Friday 30 March 2012

Madrugada Honey Bee: Review Of L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’aube

I was just looking up the Spanish word “madrugada” to doublecheck its meaning – I know it is mentioned somewhere in "The Perfume Lover", but I am not sure if I could find it now! I knew it was the Spanish word for “l’aube” ie dawn, but had a feeling that it also meant “the wee small hours”, regardless of prevailing light conditions - and as far as I can tell, it does. “Rolling-home-after-a-party-o’clock”, if you will.

And whilst satisfying my curiosity on this point, I lit upon an intriguing Google search term suggestion (a topic so interesting in its own right that I was moved to devote a whole post to it), namely “Madrugada Honey Bee Lyrics”. I couldn’t resist exploring further, and discovered that Madrugada is in fact a Norwegian rock band, and Honey Bee a love song by them, fortuitously referencing perfume and a romantic clinch not unlike the one described in “The Perfume Lover” between Denyse and Román, which inspired the creation of the perfume Séville à l’aube. (Denyse was even wearing a “black lace shift”…)

A young man should be blessed with love
There's just flesh and fire below
This drunken, senseless reeling
Hands on my face
Some silk and lace
Sweet perfume kisses
For me

Well, now that is funny, for as I was racking my brain for a title for this post – after discounting “Navel Orange-Gazing” on various grounds, not least those of provenance - my mind flitted to images around the idea of honey and nectar, which are featured in Séville à l’aube. Blow me if Google didn’t go and serve it up on a plate, or drizzle it on my keyboard, even.

Now I said in my review of “The Perfume Lover” that my corresponding write up of the perfume itself would be short. By which I meant the actual perfume review part – as ever, the rest of the post will be what it will be... For Séville à l’aube is a complex scent, and in the “mod-by-mod” account of its development I was fascinated in particular by the gradual addition, subtraction and volumetric adjustment of the various notes. This was mostly by design, and occasionally because something that had been previously included in the formulation was simply overlooked some 25 mods later, say.

“African Stone? I made him (Bertrand Duchaufour) smell it the day I told him that, in Monsieur’s opinion, the scent wasn’t erotic enough. It was dropped between 63 and 90, though not on purpose – Bertrand just forgot about it. He’ll put it in again, but he’ll also experiment with civet.” (Editor’s note - not too much it would seem, thankfully!)

Also, I remember there being at least 43 separate materials in the formulation at one point. I can’t recall the final tally, but a lot more than my nose could ever detect, it is safe to say, so I will focus on my general impressions. It would be tough for me to deconstruct this scent in a way that does justice to the glorious interplay of its components, for Séville à l’aube is as fiendishly beautiful as olfactory sudoku...

What Denyse and Bertrand set out to do was to weave different notes into the composition to capture all the fragrant aspects of that momentous night – not in some dogged box-ticking way, but with the aim of creating a composition that far transcended the sum of its components. In her excellent review of both book and scent, Mals86 of Muse In Wooden Shoes has included a handy schema that lays out what the French might call (but probably don't!) “les grands axes” of the fragrance, ie its major scent themes and how they interrelate.

To take a specific example of this associative process or "olfactory riffing", while wearing the lush and “radiant” Mod 90, Denyse explains to Bertrand that it is conjuring up images of gardens for her – “memories of sucking nectar out of flowers” - which prompts the perfumer to explain how he works with words as much as with smells:

“…like that plaza full of orange trees in full blossom buzzing with drunken bees. From there you go to beeswax candles, from candles to incense.”


I will kick off by saying that I am a fan of orange blossom scents. They are cheery and uplifting and remind me of the year I spent teaching on The French Riviera. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I own four scents in this style: Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne (also by Bertrand Duchaufour - review here), Penhaligon’s Castile (also Spanish-themed!), The Different Company Bergamote and Jo Malone Orange Blossom (which have no discernible Spanish or perfumer link that I can think of!).

And even though there was a bit of tinkering after Mod 90, and the commercial release appears likely to be 128 or thereabouts, the finished article is also pretty darn radiant: on two consecutive occasions it lasted on my skin from mid-morning till bedtime - and as some of you know, I am not noted for my early nights. Now the Jo Malone above is radiant, and so for that matter are a couple of other orange blossom-forward scents like Elie Saab and Alien. But Séville à l’aube has more heft than either of those.

Also worth noting is that it flirts with indolic notes, but only gets to first base on the skank-o-meter. In that regard it has more in common with Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne than Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger, say. Even the Jo Malone is more indolic to my nose. And this might well strike people as odd, given some of the action in the book - it did me. Now I know Bertrand and Denyse were trying to incorporate the religious aspects of the Easter procession into the composition, which would have the effect of toning it down, but I find it interesting all the same that the finished article is as relatively demure as it is!

In addition to its diffusive character, Séville à l’aube feels unctuous, rich and honeyed, yet simultaneously light and sherbety – there is a powdery, pollen-like quality to the scent which persists throughout its development, a “snuffed out” facet, which I imagine must be the incense – incense AND pollen, maybe? However, it is not the dank and crypt-y kind of Etro Messe de Minuit or even Bertrand Duchaufour’s own Avignon – think of it rather as “snuffed out nectar”, if that doesn’t sound like synaesthetic gibberish. The combination of orange and incense can be tricky to pull off; another orange + incense scent by Bertrand that springs to my mind is Baume du Doge (review here), but that is darker in tone, spicier and more woody than this composition. This incense is borderline fluffy - thanks to the honey/beeswax business it is almost gourmand, but with a citrus bite.

A belated word about the opening now! It is very green and a tad too sharp for my liking. Petitgrain frenzy at a guess. There is a word in French which merely means citrus – “agrumes” – but in my mind’s eye there is a sharp, acerbic quality to this term, which is exactly how the opening smells to me. It keeps the orange heart from being too sweet and cloying, which Denyse and Bertrand were keen to do, plus it probably nudges the scent a little closer towards unisex territory. To my nose, Séville à l’aube is unequivocably feminine, however, especially after the citrus blast has subsided.

There are so many notes in there that I don’t pick up on – the lavender, for example, the blood and tobacco notes I remember reading about in the book, or the civet that I also thought had made the final cut – I am not even conscious of the vanilla particularly, though I know it's there. To me Séville à l’aube is mostly about bracing citrussy greenness seguing into a voluptuous orange heart – it is “pulpeuse” - to quote the term a sales assistant used to describe Denyse’s “blossoming” physique. But that voluptuousness is leavened by the sherbety-pollen-incense accord – which is not unlike mimosa in fact, another flower associated with Southern Europe. Now, notwithstanding the felicitous title of this post, I don’t wish to suggest that Séville à l’aube is as honeyed as Chanel Beige or as MAC Naked Honey, for that would be wide of the mark. But there is a lovely powdery pollen thing going on here, and "to beeswax lyrical" for a moment, it stains your soul

Yes, in “The Perfume Lover” Denyse talks about how she will know they have lit upon the perfect variant of the formulation. It will be so affecting that she will let out “the moan”, just as she will have done that sultry night, locked in Roman’s embrace.

Are you ready, folks?

Mooooaaaaaaaaan!!” (reaches for credit card – oh blow, the darn thing isn’t out yet. That was a…. ; - ) ) By the way, that silver (and not intentionally suggestive-looking) atomiser pictured is the leaky one I was talking about. Do not be fooled by its seductively sleek contours and burnished metal buffness!

Moving on, I just went to google the official note listing and fetched up this general description of the scent, courtesy of Denyse herself: "an orange blossom oriental with zesty, green and balsamic effects, with notes of petitgrain, petitgrain citronnier, orange blossom absolute, beeswax absolute, incense resinoid, Luisieri lavender absolute and Siam benzoin resinoid."

My own scent memories of Seville

Now I know this perfume is not about me or my own holiday in Seville, but inevitably I cannot help but think back to that time nearly 20 years ago, when I took myself off to Spain following the recent break up of a pretty tempestuous relationship. The fact that I ended up in Seville was quite unintentional, though. I had gone to visit a friend in Soria in the north, but it snowed the entire time I was there (in May!), so after five days of shivering in inappropriate outfits, my friend packed me onto a train to Seville, and I spent the remaining five days of my trip basking in the 90F heat, happily alone in a city I consider to be the most sensual on earth (that I have been to, at least).

This was long before my perfumistahood, but if I cast my mind back and try to dredge up some scent memories of my stay, this is what I come up with:

Apple cake glaze – every morning I would sit outside a café near the Giralda cathedral with a cup of tea and a slice of apple cake, topped with that patisserie glaze that is jelly-like and vaguely perfumed.

Bocadillo de tortilla de patatas – omelette bap, effectively, but doesn’t it sound great in Spanish? : - ) I had a warm one of these for my lunch every day, purchased from a kiosk at the entrance to the Maria Luisa Park, before finding a sunny spot to flop in for the whole of each long, scorching afternoon.

Aromatic grasses – my many hours spent lying on the ground meant that I got "up close and personal" with the grass and vegetation of the park, some of it spiky and far from benign (as evidenced by the painful rash I developed that necessitated an emergency visit to a pharmacy!)

Cold stone – the contrast between the baking sunshine outside and the cool dark interiors of the churches couldn’t have been more marked, and I vividly recall that cold, damp, musty scent of flagstones in the many churches in which I sought refuge during my stay (as much to escape the heat as to marvel at Seville's ecclesiastical heritage, it must be said!)

Horse droppings – a memorable tourist attraction is the guided city tour in a horse-drawn carriage, so it doesn't take much for me to summon up the pungent pong of dung (from desiccated to steaming fresh!), especially in the area by the cathedral (see my own photo in the previous post).

Hot night flowers – one of my earliest scent memories is of arriving in Minorca on a night flight and being hit by a fragrant wall of heat as I walked down the steps of the plane. It was my first whiff of a Mediterranean summer, and wherever you go in Southern Europe you get this beautiful ambient floral bouquet in the air, especially at night.

Bonus tactile memory!

I bought this skirt and top while I was in Seville, in wonderfully slinky fabrics of viscose and acetate. I wore them for a while, before shorter hemlines came into fashion, condemning the ensemble to languish in wardrobes since the late 90s at a guess. But I note in the press that the maxi skirt is making a comeback. Mine may in fact be a midi, but I am quite stunted in the leg department. And I believe the midi itself is pretty on-trend too! So the outfit may yet enjoy a second life.

So anyway, I shall definitely be buying Séville à l’aube when it comes out. It is a stellar fragrance in its own right, plus it already feels more personal to me because I followed its gestation in the book – like a birthing partner, you could say. Or a husband coming along to ante-natal classes, perhaps, for birthing partners may only be deployed at the foetal equivalent of the "last “mod”, so to speak! But I don't have kids, so hey, what do I know? : - ) And then there are my own memories of Seville – not quite at dawn, but I saw the wrong side of 3am a few times, as I wandered aimlessly for miles by the light of a slivery (and silvery!) moon – and these also reinforce the appeal of this scent to me. For Seville symbolises my newfound single state, when I felt more energised and comfortable in my own skin (once the rash got better, obviously!) than at any point in my life, even if the height of my tactile adventures in this magical place was a clingy fabric or two and some antihistamine cream.

And if, by my serendipitous choice of title, I can introduce fans of a Norwegian rock band to a great new perfume inspired by another distant madrugada, that will be a Random Act Of Kindness in the truest sense of the term. Cheers, Google... : - )

For further impressions of both book and scent check out these reviews by Nathan Branch and the Candy Perfume Boy on Basenotes. And here on Now Smell This is an interesting Q & A session with Denyse Beaulieu, talking about her book.

Photo of Seville at dawn by Turismo de Sevilla via Flickr CC, photo of Madrugada concert by Anika via Flickr CC, photo of honey bee by Vincent Ramos via Wikimedia Commons, photo of garden with orange blossom by Anual via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Baume du Doge from Eau d'Italie website, photo of Triana district and river by Gregory Zeier via Wikimedia Commons, photo of omelette roll from Wikipedia, other photos my own

Tuesday 27 March 2012

The Magdalene Complex: Review Of "The Perfume Lover" By Denyse Beaulieu

I have been "playing away" with Denyse Beaulieu's new book, "The Perfume Lover". No, really I have. You see, I had been making slow but steady progress through Lisa Chaney's biography of Coco Chanel ("An Intimate Life") - I was up to Page 180 in fact - when a copy of "The Perfume Lover" arrived from Harper Collins. It was accompanied by a sample of Séville à L'Aube, the fragrance inspired by Denyse and the subject of the book, soon to be released commercially by L'Artisan Parfumeur. The perfume was nestling in folds of pink tissue in a tiny black pot in a drawstring velvet pouch. It looked like a miniature bottle of Lanvin Arpège, and there was something so cute and enticing about the whole package of book-plus-scent-featured-in-book, that I parked the Coco Chanel biography and dived straight into "The Perfume Lover" with a sense of eager anticipation. Haha - there's the first seduction scene of the book, right out of the box... : - )

Fragrance fans everywhere are predisposed to like a book about perfume, never mind one apparently named after us all. This is precisely because - as noted in recent blog discussions about perfume writing generally - there simply aren't very many books in print on this subject, period. And some of them are a bit dry and technical and over the head of anyone who doesn't have a background in chemistry. For example, I started to lose the will to live about a third of the way through "The Secret Of Scent" by Luca Turin, and skimmed over the more arcane parts of Chandler Burr's "The Emperor Of Scent".

So I felt that this book of Denyse’s, with its subtitle "A Personal History Of Scent", was going to be the ultimate perfume book I was looking for. A literary lemming, if you will. I knew in advance of reading it that "The Perfume Lover" wove Denyse's autobiography and “scent journey” into an account of the development of a fragrance based on one specific set of her olfactory memories – those of a romantic encounter with a Spanish boy in Seville, set against the backdrop of Easter celebrations in the city.

Several other aspects drew me to "The Perfume Lover": firstly, I have myself had a very enjoyable solo holiday in Seville in the spring, if not at Easter exactly, and can testify to the off-the-scale sensuality of the place. There was a heatwave that year, and the evening temperature still hovered around an ultra-sultry 90F. I should perhaps mention that I was twice Denyse’s age at the time she met Román, and stayed in a budget hostel somewhat removed from Denyse's stylish mid-range hotel. Also, despite stopping out till 2am every night in a fairly receptive frame of mind to any possibilities the night might bring, the only “something-on-skin action” I ended up with was a bad grass allergy from afternoons spent sunbathing in the Maria Luisa park, prompting me to "hotleg it" (quite literally!) down to an out of hours pharmacy in search of "un remedio antihistamino muy rapido".

Another thing which attracted me to the book was the fact that Bertrand Duchaufour was the perfumer who offered to create the scent that would capture Denyse’s passionate clinch with her young beau. He is very much the “nez du jour” at the moment, not least thanks to his recent critically acclaimed trio of scents for Neela Vermeire, so the chance to gain an inside track on his creative MO was too good to pass up.

And then there was the added appeal of Denyse Beaulieu (owner of the highly respected blog Grain de Musc ) being the author. I have not met Denyse, though a number of other bloggers have (eg Katie Puckrik, Persolaise, and Ines & Asali of All I Am A Redhead). Moreover, such is the immediacy of the blogosphere that we fumeheads tend to feel we “know” one another even if we have never met in person. So this perceived familiarity - on however slight and virtual a premise - lent a further piquancy and interest to "The Perfume Lover" for me.

And now that I have got to the end of the book – I am a slow reader, only managing a couple of chapters in the bath a few days a week! - I can declare that I was not disappointed by it. Bemused in places, maybe, wrongfooted, startled, and occasionally shocked - but not disappointed. No, I enjoyed and savoured every page, and would happily read it again some day.

But there is a caveat to come… for though I got the book I wanted, I got a few other books besides, and I think that this attempt to be “all perfume books to all men” may end up alienating all but the hardcore perfumista, though luckily there are still a lot of us in that category. Well, discounting any fumeheads of delicate sensibilities who may be even more perturbed than me by the erotic content, so not so very “hardcore” in that sense! : - ) But I am running ahead of myself….

Yes, I clocked at least four genres in “The Pefume Lover”. The central plank of the book is a factual, “mod-by-mod” (as each version of the scent is known) account of the development of Séville à L'Aube – complete with fascinating and sparky dialogue between Bertrand and Denyse (thoughtfully captured on tape).

These exchanges chart the evolution of their relationship and collaborative style as much as the technical nuts and bolts of the creative process, though that was also amply covered, I felt. There are insights into fragrance materials and their delicate interplay, as well as the way in which Bertrand adds notes – even in the smallest, most subliminal proportions - to ensure that every scented facet of the overall Seville experience is covered off: orange blossom, incense, beeswax, blood, nectar, pollen, tobacco, vanilla, ambient cologne smells of the crowd, and so on.

Another key strand to the book is Denyse’s autobiography, which evokes her early life in Canada and emigration to Paris as a teenager. The scents which punctuated different periods of her life are also tracked, from the Max Factor Green Apple of her childhood to the masculine Van Cleef & Arpels she associated with a student boyfriend, and beyond. It is a “coming of age” or “rite of passage” story in every sense of the term, including Denyse’s maturing interest in fragrance, and I found that theme of the book the next most interesting aspect. It might even count as two. : - )

Now, although it is technically part of the autobiographical genre above, the various references to Denyse’s sexual conquests in “The Perfume Lover” (Román was just the beginning...) put me in mind of an erotic novel, although the action is all based on Denyse’s own experiences. As early as Page 11 there is a clue that readers may be in for tales of more “lovers” than they bargained for...

“I am a scent slut…I have been exploring the world of fragrance in the same way, and for the same reasons, that I’ve travelled erotic territories, spurred on by intellectual curiosity, sensuous appetites and the need to experiment with the full range of identities I could take on.”

Several casual hook ups are mentioned in the book as well as the "main male milestones" in Denyse’s “menfolk journey” (The Tomcat, her ex-husband, and Monsieur, a married lover), and the erotic charge of perfume is never far from her mind. Denyse does in fact concede that she may be suffering from “The Magdalene Complex”, a reference to Mary Magdalene, who was at once a “fallen woman” and a bearer of perfume. Certainly, the alacrity with which our heroine seems to “fall” into bed with comparative strangers conjures up scenes from that saucy series of films from the 70s starring Robin Asquith, “Confessions of a Window Cleaner” (though in the present case, substitute "postman".)

Now I consider myself to be a woman of the world, and have been around the block a bit and whatnot, so I asked myself why the raunchy material in the book troubles me. I thought it was because I feel I know Denyse, and by and large, women don’t tend to discuss the gory details of their sex lives even with their close friends - or such is my experience. Then The Candy Perfume Boy and I discussed this issue at the recent "Leather Event" (of all places!) and he pointed out that we might not want to read this sort of lurid content whether we knew Denyse or not. So I guess it all boils down - or hots up, rather! - to personal taste.

And then the other genre in our smorgasbord is a history of modern perfumery, with lots of titbits and anecdotes about the major international perfume houses, plus accounts of Denyse’s meetings with individual perfumers and other industry notables. There are some water cooler stories in there, a smattering of chemical nomenclature, and a sweeping panorama of social history as it relates to the history of fragrance and its materials.

All this additional information was unexpected, and arguably extraneous to the matter in hand, though personally I found the content of these factual digressions mostly very interesting. My main issue with this ragbag of genres is the choppy and abrupt manner in which they are intertwined. One of many cases in point: one minute we are with Denyse and her childhood friend Sylvie, reminiscing about David Cassidy and the scents of the day such as Love’s Baby Soft, then suddenly we are catapulted back to 4th century Rome with Saint Jerome and his musk-wearing flock.

The jolt between genres pulls you up short, and can make the reader impatient for a resumption of the main plotline about Bertrand Duchaufour at work on Duende, as the prototype for Séville à L'Aube is known in the book. This thematic tendency on Denyse's part to go off on educational tangents even as we keenly await the final mod of the new fragrance, reminds me of how builders working on a major house renovation have an annoying habit of going awol for a fortnight because they have suddenly picked up another job...

In summary, I think this is a book which will appeal hugely to the perfumista crowd, though readers should be prepared for it to flit between every possible style of perfume book they have ever known – in a way that may seem jumpy or even random at times. If you surrender to the elegant and lyrical prose, and follow the story through its meandering yet rewarding chicanes – and if you can step over the odd pair of dropped knickers along the way without flinching – then in my view this is as good a read as Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent (my favourite perfume book to date), and I was sorry to turn the last page and reach the (long and distinguished) list of Acknowledgments...

A short review of Séville à L'Aube follows in the next post!

All photos my own - the ones of Seville are from my holiday there in 1995 (can you tell? : - ) ).

Saturday 24 March 2012

Perfume Lovers London Meet-Up: "An Evening Of Leather", With More Leather Scents Than You Can Crack A Whip At...

Yes, some weeks before the second meeting of the Perfume Lovers London group at the New Cavendish Club, the upcoming talk had already acquired its snigger-worthy moniker of the "Leather Event". Some of us - well, speaking for myself, anyway - were keenly anticipating an evening of leather-themed double entendres and backhanded references to whips, canes, flagellation and tight outfits involving sturdy yet stretchy fabrics. Oh, and some perfumes that smelt of leather, maybe...

Before I had even made it down to London, I got myself into character on the self-harming front: for the train gave a sudden and violent lurch as it was nearing Euston, and I fell hard against the plastic arm of a seat, badly bruising my leg. I can't say I derived the remotest sensation of pleasure from this injury, and was in my hotel room slathering arnica on a a purple area the size of a small republic when I picked up a message from Katie Puckrik. She suggested meeting up before the talk - this time at a Lebanese restaurant near the venue. In a leatherette booth (putting us in the mood for the night's theme!) we exchanged news over a plate of falafel and - in a Middle Eastern take on petits fours - dainty, bite-size morsels of baklava.

Suitably refuelled, we headed down to Marble Arch tube station to rendez-vous with Tara of Olfactorias Travels, and the three of us made our (slightly circuitous) way to the club - I persist in thinking it is in a crescent of smart townhouses set back from the main road, instead of on the corner of the next block. Third time unerring, maybe.

The event was held in the same ornate yet cosy room as in January, and Lila Das Gupta and Grant Osborne greeted everyone warmly, proffering the usual fine drop of white wine (or juice alternative for the health-conscious or anyone mad enough to drive into Central London). It was great to see Tara and Nick again, also the Candy Perfume Boy - by our reckoning, we had not met since a Basenotes event in the summer of 2008!

Lila kicked off her talk with a brief overview of the history of perfume and its link to the glove industry. The frank tone of the evening was set early on, when our host explained how leather came to be perfumed in order to mask the odour of the urine - and sometimes faeces - used in tanning.

From here it was a short hop to the fashion for gratuitously perfumed gloves: technology advances had eliminated the need for a pleasant odorant in the manufacturing process, but by now perfumed leather had become firmly associated in people's minds with luxury goods. As well as scented gloves - of which Queen Elizabeth I owned enough pairs to rival Imelda Marcos's shoe collection, apparently - Lila cited the example of Russian jewellers wrapping precious stones in perfumed leather.

To round off this first section of the talk, we were invited to smell a couple of iconic "Historical Leathers": Knize 10 and Chanel Cuir de Russie. The former reminded me of Pledge furniture polish, while others in the group got insect repellent, and Katie pronounced it to be "sharp on my nose hairs".

When the discussion turned to Cuir de Russie, the subject of castoreum came up - and out of beavers - strictly in a dietary context, I hasten to add. For not only is the leather note in Cuir de Russie derived from birch tar, but the scent also contains castoreum from Siberian beavers who ate birch bark, infusing their musky secretions with birch by the back door, as it were - or the back passage, you might even say...

Lila also explained the connection between early leather (and tobacco) scents and female emancipation / financial independence. At this point Grant - who, armed only with his iPad, did a sterling job as ever in charge of visual aids - showed us a photo of a besuited Ann Scott-James, one of Britain's first female career journalists.

In the next section of the talk ("Cheap and Cheerful Leathers"), we took part in a fun blind test, to see if we could distinguish between the bargain basement perfume, Dana English Leather, and the vastly more expensive niche offering, L T Piver Cuir. Reader, I could! I didn't really like either to be honest, but the cheapie cologne was the more tolerable of the two. Then, after we had enjoyed a couple of cheesy period TV ads, including a raunchy and sexist one for English Leather from the 60s, Lila introduced us to her special guest, petite perfumer Liz Moores, who is releasing a leather scent of her own later this year.

Liz passed around some raw materials for us to sniff which are used to create different leather effects, starting with a birch tar that smelt like creosote, quinoline (a curious hybrid word fashioned from "crinoline" and "quinine") that had a green and aromatic facet, and suederol, which sounds like the stuff cheap patchwork handbags on a market stall might be made of. It was in fact my favourite ingredient of the three, and is sprayed by Jaguar in their new cars, presumably to enhance their naturally luxurious new car smell yet further!

Next up, Lila invited us to sample some leather scents in the other categories she had devised. So following on from "Historical" and "Cheap and Cheerful", we smelt examples from "The Middle Ground" (PG Cuir d'Iris, Parfum D'Empire Cuir Ottoman), "Beautifully Blended" (EL Azuree, Mona di Orio Vanille), "Soft Suedes" (Bottega Veneta), and "Sex God" (Dior Leather Oud). So as not to overface us, Lila omitted to circulate any scents from the "Full-On" (Mona di Orio Cuir!) or "Maverick" categories (Tauer Lonestar Memories!, L'Artisan Dzing! - which comes with integral exclamation mark!). However, some of us dared to dabble in these during the milling around part of the evening after the talk proper was over.

Grant also took advantage of our gathering to announce the results of the Basenotes Reader Awards in a "pop-up ceremony", and there was much hilarity over the Creed nominations in no fewer than three categories, and Royal Oud's subsequent triumph as Best Men's Fragrance of 2011. Grant agreed with my suggestion that Creed is the Manchester United of the niche perfume world, by which I meant that it could be a lazy default choice for those who are unfamiliar with the many options out there.

Mona di Orio won two awards (Best Perfumer and Best Perfume House), and Lila read out a touching letter from Mona's business partner, saying how much it would have meant to her if she had lived to see her work receive these accolades.

As well as complimentary samples of three of the award-winning scents (Bottega Veneta, Terre d'Hermes and Royal Oud itself), we were all given a free leather bracelet to make our leather experience complete! Lila had explained at the start of the talk that thanks to its porous surface, leather is particularly good at absorbing odour molecules, and we were encouraged to spray our bracelets with our favourite leather scent of the night. This inevitably prompted paroxysms of indecision on the part of some delegates, on a scale known only to Travalo owners, who must similarly make up their minds which fragrance in their collection they love enough to commit to this monogamous receptacle.

At one point during the evening, Lila "outed" me as having expressed a reluctance to come along in the first place. This is because I am not much of a leather fan really, give or take the odd exception like Cuir de Lancome, L'Agent by L'Agent Provocateur and Sonia Rykiel Woman (though the latter two weren't featured). I can truthfully say that I didn't discover any new leather scents to love, despite being introduced to so many in this single, intensive session. I had fun trying, though!

And unexpectedly, there was also the chance to test out the winners of the Basenotes awards. I spritzed on original Angel (which decomposed on my skin before my very nose! - Katie remarked that it smelt as though I needed to take a shower), Illmasqua Freak (which smelt more like Angel on me than the real deal), and Jennifer Aniston (a clean-smelling musky jasmine, which - had I applied it more liberally - might have made me smell as though I had taken the shower Katie recommended, along similar lines to our perfumed leather from earlier : - ) ).

So, thanks are due to Lila and Grant for a whip-crackingly good night, which was lively to the point of rumbustious! We submitted our noses to a right birching from more leather variants than you can shake a stick at, and blow me if my favourite discovery of the night may turn out to be a beachy celebrity scent. And definitely would do if regular application could give me her artlessly tousled, perfectly highlighted mane.

Photo of whip from Alaskan Dude via Wikimedia Commons, photo of glove from Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons, photo of beaver via Wikimedia Commons, Jennifer Aniston perfume from, other photos (Maroush restaurant, Lila with some of the group, Katie Puckrik talking to Liz Moores, the Candy Perfume Boy sniffing his bracelet - that isn't facial hair, though you might be forgiven for thinking so - and Tara) my own.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Bonkers Is Off To London (Yet Again!) - On A Leather And Lipstick Quest

I realise that that title does sound unintentionally raunchy, but this is due to the unfortunate collision of the title of tomorrow's Perfume Lovers London talk ("An Evening Of Leather"), and my ongoing mission to find more contenders in the Holy Grail high end lipstick quest.

I meant to do a proper blog post before I left, but the past couple of days have been uncharacteristically sociable by my standards. Then today was spent pursuing some work inquiries and catching up on emails. To top things off, I have just inadvertently eaten a Tupperware full of Bombay mix, and my mouth is on fire in a way that is not at all conducive to creative endeavour.

So instead of a blog post, you have ended up with yet another shot of a Marble Arch tube station mural (the third, by my count). This is because Marble Arch is the nearest stop to both Les Senteurs (where I have been three times in the last two months!) and The Cavendish Club, where the Perfume Lovers group meets. I am not sure how high readers' tolerance threshold will prove to be as they are faced in post after post with an apparently endless succession of inverted U-shapes. You may have noticed that they are all subtly different - both in terms of colours and design - but even if you did, it may not be enough to stave off chronic levels of arch-induced ennui. And I should perhaps warn you that there are a couple more designs left in my pictures folder, and then of course on any given visit to London I could always go and take some more - I still don't have the definitive set! - but I promise I shall resist the urge.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Penhaligon's Ormolu: A "Wormhole" Scent In A Tutu

When I think of the most famous, long-established perfume houses in Britain, the names Penhaligon's and Floris pop immediately into my mind. Grossmith (I always want to put three "s"s) could be a third, but they have not been continuously in business, plus if I associate them with anywhere it is the Middle East! (I am thinking of the scene in the BBC 4 documentary, "Perfume", where Simon Brooke is over in the Gulf region on a sales mission, pitching his line to affluent Arabian customers).

No, it is the other two who are top of mind for me: Penhaligon's in particular, because of the interesting way it has reinvented itself in recent years, since entrusting the development of its perfumes to the ubiquitous "hot nose on the block", Bertrand Duchaufour. Recent launches such as Juniper Sling are thematically rooted in the past while appealing to modern tastes, making for a winning blend of brand heritage and contemporary flair. In fabric terms, this fusion of eras might perhaps translate as moleskin hipster trousers or a drapey, asymmetric wrap-around top made out of tweed. Bizarrely, I actually have one of those - it is Japanese and came from Spitalfields market, so go figure... It has a sort of cummerbund belt thing going on, and really does look quite nice on, in a vaguely Borg-like way. The lapels really are rather pointy...

But the perfume I am featuring today is not from recent years. It is from 1987, and is no longer in production. Mr Bonkers' guitar tech friend Beetmoll - with whom I attended a Perfume Studio workshop two years ago before becoming a sales associate myself for a while - gave me nine Penhaligon's samples plus a mini of Ormolu that he had come across whilst having a clear out of his flat. So how did he come by the mini of a femininine scent, you may ask, and what's with the "Wormhole" reference in the title?

Well, no actual habitats of worms are involved, though goodness knows I am well acquainted with these, after handling dozens of the beggars during a marathon lawn laying session the other weekend to help out a friend. This also meant digging up the tatty remnants of the existing lawn first, and carefully rehoming the not inconsiderable worm diaspora which were unearthed in the process. By the end of the afternoon I could pick up a worm in my gloved hand, instead of coaxing it gingerly - and to not much effect - with a floppy twig.

But I digress: the "Wormhole" of the title refers to the fact that for Beetmoll, the discovery of the Ormolu mini and the other Penhaligon's samples took him right back in time to the early 90s, when he was working with Italian rock band, Zucchero (of "Senza Una Donna" fame). The guitarist, Corrado Rustici, wore a perfume by Penhaligon's which Beetmoll believes was called "Hamman Oil", as distinct from Hamman Bouquet (assuming the latter was ever available in oil form). I have since made inquiries of Penhaligon's, but they were not able to confirm this point one way or the other, so in the meantime Beetmoll is seeing if he can dig out his empty bottle!

And though the precise name of the scent may remain lost in the mists of time, Beetmoll clocked and liked it enough to ask Rustici what it was. Rustici also mentioned that this scent was a favourite of Winston Churchill's, no less! Now I wouldn't have instantly associated a guitarist in a rock band with the stiff upper lip Britishness of distinguised Prime Ministers or the Penhaligon's brand (certainly as it was back then), but there again the perfume world is full of such surprises. Plus Beetmoll tells me that Corrado Rustici was immaculately dressed, and come to think of it Italians are famed for their keen/sharp sense of style.

You should perhaps also know that Beetmoll himself doesn't fit any of the profiles people might associate with the typical Penhaligon's customer - he is no young fogey or dapper metrosexual, for example. Rather, he dresses top to toe in black utility clothing, and sports a glorious long mane of flame-coloured hair that would make Jane Asher weep.

So anyway, Beetmoll bought Hamman Oil a few times until one day it wasn't available, whereupon he switched his allegiance to Hamman Bouquet, also buying Blenheim Bouquet around the same period.

Then he reckons he bought the samples by mail order out of the company's catalogue, again in the early 90s - they served as a "discovery set" (as we might term it today) for his further exploration of the line. The mini of Ormolu is decked out in copious swathes of pale yellow netting, for all the world like a tutu. After some concerted memory-dredging, Beet reckons he may also have bought the mini out of the catalogue, with the idea of giving it to a girlfriend. Instead, it wound up in my possession, two decades later!

Here is the blurb inside the lid of the box:

"Ormolu is a rich perfume. Like the ground gold decoration after which it is named, Ormolu enhances what is already fine. Sophistication is not easily acquired. Equally it takes time to appreciate the complex character of this warm, floral fragrance."

Of course I had to google "ormolu" to find out a bit more about it...As ever, Wikipedia has the scoop. I was especially concerned to read about the gilders' poor life expectancy:

"Ormolu /ˈɔrməluː/ (from French or moulu, signifying ground or pounded gold) is an 18th-century English term for applying finely ground, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to an object of bronze. The mercury is driven off in a kiln (leaving behind a gold-colored veneer). ...Due to exposure to the harmful mercury fumes, most gilders did not survive beyond 40 years of age."

The choice of name and the sales copy both point to this being a rich, rather "ornate" perfume, and so it proves.

Top Notes - Armoise, Camomile, Bergamot
Middle Notes - Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang
Base Notes - Sandalwood, Musk, Moss, Amber

The (small sample of) two reviewers on MUA are not overly enthusiastic it must be said, giving it an average rating of 3 out of 5. That's a "meh", pretty much, or slightly better. One is aged 19-24, admittedly.

"Pretty strong stuff and only to be used sparingly. Smell powdery, as the other reviewer has wrote. It reminds me faintly of baby powder, some Chanel classics, with a dark pungent twist. that knocks the back of my nose."

Then there is a lone review of Ormolu by Foetidus on Basenotes, who confirms that the sweetness and powder don't let up for him, and he was not sorry to learn that it was discontinued.

And I must say it isn't really my thing either, but I don't dislike it. With its slightly spiky opening, Ormolu segues into a full-on powdery oriental which manages to smell oldfashioned but not in a kickass retro way, like Le Parfum de Therese or Onda. It reminds me a bit of Guerlain Mayotte or one of the many Carons with "Aimez" in the title, but it has a mossier, more herbally aspect, at least initially, which fights with the floral notes. I wouldn't call it overly sweet though - perhaps my skin amplifies the mossy note. It almost has the vibe of a Grossmith, in fact, though it errs the right side of out-and-out sneezefest, unlike most of that line to my nose. As it wears on the powderiness mutes down, but it doesn't smell distinctly of a particular flower to me at any point, and I can really take it or leave it, to be honest.

But none of that matters, for the fact that Ormolu is stuck in a timewarp - or down a wormhole - is precisely its charm. And not just any wormhole, but Beetmoll's memories of tours all those years ago, and his own perfume epiphany. Readers may be interested to know that he has also run into the band on which Tarleisio's novel, Quantum Demonology, is based (Type O Negative)!

Sadly, as this Hamman Oil continues to elude us, I cannot give you a note listing for Beetmoll's first perfume love and purchase. But here is the lowdown on Hammam Bouquet, which he went on to own, and which was created by William Penhaligon in 1872.

Top notes: lavender and bergamot
Middle notes: Bulgarian rose, orris root, jasmine and cedar
Base notes: sandalwood, amber and musk

I wouldn't say Beet is on the cusp of being afflicted with full scale fumeheadonism, but he does enjoy his Penhaligon's colognes (Opus 1870 is the current favourite!), and for my own part I am delighted to have inherited his tutu-clad Ormolu mini and its unexpected "back(stage) story"...


Hold on, could that by any chance be a touch of ormolu on that chandelier?

Photo of Corrado Rustici album from, photo of Hammam Bouquet from, photo of Zucchero Fornaciari from Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own

Friday 16 March 2012

"Got Lippie!" Dior Rouge Dior Pisanelle Pink - The First Purchase In My Holy Grail Lipsticks Quest

Okay, so I know the name of this blog is Bonkers about Perfume, not Bonkers about Lipsticks. As a matter of fact I did google that out of interest, and got my own blog (twice), right after some sponsored links for Max Factor, MAC and Clinique, haha! So you could say that it almost is Bonkers about Lipsticks in Google's eyes, and certainly that's where my head is at at the moment for some strange reason. I am frenetically reading beauty blogs (more so than perfume blogs, for the first time!) and drawing up shortlists of shades in all the high end ranges, which I plan to investigate further when I am down in London again next week.

I am still puzzling over what might have precipitated this restless quest to find the perfect lippie / gloss in each of the main shades that suit my colouring. The recession? My revolting hormones? The general insecurity of middle age? For I feel strangely driven to find "the one" or "ones" rather - it really is most peculiar. Though in fairness, I did something similar in the first year of fumeheadonism - the voracious reading, the lists, the Ebay stalking - before eventually abandoning the search and resigning myself to just settling down with my top 147 perfumes or so. So I do recognise a similar "sudden onset mania" coming upon me, more to do with lipsticks than any other category of makeup at present, but watch this space. Eyeshadows could well be next, or anything involving noticeable colour - I think colour is key.

But realistically how would it change my life if I did manage to find the optimum shade or three? Which probably won't be far off in tone from the handful I kept in my collection after ditching the 18 old or wrong 'uns in my recent cull. Lipstick is cheering, but not sooo transformative as to warrant the research I am putting into my hunt. And the evidence to date does rather point to the fact that I am still circling endlessly round the same lipstick shades in pinky-browny-nude-beige-rosewood.

I say that, because I have already made my first purchase(!) of Dior Rouge Dior Pisanelle Pink, following extensive scrutiny of my favourite blogs (links below). Blind, and on Ebay admittedly, but as blind buys go this was as good as it gets: the colour is exactly as pictured in the reviews, even on my highly pigmented lips. The only downside is the fact that it is a new tester with a generic white cap instead of the proper one - though I did only pay £15 for it including postage. So the sensory pleasure of using it is diminished by about 50% - as far as the packaging is concerned, anyway! I think it will be my last tester buy. At least with tester bottles of perfume, they may lack their box or come in a plain white one, but the bottle itself looks normal, or that is my understanding. There again, maybe some tester bottles come without a cap - not even a plain white one : - ) - perhaps someone can enlighten me on this point.

So anyway, here are a couple of pictures: one of the lipstick looking a bit odd and one of me looking a bit mad, but the lipstick is shown to good effect at least - that is exactly how it comes off (or goes on, rather) on my lips. I do have another photo where I look marginally less mad, but there is an awful lot of chin in that one, and I am sure you don't want to see that. Also, I haven't done any comparisons with the "pink probationers" in my previous post on this subject, because I figured there are only so many "lipstick line up shots" that a reader can bear! Well, partly that reason and partly the fact that I feel a bit silly for buying something in the same ballpark as what I already own... Also, dark as it may appear in the tube, Pisanelle Pink is definitely lighter than most of my current "pink nude" contingent when applied, as well as being more luxuriant and creamy in feel.



A few of my favourite beauty blogs that have helped me in my plethora-whittling efforts - the first link is to the review that clinched my purchase of Pisanelle Pink. (Also good for capturing its precise colour in the tube as well as on the model's lips, which may even be pigmentally similar to mine):

Café Makeup
The Beauty Look Book
Makeup And Beauty Blog
The Non-Blonde (of course!)
Get Lippie (of course!)
Best Things In Beauty
MyBeautyBlog (my blogger pal in Germany!)
Messy Wands
My Funny Valentine

And last but not least, the incomparably named Pink Sith

Then there are perhaps ten other blogs, including some British-based ones, which might also come up every time I google a different product, so this list is by no means exhaustive. However, it probably represents the blogs that are top of my head for me now.

In case anyone is concerned, I will be back with a perfume review in my next post. I am still Bonkers about Perfume, really - I just get sidetracked now and then... : - )

Photo of Holy Grail by Vitold Muratov via Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Scent Crimes Series: No 10 - Visiting Britain's Largest Perfume Bottle Collection In Twenty Minutes Flat

Last July I went to see the Mrs French Scent Bottle Collection at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston. In what may be the most spectacular breach of chronological order in the history of Bonkers, I am only now getting round to writing up my impressions of my visit. So I have decided to file it in the Scent Crimes Series - along with "Bathroom Storage", "Confusing Stella Flankers", "Opaque Perfume Receptacles", and posts about other fragrance-related annoyances of every stripe - because I only managed to get there at 4.30pm, a derisory half an hour before closing time. You don't really need to know the reasons, but they may have involved a missed train and an upside down Google map. And in practice I only really had 20 minutes to browse and take photographs, because the museum staff started making concerted efforts to shoo people out at about 10 to 5. Twenty minutes to look round a collection of this size and importance is shameful, the museum-visiting equivalent of a supermarket sweep, but there it is.

So, some eight months later, I will endeavour to piece together what I can from the museum's information sheet, my scribbled notes (never normally intelligible much beyond that day) and a couple of dozen photos of (mostly) unidentified perfume objects!

Now the Mrs French Scent Bottle collection is not just the largest in Britain, but one of the most important in the world, and has been kept at the Harris Museum since 1964. The 2748 bottles, made from ceramic, glass, silver and other materials, date from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Some are on permanent display in glass cabinets, and there are also numerous sets of drawers full of additional specimens; these are kept locked but the curator will open them on request. I did get the member of staff on duty to open a drawer just so I could see what a typical one contained, before promptly asking her to close it again...

So who was Mrs French and how did she come to amass such an enormous quantity of perfume bottles? Not just scent bottles in fact - the museum has other collections of note she donated, including visiting card cases, stone eggs, mineral specimens, decorative objects made from stone, and mother of pearl gaming counters.

Idonea French was born Idonea Thomas in 1880 in a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family in Southern Ireland, and moved to Kent during the First World War. It was here that she met her husband, Charles French, whom she married in her 30s. Idonea began collecting perfume bottles at the age of 12, when she was given one by her mother. Presumably an empty one, but I cannot say for sure. Then over the next 20 years Idonea carried on acquiring bottles, and by the time she got married her collection was already quite substantial.

Following the death of her only child, who was killed in action in the Second World War at the age of 20, Idonea's hobby escalated to a new level, possibly as a direct result of losing her son. The couple spent their free time driving round the country looking for more collectables, notably perfume bottles. According to the meticulous records she kept of her purchases, Idonea never spent more than £1.10 (about £30 / $50 at today's values). Predictably, their house quickly became cluttered with cabinets, though apparently her husband banned his wife from keeping bottles in the dining room. After his death, that room was also quickly colonised!

What I haven't been able to ascertain is whether Idonea was interested in perfume itself as well as the bottles, and if so, what she might have worn.

But meanwhile, here are some close ups of the scent bottles themselves. Unfortunately the glass roof of the museum room allowed light to bounce off the glass display cases in such a way as to make taking photos very tricky. That and the time pressure, obviously, made it a rather fraught process all round! One or two of the "roof-eclipsed" photos (eg the one of Attar Bottles below) actually look a bit arty, but not enough to mitigate my frustration at the obliteration of text on the information boards in the cabinets. There are also a number of dazzling spots of light in some of the shots: contrary to appearances these are not ghostly orbs of the sort you see in "Most Haunted" ricocheting off dungeon walls, but merely a testimony to my complete ignorance of how to take photos through glass.

I have noted down the headings that correspond to the various sub-groupings of the bottles: these are partly based on function/style and partly on materials used. Whether I have correctly matched the illustrative photos to their respective bottle category is a moot point, so please allow for material inaccuracies. : - ) I suspect that that might have been a problem even if I had written up my visit the following day - it was simply too short a time in which to log what I was seeing and photograph it in any kind of systematic fashion. So I can only urge you to go along to the Harris if you are ever in the Preston area and enjoy a more orderly eyeful of this lovely collection yourselves!













In my haste I failed to capture this category on film, so here is a picture of the rather impressive museum door instead, which is at least a bit "bas relief-y", like a cameo.




I suspect that these may in fact be further examples of novelty bottles, but if I was on holiday in Mevagissey, I would be well pleased to take one of these home instead of a yard of bendy pink and white nougat or some clotted cream fudge.