Monday 28 May 2012

Sniffing Through A Glass Darkly: Failing A Bonkers Herb Garden Challenge

I have been called many things in my time: there was the disgruntled reader who dubbed me "God's mistake", and the ex-boyfriend who exclaimed in frustration, as I failed to grasp the operation of his camera: "You haven't got a brain, you've just got a memory!" Yes, down the years most of my personality traits and abilitiies have been called into question, from my imagination to my sense of spatial awareness to my very sanity. Yet for some reason no one has yet cast aspersions on my nasal prowess (or not publicly, or that I have noticed! : - ) ). And this despite my presuming to be a perfume blogger with only the sketchiest of abilities when it comes to picking out individual notes in scents. I offer a pretty impressionistic idea of how a fragrance smells, yet hopefully add another random object to the overall "collage" of perfume reviews in the blogosphere.

And then today my friend Gillie set me what turned out to be a fiendish fragrant challenge. She gave me a birthday present wrapped in stiff white paper and placed in a white gauze bag - between the paper and the bag she had inserted a selection of leaves from different herbs and asked me to identify them blind. Well, not even blind in fact, for if I recognised the look of any of them that was of course another way of skinning the cat, albeit slightly cheating in what was billed as a sniffing test.


So without further ado, here are the woeful results of my scented guesswork.


SAGE - I had no clue

LEMON BALM - I also had no clue, though it smelt a bit lemony after Gillie had revealed what it was; this may be significant ie as further confirmation of my shamelessly suggestible schnoz.

LAVENDER - I said OREGANO (for goodness' sake!)


PARSLEY - I recognised it by eye, haha.

CORIANDER - As above!

LEMON-SCENTED GERANIUM - I had no clue again.

THYME - Gillie blurted out the answer by accident. : - )

MINT - As above (though I feel sure I would have got this one right of my own accord!)


So in summary, out of seven herbs where I was not in fact alerted to the answer before I could pit my finely blunted wits against the question, I got a derisory TWO correct, and those only because I knew what they looked like, and didn't even get as far as smelling them.

In my defence, Gillie said I should have crushed a few of the leaves more vigorously in my fingers, as that would have given off more of an aroma, and me a better clue. And as inept as my nose patently is - and my culinary skills, by association! - I did discover some great new smells, notably lemon-scented geranium and lemon balm. Gillie assures me that lemon-scented geranium in particular is therapeutic for people undergoing any kind of trauma. Possibly also including this very confirmation that I am a perfume blogger without portfolio, or two nasal receptors to rub together, say!

Finally, here is a picture of Gillie relaxing in the garden, and posing with the submarine battery glass to which my nose is pressed in the photo at the top of the post. Yes, forget water features and architectural lighting, patio heaters or a barbecue tastefully screened by a thicket of pampas grass, a submarine battery glass is the must-have garden accessory for summer 2012.

Thursday 24 May 2012

A Tale Of Four Perfumes: The New, The Used!, The Irrevocably Altered, And The Product Of A Fevered Imagination

The New

One of my favourite new releases so far this year is the new Madonna scent, Truth or Dare. I am have written about it recently, and am indebted to Katie Puckrik and The Candy Perfume Boy for keeping me topped up with generous "smadges" of Madge's scent. In that post I expressed reservations about the bottle design, which to my mind comes off as a little plasticky, and reminds me of a white "toy" altar my father bought when I was little - for himself, I should point out. It was a bit like the one in the photo, but on a smaller scale. (The actual item from my childhood proved impossible to find in Google images, which I take to be a sign of the secular times we live in!)

Then, out of nowhere, I was looking at my cheap slip-on iPhone holder and it suddenly reminded me of something...(bell is borrowed from an as yet uneaten Easter bunny).

And here is a photo of the bell donor bunny himself.

The Used!

One of my earliest posts on Bonkers concerns the citrussy chypre that is the sadly discontinued Jasper Conran Woman. I described it as a "Four Star Sleeper", a reference to its rating in Perfumes: The Guide. Then yesterday I posted on Facebook:

"There is no gin, vodka or white wine left in the house, a sorry state of affairs that is completely unprecedented!"

Later that day, through another unprecedented conspiring of events, I finally finished a bottle of perfume for the very first time, and it happened to be Jasper Conran Woman. Given my 70+ strong full bottle collection, I never thought this day would come. Stacking the odds slightly in my favour is the fact that the bottle was only 30ml, plus I have liberally decanted samples from it and sent them off to fumehead friends far and wide. I may in fact only have used up 10 ml myself, if that. But it still feels strange and immensely satisfying to Throw Away An Empty Bottle at last. And if I see this scent in Asda again in a gift set for £9.99, I will of course have to buy it... ; - )

The Irrevocably Altered

When I was in Northern Ireland the other weekend, I spent a very pleasant interlude staying with friends in their cottage by the sea. Only one of them has even a fitful history of perfume wearing, the perfume in question being YSL Rive Gauche. My friend had noticed that the latest bottle she bought smelt nothing like the previous one (some considerable time had elapsed in between, I might add).

As luck would have it, she had carefully preserved the old canister and though it was completely empty, I could still get a slight whiff off the nozzle: the scent was softer, less rosy and somehow more cloudy, soapy? and abstract than the newer version. This could conceivably be the "weird, plasticky off notes" Luca Turin mentions in The Little Book Of Perfumes: The 100 Classics.

The new Rive Gauche is more defined and sharper - juicier somehow. I note that Luca Turin describes it as "lighter, brighter, fruitier" and I would definitely agree, though I couldn't detect the metal note of the original to which he makes reference. For a perfume whose modern incarnation is more defined, ironically, it feels less distinctive!

Below is a shot of Frances, my friends' frog (who is soooo much more than a stuffed toy, if you only knew...) holding both versions.

The Product Of A Fevered Imagination

Another thing that happened while I was in Ireland was that the son of another friend, Ruth, had a dream about his mother and me. Now I was not named or identified - this young man had not met me at that point - but he was aware that his mother had a friend who was seriously dotty about perfume, such that my role can readily be inferred.

So in the dream Ruth is given a bottle of perfume worth £10,000(!) by a rich woman in a fur coat. The bottle is in the shape of Lionel Richie's head, complete with fully functioning nozzle, and the scent is called: "Hello".

I wonder if Sean - though not a fumehead himself - had perhaps clocked the JPG Kokorico scent bottle in the Belfast branch of House of Fraser I visited with Donna and subliminally extrapolated from it...

And on that bonkers note, it is perhaps high time to draw a line under this post I think and say "Cheerio".

Goodness, I'd be hot in that coat on a day like this!

Photo of Mary Karantzou perfume bottle dresses from, photo of altar from, photo of Madonna Truth or Dare from, photo of Lionel Richie perfume bottle by Ruth Graham, photo of woman in fur coat from, other photos my own

Monday 21 May 2012

Perfume Lovers London Meet-Up: “Olfactoria, Queen Of Amber” And An Evening Edged In…A Translucent Golden Colour


The third Thursday of the month had come round again, and with it another Perfume Lovers London meet-up held in one of the grand yet surprisingly cosy function rooms at The New Cavendish Club. May’s speaker was none other than the popular, poised and perfectly polished Olfactoria of Olfactorias Travels, one of the fastest growing perfume blogs out there, which has taken the blogosphere by storm since its launch a mere 18 months ago. I have been fortunate enough to meet Olfactoria (aka Birgit) twice in the last year in her native Austria, in temperatures which ranged from 35 C to -2 C. On Thursday it was about 12 C I think, so just the low side of splitting the difference. : - )

Birgit’s talk was scheduled to start at 7pm, but a handful of us foregathered at Les Senteurs at 4pm to catch up on news and sniff some new fragrances Nick, the store manager, had “prepared earlier”. We perched on the very sofa on which Pierre Guillaume had sat after his own talk in London in February. Then, when it emerged that Birgit had a room at the New Cavendish Club, where Pierre Guillaume had also stayed on that occasion, I couldn’t resist teasing her about the tantalising possibility that she may in fact have been occupying the same room as him!

At about 5.30pm, Birgit headed off to the club to get ready, while the rest of our party – me, Tara, the Candy Perfume Boy and Nigel – repaired to a local Lebanese restaurant for some fairly fast food in the form of falafel. The keen-eyed reader may have noticed that when I went for a quick snack with Katie Puckrik before the Perfume Lovers event in March, we also went to a Lebanese restaurant. Not the same one, granted, but that stretch of the Edgware Road happens to be very falafel-forward in terms of its eateries, which is fine by me.

Tara and I marvelled at the size of the bowl of chips we had ordered with our pitta bread sandwiches, and we all marvelled at the pickled celeriac in a startling shade of magenta. Neon brights may be on trend at the moment, but I really don’t want that degree of dazzle in my salad garnish.


Olfactoria’s background

Olfactoria kicked off her talk by introducing herself. She is a psychotherapist by profession (“as in customary in Vienna” ; - ) ), but is “resting” at the moment (my word!). On the couch, presumably, as is also customary in her line of work... Actually, “resting” is a relative term, for with two small children aged 5 and 2, Olfactoria hasn’t seen her bed much beyond 5.20am in the last five years.

Descent into the rabbit hole

Birgit went on to explain – in her wonderfully deadpan delivery - that she had prepped for this talk by watching the entire two seasons of Downton Abbey, which sent ripples of laughter through the audience. We learnt how Frédéric Malle’s En Passant had acted as her gateway scent to the world of niche perfumes, displacing her previous loyalty to Coco Mademoiselle. Birgit had been struck by the way En Passant “captured nature” in a way she had not encountered in mainstream perfumery. “My Coco Mademoiselle was not like that.” Following her lilac epiphany, in no time at all Birgit was reading blogs, and then before you could say: “If she's got a boyfriend, I'm a giraffe” (Sarah O’Brien, speaking of Mrs Hughes), she had started her own site, with En Passant the very first scent she reviewed.

Bonkers side note – OT, the abbreviation for Olfactorias Travels, is also the acronym for Occupational Therapy, which struck me as rather apt.

What amber is - and is not

In the next section of her talk, Birgit explained that amber is always an accord of several materials. It is inspired by the fossilised resin of that name – not by its smell, mind, for it has none - but rather, thanks to an intriguing synaesthetic pathway you might say, by its “translucency and golden colour”. Yup, I have seen those sinister lollies in Selfridges that are basically an amber coloured Fox’s Glacier Mint with a cockroach or scorpion embedded in them. I suppose they were also inspired by the fossilised resin, though not in a good way, "clearly".

The accord of several materials in question is labdanum (derived from the rock rose or cistus labdanum plant), plus vanilla and benzoin. At this point, Lila circulated an actual cistus plant, which she had gone to great lengths to procure specially for this event: it had disconcertingly sticky leaves, but no particular smell to speak of. Below is a photo of The Candy Perfume Boy, gingerly investigating said plant.

Then Birgit clarified for us what amber is NOT – the aromachemical ambroxan, for starters, which is lighter than classic amber, as exemplified by Juliette Has A Gun’s Not A Perfume. Now I don't say this "lightly", but I find Not A Perfume a bit underwhelming to be truthful (there’s a clue in the name).

Nor is amber ambergris, that fascinatingly oddball accretion of whale spit that bobs in the sea before being washed up on a beach somewhere and “harvested”. Birgit pointed out that unlike civet, say, which involves a degree of intrusion into the civet cat’s bodily orifices, the whale has basically just gobbed this stuff up. So while ambergris is technically an animal-derived ingredient, it doesn’t involve any cruelty, “having been separated from the whale for some time”. : - ) But anyway, this hawked up whale phlegm with its animalic and salty, marine notes, isn’t amber either, as I say. And finally, Birgit drew our attention to the false friend that is ambrette seed – a perfumery material that smells more musky and soft rather than like amber, and which is showcased in Ambrette No 9 by Le Labo.

The Group Sniff-In

The science bit over, we spent the rest of the talk in a group sniff-in, as Birgit guided us through a range of ambers covering every base along the spectrum from “Starter” to “Heavy”, including the amusing – and also rather heavy - category of “American Male Superheroes”. Throughout this process, Lila kindly stepped up as the indefatigable “mouillette wallah”.

Starter Ambers

That sounded like my kind of category, and so it proved!

We smelt: L’Artisan Parfumeur L’Eau d’Ambre

Also in this category: Etro Ambre, Agent Provocateur Strip (I own this), Prada L’Eau Ambrée (I should also own this), and Dior Ambre Nuit (I like this one, but not 125ml worth!)

Birgit positioned L’Eau d’Ambre as “amber for people who don’t like amber”, which may be why it appealed to me most out of everything we tried. Yes, in line with my fragrance tastes generally, my favourite ambers are also soft and understated. In addition to the ones listed above, I also love Marc Jacobs Amber Splash and Jo Malone Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, which isn’t very dark at all. Unsurprisingly, L’Eau d’Ambre was created by Jean-Claude Ellena, who, as Birgit observed with consummate understatement: “is not known for opulence”. Yes, it was on the basis of this remark that I decided to bestow upon Birgit the title of “Honorary Brit”. After all, with a bit of judicious tile shuffling, you can make “Brit” out of “Birgit”...


Heavy Hitters

We smelt: Annick Goutal Ambre Fétiche and Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan

Ambre Fétiche

Ambre Fétiche is one of Annick Goutal's Orientalistes collection, and as Birgit pointed out, marks a definite departure from the demure florals that are the brand’s normal style. We picked out notes of leather and incense as well as the amber, and Tanya described it as smelling like a “male temple”.

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan

Birgit joked about how she tends to go back and forth with Serge Lutens scents, though she has been consistent in her liking of this one. Ambre Sultan started off warm, cosy, opulent and sensual, just as Birgit described. It was a bit animalic and a bit furry, like a “purring cat” (see photo of Charlie Bonkers below, snapped this morning snoozing in the sun!). There was the distinctive herbal opening I remembered, but unfortunately this became more dominant as the scent wore on, and I ended up going right off it. Ambre Sultan has a lot of fans in Perfume Land though, also in the room that night, judging by the show of hands of people who actually own a bottle!

Also in this category: Les Parfums d’Empire Ambre Russe

American Male Superheroes

We smelt: Tom Ford Amber Absolute, Armani Privé Ambre d’Orient

Tom Ford Amber Absolute

This is the pecs-rippling category of ambers, and prompted some amusing speculation as to the possible co-existence of brawn and brain. Birgit went on to describe the first scent we sampled, Amber Absolute, as a “thick, heavy, spicy specimen – like Dad’s amber – safe and protected from the big bad world”. She warned us that this scent was not great on paper, whereupon a couple of audience members leapt to their feet and volunteered their own skin, effectively acting as "male mouillettes" - see photo of Nick below.

Armani Privé Ambre Orient

The arresting licorice note in Ambre Orient appears to have completely scuppered my note-taking ability, so that is all I have to say on that one.

Also in this category: Histoires de Parfums Ambre 114

Powdery Ambers

We smelt: Mona di Orio Ambre

The Candy Perfume Boy likened this one to “baby powder for grown ups”. It certainly was a lot quieter than the scents in her original range, which includes my nemesis fragrance, Nuit Noire. Tanya made the comment about Ambre that it had “imps jumping out of it”, and you are best contacting her directly for further clarification on that. Karen detected a “coconut back note” or something like confectionery or vanilla, while there were one or two other shout-outs from the audience of violet and leather. So it sounds as though there were a lot of imps jumping out of it after all. ; - )

Also in this category: E Coudray Ambre et Vanille – I think Prada L’Eau Ambrée could also have fitted in well here.


Dead Centre Ambers

We smelt: Dior Mitzah

The Dead Centre Ambers are - as their name suggests - a "smack bang in the middle" category, with no one aspect too dominant. I found Mitzah quite rich compared to Ambre Nuit, but by no means as treacly and heavy as I thought I remembered it. It had a number of facets, from herbal to incense to spices; someone spoke of "non-citrussy freshness", while I was preoccupied with another (possibly phantom) licorice note. I would place Mitzah more in the heavy hitters category personally, but I am of course speaking squarely from the viewpoint of a "starter amber" person. Nick exclaimed: “animal print!” at one point, which I will choose to take as an endorsement of my view.

Also in this category: MPG Ambre Précieux


Summer Ambers

(A couple of us thought this category was called “Surprise Ambers” – Birgit is quite softly spoken - only to learn afterwards that it was in fact “Summer Ambers”. Which was a bit of a surprise! ; - ) )

We smelt: Amouage Opus VI

Birgit described this as a “hologram” amber, because of its sheer texture and elusive, shape-shifting quality. Lila asked me for my take on this one, and while I find its herbal opening a little too masculine, I give it props for evolving in an interesting way - in other words: “stuff happens” with this one.

This marked the end of the communal sniffing, but Lila also quickly mentioned three further categories of amber which we didn’t sample.

Economical Ambers

Yves Rocher Voile d’Ambre (I swapped my bottle away, as I didn’t get on with the coumarin note), L’Occitane Amber


80s Vintage Ambers

CK Obsession, Estée Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude (can't say I am sorry we didn’t sniff these!)

Amber & Friends (ie amber plus another prominent note)

Caron Pour Un Homme (and its lavender friend), Armani Privé Ambre Soie (and its fruity friend), Shiloh X (and its X-rated friend?)


Glasses refilled, the remainder of the evening was spent in relaxed milling mode, chatting to the members of our "blogger gaggle", to borrow the CPB's phrase!, to familiar faces from previous events including Karen, Tanya, Neville and Antje, as well as meeting new members such as Olivia and another fellow compatriot from Norn Iron, Liam of Personal Odour.

An unexpected highlight of the evening was catching a whiff of Lila’s sillage – an ambertastic mélange of every scent tested that night, which I am confident would be an overnight hit if we could just replicate it using headspace technology. Or head and shoulders-space technology, to be more exact.

Yes, a big thank you is due to Lila who did a blinder as ever on the organisational front, and to Birgit for coming all that way to talk us through her "Amber Fétiche" with grace, humour and an encyclopaedic knowledge of her chosen subject.

And finally, although I realise that the fossilised resin was only the inspiration for the perfumery material we know as amber, here are a couple of photos of Malbork Castle in Poland, where I unexpectedly found myself in 2007. It has a fascinating museum devoted exclusively to exhibits made of amber (see also the altar above).

For other (more informative! ; - ) ) reviews of the event, check out Tara's and Candy Perfume Boy's accounts here and here!

Photo of amber crown from, photo of pickled celeriac from, photo of amber altar in Malbork castle museum from, photo of amber insect candy from, photo of ambergris from, photo of L'Eau d'Ambre from, photo of Malbork castle museum from, other photos my own

Saturday 19 May 2012

In The Sillage Of The Titanic: A Bonkers Sniffathon With Donna From Belfast

As some readers already know, one of my party tricks is to speak German in a Belfast accent. Another is to speak French in a Belfast accent. I can also twiddle my thumbs in opposite directions and have an uncanny knack for remembering the birthdays of people I only met once, up to 40 years ago - a knack which, I might tell you, has been seriously undermined lately by Facebook's notification system.

And the reason I can speak in a Belfast accent - also in English! - is because I am in fact from the city, whose more famous offspring include footballer George Best, singer Van Morrison and a certain ill-fated ship. I lived in Belfast till I was 23, which - for an all-too brief moment - equated to half my life. That fraction has now dropped back to c43% and sadly continues to fall.

Last week I was delighted to be heading back to "Norn Iron" (as we locals call it) for a long weekend, in which I visited old friends and favourite haunts, and also fitted in a work meeting - well, more of a networking meeting really - but the word "networking" has "work" in it at least, which I take as an encouraging sign.

As soon as I got in from the airport last Saturday, I dumped my bags at my hotel and headed out (we Ulster folk do a lot of "heading", I should point out, with and without attendant prepositions) on a blind sniffing date with Donna255 of Basenotes. Since starting Bonkers, I haven't been on the Basenotes forum for an embarassingly long time - well, in fairness the site has been down a lot lately due to a sustained onslaught by hackers - but back in the day I used to make the forum part of my daily routine, and it was there that I "met" Donna, and entered into an email exchange about our common roots.

And now here we were, sitting in a branch of Caffè Nero in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast, exchanging sample bags and nattering away 19 to the dozen - or possibly 23, as we were both pretty excited! - about our respective descents into perfumistadom, and how Belfast has changed beyond recognition since I left in 1982. I learnt one particularly curious and inexplicable nugget of information about the city, namely that it boasts not one but three Molton Brown outlets - two stand-alone, and one concession. Now why would that be?

Having fortified ourselves with cake and biscuits for the sniffing session to come, and after a quick scope of the lean perfume pickings in T K Maxx, Donna and I headed over (there we go again) to House of Fraser. Built after my time, the store is in the Victoria Square shopping centre (also new to me), prompting a constant stream of exclamations on my part like: "Oh look, that's where there used to be a stationer's / school outfitter's / C & A / Arnott's...OR (insert name of several other notable and long defunct department stores).

The other thing that made me go "Ooh!" and "Aah!" at regular intervals on our wanderings was catching a whiff of Donna's SOTD, Annick Goutal's Myrrhe Ardente. This is a scent that was not really on my radar, along with its three stablemates in the Orientalistes collection, Ambre Fétiche, Musc Nomade and Encens Flamboyant. Now although Donna and I have a fair bit of crossover - we both love iris scents, for example - Donna's taste in general leans more to the darker, woodier, spicier, fruitier, incense-ier and animalic-ier side than mine, for she can handle the dank gloom of Etro Messe de Minuit and the spicy Rumtopf that is Serge Lutens Arabie with equal aplomb. Moreover SL Tubéreuse Criminelle holds no fear for her, nor does the most forbidding green chypre.

So the fact that Donna was wearing Myrrhe Ardente did not surprise me, but I didn't think for a minute that I would be so taken with the scent myself - or of Donna wearing it, shall we say, for I can't be sure it would have smelt as nice on me!

In House of Fraser we had a quick and rather dismissive sniff of the new Plum Blossom fragrance from Jo Malone. I am sorry to say it, but one or two of the recent releases from this line have reminded me rather of those Herbal Essence shampoos - ie big abstract, airy numbers - and Plum Blossom was no exception.

No...the highlight of our visit to House of Fraser has to be talking to Donna's friend Jackie, one of the most highly qualified and knowledgeable sales assistants you could wish to meet, who scored an impressive mark in her Fragrance Foundation exams - more impressive even than Donna remembered, until Jackie teasingly put her right on the exact percentage! : - ) Oh, and one of the most generous too, for she offered us a bag of samples completely unprompted.

And I was struck by the fact that in common with most Ulster people - and in stark contrast to many sales assistants at perfume counters - Jackie was super chatty and friendly. In my four day stay in the province, I lost count of the number of times someone went out of their way to be helpful: a clerk in the Post Office offering to take my rubbish off me, a barman giving me a Pepsi for free because it was slightly warm, a shop assistant giving me a £3 bag of crisps for 99p because they had run out of the 99p bags, a hotel receptionist asking if I wanted "a wee receipt with that" and proffering tips on places to eat.

Pause for two seconds in the middle of the street to consult the complimentary map the hotel had pressed upon me, and someone would always come over to ask if you were lost or needed help with directions. Complete strangers said "Hello" as I made my woozy way back to my hotel on Saturday at kebab-o-clock in the morning, and there wasn't the slightest air of menace about the streets even at that late hour. Oh, and let's not forget the man in the bar on Saturday night who told my friend he was really really in love with me. He was additionally really really drunk, it must be said, but I couldn't help but smile... : - )

But back to Donna and me and our episodic afternoon. In truth, we did more talking than sniffing looking back, but there was no harm in that! I did have a "wee" whiff of Prada Infusion d'Iris Intense (which smelt just as the name suggests!), and the Eau Provocateur version of L'Agent (weaker, yet not all that recognisable).

Then, after a "wee" detour to The Titanic memorial garden - a new addition to the grounds of the City Hall - we headed across to Space NK, where Donna drew my attention to the store's own perfume release, In Peace, a floral woody musk we thought was in the style of Cashmere Mist (Donna) / Sensuous Nude (me).

Notes: pimento, freesia, mimosa, suede, white musk, sandalwood and tonka bean.

A percentage of the proceeds of In Peace goes to fund the work of Women for Women International, an organization that helps women survivors of war to rebuild their lives, so that is all very commendable. Next up, I sampled the new 34 Boulevard Germain from Diptyque.

Notes: blackcurrant, fig leaves, pink pepper, citrus, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, rose, geranium, iris, tuberose, violet, woods, and balsamic notes.

The latest Diptyque scent was distinctly spicy, but in a soft and subtle way, and the sales assistants (Caroline and Tracey, as I have since learnt) said it was "flying out the door". I would have liked a sample, but with regret the girls explained that they didn't have any. In fact I will remember the charming duo of SAs at Space NK most of all for their copious apologies: they didn't have Nars Babe Lip Gloss, for example, and were sorry about that, and were also quite contrite for failing to stock Shu Uemura brow pencils - I had been thinking of swapping my softer pencil for the hard one that can be carved into a paddle.

Then out of nowhere, I had the idea to explore a make up category that is under-represented in my collection, namely blusher. Without hesitation, Donna and the raven-haired Tracey had between them picked out a Nars blush called Orgasm, and before I knew it Donna was applying it to the apples of my cheeks with a sample brush placed within handy reach for just such impromptu makeovers. Orgasm did noticeably brighten up my cheeks whilst managing not to deposit an excess of age-inappropriate glitter, and in a trice Donna had jokingly called for Tracey to "get me an Orgasm" - as in a pristine product from her drawer, of course.

Well, put like that, it was tough to refuse, and I have since learnt that this is an iconic product beloved of make-up artists and consumers alike. That said, not everyone is a fan of its integral glitter, though NARS likes to position this as "accents of golden shimmer". The idea of glitter certainly troubled me, but I have to say that the actual execution of this blusher on skin is subtle, and the overall effect more of a healthy gleam on my yellow-toned skin. may not have totally lived up to its name, but I wore Orgasm out on the night the chap in the bar fell in love with me, while the friend I was with described me as "blooming"...

So after our warm reception at Space NK, we headed back to another cafe close to where we had started the afternoon for another drink and a final natter, before going our separate ways at around 5 o'clock. I really enjoyed meeting Donna ("it was a quare geg"), and it was also interesting to see my home town at last through perfumista eyes. And most of all I basked in the friendliness of the people. Yes, unlike the era when I lived there at the height of The Troubles, Belfast is a city where today - with or without the help of a pop of cheek colour - a person can truly bloom...

All photos my own

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Bonkers Is Interviewed On Scents Of Self!

Towards the end of last year, I was one of a number of perfume bloggers to take part in a lighthearted interview with Ari of Scents of Self, covering a range of personal and perfume-themed topics. The resulting posts have been published on Ari's blog over the course of recent months, and yesterday I spotted that the interview with me is now up.

Thanks are due to Ari for inviting me to take part - I had fun answering her questions, and have also greatly enjoyed reading the interviews with other bloggers as they appear!

Thursday 10 May 2012

No Unmarked Door Unpushed: Meeting Katie Puckrik Again And Cadging A "Smadge" Of Madonna Truth Or Dare

My recent merch selling duties in Germany meant that unfortunately I had to pass up Katie Puckrik's lively talk at the Perfume Lovers London meet-up in April. Comprehensive accounts of - and the next best thing to attending - the evening may however be found on Candy Perfume Boy and Olfactorias Travels.

As it happens, I was down in London the last weekend in April, so Katie and I arranged to meet on the Sunday afternoon for a "senior supper" and a bit of a catch up. I had just clocked her hilarious, no-holds barred article in The Guardian about her meeting with Stephen Nilsen, the perfumer behind Madonna's new fragrance release, Truth or Dare, and a few days ahead of our meeting dared to send a cheeky request of my own.

"Really enjoyed your Guardian piece and wondered if you could possibly bring a smidge ("smadge"?? : - ) ) of the Madonna scent on Sunday, as I am mad keen to try it, having recently enjoyed a bit of a white floral epiphany."

Katie replied that that would be no bother, but could I please bring a vial with me, as she hadn't got any decanting tackle with her in London. She gave me the address of a club in East London of which she was a member, and said she would meet me in reception, adding that the door was unmarked, but that I should just push it and go on in.

So I got to the address with five minutes to spare, only to find that every single door in that particular street was unmarked, not with building names or even numbers (though I only had the name of the street anyway). Suffice to say that if I was in the signage business, I would give that entire postcode a very wide berth. But okay, I thought, not to worry, I will push every last one of them and see if any yield to the touch and lead into something resembling a reception area. I say "resembling", because East London is noted for its trendy warehouse conversions and other quirky developments, so one should keep an open mind as to the possible layout of any given building.

Some eight doors later, I asked a passing American for help - on the principle that if Katie is an American living in London, there may well be others with good local knowledge, and so it proved. "That's the one you want" he said affably, "you see where those people are going in?" Aha - I suppose I should have taken the party of four club members filing in as a bit of a clue. After all, no one had made any attempt to gain entry to those other unmarked doors I was scoping in my ten perplexed minutes wandering up and down the street.

Shortly after that, Katie herself arrived, and after a quick tour of the building (also a warehouse conversion!), we ensconced ourselves on the squashy sofas of one of the lounges, and proceeded to "download" our news over a late brunch of portabello mushrooms and poached eggs, which we recast as a "senior brunch". This was washed down in my case by a pot of tea, because I had a lot of "catching up" to do on that front too to meet my copious daily requirement.

The meal over, we got down to the serious business of decanting my sample of Truth or Dare from Katie's handbag size bottle. We both had a go in the end - with and without funnel - and I ended up applying the not inconsiderable overspray to both wrists and neck. That was my SOTE sorted, then! We did finally coax a couple of ml into the atomiser I had brought with me for the purpose. My first thought was that the juice itself was a pretty peachy pink, not unlike Shalimar Parfum Initial, to which I have recently taken an unexpected shine.

Before setting out to write this post, I couldn't resist taking a peek at the reviews already out there, which are all favourable as far as I can tell, and with good reason. For Truth or Dare is a cut above your usual celebuscent all right.

As I type I am wearing a number of diva-ish floral fragrances at once to see which ones Truth or Dare most closely resembles. Robin of Now Smell This dubbed Truth or Dare "Fracas Lite" in her review, while Jen of This Blog Really Stinks likened it to "Fracas Candy" (as in Prada Candy).

Well, I'd say that those are two very good analogies: in the case of the latter, you've got a big white floral bouquet with tuberose and gardenia at its heart, like twin prom dresses with swishy, bouffant skirts, and underneath all that you have a sweet, candied, fluffy layer not unlike the base of Parfums MDCI Promesse de L'Aube. I detected a syrupy vanilla, and at one point could have sworn that a toffee apple accord flitted in and out again. "Miscellaneous calorific desserts", let's just say. Or one of those Ben & Jerry ripple-type ice creams with crumbled bits of pavlova.

Notes: gardenia, tuberose and neroli, with jasmine, benzoin tears, white lily petals, vanilla absolute, caramelized amber, and sensual musk

Now Truth or Dare may sound a bit full on, but it really is soft and caressing in a little while, like a musky meringue - the drydown is reminiscent of the perfume Kate Middleton didn't in fact wear on her wedding day, ie the "wrong" batch of White Gardenia Petals that accidentally came my and Birgit's way... I am also wearing "correct" White Gardenia Petals, and it is not much like Truth or Dare - too sharply green, wan and metallic to my nose.

As well as being these variants on Fracas, another scent which I feel Truth or Dare resembles is Gardénia Pétale, from Van Cleef & Arpels' Collection Extraordinaire.

Notes: green notes, citrus notes, lily of the valley, jasmine, and gardenia

Like Truth or Dare, it is a plush white floral blend featuring lily, jasmine and gardenia. Okay, LOTV in this case, but at the risk of playing note bingo, that is still a fair bit of crossover.

For fun, I just tried layering Gardénia Pétale with its stablemate, Lys Carmin, which has a very sweet, gourmand facet that I thought might possibly mimic the edible drydown of Truth or Dare. And d'you know, it isn't a dupe by any manner of means, but there is a marked likeness between this layered combo and Truth or Dare - much more so say than between it and either of the Van Cleefs in isolation. Now Lys Carmin doesn't have the same kind of sweetness exactly - it is too spicy for one, and generally darker in feel - but texturally it is very similar in terms of the fluffy nimbus thing it has got going on. And it adds the vanilla in our note bingo game, and yet more lily!

Notes: Lily, pink peppercorn, ylang ylang, vanilla, and sandalwood

You may not be surprised to learn that the next day in Selfridges I came this close to buying a 50ml bottle of Truth or Dare, but ended up "fondling and replacing" it as is my practice these days. Even though it cost a mere £25 for 30ml, £32 for 50ml and £42 for 75ml. Clearly the more you spray, the more you save, to annexe Mr Bonkers' beer mantra for a moment. So that is a "Fracas Lite" price to boot!

I don't know what stayed my hand. Quite possibly the bottle, which looks a bit plasticky in reality, and reminds me of a kitschy replica of an altar my dad bought when I was a child - at Lourdes, or somewhere like that selling cheap religious souvenirs. I distinctly remember that this white plastic altar also had accents of gold, plus a red chalice (coated to look like burnished metal and concealed behind a little door, for all the world like a chocolate in an advent calendar). And Madonna was of course brought up as a Catholic, so it is perhaps not surprising that those early influences might assert themselves later - in a scent bottle with ecclesiastical overtones, or the dodgy outfit of her Like A Virgin video.

So it might have been that, or the fact that the sales assistant in Selfridges and I were discussing the intended demographic for Truth or Dare, whose upper limit of 45 stops a good 8 years short of Madge's actual age. The SA told me that it was in fact selling to ALL ages, including a lot of teenage girls, and maybe that was what put it beyond the pale for me. Which is plain daft - and cutting my nose off to spite my face - because this is a well-made fragrance, which I like a lot!

But meanwhile, I have a bit of my sample left, and thanks to Katie have also inherited a scented candle featuring the fragrance, which would doubtless have taken up her entire hold baggage allowance on the flight home. And if those two things are not enough to sate the Madonna scent lemming, I reserve the right to dare to crack - by which I mean "fondle and take to till" - the next time I am in Selfridges, which may very well be next week...

Photo of East London from, photo of Madonna Truth or Dare from, other photos my own