Sunday 28 April 2013

Alyssa Harad: 'Coming To My Senses' - A Fragrant Bildungsroman

The best kind of book is one which you simply don't want to end.  Which, when you realise you have just thirty pages to go - or less, if you have forgotten to factor in the acknowledgements - makes you start to slow down and savour every sentence, or even reread entire paragraphs to postpone the inevitable moment when you set the bookmark to one side and close the cover for the last time.

'The Stranger in the Mirror' by Jane Shilling - a poignant and funny memoir about encroaching middle age - was a book which had that effect on me lately.  In the perfume sphere, Chandler Burr's 'The Perfect Scent' was another.  And now Alyssa Harad's 'Coming to My Senses' completes the trio.  So, given my keen enjoyment of this book, you may be surprised to learn that it has taken me at least six months to finish it.  This is because the place I most like to read is in the bath.  However - as some long-suffering readers already know - the vagaries of my hot water system mean that I have only managed a proper soak once every six weeks or so, and my reading rate has plummeted accordingly.  This also explains why there has been a fair bit of rereading of 'Coming to My Senses' well before the end.  Pretty much every time I settled down in the bath I had to go back 20 pages or more to remind myself where I was up to.  And as I haven't read the beginning of the book since last October or thereabouts, I am a bit sketchy about some of the details, hence why I have deliberately not used the word 'review' in the title of this post.  I must say, however, that it is a tribute to the readability of 'Coming to My Senses' that you could read any random section again and again and enjoy it just as much each time - for the understated lyricism of the language as much as the story of Alyssa's 'perfume journey', or the preparations for her wedding, which forms the climactic centrepiece of the book.


Yes, this is more of a passionate plug for the book, a heartfelt plea to readers to just go buy it.  I can't remember the exact sequence of events (and it would spoil things to reveal too much anyway), but I do distinctly remember that I relished every word.  For in telling the story of her burgeoning interest in fragrance - of how she fell down the rabbit hole, as we might say - Alyssa is also articulating the stories of so many of us.  The lurking on perfume blogs in thrall to the beguiling writing of Robin, Marina, Victoria et al, the heightened sensibility to ambient scents, the sniffing forays in upmarket department stores (testing JAR Parfums and my beloved and sadly defunct Plus Que Jamais!), the tentative sharing of her interest with friends, the sample packages winging across the globe, the fellowship of Sniffapalooza, the epiphanies, the transformative joy of a scent wardrobe with its infinite possibilities of toggling between selves, the dogged search for a bottle of vintage perfume containing the fragrant quintessence of her mother...There are so many vignettes and little touches which chime with the perfumista reader, though I feel sure the book will have more mainstream appeal.

Plus Que Jamais - missing you more than ever

And while not all of us have been married, there is much about Alyssa's 'coming of age' story - that runs in a seamless parallel to her olfactory awakening - to which the reader can relate.  For there is an endearing girl-next-door quality to Alyssa, with her wayward hair and curvaceous figure that needs to be corralled by 'serious underwear' on her wedding day.  Like us, Alyssa admits in the book to being a bit starstruck by the 'grande dames' bloggers, a number of whom have cameo appearances in the book (including that dainty duo, Victoria and Marina of Boisdejasmin and Perfume Smelling Things).  Since then, Alyssa has gone on to clock up guest writing credits on PST, NST and in magazines such as Marie Claire.  With the release of 'Coming to My Senses' Alyssa puts the lid on her own 'grande dame' status, all the while remaining the friendly and accessible figure she was before her publishing fame.

For it sums up the warm inclusivity of our perfume community that this eloquent conjurer of a perfumed life is still just a mouse click away from liking your photo on Facebook.

Photo of Guerlain Plus Que Jamais from

Sunday 21 April 2013

The Other 'Staffordshire Hoard' - My Estate Windfall (Lots 2 & 3)

Andre Philippe 'scent spray' 
The other week I reported about my fragrant 'estate windfall', whereby I was the lucky recipient of a couple of vintage perfumes my friend found while clearing out his parents' house after his father died.  Well, it's an ill wind and all that, because I have since taken custody of two more hauls of perfume - the best had definitely yet to come...

For these latest finds included no fewer than four bottles or purse sprays that were BNIB - or Brand Old In Box, to be more exact.  The excitement of breaking the seal on a bottle that is anywhere from 30-50 years old has to be one of the highlights of my perfumista career.  The cellophane on one of them was as thin as rice paper and almost crumbled away in my hand.

So without further ado, here is the inventory of Lots 2 & 3, followed by thoughts on some of the perfumes.


(Top photo) André Philippe puffer bottle - never used!

Bourjois Soir de Paris - cute (and by the looks of it rather old) mini, sadly inaccessible due to the neck being bunged up with sticky and impenetrable black gunk.  I couldn't even prise the stuff off with a view to pulling the same 'henna tattooing' stunt as I did with Goya Pink Mimosa.

Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps edp - BNIB!  (Left of photo below)

L'Air du Temps was the first perfume I owned - a gift from a boyfriend in 1983.  It came in a pale yellow and white box as I recall, so I am betting that this one might be earlier.  It has a full-bodied but indeterminate floral bouqet, a slightly powdery quality and a soft, wistful aspect, which leads me to conclude that it shares minimal genetic material with the wan yet spiky carnation concoction that is L'Air du Temps today.

Houbigant Chantilly edc
Houbigant Chantilly edp - BNIBoxed Set - together with talcum powder!

I had never heard of Chantilly, and given that I have inherited two bottles of the stuff, was delighted to find I like it - a lot.  In fact this could best be described as a poor man's MDCI Promesse de l'Aube - poor only in a monetary sense, for Chantilly could easily pass for a niche fragrance.  From what I can glean, however, it was pretty mainstream in its heyday - bordering on a drugstore scent, even.  The best way to sum up Chantilly is as powdery, sherbety lemon meringue pie.  At the far end of the fluffy bell curve!  Girly and coy, I could see it being the perfect pick to wear with a 50s prom dress.

Mosman the koala kindly does the honours and holds the lid back

Madame Rochas purse spray - BNIB - with interesting frosting detail

Mme Rochas purse spray - first time out of its box!

Good job I like Madame Rochas - I also received a small bottle in Lot 3. : - )  It is another aldehydic grande dame fragrance like Chanel No 5, but more soapy and less fizzy, basically.  Very elegant and classic, without smelling unduly dated.

Yves Rocher 8e jour edt

(In the orange and blue spray canister below).  This is a scent from 1993, now discontinued, and appears to have become a bit of cult fragrance on Makeupalley.  It is a rather offbeat fruity-spicy-incense number, and reminded me a bit of a fruitier and less incense-y YSL Nu.  I see there is no fruit officially in there, but what I am getting may be the interplay of vanilla and honey with the ylang-ylang - sweet and intense, but tempered and made somehow more diffuse by the myrrh.

Notes: iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, vanilla, myrrh, rose and white honey

Goya Gardenia edt

Let's just say that Isabey and JAR don't need to watch their backs - this could be fabric softener leaning in a vaguely white floral direction.

Yardley Flair
Royal Copenhagen edt
Samples of Lenthéric Tweed & Parfums Parquet Présence

Family photo of Part 2 


Mme Rochas small bottle - BNIB

Rochas Femme - half-used tester of parfum!

Who would have thought that the day would come when I could contemplate the plummy civet and cumin-fest that is the legendary Femme with equanimity.  Much more than that indeed, for I really liked it.  It wasn't too animalic and felt simultaneously both fierce and warm, to the point of purring.  More rounded than Cabochard, say, another 'armour' scent from that general era.  Interestingly, out of all the perfumes I received, this is the only one that appears to have been a 'go-to' fragrance for my benefactor.

Jean Patou tester with glass applicator wand - it doesn't say which scent, but my money's on Joy!  An unctuous, fat, rich floral with a filthy underbelly - it has to be Joy, surely.  And I must say that I am especially enjoying the glass applicator wand - you don't see too many of those these days.  It looks rather like a honey drizzler, come to think of it.  Or an ornate toilet brush in its holder.

Also, I scored two bottles of gin(!) from the deceased - there were a further six bottles of cream sherry going spare, but I let them go to an old people's home.  Oh, and an unfinished knitting project in Manchester City football colours.  It is clearly some kind of a snowman-elephant-teapot hybrid, and if anyone reading thinks they can take it over the line and create a meaningful garment from it, I would be open to offers!

Finally, here is a link to the real Staffordshire Hoard - don't you just want that seahorse?

Saturday 13 April 2013

A Bacchanalian Sniff-In With Freddie of Smellythoughts

Selfridges via
I have heard it said that many Londoners - notwithstanding the cornucopia of culture on their doorsteps - do not fully take advantage of what is going on in the capital.  By the same token, Birmingham, the second largest city in Britain, is a 30 minute train ride away from where I live, and I hardly ever go there either - whether to attend concerts, exhibitions, or just to cruise the temple to consumerism that is the newly revamped Bullring.  But last Saturday I propelled myself through my inertia and bought a ticket for a matinee performance of a film I had been dying to see (Good Vibrations), which was showing for two days only in the UK's oldest working cinema, the Electric.

Meanwhile, I contacted Freddie Albrighton of Smellythoughts - whom I managed to miss meeting at recent PLL events in London - and asked if he fancied hooking up afterwards for a sniffing session and/or a coffee.  Happily Freddie was well up for a blind date (as we do!), but because he works on a Saturday we agreed to meet straight after my film, just outside the train station.

The upstairs foyer at the Electric Cinema 

It was easy to spot Freddie at the bottom of the New Street ramp on account of his distinctive hoop earrings, and he led me without ado to a favourite watering hole, a cellar bar in Burlington Arcade called Bacchus.  It was like stepping into an Arthurian legend: there were vaulted stone arches, flaming torches in sconces and tapestry wall hangings.  The bar was divided into different levels, with cosy snugs at every turn - sadly all of them taken by early doors revellers.  So I loitered with intent in a spot where I could keep an eye on people's comings and goings while Freddie got the first round in.  I can report that despite the medieval ambience of Bacchus, the bar stocked a number of contemporary tipples such as Appletizer and Freddie's preferred brand of Antipodean pear cider, Rekorderlig - an apt choice for someone who recently spent a year in New Zealand.  Moments later Freddie returned with the drinks, and suddenly we spied a table just being vacated, on which we swooped with alacrity.

Bacchus Bar via

The next two hours were a blur of enjoyable chitchat about our lives, our "perfume journeys" (if I may briefly annexe that hateful X-Factor term), our favourite styles of scents, our approach to blogging and thoughts on the latest developments in Perfume Land.  And it goes without saying that there was a Bacchanalian orgy of sniffing and sample exchanging.  By the end of the session we had covered ourselves in a veritable cacophony of scents all up our arms.  I do recall that Freddie had Damien Bash Lucifer #3 in the crook of his right elbow, while I had the cult scent Shiseido/SL Nombre Noir below the base of my right forefinger - but the rest is consigned to oblivion.

My sample haul from Freddie included three Vero Profumos (I get to try Mito again!), three samples from Magnetic Scent and two from O'Driu (lines that were completely under my radar), plus a complete set of JAR Parfums (which I smelt in Paris but would like to try again, even though at least three smelt of carnation. : - ) )  Freddie also gave me a vial of Miel de Bois - he is a self-styled "enfant terrible" after all, and it was every drop the evil honeyed thing of my traumatised memory - and one of actual perfumer's ambergris (1 year old 1% black ambergris tincture to be precise), which I was very excited to smell.


On the day, my preferred scent out of all the ones I tested has to be Nombre Noir, a dark aldehydic rose with osmanthus, though to my nose it read in a lighter register - a bit sherbety and springlike, with a vibe not unlike Guerlain Chamade or a powdery version of DelRae Debut.  Freddie explained how Luca Turin considers Nombre Noir to be "one of the five great perfumes in the world".  It is pretty special for sure and I am very glad to own a little bit of this (criminally discontinued) legend.

Then today Freddie has followed up his initial generosity with another pouch of perfumes in the post(!), including three from Aftelier - I am currently swooning over Secret Garden and completely revising my previous lariness around natural scents - Miriam(!), Tawaf from La Via del Profumo and a few other bits and bobs.  Special mention should also be made of the curious upside down test tube vials Freddie favours.  They certainly score highly on the snap-fitting front and I may seek out some of my own.

The JARS are in a cheeky Hermes box - ha!

A highlight of my meeting with Freddie has to be a discreet shufty at his tattoos, which are extensive but completely covered up by his clothes.  I have never been tempted to get a tattoo myself, but Freddie's were an impressive sight and there is clearly a lot of artistry involved.

Oh, and there was one more thing I brought up during our chat which amused Freddie - my diary entry from the very day he was born, a snowy winter's day over 20 years ago:

"Got up late c11am.  Ventured out to shops in blizzard conditions!  Bought impulse present for Mother.  Tea and scone in Soup Kitchen.  Power cut c5pm.  David pissed off and I spent the evening reading The Telegraph and New Woman by bicycle lamp, after finding a rather unsavoury pasty at Oasis."  

Notes: David was my lodger at the time, while Oasis is a chippy that has changed hands several times since.

Saturday 6 April 2013

An Estate Windfall - And Why Vintage Perfume Is So Much More Than Old

Source: Vintage Perfume Vault
A friend's husband lost his father recently.  I am of that age where people around me are being orphaned left and right, and many of us have not just organised funerals but cleared and sold our parents' houses.  Mine lived apart, hence the possibly surprising plural.  Tony's mother died some years ago, and his father carried on living in the marital home.   Now that he is gone, it fell to Tony to sort the place out, including his mother's effects, which his father had not touched since her death.   You can tell where this is going, can't you...?

Yes, the other day over dinner at their house, Tony whipped out a pink cloth bag containing a purse spray, plus two other tiny miniature perfumes, and announced: "Here you go - there are more where they came from, and I'll fetch the rest when I am up at the house next."  My mini-haul comprised about 4ml of Coty L'Aimant, Lucien Long Indiscret and Goya Pink Mimosa.   Well, the Goya is empty in fact, but still smells of something prettily floral.  Pink Mimosa came out in 1947, Indiscret in 1935.  My research suggests that the two minis are most likely from the 50s or 60s, but if anyone has a more exact idea I would be glad to hear it - maybe they aren't that old?  The Coty L'Aimant has a price tag of £2.25, which places it in the era of decimalisation at least ie post 1971!  It does additionally have one of those high pressure spray mechanisms that I associate with older bottles - when were they phased out, I wonder?

Shocking pink and a fierce squirter!

L'Aimant is still readily available in drugstores for very little money - you can pick up a boxed set and still have change from a tenner.  The vintage version smells classier than the current formulation - like Rive Gauche crossed with very expensive soap.  I am not really drawn to soapy perfumes, but it is a very elegant example of the genre.

The Lucien Lelong is on the face of it absolutely not my thing - one of those fierce spicy orientals - the only modern equivalent of which I can think of being EL Spellbound.  Here is Angela of NST's take on an Indiscret estate find of her own from the same era:

Civet and spice and all things (strangely) nice!

"My guess is the bottle I bought — flat, octagonal, with gold cap and rubber stopper — was from the 1950s. On skin it smelled spicy, woody, powdery, and floral and was reminiscent of Millot Crepe de Chine but with a definite clove note. Its floral heart was tight and seamlessly blended, giving the shape rather than the distinct fragrance of jasmine, ylang ylang, carnations, and other flowers I can’t suss out."

Donna of PST also reviews the vintage Indiscret:

"However, once it’s been on the skin for a while, it reveals itself to be the real thing, as the distinctive rich, spice-laced heart notes are still there, and once I got over the opening I loved it."

I have nothing to add to their descriptions really.  Indiscret reads rather severe and aloof to me (spiky, not fluffy!) - and the carnation and/or clove is too jarring for my taste, though it softens with time.  Yes, by the far drydown, it had taken on a creamy, almost dreamy aspect, with the florals still prickling with spice and mired in civet.  I should have hated it, but found myself oddly mesmerised.

More vestigial molasses than perfume

As for the Goya, the best I can say about the scent itself from the rim of the bottle is that it is an indistinct spring floral - however, I had a lot of fun with it otherwise.  I am not sure there is a word for the perfume bottle equivalent of potato printing.  If anyone can tell me what this black inky stuff is, I would be fascinated to know.

Is it a leopard?  Is it going to come off with pumice stone?

Now I can't pretend to say that sniffing these perfumes brings back memories of Dorothy, as Tony's mother was called, because it doesn't.  I never met her.  I did attend her funeral as it happens, but that was mainly in the capacity of chauffeur.  I do, however, like to imagine the 50s through furniture - I own a cabinet from that period which once belonged to the someone's granny in Bootle - I love to imagine where it has been and what it has "seen".

Must sort out those cables

In summary, I have never been especially interested in vintage scents, not least because so many seem to be of this austere oriental or chypre style, but I am not "agin" the category either - I very much sniff as I find.   I guess my newfound love of period furniture easily crosses over into an appreciation of old artefacts generally, including perfume.  Yes, my recent windfall has definitely piqued my curiosity in vintage scents,  and I await with interest to see what Tony comes back with from his next decluttering session at the family home...

Monday 1 April 2013

A Bonkers Round Up Of Perfume Bottle Imagery - Real And Imagined!

Topic advisory - this is a frivolous and palate-cleansing post - the blog equivalent of what my father used to call a "frippery", namely a gewgaw or trinket that was as desirable as it was insubstantial, and on which he used to counsel me most strenuously not to spend my pocket money.  But of course I did, every week, and never lived to regret a single one of my horde of spangly purses and Itty Bitty erasers.   I would call them "rubbers", but I don't wish to cause an international semantic incident.

Now, Olfactoria has a gorgeous series of posts entitled "Finding Hidden Beauty", in which she compiles a montage of photos of aesthetic objects glimpsed on walks around her native Vienna.  Vienna is of course a rich hunting ground for such serendipitous sights - if you walk round Stafford, you are more likely to bump into our hideous telephone exchange building everywhere you turn, though a bit of ferreting will uncover some architectural gems from the medieval era and even earlier.

Stafford's telephone exchange - more a case of finding obvious ugliness!
So this post has some crossover with that altogether more elegant series of Birgit's, though it was finally triggered by the latest of Undina's postcards from her trips away, specifically by a comment made by Jordan River of The Fragrant Man about how he had spotted a heart shape on a hill in Undina's photo.

"I searched and searched the photo, every bush, every blade. When I looked up I saw the heart. Now I can’t miss it. A clever and brilliant composition."

You see, I have quietly been collecting images of perfume bottles spotted in unexpected contexts, and thought that I might now have a small quorum worth posting.  They comprise a mixture of unusual representations of actual perfume bottles AND objects that have nothing whatsoever to do with fragrance, but where I discerned a perfume bottle shape, much like Jordan with his hillside heart.

So, starting with the actual and moving through to the imaginary(!), here are the highlights of my collection to date.

These quirky watercolours of patriotic perfume bottles are by Bridget Davies, the artist behind my perfume-themed cushions, the topic of previous post.

And here is a tattoo by Brooklyn-based John Mohawk, featured in the tattoo magazine "Things and Ink".  I think as tattoos go - and Freddie of Smellythoughts can confirm - this one demonstrates exceptional artistry.  I wouldn't want to spring for one myself, but it is pretty spectacular by any yardstick.

Source: Basenotes

My heart leapt when I spied these cute knitted perfume bottles on Basenotes a while back - I am not clear whether they are actual perfume bottles wearing knitted jacket facsimiles of their bottles, or whether the whole thing is knitted, maybe with some stuffing inside.

And ooh look, here are some crocheted ones by artist Kate Talbot, who came up with the idea as a clever way of illustrating cosy "cashmere wrap"-style scents for an article in The Stylist magazine:

So does anyone have any felt or woven flacons?

Speaking of erasers, there are even ones shaped like perfume bottles - admittedly in an assortment of rather garish colours, but the thought is there at least.

Source: Novelty Eraser's Ebay shop

Next up are a few pictures of imaginary perfume bottles, starting with my friend Lizzie's earring:

Lizzie's lobe, kindly snapped to order by her son Fabian

And finally, a series of "salt bag" rugs from Persia.  Apparently shepherds carry rock salt to feed to their sheep. There are certain times of year when shepherds need the sheep to drink and retain more water, which of course salt encourages them to do, much like pub owners putting bowls of peanuts on the bar.  For a full account of sheep migration patterns and the whys and wherefores of salted and unsalted flocks, there is a helpful explanation here on this persian carpet website.


This one below is shaped a bit like a Ferre, wouldn't you say?


And what about this one - do those horizontal lines not remind you vividly of the stripier end of the Paul Smith range?

Okay then, a somewhat faded Paul Smith with added mad hair...

Oh, and would you believe I still have a spangly purse - bought in the last 15 years no less, whatever that says about me.

This purse is dedicated to euro shrapnel ie coins of 20 cents and under

I would be very interested to hear of any other oddball perfume-themed artefacts or imaginary perfume bottles you may have spotted, so please feel free to email any pictures to me at flittersniffer at gmail dot com.  If I gather enough in, some day I will run another selection of "reader finds" plus anything else I come across in the meantime!

Photo of Stafford's telephone exchange from, photo of Ferre bottle from, photo of Paul Smith bottle from