Saturday 26 April 2014

Agonist The Infidels, Absolument Absinthe, and a lot of perfumes beginning with 'V': Sidmouth's Woodforde Perfumery revisited

So last weekend I travelled down to stay with friends in Sidmouth, a sort of Devonian Cheltenham-on-sea with a disproportionate quota of palm trees and mobility scooters.  Although I avoided the Easter rush by setting off on Saturday, the journey was not without incident - I hadn't even reached Worcester when a warning light came on that I had never seen before. Nerves a-jangle, I pulled off the motorway and consulted the handbook, which was ambiguous on this point.  On Page 8 it stated that this particular yellow flashing light - the so-called 'runflat indicator' - meant you had sustained a puncture and should stop driving immediately!  On Page 59 it said that the runflat indicator only means that the tyre pressures are out of alignment, and that the sensor triggering the warning light 'cannot detect damage by external influences'.  This I took to mean the sort of sharp object which might cause a tyre to puncture...  So, in the face of such comprehensive uncertainty, I conducted a visual inspection of all four tyres, and checked and adjusted the pressures at a nearby Tesco filling station....though not before I had rung three local garages and a car showroom, my friends in Devon, my own garage and car dealership back in Stafford and BMW's emergency out of hours helpline (which also covers Minis).  This straw poll - okay, not all of them answered their phone, with it being Easter - suggested that having taken the aforementioned action I could chance the remaining 149 miles of my journey with relative impunity, and so it proved.

The next two days were very mixed weatherwise: Sunday was spent watching old films and knitting hats for my hosts - my friend's husband actually wanted his!  On Monday the weather was glorious, and in the morning I was taught how to use a log splitting machine and store wood in a large converted dog kennel - my spatial awareness has come on by leaps and bounds as a result. ;)  That afternoon we went for a spectacular coastal walk, and on the following day everything was open again, so we could hit the town's shops in earnest - not least Woodforde Perfumery, the Les Senteurs of East Devon.  I was eager to see what new lines or individual releases the store had got in since my visit last July - or indeed, what perfumes that were new to me I had missed last time.

Do those Amouage factices look big to you?

As ever, my friend hovered patiently beside me as John, one of the owners, passed me blotters.  I had a good old go of sampling a couple of ranges: Profumi del Forte and Agonist.  Profumi Del Forte I had tried in Berlin in 2011, when nothing had particularly caught my fancy, but this time John was steering me towards scents in my preferred fragrance families or ones which he felt were a bit distinctive or original.

Note to self to write the names on the blotters a bit more legibly next time, but I appear to have tested a whopping total of 11.  Apart from anything else I was struck by how many begin with 'V' (almost half!), which to my mind compounds the confusion already surrounding those perfume houses with 'Profum-' in their name:

Fiorisia / Frescoamaro / Roma Imperiale / Tirrenica / Vittoria Apuana / Versilia Aurum / Versilia Platinum / Versilia Vintage Ambra Mediterranea / Versilia Vintage Boisé / Forte by Night Bianco /150 Parfum

My favourite was Forte by Night Bianco, a powdery, musky, vanillic floral that was pleasant without being groundbreaking.  There were one or two oddball marine scents in my selection, namely Frescoamaro and Tirrenica (I have written 'dentist' on the blotter of the latter, a reference to its sharply spicy quality rather than a reminder to myself to change my appointment, which I do also need to do).  One or two others I could imagine being quite nice on a man, though I can't for the life of me remember which now.  Only one fragrance smelt 'mainstream' rather than niche - another musky floral called Fiorisia.  I accept that I may have tried all the perfumes too quickly, and made very snap judgements based on the opening notes on card, so if anyone has a favourite from the Profumi del Forte line - on this list or more generally - I would be interested to know if I have overlooked a gem.

Agonist, meanwhile, is a tortured Scandiwegian house of which I have only recently made the acquaintance. This is thanks to Neil Chapman's recent talk for Perfume Lovers London on vanilla scents, in which he featured the 'Play-Doh cathedral' that is Vanilla Marble.  Now I had a chance to try most of the range (Liquid Crystal, Black Amber, Dark Saphir, Isis, Solaris and The Infidels). My overall comment is that they shared a house style that I would describe as rather 'cold', clear and edgy - as befits their gloomy Nordic ethos, I suppose - but only one attracted me on a visceral level. This was The Infidels, which was also Jane, the other owner's personal favourite of the line.  She kindly let me sniff it from her own personal bottle, as they were out of testers, and I tried both The Infidels and Solaris (a curious rhubarb and grapefruit number) on skin.

The Infidels had a number of distinctive phases, all of which I enjoyed, and though I can't do it justice retrospectively, I did read a number of reviews while its vestiges were still on my skin, and would align myself most closely with this one from Kevin of Now Smell This.  The Infidels was elegant and subtle at all times on me.  Steve of The Scented Hound wasn't so impressed, however, and found it too hippie-ish for his taste, while Kafka was afflicted with a Juicy Fruit chewing gum note that I must say I didn't detect at all.

Ref the list below, these are very much my kind of notes, though I could manage fine without all that provenance information, to be frank.  The blackcurrant was very well behaved - Kevin refers to it as 'blunted', ditto the cumin. This duo of notes is mentioned by several reviewers, although I didn't pick up specifically on either - this may be precisely because the blunting was so expertly done. ;)  I was just aware of a spicy citrusy opening with a vaguely fruity facet, followed by a patchouli interlude, segueing into the smoothly sensual woody-amber drydown.

Notes: pink peppercorn, Sicilian lemon, cloves, Indian davana and elemi, May rose, Turkish rose, Sambac jasmine, Egyptian jasmine, Burmese magnolia, iris, Comoros ylang-ylang, Somali myrrh, opoponax, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, cistus, Peruvian balm, Lebanese cedarwood, Virginia cedarwood, Indian amber, Bourbon vanilla

John holding Absolument Absinthe and its vibrantly green leather case

If The Infidels was the scented highlight of my visit, in terms of sheer novelty value it was another line that wins the prize: Absolument Parfumeur and its flagship scent, Absolument Absinthe Le Parfum d'Interdits, which contains two banned substances we were told - absinthe and cannabis!  Well, I can't comment on the banned aspect, as I haven't been keeping up with the ins and outs of the latest IFRA regulations, but it felt quite daring to try this perfume, and the name 'd'Interdits' certainly fosters the impression that this is risqué stuff!  Absolument Absinthe is a briskly herbal / green scent and was a surprise hit with my friend, who had only been testing the odd thing along the way.  She also quite liked Absolument Homme, which had a marked tobacco note.

Having exhausted our noses' capacity - and pausing for a moment on the way out to admire the humungous Amouage factice bottles in the window display! - we spent the rest of the morning poking around the many independent shops in Sidmouth, which offer some pretty decent gifts and souvenirs, as well as seaside clothing brands like Seasalt and Fat Face.

And there was one more bonus scent experience to come, as the smell of freshly made fudge lured us into Roley's Fudge Parlour!  We both ended up sampling and buying some...the lemon meringue variety, studded with fizzing white bits infused with 'natural lemon oil from the Mediterranean', as the owner took pains to point out, was an absolute taste sensation.  If I needed another reason (and I don't) to return to Sidmouth with its sleepy, sedate charm, the lemon meringue fudge was right up there with Ladurée's best macarons, and a shade cheaper at £1.70 for 100g...

Ooh look, I see they do online sales too...;)

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Scent Crimes Series: No 13 - Suggestive storage in bathroom showrooms

A few redeeming points for colour coordination
I am in between work projects at the moment, so as is my wont in such circumstances, I thought I would conjure up a domestic project instead, to wit refurbishing my bathroom. For I have a scratched cast iron bath that is 104 years old at a conservative guess, an extinct model of lavatory that had the local plumbers merchant poring over their catalogue of 'archived designs' to locate a compatible loo seat, plus the bathroom is painted an aggressive shade of peppermint topped off with a mood-disturbing ceiling of bottle green.

Since formally embarking on the research phase associated with all my renovation projects, I have learnt all manner of new arcane vocabulary pertaining to sanitary fixtures and fittings. Would you believe there are such things as 'comfort height close coupled slow close WCs', as well as the disconcerting 'wall hung' variety?  Then there are 'flat bottom bottle traps', 'pop up wastes', 'slipper baths', 'offset quadrant showers', 'sail panels', and my personal favourite, 'rigid risers with concealed elbow'.

In addition to studying styles and materials on the Internet, I have been visiting a number of bathroom showrooms (five so far!), because I am compelled to subject all potential bathtub contenders in my price range to the Bonkers 'knock' test, ensuring that even the near ubiquitous acrylic models are sufficiently reinforced so as not to sound cheap and flimsy.  I have also been - quite unselfconsciously! - lying in quite a few baths, in order to figure out the optimum height for reading and drinking wine while having a good long soak.  (This is all predicated on a new boiler, I should perhaps mention, for the benefit of readers to whom I have historically bemoaned my erratic hot water output and associated poor reading rate.)  The ledge of the bath must also be able to accommodate a wine glass.  So many things to consider - I tell you, baths are not unlike beds on the comfort front.

They may be empty (and partly J-Lo) but there's a principle at stake!

And in the course of my research - both in showrooms and flicking through brochures - I have been shocked and concerned to see legions of perfume bottles posing in bathroom cabinets, perched on the shelves of vanity units, and sitting pretty on the corner of baths - they are simply everywhere!  Admittedly some of the bottles were empty, but even if 'no actual perfume was harmed' in the staging of these product shots / room sets, it is sending out completely the wrong message to the public.  Anyone would think this is precisely where you should keep your perfume bottles, but of course we know better...

Niches of steamy doom

A few redeeming points for this bottle of Angel being in its box

It is over four years since I wrote my opening post in the Scent Crimes series about the evils of bathroom storage.  I am sorry to report that it has only had 110 page views in all that time, so in terms of the task of convincing the public at large to keep their fragrances in their boxes in a cool dark - and dry - place, I fear our perfume community has still got it 'all to do', as they say...

Brochure behaving badly

Another brochure - a few redeeming points for having a sliding door

It just remains to wish everyone a Happy Easter weekend - I am off to Sidmouth again for a few days, and will be back next week with any fragrant observations from my trip, plus a review of Vero Kern's Rozy edp!

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Aldi versus Ladurée - a mini-macaro(o)n throwdown!

As readers may have noticed, I have written a lot on the blog over the years about the European discounter Lidl. I used to call it a grocery chain, but the non-food lines are so extensive now that I am hearing it referred to simply as 'discounter', which covers a multitude of Spiderman 2 Merchandise T-shirts, electric hard skin removers, lightweight 2 man hiking tents and quail eggs - oh sorry, those are edible! These are just a few of Lidl's specials this week, not forgetting its 'upgradable' Easter bunny planter, a steal at £3.99 for the small size.

And for those of you not familiar with the European retail scene, Aldi is Lidl's fellow-German counterpart, with a very similar business model.  Indeed Aldi has been trading in this sector since 1946, while Lidl - which set up in direct competition - dates from the early 70s. There's a branch of Lidl in Stafford, but my nearest Aldi is about five miles away, meaning that trips there are less frequent, though equally rewarding.  I fill my basket to overflowing every time - not skimping on items from the store's 'Specially Selected' premium range - yet find it nigh on impossible to spend more than £40.

Aldi hasn't gone down the 'knock off' perfume route like Lidl, but it has been lauded for its range of skincare products, Lacura - indeed, in the wake of this article, I think I need to pay the store another visit and stock up on their latest selection of miracle moisturisers.  Well, miracle at the price, it would seem.  I may even review them sometime, in a bid to shore up my flagging eBuzzing Beauty rating. ;)

Oops - I ate the vanilla one already!

Now the last time I was in Aldi my eye was caught by a frozen patisserie item, namely a box of 12 macaroons for £3.79! How strange that before my recent visit to Ladurée in London, my awareness of macaroons (with or without the extra 'o' - I will try to preserve the distinction ;) ) was nil to negligible, and I have now had TWO meringue encounters in as many weeks nearly! Obviously I had to buy the packet, even though chocolate and vanilla are not my favourite flavours.

When I got home I defrosted one macaroon of each kind, and in no time was sampling them both with a cup of tea. They were a little smaller than the Ladurée ones, so I wouldn't have attempted to cut them into four, as we managed to do in Harrods so we could all taste each variety.  So how did the Aldi macaroons compare?  I should firstly mention that in their current amusing and quirky TV ad campaign, Aldi really hammer home the message that their own label foods are every bit as good as brands. When it comes to macaroons, however, I am sorry to report that they haven't quite cracked it - though in fairness Ladurée set the bar very high!

The chocolate macaroon from Aldi was the better of the two: it had a nice chocolatey flavour, and was chewy and slightly creamy, while the vanilla one didn't taste remotely of vanilla, was less creamy and the overall 'mouthfeel' (can you tell I used to work in the food industry? ;) ) was more dry and powdery - to the point of sawdusty even.  I will enjoy the rest of the chocolate ones, but the vanilla were a big disappointment.

Lila eyeing our exquisite teatime spread at Ladurée

And now comes the monetary calculation.  The Ladurée macarons were £2.10 apiece from memory, while the Aldi ones (albeit smaller) work out at about 30p each, rising to 45-50p tops maybe if the size differential were factored in - and none of this is meant to be particularly scientific!  Soooo, are the Ladurée macarons about 4 times as nice? That's a really difficult question - I would struggle to imagine how the Aldi macaroons would actually taste if they were even twice as nice.  And off the bat I'd say that 'four times as nice' sounds a big ask of the Ladurée ones to justify their premium.

Hmm, how about putting the question another way...would I buy the Aldi macaroons again?  No.  Would I spend a considerable (veering to indecent) amount of money to have tea and a few macarons at Ladurée again?  A resounding maybe!  So I make it that Ladurée wins the throwdown by a creamy, chewy, smidge...

I would unreservedly recommend a shopping trip to Aldi generally, mind, especially if you are in the market for any of their current specials, which include 'technical softshell jackets', 'fishing ruckstools', '2 litre hydration bladders' and 'Sport armbands for smartphones'.  Or two mangos for a quid, a creditable imitation of Special K cereal with red berries, and some very cheap nuts!

Upgradable Easter bunny planter ~ Source:

Thursday 10 April 2014

Anything but bland: Neil Chapman's in-person 'podcast' on vanilla scents for Perfume Lovers London (27.3.14)

Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensée on the right, looking barely tetchy from this angle
It's a long time since I last made it down to London for a Perfume Lovers London event, but this particular one held an irresistible lure - a presentation on fragrances showcasing my hands-down favourite perfumery note of vanilla.  The talk was given by the consummately articulate Neil Chapman, whom I keep wanting to call Neil Gaiman for some reason, even though manga comics might be the only possibly crossover. The correct Neil is a Japan-based perfumista who recently won a Jasmine award for his feature on 'Perfume Haters' in Odou magazine, while Neil's blog, The Black Narcissus, delights readers with his quiveringly beautiful perfume reviews and delicately drawn descriptions of local flora and mores.  (I never thought I'd ever have cause to put those two words in the same sentence.)  In person he is quirky and quick-witted, with a paradoxically languid yet rapid style of speaking.  He is also taller, with a more commanding presence than I expected from his avatar.

Thomas, who joined us for the meal part

Before the event, a group of us foregathered at a nearby restaurant, which I think was 'modern Indian', a concept almost unknown to me in The Midlands, with its vast swathes of flock-wallpapered Balti houses.  I confided in Birgit that I could have eaten 'a scabby donkey', a phrase for which it appears that Austrians mercifully have no equivalent.  I demolished some kind of chicken curry, and afterwards applied to Birgit for a palate-cleansing mint, confident from her recent handbag contents post that she would have ample supplies of Tic Tacs to pass around.  Not so! Birgit had run out of mints!  Which just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet.

Tara and Lady Jane Grey

On to the talk proper, at which point I would commend Tara's recent post over on Olfactoria's Travels to you as well, as she is noted for her comprehensive reporting.  I expect there will be a fair amount of crossover between my account and hers, but two people armed with small notebooks and sitting feet apart may still record slightly different details about the same event.  (NB A certain amount of orthographic liberty has been taken with sub-headings.)

Neil's formative fumie years

Neil kicked off his presentation by explaining how he was drawn into the world of fragrance at a young age. In case there are still charges outstanding, I shall draw a veil over an early rose-thieving incident and cut straight to the random selection of items in which the young Neil detected vanilla: Sure deodorant, Lypsyl lip salve and Tic Tacs.  Aha - clearly I was asking the wrong person for mints!  He went on to experience a vanilla pod-in-pudding epiphany in his early teens, and by 17 he was wearing Calvin Klein Obsession Men and was generally 'obsessed' with body products from that line.

Another turning point in Neil's perfume j***ney was his encounter with Shalimar (the potential androgyny of which was amply demonstrated by his friend Peter at university). He also developed a liking for Kenzo Jungle L'Eléphant, undeterred by its sickly sweet character and (to my nose) general weirdness. He even gave it a nickname of 'Nellie the Elephant', and readily admitted to a penchant for 'sick bag vanillas'. If this revelation made anyone in the audience a little apprehensive about the selection of scents to come, they hid it well.

Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561 ~ Vaniglia del Madagascar (Granula vanilla)

You really have to be a dedicated lover of perfume to pursue a scent that frankly involves such a lot of careful typing.  I initially transposed my 'z' and 'c' for one, and completely forgot the SS, which strangely  has nothing to do with steamships, but there you go.  I just found one of those acronym lists and am leaning towards the Italian for 'His Holiness' maybe ('Sua Santità) , as this perfume house has monastic roots. On balance, pobably not 'Steven Spielberg', 'safe sex' or the 'Scoville Scale' of hotness for chilli - though I am intrigued to learn there is one.


But I digress...Neil said this scent reminded him of Japanese hot springs on account of its mineral quality and fresh atmosphere.  The vanilla didn't make an instant impact, but crept up in a 'stealthy' way as the scent unfolded on skin.  Neil asserted that he could wear Vaniglia del Madagascar 'surreptitiously' even at its parfum strength, and spoke wistfully of the halo of scent it leaves even the next morning. More on the need to wear perfume 'surreptitiously' as a general M.O. in Japan later...  An audience member piped up and likened this one to 'sugared almonds'.  I said it had a 'granular' quality, adding 'granular gravitas' - pretentious, moi? ;)


Agonist ~ Vanilla Marble ('Pina colada' vanilla)

Neil dubbed this a 'Play-doh cathedral', and while I can't immediately see the link, I have also jotted down 'evocative of miserable Scandinavian themes' (Ibsen, The Bridge, plus every other dark Scandiwegian drama on the telly at the moment featuring good jumpers).  Vanilla Marble includes notes of vetiver, patchouli, fig and coconut, with a slight cool, clay-like facet, as well as being reminiscent of 'Bacardi hairspray'.  Neil envisioned a stylish woman striding forth in a billowing white dress wearing this one, bats wheeling about her head.  It was generally agreed that Vanilla Marble lacked gravitas - and arguably also marbles.

How does vanilla make babies?

There then followed a fascinating section of Neil's talk where he explained how he and long term partner Duncan had been planning to visit a vanilla plantation in Madagascar (home to the most pukka pod processing practices), but were rather biblically driven back by locusts and ended up in Java (home to more 'fly by night', corner-cutting plantations, but they picked a good 'un).  In Java, Neil and Duncan immersed themselves in the production of vanilla, which proved to be a deeply affecting experience for the pair. They literally lived, breathed, slept and sniffed vanilla beans 24/7.


Interesting nuggets that Neil shared with us about the life cycle of the vanilla plant are the fact that its flower hangs on the vine for 9 months (like humans! - well, I use the term 'vine' loosely).  Then the flowers are only open for one day(!), and can only be fertilised by a man wielding a bamboo stick, owing to the demise of a particular Mexican bee that used to do the honours.  Oh, and the pods take 5-6 months to be cured.  Neil passed round some different varieties of vanilla pod for us to examine and smell: from Madagascar, Uganda etc.  My main thoughts were how exceedingly long they were, and how odd their scent was - like some kind of boozy dried fruit. Perhaps Serge Lutens is in fact a closet pod sniffer to have come up with Arabie and the like.

'You're telling me vanilla comes from this?' Source: Lila Das Gupta

CB I hate perfume ~ 7 Billion Hearts (IKEA vanilla)

This scent contains both Ugandan and Tahitian absolutes, but still managed to smell synthetic like gluey plastic, flat pack furniture, floor polish and cough syrup.  Neil dubbed it 'the pod and the plank'. Notwithstanding the alliteration and plosive energy of this pithy phrase, it didn't endear 7 Billion Hearts to me further.  Lila felt this one was 'unfinished', which ties in neatly with the flat pack furniture angle, which in my house would remain unfinished and in its many baffling component bits till further notice.  Liam of Personal Odour / Odou was reminded of the living museum in our native country of Northern Ireland - the Ulster American Folk Park.  I have been gone so long that I know it as the Ulster Folk Museum, but it is the same place and I do remember it. Another audience remember likened 7 Billion Hearts to the aromas given off by the wood in the indoor space of the Globe theatre.  Despite a passing interest in culture, this heart is not one of the 7 billion to have been seduced by this scent.

Annick Goutal ~ Songes (Interlopa vanilla)

Next up was Annick Goutal's dreamy feminine fragrance, Songes, which features some heavy-hitting heady florals, namely frangipani, ylang-ylang, tuberose and jasmine.  Neil assured us that it had vanilla absolute in the base, which comes out more as the scent wore on, but it did feel like an unusual choice in a vanilla-forward line up.  That said, I was glad to be reacquainted with Songes, which I had dismissed early in my own perfume j***ney as headache-inducing, and it was a toss up between this and Vaniglia del Madagascar (of which I did end up getting a sample at the end of the night) as my favourites of the evening.

Mona di Orio ~ Vanille (Long John Silva vanilla)

Neil memorably described this as 'vanilla for pirates', adding (most amusingly) that it gets off to a 'nervous start'.  Vanille has a smoky quality, and includes notes of pepper, incense, ylang-ylang, sandalwood and rum. Neil considered it 'too macho' for himself, but admired it nonetheless.  Birgit chimed in to say that she had worn this to calm her nerves during a wrist operation.

Birgit and Tara

At this juncture in the evening, we got to debating the character of vanilla generally, and what feelings and sensations it evokes.  The word 'vanilla' has latterly been debased to mean 'bland or boring' (as referenced in the title of this post), but the consensus of the group was that vanilla perfumes are at once calming and comforting as well as erotic - 'increasing tumescence in certain regions', as Neil added coyly.  Vanilla is mildly addictive and stimulates the production of adrenaline. On the downside, the Japanese hate the smell apparently, which is a bit of a blow considering that Japan is Neil's adopted home.  'The Japanese believe you should be self-effacing at all times and respect other people - be aware of their personal space and not stink up the environment.'  Neil is not supposed to wear perfume in the school where he teaches, so gleefully overdoses on the stuff at weekends instead, terrorising people on trains.

Neil's doubtless very proud mother

Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire ~ Orchidée Vanille (Willy Wonka tonka vanilla)

Neil drew our attention to the fruit sherbet in the top of Orchidée Vanille, and went on to liken it to 'Saturday night 90s orientals', presumably on account of its slightly bombastic quality.  It features rose and violet, almond and chocolate, and Neil assured us that the vanilla in this one gets better and better as time goes on.  I did like it a lot, I must say, and Orchidée Vanille was the sample Tara chose to take home.

Lila Das Gupta, organiser of Perfume Lovers London

Atelier Cologne ~ Vanille Insensée (Obscura vanilla)

Atelier's take on vanilla has tangerine and lime in the top notes, and Neil described it further as oaky, 'quite masculine', 'shadowy and enigmatic' with a 'dark woozy edge' to it.  He is personally not a fan of woody notes, so wouldn't wear this one either.  Neil agreed with the audience that Vanille Insensée wasn't noticeably angry, dubbing it 'passive aggressive vanilla', my favourite quote of the night.  That phrase reminded me of a recent conversation with my financial advisor, in which she chided me for having a bunch of high risk investments whose performance I had failed to monitor for years.  'Does that make me a passive aggressive investor?' I inquired. Apparently so.

Guerlain ~ Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Popula vanilla)

One of the most popular scents passed around on the night, Guerlain's Spiritueuse Double Vanille, includes notes of brandy, cherry, ylang-ylang and pipe tobacco.  'It smells like humming birds', remarked Neil in a sudden access of synesthesia.  It was a bit too boozy for me, and a bit too expensive for Neil, costing the equivalent of a Very Material £280 in Japan.

Holy Grail vanilla?

Indult ~ Tihota (Linea vanilla)

I had recently had occasion to sniff this one, thanks to Val the Cookie Queen of APJ. I was curious to try it following a glowing review by Sandra on Olfactoria's Travels, but though it read on my skin as 'high quality foody vanilla' it was ultimately unsatisfying and rather one-dimensional.  I sense I may have been anosmic to the musk which Sandra enjoys in this one.  And what this fascinating evening confirmed is that I like my vanillas to have a twist of some sort, like my beloved Diptyque Eau Duelle, for example.

In wrapping up, we discussed Neil's proclivity for sweet vanillas and somebody - it may even have been me, but I don't recall! - asked if there were any vanilla scents he would consider too sweet.  He mentioned one by Laura Mercier called Vanille Gourmande, which I have not come across but am curious to try now to gauge how much is too much. Neil also doesn't care for the category he dubbed 'oyster vanillas', such as Vanille Galante by Hermès, which is too salty for his liking.  After this point, my notes start to deteriorate, and I am not going to begin to speculate what the connection between  Gorilla Perfumes' Furze scent and 'flatulence' might have been.

Neil appearing to take the hand of Lady Jane Grey

So yes, a great night in which we learnt about - and sniffed - a lot of vanilla perfumes, a number of which were new to me.  Many thanks as ever to Lila Das Gupta of Perfume Lovers London and Grant Osborne of Basenotes for organising the night, and to Neil for coming all this way to wow us with his vanilla lore and alien pods.  On a personal level, it was fantastic to meet old fumie friends again like Birgit, Tara and Thomas, and meet new ones such as Neil and Duncan, Lady Jane Grey, Sabine of Iridescents and Olivia.

After the talk, a hardcore group went down the pub, while I left with Lila, who had kindly offered to put me up, as I hadn't been able to find a hotel that night.  The next morning, we had a bit of a sniff-in - or a session of 'Continuing Professional Development', as my teacher friend Nicola amusingly spun it, when I explained that Lila had much the more experienced nose of the two of us.

Lila's inquisitive cat

Lila has a perfume cupboard of Narnian proportions and properties, and amongst the many scents she invited me to try - and that I also fell for - was Coromandel, my patchouli and spice nemesis from some years back. I have clearly flittered full circle on that one, and pigs evidently do fly.

Lila had business in town later that morning, so we hopped on the tube and she peeled off at Hammersmith, while I headed on to Belgravia.  After a quick scope of Les Senteurs, Tara, Birgit and I repaired for a hearty brunch of Eggs Benedict - in the absence of Croque-Madame, that is - our preferred choice, which was mysteriously off the menu.  They must have had a run on Madames or something.

I was still able to make room for my macaron initiation which followed swiftly afterwards at Ladurée round the back of Harrods.  Lila joined us at this point and kindly presided over the ceremony, ensuring that a representative selection of patisseries was ordered, and all flavour bases covered, except for coffee and licorice, which I don't like.

Well, well...there's me thinking that macarons (to which I have a strong urge to add an extra 'o') are just meringues.  Reader, they are so not just meringues.  The rose petal one in particular was sensational ...creamy and chewy and fragrant rose jelly-ish all at the same time.  If you too have yet to lose your macaron cherry, do head to the nearest branch of Ladurée at your earliest convenience, or take advantage of their admittedly very expensive mail order service.  You will thank me!

After tea, while the others went into Harrods to recce the Hermès scarves (at whose instigation I couldn't possibly imagine!) - as well as generally checking out the latest offerings in the perfume hall - I sadly had to cut and run.  This was partly because I was encumbered with luggage, but also because I had one final mission to fulfill - picking up some artefacts from The Old Vic theatre which my friend Clare Chick had won in an auction: to wit a lantern and decanter used in a production of Richard II and lovingly fingered by Kevin Spacey (or such was her fond hope), and a rather smelly and battered lamp used in a production of Aladdin, and handled by Sir Ian McKellen.  Clare was hoping there would be enough DNS traces of Spacey (thanks, Tara, for that one!) to grow a complete new Kevin, but I've lugged all the stuff back now and she has yet to introduce me to him.

Friday 4 April 2014

Bonkers 'on tour' in Germany again: The scented bit

This post rewinds to the beginning of my recent German trip, charting its various scented aspects (more or less) as they occurred...

Semi-comatose airport sniffing

Following the crushing disappointment of the fried bread impersonating French toast incident, I decided to self-soothe in the perfume section of the Duty Free, as you do.  Mind you, at this plateau stage in my perfume j****ney and at that ungodly hour of the morning, I was a little zombified and milled around aimlessly, completely blanking the latest Marc Jacobs or Issey Miyake flanker - assuming I have even correctly remembered that it was those brands that had one.  There was a flanker in a jagged bashed concertina-type bottle - you would think I would remember whose that was - but no, nothing penetrated the mental fog of a semi-saturated sniffer who had been up since before she went to bed, or so it felt.

Then I had an idea: 'Why, I'll check out the Dior Collection Privée!  Give Mitzah another spin - I might be ready for it now!', before I remembered that Birmingham airport stocks the Chanel Exclusifs range, not Dior. And then Birgit's personal mantra of 'If in doubt, seek Hermès out' came to me, and I trotted off to that fixture, where I was able to try Jour d'Hermès again on skin, together with B's new scented squeeze of Eau de Narcisse Bleu. Jour d'Hermès I thought striking, in a tart yet sweet, rhubarb and pretty floral kind of a way, but it was too specific a scent to impress me.  Too singular, even.  Not remotely comforting, and the weather was still cool enough for me to crave that quality in a perfume.


The Eau de Narcisse Bleu, meanwhile, opened with a fresh and bracing whoosh of galbanum, but the musky woodsy drydown came a tad too quickly and the green aspect was rendered indistinct - I don't normally complain about perfumes being 'fuzzy' in character, but I wanted the narcissus note to hang around a bit longer.

Channelling Geza Schoen! noted in Part 1 of 'The travel bit', the first gig was at Monarch, a chic but smoky club in edgy Kreuzberg.  I wore Ormonde Jayne's Ta'if as my SOTE, just because I reach for it more or less on auto-pilot when I am going out.  Imagine my surprise when Anka, a Berlin-based reader, wrote this comment on my post:

Monarch (upstairs) - in Geza's 'hood!!
"And the Monarch is a place I know quite well, too.  About a month ago I was there and listened to a 'fake' talk show; one of the guests was perfumer Geza Schoen who lives round the corner."

Whoo! I had unwittingly picked a Geza creation to wear that night, with no clue about the venue's connection to one of my favourite noses...;)

And Anka went on to tell us more about the event she attended, also confirming Monarch's offbeat charm and gloomy ambience:

"Yes, Monarch is a funny, dusky place!  This particular evening with Geza Schoen was, as an exception, a non-smoking event and we all had a great laugh when the perfumer reported later on that he himself occasionally enjoys a smoke....And I learnt that his most detested smells are coriander, oysters and truffles."

Wow, if I had known that Geza Schoen - to whom I feel a particular bond because he once scented my home city of Belfast (full report on that novel project here) - was a Kreuzberg resident, I would have spent longer hanging out in the falafel parlours on Skalitzer Strasse.  I did have a couscous in a tagine restaurant on Lausitzer Platz, and a mushroom pancake in a cafe on Oranienstrasse, but there was no sign of his distinctive rangy form in either eaterie.

The Méharées handover, and the focus group in a kebab shop 

That first night in Berlin also saw the handover by Jane (who FYI rocked Gorilla Perfumes' heady floral, Sikkim Girls, all week) of the bottle of L'Erbolario Méharées, which they had kindly bought for me in Bologna the previous weekend.  Thus it was that when I adjourned with the band to the kebab shop near their digs, I still had the bottle of perfume in my hand, and it was ceremoniously plonked on the table, next to the condiments - before I had the idea to ask them what they made of it, and passed the bottle around, inviting them to sniff the nozzle.

Guitarist: 'It's quite sweet.'
Bass player: 'It's nice - is there really just myrrh and dates in there?'
Singer (in a slightly incredulous tone): 'Whoever thought to put myrrh in a perfume?!'

Later in the week, the bass player suggested that I - or someone - should invent a perfume and call it 'Incorrigible', adding brightly: 'That's a good unisex name - you'll be onto a winner!'  Givenchy take note.....

L'Occitane Eau des Baux and the fragrant Friedrich Sunlight singer

In Augsburg, at the 'secret gig', I got chatting in between sets to the singer from the support band Friedrich Sunlight, whose name was Kenji.  I think I opened the conversation by boldly remarking on the fact that he smelt rather lovely, and he revealed that he was wearing L'Occitane Eau des Baux - a masculine scent that was completely off my radar - and kindly let me lean in and sniff him more comprehensively.  Reader, for all vanilla fans especially, this one is utterly swoonworthy and easily wearable by a woman.  I urge you to watch Katie Puckrik's video review of Eau des Baux here.  It is a woody, incensey, softly spicy, warm and vanillic fragrance that I see the (mostly) men on Basenotes have also given a resounding thumbs up.  Along with cardamom (which always reels me in), there is meant to be a cypress note in there which I barely detect, and on my skin the vanilla drydown is the most striking part of the scent's development. I imagine Eau des Baux might read as too sweet for some men, but I couldn't get enough of it.

Les Baux-de-Provence ~ Source: ignis via Wikimedia Commons 

Oh, and in the course of my research about Eau des Baux, I discovered this review by a blogger who was new to me, and whose blog rejoices in the name 'Villainous Smells and other Olfactory Decadence'.

As it happens, I have actually been to the village of that name - Les Baux-de-Provence - and clapped eyes on the ruined hilltop castle which inspired the fragrance, but it years ago when I lived on the Riviera, and the memory is sadly dimmed with time.  Kenji's signature scent continued to haunt me for the rest of the trip, and at the airport on the way back I made myself a tiny sample to take home. Should have just bought the bottle and been done with it, but there you go!  For even though I picked my daily perfume throughout the tour with studied care, it is Kenji's sillage of Eau des Baux which is the standout scent highlight of the week.

Visiting Parfümerie Naegele, Augsburg, with nary a sniff

The Friedrich Sunlight guitarist - who I later learnt was called Florian, though I had been calling him Brian throughout my visit - gave some of us a lift back from the 'secret gig', and on the way I asked if he could suggest a high end perfumery in town.  He was unsure himself, but promised to put out feelers.  And how! The inter-band bush telegraph must have been positively humming, because by lunchtime on the following day the keyboard and bass players in Friedrich Sunlight had received messages from Florian and taken up the challenge of finding me a Parfümerie commensurate with my exacting standards.  But it was Kenji who finally came up with the name Naegele, and by mid-afternoon I had struck out on my own to the humorously named Fuggerplatz area to suss out the selection of niche fragrances this exclusive perfumery carried.

Well, quite a few, as it transpired, including a whole wall of By Kilians and the bespoke line of Keiko Mecheri - which I don't believe I have seen anywhere, but at 282 euros a pop I couldn't bring myself to try any of them. Unfortunately, I was listless and tuned out to scent again, and ended up just taking a few photos, inquiring after a particular Bobbi Brown eyeshadow (predictably discontinued), and heading across to a cookware store to buy a comedy chicken for my friend's husband's birthday.  He is called Chick, for one, plus I was sure I could pass it off as a poultry-shaped executive stress ball on account of its satisfyingly squidgy bottom.

But going back to my temporary indifference to perfume, I had a similar experience in Berlin in 2012, when I drifted round KaDeWe, only actually smelling the April Aromatics line in the end.  I thought then - and think now - that because of the whole premise of the tour I was suffering from sensory overload already of the auditory kind, and I just didn't have the headspace (no pun intended) to focus on the olfactory as well.

Mr Chick's birthday present ~ Source: Clare Chick

Berlin - epic fumehead trail fail - times two!

I fully intended to make up for this lacklustre attitude on my return to Berlin.  I had the whole of Sunday and half of Monday on my own after the others had gone back, which should have been ideal for a complete re-immersion in Berlin's high end perfume scene.  But I had forgotten that on Sunday all the shops are closed(!), while by Monday I was so tired I used the morning to catch up on some much needed kip (as per the sign at the bottom of this post).  So instead, on the Sunday I mooched around the trendy quarter of Prenzlauer Berg, whiling away the hours in a variety of eclectic cafes.

And it was in one such cafe that I had another scented epiphany - not with a perfume this time, but an 'extra extra virgin top of the range high premium cat's pyjamas' olive oil, called Ladi Biosas.  It was fragrantly floral like no other oil I have ever sniffed or tasted (I had a little bowl of it for dipping the bread that came with my soup - what an inspired marketing ploy).  Reader, I walked out with a 14 euro bottle proudly tucked under my arm.  But this Ladi Biosas stuff is amazing - I would neck it straight from the bottle if it wasn't so darn expensive! Seemingly, the cafe in question is the only stockist in Germany, but if you can get hold of it somehow it truly is liquid gold.  And that means a lot coming from someone like me who is not remotely foody, and perfectly happy with a 99p loaf with the odd pumpkin seed on it, as opposed to balsamic garlic and parmesan flatbread or artisanally hand kneaded spelt focaccia with walnuts and gohji berries and what have you.

Here is some info about the oil - I wish I could gain such 'clear-sightedness' after 'remaining undisturbed for 50 days'.