Monday, 18 October 2010

Speed Sniffing In Bath - Beyond Crescent Row...

On Friday Mr Bonkers and I took his mother to Bath for the day, as she had not visited it before. Mr Bonkers himself has been to Bath numerous times for gigs, but like all musicians can never remember any specifics of where he has been - however exotic and attractive the location - other than whether the "get in" was problematic, and whether the caterers remembered to segregate the vegetarian options in the finger buffet.

As for me, I used to live in Wiltshire - and before that I lived in Buckinghamshire and dated someone who lived in Wiltshire - and though I realise that Bath is actually in Somerset, relatively speaking it used to be down the road. And my father is from Bath originally, and lived there from just before the First World War till he left home sometime in the 1930s. (And yes, he was quite old when he had me, in case you are wondering...)

So the first stop on our itinerary (after a quick drive through Royal Crescent, which we figured was too far to walk to, but too iconic and familiar a backdrop in period dramas to omit from our itinerary) was the street where my father lived. We had a house name to go on but not a number, and cruised up and down in a low gear peering at gateposts to no avail. My cousin has since told me that the house is still there, but no longer known by the same name. So it looks as though we were stuffed from the start.

Next stop, after parking up at a Travelodge just outside the city centre for a bargain fiver, was Debenhams for me and Mrs Bonkers Senior, while Mr Bonkers scurried across to an Apple shop to look at laptops. Mrs Bonkers Senior made a beeline for hats, scarves and gloves, where the over 70s usually have no trouble whiling away a few minutes, while I hi-tailed it to the perfume aisle and set about scanning the fixtures at breakneck speed for any new launches.

The first display to catch my eye was the one for Benefit's newish fragrance range, Crescent Row. Inspired by Bath's Royal Crescent from which we had just come!, the scents all bear the name of a fictitious resident, each with her own personality - not unlike the ladies of Wisteria Lane - but in scent form only, and housed in brightly coloured cocktail shakers. I have never felt any curiosity to try this line, as the vibe of the Benefit brand is a bit too cutesy and retro for me. The whimsical names of the set are very much in keeping with their girlish image: Laugh with Me LeeLee, Something about Sofia, My Place or Yours Gina...and the most recent additions: So Hooked on Carmella, Garden of Good & Eva(!) and Lookin' to Rock Rita.

To be fair, the dolls house display stand and the intricate packaging concept - each bottle comes in its own miniature house! - is very well done. I can only assume that Benefit is targeting a much younger demographic - the one to whom the Harajuku Lovers scents appeal perhaps? So I didn't stop to try any of these, though I gather from reviews on beauty blogs that they are youthful, pleasant and not particularly groundbreaking.

I continued on my search for something new in Debenhams and found Marc Jacobs Bang. The tester had run dry, so I asked the SAs if they could start a new one. This request caused a little consternation, but to my advantage as it turned out, for they pressed three carded samples into my hand instead. I decided to try Bang at leisure over the weekend and it was much as I imagined, a rather intensely woody/spicy number that I would classify as falling just the wrong side of the gender divide. I have heard it dubbed "Niche for the masses" and read comparisons with Comme des Garcons (I think with CdG 2?), with which I would agree. It is more intense than Kenzo Power, for example (which I would wear), but less so than CdG 2. Indeed, if I had to rank them in order of potency, I would say Bang is Bang, CdG 2 is Big Bang, and Power is a Whimper. And as anyone who read my CK Beauty review the other day will know, "whimper" is by no means a bad thing in my book...

Still in Debenhams I spied a most unexpected fragrance release: Orla Kiely edp from the edgy textile designer of that name. I used to have a yellow and brown leaf mug of hers, which I recently smashed, and keep meaning to replace. For I am a big fan of her bold, retro, floral patterns, but her stuff is on the pricey side, so a mug was about the limit of my buy-in to the brand. If I had to design a signature scent for Orla Kiely (pronounced "Kylie", which was a surprise to me), it would have to be something offbeat and quirky, along similar lines to Tilda Swinton's Like This perhaps, or anything by Humiecki & Graef. A lower case, typewriter-style of font would definitely be involved...

The notes I could find for this scent are:

Rose, geranium, bergamot, fig, chocolate

The packaging has the naive simplicity of the original Daisy bottle, with a stylised orange flower top. Sadly, the scent itself was disappointing. It came across as a heavyish fruity floral to my nose - I think the chocolate and fig may have weighed the composition down. I felt quite crestfallen to be honest, for the combination of Orla Kiely's Irish roots and artistic flair could have resulted in something much more original and interesting.

By this time, Mrs Bonkers Senior had exhausted the browsing potential of the millinery department, and we decided to go for lunch in a Georgian tea room just opposite the Roman Baths, where we marvelled at the high ceilings, dainty sprigged wallpaper and imposing chandeliers. I had predicted to Mr Bonkers that there would be two types of cafe in Bath: oldfashioned tea rooms and alternative, wholefoody-type places with names like "The Jumping Bean" or "The Funky Satsuma". I wasn't far off it as it turned out, because we later came across the "Juice Moose Cafe" and an eaterie just called "Wild", which had a turquoise blue bicyle parked outside, propping up a board with the day's specials.

After a sustaining lunch of jacket potatoes, I inquired about ticket prices for The Roman Baths, but at £30 odd for the three of us, we swiftly decided against it. I had been once myself, many years ago - and Bath is such a uniformly beautiful city anyway that you don't really need to "do the sights" as such to see some remarkable things. The architecture, the characterful shops, the street entertainers, and even the well dressed residents going about their business are an endless source of fascination.

As we ambled through the town centre, not batting an eyelid at the sight of a man playing a violin while walking a tightrope, it wasn't long before I spied a branch of Space NK and headed inside, while Mr B loitered outside watching a busker and Mrs B Senior eyed up the cruets in Lakeland.

My request to photograph the fragrance fixture was turned down - for "intellectual property" reasons. This meant I got off on a slightly awkward foot with the two SAs, though I tried to shrug it off by inquiring brightly after Diptyque's two new fragrances, Eau Duelle and Vetyverio. Unfortunately, the Eau Duelle tester was running very low and the SA was careful to spray only the tiniest amount on my knuckle. Which is a shame, as that was the standout highlight of the day. I didn't get the citrus notes I had read about, just a burst of cold spices in the opening, which soon segued into the most amazingly creamy and slightly "dirty", smoky vanilla base - containing two types of vanilla, as I now know - one lighter (Firnat Vanilla), and one richer (Bourbon Vanilla).

The notes are as follows:

Firnat vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, bergamot, cardamom, pink pepper, elemi, juniper, saffron, calamus, frankincense, cypriol, black tea, musk and amber.

Created by Fabrice Pellegrin of Firmenich, the inspiration for the scent is the spice route, as he explains:

"Eau Duelle is based on two contrasting scents - smoky frankincense, dark and animalistic, and fresh white vanilla, sweet and light." The result? "An
interplay of shadow and light that is a weapon of seduction for both men and women alike." It occurred to me that the striking monochrome livery of the Diptyque brand perfectly echoes this dark/light counterpoint...

The scent itself reminded me very much of PG L'Ombre Fauve (with notes of amber, musk, woods, incense and patchouli), but with less of a barnyard feel and none of the painful medicinal opening. It is a nicely cleaned up version, which still retains a hint of danger. The other perfume with a similar drydown is Les Parfums de Soleils Soir de Marrakech, which includes notes of vanilla, amber, musk and patchouli - see my review here.

I also tested Vetyverio, which I dimly remember as being freshly green and rosy, but it was eclipsed by Eau Duelle, as were the scents from the Tocca and Honore des Pres range that I also tried on card (Colette and Sexy Angelic). And I doubt I was in Space NK for more than 5-10 mins when Mr Bonkers and his mother came in to retrieve me, and we carried on with our leisurely potter, popping into any shops that took our fancy: Jigsaw, Brora, Sweaty Betty, Coast, Habitat, various vintage and "stuff" shops - it is all a bit of a contented blur now.

The final perfume I tested that day was prominently displayed in the window of Jollys, Bath's original department store (now part of the House of Fraser group). This was Plum by Mary Greenwell, makeup artist to the stars, who created it in collaboration with François Robert, the distinguished perfumer behind most of the Les Parfums de Rosine line.

Plum is in fact exclusive to the House of Fraser, and I would characterise it as a classic and very feminine fruity chypre. It smells luxurious and expensive like Fracas or Joy or Roja Dove Scandal, or - given the fruity aspect - like an updated Mauboussin for the "Twenty-Tens".

Top notes: peach, blackcurrant, plum, bergamot and lemon.
Heart notes: gardenia, tuberose absolute, orange flower absolute, rose absolute and jasmine absolute.
Base notes: precious woods, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, amber and white musk.

Plum is definitely a "big frock" fragrance for special occasions, a bit too "perfumey" and full-on for my taste, though I thought it very well made. I would try it again if I came across it, and will recommend it to the Scandal-loving friend who tipped me off about CK Beauty.

Then by the time I emerged from Jollys the shops were closing, so we meandered back to the car, past a late opening hairdresser's where the clients were sipping white wine and reading magazines as their highlights marinated on their heads, past cosily lit restaurants and pubs welcoming early doors drinkers, past a venue where Mr Bonkers suddenly remembered having played, and past the rushing waters of the weir at Pulteney Bridge, dramatically uplit against an ink blue sky.

On the banks of the river we paused for a moment to consult a map of the area, and were amused by the event-filled biography of the city's legendary founder, Prince Bladud. Banished from the royal court after he contracted leprosy, he lived as a swineherd until a chance roll in the pigs' mud brought about a miraculous cure.

Bladud returned to court, was welcomed by his mother, and went on to rule as king for twenty years, and found the city of Bath somewhere along the way. Tragically, he met an untimely end making the first recorded attempt at human flight using homemade wings, and crashed to his death near New Troy. Read more about the story here. Bladud should have quit while he was ahead, if you ask me. Founding Bath counts as a pretty decent legacy on its own...

Photo of Royal Crescent is from Wikimedia Commons, picture of Marc Jacobs Bang is from, picture of Eau Duelle is from the Diptyque website, the photo of PG L'Ombre Fauve is from Luckyscent and the pig photo is from Other photos are my own.


Unknown said...

What a pretty place! Thanks for the perfume travelogue, I feel like I spent the day there too. Eau Duelle is interesting. Everybody is always looking for the perfect "non-foodie" vanilla, and it certainly is that. It's a dry, crisp vanilla.

Vanessa said...

Yes, Bath is very pretty and quite a contrast to where I live in terms of the retail options... : - )

Glad to meet another Eau Duelle fan - it is one of the best vanillas I think I have smelt, even based on a tiny drop!

lovethescents said...

Oh, now I muuuuust try Eau Duelle! I had looked for it downtown a couple of months ago and the Diptyque SA had never heard of it. She looked down her nose at me and said "Duel is Annick Goutal". Thanks.....

Poor Bladud, but with a name like that, you really can't expect much ;-i

Vanessa said...

Ooh, yes, do seek out Eau Duelle as a priority - a must-try for all "moody vanilla" lovers.

Yes, and with a name like that, poor Bladud also sounds as though he was rather too fond of his ale, or whatever the 9th century tipple used to be...

Carol said...

Eau Duelle is a must try - thanks Bonks for the very lovely post!!

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

You bet! And I still get goosebumps when you call me Bonks... : - )

Carol said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for testing the Orla Kiely scent - that's one more I needn't do myself a mischief seeking out:-) Pity it didn't fully capitalise on her quirky and colourful appeal. Ah, well.

("Plum" makes me think of P.G.Wodehouse, whose nickname it was. I imagine he'd have been happier in swineherd mode, thinking of The Empress of Blandings, rather than in posh frock territory himself.)

Well done to you and the Bonkerses for finding so much to enjoy in Bath. Loved the humour over tea shop names - "The Funky Satsuma" should exist, somewhere.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna

If you are in a Debenhams do try the Orla Kiely for yourself, but I wouldn't embark on a major expedition to find it, certainly. Seriously lacking in the quirky department.

Plum has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? There is also a famous socialite of that name - Plum Sykes. The perfume will be in your Jenners, I imagine?

"Bonkerses" is excellent! We are calling ourselves that from now on. I bet the "Funky Satsuma" does exist, you know. There's a Japanese restaurant in Soho called "Satsuma", which I have eaten at, so that is half way there. I see there is actually an Ebay seller called Funky Satsuma, so it is only a short thematic hop to our wholefood cafe. Well, shortish - he seems to do children's swimwear.

hebe said...

What a lovely account of one of my favourite places to shop! I think I like Bath for clothes shopping and Bristol for scent shopping, though I am of course completely spoiled with a local l'Artisan stockist :)

Vanessa said...

I do agree that Bath has many great, individual shops, though I am sure you are right that Bristol would have been better for sniffing opportunities overall, not least our good friend Nickgblue in his out of town branch of a well known chemist's!