Wednesday 29 August 2012

Bonkers In Belgium - Part 1: Meeting Victoria Of Bois De Jasmin - Well Worth The Wegomlegging

Two weeks on from my last post, the new house continues to consume much of my energies, and I sense I may remain in "light crisis management mode" on an indefinite basis going forward. And just as they say we are all a mere three feet away from a rat, so it is that I am - as ever - within easy arm's reach of a Farrow & Ball colour chart and a tape measure. I did, however, manage to slip away last week on a trip to Belgium, leaving Charlie Bonkers (whose failing kidneys are rallying on a human diet of superior cold cuts), in the care of a friend.

Now I may have a special interest in perfume, but one of the most impassioned pieces of writing on Bonkers has to be this post on traffic congestion in Belgium - or, as Wordbird aptly dubbed it the other day on Facebook - Flem. On this latest trip the roads were relatively "fluide", however, my optimistically named TomTom Go (which mostly thinks in German if it thinks at all), was "totally over-demanded" by the current spate of roadworks throughout the country. I drove aimlessly for long stretches when my sat nav lost the signal, and even when it seemed to have found it again, it was sure to lead me up blind alleys or the wrong way down one-way streets. Yes, the drive to Brussels proved to be more of a wiggly wegomlegging - or detour - than I bargained for, but as noted in the title of this post, the end more than justified the meandering means...

My first stop on the Wednesday was a meeting with Victoria Frolova of Bois de Jasmin . I visited her in her rooftop apartment, which had dormer windows and panoramic views of the city. It wouldn't have surprised me to have seen Nicole Kidman perched on the terrace, straddling the glittering sickle moon of the Chanel logo. We ended up spending the day in Victoria's flat, sniffing things from each other's collection and pausing only to wolf down the delicious and nutritious meals my hostess knocked up in less time than it takes me to snap the top on a 2.5ml atomiser. Actually, that takes rather a long time, if I even manage it, indeed - so maybe make that a 1ml vial...

In the course of our conversation I was intrigued to learn that Victoria and I had a number of key things in common apart from a love of fragrance: for instance we both had all our wisdom teeth out at once - with complications!; we both fortify ourselves with By Kilian Sweet Redemption on challenging days, and for reasons primarily of pigmentation, neither of us would ever be seen dead in lemon yellow. Beyond that, the similarities are more tenuous, for while I do consider myself a bit of a linguist, Victoria speaks more languages than you can shake a stick/Stock/bâton/палочка/kij etc at, has the honed physique of a classically trained ballet dancer (that's because she is one!), the nuanced nose of an industry insider, and the wrist action of someone used to deploying a pestle and mortar in the supreme act of alchemy that is an impromptu vinaigrette.

So what did we smell?

I brought along a number of somewhat obscure, discontinued and/or vintage scents from my collection for Victoria to try, including my beloved Plus Que Jamais and the sandalwood-tastic Damian Bash Lucifer #3. Victoria was especially interested to sample my bottle of Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass from the 70s, pronouncing it to be in very good nick, and remarking on the expensive jasmine absolute used. Conversely, she confirmed the demise of my vintage Chloe and a couple of niche decants, so I entrusted those to her for humane disposal after I had gone.

For her part, Victoria had prepared samples of a couple of scents I was interested to try, namely Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule and Chanel Coco Noir (of which more in the next post). If Hermès Santal Massoia is a soprano, Santal Majuscule is definitely an alto. From its reddish browny colour, I feared it might smell like one of those Serges Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am famously described as "icky stewed things", but while Santal Majuscule is sweet and gourmand, it is not too heavy. It reminded me of a sandalwood-forward version of L'Artisan's Vanille Absolument or Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille, but I don't care for either of those the way I liked this (I am not keen on boozy scents, that's probably why). It was "Santal Absolument" for sure though, as the name Majuscule of course suggests - as in "Sandalwood Writ Large" or "Sandalwood With A Capital 'S'", type of thing.

Notes (from The Perfumed Court): sandalwood, honey, cocoa, spices and Arabian Attar rose.

Victoria also introduced me to a couple of Olfactive Studio perfumes, of which I was particularly taken with Lumière Blanche - more than taken in fact - smitten more like. It is a soft, milky and musky, sandalwoody wisp of a thing, and would make an excellent understated day scent. It was milkier and more rounded than Santal Massoia, which - much as I love it - does retain a slight "planky" bite to it, without ever lapsing into "trapped in a tea chest" territory (Tam Dao, I'm looking at you!).

Notes (from Now Smell This): cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, iris, almond milk, cashmere woods, cedarwood, sandalwood, tonka bean and white musks.

And as a souvenir of one of the key ingredients in Lumière Blanche, Victoria kindly gave me a couple of tonka beans encrusted with coumarin to take away, along with a pot of the wonderfully toffeefied speciality from Normandy, "confiture de lait", aka "milk jam".

In the course of our sniffing session, I also got to sample the duo of Amouage Interludes, which were not my thing at all - the men's version was too birch tarry, while the opening of the women's (which has notes of mown grass, apparently), was muddled and harsh and reminiscent of something in the solvent line that might well be the subject of one of my work projects...yes, it was not unlike paint stripper, to be brutally frank.

At five o'clock I headed home to my hotel, and it struck me that this enjoyable meeting with Victoria had nicely kickstarted my interest in perfume again. I have been so caught up in the aftermath of the move and its attendant setbacks that my hobby has had to take a back seat. In a comment on a recent post by Tara of Olfactoria's Travels about the stages of the "perfume journey", I aligned myself with those who felt they were on a "perfume plateau, admiring the view". To that I would now add that thanks to Victoria, my particular plateau appears not to be as flat as all that.

Photo of wegomlegging from, aerial view of Brussels park from karine*imagine via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Santal Majuscule from, photo of Victoria Frolova from, other photo my own

Monday 13 August 2012

L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville A L’Aube Launch With Bertrand Duchaufour & Denyse Beaulieu: More Grey Matters - Or Lack Of Them…

You know another post must be overdue when you realise you have amassed no fewer than FIVE Farrow & Ball paint colour cards - all identical, but displaying varying degrees of dogearedness. A growing colony of F & B tester pots is another sure sign that you are losing touch with the real (as in the virtual) world. Another dead giveaway is the spammers who are all over your blog archives like a rash, sensing that your current posting hiatus means you are too preoccupied to notice their stealthy incursions.

Well, it’s true that I am somewhat preoccupied at the moment with more firefighting on the house front. Just this week, for example, the spectre of woodworm raised its myriad pinhole heads in the study, so the carpet laying there has had to be deferred for the second time (the first carpet arrived damaged!).


On the plus side, since my last post I have had a water meter installed, a sash window fixed and a floor levelled, and acquired a working fridge, a tumble dryer, microwave, pedal bin, broom, mop and toilet brush. Not forgetting the cutlery drainer. I have also erected a clothes line and a bird house in the garden, deep cleaned the kitchen cupboard doors and descaled the kettle. Oh, and the living room sofa is on order, the chimney sweep booked, and the finger of suspicion now points at a defective filling loop rather than a perished expansion vessel on the boiler. Which I am sure you are all as fascinated to learn as I was (not)… : - )


So without further ado, I am trying to cast my mind back to the first week after the move, when I went down to London to attend the UK launch of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Séville à l'aube. I was booked to attend the session with Bertrand Duchaufour and Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc at 1pm on 25th July. The day dawned bright and relentlessly hot, and the back of my bargain Toast frock from T K Maxx was already drenched in sweat by the time I left the house just before 9am, so you can imagine what an unsavoury state I was in by the time I arrived at the Covent Garden store. Not least because I inadvertently went there via the corporate offices of L’Artisan in the city, owing to an unfortunate error involving my iPhone, my failing short sight and the London HQ address being in a VERY LARGE TYPEFACE right under the advert for the actual event. Instead of scrolling past the image to reach what I took to be the venue address, I should have ENLARGED the image itself to reveal the contact details of the Covent Garden store. Ah well, magnified hindsight is a wonderful thing... I might have known the day was doomed to go awry as soon as I got up and spent a good fifteen minutes hunting for a pair of shoes not firmly in the hiking boot family.


So anyway, the staff at L'Artisan's HQ – who greeted my perspiring, breathless and baggage-encumbered figure with pained expressions of bemusement and concern – alerted their Covent Garden colleagues to my delayed arrival, and I finally turned up (even more bedraggled and sweaty, if you can possibly imagine that) at about 1.30pm - not so much fashionably late as "middle-aged confused".

When I entered the cavernous cellar in which the event was being held, Bertrand and Denyse were just wrapping up their talk?/Q & A session?/bit of both? (obviously I wouldn't know!), to a small group of half a dozen women. I didn’t recognise anyone, but I caught the name Katie Chutzpah, and inferred that the others may also have been drawn from the wider ranks of fashion and beauty writers rather than being perfume bloggers as such.

Because I was so spectacularly late, Justine, L’Artisan’s marketing exec, ushered me into a side room and presented the company’s upcoming releases, beginning with La Collection de Grasse, inspired by the "spiritual home of perfumery" - in particular the rugged hinterland behind Grasse itself, with its aromatic kaleidoscope of colour and scents.

The collection features an autumn and a winter candle, presented in chunky ceramic holders with a distressed metallic finish, which I learnt were made in a specific region in China - the only place in the world boasting that particular artisanal expertise. I am surprised I took in that little nugget of information, to be honest, because I still felt mortified about my address gaffe and was generally rather distracted.

Making up the trio of products in the Grasse range - and with a nod towards the town's tanning heritage - are some leather gloves impregnated with Mûre et Musc Extrême. These are part of a limited run of 100 pairs in sizes 6-8 (another surprise fact I retained – I never knew there were glove sizes till I encountered scented ones!)

The Grasse Collection is due for release in October, to be followed in November by L'Artisan's Christmas Collection, comprising boxed sets of candles and various permutations of his and her fragrances in handy 15ml sizes. The colourful stylised packaging takes its inspiration from the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, and the boxes are also available as gift packaging for any scent in the L’Artisan range.

I scribbled a few notes during Justine’s mini presentation, but mostly I just kept saying: “Nice!” to everything she showed me, the strain of the journey having rendered me all but inarticulate.

It was not long before I heard sounds of the party next door starting to break up, so I returned there and loitered with intent until an opportunity arose to greet Bertrand Duchaufour, whom I had met at the 2009 launch of Penhaligon’s Amaranthine, and to introduce myself to Denyse. No sooner had I started to explain who I was to Bertrand Duchaufour, when one of the few remaining bloggers cut across me, thrust an iPad in Bertrand’s face, and began what appeared to be an impromptu video interview - which struck me as a little peremptory and rude.

Not long after, Denyse announced that she was popping out for a cigarette and invited me to join her for a chat. Half way up the stairs to street level, I caught a beautiful cloud of Séville à l’aube and was reminded of how much I liked the scent. Once outside in the street, Denyse lit up and we had a few minutes shooting the breeze about topics as various as her luxuriant and variegated hair (which Denyse jokingly referred to as being “fifty shades of grey”, a punning reference to her recent commission to translate the erotic blockbuster into French!), middle age, insomnia, and the boy she met in Seville all those years ago, whom she hopes will one day stumble across the book...

When we went back inside, the attendees of the earlier (as in “on time”) session had all dispersed; Bertrand invited me to sit down and we carried on briefly chatting in French. I explained how Séville à l'aube has a powerful resonance for me, because of my own holiday there the last time I split up with a partner, some 17 years ago. And now here I am back on my own, my single state coinciding once again with a Seville theme! Bertrand agreed that that was a bit of a neat coincidence, and asked me if I had a question for him. A question? Why, it was as much as I could do to have found the venue in the end, so I blurted out:

“No I don’t – I just wanted to get here in time to say hello!”

It felt like an honest, but rather lame response at the time – after all, I am an interviewer by profession. And maybe part of me wanted to make up for the woman who thrust the iPad in his face by just enjoying being in his presence and not asking him anything, but in truth it was more a case of my not having given the matter any thought. Yes, I really was just glad to have made it down before everyone had left!

Oh, and my klutzy behaviour didn’t end with the lateness... I knocked over a row of L’Artisan perfumes with my shoulder bag – fortunately the domino effect was mysteriously self-righting at about the fourth or fifth bottle mark. Then shortly after I emerged blinking into the sunlight from the store's subterranean depths, I wandered into a branch of Hobbs, the primly classic clothing chain, and attempted to buy a sandwich; I had momentarily mistaken it for Marks & Spencer, of which (in fairness) there happened to be a branch next door.


So yes, the inauspicious day turned out all right in the end, even if I did look like a dishrag and completely missed the whatever it was, asked no questions, took no photos and forgot to collect a goody bag (assuming my partial attendance and uninquiring mind had not disqualified me from eligibility to receive one, as it may well have done!) But I did receive a goodbye hug from Bertrand, who declared my French to be “magnifique”, which was more than generous of him… : - )

For a properly documented account of the Tuesday session, check out Tara’s account on Olfactorias Travels.

Meanwhile, my review of Denyse’s book, “The Perfume Lover”, is here, and here is my take on Séville à l'aube.

Photo of Artillery Lane from Stacey Harris via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Grasse from G CHP via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Denyse Beaulieu from, photo of Hobbs from, photos of L'Artisan invitation and Christmas Collection from L'Artisan Parfumeur, other photos my own