Saturday 31 August 2013

Another Bonkers milestone giveaway! - 400 posts & 150 followers

Well, it was back to work with a vengeance this week for me - I may appear to be on Facebook all day, but I am just logged in permanently and treat myself now and again to five minute bursts of activity on there, honest...!  So yes, posts may become a bit more sporadic as the autumn kicks in in earnest, though I hope to avoid the yawning hiatuses (hiati? No, that looks like Haiti spelt wrong) of last year, when I was 'with woodworm' (on multiple fronts) and without furniture - for what felt like endless tracts of time.

And it just so happens that this is my 400th post, and that it coincides with the appearance of my 150th follower - thanks, Pop!  Followers are like gold dust on Blogger, because people have to actively choose to follow you, much like prospective organ donors.  Actually, I just checked the statistics, and in 2011 an impressive 30% of Britons had registered for organ donation.  I can only dream of such a high conversion rate of readers to followers, but am delighted that as many as 150 have taken that trouble.  More on taking trouble anon...


400 posts is not an especially high figure in today's blogosphere, with some stalwart bloggers clocking up that number in little more than a year.  However, up until last year I used to go away a lot with work - so I guess that is a plausible tally for the amount of time I have been able to devote to blogging - and I expect it will trundle along in future in similarly ad hoc fashion.

Then back in June, I marked the (completely arbitrary!) occasion of my 3.6 year anniversary with a stock take of where I am up to in my relationship with perfume and some thoughts on blogging itself.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to bat around a few more ideas from the semi-philosophical to the wholly mechanical.

What I blog about, and why

It's a bit late to be puzzling over what Bonkers about Perfume is all about,  you may well say, and I guess I probably set out my stall at the start, when I described my output/-pourings as 'random musings of a born again perfume anorak - an aldeyhdic blend of passion and irreverence'.   That is still a pretty fair descriptor of the staple fare on Bonkers, interspersed of course with travel posts cataloguing curiosities from other cultures and my foreign (mis)adventures.

Unfeasibly long place name in Hungary

In this connection, I also want to quote from a lovely post - that just appeared today  in fact - on novelists Tania Kindersley's and Sarah Vine's blog, Backwards in High Heels. (I am not at all sure about those apostrophes.)  Backwards in High Heels could best be summed up as a journal of whimsical observations from everyday life, and there is much to savour and admire in the duo's eye for detail and humorous take on the curved balls and lemons of outrageous fortune.  

Here, Tania Kindersley hits the nail on the head in her summary of what propels her to write in the public domain:

"It is a marking of the days, a recording of my beloved Small Things, a small existential stamping. Yes, yes; here I was."

I can related to the aspect of 'beloved Small Things' - I suppose I call the odder end of the Small Thing spectrum 'foibles'.  I recently wrote on Natalie's blog that I love winkling out foibles, the foiblier the better in fact.

An existentialist stamp ~ Source:

And blogging is undoubtedly a kind of 'existential stamping' too.  After all, if I just wanted to record my personal thoughts for myself, I'd still use a five year diary, as I did from 1973-1978, keeping it locked and in a drawer.  I even wrote 'Keep Out!' in (my own) blood on the inside cover, which feels a bit Twilight series now. By choosing to blog, I clearly wish to leave some kind of a footprint in cyberspace, however light - and hopefully to entertain a few people along the way.  

Posting frequency

Well, I may have partly answered that one above, and also in my previous milestone post where I explained how my friends are becoming increasingly worried about my Internet dependency, and are encouraging me to get off Facebook and out more (and by implication, blog less).  Tania also touches on this issue of frequency, and voices another of my concerns, that of reader expectations:

"I feel a very faint bat’s squeak of obligation. This is nuts, of course, but sometimes I do not fight my nuttier imperatives...You come here, and give me the gift of your time. I feel that in return, I must give you something, as many days as I can. I sometimes feel bizarrely guilty when I go missing in action, even though there is usually the most excellent excuse of life getting in the way."


Is Bonkers too British?

I am mindful that quite a number of my recent posts have been British in their focus - the review of Iris Prima, the upcoming Penhaligon's release, the ones of Bex Londoner SE1 and of Time to Draw The Raffle Numbers from Sarah McCartney's quirky perfume house, 4160 Tuesdays.  Not to mention my review of the decanting supplies situation over here or my account of a visit to a perfumery in Sidmouth, Devon, though that did - most unexpectedly! - unleash memories of happy childhood holidays for one US-based reader, Blacknall Allen of aperfumeblog.  

Now according to my Google stats, only about 30% of my readers hail from the UK. Some 50% are from the USA, with the balance made up from a whole clatter of countries, notably Germany, Russia and France.  So put like that, I don't appear to be making much effort to gear my content to my audience... ;-( Though you could argue that the population of the USA is 5 times that of the UK, whereas my US readers are not even double my British ones, so I do in fact have a British bias after all!  And the bottom line is that I am British, so it is natural that I would wish to cover local perfume houses and stores, just as some of my favourite US bloggers feature a number of indie perfumers, notably a bunch based on the Pacific West Coast.  All of which is just to say to overseas readers everywhere that I really do appreciate your interest, and sincerely hope you aren't too deflected by the British bias.  

St Chad's, Stafford ~ Source:

The infernal faff of Blogger comments

This section is dedicated to Birgit of Olfactoria's Travels, whom I am delighted to have introduced to that most useful of words, 'faff', the other day. Earlier in this post I alluded to the fact that a modicum of effort is involved in following a Blogspot blog, however, this pales into insignificance compared to the annoying protocol associated with the Blogger comments system.  Readers have reported all manner of obstacles to me down the years: there's the need (sometimes, but apparently not always) to have a Google account - though hopefully there are other options on Bonkers - please do say if not.  Then there is possible incompatibility between the commenting software and certain electronic devices - iPads have been cited as a prime example.  Adding insult to injury there's that infamous phenomenon known as 'Blogger ate my comment', where one's carefully typed thoughts suddenly vanish in a puff of blank box.  And lastly but not leastly, there is the everpresent spectre of the gobbledygook par excellence that is the captcha.  Very occasionally it tosses up fortuitously apt and amusing offerings that perfectly match the blog post on which the reader is attempting to comment, but mostly it just hunkers down there like a sullen gatekeeper, spewing out its indecipherable nonsense - and yes, both letters AND numbers have the capacity to fox even those with pin-sharp vision and an enduring love of puzzles.


To all those readers who have been baffled or frustrated by captchas on Bonkers, may I extend a blanket apology, and take this opportunity to thank those who have persevered and managed to comment regardless.  I will say that latterly the captchas have seemed to regain a bit of clarity, so if you are minded to comment in principle, it is worth quickly looking to see how unfathomable the captcha is on any given day, for you may just strike lucky.  I would not, on the other hand, expect anyone to be arsed to make repeated attempts to second guess the more arcane formations Blogger has been known to generate.

Which leads me neatly to my last point, which is to mention a small giveaway, to mark the above milestones and also perhaps the fact that I recently passed the 500,000 page view mark.  So I figured that as the summer is all but over (in this neck of the woods, anyway), I would try to stall its passing just a little bit longer by offering a 5ml decant (or thereabouts) of any of the following summer-appropriate fragrances from my collection:

L'Artisan Séville à L'Aube 
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur
Penhaligon's Orange Blossom Cologne
Penhaligon's Castile 
Annick Goutal Le Chèvrefeuille
Olfactive Studio Lumière Blanche


A decant of La Perla edp in case my recent review has piqued anyone's curiosity!


If you don't like the sound of any of those, let me know, and I am sure that in the event of your winning the draw I could probably sort you out with something that hit the spot instead. 

The giveaway is open to anyone anywhere (as ever, we fly in the face of postal regulations!)  Just leave a comment indicating your preferred fragrance by close of play on Friday 6th September.  And please feel free to have a good old moan about captchas or to flag up any wishes about content you'd like to see on Bonkers in future.  There is of course a very real risk that I'll just keep writing about wispy gauzy fragrances and Strange Things on Poles, but it is always worth a shot.

NB You don't have to become a follower to qualify! ;-)

And finally, I have to confess that following the redecoration of the spare bedroom, my twin perfume fridges have been decommissioned and relegated to the garage...  As I type, my perfume collection diaspora is regrouping in plastic containers in the dark (and relatively cool) cupboard under the stairs.  Their next move is not yet certain, but I will continue to publicly document their continued displacement round the house.  

Now this doesn't mean I am growing disenchanted with my stash, just that the fridges would be an eyesore now in that room.  Moreover, I have taken to sleeping there at weekends - for a change of scenery really - and can no longer tolerate the intermittent whirr in the night, even with ear plugs in.  Maybe I am becoming more detached from my collection, who knows?  Hmm, maybe my obsession with paint is gaining the upper hand after all....;-)

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Perfume decanting supplies - the UK perspective revisited

Every perfumista reaches a point when they wish to share their collection with a fellow fumehead. This may be in the form of a so-called 'care package' or a swap - whether private or via the lively swap board on Makeupalley.  I have racked up some 75+ swaps on MUA, and have sent perfume as a gift (I narrowly stopped myself there from saying 'I have gifted'!) to many of my friends, both corporeal and virtual.  To this end, I have bought and rebought decanting supplies (atomisers and small stoppered vials mostly) many times over the past five years.  In a recent post on Bois de Jasmin, Victoria takes an in-depth look at the whole business of decanting.  I gazed in awe and wonder at the photographs of her spraying 'commando' (ie straight from the nozzle, without the safety net of a funnel) into a perfectly behaved receptacle.

She also canvassed opinions about the best place to buy decanting tackle in different parts of the world.  Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has also compiled a very useful post on this subject, which Victoria referenced in her feature.  Undina's top choice is BestBottles, which has a superb selection of atomisers at very reasonable unit costs.  BestBottles is appreciably cheaper than Accessories for Fragrance, also based in the USA, with a pretty good range and ultra-friendly service.

But here's the thing - last night I had a jolly good trawl of the top perfume bottle websites and UK Ebay.  I placed dummy orders on both BestBottles and SKS Bottle & Packaging, another site that was mentioned in Victoria's post.  Hey, they would have been actual orders, were it not for the fact that the shipping in both cases - for a $50 minimum order approximately - topped out at $148 via UPS!!!  And there did not seem to be any other postal option.

Accessories for Fragrance, meanwhile, has international shipping costs that are vastly more proportionate, albeit its unit product costs are a lot higher.  So I ended up buying a large quantity of plastic atomisers from them in a selection of sizes - I really can't afford more than the occasional purchase of the glass ones on there (beyond the 1ml stoppered vial kind, that is) - and my shipping total was something like $22, ie much more in the ballpark.

I had never investigated the BestBottles site before, though I recognised many, many of the glass atomisers pictured!, which American swappers have sent to me over the years.

For a small-scale decanter like me, the only other overseas site I clocked with reasonable prices and decent international delivery rates - as in included in the price! - is Proud Style, which also gets a name check in Victoria's post, and which (sadly) I only explored after I had placed my Accessories for Fragrance order...however, I may venture there next time.

It is a while since I last looked on UK Ebay, which is a near total desert where cost-effective glass or plastic atomisers in the 2 - 5ml range are concerned.  Where it does score is in knock-off Travalos, ie refillable atomisers of the Travalo style but very much cheaper.  I even saw one seller called Max Trading offering them at £1.99!, compared to a normal retail of about £8 for the branded version.

Source: Ebay

Ebay also sells a lot of those burnished metal purse spray atomisers - some quite cheaply - but having had a bad experience with a seller in the Far East (where many of the cheaper ones hail from), I would be a bit wary again, tempting as their candy colours may be.

Lovely but leaky!

Ebay is also good for these odd little graduated snap top vials to which Freddie of Smellythoughts introduced me.  They hold about 1.5ml or so, and though the lid is very secure when snapped shut, and they are easy as anything to fill commando, I do get splashback issues with them ie as the vial fills up - the impact of perfume hitting what is already in there causes the next squirt to ricochet out again.  So unless my technique is totally to cock, I'd say these are only good in practice for a 1ml fill level at most.

So my assessment today would be: if I was an American I would use BestBottles in a heartbeat.  As a UK-based decanter, I will try Proud Style next time, with Accessories for Fragrance as an expensive but faithful fallback - for plastic anyway, and for 1ml glass vials, which don't strike me as being all that expensive from them for a big bag.  And then Ebay comes into its own for one-off fancier items such as Travalo-type atomisers.

Now I know there is a general preference for glass over plastic in the perfume community - partly for reasons of longevity, and partly on aesthetic grounds - but whilst I have had a few plastic atomisers turn in the past four years or so, it has only been the odd one.  To be honest, I much prefer the look and feel of glass myself and would only ever use glass for decants of 8 or 10ml, say, because it is a much nicer way to present a larger decant, but up till now I hadn't figured out anywhere cost-effective to buy glass atomisers in any quantity (as in 12, for example!).

1ml glass vials with plastic stoppers (somewhere in this bag!)

I mention this fact about my plastic decants not going off because I have got...ahem...about 100 of the things on their way to me as I blog!, so anyone receiving a small decant from me between now and the foreseeable, is likely to cop for one or two of this less desirable variety... ;-) ;-)

Saturday 17 August 2013

The 'Careful Whispers' series: No 1 - Penhaligon's Iris Prima review

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Noboyuki Kayahara
Undina of Undina's Looking Glass recently reported on the upcoming release of a new Puredistance scent, Black, which the company describes as a 'mysteriously charming perfume that is close to the wearer and releases sensual and elegant layers in a whispering way'. Well, as regular readers of Bonkers know, I love perfumes that are subtle, nuanced and quiet. Accordingly I left a comment after Undina's post, exclaiming: 'I clocked the elegant, mysterious and whispering (yay!)', triggering in turn this joky riposte from Undina:

'You and your “whispering” hang-up! :) Are you sure you even need a perfume? No perfume would stay really close to skin, you know. '

This banter with Undina about my predilection for scents that are well-crafted but muted - aka 'careful whispers' (with apologies to George Michael) - has only gone and prompted me to start a mini-series on this fragrance style. ;-) I thought I'd kick off with the newest addition to the Penhaligon's range, Iris Prima, which is due to be released on September 9th.  In collaboration with leading members of the English National Ballet, perfumer Alberto Morillas set out to capture the spirit and grace of the dance in a perfume.

Notes: bergamot, pink pepper, iris, jasmine (hedione), leather, sandalwood, vetiver, amber, vanilla and benzoin

I hadn't actually clocked Iris Prima was by Morillas until I sat down to write this review.  In a past post on Estee Lauder Intuition I dubbed him the master of the 'fuzzy' scent, as in 'blurry and indistinc' (think Armani She White, Armani Sensi, Kenzo Flower Oriental and Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline), and Iris Prima is no exception. Occasionally, as with Intuition, Morillas's creations can be downright fuzzy in a textural way, and the leather note in Iris Prima gives it a bit of that suede undercurrent that characterises Bottega Veneta, for example (though Iris Prima is less sweet and not at all fruity like BV).

Source: Facebook

I get a hint of iris from the outset - and a hint is really quite enough for me - less than in Chanel La Pausa, say, with which it very much shares its indistinct DNA.  And much less so than in the more powdery and spiky iris of Bas de Soie, which in fairness is blended with some prickly hyacinth.

Of the three, Iris Prima is my clear favourite, though La Pausa smells fractionally more niche, possibly because the iris is more prominent, in an old school, melancholic Apres L'Ondee kind of a way.  In my book iris does equate with class to a degree (with a few notable exceptions such as Chanel Chance!), so the more muted the note the more a scent edges towards mainstream territory.  But then I like many high end designer scents and don't get on with a ton of niche stuff, so that in itself is not a black mark in my book.  

And Iris Prima does smell niche - this despite the stated inclusion of hedione, which might have put me off if I had known that nugget on first testing it - for I didn't get on with that particular aromachemical in Marc Jacobs Blush, where it is present in spades. Together with vetiver and amber, the hedione helps to give Iris Prima a warm, luminous, translucent quality.  This is overlaid by just a light dusting of powdery iris, conferring a tender, wistful facet that also keeps Iris Prima from feeling too modern.


My only quibble with Iris Prima, which perfectly lives up to the exquisite balletic imagery which has characterised the launch campaign, is that it doesn't last very long - and coming from me that is saying something!  After two hours it has started to fade, and after four I am struggling to detect it on my skin.  But if you don't mind regularly refreshing it, in terms of how Iris Prima smells I am a big fan.  This is dainty and easy to wear, an elfin slip of a scent.  A whisper that is just a tad too quiet indeed, which brings me to my audibility scale...  

Audibility rating (on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is hard to spot and 10 is foghorn loud): 3.5 

Well, Iris Prima starts out at 3.5, falling to a 1 within a relatively short space of time. And La Pausa is guilty of something similar, while Bas de Soie has more tenacity - those thorny hyacinth molecules don't give up without a fight.


For another - more detailed and beautifully nuanced - review, check out the Candy Perfume Boy's take on Iris Prima.  Whilst he concedes that this scent might be too understated for his tastes, I am surprised that a renowned Angel fan like Thomas does not also report issues with the scent's longevity / audibility rating! ;-) ;-)

PS If the spinning ballerina is inhibiting your ability to read this post, give me a shout and I will relocate her to the end, or - in extremis - despatch her to the wings!

Disclosure: a sample of Iris Prima was provided by Penhaligon's at my request.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

BEX Londoner SE1 - A spicy tale of wharf-watching

I was introduced to the brand BEX Londoner in the summer of 2012 by Nick Gilbert, when he worked at Les Senteurs.  My first thought was 'Noooo, an opaque bottle!', that bane of MUA swappers and perfume lovers generally, because you can never tell how full or empty it is.  And my second thought was: 'Odd name.'  For BEX is (to my mind) a rather chavvy shorthand for Rebecca, along the same lines as Gazza is for Gary or Gascoigne, or Daz for Darrell. So, you know, an Essex girl kind of contraction is not what I would expect from a niche perfume house. Colour me snobby, but there it is.  And it is only now, in doing a bit of research about the brand for this post, that I have finally clocked that BEX is in fact the familiar name of the founder of the house, Rebecca Goswell, a brand design consultant who has worked for some notable agencies such as Design Bridge and Lewis Moberly.  For someone in the field of beauty product brand identity, BEX is perhaps a curious choice, albeit the suffix 'Londoner' detracts nicely from the first name part.  One never talks of Paul Gascoigne the footballer as 'Gazza Londoner', for example, not least because he is from Gateshead.

I read that Rebecca Goswell is a lifelong fan of London, and decided to enlist her friend, the perfumer Francois Robert, 'to capture the very essence of its most characterful and inspiring places'.  Together they set out to create a series of perfumes each named after a specific postcode, an approach to fragrance creation that brings to mind Jan Uprichard and Geza Schoen's Odourific Odyssey project in Belfast.

Butlers Wharf

I spent five summers working in London as a student, and am familiar with a number of different districts in the city. So I was eager to try these scented postcodes and see if they chimed with my own impressions of that particular area.  One scent particularly caught my imagination, namely SEI, which appealed to me on a number of levels.  The blurb on the BEX London site - note that the brand and collection itself seem to be called 'BEX Londoner', while the company is 'BEX London' - explains the background to SE1:

'Evoking the atmosphere and aroma of the old Thameside spice wharfs, Londoner SE1 is alive with bergamot, citrus, cardamom and pimento balanced with a deep woody base of amber, sea moss, driftwood and finest natural vetiver.'

Now that is a very enticing description, and of interest also for confirming the plural of 'wharf'.  Hold on, a cursory google suggests both 'wharfs' and 'wharves' are acceptable.

So how does it smell?

Well, all the BEX Londoner fragrances are positioned as 'androgynous', but this one leans to the masculine in my view, though I am drawn to it myself.  It opens with citrus, a wallop of mixed spice and a strong planky undertow, supported by the earthy facet of the vetiver.  The scent manages to be both airy yet full-on.  It completely evokes for me images of Long John Silver in Treasure Island, the sounds of creaking timbers and rocking bunks in Spanish galleons - and most crucially and nostalgically, the smell and feel of those dear little toy kegs of rum in the board game Buccaneer...


SE1 doesn't really change and remains simultaneously bright, spicy, airy, woody and earthy(!) throughout.  It just gets softer and more blurry as it wears on.  I don't particularly detect amber, never mind the sea moss, though there is a background warmth to the scent that might well be the former. For a more nuanced description, I recommend Freddie of Smellythoughts' take on Londoner SE1 here.  What his nose reads as a 'marine accord' is possibly what I am struggling to connote with 'airy'.  I am pleased to note that SE1 was also his favourite of the bunch!

As it happens, I have a sneaking affection for wharves, and have visited a goodly number in places like Hamburg (which boasts the third biggest banana dock in the world, don't you know!) and New Bedford, MA (where I additionally took a tour of a plant that makes crushed ice for trawlers).  My interest was initially piqued by seafaring ancestors on my mother's side, including a distant great-great-something grandfather who was the captain of a clipper ship that regularly plied the waves between Australia and England.  In his spare time he kept detailed log books of his eventful voyages** and wrote and illustrated a comic strip magazine to entertain his crew during their long weeks at sea.  All of which my mum donated to the Greenwich Maritime Museum, where they may or may not still be on display today.

And thus it was that on a recent trip to London, I legged it down to the Shad Thames area by Tower Bridge to soak up the atmosphere of the SE1 postcode and generally get into the zone of the perfume it inspired. It was a blisteringly hot day and I had my luggage in tow, yet I managed to spend a happy couple of hours ambling through the rabbit warren of streets just behind the riverfront, clocking any vestigial bits of wharf I could discern, as well as the many buildings that have been named after spices and other traded commodities such as tea and wheat.

Yup, forget whales - wharf-watching is where it's at, preferably wearing SE1 for added verisimilitude, which I wasn't at the time. ;-)

And in a satisfying twist to this story, I recently did a perfume consultation for a friend who has never really worn men's aftershave of any kind.  I gave him half a dozen niche samples to try and SE1 came out as the clear winner.  The only perfume of the bunch with which he felt a 'visceral connection' (his words). And guess what...? He happens to live on a boat himself - albeit not one suited to plying the spice trade routes, but still.

**According to family lore, on one trip from Australia my ancestor spied a young boy who had got into difficulties swimming off the coast of Ceylon.  He leapt into the sea and saved the child from drowning.  Said child turned out to be an Indian prince(!), and my great-great etc was given a ruby ring by his father as a thank you for his prompt action.   I have seen the ring, but cannot confirm the rest of the story...

Disclosure: I was sent samples of all four BEX Londoner perfumes by BEX London's PR company, who also offered to send me a bottle of whichever scent proved to be my favourite (I obviously picked SE1). This offer was not contingent on my writing a review, but I wanted to do so anyway.

Saturday 10 August 2013

More perfumista path crossings...meeting Natalie of Another Perfume Blog

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Andy Jamieson
Natalie of Another Perfume Blog has been getting about a bit lately, popping up in various European countries where fellow fumeheads have availed themselves of the chance to meet her in person: Ines reports on their encounter in Croatia here, Tara hooked up with Natalie the day before me in London, and it is Asali's turn next in Copenhagen. And soon Natalie will be moving continents again, to somewhere as far flung as where she has just come from, so I count myself very lucky to have managed to catch her in person yesterday - in Nottingham of all places, which is just 60 miles east (and up a bit) of me.

Natalie, who knows the city well - having lived and studied there not so long ago - suggested a central location for our rendez-vous, to wit the steps of The Council House in Old Market Square.  On my arrival I sent her a text to explain that I was the same side as a funfair, in between two stone lions.  I was mindful of the pitfalls of 'multiple entrance syndrome', of which I once fell most spectacularly foul in Toronto.  I gaily offered to meet a colleague at The Bay department store, which boasts no fewer than eight doors across all four facades.  I ended up circling the building for a full 45 minutes looking out for a stranger of unknown physical description who was at least also looking for me...

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Andy Jamieson

Now I did have a pretty good idea of Natalie's appearance, gleaned from glimpses of her long curly hair in photos on APB, supplemented by dim recollections of an eyebrow tweezing video she posted there.  But even armed with these mental images, I was surprised to find not one but two women sitting on the steps of The Council House who looked broadly as I imagined Natalie to.  I discounted one of them because she was wearing hi-top baseball boots - an assumption that was wholly vindicated when the woman in question got up moments later and legged it. The second woman lingered a little longer, but her high-waisted spangly black jeggings didn't quite chime with my impression of Natalie's sartorial style either. ;-) And I was right again, for at that point the real Natalie hove into view, dressed in jeans and a white blouse, her luxuriant hair tied in a plait curvng round one shoulder.  I am pleased to report that she was sporting one of her scarves, in a mix of jewel colours of which purple was a principal component.  I think it is the penultimate one featured in that post, but will await confirmation from its owner!

We repaired without ado to a nearby branch of Caffe Nero, where we proceeded to catch up on the broad outlines of each other's lives.  From an early age Natalie appears to have ricocheted all over the place like a ball in a bagatelle; she seems well adjusted to her peripatetic lifestyle though - and I bet she is an ace at packing too! We discovered that our studies and current professions had a surprising bit of crossover, though the same cannot be said for our attitudes to exercise.  For wherever she is living, Natalie makes time for a regular and varied fitness regime, incorporating different dance styles, yoga and walking, whereas I have been known to toddle down to the corner shop if it isn't raining.

Source: Tripadvisor

Next up, Natalie took me on a walking tour of the city centre, pointing out buildings of interest and favourite hang outs from her student days.  At the first stirrings of hunger we headed for an Italian restaurant recommended by Natalie's friend, and were soon tucking into a couple of hearty pasta dishes.  At this point I must say what a good sport Natalie was, for at the start of the meal we had agreed to share our dishes. However, having lobbed an initial morsel of ravioli onto Natalie's plate, I promptly forgot about our deal and polished off the rest of my food myself.  Not only did Natalie politely overlook this aberrant behaviour, but she even invited me to minesweep her leftover cannelloni.


From the restaurant we adjourned to a pub called The Pitcher & Piano, which is housed in a former church.  It was a vast, cavernous and echoing space, and reminded me a bit of the gothic wine bar Freddie of Smellythoughts had taken me to in Birmingham.  At this point in the evening we finally got on to the subject of perfume(!), chewing the cud about the latest releases, our approaches to blogging, people in Perfume Land we would like to meet, as well as the seemingly endless differences between US and British English, which were a source of much hilarity.  'You say plugboard, I say power strip...'  (And I must mention here that Natalie has the prettiest and most infectious laugh I have ever heard!)  I had brought along some bottles from my vintage collection, and managed to comprehensively drench us both in Blue Grass from the 1970s. Natalie gave me a sample of Zelda by En Voyage Perfumes to try, and we bonded over our mutual appreciation of its fine magnolia note.

At about 10pm I reluctantly thought I had better make tracks - I had the drive back ahead of me, plus I hadn't clocked when the car park closed.  I gave Natalie a lift back to her digs on the university campus - well, once I finally found the car park where I had left my car, that is. ;-)  Oh, and once we found the correct building on the campus.  I tried programming my sat nav with various addresses and postcodes, but English Kate, the voice in the machine, was flummoxed by all of them, so we resorted to peering through serial gloomy expanses in a bid to discern Natalie's accommodation block, eventually coming up trumps.

Natalie, improvising with the menu in the absence of a large camera

With Natalie safely dropped off I had a clear run home, and when I got back to Stafford I was suddenly struck by the unreality of the day's events. I think this was because I expect to have to travel further than I just did to meet a perfumista who is herself from so far away - to London at the very least, if not mainlaind Europe indeed.  But the vial of Zelda is proof that I did in fact meet Natalie in Nottingham.  I wonder if I could pull this stunt off again, and rendez-vous with other perfumistas in places near me...for example Ines in Ingestre, Kafka in Keele, Asali in Aston, Suzanne in Sutton Coldfield and so on.  Now there's a challenge!

Thursday 8 August 2013

La Perla edp - A dainty basque-ing shark of a chypre

La Perla basque - source: eBay
There have been a few posts knocking around the blogosphere lately, discussing what stage people are at in their perfume trajectory - eg the frenzied acquisitive stage or a more jaded plateau stage, typically hit around the five year mark.  Well, I would describe myself as very much in that later phase, for I wouldn't necessarily cross the road to sniff the latest fragrance release unless I was pretty sure I was going to be blown away by it.  Nor do I expect any major perfume epiphanies at this point in my life as a perfumista - any more than I expect to fall madly in love again.  Oh all right then...never say never.  ;-) And that is also how I felt the other day when my good friend Gillie - my scented mentor in the bonkers herb garden challenge - mentioned that she had received a perfume sample as a gift with purchase. This happens to me from time to time, and I always accept gracefully, sometimes rehoming the sample in question if it is something Herbal Essence-y from Clarins, or one of those disappointing inbetweener perfumes like Valentina by Valentino.  On this particular occasion Gillie handed over a sample of La Perla edp, which she had doubtless been given with an underwear purchase, though I was naturally too polite to ask outright.  For La Perla is of course an Italian design house specialising in lingerie and beachwear, and La Perla edp is the brand's first foray into the fragrance market.

On its very irritating website, so typical of high end fashion brands, there is lots of flash gimmickry and sideways scrolling images hovering right over the bit you want to read.  The print is in a tiny font, white out of black - yes, even worse than my blog! - but I did manage to decipher the following background to the brand

'The designer Ada Masotti opens a corset boutique in Bologna with a promising name - La Perla. The name was inspired by the jewel-like case with red velvet in which th e first products were delivered.'

Asa Masotti, possibly wearing a corset of her own fabrication - source:

Interesting mix of tenses there.  And I have never seen an oyster with a red velvet interior, but we'll let that minor point go in the spirit of poetic licence.  Over the years La Perla gradually expanded its range, adding coloured underwear as well as flesh toned garments, introducing bodies made entirely of elastic lace and so on, and then in 1986 its first perfume was born.

I was interested to read the company's commentary on the bottle, designed by Pierre Dinant (not to be confused with the Belgian town of that name).  Its shape is described as 'winding'(??) and evocative of the feminine figure.  The fragrance itself is intended to encapsulate the essence of the La Perla brand, namely 'luxury and seduction'.  Now I have yet to meet a woman with a physique remotely like the La Perla bottle, though I do find its curves most pleasing.  As for the the scent itself, there I am in complete agreement, for I was completely smitten with La Perla from the first sniff.  This is because it niftily manages to combine two of my favourite genres in one - a wispy, soft skin scent and a subtly raunchy 'pulling scent'.  I must say I haven't found two note listings the same, but this one from a retailer called 'Clickfragrance' grabbed me as much as any...:-)

La Perla edp notes: carnation, freesia, osmanthus, light citrus floral notes, coriander, pepper, cardamom, jasmine, rose, patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood and musk


There are very few reviews of La Perla edp, but The Non-Blonde was impressed, and likens it to 80s diva scents such as Fendi and Paloma Picasso.  I can totally see the connection with Paloma Picasso - I am not sure I have ever tried Fendi in fact - and when you compare the notes (from Fragrantica this time), there is some interesting crossover in terms of their chypre base and the presence of carnation and coriander.  However, it is important to say that La Perla is a very quiet scent, the quietest, most delicate example of a throwback chypre you could possibly imagine.  And it is a long time since I smelt Paloma Picasso, when I will have found it jolly scary on account of its multiple whammy of animalic notes.  But these days I am much more game with respect to the 'business end' of small mammals.  I am speaking metaphorically, obviously.

Paloma Picasso notes: coriander, angelica, carnation, aldehydes, ylang-ylang, jasmine, hyacinth, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, tobacco, castoreum, civet and musk

Hmm, even the Paloma Picasso bottle has that two-tone, vaguely ovoid bottle shape going on...

Go on then, how does it smell?

Word associations that spring to mind when La Perla hits the skin are 'cool, silky, feminine, light floral, mossy, ever so slightly plasticky'.  Now normally I am very anti-plastic notes in a scent, and have gunned down large swathes of the Givenchy and Jean-Paul Gaultier ranges on that very account, but a hint of plastic doesn't bother me here and it is moreover quite fleeting.

And now here's the interesting thing about La Perla.  It starts out girly and feminine, a wisp of elasticated lace if you will, a silken strap of a scent, but gradually a more animalic base asserts itself, and though there is none listed, it most certainly smells like CIVET to me.  During my googling of the notes, I came across an intriguing thread on Basenotes, in which Olfacta of Olfactarama (who is blogging again, in case anyone missed that) asks if other members have encountered a civet note in La Perla - which she herself doesn't particularly care for, I might add.  She appears to be the only one who detects it, mind, but I get a pronounced note as the scent wears on, indeed on one particular wearing the civet base (phantom or otherwise) persisted until the following morning!

And what is even more noteworthy is the fact that I didn't mind.  I wanted to keep sniffing my wrist when it got to this nice but naughty stage.  This is the scent of 'finished business', rolls in the hay, getting to fifth? base, and what might euphemistically be termed 'special cuddles'.

Source: facebook

So in summary - a new lemming and the need to revise my Basenotes moniker.  For from now on, I should be known not as 'VM I hate civet', but as 'VM I appear to have discovered a sneaking affection for civet and am as surprised as the next man'.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

A slam dunk gunkfest: snap-prone stack pots

Travel pots going nowhere with offending sliver
It's been a while since I last wrote a beauty-related post...As you can see in the side bar, I have a(n) (wholly) involuntary Ebuzzing beauty blog ranking to maintain(!), so I thought I would take this opportunity to vent my frustration at a recent beauty product malfunction - one that has happened several times in fact, and to products from different retailers - to wit, stack pots made of such flimsy plastic that bits shear off at the drop of a hat.  Or rather they break off if you attempt to screw the pots together, which is rather the point of a 'stack', I would have thought.

The trouble started with a set of stack pots from Superdrug which I was using to decant travel-sized portions of various lotions: typically foundation, night cream and texturising 'product' for my hair (my beloved Label M to be specific).  In no time at all a sliver of plastic had sheared off the pot containing foundation, with dual consequences: air gets in and dries out the foundation to a useless crud, and a messily coated - and sharp - shard of pot drops into one's sponge bag or (God forbid) handbag, gaily smearing foundation on everything it touches.

I was irritated, but put it down to experience.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more and invest in more robust pots, which is the argument I always use when I persist in buying cheap Tupperwares from Poundland with flaps that detach from the lid with the ease of a wiggly tooth hanging by a thread.  Maybe if I put the broken flaps under my pillow the Poundland fairy would give me my pound back?  (On the premise that there must have been some inflationary effect since the sixpences of my youth.)

Congealing, not concealing...

So anyway, I toddled along to Boots and bought another set of stack pots that cost a little bit more - though it isn't exactly a premium item to be fair- and proceeded to fill them with more unguents of one sort or another.  Several days later, the same thing happened - at multiple points in the stack.  More splinter shrapnel - 'you could put your eye out with that', I can just hear my mother intone - more wandering gunk syndrome, more desiccated residue in the broken pot.

And now I feel stuck...I go away quite a bit, and would balk at the prospect of having to take full-sized containers of all my various items of beauty gubbins.  But these so-called travel pots clearly can't be trusted to travel - or not even not to travel - merely to behave as orderly receptacles on my dressing table seems to be a big ask.

Has anyone else experienced this particular travel aid malfunction or any other one involving a beauty product which they would like to get off their chest?  A claggy mascara, perhaps, or a lipstick with an ill-fitting cap?  I must say I get quite cross with bottles of shampoo and suchlike whose nozzles clog up when they are only half used.  I invariably have to take the flippy lid of the pump dispenser off and try to squeeze the stuff out through the inner tube below.  'Used by professionals' it says on the label of my Tresemme conditioner, to which I would add: 'but only once'.

Or perhaps some reader could have a crack at topping this alliterative description of the problem:

'Shockingly snap-prone stack pots shed sharply sheared-off shards'.

Oh, and my google image searches of 'stack pots beauty products' - just to check I was calling them by the correct term, you understand - threw up this unexpected image in the first row...  These giraffes from Anthropologie are undoubtedly cute and arguably more robust than small plastic containers, but conspicuously lack a reclosable lid.

Oh, and I know it is nothing to do with beauty products, but have you noticed how the walls of cheap PET bottles of drinking water are getting thinner?  Take a single swig and they contract in the middle like a wasp-waisted Victorian in an unforgiving corset.  This phenomenon is called 'panelling', I do remember from my time as a fruit juice product manager in the 80s.  But knowing its name doesn't make the imploding trick any less annoying.

Friday 2 August 2013

By George! - and By Terry - Woodforde Perfumery in Regency Sidmouth

So I have come back from my mini-break on the South Coast to find that I have three new followers - hurrah! - and my patio plants haven't died.  I actually had a lady lined up to water them, but in the end nature did the job for her; it also comprehensively watered my holiday destinations in several counties, though it couldn't put a dampener on my enjoyment.  The novelty hat party was a great success, featuring some very fine specimens, including an entire beach scene, an allotment with integral garden tools and vegetable matter, a traffic cone, a putting green, and a funny construction fashioned from a low slung fez lavishly accessorised with bunting and sailing pennants.  (Picture on request.)

Next stop was Devon, where I stayed with an old school friend who has recently retired to the Regency resort of Sidmouth.  Apparently the demographic profile of the town exactly represents how Britain as a whole will look in 2050, when my generation will also swell the bulging ranks of the elderly - if we are still about!  It is the sort of place where the fish and chip shops do 'pensioners' specials' and 'senior suppers', and where you are never more than 100 feet from a seller of mobility aids - even the charity and 'pound' shops had a selection, prominently displayed.  Well, not 'pound shops' exactly, but those bargain chains that stock a changing kaleidoscope of stuff they got in cheap.

Sidmouth town centre

As well as being an architectural delight, and rather sedate and slow-paced - the mobility scooters have a top speed of 8mph I gather, and that's only certain models - Sidmouth boasts a traditional-style niche perfumery called Woodforde & Co, of which my friend thoughtfully apprised me within minutes of my arrival! What a serendipitous bonus to my weather-challenged holiday, and Woodforde's was our first port of call as soon as the shops opened the next day.

Situated in a picturesque spot opposite the church, Woodforde's is run by John and Jane, who made us very welcome.  We chatted about the latest releases from the various houses they carried.  On the shop's website I found this summary of their brand strategy:

'Sourcing original ranges from small, individual perfumeries that rarely make it to department store shelves, some of our fragrances are the creations of new, up-and-coming perfumers; others perhaps are the neglected classics from small, historic perfume houses that modernity has (thankfully) passed by.'


Just eyeballing the brands in store, I would say the emphasis was more on the historic houses (eg Houbigant, Rancé 1795, Caron, Grossmith, E Coudray, Lalique, Acqua di Genova, Molinard), which felt in keeping with the town's Georgian heritage.  Newer brands included Serge Lutens, Annick Goutal, Etro, Juliette has a Gun, Profumi del Forte and Terry de Gunzburg.

So without further ado, here is a brief run down of what I sniffed in store - mostly on card - as my friend stood patiently by...

Carven Le Parfum - a pretty, generic, sheer and slightly watery floral.  I was reminded of Balenciaga Paris L'Essence - it was very much in that light register.  In hindsight, I do think I should have tried Carven Le Parfum on skin, for Robin (whose taste is very similar to mine) is pretty complimentary here, and counsels against testing this one on paper, where it reads as too clean.

Carven Ma Griffe (reissue) - fierce green chypre in that general 'retro' Fidji / Givenchy III vein.  I could imagine this being much like the 1946 original, though I haven't smelt it.

Acqua di Genova Contessa di Castiglione - Lucy Raubertas of Indieperfumes bottled!  Well, it has her Facebook avatar on the box, certainly.  Woodforde's helpfully explain the background to the scent on their website here.

Notes: bergamot, cardamom, lotus blossum, lemon peel, Turkish rose, redcurrant, violet, white musk, almond blossom

This was an instant 'high level like' for me, and it was the only fragrance I tried on skin.  I should have asked for a sample really.  I should have had one of my little snap-on vials with me in case the owners didn't have any samples, or the wherewithal to make one. Contessa di Castiglione was a milky, slightly almondy - but not too much, as I don't usually care for the note - delicate floral.  A bit like PG Bois Naufragé without the fig or the wood - and with extra flowers.  I know that is a totally lame description, but my blotter doesn't smell of anything anymore!  But let's just say: 'Lucy, if you are going to be a perfume, you could do a lot worse.'

Terry de Gunzburg Flagrant Délice - check out the lovely metal pebble tops on the bottles - a cunning stylistic leaf out of Armani Privé's book?

Notes: almond milk, mediterranean fig, bitter almond, bergamot, mandarin, redcurrants, tonka bean, white musk 

Well, well!  Another almond, redcurrant, musk composition - who'd have thought it? And I also liked this one very much indeed - it was the highlight of the line, and were I not in possession of not one but two bottles of Bois Naufragé I would have been very tempted to make a purchase.  It had a sparkling quality that Bois Naufragé lacks, giving it a bright, upbeat aspect in addition to the comforting milkiness that I enjoyed in Contessa di Castiglione.

Of the rest, I would like to try Lumiere d'Epices and Parti-Pris again (respectively a spicy orange floral and a big floral oriental).  Ever the good sport, my friend tried Parti-Pris on card and likened it to high end bath and body products - which I can kind of relate to - though I liked it as a perfume all the same.  Rêve Opulent, a very diffident gardenia scent, also fitted that bill for me. It was extremely faint, and the not remotely the grand kitchen sink production its name suggests.   Then the opening of Ombre Mercure reminded me hauntingly of Lalique le Parfum, noted for its bizarre cumin-heliotrope accord.  That said, I am becoming increasingly suspicious of card-only trials, so I wouldn't pass up the chance to try this or any of the line again on skin to be sure.

So as with Sidmouth the town, I would like to spend more time with the Terry de Gunzburg range - and the milky almond Contessa / Lucy. ;-)  Meanwhile, here are a couple more holiday snaps, as if any further enticement to the area beyond a bijou niche perfumery were needed...

Elegant townhouse in Coburg Terrace
Coastal walk to Salcombe Regis

If anyone else has stumbled across a niche perfumery in an unexpected spot, do let us know in the comments!