Friday 29 November 2013

The Monochrome Set: review of The White Company Noir and Blanc perfumes

No, it's okay, this is not going to be another of those band on tour-alogue posts, though I was down in London last weekend for another Monochrome Set gig, as it happens. This gave me the opportunity for a bit of early Christmas shopping in St Pancras to kill time before my train, which wasn't even going from there, but there's a limit to the shopping you can do in Euston in Upper Crust, Harry Ramsden's and Tie Rack, and believe me I have tried.

I made a beeline for The White Company, with two very specific missions in mind: to check out their new monochromatic scent range, Noir and Blanc, about which my old English teacher had recently tipped me the wink, and to buy a pair of ivory cashmere bed socks.  I have put these very same bed socks on the Christmas present wish list I issued to not one but two friends, yet so anxious am I to have another pair again that I decided to buy them myself to be on the safe side, and stockpile any bonus pairs I might receive at Christmas.  For I have been a serial user of bed socks from The White Company for many years, and have either ruined (I routinely put my big toe through them in the end) or lost countless pairs in that time: one went AWOL at a hotel at San Francisco airport, another in the DoubleTree on Walnut in downtown Philadelphia.  I am to bed socks what many people are to umbrellas, in fact.  Come to think of it, I have also played fast and loose with hot water bottles on my travels.  I left one in Slough in 1982 and never looked back.  Anyway, these bed socks are soft and loose and really let your feet breathe, unlike many others of comparable luxuriousness that feel overly hot and constricting.

An erstwhile bed sock doing a fine impression of The Scream

So that was one thing, though frankly The White Company is a lovely place to shop generally for scented candles, bath and body products, white pine cones, white Xmas balls, white lights, white teddy bears, white towels, white bedlinen and robes - are you getting the picture? It's basically got all your white product needs covered apart from icing sugar and milk.

And then my other mission concerned the Noir and Blanc duo.  My English teacher liked the Noir one so much she bought it on the spot, which was recommendation indeed I felt, as she is not given to impulsive behaviour.  No one could have clocked up so many novels by Walter Scott as she has on a mere whim. That takes graft, focus and sheer bloody determination, says she, having just about skim read Heart of Mid Loathian (sic) - and then only because it was on the A-Level syllabus.

Now I had done a quick google of Noir before going along to try it in store, and one of the few bloggers to have reviewed it (Fleur de Force - am liking her punning style!), said how much Noir resembled Jo Malone Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, which immediately made me prick up my ears.  For I own a 30ml bottle of Dark Amber & Ginger Lily from when it first came out, and it has since been discontinued and brought back again - possibly twice?  I do know that its current incarnation is in the Cologne Intense range, in just the 100ml and 200ml sizes.  This strikes me as utter lunacy, and would seem to have provided The White Company with a perfect opportunity to step into the breach with 30ml and 50ml bottles of its smell-alike offering.

So does Noir smell like Dark Amber & Ginger Lily?  Too right it does!  Not noticeably spicy - Noir is quite coy about its notes, and there is no mention (and no trace to my nose) of any ginger - but it remains very much in the same vein.  It is borderline aquatic AND sensual, which is an extraordinary stunt to pull off, yet it does. I would also describe Noir as ambery and meditative and quietly radiant.


Notes: black cardamom, ginger, pink pepper, jasmine, orchid, water lily, rose, leather, sandalwood, kyara incense, patchouli, black amber


Notes: mandarin, orchid, amber, sandalwood

The orchid is the smoking gun for me!

My Jo Malone bottle - rather a moody shot though I say so myself!

As for Blanc, created by Beverley Bayne of CPL Aromas, it won an award for Perfumery Excellence this year from the British Society of Perfumers.  Well, strictly speaking, this was in the category 'best fragrance in a personal care product' , but presumably they rated it as a stand-alone scent as well?  Have just checked on The White Company's website, and they describe the award as being for the 'best personal fragrance', which is a subtle difference of semantics, but there you go. They also call is 'fabulously crisp and spirited', with which I certainly wouldn't argue. Now I haven't been able to establish if Beverley Bayne is also the perfumer behind Noir, but she did create Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir, so you never know...Ms Bayne clearly has a bit of a track record in scents called 'Noir' for Jo Malone - or in a Jo Malone style!


Notes: lemon, mandarin, juniper berry, white geranium, mimosa, cedar, patchouli, musk, amber 

Now while the Noir scent is pretty darn evocative of Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, the comparison which springs to mind for Blanc is Jo Malone's Blackberry & Bay - but in more of a 'stylistically reminiscent' way, let's say, rather than a near dupe as such. As you can see, the notes are not remotely close, however, there is that same crisp sweet / tart / fruity / vaguely herbal thing going on with both.



Notes: grapefruit, grapefruit blossom, bay leaves, blackberries, jasmine, lily of the valley, cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk

I reckon that The White Company may have shrewdly clocked that Blackberry & Bay marks a return to form by Jo Malone after the Herbal Essences aberrations of Plum Blossom, English Pear & Freesia et al, and decided to create something in that particular vein, which I think it has pulled off very well.

I don't have samples of either Noir or Blanc, so please make allowances for my fading recall, however, of the two scents - and notwithstanding Blanc's award(!) - Noir was much more 'me'. I always have time for a 'subtly sensual' scent, and sometimes I am in the mood for something even more overt, which I am not sure is a box that any of the Jo Malone line tick.  Dark Amber & Ginger Lily has always been my favourite of their large and rambling range, and is the nearest contender, on a par with others in the Cologne Intense line such as Amber & Patchouli, Oud & Bergamot and Saffron, say.  Amber & Patchouli might just pip it in the sultry stakes, thinking about it!

So in short, well played, The White Company - if the word gets out amongst Jo Malone fans about Noir in particular, I think it could nicely plug the gaping 'small bottle' hole in the Cologne Intense line.  If you do end up liking one of the fragrances, The White Company also has an ongoing discount programme - check it out here.

Me, I ended up spending over a ton on an assortment of bed socks, slippers, Verveine hand wash, Noir itself... and, er...the bath oil.  I may give the perfume to someone for Christmas, as I still have some of the Jo Malone left...And Noir is so easy to like that that would be one blind perfume gift I think you could give with confidence, and I don't say that lightly.

Sunday 17 November 2013

The box that keeps on giving...The tale of the poet, the painter, Undina and me

Now I do have a number of 'proper' review posts in the pipeline - as ever, I use the word 'proper' advisedly, ditto the term 'review' for that matter - but I am in the middle of a manic work phase, compounded by a cold of epic proportions, the ongoing sprained hand and a chipped tooth.  And my iPhone isn't feeling too clever either since I poured tea on it the other day, and only emits sound on an erratic and occasional basis.  All of which preamble is by way of saying that I can only manage short snippety posts at the moment, so please bear with me.  'Bear with me' - such a horrible overused phrase these days, and there I go using it. Too busy to bear with myself long enough to think of an alternative...!

Anyway, I did want to share a surprising and rather sweet tale that happened the other day, when I popped round to my artist friend David's house to deliver his birthday presents - to wit a bunch of drying bay leaves, five lukewarm falafel balls wrapped in tin foil (not homemade), and two Wedgwood teacups and saucers commemorating technological milestones from the last century.  The usual sort of stuff you give a bloke, basically.

As David was making us a cup of tea, I spied a box on his kitchen work surface containing a collection of tiny sea shells, nestling on some kind of foam layer.  The box looked instantly familiar...

"Wow", I exclaimed, "I had a box just like that!  A perfume blogger in California sent me some samples in it a while back.   I distinctly remember the little green cake thing."

David explained that our mutual friend Lizzie - poet, teacher, and owner of these unintentionally perfume bottle-shaped earrings - had given it to him.  She wondered if he might fancy doing a picture featuring the shells, though in painting terms it might only have been one step up from writing the Bible on a grain of rice. The mention of Lizzie instantly reminded me of how I had recycled the box sent to me by the perfume blogger in question (who was none other than Undina of Undina's Looking Glass), and used it to transport two vials of Vero Profumo Mito that I had bought for her at Bloom Perfumery in London in July.  I popped the box with the samples in through Lizzie's door in August, having finally established that she was away for much of the summer - it had previously spent a number of weeks sitting in a dish on my hall table.

Home of Undina's box - mid-July to late August

So there you have it - in four degrees of separation (Undina - me - Lizzie - David) Undina's box turns up unexpectedly in a friend's kitchen, forging a touching and piquant link between the perfume scene and my regular pals in Stafford.

And David is very eco-minded, so I have no doubt that it still has a few more miles left to travel...

On a related theme, this post from the early days of Bonkers explores the notion of well travelled sweets in perfume swap parcels, not to mention the unwanted extras that circle the globe looking for an appreciative home.

And before I left, David sportingly allowed me to recycle something else, namely a painting of a statue's feet in a cemetery in Barcelona.  I have owned that picture for nigh on 20 years - and it features in a review I wrote about Carner Barcelona D600 - but I fancied a change, and have swapped it for this one of a Persian rug and a tulip.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Beyond 'elevator clearers' - the man who was felled by the smell of Chanel

Glynn Parry and his wife Carrie: Source ~ News North Wales
My friend David sent me a link the other day to this remarkable news item about a 36-year old man from Coedpoeth in North Wales who has only to catch a whiff of his wife's Chanel No 5 perfume to drop like a stone.  For Glynn Parry suffers from a rare genetic condition called familial hemiplegic migraines, where each attack lasts about 24 hours and is accompanied by weakness and paralysis on one side of the body, numbness, speech difficulties and vision problems.

Glynn has suffered from these episodes for some 20 years, and has learnt to recognise the signs of one being imminent:

"If I'm lucky, I get a warning and see blurred lights and then self-preservation kicks in.  I try to find a bench, a chair or a bed to land on and lie down on, because I know I've got a matter of minutes before I collapse.  It leaves me completely paralysed down my left side and the attack can be so bad I can't move a muscle, I can't even blink.  I have two to three attacks a week."

Sadly, Glynn's worsening condition has meant he had to give up his job in the financial sector, and his wife is now a full-time carer to him and their three children.

"It's a difficult thing to live with and it impacts on every aspect of my life."

The triggers for these migraines vary from individual to individual and include chocolate, cheese, alcohol and caffeine.  Glynn has now cut all of these out to be on the safe side, but for him smell remains a particularly key cause - including, on one memorable occasion, his wife's perfume.

" of my strangest and strongest triggers is smells.  I'm very sensitive to them...My wife Carrie once wore some Chanel No 5 and I just dropped."

Unexpectedly hazardous material: Source ~

Well, this sobering tale certainly takes the notion of a person's scent being 'overpowering' to a whole new level... ;-(

And presumably there is now a used bottle of Chanel No 5 looking for a new home in the Wrexham area...

Read the full story in News North Wales here and listen to Glynn Parry talking about his illness in an interview with the BBC here.

Monday 4 November 2013

Bonkers 'On Tour' again - The Scent of The Underground II

Readers may recall that back in April 2012, I went 'on tour' in Germany with my favourite - and recently reformed - band, The Monochrome Set.  I had the job of singlehandedly selling the merchandise (including their newly released album, Platinum Coils) in German, and in the sepulchral gloom of the various eclectic and grungy venues on our circuit: an old hospital, an Art Nouveau villa, a Lost & Found bureau under a railway arch - you get the picture. This year saw a UK tour to mark the launch of The Monochrome Set's latest album, Super Plastic City, and I decided to catch as many gigs as was practical in the week I shoehorned in between the end of one work project and the start of the next.  For as I always say: 'No fan went to their grave regretting that they had been to too many Monochrome Set gigs'.  In fact I wasn't sure if ANY fan had gone to their grave yet, as all of us who have grown up with the band since they emerged from the 'ridiculously nutritious ooze of the post-punk milieu' are still in our mid-50s like them.

In the end, I made it to a borderline embarrassing seven(!) gigs - an itinerary of some 1050 miles - and managed to combine the concerts with seeing another of my top bands, The Would-Be-Goods, and meeting fellow fans from as far away as Ireland and Denmark, several of whom came to multiple gigs.  I also visited four(!) sets of cousins on Teesside and caught up with a fumehead friend, Anna from Edinburgh.

I wasn't involved with the merchandise this time, as a husband and wife team of equally diehard fans was doing the honours.  They did sometimes press me into service at the end of the night as a 'part-time Blu-tack removal operative', helping out with the very important task of taking down posters and collecting the Blu-tack and White-tack - it was by no means straightforward! - and squidging it all back into two large blobs. For the record, the wife was wearing Lush Gorilla Flower's Barrow for much of the tour, an oddly herbal, fruity scent with geranium and a cosy, powdery, almost Playdoh aspect.

On the perfume front, I took a little pouch of vials with me, carefully selecting my scent of the day/evening with the deliberate aim of imprinting the good times that lay ahead with perfume memories, each relating to a different town or city.  This is the reverse of the more random - and retrospectively - associative way in which scent memories are often formed, ie where you happen to be wearing Perfume A on a day which turns out to be enjoyable. Here I was making a conscious or 'concerted' effort if you will, to stick with our musical theme ;-), to elevate a perfume I already liked to an even higher status by wearing it on an occasion I knew in advance would be memorable.  I suppose that is true of holiday perfumes in general, however the changing locations on this trip arguably made the associations for each perfume more distinctive than they might have been on a beachy holiday spent in the same spot, say.

So, without further ado I will endeavour to combine a 'mini-scentalogue' with an abbreviated travelogue, featuring some of the more noteworthy and amusing events of the week, including a surprisingly varied assortment of ailments and mishaps on my part, which really do deserve their own sub-headings.

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh


Ailments: Headache, then later cut my finger on the spoke of my umbrella and sought first aid in a nearby pizza restaurant.

Mishaps: Forgot my styling mousse, necessitating a breathtakingly brazen bit of parking in George Street and a lightning dash into a Tony & Guy salon moments before closing time. Hotel bed sloped at a funny angle, leading to a sleepless night.

Scent of the evening: Shalimar Parfum Initial.  When this first came out, I found the patchouli loud and overpowering, but have gradually bonded with it after many wearings, culminating the other day in the purchase of a boxed set for just £25 in my local mall.  A friendly more than foxy rose-patchouli-vanilla number.  I think of it as a poor woman's JHAG Lady Vengeance, now that my sample of that is drained.

Highlights: The Voodoo Rooms was the nightspot where I spotted the towering Taueralike last year, but he was not in evidence this time, and goodness knows you wouldn't have missed his lofty physique if he had been there.  A high point of the night (apart from the gig, obviously) was sniffing two friends who were wearing FM Carnal Flower and Lolita Lempicka (both supplied by me ;-) ).  Another highlight was the shortbread in the hotel room, a welcome touch that adds value well in excess of the nominal cost involved.

What Mr Bonkers used to refer to generically as 'Peruvian fishing cats' (with or without rod)

The next morning I met up with Anna from Edinburgh, resisting the urge to say 'Cheerio' until the end of our meeting. We had tea in a Fairtrade cafe just off Princes Street, after browsing in the adjacent shop while waiting for them to open up.  We did the usual 'tipping stuff up on the table' trick - Anna had brought some Lush / Gorilla scents with her with which I was not familiar, while I had the contents of my travel bag to proffer, plus the gift of a bar of soap.  ('No one ever went to their grave regretting that they had accumulated too much soap', I also say, with possibly less justification.) Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit of a thoughtless present, as Anna's neighbourhood had just had its water cut off due to a burst main, with no indication of when supplies would be resumed.


Ailments: Headache, involuntary consumption of raw onion, nocturnal hunger pangs so bad it felt like dozens of tiny men with forks gouging the tines against my stomach wall.  I should just have got up and braved the driving rain to retrieve a cereal bar from the boot of my car.

Mishaps: Persistent distrust of the satnav added some 10-15 miles to the journey, compounded by gridlock in Gateshead and ongoing lashing rain.  On arrival in Stockton the satnav was completely foxed by the one way system to the point of emitting staccato gibberish for minutes at a time.  Later stopped by the police for driving without lights in an area reserved for taxis.  (They were nice about it, mind!)

Scent of the evening: En Voyage Perfumes Zelda.  A tender magnolia centre in a crisp shell of galbanum. Felt a bit blowsy and Southern Belle-ish, which was somewhat at odds with my conspicuous lack of flouncy underskirts. Or any skirts indeed.  Could still smell it on my sheets the next morning.  Was tempted to take them with me, but Housekeeping might have noticed.

Highlights: The fact that there were as many as 50 people there on a wet, windy Sunday night in Stockton, including a woman in tight humbug-striped jeggings in a shiny fabric.  My first thought was: 'That's not Natalie either.'  Owing to exceptional logistical issues I shan't trouble you with, another highlight was playing that well known game of 'How many musicians can you cram into a Mini?'  I managed 3 out of 4, though the drummer's head was entangled with my in-car hanging wardrobe, while the bass player was obliged to hold the satnav box, a bag of rhubarb and custard sweets and my tatty old driving cardigan.  The lead singer sat up front and teased me about my oversized rev counter (which in fairness had been fitted by the previous owner) and the fact that I had named my car Maurice.

A family interlude in the Stockton area ensues...

Bass player looking suitably monochrome and perfectly bissected by the mike stand 


Ailments: Headache, chronic indecision at the salad counter of Marks & Spencer.

Mishaps: Flies accidentally came undone at an unknown point in the evening.

Scent of the evening: Diptyque Volutes edt (Sample courtesy of Tamsin) A cosy, sensual, snuffed out kind of scent with honey, iris, tobacco and incense.  A bit like Dior's Bois d'Argent, but with more powder and less vanilla.

Highlights: Afternoon walk with The Would-Be-Goods around the architectural gems of Preston.  We spotted a former Turkish Baths!  I told them about Preston's Harris museum being home to Britain's largest collection of perfume bottles...  (No takers, though in fairness it was coming up to closing time, and you do need a good couple of hours to take them all in...;-) ) The other highlight was the double bill featuring The Would-Be-Goods and The Monochrome Set - the bass player (who is in both bands) thoughtfully changed his shirt in between.

Here is Too old - possibly my favourite track of The Would-Be-Goods and another contender for the 'beautiful' UK music category in Lavanya's interview on Purple Paper Planes.  I am not sure why there is a man holding a broken guitar in this video, but I hope the curious visual doesn't impair your listening pleasure.


Ailments: Blisters from walking too far on aggregate in inappropriate party shoes.

Mishaps: Putting my dress on backwards - I think I got away with it! - these places are always on the dark side.

Scent of the evening: Ormonde Jayne Ta'if - haunting, dusty, desert rose.

Highlights: Finding a large selection of Annick Goutal in T K Maxx that afternoon, albeit mostly priced between £50-£60, so no bargains to be had.  Fondled and replaced Musc Nomade several times.  Venue was bang next door to the Cavern Club!


Ailments: See mishaps.

Mishaps: Slipped on the way out and fell hard, spraining my hand which I used to break my fall.  Waiting for the results of some X-rays to see if I have fractured anything.  Many simple tasks have been proving challenging since, from changing gear to tucking in bedding to squeezing ketchup and doing up buttons.  You just wouldn't credit how useful a thumb can be till it's limp and useless.

Scent of the evening: Puredistance Black - review here.

Highlights: My friend Gillie came along! She enjoyed the set much more than I expected, even saying she'd go another time.  Bit of banter with the band at the end, involving thinking of British place names that are also breakfast items. Bass player won hands down with 'Towcester' (pronounced 'toaster').


Ailments: Ongoing sore hand - conventional clapping eluded me, so had to hit the inside of my arm instead, which attracted one or two odd looks.

Mishaps: Ordered a very, very dry piece of chicken at a motorway services and failed to gauge the correct amount of school dinner gravy to go with it.  Later made the grave error of trying to recce the venue in daylight at the height of Oxford's rush hour.  Satnav was totally thrown by the 'dreaming spires', and sent me into a pedestrian zone where I nearly came a cropper against some bollards outside the iconic Blackwell's bookshop. It took all my concentration not to mow down several dozen cyclists during the tricky process of extricating myself from the town centre.

Scent of the evening: Dior Ambre Nuit - softly spicy, ambery rose scent - mini-review here.

Highlights: The Would-Be-Goods were in the audience this time!, leading to bonus chat.  Fry up breakfast of the finest calibre at my B & B.  You know you are in Oxford when there is both ground black pepper AND ground sea salt at the table - the height of sophistication in condiment terms.

The ne plus ultra of full fry ups


Ailments: Ongoing sore hand, insufficient dinner of cashew nuts and shortbread (snaffled from the Edinburgh hotel).

Mishaps: Cheery bloke from Essex kicked over my glass of cranberry and soda before I had time to drink it. It was admittedly in a silly spot on the floor by my feet.  He was good enough to buy me another, while I promised to use the bar or other serviceable ledge next time.

Scent of the evening: L'Arte di Gucci - bombastic dark rose chypre with a retro twist.

Highlights: Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries in my hotel room, plus an unexpected chaise longue in grey corduroy!  Without batting an eyelid, the lead singer forged the drummer's signature on my copy of the album. The breakfast item word game had by now segued into one about renaming models of Fender guitars - the bass player set the bar high with 'Fender Doncaster'.  I decided to branch out into basses and came up with the 'Fender Derision' (to reflect the backlash in some quarters about the brand's overexposure / ubiquity).

So, to reprise my opening theme, I would be interested to know whether you also do this deliberate imprinting of a particular perfume with anticipated happy memories?  

NB Since my last post, in which I mentioned that Susanna Pellinen - aka Tigrushka on Basenotes - is also a fan of the band, I have discovered that Valerie Sperrer of Australianperfumejunkies - aka Cookie Queen - is one too!  If any more of you come to light, it may be worth drawing a Venn diagram of perfumistas, Monochrome Set fans and 'The Intersecting Set'. ;-)

PS I just realised that Bonkers turned FOUR on 29th October, but as I have already celebrated my 3.6th anniversary back in the summer, I don't feel it warrants too much of a 'song and dance' so soon afterwards. Maybe I'll mark my 5th anniversary in more style, if Bonkers is still going then!