Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Bonkers Rail Trip: Part Two - The Perfume Bit

Shortly after my visitors left yesterday, my main PC suddenly gave up the ghost, the apparent victim of "hard drive failure". As I type, it is hooked up to the computer repair shop equivalent of a dialysis machine, where valiant technicians are endeavouring to salvage the contents from just before the crash, including that day's work.

So I hope to cobble together the remainder of the Bonkers Rail Trip report on a combination of an ancient and infuriatingly slow notebook and Mr Bonkers' laptop (if he will let me borrow it...)

To be honest, the perfume aspects of the German trip do not deserve the build up I may have inadvertently given them by constantly referring to their deferral! And they fall into two parts, basically: the duty free shops on the outward and return legs of the journey, and a handful of stores in downtown Frankfurt.

To take the duty free shops first (at Birmingham and Berlin Schoenefeld airports), I always look forward to trying the latest releases in these, indeed I expect it to be the absolute highlight of that tediously protracted "Wait in Lounge" period, which is otherwise spent mindlessly staring at shelves of miniature travel toiletries in Boots, buying unsuitable hair bobbles in Claire's Accessories, or drinking weak tea from oversized cups in Costa Coffee. I try to avoid Wetherspoons and faux Irish pubs on such occasions, for they are usually packed out with holiday makers whose flight to Monastir has been put back five hours, and who have been necking lager solidly since 7.30am.

But the duty frees at both ends of my journey were even more disappointing than usual - so much so that I only applied two scents on skin at Birmingham (Gucci Guilty and Gucci pour homme II) and NONE at Berlin. Admittedly I was feeling pretty whacked and zombie-like by the end of the week, but I would have expected some new or merely untried scent to have caught my eye.

So here is a quick run down of what I sampled at the airports (mainly on paper, as I say):

JPG Classique (wanted to remind myself why I believed I didn't like this, and the answer became abundantly clear at first whiff - huge tuberose-heavy white floral with that trademark vinyl note also evident in the newer MaDame)

Issey Miyake Fleur de Bois - testing for the second time (forgettable aquatic woody floral?)

Chanel Bleu (boring, generic men's "tonic sport" style cologne)

Thierry Mugler Womanity (scary popcorn on steroids!)

Gucci Guilty (softer and lighter than Gucci by Gucci, a bit sweet initially, a bit fruity maybe - I had difficulty detecting a single note in it for sure, but the drydown was quite sheer and more wearable than Gucci by Gucci, where the honey can be a little cloying.)

Here are the notes at last: "mandarin, pink pepper, peach, lilac, geranium, amber, and patchouli."

Calvin Klein Escape (I can't recall exactly what this was like, but I threw the tester strip away immediately, so it must have been pretty horrid!)

So...I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that from now on, as far as perfume is concerned, duty free shops will continue to be a huge anti-climax, such that I really should not get my hopes up every time I fly somewhere. They mostly carry mainstream lines and "promote" (not that I saw true bargains in either) the latest Calvin Klein or D & G over the classic houses like Chanel or Hermes. A "lowest common denominator" approach was even more apparent in Ryanair's on-board fragrance selection, which was dominated by the likes of Kylie, J-Lo, Beyonce and SJP. In fact, it may not be an overstatement to say that duty free fragrances are fast becoming a microcosm of all that I find depressing about the perfume industry today. That said, they are still THE place to go for boxes of miniature Lindt squares and giant Toblerones the size of iron girders - but even these come at a price... for "duty free" doesn't usually mean cheap in my experience.

The remainder of my sampling was confined to Frankfurt as I said, where the week started with a day off - well, not completely "off", for I was still on standby in case the recruiters made me a last minute appointment - but I didn't really expect to get the call. Instead, I mooched around the city centre, visiting several branches of Douglas (the sense of deja vu was overwhelming by Store No 3), and a couple of department stores: the low-mid market Galeria Kaufhof, and the mid-mid market Karstadt. (Demographic classifications are my own...)

The two scents I tried on skin were JO MALONE PEAR & FREESIA and the relatively new Opium flanker, BELLE D'OPUM. I had been eagerly awaiting the new Jo Malone all summer - not that I am a fan of pear, particularly, if anything quite the contrary - but as the owner of four Jo Malone scents (just pipping Penhaligon's in the "most full bottles from a single house" stakes - I have three Penhaligon's), I am always interested in - and even a little excited by - their latest launches.

Curiously, the Jo Malone concession was in the largest of the branches of Douglas I visited, and the sales assistant was both striking looking and exceptionally tall - well over 6ft, at a guess - with a very pale complexion and dyed black hair. She sprayed Pear & Freesia liberally on the prime skin site I had reserved for the purpose, then to my surprise proceeded to pat the perfume thoroughly into my wrist, even though I thought that any kind of rubbing of scent into skin was frowned upon. Perhaps she had my number as a non-pear lover, and wanted to hurry the scent along to a later stage of its development. If that was the aim it didn't work, for the opening still smelt very noticeably of pear to me. There is a much more positive review of this scent on The Scented Salamander here, but I am afraid Pear & Freesia reminded me of an upmarket and more natural smelling take on Armani Idole. In a word, it was too loud, which is not a quality I usually associate with Jo Malone scents, though come to think of it, I gave away my bottles of Nectarine Blossom & Honey and Vintage Gardenia for this very reason!

Moments after applying Pear & Freesia, the SA was already suggesting layering options, and we experimented with Black Vetyver Cafe, which was pretty nice, though she also recommended Pomegranate Noir and Nutmeg & Ginger. Now I know Jo Malone is a line which lends itself to layering, but part of me is always just a little bit suspicious that this may be a way to disguise the fact that a given scent doesn't stand up on its own merits...and to be honest, Pear & Freesia may well smell better toned down by another, more astringent, fragrance from the line.

So that was another little anti-climax. More to my taste, though not exactly groundbreaking, was Belle d'Opium, of which an otherwise faintly hostile SA in one of the department stores actually volunteered a sample, the only one I scored in fact! In reviewing this scent, Denyse of Graindemusc wrote: "Welcome to Blandland", and dubbed Belle d'Opium "Yves Saint Laurent in the Facebook era" - and I know what she means. For Belle d'Opium has no more in common with Opium than Parisienne has with Paris - even less, maybe. When I first sniffed it in store, I remarked to the SA: "Oh, it's a bit woody." "No", came the tart correction: "it's a lily scent". "Is there incense in there at all?" I countered. After a comprehensive rummage in her drawer of sales presenters, which failed to turn up the Belle d'Opium note list, the SA conceded through gritted teeth: "Yes, there is a bit of incense, but as I say it is a lily scent."

Now, I can detect Casablanca lilies if I put my mind to it, but this is a rather fuzzy, amorphous scent overall, and as with Gucci Guilty, I was hard pushed to pick out its different facets. I see that Alberto Morillas co-created Belle d'Opium along with Honorine Blanc of Firmenich, and while I am not familiar with the latter's work, Morillas I associate with a number of indistinct, fuzzy scents, such as Armani She White, Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline and Kenzo Flower Oriental.

I have since managed to find the notes on Osmoz, though I see that the card with the sample also lists Casablanca lilies, incense and nargileh accord, which I am guessing is related to the tobacco note and hookah accord below!

Top note: Mandarin Orange, Lily, Gardenia, White Flowers
Middle notes: Frankincense, Peach, Pepper, Tobacco, Hookah Accord, Fruity Notes
Base notes: Patchouli, Sandalwood, Smoky Notes, Amber

I wouldn't have thought Casablanca lilies could reasonably be combined with incense and tobacco, but the white flowers do seem to meld into the smoky notes surprisingly well. The more I sample this, the more it grows on me, even though I belong to the original Opium generation rather than the young target audience at which this radically reworked flanker is aimed!

The other scents I tried on paper were a motley assortment indeed, and I am not sure I remember what all of them smelt like, but here goes:

S'Oliver Superior (an SA thrust a tester strip into my hand with what she intended as an encouraging comment: "Try this - it is fresh and fruity!")

Gabriela Strehle Strenesse (insipid, citrussy, watery floral?)

Sisley Eau du Soir (animalic chypre - not my thing at all)

Otto Kern Egoluxe (quite liked this but don't ask me why : - ) Have since clocked that its base comprises sandalwood, musk, vanilla & patchouli, for which I am always a sucker.

Clarins Fleurs du Matin (major grapefruit alert!)

But although there were no great discoveries on this trip - Belle d'Opium and Egoluxe being the only scents that remotely caught my interest - there was nonetheless an amusing incident which completely made my day...

During the group blogging exercise on "Scents of The Mediterranean" last month, there were several mentions of the Greeks liking their cologne and being rather heavy handed in their spritzing technique. Well, nothing prepared me for the sight I saw in Karstadt, where a gentlemen of Mediterranean appearance, let's just say - I can't vouch for his exact nationality - grabbed a tester of Bvlgari pour homme and sprayed himself liberally with it...and I mean liberally. For not only did he give his neck area at least five squirts, but he then sprayed the back of his neck, each armpit and every inch of his upper torso front and back, or as far as he could reach. And in case anyone is wondering, yes, he was wearing clothes on his top half at the time, so after this spritzing spree he must have been absolutely drenched, as well as reeking of the stuff! (At least Bvlgari pour homme is a pretty classy choice...) Eventually the chap noticed me looking at me, put the tester back on the shelf and scuttled out of the store, tapping me conspiratorially on the arm as he passed. I could hardly believe what I had just witnessed, were it not for the monster sillage he left in his wake....

Photo of duty free at Birmingham airport from, photo of Gucci Guilty from, photo of man holding Toblerone from, photo of Jo Malone Pear and Freesia from, photo of Belle d'Opium from, photo of Kaufhof from Wikimedia Commons, photo of Hauptwache district from


lovethescents said...

What a shame about the lack of interesting fragrances to sample! You have intrigued me with the JM, though. I think I would like to try it despite it's "loudness". It just seems like it might have made more sense for it to be released in the Spring or early summer, as opposed to cooler months when we start heading for heavier frags, no?

So, re: the ?Mediterranean man with the Bulgari, did you get his number ;-i? (haha)

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

That's a good point about the timing of the JM release. And yes, do try it - I should give it another go really to be quite sure where I stand. And also check out the Belle d'Opium if you don't know it - it is growing on me, as I say.

As for our Greek-looking friend, I did get his number, but not in the way I think you mean, haha...!

Unknown said...

I tried Belle d'Opium just this weekend. It didn't wow me but I liked it. It kind of has a snuffed candle + a little incense smell, but you're right, you have to look for the lily. Whoch is good for me, because I don't really like lily :)

Vanessa said...

Hi kjanicki,

Interesting to get your take on this one...I must say I was underwhelmed by it to start with - I even thought the marriage of white floral and incense rather peculiar - but it seemed much better blended the second and third times I tried it, and I am liking it more and more.

Unknown said...

Have you ever smoked a Hookah?
Belle d'Opium definitely smells like it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick,

Is that like a bong? I have done once, though it is not something which I have ever admitted publicly, or which I can remember clearly enough to make the connection with Belle d'Opium.

The vague and fuzzy memory is rather nice, though, just as this perfume appeals in a vague and fuzzy way!

Unknown said...

V - It's like a bong, but it uses flavoured tobacco and the smoke cools in water at the bottom. They look like this:
My friend has hers out all the time at parties! She bought it in Egypt on her honeymoon, haha!

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick,

My goodness, that is magnificent looking! My elephant perfume bottle was from Egypt - seems that that is the place to go for remarkable artefacts of all kinds!

Carol said...

As an Opium lover, I must try the new one. Thanks Bonks!

Vanessa said...

Hi Bloody Frida!

Well, it is not awfully similar, but do try it. As I say, the opening doesn't "gel" very well, with the lilies and the incense business seeming a rather weird combo, but it comes into its own later.

And I do so love being called Bonks! : - )

Andreea said...

Belle has slight incense ( avery industrial take on it) and the lilly? ia m still looking for it... might walked by. Want my 10ml bottle? I like it, but I am on the chypre track right now.

Vanessa said...

Hi Andreea,

You are right about the industrial take on the incense, and the fact that it is slight. I do get the lily though - not on the first couple of samplings - but I swear I do detect it now. Let me try Belle again and come back to you re your kind offer. I didn't know they did bottles in 10ml, or is it a decant? I feel I should really love it before putting you to the trouble of sending it my way!