Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Solo Sniffing In Zurich: Armani Privé La Femme Bleue, Hermès Santal Massoia, BLOOD Concept, And The Sample-Scoring Power Of A Good Coat

After meeting my perfumista friends in Basel, I headed for Zurich, and spent a couple of hours in the Bahnhofstrasse (Zurich's "Golden Mile" in perfume terms). I retraced the steps of my ill-fated sniffathon with Potiron last summer, when I was suffering from a humdinger of a migraine aggravated by the blistering August heat. On this occasion it was a perfectly crisp autumn day with a slight nip in the air, and my head was as clear as the blue sky above me.

I only had a couple of hours before continuing my journey to St Gallen, so I was pretty focused in my sniffing tactics, deffing out the less upmarket options, and targeting instead the smarter department stores (Globus and Jelmoli), along with the niche perfumery Osswald and the Hermès boutique.


As soon as I entered the cool slate-grey interior of the store, I had vivid memories of being violently sick in the ladies' toilets on my previous visit. As it happens, I had occasion to use the facilities this time, and revelled in how well I felt by comparison!

Fending off the sales assistant who did her damnedest to sell me a boxed set of Valentino Valentina, I had a quick whiff of Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille. I don't know if it was the EDT or the EDP, but it was a patchouli-fest that I felt had the potential to trigger another headache, something I was determined to avoid at all costs.

Moving on, my eye was soon distracted by the new Limited Edition release from Armani Privé, La Femme Bleue... Its polished gleaming flacon stood in splendid isolation on a plinth, like an ancient rune crossed with a bluebottle. The blue theme is linked to Armani's Spring/Summer Fashion Collection, which is inspired in turn by "the Tuareg woman, a blue nomad crossing the desert". What between this and Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania, I seem to be bumping into a number of scents aimed at the travelling woman, even if my wardrobe is somewhat lighter on navy ensembles than your average Tuareg.

The sales assistant explained that the production of this perfume has been limited to 1000 numbered bottles for "1000 exceptional women" - exceptional no doubt, because any woman who wouldn't flinch at dropping 400 euros on one of these bottles clearly has money to burn. I must say I spotted a fair few likely candidates cruising the Bahnhofstrasse.

Note listings vary for this scent: the SA mentioned iris and chocolate, while Perfume Shrine also lists woodsy notes, incense and vanilla. The overall vibe of La Femme Bleue is of an elegant, soft powdery oriental: I liked the teaming of the cooler, more severe iris with the warmer, cosier gourmand notes of the chocolate and vanilla. In hindsight it seems fitting that I should be featuring this and Valentina in the space of a week. For it appears that while my Wikio Beauty Blog rating may be languishing in the lower quartiles, I now have an up and coming chocolate Klout reputation to maintain!

The other notable fragrance I sampled in Globus was Prescriptives Calyx. I made a point of reminding myself how this scent smelt because of a chance remark by a reader of my Illuminum White Gardenia Petals Review:

"My bottle that I bought in late April must be from the second 'duff' batch, and I actually like it much better. I described it at the time as being like Prescriptives' Calyx, and as not smelling of gardenia at all."

Well, the opening of Calyx reminded me very much of the official version of White Gardenia Petals - the same tangy, green, airy and almost watery vibe. I wouldn't say I got gardenia in the opening particularly, but there was a definite similarity in the tart, metallic, juicy greenness. Then blow me if the later stages didn't remind me equally markedly of the wrong version of the Illuminum fragrance! - the more softly floral, musky variant. So that was all very strange, and now I would like to get my hands on a sample of Calyx to try the side-by-side comparison at more leisure.


After Globus, I popped into Jelmoli, the Harvey Nicks to Globus's Selfridges. I whizzed through the niche area, quickly testing Guerlain 04 London, the latest in the Les Voyages Olfactifs Series.

Notes: sheer rose, violet, warm cardamom with sour gourmand nuances of rhubarb.

The SA mentioned the rhubarb note and also tea, those two quintessentially British food- and drinkstuffs...! (Well, I'll given them the tea.) When I sampled it on card I thought I got a huge and offputting whoosh of grapefruit, but maybe it was the "sour gourmand nuances" of the rhubarb. :- ) Incredibly tart, certainly. Despite the SA's best efforts to woo me with a complimentary bottle-engraving option, I moved on to the Tom Ford counter and tried Jasmin Rouge on a card. It was a rich, spicy floral, not really my thing, but better than expected. For some reason I thought it might be an animalic monster like Rochas Femme.

Next up was the Jo Malone counter, where I really liked the new Wild Bluebell cologne. It had all the soft fragrance of the flower without the sharp tinny quality of the Penhaligon's version, the only other bluebell scent I know.

Notes: clove, jasmine, bluebell, lily of the valley, persimmon, eglantine, amber and musk.

Working my good coat for the first time, I boldly requested a sample and the sales assistant opened her drawer without demur. Imagine my disappointment to realise later that she had given me a sample of Grapefruit cologne (presumably in error). Grapefruit, of all things! (Note to self to read the name on the vial before leaving the store...)

Still in Jelmoli, and on a sample-scoring roll, I went across to the Chanel sales assistant and played my "on a mission for a friend who is keen to try this scent and lives in a remote rural area" card, in a bid to wangle a sample of Chanel No 19 Poudré. I was passed over to two other SAs before the drawer magically opened again, but this time I was in luck and got Poudré and not Idylle or Mademoiselle.

In another part of the Guerlain area I was lured over by the curious spectacle of the SA fluttering a clutch of oversized feathers in garish colours that put me in mind of a burlesque dancer. Moments later, I was myself peeping coyly out from behind a feather pre-sprayed with Nuit d'Amour, a rather lightweight floral oriental.

Notes: pink pepper, lychee, rose, violet, rose, iris, sandalwood, musk

Nuit d'Amour was launched as an Exclusive just a year after my - and now also Olfactoria's! - beloved Plus Que Jamais. Sadly, given that Plus Que Jamais has been discontinued, Nuit d'Amour doesn't share the former's affecting Guerlinade base, but has more of a contemporary musky drydown. It was pleasant but not particularly memorable, and went a bit soapy in its later stages. As we were playing the dance of the giant feathers, the SA explained that Nuit d'Amour was partly inspired by a Klimt painting depicting a redheaded lady and a boa. This unexpected variant of the fragrance blotter suddenly made a lot more sense!

I also had a sniff of Liu while I was there (oh, dear me, no!), and clocked the sparkly Christmas edition of Vol de Nuit Shimmer Powder with a gimmick-hardened eye, before briefly scoping the designer fixtures. Here I was mildly intrigued by Givenchy's Dahlia Noir, mainly because of its film noir connotations, but the SA was unable to tell me anything about it or its key notes. "We have so many perfumes on the shelves", she sighed, with a dismissive sweep of one arm, adding helpfully: "You could look it up on the Internet?" So I did, and can report that the notes are nice enough if not groundbreaking.

Notes: mandarin, pink pepper, mimosa, rose, iris, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla and tonka bean.

I don't remember Dahlia Noir very well except as a pleasantly smooth modern chypre of some kind. Significantly though it lacked the plasticky note that spoils a lot of Givenchys for me, and that alone made me sit up and take notice. Here is a good example of the "least worst syndrome" in action which we were discussing the other day! Well, that is not quite fair, as I did actually like Dahlia Noir, so you could say that my favourable response was amplified to "like a lot", as opposed to mere indifference being upgraded to "like".


My next port of call was the Hermès boutique, scene of my finest moment of working the good coat in pursuit of samples, in this case the newest addition to the Hermessences range, Santal Massoia. I played the same "friend in remote location" card, giving it a further twist of "with upcoming birthday", and the ploy worked better than my wildest dreams. For the assistant popped not one but TWO 4ml vials into one of those little orange holders, so that I wouldn't have to go without a sample myself. How thoughtful of her! And what a shameless display of low cunning on my part!

I couldn't find a definitive note listing for Santal Massoia, but there is sandalwood and massoia in here, obviously, and beyond that we have this description of the scent from Jean-Claude Ellena himself.

"There are linear, vertical woods like cedar, and others that are horizontal, round, supple and velvet-smooth, such as sandalwood and massoia. With this understanding in mind, I composed this enigmatic, inviting yet distant perfume of milky woods, with its unusual, pungent hints of resin and dried fruit, and familiar smells of dulce de leche and flowers."

Well, having tried Santal Massoia on skin now several times, I don't think I need to add anything more to Ellena's description, for this surely is "enigmatic" and nuanced milky woods. There's a slightly darker, spicy edge to it, but none of that "trapped in a tea chest" vibe you sometimes get when you put two types of woods together in a fragrance, especially if one of them is cedar, which can come off as quite rough and scratchy. Texturally, Santal Massoia reminds me a bit of Etro Etra, which has pepper and sandalwood and is also very smooth. Much as I love Etra, Santal Massoia smells more subtle and "luxe".

Now I did find that Santal Massoia doesn't last very long on me, but I rarely mark a perfume down for that, and will be happy to reapply it from me and my imaginary friend's generous vial allocation, which more than paid for the hideously expensive left luggage lockers at the station...


Rather foolishly - a bit like our MO in Basel - I left the most prestigious perfume store to the end, by which time I had used up most of the prime skin sites, and damn near exhausted both nose and brain. So my sniffing in Osswald was more perfunctory than it should have been, and I kicked myself for not heading there first.

I noticed on this visit that Osswald now carries the full range of Illuminum scents, and had a quick check of White Gardenia Petals (correct, greener version!). I also sniffed the four scents in the BLOOD Concept range, which is founded on the rather offbeat notion of choosing scents to match your blood type. However, I gather that crossover is by no means discouraged, as people may be drawn to the characteristics of a different type.

Well, I have no clue what blood type I am, but I only remotely cared for O, the original blood group. (This was once again very much on a "least worst" basis, I should make clear!) As for the official description of O by Giovanni Castelli and Antonia Zuddas, the innovative duo behind BLOOD Concept - why, I certainly didn't see that one coming... : - ) They might as well have called this scent The Marquise Of O!

"It had to be the most intense and wild compared to the whole range. We wanted roots, cuir and wild berries, a carnal and sexual composition of raw elements. When getting into its whiff, people should think of sex, raw and instinctual sex."

Notes: thyme, raspberry, cyperus esculentus, rose hips, leather, birch, cedar wood, metallic notes

Hmm, I wonder if I actually am O... If you read the potted history of blood group evolution on Fragrantica, I sound more like A or B really, as a vegetable-eating person who toggles between a travelling and sedentary lifestyle.

"(After O) Then comes A, when people started to eat vegetables and get more sedentary. Then B, when people started to travel and mix habits and foods."

For descriptions of all four scents, check out BLOOD Concept's Facebook page. As I say, I really didn't like any of the others - they were just too weird and disagreeable. So if you ask me - and as it proved with the Andrea Maack range - this range is another example of a quirky concept taking precedence over wearability. And coincidentally, like a couple of the Maack scents, all four of the BLOOD Concept scents contain metallic notes, though that is no more than you would expect really, given what they are! : - )

In Osswald I also tried the new Miller Harris La Fumée and La Pluie (which smelt much as their names suggest, but didn't wow me particularly), and had a quick sniff of the nozzles of the Olfactive Studio range, which weren't my thing at all. However, I quite liked one of the bafflingly various Biehl Kunstwerke range, a pretty white floral called mb01 (I always have time for another take on tuberose gardenia, or any loose variation on that theme).

Notes: bergamot, mimosa, blackcurrant, tuberose, gardenia, champaca, jasmine, amber, musk, sandalwood.

Then I couldn't help liking the ultra-cute packaging of Swiss range YsUzac (though the four scents left my - admittedly by now deeply jaded - nose unmoved). All in all though, it was a good couple of hours' work, what with the samples of Santal Massoia and Chanel No 19 Poudré, after discounting the Wild Bluebell wild card sample that wasn't. Sadly that is all the time I had, having lost a good 20 minutes out of my schedule when I got sidetracked by a large branch of Zara. I ended up trying on an armful of trousers, which collectively failed to fit in every way imaginable. There was also a set of Zara fragrances I could have investigated, but on such a day that would have been above and beyond the call of duty.

Photo of the Bahnhofstrasse from, photo of Globus from, photo of La Femme Bleue from, photo of Calyx, 04 London and Biehl Kunstwerke mb01 from, photo of Wild Bluebell advert from, photo of Klimt painting from, photo of Dahlia Noir advert from, photo of Hermès store from, photo of Hermès bottle from the company website, photo of Osswald perfumerie from, photo of BLOOD Concept logo from, other photo my own (taken by hotel receptionist whose hand could have been a bit more steady).


olenska said...

Hooray! Good computer code prevails! Great post worth the nailbiting! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi olenska,

Yes, good computer code prevails after a fashion! Lord knows what button I hit to unleash all the concomitant gibberish, but basically all the words were saved, but each one was hedged about by a series of hieroglyphics and apparently meaningless percentages. The now peculiar looking text also couldn't be edited on screen, weirdly for Blogger.

So I got out my trusty dictaphone and slowly deciphered the words between the symbols, at what turned out to be a decent typing speed for me. 26 mintues of dictation equated to a oouple of hours' typing and general editing, but it could have been worse!

: - )

Anonymous said...

Calyx!!! *big light bulb going on in my head warranting the judicial use of asterisks*

I'm very curious about Santal Massoia, I should really get myself to Hermès asap (and use your shameless story). ;)

Love your new coat!

And Guerlain - oh how inconsiderate of them and incomprehensible for me that they discontinued the beautiful PQJ and kept something as bland as Nuit d'Amour. So sad...

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Given what we have both gone through in testing multiple variants of White Gardenia Petals, I would *LOVE* (cue strength of feeling to rival the brilliance of your light bulb moment and similarly warrant asterisks!) to get your take (double take indeed) on the resemblance of Calyx to not one, but both WGPs...

Coat is actually two years old, but I fancy that is why it is a good coat - it is not easy to tell its age!

Hermes are without question the most generous dispensers of samples in the retail world, not least because the samples are so big in themselves! I am sure you will get lucky, with or without imaginary friend in tow. : - )

Tara said...

Great round-up of a wide spectrum of perfumes, V. Of course I'm particularly interested in the most expensive - La Femme Bleue and Santal Massale. I'm glad SM is not a tea chest woody scent.

I was extremely underwhelmed the time I tried Calyx after all the praise in The Guide about it being
a perfume to wear for the rest of your life or somesuch.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I feel confident you would like both La Femme Bleue and Santal Massoia. Anyone who likes Etro Etra is a dead cert to like the latter. I retried Etra today and it is sweeter and less milky than Santal Massoia, but has that calming sandalwood thing going on.

Ah yes, Calyx - I could never understand the critical hype about this one either, and to say that it reminds me sequentially of both versions of White Gardenia Petals is not necessarily a ringing endorsement, for I only like one, and only moderately!

Katie Puckrik said...

Vanessa! Judging from the amount of perfumes covered in this post, you have fully lived up to your Flittersniffer moniker. I'm wondering if your Miller Harris ennui had something to do with the fact that you'd already given the best of your love to the 79 fragrances previously sniffed. I was *very* impressed with both La Fumée and La Pluie, and would have figured you for a La Pluie girl, what with its white florals and tropical wetness.

On to BLOOD Concepts (the insistence on CAPS cracks me up): I'm an O neg, but my fave flavor of BLOOD was B, with its gasoline/patchouli intrigue.

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

It was late when I finally extracted my post from its hieroglyphic fetters, so I missed the insistence on CAPS, a lapse in ATTENTION TO DETAIL on which I normally pride myself. BLOOD Concept now slightly hogs the limelight in my post title, but no matter.

I fully accept that my sniffing MO was a*** about face, and the ranges in Osswald suffered as a result. I hope at least to have qualified my reactions with sufficient jaded nose caveats.

Now I did prefer La Pluie as a matter of fact, and will make a point of giving it a fair trial the next time it crosses my path.

As for BLOOD Concept, what can I say? They are what my father might have dismissed as "vampiric fripperies". I didn't care for most of them in ways I couldn't have articulated at the time, never mind two weeks on, but you are the woman to appreciate "patchouli/gasoline" intrigue, if anyone can. Not forgetting the metallic notes, now!

Wordbird said...

Ah, memories. I recall every single location, and even know where the photos were taken. How utterly tragic of me!!! But I'm glad you had a good time. Zurich is indeed a wonderful place to sniff in. have you ever been up to Andy Tauer's friend's shop in Spiegelstrasse? It's a lovely place.

Sometime we shall have to 'do' Brum! :)

Anonymous said...

You certainly covered ground (and in a smashing coat). What strikes me most is what a shame it is that Guerlain wasted such a pretty bottle on a perfume that is "tart." Ick.

Now, off to give you +K about chocolate.

Anonymous said...

I had never thought about the correlation between good coats and sample-blagging, I will now be reassessing my sample-blagging strategy.

I may need to borrow your coat...

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

You were never far from my mind, when pounding the now familiar pavements of the Bahnhofstrasse!

Following your tip off, I made a point of visiting the shop in Spiegelgasse on my previous two visits - the ill-fated one with Potiron in August, and my previous solo trip in March 2010. The accounts should be in the archives somewhere - I even took photos for once! It is a unique place all right... Love the bottles suspended on garden twine. : - )

I have to go back to Switzerland on this next trip I am in the throes of planning, would you believe?: Schaffhausen and Cham (if I get the appointments...)

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

There's a definite correlation with sample-blagging, I am convinced of it.

Perhaps we could come to some sort of car- and coat sharing arrangement? : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

Yes, I agree about the Guerlain. I am quite partial to a rhubarb note (TDC Bergamote, Amouage Honour Woman, Ulrich Lang Anvers 2), but it needs a light hand!

Thanks for the coat compliment - it is my only "statement" garment!

PS Thanks so much for the chocolate Klout - I really do have a reputation to live up to now!

Undina said...

Vanessa, I so enjoyed your post (and appreciate the efforts that went into its (for the life of me I can't understand why iPad tries to correct it to "it's" every time!) rescue. I'm impressed by the range you covered! But mostly I'm impressed that you managed to try "an armful of trousers" in 20 minutes! Wow.

On perfume side I'm with Tara. I'm not ordering a sample of La Femme Blue from TPC only because I told myself it didn't make any sense to spend that much on a sample of something not only extremely expensive (which alone might be still doable one way or the other) but also so limited. So even though I believe it's as beautiful as I read on a couple of blogs I'm not paying for a sample.

I agree with your idea of the correlation between good clothes (esp. outwear) and the predisposition of SA to give out samples. The story you read on my blog about me being chased by a Tom Ford's SA to give me samples I didn't even ask for happened when I wore one of my coats that gets complements all the time, even from a complete strangers.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

You will carry on overriding your iPad, won't you? These modern devices are starting to get above their station - in similar vein, Candy Perfume Boy was having involuntary Americanisation issues with his computer. ; - )

I know what you mean about there being no point ordering a sample of something ludicrously costly - and limited, to boot. You wouldn't want to get attached to it like me - and now B - to Plus Que Jamais. : - (

Interesting further evidence of the magic properties of a good coat. Would like to see you in yours sometime!

Anonymous said...

I think we should, I will have the car when you are off 'bonkering' (is that a word, I'm worried that it sounds rude), and you can have the coat, because you will need it for sample-blagging. We shall do a swap when you are back in England?

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

Sounds like we have a coat and car-pooling plan!

And I love the notion of me being "off bonkering". I hope to do more of that in future!

: - )