Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 2 (Belgium & France) - A "Drowned And Out In Paris" Sniffathon: Printemps & Guerlain

I am still "coming down" from the excitement of meeting Olfactoria again yesterday - together with her family this time - but Bonkers is nothing if not chronological, so I will carry on this account of my latest series of work trips with a report from Belgium and France. Nothing much happened in Brussels, except for a major bus-taking coup to my appointment, saving some 55 euros on taxis, which I promptly went and blew on a bottle of Tom Ford Violet Blonde later in the week. Oh, and the fact that within the space of 24 hours I was kerb crawled AND had a teenager give up her seat for me on the Metro. This prompted me to speculate whether I am now on that finely balanced cusp between cougar and care home... ; - )

Then last Tuesday found me in Paris. The day got off to an inauspicious start: I had to get up preternaturally early (for me) and caught a train out to a gritty and rainswept suburb north of the city centre. By 8.40am I was queuing outside a branch of McDonald's waiting for them to open. I was cold and wet to the bone (umbrellas being a liability in the prevailing high winds), and the day had barely begun. At 9am, the drive-by hatch opened (though unfortunately not the seating area), and I enjoyed the freshest egg McMuffin ever made, washed down by a piping hot cup of tea (for McDonald's!). I could even overlook the lack of milk just to have something warm to wrap my hands around.

By 1pm, things were definitely looking up. My meeting over, I was in position in the area around the Gare Saint-Lazare, home to the upmarket department store Printemps, with several more cups of tea inside me and a grim determination not to let the truly diabolical weather get in the way of a good sniffing session. It turned out to be an episodic day - or a "sodding epic" day, to borrow Mr Bonkers' robust phrase - and here are the highlights...

I had visited Printemps on my last visit to Paris in 2009, and remembered that it offered a good selection of niche scents in a compact area within the main perfume hall known as the Scent Room. To be honest, given the rather fluid floor plan, I couldn't quite work out the demarcation between the Scent Room and the rest of the perfume counters, not that it really mattered.

I decided to be quite focused in my approach and spent most of my visit split between the Jo Malone, Dior, L'Artisan Parfumeur and Etat Libre d'Orange counters.


The tea range was nowhere to be seen, and the assistant was tied up with a "proper customer"(!), so I couldn't even blag a sample of Wild Bluebell (to replace the grapefruit one I was given in error in Germany!); instead I contented myself with having a quick and ginger sniff of a couple of the Intense Colognes.

Iris & White Musk

Does what it says on the bottle - pleasant enough, but forgettable.

Rose Water & Vanilla

Thick and throat catching, a bit like one of those treacly Guerlains.

I steered clear of Amber & Patchouli and Oud & Bergamot, as patchouli and oud are not my favourite notes at the best of times, never mind amplified by an "intense cologne" effect!


I asked to try a few of the Collection Privée range of which I had read favourable reviews, and the sales assistant also suggested one or two others for me to try.

New Look 1947

I already know and love this one, and cherish my small decant. I picked up the cylindrical 125ml bottle with its clunky magnetic top, fondled it for a bit and put it back again. I don't need 125ml of any perfume, though 150 euros was a reasonable price to pay, ml for ml. I shall wait to see if the lemming gets the better of me, in which case I can always pick it up in London for the slightly lower price of £120. I gladly accepted the sales assistant's offer to perfume me generously around my neck area. In this way she was able to mark her territory and hopefully reel me in to make a purchase later in the day. "With an EDP or EDT you'll find that if you really love it, you will use it up." And despite my collection of bottles now topping the 70 mark, I almost....almost...believed her.

Ambre Nuit

Soft, sheer, barely there, faintly spicy oriental. Very elegant - my next favourite after New Look 1947. I only tried it on card but liked it enough to look up the notes:

Pink Pepper, Bergamot, Spices, Turkish Rose, Amber, Balsamy (sic) Notes, Cedar, Patchouli, Gaiac Wood


Didn't get beyond a tentative sniff of the nozzle with this one. Heavy, spicy ambery, boozy fright wig of a scent. For all I know, the drydown might be spectacular, but I am not sure I could last the course to find out!

Bois d'Argent

A pantomime horse with Juniper Sling at the front end - with the merest hint of Craft, the most metallic scent from Andrea Maack - and Chanel No 19 Poudré at the back end. A very stylish and wearable unisex scent. "Pantomime" is in no way meant as a criticism.

UPDATE: I have now been given a generous decant of this by Tara, and it smells nothing like the scent I smelt in Paris. As a check, I have just sprayed Bois d'Argent on card, which clears up the discrepancy - it is a totally different animal on card, on initial spraying, certainly - then it becomes more like the decant version. On skin this is the faintest leather and honeyed vanilla, while on card the opening was bright and citrus-y with the iris peeking through. How weird!


As I think I said in a comment over on Olfactoria's review of Granville, this scent is forever destined to remind me of a local wine bar with the same name. That aside, it smelt just as I imagined, if not better: that MH Fleur de Sel-like, bracing, aromatic, seaside vibe. Not a genre that is really "me", but extremely well done.


A ho-hum fruity floral not worthy of inclusion in the range, imho.


Having torn myself away from a purchase of New Look 1947, I headed over to the L'Artisan counter to check out more of the Mon Numéro Collection, being only familiar with Nos 6 and 8 to date. No 6 was an unfortunate mix of Fleur de Liane crossed with PG Papyrus de Ciane (beware of scents ending in -iane is the clear learning point here!), while No 8 was the pretty iris skin scent I remembered. The assistant tried to nudge me towards a purchase by playing the scarcity card: "This is the one developed for the Japanese market, you know, and when it is gone it is gone. No 10 has already gone, for example."

In fact, the only other ones left to try were Nos 3 and 4, both of which were resolutely not my thing. According to the SA, No 3 contained notes of lavender, vetiver and patchouli, while No 4 had notes of lavender, carnation, spices and muscat. The only useful comment I can add to that is "Yeek!"


Moving on swiftly, I had a quick test of a couple of scents in the neighbouring Etat Libre d'Orange fixture: Sécrétions Magnifiques (which I had managed to dodge up to now: in hindsight - or in "nethersmell" - with good reason!), and Bendelirious, of which I had just read a review by the Candy Perfume Boy that day, so it was top of mind at the time - and very much the ditzy, va-va-voom floral he described.

Pausing briefly in the Hermès concession to cadge a sample of Santal Massoïa for Olfactoria (using my tried and tested "boyfriend with upcoming birthday" ruse), I started to wander vaguely in the direction of Place Vendôme. In view of the weather, I more or less gave up trying to navigate, but still managed to pass entirely at random a Maître Parfumeur Gantier outlet, two Guerlain boutiques, one of Annick Goutal, one of Comme des Garcons and one of Maison Kurkdjian.

GUERLAIN BOUTIQUES (and ongoing forensic inquiries about Plus Que Jamais)

I only actually went into the Guerlain boutiques, because I was either familiar with the ranges of the others, or didn't care for them in the main. Well, the former reason also applies to Guerlain, but I was on a continuing mission to find out what became of Plus Que Jamais - or Plus Jamais , as it should now be known since it was discontinued. In both stores the assistants tried to find me a substitute - namely Nuit d'Amour and (most oddly), Jardins de Bagatelle.

Try as I might, I couldn't seem to convey the fact that I only wanted this particular scent, or if I couldn't have it, I wanted to know why it had been axed. One assistant had heard that a specific ingredient in it was now on the prohibited list, so rather than reformulate the scent, they had decided to knock it on the head completely.

I find this terribly sad... If I get a moment, I might ring up the people at No 68 (which I didn't have a chance to visit this time) to see if they can confirm the truth of this. I would also like to know what the offending ingredient might have been that led to the premature demise of Plus Que Jamais, and whether they had had any inkling of the rule change. I sense not, for they can't have recovered their development costs during the scent's all too short lifespan.

Time to dive into another cafe for more tea and homemade creme caramel...

Coming up in Part 2 - the Fragonard Museum, JAR, and IUNX revisited (hard on the heels of Ines and Asali!)

Photo of Printemps exterior from, photo of Printemps display from, photo of Jo Malone Rose and Vanilla Intense Cologne, L'Artisan Mon Numéro No 8 and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais from, photo of Dior Ambre Nuit from, photo of Place Vendôme by night from - no photos my own on account of the rain!


Ines said...

If I'm counting it right, we missed each other in Paris by 8 days (possibly 9). :)
I have to say, the only Numero I liked was No. 3 (I believe it's the no. 3) - the one for Germany with lavender and vetiver. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Oh what a shame... We are getting closer, though. :- )

I didn't care for No 3 at all, but you and I don't overlap much in our tastes, as we know. "Vive la difference!", as they say over there.

I did try to comment on Asali's post last night but had probs with my computer. You have reminded me to have another go now.

Suzanne said...

Vanessa, I got a kick out of hearing what the SA who was hoping you'd spring for the Dior New Look 1947 said to you (and your "despite my collection of bottles now topping the 70 mark, I almost....almost...believed her" response).

Smelling New Look 1947 does indeed want to make one a believer. :) I congratulate you for not succumbing to such a mirage (for the thought of using up an entire bottle of anything anymore is just that, a mirage, at least for me. Though one I will no doubt be foolish enough to entertain, again and again.) :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I very much enjoyed that!
I love following you through foreign cities and living vicariously through you.
I am one of those naive types who still believes in the possibility of finishing a bottle and therefore bought New Look 1947 in New York. ;)
If you need to top up your decant, you know where to look for it!
I'm wearing Santal Massoia now, I like it a lot, but it needs more POWER!!!
Looking forward to the next installment... :)

Anonymous said...

You packed a lot in! Well done! I'm looking forward to episode 2.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Your mirage image is spot on - I am veritably a one-woman-EU perfume lake (a variant on the old butter mountain), and need to weigh up this decision in the cold light of quantification, as opposed to the soft lighting in-store, and the seductive patter of the SA.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Now even though you own New Look (I remember now - it was the other one apart from the Dallas Le Labo Mr O got you?), I wouldn't rush to call you naive by any means. For of course you are starting from a smaller base in terms of the size of your collection - plus you have **16 extra years'** worth of consumption to factor in. That vast tract of time in which to "waste" your bottle deserves double asterisks, methinks! You'll manage it, I feel sure. : - ) And thanks for the top up offer - that could maybe be part of a future trade in the new extended alliance, we'll see!

Santal Massoia is feeble all right - such a shame. No wonder the Candy Perfume Boy also got frustrated with it! He likes a bit more welly too.

18 December 2011 23:03

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

I guess I did pack quite a bit in, more by luck than design really, as I only had a very loose plan on account of the weather.

Second instalment up soon hopefully, then the Austrian report! : - )

Tara said...

Congrats on the Violet Blonde. It really is pretty outstanding for a mainstream release.

I know you call it a stylish and wearable scent but you almost put me off Bois d'Argent with that description! Mitzah is very potent stuff. My Mum commented on it 8 hours after I applied a sample. Not for you, I think. As for New Look 1947, I can get you a generous sample from Selfridges when needed. So between me and B, I doubt you'll need that 125ml FB.

Sadly I've lost all enthusiasm for the Mon Numeros. I blame the number names. Very confusing for a stupid person.

Can't wait for the meet-up with the Olfactoria clan!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I am pleased with my Violet Blonde impulse buy, and think I have found a couple of potential splittees already.

So sorry to put you off Bois d'Argent with my rather outlandish image! I guess it was like a flinty version of No 19 Poudre, with added citrus. Or something like that. Very nice, certainly.

You know amenable staff at Selfridges from whom you might be able to procure me a sample? That would be wonderful, as I am certainly getting through my little decay fast. Maybe the SA was right after all... : - )

I have the other bit of Paris to write up, then the outing with the Olfactorias, then the usual round up of travel nonsense. By my estimate, the report of my meet up in Sankt Poelten might end up - quite fortuitously - as a sort of Bonkers Christmas Special!

Vanessa said...

Little "decay"? : - ). I mean "decant", clearly, though the word does at least suggest that my remaining sample is not long for this world...!

JoanElaine said...

Great post! I love travelling, sniffing and visiting through your eyes.

Happy to hear you were able to get some proper tea, even if it was sans lait!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

Thanks! Though tbh it would have been more fun to have been part of a duo in Paris, like Ines and Asali. I spent 3 days in Paris in 2009 on a sniffing marathon (that's how I celebrated my 50th birthday), but that was also a solo exercise!

And yes, in the end I'll take my tea where I can get it, pretty much as it comes. If I am offered a cup in a meeting on the continent (rare), it will invariably be black too...

Tara said...

I'll pick up a little New Look for you. No problem, V.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

You are a "little duck" as they say round these parts. If it is no trouble when you are next in town, I would absolutely love that!

Vanessa said...

PS I meant to say - ever since you kindly gave me Zeta - that if you fancy something from my Basenotes wardrobe (listed under "VM I hate civet"), please do say so. I would be glad to be able to reciprocate!

Undina said...

I'm really late on my readings but, as almost always, I'm working my way through the "past issues".

Your report (a part!!!) is very impressive. Congratulations on your VB bottle. I enjoy the decant I got and might move onto a bottle in future.

Now I just MUST try New Look - after both you and B. wrote so many nice words about it. Though it's scary a little: I'm already contemplating buying a decant of Mitzah. Do I want to fall in love with another exclusive scent not available anywhere around? (unfortunately, the answer is "I do" :) ).

I have a question... Do you have to eat at McDonalds? Of course, in Europe they might be different but here it's one of the last places I imagine myself going for food.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Violet Blonde is lovely, isn't it? I wore it on Christmas Day.

Now if you like Mitzah (which I didn't get on with at all), I wouldn't have thought New Look would be your thing necessarily, being its polar opposite: a very girly "cold cream white floral". But I think Birgit also likes Mitzah, so I could be wrong!

Now regarding my patronage of McDonald's on my trips abroad, you have to understand that where my meetings tend to be - industrial estates on the outskirts of major cities or even small rural settlements - McDonald's is about the only eaterie available, and is a welcome port in a storm.

I don't eat the burgers, mind - the Egg McMuffin if I time it right or a small chicken wrap, or very often just a cup of tea - with a piece of cake perhaps if I find myself in a branch with a McCafe tacked on the side.

If I have the time, I will seek out a traditional cafe in the town nearest the factory I am visiting, but where I have 20 minutes before my appointment, need the loo and am gagging for a drink, McDonald's is a godsend.

When I had a bad headache once just before a meeting near Cologne, the staff kindly put a bunch of ice cubes into a disposable glove and I sat it on my head for 10 minutes. Looked like a complete twit, but it helped a lot!

Undina said...

My tastes in perfumes are so eclectic that I wouldn't be surprised if I liked New Look as well - we'll see when I try.

Thank you for the explanation about McDonals, now I see the point.