Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Perfume Lovers London's Maiden Meet-Up: Nick Gilbert - A Voyage Round My Collection

Last Thursday saw the inaugural meet-up of Perfume Lovers London, a non-profit making social group for fragrance fans founded by Lila Das Gupta of Olfactory Events. "Inaugural" is rather a grand term to use perhaps, but the session was held at the New Cavendish Club off Oxford Street, a renowned private members' club which has the facilities and ambience of a gentlemen's club, but which I learn in Wiki was originally in fact for ladies only!

Well, on the evening of Nick's talk there was a respectable smattering of men at a quick eyeball, helped no doubt by the fact that Olfactory Events is associated with Basenotes. Grant Osborne was there, multi-tasking as official photographer, court (as in Twitter) reporter and wine waiter. And very nice wine it was too.

For readers not familiar with Nick on Facebook, Twitter, his own blog G & T & That, or the one he co-writes with Lila and the Candy Perfume Boy, Fragrant Reviews, Nick spent 10 years in fragrance sales at a branch of Boot's in his home town of Bristol, before landing a plum job with niche perfumery Les Senteurs in London last August, since when he hasn't looked back.

And before I get into my account of the talk proper, a word about the name of the event may be in order: "A Voyage Round My Collection". For it struck me that a lot of people in Perfume Land are on voyages of some kind at the moment: there's Olfactoria's Travels, while the byline of Bloody Frida's blog is "a perfume journey". And the Candy Perfume Boy recently wrote about "10 Things I Have Learnt On My Scented Journey". So you know, quite a few journeys all told. And of course I do a fair bit of travelling myself. But even factoring that in, the current traffic patterns are still well below American Idol levels.

Nick had set out his bottle collection on a table in the corner, and he and Lila sat in front of the imposing fireplace and adopted a sort of chat show format, with Lila in the role of host. Nick talked through each of the fragrances he had selected: how he came to find it and at what point in his life, a bit about the notes and the nose who created it, and also what associations it conjured up for him. It was a very informal affair - with interjections and questions from the floor, including a lot of ribald free assocation: "It's the citrus that keeps on giving", "it smells like a boudoir-y temple" etc, which was a source of much merriment.

So here in brief are the "stops" on Nick's tour of his collection, based on my scribbled notes, so apologies in advance for any material inaccuracies!


Bought by Nick's mum for him at the tender age of 11, because he had seen Paula Yates describe it in glowing terms on The Big Breakfast. Comments ranged from "soapy fougere" to "freshly washed man" (which isn't actually much of a range come to think of it!), and there was speculation as to whether the formulation might have been changed since Be was launched - I remember it as being more citrus-y, but I could be wrong.


This was the scent which tipped Nick from regular cologne-wearer into raging perfumista. It was one of the first perfumes to feature oud, and was accompanied by a very raunchy press campaign. Whipping out his iPad, Grant stepped up to yet another role (props / special effects) and googled an example of a poster ad for M7 with a reclining male nude, whose focal point was nicely showcased, let's just say. Why was I not surprised to learn that there are 165 positive reviews of M7 on Basenotes? : - ) Okay, I jest, for it was a pretty ground-breaking scent at the time. One audience member described it as "borderline between chemist and sweet shop", and "cherry lips" (a confectionery line that may only resonate with British nationals over the age of 40) were also mentioned, but not in a bad way.


Nick considered Beyond Paradise to be one of the best feminines to have come out at the time (2003). Created by Calice Becker, it is characterised by an accord called "Eden's Mist", after the Eden Project in Cornwall, the largest indoor rain forest in the world. For Nick, Beyond Paradise conjured up a tropical island with a waterfall (think Herbal Essences shampoo adverts), and smelt of hairspray and violets. Nicola Pozzani, the Synesthetic Provocateur who led the Le Labo workshop I attended last year (though he now has his own company, SSENSE), pointed out that Beyond Paradise was Estée Lauder's "anti-J'Adore" release, while Luca Turin describes it in Perfumes: The Guide as a "balanced abstraction" rather than a representation of a tropical flower. I wasn't too sure about it myself - I think I prefer Lalique Flora Bella as balanced abstractions go - but I could see where they were coming from.


This was the "boudoir-y" or "sexy temple" alluded to above. Created by Mark Buxton, who is also the nose behind Le Labo's Vetiver 46, it has notes of incense, vetiver and mahogany, and if my scribbles serve me, Nick's interest in this scent arose out of his liking for the original Gucci pour Homme with its combo of incense and cedar. This was pronounced (I think by Nick) to be "smoke on the skin", and it was the perfume I chose as my free sample at the end of the night, along with the one of Escentric Molecules 01 which we all received, courtesy of Lila.


Created in 2008 by Thierry Wasser - his first scent in his role as Guerlain's in-house perfumer - Guerlain Homme reminds Nick of a holiday in Australia, specifically Bondi Beach, and marked the start of his love affair with mint. To give you an idea, he is a born again fan of FM Geranium pour Monsieur. With one or two exceptions, the general view of Guerlain Homme was favourable, not least because the mint note is not of toothpaste proportions. "It's controlled mint!" piped up Tanya from the front row. With the help of Grant's iPad, we looked at yet another raunchy ad, this time a TV spot for Guerlain Homme. It bore the tag line "For the animal in you" and starred the obligatory hunky, pec-rippling male model and a full complement of big game animals.


One of Nick's Ebay bargains, two blotters sprayed with the parfum version of this classic scent from 1933 were reverentially passed around. It was not to everyone's taste (a bit dense, a bit aldehydic, a bit dark maybe), and we agreed that you need to be in a kick ass mood to wear it, but it spoke hauntingly to us of a bygone era of glamour and formality - and who knows, maybe someone had wafted it in the very function room in which we were sitting, at some point in the last 80 years...


We smelt the actual bottle top of this one, and the fact that I haven't taken any notes about it except the phrase "recent formulation" says to me that there wasn't a lot of discussion on the subject. I recall it as smelling like No 19, only more so. Hey, what do I know? I'm a Poudré girl, so shoot me!


I introduced Nick to this one, to which he kindly made reference: we did a swap when he was still in Bristol and in return I got my hands on a sizeable decant of Diptyque Eau Duelle, which has now grown into a full bottle! Nick described Cuir de Lancôme as having "plummy leather" and "powdery amber" facets, and it was news to some of us that a leather note in perfumes is created by boiling birch tar - obvious, when you know how! Nick placed Cuir as somewhere between chorizo (this is not good) and luxury leather, and I would agree. It is quite full-on and slightly rough round the edges but I do love it myself, and would have chosen it as my free sample if I didn't already own a bottle (with annoying wobbly top).


This was a Christmas present from Nick to himself, as he is a lover of vanilla in fragrance. Now I too think of myself as a bit of a "vanilla ho", not least because my less offensive nickname at school was Vanilla Mutton, however, I realised from testing this scent that I prefer my vanille to be single - or "simple" as the French might say. Or maybe I could tolerate it at double strength, but not with boozy notes thrown into the mix. Saying that, Tara tested this the following day on skin in Harrods and it wasn't half bad on her, but on the whole I give alcohol in fragrance a wide berth - of the beverage variety, I mean, as opposite to its important carrier role.

Although it didn't figure in the talk as such, we did also chat a bit about the nature of Iso E Super in our Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 sample. Tanya (who's proving to be a bit of a wag!) described it as the aromachemical equivalent of a "woofer", because it enhanced other components in a formulation (assuming there are any, which is famously not the case with Molecule 01). Neville went a step further by dubbing it "the monosodium glutamate of perfume", which had us all in fits of laughter.

After the session, Grant topped up our glasses and we milled around, chatting to other members and inquiring about their own "scented journeys". By a strange coincidence, I found someone with the same thyroid condition as me, and we had a good old chin wag about symptoms, dosages and pill chopping tactics. It was nearly 11pm by the time the last of us rolled out of the club - and in my case, straight into KFC. (Note to self to insist on breast next time.)

So yes, a great night was had by all and thanks are due to Nick, Lila, Grant and Escentual, who stumped up some free testers. Was this "olfactory event" worth the voyage from Stafford? You bet it was, and I have already booked to come down for the next one...

Photo of the New Cavendish Club from whoseview.co.uk, photo of Eden Project from Karen Roe on Flickr, photo of leather ornament from TheWristbandit on Flickr, photo of monosodium glutamate from dltq on Flickr, other photos my own.


The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Thank you so much for this write up of Nick's talk. I was so bummed that I wasn't able to make it.

It's great to read about Nick's collection and everyone's impressions of the scents.

I used to think that I didn't like boozy vanilla like you (I'm still not sure what I think about SDV), until I found Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille by L'Artisan, that stuff is just all kinds of awesome.

Ari said...

Oh how I wish I could have been there! What a great idea and a fun event. Now, will other members of Perfume Lovers London be showing off their collections as well? I want to see the contents of your fridges!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Like CPB I would have loved to attend and meet Nick, Lila and of course see you again.
Also, your photos helped me enormously, since getting to know the venue and hearing about the atmosphere takes
a little of the edge off of the idea that I have to talk there too come May. But it does not seem like people are out to bite one's head off (I sincerely hope that impression is right).
Great post as always! Thank you!

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

You were much missed, but I look forward to seeing you at the next one. I get on with the Perfume Formerly Known As Havana Vanille better than with SDV, but I think the booze embargo is nowhere near lifting... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Ari,

Grant jokingly mentioned that very idea to me at the end of the night as we formed a human chain gang to help Nick put his bottles away in two big bags - or "stow" as you Statesiders say. Perhaps better suited to perfumistas living in the immediate area, as some serious lugging was involved!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

It was the most relaxed event you could possibly wish for and you will do great, I know! If you are able to sit down like Nick and Lila, it takes almost all the scariness out of the fact that it is technically public speaking. And the audience participation helped to make the session feel spontaneous and friendly. By the end of the night we were acting like giggly dorm mates at a midnight feast. Grant's attentive wine waitering may have played a part in that. It was almost bizarre how well we all gelled! Oh, and on a side note, the ladies toilets are pretty special. You could hold a small dance in there.

Elisa said...

1) I have a peculiar fondness for CK Be. And yes, "soapy fougere" and "freshly washed man" are functionally equivalent. :)

2) I was surprised to find CdG 2 Man to be quite similar to Clinique Wrappings -- both are essentially aldehydic woods (aldehydes having an incense facet).

3) Why IS the Cuir de Lancome top so wobbly?! I hate that....

Vanessa said...

Hi Elisa,

Thanks for dropping in! Yes, we were all on the same flannel with our comments about CK Be.

Now I have smelt Wrappings ages ago, and remember it as a veritable aldehydic firecracker. I know what you mean about an incense facet with that, though I also got a fair bit of vetiver in Man 2. My Wrappings sample was rehomed to a fumehead pal - we had matching Clinique nicknames: she "Wrappings", me "Simply". It escapes me now how we came to acquire them. Simply may have been a reference to my taste, and Wrappings to my friend's conscientious usage of bubble wrap in swap packages, but I am speculating.

Do I take it your top is wobbly too? Mine is extremely loose and floppy - beyond a mere swivelfest - it just plain doesn't fit.

Elisa said...

It's wobbly, yes, unless I jam the top down so hard that it comes apart into two pieces, and the inner gold ring gets stuck on the bottle. I've heard other people complain about the same thing.

I also hate the sprayer on my bottle of A*Men Pure Malt. It's so awkward I can only spray it with my right hand, so my left arm has to go unperfumed.

CdG 2 is definitely the MAN version of Wrappings, but I could see them dating.

Tara said...

What a great write up of the event. Really enjoyed it. Sounds like it was nice and informal and quite a laugh! Love the stuff about Iso E Super.

How nice you introduced Nick to Cuir de Lancome. It is the most buttery leather ever (in feel rather than scent) and I just love it. It's getting a lot of wear lately. Interesting to hear that mine does not have the only woefully ill-fitting lid. Obviously a design fault.

I didn't realise it was an inaugural event. Hope to come along next time.

Vanessa said...

Hi Elisa,

Sounds like we have the same top problem with our respective Cuir bottles. They must have made a large batch of malfunctioning tops that are now a source of annoyance to people in every continent.

Oh dear me, yes, I can totally relate to wayward nozzle issues - I have a number of bottles that misbehave (swivel, Exorcist-style, or just overspray or drip), but I haven't encountered the exact trouble you describe. Now I would have thought that if you can only spray with your right hand it would be your right arm that went unperfumed? I think I spray opposite arms with whatever hand. Perhaps I have misunderstood!

Am wearing CdG Man 2 today in a couple of spots and it is very nice in fact, even though I don't go a bundle on vetiver as a rule.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

It was really jolly and fun, and I think Birgit has no reason to be apprehensive when she comes over to give her own talk in May.

Welcome to the International Wobbly Cuir de Lancome Top club... : - ) Nick's top wasn't nearly as bad as mine, but with Elisa we have at least three confirmed members! Glad you love this one too. I am sure it is very nice on you, given how well-behaved SDV was!

Elisa said...

You are right, I mixed it up! I general, my left arm is more scented than my right, because I am right-handed.

lovethescents said...

How interesting! You've been to dozens of perfume conferences and have shared them with us over the years. Thank you for that, as there are non in my city. I need this!

Cymbaline said...

It's so much fun reading about perfume-lover gatherings, which leads me to ask...

Is anyone with an interest in perfume welcome? and if so, are future events already scheduled?

I'm hoping to be in London for several days in April and would love to attend : )

Vanessa said...

Hi Elisa,

That's cleared that up then! I was beginning to think you were exceptionally bendy.

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Well, maybe not dozens, but a few, certainly! And I am happy that I can give you a "virtual" flavour of these meet-ups, and help make up for the lack of such events in your neck of the woods.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

It is my understanding that anyone can join, not just London residents. If they can admit a member from The Midlands, in the spirit of "in for a penny, in for a pound", I don't see why they couldn't welcome people joining from overseas! Especially as you are going to be in London in April. The meet-ups seem to be falling around the third week of each month. Check out the Olfactory Events website or maybe contact Lila Das Gupta directly for more details of future dates / activities!

Natalie said...

What fun! I wish I lived on your side of the pond so I could drop in. But perhaps sometime this spring, as it appears I may be back over again then.

Cuir de Lancome seems to be everywhere today! I'm going to take it as a sign from the universe that I need to track a new sample and revisit it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Would you like me to send you a sample of Cuir de Lancome if you don't have ready access to it where you have moved? Let me know...

And that would be great if you were in London this spring: that's Cymbaline, Birgit, you - and counting...though not necessarily all at the same time!