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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention V! What a trooper and good friend you were to continue to stay out and test perfumes when you were so sick. I fear I must try the Xerjoffs soon despite the price though at least the money appears to be in the quality of the juice.

Hope this current trip is a happy and healthy one.


Cymbaline said...

It's awful to be sick, especially when you're not on your home turf. It would have been such a shame if you hadn't been able to meet up with your sniffing buddy! I'm glad you hung in there and wish you the best on your upcoming road trip.

Charlie Bonkers is a beauty-
and so well-mannered : )

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you felt so bad, it must have been horrible, But you are a true Perfumista for having persisted under those unfortunate circumstances.
And I am more than happy that you liked Oesel so much, I feel very validated. :)
I hope you are feeling well now and next Friday!!!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Your decant was a lovely coming home present!

And yes, you should try a few of the Xerjoffs, taking great care not to put your eye out with those tops... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

You are right that it is somehow worse to be ill whilst away from home, but I too am glad I hung on in there!

Charlie Bonkers had her annual MOT the other day, and apart from an ingrowing toenail and a spot of tartar, was pronounced in very good nick for her age (16.5).

: - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Oesel was definitely the highlight of the day on the testing front. I really wasn't "in the sniffing zone" as you will have gathered.

Will try to take better care of my head this week though it is shaping up to be a hot one. My car may just have air con this time, which would make the driving more comfortable. Will check the controls in daylight!

Fingers crossed for Friday... : - )

Suzanne said...

Wow, many kudos to you, Vanessa, for soldiering through on your sniffing mission with Potiron when you were feeling so miserably. I'm sorry to hear about your migraine and hope that your next trip is uneventful in that regard, for it sounds like you will be quite busy traversing seven countries in 2 1/2 weeks! Wishing you safe and happy travels in the journey ahead!

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your good wishes - I am happy to report that my hire car this time does have air conditioning, which in temperatures of 35 C (and very humid with it) makes a huge difference on the long journeys I am doing daily!

Undina said...

Vanessa, I admire your determination! I feel nauseous just from reading about your migraine.
I'm glad you were able to try at least some new things and met your friend.
Your cat is very gracious! With my cat I would be lucky if I ever found the vial again.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Haha! Sorry if my writing was a little too vivid...

: - )

Charlie Bonkers is all too capable of knocking stuff over, trust me. And nudging my hand as I type so that entire chunks of text disappear or gain an extra 30 zzzzzz or yyyyyyy.

Martha said...

You poor thing! When you said "sorry tale", I thought that you were going to tell us that Zurich had drastically deteriorated as a perfume destination. While this sounds a good deal worse, at least you know it's still there waiting for you on a future, hopefully migraine-free, trip?

JoanElaine said...

Wow - you are a champion!

I can barely function with a run of the mill headache, and here you are socializing, sniffing and taking it all in stride, migraine be damned!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

You are very kind, but I wasn't really taking it in my stride, as Potiron will testify. I had all the get up and go of a ghostly, limp dishrag, but I did make it round the key outlets at least!

Vanessa said...

Hi ChickenFreak,

Would that the problem had been as minor as a merchandising issue! But as you say, I can come to Zurich afresh another time. I believe this may be a variant on "hitting your head against a brick wall".

Wordbird said...

So lovely to see Potiron again. She's always such good company!
And strangely wistful at the thought of you two sniffing around Zurich without me. It's certainly crammed with a lot of perfume places, isn't it?

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

You were missed indeed, not that I was much company on the day!

And yes, Bahnhofstrasse and vicinity is truly a perfumista mecca. : - )