Thursday 30 January 2014

Perfumista lifestyle markers: the owning - and 'dishing out' - of tea towels

Sorry - some of these were fished out of the ironing basket...
This week marks the sixth anniversary of my being struck down by sudden onset perfume mania. Ever since I started reading Basenotes and perfume blogs back in early 2008, I have periodically come across discussions about which other tastes and interests people who love perfume also have in common.  Cats are one of the most frequently quoted examples, as comprehensively documented in Ari's famous perfume blogger pet post.  A love of fine wines, soft furnishings, greyhounds, cheese, books, fine art, music, posh chocolate, fancy teas, aromatherapy oils and sundry other lifestyle 'markers' have also been cited as evidence of an approach to life that is at once intellectually curious and keenly attuned to sybaritic pleasure.

Then the other day, in her account of a meeting in Vienna with APJ blogger Portia, Olfactoria happened to mention a gift of tea towels from the ebullient drag queen from Down Under to Sandra and her.  For anyone interested in chapter and verse, Birgit's had a map of Cairns on it, for example.

Example of a Cairns tea towel ~ Source:

So then, in a remarkable turn of events, this innocent logging of a moderately utilitarian present sparked a lively debate in the comments to that post about the aptness or otherwise of such a gift - and before you could say 'Irish linen', a whole slew of tea towel aficionados was winkled out of the woodwork.  Okay, so by 'slew' I may mostly mean Anne-Marie (also from Australia, rather fittingly), who spoke of her ingenious habit of scenting tea towels with lemongrass - a nugget of housewife lore learnt at her mother's knee.

"But my idea is to choose something strident enough to cut through the scungy smell that tea towels tend to get no matter often they get washed and line dried. I know that smell well. My mother was both fastidious and frugal. She cleaned everything that didn’t move but she would wear the tea towels down to threads before replacing them. Urk."

*Not* a tea towel - a 'damp cloth' wholly dedicated to ironing duties

'Scungy' - I have not heard that word before, but it sounds like a malodorous fusion of 'scuzzy', 'scummy', 'gungy' and 'pongy'.  And another interesting mother was from Australia, and - possibly due to my father's extremely tight rein on the housekeeping (perversely, she didn't get a washing machine till we children had long since left home) - also kept tea towels till they were threadbare and beyond.  I have a number which I inherited from her which are even more rag-like now, but of sentimental value, obviously.  I don't scent them with anything, but they do get washed.  There seems to be an indelible mark on the one pictured.  In my defence, everybody needs a tatty tea towel to use to damp iron delicate clothes - that way if you accidentally burn it, it is no great loss.

Since reading this post, my mind hasn't stopped whirring and making connections between perfumistas and deeds involving the stockpiling - or giving - of tea towels. (Yay!  I managed to avoid saying 'gifting'!) Some readers may know these rectangular textiles by a slightly different name, but they are the towels you dry your dishes with, not your hands or other body parts.  And you wouldn't wipe kitchen surfaces with them either - that way lie dish cloths, J-cloths, sponge scrubbers, and - in my own case - lashings and lashings of kitchen roll.

At the top of the post is a shot of my tea towel collection when I first moved into the new house - the ones on the left were ALL moving in presents from a neighbour - how wet does she think my crockery is? ;)  The ones on the right are the legacy from my mother, barring the really frayed one, which deserved a shot on its own.

Supersized Danish tea towels!

I have since acquired two very large and stylish tea towels - also as a housewarming present - from a reader in Denmark. They are so generously sized that they have overshot tray cloths and are well on their way to being small tablecloths or picnic rugs.

And at New Year, Tara gave me a much longed for spaghetti server - no, really, it was! - and two festive tea towels, which of course I shan't broach till next Christmas:

Pretty Christmas tea towel duo

Hmm, now that I think of it, when I last met up with Katie Puckrik in November, and we spent an afternoon poking round the vintage shops of Notting Hill, the subject of tea towels came up quite spontaneously - which on the face of it might seem strange.  We were browsing in a general store, where Katie was after a sturdy, foldaway carrier bag.  There were some tea towels on display and she volunteered the fact that she liked to buy them as souvenirs from her travels.  I quizzed her on her aesthetic standards in this regard, and she explained that she was comfortable with 'touristy', and even slightly kitsch, as long as the design didn't tip over into completely tacky.  I am not sure I am sufficiently familiar with the complete gamut of household linen to envision a truly gross specimen, but if you know of any, please describe it in the comments in as lurid detail as necessary.

Oh, since I published this post, Katie has come back to me with her definitive preferences in the tea towel department, which are along the lines I remembered:

"Tea towels are my favorite souvenirs of travel and adventure - better than post cards and snow globes and t-shirts. I love them because they remind me of road trips and capers, while being a constant ally in the kitchen, where I use them daily for scores of different things.

My preferred tea towel graphic is a hokey 'sights of the city' panorama. I've got a bunch from London, and some from California and Brussels. An odd one was my 'Gentlemen's Clubs of London', which I found in an LA flea market. And a great one was my 'British Men' tea towel: a 60's-era survey of working men, including a bobby, a fishmonger, a cabby, a vicar, and a bowler-hatted city gent. I used both of those into rags.

I still have my Charles and Di tea towel celebrating their 1981 wedding. It's now retired from service, much faded but intact."

So there you have it - I think the perfumista/tea towel correlation is looking quite strong...;) And please do let us know where you stand in terms of your own propensity to collect or give away tea towels of any description.

Oh, I nearly forgot the one I bought myself for Christmas!

Sunday 26 January 2014

The Scent Crimes Series: No 12 - Impregnable perfume miniatures

I had my friend Sharon to stay this weekend.  Readers may remember her as the born again Roja Dove Scandal and Fracas fan featured in a couple of earlier posts here and here - I guess I could consider her as another 'protégé'  - one whose scented explorations I have been documenting as I go along here. Anyway, Sharon is sufficiently keen to continue her perfume j***ney that every time we meet she always asks me to bring some new things for her to try, or - if she comes to my house, as on this occasion - to get my stash out for her to have another delve into.

Today she had a very specific request, namely to sample whatever I could lay my hands on by Bvlgari, a brand recommended to her by a friend.  Bvlgari also happens to be one of my favourite brands in the mainstream/designer sphere, along with Kenzo and Prada.   So I fished out my one bottle (Black), a large and disastrously leaky decant of Rose Essentielle, and samples of Femme, Mon Jasmin Noir and Voile de Jasmin. Unfortunately for my friend, I had already sold my bottle of Omnia Crystalline in last year's yard sale, and given away my bottle of Jasmin Noir to a neighbour who had fallen hard for it at the time (a well-intentioned impulse I now regret).  I was pretty sure I also had a sample of Omnia Coral, but I had found it so insipidly fruitily inconsequential that it - and the rest of my 'bag of hell' - had been banished to the outer darkness (quite literally!) of the garage.  Underbed storage had failed to put enough physical distance between me and the offending items, you see, despite my general success rate in life with the 'spider under the bed' principle...

As it turned out, Mon Jasmin Noir was the only one of my patchy Bvlgari collection that Sharon cared for, when I suddenly I remembered that I also owned a miniature of Omnia Green Jade, and managed to extract this last example of the brand from the not inconsiderable coat chaos of the cupboard under the stairs where my perfumes now reside.

Before I come onto the specifics of the Omnia Jade mini, here is a 'class photo' of my miniature collection, with twins standing next to each other and small ones at the front, as is customary.  Okay, with regard to the Micallefs, one is the younger sibling of the other one, as you may infer from their differential height/size.

Two sets of twins, one other sibling set...;)

Out of all these perfumes, only TWO have a spray mechanism - can you guess which? The rest have tiny holes, and you have to upend the bottle and dab as best as gravity and a pinpoint aperture permit.

In terms of the cap mechanism, my experience with minis is mainly of the 'yank off sharply' variety, with some screw tops in the mix, plus a few obdurate bottles that require the 'combination method' of yanking AND unscrewing.  It can be quite a fiddly exercise, comparable to the difficulty level of unstoppering those tiny plastic wands from the smallest size of glass vial, which readers intermittently write to me to complain about.

And then...then there is Bvlgari Omnia Jade, verily the Rubik's Cube of perfume miniatures.  Well, I use the word 'cube' advisedly, as it is more of a figure of eight really, like two thick silver coins getting it on.

And could Sharon and I figure out how to take the top off?  Could we hell as like!  We alternated at having a go, but no amount of pulling, pressing or prising seemed to do the trick.  Twisting, turning and tugging were equally fruitless.  'Okay', said Sharon calmly, 'let's figure this out from first principles.' (I should point out that my friend is a Project Manager, supervising the complex build of fighter aircraft no less, a logical thinker and 'critical path'-follower to her fingertips.)

'It must HAVE a top, surely?' I volunteered lamely, when suddenly a piece of green plastic trim flirted off and fell on the floor, revealing an impenetrable metal casing within.

'Yes, but where?' replied Sharon, as we both simultaneously experienced flashbacks of that classically pesky 'Where's the end of the Sellotape?' variety.

So we spent a few more minutes scrutinising the housing of the mini, looking for even the slightest hairline crack, that might possibly be suggestive of a demarcation between bottom and top.  Then, her frustration mounting, Sharon took one last enormous - and completely random! - tug to the bottle, when to our surprise not so much 'the top' as 'the most of it' came off!

Then we dabbed a bit of Omnia Jade on - in our all-consuming bid to 'crack the cube', as it were, we had all but forgotten our original interest in sniffing the perfume enclosed within - and pronounced it to be quite pleasant and refreshing, in a limpidly nutty, faintly green kind of a way - though we may have been subliminally influenced by the colour of the box or bottle...  Or the name indeed.  Speaking of the box, as Sharon was casually lifting it up to check the name of the perfume again, she spied a little diagram inside the lid...

'Oh look, this tells you how to open it!'  Typical women, we had just dived straight in there without reading the instructions first. ;-) But there again, who would have thought a perfume bottle would come with instructions about how to take its top off...?

So have you ever seen such a diagram?  And have you experienced problems opening minis in particular, or figuring out how to get tops of full-sized bottles?

I do remember puzzling for ages over the location of the Prada Candy spray nozzle (which of course had been cunningly integrated into its Cadbury smash robot head - or half head, to be anatomically correct about it).


Whole-headed Cadbury Smash robots ~ Source:

Here are the surprisingly eclectic notes of Omnia Green Jade, should anyone be curious:

Notes: spring water, green mandarin, white peony, nasturtium, pear tree flower, jasmine petals, fresh pistachio, white woods, musk

Finally, I must just mention that as I was gathering my minis together for this group shot, I nearly included the one pictured below...which turned out to be the top of my full-sized Cuir de Lancome bottle, which - as any readers who own one will know - is chronically prone to toppling off at the drop of a hat, and looking rather like a miniature when it does.  Somewhere on the Interwebs I am sure I read about a clever fix to make this top fit snugly again, but I can't remember where now...

Sunday 19 January 2014

'Perfumista protégé' progress reports: No 1 - Sheila, English teacher turned artist

'Listening to the plants grow' - Sheila's painting of 'a sybaritic bathroom' 
During the past six years since I 'got perfume', my passion for the subject has spilled over into a kind of missionary zeal, prompting me to gently steer friends, family and neighbours in the direction of a wider selection of perfumes than they had previously tried or considered.  In some cases I have even managed to convert non-wearers of fragrance to wearing it at all!  I have been plying away at my campaign of perfume proselytising for a good while now, and decided that enough time had elapsed to take stock of how some of my 'protégés' were faring, and how their perfume repertoire - and attitude towards fragance - had changed under my influence.

So I sent a bunch of these people the same three questions about their own 'perfume j***neys', and here is the first response from Sheila (preceded by a bit of background on the origins of our friendship):


Sheila was my English teacher when I was in the sixth form studying for A-Levels. When she joined the school as a newly qualified member of staff she was only 21 herself, which sounds so very young now, though she seemed perfectly grown up to my 16 year old self!  She was an inspirational teacher and the epitome of 70s style and cool - arguably a contradiction in terms in this, the heyday of Noel Edmonds, Supertramp and unfeasibly tall platfom shoes.  Sheila opted for a more toned down interpretation of the fashion of the times, however, including swingy corduroy pinafore dresses in sludgy shades of blue and grey, teamed with suede wedges and a selection of long silky scarves.  Although I was pretty tuned out to perfume at that age, I do remember catching an occasional whiff of her signature scent, Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass. One night a few years back while watching footage of an old Queen concert from 1975, I was overcome by an impulse to connect with my youth and made this purchase of a vintage bottle from around that time (full story here)!

Anyway, I kept in touch with Sheila down the years: I knitted her oldest son a tortoise (complete with properly frilly shell and jaunty mob cap!), and my never-to-be-repeated attempt at baby sitting her middle son gets a mention here.  Sheila has recently retired from teaching and is pursuing art in her free time, producing some quirky and ethereal mixed media paintings, some of which she also sells in greeting card form. She has also taken a lively interest in my perfume hobby - to the point where, during a visit a couple of summers ago, I handed over a bunch of samples I had picked out for her to try, in a bid to identify fragrance styles towards which she had a leaning.  Sheila soon got stuck in, systematically sampling each and making notes on her impressions, which is how it all started...

So without further ado, here are her answers to my three questions:

My perfume collection before  

"I love catching the whiff of a good perfume in someone else’s wake, so I have always owned a bottle - but it was something to use mainly on special occasions. So my ‘collection’ typically comprised one bottle that took up to a year to finish. I was using Calvin Klein ‘Eternity’ for a few years and then Estee Lauder’s ‘Pleasures’. The tendency to stick with what I knew was compounded by my sons checking what I was using and then duplicating it for Christmas and birthday presents. It hadn’t occurred to me to own more than one scent."

What do I own now?

"I now have a proper collection which appeals to me visually as well as for its potential for creating a tiny moment of pleasure to start each day selecting what to wear. I have Narciso Rodriguez ‘For Her’ – a particular favourite, Hermes ‘Vetiver Tonka’ which I like for evenings or special day occasions, White Company ‘Noir’, Penhaligon’s ‘Quercus’, Jo Malone ‘Pomegranate Noir’, Agent Provocateur ‘Eau Eursticielle’ (? Can’t read this on the bottle…)**, Guerlain ‘Vetiver’ in a beautiful vintage tiny green box, Lidl’s ‘Suddenly Madame Glamour’ – which I love even for its name as it does add a sudden whiff of glamour, but I would also like to get Coco Mademoiselle which inspired this copy."


How have my feelings about fragrance changed?

"As I listed the current perfumes in my collection, I realised that I now have a much more subtle interpretation of scents since you first enticed me by spreading a number of little vials on my kitchen table and encouraging me to try to identify the notes which appealed to me. I must say I am attracted to the actual little bottles and the alchemy of capturing a smell in them. I now regard perfume as something that can be worn every day if done with care.

As I got more interested in scent I realised I like being in shops which are a nice smell – such as The White Company, which always smells as though it has just come out of the wash, and Noa Noa in Brighton which uses a Neal’s Yard ‘Women’s Balance’ oil burner. So I suppose my view of perfume has shifted from something of a luxury reserved for special occasions, to something which can be a little bit life-enhancing on an everyday basis. In shopping terms, just as I would never just casually buy books at the airport to read on holiday, now I don’t view perfume as just for birthday and Christmas presents. 

I expect that has something to do with how the perception and marketing of perfume has changed generally, and not just to a change in my thinking. My mother, when she died in 1982, left a full bottle of Chanel No 5. I cherished it – for years – never opening it, as I knew that she would not have used it except for very special occasions and so I didn’t want to ‘waste’ it. When I finally opened it after many years, I decided – probably quite wrongly – that it had gone off, and threw it out! The experience has served as a metaphor for me ever since."

Source: eBay

'Perfume is for life, not just for Christmas', as the bumper sticker goes - that is such good advice, especially to those of us who are sitting on crazy big collections.  Or 'use it or lose it' might be another one, even if we will never know if Sheila's mother's bottle was off, or just in the process of aging gracefully, much like Catherine Deneuve, the face of No 5 advertising of...coincidentally...1975. ;)

Source: eBay

PS If you would like to see more of Sheila's work, visit her Flickr site here:

** Editor's note: am betting this will be AP Eau Emotionnelle. ;)

Wednesday 15 January 2014

En Voyage Perfumes Zelda: a Southern belle does (the) Charleston

My old colour print snaps, re-photographed on my iPhone!
I've said it many times, but it bears repeating - I love America.  I have visited over 30 states, and one of my favourite spots in the whole country - nay, world! - is Charleston.  Who could not love a chain of fried chicken restaurants with the slogan: 'Born and breaded in South Carolina'. Well, actually, that wasn't in Charleston itself, for the town is more genteel than that - it has graceful Georgian terraces and palatial ante-bellum houses, and its broad avenues are lined by old oak trees swathed in Spanish moss. The soundtrack to any stroll in Charleston is the intermittent clipclop of hooves, as horse-drawn carriages make their sedate way through the main arteries of the town.  There are piles of cannon balls, saw palmetto trees and pineapple motifs at every turn.  Secret gardens with plishing fountains beckon behind wrought iron gates. The air is fresh with a salty tang, as the town is on an isthmus shaped like a fat thumb of ginger, and the sea is never far away. And most of all Charleston is hot, hot hot - and humid, humid, humid.

I came to the area about ten years ago for a meeting at a chemical plant located in a swamp a little way out of town.  It was so very hot and sticky that week that the man I was meeting urged me to ditch my customary business attire and come along in something 'loose fitting and cool'.  Which was the first time in my professional life that I have been asked to 'slip into something more comfortable'.  So I wore a summer dress with a little cardigan - or rather without a little cardigan, most of the time.

Two odd things happened during my time in Charleston: firstly I met a man in a fish restaurant who was a peripatetic trainer of staff at Michelin tyre plants.  As someone who has carried out studies into rubber chemicals, I instantly bonded with this chap during an animated chat about rolling resistance, drag coefficients and tackifiers. The other odd thing that happened is that the landlady of my B & B snuck into my bedroom in the dead of night, which in hindsight I found distinctly creepy.  I know for a fact that she came right up to my bed, because there was a plate of fresh-baked cookies on the nightstand in the morning...

My historic B & B, with unsolicited nocturnal room service - and a curious list!

So Charleston - and some other southern towns and cities like Savannah, Georgia (home of the incomparable El Cheapo gas station chain!) and New Orleans - made a deep and lasting impression on me, and I dream of the chance to go back and spend longer than a weekend.  But what has that got to do with Zelda the perfume, other than the fact that Zelda Fitzgerald, the inspiration for the scent, was born in Alabama, also in the Deep South?  And who was the poster girl for the Jazz Age - the era of flapper girls and the Charleston, of course?  Is this post just a gratuitous vehicle for my travel memoirs, you might well ask?

The white blob is not one of those ghostly orbs, just a flash malfunction!

Well, not quite...Zelda the perfume also contains a prominent magnolia note, which is strongly evocative of this part of America.  The sensual, lemony, almost fleshy quality of the petals is synonymous with southern states for me. Then there's the film 'Steel Magnolias' set in Louisiana, and Magazine Street, Strange Invisible Perfumes' magnolia-forward scent inspired by New Orleans.   'Gone with the Wind' was filmed at the Magnolia Plantation, while 'Moonlight and Magnolias' is a stage play about the making of the film.  So, not just pineapples and cannonballs and saw palmetto trees - magnolias also abound in this particular part of the union...

I have described Zelda the perfume in my 2013 Top Sniffs post (where it won one of my top three spots for best releases of the year!) as "a sumptuous floral oriental with a sultry magnolia heart in a crisp galbanum shell.  Zelda is a Southern belle in a pencil skirt, Vivien Leigh in geek glasses, and other images of optimally constrained flounce and sensuality."

I have been doing some digging about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, which seems to have begun to unravel once she turned 30 and suffered some kind of nervous breakdown.  From then on she spent years in a succcession of mental institutions in Europe and America, before meeting an untimely end in a fire at a hospital facility in Asheville, NC.  By a spooky coincidence, I happened to be in Asheville on the day my father died, and spent a strange evening in a restaurant being urged by a series of wait staff to 'have a great night'.

Zelda Fitzgerald's biographer summed up her troubled persona rather well:

"Recently myth has likened Zelda to those other twentieth-century icons, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. With each she shares a defiance of convention, intense vulnerability, doomed beauty, unceasing struggle for a serious identity, a short tragic life and quite impossible nature."


And Zelda the perfume exerts a haunting appeal precisely because - as perfume Shelley Waddington set out to do - it captures in scent these different facets of sense and sensuality, intellectual rigour and carefree kicking back, light and dark, and happiness and heartbreak.  On the En Voyage Perfumes website we read:

"Inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, America's first flapper and the wife of F Scott Fitzgeral, ZELDA's bright beginning, full heart, and dark base evoke the story of Zelda's bright life and tragic descent into a final heart of darkness.  Jazzy and contemporary, ZELDA's Art Deco signature exalts the precious naturals, resins and tinctures found in famous vintage perfumes of the '20's."

The Fitzgerald family practising their flapper footwork - Source:

(NB The capitalisation of the perfume name in this description is not replicated elsewhere on the En Voyage website, so I have not reproduced it generally!)

Described as a 'neo-Oriental perfume' for women, the notes of Zelda are:

Top notes: Spiced Italian Bergamot, Spices, and Iranian Galbanum

Heart notes: Creamy Magnolia Blossom and Garden Florals

Base notes: Smoky Amber, Vintage Musks, Vanilla, Balsams, Sandalwood and Vetiver, Cedarwood,and Mousse de Chene.

Now, much is talked about perfumes with a sense of place - or 'scents of place', if you will.  There are some with a clue in the name: Jardin sur le Nil, Bombay Bling, SE1, Traversée du Bosphore.  Others you personally associate with a specific place because you happened to be wearing them at the time, and that location and your scent memories are irrevocably intertwined - so-called 'grandmother's rose garden syndrome' (okay, I did just make that up!).  

But I was in Charleston many years before I cared a monkey's fig about perfume, so for me this is a retrospective - and asynchronous - association, a fabricated scent memory in a sense, yet it gives me pleasure nonetheless to wear Zelda now and imagine myself back in Charleston in 2003.  So, given that I also pick perfumes out carefully with a view to imprinting them with happy memories to come, it seems I am game to indulge in a spot of future AND past time-travelling where forging scent memories is concerned. But as I was only struck by sudden onset perfume mania in 2008, I have a lot of time to make up for, you see...;)

Then I have two other things to say about Charleston and Zelda.  The first is the fact that I once created my own perfume as part of a The Perfume Studio 'experience', and I named it Charleston.  It was a green floral, meant to conjure up the scent of those walled gardens mentioned - and pictured - earlier.  It had notes of sweet pea and freesia, green tea and lemon, sandalwood and vanilla.  Oh, and a ton of other stuff - but trust me, it was nothing like Zelda.  The blends I had at my disposal didn't run to magnolia, though there was a bit of gardenia in there, so a nod in the direction of sultry big white florals at least.  However, it wasn't very good, I don't think now - the green accord rather overwhelmed it, and I - rather cynically - suspect that the hostess who steered me towards using it in my final 'mod' may have had rather a lot of it left over.  The aldehydic accord, which I so nearly sprung for, would have been a safer bet.

The other thing to say about Zelda is that it started life in Carmel, California, scene of my doomed attempt to visit the store and HO of Ajne Perfumes.  That was in 2010, and I hadn't heard of the En Voyage brand back then. When I had drained the sample that Natalie of Another Perfume Blog had kindly given me, I decided I had to own a full bottle, and called upon the courier services of the very obliging Undina of Undina's Looking Glass.  I paid online but had the bottle shipped to Undina's house, where it lived for a while until a business associate of hers was ready to make another trip to England.  So he popped it into his suitcase and posted it from Sussex shortly after his arrival.  It pleases me to think that this very bottle has spent some time in Undina's possession, so this is another scent association I have - of Zelda the perfume in Northern California, being carefully looked after by Undina, and occasionally toyed with by Rusty...

So many reasons to love this perfume, as well as its glorious scent.

Photo courtesy of Undina, and the unbeatably biddable Rusty!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Diptyque Volutes edt: the 'Gift With Purchase' bar just got higher...! ;-)

So at some point in the anti-climactic week that followed my dismantling of the Christmas tree, and spurred on by Undina's recent - and uncharacteristically impulsive - purchase of Diptyque Volutes edt, I finally cracked and bought it myself.  After all, Undina and I own 'her and her' Burberry lipsticks in similar tones of pinky nude, so it feels not unfitting that we should also have twin bottles of this beautiful smoky scent.

I had just drained the sample of Volutes edt given to me by Tamsin when she visited, and couldn't bear to be without it, however laughable that may sound coming from a person with a very bad case of SABLE syndrome ('Stash Above And Beyond Life Expectancy' for anyone unfamiliar with the acronym).

When my bottle arrived from the Diptyque store in London, I could not believe my eyes at the cornucopia of freebies that came with it, occupying not one but two drawstring bags.  (I hadn't mentioned that I was a blogger, in case that might just have prompted such unusual levels of largesse. ;-) )  One bag contained a dozen samples of other perfumes in the line, all housed in dinky little boxes and including the edp version of Volutes, which is fundamentally different from the edt.  The other bag was stuffed with sachets of bodycare products - every kind of pampering unguent, oil, creme, lotion and gel known to man, and quite a few that aren't ('milky veil for the body' and 'smoothing body polish' being chief amongst them).

So yes, I think Diptyque just raised the 'Gift With Purchase' bar a few feet...or can you top it?  What's the best haul of complimentary gubbins you have received with a perfume purchase?

But for now though - and notwithstanding the fact that it is only January 12th - I think this may just prove to be the customer service coup of the year!

Hmm, and so much for my resolution about not buying any more full bottles in 2014...;)

My crazy swag, bagged!

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Top Sniffs - and Nasty Niffs - of 2013 - a slightly wonky edition...;-)

It's been a couple of years since my last round up of the best and worst of the year in scent terms - I just checked and 2011 was indeed the last one.  This coincided with a stage in my perfume j***ney when I was still doing a lot of testing and seeking out samples of new things - aided by overseas business trips that took me to top perfumista hunting grounds like Paris and Zurich and Berlin.

Then 2012 was consumed by upheaval in my personal life and the house move - but though I was diverted from the business of chasing after novelty, my fragrant Wanderlust was already starting to wane, and I was bonding more with what I already owned.  Much as Birgit has explained in her retrospective of 2013, though not quite so marked.  Moreover, all the work I have had last year has been local - or on the telephone! - so my sniffing oppos have been much curtailed anyway.

Offsetting that, I seem to have received more promotional product lately, but these packages rarely contained any of the few lemmings I was harbouring (can you harbour a lemming? - you can now!) - more a case of random stuff that perfume houses saw fit to send me, often the smaller, newer brands looking for exposure in social media.  And just occasionally new lemmings were ignited this way (can you set a lemming on fire?...of course you can!).

Lemming on ice (best I could find - and topical at least!) Source:

So in view of the woefully limited and lopsided nature of my sniffing experience lately, this post will do no more than nod in the direction of actual releases from the past year, and focus on my perfume-themed highlights of 2013, however they came about...

And as I mentioned in my 3.6 year stock take, this hobby remains as much about the people I meet through it as perfume itself, hence why I would probably say my happiest moments of last year were the meet-ups with fellow perfumistas: the Smelly Cakey Drinky event in March, hooking up with Freddie Albrighton in April, Lucy Raubertas, Undina and Denyse Beaulieu in June, Natalie in August, and Lavanya and Tara in London just last week.

NB Apologies for the veritable thicket of hyperlinks in this post - they do get more sparse from this point on!


Best niche perfumes

En Voyage Perfumes Zelda - a sumptuous floral oriental with (to quote myself!) 'a sultry magnolia heart in a crisp galbanum shell'.  Zelda is a Southern belle in a pencil skirt, Vivien Leigh in geek glasses, and other images of optimally constrained flounce and sensuality. (Thanks to Natalie of Another Perfume Blog for the sample!)

Puredistance BLACK - review here.

Source: Puredistance

Neela Vermeire Créations Ashoka - If I didn't already own not one but TWO bottles of PG Bois Naufragé, I would have considered Ashoka to be FBW; and though I prefer it by quite some margin to the PG, it is too much in the same 'milky-woody-fig' vein to justify a further acquisition. ;-(

Source: Neela Vermeire Créations


Best under-the-radar niche release

Téo Cabanel Barkhane - a hauntingly beautiful woody oriental with the understated snuffed out quality of Diptyque Volutes edt or Puredistance BLACK, rather than the chutzpah of Amouage Lyric Woman or Tauer L'Air du  Désert Marocain - though all four scents have a similarly elusive air of mystery to them.

Source: Luckyscent

Honorable mention - niche

Chanel Les Exclusifs 1932 - Chanel No 5 meets Tom Ford Violet Blonde and makes out on a bed of silk.

Frédéric Malle Dries Van Noten / Denise Van Outen(!)- a wispy biscuity scent unlike the aggravated Danish pastry that is Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau and other patisserie perfumes of that kidney.

Favourite perfume discoveries in 2013 from earlier years

Diptyque Volutes edt - see also Barkhane above: a cosy, smoky, powdery caress of a scent (thanks to Tamsin Simmill for the sample of this one).

Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles - I didn't think I liked a pine note in perfume, but the needle has finally dropped!

Yesterday's Christmas tree carnage

L'Erbolario Méharées - a poor man's Musc Ravageur with notes of myrrh and dates (thanks to Odiferess for samples of these last two).

Best oud perfume release (that's enough now, please)

(I have a special note category - for oud?? Yep, that is how 'off kilter'/odd my year has been...)

Exidolo Thirty-Three - wispy rose and oud composition using 33-year old Chinese oud oil, if vintage is your thing!  Wild-harvested no less. It is paradoxically evanescent for a scent built around such a tenacious note, but that is okay by me.

Best cheapie oud scent discovery (for any 'dyed in the wood' oud  lovers out there)

Dehnal oud

My friend Gillie tumbled to this, and it only costs about £2 for a purse-sized roll-on! Plus it has the seal of approval of a bunch of men on Basenotes, and goodness knows they don't take any prisoners...;)

So cheap it's rude not to - whether you like oud or not!

Most oddball use of a note in a perfume

Mark Buxton Emotional Rescue (gooseberry!)

I don't think Emotional Rescue the perfume will replace chocolate or wine any time soon.  And gooseberry's place is firmly in a fool.

Perfume I smelt briefly, have no sample of, and which is now haunting me

Ramon Monégal Ambra di Luna - the moment is captured here.

Perfumes I think I would have liked a lot that I haven't smelt

Dita Von Teese Erotique
Givenchy Dahlia Noir L'Eau

Most liked perfume that a SA insisted I try (enforced sampling normally being the kiss of death, as we know)

Louise Kennedy (the new scent by the Irish designer of that name)

Described as a 'romantic, floral bouquet with refreshing top notes of geranium bourbon, mimosa and Rose de Mai underscored with bergamot and lemon'.  The lemon gives it a pleasant, almost granular tartness, while I also detected a galbanum or hyacinth prickle that stopped the whole composition from straying into girlish tweeness.  Before, sadly, the Miss Dior Chérie-style bottle dragged it squarely back again.

We are so over chunky tops bedecked in pink bows... Source:

Most eye-catching set of perfume samples

Téo Cabanel

Spirograph squiggles(!) and meticulous colour coordination 

Most unexpected event of the entire year (in a good, horizon-broadening kind of a way)

The Neela Vermeire chicken liver incident.


Worst niche niff

Viktoria Minya Hedonist

Now I don't go a bundle on boozy notes or peach - or excessive honey twizzling - in a perfume, so this scent was always going to have its work cut out, but still.  It was muddy, with a strange, slightly off note, as Freddie of Smellythoughts is my witness!

(Hedonist also takes the award for the perfume where I felt most out of step with the views of other bloggers.  Last year that accolade would have gone to Puredistance Opardu if I had written a review of 2012 - it was pretty enough, no question, yet came off as a little too mainstream and laundry musky on my skin.)

Worst mainstream niff

Giorgio Armani Si

Who let that 'orrible blackcurrant note out!  And the overpowering vanilla accord that mugs you on the drydown.  And hey, I like vanilla.  I can almost tolerate vanilla-scented tealights, but not quite.  I disliked this scent so much I can't even be bothered to give it its rightful grave accent.  It is gravely bad!

Source: Fragrantica

Marketing let down of the year

Ormonde Jayne has been one of my absolute favourite houses, but I feel compelled to let readers know that its Perfume Portrait service - glowing review here - now costs £20 if you book it in advance, but bizarrely remains free if you just walk in off the street.  And contrary to the time I had it done for myself, there is now an expectation that you will make a purchase on the spot, which of course is alien to most perfumistas who prefer to procure a sample first and take their time deciding before springing for a full bottle.  Assuming they even like anything that much from Ormonde Jayne's relatively compact range (though I personally have a very high strike rate with them).  Now it may be that this is not in fact general policy, but it was clearly the deal when I went along with a couple of friends, one of whom had the portrait done.  Also, the exploding flower tea ceremony appears to be a thing of the past, albeit we arrived a little late - we were only offered water.  And neery a chocolate either.

UPDATE - re the Ormonde Jayne saga above, see Lavanya's comment below for the latest developments, in which she 'outs' herself and Tara as the other participants - it was Lavanya who had the portrait done. ;)

Saturday 4 January 2014

"You smell nice! What's that perfume house you're wearing?"

Ye olde Manchester pub - Source: Wikimedia Commons
The other week I was in a pub in Manchester with Sarah Waite of Odiferess.  We were perched at a long trestle table and had done that upending of our handbags thing - the table was littered with a messy heap of vials, decants and even the odd full bottle.  These we replaced with more receptacles from several stuffed bags at our feet, as we steadily worked our way through the tabletop stash.  At some point I went to the bar, and by the time I made it back the curiosity of the gaggle of ladies sitting next to us had got the better of them and they were leaning intently towards Sarah, exclaiming that they were catching pleasant whiffs of unidentified perfumes from our direction.  Or as Sarah herself described the session in her post on our mutual love of vermin and associated fragrances:

"We spent a long and joyous afternoon waffling about scent and swopping samples and decants (gaining the curiosity of drinkers in the packed pub who caught thick wafts of the rare and the quirky)."

Not only that, but in my absence Sarah had seized the moment and was moderating a veritable mini-focus group, quizzing these ladies about their own perfume preferences.  The conversation went much as follows:

Sarah: "So what do you like to wear?"

Lady 1: "Chanel."
Sarah: "Okay....but which particular ones by Chanel?"
For after all, for all we knew, Lady 1 may have been a Chanel loyalist, with a scent wardrobe running the full gamut from No 5 to No 19 Poudré to Chance Eau Tendre.
Lady 1: "Coco."

And you just know what is coming next -"Coco" turned out to be shorthand for the ubiquitous, but nonetheless agreeable "Coco Mademoiselle".

Sarah, turning to a younger member of their party: "And so what about you, then?"
Lady 2: "I like Givenchy."
Sarah (patient to a fault): " what exactly by Givenchy?"
Lady 2: "Irresistible."

When we were on our own again, we mulled over this curious phenomenon whereby 'normal' members of the public (ie non-perfumistas) often choose to denote their chosen perfume in brand rather than in specific product terms.  Like saying you drive a Ford, rather than a Fiesta or a Focus, though the two cars are not remotely alike, or saying you had 'carbohydrate' for breakfast rather than porridge or toast.


Fast forward to Christmas Eve...when I was round at my friend Gillie's for her traditional pre-Christmas get together, and got chatting to a friend of hers I often see at such events.  His mother is a well known figure in the local community, and for some reason he volunteered the fact out of the blue that he didn't care for some of her perfumes.    

"They are really - you know - big", he explained.  "Knock you out they would."  

"Oh," I replied, my interest piqued: "I'd love to know what ones you mean". 

"No problem - I'll find out for you and tell you the next time I see you."

Well, that could well have been next Christmas, but as luck would have it we ran into each other at a party just a few days later, and so this same chap bounced up to me with the news that he had now asked his mother what she wore.  

"Oh good", I said, instantly anticipating a reply that might feature some combination of Aromatics Elixir / Giorgio Beverly Hills / Opium / Youth Dew and/or other heavy hitters of that ilk and maternal era.

So you may imagine my surprise when the bald answer came:

"Jo Malone."

Scary sillage monsters?  Source:

Nooooo, I thought.  Here we go again... Too little information!  So I have despatched him again to find out which Jo Malone scents in particular he takes objection to.  He was astonished to learn there are in fact knocking on 30 perfumes in the range...;-)

"Really???  I thought there was just the one called 'Jo Malone'."

So while we wait, have you come across this phenomenon of people referring to 'the whole for the part' when it comes to naming perfumes?  (A kind of fragrant synecdoche, if you will.)

And can you think of a Jo Malone that could possibly be construed as an 'elevator clearer' or anything approaching it?  I would have thought that was a contradiction in terms, but perhaps there are powerhouse florals in the line that have managed to pass me by.  Is 'English Pear & Freesia' a stealth Flowerbomb?  Or is Blue Agave & Cacao complete choco-overload?  I have smelt both - albeit a while ago now - and wouldn't go that far.  Then Orange Blossom is a bit of an in-your-face tangfest, and Plum Blossom teeters on the brink of shampoo-dom - or doom, even - but still.

Yes, for as long as it takes till I bump into this bloke again, I am agog.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Happy New Year and a cracking cracker gift!

Just a quick line to wish Bonkers readers everywhere a very Happy New Year!

I have lots of posts planned, but am a bit behind with all things blog-related.  To be truthful - and most uncharacteristically for me - I rather burnt the candle at both ends over the festive period, and generally caned it, culminating in a 24 hour migraine and sickness attack over New Year itself.  I would be lying if I didn't admit to a certain amount of drink being involved, but I prefer to construe this sorry episode as 'a touch of everything poisoning'.

But today I was well enough to clean the top oven, change my - by this time - less than savoury bedding, sew up a knitted hat, and make some 'whatever comes to hand in the fridge' soup, so I feel my strength is definitely returning.

For now though, check out this cracker gift which I was lucky enough to win at a dinner party the other night!  The ne plus ultra of cracker fillers, no question. Well, actually I got a set of screwdriver tips in mine, but pleaded with my friend David to swap them for this atomiser.  If ever a more tailormade item for a fumehead fell out of a cracker, I have yet to see it...;)

David demonstrating the sleek and robustly made interior of the atomiser!