Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Blistering heat with matching feet: Tara, Val and I 'stick together' on a London sniffathon

The Gang of Three at Les Senteurs ~ Photo by Callum on Val's phone
Last week saw the return to London of Val the Cookie Queen of APJ - she was over in England (which I am flattered to report she calls 'home') for a week's holiday, staying with friends in North London.  Tara hooked up with Val on both Wednesday and Thursday (her report is now up on Olfactoria's Travels!), while I joined the pair at lunchtime on Day Two for an eight hour perfumery crawl. Okay, that is rather a grand term for a visit to Penhaligon's and Les Senteurs, but Tara and Val had done a lot more crawling that morning, as you will learn.

The day started quite early for me, with only a minor clothing crisis by the standard of Val's last visit in February (the bedroom devastation scene on that occasion was captured here). It has been so hot lately that I was naturally drawn to a tiny sub-section of my wardrobe, namely my most insubstantial (while not overly revealing) outfits. This is quite a tricky combination to pull off as it turned out, 'pull off' being the operative term. In the end I went for an apricot, cream and black patterned sundress I bought in Majorca in 2007, which I had only ever worn once! I was particularly gratified to find a use at last for an...ahem...foundation garment featuring apricot coloured straps. That item of clothing has been waiting 20 years or more to come into its own, and last Thursday was the day. On the flip side, my matching cream shoes were chafing terribly before I even made it to the station, prompting an earlier than expected switch to the emergency footwear I had packed in my rucksack for just such an eventuality - a pair of black plimsolls that rather undermined the floaty tea dress look I was going for, but which were endlessly forgiving on the feet.

Piazza pitstop purveying pricey but perfect bagels

Just before the appointed time of 1.30pm, I emerged from Covent Garden tube station to find Tara and Val already outside waiting for me. After ginger hugs all round (on account of our generalised stickiness), we repaired to the nearest eaterie, an al fresco Italian restaurant in a prime spot (read 'tourist trap') on the square. Privately we were all thinking: 'Bring on the robdog prices!', but frankly no one really minded what it was going to cost, so grateful were we for shade, fluid and food, in approximately that order. Oh, and a toilet, mentioning no names... As it happens, our predictably expensive snacks were extremely good - Tara and I had the absolute non-pareil of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and I have tasted a few non-pareil pretenders in my time. As it happened, Val's very generous husband treated us to lunch - and yes, it was indeed one of those 'card holder not present' scenarios. His card was actually present, but not the holder. Thanks, Val and Herr Sperrer!

Revictualled and revitalised, at my instigation we decided to track down the stand of British perfumer Tom Kosmala, whose Rose Amber Musk perfume I featured in a recent post. His address was listed as 'Apple Tree Market', which refers to a collection of stalls under cover, bang in the centre of the Covent Garden complex. We systematically walked the length and breadth of the market, but there was absolutely no sign of the man - or his stand. I checked the opening hours on my phone, in case it was 'Sunday to Tuesday' rather than 'Tuesday to Sunday', but no, this was technically a day when he should have been there. What can I say?  The man is chronically elusive, with his light-as-a-feather Google footprint and conspicuous absence on the ground. Maybe it is all part of a marketing ploy, to whip perfumistas up into a frenzy of pent up curiosity? Meanwhile, the three of us shrugged and ambled into Penhaligon's instead.

The Covent Garden branch of Penhaligon's - formerly a L'Artisan Parfumeur store which I visited two years ago almost to the day for the launch of Séville a l'aube! - is a thing of great beauty.  I am not sure I have ever set foot inside a more lovingly curated and aesthetically pleasing retail space. It has been merchandised to within an inch of its life, with exquisite attention to detail and quirky architectural motifs and artefacts at every turn.

Penhaligon's perfume bottle pendant lamps!

I could have stood there all day, gazing at the fixtures both upstairs and downstairs, a womblike subterranean cavern that serves as both office space and a customer 'lounge' where people can sit down at a long mirrored table to sample the entire range at their leisure. Fellow fumehead Nick Gilbert works for Penhaligon's of course, as their Fragrance Ambassador and Events Manager. He greeted us warmly and invited us to have a sniff of any of the recent releases we might have missed - it was Val's first trial of Tralala, for example, which is shaping up to be a full bottle lemming of mine - at this rate I might even have to make my peace with the scary doll's head. ;)

We also got to try the newest addition to the Penhaligon's stable, Bayolea. Bayolea is the colognic(?) - don't lose the 'g'! - centrepiece of Penhaligon's first ever men's grooming range. It is a reformulated classic scent from the company's archives, in which the citrus aspect has been amped up and the 'barber's shop' vibe toned down. All the products in the range are in fact scented with Bayolea, which is billed by Penhaligon's as 'zesty and invigorating'. And while the rest of the line may be aimed at men, we all agreed that Bayolea the fragrance could work just fine on a woman. It is probably worth a review in its own right once I have caught up with a sample, but while in store we sniffed it on our own and on Nick's skin, and it was variously lovely all round. On me it resembled Tauer's Cologne du Maghreb, with a similar lemon verbena brightness and herbal undertow. It really hit the spot on such a hot day.

Top notes: lemongrass, mandarin, tangerine
Heart notes: cardamom, black pepper, neroli, lavender
Base notes; cedarwood, sandalwood, musk, moss, patchouli, amber

Downstairs, we parked ourselves at the long table, catching up on the latest news and gossip on the perfume scene, such as Nick's recent trip to Paris where he got to hang out in Bertrand Duchaufour's lab - dream job or what?!

Val, Nick and Russian doll-effect Tara

A major highlight of the visit for me was a close encounter with this gorgeous French sink. Apparently the Regent Street branch of Penhaligon's boasts equally splendid sanitaryware from a venerable English manufacturer called Chadder. Well, given my keen interest in bathroom fixtures at the moment, it was an unexpected bonus, and from now on I vowed to pay more attention to this fundamental aspect of perfumery fixtures...

Me, starstruck by sanitaryware

From Penhaligon's we headed over to Nick's previous workplace, the Seymour Place branch of Les Senteurs. Liz Moore's Papillon Perfumery range had recently arrived, and was prominently displayed on a dear little perspex podium, which I signally failed to photograph.  I was too hot and bothered by this stage to do very much sniffing, though my nose was momentarily distracted by a new Creed called Vetiver Geranium, which may well appeal to my vetiver-loving teacher friend, Sheila.

Barefoot Val and no-foot Tara at Les Senteurs

The most enjoyable aspect of our visit to Les Senteurs was flopping on the regal looking sofa and chatting to Callum, the perfumery's Digital Marketing Manager. Val sprang for a bottle of the new Frédéric Malle, Eau de Magnolia, and on the spot gave Tara and me generous decants from her treasured purchase. Though not until she had (quite rightly) copiously anointed herself with the opening spray (or three). It is as beautiful a scent as I was expecting, and now that I have tried it for myself, I can wholeheartedly endorse Tara's evocative review. The comfy sofa also gave me an opportunity to discreetly attend to T's own emerging blister collection with scissors and bandage I had thought to bring along - well, she did have one angry-looking patch on her right? heel. (For anyone studying the photo above, Tara does have feet really...!)

Callum of Les Senteurs

By now, Val's coffee deficit was reaching critical levels, so we legged it round the corner to a cafe, where Tara treated us to the pick-me-up beverage of our choice - a big pot of tea in my case.  Here we chatted about life in general and got to know one another better. As is so often the way in Perfume Land, you could take our hobby away from us all and we would still have loads in common and ample foundation for a good friendship. Then it wasn't long till the first hunger pangs stirred, so we introduced Val to Roti Chai, the modern Indian restaurant round the corner, which a bunch of us had frequented on the night of Neil Chapman's talk on vanilla for Perfume Lovers London back in March. The food didn't disappoint this time round - Tara and I had the chicken curry I really rated from that earlier visit, while Val opted for a spicy dish involving chilli and paneer.

Tara at Roti Chai

Val also tipped me off about the pretty groovy Ladies toilet downstairs, and so it proved. The compact sink was by the sleekly modern brand Duravit - oh, the one at Les Senteurs was by Laufen if anyone is curious, and there was additionally an amusing sign over the toilet which I resisted the urge to feature here...;)

Generous edge for putting stuff on this Duravit sink!

In no time at all, it was the parting of the ways again and I reluctantly headed back to Stafford.  As in February, the presence of a (by now half eaten) cookie on the train home reminded me that the day's events had not all been a pleasant dream.

Well, not just a cookie, even, for between the pair of them I had taken receipt of a number of decants and samples, a tea towel (Portia, what have you started?) and a tube of Bergsalz from Austria (mountain salt). Goodness, I have just read the label and it turns out to be very ancient stuff indeed. If I looked that bright and sparkly after 150 million years buried deep in the Alps, I'd be well pleased.

So yes, a big thank you to Tara and Val, Nick and Callum for a hot, happy and fragrant day out that I will remember for a long time to come...let's do it all again soon!


Anonymous said...

I am the husband who paid supposedly for that lunch, but it was actually Mr. Bergthaler our Bankmanager :):)

Tara said...

I'm glad you labelled this under "sniffathon"!

What an amazingly fun day. I'm so glad you could come down, V. It was a very lucky coincidence to have so much high-end sanitary ware on hand.

Old Tom Kosmala is clearly saving himself for his assault on the Middle East.

Thanks for the link love. It's great to hear that Eau de Magnolia matched your expectations.

I really hope we do get to do it all again soon.

Tara said...

Well, thanks to you and Mr. Bergthaler! It was a lovely lunch.

Vanessa said...

Seconding what Tara said! We are most appreciative of your and Herr Bergthaler's remote hospitality. And I cannot do justice in words to the perfection of my bagel. Okay, I'd lose the capers, maybe. Actually, I did lose the capers to Val in the end.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

It was a very fine day all round. I am glad my mounting iron reserves were up to the trip and the high end sanitaryware was indeed a rare bonus treat.

Yup, I bet Tom Kosmala is regrouping as we speak, prior to taking The Middle East by storm.

Eau de Magnolia is just perfect in this weather, long may it continue!

Vanessa said...

Oh yes, creating labels for non-existent words is the way to go. Sniffathon could be tomorrow's Tauerade. ;)

Carol said...

I love that dress on you, V!
Enjoyed tagging along with this post. x

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks - it is always good to get some wear out of clothes that languish in the wardrobe year after year. ;0


Anonymous said...

In a startling coincidence, I had a mini sniffathon last week at Vancouver's Perfume Shoppe, where a local perfume buddy and one from Portland got to meet each other. The PPB compared the wares on offer with those of Portland's Perfume House; she bought a bottle of MDCI Vepres Siciliennes, and I bought the last bottle of the Jatamansi body oil.

We then strolled through Gastown and had patio lunch at a French bistro. Perfume people are nice, aren't they? --AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

Another triangular sniffing expedition - with two PBs from one country and another from over the border. Would the MDCI purchase be of one of those busted bottles, by any chance?

I haven't been that far west in Canada, but the Gastown district sounds a delightful setting for a stroll and lunch. And yes, perfume people are consistently nice the world over!

Undina said...

Sounds like a wonderful day! I envy you (a little) :-)

I'm amazed that you keep bringing spare shoes with you: I have to do that as well! Not that my regular shoes aren't comfortable (I'm very particular about that!) but sometimes you just need to change "pressure points" - that's where it can come in handy (foot-y?).

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

It was great. And I always think of you every time I make sure my handbag is properly closed. ;)

I am sure your foot theory is correct. I recall having two pairs of shoes in Paris, but I am pretty sure they both hurt by the end of the day, hehe. Heat makes even your well worn favourites behave oddly.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a really good day. I have absolutely no shame and will invite myself to the next one.:)

Anonymous said...

And what a jolly good caper it all was. CQ xxx

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

No shame involved! ;) ;)

Vanessa said...

Not half - 'come home' any time...xx

Anonymous said...

Nope! Even the bust-free version was in the mid-two-hundred range. It *did* have a tassel, though...AA

Vanessa said...

Whoo, Annie, that's steep! But it came with a tassel, which is a nice touch. And even if money were no object, you definitely wouldn't want a bust *with* a tassel. ;)

Asali said...

It just sounds like you had so much fun, thank for letting us all take cyber-part in it too :-)
Love the sanitary part, I in deed had the Duravit sink in mind for my rather tiny bathroom, chose a Swedish Ido(??? Had never heard of them before I bought it)nstead.
I love the apricot dress on you, and know exactly what you mean about being suitable for summer yet none too revealing, and talking of revealing how odd about Kosmala...

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I like that expression - 'taking cyber-part'. ;) And you have fun with Ines when she visits - that must be imminent.

Funny about your leaning towards Duravit - I considered their retro ranges but the sinks were either too big or only available without pedestal. I am sure you can't go wrong with a Swedish make - all their furniture and homeware stuff is so stylish.

Yes, curious about Kosmala - he must have 'popped down' again. ;)

Suzanne said...

Vanessa, you look quite the dish in your apricot dress! Beautiful, even with the comfy shoes in lieu of the ones you intended to wear. And speaking of shoes, I got a kick out of Val padding barefoot through Les Senteurs -- and I always enjoy seeing Tara's lovely face. She looks appropriately sultry with her "smoky eye"-look at Roti Chai.

Perfume people are the coolest. Glad you had a great outing together.

And lastly, I can't believe you resisted regaling us with the amusing sign that was over the toilet. Maybe that's a good thing, though I'm tempted to say that you're going tame on us these days. ;-D

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your kind comment about my dress - I also got a kick out of Val's barefoot look! Tara does indeed look most sultry in the restaurant - I was spoilt for choice when reviewing pictures of her to use.

Darn, I guess I did rather chicken out of the WC shot at Les Senteurs. I didn't want to cause the management any embarrassment over their slightly defective facilities, but I may have indavertently ended up piquing people's curiosity instead!

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

YAY! Tea Towels rule. Best gifts ever.
I love these adventure photo essay tavelogues. So much fun reading and smiling with you all.
Portia xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

Tea towels do indeed rule! Glad you enjoyed the travelogue - I hope to read Val's take on the day soon? ;) x