Wednesday 30 January 2013

"Used Cosmetics Samples" - More Perfume Mailing Mither And My Makeupalley Karmic Comeuppance

Perfume lovers the world over like to spread the love. They do this on the swap scene of Makeupalley, the various split sites like Google Scent Splits, as well as spontaneously sending so-called "care packages" of perfume to fellow fumeheads in need, of which I have also been a lucky recipient.

Unfortunately, the postal services pretty much anywhere you care to name take a dim view of mailing perfume. I had a pop at the US Post Office once following an encounter with a very draconian counter clerk in Venice, LA - see the US POST OFFICE DIGRESSION about half way down this post. And fragrance is still prohibited by dangerous goods regulations here in the UK, though that looks set to change for consumers in July of this year according to an article last November in the trade magazine "Post and Parcel":

"Royal Mail customers will be able to post items like aerosols, nail varnishes, perfumes and aftershaves to UK addresses from next year, after a review of rules banning such items from the postal network."


The rules regarding international outbound parcels were revised earlier this month, and sadly the position has not eased on shipping perfume to friends across the pond, though it's good news for those of us who had been champing at the bit to send lithium batteries on a bit of a hike.

"Aerosols will continue to be prohibited from international parcels, as will nail varnish, perfumes and aftershaves, but when lithium batteries are contained within an electronic device, the revised rules will allow them to be sent internationally."

So it looks as though, for the foreseeable future, it's business as usual when it comes to posting perfume outside the EU, namely getting creative with the content descriptions on the customs form. The tried and tested favourite of Makeupalley swappers who are bold enough to flout the rules in this way is: "used cosmetics samples", though the prize for the all-time most audacious descriptor has to go to The MOTH, Bloody Frida's husband, for writing "knitted hat" on a consignment of perfume bound for me. Included in the parcel were admittedly a couple of skeins of sock wool, but even so, "knitted hat" was spectacularly stretching the point. (The whole charming story is reported here.)

Yes, I have been sneaking packages of perfume past international customs officials with the weasel words "cosmetic samples" for some five years now. I guess "perfume" could very loosely be construed as a subset of "cosmetics", certainly of beauty products. However, "the beauty" of saying "cosmetics" rather than "beauty" is that it sounds reassuringly solid, and not likely to slosh around in transit, like a cleansing lotion or shampoo - or God forbid, an alcohol-based product like perfume. The addition of "used" merely serves to gross out the officials - and with any luck put them off their spot check duties with disagreeable visions of half-used cacky cakes of shimmer shadow, claggy mascaras and smeary stubs of lipstick.

And then some time last year, I entered into a swap more as a "coerced act of kindness" than because of any interest in the items the swapper had on offer, quite the reverse. The swapper in question - as I later learnt - has acquired a bit of a reputation for cajoling her fellow Makeupalley members into doing deals they would not otherwise have entertained. In this case she wanted 15-20ml of Creed Love in Black in return for anything I could pick out from her list of mostly make up items and drugstore fragrances. At one point she said I could have EVERYTHING on her list, which actually filled me with alarm.

"I have longed for this fragrance for so long...I am seldom able to go out...I do enjoy wearing good fragrances at home because it lifts my mood...if you would swap, consider it your good deed for the day.... actually for this fragrance, it would be your good deed for the year."

So in the face of such a compelling appeal to my better nature, of course I caved in to her plea, and we settled on the Creed in return for a Sue Devitt blusher. It was in a colour (Malay Reef) which may or may not have suited me, not ever having come across the brand in the UK. It was hard to judge the shade in Google images, but it looked on the dark side to me, the sort of shade that Christina Aguilera might even consider ill-advised. Not to worry, I thought. I am going to consider this as a good deed for an unspecified timeframe! (A year did sound rather a long time to me. What about all those charity bags that come through my door with annoying frequency, all vying for my attention? Am I to ignore them, pleading a prior Creed good deed last March?)

But anyway, I sent off my end of the swap, duly labelled as "used cosmetic samples", even though it was in fact a single large atomiser of Love in Black (with a smaller one as an extra). After a couple of weeks and a few bizarre crossed wires with the swapper, the details of which I shan't trouble you with, I received my package containing the blusher. And - finally - I also received my customs-snook-cocking comeuppance. For the blusher had been swiped already ie it was "a used cosmetic", if not a sample as such. And that had not been made clear in the exchanges between me and the swapper. The plastic metal-effect case was also scratched, but some people might not have been too bothered by that.

So the central item was a bit of a disapointment to be honest, and the RAOK (Random Act of Kindness) extras that had been put in with it were a bit offbeat - costume jewellery of a type I wouldn't wear, and a lipstick from Lola Cosmetics called VICE in a shade to match - but in fairness people can't be expected to know my taste.

But meanwhile....meanwhile.....there was the wrapping to admire, for this was hands down the most elaborately and exquisitely wrapped swap parcel I have ever received. Gauze and ribbon and petals and miscellaneous haberdashery fripperies and I don't know what. I couldn't help but be impressed. I felt as girlishly thrilled as my four year old self in a tutu. All my misgivings about the evenness of the swap or the wheedling manner in which the deal had been struck fell away, as I plunged my hands gleefully into the sea of petals. And even now I still chuckle about the day I actually received used cosmetics that weren't even labelled as such...

Have you had any less than stellar - or merely downright peculiar - swaps? Do share! Can you beat my all-time most bizarre extra item, a face mask fashioned from sheeps' placentas? For your sakes, I do hope not.

Photo of Venice Post Office from, photo of Christina Aguilera from, other photos my own. NB I have since tried the blusher, but even on arrival it was obvious that it had been previously used.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Mother Much Missed - An Anniversary Tribute

Today is the 14th anniversary of my mother's death. I find it hard to credit that it could be so long ago now. I was still in my 30s when she died - what are these years called "30s"? I can barely recall. So to mark the occasion, I shall go in search of some yellow tulips (her favourite colour), which will serve as a very springlike counterpoint to the latest blanket of snow all around.

With each passing year I feel a keen sense of sadness that my mother never knew me as a person with a "proper interest in perfume", as opposed to the giver of thoughtless fragrance gifts depicted in my earlier post about her. How my careless behaviour still makes me squirm! And I wish I had paid more attention to the scented products she used, though Lentheric Tweed fragrance, Bronnley lemon soap and Yardley honeysuckle talc have lodged in my mind. And she had lily of the valley for her wedding bouquet, I do know that.

I am pretty sure Mother would have liked the new Bonkers Towers - I now also regret selling her walnut bureau and one or two other fine pieces of antique furniture! But we lived in a modern house at the time and I never thought that one day I might have a use for period furnishings myself.

But never mind the material trappings of our family life - mostly I just miss her terribly for the lovely, caring person that she was. The dwindling numbers of her (now very ancient!) contemporaries never fail to mention Mother in Christmas cards and emails - here is one touching reference from this year.

"I cannot help recalling how, when I first moved here, I had the joy of the company of several old friends of my childhood, Peggy being the most important one. I still miss her very much. Such a humorous, wise, tolerant and lovable person. We would often meet for a meal together at each other's home. Such happy times."

So this post is dedicated to anyone who has lost a parent and misses them. And especially to anyone who feels they would have done some things differently if they had their time over. In the case of my own mother, I should have bought her a Boots token at the very least.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Bonkers Is Having A Perfume Bottle Yard Sale!

So 2013 is here - out with the old, in with the new and all that jazz. Or in my case, just out with some of the old is more like it, because I really shouldn't be encouraged to buy ANY MORE NEW STUFF, perfume included. I am not saying it is a formal New Year Resolution of mine on the perfume front to rein in spending, so much as a self-evident truth when you look at the overcrowded Vietnamese-boat-people-state of my two fridges. As for a yard sale, that was obviously a metaphor. My garden is in no state to serve as the venue for anything other than snowman making - or possibly fashioning a huge factice of perfume out of the white stuff. Anyone fancy having a go? A friend's son recently erected a snow replica of Stonehenge in their garden in Brighton, which will doubtless become a major tourist destination during the cold snap. After all, that stretch of the A303 in Wiltshire is so congested at the best of times.

But I digress. So...because of the space constraints in my fridges, meaning that it is damnn near impossible to find anything without half a dozen bottles topping headlong on to the carpet as soon as you tentatively start to rummage inside, I have decided to hold a January sale of some of the perfumes I don't reach for very often - and wouldn't even do so if they were easier TO reach for in the ram-packed jumble that is their current home. And if anyone is in any doubt as to why I need to edit my perfume collection, here is a snap of one of my fridges - I only dare picture one! - in its parlous state of groaning profusion.

I do have some more bottles I haven't listed, either because they are so obscure that I doubt anyone would be interested, or conversely because they are too drugstore-y and cheap (the Lidl ones, for instance, great dupes of designer scents though they may be!). Included in this category are also a few fragrances that were sadly unwanted gifts, and though I don't think the friends in question are likely to be reading, to spare their feelings I would rather not list them here.

If any of the perfumes listed appeal - or if you are curious about the other ones - drop me a line on

and I can give you guideline prices, which I am confident you will find reasonable. I can ship anywhere in the world with postage added at cost, but it is worth just mentioning that depending on your location, the cheaper / heavier bottles may cost a disproportionate amount in shipping relative to their value - I expect you can get a good idea of this just by looking at them. Am thinking of J-Lo Deseo in particular, which would make a handy paper weight - or cosh - come to think of it. I have boxes for quite a lot of the perfumes, which I would send with them, possibly flatpacked to avoid undue squashing.


Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile EDT 50ml (two thirds full)

Creed Love in Black 75ml (it's anybody's guess how much is left! Seriously though, I think I have only decanted half of it at most, and the price would reflect this uncertainty.)

B by Boucheron 50ml (almost full)

Jo Malone Lotus Blossom & Water Lily 100ml (two thirds full)

Penhaligon's Lily & Spice 50ml (80% full)

Estée Lauder Intuition 30ml (two thirds full)

Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely 50ml (80% full)

Kenzo L'Eau par Kenzo Indigo pour Femme 50ml (a bit over half full)

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist 30ml (70% full)

Let me know if any of these grab you. To be honest, I could happily lose a ton of decants too, but the administrative effort versus potential space-saving returns may not quite stack up with those!

Friday 18 January 2013

Carner Barcelona Rima XI Review: Misty Over You - With Both Rhyme And Good Reason

Carner Barcelona is a perfume house that first came to my attention thanks to its brooding, spicy iris scent, D600, reviewed here. Well, I'd say it manages to be brooding and upbeat if that is possible, and the Carner website does describe it as inspired by "the urban lifestyle and the Mediterranean spirit of Barcelona", with an added "touch of mystery". Now that I have walked up and down the bustling thoroughfare of La Rambla for myself, I can relate to the tie-in between D600 and the rhythm of Barcelona's daily life, with its kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and scents.

I have also tested the other perfumes in the Carner stable, namely Tardes, Cuirs and Rima XI. Tardes was a bit heavy on the almond for my (admittedly almond- and heliotrope-averse) tastes and reminded me a bit of Miller Harris Fleur Oriental, with which I never got on; Cuirs was too leather-forward, though it can hardly be blamed for that, while Rima XI - a sample of which has just arrived from the Carner press office in response to my request - is Another Matter Entirely. I tried it briefly on skin during my recent trip to Spain, and have been giving it my undivided attention today.

Rima XI was created by Sara Carner in collaboration with Sonia Constant, the perfumer behind Cuirs. In my opinion, Rima XI tops D600 for mystery. It is much lighter and more attenuated. Woody orientals are my favourite category of oriental, and this may turn out to be my favourite of them all, because it has been given that wan, wistful treatment I so admire in a scent, which is a pretty nifty stunt to pull on a fragrance with a fair few spices in it.

Top notes:
Guatemalan Cardamom, Madagascan Black Pepper, Moroccan Nanah Mint, Saffron

Mid notes:
Ceylon Cinnamon, Indonesian Nutmeg, Indian Jasmine Sambac, Coriander

Base notes:
Virginian Cedar Wood, Australian Sandal Wood, Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Benzoin from Laos, Soft Amber, Musk

If you like DKNY Black Cashmere, but wish it could be more vanillic and less austere, if you like Penhaligon's Elixir but find it a wee bit arid and dusty, or Kenzo's Flower Oriental but you are not always in the mood for such an in-your-face whallop of patchouli, this could be the spicy oriental for you.

Rima XI is a gauzy web of spices backlit by a soft, sheer glow. It is pale and interesting, with a warm hum from its amber and vanilla base. It should be worn by heroines of romantic novels draped languidly on chaises longues, though never in a dead faint. I am so affected by the wan yet robust beauty of Rima XI that I feel myself most uncharacteristically waxing lyrical, turning purple and generally coming over all Mills & Boon.

Which is my cue to introduce the background to the perfume, a much finer work of literature by one Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a postromantic writer most famous for his anthology of poems and stories called the Rimas & Leyendas (Rhymes & Legends). The scent takes its name from poem No XI. So just in case you were asking yourself: "Does it go up to eleven?", the collection most certainly does, and well beyond in fact. But we won't go there, not least because No XII appears to be a bit rude (in a Georgia O'Keeffe kind of a way, if you know what I mean...)!

And it is a single verse of Rima XI the rhyme which Carner cites as the inspiration behind Rima XI the perfume. I shan't include the original Spanish, but it is readily google-able for any Hispanic speakers reading who would prefer to appreciate the original text. That said, even my fairly remedial Spanish can confirm that it is a pretty literal rendering, with little if any of the atmosphere or emotional charge lost in translation.

"I am a dream, an impossible
vain ghost of mist and light
I am bodiless, I am untouchable
I cannot love you.
Oh come, you come?!"

On its website Carner also provides a summary of the ethos of the perfume - it could relate equally to the will-o-the-wisp scent itself or the siren-like charm of its wearer:

"Mysterious and sensual, with a hidden power of destruction under her radiant innocence, captivating and unforgettable, impossible to conquer..."

So as with D600, Rima XI is intended to be a double-edged fragrance, with a darker side to its beauty, presumably because the woman in question - though feel free to subsitute a Lorelei-type man if you prefer (I'm sure we all have one in our cupboard of crushes, even if it is only the ghost of David Cassidy, and I've got him as well : - ) ) - is emotionally unavailable. Hey, those are some of the best relationships - you don't stand to get hurt if the unrequited goalposts are clearly established at the outset!

Now to be honest I don't really get this undercurrent in Rima XI - it is just plain beautiful to me, with no kind of "iron fist in a velvet glove" vibe going on. D600 is more edgy in that way in my view. At the end of the day, Rima XI is a delicately nuanced, barely there, warm caress of spices on my skin. Yep, it's the Bonkers-friendly Woody Oriental scent from Central Casting, and my latest heartbreaker of a lemming...

Photo of Rima XI from, photo of male siren from, photo of G A Bécquer from Wikipedia, "The Ghost Of A Skeleton" photo of Brighton West Pier from Wikimedia Commons via Robin Webster

Thursday 10 January 2013

Playing Siri Games - My Not-So-Smartphone's Sorry Attempts To "Talk Perfume"

The other day I was using Siri (the voice recognition system on the later generations of Apple iPhones) to write an email, in which I was talking about a friend's love of Gorilla Lust perfume.

"I enjoyed whiffs of indolic sillage" I dictated, taking care to enunciate clearly, as Siri works best if you speak as though you are in an elocution lesson. If you mumble, it won't have a hope in hell.

Despite my efforts to speak clearly, Siri rendered this sentence as:

"with supervision Daleks village"

...which prompted me to laugh out loud, even if it did nothing to get the email done.

So today for a laugh, I decided to speak the names of some iconic perfumes into Siri and see what it made of them...To this end I fetched up a Daily Mail article entitled "The 20 Best Ever Perfumes", to randomise the exercise basically, so no one could say that I deliberately picked tricky names that Siri would be predisposed to massacre. That said, as you will see below, Siri doesn't do too well with anything perfume-related. I think it may well be because Siri doesn't speak any French whatsoever, and some of the most classic fragrances and their houses are of course from France.

But anyway, here goes - these are the undoctored results - and I promise I wasn't mumbling.


"SHM.HA Shimano closed at 48.98 euros 14 Nov 2012 down 9.88 euros or 16.79%"

Does Siri mean the manufacturer of cycle gears?


"I don't know what you mean by 'Shalimar by Geller'. How about a web search for it?"

So I hit the button "search the web"... and the top result on Google was:

"17 year old Equitation - The Capital Challenge Horse Show", in which a horse called "Ellie de Shalimar" appeared to have entered.


"I don't understand 'Leading Trump I nearly', but I could search the web for it."

This search led to a couple of contrasting results, one featuring a gambit in card games - "Leading Trump in Defense" - and one to do with Donald Trump!


"Sorry, I can only look for businesses in the United States, and when you're using US English."


"I don't know what you mean by 'Waiting Bagleys'. How about a web search for it?"

The web search brought up the website of Bagley's Poplar Ridge Vineyard.


"Sorry, I couldn't find 'Codeine in me' in your music."

Oops, what would Clarins make of that?? : - )


"Schedule by Christine Dall. When is your event?"

I could go on, but I think you get the idea...

So to anyone reading and in possession of a Siri-enabled (I use the term loosely) iPhone, I would LOVE to hear your best - as in worst, and funniest - results using Siri to speak the names of your favourite perfumes. Or any perfumes indeed, of whose names you think it might have even half a chance of making a decent fist.

Oh, I should just try Patou's Sira des Indes, shouldn't I? Siri might just take it for a relation.

Nope - but close..."SIRI DAYS AND". This time I skipped the web search...

Photo of Siri logo from, photo of dalek from Wikimedia Commons via Peter Trimming, photo of Donald Trump and Shimano gears from Wikipedia, photo of Bagley's Vineyard from

Friday 4 January 2013

Bonkers Does Barca: A Bijou Perfume Museum, Eight & Bob At Perfumeria Regia, And The Carner Barcelona Trail

Last month I spent three nights in Barcelona on a mini-break of such spectacular cost-effectiveness that I shall undoubtedly go again, just to feel smug about my holiday bargain, never mind the fact that the city is awash with visitor attractions. These include broad, tree-lined boulevards such as the famous La Rambla, Parc Güell with its "kimono dragon" standing sentry at the entrance, numerous other quirky and satisfyingly wavy structures by Gaudí, a dazzling palm-lined marina, the spiky, brooding squares of the Gothic quarter, not forgetting the curious Christmas log novelties that reminded me compellingly of Thomas the Tank Engine in a Santa hat. If I am totally honest, you could actually spend an entire weekend in Barcelona just browsing in the many branches of Zara, but I valiantly resisted the urge.


For Barcelona is also a prime destination for the travelling perfumista, not least on account of its small but perfectly formed perfume museum, or MUSEU DEL PERFUM in Catalan. Housed at the back of one of a chain of niche perfumeries called Perfumeries Regia, you have to ask one of the sales assistants for the key and pay an entrance fee of 5 euros. I usually go out of my way to avoid fee-charging museums, but decided to bite the bullet and enjoy having this one all to myself for what was by no means an excessive entrance charge.


And am I glad I did! The place was a veritable Aladdin's cave of vintage perfume bottles and other artefacts charting the evolution of perfume vessels - nearly 5000 of them all told - from the very beginnings of fragrance. As regards the exhibition of industrialised perfumery, the scent bottles were arranged (very loosely) by brand and chronology, or so it seemed to me - and to fully appreciate this arcane and somewhat bizarre collection you really needed to press your nose right up against the glass. As no one was looking, I did just that.

I noticed a couple of sub-themes (not all intentional) to the exhibits, eg PERFUMES WITH PROVOCATIVE BOTTLES OR NAMES. In this category fell the now controversial series of Golliwog perfume bottles, and a handful of scents with the amusingly unsettling names of ORGIA, SNUFF, GONG, COCAINA & ECHO TROUBLANT.



There was also a cabinet devoted to perfumes from different countries, one devoted to puffer bottles, and here and there, examples of arrestingly beautiful packaging whose inventor had truly thought outside the box.

Another thing that struck me forcibly about the collection was the sheer number of vintage brands of which I hadn't heard - these may even have outweighed the ones I did know, though it was a close call. I noted down a small sample of perfume house names that were unknown to me including:

ZOFALY (not a high end wallpaper brand, as you could be forgiven for thinking)
MORABITO (not to be confused with an inner city district in Berlin)

After the sensory overload of the museum, where I must have spent a good three quarters of an hour gaping in wonder, I emerged into the body of the Regia perfumery, with its fine collection of contemporary niche scents.

I had rather shot my bolt, however, in terms of absorbing any kind of information - olfactory or otherwise. So rather than sniff any of the testers that were new to me (of which there were a goodly number), my eye was drawn to the curiously named scent, EIGHT & BOB. A pamphlet explaining the charming story behind this cologne - which involves the son of a French aristocrat turned amateur perfumer, Albert Fouquet, his trusty butler Philippe and a young J F Kennedy - was placed on the display and the full text is also reproduced here.

Sadly, the scent itself was not to my liking - a rather soapy cologne that put me in mind of Maison Kurkdjian's Cologne pour le Matin - but it gets huge props for the off the wall nature - and origins - of its name. I do urge you to read the full story!


Apart from visiting as many tourist sights as I could cram in in the time, there were two other things I had hoped to do during my stay in Barcelona: identify the statue in this painting of mine, which inspired my review of Carner Barcelona's scent D600, and visit the headquarters of the Carner perfume house itself.

Well, I kind of failed on both counts! I did visit some gorgeous parks, and scrutinised the feet of the many female statues contained within, but failed to locate THE ONE.


Aborting the statue quest, I turned my attention to the Carner Barcelona trail, but though I spied my first Carner nameplate pretty smartly at the bottom of La Rambla, it was a red herring.

So I got out my map and pinpointed the offices of Carner on 600 Avenida Diagonal (the clue in the name D600, hello??), and hotfooted there by metro and bus, only to find them shut. Doh! Well, it was a Saturday, after all. Turns out that this address is the administrative office of the company, but there is no associated perfumery, like that time I went to the wrong address of L'Artisan Parfumeur for the launch of Séville à l'aube.

Not to worry, I thought to myself, and repaired round the corner for the crepe of my life and a cup of tea. Not even a crepe so much as a farinaceous mixed media food collage.

And finally, here are a couple of snaps of OTHER people posing with the "kimono dragon" at the Parc Güell. It was impossible to get near the poor creature, he was in such demand!

Oh, and one last snap of someone I met in the street...

Photo of Eight & Bob from, other photos my own