Saturday 24 March 2012
Perfume Lovers London Meet-Up: "An Evening Of Leather", With More Leather Scents Than You Can Crack A Whip At...
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.
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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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 glamfull.com, 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.