Tuesday, 18 January 2011

California Dreaming: Another Bonkers Road Trip - The Scented Bit: Part 1

I realise it is not ideal to report on olfactory memories five weeks after the event, but when you are endowed with a nose as rudimentary and prone to abrupt volte-faces as mine (or volte-nez, perhaps, since we are speaking of a single facial feature), it may make less difference than you might imagine. I still have the usual clutch of fragrance blotters (all smelling identically of "Eau de Card At The Bottom Of The Handbag"), which may serve as useful reminders of what I smelt, if not of what what I smelt smelt of.

So back in early December, on my outward journey to the States, I made a beeline for the duty free at Birmingham airport. It must be said though that my M.O. in duty frees has changed markedly since the early days of "sudden onset perfume mania", when I vividly remember spraying up to 10 perfumes on all available limb space in my febrile eagerness to try a whole clutch of things that were new or unfamiliar to me. Fast forward two years or so, and I might test just one scent on skin, if that. This is mainly because I have sampled the "back catalogue" of most designer houses now, and while I am open to trying the latest releases, it is on a much more selective basis than before. Just as doughnuts are "not worth the calories" in my book, by the same token I consider many designer scents with a high potential to disappoint not worth a slot on the precious runway of my forearm.

But one scent made the cut that day, Vivienne Westwood's Naughty Alice. I had more or less tuned out to the Vivienne Westwood range ever since an offputting trial of Boudoir in June 2008. In the notebook I kept at the time, documenting my early sniffing experiences, I described Boudoir as "a huge, peppery, spicy, sweet, pyrotechnic powderfest, that catches you offguard with a shocking blast of civet as you stand there open-mouthed, watching the fireworks." I gave it a dismissive two stars out of a possible five. But that was then, and my taste has changed so much in the past two and a half years that I decided to give Naughty Alice a prime site spritz, and am glad I did.

My first thought was that it reminded me of Flower By Kenzo Oriental, but without the robust woody base. My second thought was that Naughty Alice smelt exactly as I had hoped YSL Parisienne would smell, rather than the "disgruntled purple talc" it actually smells of. And it also reminded me slightly of a rosier and more biddable version of Balenciaga Paris, Parisienne's brainy and standoffish older sister. It was only when I got home a fortnight later, and scurried to the Interweb to locate note listings for the scents in question, that I realised there was a common theme of rose + violet + musk in the Kenzo, Parisienne and Naughty Alice - and violet and musk in Paris. I didn't detect the ylang ylang in Naughty Alice, but as a card-carrying "ylangoholic" I may have been reeled in by the fragrance equivalent of those high pitched whistles audible only to Alsatians and knots of disaffected teenagers loitering outside supermarkets.


Notes: Rose, Violet, Ylang Ylang, Powdery Notes, Musk, Oriental Notes

Following this fairly low key testing session at the airport, the next perfume event of note was just two days into the trip, when I hooked up with Katie Puckrik at a shopping mall north of San Diego on 8th December. I was in between appointments in the area, while Katie had come straight from recording two TV interviews on Fox San Diego on the subject of scents to wear to holiday parties or to give as gifts. It was plucky of her to agree to meet, I thought, for she knows I have been stalking her hairdo (with very mixed results) for some time now: with hindsight, my recent post on the subject here seems imbued with a certain dramatic irony...

So anyway, I arrived at the perfume counter in Nordstrom's - a failsafe rendez-vous spot, we figured! - with a few minutes to spare, time enough to recce the fixture and take a few photos. As soon as Katie arrived, we headed out into the brilliant sunshine. It was warm enough to sit outside at a pavement cafe, and the butternut squash soup we both ordered came positively bejewelled with dried cranberries as well as pumpkin seeds and little bits of nuts, a novel touch serving as yet another example of Californian fusion cuisine!

I sniffed the vestiges of the new FM Portrait of a Lady on Katie's pashmina and handed over a small decant of Floris Snow Rose for her to try later. For now though, Katie proceeded to sniff Belle D'Opium on my wrist and we puzzled over how "Belle Dope" could have lost the "significant incense and resinous mystery" I had enjoyed on first discovering it in Germany in September, and morphed into this juvenile, sub-Chinatown fruitchouli number we were undeniably smelling on my arm now. At the time, I concluded that Climate Change was at the bottom of this discrepancy, and that the incense note must only emerge in cold weather, but I have since worn Belle Dope in bitter conditions back home, and the resinous mystery continues to elude me...

I did wonder whether my respect for Katie's critical opinion could possibly have had some kind of effect on my nasal receptors, a bit like the time I ordered lime ice cream on holiday as a child and was given pistachio by mistake. To avoid waste or the embarrassment of sending the dish back, my father persuaded me that the ice cream was lime after all, and I ate it all up with relish, only to have him tell me afterwards that it had been pistachio all along, incorrigible Svengali-esque hoaxster that he was! Now I say "a bit like", because obviously Katie was not trying to pull the wool over my nose - the similarity lies in the fact that the perfume smelled as I believed it should smell, and probably does do to most people. Anyway, these are deep psychological waters, and we might need the combined skills of Luca Turin, David Blane and Paul McKenna to determine exactly what is going on here.

After lunch, we wandered in a happily aimless fashion around the mall, pausing in The Body Shop to sample Love Etc, a Dominique Ropion creation aimed at the teen market, along with Moroccan Rose, Neroli Jasmine and that old stalwart, White Musk! And I stepped for the very first time inside a branch of Bath & Body Works, but before the sales assistant could intercept us to give us her spiel about the special offers on scented candles, we had stepped outside again sharpish, as the sickly stench was overpowering. And soon, after browsing in a few more stores, and shooting the breeze on topics as diverse as the Hampton Inn hotel chain, windmills and my brother's eyebrows, it was time for us to go out separate ways.

And while I didn't get the hookah accord this time in Belle Dope - and have failed to register the merest wisp of incense ever since - there was something about the incongruously glorious weather (as Mr Bonkers shivered back home in temperatures of -10 C), and the parallel strangeness of meeting Katie in the middle of my working day, which combined to produce a feeling of pleasant discombobulation. The sort of pleasant discombobulation that usually comes from smoking - and smoking something a little less innocuous than tobacco at that...

Coming up in Parts 2 & 3: visits to Strange Invisible Perfumes, The Scent Bar and Ajne...

Photo of San Diego from foreclosurerepohomes.com, photo of Naughty Alice from echemist.co.uk, photos of Nordstrom, Westfield UTC mall and Katie Puckrik my own, photo of woman relaxing with a hookah from shoponline2011.com


Anonymous said...

You make Naughty Alice sound like my cup of tea, although I am rather loath to like anything labelled as 'Naughty'. What did you think of Portrait of a Lady? I really love it! It is also much better on cold days, as it can be stifling in the heat. White Musk was my first ever perfume, I keep meaning to get some more. The only reason I was ever interested in L'A Ete en Douce was because I heard somewhere that there was a resemblance. I think I now prefer the White Musk!


Angela Cox said...

Sadly my nose has trouble getting anything from Naughty Alice, my sister is a VIV. addict. This is oddly true of Portait of a Lady but there had been a breakthrough there . It's a very weird feeling when you spray a fragrance and you might as well have tried water. Portrait lasts such a short time I wear it to bed and a little lingers on the bedding . I look forward to your next post.

Vanessa said...

Hi Farah,

I do agree that "Naughty Alice" is a terrible name for a perfume aimed at *any* demographic, frankly - and especially mine!

I only formed a hazy impression of Portrait of a Lady from the faint trace of it on Katie's scarf, but it was favourable: I got a bold (but not too bold) woody oriental with rose and oud. There is incense in there, but I can't bring it to mind - though of course I wasn't having a particularly successful day on the incense-detecting front...

I can see why you are enjoying this in colder weather. A sunny day in San Diego was maybe not the best setting, but I did like it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

I am sure that having a nose that can barely register certain scents must be a blessing a lot of the time. Mine is tuned the other way, and I am often overpowered by scents not generally considered to be "loud", never mind perfumista-poleaxing foghorns!

The reason I like Naughty Alice is probably the same reason I like CK Beauty: being the only scent I care for in a line artificially enhances its appeal. It is similar to the hitting your head against a brick wall principle - *I think*.

ScentScelf said...

Decidedly not a ylang-aholic (in fact, I went back to your ylang link {caramba! say that fast!!}, and chuckled to see Songes on your "not happy" list, whereas I do like it)...BUT...I had seen mention of Naughty Alice somewhere else recently, and went exploring, because it intrigued me. You have thickened the plot. I may need to seek this one out.

Though I must say, I rather get a kick out of Boudoir. No, it doesn't kick me out; I rather...dig it. In an oddly fascinated by my inability to predict certain things way. ANYWAY...Naughty Alice. Check.

How fun to rendezvous with Katie P! I am sorry that BBW was the capstone to the afternoon...but all else sounds most pleasant. Long ago, BBW had an aromatherapy line Sandalwood Rose I loved (and still do), but alas, it is gone...wait, did you say Dominique Ropion for teens? Now there's a thought. Gadzooks.

Hookahs. Strange Invisible Perfumes. I'm going to enjoy that transition and await the next installment of your scented tale...

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

If you get a kick out of Boudoir you may find Naughty Alice a bit tame and conventionally modern - a darker Idylle if you will, with less of that Idylle/Lady Vengeance/Narciso Rodriguez creamy, uber-feminine musk (which I also like), and more of a dry woodsy, peppery sort of musk. I did think there was pepper in there the first time I tried it, but I see none listed. The violet may be the note that gives the scent its dark side, but it may still only register as battleship grey to your nose, I sense.

BBW was sadly not a place to linger in on the day, but I enjoyed using its Coconut Lime Verbena hair care products courtesy of the many Best Westerns I patronised! The scent of individual products removed from their retail habitat clearly being more tolerable than a massed olfactory choir in-store.

Dominique Ropion for teens, yes. On KP's authority!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, you had fun with sniffery!

I like a number of the B&BW body products - and I did really love their Slatkin "Winter" candle, but I have to do the quickest in-and-out I can manage. I'm very fond of their Aromatherapy Orange Ginger lotion - and if you remember, I'm not even much of a citrus fan - and my sister loves the Lavender Vanilla, so I periodically visit to stock up on the lotions and the hand soaps. A visit to the store always leaves me feeling sort of nasally bludgeoned, though. Sigh.

I've wanted to smell Naughty Alice since reading the "new perfume" announcement at NST. (Haven't smelled any other VW scents.) I rather liked Idylle, though the patchouli in there was too much for my taste.

PoaL I thought was gorgeous up top, but the oriental "resinous mystery" that developed eventually defeated me. I doubt I'd even find Belle Dope unresiny enough for me. (WHAT, oh, what is that note that makes me think, "dust of the crypt"? I'm going to break down and buy some essential oils of various resins and see if I can pin it down.)

Katie sounds like she's a fun lunch date. (The soup sounds good too.)

Vanessa said...

Hi Muse!

I'd be tempted to buy any candle called "Slatkin" - it would make a great name for a pet too! But "nasal bludgeoning" is a very real danger for anyone not adopting a "dash & grab" approach to shopping in BBW.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on any VWs you get to try. I have only tested Boudoir and Libertine, but disliked both for different resasons.

Portrait of a Lady might be a little too much for me too at its normal strength, but bear in mind that it registered as no more than a "Cashmere Mist" on Katie's pashmina. : - )

Don't be put off from trying Belle Dope - its resinous mystery seems to have left the building for good!

Marina said...

I can't help but be curious about your brother's eyebrows...
Love your road trip reports, unscented parts as much as scented. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Marina,

Thanks! - I am glad you enjoyed them. I'll send you a link to the eyebrows - in so far as anyone could be said to have "signature facial hair", this would be a prime example...

Anonymous said...

Can I be a little bit jealous? San Diego, Naughty Alice *and* Katie Puckrik!

I would love to try Naughty Alice. Even the name doesn't bother me much, naughty having a rather different meaning these days wih a toddler in the house. Though I suspect that it probably wasn't named after a small girl shouting "Rarrrrr!" at lunching pussy cats. Lovely writing, thank you.

Vanessa said...

Hi mixedbabygreens,

The whole trip had a "pinch myself" quality, it must be said, not least the meeting with KP (who is not to be confused with a well-known brand of nuts).

I love the image of the Hebelet / Leaflet? roaring at your cat. Perhaps that will inspire a toddler and cat-themed Annick Goutal flanker called Petite Furrie?

: - )

Katie Puckrik said...

Vanessa! With all this Naughty Alice talk, I'm now saddened that you didn't stash the bottle in your travel purse for me to sample there in SD. Although it's probably for the best: I had a perfume-headache for literally two weeks after that day, between the unholy melange of stuff I'd sprayed during those TV segs, and the remnants of the head-to-toe Portrait of a Lady whore's bath I'd given myself in Barneys the night before. And then Bed Bath and Bodyworks to push the needle into the red zone.

I can't believe you didn't comment on that giant soup-in-a-dinner-roll meal I had in the pic. (I'm holding the bread "cork".) Eating it felt like a race against time: would I be able to sup the soup before the liquid disintegrated the bread bowl and everything glooped into my lap? The dish was a triumph of culinary engineering.

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

Swiping testers at airports and making a quick getaway on a transatlantic flight? That would have been naughty all right! : - )

I do hope you had time to cleanse your nasal receptors over Christmas - those BBW stores are definitely not for the fainthearted.

And yes, in focusing on the soup garnish, it was remiss of me not to draw readers' attention to your astonishing edible soup receptacle. It was indeed a breaded show- and gob-stopper, had anyone been foolhardy enough to attempt to eat it. : - )