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...;)


Lucy said...

how fun. Of course it's always impossible to figure anything out in those initial hits of several from a line, hopefully they gave you samples of what you could tell were your faves to have some time with at home. Prices of perfume these days are also a factor in taking your time to know whether they will be keepers for you or not.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lovely Easter break, V!
Profumi del Forte Vittoria Apuana is one of Neil's great loves! It combines vanilla and banana.
Bon Appetit! ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Lucy,

I agree that it is very difficult to form anything other than a sketchy impression of perfumes when you try so many in such short order. I didn't get any samples, though the one I would have liked to try again, The Infidels, was Jane's personal bottle so it would have seemed like a cheeky request. Judging by Birgit's comment below, looks like I may have missed a goody! I also think these Profumi del Forte scents are pretty expensive, and the Agonist ones have a very odd bottle purchase / pricing structure that is also detailed in that review by Kevin.

Vanessa said...

Hi Birgit,

Aha! Maybe I did miss a gem after all - I mean I tried that one, but its top notes didn't impinge unduly on me in either a good or a bad way. Will see if there is any remnant of vanilla or banana on the paper blotter...;)

Asali said...

V, I can't help with the Profumi del Forte, because I only tried them the same way you did, and none of them stuck in my mind (banana-vanilla sounds positively vile! (sorry Neil)). With your search for an Absinth fragrance for your Swedish friend I did actually wonder about AA, I haven't tried it, but it seems not to be the right category?
Sounds like a lovely Easter break though.

Unknown said...

Ha! Devonian Cheltenham-On-Sea! All the things I love, currently living not half an hour from Exmouth and originally from Cheltenham (although as yet I can get around without a mobility scooter) Woodfordes is wonderful isn't it?! Such a gem to find in a little seaside town. That's where I had my first whiff of Juliette Has A Gun fragrances.

Hope you had a nice time :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

LOL re the banana-vanilla combo...;) I fished out the blotter, but am sadly none the wiser! It does sound on the face of it more like something that would make a good smoothie rather than a perfume, but I shall keep an open mind in case I meet up with it again.

Absolument Absinthe is more citrusy / green than Le Feu - I liked your suggestion of Etro Etra by the way, and I do think Amour Nocturne has aspects of it, fuzzy as my recall of Le Feu may be!

Vanessa said...

Hi Susannah,

Thanks for stopping by, and it is serendipitous - I have just been reading your very evocative Rozy reviews! Little did I know that I was combining your new and old habitats in one snappy-ish phrase. :)

And now you mention it, I did know you were down in the West Country - lucky you! No caryatids in Sidmouth, mind - they could perhaps address that, but the town is perfectly formed in most other aspects.

I spotted the JHAGs when I was in Woodforde's this time, though I didn't need to retest them as such.

Tara said...

Are Agonist the ones that also do those ridiculously expensive arty bottles? I've only tried that Vanilla Marbe at Neil's talk and don't know any Fortes I'm afraid. Woodfords does sound amazing. Not sure where in London you can get these two brands.

I love fudge and never heard of a lemon meringue version. Sounds double delicious as Mia would say.

Very much enjoyed the phrase "comprehensive uncertainty".

Carol said...

I'm still trying to picture you working that log splitter!

The Infidels sounds like something I really would like to try, but when you consider the price point, I don't even want to go there. Maybe if I do get to Denmark this year, a shop there may have that brand...and I'll be able to get a sniff.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

That's right - here's the lowdown from Kevin of NST:

'The Infidels, purchased with the bottle shown above, costs $495 (when you buy The Infidels perfume for the first time, the scent is contained in a separate bottle until you decant it into the “presentation” bottle). After your bottle is empty, you can use your special customer registration number to buy a refill (50 ml Eau de Parfum for $90).'

I expect the Profumi del Fortes must be knocking around somewhere in London, though I can't think where off the top of my head. I had never seen the Agonists before, so that is an unusual line to find in a sleepy seaside town all right - John and Jane said they wanted a good mix of brands, and they have that all right. They had got the Amouages in too since I was there last.

Yes, this is wonderfully crumbly and toffee-fied fudge, simply the best I have ever tasted. I think Mia would love it, and 'double delicious' is a perfect term for it!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

I was a real pro by the end of the morning - you have to figure out each log's contours, flattest side etc, and anticipate whether it might 'refuse at the hurdle' so to speak or even leap off the belt altogether, as happened a few times! No one else stood too close just in case. And sometimes you needed to take the axe to the split logs afterwards as they hadn't quite sheared off all the way through!

The whole Agonist pricing policy is pretty strange and convoluted, and likely only to appeal to the very affluent or to mad bottle fiends. I hope you do get to sniff the line in Denmark or elsewhere - knowing your liking for patchouli, I'm confident you would enjoy this one too.

Anonymous said...

Profumo del Forte is at Liberty's.

Vanessa said...

Thanks, B! I figured it might be either there or Fortnum's.

Tara said...

Thanks for the extra info!

Ines said...

Ha, ha, ha, so I read everything about the perfumes but what really caught my interest is fudge. :D Yummy stuff, especially as nothing similar to what you described can be found anywhere here...

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

The fudge was to die for, and I am not usually bowled away by the stuff. Its crumbly aspect is key - some of the cheap fudge you can buy as a souvenir is like a fatty claggy mass that just sits on your tongue - in a bad way. ;)

Vanessa said...

You're welcome!

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,
how interesting that you discovered the Agonist line, "Isis" was one of my favorite releases in 2013. It reminds me of delicious caramel candy filled with green bergamot-labdanum syrup, sweet but not cloying. In Germany we have those caramel flavor bonbons (Werther's) which are wrapped in a golden foil and Isis to me smells very golden with some green sparkles.
Next time I am at the Galeries Lafayette I'll try The Infidels.
Have a nice weekend!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka!,

I must say my recall of Isis is a little fuzzy, but you would think I might have liked it if it smelt of Werther's sweets, which we have stolen from you - they are pretty big over here in both the hardboiled sweet and caramel form. Mr Bonkers used to refer to them as 'Weatheralls Originals', and we always kept some in the car for long journeys.

I can picture the perfume departement of Galeries Lafayette - Sahling best of beauty. You must know Alain then!

Undina said...

"so I read everything about the perfumes but what really caught my interest is" ((c)Ines) you were driving Mini?! Is it your car or a rented one? Mini is my dream (and hopefully next) car!

It's interesting that the first time when I tried Profumi Del Forte's perfumes a couple of years ago, Forte by Night Bianco was my absolute favorite. I sprayed a blotter again last week at the store - and didn't like it this time. I need to try it on the skin - if I come across it in a store again.

Anonymous said...

Weatheralls, that's good!

Since today is International Star Wars Day, I have another Isis association: It smells like the "golden boy" "(c3po), golden but not warm and a bit artificial (I read at Scent & Chemistry that they claim Isis to be all natural while "loaded with synthetic musks, vanillin, and Ambrox"...) - but I like it...

May the Fourth / Force Be With You. Always.

Anonymous said...

Oh, tomorrow is The day, actually (I am out of may mind...)

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka,

From your description a fuzzy memory of Isis is taking shape now - 'golden but not warm and a bit artificial' is very apt. I must say my overall impression of the Agonist line was of 'cold' scents. Unusual compositions, certainly.

LOL at 'May the Fourth' be with you. I love me a good pun as you know. And I do rather miss Mr Bonkers' malapropisms. When we went to a resort in Gran Canaria called Maspalomas, for example, he insisted on calling it 'Mascarpone'.

Vanessa said...

PS 'out of may mind' is also quality!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I have had my Mini (more or less the colour of your avatar, maybe a little darker, metallic blue) for nearly 9 years, and it is nearly 12 years old in total. In fact I may have to start thinking of replacing it, once things begin to go wrong, and while it still has some residual value.

It is a very robust car and holds the road well - probably saved my live on the motorway back in 2006 when a lorry swerved into me sideways and I spun round and round for about half a mile across all three lanes like a demented ballerina. It has also successfully done some big journeys - all the way to Poland and back for example!

How interesting that we both like Forte by Night Bianco. I only tried it on card and was sufficiently impressed by that medium. I sense the weather might also have to be right for it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I love malapropisms too, but it's of course much easier for me to understand / create them in German ("may the fourth" is not my invention) - I used to read a lot of Wilhelm Genazino and Arno Schmidt, they are both masters of wordplay.
Have a sunny sunday!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka,

I would love to hear some good German examples - I am up to appreciating them, but although I have cracked the odd joke in German with respondents, I don't think I have ever conjured up a malapropism in a foreign language. One of my favourites recently was when an elderly friend referred to a restaurant owner from Jamaica as 'Jacobean'.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to ask you about Alain, is he the manager of the beauty department? Black hair and glasses?

Vanessa said...

Oh, that doesn't sound like him...Alain was presiding over a little room within a room where Penhaligon's is - or was in 2011. He was young and I thought light haired. The Cuban connection should clinch it!

Undina said...

My car is older but I plan to keep driving it until it gives me too much grief. But then... At least I hope that Mini of that year will be cute.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

That was my plan with this one, and the tyre issue is the second problem so far this year, so the future is hard to call! A friend said that my car was probably at the point when I could maximise its resale value - what little is left, I mean - and that I should consider trading it in soon for a newer car.

Must be honest with you, if you are thinking of getting a new Mini, I am not too keen personally on the latest styling. It's hard to explain, but they have gone for a more chubby rounded look that I think is less 'Mini-like'...;( Maybe they will change it back again by the time you are in the market for one!

Vanessa said...

Interesting debate on the whole styling issue here - where it also mentions the newer Mini's life-saving properties!

Undina said...

I like the new one less than the one from 5-6 years ago, but one of my friends just bought it and I smelled it today :) I hope I'll be able to wait several more years and something will change to the better.

Vanessa said...

Yes, I liked the ones that were newer than mine but before the latest styling change. I bet your friend's car smells amazing!, though I bought mine second hand. I think there may be a backlash at some point and a return to less jelly mould lines - in which case you should make your move! ;)