Saturday, 19 May 2012
In The Sillage Of The Titanic: A Bonkers Sniffathon With Donna From Belfast
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.
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?
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.
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.
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... : - )
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.
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.
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