Monday 25 July 2011

Basenotes Mini-Meet Up And That Old "Skin Chemistry" Chestnut

As regular readers know, I travel extensively with my work - indeed I am off to Germany again in a couple of hours - so there will be the usual posting break on Bonkers. One of the perks of all this business travel has been the chance to meet some of my virtual perfumista friends in person: in Germany, Switzerland and the USA so far. But recently it came to my attention that there was another perfumista on my doorstep in Stafford! He contacted me through the Basenotes forum (where he goes by the name of Ralph), and we met for coffee on Saturday. We chose the steps of the art gallery as our meeting point: I said I would be carrying a bright orange Ormonde Jayne bag(!), but thanks to our highly attuned powers of fellow fumehead detection we recognised each other instinctively without the aid of props. : - )

It was a bright, sunny day, and we headed for Starbuck's round the corner, where we whiled away a pleasant couple of hours sitting outside in the main shopping thoroughfare. As is the way with these things, we got straight down to business and it wasn't long before the table was covered with bottles, decants and vials - and the entire smellable length of our arms in various scents - much to the bemusement of the people at adjacent tables.

Ralph had brought along a number of samples for me to test blind and try to identify, a fun challenge at which I failed dismally. Two of these were Montale Black Oud and L'Etat Libre d'Orange Fat Electrician - the oud note smelled familiar, but I couldn't put a name to it(!), though I could at least pick out the vetiver in the sublimely silly Fat Electrician.

Meanwhile, I was keen for Ralph to try three perfumes that I thought were on the turn or completely off: a mini of Jo Malone Lime Basil Mandarin, one of The Different Company Osmanthus, and a bottle of Floris Night Scented Jasmine. The Jo Malone we decided was not off after all, just unpleasantly basil-y! My mini was probably a bit long in the tooth, and it is possible that the basil had become more pronounced over time, but we concluded that the main problem was that it was simply not very nice to start with.

The tests with the Night Scented Jasmine and the Osmanthus were most illuminating. I had given up on the former because it had an oily, alcohol-y smell, and on the latter because of a synthetic, plasticky note. We conducted a side-by-side test, which had the added variable of male versus female skin.

To our surprise, on Ralph's skin both perfumes positively bloomed - the Night Scented Jasmine was a sumptuous floral, while the Osmanthus was fresh and fruity. Needless to say, they were both rehomed immediately. They were later joined by my albatross bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English, which was like Caron Yatagan on me, but much softer on Ralph's skin. Indeed, given his leaning towards powerhouse fragrances like Aramis and Kouros, it wouldn't have mattered if it had smelt more strongly of Yatagan on him!

So that was all very interesting and satisfactory. After two rounds of drinks at Starbuck's, we sat on a shady bench in the churchyard of St Mary's for a little while, before grabbing a bite to eat in the Soup Kitchen, Stafford's oldest tea rooms, dating back to the 16th century. I had their last portion of soup, while Ralph opted for a sandwich, followed by a cream tea split between two. Well, just a single scone to be precise, because the ones from the Soup Kitchen are noted for being monstrous, tottering Towers of Pisa. We sat by the window upstairs in a relatively secluded spot, where we could carry on the serious business of spritzing and sniffing without raising too many eyebrows.

Four hours simply sped by, and then it was time for me to do some errands in town before the shops closed. Oh, and special commendation is due to Ralph for his tea assembly skills at Starbuck's. As reported in past posts, I am very particular about how my tea comes, and my worst nightmare is a barista pre-adding copious amounts of milk before the tea bag has had a chance to brew; sometimes up to 50% of the liquid content has been cold - or, bizarrely, hot - milk in tea made for me by cafe staff. Ralph, on the other hand, brought me a mug with a tea bag floating in it, plus a small measure of cold milk on the side. Result!

Now, I have just been looking at Basenotes to see if there is a search facility that would enable members to find others based in the same town. I tried inputting "Stafford", but the first hits were for Lee Stafford, the celebrity hairdresser, so I sense that this very specific functionality I have in mind may need more work. I did note that there are currently 53,304 members of the site, with approximately one in ten active (5,162).

So you never know...chances are, there's a Basenoter living near you too!

Photo of Soup Kitchen from, photo of basenotes logo from, photo of Floris scent from, photo of St Mary's from, photo of Starbuck's mug from

Saturday 23 July 2011

Perfume And Rosacea: A List Of Trigger Factors To Make You See Red

I am not blessed with good skin. Since the age of 15 or so, I have suffered from some sort of dermatological disturbance or other. For many years the doctors just called it acne: "teenage acne" first, then, as I approached my 40s and it became untenable to construe 36 as the new 16, my condition was promptly renamed "adult acne". I wondered how long these skin eruptions would persist - would my dispiriting ailment ever be relabelled "geriatric acne"? As the years passed with no remission in sight, it seemed a very real possibility.

On turning 50, I entered a brief phase of "menopausal acne", before a new hospital consultant pronounced my condition to be...drum roll..."perioral dermatitis". I quite liked this name, because "dermatitis" sounded reassuringly non-specific, even when qualified by its location ("around the mouth"). This was clearly not something I could have brought upon myself by eating lots of sticky buns and chocolate. But as it turned out I didn't suffer from perioral dermatitis for long, because at my next six monthly consultation, a new consultant took over, who was adamant that I was in fact suffering from rosacea.

Rosacea - it has a pleasing ring to it, possibly because it sounds a bit like "rose", but appearances are deceptive. Rosacea is in fact a ruddy nuisance. Your skin is prone to angry red patches, topped off with painful lumps and bumps that rise and fall with the precision choreography of a pus-propelled Mexican wave.

The first line treatment is antibiotics - both oral and topical - but in my reading around the subject, I was shocked to come across a long list of possible trigger factors compiled from patient histories. Here are the ones that sounded most relevant to my own lifestyle and diet


•Cheese (except cottage cheese)
•Soy sauce
•Yeast extract
•Broad-leaf beans and pods, including lima, navy or pea
•Citrus fruits, including tomatoes, bananas, red plums, raisins or figs
•Spicy and thermally hot foods


•Hot baths
•Simple overheating
•Excessively warm environments


•Strong winds


•Alcohol, especially red wine, beer, bourbon, gin, vodka or champagne
•Hot drinks, including hot cider, hot chocolate, coffee or tea

Medical conditions

•Frequent flushing

Emotional influences


Physical exertion

•"Lift and load" jobs

Skin care products

•Some cosmetics and hair sprays, especially those containing alcohol, witch hazel or fragrances
•Hydro-alcoholic or acetone substances
•Any substance that causes redness or stinging

Hello? That is my life right there that the Rosacea Organisation has described. Indeed it is pretty much the life of any middle-aged working woman. Well, speaking for myself it is, give or take the lima and navy beans. What are navy beans, anyway? Oh, and I am not a fan of Bourbon. But otherwise that is me to a "T".

So I am supposed to avoid sun...and cold...and wind? And humidity? That would also include rain, I take it, which tends to be jolly humid. That means I can only venture out on a mild, dry cloudy day, and must remain confined to barracks during all other types of weather. Which will doubtless increase my stress levels (another trigger), and prompt me to seek refuge from the stress of multiple weather constraints in a nice relaxing bath with a glass of wine (a double whammy of triggers!).

Though I must say that it has been no hardship at all to avoid exercise - gentle Pilates once a week (when I am in the country) can't surely do me any harm. I don't have a "lift and load" type job either, unless you count mauling my briefcase and luggage in and out of the boot of the car on work trips. And as a concession I have given up witch hazel spot zapping sticks, along with facial toners containing astringent, alcohol-based formulae (which is most of them!).

Even so, there were enough prohibitions on that list to put the wind up me good and proper (it's that wind trigger again!), so at my last hospital appointment I levelled with the consultant.

"Okay, so what's the deal with all these supposed triggers in the leaflet I've been given? If I followed that list to the letter I would end up like those poor kids you see on the Discovery Channel who live in a bubble - you know, where their parents can't hug them or their skin would fall off? What is a person really supposed to do?"

"Ah", replied the consultant. "I shouldn't worry in your case. You have some redness, but your rosacea manifests itself for the most part as papules and pustules rather than spontaneous flushing."

Hearing my face linked to such distasteful terms as "papules and pustules", I blushed deeply. But at the same time I was relieved that I could crank up the radiator and enjoy a G & T or two. And most importantly, I could carry on wearing perfume on a daily basis...

For in my case the trigger list proved to be a red herring more or less. And for everything else, there's Revlon ColorStay. Yes, for a foundation with light but forgiving coverage, it simply cannot be beaten.

Picture of rosacea sufferer from, photo of girl with "face mask" from, photo of windswept woman from, cartoon of man lifting load from, cartoon of spotty face from, photo of mugs from, phot of Revlon ColorStay from

Thursday 21 July 2011

Kikkerland Scented Rubbers - A Functional Fragrance Too Far?

Kikkerland Design Inc. is a US company with its roots in Holland (the word "Kikkerland" is a term of endearment for "The Netherlands" apparently, meaning "land of frogs"). This explains why it actually says "Scented Erasers" on the packet, but as a British person with some 48 years of manual error correction under my belt, I cannot bring myself to refer to this small item of stationery as anything other than a rubber. Some US readers may be sniggering at this point, but the readership of Bonkers is currently heavily skewed towards British people googling "Lidl perfume", so the transatlantic titters may be minimal. By the same token - in the unlikely event of these terms arising naturally in the context of a scent-related post - I shall not hesitate to refer colloquially to a cigarette as a "fag", while strenuously avoiding all references to "fanny".

So that's cleared that up. Now I got these rubbers as a joke gift from my best friend Clare, owner of the perfumista pin-up pooch, and yesterday I finally broached the packet and actually smelt them. Before getting into my sniffing report proper, I should perhaps lead with this overview of the company's ethos, taken from its website:

"Welcome to Kikkerland Design Inc., where creativity runs rampant and even the most utilitarian gadget becomes a delightful discovery.

Since 1992, the folks at Kikkerland Design have traveled the world in search of original designs for things that can make life more enjoyable. Clever things to intrigue you. Smart things that make everyday tasks easier. And gentle things that make you feel happier when you use them."

I guess a fragrant rubber comes under the heading of "gentle things to make you feel happier". In theory at least...

So there are five rubbers in the range, small plasticky cubes - PVC free, Latex free - which got me wondering what they are in fact made of. I've done a bit of research and think they are probably vinyl rather than the synthetic rubber variety. They are not much bigger than a sugar cube - or even a Dolly Mixture! - and coloured rather sickly shades suggestive of their odour/"flavour". These are: strawberry, milk, mixed fruit juice, chocolate and grape. They are packaged, for reasons that pass me by completely, in what I can best describe as an imitation Tetra-pak milk carton, which you have to rip off to extract the rubber inside.

Right, so I smelt them each in turn - there was no point trying to conduct a blind test, as it was pretty obvious which was which from the colour. I could only actually detect a scent at all in three of them: chocolate, grape and vanilla. Each was a bit synthetic, but recognisable as the scent in question. The mixed fruit juice and strawberry ones were, however, completely odourless. Then Mr Bonkers had a go (not noted for his nasal prowess, obviously, but with the benefit of being on hand at the time of the trial). Now he could only smell the milk one, which he pronounced to be "very vanilla-y".

So in summary, a range of scented rubbers that are not very scented at all, really.

And you may be curious to know - and I am going to tell you anyway! - how they rub out. Not too badly is the answer, although each cube is so small that it is hard to get decent purchase. And obviously we are only talking pencil marks here.

So the trend to functional fragrance in products as diverse as fabric conditioner and drawer liners - drawer liners of all kinds, indeed! - marches inexorably onwards. According to the recent BBC documentary, Perfume, Brazilians have a ceaseless appetite for all things fragrant, so maybe these rubbers would go down well over there. I remain unimpressed myself.

And of course the other thing about this product idea is that people don't write with pencils very much anymore - or pens, for that matter. Pretty much the only time I write with a pencil is at one of those residential management courses held in a country house hotel - you know, the sort where couples go for adulterous trysts and ballooning weekends.

So on balance, it is much simpler to type rather than write with an implement. Then if you do happen to make a mistake, it is just a question of hitting "delete", "back space" or "undo". Yes, if I was the marketing person at Kikkerland responsible for picking this particular product, I'd be inclined to Kikkerland it into touch - back into the "mad box of frogs" whence it came...

Or - to quote that song by the Cardigans... I would


Photo of Kikkerland offices from, other photos my own

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Stafford's Own Kate Middleton: She May Be A Lookalike, But Is She Also A Smellalike?

Following the recent royal tour of Canada, Kate Middleton's popularity is on the ascendant. The word on the street is that she could soon attain the iconic status of Princess Diana, without any recourse to peeping coyly from under her fringe, or batting of spider's leg lashes. Personally I am fixated by her svelte silhouette, and imagine her vital organs jostling for position above and below the Panama Canal of her waist.

Yes, everyone wants a piece of our Kate, and as the runaway success of Illuminum White Gardenia Petals demonstrates, a lot of people are happy to conjure up the Duchess in a bottle with every spritz of her wedding scent.

And for those who haven't managed to catch a glimpse of Kate Middleton in person, or snag a bottle of White Gardenia Petals, there might be a chance to see Kate Bevan instead, her 22 year old professional lookalike - who is originally from Wolverhampton and lives in Stafford!

Now as it happens, the chemist featured in my last post is no ordinary neighbourhood pharmacy. Though not on account of its woefully limited fragrance selection - that is par for the course, more or less. No, the chemist in question has hit the national press because it was there that Kate Bevan worked as a pharmaceutical assistant until she got her lucky career break!

People had often remarked on the resemblance between the two Kates, but from the engagement onwards things really took off. "Nearly everyone who comes through the pharmacy door makes a comment and gawps in total shock", she told The Daily Mail last November. "I went out to buy a sandwich for my lunch and I was stopped four times by people in the street."

Kate Bevan got married herself last May, but she reckons her husband Nathan looks more like Harry than William, and William is apparently not her type...

In the spirit of verisimilitude, Kate Bevan also took elecution lessons to lose her West Midlands accent and sound more of a sophisticated southerner.

Now, because Kate Bevan's job as a professional lookalike is to be a top to toe replica of her namesake, if she hasn't already done so she should research the Duchess's scent wardrobe. Apart from White Gardenia Petals, I received a tip off to the effect that Kate Middleton wears Narciso Rodriguez For Her EDT, and her liking for Dune is well documented.

And it goes without saying that if Kate Bevan wishes to smell the part, she will need to look beyond the perfume range of the chemist where her newfound stardom all began...

Photos of Kate Bevan from, and

Saturday 16 July 2011

A Radical Cure For Option Anxiety - Buy Perfume At Your Local Chemist!

In her latest post on Infatuation and Perfume, Olfacta of Olfactarama was asking readers where they are along their own perfume "trajectory". She writes - with a nifty bodice-ripping analogy to evoke the "honeymoon" phase of fumeheads' relationships with perfume: "I’m no longer swapping madly and waiting impatiently for the mailman and the UPS truck or spending too much on Our Favorite Online Auction Site or ripping packages open when I’m barely through the door."

I gave her question some thought and replied in the comments to the effect that my own infatuation with scent has definitely peaked or plateaued, and that my acquisitions of full bottles or decants in swaps are much more selective these days. My existing - ludicrously substantial - collection gives me a sensation of satisfaction and "fullness" not dissimilar to someone patting their stomach after a delicious four course meal. In my comment I compared it to a feeling of maternal pride: "I opened the door of my perfume fridge yesterday and the beatific gaze with which I viewed its serried ranks of bottles and decants could be likened to a proud mother looking at her brood of children round the dining table and thinking that ten are probably enough now (more or less)."

So given that that is where I am at - and happy to be so - how would it be if my scent options were severely curtailed? For also this week, Eyeliner on a Cat posed the question: "if you had to choose, which 3 houses would rule your kingdom", hypothetically restricting our scent selection from now on to the ranges of just three perfume houses. Actually, that could still be a pretty large pool if you pick your houses right - don't go for Stephen Burlingham, say, or Isabey, with just one or two scents to their name!

Then the other day I was testing - on multiple skin sites, rather rashly! - a freebie sample I got in Holland on my recent work trip. It was Ed Hardy Love Kills Slowly, a fruity floral number of supreme forgettability, and I upset myself by imagining how I'd feel if this were the only perfume I was allowed. Would I even wear it? That is a good question, and the answer is a guarded yes, for it is by no means horrible, just cheap and a bit synthetic and nondescript. I actually can imagine quite a lot of "regular" men enjoying smelling this on their womenfolk.

Top notes: Apple souffle, mango, wild strawberry, ruby red grapefruit.
Mid notes: Freesia petals, watery muguet, linden blossom.
Dry notes (sic!): Warm amber, sensual musks, tonka bean, vanilla pudding.

Now it happened that around the time I was testing Love Kills Slowly, Katie Puckrik posted a video on her blog of Christophe Laudamiel talking about what makes a perfume smell cheap, and I mentioned the Ed Hardy in a comment, and how I had been trying to figure out wherein lay its cheapness. To which Katie replied:

'"Love Kills Slowly", eh? Sounds like you were speeding up the process with your multiple site approach.'

And this got me thinking about how too little choice could very likely kill one's hobby stone dead. As in "Kills Love Slowly" rather than the reverse. Yes, lock me up with just Jean-Paul Gaultier's range of scents for ever - or Hugo Boss, say - and I wouldn't be happy. I wouldn't give up on scent altogether, and would seek out the least uncongenial offerings from each range to wear, but I would be restlessly pacing my artificially imposed perfume prison cell all the while.

Which is not to say that there aren't days when the sheer size of my scent collection doesn't feel like a burden. That's when I go to pick out a SOTD and am paralysed with inertia, or when I worry about my bottles going off despite their temperature controlled habitat. But...any time I feel overfaced by the cornucopian contents of my fridge, I remember my local chemist and remind myself how lucky I am not to only have access to its paltry perfume range for the rest of time.

I should perhaps explain that while in most of Europe there seems to be a clearer demarcation between pharmacies selling drugs and drugstores (somewhat perversely) not selling drugs so much as cosmetics, toiletries and household cleaning products, in the UK our independent pharmacies tend to dabble in all manner of non-pharmaceutical lines, from body butters to hair grips, spectacle cases and rubber gloves. These tend to be very bargain basement brands, if one can even dignify them with that name.

So going back to perfume, when I say that my local pharmacy carries a "paltry" range of perfumes, I mean very poor indeed - as in sparse, and of very mixed quality.

Here they are:

Aromatics Elixir
Charlie (Red)
CK Eternity Moment
Britney Spears Curious
Paris Hilton Heiress
Kylie Minogue Sweet Darling
A banded twinpack of Moschino Oh! and something else in a gold pack - a body lotion, perhaps?

Yup, that really is it!!!

The controversial Clinique classic aside, if that was all you had to wear for ever, it just might kill your love of scent pretty darn quick. For though having a great deal of choice is a double-edged sword, as a perfumista, once you have sampled "the drunkenness of things being various", to quote my favourite line from the poet Louis MacNeice, most of the time you never look back...

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

Louis MacNeice (extract from Snow)

Photos of pharmacy logos from and, photo of bodice ripper novel from, photo of Ed Hardy perfumes and logo from and, photo of hair accessories stand from

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Finding The Tipping Point - Vexingly Various Viscosities And Why It Sprays But It Never Pours

As a frequent decanter, I must say that I can't be doing with washing funnels. I own four metal ones and a handful of plastic funnels of varying dimensions, which I try not to use, precisely because they are only suitable for one-time use - or multiple uses involving the same scent. I do in fact have a bag of plastic funnels dedicated to different scents, but rarely find a need to redeploy them. Oh, I have just spotted in the photo the one for Michel Comté's Shared Water! That's ironic, given that the whole point of the funnel is to prevent that very phenomenon...

So for the most part, I decant using metal funnels and wash them in the kitchen sink. That is one of the few perks of my going away as often as I do on work trips, according to Mr Bonkers. When he does the dishes he doesn't catch his hand on an assortment of metal objects lurking like submarines at the bottom of the washing up bowl, along with the obligatory teaspoon or two. For it is an infallible law of nature that there is always at least one teaspoon in the dirty water when you go to empty the bowl...

Yes, I wash and soak and sometimes re-wash and re-soak the funnels - I squirt neat Fairy Liquid in and swoosh it around with my finger, before putting the funnel back in to soak. Overnight, often. Or whole days if the coast is clear. Yet certain scents resist the most determined detergents and retain a trace of the decanted fragrance for a long time afterwards.

Given the palaver involved in funnel care, it is hardly surprising that when I set about consolidating my various bits and bobs of samples of the same scent the other day, I decided to go commando and just tip from receptacle A to receptacle B wherever possible. I was mostly trying to transfer 1ml and 2ml glass vial samples - together with the remnants of minis and small splash bottle decants - into 3ml and 5ml atomisers, with a view to taking some of these scents on my next trip.

Upending a 1ml sample vial and tipping it into the wider mouth of an atomiser is usually straightforward, assuming you have a half-steady hand. The procedure becomes very tricky, however, if you are emptying one of those glass vials with a lip, like the ones you get from Les Senteurs. Tip the sample upside down till you are blue in the face, tap it against the side of the receiving atomiser as hard as you like, but not a drop will come out. Or not until about 10 minutes of concerted shaking and tapping have elapsed will the vial grudgingly yield its contents.

This all seems counter-intuitive though, because at the end of the day, it is still A HOLE, and you would think the laws of gravity would apply. Well, a "lay decanter" like me would think that, anyway. I have the same problem with two of my funnels, which have a markedly smaller diameter of the funnelly bit. You spray a goodly squirt of your chosen perfume and wait for a moment, but the darn liquid won't go down! Again, I repeat - a hole is a hole - or should be. But there again, maybe not. It may be all about the meniscus. Menisci moving in mysterious ways.

So aperture is one thing, but even when I was tipping samples from and to identical vials, I noticed marked differences in the pourability of some scents. I should have been paying more attention at the time, but I recall that Jo Malone White Jasmine & Mint was a very compliant pourer, while Tom Ford Neroli Portofino was like recalcitrant magma! Which I wouldn't have expected from what I perceive as a light, "get up and go" scent. I would have placed scents like Ormonde Jayne Tolu or Patou Joy or Micallef Hiver at the magma end of the bell curve - you know, plush and overtly perfumey scents with the sluggish gait of motor oil.

I tried to google "perfume viscosity" and its relationship to decanting and pouring, and came up with surprisingly few citations of note. Though I did find this nugget on the "pour point":

"Pour point: The temperature at which a viscous liquid becomes pourable is called the pour point."

Temperature is also involved? Perhaps it is standard though across all perfume, but actual motor oil may have a different pour point, say. Or maple syrup, for argument's sake. Or sake, for that matter... : - )

The nugget continues:

"If diluents are present in the supplied viscous liquid then the pour point is reduced."

As in the temperature?? Does Jo Malone contain diluents? I am sure those nice people at Estée Lauder wouldn't thank me for speculating on the matter. For that way lies orange squash...

"Pour points are generally not very accurate as they vary with every consignment noticeable in resinoids."

I don't doubt it! So could my perfume collection be construed as "a consignment noticeable in resinoids", I wonder? Very likely - for I fancy a resinoid has got to be just some gunkier version of oil, and my slowest pourers must surely have a bit of those in them?

Still, I can't help thinking that this pour point and temperature lark may be a red herring. I would like to know what else affects pourability, and is it in any way a marker of quality, or not? You know, the double cream principle...

Has anyone else experienced problems relating to narrow apertures and/or variable viscosities? (There I go again, uncharacteristically asking a question!) And was it with the same style of vial? And can you recall which scents poured with glacial torpor? Tip me the wink about what goes on in your sink... ; - )

Photo of woman pouring perfume from, photo of Les Senteurs sample from, photo of frog pouring perfume from, other photos my own

Saturday 9 July 2011

Lostmarc'h L'Eau De L'Hermine Review - Love At First Nip!

Well, well...the other day I did that thing I vowed I wouldn't do any more, seasoned-and-semi-jaded-perfumista-with-a-fridge-full-of-flacons that I am - I bought a bottle of a particular scent after a single test spray. No waiting until I had at least drained my sample, no trying to squirrel away decants through swaps on Makeupalley, no checking out the listings on Wikisplits. No, straight for the jugular - as in hit the Paypal button - and in no time at all our chirpy postman with the surfer dude shades was knocking on the door with a parcel containing a verdantly well packaged bottle of Lostmarc'h l'eau de l'Hermine....

How did this happen? How did I manage to fall so hard and fast for a perfume from a range to which I have mostly tuned out up to now? Yes, I must admit to overlooking Lostmarc'h as a brand, partly because I am never sure where to put the apostrophe, and partly because I really didn't care for the bread puddingfest that is Lann-Ael, which is also difficult to spell. I know, it's Breton - hey, I have visited a cling film manufacturer in central Brittany on an industrial estate called "Kerguilloten", so I expect a few linguistic curved balls - but still.

The fact is, I received a sample of l'eau de l'Hermine as an extra in a swap this week. I have written a few cynical and fully jaded posts about swapping, in particular the high mileage dross that passes for "thoughtful extras" in so many of these transactions, but this particular extra from a relatively new swapper with just six tokens to her name pulled me up short.

It was a citrussy, musky scent in the same vein as Sonoma Scent Studio Opal (sandalwood, vanilla, musk, bergamot, ambrette) or Creative Scentualization Perfect Veil (lemon, bergamot, musk, vanilla, sandalwood), but it was lighter and more scintillating somehow. Maybe because it has neither vanilla nor sandalwood, though it is also a minimalist, bergamot-and-musk composition.

Bizarrely, the notes in l'eau de l'Hermine would never have reeled me in on their own, not being a fan of lavender, grapefruit OR heliotrope. And I do tend to sneer at peony a little, with it being such a ubiquitous note in Stella Flankers and fruity florals generally.

Notes: lavender, grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, peony, heliotrope, white musk

Yet the whole composition is so seamlessly blended that no one note asserts itself unduly. The citrus opening - with bergamot and neroli uppermost to my nose, tempered by the lavender which adds an offbeat herbal edge - is sparkling and bright. It positively tingles, like salt spray on your cheek. I visualise a rugged coastline, with the sun glinting on the waves as they crash on the rocks.

Then within seconds the clean and muzzy musk and heliotrope notes of the base nudge their way through, toning down the glittering citrus accord. And tucked in between the two is a bright and cheerful peony note that has made me rethink my attitude to the flower. After all, I do like Histoires de Parfums Vert Pivoine, though it does sound better in French.

So I was immediately smitten by l'eau de l'Hermine - a daytime Holy Grail Scent, near as dammit - or one of a select few (under 10, say)! I keep banging on on Bonkers about how much I like understated, muted scents, and this is right up there with the very best of the "quiet" genre, with a marked summer vibe. Marina of Perfumesmellingthings says she would like to "swim in it", and I completely agree. And certainly you do have to reapply l'eau de l'Hermine rather a lot, as it is fairly fleeting. But that's fine - you won't ever hear me complain about evanescence. Why, I have one of their albums!

The description of l'eau de l'Hermine on Luckyscent's website sums up its impressionistic style:

"The fragrances from Lostmarc’h are like watercolor sketches of Brittany – vivid, but with a certain delicacy, capturing the spirit and enchantment of the place with a few precise, perfectly placed strokes."

And there is another reason why l'eau de l'Hermine was calling my name, apart from the connection with Brittany and the cling film factory. It is to do with the dear little ermine featured on the bottle...

The ermine (Mustela erminea) is a member of the weasel family, which also includes the marten, the weasel proper, the polecat, ferret and mink: all of them deceptively cute looking furry creatures with a tendency to administer a nasty nip to any soft flesh they might find on their forays up trouser legs.

Now in winter the ermine's fur turns white, but the tip of its tail remains black. In the 14th century a pattern of white with black spots at recurring intervals was adopted in heraldry, most notably in the Breton coat of arms, featuring a design of "herminois plain" ("plain ermine").

My own convoluted link with ermines is through Max Rat, the small and rather bendy soft toy I take on my work trips. Bloody Frida has met him, and can vouch for his compact size and pliability. Additionally Max is trimmed with fur, which led me to coin the phrase: "The vermin with ermine".

So what's the allusion to water all about, you may wonder? If you let your mind wander a bit too freely, "The ermine's water" doesn't sound too fragrant on the face of it. I am guessing, but I think the "eau" may either just be short for "cologne" (as in the cologne associated with Brittany's animal emblem), OR it could also be a reference to the pool which, legend has it, one particularly pelt-proud ermine refused to cross.

"In Brittany, we usually say that Duchess Anne saw a ermine chased by hunters and this ermine stopped, refused to cross a pool and prefered to die. The duchess said that it was an act of bravery. The motto of the Duchy of Brittany is Potius mori quam foedari (Latin) / Kentoc'h mervet eget am zoatran (Breton), Rather dead than spoiled."

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez

"Spoiled", as in "soiled", I take it - the animal's nice white fur might have got a bit bedraggled crossing that pool. Elsewhere I have seen this motto translated as "Death before dishonour", where the dishonour is (presumably) specifically linked to the act of getting dirty!

It is an interesting tale, especially when I think about the dishevelled state in which I opened the door to the postman bearing my perfume parcel! He always makes some wisecrack if he finds me dressed before lunchtime...

Yes, l'eau de l'Hermine has wormed its way into my affections like a ferret up a drainpipe. Let's hope some of the animal's high sartorial standards may rub off on me. And if not, I will be happy just to splash on copious amounts of the stuff and smell like the sunlit sea in Dinard...

UPDATE: As a rare bonus, Mr Bonkers likes it too! I was half way across the living room when he remarked: "That is almost acceptable from a distance", adding after a pause: "Yes, I'd say that is my No 1 least hated perfume so far."

Photo of Lostmarc'h store display from, photo of Breton coastline from, photo of flag from, etching of ermine from, other photos my own.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

So They Discontinued Bin Laden, But Did They Bin The Scent?

I learnt a phrase from Avery Gilbert of First Nerve not so long ago, to describe the CSI-style genre of crime programmes - the ones that tell the story of how real life murders were solved, with a strong focus on the forensic aspects, aka gory detail. The technical name for these documentaries is apparently "cadaver shows" - over in the US at least, as we don't tend to use the word "cadaver" in Britain.

Meanwhile, Mr Bonkers has coined his own term of "forensic prostitute" TV as shorthand for this slew of programmes such as "Forensic Detectives", "Most Evil", "Snapped - Women Who Kill", and the latter's many variants such as "Couples Who Kill", "Children Who Kill Their Parents", rising to the luridly niche realms of "Satanic Paedophiles Who Kill Their Children And Eat Them" etc. And no, I agree that these themes do not make for nice viewing, which is why Mr Bonkers has long referred to me - mostly on the basis of my taste in television - as an "unsavoury little person".

And then Mr B and I got to talking a while back about people's fixation with celebrity perfumes, both those ostensibly created with input from the likes of J-Lo and Britney, and the scents the Hollywood A-Listers (and lower) actually wear. After a pause, Mr Bonkers suddenly blurted out that no one ever talks about the perfumes worn by notorious celebrities - serial killers and terrorists. "Wouldn't you like to know what scent the Yorkshire Ripper wore - or Myra Hindley?"

I thought about this for a moment and realised that the idea of a mass murderer wearing a well known fragrance was quite disturbing, as if they had the power to pollute its image by association. Yet, now that he mentioned it - being the unsavoury little person that I am - I couldn't deny a grain of morbid curiosity in the whole idea. Though it was an uncomfortable juxtaposition, taboo almost, like any other humanising trait we might uncover that detracts from the monstrous image we have of these criminals.

"What about Bin Laden, then? Or Bin Laden's wife?" Mr Bonkers continued, undeterred by my squirming. "See what you can find out!"

Rising to the challenge, though still with mixed feelings about the social acceptability of such a line of inquiry, I started to google "Bin Laden cologne". I am not going to come up with anything linking him to the Estee Lauder stable, I thought to myself. Nothing for Bin Laden from the fragrance house of American infidels, I was pretty sure of that. No Aramis or Pleasures for Men, no Tommy Hilfiger or Tom Ford. Though Sean John Unforgivable might have been eerily apt.

But imagine my surprise when my searches turned up this "celebrity scent" of his own, spotted in a cosmetics shop in Lahore and featured in the Pakistan Daily Times in 2004. (So yes, I am rather late to the party in reporting on this, but I have only been a perfumista since 2008, and have a lot of catching up to do.) But going back to the cologne, it may have Bin Laden's face on it, but as the world's Most Wanted Man I doubt very much that he had much of a hand in its creation - hunkering down under blankets watching day time TV in his high walled fortress was doubtless a full time job.

And as I carried on my searches, I learnt that Bin Laden's half brother (he had dozens of half siblings apparently, the prodigious progeny of his father's harem of 23 wives) has a perfume line, though he neither sells it in North America nor markets it under the tarnished family name. Yeslam Bin Ladin, as most of the family prefer to spell it, launched his range of luxury goods (including scent) in March 2001 under the name Bin Ladin, but post 9/11 quietly changed it to Yeslam, his first name, which apparently means "to bless" or "to protect" in Arabic. I know, I know... Though I am sure Yeslam Bin Ladin would thank me for pointing out that he had little contact with his father growing up, never mind his disgraced and now discontinued half-brother, and was much more westernised and materialistic in his values. This is borne out by a chance remark in an interview in 2004, when he revealed that the main reason for launching a perfume of his own was the fact that "the margins are huge".

I was intrigued to see which scents are still current from this range 10 years on, and found the company's Swiss website, where the brand is registered. Fragrantica just lists Darling Rose, released in 2008, but if you click on the Fragrance & Beauty section of the website a whole forest of perfume bottles comes tumbling out at you, like driving snow hitting a windscreen - the images barely linger long enough for you to clock the names, but I spotted both men's and women's scents in there somewhere.

I am afraid I haven't managed to come up with note listings, but actually I am not sorry about the dearth of information about the line. Goodness knows I own enough bottles without taking an interest in ones of controversial provenance. Around the time Bin Laden was taken out by US forces, you only had to put the search word "Is" into Google to fetch up the result: "Is Bin Laden dead?" Now, if you only put "Yes" into Google instead of the full name of his half-brother's perfume line, you will get the 70s prog rock group, an insurance company, and a brand of "Natural Organic Personal Lubricants" (don't ask) before you will stumble upon the Yeslam fragrance brand...which is just as it should be, really.

Photo of Yeslam Bin Ladin and Darling Rose perfume from, photo of Bin Laden cologne from, photo of magnifying glass from

Monday 4 July 2011

Another Bonkers Road Trip: Part 5 - Mishap Round Up

I can't believe this trip has spawned five travel posts - I miscounted first time, but have renumbered them now! - and all without any perfume-related happenings to speak of, apart from the fact that I wore the stuff every day, and had a very disagreeable experience with YSL La Safarienne. It bore such an eerie resemblance to grapefruit floor cleaner that I speculated on Facebook that it might not even be safe to apply on skin.

But this post isn't about that. No, I decided to conclude the series with an account of my misadventures, excluding the broken tooth episode, which is documented elsewhere.

As a seasoned business traveller of 25 years' standing (well, in practice mostly sitting behind the wheel, but you get my drift), I thought I had made every mistake in the book, from spilling vinaigrette on my suit just before a presentation, splitting skirts, laddering tights, cutting fingers as I was about to shake the hand of the person I was meeting, to sitting on benches covered in pigeon droppings, getting red grape skins stuck in my teeth, Tippex dandruff in my hair, and ink all over my hands. Yes, let's not forget the exploding fountain pen routine, which can happen anywhere, but is especially indicated in pressurised atmospheres such as an aeroplane. I also thought that I was too sensible to repeat any of my past gaffes. I was wrong on both counts...

Here then is a round up of the silly mishaps which befell me on this trip - both old and new! Interestingly, they mostly involve food and drink this time round.

Transporting chocolate in warm weather

Okay, now I know this sounds obvious, but I am an eternal optimist where chocolate preservation is concerned. As some readers may remember from the accounts of my Californian trip last December, I like to keep a little chocolate in the car for emergencies, and when it is quite cool in the morning as you set off, it seems hard to imagine that the boot of the car might turn into a raging furnace by noon, and the chocolate bar a slick of cocoa-y magma. But that's just what it will be: floppy, molten, and if you are very unlucky, oozing over your fresh questionnaires.

Drinking water whilst driving over speed bumps

I say speed bumps, but it could be any kind of rough terrain, like the boneshaking judderfests you find in Poland, masquerading as main arterial roads. The incident in question occurred in Belgium, as I attempted to drive over some very pronounced speed bumps whilst swigging from a bottle of water. Short story short, as the car jolted over the humps, the arm which was holding the bottle gave an involuntary jerk, and I poured half a litre of water (uncorborated!) over my head.

Buying water from the first shop you see

Ah yes, in my eagerness to dodge exorbitant minibar prices, I often explore the immediate surroundings of my hotel, looking for a cheaper deal on water. In a town in East Germany, I headed over to the railway station opposite (the only place nearby with any sign of life on this public holiday), and immediately turned into a small mini-mart just inside the entrance. Water cost about a quid fifty for a small bottle, yet only a few yards beyond was a branch of the drugstore Rossmann, offering bottles of twice the size for a third the price. I should know that really: if you don't have access to a large supermarket, always buy water in a drugstore, counter-intuitive as that may sound. And while you are there, stock up on their very cheap mini bottles of Sekt if, like me, you use alcohol as a bit of a crutch when under stress. Which of course I was after being diddled on the water.

Being foxed by flat screen TVs

Any regular readers out there may spot that I have previous for being foxed by flat screen TVs (last September in an Ibis hotel in Berlin), and you could be forgiven for thinking I might have retained the information the barman gave me on that occasion as to where the sylishly flush on and off button was located. Not a chance. On aggregate over the course of this trip I must have spent the best part of 20 minutes fumbling with the edges of a selection of flat screen TVs in my accommodation. I probably had a success rate of something like 1 in 3. I mean there's flush, there's recessed, there's inverted, and there's just plain blinkin' invisible. If you don't know what you are looking for, never mind where, it can be utterly baffling, and I was reluctant to push any given bit of plastic too hard, on the remote offchance that it might be an invisible control. Come to think of it, you should have been able to turn the thing on using the remote, but this didn't always seem to be the case.

Being late for eggs

I am not a morning person. If I don't have a meeting that catapults me out the hotel door at a preternaturally early hour, I will invariably cut it very fine in terms of catching breakfast. Some days I will skip it altogether, but I will never ever get down to the buffet when it is in its first flush (that word again!) of freshness. This is neither here or there when you are talking about those diddy little boxes of Coco Pops, or twinpacks of Ryvita, or the heap of granny smith apples that passes for a fruit selection, but when it comes to the hot part of the buffet, or the basket of boiled eggs, you could be in for a shock. Yes, by the time I normally get down there, invariably the scrambled egg will be stone cold, slumped under its steel dome and leeching a colourless fluid - I suddenly remember the term "albumen" from Third Form biology and wish I hadn't. And the boiled eggs will also be cold, but crucially they will also be soft boiled. This is not a good combination. But my distaste at such eggy nasties has up to now not been sufficient incentive to propel me out of my pit early enough to catch the egg options in an optimum state.

Going hungry on Ruhetage

Speaking of missing meals, I was bedevilled on this trip by my recurrent mistiming of hotel stays, and often coincided with their Ruhetag ("day of rest"). The hotels would still be open to check you in, but the restaurant would be shut. Now I didn't have time before I left the UK to check the Ruhetag schedule of all the hotels I would be staying at before booking them. Location, availability and price were the main drivers, followed by Internet access in at least some nook or cranny of the premises, if not my room necessarily. As the trip unfolded, I realised I had targeted three hotels in succession on their Ruhetag (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday respectively!). I didn't get a square meal till Wednesday. You understand the need for chocolate now. And a temperature controlled storage receptacle in my boot. An ordinary cool bag would be no good of course, because the cool blocks thaw and get warm eventually - I probably need one of those insulated boxes they transport vital organs in for life-saving operations. Especially if in future, as seems likely, I persistently fail to check the restaurant opening times in advance.

Putting things in wardrobes

Why, you may ask, should I urge people not to hang things in wardrobes, an item of furniture specifically designed for that purpose? Well, quite simply because, having put garments in the wardrobe, there is a very real risk that you will omit to take them out again in the morning. I had to drive cross-country some 20 miles out of the way back to my hotel to retrieve a raincoat and a top that I had put in the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. It was then or never, as I was not passing that way again. Despite this impromptu detour, amazingly I was not late for my second meeting of the day, though I did drive like the proverbial bat out of hell, terrifying a few flat capped old boys at the wheel of clapped out Mazdas along the way. And the moral of this tale - hang things on the handles of the wardrobe, or on hooks on the walls or the backs of doors - or even on the shower rail - but always, always in plain sight...

Pulling a pilot

Okay, so this last item is not a mishap as such, though it easily could have been, if I had taken him up on his offer. Yes, I was hit on by a Dutch pilot in Belgium on the last night of my trip, just as I was getting some stuff out of the boot of the car before turning in. He clocked my English plate and said he loved England, having lived there for 20 years until 2000. He was a dead ringer for the actor Paul Bettany, but was 65 if he was a day - should he still be at the controls of planes?, I couldn't help wondering. Anyway, he invited me for a nightcap but I declined, pleading fear of flying. Well, work actually. So it would appear that I can still pull the odd silver fox, but am not sure whether this quite counts as a feather in my cap.

That's it! Perfume-related posts will be along shortly - until I go off again, which is quite soon...!

Photo of stained businessman from, photo of speed bumps from, photos of Rossmann and park bench from, photos of TV and wardrobe from, photo of German breakfast from, photo of Ruhetage sign from, photo of Paul Bettany from, chocolate photo my own