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


ScentScelf said...

Funny how you may have indeed been traveling...or resting...upon a plain, and then when you take another look around, you realize you are in foothills, if not mountains themselves. Not as flat as all that, indeed.

So, a journey to Jasmin of the Bois, perched atop Brussels? With a panoramic view of the Flem? (And all the rest, she hastened to add, including the lovely concept of Victoria/Nicole draped on a sickle moon...) Sniffing and nibbling? This sounds...well...fabulous.

I of course harbor an extra fondness that you brought Blue Grass. And am happily nodding along at your enjoyment of Lumiere Blanche, as it gives me that self-satisfied feeling of not being surprised. It is a lovely something, isn't it? I ended up deciding that I prefer L'Eau d'Hiver in that personality type. Which may not be fair, as they don't line up, notes-given-wise, but something about them...anyway, I'll save a better analysis for another time.

Right **here** I am going to interject a big THANK YOU for finding the Amouages harsh. Not the first time that's happened to me from some of their offerings. Of course, when they work (helloooo first round Ubar and Epic), I swoon. Otherwise, I make way.

Glad that you've found some more interesting topography in your perfume terrain. Sorry that Charlie Bonkers has hit a different kind of rough patch. Wishing you both all the best as you move forward in your new home.

Undina said...

A takeaway lesson: use your favorite vintage decants while you still can!

Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Are you taking parts of your collection to all destinations or only when you visit such stars like Victoria? ;)

Olfactoria's Travels said...

What a great meeting! Thank you for relating it to us.
I can just picture the elfin Victoria perched high above a beautiful city - a magical (and utterly intimidating) image.

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentSelf,

Yes, the sniffing and nibbling were ace, and the eyrie-like nature of V's apartment made the proceedings even more atmospheric!

Yes, that Blue Grass bottle gets about..; - ). Birgit has a bit too, as that particular incarnation dates from approximately her birth year!

You like Lumiere Blanche too then? Great - and I can see why you liken it to L'Eau d'Hiver.

Vanessa said...

PS And thanks also for your good wishes for Charlie and me in the new house. She seems to be doing okay on her new luxury diet, and I am gradually getting sorted, though there is still a ton of stuff to do.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Salutary advice indeed about vintage perfumes. I discussed this very topic with a friend I met later in my trip, who inherited a venerable bottle of No 5 from her mother. There again it was very much a case of "use it or lose it".

I took bits of my collection over with me primarily to show Victoria, but ended up using them to do a perfume consultation with the friend above, who loved my newly acquired sample of Lumiere Blanche best out of everything!

Victoria said...

You've failed to mention that the apartment was a mess of suitcases and kicked up dust (as part of my moving--another thing you and I have in common!) As someone who has just carried a bucket and a broom through the city of Brussels--the store had no bags and couldn't wrap them, I've hit my low in terms of elegance. But that day you and I had so much fun, and we smelled such exciting things that I really felt as if we were in another universe. Blue Grass, Guerlain Fol Arome, Lutens, Ajne... I also loved Lentheric's Tweed, another little vintage gem.

I didn't even realize at first how quickly the day has flown by. Once you left and I resumed my cleaning and organizing, I felt a bit sad. Wish that we had another day or two or more! Thank you very much for making the detour, hope that it's not the last one.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Victoria is elfin, but not at all intimidating! Plus she shared some tried and tested exercise tips from her ballet training which I am eager to put into practice. I can forget running, for example - yay! It will be more about swimming and turning my thighs out at a cunning angle. I may investigate Homebase for barres... ; - )

Tara said...

I'm so glad you had such a great trip Vanessa, and managed to regain some of your enthusiasm for perfume!

I always thought Victoria was pretty fabulous but she is even more so than I suspected.

Santal Majuscule isn't for me but I can see it winning many fans.

(Enjoyed the many words for stick!)

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

The apartment looked pretty neat to me(!), but you're right that I forgot to mention the moving aspect we had in common, for you too are now in a new place, and grappling with similar infrastructural issues it would seem : - ).

And yes, it was a different world we lost ourselves in, far away from our day to day preoccupations - Fol d'Arome was another highlight indeed. I also felt a twinge of nostalgia straight afterwards, and I do hope to make the detour over again some time if you are likely to be there for a while. Not least to pay more attention as you are whipping up your vinaigrette / marinade thingy!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I would've included even more words for stick if I could have remembered which other languages Victoria speaks!

Interesting to get your take on Santal Majuscule - I can certainly imagine some people finding it too sweet, but my tastes lie more that way as time goes on.

Victoria is indeed fabulous - and a first rate "turner" and "jumper" I understand. : - )

Vanessa said...

ScentScelf - apologies for your missing "c". Nicole is sitting on it, I'll be bound... ; - )

Victoria said...

V, you're thinking of Natalia Osipova. :) She is amazing. If it's ok, here are a couple of clips I promised you:
(I get shivers running down my spine as I watch this; she's only 17 here, but her skill is just impeccable. Notice her perfect pirouette at 1:04).

And here is her most famous role, Kitri in Don Quixote:

Even if you aren't a huge ballet fan, if you have a chance to see her perform, you won't regret it. She's the best dancer I've seen, live or on tape. That's a first rate turner and jumper and everything else for you!

Sorry for being so wordy.

Ines said...

Really? I mean, really?!
When are you finally going to come around this part of Europe? :)

Seriously though, it's great you got to meet Victoria and cannot but agree, I somehow think of her as those incredibly genius cooks who have a vast knowledge of recipes stored in their heads and mix them up as the occasion requires without much thinking - with the result being a delicious meal made in no time.
I wish I could do that...

Btw, I seem to have hit a plateau, I'm trying to jump-start myself and so far, I've only managed small lurches.
Soon I hope...

Dionne said...

Hanging out with Victoria? That sounds like so much fun! Someday I hope to be at a perfumista event or spend some time with a fellow perfume hound. Hey, anybody want to come visit Banff?

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for those clips - I will be sure to watch out for the pirouette - those are always impressive. I was trying to remember the dancer's name but only had "Natalie?" in my notes. Will take a look on my main pc when my office is up and running again - have just had another setback of a leaking radiator in the precise spot where some furniture is meant to be going later today, so am back in "rolling with the punches" mode...

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

It can only be a question of time before I am either back in Croatia for work or you are over in Paris again at a time when I could join you.

Yes, I so admire people who can spontaneously concoct such flavoursome dishes - it is a real art.

I hope a few new hummocks appear on your perfume plateau soon - there will be a lemming along shortly, you will see!

Vanessa said...

Hi Dionne,

You are in Banff??? Or near it even? One of the most beautiful spots in the world. Though I did properly terrify myself going up the mountain in a cable car on my own.

I hope you get to meet some fellow perfumistas one day - there are quite a few dotted about the Pacific North West. And I would also love to meet you but I sense the work trips that took me across the pond may not come back any time soon.

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

I just watched those links on my iPhone (doh!). She is such a graceful dancer - the pirouette was pretty special, but also her insanely high leg kicks - higher than her head!

Victoria said...

Isn't it pretty amazing? And also how musical she is! It takes some skill in the first variation (Esmeralda) to kick the tambourine held that high and on tempo and to make it look graceful.

And thank you for your kind words on my cooking! That's the best compliment, and I really love feeding others. I grew up with a mom who as a working woman cooked every day, so I learned by observing her. But seriously, it's all in repetition and learning certain techniques. I'm happy to share, of course.

Anonymous said...

Just what the doctor ordered - an injection of Bonks and Bois de Jasmin: that's the stuff to rally the perfume troops!

Lovely to imagine you both sharing and sniffing together.

Wishing you both good luck with your home-making efforts,

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

lovethescents said...

It sounds like you had such fun! Thank you for the little description of Santal Maj. I've been wanting to try it for ages. Apparently, it will be here mid, I wait....

I really like Lumiere Blanche as well. Here's something odd, when I wear it, I crave root beer. It smells a bit like that racinette on my skin!

Victoria is another little stunner. There's something to be said about those of us who love fumies. There seems to be a 'gorgeous' criteria :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

It never occurred to me that coordinating the tambourine action will have added another level of difficulty, but it makes perfect sense now you mention it.

The only thing I learnt by observing my mother in the kitchen, which was extremely small, in my defence - it was either me or the mangle in the room at the same time - was a roux for a white sauce. I still make that instinctively and unerringly to this day.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Two "V"s and two "B"s - I hadn't thought of that!

Thanks for your good wishes on the house and cat front - it is still a bit of an uphill struggle, but I think I am getting there slowly!

Will be in touch shortly with the latest chocolate progress report. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

If your curiosity about SL SM gets the better of you before December, I am sure I can make a little sample for you to try from the decant Victoria gave me.

Glad you also like Lumiere Blanche. I am not sure I have ever drunk root beer, so the comparison was rather lost on me, but I have an idea of how it might taste... : - )

lovethescents said...

Dearest Vee,

Thank you for your kind offer. Let's see what the local Lutens people have in store for us.

I forgot to ask you, TELL MORE about Fol Arome!! Aching to know what the impossible is like!

Ari Weinberg said...

It would have been well worth the price of a plane ticket to get to spend the day with you two! I am so glad that you had a great time, and even happier to hear that CB's kidneys are rallying!! I'm rooting for you, Charlie!!!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Righto - keep me posted about your the sample situation.

Fol Arome (to which I have accidentally added a "d'" in my comment above!) was pretty mind-blowing in a classic big-hitting Guerlain way: shades of L'Heure Bleue and Vol de Nuit, quite gourmand with slightly offbeat notes which I liked more than I would expect to.

Just found the full note listing on Octavian's blog:

Top - citrusy - aromatic: bergamot, neroli, tarragon, thyme
Heart - floral: violet, orris, orange flower, rose
Drydown - powdery sweet: vanilla, heliotrop, benjoin & tolu, musk

Vanessa said...

Yes, maybe I could get into vintage perfumes (and this one goes back to 1912!) the way I appear to have done with antique furniture... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Ari,

I haven't missed you being over in Britain, have I? I - and I am sure I speak for the whole Euro-fumehead clan! - would love to catch you if you were over visiting Drew, say. I did just clock that you have been to Iceland recently - everyone I know who has been says it is an extraordinary place.

Feel soooo behind with blog news, but hope to catch up soon.

Marie said...

I'm a bit late to the show, I'm afraid. Have to admit that I have checked your blog only in fits and starts over the last couple of weeks, knowing that you were with a lot to do in your new house. But your trip to Brussels and visit to Victoria sounds like you could clear your mind a bit and find your way back into perfumeland :)
Glad to hear that there are still more perfume plateaux to come!

PS: Even more behind time but thank you for your report on the perfume shop in Budapest - I am going to spend my semester abroad in Hungary - now I definitely know where to have a look around :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Marie,

Nice to hear from you and no need to apologise - I have hardly been around myself, after all!

The trip to Brussels gave my interest in perfume a fillip all right - it is just hard to find time to follow it up at the moment, though a functioning office is a step forward.

How interesting that you will be spending time in Hungary! Lovethescents visited Zsolt's store more recently than me, and also checked out another niche one nearby, the name of which escapes me.

Oh, if you can get to the museum before closing time, and smell Zsolt's ambient fragrance there, do let us know what it is like!

Natalie said...

Here's a cheers to a plateau that isn't as flat!

It's nice to see you back, and all good wishes for dealing with move and related crises. I know how trying that can be.

Vanessa said...

Thanks, Natalie, there is so much more to do than met the eye on the house viewings - and then I am dealing with things singlehanded now, and have noticed the difference there, not least in humping items of furniture around!

I have lots I want to write about - and read - and I do hope to get back in the swim soon (there are a few major repairs pending before the autumn sets in, and then I am hoping for a lull!)

lovethescents said...

WHY would you make me lemmmmmmm something so impossible? Wicked!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Sorry about that, haha!