Thursday, 31 March 2011

Back From The Bonkers Fly Drive Trip – Part 2: The Scented Bit (Chicago)

As I indicated in my travel post, the ratio of perfumista hook ups to “proper” meetings on my latest US visit was impressively high – some might say worryingly so, for it was supposed to be a business trip after all. I think it was more a case of work hard, play hard, and only time will tell whether I have in fact got away with it…

The perfume sampling got off to an early start – 8am on the day of departure saw me scoping the duty free at Manchester (International) airport. This preternaturally early sniffage was not particularly memorable: I tried Jimmy Choo (a watery, peony-type floral that delivered a candy floss punch in the guts a bit later), and Estee Lauder’s Adventurous and Wild Elixir, which were neither adventurous nor wild, never mind having the characteristics of a “wild elixir”, though I am not entirely sure what might fit that particular bill. “Special brownies”? A good malt? One of those nasty bitter remedies like echinacea or goldenseal tincture that are frankly worse than the maladies they are meant to prevent? Okay, so Wild Elixir was a watery, sweetish green floral that smelt better than your average Holland & Barrett supplement, but the name remains “wildly” inappropriate.

Later that day I was installed in my uncomfortably fancy boutique hotel in Chicago, planning how - with supreme sleight of Filofax - I could shoehorn as many perfumistas into my itinerary as work commitments permitted. First up, I had agreed to meet ScentScelf on the Sunday afternoon. Sunday was not quite a day off, as you might have thought: I was drafted into a four way Skype conference that morning, which overran by 10 minutes, prompting a frantic semi-jog to Union station from where I was due to catch a suburban line train to ScentScelf Central. I had less than a minute to find my platform, and one glance at the ticket counter queue said I had no time to buy the correct type of ticket either. So I made a split second decision and bought an incorrect one from a machine instead, on the basis that a wrong ticket is better than none, before sprinting on to what I hoped would prove to be the right train.

Right train, wrong ticket, as I had feared. However, the good-natured inspector sold me a new one at no extra cost and I didn’t even have to play the hapless foreigner card that has served me so well on ticketless tram journeys in Germany – only because the machine wouldn’t accept large notes, I hasten to add.

Soon I had arrived at my destination, and as I crossed the tracks, I immediately spied a figure hoving into view who had to be ScentScelf - on the fairly reliable basis that they were the only person walking towards me smiling. As a back up, I had brought a little bag of perfume samples with me and was holding it conspicuously aloft, but I needn’t have worried. On the day there weren’t too many people alighting at this particular halt who resembled my avatar. In case anyone is wondering, ScentScelf in person is not in fact a montage of disparate artefacts, but an attractive whole person, stylishly attired.

Introductions over, we headed to a local mall, which boasted a Nordstrom and a Macy’s. We hit the perfume hall running, as it were, and cruised the counters looking for new launches or scents we hadn’t tried. In my case these included Kiehl’s Original Musk (too soapy), L’Artisan Poivre Piquant (promised to be interesting later, had I only clocked the later when the time came), and Fou d’Absinthe (not a fan of the drink or the scent). We both scored samples of Si Lolita, a peppery sweet pea scent that I preferred to regular Lolita Lempicka, and which I figured would make an acceptable work scent on those days when, regrettably, an end-to-end fumehead-filled agenda could not be contrived.

The main sample coup from Nordstrom’s was a freshly made decant of Creed’s Sublime Vanille. It may have been our fulsome admiration of the presentation puffer bottle that prompted the SA to make so free with the tester bottle, but that was a definite result. Sublime Vanille reminded me a lot of the lighter versions of Shalimar, of Eau Duelle and also of Guerlain 180 Ans de Création – it had that same granular texture and comforting warmth.

After the perfume hall we made a detour to the hosiery department in Macy’s, as I wanted to buy some sheer brown tights to replace the hastily grabbed pairs of scarily pale ones I had brought with me. I agonised long and hard over deniers and degrees of sheerness, over stateside sizing systems and nuances of colour. ScentScelf launched herself into the hunt with me, and demonstrated infinite patience as I flitted from smoke to nude to barely mahogany and back again, settling in the end for a pair of Calvin Klein Cocoa in a size B. They were just the ticket and I wish I had cleared out their entire stock.

Exhausted by the tight-vetting episode, we repaired next to a cosy bakery-style café, where ScentScelf treated me to one of those soup and sandwich combos and a reassuringly hot – and tall! – tea. Which may actually mean “small”, but it looked plenty big enough to me. We chatted about perfume and blogging, and our families and work and goodness knows what else, and it became apparent to me that whether we made it to another perfume pitstop or just ended up here shooting the breeze till chucking out time, I was just enjoying the company of a likeminded, virtual friend who had just taken surprise corporeal form.

As it turned out, we were able to squeeze in another sniffing session that same day – in Barneys in downtown Chicago. ScentScelf was well aquainted with the SAs here, especially Lydia, who was manning the Frédéric Malle concession that afternoon and invited us to stick our heads in the perspex scent tubes (the one I tried had Portrait of a Lady). Lydia was wearing Portrait in fact, and had also – rather incongruously you might think in the case of a FM scent - gone clubbing with it on the night before, and garnered a lot of compliments, apparently. It smelt pretty good on her, I have to say, thought it is not a style I care for normally. Like Agent Provocateur, but more plank than rose. Lydia was very generous to us too in terms of samples: I scored “red cards” of Une Rose, L’Eau d’Hiver and Iris Poudre.

ScentScelf and I also chatted to a male SA who was hovering around Le Labo counter, but wasn’t attached to any particular house as far as I could tell. I smelt the Chicago exclusive, Baie Rose 26 (a peppery rose that was pleasant if not ground breaking). I also caught up with the rest of the Le Labo range that I had not had a chance to sample during my recent workshop in London. I was surprised to find myself quite liking another oud scent, Oud 27, which was soft and mild mannered, not at all the rasping bandaidfest I always dread.

Two lines we spent a fair bit of time testing were Yosh and Chantecaille, and ScentScelf made me a large sample of Ginger Ciao (a big white floral with a spicy kick), deploying the decanting kit she had had the foresight to bring with her (with prior clearance from staff, obviously). The only scent in the Yosh range I flat out disliked was Omniscent (too much of everything bar the kitchen sink!), and several of the others actively appealed, notably Sottile (tea rose and lily) and Stargazer (Kenya lily and ginger). The Chantecailles are a bit of a “girly floral” blur, but I do distinctly recall my reaction to Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau, namely that it was too overtly praliney for my taste, though much as I expected from the reviews I had read. Another SA tried most insistently to press me to a bottle of Clair de Musc, insisting that it was totally “me”, however, it went ultra soapy on my skin and a purchase couldn’t have been further from my mind. I am in fact quietly hankering after a bottle of Piguet’s Calypso, but Barneys did not carry the line, which is probably just as well.

And then before we knew it, it was chucking out time from Barney’s(!), and we headed to a Starbucks round the corner, where we holed up till it got dark, drinking tea - and a milky latte in ScentScelf’s case - if that is not tautology? And I may have misremembered anyway. At 7.30pm we called it a night – ScentScelf had a fair drive home, while I needed to do some preparations for the working week ahead. As luck would have it, another opportunity presented itself for a follow up meeting, namely a two hour window on the final day before I caught my return flight.

This time I had my own wheels, and drove to ScentScelf’s home, the very epi- and nerve centre of Notes from the Ledge operations – the Ledge itself, no less! I met a very affectionate dog and a rolypoly cat in a snowy shade of marmalade; I admired SS’s fridge magnets and eclectic set of candle snuffers; reader, I saw the dress in its entirety, and was also kept intrigued by a leafy leitmotiv in SS's soft furnishings. We had a delicious brunch of freshly baked banana bread, warm pains au chocolat, Greek yogurt and grapes, accompanied by a vanilla-flavoured tea (she has my number!). ScentScelf is quite the tea collector on the quiet, I can reveal...

And then…drum roll…I was introduced to her perfume collection, which was stashed in various locations around the house in a fascinating array of receptacles, which are properly documented here. I saw the egg cups and other "repurposed" items of pottery, the shoe boxes, a drawer full of exquisite minis, a secret bunker in an airing cupboard, a dresser top display and – most excitingly of all - the vintage lipstick holders! ScentScelf’s collection is more classic and retro than mine, with a significant vintage contingent, and a leaning towards the green, the chypre and the “complicated oriental”. I could have poked around and sniffed and rummaged all day, but I had to rip myself away in an untimely fashion from this Aladdin’s cave of scent, and head back to the airport, and home.

Within a matter of hours, I was back in England, and the only proof that I had actually met ScentScelf - let alone been in her home playing with her scent bottles - was the little rope handled bag of samples on my desk (look carefully to the left of the shot). I have had another rootle in it since my return, half expecting a pebble and a feather to fall out...

So what did I learn from my encounter with another fellow blogger? Well, perhaps this: that the shared interest is what brings you together, but what cements the friendship is all the other things that prompted you to share the interest in the first place. I would like to think that, were it not for the distance between us, I would be friends with ScentScelf without a love of perfume in common, and I am grateful to it for having been the catalyst.

In Parts 3 & 4 – meeting Beth of PST and the eponymous Bloody Frida!

PS I haven’t forgotten the 200th post giveaway – now something of a retrospective, admittedly - but circumstances require me to fudge the timeline!

Photo of Baie Rose 26 from, photo of Wild Elixir from, photo of Union Station from, photo of Sublime Vanille from, photo of tights from, photo of Barneys exterior from, photo of Starbucks from, photo of banana bread from, other photos my own.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Vanessa,

It's a whole other world, where Sales Assistants *give away samples* and let browsing bods make up samples ... does not compute. Aren't Sales Assistants employed to stop browsing bods using up the scents and to prevent anyone taking away any of the samples? (Apart from in Glasgow department stores, funnily enough, where happy generosity generally abounds.)

And good natured ticket inspectors on trains? Coo. Who knew that such folk existed? They don't have any such counterparts here.

All this *and* ScentSelf? Sigh. Wish I was there.

wistfully yours,

Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

I can tell you that the greater Chicago area was resolutely Glaswegian in the sample dispensing / authorising stakes, and it was indeed a most refreshing change. I have been known to resort to elaborate subterfuges - fake birthdays, even a fake husband once (Mr Bonkers' scent aversion being well known) - to extract samples from reluctant SAs in major cities across Europe.

And yes, ScentScelf was the dollop of (proper!) yogurt on the banana bread, in a manner of speaking.

: - )

Carol said...

dear Bonks - I feel immersed in Chicago-land (I have only been there twice, can you believe it?) - so excited that you and SS were able to enjoy sniffs and snacks, and to see her treasures - wow!!!

PS: I love tights - finding some that are perfect is rare!

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

ScentScelf's scent shelves (nearly a tongue twister) were indeed laden with treasures, and there was so much more I didn't have time to peruse.

Tights are tricky, I agree. I visited another branch of Macy's during my trip in a bid to track down further stocks of my chosen Cocoa, but none were forthcoming. Must have been a popular shade!

lovethescents said...

I agree with Anna, and am equally shocked by being permitted to make your own samples/decants. So envious of your trip. Sounds like you had a great time!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

To be honest, most of the SAs felt more like "us" fumeheads, as in wanting to encourage others to try lots of different things, rather than "them", as in being "regular" sales people on a mission to sell stuff. Which on the face of it might not sound like a particularly commercial approach, but ScentScelf did make a substantial bottle purchase on the day - with which she received a clutch of yet more high end samples (Serge Lutens, from memory)! And I would have snapped up a bottle of Calypso if they had carried it... : - )

Ines said...

Oh, when I learned you would be meeting some of the bloggers we all know and love, I knew it would be a great experience. I just didn't realize at the time, how great exactly. :)

Tara said...

Loved Part 2. Like others, I am impressed with the samples. I was totally unsuccessful in obtaining any red cards from the Malle SA at Liberty recently. Perhaps I need to try the fake brithday technique.

How wonderful to have a rifle through another perfumista's collection, I'd love that. Especially as ScentSelf's collection is so eclectic in terms of storage and perfumes. Roll on Part 3!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

I wish you the same opportunity - can't think of a nicer part of the world for a perfumista meet than Croatia in the summer time!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I can heartily recommend the fake relative/friend tactic - or real friend but fake occasion. Getting samples out of many European stores is like getting blood out of a stone.

And yes, SS's scent collection is most rifleworthy!

Anonymous said...

What a great trip that must have been! It is so great that we are in such a wonderful community, where the meeting of a person you have never seen turns into a day with a friend in no time. Thank you for that lovely post! I am looking forward to Part 3!

Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria,

Thanks! Our community is such that we may all have our individual quirks, but there is major common ground to form the basis of genuine friendships.

Anonymous said...

Oh how much fun! I visited Chicago years back with a friend and throughly enjoyed it. Sounds like you had a blast too.

One of my favourite places is the hosiery section of a good department store. I've been lax with my tights drawer (it's full of perfume!) but would love to restock.

Vanessa said...

Hi mixedbabygreens,

Chicago has a great buzz, I think, and I love the river running through the centre.

The pleasure in a visit to a hosiery department is much enhanced by knowing your size in the country in question. I was on the cusp of A and B, it seemed, so the whole selection process was a bit fraught.

Suzanne said...

Wow! I actually feel like I was there with you and the lovely ScentSelf - your account of everything is so fully and wonderfully presented. (Don't know why I'm writing this as if I'm surprised...I would expect no less of you. You always do a bang-up job at writing *anything*, and especially anything travel-related.) At any rate, a treat to read, Vanessa, and I'll look forward to your next installment! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your kind comments - "bang-up" is a term I only learnt in the last week, would you believe! It is a shame we don't all live closer to one another - perhaps we could retire to a gated community somewhere in the desert - the fumehead equivalent of Palm Springs, perhaps? Or then again, maybe not... : - )

Katy Josephine said...

Vanessa, this sounds wonderful. How lovely to meet a fellow blogger in person and realize all you have in common in addition to perfume! Thanks for sharing this great post - I'll be looking forward to part 3.

Vanessa said...

Hi Josephine,

It was great, and just goes to show that you do get a good sense of a person through their blog - all three were just like their cyber selves!

Anonymous said...

I love all of those FMs (although I have a very hazy memory of Iris Poudre, I think it reminded me of Chanel No. 5) and you make me interested in Sublime Vanille if it is in a similar vein to Eau Duelle. I didn't think Portrait of a Lady would be quite your thing, although there is a resemblance to Une Rose, which I remember you thinking was of very good quality, at least.

Hope you are keeping well, V!

Anonymous said...

P.S. Indeed I do think Poivre Piquant is an interesting little scent. It's peppery of course, but also milky with a slight touch of liquorice and honey, which is actually quite addictive.


Vanessa said...

Blogger ate my comment not once but twice, so here's hoping it will be a case of third time lucky!

Lovely to hear from you and belated Happy Birthday for last month! I remembered the other day that it fell while I was away, so it was poor of me not to have been on the ball and sent you a Facebook greeting at least... : - )

Would be interested to get your take on Sublime Vanille vs Eau Duelle. Do you also like Labdanum 18, btw, not that it is similar particularly, but still staying with our vanilla theme?

And I do know what you mean about a resemblance between Portrait and Une Rose. Portrait is more oudy perhaps, but I can see that they are both in the same general neck of the "woods".

I am not surprised you like Poivre Piquant! I should give it a spin on skin sometime.

Anonymous said...

Thanks V! I've been trying very hard not to spend on perfume and have been doing quite well. I haven't bought even one bottle this year. Actually I've been keeping away from reading all the blogs too regularly to stop being so obsessed! But I'll always read yours!

OK I'll look out for Sublime Vanille. I don't have the best of luck with Creeds. I like Virgin Island Water, Original Vetiver and Tuberose Indiana (I think). I made the mistake of getting a bottle of Spring Flower because it was a bargain, but despite the girly pink bottle, it is actually horribly strong and masculine on me!

I do like Labdanum 18, better than Musc Ravageur, which is similar. I don't think either of them are very 'me' though, but I've never had my own sample to test properly at home. Smelling scents in store means that I often don't remember the more subtle perfumes. I do love vanilla+amber very much. However, now it's time for summer, I could do with something lighter.


Vanessa said...

Hi Farah,

Creeds can be a bit hit or miss for me too, and I still wobble over Love in Black, of which I also own a (relatively) bargain bottle. : - )

Next time I see you in colder weather, I will bring along a sample of Labdanum 18 for you to try in the optimum climatic context!