Friday 29 March 2013

"My SEO Shame" And Why Bonkers Is (Quite Literally) A Traffic Stopper!

Topic advisory - this post may only interest fellow bloggers, bots and web techies of most stripes...

I get a fair bit of mail in my flittersniffer inbox - not, as you might think, so much in the way of reader emails - you know, enlisting my help to track down a discontinued perfume or something that might serve as a decent substitute.  There was the out-of-the-blue request from Kirsten that time to help her with her l'Artisan rebranding project, but that was a one-off.  Then I suppose I do receive a fair few press releases for upcoming perfume and beauty product launches, but the single main category of mail I get at the moment is from SEO companies offering to help "fix" my blog (for a fee, obviously).

Now I am aware of the sorts of measures I should be taking to optimise my Google page rank in the Interwebs and to attract readers to Bonkers: things like regularly updated - and popular - content, and engaging with the reader through polls and giveaways.  It is also advised to shoehorn as many key search words into the title of your post, and to make a point of repeating the name of the item you are blogging about - a perfume, typically - as often as is humanly possible in the body of your post without being so heavy-handed as to draw the reader's attention to the fact.  Oh, and not forgetting the addition of a liberal smattering of labels/tags, embedded links to your archived posts, and sharing galore on social media. 

Maybe I just need to give up wheat, like Gwyneth?

So, yes, I know this is what you are meant to do to to make your blog more successful, and I do definitely nod in the direction of some of it, however in the grand scheme of things I am only paying lip service at best.  This is partly due to inertia and laziness, and partly because some of the more artificial tactics - like repeating the name of the topic a lot or having titles that are totally on-message - don't sit well with the the "house style" of Bonkers, which leans to the whimsical and the random.  

But these SEO companies are not to know that - they are reaching out (how I hate that phrase!) to a blog they see as floundering, with the promise that they can sort out the half-cocked mess that my behind-the-scenes - and behind the curve! - content has become.

So I thought I would share with you some of the recent highlights from my mailbox!   I didn't understand a lot of them, but they were uniformly amusing.

First off, a gentle warning from a company in the US:

"In the present day scenario it’s very essential to take a proper care of your website and keep it updated with fresh and original contents. One single unwanted link might put your website in disaster situation."

This from a company in India:

"I would like to update you that your website is still not ranked on the top pages of Google SERPs for your popular keywords (Products). Your loss is your competitor’s gain i.e. the traffic which could have generated quality sales for you goes to your competitors as they rank well in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) organically."

Sales?  SERPS?  Isn't that something to do with pensions?  The company goes on to explain:

"If you are getting rigid by paying a huge amount in PPC, then Organic listing by using white hat technique will be definitely a right choice for you. As the rate of conversion is more in organic listing as compared to PPC, eventually it will be an absolute gain for you." 
Rigid?  Stiff as a board, me!  Though that's more from not having done pilates for a year and a half.  And white hat technique?  I am reassured to hear it.  I was so interested in fact that I took a look at this company's website, where I learnt that they also specialise in Google Panda and Penguin Complaint SEO Services, which is good to know.  Pandas and penguins are endearing creatures and I like the thought of their complaints being promptly attended to.

And in case I am wavering...

"I know I am not the only company who is providing this service, but I can bet that the quality and genuine service you will get no other company won’t provide you."

I can bet too.

And finally this, from a saddlery factory in China.  Not about Search Engine Optimisation interestingly, but offering to satisfy all my saddlery needs, which are of course extensive and wholly unmet.

"Great to know you are working in field of saddlery.  This is Mr.Win working in Rayyee Saddlery Co., Ltd which is a professional horse grooming and cleaning products factory in china.We have most complete varieties as well as more than 10 years exporting history in this fields.  

We are very strong at all kinds of comb,curry comb,hoof pick,sweat scraper,horse brush,feed scoop,forks,boot jack as well as horse grooming kit and so on.

You can check my attachment." 

Does his attachment have a sweat scraper, I wonder?

Photo of Google from, album cover from, cartoon of panda and penguin from, photo of sweat scraper from

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Lyn Harris La Fleur, La Rose & La Poudrée For Marks & Spencer - Part 2: Mini-Reviews

Lyn Harris looking satisfied with her handiwork, as well she might!
I thought I might write mini-reviews of these three new perfumes for M & S, partly because I am never very confident of my nose's ability to deconstruct the development of a fragrance, but also because I wrote 14,000 words for work since my last post!  Yes indeedy.  I can hardly credit it, but my brain definitely feels as though it has been through the wringer in the past week.  I am not totally "worded out", but let's just say that I find myself massively drawn to non-verbal communication of all kinds at the moment.  Oh, I just looked that up, and there are eight types, apparently - as many as that?  Here they are:

Facial expressions, gestures, body language and posture, eye gaze, appearance (includes choice of perfume! Or it could do, though that is not an example they give...), haptics (I know that from my studies on car dashboards - it's a fancy name for touch), proxemics (fancy name for personal space) and paralinguistics (fancy name for tone of voice.  No, strike that one, as it also involves words, and we are keeping those to a minimum, or trying to.)

"So get on with your mini-reviews then!", I hear you chorus.

LA FLEUR ("Truth or Look" aka "New Dare")

“A floral classic, white gardenia and Indian tuberose flowers set the tone with gentle woods, vanilla Bourbon and musk.”


When I first applied La Fleur on skin in store I had a banging headache and thought it was a bit loud and shrill, with that shampoo-y chemically vibe commonly found in gardenia-"containing" scents (well, excluding the really high end ones like Isabey).  Yes, Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia, I'm looking at you.   No wonder you were discontinued.  Then when I tried La Fleur at home, with all my faculties on form, the opening was more "bright and juicy", and still a little bit synthetic if I am honest, but the impression was not as marked.  I was reminded quite a lot of Madonna's Truth or Dare, which also has a big loud artificial opening, though it additionally has all that caramel undercurrent going on.  And it is somewhat louder than La Fleur, I might add!  

But anyway, very quickly that startling entry settles into the main turn, as La Fleur morphs into a very creditable  poor man's version of Dior's New Look 1947 laid over a bed of Truth or Dare - minus the caramel.  Not a deep bed, mind - one of those narrow caravan mattresses.  For I get more New Look than Truth or Dare as La Fleur wears on.  Oh, and I mean "poor" mainly in the monetary sense, for aside from the first few moments, La Fleur feels anything but cheap.  And at £25 for 50ml, it actually is every bit as inexpensive as a celebuscent.  As Truth or Dare, indeed!  But La Fleur comes across as classier than Truth or Dare - which I thought wasn't at all bad when it came out - and its quality feel overall is somewhere in between that and New Look, just as one might expect from such a hybrid smellalike!  I can't quite make up my mind where it sits along the spectrum, but at least half way.  I sense that my knowledge of how much New Look actually costs may be playing into my perception of its superior quality, and I really would have needed to have smelt La Fleur and New Look blind to be sure of my ground.  Though it should be remembered that the opening of New Look doesn't smell artificial, not even for a minute or two.  

When La Fleur gets properly into stride though, you have this pretty big white floral that has been tamed, and tastefully muskified - but crucially not laundry muskified.  In fact The Duchess of Cambridge would have been better off wearing this on her wedding day, because it is the sort of perfume she was going for, though she ended up with something much more sharp and artificial throughout.  

For reference, here are the notes for New Look and Truth or Dare - they are by no means the same, but there is some white floral-vanillic-musk crossover for sure.  I see there is no musk mentioned in New Look below, but maybe the benzoin strikes me that way.

New Look: peony, ylang-ylang, pink pepper, jasmine sambac, rose, tuberose, iris, benzoin, and vanilla

Truth or Dare: jasmine, benzoin and white lily, vanilla absolute, caramelized amber and sensual musk.

LA ROSE (A Mohur-style sleeper?)

“An elegant classic; rose petals with sparkling green notes of galbanum and red berry with a base of Indonesian patchouli, sweet musk and amber.”

Right, so on first smelling this one I immediately thought that La Rose was Lyn Harris's concession to the traditional M & S shopper, the "blue rinse brigade" if I may be so uncharitable.  I got a lot of powdery rose, which can so easily read as old-fashioned to my nose, Floris White Rose-style, and the rose was of that sharp metallic type that I think is the more expensive sort (a natural of some kind even? - can anyone help me out?), but which isn't really my preferred style of the note.  I also got a rooty, earthy facet coming through, very likely from the patchouli, together with the piercing sappy brightness of the galbanum, a note I find challenging as a rule.  I thought La Rose well done and realistic, but on balance probably not my thing, at least not in its early stages.  Then as it develops, Diptyque L'Ombre dans L'Eau came to mind, which also showcases the vegetal quality of the rose.

For reference here are the notes of White Rose and L'Ombre dans L'Eau - interestingly, I seem to have picked up on a shared base of amber and musk!:

White Rose: white rose, violet leaf, carnation, violet, iris and jasmine, amber and musk

L'Ombre dans L'Eau: rose, blackcurrant bud, amber, musk, and myrrh.

I am calling this a "Mohur-style sleeper", not because La Rose smells like it particularly, apart from the retro powdery aspect - this is much greener, however - but because I suspect it will be the one that is overlooked in the trio.  La Fleur in particular is more accessible, more of a contemporary crowd-pleaser, while La Rose feels like a scent from a bygone era.  It comes across as high quality from the off, and may appeal to vintage lovers.  I must say that once the tinny green rose aspect wears off a bit, along with the excess powder of the opening, I do like its later stages quite a lot.  Which I know sounds like damning with faint praise, but the drydown is the longest stage, after all.

LA POUDREE (Hold the opening!)

 “An oriental classic; raspberry and peach nectar with soft rose, orange flower, iris Florentine, vanilla and musk.”

Fleur Oriental incense - the opening of the scent does get up my nose a bit!

I had a polarised reaction to this one: I liked the opening least out of the trio, and the drydown most.  On first application, La Poudrée hits you with a wall of thick musk which instantly harks back to Miller Harris Fleur Oriental, which I do not care for for this very reason, and in this regard is also reminiscent of Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, which has a similarly suffocating opening.  A fug of powder or musk or both - I don't rightly now what I am smelling, but it could induce a headache amongst those of a delicate constitution, as I was the first time I tried it.

Compared to La Fleur, La Poudrée takes longer to move into the next stage, but it is very beautiful when it does - a rosy, fruity, vanilla oriental that I defy anyone not to be seduced by (or anyone who likes vanilla orientals as a category at least).  I can't think of any other overtly fruity vanilla orientals, but this is as lovely as it may be ground-breaking (and it probably isn't - please say if you know of others!).  I can see La Poudrée being a top seller, along with La Fleur.  And I can see La Fleur being more generally wearable, also for me.

For reference, here are the notes of Fleur Oriental and Sacrebleu - ooh, I see Fleur Oriental has musk AND heliotrope - that goes a long way towards explaining its particular fug wall!  And Sacrebleu is a seriously big production as you can see, but - and this is key - it shares "stifled orange notes" with Fleur Oriental and La Poudrée in its opening.  I also note the potentially worrying presence of tonka bean:

Fleur Oriental: fresh orange blossom, heliotrope, spicy carnation, Turkish rose, amber, vanilla and musk

Sacrebleu: mandarin orange, fruits and red berries, carnation, tuberose, jasmine, cinnamon, olibanum, woody notes, vanilla, patchouli, sandalwood, peru balsam and tonka bean.

Overall verdict?  Very well made scents, excellent for the money.  I'd buy two of the three, and with La Poudrée would simply waft and wait a bit.  Now we can all pick up a Miller Harris perfume along with our underwear and ready meals, and the high street is much the better for it.  

Photo of Lyn Harris and shots of the trio of Lyn Harris scents from the M & S website, photo of green rose from, photo of Fleur Oriental incense from the Miller Harris website.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Lyn Harris La Fleur, La Rose & La Poudrée For Marks & Spencer - Part 1: "Remember Preston" - An Extraordinary Tale Of Customer Service

Lyn Harris
I admire the Miller Harris brand.  Its contemporary Englishness appeals.  As does the fact that Lyn Harris is a northerner and wears trainers round the lab.   Then I like the way that - as far as I can detect - her fragrance collection doesn't adhere to any tidy overarching categories or theme; I am also amused by the fact that she famously created a scent for dogs.  Lyn Harris's bespoke perfume prices are relatively affordable compared to Roja Dove's (if not by me), and I have a soft spot for the scrolly designs on the bottles.  Additionally I love the Miller Harris teas, and having finished my stocks of Thé Pétales, I have redeployed the elegant grey canister to store Earl Grey tea bags of more homely provenance.  What else?  I love the lacquered oriental gloom of their tea room in Bruton Street.  I love the bracing citrus kick of Citron Citron shower gel.  In fact I am drawn to many aspects of the house, yet so far the fragrance line itself has failed to exert a visceral pull.   I have yet to develop a Miller Harris perfume lemming as it were.  Hence why I don't own any bottles from the range - or rather, I used to own Fleurs des Bois, but sold it on.  Okay, maybe L'Air de Rien (review here) has come quite close to flexing my solar plexus, but I am managing quite well with my small decant.

The Bruton Street tea room
Then last year I read in the press that Lyn Harris had been approached by Marks & Spencer to collaborate with them on the development of six fragrances: three for men and three for women, to be sold in their new perfume halls in the bigger category of store.  In a fascinating article by Vicki Reid, published in The Daily Telegraph magazine, Lyn Harris explains her creative vision:

"I was thinking about the M & S customer and who they were, and how I could help them come into fine fragrances.  I didn't want them to be so refined nobody could get near them, so they had to be sophisticated and accessible."

For the benefit of readers outside the UK, your typical M & S shopper leans to the conservative - and older - side.  In the cafe attached to my local branch you would be hard pushed to spot a customer not sporting a perm.  Well, amongst the women, anyway.  Their food hall is a whole other ball game, as M & S is synonymous with the ne plus ultra of ready meals, amongst other things.  "This isn't just food porn, this is M & S food porn", as the adverts used to go (well, the subtext, anyway).  Then there are also a couple of individual brands under the M & S umbrella which appeal to a (somewhat) younger demographic, namely Autograph and Per Una.  Famously, one in three British women still buys her underwear in Marks, where they cater to every taste from boudoir chic balconette bras to big - and magic - knickers.

As far as perfume is concerned, I'll be honest and say that I have studiously tuned out to the M & S offering.  The few scents I have tried in the past smelt cheap, old-fashioned, or both.  I was reminded of that trio of later releases by Sarah Jessica Parker: Dawn, Endless and Twilight, in terms of the quality level where  I felt they were pitched.  Though this is all kneejerk stuff, I might add.  I have been so indifferent to the M & S ranges in fact that I haven't even clocked any of the names, though I think there may have been one under the Autograph label on the theme of New York.

But when I heard of this joint venture between Lyn Harris and M & S, I was very, very curious, and equally optimistic.  It has become quite common in the fashion world for a leading designer to create a budget range for a high street chain or supermarket: Amanda Wakeley for Principles, Barbara Hulanicki for Top Shop, Matthew Williamson for H & M, and Gok Wan for Sainsbury's, to name just four examples of the strategy.  However, I don't recall anything like this happening in the world of fragrance - or certainly not bringing niche fragrance to the mass market on such a large scale. The plan apparently is to roll out the range into 126 stores eventually, but as my local branch is small and a bit time warp-y there was no point looking for it there.

M & S HQ in Paddington - a sample-free zone

Ever the market researcher, towards the back end of last year I rang M & S's head office in London and spoke to someone in Customer Services.  I was informed that there was no store within easy striking distance of Stafford where I could test this range first hand.  I inquired about the possibility of samples, explaining my particular interest as a British-based perfume blogger.  No samples were available, but the lady in Customer Services was hopeful of having the lab make some up specially.  "That sounds great", I said, and offered to supply empty vials if it all got too tricky, like that memorable occasion with Ormonde Jayne and Tiare.  The samples never came.  I rang back, and was referred to the M & S PR company, where I spoke to the person handling the account.  She asked me to write in, explaining why I wanted the samples, mentioning the name of my blog etc etc, but thought that in principle it should be possible to rustle a few up somehow.  The samples never came.

M & S Preston - a serendipitous beacon of customer service!
Months passed, when by chance I found myself the other weekend in the M & S store in Preston, buying one of those exotically fancy salads they do so well.  I spotted a sign to the beauty department, and decided to check out the perfume selection on the vague offchance that Preston might be a sufficiently large store to carry the Lyn Harris range.  My expectations were immediately raised by the sight of a dedicated Fragrance Hall.  And towards the end of the fixture, there was the complete Lyn Harris line, together with coffret sets of fragrance and body cream and various sizes of scented candle.  I had struck perfumed pay dirt!

I made myself known to one of the sales staff, Christine, and explained my interest in the range, and how I was dying to try the perfumes and review them on my blog.  In no time I had sprayed all six on my hands and arms, while Christine and I chatted amiably about the Lyn Harris venture, about her own favourite perfume (L'Heure Bleue), and her training from, and admiration for, Roja Dove.  Saturated in scents, I asked after the possibility of samples, though I wasn't terribly hopeful.  They had Scratch 'n' Sniff cards (or "Peel 'n' Sniff" to be precise) of La Rose, but that was the only one.  Christine promptly handed me a whole clutch of these.  But that still left the other five, notably the two remaining feminine scents, La Fleur and La Poudrée.

Almost the M & S logo fashioned from La Rose Peel 'n' Sniff cards
Nothing daunted, and keenly aware of my desire to test these perfumes at more leisure - and equally of my frustrating catalogue of failed attempts to acquire them so far - Christine conferred with her colleague Hannah.  Hannah proceeded to rummage in a drawer by the till and fetched out a handful of little clear perspex pots, of the type usually used to give customers a sample blob of a face cream, say.   Before I knew it they had a two-woman production line going, and were spraying, taping, labelling and bagging all the scents in the range, with the exception of Le Sauvage.  I think they may have run out of pots, or depleted their pot stocks to perilously low levels, so we called it a day after five of the six - I was more interested in the women's ones anyway.  After thanking the duo profusely, I hotfooted it back to my hotel, taking care to keep the bag upright in case the sticky tape wasn't hermetic, and the jostling pots leaked into one another.  But apart from a bit of evaporation, I managed to transport my precious cargo all the way back to Stafford without incident, and have been quietly trying them this week, once my sense of smell gradually returned following a pesky cold.

Mini-reviews to follow in Part 2!

Meanwhile, for readers who didn't live in Britain in the 80s, here is the advert to which the title: "Remember Preston" alludes...; - )

Photo of Lyn Harris from M & S website, photo of M & S HQ from, photo of M & S Preston from Google Maps, photo of M & S underwear from Ebay, other photos my own

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Soap Opera Series: No 1 - Use It Or Lose It: My Albino Bar Of Roger & Gallet Sandalwood Soap

Strange albino sandalwood soap
The other day, around that virtual water cooler that is my - and so many other people's these days - Facebook wall, a lively discussion about soap unfolded.  To my great surprise, it turns out that soap is considered deeply old-fashioned these days, presumably because consumers have moved over to the new generation of pump-dispensed "hand" and "body washes".  As one Facebook friend commented:

"I didn't know anyone (under 70) still used soap.  It's damn hard to find in the supermarkets these days.  When looking a while back for my husband's (much) older sister we spent ages till we found a tiny selection hiding on the bottom shelf..."

She went on to confirm the switch to other dispensing formats:

"Shower gel in the shower/bath, liquid soap for hands.  The supermarket says there's very little demand for tablet soap, and the only person I know who uses it is my Mum (obviously 'over 70'), and, as I say, my husband's much older sister."

Then my sister-in-law chimed in to suggest where traditional soap tablets may still be found:

"I think soap has migrated from supermarkets to be the mainstay of artisanal market stalls.  I bulk buy at a French fair that comes to Edinburgh twice a year.  That, and stealing hotel toiletries."

My own worryingly extensive - but culturally diverse - collection of stolen hotel soap
So this was all very interesting, for while I do have a bottle of liquid soap in the bathroom for visitors, I am myself still wedded to the smoothly contoured physicality of the conventional bar: for its tactile qualities, invariably restful pastel colours and of course for its scent... And I am considerably under 70, I should point out, and not noticeably of retro proclivities.  I do not find myself drawn unduly to other throwback toiletries such as Yardley talc or Badedas bubble bath.

But still, I cling to hard bars of soap.  And so it was that the other day I had more or less finished a tablet of Morny Sandalwood (the remaining cracked sliver of which has now been relegated to the kitchen - which has become something of a donkey sanctuary for unprepossessing soap remnants).

Unsightly soap slivers on the kitchen windowsill
And meanwhile, back in the bathroom, I finally broached the bar of Roger & Gallet Sandalwood Soap featured in this earlier post.  I have a special attachment to the Bois de Santal or sandalwood one, for someone I was rather keen on used to use it years ago.  Around that time I bought myself one of those individual round dishes the Roger & Gallet soap comes in and kept it on a high shelf, occasionally taking it down to sniff the Proustian scent of sandalwood through the wrapper.  But it wasn't till the other day that I actually took the wrapper off - and revealed the startlingly white and unscented bar concealed within its scrunchy folds.

How very strange!  My recollection was that sandalwood soap was always coloured - anything from a yellowy cream through to a deeper orange shade - but this was the first time I had ever encountered a pure white sandalwood bar.  I figured that the perfume might well have evaporated over the years - and my reading of soap making forums tends to confirm this - but was suprised to see such an albino-looking appearance.  But it seems that colour too may fade with time, and in fairness I had kept it for an awfully long time.

Geo F Trumper sandalwood soap - pale, but within acceptable pantone parameters
Yes, it was looking like a case of "use it or lose it" on both the dimensions of colour and perfume, but before accepting this, I decided to double check what exact colour this soap had been originally.  A cursory trawl of Google images strongly points to all sandalwood soap being somewhere along the light yellowy-cream to orange spectrum.  My expired bar of Morny sandalwood was squarely in the apricot area of the bell curve, for example, while the Geo F Trumper shaving soap pictured above (spotted during the perfume crawl the other weekend), clocked in at the creamier yellow end.

The reassuringly apricot tone of Morny sandalwood soap
First off, I inquired of the person who had sparked the sentimental association, with whom I am still in contact:

"Ummm....come to think of it, it may have been a light colour....I seem to recall a light yellow...but that may have been the colouring."

Indeed so, but it is the colour itself I am after, however contrived.

Next up, I rang the Customer Service department for Roger & Gallet, which turns out to be part of the Vichy group.  After an incredibly long wait, the lady who answered said she had no personal experience of the soap, and no images to hand of a bar in either its wrapped or - more importantly - unwrapped state.  On her recommendation, I proceeded to call five Roger & Gallet stockists dotted around the country - in what I hoped would be fairly upmarket locations - hoping to skew the chances that I might stumble upon a pharmacy assistant who incorporated this rather high end brand into her own skincare regime.  This proved to be fairly hit and miss as a research method, as the staff in the stores tended not to be users in fact, and of course the wrapping means that the only people who could help me were those who had ever seen a bar open.

Roger & Gallet sandalwood soap in its teasingly wrapped state

So for what they are worth, here are the results of my small straw poll of stockists:

- One pharmacy didn't answer.

- One pharmacy took ages to answer, and a further ages again to ascertain that they stocked Roger & Gallet, even though I had found them on a stockist list, and took that as a given.  I was told to call back after three to speak to someone else "who might know more".

- One pharmacy helpfully scrutinised several bars through their wrappers and pronounced the soap to be "a creamy neutral, like they all are", adding the disclaimer: "but don't take my word for it, as it was through blue paper".

- One pharmacy remembered the sandalwood soap as being "a dark white colour - you know, the way most soap tends to be these days".  I take "dark white" still to be crucially different from the present "stark white"...

- The final pharmacy came up with the pithy response: "cream, I assume", again based on peering through the wrapper on a "without prejudice" basis.

Additional titbits to share from my inquiries are the fact that one pharmacy said I should take a look on Ebay for images(!) - yes, and why don't I just buy it there while I am at it...?  Another warned me off using my albino bar altogether.  Hey, you are speaking to the woman who reheats non-reheatable foodstuffs with impunity days after they were first cooked!  Colourless, odourless soap holds no terrors for me....

So there we have it.  On balance, I think this bar has simply faded from its original off-white-to-yellow colour, and the scent has disappeared altogether.  In one final burst of googling, I chanced upon this image of a vintage bar of Roger & Gallet sandalwood soap.  Oh my, just look how dark it is!

Roget & Gallet Sandalwood soap from its pigment-rich heyday
My recent experience does beg the question whether readers have any preconceptions of what colour a soap should be (I still expect something yellowy-orange in the case of sandalwood, for example) - or a perfume indeed.  I like my amber scents to be a little bit orange, for instance - I think I might feel shortchanged with a completely colourless one. you have any colour prejudice when it comes to scented products of any kind?  Let me know!

Photo of blue dish of Roger & Gallet soap from ebay, photo of vintage version from, other photos my own

Sunday 3 March 2013

Smelly Cakey Drinky Things On Toasty Meet: Lion Cupboard Love & The Fellowship Of Fumeheads

Angela Flanders store
The Smelly Cakey Drinky Meet - I added the bit about the Things on Toast - was the brainchild of "professional Moomin" and trainee perfumer Pia Long, known to many as Nukapai on Basenotes.   She thought it would be fun to recreate the Basenotes outings of yore, whereby a gaggle of perfumistas would go on a crawl of perfume emporia and high end tea rooms in central London, for as long as nose and stomach could stand the pace.

The chosen day for the meet-up dawned dry and preternaturally early.  My alarm roused me at my friend's house in Teddington at 7.30am.  I must say that 8am is a foreign country to me at the best of times, but there was nothing for it but to leap into action.  I arrived at the chosen rendez-vous point, Patisserie Valerie in Spitalfields, at bang on 10.30 am for a 10.30 - 11 am start.  I was delighted to spot Tara - in the dark coat whose precise colour was a memorable object of confusion on our first meeting - loitering outside, just slightly more unfashionably early than me.  Little did we know that three others had already preceded us and were installed at a large table indoors, while Pia herself stood sentry at a door round the other side to intercept stragglers.

People continued to dribble in over the next half an hour or so, but we got stuck into breakfast without ado.  My conventional-looking scone paled into insignificance beside Tara's humungous chocolate croissant, while Nick's millefeuille was so substantial that he had to abandon it somewhere around the "cinq cents" mark.

Tara, looking unfazed by her enormous croissant
Replete from our cafe stop, we ambled a few streets to our first perfume shop, Angela Flanders, a line with which I was unfamiliar.  Our party more or less filled the store, and we quickly descended on the testers and smelling strips.  A speed sniffing marathon ensued, as we attempted to winkle out our personal favourites, of which the friendly assistants made us samples to take home.

Nick and Pia at Angela Flanders
I sniffed ten scents on card and a further umpteen from the nozzle, which - although not a recognised sampling technique - pretty much does the job on the whole.  I am careful not to touch the nozzle with my nose, however, lest a Health & Safety-conscious SA should ask me to desist on hygiene grounds.

The strips I have retained were mostly drawn from three of the four ranges, the fourth (The Artillery Range) being more geared to men, as a cursory dabble confirmed:

Signature Fragrances: Bois de Seville, Melissa, Ottoman

Collection Florale: Mimosa, Bouquet d'Amour

Collection Noir (sic): Figue Noire, Oudh Noir

Sarah McCartney at Angela Flanders
I additionally tried Precious One on card - an elegant and understated floral chypre, which won a FiFi in 2012 in the Best New Independent Fragrance category - and Aqua Alba, which has not yet been assigned to a category by the looks of it.  It features an intriguing whisky note and was a popular choice with quite a few of us.  I requested samples of these two, plus Bois de Seville (a spicy woody, orange scent) and Oudh Noir (for an oud-loving friend).

One perfume which I sniffed and admired on Lisa (aka Wordbird) was Parchment, another Signature Fragrance with spices, citrus, vanilla and amber.  If my memory serves me, this is the one which Lisa initially thought smelt of fish, but the impression was happily fleeting, and Parchment quickly morphed into a yo-ho-ho-Long John Silver-type scent of the most evocative kind.

Somewhat creepy candles by Cire Trudon
Our next stop - again, within easy walking distance, even for someone as encumbered with luggage as me - was Bloom Perfume in Spitalfields, which carries an eclectic range of candles and fragrance, Parfumerie Générale and Nasomatto being two examples of relatively well known brands I spotted there.  Others included Jovoy Paris, Jardins d'Ecrivains, Phaedon Paris, Ann Gérard, Vero Profumo, Nez à Nez, Grossmith, Nasomatto, Blood Concept (which I had tested and rejected in Zurich), Magnetic Scent, Testa Maura, Undergreen and Six Scents.  I didn't clock several of these houses at the time, but have since looked them up on the store's website!

It was a squeeze in Bloom, and testing a bit of a genial bunfight.  Accordingly, I curtailed my explorations to the Jovoy range (where my sniffing was exclusively nozzle-based), Ann Gérard (I sprayed Perle de Mousse and Ciele d'Opale on strips), and Vero Profumo's Mito (which was awarded precious skin space on account of its iconic status on the blogs!).

Of the Jovoy range, I was drawn to a fig one - L'Arbre de Connaissance - and duly bought a sample.

Notes: citruses, green leaves, fig, sandalwood, patchouli, fig tree wood

The Ann Gérard trio piqued my interest, on account of Bertrand Duchaufour being the nose - I liked Perle de Mousse best (notes are listed below).  The third, Cuir de Nacre, was a leather scent not to my taste.

Notes: aldehydes, ambergris, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, cloves, galbanum, gardenia, green mandarin, hawthorn, ivy, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, mastic, musk, pink pepper, vanilla

From L to R: Perle de Mousse, Ciel d'Opale, Cuir de Nacre
My first impressions of the hugely feted Mito were not favourable, as it opens with a really tart, almost sherbety and granular burst of citrus, very reminiscent of Guerlain Sous le Vent.  However, I continued to sniff my hand over the course of the day and into the evening, and - as with Puredistance Antonia, with which I struggled initially - the later stages repay one's patience.  The central phase was green and spikily springlike, owing to the galbanum, I imagine, with shades of Miller Harris Fleurs de Bois; the drydown, meanwhile, had a more luminous green facet blended with the sweeter florals, as the magnolia and jasmine kicked in.  I love magnolia as a note, and it lent a tender quality to the final stages of the scent's development, in stark contrast to the acerbic opening.  I think I may have to buy a sample by mail order at this rate.

Notes: bergamot, magnolia, jasmine, galbanum, hyacinth, cypress and moss

After Bloom, we took a bus to Piccadilly and were strolling along Jermyn Street when we spied a branch of Geo F Trumper.  A shade too early for our tea at Fortnum & Mason's, we happily killed the requisite time in this store, a temple to gentlemen's grooming, though its perfume range is aimed at both sexes.  I was especially drawn to the ample selection of dainty nail brushes and shaving soaps in wooden boxes - the sandalwood one in particular.  But that belongs more properly to another post...

3pm saw us settled at our table in the upstairs - and as Pia was at pains to point out, comparatively less expensive! - tea room in Fortnum's.  Tea was £6 a pot, but what a pot!  Scones were £6 the pair, but came with a perfectly spherical "boule" of clotted cream.  I opted for one slice of Welsh Rarebit (at £9.50 each, there was no way I could run to two), but as it turned out, one was perfectly filling, deliciously savoury and fluffy, and topped with two rashers of good back bacon.  

The nonpareil of Welsh Rarebits
The other important aspect of the day to mention was the systematic sampling we undertook - at Patisserie Valerie, on the bus, and at any point in our wanderings where it was practical, basically - of British perfumer Sarah McCartney's range, 4160 Tuesdays.  Sarah joined us for the whole day - in person she was delightfully down to earth, quirky and flamboyant, and these qualities are reflected in her offbeat and unusual scents.  She generously offered us each a large sample of our choice, and after wavering between What Katie Did At The Weekend - a "fruity floral with a twist" - and "The Lion Cupboard", I was swayed in the end by the woody mystique of the latter.  The Lion Cupboard was created by Sarah for her sister, and takes its name from an ornate Victorian cabinet decorated with lion's heads, in which their late father used to store his hats, gloves and scarves.  This comforting fragrance comprises a mix of notes Sarah associated with her father's hug.  

Here is the description on the Les Senteurs website, which stocks several of the scents in the range: 

"A medley of masculine scents including juniper (think well-iced gin and tonic), mint and aniseed (tooth powder) meld with lavender, patchouli and golden helichrysum. Dark, deep, woody and reassuring. Spicy, warm and resolutely masculine."

NB Any knitters out there may also be interested to learn about Sarah's 5 Degree Woolly eco-knitting movement!

As well as sampling Sarah's fragrance range, we smelt one of Pia's creations on blotters - an aldehydic peach scent.  There was also a fair amount of informal swapping of our unwanted niche stash, while Lisa delighted the group by handing out packets of Welsh cakes to anyone keen to try them.

Special mention should be made of the "Ladies' Powder Room", with its gilded baroque mirrors and supplies of individual hand towels.  No broken hand dryers or futile shreds of paper towel for such an august establishment.

Sadly, I had to cut and run at that point, as I had a particular train to catch home, but the others repaired to the perfume department of Fortnum's for a final sniffing foray.

And then, in what seemed like no time at all, I was home, blissed out on scents and good company.  The Lion, The Cupboard And The Welsh Rarebit from Central Casting.  The fellowship of fumeheads is indeed a wonderful thing, and many thanks are due to Pia for her hard work in organising this most enjoyable and memorable day.

Tara, Lisa and Sarah at Patisserie Valerie