Friday, 27 August 2010

Eclipsed By Ecru: Scent Strategies To Upstage A Show-Stealing Cardigan

The notion of a beige cable knit cardigan being a head turner may strike you as a contradiction in terms. Tonally speaking, beige may only be a hair's breadth away from its modish cousins, "camel" and "taupe", but it has traditionally been the runt of the neutrals palette. Beige is the colour of choice of those who lack imagination and flair - indeed, the very word "choice" may be overstating the case, because plumping for beige suggests a lack of thought, a lazy, "line of least resistance" option. It is the fashion equivalent of magnolia paint.

Beige also connotes ladies of a certain age who have become invisible. They have long ceased to wear the top button of their shirt undone, if indeed they ever did. It is fawn by any other name, and that way lies no-iron Farah slacks (never trousers) and comfy skirts with elasticated waists. Yes, beige items belong in the small ads at the back of Sunday supplements, along with the offers on Stannah stairlifts and mail order bedding plants.

And though the title of this post reads "Eclipsed By Ecru", eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that that was merely another Bonkers alliterative liberty, for since the 50s, "ecru" has carved out a more stylish niche for itself: it is the unbleached, "milky tea" colour of delicate lingerie. Why, even the name is redolent of gallic raunchiness.

So all in all, beige has had a bit of a bad press - and yet my cardigan (the blandest item in my wardrobe after a clutch of plain white Tees) is almost universally complimented wherever I go: by family, friends, neighbours, dental receptionists, shop assistants, and an assortment of other random strangers. Not by Mr Bonkers, admittedly, but he usually speaks up only if he thinks something doesn't suit me. There again, it could be that the cardigan is in fact so bland that it doesn't impinge on his senses at all. He may be "sartorially anosmic" to its unassuming colour and understated pattern...

Meanwhile, the popularity of my cardigan is bugging me, because I never receive compliments about the perfumes I wear. And even allowing for my modest rate of application, you would think that somewhere along the line in the past two and a half years of daily fragrance wear someone would have said unprompted: "Oh, you smell nice!" I have occasionally elicited compliments from people under duress, by shoving my wrist under their nose and demanding feedback - much as I do with Mr Bonkers - but those results may be a little suspect.

The rivalry between me and my compliment-garnering garment has reached such a pitch that I have been trying to think of perfumes I could wear to offset its appeal. Now you may think that the answer would be a totally over the top, lush white floral of some kind, to knock the cardie right out of the park. The new Lust from Gorilla Perfumes, for example, which is the most obscenely tropical scent I have ever smelt. Or Amaranthine, which is relatively sedate by comparison. Or possibly Carnal Flower or Fracas.

But I think that is the wrong tactic - people could be put off by such powerhouse scents, however well done. The cardigan's popularity is all about its muted tones and versatility as a wardrobe staple - its very beigeness, basically. That is the scent style I have to replicate to be in with a chance of outshining my own outfit.

And before you say "Chanel Beige"!, I don't think that fragrance is quite right either, notwithstanding its on-message name. For Beige is a sweetly honeyed floral, but it feels no more beige to me than Tuberose Gardenia, say, which has the same feminine prettiness, albeit with very different notes. And actually, as you can see from the photo, one of my Beige samples has turned from translucent to amber! So even the colour of the juice doesn't particularly connote beige.

There's a bunch of other scents I quickly dismissed, because although they are in that comforting "mohair sweater" territory, they conjure up WHITE to me, not beige - scents like Perles de Lalique, Acqua di Biella Kid Mohair (thanks to lovethescents for the heads up on this one) and Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline, for example.

No, I think I have found the is beige in colour, beige in smell, and even comes in a beige box!


This is a very different scent from Touch of Pink, and could easily have been named Touch of Beige instead.

top notes: Jamaican pepper, purple freesia
middle notes: white heliotrope, Iranian jasmine, hibiscus blossom, Bulgarian rose
base note: Himalayan cedar-wood, velvety skin (sic), Mysore sandalwood, incense

Created by Olivier Cresp in 2003 (one of the noses behind Kenzo Amour and Amour Indian Holi, also Angel!), the "story" behind this scent on Osmoz is as follows:

"A free spirit, the Lacoste woman aspires to be swept away, and acts on impulse. Authentic, open-minded, captivating, a bit wild, she’ll try anything once, and she knows how to take advantage of the surprises life can offer!"

Ignore all the above - this is the scented equivalent of beige cashmere, end of. Yes, Lacoste Pour Femme is a snuggly, slightly powdery scent with a lovely woody/vanillic/incense drydrown. Now ambrette seeds are a note I am beginning to think I must like, though I don't know as I would recognise them if someone slapped a handful of them down on the desk - or their smell, for that matter. Heliotrope, on the other hand, is a note I don't care for normally - I don't get on with Herve Leger, for example, or Barbara Bui, specifically because the heliotrope is too pronounced in those - but I don't mind it here.

I must admit to massive prejudices about Lacoste as a fragrance brand, but Pour Femme is the jewel in its crown. Do they do opals in beige? Okay, then, maybe quartz or the beigey end of pink jasper.

So that is my plan - I will fight fire with fire - confront my cardigan with its scent nemesis, and report back. But hold on a minute....on closer inspection I think my cardigan might not be beige after all. In that photo it looks pretty darn "mink" to me. Or "pebble" perhaps. Why, "mink" is the pale-skinned younger sister of taupe! No wonder my cardie is such a show stopper! I may have to have a complete rethink and look for furry flagstone scents instead. Or if that sounds too hard, I guess I could always just wear a sweater.

Photo of skirt from, photo of lingerie from, photo of Lacoste Pour Femme from, other photos my own.


Hebe said...

I am laughing my (khaki) socks off at "Touch of Beige"! Thank you.

The trouble with beige is it is such a useful colour. I'm sure I can't have been the only 20something with a beige trench or raincoat. Would beige by another name be as reviled?

Wear your cardigan with pride!

Unknown said...

Lacoste sounds lovely, I've never tried it. I love the idea of your sweater perfume showdown. That sweater looks snuggly, I would think maybe some warm and snuggly resin like OJ Tolu? Or a musk like AG Musc Nomade? Or wood like SSS Winter Woods?

Carol said...

hahahaa! love it!

Wordbird said...

Another great post, Bonkers. How do you do it? I can only imagine the things that must run through your mind during the course of the day...

I've seen that cardi and it IS nice. Sorry. But thanks for the tip about Lacoste Pour Femme, I shall definitely try it. Would you put it in a similar category to the famous Sonja Rykiel Woman Not For Men?

An your post has motivated me to test Lush's Lust. Whooo-eee! Jasmineorama. Yes, I can see how this would be an ideal scent for a knock 'em dead night out. Me? I'll be wearing it to knock the washing up dead. Ah well.

ScentScelf said...

Back in town, and about to troll through the posts I've missed. Already chuckling it up, starting with "sartorially anosmic." Brilliant.

I really struggle with the duality of fawn/nude/taupe/beige/ecru/et al. Because in the right fabric (based on color) (weight texture etc), it can be the quiet decadence of capturing somebody with a whisper. Or a queen who can summon with a gesture, who doesn't need to be all b*tch to do so.

Yet your Farah slacks reference is also painfully true. I also winced at the photo.

In honor of the first incarnation, however, I would probably go to SL Chene. For daytime, and trousers at night. If the outfit is more flow-y (word? I hope so), I'd probably go to something from Amouage at night. Because Gold, and Jub 25, and Epic--yes, Epic! that's the ticket--are so dense with lush luxuriant decadence and yet never, ever scream.

My choices, therefore: Chene. Epic.

There ya go. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Hebe,

Glad to hear you are flying the flag in your khaki socks! Are you quite sure they are not technically "desert sand", which seems to be the other shade favoured by the military?

Now, I must own up to still owning a beige trenchcoat - well more of a shapeless beltless raincoat to be honest. Which I prefer to think of it as "oyster". : - )

Vanessa said...

You've reminded me of a colleague I used to work for - I was quite wary of her when she joined the company, as she was appointed to take over my job - though in fairness I was only "holding the fort" till they found someone more senior to fill the post. On her first day, I was immediately impressed by her offer to make me, her junior, a cup of tea. She asked me how I took it, and I said: "Just milk, but quite weak - sort of a mink tight colour". Quick as a flash she replied: "Got it - and for future reference mine's one sugar and American Tan."

Vanessa said...

Hi kjanicki,

Those are good scent suggestions, thanks! Hilary Rose, the Times journalist, has apparently been trying to attract George Clooney with Tolu. Maybe she should try my cardie...

waftbycarol said...

Too funny...beige is quite in these days , after being outre for too long...
Me , I have always worn it . With red , green , white . My Aunt ( rest her soul ) used to make lingerie and her secret to get that sexy ecru color ? She died white with coffee , and it always came out the perfect shade of " latte "
I am thinking Chanel #22 would be good , or maybe Rubj , Clive Christian No 1 . Cartier Trezieme Heure would catch em off guard ...
Hilariously funny post made my day !

waftbycarol said...

that's " dyed white silk with coffee "

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

I'm happy I made you laugh! : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

That's yet another compliment for the cardie! And as for the flailing windmills of my mind, Mr Bonkers and I were watching Big Brother the other day when the loved up contestants Josie and John James were asked to describe their budding relationship in one word. "Perfect" was the answer. So I asked Mr B to describe our relationship in one word, and he replied: " in funny AND odd". He caught me talking to the washing machine this morning, but I was trying to bring it down from an unusually violent burst of shuddering.

Lacoste Pour Femme isn't like Sonia Rykiel scent, I wouldn't say - more vanillic and powdery - and no leather. I still prefer the Sonia Rykiel, but the Lacoste could be a good school run scent for you, especially as it comes from the Kenzo Amour stable!

Lust is indecent, isn't it? Now I like jasmine and ylang at the best of times, but they are on heat in that one!

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Nice to see you back, assuming that is the real you and not a Fata Morgana. : - )

I do agree that negotiating the neutrals palette is a fashion minefield - and that "capturing somebody with a whisper" is a splendid way to deploy beige, if you can just get the right shade. "Champagne" is another acceptable facet - but only for lingerie, never for sanitaryware.

Chene and Epic are elegant choices, and "flowy" is now a word (I just registered it at I am testing Un Bois Sepia today, as it happens to be on the same card of waxed samples as Chene, and am rather liking it too, though it is perhaps a little butch for me and more bottle green than beige.

Vanessa said...

Hi waftbycarol,

As Freudian slips go, that was a good 'un!

I was interested to learn about your aunt's dyeing techniques and "latte" is of course the perfect way to spin beige for the Starbucks generation!

Katy Josephine said...

I own Lacoste Femme myself and have worn it only once, on my last trip with my mother to attend a family reunion. It seems quite floral to me and I don't necessarily get the drydown you describe. Still, it's appealing and smells like the outdoors on an early summer day or like sweaty little kids coming in from the playground.

And I love beige, especially paired with black and white.

lovethescents said...

Beige is incredibly in vogue now, though, isn't it? Along with other khaki-type neutrals. Just look at the nail polishes too (cue Particuliere;-) )

I don't think I've tried that Lacoste, have I? I'll have to look through my samples again.

What about DK Cashmere Mist? It's got a beige-y feel. Or Natori? Or is that one more ecru?

lovethescents said...

Forgot to mention that the only two times I ever got unsolicited compliments on my SOtD was when I was wearing TF Tobacco Vanille and Creed's Love in White!

Vanessa said...

Hi Josephine,

It's interesting how different Lacoste Pour Femme is on you - the florals are very indistinct on me, and it is more about the drydown. Certainly no sweaty kids to report! I am glad you like it because I know your taste leans to the dark and severe side, and I would have understood if you had found it a bit nondescript.

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

You are quite right about the beige trend emerging in nail polishes - eg those upcoming khaki ones from Chanel you drew my attention to.

I think you would like Lacoste Pour Femme, so if you don't have a sample, check it out in a mall. I have a roll-on which doesn't appear to be de-mountable.

Cashmere Mist I see as off-white rather than beige for some reason, and Natori is definitely pink in my imagination. But these things are of course subjective!

Compliments on Tobacco Vanille and Love in White, eh? Not from the same person, I infer...

Ines said...

Well, I'm no longer a 20-something but nevertheless I have a beige trench since my 20s. :)
I say "On with the beigeness!" It is what I wear when I can't find any other colour to include in my look that would fit colour-wise. Such a safe choice. Although I prefer calling all beige variants as the colour of sand. :)
Btw, Lacoste pour Femme is much better than I would have given it credit for.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Glad you like Lacoste Pour Femme - like you, I was pleasantly surprised.

And I would have agreed with you on the construing of beige as "sand" till I saw the ad above (it deserves its own post!).

EauMG said...

Do you know how many beige cardis I own? I have to be the most boring person in the world.I refer to the colors of my collection of cardis as "beach pebble shades". Makes my neutrals sound more spa-like :)
I wrote a review of Lacoste Pour Femme. I really like it and yes, it was so "beige". I think they failed miserably on the marketing because it is such a comfort scent, warm, cuddly, powdery (not wild!). I really want to purchase a bottle of this one because I need a "beige" fragrance. My current beige fragrance is Tom Ford Urban Musk (few samples, not loving it). I too, recently found out that I'm attracted to ambrette.

Vanessa said...

Hi EauMG,

Be "out and proud" of your beige cardie collection! - "beach pebble shades" strike just the right note, but you may wish to avoid the actual sand ON the beach for the reasons noted in my later post...

I must check out your archives for that Lacoste review. And on the subject of Tom Fords, I own and really rate White Suede - have you tried that one? I think it is the star of the quartet myself.

Alice said...

Thank god no one I know knows about these Farah slacks! It sounds like I'd have to change my name!

Alice said...

Have you tried the Le Labo Ambrette? It's rather nice. Quiet and unusual due to smelling a lot like seeds or nuts.

Vanessa said...

Hi Farah,

Indeed yes, fortunately those slacks appeal to an older demographic than the circles you move in!

Haven't tried that Le Labo scent. It sounds interesting, but it might be wise not to fall for it, given the high price tag...