Thursday 29 September 2011

Bonkers Travel Round Up - Unfeasibly Long Place Names, Curious Sanitary Ware And Other Oddities

So the summer is over, though with the current heatwave you wouldn't think it in Britain this week; the only mellow fruitfulness to speak of round here involved the spotty bananas I mashed up with Ideal milk the other day. Eight weeks on the road left me little time for blogging, unfortunately, though I did at least manage to report on the perfume highlights of the last few months.

However, it's been a while since my last "pure" travel post, so while my memories are fairly fresh, I will pick up where I left off at the end of July.

The second trip got off to an eerily smooth start - the surprise discovery of the Chanel Les Exclusifs range at Birmingham airort was just the start of it. On the plane there was no one else in my row, the flight arrived early, there were none of the usual queues at passport control in Stuttgart, and my bag was first off the plane. My hire car had air conditioning, and being diesel, was incredibly economical on fuel. Yes, it was a Skoda, but the build quality of Skodas has improved immeasurably since the mid-90s, when the company's mission statement used to be: "Step by step into the second century" (click on the fax below - lovingly preserved since my meeting at the Czech plant in 1996 - to enlarge the logo!).

What else? My first hotel allowed me to extend my check out till 1pm, provided two plump pillows!, a switch to activate the extractor fan - or not - in the bathroom!, and a choice of shady spots for my car - a life saver in the 35 C heat prevailing at the time. And the very first person I interviewed turned out to be a huge fan of our client, especially the lady in customer service, whom he described - most tantalisingly - as "so much more than a friend".

And then there was my "corridor vignette coup", whereby I managed to slip in and out of Switzerland for only two euros, instead of the usual 30 or so (40 CHF). I may have slightly fudged my itinerary to qualify, nipping out of the prescribed corridor between Germany and Switzerland into the adjacent reception rooms of Austria and Slovenia, but I figured I could play my "hapless tourist" card if I was rumbled. It worked for me a treat that time I rode a tram in Frankfurt without a ticket.

And the other triumph in Switzerland was to buy a wrap in McDonalds for under £10, which, despite the predictably high ratio of wrap, really did look as though it might have contained chicken somewhere deep within its floury folds. And whatever it was, you had to love the free Coca-Cola glass that came with it!

So there were a lot of things that went well. And to be honest, apart from failing to clock that Hungary had its own currency, my ineffectual mime of "smoked paprika" in a Hungarian branch of Tesco, and one or two hairy escapades involving Slovenian post offices and a communal laundry in Austria (which may warrant a separate post), most of the trips were free of incident. Of incident perhaps, but not oddities. So here is a round up of some of the things that particularly struck me on the last three trips.

Much of Austria is underground

Now Olfactoria may take issue with this statement, as she lives in the relatively above ground city of Vienna, and her summer house is not a cave dwelling either. However, if you drive from the Swiss border to Innsbruck, you are obliged to negotiate upwards of 30 tunnels, some mercifully short, many claustrophobically long, and all of them dark and dull. I couldn't help thinking that it would have been easier just to knock the mountains down rather than turn visitors to Austria into toll-paying troglodytes.

Curious sanitary ware and other toilet humour...

A rectangular toilet

"Rectangular" being the operative word... This was in my hotel in Udine, northern Italy, another unfortunate "near miss" kind of term. And "near miss" is arguably yet another one!

Papering over wise cracks

I consider myself a seasoned traveller, but this was my first brush with edifying toilet tissue: a homily in a roll, no less, with each sheet bearing a different nugget of wisdom. Here are some of my favourites, though they lose a bit of their snappiness - and all of their rhyme - in translation.

"Bad luck is a door which sticks as you are running to the toilet."

"Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed."

"A financial genius is a man who can earn money faster than his family can spend it."

A seventies time warp en-suite

The bathroom of my Vienna hotel had floor-to-ceiling tiles in a pervasively beige colour scheme accented by brown and orange daisies - and an avocado suite! I was catapulted right back to my teens in the 70s. A bottle of Badedas bubble bath and a suggestive canister of Tickle deodorant would have made the scene complete!

Shit happens

On one of the rare non-subterranean stretches of Austrian motorway I spotted this lorry delivering a consignment of Portaloos:

Chupa Chups water towers (aka more strange things on poles)

Well, I assume that this silver ball on a pole is a water tower, having encountered broadly similar structures in the US, though some of those are admittedly more like leggy sputniks.

Window box frenzy

Window boxes on Tyrolean chalets are nothing out of the ordinary, but I nearly swerved into a ditch somewhere near the Austrian/Slovenian border on spying a chalet that was almost completely obliterated by window boxes in shades of purple and white. I wish now that I had photographed it, but it was a windy, mountainous road with nowhere where I could have safely parked. The photo below is a total lightweight in the window box density stakes, but if you multiple the number of boxes by a factor of three, and make the blooms extra voluminous while you are at it, you will be in the right ballpark.

Peremptory traffic signs

I came across this rather startling traffic sign several times in Austria. I am sure it is very effective in preventing the phenomenon of "Falschfahrer" (drivers mistakenly driving against the direction of traffic) which so bedevils the German motorway network. There are frequent radio announcements on German radio, warning other motorists to watch out for this "wrong driver" and on no account to overtake, in case he or she happens to be bombing along the other way at that precise moment.

Unidentified main courses

I was in some pretty remote spots over the summer, where sometimes it was a struggle to make myself understood in English or German, my "go-to" languages in Central Europe in which I can invariably conduct my interviews and get by generally. I was routinely baffled by menus in Slovenian, Hungarian and Czech - even in Serbian once - though I wasn't actually IN Serbia! (My Slovenian hotel was run by Serbians). Thus it was that some of my meals were the ultimate "pig" or "fish in a poke" - twice the unknown fish in question came complete with head, which is not something I would knowingly bring upon myself.

The board pictured below (from Slovenia), is a rare example of a menu with an English translation, for which I was understandably grateful.

Micro chapels

Everywhere I went in Central Europe, I spied tiny chapels: sometimes by the road, sometimes perched atop hills, while others had merely been plonked randomly in the middle of fields. They were so very, very tiny that I could have sworn some of them had been cut in half.

Every era of hotel room

The bathroom shot above nicely showcases the 70s throwback decor of my hotel in Vienna, but across my various trips I enjoyed the full spectrum of period decor, from bediggled baroque to loft dwelling minimalism. No prizes for guessing which I preferred!

Disappearing waste paper baskets

Now if anyone reading this works in the hotel trade, they may be able to explain whether I am imagining this trend, or whether there really has been a move of late to cull the population of waste paper baskets in hotel rooms. I remember that - regardless of the category of hotel it seemed (and here's where I may be mistaken) - there used to always be a bin in the bedroom and one of those annoying flip top or mini swing bins in the bathroom. Recently I have noticed an absence of bins in the bedroom, and have had to resort to drastically overfilling the little bathroom bins with all my empty mineral water bottles, fast food detritus, balled up tissues and discarded Google maps. Obviously I cannot feature a photo of the bins in the bedroom, as they have now vanished, so here is one of the uselessly diminutive style of bathroom ones instead.

And - rather symbolically, you may say - given its white colour, this bin appears to be disappearing too, like a polar bear on an ice floe...

Random museums

I didn't have time to visit it, but was intrigued to note that Vienna boasts a Museum of Contraception and Abortion (Museum fuer Verhuetung und Schwangerschaftsabbruch). That is right up there in my book with the wackiest museums I have ever come across - in Kansas City, if my memory serves me: an exhibition devoted exclusively to Caroline Kennedy's dolls, a museum of ghost trains, another one of barns, and my personal favourite, a museum featuring jewellery made entirely of human hair.

And finally, should any proof be needed that my business trips are just that little bit bonkers, here is a picture of some chickens in Srepenica, Slovenia, and one of a funny statue in Vienna. (If anyone is concerned, that flesh coloured excrescence is in fact the leg of a strategically placed passer by.)

Photo of chicken wrap from, photo of tunnel from, photo of Tickle from, photo of Chupa Chups from, photo of chapel from, photo of swing bin from, photo of cartoon from, other photos my own.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Going The Puredistance (II): Tea And Dutch Apple Cake With Jan Ewoud Vos And His Team

To mark the occasion of my 200th post – somewhat asynchronously, as it was technically my 206th post at the time – I featured one of the perfumes that has most impressed me this year, Puredistance I. I warmed to the company in the course of our friendly email exchanges, not least because they didn’t seem to have taken offence at my comparison of the packaging to a “top of the range coffin”. Nor had they minded when, in an earlier post (which may have originally alerted them to my blog), I took a potshot at some famous Dutch traditions, such as a mass New Year’s dive in the sea and the nation's pyromaniacal relationship with fireworks.

Given the serendipity of my falling over Zsolt Zólyomi, Hungary’s lone perfumer (and stockist of Puredistance), it was perhaps not so surprising that on the last day of my last trip of the summer - 112 days and some 10,000 miles after I swore under my breath at a crocodile of children endlessly crossing the road in Belgium – the bonkers road ran out in northern Holland.... I had just one last appointment on a Friday afternoon in Veendam (not to be confused with the hunky Belgian actor of that name), and a free morning...

Now as Veendam is 20 miles from Groningen, the European HQ of Puredistance, I contacted Rosanne Schepers - newly promoted to Manager of International Sales and Public Relations - a couple of days ahead, and asked if I could pop in and say hello. I hoped I might also be able to blag a cup of tea, Holland being one of the few European countries where you stand a fighting chance of being offered one.

On the Friday morning in question I chose to walk to their offices, tucked behind one of the many scenic canals in Groningen. I didn’t want to mow down a cyclist so close to the end of my trip, and I knew that if I persisted in driving in Dutch urban areas, it was only a matter of time before I had a handful of fatalities under my bumper and on my conscience.

At 9.30am sharp (well, sharp by my watch, which may be a couple of minutes slow), I rang the doorbell of the impressive wooden door of the Puredistance offices. These are housed in a converted church with a great vaulted celing and a wonderful air of calm. It would have made a good dance studio too, Jan Ewoud Vos observed. I asked them what denomination of church it used to be. Something “apostolic”, apparently.

Rosanne greeted me warmly and immediately offered me a cup of tea! She is one of the numerous Scandinavian blondes featured on the Puredistance website – though a couple had in fact left already, and I am pleased to report that the shade spectrum of the present team’s hair is more mixed – I was beginning to wonder whether my own hair colour might be a barrier to my visit.

After a tour of the offices and introductions to the rest of the team: Jhonathan, Alina and Kateryna - who respectively look after sales in their home countries of China, Romania and Ukraine – we took our tea and sat down at a large pine table in the main atrium and nerve centre of the fulfilment operation. Prefolded cartons were piled high on a table ready to be packed, and a ghetto blaster stood in splendid isolation in the middle of the parquet floor. Music while the team worked? Or perhaps they were going to dance after all…

Some twenty minutes into my visit, Jan Ewoud Vos arrived, bearing two types of cake to be shared amongst the staff. (As you can see in the photograph, I was given some for the road in a rather novel take-away container... :- ) ) JEV (I will use the acronym which neatly gets me out of the quandary of whether to refer to him as Mr Vos or Jan Ewoud), joined us at the head of the table, and the six of us chewed the cud for the best part of an hour about all sorts of issues relating to Puredistance, JEV's own background and the perfume market in general.

Puredistance – the only Dutch perfume?

I asked whether Puredistance was the only fragrance brand that hails from Holland, and it turns out that it is not the only one, but the only high end one. There is the mainstream men’s brand Van Gils (a new one on me), and of course fashion house Viktor & Rolf (of Flowerbomb fame – note the subliminal firework reference!)

Then there is Marlies Dekkers, the Dutch designer of a lingerie line called Undressed. Dekkers has diversified into swimwear, nightwear, sunglasses, slippers and additionally - Agent Provocateur-style - either has her own line of fragrances called "Skindressed" already, or is planning to launch it some time soon.

Lastly, JEV mentioned Ellis Faas, a cutting edge Dutch make up artist who has worked with the likes of Mario Testino, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and who according to JEV remains refreshingly unfazed by the world of the rich and famous in which she now moves. I sensed that JEV – who also operates in a luxury world but has clearly not been “spoilt” by it – sees in her a kindred spirit, and they plan to collaborate, whilst taking care to retain their own individuality. They each see their own company as their "baby", which they will continue to take good care of, and in this way have a similar approach to business.

NOTE - does that sleek steel canister not remind you a little bit of the Puredistance test tube phials?

The ascent of Dutch design

We also discussed how The Netherlands is increasingly making its mark in design terms, gradually moving away from its traditional base in agriculture, fishing and industry. One look at the fabulously outlandish art museum in Groningen confirms this trend... JEV explained that Dutch design is like Scandinavian, but is a warmer, “more human version”.

He hopes that one day he and his fellow movers and shakers will “recover the fame of Dutch painters” in their chosen fields of creative endeavour – in JEV’s own case of course, through the medium of his Puredistance fragrance collection.

Jan Ewoud Vos – from tennis ace to photographer and brand entrepreneur

One of the most interesting aspects of our conversation was hearing about JEV’s early life and career. I found him charmingly unaffected and down to earth, and he seems genuinely surprised at where his career path has taken him, viewing himself as a bit of an outsider:

“For a boy with no famous connections or a wealthy background, what are the chances that he would create something legendary one day?! The banks would say the chances are zero zero zero, point zero!”

JEV showed early promise as a tennis player, still plays, and (I think) still teaches the game. He could have turned professional, but took up photography instead, before setting up Puredistance in 2002.

The inspiration behind Puredistance

I asked Jan Ewoud Vos how he came by the idea for the Puredistance venture, and he explained that its origins lay in a vision he had of a lavish society party – as he was speaking, I was picturing a decadent, modern day version of a scene from The Great Gatsby: there were lots of drunken, noisy people, who were showing off, bragging and generally swanning around in flashy designer gear and blinging jewellery.

Also at the party was a beautiful woman wearing a white dress, whose simple, natural beauty stunned those around her into silence. She was not like them, and had put “pure distance” between herself and the other revellers with their coarse exhibitionism.

This female figure is the embodiment of the Puredistance concept: understated elegance and classic beauty.

“It is more about the philosophy and the concept than selling perfume.”

However, perfume remains at the heart of this concept, as its central form of expression.

“Perfume evokes the emotions more than anything else except music. It is on the same level as that.”

A slow-burning business model

I say “slow-burning”, because it took seven years of meticulous preparations before Jan Ewoud Vos got the Puredistance collection together and ready for launch. And if the whole venture bombed, he thought to himself with endearing pragmatism, at least his daughter would get a wonderful, unique signature scent out of it as something to show for his trouble.

JEV openly admits to bucking the trend in terms of his business model, preferring to grow primarily by word of mouth and the sales efforts of a few handpicked retailers. These partners - like Zsolt Zólyomi whom I met in Budapest - are “of the faith”, offering a friendly, honest and well-informed service to customers. JEW has chosen not to advertise or use distributors (except in Russia, where there may be compelling logistical reasons for this decision).

“Find the right people, click with them, and they will tell your story because they love it and not because they’re paid.”

And in similar vein:

“Show me your friends, and I’ll know who you are.”

It is all about growing slowly, but “beautifully”. JEV went on to compare this gradual organic growth to a series of small "Puredistance viruses" in every country, stealthily spreading and gathering momentum until they reach a critical mass.

The role of bloggers

We debated the conundrum associated with this no-advertising approach, namely that you may not reach your target market. Bloggers do a great job of raising awareness of niche brands: JEV praised the blogging community for their lyrical deconstructions of fragrances, and had a far away look in his eyes as he quoted snippets of Suzanne Keller’s review of Puredistance 1, who had perfectly captured the many facets of this scent.

"Sometimes it is the juicy tang of citrus with a brut champagne, presenting a crisp facet; other times a liqueur-like berry infuses warmth into its refreshingly cool and springlike heart; and at still other times, there is a mouthwatering greenness that takes the crispness out of the ozone, like champagne bubbles that deliquesce and become liquid."

Regrettably, however, luscious prose doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Potential punters may not look at blogs, while the bloggers themselves cannot be counted on to buy the product about which they are enthusing. In the specific case of Puredistance, I suspect the high price tag may well be a deterrent, though I did famously shell out $225 for 15ml of an Ajne scent. And in my own particular case, the company has arguably only itself to blame for their generous gifts to me of Puredistance 1... : - )

This slow-burning strategy applies not only to sales but to new product development: there will be no further scent launches this year, though the company may add one or two more over the next couple of years. Brand extensions into other categories of luxury goods are in the pipeline but still under discussion/wraps. I said I thought silver jewellery or small leather goods might be a good fit, for example, which appears to have worked for Penhaligon’s.

Where is everything made?

The former church is the centre of operations for mail order fulfilment, but I was curious to know where the perfume itself is actually made. I learnt that the perfume oil (ie the composition) is created in London and New York, before being produced in Switzerland and France and transported to Belgium, where it is
processed to the final perfume extrait. Towards the end of last year, the company added leather holders for the scent phials to its range. These are also made in Belgium and come in four tasteful colourways.

Antonia, Jan Ewoud Vos’s mother, and me

It is well documented that the fragrance Antonia, created ten years previously by Annie Buzantian, is a retrospective tribute to JEV’s late mother. I came clean and admitted that I didn’t especially care for it – I find the opening too severely green, too unapproachable. JEV was not surprised by this revelation, and explained that Antonia is more suited to a bigger woman – both in terms of physique and personality. His mother was stylish and sophisticated, with a strong and imposing personality; she was someone you would notice when she walked into a room. Antonia dries up “sweet and soft”, however, which is meant to evoke JEV’s mother’s warm heart beneath the brittle exterior. I was told that I am too “fragile” in terms of my build to carry it off. As you may imagine, I was relieved to learn that I am physiologically unsuited to Antonia, and that my failure to succumb to its verdant charms is not due to a lack of taste on my part!

The fragrance market – “throwaway fashion scents” versus enduring classics

JEV was keen to stress that all three scents in the collection do not follow current trends, but are designed to be timeless classics. This got us onto a discussion of the state of the fragrance market and the plethora of mainstream launches, which are backed with huge advertising campaigns, only to plunge into oblivion a couple of years later like shooting stars - or fireworks, indeed!! JEV drew my attention to Chanel as an exception to this rule – its launches tend to stand the test of time. He is a big admirer of Coco Chanel and appreciates the fact that her iconic bottle design is still around in a near identical form today.

Jan Ewoud Vos’s scented cv, and the maxim of “less is more”

The discussion took an interesting turn when I asked Jan Ewoud Vos what colognes he used to wear before he founded Puredistance. It turns out that he has worn Chanel Antaeus for some 30 years, and still toggles between that and Puredistance M, wearing fragrance typically a couple of times a week. He fervently hopes Antaeus is never discontinued or altered, likening a favourite perfume to a spouse or partner:

“Fragrance is a thing you wear daily, it is around you like a partner, and you don’t like it when your partner changes!”

JEV has also worn Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte And Chanel Allure in the past, and as a teenager, sported one of the masculine scents in the Alain Delon range, hoping that it would confer upon him the smouldering French actor's seductive powers.... And I can also reveal.....drum roll....that JEV also owned a bottle of Brut around that time!

Encouraged by this mood of full disclosure, I mentioned my 70+ bottle count and my perfume fridge, and admitted that I do sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of my collection, and rather admired him for sticking to just a few scents. Jan Ewoud Vos pointed out that the more scents I acquire, the more each one in my collection becomes devalued and diminished in importance, and I couldn’t help but agree.

“I wouldn’t mind if someone took away all my perfumes and just gave me back half a dozen - or ten, say - to use for ever. I’d be quite relieved in fact.”

And if they did, I would be happy if Puredistance 1 was in that shortlist, for it, along with the other two scents in the range - is a triumph of style AND substance.

Photo of Puredistance offices from, photo of Marlies Dekkers lingerie from, photo of ellis faas make up from, photo of Groningen art museum from, photo of white dress from, photo of champagne cocktails from, photo of Chanel bottles from, photo of Alain Delon from, other photos my own or from the Puredistance website.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

A Bonkers Grand Tour: My Serendipitous Sniff-In With Zsolt Zólyomi, Hungary’s Only Perfumer – Part 2

Sniffing Highlights – Juliet Has A Gun Citizen Queen, Réminiscence Les Notes Gourmandes & SAHLiNi FÉMiNíNDE

In the course of my chat with Zsolt Zólyomi, we managed to fit in a fair amount of sampling, focusing in particular on the brands and perfumes with which I was not familiar. It goes without saying that I melted into the background when customers appeared, and the sale of a bottle of Juliet Has A Gun Citizen Queen was an opportunity for me to try a scent in that line which I had overlooked up to now. It turned out to be a wistful powdery rose with slightly dark undertones - as Zsolt pointed out, Citizen Queen is a scent not unlike that of an oldfashioned pot of rouge that your grandmother might have worn.

Now I couldn't find anything approaching a definitive note listing for Citizen Queen - perhaps because the formulation is said to contain 160 ingredients! - but here is one version from Luckyscent:

Notes: Leather, Bulgarian Rose, Iris, Amber, Immortal flowers, Labdanum

Overall, Citizen Queen manages to be retro without veering into "old lady's boudoir" territory, and though I wouldn't describe it as edgy exactly - and I can't truthfully say that I picked up on the leather I see listed - it was a nice offbeat recommendation for the young woman in question.

Staying with the theme of powder, Zsolt introduced me to a range that was completely new to me: Réminiscence. This company was founded in 1970 by bohemian duo Zoe Coste and Nino Amaddeo, who sold their range of silver and costume jewellery initially through a couple of stores on the French Riviera. They opened their second shop in Cannes the very year I used to commute there daily to my teaching job at a lycée just behind La Croisette, while their original shop is in Juan-les-Pins, where I lived. Back then Réminiscence only had one scent in their range, the suitably hippyish "Patchouli", but I wasn't remotely interested in perfume at the time, nor in jewellery particularly, and - as you can see - my clothes sense was also questionable...

Within the Réminiscence range Zsolt drew my attention to Les Notes Gourmandes, a quartet of cute, powdery gourmand scents released in 2008 and named after what I now know to be called the "solfège syllables" in musical scales. Well, obviously I felt moved to investigate this word "solfège" a little further, and in Wikipedia I found a definition that went far beyond a certain song title from The Sound of Music:

"In music, solfège (French pronunciation: [sɔl.fɛʒ], also called solfeggio, sol-fa or solfa), is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable (or "sol-fa syllable"). The seven syllables commonly used for this practice in English-speaking countries are: do (or doh in tonic sol-fa),[1] re, mi, fa, sol (so in tonic sol-fa), la, and ti/si."

"A pedagogical solmization technique" - who knew?

The first thing to note about these perfumes is their pretty, opaque, pastel bottles with gold lettering, slightly reminiscent (no pun intended) of the packaging of Bal à Versailles EDT.

But anyway, on to the fragrances themselves: Do Re, Mi Fa, Sol La and Si Do. The only one I didn't care for was Sol La, a rather sharp and confused citrus composition - still fluffy, but strangely herbal and a tad acerbic with it.

My favourite (and Zsolt's too! - we seemed to have quite similar taste) was the green one, Do Re, a figgy, woody musk scent with a nutty, slightly burnt quality that had me nuzzling my wrist all day. Having now clocked the notes, I can see that Do Re has heliotrope, tonka bean, vanilla AND almond in it - why, on the face of it that sounds like a vanilla custard you could stand your spoon straight up in!

Notes: heliotrope, green fig, almond, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla, tonka bean, benzoin and musk.

Now heliotrope (billed as the central note) can be dodgy in my book - I don't care for Hervé Léger or Barbara Bui or Lalique Le Parfum for this very reason. It is clearly present here, yet the overall blend in Do Re doesn't go overboard on the creamy comfort food front - possibly due to the restaining influence of the fig and cedar.

Coming in a close second in the favourites ranking is Mi Fa, aka "the pink one". It is off the scale of the fluffy-ometer, but I loved it. The opening is bright and zesty, with a heart of yielding marshmallow, the key note in this composition:

Notes: marshmallow, bergamot, tangerine, neroli, ozone, almond, lavender, rosemary, mint, petitgrain, black pepper, jasmine, tonka bean, vanilla, cedar, patchouli, sandalwood and musk.

Sure, Mi Fa is sweet, but not tooth-rottingly so - the lavender, rosemary and mint may well be acting as an olfactory mouthwash! - and it also manages to have a bit of an edge to it, as indeed do all the scents in the range. If you like Vivienne Westwood's Naughty Alice, or Floris Snow Rose, or Prada Candy, or L'Agent by L'Agent Provocateur, there's a fighting chance you will like this one too. It is fluff, no question, but fluff with attitude. Think of a Persian cat lying on its back having its tummy tickled, while flexing its claws ever so slightly...

Si Do (aka "the mauve one") was my third favourite, a quirky woody gourmand with a marked iris and carrot note in the opening. The drydown is softer and more diffuse, but I struggle a bit with the idea of a fluffy iris scent, which this is, at least initially.

Notes: orange, citron, bergamot, ambrette, iris, carrot, cedar, clove, ylang ylang, peach, pear, vanilla and musk.

Another brand in Zsolt's store which I had never seen before was SAHLiNi, notable for its multinational roots and bewildering use of lower case "i"s. The founder is an Indian woman, originally named Sahlini, who was adopted by a French couple at the age of seven months and grew up in France as Céline Martin. A graphic designer by profession, Martin launched her perfume company in 2006, and her four perfumes - L'Homme, La Femme, La Femme en Noir and FÉMiNíNDE - fuse the luxury and finesse of her adopted French culture with the exoticism and sensuality of her Indian roots.

I think La Femme was the best seller of the line, and from memory - I only tested it on card - it was a floral oriental, big and blowsy and sweet, but within acceptable bounds. The notes include "fresh notes", which temper the potentially heady blend of orange flower, tuberose and jasmine. It was big, but not rich or sumptuous - more a Mary Greenwell Plum level of potency and airiness, say - and it had one of my favourite bases of sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla and musk. Stylistically I'd place it on the cusp between mainstream and niche, like a Cartier, say - or Plum, indeed.

But it was FÉMiNiNDE which made the more lasting impression on me, not least because of the dinky Bollywood-style trimmings on the bottle!

Notes: orange, cardamom, black pepper, rose absolute, vetiver, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, fir and sandalwood.

FÉMiNíNDE is a spicy oriental, but of the lightest and most delicate kind. On first application it tingles on the skin like Bvlgari Omnia or a light spitting of rain; then as the scent dries down it takes on the translucent fruity quality of Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan, with just the faintest zing of spice in the background. I haven't come across a perfume quite like it, and shall enjoy using up my sample.

So those were the sniffing highlights of the afternoon for me, though as I mentioned at the top of the post, I smelt quite a few other things in the course of our session: some seasonal candles created by L'Artisan Parfumeur for Burberry; a couple of the more masculine Odins I had not yet tried (Nomad and Century); Puredistance M (quite tarry on my skin initially, though the back seat of the Aston Martin made its appearance in the end!).

I also tried that slightly boozy limited edition scent, Frapin 1697 - well, I guess they are all slightly boozy by definition, come to think of it. Zsolt told me how he had met Bertrand Duchaufour (the nose behind 1697) at the Frapin chateau in Segonzac, and (if I remember rightly) was involved in a brainstorming session to do with marketing aspects such as packaging design. Zsolt also mentioned that the scent is being relaunched on a more widespread basis in a lighter concentration.

Another thing that fascinated me about Zsolt was the way he - very naturally - dropped references to specific aromachemicals into the conversation. I only had to say that I did or didn't care for a scent because of a specfic aspect, and he was able to jump right in and tell me exactly what was causing the effect I was referring to. I enjoyed just hearing the names of aromachemicals being cited in the same breath as scents that were familiar to me - though obviously not so familiar when deconstructed into their chemical consitutents! If I had had my perfume-buying head on that day, I would have found it strangely reassuring to be advised by Zsolt - like buying a house after undertaking a full structural survey, instead of putting in an offer purely on the basis of the attractive hanging baskets.

So if I ever find myself back in Budapest, I shall make a point of visiting Le Parfum Croisette again, to see what's new and how Zsolt is getting on generally with his fragrant crusade. And if it turns out that he isn't in the store that day, I will do my best to sniff his airborne essence in the museum next time...

Photo of rouge pot from, photo of Réminiscence jewellery from, photo of Do Re from, photo of marshmallows from, photo of FEMiNiNDE from, advert for SAHLiNi from, photo of Burberry candle from, other photos my own.