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.


Olfactoria's Travels said...

Thank you, I loved reading this!
The photos are great, Tara looks so lovely and elegant and the Candy Perfume Boy's "goatee" is quite cute. ;)
I'm on a leather bender right now, not sure whether this is unconciously influenced by this event or just by Tara and her generous decants... so I enjoyed reading about all those leather scents. Thanks, V!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

You were with us in spirit for sure, and your name came up very often, also in connection with your own upcoming amber event. I have even been consulting on its correct pronunciation. ; - )

Tara does look very poised and elegant, I quite agree! Enjoy your leather exploration.... Tara and I found we had very similar tastes in this regard, which was interesting.

Tara said...

That was a quick write-up, V! Loved it.

It was a lovely, fun evening. It didn't matter that I didn't find a new leather love. Sometimes it's nice to confirm some that perfumes you've bden curious about, aren't in fact for you afterall (like Knize Ten and Cuir Ottoman). Cuir de Russie, Cuir de Lancome and the soft suede of Bottega Veneta are still my faves.

I was glad Bottega Veneta won best new release and that was a lovely statement Lila read out from Mona di Orios' partner.

I couldn't commit to a perfume for my leather bracelet but it smells nice as it is!

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Great write up V!

It was such a fun evening and was great to see you and Tara! I feel like I could talk to you both for hours!

Like you, I didn't find any new loves, instead I reconfirmed my love for Dzing! and piqued my curiosity in a good few others.

My leather bracelet is currently soaked in Sarrasins thanks to Tara :D

flavourfanatic said...

This post makes me so much wanting to go to London and meet up with you all! What a lovely event!!! And I'm also wearing Sarrasins at the moment, so I feel very fitting :)

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

It was a great night indeed, and I quite agree that apart from the fun aspect, it was useful as a way of confirming one's tastes in this category. There were a few scents that were new to me and that I didn't expect to like - and I didn't! The two examples you mentioned would be mine as well. The Cuir Ottoman in particular was too "hand to hand fighting" for me, even if it was classed as "Middle Ground". : - )

And yes, Bottega Veneta is a deserving winner for sure - aside from Cuir de Lancome, that has to be right up there with my few other leather faves!

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

It was brilliant seeing you again; there were so many of us at that first Basenotes event that we can only have talked briefly at best, though I do remember you from the Miller Harris tea ceremony in particular (if I haven't muddled you with Nick?!). Definitely could have chatted to the end of the Northern Line and back again a few times, though you might well have missed your train. Another time... : - )

Sarrasins and leather sounds like an interesting combo - does it look a bit purple at all?

I have yet to dive into your goody bag, but it was so ESPP of you - is that Birgit's phrase for it? - to have included *all* the ones I told her I was curious to try at the moment!

Vanessa said...

Hi flavourfanatic,

It would be lovely to meet you if you ever make it over. And meanwhile, Sarrasins is the just the fragrance to make you feel as though you were there!

Cymbaline said...

A 'cracking' good post, as always! (yep, I crack myself up :) )

2 things:

It took me a moment to realize that the picture to the right at paragraph 9 wasn't the besuited Ann Scott-James!

The tip about one-scent leather wrist-bands is a good one, but comes too late for my multi-scent layered watch-band. Thank heavens, patients never ask me which perfume I'm wearing as it hovers over their nose!

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

We were definitely at Miller Harris together, I remember you leaving your bag behind! Talking to the end of the Northern Line would have certainly been more interesting than the journey home which was cursed with broken headphones and a wet seat :( But another time!

The Sarrasins juice is so purple it's ridiculous but surprisingly it hasn't seem to tint the leather at all. I'd hate to see what it would do to a white shirt though!

I must have some form of psychic-perfume abilities :P Though I must admit that I did trawl through my blog comments to get an idea of what samples to make.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Glad it "cracked you up" - you are on cracking form yourself, if I may say so. : - )

How funny to have mistaken that beaver (the civic emblem of Bibern in Switzerland in case you are curious) for Lady Lancaster, as she is also known. Sleek and neatly turned out though the rodent may be, it is sporting a distinct lack of tailoring if you inspect it closely, hehe...!

Liked the tale of your dangled scented bracelets. Backhanded aromatherapy I call it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

Why, that is right! - I did forget my bag there - what a good memory you have. See, I have forgotten I'd forgotten it.

I shan't inquire as to the provenance of the wet seat, and infer that it was an over-exuberant mineral water bottle belonging to the previous occupant.

That is clever of you to have trawled your blog for my comments and reactions, to help you determine what scents to pick out for me. Why didn't I think of doing that? Though I fear that based on my recent posts, you would still have ended up with some wrinkle-blurring cream that is premature by a few decades, a fetching but leaky atomiser and a couple of pink lippies...

Undina said...

Fun event, fun post - thank you for sharing, Vanessa. I enjoyed reading it.
Too bad you didn't find a new leather perfume to love but I think it'll slowly sink in and in no time (5-7 more years) yo'll be a hardcore leather fan (leather perfumes, I mean) ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Given the degree to which my tastes seem to be fluctating at the moment, 5-7 years seems to be a very reasonable projection! The most leathery scent I smelt on the night was Mona di Orio Cuir. That will be the acid test when the time comes round...Meanwhile, Vanille is more my level of leatheriness - actually I was surprised to learn that Vanille *was* a leather scent... : - )

Cheryl Quimby said...

Sounds like such fun!
I've yet to fall head-over-heels for leather, that is , for *wearing* leather scents. I do enjoy them on others. Bottega Veneta, or maybe Cuir beluga are as close as I get. I think of my softcore leathers "microfiber" perfumes.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

I am very much of the "softcore" school of leather scents too! (I like your term "microfiber" - it conjures up that cocooning cosiness...)

Bottega Veneta is a fave of mine and I included it in my "Top Sniffs" round up from 2011 in fact. If you don't already know them, I can recommend those other two softcore leather loves I mention in the post, namely Sonia Rykiel Woman (if you can overlook the hideous bottle) and L'Agent by Agent Provocateur (if you can overlook the raunchy name!).

Cheryl Quimby said...

Thank you *so much* for these recommendations, and I'm off to view your Top Sniffs!

So glad you relate to "microfiber" ,which I use in the most positive way!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

You are very welcome! Yes, "microfiber" sounds nice and cuddly to me. : - )

Vanessa said...

PS Have just spotted your own blog, with the interesting post on your "smelly Parisian commute". Will be back to take another look later... : - )

Natalie said...

It was fun to travel along to the event in your (leather?) bag! I admit I'm jealous of the thriving perfume community you seem to have over there, so it's a treat to feel like part of the scene for the few minutes when I'm reading your post. Tara and the CPB both look gorgeous. And, I love Katie's dress!

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

I wish we could all live closer, but you do have a similar NorCal grouping as well, don't you? Wasn't there a SF-based Sniffa event of some kind? And you and Undina met up of course, which I am envious of! But a meeting up of all our little nuclei would be fantastic... : - )

Katie's dress is fun, I agree. She customised the sleeves apparently, so you won't see another quite like it!

Lila Das Gupta said...

Thanks for the post Vanessa, I enjoyed seeing you there.
Apologies for dearth of double entendres, twas never my strong point! Some much frutier langauge promised on the 19th at Katie Puckrik's talk.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lila,

Thanks for hosting another great night, and for fleshing out my knowledge of leather scents. : - )

I am sure you are right that Katie will come up with a few choice phrases in her talk - she is, as they say, not "backwards at coming forward" with colourful imagery! I am just sorry I shall miss it, but will enjoy reading the reports!