Friday 28 February 2014

Clove at first sniff: Tom Ford Private Blend Atelier d'Orient Shanghai Lily review

There appear to be two main schools of thought about Tom Ford Private Blend Atelier d'Orient Shanghai Lily, to be referred to henceforward in this review as 'Shanghai Lily', 'it' or 'this one'.  One school sees Shanghai Lily as breathtakingly beautiful and/or the sort of perfume you might instinctively reach for on any given day in the absence of specific scent-wearing plans eg Victoria of Bois de Jasmin, Patty of Perfume Posse and Thomas of The Candy Perfume Boy.  Another school considers it to be one or more of the following things: unimpressive on card, pretty on skin if overly clove-y, and with an anti-climactic - to the point of totally absent - drydown eg Robin of Now Smell This and Victoria of EauMG.

I was really interested to read these two takes on Shanghai Lily, because I am both soldiers!  I first tried it in a big Tom Ford sniffing blitz in Paris last June.  As you can see from my scribbled notes, I thought Plum Japonais was a dead ringer for Shiseido's Femininité du Bois, I mistakenly thought there was grapefruit in Rive d'Ambre, and the most salient fact I jotted down about Shanghai Lily was that it was 'épicé' ie 'spicy'. (I assume I was taking dictation rather fast from the sales assistant at this point - I am not given to writing notes to myself in a foreign language. ;) )  Here I clearly fell into the same trap as Robin, because the card amped up the spicy facet at the expense of the floral, and I quickly moved on to other Tom Fords that were also new to me, such as Lys Fumé, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth etc.  It was Jonquille de Nuit in fact of which I ended up getting a sample from the lovely SA, who was actually called Tom Ford!

Fast foward eight months and I found myself unexpectedly bewitched by the Candy Perfume Boy's sillage when he and his soon-to-be-husband Nigel hopped onto the same train as me, bound for London and the international blogger meet up documented here. Shanghai Lily smelt so seductive on Thomas that, as you may recall, I even offered to marry him.

So on my return from London I was predictably haunted by the memory of Thomas's enchanting aura, and started to stalk eBay with a view to buying a sample of Shanghai Lily, which retails for a whopping £140 for 50ml.  In the end I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the manager of the Tom Ford concession at Harvey Nichols in London, playing the 'I don't live anywhere near a major conurbation with a Harvey Nicks in it, so would you be kind enough to send me a sample - I would be happy to pay for your trouble, thank you very much' card, which worked a treat.  I deliberately did not play the 'I'm a blogger, gimme swag' card, a) because there was a very real chance that that tactic might backfire and b) because I genuinely wanted to see how they would respond to me in my capacity as a regular punter.

Well, I say it worked a treat...initially the manager demurred, and said that they only usually send out samples as gifts with purchase 'for security reasons' - that old illogical chestnut - but that as an exception, they would oblige me if I would cover the postage costs of £6.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I received another of those bombastically big boxes (pictured above).  See if you can spot the perfume samples nestling somewhere in amongst the packing peanuts!  But I am not complaining, because the samples comprised 8ml, which by my reckoning - on a pro rata basis - are worth a staggering £22.40.  So I am already quids in here without having even sniffed the thing again (I mean 'this one'.)

But very soon I did, and can report that on each occasion I still got the initial whoosh of clove of which Robin speaks.  Well, 'carnation' was what flitted through my mind, ie something spicy and sharp and a bit medicinal.  Crucially not old-fashioned, though, as in Caron Bellodgia, say.

During the opening phase, the clove acted almost like prison bars, behind which I could just glimpse this drop dead gorgeous, sultry, feminine floral with a twist. A bit like spying a beautiful dental hygienist out of the corner of your eye while you are trapped in the dentist's chair, tholing the administration of all manner of clove-based injectables. Then I would never have guessed Shanghai Lily had orange in it, as I now know from the notes, although there was a tangy facet I couldn't quite put my finger on, which may have been that.  In fact, true to form I really don't know what I was smelling, and can only begin to convey my overall impression of a teasing, coquettish scent - not unduly youthful, mind, yet gentle and tender - one that is soft and powdery, sherbety and sweet, ingenuous and devious, light and, all at the same time.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Gaius Cornelius)

Yes, the scent which eventually emerges from behind the clove is full of contradictions, and may be one of the most beautiful things I have ever smelt, even though I am quite at a loss to describe it.  For that there are the reviews above, of course. Then I found this entertaining description on Luckyscent, which explains how Shanghai Lily was inspired by the character played by Marlene Dietrich in the film Shanghai Express, who is euphemistically described as: 'a woman who lives by her wits along the China coast'.  At the same time, Tom Ford meant Shanghai Lily to evoke: 'caravans piled high with treasures, surrounded by a multi-sensorial abundance of opulence'.  Hmm, that might sound like a big ask of a perfume, and I wouldn't personally describe Shanghai Lily as 'opulent' in the way that Patou Joy or Amouage Gold or YSL Opium might be said to be so. It is spicy, like Opium, but in a softer and much less emphatic style. And is not fat or unctuous like those three either. Shanghai Lily is more in the register of a seriously roughed up L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillons, say.

I then had recourse to the complete note list to see if that helped me unpack the perfume's progression at all, even in hindsight, and I can honestly say not really!  I do love labdanum, rose, pepper, vanilla, incense and gaiac wood, so I am not surprised I have fallen hard for Shanghai Lily. Actually though, I think it is a perfect fusion of sensual lily scents (which feature disproportionately in my collection - eg Serge Lutens Un Lys, DKNY Gold and Penhaligon's Lily & Spice) with the woody / balsamic orientals that are my overall favourite fragrance family (Diptyque Eau Duelle, Kenzo Flower Oriental and Bvlgari Black to name but a few).

Source: Luckyscent


Notes: bitter orange, pink peppercorn, black pepper, clove, jasmine, rose, tuberose, vetiver, cashmeran, benzoin, castoreum, cistus labdanum, gaiac wood, vanilla and frankincense

Although like Robin, I was slow to come round to Shanghai Lily, we part company over the later stages of its development which do not feel 'a bit flat' to me.  Robin goes on to say: 'The clove lingers far into the dry down, but the florals fade far too quickly; what's left is basically a rather mild spiced wood.'.  On my skin, by contrast, at the drydown stage the clove has long since vanished and I get a sweetly vanillic, slightly smoky, yet still markedly floral finish.

Ludicrous layering experiment

Then on a whim the other night, I decided to see if I could recreate Shanghai Lily by layering Penhaligon's Lily & Spice over Cartier's Baiser Volé.  It was a car crash, basically.  Lily & Spice has lily, clove and vanilla in it, and the requisite dark aspect - it is borderline indolic in fact.  The darkness is marred, however, by its pellucid, almost aquatic feel - a bit like CK Truth, say.  Baiser Volé, meanwhile, has a similar snuffed out, pollen-y, sweet, sherbety quality to the Tom Ford, but smells more mainstream and Betty Boo-like.  It is very bright and in your face and brash by comparison, at least in the opening stages.  Yes, Shanghai Lily is not as girlish and fluffy as the Cartier, but nor is it as mature and diva-ish as Marlene Dietrich.  If it is suited to a woman who lives by her wits, I'd like to think this wasn't on an...ahem...professional basis.  But it most certainly has a lttle sultry kick, suspended somewhere between innocence and sensuality.  In my comment on Tara's evocative review on Olfactoria's Travels, I said Shanghai Lily might suit a 30-something on a mission.  Or a 50-something woman trying to recapture her youth...

Funnily enough, I do have a dress that might suit. ;)

Hmm...I haven't worn it since I was a 30-something, though!

Saturday 22 February 2014

'Oh Sienna!' Lidl Suddenly Diamonds review: a BOSS Orange dupe for a Paltrow sum

Regular readers will know that I have been a bit of a champion down the years of the discount grocery chain Lidl's perfume range - I have featured three so far on Bonkers: Suddenly d'Or (a close match of Ghost Luminous), Suddenly Madame Glamour (a masterly copy of Coco Mademoiselle), and in the men's arena, G Bellini X-Bolt (a convincing dupe of Hugo BOSS Bottled). Some people might have moral reservations about such parasitical copying of designer fragrances, though the whole concept of supermarket 'own label' products is predicated on the imitation of their more expensive brand equivalents - to varying degrees of flagrancy.  So speaking for myself - and coming from a food marketing background where I once presided over £11m's worth of own label coleslaw(!) - it is a commercial strategy to which I am pretty immune.  Moreover, the Lidl perfumes are such remarkable copies that I feel somewhat in awe of the perfumer responsible, assuming it is just the one.  All I know is that the range is made in Switzerland, and it took me forever to ascertain even that.

So anyway, I was in Lidl at the weekend buying pork medaillons and whatever else caught my fancy, whilst trying very hard to resist the domestic security alarms, walnut veneer-lookalike coffee tables, home gyms, twin packs of shocking pink vests (more shocking than they look in this photo, trust me), cosy 'leisure suits' (size 16 only), remaindered Valentine's baking moulds and Dumbo books - when I spied the latest Lidl perfume release - Suddenly Diamonds - another women's fragrance this time.

The first thing that struck me was that they had changed the bottle design - it was a chunky rectangular bottle this time rather than the cheap, plasticky teardrop-shaped one used for the previous two Suddenly scents. It was reminiscent in fact of the bottle style of a number of designer and even niche perfumes, so that was an improvement right off the bat.

The name 'Diamonds' proved to be a bit of a misnomer, mind - well, in fairness ALL the Lidl scent names to date have been misnomers(!) in the sense that they are not remotely suggestive of the perfumes they are copying.  Suddenly Diamonds is not an imitation of Emporio Armani Diamonds, for example, but the orange writing on the bottle pointed instantly to BOSS Orange.  After all, G Bellini X-Bolt was a dupe of a BOSS scent last time, so maybe the marketing people at Lidl thought they were on a roll with poor Hugo!

BOSS Orange edt and edp in Boots

But Boss Orange??  That would not be my pick, unless it is in fact a runaway bestseller and I simply had no idea. Admittedly, Coco Mademoiselle was always going to be a hard act to follow - Chanel No 5?  Marc Jacobs Daisy?  Lady Million? One of those annoying Be Delicious scents? - I don't actually know what the best sellers in the market are these days.  It would probably upset me if I did.  Maybe BOSS Orange is particularly easy to copy, because having got hold of a sample of it and the Lidl I am very impressed at the likeness.  More between the BOSS Orange edt and Suddenly Diamonds than the smoother, more rounded edp.  Hey, I didn't even know there were two!  Both the BOSS Orange edt and Suddenly Diamonds have that bright citrus opening, followed by a syrupy orange-y cotton candy, musky drydown, which kicks in pretty soon in fact. The Lidl scent is in a slightly 'deeper register', if that makes sense, ie is slightly less fruity and bright and kind of 'flatter' and more musky maybe, but I am splitting hairs really, as the resemblance is compelling.

BOSS Orange edt

Top notes: red apples 
Middle notes: white flowers, African orange flower
Base notes: sandalwood, olive tree, vanilla

BOSS Orange edt and edp testers cosying up in Boots

If BOSS Orange is your thing, for £3.99 you really can't go wrong.  It will cost you about eight times as much in Boots, say. Oh, and the 'Paltrow sum' of the title is a bit of artistic licence, for Gwyneth is of course the face of BOSS Nuit pour Femme, while Sienna Miller features in the BOSS Orange campaign. But they are both Boss girls, so obviously I couldn't resist it.

Now I absolutely hated BOSS Orange when it first came out - in fact the musks gave me an instant headache.  When I tried it again in the interests of this scientific inquiry it wasn't as bad as I remember, though absolutely not what I would wish to wear.  I don't hold with assigning demographic parameters to fragrance as a rule, but this does smell 'young'.  Younger than Sienna, even, and she is just the wrong side of 30, I see.

I must say I am rather disappointed by Lidl's rather lacklustre choice of BOSS Orange after the completely brilliant coup of choosing Coco Mademoiselle, and it has got me wondering about what scent I would like them to imitate in future. Well, I'd be interested to see what kind of a job they made of No 5 at that price point, hehe, though my guess is that it's more likely to be another ho-hum designer scent again... ;-(

In closing, I would like to pay a special tribute to the BOSS Orange bottle, which would cost a bob or two to replicate, even if the Lidl folk were that bold, and I am sure they wouldn't be.  It reminds me of those lovely nobbly glass bricks you get in hotel bathrooms.


Friday 14 February 2014

Sniffing by numbers: Fragrance Republ!c FR! 01 / 04 review

Argentina tango ~ Source:
A number of reviews have been appearing lately of the new line of perfumes from Fragrance Republ!c (note odd use of an exclamation mark where an 'i' should be), which is described as:

"A new club of fragrance enthusiasts that gives exclusive access to original fine fragrances as created by world class perfumers.  Every month our members receive an exclusive fragrance straight from our lab to their door."

The difference between working for Fragrance Republ!c and a conventional perfume house is that their perfumers are allowed free rein to create whatever takes their fancy.

I was contacted by a PR person for the brand back in December and have since been sent two perfumes from the line, FR! 01/ No 3 and FR! 01 / No 4.  Oh look, even the initials are exclamatory!  I haven't tried the first two releases, but here are a couple of reviews: of FR! 01 / No 1 on Chemist in the Bottle, and of FR! 01 / No 2 on Another Perfume Blog.

FR! 01 / No 3 is a brisk, slightly masculine-leaning ode to the Mojito, and I have nothing to add to Val the Cookie Queen's review here.  FR! 01 / 03 would make an excellent choice for a buff, sporty young man like Val's son, who has apparently pretty much adopted it as his signature scent.

This week I have been wearing FR! 01 / 04 by Amélie Bourgeois for three days straight, but my decision to write about it today was in fact prompted by Sandra's post on Olfactoria's Travels about the latest Hermessences scent, Epice Marine, in which she detects a 'toasted cumin' note.

Do those stitches remind you even a teeny bit of sesame seeds?

Now as it happens, the most salient note for me in FR! 01 / 04 is the rather offbeat use of sesame. When first applied on my skin, I am strongly reminded of stir fry oil, both in physical texture and scent. Having now had a good old sniff of the bottle of stir fry oil I currently have on the go, I can confirm that this impression is entirely erroneous.  My cooking oil smells sharper and more lemongrass- and ginger-y.  But I still have a vivid mental picture of anointing myself in cooking oil which refuses to go away.  As well as the strongest nutty note I have ever smelt in a perfume - and it could be that I have nut-amplifying skin - there is a slightly camphoraceous quality to the opening.  We are almost in lighter / barbecue fuel territory, but happily not quite.

Now I don't mean to put people off this scent, for this singular opening soon mutes down into a rich and smooth - albeit still slightly oil-reminiscent - floral accord.  But before I leave the oil facet, I must relate my interesting discovery about Bourgeois' inspiration for this scent.  For she grew up in an area of the SW of France called Les Landes, which is noted for its long sandy beaches fringed by pine forests.  And apparently 'hot sand' and 'sunscreen' were very much in her mind at the inception of this perfume, though after thinking long and hard about which direction it was going to develop in, she settled on a floral note - namely magnolia - as the main turn in her composition, with its evocation of 'sensual dance' and 'hotness'. By a curious chance we are back in Zelda territory again and my own associations of that perfume with a languid and sultry weekend in Charleston!

Those really are naked people swimming, but this is a family blog

So the mental leap from sunscreen to stir fry oil is perhaps not too extreme after all.  I have a bit of a soft spot for Les Landes as it happens, which was kindled by my voracious reading of the rather gothic works of Francois Mauriac at school. I have also visited the region for work a few times, but my most abiding memories of the coast are of accidentally spending two weeks in a naturist camp in Montalivet-les-Bains in 1983. The first few hours were excruciatingly awkward, but it is surprising how quickly you become accustomed to the naked human form in all its myriad variants.  So, you know, a disproportionate amount of sunscreen will have been deployed on that holiday all right...;)

Our cabin in the forest - mosquitoes had never had it so good!

But that is enough about the germ of the olfactory idea for this scent, for Bourgeois's final composition is not about France, but Argentina, where I have never been, though I have eaten a few tins of corned beef in my time.  The description inside the lid of the box the perfume came in states:

"I wanted FR! 01/04 to be as bright and exhilarating as a weekend getaway to Argentina, while also recalling the sensuality and tempo of the tango.  Conceived as two bodies dancing, its structure evokes the tango's abrazo, as an intense floral with magnolia and cassie flower, and an enchanting woody note embrace with passion and grace."

Top notes: yellow Italian mandarin, sweet orange
Middle notes: jasmine, fleur de cassie, mimosa Maroc, magnolia
Base notes: sesame, tonka bean, white musks

Once the oily effect dissipates, I'd say the dance is rather between a very juicy fruity blend - reminiscent in intensity of Atelier Cologne's Orange Sanguine and Aftelier Secret Garden, also a little of Vero Profumo Rubj maybe, as well as a rather obscure orange-forward scent by Ajne called Bloom de Nuit - and an intense floral hit of magnolia, flanked by sweet and sherbety mimosa.  FR! 01 /04 is bombastic all right, a showgirl scent, with the intensity and unctuousness of Zelda but none of the latter's zesty greenness.  I would personally lose the sesame note altogether, because it plays up way too much on my skin and fractionally tips the fragrance into 'odd' territory, although it is Bourgeois's stated aim that it should appeal to as many club members as possible.  I have never smelt anything like it, though, I'll give it that - and the sesame note may be the reason.

Source of the stir fry oil chimera

What else is there to say about this scent or the range in general?  Well, for one, it is commendable that the Fragrance Republ!c perfumers have unlimited creative freedom in this way.  The release of perfumes in just 15 ml bottles is also greatly to be encouraged - and hopefully a trend that will gather momentum in more orthodox quarters of the industry.

As for the clinical packaging and the numerical names, I am not so keen on that.  I am working up to doing a post on Biehl Kunstwerke, in which I shall doubtless also have a pop at this 'sniffing by numbers' approach. Overall though, I think it is an exciting new business model, and I look forward to catching up with the other numbers in the range - both the earlier ones I missed and the ones (or rather 05 'and higher', as the flight attendants say) yet to come.

Special credit is also due to the nifty cut out foam in which my bottles were most securely shipped from France.  I do like a bit of avant-garde packaging, as long as - as in the present case - it is commensurate with the item housed within.

If you have tried FR! 01 / 04 already, I would be most interested to know what you made of it, and how prominent the nutty note was on your skin.

And if anyone has any more creative names for a 'big juicy fruity magnolia scent with Latin American connotations', I would love to hear your suggestions.  

Not sure about 'Evita', no...

Sunday 9 February 2014

A fishy fumehead encounter, featuring Val the Cookie Queen and Portia Turbot-Gear

Val and Thomas at Bloom, with Michael and half of Nigel in the background
Readers may well have been following the adventures of irrepressible Antipodean drag queen Portia of APJ and her urbane fellow contributor Michael as they have been on a bit of a world tour in recent weeks. This has taken in Austria, Germany and France, to name just the countries I have clocked in blog posts and Facebook updates.  In the final leg of her travels, Portia blew into London the other day, as did another member of the APJ crew, Val the Cookie Queen, accompanied by her daughter.  Portia and Michael had already visited Val and family in Austria, as well as hooking up with Birgit and Sandra of Olfactoria's Travels in Vienna for - amongst other things - that all-important tea towel handover. Yesterday, a group of about ten perfumistas (mostly bloggers, in the event) foregathered in the Spitalfields district of London for a mini-perfumery crawl and hearty fish and chip lunch.  Which doesn't have quite the same ring to it as 'fish and chip supper', but there you go.

I say 'blew in', not just because both Portia and Val are live wires, which they are in spades (do spades have wires? Of course they do!), but because it was unfeasibly windy that day.  Umbrella-thrapingly so, if I had had the foresight to bring one with me, topped off with a side order of cold lashing rain.  Now we have had gales all last week where I live, but I don't expect such dismal weather when I come down to London. Why, London is practically in the tropics as far as I am concerned, and I expect my full thermal value - I had even doffed my winter vest in anticipation! - but it was signally lacking yesterday.

Spillover clothing crisis in the office

I don't know if the weather had anything to do with it, but I nearly missed my train in the morning, owing to a clothing crisis of unprecedented proportions that lasted a full hour and laid waste to several rooms (by no means all of them bedrooms).   It seemed impossible to pick out a single outfit that went even some way towards a harmonious union of colour, shoe comfort, fabric type (including any day/night connotations), trouser length, weatherproofing, warmth, and flexibility of warmth.Trying to add a fashionable element into the mix would have tipped me into complete meltdown, if indeed I had owned garments that nodded in that direction. But eventually, reason prevailed and I settled on a tunic top and suit trousers, flat shoes - and no vest!

Epicentre of the clothing carnage

When the train reached Milton Keynes, I hooked up with Thomas, The Candy Perfume Boy, and his soon-to-be-husband Nigel, though not before I had sewn up not one but two knitted hats!  Nothing like a wifi coldspot for prompting the completion of an abandoned crafting project.  The three of us made our way to Aldgate East tube station, where we had arranged to meet Tara.  There we spent the obligatory ten minutes being royally flummoxed by 'multiple exit syndrome', before fortuitously popping up at Exit 3, where Tara was waiting for us, looking serene and lovely as ever - and not the least bit buffeted or rainswept.

We struck out intially in the wrong direction, but Thomas quickly google mapped us back on track, and we wove our way deftly through the narrow streets around Brick Lane.  I stuck closely to him, not least because he was emitting beguiling whiffs of Tom Ford Shanghai Lily, which I had briefly sampled in Paris in June, yet somehow its spicy floral glory had failed to woo me till now.  I may have offered to marry Thomas at one point, possibly within earshot of Nigel.

My new scent squeeze ~ Source:

When we arrived at Bloom in Spitalfields, it was already packed out with a lively throng of fumeheads in full sniffing mode, including Val and Portia, Michael, Nick Gilbert (Fragrant Reviews) and Joshua Ang (The Smelly Vagabond). Freddie Albrighton (Smellythoughts), whose train had been delayed, joined us shortly afterwards.)  Introductions over, a small flurry of mutual present giving ensued.  I gave Val a poster of The Monochrome Set and a purse for keeping samples in; she gave me cookies of her own manufacture (yay!) and an antique silver button hook, which belonged to her grandmother.  Tara copped for a hat(!) - my hat knitting compulsion having lately escalated to the point where I have exhausted the pool of potential recipients in Stafford - while Portia took custody of a pair of minuscule notebooks and a slightly broached box of fudge that was briefly pre-owned - or at the very least funded - by Tom Cruise. Thereby hangs a tale which will feature in Bonkers in due course, along with its Portia-enabled sequel...

Nick in classic raised forearm pose, with mischievous grin (not pictured)

Oh, and I did remember to do a bit of sniffing, but only a couple of things.  For example, I finally caught up with the new rose release from Parfumerie Generale - No 26 Isparta.  When Pierre Guillaume kissed me(!) after the talk at Les Senteurs in 2012, he also whispered in my ear that he was working on a rose scent. Well, all I can say is that it's been a long time coming, and as Nick pointed out, it does smell somewhat similar to Portrait of a Lady - you might be forgiven for thinking that in the space of two years PG might have taken his composition in a more original direction, but apparently not.  So no new lemming there, thankfully.

The lovely Tara, pictured with her 'To Sniff' list?

Soon it was time to repair next door to Poppies, a retro diner famous for its prize-winning fish and chips. The table assigned to us wasn't quite big enough, but by sheer force of numbers and a bit of strategic staring we quickly saw off the two couples at adjacent tables, and suddenly had ample room to accommodate our own substantial party.

Nick, Freddie, Portia Turbot-Gear (sic!) and Michael

Inevitably, we couldn't stop passing round bottles and samples for one another to sniff, and I got to try the new Dita Von Teese Erotique - which was exactly the 'teesingly' spicy, sandalwoody number Thomas had described in his review - also Vero Profumo Mito Voile d'Extrait, which is less acerbic and more floral than the original EDP, thanks to the addition of tuberose.  I sprayed it liberally on my front, then later wiped the overspray from my Zelda bottle (from when I was making samples for other people) on the back of my neck.  I felt like a scented version of Janus!

Tara, Joshua and Nigel

Our food came pretty quickly, so we had to clear away some of our perfume tackle to make way for huge plates of fish and bottles of condiments.  Not only was its flesh as white as a Hollywood smile, but my haddock was intriguingly upended on its side, though I had to knock it over in order to set about eating it. Sarah, another perfumista who joined us at the restaurant, also had vertical fish, which is not a style of presentation I had previously encountered.

Sarah's fish standing to attention

Replete from our big meals, our slightly bedraggled gaggle braved the weather again to make our way to - no, not Angela Flounders as you might very well imagine, with it being in the immediate vicinity - but Les Senteurs in Seymour Place. As we walked I chatted to Portia a bit about his time in London some 20 years ago, and mentioned that I had also been to Sydney and owned a koala called Mosman.  Only a toy, obviously, but the real things are, after all, not markedly more lively.  Or not the ones living in Canberra Zoo in late 1993.  Portia endeared himself to me by guessing that he was the eldest in our group, when he is fact nine years my - and Val's - junior.  Also by describing me as 'glamorous', which I mistakenly heard as 'cadaverous', to people's amusement.

The By Kilian invasion

Since my last visit, Les Senteurs had been rather taken over by By Kilian, to which an entire wall had been devoted. I ignored the whole fixture and instead made a beeline for the opposite, more diversely stocked wall, where I tried Atelier Cologne's Silver Iris.  It was every bit as likable as the reviews had suggested, and - like The Monochrome Set's penultimate album - its shiny silver surface could have doubled up in a pinch as an emergency compact mirror, however, I think I have enough irises in my collection.

Val, 'valiantly' keeping the FM red lippie theme going

I also tried Sybarite by Cloon Keen Atelier - the Ateliers were out in force yesterday, as you can tell - but couldn't place the scent and it registered as neither overtly pleasant or otherwise.  A little bit like YSL Nu EDT, if I had to think of any remote point of comparison.  Major props for the name though - I love the word 'sybarite' in all its variants. Maybe I should have tried it on skin, as the composition sounds much more congenial than I remember it smelling.  The top notes of incense and bergamot may not have worked for me, though.

Michael and Freddie at Les Senteurs

Then Freddie drew my attention to Mona di Orio's Eau Absolue, an unusual citrus and honey scent with an animalic base.  It grabbed my attention much more, even on card, and we both agreed that this was a treatment of honey that was more to our liking than Viktoria Minya's Hedonist.  Portia had meanwhile ensconced herself at the back of the shop, looking rather grandee-like amongst the rococo furniture and gilt mirrors.  As well as describing me as glamorous, he told Tara she had great legs, prompting me to call him a 'caution', prompting me in turn to explain what this peculiarly British term means.  I just looked it up and it is classified as 'informal' and 'dated', with a meaning of 'amusing' and 'surprising'.  Well, Portia's sense of humour is certainly both of those! ;-)

Portia striking a pose, possibly involving the sniffing of a mobile phone

All too soon it was time to make tracks and catch my train back.  Thomas and Nigel set off for Euston with me, but we had to part company at the tube station when Nigel got his ticket stuck in the lining of his jacket. ;-)  Before I knew it I was speeding north and back to normal life - the excitement of the day's events had assumed an almost dreamlike quality.  Though the two cookies Val had given me - which didn't make it past Watford Junction - said otherwise...