving my partner's mother a bottle of Coco Chanel EDP on the Thursday morning, her 75th birthday. She has only discovered perfume at all in the last year, and has recently gravitated from Burberry Women to Coco, with minimal input from me. Her sillage was creamy and warm like a sable stole, cocooning her in this winter wonderland. Well, metaphorically, anyway, as we both ended up buying hats.

Back home, the novelty chocolate Santas and Leonidas boxes of truffles are safely stowed in the fridge. The latter have a shelf life of six weeks apparently - even the creams - but will be lucky to see the New Year in. And we will be very disappointed if we don't spot a shop selling an edible bottle of "Choco" - or perhaps "Cocoa" - Chanel on our next visit...

Monday 14 December 2009

Leonidas Break

Okay, so it doesn't have quite the same ring as "Kit Kat break"...

I am off to Bruges tomorrow till the weekend, on a trip with my mother-out-of-law to celebrate her 75th birthday. I should imagine that there will be more general sightseeing involved than perfume sniffing as such, but you may be sure I will check out any perfume shops that happen to cross our path... Not to mention the chocolate ones.

Sunday 13 December 2009

The Buyer of Back Up Bottles: Strategist or Squirrel?

My mother knew a woman once who kept 52 2lb bags of sugar in her wardrobe. This was not during the war or the period of rationing that followed - I don't believe the oil tanker drivers were even on strike at the time. The woman could not explain her hoarding behaviour, and died some years later with the sugar stash intact. Thinking about it, my partner gets a bit anxious when the household supplies run down to the last four litres of milk or six toilet rolls, and he has yet to see the petrol warning light come on in his car.

Some people may buy extra bottles of the same scent for similar reasons, namely to prevent even the slightest hiatus between their running out of one bottle and being able to get to the shops to buy a replacement. I would say that a hiatus is more problematic in the case of toilet roll and milk, but everyone has different priorities.

Another reason for buying back ups is because a scent has actually been discontinued, where fans of a particular fragrance buy up any remaining stock while it is still in circulation, much like Monsieur Eme in the novel Musc. (See my post of 27th October.) Out of my collection of c50 full bottles, I must own up to one back up bottle of Michel Comte's Shared Water for Women. I found the last case of it in Western Europe at a perfumery shop in Germany - Parfuemerie Nidderau above - and bought one 50ml bottle. I am not sure I would have bothered if Shared Water hadn't been such an unusual scent, inspired by the icy waters and Alpine flora of Switzerland:

The notes are:

Top: Mountain Narcissus, Purple Shiso, Bergamot, Lily of the Valley, Violet

Heart: Freesia, Orchid, Vanilla

Base: Patchouli, Vanille, Vetiver, Moss, Basmati Rice

A third - and perhaps the most common - reason why perfumistas back up their bottles is in anticipation of a reformulation by manufacturers, for example in response to the latest IFRA restrictions, which have in their sights fragrance substances such as oakmoss, birch tar, coumarin and natural jasmine. Lovers of classic fragrances such as chypres are those whose collections are most in jeopardy, and it is they who are investing in single and sometimes double back ups of a beloved fragrance. Now it may be the case that certain perfumes I love are going to be changed beyond recognition, but I tend not to keep up with the latest developments. and as a general rule am more inclined to confront change after the event. If I don't like what has happened, I decide then how to respond rather than aiming off for the eventuality by buying back ups. Just as I turn up to the railway station sometimes to find my train has been cancelled, or my station is closed, and have to figure out a Plan B on the fly.

For the way I see it, if the formulations of all my favourite perfumes remained intact, I would still need many lifetimes to get through all my bottles and decants and samples. So if I went and bought back ups for even 20% of them - hypothetically assuming 20% might be at risk for one reason or another - that's another litre of the stuff that I won't get round to using. Making me not unlike the lady with the bags of sugar...

Friday 11 December 2009

Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies - The Molton Brown Scented Candle

We all have a candle habit to some degree. Yet back in the 70's, when the miner's strike was in full swing, candles were pretty much just a form of emergency lighting, kept in the cupboard under the sink along with the torch, the Brasso and the Brillo pads. At Christmas we might have splashed out on some red dinner candles to go in the brass candlestick holders for which the Brasso was intended. But there was only really one gauge of candle back then - tall and thin - whereas candles have become so diverse and so much more of a lifestyle statement these days, notably the scented ones. I consulted the National Candle Association to see how many different shapes are formally recognised. I found "taper" (my "dinner" candles), pillar (= "church"?), container/jar/filled candle, votive, gel (pardon?), birthday (forgot those!) and tea light.

Ah, tea lights. I do not normally fantasise about tea lights, for such are guests' expectations of grotto-style living room mood lighting that they have become a staple purchase from the supermarket. Invariably, about three out of twenty will have an inverted wick, that you will try to dig out to no avail, before chucking the whole thing away - though not before briefly wondering if you know anyone who does the candle equivalent of composting.

No, the candles I fantasise about are all variants on the "container candle", starting with these from Molton Brown with their gorgeous boxes, which presumably act as pull out drawers with the candle inside. I love the different coloured fronts of the boxes, echoing each scent. I think I am drawn to pretty much all of them except the purple one. I always worry that purple things mean berries, and that way lies DKNY Delicious Night...

The scents range from the fairly graspable Heavenly Gingerlily (no relation to Michael Hutchence) to the downright recherche yuan zhi, naran ji and toko-yuzu (I am okay with the yuzu part). They all seem to be called "Aircandelas", by the way, which is a new one on me. Here is a description:

"This long lasting blend is encased in hand blown glass and will burn for over 80 hours. The wax is hand made in the Suffolk countryside and the glass hand blown in Lithuania."

Hmm - I wonder why the blurb puts the emphasis on "countryside", as if the hand making of wax was a bucolic pursuit like cheese making or pressing cider. Perhaps they are afraid we will think the candles were made in Ipswich. I sense that not even "hand made in Ipswich" has quite the ring the PR people are aiming for. Whereas in the case of Lithuania, the whole country sounds exotic and romantic and we wouldn't recognise the name of an Ipswich equivalent if we heard it.

Now comes the rub - these candles may last 80 hours, showing admirable staying power, always assuming the wick doesn't do its ingrowing stunt again - but at £49 a pop, they will have to remain a forlorn fantasy. You get ever so many tealights in a bag by comparison, even if they only last 4 hours each with a good wind (or rather without one).

But if you think the Molton Brown line is expensive, Jo Malone does the grandaddy of all container candles - weighing in at a colossal 2.5 KG and costing £260! I haven't inspected one close up, but I'll wager that it is "multi-wick", a term reserved for the big league of jar candles. Now, £260 would buy you eight 30ml bottles of Jo Malone fragrances! It is no contest in my opinion...

Yes, I am afraid you can keep your statement candles this Christmas. I'd rather have lots of perfume to spray on myself and a bag of tealights. I can even put up with the obligatory bit of wick digging.

Vera Wang EDP - The Sequel


I was reapplying the Vera Wang later that day when the bottle slipped out of my fingers and its contents spilt all over the dressing table and floor. I took this as a sign from on high that my ironic wearing of an ultra-feminine bridal scent simply had to stop.

Chastened by this mishap, I will dig out more persona-appropriate scents for the foreseeable future, and meanwhile get used to the heady floral whiff of my ironically smelling furniture and carpet!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

The Art of Wearing Perfume Ironically: Vera Wang EDP

Today, on a whim, I put on Vera Wang - that's the perfume, obviously, not the bridal gown. It is apricot in colour, and the bottle is a sort of rounded tetrahedron shape - or an angular bell! - and it's the one that isn't wearing a crown or covered in graffiti. I have no idea how I came to apply Vera Wang today from the little mini of it I bought on Ebay last year. It doesn't go with my outfit (tatty brown cords and a pilled cardigan for cleaning out the car). Nor am I a particularly feminine person, even when I make an effort - I should point out that the rather ladylike hat in my avatar picture is not mine, and its owner not even a friend of mine. I do not move in hat wearing circles, or no more than tangentially.

For anyone unfamiliar with Vera Wang, the notes are as follows:

top notes

Mandarin Flower, Calla Lily

heart notes

Bulgarian Rose, Gardenia

base notes

White Stephanotis, Sheer Musks

According to Osmoz the inspiration for Vera Wang's first fragrance was ‘the intense romance and passion felt between a man and a woman on their wedding day and beyond’. My decision to wear this scent is getting sillier and sillier by the minute.

I guess the answer is that I wanted to smell something unashamedly pretty today, something overtly perfumey and lush. The weather is cold and wet, and I wasn't in the mood for something dark or dank or wistful or attenuated: no Etro Messe de Minuit or Eau d'Italie Sienne L'Hiver, no FM Angeliques sous la Pluie or other "pathetic fallacy"-type scent. Nor did I fancy something "intellectual" and "difficult" like one of the Amouages or Mitsouko, or something with a pain barrier like SIP Magazine Street or PG L'Ombre Fauve - or even EL Private Collection, when I am not in a rampantly green frame of mind.

No, I wanted something that smelt of sweet flowers and lots of them. On a warmer day than this. I realise that it has been a most incongruous choice, given my defiantly unmarried state and today's scuzzy outfit. The height of irony, no less.
Though I did happen to be at a wedding when I pinched that woman's hat...

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Kate Moss Velvet Hour: The Unbearable Naffness of Bottle

In an earlier post I spoke of the limited budget perfumers have at their disposal to create celebuscents, and decided that I owed the ones which smell half decent a new respect because they had been developed on a shoestring. Kate Moss Velvet Hour is one such, featuring notes of blue pepper, freesia, cashmere incense, patchouli, nutmeg, sandalwood, amber, ebony and wood. Blue pepper? I am not knocking it, for it smells very nice. The scent was created by a nose I have never heard of - Emilie Copperman of Symrise - marketed under licence to Coty, and billed as an "enigmatic, woody floral". And d'you know, it kind of is! It is smooth and silky and a bit peppery and a bit dark, but not in a Gothic, Czech & Speake kind of way, more in a "not daytime" way. Yes, this is definitely a going out scent, though its sensuality is subtle and restrained. I do not foresee any writhing on slippery fabrics in the back of a taxi, as per the latest ad for YSL Parisienne.

So far so good, and I should point out that this scent is cheap as chips - a gift set of the 30ml size can be had for as little as £9.99, and I have been thinking of buying myself one for Christmas. But I hesitate....because the bottle - cheap, plastic, and a nasty shade of blue - is hideously naff. I have seen vinegar bottles in transport cafes with more aesthetic appeal. It is like some ugly, squat UFO or inverted mushroom. Now I don't like to think of myself as superficial, but that bottle is seriously getting in the way of a sale. And this is by no means the only ghastly receptacle to be found in the celebuscent sector at the moment - in my view most of the Britney Spears bottles are absolute shockers, especially the Fantasy range (glittery grenades), although the chunky glass bottle used for Believe has a pleasing geometry to my eye.

But the key difference here between Velvet Hour and the Britney range is that I like the Kate Moss scent but hate the bottle, hence my dilemma.... Maybe I should bite the bullet and just decant the whole lot. Extreme measures, but it may be worth it!

Sunday 6 December 2009

"I'm just mad about saffron" - Tom Ford White Suede

I could have included this new release from Tom Ford in my Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies series, as at £100 per 50ml I can't see Santa granting my wish, not in these credit crunched times. I should count myself lucky just to get a present marked Lucky Dip (Girl Age 45-55). I guess I am still harbouring a tiny hope though, and don't want to snuff that out completely by classifying this particuar lemming as "forlorn"!

Moreover, the distinctive thing about White Suede - apart from its high price and inclusion in a White Musk Collection though it doesn't appear to contain musk - is the fact that it does contain saffron. Here are the notes:

"Rose, saffron, thyme, mate tea, olibanum, lily-of-the-valley, amber, suede and sandalwood"

Now, as it happens, there are no fewer than SIX other scents I really love that have saffron in them as well, namely:

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if

Penhaligon's Lily & Spice

Les Parfums de Rosine Rose Kashmirie

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue

L'Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant

Divine L'Homme Sage

This has to be more than mere coincidence - and now that White Suede is going on the list I can only infer that I really must love the saffron note, even though I am at all not sure how it smells. It is that yellow wispy, frondy stuff you use in proper curries, right? That stains your work surface terribly - or am I thinking of turmeric? It is very expensive, I do remember that. And oddly enough, I used to have a cat of that name, who was ginger with a white bib. I am going to have to get some saffron from Tesco's and have a jolly good sniff - you never know, it might actually work out slightly cheaper per ounce than the perfume.

Though I still want the perfume very much.... Have you got that, Santa? Or for that matter, any Tom Ford executives who might happen to be reading this...

Saturday 5 December 2009

Who's Your Daddy? Hugo Boss Deep Red

Hugo Boss is a designer range for which I had little time until the other day. The name alone has an air of boardroom bombast; it conjures up a man with taut pecs and a distasteful swagger. Some of the bottles are clumpy and functional. The latest feminine release, Boss Orange, smells like furry orange squash (as in the drink, not the pumpkin). That said, I did own a bottle of Hugo Boss Femme quite early into my hobby, which I thought feminine and pretty at the time. 600 perfumes later, it struck me as a bit girly and pink, and has since gone to a good home in the States.

Then the other day I was re-reading a survey in The Daily Mail (I know, I know, anyone would think I actually take the paper, given how often I quote from it!), where 50 high street perfumes were rated by a panel of critics, and I noticed that Hugo Boss Deep Red was awarded 4 out of a maximum of 5 points. And one of the judges was Roja Dove, no less. And the accompanying comment also intrigued me: "Over-the-top sexy. Men will instantly want to go to bed with women wearing this."

So next time I was passing Boots, I had a spray from a tester and was very pleasantly surprised. I got a light, sparkling and clean hint of fruit, followed by a languid musk and vanilla trail. I am not a fan of fruity scents as a rule, least of all ones containing blackcurrant (see my post on DKNY Delicious Night), yet the fruits in Deep Red were reeling me in. The name "Deep Red" suggests a heavy evening scent to me, the fragrance equivalent of brocades and velvets, yet this perfume is gauzy and light, but with a sensuous drydown. I could see it working equally well for day or night.
top notes

Blackcurrant, Pear, Tangerine, Blood Orange

heart notes

Ginger blossom, Freesia, Pittosporum, Hibiscus seeds

base notes

Mysore sandalwood, Cedarwood, Vanilla, Musks

A week on, and I am now the proud owner of a 30ml limited edition bottle in brushed silver (from Ebay). It is slightly scuffed here and there, but the juice smells fine. I am even thinking that if I was condemned only to wear designer scents - excluding Chanel, just to make the challenge harder - this would end up being a wardrobe workhorse. Am I embarrassed to admit I like a Hugo Boss fragrance as much as I do? Well, I guess I am blushing slightly, though it is more a Touch of Pink than Deep Red....
PS Does anyone know what Pittosporum is? Sounds to me like a form of dry rot or possibly an early prototype of homo sapiens.

Thursday 3 December 2009

The "Scent Crimes" Series: No 3 - The Aroma Chemicals Study That Was Just A Job

As noted in my bio, I am an industrial market researcher by profession, and routinely work in the chemicals industry, typically carrying out customer satisfaction audits with a client's key accounts. In 2000 I was asked to carry out a five country project on benzyl-based aroma chemicals used in both industrial and fine fragrances. I visited purchasing and marketing managers at companies like Givaudan in Switzerland and Paris, Haarmann & Reimer in Germany and Quest International in the UK. (Some of their names have of course since changed.) I also remember driving up windy narrow roads in Grasse to visit a company called Astier Demarest Leroux. It was beautifully warm and I may have had an Orangina or two in a honey-coloured market square...

I was talking about perfume ingredients with people at the hub of fragrance manufacture - and I didn't care. It was just another project to me (albeit in some very picturesque settings). I could have been talking about guttering, flanges, blind rivets or firemen's hose. Looking back at myself 9 years ago compared to the rabid perfumista I am now, I am gutted that I didn't make more of the opportunity I had to ask these influential fragrance specialists more searching questions. So was that a scent crime? Maybe not so much a crime as a profound regret, the way people might be sorry that they were somewhere amazing like New York or Rome, but chose to stay in their hotel room all day watching the shopping channel.

But then again, I had a job of work to do and my own personal agenda might have interfered with - or even derailed - the detached and objective process of the customer audit. It is probably sour grapes, but it helps me to live with myself...!

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The Proustian Pulling Power of SIP Black Rosette

I have only been wearing and enjoying perfume seriously for just under two years, yet even those dark days of scentless philistinism which lasted from childhood to the age of 48 were illuminated and enriched by the occasional olfactory memory. For example, the scent of Yardley Honeysuckle talc, Lentheric Tweed edt or Bronnley's lemon soap reminds me of my late mother. We all have our own store of memories unlocked by scented objects from the past, fragrant equivalents of Proust's famous madeleine.

At a dinner party last year one of the guests, a quietly spoken, deeply religious man of about my age, challenged me to find in my collection a scent that would "conjure up" an old girlfriend from his teens, one who, I inferred, had made a considerable impression on him, as she was still in his thoughts 30 years on. He had no idea whether she had worn perfume at the time - and if so what - but just wanted to smell a scent that he could connect with her in some way.

"Okay" I said brightly. "I'll have a go. So what was she like then?" His reply came as quite a surprise, for I had not suspected a wilder youth. "She was feisty and loud and had a sort of Goth-punk look going on. She chain drank tea, smoked like a chimney and chewed gum all the time to disguise the fact."

After the initial shock wore off, just one scent popped into my mind as the perfect synthesis of his girlfriend's habits: Strange Invisible Perfumes Black Rosette, with its notes of black tea, rose, leather and spearmint. The Perfume Posse ladies captured the personality of this scent in perhaps the two best sentences ever to feature in a review:

" The rose peeps out… of the mouth of a dragon, all fire and smoky blackness, with that same stick of Wrigley’s tucked behind its green scaley ear. Strangely perfect."

I rushed upstairs and fetched my vial, which our guest eagerly applied. And sniffed. And sighed deeply. And said: "Yes, that's her!" And was happy for a fleeting moment to be 18 all over again...

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Forlorn Festive Fragrance Fantasies - The Luxury Atomiser

I spotted this gorgeous set of Hermes travel atomisers on the Fashiontribes website yesterday, and thought "I have to have it" - by which I mean I have to have that picture on my blog, to slaver and fantasise over in the countdown to Christmas. I even got as far as ringing up a Hermes store in London and inquiring about the price: £120 per 10ml atomiser - empty! For an extra £40 (varying according to the fragrance chosen), you can have the atomiser filled with your favourite Hermes scent, making a grand total of just £160 for 10ml of perfume.

Ah yes, okay, but is that atomiser not the most desirable small leather (and metal!) good on the planet? Money is irrelevant when it comes to things of such exquisite beauty. Or it would be, if I had just a bit more of it... For anyone with more cash to splash, the orange and brown colourways are the only ones left in stock till next year, though as the SA pointed out to me, they are the traditional Hermes colours. I was torn between the yellow and the orange, but the orange it would have to have been for now. I hope they do a lilac or magenta one next year, which I shan't be able to buy either, but if you are going to indulge in fantasies, they might as well be bespoke...!