Saturday 27 August 2011

A Bonkers Grand Tour: Travels TO Olfactoria And A Viennese Sniffing Whirl

Regular readers of Bonkers may get the impression that I am perfectly self-contained on my business trips, and don’t really need company. It is true that I am rarely lonely, but that doesn’t mean I am not very glad to meet people on my travels, especially likeminded fellow perfumistas. Indeed I positively light up - head permitting! - when I have a blind sniffing date with a virtual friend from the blogosphere, and so it proved yesterday when I travelled to Olfactoria, of Olfactoria's Travels.

We agreed to meet at 1.30pm at a tube station right by the cathedral in the city centre. I arrived ten minutes early, and dived into a branch of the perfumery Marionnaud to kill a few minutes in the welcome air conditioned interior (it was in the mid 30s C that day). Olfactoria (aka Birgit!) was not far behind me and texted to say she was in position at our agreed meeting point of the Graben exit. I recognised her instantly from her avatar. Even in the extreme heat, Olfactoria was every inch the poised, pale-skinned beauty she appears in her photo.

Throughout our sniffathon, I felt very welcome and “gut aufgehoben” in Olfactoria’s company – an expressive German phrase that loosely translates as “well looked after”. Oh by the way, we slipped into English from the off, only dipping into German occasionally in the various stores. This is because Olfactoria’s English knocks my German into a cocked hat, even though – as I learnt to my astonishment – she has never lived in an English-speaking country. Nor does she appear to have an English parent tucked away anywhere, though I did inquire. : - ) My German is “fit for purpose”, but that purpose is always in a resolutely business context. Why, I am at a bit of a loss when it comes to articulating my thoughts about perfumes in English, never mind in German!

First stop on our sniffing tour was Le Parfum, Vienna’s equivalent of Les Senteurs. It probably stocks more niche brands than its London counterpart, thinking about it. Olfactoria encouraged me to try the By Kilian oud range (Incense Oud, Rose Oud, Pure Oud), and I was pleasantly surprised by all three, not being a lover of the note as a rule. I caught up with the relatively new releases Parfumerie Générale Praliné de Santal and Tonkamande – the former reminded me of Womanity or that Thierry Mugler Miroir scent that has a popcorn note – Miroir des Envies, that’s it – while the latter smelt like furniture polish on the blotter. Olfactoria explained that Tonkamande is a lot better on skin, but I wasn’t prepared to spare any more at that point, having already wasted a spot on our popcorn friend. We agreed that Praliné de Santal was rather like SL Jeux de Peau, which I had tried with ScentScelf in Chicago and not liked either. Don’t get me wrong – I can happily scoff a 150g bag of Butterkist in one sitting as well as the next man, but I just don’t want to smell OF the stuff.

Now we did both spray PG Indochine on skin – or more exactly, my forearm was caught in crossfire when Olfactoria was applying it on her own - but I was perfectly fine with a spot of collateral sillage! It was a gourmand woody oriental on her, and disappeared rather quickly on me, sadly, but was interesting while it lasted – softly spicy and slightly foody.

Speaking of gourmands, Olfactoria introduced me to Lira, her favourite of the Casamorati 1888 range from Xerjoff (the ones in those ghastly plastic bottles). Lira was a rich, creamy gourmand – like Teo Cabanel Alahine but more so. It was rather too rich and sickly initially for my taste, but I liked its later stages.

We also dabbled in the Armani Privés (to wit, Ambre Orient), Mark Buxton (English Breakfast - or at least the orange juice starter), and the Huitième Art range, which I had systematically tested in Düsseldorf in April, and was happy to revisit. But, as the Germans would say, "das absolute Highlight" for me in Le Parfum has to be Nuda from Il Profumo, a “cold cream” skin scent – like a more refined version of Clinique Simply crossed with a de-floraled Dior New Look 1947, if that makes any sense at all to anyone.

Whilst looking in vain for a note listing, I have since read Marina’s review on PST, in which she likens this scent to “that special place on a small child's neck, right under the plump little chin- the sweetest place to smell and to kiss”, and I would totally agree with this. Apparently, though, Nuda is meant to evoke the scent of a woman in the throes of ecstasy, which is clearly complete tosh.

A short stroll from Le Parfum is Pure Day Spa, which stocks beauty products and scents as well as offering spa treatments. The four main brands stocked are Frédéric Malle, Floris, Lalique and Annick Goutal. I was pretty up to speed with FM, but had a sniff of French Lover on card and retested Le Parfum de Thérèse. French Lover was too butch for me and Le Parfum de Thérèse by no means as civetty as I remembered, but still not really my style. Olfactoria, however, seemed to be having a bit of an epiphany with it and would gladly have taken away a sample to test at leisure, but they only had Lipstick Rose left. I can well imagine why, haha...

The languidly beautiful sales assistant then suggested a few Annick Goutals for us to try, including Songes (the jasmine indole-fest I remembered) and Duel, which was new to me. Duel was a woody citrus number, featuring notes of “Green Maté absolute, Paraguay petitgrain, iris root, absinth, gaiac wood, leather and musk”. I thought I really liked it at the time, but later changed my mind - on balance, I felt it was just too masculine. We also had a sniff of original Lalique by Lalique on card, which was an unashamed white floral of some kind – quite pleasant, but not as intriguing as Flora Bella.

After Pure Day Spa, we decided a pitstop was in order, and repaired to a favourite ice cream parlour of Olfactoria’s. At this stage in proceedings it was time for the mutual tipping out of perfumes on the table, as you do, including gift samples for each other. I felt totally spoilt by Olfactoria's goody bag for me: there were countless decants and samples, including a whopping one of Guerlain Cologne du 68 and…drum roll…Elie Saab! For Olfactoria had just that morning taken receipt of a big bottle, and found time to siphon off a full 30 ml before she left the house to meet me. Well, I didn’t know where to put myself….

I recounted to Olfactoria the story of how, just two days previously, I had had another go at scoring an Elie Saab sample in yet another branch of Müller, this time in Switzerland. The sales assistant had denied stocking it, only for me to find it immediately, at the other end of the fixture. I called her over and she picked up the tester bottle with a squeal of surprise, before proceeding to spray it copiously all over her décolleté and general head area, for all the world as though it were a can of Ellnett hairspray. “Oh fein, fein!” ("Oh nice, nice!" or possibly "Oh classy, classy!" - it's rather a multi-purpose word) she exclaimed, now thoroughly impregnated with the stuff herself, though this didn’t advance my sample gathering cause one jot. And as it turned out, she didn’t have any samples. The Ingolstadt branches must have got the sample allocation for the entire Müller chain...

After a good deal of highly unsystematic rummaging and sampling, we set about the business of eating our ice creams before they melted. Just then, Olfactoria spotted a local celebrity sitting a couple of tables away, tucking into a sundae of some kind. She looked like an aging Brigitte Bardot, and Olfactoria drew my attention to her “extensive hair”. We speculated as to whether her equally “extensive lips” might have had “work” done…

Having refuelled and cooled down a bit, we headed on to Duft und Kultur, the final stop on our sniffing tour, which was in fact only a couple of doors down. This was an Aladdin’s cave of a store, selling a vast selection of ethnic clothing and arts and crafts alongside perfume, room fragrances, soaps etc. It stocked L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque and Les Parfums de Nicolai, along with some - arguably less common - brands such as Eau d’Italie, Teo Cabanel, Comptoir Sud Pacifique and Miller & Bertaux. Olfactoria was keen for me to try Jardin du Poète, which I sprayed on my upper arm, though not upper enough as it turned out, for it got mixed up with the remnants of Lira. I sprayed Eau d'Italie by Eau d’Italie on the other arm around the same latitude, and thought I liked it better initially. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, but Olfactoria’s prediction that a weird note would emerge and spoil the composition of Eau d’Italie came true, and as I resniffed the spot later that day, I no longer cared for it, though I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me.

Before we knew it our three hours were up and it was time for Olfactoria to go back and relieve the babysitter. We walked to the tube station together and parted company at the top of the stairs to my line. Back in my hotel room, the whole afternoon might have felt like a dream were it not for the Ormonde Jayne box bursting with samples (not OJ samples, in case anyone is wondering), a huge bag of Gummibears courtesy of Olfactoria’s boys(!), and some parcels that I promised to mail for her from a less robdog country than Austria – which we believe will be pretty much anywhere I happen to be passing through...

Yes, I enjoyed myself so much that I went back today and visited everywhere again. : - ) Only very briefly, mind: to retry Nuda and Indochine in Le Parfum, AG Duel in Pure Day Spa, and most importantly to pick up a favourite pen that I had left behind in Duft und Kultur, where it turned out that I had left a bottle of apple juice as well. “We haven’t had a slug out of it, honest!” the proprietor assured me. On my way out, I had a quick spritz of CSP Vanille Abricot, remembering that Katie Puckrik selected it for one of her TV chat show appearances – I think as a general “yummy come hither” scent, but I could be wrong. Anyway, it is certainly yummy – I walked out of the store smelling like one of those dainty Viennese pastries you could find at any of the smart cafes in the city. A fitting way to end my happy travels to Olfactoria.

PS Mindful of confusion in a previous post over the meaning of "Jammy Dodgers", it might be helpful to mention that Viennese Whirls are also a variety of biscuit / cookie! An oblique reference to the waltz may also be inferred... : - )

All photos my own

Wednesday 24 August 2011

A Bonkers Grand Tour: Birmingham Airport - Chanel Les Exclusifs, Prada Candy & Narciso Rodriguez For Her In Color

Given my posting hiatus last week, it occurred to me that Bonkers is in danger of grinding to a complete halt if I neither manage to blog while I am away nor when I am at home in between my trips. So I thought I would have a go at writing at least one post this week - which is less hectic overall than the next fortnight in terms of the number of interviews, if not the amount of driving involved!

Three days (and three countries) in, I am struck by the fact that an extraordinary number of things seem to have gone right, contrary to the norm. For starters, Birmingham airport’s duty free shop has mushroomed beyond recognition since my last visit, and the fragrance section is well on its way to rivalling Harrods’ perfume hall. Okay, I may be exaggerating slightly, but...get this...the Chanel counter now carries Les Exclusifs – the only UK airport to do so, apparently. I clapped eyes for the first time on the new, more humane 75ml bottles. These were at “better than high street” prices, according to the sales assistant, by which I presume she means the prices in the Chanel boutiques, as you won’t find Les Exclusifs on any high street near me. There’s a clue in the name, in fact. Now as it happens I am not in the market for even the 75ml size of my favourites from this range, but for anyone who is, and who might be passing through Birmingham airport, that could be good to know.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of Miller Harrises in the “New” fixture: Figue Amère and Fleur Oriental. Yes I know, those scents have been around for a while, but they will surely be new as far as the airport is concerned! I spotted my lemming du jour, Elie Saab, and then my eye lit on the new Prada Candy. What between the sweetie shop name and the rather twee packaging, which reminded me of that gimmicky range from Benefit with the silly girls’ names, I very nearly walked on by. However, it just so happened that I had seen Candy listed on a split site recently, so I figured it must have something about it, and so it proved.

I have since caught up with Robin’s review of Prada Candy on Now Smell This: she liked it more than she expected to, and her description chimes with my fuzzier reading of the scent. I found it sweet, but not too sweet – a gourmand woody oriental with a hefty dollop of benzoin apparently, though it isn’t all that obvious to my nose.

My initial impression is of a scent in similar vein to Kenzo Amour Indian Holi (which is a sweetish, powdery, peppery floral with darker undertones from the woods and incense in the base). However, the vanilla is more pronounced in Prada Candy, and segues into a caramel accord in the drydown. Yes, cross Indian Holi with Ava Luxe Love’s True Bluish Light in a two thirds one third ratio and you might get something in the right ball park. Or there again maybe not(!), but I would sum this up as an edible yet edgy scent…

Although my nose kept nuzzling the spot where I had sprayed Candy, I also tried Narciso Rodriguez for Her In Color on skin for the second time:

Notes: rose, peach, amber, musk, sandalwood and patchouli

It struck me once again as a deeper version of pink NR for her, NR for her given a sort of Stella spin if you will, as in the original Stella McCartney. Still powdery and super musky, but with a pronounced rosy-amber thing going on. Does the world need yet another Narciso flanker any more than it does another Stella flanker, most of them just a slightly nuanced variation on their predecessor, in a different coloured bottle, or the same coloured bottle with squiggly flowers climbing up it? I think not.

I also tried Lalique Encre Noir on skin because it is such an out and out cult classic, but sadly, it just smelt of ink on me, and rightly or wrongly I couldn’t get images of squid out of my mind.

Then I had a snifter of Guerlain Jasminora (straight up, knock ‘em dead jasmine), and Bouquet Numéro 2 (a watery and rather indeterminate floral scent I couldn’t quite put my finger on, which turns out to have only litchi, rose and iris in it. What's with the "litchi"? I take it that is a more botanically correct word for "lychee"...)

So I have set myself the challenge of acquiring a sample of Prada Candy by hook or by crook on this trip. I failed dismally to secure another Elie Saab sample this morning (the cheek of me for even trying, given my existing stockpile!), but that story belongs in the next perfume "bit"...

Photo of Chanel Les Exclusifs range from, photo of Guerlain and Chanel counters from, photo of Prada Candy from, photo of Narciso For Her In Color from

Sunday 21 August 2011

A Midsummer Bonkers Road Trip: The Perfume Bit - An Ill-Fated Sniffathon In Zürich

I find it strange to credit that a whole week has gone by and I have not written a single blog post. That happens routinely when I go away, but it is the first time in the history of Bonkers that I have been so majorly sidetracked whilst at home that blogging intentions have gone completely out of the window.

But as my Facebook friends know, I may have been at home, yet this has been far from a normal week. For in that time I have managed to cobble together another, longer road trip: I will be away for two and a half weeks this time, in seven countries. Okay, so that sort of excuses last week's posting hiatus, but I thought to myself that I simply cannot go off again tomorrow without at least finishing the account of the last trip, so here is the final instalment. And a very sorry tale it is too.

I found myself unexpectedly free one day of the second week, and arranged to meet Potiron from Basenotes in Zürich. When it comes to fumehead hook ups, Potiron and I are veterans, having already met three times in Basel: twice with Wordbird and Alicka61, and once on our own. This time Potiron was kind enough to offer to meet me in Zürich rather than Basel (where she lives), to save me making the detour west when my meetings were in the opposite direction.

We were due to meet in the Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich's "Golden Mile" in terms of perfume retailing, at about 2pm. I had driven down from Germany that morning in my very hot hire car - with the blower on at full blast in the absence of air con - and by the time I checked into my hotel in the suburbs, I realised that my burgeoning headache might just be shaping up to be a full blown migraine. The fact that I was copiously sick moments later tended to confirm this.

But there was no way I was going to miss this meeting with Potiron, whom I hadn't seen for a year or so, and who had taken the trouble to come a fair distance to meet me at my base. Nor did I want to forfeit the chance to sniff the latest releases in Zürich's finest perfume emporia, given that I might not be passing this way again for some time. I hadn't been to the Bahnhofstrasse since a solo visit in March 2010, so there would clearly be lots of new stuff to try.

How different my afternoon with Potiron panned out compared with the previous packed sniffing itinerary, when I took in no fewer than ten different stores!

I finally made it downtown by about 2.30pm or so, having kept Potiron informed by text of my progress on the tram ride to the centre. The first thing I did was sit on a bench, where Potiron found me - looking decidedly feeble and lacklustre. We agreed that the best plan of action would be to go for a drink first in a nearby cafe - in the shade, as I was troubled by the bright light. So troubled in fact that I chatted to Potiron with my eyes closed much of the time, which isn't terribly sociable.

Midway through our stay at the cafe, I sensed that I was going to be sick again, and scurried inside, my hand covering my mouth as a preventative measure. Unfortunately, the ladies toilet appeared to be locked, so I went up to the bar and mimed the action of a key turning, not daring to take the other hand away from my mouth. Recognising the urgency of my request, the bartender abandoned her capuccino-maker in mid-froth and escorted me back downstairs and into the gent's toilets, where I was promptly sick again.

I thought I might perk up after this, but it was not to be. After our tea we sat in a grassy square for a bit, but there wasn't much shade and the noise and glaring sunshine continued to disturb me. So we headed inside Globus, Zürich's most upmarket department store, whose cool, air conditioned, dark grey interior had an instant calming effect, though my migraine raged on apace...

We headed up to the perfumery department and had only been cruising the aisles for a few minutes before I had to dash to the ladies again - though not before I had pointed Potiron in the direction of Prada Infusion de Vétiver, which I remembered coming across in the men's section last year, and there it was still.

Having thrown up for the third time, I sat for a while on the cold tiled floor of the cubicle - also a soothing shade of charcoal - thinking this was probably the darkest and coolest place in the whole of Zürich. Realistically though, it was not a place where one could reasonably spend more than a few minutes, and I rejoined Potiron in the fragrance department, rallying just long enough to complete our perfunctory browsing of the fixtures. Potiron tried some Serge Lutens - I don't recall which ones, and felt too delicate to test any myself, in case I accidentally lit upon a camphoraceous or boozy spice number that would have been my nemesis even had I been in robust health.

After Globus we walked very slowly - for along with light and noise, I was averse to physical activity - down the Bahnhofstrasse to Osswald, the jewel in the crown in terms of Zürich's perfumeries. Had I been feeling better, we would doubtless have had a nose round the discount retailer, Import-Parfümerie, or checked out a branch or two of Marionnaud or Douglas. Not to mention the other department stores left unexplored this time, like Manor or Jelmoli. Knowing that we were on borrowed time in terms of my staying power, we were careful instead to target only the most prestigious outlets!

Sadly though, even in this fragrance mecca I couldn't summon up much enthusiasm. My brief attempts at sampling were interspersed with longer bouts of sitting down - as discreetly as I could muster - on the wooden ledge surrounding the wall displays. I limited myself to smelling just a handful of scents I had been wanting to try. Under normal circumstances - as on my trip to Berlin earlier this year - I might well have taken a perfume house previously unknown to me, like Memo on that occasion, and systematically sniffed my way through the entire line.

In accordance with this tightly focused strategy(!), I spotted the Xerjoff range prominently displayed on a table near the front of the store, and homed in immediately on Oesel. I tested it on a prime skin site, remembering Olfactoria's hugely enthusiastic review of it recently. It reminded me of a more vivid and luscious version of Penhaligon's Orange Blossom cologne, maybe with a slug of Jo Malone's Orange Blossom tipped in to make it really zing. I remember Oesel as rich and radiant, and I also detected similarities - both stylistically and in terms of the actual notes - with Ajne Bloom de Nuit, though it is a while since I have smelt that one:


Notes: neroli, citrus fruit, green leaves, rock rose, amber and sandalwood.


Notes: orange blossom, petitgrain, Bulgarian rose, Sambac jasmine, mimosa, white flowers, Indian patchouli, cedar and tobacco flower.

Ajne scents, doubtless due to their being all-natural, have this unique, Dolby surround sound quality, of which you occasionally find bright echoes in other high end fragrances. DelRae Début is a lily of the valley and citrus scent, but it has that same sunshine-y, almost palpably tangy quality as the floral Ajnes, and Oesel is in similar vein. It is a great tribute to Oesel that I liked it so much in my fragile state, and that such a fulsome fragrance managed to beguile rather than repel. It beguiled and persisted on skin well into the next morning, outlasting my headache by some 12 hours!

I also tested DelRae's Coup de Foudre on skin, and didn't dislike it, but can't remember much about it - it can't have been all that remarkable, notwithstanding my impaired faculties. I retried the softly musky Geste from Humiecki & Graef, but that didn't set my world alight either, though I think Potiron may have pronounced it her favourite of the scents I sprayed on skin.

I had a sniff of two new Byredos, Palermo and Sunday Cologne. Palermo was too herby and acerbic, while Sunday Cologne was pleasant but entirely forgettable. I will stick with Gypsy Water, with its slight undercurrent of mystery lent by the incense. Then I tested both Maison Martin Margiela Untitled and Untitled L'Eau on skin. The latter was a tad sharper, but I think I quite liked both. They were green and citrussy and that is all I can dredge up from the memory banks. Nuls points for the boring minimalist packaging though, which appears to be trying to rival Le Labo's apothecary bottles in the clinical blandness department.

Now Ormonde Jayne had been launched in Osswald since I was last there, and it was nice to see this very familiar British brand so far from home. The line had its own portion of shelving, while the tester bottles - along with explanatory cards about each scent - were dotted around the store at regular intervals, like scented stations of the cross, if that is not too crass an image!

Once Potiron and I had exhausted Osswald, or more correctly, once Osswald had exhausted me, we repaired to a shady bench a few yards away to consider our next move. We opted to make one last assault on the book shop in the Spiegelgasse that stocks Andy Tauers, where we got to try Zeta for the first time, and I even blagged a small sample. I say "even", because this shop couldn't be more different from chains like Douglas, where hustling for samples is standard perfumista procedure.

Zeta was to linden what Carillon pour un Ange is to lily of the valley. Both have a distinctly metallic character - with Zeta Tauer is clearly "galvanising the lime". I joked with the shop proprietor about the fact that The Pentachords weren't available to test in their homeland, and he remarked ruefully that perfumers aren't necessarily celebrated - or their creations showcased - in their own country. I may be paraphrasing slightly, but it was something along those lines.

After another cup of tea in a shady square nearby, I had shot my bolt, staminawise, and we made our way back to the train station, where Potiron caught the 7pm train back to Basel. I jumped on a tram across the street, and was tucked up in my darkened hotel room by 7.15pm.

So it wasn't my finest hour as sniffathons go, but I am glad I got round the places we did, and was pleased to see Potiron even under these difficult circumstances. Looking back, it was a good job that I knew her already, so I felt able to be so conspicuously ill in her company without either of us batting an eyelid. Oh, and I took this photo of Potiron, but didn't feel like having mine taken in return. That might have been a Photoshop challenge too far!

PS Waiting for me when I got home was a surprise package from Bonkers reader Tara, containing - by a spooky coincidence - a generous decant of Zeta! She had clocked my comments on other blogs about this scent, saying how much I would like to sniff it, and had the kind thought to send me some from her new bottle. Pictured in the photo below is Charlie Bonkers helping me sort the post the day after I got back. Remarkably, she didn't knock the Zeta atomiser over...

Pboto of Bahnhofstrasse from, photo of cafe from, photo of Globus from, photo of Osswald from, photo of Oesel from, photo of Untitled from, other photos my own

Sunday 14 August 2011

A Midsummer Bonkers Road Trip: The Perfume Bit – Ingolstadt And Operation Elie Saab Le Parfum

In my last post I made reference to my German friend Claudia, singling her out for special mention as the lone purveyor of authentic croissants in an ocean of stodgy Teutonic travesties. During my recent trip I spent a very enjoyable weekend at her house in a village near Ingolstadt (best known as the world HQ of Audi cars). Claudia takes the phrase “hostess with the mostest” to a whole new level, indeed the entire family rallied round to make me feel welcome.

For instance, her elder daughter vacated her bedroom for me, where I was greeted by the sight of not one, but four packets of Haribo Gummibears on my pillow. On the bedside table stood miniature bottles of red and sparkling wine, plus one of mineral water (presumably to pre-empt hangovers).

Meanwhile, my friend’s younger daughter had baked some chocolate cupcakes, the icing on which was still wet and glistening as I arrived, while Claudia’s husband put at my disposal a full suite of travel management and business centre services, including questionnaire and map printing. Not forgetting his impressively nimble valet parking of my hire car!

Additionally, it seemed that the whole family had been squirrelling away perfume samples from shops in anticipation of my visit. Claudia presented me with a Douglas bag full of carded samples, including one of that elusive new love of mine, Elie Saab Le Parfum - to which more would be added presently... : - ) There was also a sample of Kenzo Flower Essentielle, which was not previously on my radar, and which warrants a review of its own in due course. So all in all I was very touched at the thoughtfulness and high level of coordination that had gone into the preparations for my stay.

Claudia’s tremendous hospitality also extended beyond the home: on Sunday she took me on a walking tour of Ingolstadt, the highlights of which were the gothic cathedral, the city walls punctuated by turrety gatehouses, and the ghoulishly fascinating museum of medical history, featuring such oddball exhibits (quite literally) as a collection of glass eyes.

And on the Saturday we hit the perfume shops in both the centre of Ingolstadt and an out of town shopping mall. We covered two branches of the “drugstore plus” Müller (more of a cross between a drugstore and a low end department store), and one of the perfumery chain Douglas. My sampling was particularly haphazard on this occasion for some reason – I did test a number of the Korres perfume line, which you don’t often see - well, not in Britain anyway. Korres packs pretty much the entire formulation of its perfumes into their decidedly unsnappy titles: I think the ones I tried were Paeonia Vanilla Amber Pear, Vanilla Freesia Lychee, and White Tea Bergamot Freesia. I remember all three as pleasant but unremarkable.

Then some bizarre impulse made me reach for testers of scents in a fixture clearly aimed at a younger audience: first I tried Katy Perry Purr (unexpectedly grapefruity! – could that have been the “forbidden apple” listed in the notes, “forbidden” perhaps precisely because it is in fact a grapefruit?). Next up was John Galliano Parlez-Moi d’Amour. In the case of the latter, my eye was drawn to the cute bottle, that looks like an airmail letter with a stamp on it (the wrong side, by the looks of that picture!). It turned out to be a sweetish floral woody musk scent – not bad, and crucially, not grapefruity. I also sampled Tommy Hilfiger Loud for Women, as featured in the recent BBC documentary, “Perfume”. It was another rose patch-lite number - a bit watery, but a decent option for that demographic, which also holds true for the Galliano.

Prompted by a review over on Boisdejasmin, I also gave Ange ou Démon Le Secret a go (another phantom grapefruit composition – I am guessing that here my brain could be misreading the tea and cranberry notes?). Now you are going to say that I have really got a downer on grapefruit – whether real or a figment of my nasal reception - but I would just like to say that I am not the only one. For Claudia’s younger daughter made the mistake of spraying herself liberally in DKNY Woman before I could intercept her and explain that that is the citrus fruit equivalent of a nuclear holocaust. She ruefully agreed with me after the event, whereupon I judged it an appropriate moment to explain the concept of the “scrubber”. If anyone reading this happens to know a snappy German term for this, I would be glad to know it!

The highlight of the whole expedition was without question the continued garnering of Elie Saab Le Parfum samples. Elie Saab is not yet in mainstream distribution over here, but there was a huge publicity splash about it in Germany. Now you will recall that Claudia had already scored one sample for me in advance of my visit, then I managed to acquire another in the first branch of Müller we visited. In the second branch of Muller I thought I would try to pull the same stunt and the sales assistant pulled out three samples from her drawer! She was apparently new, bless her. The cynical and parsimonious rot will doubtless set in presently!

Then I dived behind the Clarins fixture for a moment while Claudia went up to this generous SA who bestowed a sample on her too – just the one, as she perhaps had been insufficiently effusive compared to me. Anyway, Claudia promptly passed this latest sample on to me, like a shoplifter stealing to order. Well, I must say I felt a little guilty to have ended up with six of the things. I would consider buying a bottle at some point, but not at German retail prices, oh dear me, no.

To show my gratitude to the cosmos, I doused myself in Elie Saab for several days straight, and can add a few more thoughts to my initial impressions here. The opening was as bright and radiant as I remembered – it is like a whoosh of Jo Malone orange blossom mixed in with a rosy, smooth skin scent. I am also reminded of various facets of Love Chloe, Stella Nude and Dior 1947 New Look, in particular the latter – there is a definite cold cream-and-slinky-satin-teddy vibe going on here. And there is also….now, please don’t be alarmed by this…a very slight synthetic quality, at the beginning at least. I was so pleased to read that Angela of Now Smell This also gets this radiant quality – to be honest I wouldn’t have had Elie Saab down as her thing!

So all in all Operation Elie Saab went like military clockwork to coin a phrase, as did Operation Breakfast on the family’s part on Sunday morning. When I finally ambled downstairs at gone 11am, I was blown away by the elaborate and varied breakfast buffet that awaited me. As I say, I was torn between the cupcakes and the croissants. It was option anxiety, or as they say over there, with a nice touch of assonance: “Die Qual der Wahl”.

Much like the world of perfume, indeed…. Though if I had to wear Elie Saab Le Parfum for a month straight, it wouldn't be a huge hardship… : - )

Photo of John Galliano perfume from, still photo of "Grapefruit's revenge" from, other photos my own.

Saturday 13 August 2011

'Howser's Law': A Smelly Treat For Belfast-Based Fumeheads!

You wouldn't guess it from my accent, but I was born and bred in Belfast and lived there for 23 years. Until recently I used to describe this as "half my life", but the maths don't quite stack up any more... Then, shortly after I left for England, my friend R moved to Belfast from Scotland and is still there today. She works at a contemporary art gallery housed in a former linen mill: rather aptly, it is called The Golden Thread, and specialises in community outreach activities. So anyway, R and I like to think that we are serving out an entire lifetime in Belfast in relays - hold on a minute...2011 - 1985? (I think she arrived in the mid-80s) = more than 23 years, meaning that it is probably time for me to take over on the next shift...

And if I lived in Belfast right now I would be able to attend this intriguing olfactory event / exhibition / interactive experiment - for it seems to be taking multiple forms. My friend tipped me the wink, knowing of my scented proclivities, though unfortunately I shan't be able to get across to check it out. 'Howser's Law' runs until 27th August at the PS2 art gallery in Donegall Street (full details at the bottom of this post).

‘Howser’s Law’- Jan Uprichard

Howser’s Law : “The primary personality trait of a given subject is directly determined by their reaction to a smell”.

Here is some background, reproduced from Jan Uprichard's blog:

'This project makes a re-presentation of the scientific research undertaken in the West coast of Ireland by a group of pioneering scientists lead by Dr. Douglas Howser in the mid-1960s in the field of Olfaction. They discovered a formula which allowed them to determine the predominant personality traits of individuals by their reaction to a certain smell. However, their work has never been fully recognized nationally or internationally due to the economic constraints and political agenda of the Irish government at that time. This lack of awareness on the international stage meant that through the passage of time the work of Dr. Howser and his team has been forgotten by history. In addition to this, much of the documentation of the group's work was lost to a fire in the storage warehouse of the Natural History Museum in the outskirts of Dublin in 1985. In an attempt to redress this balance what is left of their work is being exhibited here along with the chance to take part in the experiment that proves Howser’s Law.'

Now, this is not the first scent-related project Jan Uprichard has conducted, as noted on the PS2 gallery's website:

'In 2010 she invited people in her "Smell Association Denominator" project to contribute to an archive of smell associations. In practical tests, participants had to mix the smell of home, a clean smell and the smell of Belfast.'

Uprichard had the bright idea - literally, as it was a vivid shade of blue - of using a converted container as a drop-in centre for her experiment. The progress of the project is documented on another of her blogs, Smell Reminiscence & Inquiry Lab.

If any Northern Ireland-based fumeheads manage to see and/or participate in(!) 'Howser's Law', do please report back! And meanwhile, I shall puzzle over what my reactions to various smells might have revealed about my dominant personality trait. I am noted for my liking of understated, borderline wimpy scents, so does that make me a shrinking violet? Or a conflict avoider, maybe? Or someone who doesn't wish to draw attention to themselves with their fashion and fragrance choices, at least? Without being able to attend and contribute first hand to the experiment, I can only speculate!


18 Donegall Street
Belfast, BT1 2GP

Opening hours Wed-Fri 1-5pm, Sat 11am-3pm.

Contact: or 07733457772.

Thursday 11 August 2011

A Midsummer Bonkers Road Trip: The Travel Bit - Part 2

Right, so here are some more things that struck me on this trip...

Germany is also a car park

In a recent post I had a real pop at the notorious traffic black spot / hole that is the Antwerp ring in Belgium. Two weeks of driving around southern Germany and Switzerland have unequivocably confirmed that in high summer at least, certain sections of Germany's motorway network are also a car park. I heard on the radio that Germany has 200,000 separate traffic jams a year, and I swear that most of these were on the A8, A5 and the northern extremities of the A81 at the same time as I was the other week. In particular, exits with Böblingen in the name should be studiously avoided. Indeed, if any reader is thinking of going on holiday to Germany at this time of year, I would urge them to give the whole of the Stuttgart area a very wide berth, or as they say over there: "wide roomily drive around" it.

A small hire car is a contradiction in terms

I have been renting cars for work on and off for some 20 years and (with the very occasional exception) have mostly resigned myself to the fact that regardless of how often I specify the smallest and most basic category of car - for which the illustration on the laminated car menu might be a Fiat Panda, say - I will invariably end up with a bulky wide-bodied jet of a people carrier or something not far off it, with a name I have never heard of. This time I was given a Kia Venga. Hello? Who came up with the idea of naming a Korean car after the present first and third person subjunctive of the verb "to come" in Spanish?

Call me conservative, but it wouldn't have been a top of the head choice for me. As it turned out, after I had grown accustomed to its cumbersome contours and noisy ignition, I came to appreciate the incredibly economic fuel consumption of the diesel engine. I would happily rent this car again on my return to Stuttgart in 10 days' time, not least on account of the Swiss vignette indelibly affixed to its windscreen; it cost me 40 SFRS for the rest of the year, even though I was only able to use it for all of two days. But peel it off at your peril, as we read in Wikipedia:

"They are usually constructed in such a way that detaching and reattaching them is impossible without destruction, ensuring that drivers can't use the same vignette on more than one vehicle."

That said, I found this photo on Ebay!

All caravans are Dutch

Now I may moan about the traffic congestion in Belgium and Holland, but at least the problems are not compounded by motor homes and caravans. No, this is because all the Dutch ones are on the move in Germany, obscuring my line of sight and occasionally swaying in an unpredictable and unnerving manner. They will always have at least three bicycles attached to the back, which helps to thin out the indigenous (over-)population of the blessed things that are set to try visitors to their own country.

"Wash & Go" gets a new spin

As some of my Facebook friends may recall, I had a bit of an incident with a nectarine on this trip - specifically, trying to eat it while driving. Well...inevitably, just a couple of bites in, bright scarlet juice spurted forth and landed on my white T-shirt and beige skirt. Knowing that speed was of the essence - in stain removal that is, not driving - I reached for my bottle of mineral water and upended it over the spreading red patches. I proceeded to rub each affected area as best I could, while keeping one eye on the road and the remaining hand on the wheel.

This derelict driving behaviour prompted a flurry of disapproving comments on my Facebook wall, including this from my best friend Clare:

"Do I take it that you have fitted hands-free laundry equipment in your vehicle, Ms Musson? Still, as long as you weren't using your mobile at the same time. That might have been dangerous."

A croissant, but not as we know it

I would like to counsel readers staying in German hotels not to be tempted by the croissants they may find nestling amongst the bread rolls at the breakfast buffet. For notwithstanding their convincing shape, these are not really croissants at all, in the sense of flaky, buttery, mouthwateringly lardy, light as a feather hollow-centred morning goods. Rather, they are dense and stodgy interlopers destined to disappoint and make you wish you had risked the boiled eggs even though they might well have been soft and cold by now. The exception to this rule is croissants served by my friend Claudia in her home (of which more anon). They were the real deal (possibly baked off from an authentic ready-made dough), and if I hadn't already stuffed myself with cupcakes I would have got stuck in without a moment's hesitation.

The credit card swipe of suspicion

It is commonplace nowadays for hotels to take an imprint of your credit card or note your passport number when you check in. This is in case you do a runner, presumably, or completely clean out the mini-bar without declaring so much as a finger-thin sachet of peanuts. What irked me on this trip was the fact that I seemed to be constantly asked to leave a deposit for this or that, which is clearly a further sign of distrust. It started at the airport when I was picking up my hire car: the rather aptly named "Thrifty" desk took a deposit of 1000 euros off me to cover possible damage to the vehicle, while the hotel in Stuttgart with the robdog Internet charges wanted a deposit of 20 euros just to unlock the phone in the room! Doubtless to cover at least part of my long calls to Nigeria. And hey, at the airport they even charge you a euro to use the trolley, which can only be recovered if you are prepared to walk your empty trolley the half mile back again to where you found it.

I should point out that wherever I went on this trip I finally got cafe staff trained in the art of tea making to my precise requirements. The key all along was simply to be very specific and consistent in one's order:

"A cup of black tea please, with a very small amount of cold milk on the side."

And finally, here are a few strange things I spotted on this trip:

A curious collage of culinary appliances

A fantastically funky phone box

Trees with bits taken out

Green potato crisps

A tower in a bath hat

The ultimate bad taste mannequins

Me and an oversized hula-hoop

So that's it for the travel bits! The perfume-related aspects of the trip will be reported shortly...

Photo of traffic jam from, photo of Kia Venga from, photo of vignette from, photo of Dutch car towing a caravan from photo of an arm from, photo of croissants from, photo of a locked phone from, other photos my own.