Thursday 29 July 2010

Chanel Paradoxal And The Peculiar Pull Of Plum-Themed Perfumes

This week my brother is attending a conference in Toronto on "Earthquake Engineering" (I take it that that means building structures which withstand earthquakes, as opposed to trying to "engineer" their occurrence. I am quietly but fervently hoping that he will find time to pick up a bottle of Chanel's "must have" nail polish colour, Paradoxal, at The Bay, a very fine department store within striking distance of the conference venue. Mind you, an epically bearded seismologist might cut an incongruous dash amongst the make up and perfume counters; plus he runs the very real risk of being plonked on a stool and "made over" with something like Lancaster's Light Enhancing Adaptive Sublime Fluid Foundation SPF 6.

So why my feverish interest in this latest Chanel nail varnish? I am a chronic and seemingly incorrigible nail biter, and hardly ever wear the stuff. But Paradoxal is such a sublimely wearable shade - and would coordinate so nicely with a number of garments I own in offbeat shades of heather and plum - that I am prepared to sacrifice my anti-social habit at the altar of digital accessorising.

Some of the other recent Chanel nail colours left me cold, mind: the likes of Jade, Tendresse or Inattendu (mint green, pale pink and peach respectively). These ice cream colours are pretty enough, but exert no visceral attraction. Particuliere, on the other hand, would have been a different matter - a sludgy mushroom / taupe number now sadly changing hands for upwards of £30 on Ebay. So I am hoping that my brother will be able to surf the crest of this particular nail colour wave, and secure a bottle of Paradoxal across the pond before it even reaches a stockist near me, never mind before said stockist runs out of the darn thing in the blink of an eye.

And my mounting enthusiasm for Paradoxal also got me thinking of plum-themed scents that might offer a further "finishing touch" to my upcoming autumnal ensembles. For I doubt I will be in much of a plum mood before September, you see.

I should, however, mention that plum notes and I hsve a bit of an ambivalent relationship. I remain deeply scarred by accidental whiffs of Poison in the 80s. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a newish release, is nothing more than "a Poison-lite" for the Noughties to my nose, complete with that proprietary By Kilian headache-inducing accord.

And yet...a couple of plum scents have wormed their way into my affections, and either one would top off my plum nails and sundry purplish garments. They are Indult Isvaraya and Natori by Natori.

I find them rather similar in vibe, with Isvaraya a slightly more masculine "bass" version and Natori the more girly "soprano". They are both woody, slightly powdery, comforting and dreamy scents. (A special word of thanks to Lovethescents for introducing me to Natori!)


Notes: patchouli, plum tree, jasmine


Notes: sparkling aldehydes, rose, plum, ylang-ylang, purple peony, night-blooming jasmine, patchouli, amber and satin musk accord.

Well, well, both have patchouli, plum and jasmine - this is the first time I have scrutinized the two scents properly - and while Natori has a bunch of other things as well, it appears that my nose is genuinely on to something in detecting a resemblance!

I would liken this pair a little to Shiseido Féminité du Bois, if you lost the pencil shaving note, the overt dustiness and the spices. Okay, not much like Fém du Bois at all, really, and yet these three scents are calming in a similar way.


Top notes: cedarwood, orange blossom, peach, honey, plum, and beeswax
Middle notes: cedarwood, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon
Base notes: cedarwood, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon

Yes, you did read right... it is cedarwood for breakfast, lunch and supper - those notes are from The Perfumed Court, so they're good enough for me. Pencil shaving frenzy, as I say. There is, crucially, also some plum in there.... I mention FdB only because people cite it as a meditative scent, which I feel Isvaraya and Natori are up to a point. "Poignant" and "earthy", the Perfumed Court description goes on to say, which is spot on. I am sure someone somewhere likened Natori to the scent equivalent of a silk teddy, and that is a pretty nifty simile too.

So I am all set, bar the nail polish. If my brother manages to score me a pot, I hope he remembers to put it in his hold luggage, otherwise it will languish in a perspex tower at Toronto airport, along with umpteen pairs of confiscated scissors, penknives and other weapons of putative destruction - till long after its fashion moment has passed. I guess the authorities are right to be cautious - I am not sure how easy it would be to keep a 747 airborne while being forcibly made to have a manicure by a bearded scientist who knows all there is to know about engineering disasters, natural or otherwise...

Photo of Chanel Paradoxal from Flickr, Indult Isvaraya from Luckyscent, Natori from Fragrantica. Photo of Vivienne Westwood dress from Fashion Beans. Photo of sharp items from Bullworks.

Monday 26 July 2010

There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad...

The other day, when I was picking a perfume to wear, I caught myself actually feeling excited by the huge choice at my disposal. As I pulled out various bulging gauze bags from the beer chiller, spilling dozens of samples on the carpet, I felt a warm proprietary glow. I fingered each 1ml vial in turn, and took pleasure in my imaginary wearing of it. Imaginary because there is simply not the time to get round to most of them. As my signature on Basenotes reads: "So many scents, so little skin!"

What was interesting is that on this occasion my overriding feeling was one of pleasure and well-being. I found the size and variety of my collection comforting, as my father used to do with books. Towards the end of his life, these were stacked from ceiling to floor in every room of his small flat, including the bathroom, and though completely entombed and with barely anywhere to sit or lie or put things, he always referred to books as his "friends".

I, on the other hand, flipflop between feelings of pride and accomplishment: "I built this collection from EL Intuition up!" "I am lucky to own all these lovely perfumes - I am really spoilt!" and feeling "spoilt for choice" in a negative sense. In other words, "option anxiety" weighs heavily some days, and I fret about things going off (which they are starting to do), and after some listless rummaging I end up wearing any old thing that comes to hand and start the day on quite the wrong "note".

Now... nothing changes from one day to the next, yet I may feel differently about my collection. It is a prime example of "glass half empty or half full" syndrome. Or in the case of my perfume fridge and drawers: "well stocked with a great selection" versus "ram-packed to overflowing and on borrowed time". Hamlet's famous line also serves my purpose of ethical relativism rather well: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so".

Years ago, I took my mother on holiday to Crete, and it rained all week except for the day we travelled home. It was the "mother of all wash outs", a deluge of Biblical proportions - the worst rain the island had ever known since the 1920s. Fishing boats and public transport were grounded, there was a thriving black market in pac-a-macs and wellingons, and holiday makers were soon confined to their hotels, having run out of dry clothes and shoes.

One afternoon, the two of us were lying on our beds. My mother was knocking back miniatures of Metaxa brandy and reading Henry James, while I was looking forlornly out of the window at the lashing rain. Suddenly Mother piped up out of nowhere, in a bright, Pollyannah-ish voice:

"Ah, but think how the plants must be enjoying a good drink at last!"

At the time, clearly I wanted to punch her. But recently I have been giving this incident some thought, and reckon that there is a lesson here, namely that my attitudes towards my perfume collection correlate with how I am feeling generally. When I cannot see the computer screen for a fringe of post-it notes, and as fast as I cross things off my to do list several other items appear, hydra head-like...on such days negativity and pessimism tend to infiltrate every corner of my life.

On the day of which I speak, when I was feeling upbeat and positive about the wealth of choice at my fingertips, I suddenly came across a sample I didn't know I owned, called "Gratitude" by Zorica of Malibu. It is a 100% perfume oil, containing just oils of grapefruit and vanilla.

On the accompanying card, it says:

"Carry it in your purse and experience Gratitude every day."

I'm not a big fan of grapefruit, as regular readers may recall, and the overriding impression is of an artificially flavoured foodstuff of some kind. A reviewer on Fragrantica puts her finger on it by likening Gratitude to an "orange creamsicle". Without even knowing the meaning of "creamsicle", this sounded very apt to me. I started to imagine frozen cream soda flavoured with fruit - then I looked it up to find that it is in fact the American word for an ice lolly with an ice cream centre. Aha - so we are talking about a lolly like Wall's Solero. That is bang on.

There is a sickly confection quality to this scent, and an oily texture - which it can't really help I suppose, being 100% oil. If someone out there remembers giving this to me in a swap, please don't be offended, for it has taught me a lesson, which I will put into practice on the days when I don't feel quite so upbeat about the humungousness of my perfume collection.

"Experience gratitude every day that you own many perfumes other than this."

Or possibly: "Be grapefruit for small - or in the case of my collection, quite substantial - mercies."

Glass half empty mug from
Photo of Gratitude by Zorica from Fragrantica.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Ajne Calypso - Embrace Your Inner Nymph(o)!

I had intended to feature Ajne Calypso (or Comme de Calypso, to give the scent its full name) in my 100th post in May. I figured that a review of this, my most expensive perfume, would make an interesting counterpoint to my earlier piece about Lidl's Suddenly D'Or, the cheapest bottle in my collection. For neither perfume appears to have been written about elsewhere. Instead, I chose as my subject Maison de Kurkdjian's APOM pour femme, drawn to the neat symbolism of the phrase "a piece of me" for the way perfume now permeates my daily life.

So, with summer in full swing, this seems like as good time as any to write about Calypso, a tropical floral from the niche natural perfumery Ajne, based in Carmel, California.

Notes: cardamom, frangipani, jasmine, vanilla

If there are any other notes in the composition - I thought I detected sandalwood and ylang-ylang at one point, but I may have imagined it - Ajne is keeping them under wraps. As a rule, its note listings lean to the coy side, as I doubt that all their scents do really contain as few ingredients as those declared.

I own the 15ml gold filigree bottle, which at full retail costs a wallet-busting $225. I did have a couple of gift vouchers to mitigate the pain, but Calypso still worked out (including P & P and customs charges) at 100 times the cost of the Lidl scent: £8 vs 8p per ml. Okay, I hear you all asking: "So does the Ajne smell a hundred times better than the fruity floral, spookily close clone of Ghost Luminous that is Suddenly D'Or?" Well, clearly I am not going to answer that, so let's just say that I like Calypso an awful lot - and more than the other one. It should also be borne in mind that Ajne's scents are made entirely from essential oils, and it isn't inconceivable to me that their raw material costs are in fact 100 times those of the Lidl perfume, whose bargain price may partly be attributable to the knock off packaging and lack of advertising spend.

As the notes suggest, Calypso is a sultry number - a bit like Ormonde Jayne Frangipani but with greater heft. Texturally (thanks to the vanilla?) it has more in common with the demure yet "come hither" style of SL Un Lys, so if you lose the lilies and substitute an even headier duo of frangipani and jasmine, plus a tangy but possibly fictitious hint of ylang-ylang, you won't go far wrong. Calypso is extremely intense on first application (which is of course a feature of essential oils). But relatively soon the scent mutes down to a smouldering tropical blend with no one note dominant.

As for the origin of the name, until now I had associated the word "Calypso" with Afro-Caribbean music, swiftly followed by other stereotypical images of a tropical paradise: cocktails, palm fringed beaches, hammocks, coconuts, avocado trees(?), sea shells, turtles, all-inclusive Sandals resorts, Rastafarian gigolos etc - with the odd spot of gun crime and drug running thrown in to pep things up. The scent is unashamedly sensual - veering to slutty even - but this is high end, sophisticated slutty. Calypso is staying at the Jalousie Hilton in St Lucia. She accessorises her sarong and maxi-dress with metallic flipflops, and is single-handedly - or rather, double-wristedly - pioneering the fashion revival of yellow gold jewellery.

Here is the description of Calypso from the Ajne website:

"Calypso celebrates the magical qualities of a woman. She is at once nurturing, yet independent - confident, yet tender. She will surround you in her mystery, creating a sultry aura of subtle sensuality."

So far, so Bo Derek (minus the sarong, even!). But having dug a little deeper, I think I have found a Greek nymph who may have been the ultimate inspiration for the wearer of this fragrance...

"The Greek goddess Calypso was described in Homer's Odyssey 2,800 years ago. Calypso, who lived on Ogygia, an island near Malta, was unmarried, independent, and history's first documented feminist. There she rescued the hero Odysseus from death as he drifted astride the keel of the his ship that Zeus had shattered with lightning. For seven years she kept Odysseus on her island, passionately loving him and offering to make him a god."


This account puts quite a positive spin on events, but others cast Calypso more in the role of captor - a sort of one-woman proto Baader-Meinhof gang, if you will. Whatever the truth of the matter (insofar as a myth can be said to be "true"), it seems that Calypso's influence may have had a stultifying effect over time:

"He (Odysseus) is forced to live a vegetative existence, perhaps at first a welcome rest, but then a womblike entrapment. The name Calypso means "eclipse," and indeed, Odysseus' long stay on Calypso's isle is an eclipse of all that he has known of life...and also of his consciousness of himself as a warrior hero and shrewd initiator of action."

So how much of this goddess/nymph back story chimes with Calypso the perfume? Most of it, I'd say. For the goddess and the scent are feisty and feminine, beguiling and comforting - but (as is sadly so often the way...), its sultry charms may pall somewhat if applied continuously for seven years.

Painting of Calypso by Arnold Boecklin, drawing by John Flaxman.

Friday 23 July 2010

"Lord Mandelson Creates His Own Perfume"

The release of former Cabinet Minister Lord Peter Mandelson's much awaited autobiography, "The Third Man", has has sent shock waves rippling through UK political circles. This is a no-holds-barred insider account of spin and plotting, of frustrated ambition, hissy fits and general skullduggery in the corridors of power, in which his troubled triangular relationship with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is painfully laid bare.

And now, according to Newsbiscuit, the satirical current affairs "ezine", Lord Mandelson has allegedly released his own perfume, MANDY, which - even more than Roja Dove's creation - will truly capture the scent of scandal...

You don't have to be remotely familiar with the UK political scene to find this article an utter delight! Read it here.

Photo image from Newsbiscuit.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Serge Lutens Daim Blond And The Art Of De-Furred Gratification

On Friday night we are going for an Indian meal with another couple to celebrate my birthday. It was in May, but things don't always go strictly to plan. I suggested two restaurants, and one of my friends emailed back to say that he would speak to his girlfriend about it later that evening, adding: "We await her rubberstampery".

This whimsical comment got me thinking of some well regarded perfumes which I fully expected to like - adding my own twopenny rubber stamp to the approval that has been heaped on these scents down the years - and yet whose appeal persists in eluding me...

One such is Serge Lutens' Daim Blond. The very name of it connotes super soft, buttery suede, that you just know will be smooth and silky on skin. I have a perfumista friend who wore this on her wedding day, and many leading bloggers whose opinions I respect are big fans, notably Katie Puckrik and Marina of Perfumesmellingthings.

Daim Blond was created in 2004 by Christopher Sheldrake, and the notes are as follows:

"Leather, Iris, Apricot Kernel, Musk, Hawthorn, Jasmine, Cardamom, Heliotrope"

On first application I am struck by a number of things. Yes, I get the suede-y quality all right, but the "nap" is much rougher than I hoped for. Instead of the caressing whisper of leather of Chanel's Cuir de Russie, say, this is rasping fuzziness to my nose, like suede-scented white noise.

There is additionally a slightly medicinal / antiseptic note, and the merest hint of something animalic that I cannot quite place. Actually, on reflection, the dominant impression of this fragrance is "sweaty loafer accord", and the faint antiseptic accent will be from an Odor-Eater insole someone has thoughtfully shoved down the shoe in a doomed bid to counteract it.

I have got to this point many times in trials of Daim Blond, and have usually lacked the stamina to smell it much beyond the two hour mark. The other day, however, I left it on for a good 10 hours, and made a point of checking on it at regular intervals throughout the day. I noticed that in the middle stages of the scent's development, the apricot became much more prominent; texturally the scent remained pretty furry, but then so is the fruit.

Much, much later, just as I was going to bed in fact, I realised that the perfume had finally shaken off this fuzzy aspect, like a well worn woolly you have got around to de-pilling, and the far drydown was just as I had hoped this perfume would be from the off: soft, smooth and comforting, with fruity undertones.

NOW I could "get" Daim Blond at last! So from this experiment I conclude that the delicate dermatological environment that is my skin prefers scents which are both low volume and "perfectly tuned" - think DAB radio, rather than the old transistor which is the opening of DAB, the scent...

Photo of Daim Blond from Fragrantica
Photo of gloves from Bloomingdirect
Photo of transistor radio from Dreamstime

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Roja Dove Scandal And The Thorny Issue Of Sillage Projection Projections

My friend came for lunch on Sunday, on her way to a blind date near her home in Lancashire with a man she met on the Internet (which seems to be the technologically savvy way to find a partner these days).

Obviously, she needed a spot of lunch to quell her fluttery stomach (I remembered to keep the raw onion component of the salads to an absolute minimum); then she needed a mirror for the frequent re-application of make up (it was a real eye opener to me to learn how many discrete cosmetic zones there are within the brow area!), not forgetting access to the bathroom for additional nose powdering.

And naturally she also needed a sympathetic ear to offload her mounting nerves about this imminent and momentous encounter. For Sharon had been chatting to this chap over the phone and by text for some six weeks before they finally agreed to meet. And I guess the date wasn't going to be blind exactly, as they had exchanged photos already (assuming he had selected snaps of himself that bore a reasonable degree of verisimilitude.)

Half an hour before my friend was due to arrive, I sent her the following text:

"Choose perfume with immense care. : - )"

This prompted an instant phone call, to tell me that she had already applied her chosen fragrance, and to challenge me to guess what it was. I reviewed her smallish full bottle collection quickly in my mind. Until she fell under my influence, her default/signature scent had been Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B, but I had since sold or gifted to her - or persuaded her to go to London herself to buy - a number of other fragrances.

" it is early doors, maybe Eclat d'Arpege - or a dab of DKNY Gold?"

"No!" she rejoined triumphantly, with a pronounced seductive burr in her voice: "I'm wearing Scandal!"

Okay, I thought, flattered that she would choose a scent to which I had introduced her, and which she had recently elevated to the status of new all-time favourite. Yet at the same time I was slightly concerned that this luxurious, animalic diva of a scent might be a bit of an overkill for late afternoon in a retail park near Bolton.

In the end we agreed that as she had applied the scent at 12.30pm, and the date was not slated till 6pm, there was ample time for this heady white floral blend to die down to a whisper. A "whiff" of Scandal, if you will.

By 3pm, my friend was getting antsy and was about ready to leave, to give herself ample time at her destination to scope the area, check out potential restaurants for later on, comb her hair, re-touch her make up, practise deep breathing etc. Before she left my house, though, she was keen to re-apply some perfume from my own bottle of Scandal. Now how many of her mates could offer a pitstop with such comprehensive facilities?

And so it was that, having already calculated the sillage projection purely based on a full application of scent at 12.30pm, I now had to estimate its likely projection factoring in a top up application at 3pm. I supervised this procedure, allowing a few very short sprays to the neck area and one on each wrist. Pronouncing my friend "good to go", I forecasted that by 6pm the scent would have dried down - perhaps not to a whisper exactly - but to a tone which could still be classed as sotto voce.

As it turned out, Sharon and her date both had the same idea about getting to the area early to get their bearings, and bumped into each other outside Next at approximately 4.30pm. Whereupon all my precisely calibrated projections suddenly went straight out the window, but from what I can gather, it didn't matter - she and the other party got on famously, and I am eagerly awaiting further bulletins.

Hmm, maybe I should offer my services as a "sillage statistical modelling consultant" to operators of matchmaking sites. Because a pretty face and a good personality are all very well, but there is clearly more of a science to this dating lark, and perfume may yet turn out to be its fragrant fulcrum....

Sunday 18 July 2010

Label.M Professional Haircare: The Seaside In A Soufflé

I am a little behind with my usual blogging schedule, on account of what has been - in my semi-hermit terms, at least - an unusually sociable week. This also prompted a visit to the hairdresser yesterday, where once again the stylist made a surprisingly small number of judicious snips, before transforming my skull cap of fine, flat, lifeless hair into a tousled, textured, artfully dishevelled mane. As though I had spent all day romping in bed. Or as Mr Bonkers' mother might observe, as if I had been dragged through a hedge backwards. To which I would reply that this look is in fact achieved by walking frontways and voluntarily through a hedge, negotiating the tangled thicket with the confidence and panache of a certified arborist.

And in my case, the look lasted for a full 30 minutes after I left the salon. We might have stretched to three quarters of an hour had it not been so jolly windy.

And as anyone attending a 21st century hair salon knows (which excludes Mr Bonkers, who still favours a £9 cut from the barber's round the corner), these sassy, fashion looks are achieved with something known monolithically as "product". Yes, the term "product" encompasses the full armoury at a stylist's disposal, from styling mousse to gel to putty, and from light hold hairsprays to shimmer mists - to name but a few of the many arcane unguents that are now essential in modern hairdressery.

In my own case, the stylist achieved this volumising effect using Label.m soufflé just before he blow dried my hair.

A reviewer on Amazon perfectly sums up the head-enhancing benefits of this product:

"My hair can be very flat gives it a proper little bouffanty look."

I am particularly partial to the scent of this soufflé, as it reminds me vividly of the salty smell of the seaside. On the side of the pot, we learn a little about the ingredients:

"Re-invent the curl with this uber nourishing, protective mix of avocado, Barbados cherry and olive, which creates loose, glossy waves or instant volume."

I am reassured to learn that Label.m also contains this "Enviroshield Complex". If routine applications of a white gunk eliminate the need for tedious domestic recycling initiatives, I'd consider it well worth the £11 odd price tag. I often cut myself while washing out tin cans, for example.

On reflection, it is curious that this product makes me think of the seaside, when its chief ingredients are avocado, cherry and olive. That places it somewhere between an English - or, indeed, a Barbadian - orchard, an Italian hillside and various parts of the Americas. On the website of the California Rare Fruit Growers organisation I found this interesting titbit on the habitat of the avocado:

"Avocados will grow in shade and between buildings, but are productive only in full sun. The roots are highly competitive and will choke out nearby plants. The shade under the trees is too dense to garden under, and the constant litter can be annoying."

Golly! On the face of it then, this does not come across as a beach dwelling kind of cultivar, but I also note that avocados account for 57% of Hawaii's agricultural output, and Hawaii is definitely noted for its beaches. So, you know, the jury may still be out. If anyone has recently been on holiday to California, Mexico or Hawaii, and recalls fronds from avocado trees hanging over their sun lounger, or even extreme cases of being nutted by the whole fruit, please do leave a comment.

Anyway, this apparently surprising choice of avocado in a haircare product for its maritime connotations got me thinking about how perfumes known to be associated with the sea and/or coastal scenery achieve a similar effect.

Notes - rosemary, thyme, clary sage, angelica, iris, rose, narcissus, leather, amber, oakmoss and vetiver.

This is very piquant and aromatic and an excellent rendition of the wild grasses in the sand dunes behind the beach. It is grainy in texture and a bit salty too, as though someone had gone for a swim and then rolled around immediately afterwards in a carpet of marram grass, sea rocket, holly and spurge. Maybe even the odd sprig of mouse ear hawkweed.

So notwithstanding its strongly vegetal focus, I think FdS is a very successful olfactory interpretation of the Breton coast which was its inspiration.


Notes - grapefruit, cardamom, Haitian vetiver, patchouli, iris, ylang ylang.

There is a slightly salty tang to this one, but my overriding impression is of the grapefruit and vetiver, so I am not feeling the seaside so much with this one, nice as it is (or might be on a man).


Notes - sea salt, avocado and ginger lily.

Well, well, well. The Italian? for "sea" in the name, and both sea salt AND....drum roll....none other than our pear-shaped fruity friend the avocado! in the fragrance.

So there clearly IS an established association between the sea and the avocado, even if it is not immediately apparent to me. Mare smells quite strange to begin with - there is a disagreeable, almost off note to the fore, "off" in the sense of "dead" - it is very hard to explain.

Had the avocado gone all brown and stringy, one wonders? Like bananas, it is one of those fruits with a subliminally short "optimum consumption window". Blink and it is soft and manky. And so Mare smelled at the start. It is a lot better now, more in line with Fleurs de Sel, but with less of the herbal / aromatic stuff going on. Which is most of FdS, in fairness.

So that was all rather interesting (to me, anyway). I also learnt in the course of my research that "avocado" is derived from the Aztec word for a testicle. And thinking about it, I may have put my finger on yet another salty connection, but on balance I don't think I'll go there...

Wednesday 14 July 2010

The "Starter Gun" Style Of Decanting - And Other Faff-Filled 'Fumie Feats

Okay, so that was a truly terrible tabloid-y title, and the opening sentence of this post doesn't exactly redeem me. And I am sorry too for the fact that this is yet another "decanting rant", but as you know I am heavily involved in the swapping scene - and in making up vials as part of my evangelical crusade to convert friends and relatives - so decanting is a subject never far from my mind. And in fairness, one about which there doesn't seem to be a great deal of coverage in the blogosphere, or not that I have noticed.

But to my first gripe...the other day I was splitting a new bottle of Michel Comte's Shared Water with a perfumista in California. The name "Shared Water" was really rather apt, now I think of it. Anyway, I consider myself to be well versed in the techniques of spraying, and familiar with the idiosyncrasies of different bottle shapes and nozzle types - or so I thought... It quickly dawned on me, however, that this particular bottle only wanted to spray at a minimum of a 45 degree angle, and in fact the closer to the perpendicular the better.

Well, even though I dropped physics at the age of 12, I could tell right off the bat that spraying upwards was not going to be the optimum way to fill a 15ml glass atomiser. The act of filling - although the dictionary definition of the verb is less specific - is, in my experience, an inherently downwards motion. The compilers of the online dictionary I just consulted may indeed have had problems of their own decanting from certain perfume bottles, because they are deliberately coy about the recommended way of "filling":

"To put into (a container, for example) as much as can be held: fill a glass with milk."

So, once I had encountered a problem with the classic mode of downwards spraying, I too had to resort to merely "putting" - by any viable method I could devise. In the event I resorted to a big plastic funnel like Jodrell Bank telescope and the closest angle to the horizontal I could get away with (which was not very close at all), hoping against hope that the funnel would catch and direct all the errant perfume down into the atomiser.

Sadly, a fair bit of spray ricocheted off the funnel and back in the direction of my face and the atmosphere in general, so I probably lost about 5ml by using this clunky - and counter-intuitive - process. But the bottle stubbornly refused to spray at any other angle.

In the end, though, I did manage to "put" the perfume in the receptacle and share Shared Water with the person in the US, but by golly it didn't go quietly!

And having since done a bit of research, I think I may have identified the correct tool for the job:

"The AccuMist system from Sono-Tek offers the highest degree of accuracy, precision and fine-line control in ultrasonic deposition."

The Sono-tek website helpfully goes on to explain the mechanism in a little more detail:

"The ultrasonically produced spray at the tip of the stem is immediately entrained in the low pressure air stream. An adjustable focusing mechanism on the air shroud allows complete control of spray width. The spray envelope is bow-shaped. The width of the bow is controlled by moving the focus-adjust mechanism in and out."

I don't know about you, but I am sold already and poised to place my order...

Another faff-filled fumie feat I struggle with is upending splash bottles and simply pouring their contents down a funnel into an atomiser. I use the term "simply" advisedly, because in my experience the perfume comes out with a rush and instead of it all going down the hole in the funnel, it overflows, not unlike - at the risk of lowering the tone - a blocked toilet! Now what is that all about? You would think gravity would be our ally here, but obviously not. I don't know the reason why perfumes behave badly in this instance, but I have a hunch that it may be to do with their viscosity or density, or some such tricky technical parameter.

Finally, a while ago I blew off a little steam describing the problems I was having snapping on the plastic tops to 2.5ml glass atomisers. Well, I stuck with them and kept practising my technique, and am pleased to report that I can successfully assemble these on the first attempt 4 out of 5 times now. So that is quite pleasing, and once in place the closure is pretty tight, just as the supplier said.

The secret with these is composure, self-belief and a high degree of mental focus. It is exactly like chopping a plank of wood in half with a karate blow, or locating your core muscles in Pilates.

Monday 12 July 2010

Rock 'n' Roll And Rolling Rock: Mr Bonkers Shares A Beer With Terry Christian (and finds himself uncharacteristically talking about perfume...)

Apologies in advance for the obscure nature of this post, which may only be meaningful to British readers of a certain age - and quite possibly only to a subset of those. : - )

At the heart of the story is the concept of "Six Degrees of Separation", which has always fascinated me, not least because its first proponent rejoices in the name of Frigyes Karinthy. Wikipedia gives a neat summary:

"Six degrees of separation (also referred to as the 'Human Web') refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of 'a friend of a friend' statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer."

As the following story illustrates, certain media personalities may only be a single step away...

Mr Bonkers - as you may have gathered from our guitar collecting mission to London last April - is a professional musician, and plays electric bass with a variety of bands, most notably Roy Wood's Rock 'n' Roll Band. (For anyone not familiar with Roy Wood, this famously bearded singer songwriter is perhaps best known for his involvement in '60s and '70s bands The Move, The Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard.)

Last month Roy Wood headlined at Stockport Rugby Club, near Manchester. Also on the bill were The Rubettes (another pop act I remember well from the '70s), a Beatles tribute band, and local DJ Mike Sweeney.

After the gig, everyone was unwinding with a few drinks when Terry Christian (who had attended the concert) appeared backstage, and was introduced to Roy Wood and the other members of the band. By way of background, in the 1980s Terry Christian was a music promoter and band manager who went on to become a journalist, radio presenter and TV host. The TV show for which he is most famous was The Word, which Wikipedia describes as "a mayhemic mixture of pop music and teen attitude". It ran for five years in the 1990s, and reportedly attracted up to a 49% share of the viewing public in its Friday night slot.

"The magazine format allowed for interviews, live music, features and even game shows. The flexible late-night format meant that guests could do just about anything to be controversial.

There was also an 'I'll do anything to be on television' section called 'The Hopefuls' in which people ate worms, bathed in maggots, licked sweat off fat people, and did generally repulsive things in order to get featured on the programme."

But of more, much more interest than the worm-eating and maggot-clad contestants is the fact that one of Terry Christian's co-presenters was none other than KATIE PUCKRIK...

The initial introductions over, it wasn't long before the other musicians drifted off to get changed and Mr Bonkers found himself alone with Terry, propping up the free bar. The conversation immediately turned to important matters such as the World Cup and Terry's recent stint on the radio show TalkSPORT. They also talked about his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother last year.

And then the subject of The Word came up, and Mr B asked if Terry was still in touch with Katie Puckrik. And before they knew it, the pair were discussing Katie's new career in perfume, and Mr B mentioned that his girlfriend was also one of those fanatical fumeheads, that I followed Katie's blog, and had exchanged a couple of emails with her (in connection with a hard-to-find scent by Les Parfums du Soleil).

When I heard this account, I couldn't help thinking how incongruous it was that two straight-talking northern blokes, drawn from different walks of the music business, should be sharing a beer in a rugby club on a Saturday night, and end up talking about Katie Puckrik and me, their parallel perfumista pals...

I can in fact add a further strand to this "human rectangle" linking Mr Bonkers, Terry C, Katie P and me, for I once spotted Terry in a payphone at Euston station, presumably before the days of mobile phones. He was talking very animatedly in his unmistakable Lancashire accent. Little did I imagine back then, as I shuffled impatiently from foot to foot jangling my change, that his path would randomly cross mine some twenty years later, as part of an even more complex set of connections...

(PS The reference to Rolling Rock may be erroneous, but a little poetic licence was called for in the interests of alliteration and general symmetry.)

Photo of Amanda de Cadanet, Terry Christian and Katie Puckrik on The Word from MSN TV
Photo of Roy Wood's Rock 'n' Roll Band from the band's website
Illustration of the principle of Six Degrees of Separation from
Photo of Terry Christian on Celebrity Big Brother from the show's website.

Friday 9 July 2010

On "Scenterhooks" - Perfumes For A State Of Limbo

That's a shockingly bad pun, even by my lax comedic standards, and a concept which I realise may require a bit of an explanation.

Well, when I came back to Britain following my Bonkers Road Trip, I spotted some mystery bruising all down one leg, which could not be accounted for by even the most incompetent baggage handling or other clumsy behaviour on my part. Bruises appeared spontaneously before my eyes even when I was lying down in bed, which was all very odd. I was also aware that I had unintentionally lost a lot of weight lately - about 9lb in all - whereas my weight is generally very static, or fluctuates within a 2-3lb range at most.

Now if you are foolish enough to put "mystery bruising" and "involuntary weight loss" into Google, up will pop a number of sinister blood disorders, mostly ending in "-enia" or "-emia". Not all of them with good prospects, as you can imagine. You would have to hunt in the fine print of Page 16 of Google references to find any condition combining those two symptoms that is remotely benign.

So having put the wind up myself good and proper, I decided to visit the doctor as a precaution, who took one look at my leg and said: "Right, no, that is not normal - we should run some tests. Obviously we need to eliminate leukemia, lymphoma, clotting diseases, all those sorts of things."

Eeek! I may have emitted a small yelp at this point, inwardly at least. My dear mother died of Non-Hodgkinson's Lymphoma. So you know, the mind starts to work overtime, or it does if you are of a nervous and pessimistic disposition like me. Or, as Mr Bonkers would have you believe, you are a "hypochondriac". He teases me when I complain about the most minor ailment: "What's it now? Hard skin on the soles of your feet? Biopsy!!" "It hurts to turn your arm a certain way? That'll have to come off then!" "Your tummy is swollen? Yes, I know we went out for a meal last night, but you will almost certainly need an -ectomy of some kind. Possibly several, just to be on the safe side." And so on in this vein...

Anyway, the doctor - whether to humour a "worried well" patient or because she genuinely thought the bruising a bit fishy - took some blood there and then, and for three days I sat tight, anxiously awaiting the outcome.

On balance, even I didn't think that there could really be anything serious wrong with me, but in that state of mild apprehension I pondered over which perfumes to wear each day. On the one hand, I was drawn to comfort scents, yet I didn't want to ruin these favourites in the unlikely event of receiving adverse news, because the bad memory of that day would be forever associated with the scent in question. Hmmm - it was quite a delicate decision. So here is what I chose in the end and why:

DAY ONE - nothing during the day, because I was a little distracted following my visit to the doctor. In the evening I yielded to the sprightly yet comforting charm of Chamade, knowing that I was unlikely to get a call at this hour.

DAY TWO - I changed tack and tested Shanghai, a freebie in a swap. This was on the basis that I had never heard of it till then, so I could afford to "excise it" from my collection if the day happened to go downhill from that point! For anyone curious, it is a slightly spicy, fruity oriental that I would consider fine for day wear.

Top notes: ceylon cinnamon, green apple, magnolia and bergamot
Middle notes: apricot, carnation, patchouli, jasmine and chinese osmanthus
Base notes: woodsy notes, plum, amber and bourbon vanilla.

DAY THREE: - I wore La Pausa by day and Apres L'Ondee to bed. In the absence of news, mawkishness was starting to set in, for those are rather bleak choices. Funereal even, which was a tad premature all the same.

DAY FOUR - Jo Malone Kohdo Day: Lotus Blossom & Water Lily. Chosen because it is bright and cheerful and mood-enhancing - I hoped the Japanese vibe would instill a zen-like calm. And if the results of my tests were not ideal, there are other florals I like better, so it manages to be both therapeutic AND potentially expendable, which is a pretty good combo if you ask me. By this stage I was clearly getting the hang of choosing the perfect scent for this enforced state of limbo...

And on Day Four I finally heard that my white blood cell count was abnormally low, but that I didn't have any of the "-enias" and "-emias" they were testing for. Actually, that is not strictly true, for a low white blood count does have a name in its own right along similar lines - LEUKOPENIA - however, leukopenia is not a "destination disease", if you know what I mean, but rather a sign of something else being amiss.

Yet in my case the doctor couldn't find anything specific up with me, so we concluded together that it might have all been due to the acute stress of the trip. I had a repeat blood test this week, because she wanted to be sure of definitely ruling out the other things by getting the same result twice, only to find that my white blood count had gone back up again to within normal parameters of its own accord. Hurrah! The being at home and not having to drive 1200 miles a week may well have helped my recovery.

To celebrate the good news yesterday I wore a number of perfumes all at once, safe in the knowledge that they would none of them be blighted by bad news. Or at least not until I discover the next unexplained lesion, lump or mutating mole...