Thursday 27 June 2013

Bvlgari Off-Black, Balenciaga Le Dix Blue And DKNY Rectory Red Delicious: Perfume, Farrow & Ball Paint And The Obsessive Gene

My choco-nemesis - Source: Wikimedia Commons via ed g2s
The other night I ate a whole box of Maltesers.  For no good reason at all.  At best it was due to an overdeveloped sense of order - an 'I've started so I'll finish' moment, if you will; at worst my malted meltdown is a sign that I am on the cusp of an eating disorder.  I can hear my mother's voice intoning the familiar refrain: 'You won't be happy till they're all gone!'.  Well, happy doesn't quite cover it.  Bloated and remorseful maybe.  Teeth on edge and body speeding on sugar.  Whatever the cause, doing the whole box is certainly an example of a type of compulsion, which got me thinking about other manifestations of obsessive behaviour in my life.

Well, it took me all of two seconds to think back to the start of my perfume hobby, and how I would stalk eBay, Makeupalley and The Perfumed Court website for hours on end, agonising over which samples to bid on / swap for / buy.  Four or five years ago I was totally consumed by the acquisitive urge, and was forever scouting around for my next 'fix' of samples.  There was that reliably heady rush as I would open a swap package or a little gauze bag from The Perfumed Court, accompanied by the ubiquitous boiled sweet.  It almost didn't matter whether you liked the perfumes or not - it was like buying a Lucky Dip bag as a kid or its adult equivalent of a lottery ticket or scratchcard - so much of the 'reward' is the thrill of the chase and the anticipation of gratification, even if the reality disappoints.

I mentioned in my recent blogging anniversary post that my interest in perfume has peaked, and the fragrant lemmings are mostly slain.  Though it has taken a good five years, eventually the law of diminishing returns - (the one principle I retained from a year of Economics at college albeit it was explained to us in the context of lemon barley water) - kicks in, and the adrenaline high turns to feelings of low level anxiety at the mounting stocks of samples to test and wear.  However, the acquisitive urge itself may not in fact have been quelled, but may simply have regrouped before finding a new outlet, like some kind of 'body hopping' demon.

And as readers who are also Facebook friends will know, my latest obsession appears to be with choosing paint - for rooms I don't even have imminent plans to decorate, for the bathroom really needs doing first.  The last time I mentioned my embryonic tester pot collection was around the time of my move last summer - I think I had about a dozen back then.  Well, we are talking over 40 now, a good 15 of them purchased in the last few days in a series of sudden death raids on Homebase.  It is only a matter of time before I shan't need to go to Homebase to buy paint pots, because the entire colour palette of Farrow & Ball will be based in my own home.  I paint a square on lining paper, then place it strategically near something in the room I am trying to match - a cushion, a headboard, a wardrobe or whatever.  The famous geode has been deployed as a paper weight, ditto the koala.

And I am finding that I get exactly the same surge of excitement as I prise off the lid of a tester pot - (with all paint brands, the actual colour never looks anything like the label, which may be a cunning ruse to get you to buy the thing!).  This thrill lasts during the process of application, through to the drying stage and late into the evening in fact, for you have to keep checking the colour at regular intervals for subtle tonal shifts.  Obviously, if the colour is hopelessly wrong from the word go - the paint equivalent of a perfume 'scrubber', if you will - then my F & B 'fix' is curtailed to a matter of seconds, but the buzz you get even from opening the pot is well worth £3.99 a pop in my view.

Walls: White Tie, woodwork & ceiling: Pointing ;-)

Now with the help of fellow blogger Lucy of Indieperfumes and a couple of other friends, I have whittled the choice for the guest room down to one or three shades (Vert de Terre, Ball Green or Mizzle), and am already starting to eye up my own bedroom.  Lime White is a glaring omission from my stockpile, I note, which will doubtless propel me storewards in the next day or so.  Meanwhile, speaking of piles, I now understand why the Egyptians felt moved to build the pyramids...

And finally, while researching 'body hopping' in Wikipedia, I came upon this intriguing custom amongst the Digo people of Kenya.

'Spirit possession occurs among the women of the Digo people of Kenya.  The Digo refer to the spirits in question as shaitani. These shaitani typically demand luxury items to make the patient well again.'

Luxury items, eh?  I am hanging on these paint pots - you never know when you just might fancy a Cabbage White wall or a cupboard interior in Incarnadine - but I might just have a few samples of perfume going spare... ;-).

So...has anyone else abandoned scent squirrelling in favour of a new 'habit'?  

Do share it with the group - the more obsessive the better!  

NB All of the fictitious perfume names in the title are based around current Farrow & Ball shades.  I might also have mentioned Nandebary Ball Green, Miller Harris Citron or D & G Light Blue.  Hold on - that one is an actual perfume!

Sunday 23 June 2013

Paris Is For Perfume Lovers: Part 3 - Meeting Denyse Beaulieu And The Undinas

Day 3 was dry (hurrah!), and I decided to wear my T K Maxx Toast dress or bust (I am of that age - I shall wear purple!), teamed with a pair of unsensible shoes.  I had arranged to hook up with Denyse Beaulieu (of Grain de Musc and The Perfume Lover fame) for coffee that morning in the 17e district - this was technically not a blind date, as I had briefly talked to her at the launch of Séville à L'aube in London last year.  Greetings over, I lost no time in apologising for the fact that I was wearing the same outfit as the last time she had met me.  'I do have other clothes.' I piped up staunchly.

The three most memorable aspects of my meeting with Denyse were firstly her silver sunglasses, a perfect match for her now luxuriantly long ('fifty shades of grey') hair.  Then there was the surprise fact that she is acquainted with the widow of Alain Robbe-Grillet, an avant-garde French author I studied at university, and thirdly - and most tantalisingly - she had just come back from a press junket the day before, held in a marquee on a rocky promontory in the wilds of Brittany.  The company's in-house perfumer had regaled them with nuggets about his portfolio of materials, while the assembled guests enjoyed a delicious lunch against an idyllic backdrop of waves lapping the shore and glinting in the sunlight.  Her evocative description of the scene made me want to visit the area again, and retest all those Breton coast-inspired scents such as Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel and the Lostmarc'h range.  It also brought back happy memories of childhood bucket and spade holidays in other parts of The Celtic Fringe such as Cornwall and SW Ireland...

After our chat, Denyse was off to visit the Guerlain factory on one of their rare opening days, while I dived on the Metro and made my way to the apartment Undina (of Undina's Looking Glass) and her vSO had booked for their stay, which had been cut short by a day owing to the air traffic controllers' strike.  We had agreed that I would meet them there, to help out with any translation issues during the handover with their landlady.

A near-miss transaction with a possible impostor

Unfortunately, Undina and her vSO were held up in traffic on the way down from the airport in a taxi - I say unfortunately, not because I was in any hurry myself, but because it was clear that the landlady was keen to get the payment for the apartment and shoot off.  Reading between the lines and observing the elaborate care with which she made up her face right there in front of me, I think she had a hot date to go to, which could explain some of her agitation.  I figured that realistically The Undinas could be another half an hour or so, so I tried to stall the landlady by asking her to show me where everything was kept and how every last appliance worked in great detail - TV, washing machine, dishwasher, several coffee machines of varying degrees of sophistication.  'Be most particular about pre-piercing the little plastic container of coffee before insertion.'

Bears a passing resemblance to the designated piercing utensil for the coffee dose thingy 

We also discussed bin and cleaning routines and the fact that the enticing terrace was sadly not weight-bearing; we pored over maps of the local area, and the landlady indicated the best restaurants, the nearest pharmacy, bank and the best bus stops for the most scenic rides.  A good five minutes were killed leafing through the visitors' book together and reading past guest comments.  I volunteered to translate a few of the English ones to gain a bit more time.  Ever the market researcher, I quizzed the lady about the relative breakdown of her client base, the average numbers of guests per rental and seasonal patterns.  She told me about one single woman who came for a month at a time, and a party of five Italians for whom she rustled up an additional roll-out bed.  Then I told her about my hotel, and we discussed the prevailing room rates in that part of Paris versus the rental sector.

Source: Wikimedia Commons via Jebulon

Readers, I did my level best to stall this lady, but it looked like it wasn't going to be for long enough, for after about twenty minutes or so she abruptly interjected: 'Look, I really must be away by 2pm latest, and I need my money.  Have you got the money, or can you go to a cash point and give it me if they don't show up in time, and have them pay you back later?'  So I thought for a moment: 'Was I be prepared to hand over a substantial sum of money in cash to a lady I don't know on behalf of two friends I have never met?'  And the answer was: 'Of course I would!', but as things worked out, the Undinas' taxi drew up just in the nick of time, the lady got paid, scarpered, and all was well.

Well, we assumed all was well, though Undina's vSO sowed a seed of doubt after the landlady's departure.  'Hold on, didn't she tell you on the phone that she was about 60?  That woman was never 60!  She looked a lot younger.'  'Do you suppose she might have had work done?' I inquired helpfully.  Undina's vSO puzzled over this for a moment and replied, with a wry grin: 'I am still not convinced she is the right woman.  D'you realise we may just have gone and paid a big wedge of money to an impostor?'


Lunch - tasty, if somewhat lost in translation

Ever the optimists, we dismissed this thought from our minds and Undina and her vSO set about freshening themselves up and Undina also did a spot of ironing, which in hindsight was another topic I could have used to delay the landlady's departure.  'Where is the ironing board kept?  Is it a steam iron?  Any special water you have to use with that?  Would you mind talking me through the settings?  Is there an instruction book with it perhaps?  And do you have a little tea cloth type-thing for delicate garments?'

Undina and her vSO were understandably hungry from their journey, so our first port of call was a bistro on the nearby square.  Here, on my advice, Undina's vSO ordered 'cassolette', which I had momentarily confused with 'cassoulet', a hearty stew featuring meat and haricot beans.  Undina's vSO quickly detected the complete absence of either, but got sportingly stuck into what turned out to be a mega-cheesy potato gratin dish.

One day, two closed perfume shops and three pairs of shoes

Fortified by our meal, the three of us spent the next few hours walking around the city, loosely following an itinerary I had devised earlier.  The first stop was L'Arc de Triomphe, cunningly chosen for its iconic tourist value and proximity to the Guerlain HQ at No 68, Champs Elysées.   Imagine our dismay to find that Guerlain happened to be closed that day, a Friday!  Perhaps all the staff had gone to the factory with Denyse?  Seems as plausible a theory as any, but what utter and undivided cheek!  Our disappointment was only slightly assuaged by the sight of a spectacular bee bottle hoarding just to the left of the main entrance.

Pictures of bottles are no substitute for the real thing

By the time we had legged it to the Place de la Concorde my feet were killing me, and I gladly succumbed to my second pair of shoes, carried with me for just such an emergency.  These flat leather pumps were a little tight to be honest, but they pinched in different places at least compared to the high heels they had replaced.  And in footwear as in life, a change is as good as a rest.

The joy of Jovoy

We strolled along the linden-lined  rue de Rivoli, talking about the lindens in Undina's native Ukraine, dived up to the Place de Vendôme and then back down to the niche mecca that is Jovoy in the rue de Castiglione, mindful that they shut at 7pm.  I guess we must have had about half an hour browsing in there - by a happy chance there was a selection of seating for non-perfumista spouses, but Undina's vSO ended up engaging in a bit of sampling himself, all-round good egg that he was.  Undina and I worked our way round most of the store in a systematic fashion, with my comrade-at-nose occasionally having to bring me to heel as my natural instinct was to drift off and start exploring things that caught my eye anywhere in the store, much like an overexcited magpie.

I can't tell you exactly what we sniffed but I did retain some favourite blotters, chief amongst which were Ramon Monegal's Ambra di Luna (the highlight of the whole trip, no less - review by The Non-Blonde here), along with two to which Undina drew my attention, namely Xerjoff Fatal Charme and Kind of Blue from their 'Join The Club' range.  There are no available notes for either of those, but they are powdery orientals at a guess?  Undina may be able to help us out here.  Then I do remember being pleasantly surprised by The Vagabond Prince's Enchanted Forest, despite my difficult relationship with blackcurrant.  Aedes de Venustas on the other hand proved to be too tart, despite my easy relationship with rhubarb.

At chucking out time, we mosied along the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré towards the Palais-Royal gardens.  Pausing outside the now shut Serge Lutens / Shisheido store (try saying that quickly after one too many Pernods!), we peered into the sepulchral and purplish gloom of its baroque interior.  I must say that the Undinas were jolly good sports about this steady procession of closed perfume stores I brought them to - well, two out of three so far.

So we hopped on a tube to St Paul, and I showed my companions the Marais district they nearly stayed in, including the elegant colonnades of the Place des Vosges.  We shared a bottle of wine at a pavement cafe by the statue of the Bastille (thanks, guys!), before heading back to our respective bases for the briefest of pitstops before dinner (and in my case, a change into pair of shoes No 3).

It was late by this time, but the restaurant I had lined up didn't bat an eyelid when I made a booking for 10.15pm.  We rolled out of there at about midnight, armed with a dessert doggy bag, which we shared over a cup of tea at the Undinas' apartment.  Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes, which speaking for myself was quite a wrench.  For despite only having known Undina and her vSO in person for about 12 hours give or take, I had already developed a fierce affection for the pair of them, and very much hope our paths will cross again.  I'll have the cash ready this time, just in case...;-)

And what of Rusty?  Well, apparently he had a live-in carer while his owners were away, as befits a puss with America's Top Feline Model status.  I imagine he might have enjoyed Paris too - there are a lot of sewer rats and any amount of cafes for practising his poses.

Check out Undina's account of her Paris stopover, including a cute shot of Rusty inspecting her holiday perfume bottle!

PS The results of the 'Bonkers at 3.6' prize draw will be coming up next!

Friday 21 June 2013

Paris Is For Perfume Lovers: Part 2 - Solo Sniffing In Printemps, IUNX & The Odd Shop In Between

After my lunch with Neela, replete with liver and sundry other spicy delights I am not sure I could put a name to, I decided to work off some calories by pounding the pavements and hitting the perfume trail.  The nearest retail behemoth was Printemps, the layout of which you would think I would have grasped by now, having visited the store three times in as many years, near enough.  Not so.  Printemps is as confusing as the room sets in IKEA, and I always find myself starting my search for the niche fragrance area in the wrong building.  And when I do eventually locate the way to the Beauty section within the right building, I invariably stumble across Jo Malone first every time.


I am not sure I am wholly comfortable with the new ownership by Esteé Lauder, and one or two of the recent launches such as Plum Blossom have had that mainstream floral, ozonic, Herbal Essences vibe going on.  However, when it comes to getting under your feet and in your face, the Jo Malone concessions simply can't be beat.  As a result, I always start off any sniffing session with the latest half a dozen or so scents from the line, somewhat queering my nose in the process, and end up being a bit cross with the brand on yet another count.  It probably taps deep into some childhood shame about spoiling my appetite by gorging on wine gums right before dinner.

All of the above notwithstanding, I have taken the trouble to conserve my smelling strips, so I can tell you that I tested:

Velvet Rose Oud
Amber and Patchouli
Oud and Bergamot
Saffron Cologne Intense
Rosewater and Vanilla

Sneaky shot of the niche area while the security man was on his mobile

Amber and Patchouli was rather pleasant, in a L'Ombre Fauve-Lite kind of way, and I would happily have worn either the Saffron Cologne Intense or the Oud and Bergamot if someone gave me a sample.  None of them blew me away though, which seems to be rather the trouble with the house these days.  I cut my niche teeth on Jo Malone, and it seemed ever such an exotic and prestigious brand back in 2008 when I was stalking Ebay for minis and 30ml bottles of just about any scent you care to name (except Grapefruit Cologne, obviously).  Yet most of the recent launches seem to me more like casually shuffled olfactory building blocks, cobbled together in the spirit of: 'Oh, have we put rose with oud yet, or what about vanilla instead?  Or shall we take a punt on both?'  Maybe the whole layering concept underpinning the Jo Malone ethos has backfired on them by fostering a perception in the customer's mind that no single perfume is a viable entity in its own right.  

Having a tea - and teal - moment


Having got up to speed with the JMs, I took my slightly compromised nose over to the Frédéric Malle stand, where the sales assistant let me make my own sample of Dries Van Noten using one of the test tube-style receptacles which Freddie (another Freddie!) of Smellythoughts recently put me onto.  They are wide at the opening and taper to a point, perfect for spraying commando.  (Sorry, I seem to be rather partial to that word at the moment.)  My pride at having successfully negotiated this DIY sample favour was quickly dented by the SA chiding me for thinking Dans tes Bras didn't smell of very much.  She proceeded to drench an embossed blotter with the fragrance, which was my cue to agree that it was (of course!) rather a strong scent after all.  Or it was on card, certainly.  Now I didn't care for the opening of Dries Van Noten (which it's taking all my concentration not to call Denise Van Outen); it was very peanut brittly in the manner of SL Jeux de Peau, but I have yet to do a proper test and pay attention to the drydown - the reviews seem to indicate it is likely to be very much to my taste.

Denise Van Outen, looking uncharacteristically moody - Source: The Randomizer


I paused momentarily by the Diptyque counter, and sniffed the new summer scent, Eau Mohéli, a perky violet leaf-spicy-greenish number built around a central note of ylang-ylang.  I swear the sales assistant never mentioned that key fact, for I am sure - ylangoholic that I am - my ears would have pricked up if she had.  Whilst refreshing, this scent again failed to move me particularly.   Patty of Perfume Posse hits the nail on the head when she says in her review:  'It’s crisp, which feels weird for a ylang fragrance.'


I stopped by the Serge Lutens area briefly to try Fille de Berlin, whereupon the assistant promptly extended a blotter.  I inhaled deeply.  'Hmm', I mused.  'This is nicer than I was expecting, sort of fruity and more floral.'  The assistant loitered for a good couple of minutes, observing my reaction, before blurting out: 'Oh, I do apologise - I've given you Datura Noir!'  She quickly proffered what looked like a white spectacle-cleaning cloth, and which was pre-sprayed with Fille de Berlin.  The spicy opening knocked my head off and slew the lemming in one seamless swipe, however the drydown - a whole week later! - is characterised by a tender, realistic rose note.  As with Dries Van Outen, I think I need to conduct a proper test.


The highlight of my sniffing in Printemps was my systematic sampling of the latest Private Blends - that's the Jardin Noir and the Atelier d'Orient Collections, plus I also tried Sahara Noir for good measure (incense on steroids, but I sensed it might be lovely after a day or so).  As ever, Tom is keeping up the 'noir' theme I note, though it was nice to see him breaking away from references to 'wood' and 'oud' in the titles.  I liked all the Jardin Noir scents, with Jonquille de Nuit and Lys Fume stealing the show.  The Atelier d'Orient scents were more disappointing - and a little bit odd. Plum Japonais in particular was a 'me-too' car crash version of Féminité du Bois, to be perfectly blunt about it.

The very lovely sales assistant, who bobbed and smiled like a sleek black moor hen, made me up a sample of Jonquille de Nuit, which I would liken to DelRae Début but without the indolic drydown.  As I went to thank her, I peered at her (generic) name badge and said, with only a trace of mischief in my voice: 'And you would be...hold on...Tom Ford!  Why thank you, Tom - it was very nice to meet you.'  To which she replied, grinning broadly: 'I am also Julie.'  


The rest of the afternoon passed in a haze of wandering.  I ambled down rue Cambon, stopping for a cup of tea and a blotter consolidation session in a cafe opposite no 31.  Then I dropped into IUNX to pay a social call on Ron the manager.  I explained that I had still to make a serious dent in the Eau Frappée light sabre I had bought on my visit in 2009, and that even if I had fallen for the latest release, L'Arbre, there was no way I could accommodate another whopping truncheon in my fridges.  

As it turned out, L'Arbre was a spicy woody scent that might have made a better candle or room fragrance.  Ron showed me some photos on his phone of this year's Christmas window display, which had been a huge hit with the Japanese apparently, a steady stream of whom had paused to take photographs of the curious and colourful playplax edifice.  Except it wasn't playplax as such, though it was evidently a close relation, prompting Ron and me to reminisce about playing with the toy stuff as kids.



I was starting to flag by now, but took a peek inside a Dior store, where the assistant had a particularly sparkly smile.  

The ultimate way to curb snacking?
Then a sign in the Rue Castiglione amused me, because I used to go out with an Italian plastics engineer called Bruno.

Hey, look - I still have the 'his and hers' egg cups to prove it!

Coming up in Part 3 - another perfumista meet-up or two!  The picture below is a clue, but I should point out that the cat in question is an impostor...


Wednesday 19 June 2013

Paris Is For Perfume Lovers: Part 1 - Meeting Lucy Raubertas Of Indieperfumes And Neela Vermeire

Paris is for lovers, or so the conventional wisdom goes. However, as I wrote in my review of L'Artisan's Nuit de Tubéreuse, that is not the Paris I know based on my visits down the years, admittedly mostly for work:

'I know where Bertrand Duchaufour is going with this idea, for Paris is the quintessential setting for romantic trysts in hotels. I can confirm that this is the case, for I have often heard tryst-like noises emanating from the room next door. I am usually awake myself in the small hours, copying up interviews, polishing shoes and trying to identify bus connections from the end of Line C on the RER. So the whole conceptual premise doesn't really work for me, though I daresay my jaded view of Paris nights is atypical.'

But happily for me Paris is also a mecca for perfume lovers, and thus it was that last Wednesday night found me back in the 5e district near the Rue Mouffetard, my favourite base these days. I was relieved to be there at all in fact, as Easyjet had cancelled my flight owing to an air traffic controllers' strike, and I had just managed to bag a Eurostar seat at the eleventh and considerably more expensive hour. But it was money well spent, and with just an hour to go before my 'blind date' with Lucy of Indieperfumes, I quickly got changed at my hotel, one of the top ten budget options in the city according to The Guardian.

The place was certainly quaint and characterful, though not without its quirks: the showers and WC were on the landing, for example, the former on even-numbered floors only and bizarrely operated by tokens costing 2.5 euros for precisely five minutes. After this time the water cut off abruptly like those manual jet wash wands at petrol stations. By contrast, the nearest WC was right opposite my room, however the instructions about the interior light were a) incorrect and b) in German. In hindsight I reckon that the sign must have been one of those vintage door plaques with a purely decorative role, but I bet it has plunged a few Germans into darkness in its time...

By 8.30pm I had made it to the St Michel fountain, where Lucy was already in position.  Even without her characteristic eye mask on a stick ;-), she was easily recognisable from one of her other photos on Facebook. Lucy was also over here on holiday, and I thought it was a good opportunity to catch her, as she is based in Brooklyn. I knew of Lucy's blog and her sumptuously gothic Clarimonde Perfume Project; I was also aware of her close involvement in Sheila Eggenberger's Devilscent Project, however, the two of us hadn't had any prior dealings really beyond liking each other's posts on Facebook from time to time. And that is just the point really...for thanks no doubt to her background in fine and decorative art Lucy is responsible for a steady stream of the most exquisitely chosen - nay, curated - images of home interiors, languid models, vintage jewellery, luxurious textiles, henna-tattooed elephants, in short, beautiful and aspirational 'objects' of all kinds. On a grey day, chance upon any one of Lucy's status updates and it will lift the soul. Even the grey objects will perk you up - no, really.  And then of course we had perfume in say no more...

Three hours, a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta later, sitting at the table on the left (minus the beagle) outside one of Saint-Germain's atmospheric restaurants - specifically chosen because it was near Rue Dante, the name of Lucy's Italian greyhound - we had found out that we had a lot more in common...including a love of SL Un Lys, to which Lucy treated herself later in her trip. In an email exchange following our meeting, we mused about what fun it is to meet perfumistas everywhere in the world, and how 'sympatico' (to use Lucy's word) they all seem to be, such that one can proceed with absolute confidence on a blind date basis!

Parisian florist from Central Casting

The next day dawned overcast and rainy - and cold, and windy. I had omitted to bring an umbrella or any kind of waterproof clothes, so there was nothing for it but to sally forth with a shopping bag over my head. My first stop was an Internet cafe to finish off my blogoversary post. Well, I use the term 'Internet cafe' loosely - it was a Turkish grocer's with a few PCs in a back room, wedged between some gas canisters and fridges, with an uninterrupted view of the bins through the open door to the courtyard. And I use the term 'courtyard' advisedly too.

But the scenery - if not the weather - changed for the better as the morning wore on...for by 12.30 I had arrived at a Lebanese restaurant in the north of the city, where I was due to meet Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Créations. Neela had reserved a table in her name, and we were both ushered to it, however the two members of staff in question had different ideas about which table was the designated one.  This meant that we each waited for the other in splendid isolation for some ten minutes, before I thought to check my phone and found a text from Neela, who was seated just feet away but out of my direct line of sight.  She had - very modestly I thought, for someone so well known in our community - thought to mention her green scarf, in case I was having trouble identifying her.

Comedy musical tables moment over ;-), we were soon seated together in the window and chatting away nineteen to the dozen. I entrusted the ordering of the food to Neela and before long an array of mezzé dishes arrived, upon which I fell with glad cries, having deliberately skipped breakfast to work up a good appetite. Neela was every bit as bubbly, charming, down to earth and funny as I had imagined, if not more so. I had one or two questions for her that I had jotted down in my perfume testing notebook, but nothing approximating to an interview as such. This is partly because there are many excellent published interviews - or 'conversations', as Neela prefers to think of them - in the blogosphere already, plus I am an interviewer by profession, so asking people questions in any other setting is inevitably a bit of a busman's holiday.

We talked a bit about Neela's peripatetic past, her former life as a lawyer, and how she came to set up a perfume house and find an outlet for her creativity and the 'bon vivant' side of her personality.  We also touched on the creative process and her working relationship with Bertrand Duchaufour - upon finalising the upcoming release, Ashoka, Bertrand apparently told Neela that she was his toughest client!  (In a good way, I am sure... ;-) )  Of the three scents currently on the market I explained that I like all the development of Mohur and the drydowns of Trayee and Bombay Bling, but find the opening of Trayee too fiercely spicy, for example. Neela wasn't in the least fazed by the fact that I felt the need to qualify my liking for two of the trio, which just made me warm to her even more. And then I finally got a chance to test Ashoka for myself, which lives up to the glowing reviews I had read and is indeed a milky-figgy-woody dream of a scent. As someone who owns two bottles of PG Bois Naufragé there was little doubt that I would fall hard for this one, and so it proved.

The Ashoka Chakra - source: Neela Vermeire Créations

For much of the time though we chewed the cud about the blogosphere and Facebook scene and life in general - including national stereotypes, death, trouser suits, sensory pleasures, the oil industry, Belgian traffic patterns, 'skin chemistry', yoga, work/life balance, networking, iPhone covers - ie a gamut of absorbing yet random topics. It turns out that neither of us are too keen on honey in perfumes, and guess what? - Neela has a white iPhone like mine. Fancy that!  I make that me, Neela and Pierre Guillaume so far - though his phone goes commando while Neela and I resort to covers of varying degrees of novelty.  Hers is a cute mock up of a vintage leather book, known - I have since learnt, as my curiosity got the better of me - as the BookBook.  Oh, and I have just remembered that my neighbour Darrell also has a white phone. Okay, that's four confirmed owners of the white version.  Still quite a coincidence...!

Lebanese spicy fried liver - source: Flickr

And the most startling thing to report about our meeting was the fact that Neela actually persuaded me to eat fried liver. No one, but no one has managed to do that since I was made to eat the stuff by a draconian school dinner lady in about 1964, but d'you know what, it was really tasty! And then - clearly on a gastronomic roll by now - Neela coaxed me into drinking something that I swear she described as a 'white coffee' (I don't like coffee!), but which turned out in fact to be a wonderfully fragrant beverage of hot water infused with orange blossom.

Lebanese white coffee, but not as we know it
So, after two thoroughly enjoyable social encounters in as many days, I spent the rest of that Thursday hitting the 'grands magasins' - and a couple of small ones - on a solo sniffing expedition, the upshot of which will be documented in Part 2...

Thursday 13 June 2013

Bonkers At 3.6 - Taking Stock And An Odd Giveaway

Post-move chaos! 
At the end of last October I failed to notice the third anniversary of Bonkers.  Or I probably noticed it and promptly forgot again.  I had a lot on my plate at the time, juggling house renovations and a major job that came out of nowhere.  Which was very welcome, mind, having only had five weeks' work in the whole of 2012.  Some seven months later I am still struggling a bit to keep all the balls in the air in my new single life, but I felt that I couldn't go all the way to the four year mark next October without stepping back for a moment and taking stock of where I am at in terms of the blog itself as well as my current stage in the 'perfumista life cycle'.

So, to mark the 3.6th anniversary of the blog (trust me, I've done the maths!), here are some off the cuff thoughts about the view from my small corner of Perfume Land.

The mania is past, but I still love perfume

When I started blogging, I wrote about how my love of fragrance came at me completely out of the blue, prompting me to dub it 'sudden onset perfume mania'.  Over five years on from that day in January 2008 when my obsession was first kindled, I am well and truly over my rampantly acquisitive phase, enjoying the scents I already own and sticking my head over the parapet now and again to explore a tiny subset of the new releases.  The lemming flock has dwindled drastically, in fact I am not sure there are more than a handful of the creatures left in their enclosure, making for much more comfortable living conditions, as you can imagine.  So am I still 'bonkers about perfume', you may well ask?  Well, 'bonkersness' implies madness, so by that strict definition I would have to say no.  As with any long term relationship the crazy honeymoon has morphed into a deep and comfortable attachment punctuated by occasional quests for novelty!  According to my friends, however, my enthusiasm for perfume - even at today's more moderate levels - is still pretty extreme compared to the average person, so by that yardstick I do remain bonkers as charged

My collection scares and delights me in equal measure

This is a funny one - I have days when I wake up and revel in the immense variety of my collection, savouring the pleasure of selecting a SOTD and counting myself so lucky to be surrounded by all this perfume.  I feel much the same about my wool collection.  Being 'with wool' or 'with perfume' is deeply comforting and feeds the soul, I'd go so far as to say.  On other days I wake up with crippling option anxiety and/or a sense of the enormity of my hoarding behaviour, and the inevitability that some of my bottles and decants must turn before too long - for I would need dozens of lifetimes to make a serious dent in my stash.  This realisation troubles me deeply, as I cannot bear waste.

Another woolly project!

My curation strategy may be flawed

Staying with this issue of shelf life, I am dogged by concerns that the elaborate lengths to which I have gone to preserve my perfumes (two beer fridges, set at 10C, just like the Osmotheque!), may not be as effective as I had at first thought.  For the trio of enemies of perfume are light, heat and moisture, and the fridge fails on Point 3.  It is positively sopping in my fridges - at the back especially, with ice build up and running condensation.  I do periodically defrost them and start again, but the moisture problem is endemic.  What would be handy to know would be which of these three enemies is the most likely to curtail a perfume's life.  Hmm, a sort of weighted average risk profile for all the different storage solutions would be just the ticket - cool dark dry wardrobe vs cold dark damp fridge etc.  Because if dampness is the No 1 killer of fragrance, my collection is stuffed, basically.

The people matter at least as much as the perfume, if not more so

As my interest in trying new scents plateaus, my curiosity about the various characters in the perfume community seems to be growing exponentially!  My work travels in particular have enabled me to hook up with a number of perfumistas in person all over the world, and I additionally feel a close connection to many of the people I have not met but with whom I interact regularly on the blog or Facebook.  If money were no object, I would take a year off and go on a round-the-world fly/drive trip, joining the dots between fumeheads in every continent. It's a wild pipe dream I know, and meanwhile I count myself lucky to have got to know as many people in Perfume Land as I have.  You could take away some of my perfume collection now and I wouldn't protest, but not my fumie friends, please!

You can't please everybody

As some readers may know, I can't put up links to my blog posts on Facebook, as about a year and a half ago somebody  took it upon themselves to report my blog to the site administrators as 'spammy or abusive'.  This is patently absurd, especially when you consider the ratio of my status updates filled with inconsequential  domestic trivia versus those announcing a new blog post.  If the person had accused me of spamming people with pictures of my pot plants or dining room furniture I would think they had some justification.  What this tells me though is that not everybody will like what you do, and you may inadvertently upset a few people along the way.  The inability to link to my posts on Facebook has hobbled my networking opportunities quite considerably, as would-be readers are used to just clicking through to an article or a video or whatever, and they don't want to have to go into Google and type in the name of the blog to fetch the post up.  But there it is.  Try telling the administrators of Facebook that there has been a miscarriage of justice.  You might as well chuck a message in a bottle in the sea.   I did actually write to their Customer Services department in Dublin - amazingly there is one! - but predictably never heard back.

I am ever so slightly - and selectively - affiliated

Just this week I finally got around to putting up a banner in my sidebar advertising Ormonde Jayne.  I have received a number of approaches from companies asking me to add links to their site - to do with a whole range of items, some of them completely random and off-topic, like hair scrunchies or men's clothing!  I decided to respond to the Ormonde Jayne inquiry because I am a big fan of theirs and have already written a number of favourable posts about the line.  The addition of this banner will in no way change my approach to blogging about Ormonde Jayne or any other perfume house though - no one has asked me to actively promote the brand, and I wouldn't agree to do so if they had.

I am still a bit hazy on matters of 'blogetiquette'

By this I mean both the etiquette associated with being a blogger and a reader of other people's blogs.  In my capacity as blogger there are a few things I am pretty clear on, namely that it is polite to reply to each and every comment a reader leaves in a timely manner.  The protocol is less clear when comments are left on a very old post, though by and large I answer them there too.  I think it is also considered good form to tell readers if you are about to go 'on hiatus', and I do occasionally do this, however, sometimes I find a window to blog shortly after announcing my break, and promptly feel foolish for having so publicly announced my absence!  There are numerous other points of etiquette where I am more unsure, for example whether it is polite to link to a blog post of your own in a comment left on someone else's blog - I tend not to, as it might be construed as self-promotion, which doesn't sit terribly well with me at the best of times, although I recognise its importance.  Let me know if you have any pointers for me here!

Slow blogging and striking a balance

I recently went on a walking holiday with two girlfriends, and it was an illuminating time in many ways.  I learnt that I could cover 30 miles without incurring a single blister, and that it is important to take time out from one's online activities.  This was brought poignantly to a head when my friends caught me trying to get on to Facebook on top of The Ridgeway trail, shortly after having stopped to post a photo of the scenery.  'Are you on the Internet again?' one of my friends asked, a faint note of irritation in her voice.  'I just want to see if I've had any comments from friends about that picture I put up' I replied sheepishly. 'But we are your friends too!' my friend expostulated.  'And we are here!  And if you talk to us we'll comment back to you!'  This pulled me up short and taught me that it is easy to get wholly sucked into a virtual world and more or less live your whole life online.  So at the weekend I took time out to create a herb garden on my patio, and that felt good.  I don't think my blogging frequency is part of the problem - if anything, I feel I am not posting enough! - and I have largely withdrawn from Twitter, but my addiction to the Internet overall may still need to be reined in. ;-)

When reviewing perfumes, there are many ways of skinning the cat

I used to think that because I couldn't readily deconstruct a perfume's development into its constituent notes that I wasn't qualified to review fragrance.  I have since learnt that conveying how a perfume makes you feel or likening a scent to others it resembles are also perfectly valid ways of describing perfume.  Note detection, humour, whimsy, metaphor, synaesthesia, poetry, allegory, what might be termed the 'Arabian Nights' school of perfume writing - bring it all on, if it helps us conjure up and relate to fragrance.

So, to mark this just over the mid-point of my fourth year of Bonkers, I am celebrating with a giveaway of about 3.5 samples, give or take.  These will be either a selection from my newly acquired vintage hoard, or from my regular collection.  I will tailor the prize to suit the winner's preferences when they are chosen.

To enter, just leave a comment by the end of next Friday, 21st June, about your own stage in the perfume 'journey' (oh no, I ended up saying that word!) or any thoughts on the type of posts you would like to see in future on Bonkers.

Post-post move calm!

Thursday 6 June 2013

Geza Schoen Scents Belfast: Jan Uprichard's Odourific Odyssey

Abridged magazine
The other night in a Facebook status update, fellow blogger Danielle de Medeiros wrote that she had been out for dinner and was now going home to read the Iliad.  Fair play, I thought, and a considerable step up from the 'bones-forward' thrillers that are my own staple 'literary' fodder.  And Danielle's mention of Homer's Iliad put me in mind of its sequel, the Odyssey, which in turn reminded me of the latest olfactory project by Jan Uprichard, Odourific Odyssey.  Jan is an artist with an MA in Art in Public from the University of Ulster.  Now based in Bedford, she has exhibited internationally but retains strong links to the province, and in 2011 I wrote a post about one of her earlier fragrance-themed projects - 'Howser's Law'.   

I was alerted to Jan's latest venture by my friend Ruth, who works in the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.  Back in February the magazine Abridged released its latest edition, '0 - 28: Once a Railroad', which explores 'the destruction of the dream' through thought-provoking images and texts, and includes this summary by Jan of the Odourific Odyssey project:

'Over two days at the beginning of October 2012 I travelled around Belfast with a perfumer. We were searching for smells that were distinctive, that people would relate to a particular place. We chose 4 smells and each one was made into a scratch and sniff card. The cards are distributed in Abridged 0 - 28: Once a Railroad.'

Ruth sent me a copy of the magazine, together with its single sample card, which immediately piqued my curiosity about the rest.  So she suggested I write directly to Jan, and ask her to send me the other cards and fill me in generally on the background to Odourific Odyssey.

So I did, sending Jan a big wodge of questions about the aims of the project and the mechanics of the creative process itself.  I have edited and intercut my questions with Jan's answers below, followed by my own take on the scents/smells themselves after she had kindly sent me the complete set of cards.

The Odyssey Arena - source:

How did you get together with Geza - did you approach a number of perfumers or target him specifically? 

'I met Geza during my MA - I went on a research trip to Berlin and I asked him if we could meet just so I could find out more about perfume.' 

I would also be interested to know where you went, how you decided where to go or whether you just wandered about, following your noses, as it were? 

'So, yes, he came to Belfast for two days, which was great. I had thought beforehand about smells that I think are particular to Belfast and asked people from different parts of the city to tell me what smells they associated with the parts of the city where they lived/worked. I thought it would be useful to have a starting point to make the most of the time that he was here.

Also a lot of the work that I make takes the form of conversations between me and members of the public - in the past I've invited people to sit down and map out their own histories in terms of smell and that's something that I'm still really interested in. If I had more time to spend on this project I would have liked to make the research for it a much bigger part of the work. Although in this instance I wanted to recreate how Belfast smells now, or at least on the two days that we were there, so not for it to be nostalgic, which made it great that Geza hadn't been there before.'

Belfast city centre - source:

Was it a collaborative process or did you let Geza - as a perfumer coming afresh to the city maybe - take the lead?

'I'd say the process was fairly collaborative: we went to all parts of the city, North, South, East and West, and so even though I had done some planning beforehand it was all really open. We discussed the different smells of places in terms of the practicalities of recreating them: sometimes they were dependent on things like temperature, sometimes it was my own nostalgia of how I remembered the smell of a place that wasn't actually how it smells now. So in the end the four smells we picked were a mixture of places I had thought would be good and places that we decided on over the two days.'

Also, were there a number of contender smells which you whittled down to just four, or did you just home in on four from the word go?  

'There weren't really that many distinctive smells to choose from. I think that that reflects the fact that Belfast is a post-industrial city now, so a lot of the smells that we might have associated with it (for instance the tobacco factory that you mentioned) aren't there anymore.' 

And may I know what the smells were?  Is the card in the magazine the same one in all the issues, or are they all mixed up in a random fashion?

'The cards were distributed at random in Abridged and I purposely haven't said what the smells/places are, our smell associations are so subjective that I think it's better to leave that open, it's really up to chance whether or not you recognise or associate them with a specific place.'

Did Geza go back to Berlin to develop the scents or stay in the province? 

'Geza went back to Berlin and recreated the four smells we had chosen.'

Geza Schoen - source:

So far, so very interesting.  On to the cards themselves...  As someone who grew up in Belfast, and lived through the worst of The Troubles, my own perspective on the city and its smells is perhaps inevitably skewed by the 23 years I knew there (1959 - 1982), even though I go over to visit friends every few years, so I am notionally up to speed with how the city smells now.  And that is what Jan and Geza were keen to capture...

A word first on the scratch and sniff cards themselves.  They don't have a defined strip or capsule containing the scent, just an instruction on the flat card saying: 'scratch and sniff here'.  On the first attempt - I also had my poet friend in attendance (she of the perfume bottle earring featured here), as I thought her more literary take on the scents might be interesting! - neither of us could actually generate much odourific material - our odyssey was still firmly at the starting blocks. We had admittedly just eaten curry and so may not have been in the right digestive space as it were to pick up on the smells.  Especially when you factor in the couple of glasses of Chardonnay we had downed by this point.  Both of us mostly smelt card, which we attributed to their minimalist design, also in terms of odour molecules.

Over the course of the next couple of days, however, the cards gradually began to yield a fragrance that transcended the paper medium - quite subtly, mind, and it is fair to say that the base note of card persisted throughout my trials.

Now I can only refer to the cards by the colour of their typeface, and will endeavour to assign them to different compass points of the city, on the offchance that there is one representing each area.  But only if that genuinely squares with my own take on the scents and their location.

Magenta type - a pretty, spring-like floral.  It would be a stretch to say what notes are in here, but it is conjuring up in my mind memories of magnolia trees in the elegant Georgian streets around the university.  This is a carefree scent, evoking a warm, lazy day in that eerie calm before exam season begins in earnest.  (Location - South Belfast)

University Square - source:

Green type - I realise the print colour may be a bit suggestive, but I am getting a green scent here.  It isn't forest-y as such, more fresh and bright, citrus-y even.  It doesn't smell like grass at all, but I am reminded of the freshly cut lawns at my first primary school, and the dappled light filtering through the trees. It is another happy scent, but more summery than spring-like.  It also evokes long drinks of lemon barley water and occasional lessons outside.  If I was to shift this scene slightly up the road to a more iconic Belfast location with a similar summery / grassy vibe, I would pick the Parliament Buildings at Stormont and their even more spacious grounds.  (Location - East Belfast)

My old primary school, just as I remember it...

Dark blue type - I am getting spices and a sort of curry aroma here, and the images that come to mind are around the docks, though that are is not a district noted for its curry houses as such.  Indeed I am not sure where the Indian restaurants are in Belfast these days, because back in the 70s they were almost unknown.  This is definitely some kind of exotic woody, spicy number.  I can see the offices of Nambarrie tea, and the narrow alleyways by the harbour.  The Gallagher's tobacco factory in York Street - once the largest in the world - is gone now, but that is the sort of architectural backdrop I am imagining for this smell.  There is a slightly offbeat note which could be curry leaf or tobacco leaf maybe.  Can I also be getting lime pickle / kaffir lime or something?  It is flitting in and out of my nose's eye.  (Location - North Belfast - just!)

Site of the former Nambarrie tea warehouse - source:

Orange type - Okay, so I hope I am not also being influenced by the visual cue of the orange type here, but this smells to me of oranges!  Nowhere in Belfast is there orange blossom that I can recall.  Instead, I am reminded of Spelga Mandarin yoghurt, a tea-time staple when I used to go to my babysitter in Strandtown straight from school in the 60s.  I don't think there is even a marmalade making plant in Belfast, but let's just check that anyway.  Right, I am going to go with Spelga yoghurt and the Orange Order, which are my primary associations with oranges and the province.  (Location - West Belfast)

Orange Hall, Shankhill Road - source:

It occurred to me that two of my olfactory associations are at opposite times of year to Geza and Jan's autumn walkabout, so I am probably way off the mark with my interpretation of these smells.  But Jan did say she wanted to leave it to chance whether I or anyone would recognise these 'scents of place', and even now that I have nailed my olfactory colours to the mast she may still prefer to play her odourific cards close to her chest...!

NB I note that Jan has been careful to refer to these odours as 'smells' throughout our exchange, whereas my instinct is to call them 'scents'.  I guess this is because they do smell more like actual perfumes than the word 'smell' suggests to me, though I don't believe there are any plans to release them commercially as fragrances.  ;-)

UPDATE - Since I wrote this post, I have had a further email exchange with Jan - here is her response to my experience of 'sniffing Belfast':

'It's really interesting to read about how you perceived the smells.  You guessed some of the locations pretty well, but in a way you couldn't be right or wrong in this situation because what it reminds you of is just as important as the place that I think the smell emanates from. Also it fulfils one of my goals with the work, that is to get people to refocus their senses on smell instead of sight.'