Tuesday 28 February 2012

Talk By Pierre Guillaume At Les Senteurs: Learning The Specifics Of Parfumerie Générale - Part 2

Right, so where on earth do we go next after the incredible Coze licking demonstration? I could mention that there was lively debate amongst the audience as we discussed the correct English term for the type of sugar we detected in Sucre d'Ebène (the scent also featuring PG's favourite macrocyclic musk, if you recall): "Demerara", "muscovado" and just plain "brown" were three possible contenders.

Bestial scents

Or I could tell you that Pierre Guillaume referred to L'Ombre Fauve with its distinctive earthy notes of Amber 83, patchouli and musk as "liquid sex". He also described it as "very dirty" - quoting Francis Kurkdjian, and replicating the gesture more commonly seen on football terraces which FK used to describe his own creation, Cologne Pour Le Soir. And none of that is surprising really, given that the name of L'Ombre Fauve roughly translates as "bestial shadow".

So moving on swiftly on from raunch to another upcoming launch...

Corps & Âmes EDT Apaisante

There will only be one new Limited Edition scent released in the main PG line this year, a reworking of Corps & Âmes, called Corps & Âme EDT Apaisante, "apaisante" meaning "soothing" or "calming" in French. The original Corps & Âme reminds me very much of the civet cloud that is YSL Y, while the new LE - a chypre with notes of geranium, lemon verbena, jasmine sambac and a patchouli heart - had a slightly acerbic citrus / herbal opening, on card at least, and I wouldn't have said they were all that closely related. In fact I detected echoes of Guerlain Sous Le Vent (which PG said he would take as a compliment, when we were discussing our initial impressions). Then PG agreed with those who spotted a resemblance to Aromatics Elixir as the scent wore on. To give uplift to the chypre structure, the new version of Corps & Âmes will contain a linear musk called Serenolide, developed by Philip Kraft, German fragrance chemist with Givaudan.

PG's favourite scent from the Huitième Art range

"The new one!" (ie the "Polywood" blockbuster featured in Part 1).

Finding the balance between commercial success and creative freedom

PG talked about the fact that he has to strike a balance between following his muse in creative terms, producing scents that challenge and interest him personally, while ensuring that there are some more "commercial" perfumes in the mix (this is of course a relative term when applied to a niche brand). The latter can be relied upon to generate sales, including the funding of his more edgy creations such as Papyrus de Ciane, the scent that he is most proud of as a technical achievement.

Scents by other perfumers PG wishes he had created himself

- YSL M7

- Thierry Mugler Womanity (he admires its huge power of diffusion: "I think we will talk differently about it in 10 years' time")

- Lolita Lempicka au Masculin by Annick Mennardo ("she is the mistress of diffusion")

Thoughts on the fragrance market and why small doesn't equal niche

PG singled out a couple of mainstream scents which had particularly impressed him - JPG Kokorico and Terre d'Hermès - describing them as "a few pieces in an ocean of new launches". He finds the co-existence of mainstream and exclusive ranges within houses such as Tom Ford, Dior, Hermès, Chanel etc bewildering - "I am lost" - and assumes the public must be equally confused by these two-tier marketing strategies. PG also laments the fact that certain perfume brands are springing up which - on account of their small size - automatically position themselves as niche. PG doesn't feel this necessarily follows, and considers some of these ranges to be overpriced.

"That is not my version of niche. (By comparison) I am the discount of the niche!"

The PG distribution strategy and why small is beautiful

PG's distribution strategy is to limit the numbers of points of sale and grow the business slowly, as the use of distributors can lead to loss of control and dilution of the brand. This explains why, a year ago, I had been surprised to see the main PG line carried in a small independent perfumery in Holland, yet when I went back last autumn it had mysteriously vanished from the store.

How many tests does it take to develop a fragrance?

Not as many as you might think. PG cited the case of a perfume house which advertised the fact that some 500 tests/iterations had gone into the creation of one of its scents. PG puts this down to marketing spin, and gave 60 as a more typical number, while Intrigant Patchouli he got right first time!

"A good perfumer doesn't need that many tests."

Falling in love with fragrance and why "we are all reptiles on the Discovery Channel"

Actually, PG didn't actually quote this song lyric, or even the original version with "animals" in it, but he did say that the act of falling in love with a perfume is involuntary and more or less instantaneous. He explained how the process is governed by the hypothalamus in the brain and described it as "reptilian", leaning in towards the audience to emphasise his point, like a crocodile eyeing its prey. I have just googled "reptilian brain" and looks to me as though the limbic system may be more where the action is at, but I am not one to split hairs (or cut them in four, as the French say).

I interjected that we sometimes fall in love (with a perfume or a person, indeed) only to fall out of it again pretty smartly, as the scales - to stay with our reptilian theme - fall from our eyes, and we realise we made an expensive mistake...

Pierre Guillaume and Francis Kurkdjian - a whiff of bromance?

PG and Francis Kurkdjian are not exact contemporaries - PG is 35, FK 42 - and PG described their relationship as competitive but friendly. "We fight a little bit...and we go to the same place in Spain for our holidays."

It was in fact Francis Kurkdjian, who, on smelling Coze, PG's first creation, encouraged him to pursue a career in perfumery.

They also both attended the recent awards ceremony in Paris, where the order of “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” - an honorary title granted to those who have made outstanding contributions in the arts world - was bestowed upon five perfumers chosen from each of the main fragrance and flavour houses. (Kurkdjian had already received this award in 2009.) PG described it as an emotional occasion punctuated by episodes of horseplay and banter: Dominique Ropion took a photograph of the Minister of Culture, while Maurice Roucel amused the audience with his trademark spoonerisms.

The talk overran considerably - PG was so diligent about fielding questions that (as I later learned) he and the Les Senteurs team missed their dinner reservation. At the end of the night I saw him sitting quietly on a sofa at the back of the store and went over to say thank you and to show him the bottle of Brûlure de Rose I had bought on behalf of a friend whom I had just introduced to the scent. He stood up and kissed me on both cheeks in that gallant way the French do. The "bi-cheek bise" made my night, and it occurred to me that though I hadn't associated any particular memories with the main - supposedly "talkative" - PG fragrance line prior to the talk, I surely would now.

And my iPhone hasn't been in its cover since...

Oh, and today I realised that my phone is not the only link with the whole PG experience - he mentioned that Ambre Ceruléen was inspired by the so-called "cerulean speech" in The Devil Wears Prada, in which Miranda teases Andie about her ignorance of the precise colour of her old sweater:

"But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean."

Well, as it happens, I own a (distressed PVC) replica of the messenger bag worn by Andie - a gift from a friend who works in PR. It isn't blue, sadly, but I think I have enough memories of the talk to be going on with...

Photo of bestiary, reptiles and the Palais Royal from Wikimedia Commons, photo of PG bottle from basenotes.net, photo of Anne Hathaway from fabsugar.com, other photos my own

Sunday 26 February 2012

Talk By Pierre Guillaume At Les Senteurs: Learning The Specifics Of Parfumerie Générale - Part 1

Pierre Guillaume and I have the same iPhone. No really, we do - we both have the white one - I mean, what are the chances of that? : - ) The other impressive thing about Pierre Guillaume's iPhone is that it doesn't have a cover! Yes, his phone goes "commando" and lives tucked in the inside pocket of his jacket. I find that remarkable - I wouldn't liken it exactly to jumping out of a plane without a parachute, which would suggest a reckless disregard for safety - rather, I think his coverless phone simply tells us that he takes great care of it, and I for one was impressed.

The talk at Les Senteurs' new store in Seymour Place was scheduled for 6.30pm last Thursday. I had arranged to meet Katie Puckrik earlier that afternoon, an unseasonably warm one that she had clearly brought over from LA with her, one-woman-catalyst for climate change that she is. I almost regretted wearing my "good coat", but figured it might get chilly later, and that I might need recourse to its sample-scoring powers at the Burberry Beauty counter in Harrods the following day (I never made it).


I caught up with Katie in her former stomping ground in north London, where she lived for 16 years till the late 90s. We poked around some vintage clothes and antique shops and ambled through a street market, when our noses simultaneously detected the unmistakable scent of oud - burning oud, we reckoned. Try as we might, we couldn't locate the origin of this beguiling incense smell. The finger of suspicion was briefly pointed at the gaping mouth of a stuffed toy donkey and the golden cupola of a pink mosque-shaped clock, but neither of these items turned out to be the covert incense burner of my imaginings.

The next port of call was a large antiques market, where Katie's eye was drawn to vintage jewellery and lampshades, while I "fondled and replaced" some 30s gin glasses and cast longing looks at any artefact shaped like a pineapple (of which there were a surprising number - none of them portable or in my price range).

Before heading to the talk we had a sit down supper of fish and chips in a nearby diner, that had been considerably gentrified since Katie's last visit. The designer vinegar bottle had an Alessi look about it, the ketchup came in a white ramekin with a spoon, and the mushy peas had clearly never seen the inside of a can. Even Katie's cod had a jaunty flicky up tail to it, but it may just have been of athletic build.


At Les Senteurs, after drinks and general milling around ("circulation générale"?), we were ushered downstairs to a white basement area with seating for about 20-30. I had no idea there was a downstairs to Les Senteurs! Pierre Guillaume was already standing in position by a table on which was displayed the Huitième Art range, the opaque white ceramic bottles perfectly coordinating with the décor.

So how good looking is he in person, then?

Answer - very. However, his striking good looks are actually more approachable than I expected from the posed studio portraits you see of him on blogs. He looks like the most handsome boy in your class at school rather than Gillette Man or that supermodel in the boat in the D & G Light Blue ad.

And how charming is he on the charming-o-meter?

Comfortably off the scale, I would say. His strong French accent and occasional quaint turns of phrase or pronunciation (for example, "cooker" for "chef", "peer" for "pear", and "hurt" for "heart") only served to endear him further to his audience.

"Talkative" vs "stable & linear" scents

Pierre Guillaume (whose name - along with that of his company - I will henceforth shorten to PG except for specific punning references that may follow) started off by explaining the difference in conception behind the main PG range and the newer Huitième Art scents. He described the former as "talkative", because they tell a story, they evoke particular scent associations and memories in people's minds (with a picture, a face, a work of art etc); he drew an analogy with Proust's Madeleine episode in the novel "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu". In other words everyone's associations will be different.

By contrast, the Huitième Art range is more "stable" and "regular" - these are scents that can be enjoyed because they smell nice, basically. They are linear, but in a good way ie they do not have a shorter formulation just because their appeal is more straightforward. PG also likened the Huitième Art range to "classical plates of the menu" like Boeuf Bourgignon, as opposed to more avant-garde concoctions such as - he plucked a random example out of the air - "Fish & Licorice". Just as a good chef is judged by how well they can make these classic dishes, so PG invites scrutiny of his artistry in these less complicated compositions.

Capturing the "non-talkative" notes

But while the Huitième range may not be "talkative" in its conception ie linked to memory as such, it does have the special characteristic of exceptionally realistic notes: for example the pear note in Ciel d'Airain, the dewy blackcurrant note in Aube Pashmina, or the immortelle note in Fareb. (Scent strips were passed around to illustrate all the perfumes discussed.)

To take the case of Ciel d'Airain, its pear note was created by a combination of conventional aromachemicals and a very natural realistic extraction (created using phyto-perfumery technology) which casts a "natural shadow" over the chemicals. It was supplied by a company called Greentech, and rejoices in the jolly name of a "Fruitogreen".

(NB I couldn't help thinking that Pierre Guillaume's own name is pearilously close to "Poire Guillaume" or Williams Pear).

Whimsical titles

FAREB: we learnt that the name Fareb is in fact an acronym (in French at least): F for "fresh", A for "aromatic", R for "resinous", E for "spicy" and B for "woody". We all had a chuckle at this.

NAIVIRIS: "You are naive to think it is just about iris." For the iris used in this scent is in fact African red orris from the fruit of the kigelia africans tree: "it is an olfactory molecule from the skin of the fruit - like orris, but with spicy as a bonus". This offbeat iris note is combined with zebra wood, which has woody and animalic facets.

Whimsical images and chimeras

Moving on to the latest release, Myrrhiad, PG likened its heart accord to two lovers: a relatively new ingredient from Robertet - a complex "discoloured tea note absolute" - and myrrh. Together they are entwined on a bed of two vanillas, surrounded by a mist - or perhaps a canopy - of licorice. Interestingly, the licorice note is not actually in the composition, but is an olfactory impression or chimera that arises naturally during the scent's development. Another example PG gave us was the illusory note of "banana wood" in Felanilla, due to the fruity aspect of one of the saffron ingredients, Ethyl Safranate.

A "Polywood blockbuster": the new Huitième Art release

We were also given an advance preview - or presniff - of "Polywood", the code name for the upcoming addition to the Huitième Art line. It showcases no fewer than EIGHT different woody notes: four regular ones and four new ones. I asked PG if any perfumer had ever put more woody notes in a scent than this latest launch, and he said he couldn't say for sure, but thought he might be the first to use poplar wood absolute at least. The full cast list of this "Polywood blockbuster" is as follows:

poplar absolute
papyrus wood (aka nagamota oil)
incense wood (cedar wood oil + olibanum = "bois d'incens")
oakmoss absolute

Pierre Guillaume's favourite musk

Mangue Métisse, which includes notes of frangipani, tea and the white part of the bark of a mango tree, and which PG likened to an "exotic flower with exotic sugar inside", also contains a macrocyclic musk similar to the one used to great effect in Narciso Rodriguez for Her. Egyptian in origin, PG described it as "velvety smooth, linear and powerful", and declared it to be his favourite musk. (It also features in Sucre d'Ebène.) While we are on this subject, my favourite quote of the night, although I cannot remember the exact context (who needs context?) is: "I had not any more musks in my organ."

The incredible Coze licking demonstration

I was so stunned at the sight of PG spraying Coze on his wrist and licking it off again, that as with the musk quote, I have completely forgotten what that was all about. I jotted down his instructions: "Do it quickly, with a dry tongue", and the fact that it tasted a bit like wine (I think), but the original objective behind the demonstration - other than to raise the blood pressure of 110% of the audience at a conservative guess - escapes me. So if Bee or Katie or anyone else who attended the talk could explain the scientific principle behind this supremely sensual stunt, that would be great!

To be continued in Part 2...

Photos of a kigelia africana fruit tree and a chimera via Wikimedia Commons, photo of clock from simplyislam.com, photo of Alfie's market from anothermag.com, other photos my own

Thursday 23 February 2012

Bonkers Is Off To London Again!

I have been off the radar for the past few days: on Monday I caught up with my accounts, on Tuesday a friend came over for a "consultation" and a play with my collection, then yesterday I made up the packages for the prize draw winners and a couple of other fumehead pals. And now it's Thursday already and I am off to London shortly to attend the talk by Pierre Guillaume of Parfumerie Générale at Les Senteurs.

I had hoped to write a blog post before I went away on the riveting subject of bubble wrap, in what is shaping up to be an occasional series on packaging materials used by swappers. Lindaloo happened to make reference to my original post on insulation tape in a comment the other day, so for anyone who missed it and who might conceivably find the subject of tape interesting, here it is again:

The Unsung Hero Of The Swap Scene - Electrical Insulation Tape

Saturday 18 February 2012

Kate Walsh Boyfriend: My New Relationship Is Cut Tragically Short, And A Stuart Crystal Atomiser Gets Shirty

In my last post I featured my new purse spray of Kate Walsh Boyfriend from Ari of Scents of Self - one of my more successful blind buys. I wrote about its comforting woody, ambery, vanilla-y vibe, and likened it to a "Lite" version of Huitième Art Myrrhiad. I wore it on Valentine's Day and on the day after, reapplying it now and again in my quest to identify the oddball licorice/liquor note I thought I detected.

On Thursday, I was planning to use it as my sleep scent, and nipped into the kitchen to fetch a glass of water, the Boyfriend spray in its box in my other hand. As I turned away from the sink the purse spray suddenly fell to the ground, smashing into smithereens and scattering glassy shards for a radius of several feet. I had upended the box without noting that the top was open, and the glass vial had slid out and shattered easily on the tiled floor.

It took me a good twenty minutes to mop the viscous mess and sweep up all the tiny fragments of glass. Mr Bonkers nearly trod on one the next morning and asked if I was trying to see him off too! I was quite upset and annoyed at myself for my clumsiness, though at least my curiosity to try Boyfriend had been well and truly assuaged, and thanks to my frequent reapplications I shall probably remember how it smells for a long time to come.

The irony didn't escape me that a perfume inspired by Kate Walsh's ex-boyfriend should now bite the dust, hit the deck - and the wall, indeed - in short, become my very own fragrant Ex-Boyfriend...

But it wasn't long before my rational self reminded me that I am not exactly short of perfume, and the loss of 12ml is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of my bursting fridges.

So to cheer myself up, I did that thing I sometimes too - does anybody else do this? - I got out my decanting kit (partly in preparation for the upcoming prize draws), and fiddled with some of the more attractive and tactile items in their repurposed Ormonde Jayne bag container. This involved fighting my way through several layers of empty plastic bags and one of pipettes to reach the materials contained within. Particularly guaranteed to lift the spirits are those little coloured gauze bags you get from The Perfumed Court (and fellow swappers), which appeal to my eight year old self's love of spangly purses and all things jewel-coloured. The pink and mauve ones are a personal favourite, also those with butterfly motifs. Then I picked up and fondled some burnished metal atomisers in pleasing bullet shapes: silver and red, chocolate brown and gold.

And then, all of a sudden, I came across a Stuart crystal atomiser which I had bought years ago on Ebay, meaning to put a favourite perfume in it or possibly give it as a gift. Its cross-hatched design sparkles in the light and its chunky gold top feels pleasingly smooth and solid in your hand.

I dug deep into the presentation box and fetched out an adhesive label, bearing the following legend:



Oh dear, I thought, that's me told then! And obviously, "failure to find label" in the first place would have resulted in a similarly leaky scenario. But the next question that crossed my mind - and the one which I would be pleased if anyone reading can help me answer - is: why only EDP? Is it something to do with its strength or density (specific gravity? I never know the correct terms here), which inclines it to leak? I naively thought leaking occurred when a seal was not watertight (or liquid-tight, in this case). Which would mean surely that one liquid would be as prone to escape as the next one, but apparently not so...

And I have read about general leakage problems with puffer atomisers, but this is the first time I have heard of a regular glass atomiser with a standard spray mechanism selectively leaking in this way. Or threatening to do so anyway.

I can't think offhand of any EDTs I like enough to dedicate this pretty bottle to, so for the moment it remains empty, uncooperative and muttering its admonitions from the dark comfort of its (dark blue) box. There's nothing on the label to say so, so I am only speculating, but it wouldn't surprise me if - were I to fill the atomiser up with perfume of any kind and drop it on the kitchen floor, that might result in "leakage from atomiser" too...

Wednesday 15 February 2012

My Funny Valentine: 10 Blessings And A Boyfriend

Now I know Valentine's Day was yesterday, but Bonkers is no stranger to retrospectives, and by the same token this is my 301st post, so as well be hanged for two delays as one, I say. I couldn't feasibly combine the giveaway with my Nanoblur post because the titles of cosmetic features are always so darn long. And I hadn't planned to do a Valentine's post at all in fact, but was moved to merge the celebratory draw one with a sort of a Valentine's post, simply because of the funny and heartwarming items I received in the post on that day.

For starters there were TEN sample vials of Belinda Brown's EDP version of her bespoke perfume Blessings, which I reviewed here in one of my recent Knightsbridge sniffing posts. I had sent an email to Belinda via her website, and was surprised at the generous quantity of samples that tumbled out of the Jiffy bag. The name of this perfume will always remind me of an expression used by a Pentecostal minister who was trying to encourage one of his congregation to look on the bright side and be grateful for the good things he had:

"You are not broke. You are just in between blessings."

This quote may be a little twee for my hardboiled sensibilities, but it makes me smile all the same, so when these 10 vials landed on the doormat I couldn't help but think: "Well, if I have been in between blessings lately, I am flush with the things now, that's for sure!

Right after I acknowledged receipt of the package, I had a surprise phone call from Belinda herself, who told me a bit more about the process by which she came to have her custom scent created by Roja Dove, and how it was gradually rolled out on a wider basis. For Belinda, Blessings (in its parfum version, certainly) conjures up the image of someone lazing on a yacht, and she also likened the scent to "a good bag" - in metaphorical essence that is, rather than smell as such.

The pomade which was the original inspiration for her scent was a bit like Vaseline in its consistency, but comprised a bewitching concoction of jasmine and vanilla that apparently made every other girl within nostril shot want to be her friend! I compared the EDP launch to a high street garment whose design has trickled down from the catwalks, and Belinda agreed that her scent had followed a similar path. Tara and I definitely smelt the extrait in Harrods; the EDP does smell unequivocably like a mainstream scent, ie less lush and tropical and more delicately floral, but it is still perfectly pleasant. Quite lemony to my nose in fact.

Here are the notes again:

Top Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin
Heart Notes: Jamine de Grasse, Rose De Mai
Base Notes: Cedar, Sandalwood, Tonka, Vanilla

In overall quality and vibe - and even juice colour! - I was reminded of CK Beauty (which I note also has jasmine and cedar), but Blessings is more citrusy. I suppose I have only ever associated Roja Dove with niche/luxe releases up to now, but many other perfumers are known for a mix of niche and mainstream creations. So it is feminine and pretty, but not remotely luxurious in feel - which at a tenth of the price of the extrait you can hardly expect.

So that was a happy turn of events, and then my package from Ari of Scents of Self arrived, containing a purse spray of Kate Walsh Boyfriend which she had kindly custom purchased for me. How apt is that on such a day? There was also a decant of Un Bois Vanille I had bought to help swell her Valentine's fund - check out that funky insulation tape - the devil (or a sprinkling of scary skulls at any rate) really is in the detail!

Boyfriend is a unisex scent I have not yet seen in the shops in Europe, and that I have been wanting to try for ages. Some time ago now I remembered hearing positive reports about this scent, which is supposed to combine aspects of Kate Walsh's ex-boyfriend's cologne (they had split up, and she missed it) with floral notes more squarely aimed at a female wearer. I had a hunch that this was one of those quiet scents that are very "me", and that I wouldn't regret a blind buy, and so it has proved.

Notes via EauMg's review: dark plum, myrrh, night blooming jasmine, benzoin tears, skin musk, golden amber, vanilla woods

So I immediately applied it on both wrists and my first thought was: "Oooh, an oily Eau Duelle!" Yes, the rather sweet, oily, anisic, borderline boozy top note took me back a bit initially. My recent wrestling with Myrrhiad sprang to mind, for example, along with a jumble of unhappy memories of Lolita Lempicka and Kenzo Jungle L'Eléphant. This note faded somewhat after a bit and didn't even trouble me unduly at the outset. Maybe I am on the cusp of becoming a born again liquor and licorice fan.

My overall impression of Boyfriend is of a sheer "woody amber vanilla" skin scent, quite heavy on the vanilla, which is rarely a bad thing in my book, and with this background note of licorice or something of that aniseedy ilk. The amber emits a warm radiant hum or glow, like a one bar heater in a big room, and the texture is not at all powdery or fuzzy like L'Eau Ambrée, for example, another office-appropriate scent. Texturally it is more like regular Prada, indeed notewise I can see similarities in the anisic woodiness. As the vanilla asserted itself more and more, I was also reminded of Lacoste pour Femme, though the Lacoste is sweeter and more feminine:

Notes: Jamaican pepper and purple freesia; middle notes of white heliotrope, Iranian jasmine, hibiscus, Bulgarian rose absolute and ambrette seed absolute Himalayan cedarwood, sandalwood and incense

And finally, the plum note dimly recalled D & G L'Eau The One, though L'Eau The One had a darker fruitiness to it I think, and I gave my sample away in the end, so I don't want to overplay that particular comparison.

Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Lychee, Peach, Plum, Floral Muguet, Jasmine, Madonna Lily, Amber, Musk, Moss, Vanilla, Vetyver

Ah, but hold on a moment: "Floral Muguet", eh? Well, oddly enough, in the marketing blurb about Boyfriend reproduced on Now Smell This, there is a reference to "muguet floralcy". That involves both a bizarre word and a bizarre concept. What other kind of muguet might there be than a floral one, I wonder?

"In the fragrance creation process, Kate was inspired by the scent of a 'guy on a girl', and combined notes of amber and woods, with a bright floral scent that women love. The fragrance has a bright muguet floralcy with dark plum and myrrh on top, with night blooming jasmine."

So in summary, Kate Walsh Boyfriend is a radiant ambery, woody, incensey vanilla, warm, comforting, glowing thing. If you fell hard recently for Myrrhiad and it is out of your league pricewise, this might be worth checking out, strange as that may sound. And I don't know who Kate was dating before, but am confident this scent will make a decent substitute.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers of Bonkers about Perfume: regular, occasional, brand new and lapsed(!), for having read my blog in the past two and a bit years. I know a lot of people lurk here - though a few have de-lurked lately, also back channel, which was lovely - but anyone reading is welcome, including the vast majority who land here by mistake while looking for guacamole recipes or swingers' clubs in Cleveland.

Photo of white ghost and heart box from annethelibrarian via Flickr CC, photo of Boyfriend T-shirt from blogefl via Flickr CC, photo of mask from MadEmoiselle Sugar via Flickr CC, other photos my own

Sunday 12 February 2012

"If I Could Blur Back Time": Review Of Indeed Laboratories Nanoblur Anti-Aging "Not A Cream" Advanced Optical Cream

It has been quite a week. I just passed the 100th follower mark (thanks, followers No 100 - 104!), and this is my 300th post. (Celebratory giveaway coming up next time...) And then there was my guest post on Now Smell This on the subject of perfume blogging, during which I set myself the challenge of being not once, twice, but "three times an American", by trying to stay up through all the time zones to respond to readers' comments. I gave up at about 7pm PST on the day my piece went up, but had fun trying! In the introduction to that post, I describe myself as having the apparent dermatological oxymoron of "problem mature skin", a reference to my ongoing rosacea, though it is a lot better at the moment. And to be honest, some might consider the mere fact of having "mature skin" a problem in itself, unless you are have the self-confidence to roll with the punches of the aging process - and the morning quilt face, crow's feet and lip lines they leave behind.

I am a bit on the fence with the whole business of skin care. Having abused my skin in my 20s and 30s through chronic sunworshipping, when I finally started an active moisturising regime in my 40s - and all but gave up sunbathing through circumstance as much as anything - part of me thought it was all rather like shutting the stable door after the collagen had bolted... I persist with my efforts even so, like smokers who give up in their 50s, hoping for health benefits from that point onwards.

Now when I say "regime" that is perhaps overstating things: mostly I just slap on whatever kind of day or night cream I happen to have to hand, and just occasionally I investigate products with more tantalising claims, such as the Avon Anew Ultimate (Day) Cream I featured a while back on Bonkers, which had the unfortunate side effect of stinging and smelling of burning flesh.

Then recently - partly mindful of the fact that I now have an unintentional Wikio Beauty Blog ranking to maintain ; - ) - I have been dabbling with Indeed Laboratories' Nanoblur, available from Boot's in the UK for £19.99. Indeed Laboratories Inc is based outside Toronto, and Nanoblur is on sale via specific retailers in Canada and a handful of other countries; it can also be ordered online. The name Nanoblur was an immediate draw to me, because of course the prefix "Nano-" is such a Zeitgeist-y word, along with "offset mortgage", "carbon trading", "bluetooth" (also as a verb!) and "vuvuzela". "Nano-" takes me right back to a company I interviewed in California in 2010, which made an array of products, including actual "arrays"(!), fashioned out of epitaxially grown silicon wafers (I believe). I strongly suspect nanotechnology was involved somewhere along the line...

I have just Wiki-ed the term and it means "the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale". So what is this cream then, and why is it on nodding terms with atomic and molecular matter, if it is indeed? "Indeed" being of course the operative brand name!

"Our promise: look 10 years or more younger in 40 seconds or less."

That is not the happiest of grammatical constructions, but we will overlook it, given the generous nature of the promise and its super speedy delivery.

"This product is based on advanced optics technology and is not makeup."

The packaging then refers you to the company's website for more information, where I firstly learnt the rationale for developing this product, namely to make people look better on TV.

"Since the advent of high-definition technology, skin imperfections have become far more apparent on camera and Nanoblur was created so that celebrities could 'blur' out imperfections that were previously not visible with traditional cameras."

And the most meaty additional information I could glean on the website is as follows:

"It is not a cream. It is a suspension of millions and millions of particles that reflect light perfectly in billions of directions to make the skin’s surface appear completely flawless. Within seconds, pores appear to disappear. Fine lines appear to vanish. The skin texture appears nearly perfect. With one application on any skin surface (even on your hands), you will be convinced that Nanoblur will make you look up to 10 years younger in a matter of seconds. It’s just that simple."

Not a cream? Yet it is described as an "advanced optical cream" on the packet. Moving on...

That is a very big claim, especially the 10 years younger bit. I will see if I have a photo of me when I was 10 years younger, so you can use it as a point of reference. Okay, here is my current passport photo, which is 9 years old...let's not set the bar too high. : - ) Actually, I am not sorry to have lost the hair and glasses, though I think the grooves either side of my mouth were less pronounced back then.

Oddly, the accompanying before and after photos on the website (completely untouched, and of the subjects' naked faces) look quite honest to me - but there again I don't see a whole lot of improvement either!

Further research on the Interwebs unearthed the fact that at only 700 nanometres (sounds big, but clearly isn't!) the "nanoparticles" in Nanoblur are smaller than the ones used in YSL's iconic product Touch Eclat, for example. This means they do a better job of diffusing the light in a flattering manner, like looking at skin through the soft focus medium of frosted glass. They are, however, too big to be absorbed by skin, which people may be glad to know.

Having tried Nanoblur a few times - and arguably you are only supposed to need to try it once for 40 seconds to see the years roll back.... - I will say that my vertical lip lines looked fainter, no question. Downside was that my top lip was slightly pushed out and appeared thinner, which it can ill afford to do. Though at the same my cupid's bow appeared more prominent, which I was quite pleased about. There is a pleasant sensation of tautness and no disagreeable smell, as with the Avon product.




The "not a cream" - or "advanced optical cream" as you prefer - had its work cut out with the long lines either side of my mouth, which have rather disconcertingly started to sprout tributaries lately at the ends - they also remind me a little of a snake's forked tongue... I would say that the effect there was of a slight plumping out and softening and then over time I thought I might even have detected a slight flattening of the grooves. However, I wouldn't say they vanished, or even appeared to vanish. Probably because they weren't "fine" lines to start with. The lip lines (which I would call "fine") do appear visibly reduced in photos and in the mirror. The effects also seemed to last till the following day, which may say more about the sloppiness of my so-called skincare regime than any inherent merit of the product. : - )

The members of Makeupalley rated this product 3.1 out of 5, which isn't a great score. Anything under 4.0 counts as a lukewarm response over there, I'd say. Some people found it didn't work well OVER foundation, the recommended method of application - or even UNDER it, for those who like me decided to flaunt the instructions - and I would agree with that. So that could be a stumbling block right there for anyone who usually wears full coverage foundation. People who had a good experience with the product talked of its "smoothing" and "mattifying" effect, which was the finding of my next-door-neighbour, who also bought herself a tube.

So I get the feeling that Nanoblur is a product that works best for obscuring fine lines (and possibly large pores or bits of unwanted pigmentation, though I wasn't trying it out for that). I would recommend it in a guarded way, as I think different people may get different results. As for the taking off ten years, I don't think so. Up to ten years - well, that's a more forgiving timespan.

And according to the website, Nanoblur comes with a customer satisfaction guarantee, so if you find you can't blur back time, you can get your money back at least...

Friday 10 February 2012

Guest Post On Now Smell This - The Sequel: 5 Things I Have Learnt From Perfume Blogging

Yesterday Now Smell This published a guest post by me entitled: “5 things to think about before you start a perfume blog”. I am following it up here on Bonkers today with a companion post, covering another five learning points / discoveries from my first two years of blogging.

I should have gone with Wordpress…

When I started Bonkers about Perfume, I gave almost no thought to the question of which free blogging software to use. A number of perfume sites I followed at the time had opted for Blogspot, the free domain service provider of Google-owned Blogger. It looked easy to set up, even for a technical numpty like me, so I just went with that, without making any inquiries such as consulting review sites etc. For someone who is a researcher by profession that was most out of character. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had chosen the other main free publishing platform, Wordpress. It has a much wider selection of templates, with a cleaner, clearer look and richer functionality, including threaded comments – though Blogger has just introduced its own basic version of this facility. Overall, I’d say that Wordpress is aesthetically superior, more robust/bugproof, and easier to interact with for both blog owner and reader alike.

Duplication is inevitable

By this I mean duplication of any kind: for example, reviewing the same scent as another blogger – quite possibly in the same week even, if there is a new release with a buzz around it. But as I mention in Point 4 of my previous post over on Now Smell This, I think multiple reviews are a good thing. And if you know you are not the first person to write about a given subject (which will mostly be the case), a nodding reference to the fact that others have trod this posting path before you never goes amiss (in the spirit of “playing nicely with others” – Point 5 of my NST post).

Now, although I said earlier that Wordpress has a wider choice of themes than Blogger, with any blogging platform you run the risk of picking the same layouts, colour schemes and fonts as someone else. For a long time I was concerned that my choice of a battleship grey background might be seen as copying I Smell Therefore I Am, and I also had a bit of a wobble on hearing that my travel theme was in use by a Canadian perfume blogger. He didn’t post all that often though, so after toying with a few alternatives I reverted to my original selection, on the basis that when it comes to choosing a design template, I had as much right to run with my favourite as the next fumehead!

A blog is a platform for showcasing underdogs

At the other end of the scale from featuring scents that are very topical, as a blogger you can decide to write about a little known perfume you feel deserves more attention. My most read posts of all time concern a £3.99 dupe of Coco Mademoiselle from the European discount grocery chain, Lidl (see the "Popular Posts" sidebar). I didn’t consciously set out to write about it because I reckoned it would unleash a stampede to my blog, but simply considered it well made for the ridiculously small outlay, and wanted to get the word out to European readers. On the other hand, just because you are the only person writing about a scent doesn’t mean that you will attract lots of traffic – far from it. You might not get a soul reading your post, precisely because no one has heard of the fragrance in question! I am sure that has happened to me quite a lot, and I know I have clicked on and off other people’s sites pretty smartish if I don’t recognise a scent, or have no curiosity about it (sorry!). Which goes back to my point about choosing to write about things for your own reasons, whether you are the only one to do so, or one of many. Write as the spirit moves you, and let the chips – and the readers – fall where they may.

Popularity is governed by strange algorithms

And whatever your reasons for taking up blogging in the first place, it is only human nature to be just a little bit interested in how well your blog is doing. When I started out, I made the mistake of listing Bonkers in the general section of Wikio rather than the perfume category – well, I couldn’t find it, to be honest – and have reconciled myself to being 2741 in their overall rankings (at the time of writing). Bizarrely though, Wikio (recently renamed “Ebuzzing”) has pronounced me No 70 in its list of Beauty Blogs, in which I didn’t even ask to be listed! The other curious thing that happens automatically is that you get picked up by various “aggregator sites” - repositories of online content with names as random as a box of frogs: “Pharmacy Degrees”, “Soccer News”, “India Times”, “Plastic Surgery Face Lifts” and so on.

And gradually, this baffling and arcane accretion of links will lead to a page ranking in the eyes of Google on a scale of 0 to 10, where – to give you an idea - Now Smell This is a 6 and the actual CNN website (to which I likened NST in my guest post) is a 9. To complicate matters further, there is the Alexa ranking system, measuring traffic from sites that have installed the Alexa toolbar, for reasons that completely pass me by. It is in fact quite possible to have a lot of visitors according to Alexa (where a low number is good), yet be a 0 in Google’s backlink-based system (where a low number is bad). Which goes back once more to my point about keeping everything in perspective. Yes, try not to fret about page views and unique visitors, referring sites and “bounce rates” – because if you do, you’ll surely go mad!

Random traffic patterns are endlessly fascinating

And finally, the market researcher in me finds the visitor stats to my blog quite riveting. You don’t know the identity of your readers, just their location and the name of their Internet Service Provider. Yet some of these ISPs are intriguing in themselves, especially the private networks that bear the name of the organisation using them: an oil company in the Middle East, a hospital in the Maldives, a steel parts distributor in Georgia, a lawyer’s office in LA. Now it is a fact of blogging that 90% or more of your visitors are “lurkers”, who read and move on, never leaving a comment. Given this lack of direct contact between reader and blog owner, you can have a field day imagining a backstory for the bedridden patient in the Maldives who is looking at your review of Jennifer Lopez Glow, including how they ended up in hospital in the first place. Was it perhaps a jet skiing accident? A nasty jellyfish sting? Or might it just be a member of hospital staff idling googling in their break, and not a tourist at all?

And then there was the day when 90 Norwegians looked at a post I had written on an obscure Damien Bash scent. If it had been a class project at a school or college, you would have expected all the readers to be in the same town at least - but no, they were literally all over the country. There was no obvious link to a forum or Norwegian website, so to this day the trigger for this sudden mass national interest in my review remains a mystery. And the other important point to mention – and the final reason for keeping a sense of perspective - is that, crucially, many of your readers will land on your blog by mistake… Some of the more peculiar search terms that have directed people to Bonkers include: “leopard fantasy”, “Bo Derek naked”, “Anne Hathaway’s cottage opal flash parfum”, “Slovakian hobbits biscuits”, “swingos hotel Cleveland”, “card nuisance call boss telling her to do some work”, “kidnapping lillies”, “what is the landform of Ohio”, “avocado” and “slime”.

Yes, any time I catch myself thinking that Bonkers is going places, and that I am starting to make my mark as a fragrance blogger, a quick scroll through the keywords used by recent visitors brings me right back down to earth again…!

Photo of lady blogger in top image from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr CC, photo of blogging tips book from Search Engine People Blog via Flickr CC, photo of second lady blogger from Foxtongue via Flickr CC, photo of Maldives from Shayan (USA) vis Flickr CC, photo of avocados from nate steiner via Flickr CC, other photos my own

Thursday 9 February 2012

Guest Post On Now Smell This: 5 Things To Think About Before You Start A Perfume Blog

A while back, Robin of Now Smell This kindly invited would-be contributors to submit ideas for guest posts. I sent in a few suggestions, and one topic in particular caught Robin’s interest, prompting her to contact me and ask if I would like to cover it for them.

The first part of this post is up now on NST here, with the sequel to follow on Bonkers about Perfume tomorrow…!

Image is of Suzanne Valadon Blogging, after Lautrec [cropped] by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com at flickr; some rights reserved.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

A Knightsbridge Sniffing Blitz With Tara Of Olfactorias Travels: Part Two - Harrods Perfume Hall & Harvey Nichols

Following our thoroughly enjoyable session at the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, sniffing obscure, expensive and variously bejewelled fragrances, Tara and I made our way down the preposterously opulent escalator to the main perfume hall of Harrods on the ground floor. We were chatting animatedly at this point about our respective personal lives and as a result got ourselves thoroughly lost in the handbag department, which is preferable to losing one's handbag, I suppose.

When we finally found the perfume hall, there were a number of tester-toting promotions girls loitering with intent in the main walkways, but we managed to dodge all their proferred blotters and homed in on a few specific brands of interest: Guerlain, Cartier & Dior, as well as checking out the new exclusive range of Dolce & Gabbanas which Marcel had mentioned, and - despite all our best intentions - getting waylaid by a limpet-like sales lady at the Bond No 9 counter.

Once again, please take all these observations as broadly indicative at best, as they are based on fast dwindling recall and faded smelling strips...


I was keen to try Angélique Noire from the L'Art et la Matière range on skin, having famously smelt it on Birgit in Austria in December, and been struck by how glorious it was on her. The notes look deceptively simple - angelica, bergamot, vanilla - yet the overall effect is complex and I'd almost say "rich". I liked the opening of Angélique Noire best - it struck a nice balance between the flinty greenness of the angelica and the creamy warmth of the base, but as the scent wore on it got just a tad boozier than I would have liked, as if someone had slipped a bit of Spiritueuse Double Vanille in there while my back was turned. Tara, meanwhile, sprayed SDV on her own arm and it was quite pleasant on her, especially the later stages, but still too boozy for my taste. We also tried Oriental Brûlant from the Elixirs Charnels range on card, which I can't remember clearly except that it wasn't on fire or in any sense as full-on as you might think, and I would like to try it properly some time. I have now clocked the notes and am not surprised I liked it, notwithstanding the presence of styrax, which I associate with some fierce scents - here it is muffled in fluffy dessert ingredients. (I keep coming back to vanilla fragrances...!)

Notes: tonka bean, almond, vanilla, styrax, clementine


Next, Tara and I were keen to do a systematic sampling of the Les Heures scents, as we had each smelt some - though not the same ones. To this end, a flower-shaped Baiser Volé blotter (aka "Cart-ier Wheel") was pressed into service - now that I am aware of there being more elaborate styles of perfume cards, I have started to see them all over the place... : - ) We managed to spray a different scent on each of the six tips of the flower's petals, for which it was ideally designed! My memory is very hazy of this range, except to say that L'Heure Convoitée was a definite no-no for both of us on account of its pronounced carnation note, while L'Heure Défendue was a double thumbs up on account of its chocolate note, something of a "Must-have" in any Cartier scent collection...

Tara has just been in touch with some more thoughts on the range:

"I already liked L'Heure Fougeuse and L'Heure Brilliante (the gin one)... We didn't care for the lychee one (L'Heure Diaphane) or the new carnation one. The Mysterious one didn't come across on paper, but I understand it's incense so should try it again. The 13th hour was just birch tar and not much else."

Aha - I had forgotten the gin one - I feel sure I must have liked it though! : - )


It was at the Dior counter that Tara's effortlessly nonchalant sample-scoring skills were deployed to great effect, for she managed to procure us each two large sample pots: Ambre Nuit and Milly-la-Forêt in my case, and Milly-la-Foret and Eau Noire in Tara's. I wasn't particularly bothered about trying Milly-la-Forêt, but the SA seemed keen to further its cause, and having tried it, I can see that it needs all the help it can get. Am retesting Milly-la-Forêt as I type, and it is a quiet inoffensive floral with a pronounced citrus opening, which could easily be a designer release - very nondescript!

Then I wore Ambre Nuit all day yesterday, and have decided that I like it as much as New Look 1947. It is an understated blend of soft amber, rose, wood, and a light dusting of spice. For occasions where L'Air du Désert Marocain or OJ Ta'if might feel a little "out there", I can imaging that Ambre Nuit would make a great substitute.

D & G Velvet Collection

Tara and I couldn't quite remember which of this new range Marcel had asked us to look out for, but I thought it was the patchouli and vetiver ones, while Tara thought it was one of the florals, so we tried the lot anyway just to be sure. They all struck me as well made, and with the exception of Velvet Patchouli I didn't dislike any of them, and would happily try the whole lot again in a more leisurely fashion. It is true that by this point in the afternoon our noses were feeling a bit jaded to say the least, and we hadn't even been to Harvey Nicks yet! I think I liked the florals Velvet Love and Desire best, followed by the orange-y Sublime and the woody Wood(!).

Here is a link to an overview of the range (with note listings) from NST. They definitely felt of a higher quality to my nose than that numbered collection, that has always struck me as a poor man's version of the Chanel Exclusifs.

Bond No 9

So as I explained above, Tara and I were reeled in by the Bond No 9 SA, who seemed hell-bent on finding a fragrance from the line for each of us to love, even though we were privately convinced that if it hadn't happened yet it probably wasn't going to happen. In fast and furious succession we were given at least seven scents to try - I am confident of that number, as I have the frisbee cards to prove it. It doesn't really matter now what we tried (though I think Chelsea Flowers was deemed to be the "least worst", and the Harrods amber one that smells like hot and sour soup was in there too). The best thing I can think to say about the range is that the blotters would double up as serviceable emergency coasters. And also perhaps serve as a desktop model of Swindon's notorious "Magic Roundabout", teaching learner drivers the correct way to negotiate its convoluted series of wheels within wheels. I speak from experience, having passed my test there myself!


The other thing Tara and I did in Harrods is a considerable amount of ogling of high end make up. More than ogling in fact, because at the Tom Ford counter I volunteered my services as an eyebrow model, so Tara could see the effect of brow pencils in different shades, with a view to getting one for her mother. She chose one called Espresso in the end, which was pronounced the closest to her mum's hair colour. It had all sorts of ingenious compartments, integral sharpeners and general built-in wizardry. Which is the least you would expect for what is clearly the Rolls-Royce of brow shaping tools.

And Tara and I also lingered for a long time at the Burberry Beauty section, to whose quirkily textured bullet lipsticks I had been alerted by a post on Katie Puckrik Smells. We lingered so long in fact, and looked so simultaneously eager and forlorn - for Burberry lipsticks comfortably bust the twenty quid barrier, costing nearly twice as much as I have ever paid for a lippie - that the very kind SA gave us not one but a total of three sample sets between us, comprising four different shades each! Three because the unstintingly gallant Tara scored me a second one with yet another disarmingly casual point-blank request, along the lines of: "So would you have another of the cards with Rosewood on it for my friend to try, because it isn't on the one you just gave her."

But the time and the free samples will not have been in vain. I have been conscientiously auditioning all eight of my own samples, and feel I am definitely moving towards a purchase - and possibly falling down the rabbit hole of luxury make up more comprehensively. Have got my eye on some Nars, Chanel and Sunday Riley eyeshadows as well...

After Harrods, Tara and I had tea (and in my case a bowl of very thick onion soup) in the Harvey Nichols cafe. We exchanged sample packages, and I was blown away when Tara also pressed upon me her cast off bottle of Tom Ford Voile de Fleur! Restored by the pitstop, we did a desultory scope of the downstairs perfume hall, securing a couple of By Kilian samples (including the lovely Rose Oud), and inadvertently nicking the SA's pen, which we duly returned on the way out.

Nothing much to report from this last stop on our itinerary, for we were both starting to flag now. As per Marcel's instruction, we sniffed Van Cleef & Arpels Precious Oud - which had just come in that day - and whipped through some Piguets that were unknown to us both, including Douglas Hannant (not a men's scent, as the name might imply), which Robin of NST has aptly termed a "diet Fracas".

And by then it was 7pm and I had to head back to Euston, so we parted at the barrier in Knightsbridge tube station - at the barrier rather than downstairs between the platforms, because the turnstile rejected my Oyster card! A small technical hitch at the end of a very full and fun afternoon with Tara. And with my Oyster card now flush with credit, I look forward to doing it all again sometime!

Photo of Harrods from Wikimedia Commons, photo of Angélique Noire from laroshe.ru, photo of D & G Velvet perfume from fragrantica, other photos my own