Friday 29 June 2012

Cuvée Coincidence: A Vintage Bottle Of Corbières With An Unexpected Bouquet...

In the run up to the move, ongoing chaos continues to reign at the outgoing Bonkers Towers. Anyone who thinks I am exaggerating and that I most probably have everything under control should take a look at my desk. But I did say I would try to maintain a skeletal blogging schedule in the coming weeks, so here is my latest tenuously perfume-themed post...

People say that pet owners end up looking like their animals, or perhaps they already did to start with. This is particularly true of my friend Clare, who sports an identical corkscrew fringe to her cocker spaniel Meg. To be honest, I don't think I bear much of a physical resemblance to my cat, other than a few random brown splodges on my cheeks or a bit of a rheumy eye from time to time. Charlie Bonkers wears integral kohl eyeliner for instance, which is a look I can only work in a very dark place, ideally after a few drinks. Ditto, any of those False Lash-Volumising-Million Perkily Kinked Spider Leg-type mascaras.

Now Charlie Bonkers is additionally profoundly deaf, with a collapsed ear (unrelated to her deafness), five teeth, a sparse showing of whiskers - all but two of which are on one side of her face - and a bald and "floating" chin, so-called because there is a disconcerting amount of "travel" in the skin around her jaw. So yes, I would venture to say that I have a fair way to go yet before I resemble my own (admittedly rather elderly and decrepit) cat.

But if you also find you don't bear a marked similarity to your pet, don't be dismayed. For starters, in some category of household goods or clothing or other there is bound to be at least one, if not numerous products named after you. Yes, only the other day I encountered one such piece of furniture - why, the comprehensively labelled "Vanessa Traditional Solid Mahogany Large Extendable Oval Dining Table" in question even sported authentic stumpy legs! Then there is a Spanish make up range called Vanessa (or used to be in 1983 when I spotted it), and a pair of patchwork leather bendy mules bearing my name, made by an Austrian bendy mule and clog company I once interviewed.

And if I didn't feel sufficiently commemorated and immortalised by these Vanessa-themed consumer items (there were others, but I'll spare you), until the other week I was the proud owner of a vintage bottle of Corbières called Vanessa (a happy find by my brother and his wife on holiday in France). I say "until the other week" because Clare and I have since gone and drunk it, toasting the fact that I had sealed the deal on the new house.

Anyway, it was only on the day we downed the wine that I noticed on the label on the back of the bottle the following lyrical - and for a fumehead rather fitting! - description of the wine. Here it is in French along with my rendering in English:

"Un charactère certain
Non dénué de charme
Un goût de femme
Au délicieux parfum"

"A certain character
Not devoid of charm
The taste of a woman
Wearing a delicious perfume"

So yes, in more ways than I could have imagined, this celebratory bottle and its synaesthetic bouquet really did have my name on it... If turning into a bottle of wine makes me a LUSH, bring it on, I say! Plus there may be another Al Pacino film in there somewhere.

Oh, and I really did mean that about my desk...

Photo of Clare and Meg by Clare Chick via Flickr, other photos my own

Sunday 24 June 2012

Strange Lickable Perfumes: Interview With By Kilian Founder Kilian Hennessy In The Independent

You know you are getting old when someone describes Jo Malone's Lime, Basil & Mandarin Cologne as a "classic" fragrance - turns out it has been around for 21 years, so that's fair comment really.  And what, you may ask, does Jo Malone have to to do with a post on Kilian Hennessy, the personable, oversized lapel-ed founder of the By Kilian range of perfumes?  Well, in a brief lull in my search for wallpaper - I am suffering at the moment from a bad case of obsessive compulsive online swatch scrolling - I whiled away a few moments with the magazine from last Saturday's Independent newspaper (16.6), which my neighbour had thoughtfully brought round because it had "a thing on perfume" in it. 

Indeed it did: a feature on classic and new beauty products, some top perfume picks for Father's Day, and best of all, an interview with Kilian Hennessy by Susannah Frankel.

Now By Kilian is not a range with which I particularly get on.  Several of the original releases seemed to share an intense, fuggy accord of some kind which triggered an instant headache. I had the same experience with Mona di Orio’s early launches, yet came to revise my view of the brand once she introduced the relatively pared down Nombres d’Or Collection. And by the same token, there are now By Kilian scents which I can enjoy like any other, which don’t seem to have this fug problem, Sweet Redemption and Love & Tears being my current favourites.

So now that I have come to appreciate the By Kilian line, in part at least, I read this interview with interest - the full article is well worth checking out here.

Highlights for me include Kilian Hennessy's views on the IFRA guidelines, on the state of mainstream perfumery, and on his favourite perfume eras and individual scents from the past.  One of these was Dior Poison, which made my ears prick up, because I see Liaisons Dangereuses as a kind of Poison-Lite for the Noughties. Not that it is all that “lite” of course to my nose…

The reference to "lickable" in the title of this post relates to an incident involving - rather aptly - the By Kilian fragrance, Straight to Heaven.   I couldn't help but be reminded of Pierre Guillaume's Coze-licking stunt at the Les Senteurs event in February... : - )

The most thought-provoking part of the interview for me concerns the issue of price points: Hennessy clearly feels that £145 is not excessive for perfumes of this quality and draws a parallel with the success of Apple: “ one point Steve Jobs said it is not that Apple has become mass market, it’s that the market has now reached Apple’s level.”

Apple iPhone quarterly worldwide unit sales (millions) - click on the image to enlarge 
There seem to me to be two distinct points here: the rise of niche fragrance brands - which may not be as meteoric as that of iPhone sales, but which is a clear trend - and the question of whether expensive perfumes offer value for money.  Personally, I think there are fragrances which lean more to the fur coat and no knickers end of the spectrum, while others warrant their premium price. I don’t, however, feel qualified to judge which are which, though I have a hunch that there is probably a luxuriantly healthy margin in the likes of Clive Christian’s perfumes. 

And then at the opposite end of the scale are scents which I call “yellow limes” – ie which don’t look too promising because the packaging is ugly or cheap, and yet which turn out to be surprisingly good. You see, I am visually drawn to nicely nobbly, dark green limes in the supermarket, but I have read - and found in practice - that it is the more yellow-y looking ones that are the juiciest.  (It doesn't work the other way round, mind, in case anyone is wondering, ie green lemons don't appear to be any more juicy as far as I can tell, and look less like an epitome of a lemon if they are not uniformly yellow.  For where fruit and veg are concerned, I do try to buy epitomes wherever possible - you won't catch me settling for any of that mutant organic produce, unless it is overtly humorous.) 

But enough of the gratuitous fruit musings, and back to the matter in hand.  I feel this interview begs a number of questions (see my answers below and do let me know your thoughts on any of these points in the comments!):

Do you think the £145 price tag for a 50ml By Kilian fragrance is justified? 

If I really, really loved one of them, then maybe, but objectively speaking I am on the fence on this one, maybe even half slipping off...  :- ) Though there again, that packaging would have been super expensive to make, is drop dead gorgeous, and could easily double up as a sumptuous coffin for a deceased pet of the requisite size - a hamster or a budgie, say.

Do you own any scents from the line yourself? 

Not in terms of full bottles, but I am grateful for the samples I have managed to squirrel away in swaps or thanks to the generosity of sales assistants and fellow fumeheads.   (I know Birgit of Olfactorias Travels owns a refill bottle of Amber Oud - her March Bottle of The Month - travel sprays of Rose Oud and Back to Black, plus Sweet Redemption in the magnificent black box version. Ogle her collection here!)

If not, do you have a top By Kilian lemming?

No, but a 10ml decant of my two favourites would be nice.  Below is a photo of my friend Qwendy in a state of Love & Tears-induced euphoria at Scent Bar in LA, when we tried the scent for the first time.

Does anyone else experience this fug problem with certain scents in the line?  If so, which ones?

My top offendors were Liaisons Dangereuses, Love and Beyond Love - at least I think so - I have tended to avoid smelling them since.

Has anyone (known to you or otherwise) ever attempted to lick you while you were wearing a By Kilian fragrance?  If so, which?

Are you kidding?  I am patiently waiting for the day when someone attempts to lick me wearing ANY fragrance.  Or while not wearing any fragrance.  I am ludicrously happy just to receive a compliment about my SOTD, as that is such a rare occurrence.  As for how I would feel if it was someone I didn't know doing the honours...well, it would depend on the stranger, but probably not...

Now, notwithstanding the high price tag of the bottles themselves, I must say that in my experience By Kilian is pretty good about posting samples in response to ad hoc requests.  Plus there has been that fantastic Facebook campaign, whereby if you liked their page you could register to be sent a full sample set of the L’Oeuvre Noire Collection – an offer which passed me by completely at the time, but which does sound like a very generous and effective way of spreading the word about their range.

And d'you know, I am going to check out that thing about green lemons not being juicier, and report back.

One last question: What is your stance on "epitome produce" - or stylish perfume packaging - and do looks really matter?

To take the perfume question, on a scale of 1-10, where one is a plain tester box and 10 a Swarowski-studded Baccarat bottle - okay, that's rather a silly example, but something pretty darn snazzy, say - I probably hover between a 3 and a 6.  By Kilian would be a shade over the 6 on my scale, but don't press me to a number - decimal points may be involved!

UPDATE: I found this tip on choosing lemons from

"They should be fully yellow in color as those that have green tinges will be more acidic due to the fact that they have not fully ripened." 

Photo of Kilian Hennessy from, photo of Poison from Ebay UK, photo of mutant lemon from Flickr CC via Meggle, graph of iPhone sales from Wikimedia Commons via Myschizobuddy, other photo my own.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Housekeeping - And House Leaving - Issues, And Penhaligon's Juniper Sling Revisited

Readers may have noticed that my posts on Bonkers have become a little less frequent in the past month or so.  Lately I have also been forgetting to wear perfume for up to three days at a time, which - as anyone who knows me knows - is decidedly out of character.  When I wrote this post on reasons to be scentless, I thought I had covered off all the scenarios not conducive to perfume wearing - death, sickness etc - but now I have come up with another: a pending house move. 

Yes, after nearly 17 years, it is the parting of the ways for me and Mr Bonkers: he is staying put, while I am moving to the new Bonkers Towers, a creeper-clad Edwardian semi closer to the centre of town.  After consulting with the vet, I opted to take Charlie Bonkers with me - she is making good progress with her programme of "transitional litter tray retraining" in the run up to the move, and the vet is confident that she will adapt to her new surroundings, notwithstanding her great age (17).  Unfortunately, being deaf, she makes enough of a racket now with her random outbursts of blood curdling miaowing that if she was finding it hard to adjust to the new house I am afraid I would be none the wiser.

So anyway, I thought I should mention this major piece of news, because I am aware that not only is my posting schedule more intermittent, but there is the chance that I may get overtaken by events at any moment and go completely quiet for a week at a time - possibly longer in the immediate aftermath of the move, as I shall doubtless be without broadband for a while.  All this also means that I have not been able to do as much reading of other people's blogs as I would like, but it is, as they say: "just a phase that I am going through".  I have a pipeline of post ideas just waiting for me to stop collecting empty boxes from supermarkets, stalking sofas on Ebay, negotiating who gets custody of the coffee table and the toaster, and notifying all, sundry - and doubtless a few other people I have forgotten - about my imminent change of address.

And somewhere in my hectic round of dealings with solicitors, estate agents, insurance brokers, IFAs, Ebay couriers and removal companies, I have been finding solace in two activities in particular: googling designer scatter cushions and wallpaper swatches.  I am a veritable demon at speed swatch scrolling, appraising hundreds of designs in a few minutes.  Oh, and I have also been looking at paint, but lately it has been more in the way of fabrics and wallpaper, in the possibly mistaken belief that it is easier to match a paint to a preferred textile or wallpaper pattern than the other way about.  I find myself repeatedly drawn to the same categories, to wit trailing florals, damasks and geometrics.  The latter include a number of patterns from the Art Deco era.

So there I am, indulging in a spot of therapeutic wallpaper surfing, when the postman brought me a complimentary bottle of Juniper Sling courtesy of those nice people at Penhaligon's.  My first thought was: "How kind of them", and my second thought was: "How fitting for the new house."  For Juniper Sling was inspired by the "Roaring Twenties", as Jovan Buac, Account Director at jkr, the design agency behind the packaging, explains on the company's blog:

"The brief was very clear on the mood and emotion we wanted Juniper Sling to conjure up from a design point of view.  It’s about gin cocktails in the 1920’s, bright young things and art deco nuances.”

His production colleague, Judith Allan, takes up the theme of haptics:

“This design is all about tactility and layering, but with simplicity at the heart of the design. The paper stock is tactile whilst the use of silver foils and varnishes helps create a luxurious feel."

So, given that the arrival of this bottle of Juniper Sling exactly coincides with my newfound interest in Art Deco and other retro styles of wallpaper, you may imagine that I studied the specific pattern on the Penhaligon's box with particular interest...  You see, I felt sure I had come across it somewhere in all my online research, but couldn't recall where.  In vain did I scour the catalogues of the likes of Osborne & Little, Sanderson, Zoffany and Harlequin - I found a number of Art Deco patterns along similar lines, but not the exact one in question, and assumed my memory was playing tricks.  I even scrutinised the "spire" of the Chrysler building to make sure that wasn't where Penhaligon's got its pattern from, but drew a (pointed!) blank.

Then, in one of those bonkers impulses to which I am prone, I emailed Jovan Buac himself, and inquired about the identity of the Art Deco pattern used on the Penhaligon's box, assuming that it was something in the public domain, or which he wouldn't mind my mentioning in public.

The following day, I received this response:

"Hi Vanessa

You won't find the pattern anywhere as, although it is based on art deco inspired design, it has been drawn up by one of our illustrators."

Well well, I thought, no wonder I couldn't find it then.  I wrote back, thanking Jovan for this information and - in case you are wondering - didn't push my luck by inquiring where exactly they HAD taken their inspiration from, even if the finished design was original.

So there you have it: new house, new start, "christened" by new bottle of perfume inspired by era of said house.  The last month or two have not been easy for either of us, but I seem to be faring better than I would have expected - there was a mobile health clinic in the town centre today, and out of curiosity I had my blood pressure taken, and it was resoundingly normal. 

Oh, and speaking of blood, did you know that there is a wallpaper with a pattern based on the crystal structure of insulin, and a dress fabric inspired by haeomoglobin...?

Insulin 8.25 (wallpaper)
Crystallographer: Dorothy Hodgkin; designed by Robert Sevant for John Line and Sons

Haemoglobin 8.26 (fabric)
Crystallographer: Max Perutz

Oh, and tonight I had one last google, looking for the similar wallpaper to Juniper Sling that I thought I had seen, and I did come up with this one - Cinema, by Graham & Brown, based on the arches of Art Deco cinemas.  The proportions are different - it is a looser "weave", if you will - and it more of a cream colour, obviously, but the resemblance is otherwise compelling.  Yes, I wonder if this could be the one that inspired the jkr design team?  As I say, I have looked at an awful lot of wallpaper lately... : - )

Juniper Sling pattern

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Perfume Shopping Around The World - A New Reference Page!

A while back, Undina of Undina's Looking Glass, the undisputed Queen of Information Gathering and Collation, had the inspired idea of compiling links to posts that mention good places to shop for perfume around the world. 

For whether we are away on holiday or on a business trip, many of us have the opportunity to visit perfume outlets on our travels, and Undina thought it could be a useful resource for the perfume community at large if we were to pool our collective knowledge.   

Accordingly, once she had gathered together a certain number of links to perfume shopping posts, Undina decided to create a dedicated page to hold them all in one place.  The next step was to spread the word by inviting fellow bloggers to create similar, "mirror" pages on their own sites, the content for which will be added to on a rolling basis, as she explains below:

"So if you want to host a similar page on your site send me an e-mail and I’ll forward you the HTML file. I plan to update this page with new links three to four times a year and I will be sending updates to those who decide to host the page. You do not have to publish this page on your blog to have your links included and you can host the page even if you do not have any perfume shopping guides of your own (yet?)."

Here is my own "portal" to Perfume Shopping Around The World or click on the link in the sidebar.  If you know of any other articles to include (yours or anyone else's), do drop me a line on flittersniffer at gmail dot com - the more the merrier!

And finally, I would like to thank Undina not just for coming up with the concept of a perfume shopping "directory", but also for her technical help in setting up the Bonkers version of the page!

Saturday 9 June 2012

Perfectly Pungent Planting: A Gardeners' World Scent Special

The June issue of UK gardening magazine Gardener's World contains a 20-page, mauve-edged special supplement devoted to all things scent-related.  On the website is a slightly comma-rich preview: "Discover how to make the most of scented plants, which plants have the best fragrance, and how to improve your sense of smell. Plus, claim 36 sweetly perfumed lavender plants, for free."

Lavender is sweet?
The magazine includes some ‘scratch ‘n’ sniff’ scented paper circles, namely of the alleged sweetly perfumed lavender, of sweet violet (I shall reserve judgement on that ; - ) ), tomato leaf and a mystery scent.   Readers are invited to have a go at identifying the fragrant plant in question and to take part in an online survey.  Here they can record what they thought the mystery scent was, and their impressions of the 'scratch 'n' sniff' scents generally ie whether they were pleasant or not, how intensely they register to their nose, whether they smell familiar and so on. 
Well, in the case of the plant pictured on the cover my response is easy to predict - even before I have sniffed it:

"That lavender one is not sweet!"

This issue also features a Scent Wheel, which shows gardeners how to combine the natural scents of plants to best effect, creating a harmoniously fragrant garden.  Flowers and herbs are grouped into four main scent categories - Fresh, Sweet, Intense and Dry - each of which in turn has three further sub-categories.  I note with interest that according to this classification lavender is Dry!

Additionally, the Scent Special includes an article by Avery Gilbert on the science of smell and scent memories, and one by our own Lila Das Gupta  (journalist, keen gardener, and founder of Olfactory Events) about improving your sense of smell.  June gardens provide the perfect training ground apparently, as they are redolent with scents at this time of year.  Lila goes on to split plants into those with a “low odour yield” like grasses, and those with a “high odour yield” - or “pong per pound” : - ) - like lilies and jasmine.  She encourages readers to develop a wider scent vocabulary by just getting stuck in, basically:

“Learning to describe scent is a bit like learning a new language: those who do it best are the ones with the fewest inhibitions.”

So it sounds as though I am on the right track when I let rip and described S-Perfume's 100% Love as “a disconcerting blend of chocolate and Hoover dust”, or Dioressence as "embalming fluid", or when I likened LesNez's The Unicorn Spell to “a stick of celery peeping coyly through a freshly creosoted fence”.

Which brings me neatly to the last interesting feature of the Gardeners’ World scent special: an ICM poll on the topic of people’s sense of smell, commissioned in April amongst 2000+ respondents   Only a few of the poll findings may be found in the magazine itself, however I found more information in a press release from its publishers, Immediate Media, which has also been widely reported in the UK press.  So without further ado here are some of the highlights:

"Women appear to have a significantly better sense of smell than men - more women than men were able to recognise 14 out of 15 top garden scents. The list included rose, lilac, freshly cut grass and compost. Creosote [my italics] was the only smell as many men recognised as women."

Speaking for myself, in my recent herb garden challenge I was undoubtedly well below the standard of your average female - even a mostly non-gardening one, I suspect - but who knows if I would be any better with flowers instead of herbs?  I'd like to think so.  I might just see what I make of those scratch 'n' sniff things while I remember, though only one of them is a blind sniff, of course.
Lavender - Pointy Sprig Central, as expected.  Resoundingly not sweet.

Sweet violet - wowsa!  This is Parma Violet frenzy.

Tomato leaf - Memory of Kindness on steroids

Mystery scent - lovely heady floral of some kind with basenotes of magazine paper.  On my second sniffing attempt, I fear I may have cross-contaminated the sample with tomato leaf transferred from my finger - or possibly even the tip of my nose.  Trial aborted, but with my back to the wall I would say gardenia.

Going back to the survey findings, "more than 50% of pensioners could identify 11 or more of the 15 top garden scents, while a majority of 18-24 year olds could only recognise six".

I am not surprised to hear that - older people like gardening, while the nation’s youth are obviously locked away in their bedrooms, messing about on their PlayStations and Facebook.   And how do I know that fact about older people?  Well, one or two of the ads in the back of Gardeners' World magazine are quite telling, including this one for extra wide or swollen feet.

What else?  "Freesias are the nation’s favourite garden scent, liked by 92% of respondents, followed by strawberries (91%) and then sweet pea (90%)".

Hmm...might that help explain the rise of sweet, fruity perfumes in recent years?  In fairness, off the top of my head I would say that those particular notes are not all that common in the current crop of designer scents, though I distinctly recall that Gwen Stefani L.A.M.B has freesia and sweet pea, and a bunch of other sweet stuff besides - though curiously, not lavender...

And of course let's not forget the 3% of Britons for whom compost is their "sexiest garden smell!"

So that was all very interesting, but as for me, I am off to check out the slow-growing climber "trachelospermum jasminoides” – never mind its wonderful smell, the name alone sounds most promising.

Oh, and I think I shall give that "36 free lavender for every reader" offer a miss...the magazine's lavender-coloured edge was disturbing enough... ; - )

Photo of statue from Flickr CC via MyAngelG, photo of jasmine from Wikimedia Commons via Quadell, other images are photos I took of the June issue of Gardeners' World magazine.

Monday 4 June 2012

Guest Post On Bois De Jasmin - Touring London Perfumeries: A Bonkers Bike Ride

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations are in full swing in London this long weekend, and to mark the occasion, I have a guest post up on Bois de Jasmin today! - link here.

You see, last month my friend Alberto and I had the idea to see if we could get round some of my favourite London perfumeries using the city's (almost free!) cycle hire scheme. This is the account of that day, together with some suggestions as to how our itinerary could be adapted to suit a more relaxed schedule - or even a completely different mode of transport! Yes, it was a bit of a madcap exercise to get around on bikes, but my verdict is a resounding thumbs up. "Two wheels good"? I'd say so...

I would like to thank Victoria for the invitation to contribute to Bois de Jasmin, and to wish British readers of Bonkers a bunting-bedecked Happy Jubilee Weekend. Too bad about the weather, eh...? : - (

Saturday 2 June 2012

Il Profvmo Nuda: A Birthday Bottle In Its (Almost) Birthday Suit!

I wasn't expecting any gifts of perfume for my birthday this week, just as I didn't expect any at Christmas. Most of my friends and family are bemused at my 70+ strong full bottle collection, and don't think I should be encouraged to acquire any more - or not until there have been significant advances in cryogenics - and they are of course right. So thank goodness for enablers, I say! My Queen of Enablers down the years has been the very generous Lovethescents, who this year sent me a nearly full bottle of Il Profvmo Nuda for my birthday.

Nuda is a fragrance I sniffed for the first time last summer with Olfactoria in Vienna, when I described it as "a 'cold cream' skin scent – like a more refined version of Clinique Simply crossed with a de-floraled Dior New Look 1947, if that makes any sense at all to anyone".

Then in April this year I came across Nuda by chance again in Stuttgart, managing to resist the half price bottle on sale in Mußler Beauty. Not long after that trip to Germany, as I was still toying with the idea of buying the bargain bottle by mail order, Lovethescents dropped me a line, urging me not to bother because Nuda was "horrible". I can't locate the original email, but that was the general gist.

I remember thinking at the time that that was an odd remark, as it was Lovethescents who had originally alerted me to this scent and who was also a big fan - or so I thought. I chose to disregard her apparent volte-face, for having tested Nuda twice myself I was pretty sure I liked it well enough. It ticks that box of an easy to wear, calming, silky soft skin scent. And now with the benefit of hindsight I can see that this was merely a cunning ruse on my friend's part to stop me buying a bottle myself, as she had presumably already snagged it for me. : - )

Yes, notwithstanding the fictitious bad press which had preceded its arrival, my "naked joy" was unalloyed as I unwrapped the parcel to find the super securely-taped bottle of Nuda inside. I have stringent wrapping standards myself, as regular readers know - Diana of Feminine Things recently paid tribute to the quality of my bubble wrapping of a large bottle of Marc Jacobs I sent her. And I have previously devoted entire posts to the subject of packing materials, including the all-important electrical tape which plays such a key role in pre-empting perfume leakage en route.

Yes, I may have high personal standards when it comes to tape, but Lovethescents exceeded them all with this impressive triangular construction in a cheery shade of yellow. It reminded me of those Unidentified Large Industrial Objects - at the more obscure end of the "abnormal load" spectrum - which are transported on equally abnormally wide vehicles, lashed securely in place with a scaffolding of radiating ropes.

Or there again, it has a bit of a look of a maypole about it, for example on young Sydney's cake below.

Photo of maypole cake from, other photos my own