Tuesday, 9 September 2014

'Men and (wet) sheds': dipping into The Library of Fragrance in a focus group down the pub

Note the 'Drinkaware' presence of cycle clips
Following the arrival of a set of eight scents from the new Library of Fragrance collection (aka Demeter Fragrance Library) which launches in Boots today, I decided to host a mini-focus group at The Vine pub in Stafford this weekend. My (very loose) aim was to check out the brand's stated unisex orientation, and generally get some feedback on any aspect of these perfumes from my mates. The group comprised my friend Clare and her husband Tony, our painter friend David, and his friend Jim, whom the rest of us met for the first time that night, though we'd all been Facebook friends for a while. I wasn't expecting Tony to come along, so he was a 'bonus respondent', albeit tipping the gender split slightly into the masculine camp at 3-2.

For anyone who just wants to know the topline findings from the focus group - as clients are wont to do with real life research exercises - skip straight to the end. For a blow by silly blow account of what went down, please read on...

I should state right off the bat that despite being a researcher by profession, this wasn't a focus group in any meaningful sense of the term. I was voicing my own opinion for one thing - occasionally even before I asked the others(!) (which as everyone knows is highly irregular behaviour in a market research exercise). But I did at least pose a few market research-type questions about the whole positioning and marketing of the brand before we got stuck into the business of sniffing proper.

Where would you expect to see this range displayed in store?

Aware of the unisex premise, the group puzzled over this question, as The Library of Fragrance range clearly falls between the two genders, so in theory needs a separate area. We concluded that it might have its own display in a prominent place where people might fall over it - not even necessarily in the perfume section as such.

What do you think of the bottle?

The men in the group were particularly exercised by this question, and leapt straight in with comments about things it reminded them of - none of which were perfume as it happened. Tony said 'nail varnish remover', while images of Windsor & Newton's range of artists' supplies immediately popped into both David and Jim's minds. Clare thought it looked like 'reed diffuser bottles'. I am of course familiar with many different styles of fragrance bottle, including smallish rectangular ones like these, and am greatly in favour of smaller formats. To the others in the group, however, it didn't really compute as a perfume bottle, partly down to the shape, but also the size. Jim said he would have expected a bottle of men's aftershave to be a lot bigger. On the other hand, it was deemed too bulky to be construed as a handbag-sized perfume. I still think it is great that someone is offering a 30ml size, so it will be interesting to see what Boots' customers make of it.

Source: hobbylobby.com
On a more whimsical note, the coloured strips on the bottles reminded David of Monopoly, and he imagined amassing a whole load of perfumes in the range and inventing games on a Monopoly theme. Picking up the orange banded Amber bottle, he remarked: 'I could put a house on that one.'  (He was perhaps thinking of the aptly named Vine Street...) Oh, and speaking of 'picking up', the bottles are all labelled as:

Cologne Spray
Vaporisateur Naturel'

Because of the layout - with the three terms listed underneath one another - we weren't sure if 'Pick-Me-Up' was an adjective governing 'Cologne Spray' below, or the American equivalent of 'Cologne Spray'.

The eagle-eyed David (spot the artist!) noticed that on a couple of the bottles, the text below the fragrance name was in lower case and employed commas, while on most of the bottles it was capitalised, with full stops, making for a punchier, more abrupt style.

"Simple, subtle, singular scents.
Each day. Everywhere."


"Simple. Subtle. Singular Scents.
Each Day. Everywhere."

There was a strong preference for the lower case version, and the capitalisation of 'Day' in the bottle pictured above especially bothered people. 'It's a bit shouty', observed Jim.

Having discussed the packaging in a lot more depth than I was expecting to, it was time to start sampling the perfumes themselves. I had devised a handy map of a left and right hand and forearm. I thought that if everyone applied each fragrance to the same spot, we could critique them in an orderly sequence, as we would all know where to sniff. I was also assigned the role of presiding over the spraying, administering two sharp squirts to each person's skin to give as consistent results as possible. Nevertheless, there were considerable variances between group members in terms of how each perfume smelt.

So here is the feedback, in the order in which the scents were tested...

How did they all smell?


Only Clare (a major lover of the fig note in perfumery) and I recognised this as any part of a fig, and even Clare took a little while, though it ended up being her favourite of the bunch, and she took the bottle home with her. Here are a selection of comments:

Jim: 'If I sprayed this on in the dark, I would wonder what it was.' (Editor's note - Jim seemed rather preoccupied with darkness throughout the discussion, as you will see.)

David: 'This smells like the sort of varnish you used to be able to buy in the 60s, but can't get anymore.'

Those really are meant to represent arms, not rolling pins
I was concerned that they might have been smelling the initial blast of alcohol you experience with any perfume, but even though they revisited it later - when to me and Clare it smelt most definitely of fig leaf - the men in the group never made the vegetal connection, didn't care for Fig Leaf, and persisted in using vocabulary along the lines of 'lacquer' and 'tanning solution'. Somebody observed that their nose may have been confused by the shiny look on skin of the perfume. Sure enough, the scents all lingered on everyone's skin as a sticky translucent shine, and in the case of Tony in particular, seemed visibly to have darkened his skin where I had sprayed the scent. I admitted to the group that I couldn't recall that ever happening with perfumes before. The shine was long gone the next morning, mind, but persisted for the duration of our trials.


This one initially proved more popular, and was considered to be 'more like a cologne'. It was variously described as 'pleasant', 'dry', 'orangey', 'citrusy' and 'quite sweet'. There was one comparison to 'lemon meringue'.

Jim: 'If I picked that up in the night and smelt it, I'd put the light on.' Praise indeed from Jim, the nocturnal operating, non-perfume wearer in our midst.

It was still shiny, however, and went quite indolic on several people's skin during the session, which put Tony right off. None of the men would wear this, but Clare - whose second favourite perfumery note is orange blossom - was happy to take this bottle home too.

Clare and Tony perfectly executing the perfumista's salute

Jim: 'Now I would expect this one to be very shiny!' It didn't disappoint.

Beyond that, Rain didn't smell like rain to anyone, but rather of mint and the pith of a satsuma. Clare couldn't smell anything at all to begin with, but her anosmia was suddenly broken by the satsuma reference, and - whether or not thanks to the power of suggestion, who can say? - she could just about smell a slight acerbic orangeness from that point onwards. David also got a bit of the Indian yoghurt dip with mint, raitha. This perfume was quickly renamed 'Satsuma', and on resniffing it much later, Tony pronounced it to be 'really quite nice', though nobody said they would wear it.

Source: thecabbagebox.om


This is the perfume which people were most intrigued to try, and although everyone found the opening offputting (to put it mildly), it provoked a great deal of lively debate. Images came pouring out along the lines of 'wet leaves', 'wet moss', 'wet gardening', 'rotting leaf mould from leaves that you forgot to burn', 'dry rot', 'wet rot' and 'wet shed'.

Jim: 'It's the smell of taking up the floorboards and seeing what is really going on....'

David: 'Probing at the back of your shed...or sorting out your wood pile - you know there's going to be woodlice and wriggly things.'

Me: 'It's the smell of my Dad's old car coat that had been lying in his damp abandoned caravan for four years.'

Jim summed up the feelings of the group when he inquired: 'Do I want to smell of wet wood mould?' Much much later, when this earthy, patchouli(?) scent had quietened down, Tony said it was actually at a wearable point for a men's fragrance, however, in his view it had taken far too long to get there. This was the most challenging perfume in the selection and Thunderstorm was swiftly renamed 'Wet shed'.

Source: junbosea.net


Clare's immediate response on sniffing this was to say it would make a nice room fragrance for a kitchen. Fresh Ginger was generally considered pleasant, and was one of the scents that smelt most differently on different people's skin, with additional notes of 'lemon', 'sherbet', 'almonds', 'pear drops' and 'Dolly Mixtures'. Tony described it as 'ginger Edinburgh Rock', while David thought it a 'bit Christmassy', and also like some kind of fabric conditioner, in a good way. Jim said he would also have it in the house - as a room fragrance again - and probably more in winter.


Gin & Tonic was unanimously pronounced to smell of shampoo or bubble bath. One of the men mentioned 'Matey', which led to a brief nostalgic digression about bath time products from our childhood. I got a hint of lime, and then remembered how soapy Jo Malone's French Lime Blossom is, which could be why we were 'reading' this scent as being more like a bodycare product than an astringent aperitif. There was no discernible juniper, for example. Much later, after it had softened considerably, Tony announced that he liked it and would be happy to wear it, whereupon he promptly copped for the bottle. Someone else thought it would make a pretty room scent for a bathroom.

At this point, Jim started to engage in a banned activity we had previously dubbed 'nose buffing', whereby you press your nose deeply into one scent, then drag it down to another scent location, thereby risking possible olfactory contamination. We watched as he slid his nose from Thunderstorm down to Gin & Tonic, before remarking: 'I am having a bath in the shed. Perhaps that is why the shed is damp...??'

Once again, this perfume one went on - and stayed - shiny. 'I'm way the shiniest I've ever been', mused Jim.

Jim and David


I requested this one from Clare the PR lady specifically on account of its titillating name, only to find to my chagrin that Sex on the Beach is a cocktail, and nothing at all to do with salt, sand in every interstice and scratchy marram grass. The general consensus was that this perfume smelt of sweets, ranging from that traditional favourite of 'sherbet lemon pomegranate' to 'rhubarb and custard' and generic 'boiled sweets'. The imagery then moved to 'powdered orange juice you used to get when we were kids', while I was reminded of the sweeter end of the J2O fruity mixer range.

Source: fearing.co.uk

People found this pleasant, but not something that a grown-up would wish to smell of. We judged it to be another possible contender as a room fragrance, though we could see it appealing as a perfume to young girls. At this point in the discussion, I mentioned how some US-based readers of Bonkers had talked about spraying Demeter scents on their sheets, which the group heard as 'sheep', prompting much merriment.


On first application, everyone got a big whoosh of vanilla, before the scent settled down into a distinctive amber groove. Jim admitted though that based on the name, he wouldn't have any preconception of how amber does smell. After the general consensus of the vanilla opening - and despite most people's recognition of amber as a perfumery note - this scent conjured up some quite contradictory images. Despite these differences, Amber proved to be my and David's favourite of the selection - David took a decant of this one home.

Tony: 'Middle Eastern incense; the souks of Baghdad; a belly dancer in Turkey...this is the sort of thing the sales assistants in the aiport at Dubai try to spray you with.'

David: 'Almonds, pepper, something a bit antiseptic - what they rub on you before they give you an injection? - or the kind of floor cleaner you add water to.' (Editor's note - he did really like this.)

Once everyone had tested all eight perfumes, Tony got up to get some more drinks. On his return, he announced brightly; 'So.... the bar lady liked Wet Shed, Amber, Sex on the Beach and Fig Leaf.' We commended him for gathering this bonus titbit of consumer feedback.

Source: redbubble.com


For anyone who has jumped to this part - or who would simply welcome some attempt at a synthesis of our very Singular Discussion, here are the Topline Findings (sorry, I am really not feeling these capitals...):

- Everyone found at least one scent out of the eight they said they would wear - except Jim, who doesn't wear aftershave anyway, but nevertheless went home with a decant of Fresh Ginger on the offchance that a cologne-wearing urge might randomly come over him (in the night, presumably...;) ).

- In general, the perfumes were seen as pretty straightforward and borderline functional - there were several suggestions that they might make good room scents.

- The perfumes smelt slightly different on each person's skin - nothing new there!

- Layering is very likely a good way to add depth and interest to these scents - especially as you can buy four 30ml bottles for the price of your average 50ml designer perfume.

'Shiny, happy respondents'

There was no time to layer on the night - people were arguably a bit punchdrunk by this point - and the notion provoked ribald comments along the lines of: 'Sex on a beach on top of a wet shed.' and 'Goodness, you'd be so shiny if you did that!'

As I write, however, I am wearing Orange Blossom + Amber, and Fresh Ginger + Amber, and both are rather pleasant with - just as you would expect - greater complexity than either scent on its own.

Let's keep the focus group going! If you have had your nose in one of these 'fragrant books'- whether as Demeter in the USA or under the new UK name of The Library of Fragrance - do let us know in the comments.

Tony reviewing the right arm trio


Carol said...

Sounds like fun fragrant evening! Worrisome about the skin-darkening though.

Unknown said...

That was fun to read. I did try a few of the scents at RW but have to say they didn't 'speak' to me. Layering is not really my thing for everyday, but I can see that a layering scents event down the pub could be fun, so may be you could do a sequel...

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

It most certainly was! I daresay we would have had as much fun with any other combination of eight scents from the very extensive range. ;)

I don't want to overplay the skin darkening thing. It was mainly observable on Tony, and was a temporary effect, like the weird shininess!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

I sense the scents are rather too straightforward for the most part to 'speak' to people on their own - or they wouldn't say a great deal if they did. ;) I really liked the combo of Fresh Ginger and Amber though, and while I am not given to layering either, am now curious to experiment some more along those lines.

Tara said...

This was just as fun as I imagined, V. Thanks for taking us down the pub with you.

The scents don't sound too appealing on their own but you came up with a good layering combo there. Loved the quip about Sex on the Beach on top of a wet shed.

BTW I puzzled over the new perfume term "indolicon" until the penny dropped that there was a space missing :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Glad you enjoyed a virtual pint with us! I do think that with layering these scents are transformed to something closer to the complexity of the perfumes we are used to.

Oops! Sorry about the indolicon typo, hehe. Perhaps we could invent an emoticon that means: 'Ew, this scent is way too indolic!' And that would be the perfect name for it...

luxiehoney said...

Ah boo I wrote a comment earlier but I think my phone lost it! Great idea for a post, I have Mojito from the Demeter range which is basically lime with a big alcoholic punch behind it- it's nice but I definitely have to be in the mood to wear it! I've got some minis of other ones too, like Whiskey- it in unique and does smell like whiskey, but I can't imagine who would actually want to wear it, I'm scared of being mistaken for an alcoholic! Definitely interesting to try out a few of these, especially Amber! xx

Odiferess said...

What a great idea. Pub focus groups could be the next big thing in perfume! The Lidl/Coco table almost became one.

I too got a lot of mouldy wet stuff from thunderstorm but it ended up being curiously 'seaside ozone' after the mouldiness wore off. Neither of these concepts appeal to me. Perhaps the imagery for me would be 'wet winter blankets in a leaky beach cabin'? That would be a terrible beach to have sex on..

I was however, intrigued by their unexpectedly dirty musk which I'll be spaffing on about soon.

Vanessa said...

Hi luxiehoney,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience of Demeter scents. I hadn't spotted the Mojito one, but there seems to be a subset of drinks-related perfumes within the range - you mention Whiskey as well. As you say, there are circumstances where it would be far from ideal to smell of alcoholic drinks, hehe.

As I say, I really rated the Fresh Ginger layered over Amber - not so much the start but the drydown. I would definitely wear that combo out, as it had all the complexity I look for in a perfume, still for not much money.

Vanessa said...

PS Sorry about losing your comment earlier - that happens to me too and it is so annoying. ;(

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

Haha - happy memories of the Lidl/Coco conversation in that pub in Manchester. ;)

Great to get your take on Thunderstorm and I look forward to reading your full review of it. I can't say any of us got seaside ozone, though it might even have provided an interesting change of direction if we had. Not necessarily pleasant, but interesting nonetheless in the composite bleak way you describe. Though actually, the earthy place to which the drydown went eventually during our group session was very tolerable, as Tony himself volunteered. I think you need to be a patchouli fan, mind.

Maybe what I am calling 'earthy' is your 'dirty musk', but it was just dank and mossy to my nose rather than raunchy in the animalic way of Meharees and Musc Ravageur, type of thing?

odonata9 said...

I think I commented about the Demeters I own on the other post, but will plug Ginger Ale again. If that is one of the ones available, I highly recommend it. It's fizzy and fun. There's a review of that one, Thunderstorm and several other Demeters on NST if you are interested.

Vanessa said...

Hi odonata9,

I believe you did, so thanks for commenting again and mentioning Ginger Ale. I just read the review on NST and it sounds like a faithful repesentation of what it is meant to be.

As for Thunderstorm, I was hoping to get more of that rainy/electrical feel to the scent, but it seemed to jump straight to the leaf mould drydown on this occasion. I think it would merit a few more goes, in case it is a bit changeable - like weather itself indeed.

Yuki said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, what fun :) I hope you do similar pub focus groups in the future, and I was extra tickled by the pictures-everyone sounds (and looks!) so enthusiastic.

Undina said...

Great post! I so enjoyed reading it! For such type of party it doesn't really matter what to sniff and Demeter with their suggestive names make a good party game.

Many-many years ago I considered buying Tomato Leaf perfume but was put off by how quickly it disappeared from my skin when I tried it at Sephora. Then I bought a decant of Linden from TPC - it was nice but too simple. The latest purchase - set of three perfumes (Lavender, Rose and Lilac) for which I paid $15 I use as linen spray - when I remember to use them.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

I am glad you enjoyed it - it was a big of a giggle, for sure. If I chance upon another unisex range with a bit of a built-in fun factor like this one I would consider holding another focus group. The 'respondents' certainly entered into the spirit of it as you say.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I am so pleased you found the post entertaining. I agree that the Demeter range really lent itself to such a lighthearted exercise on account of its quirky names.

Re your experience with Tomato Leaf, longevity is an issue for sure. I would be drawn to Linden as well, but can imagine how it might be a bit simple - linen sprays or room fragrances as the group suggested may be more where these perfumes are at. Unless you are prepared to go the layering route.

For me - as with lucky dips - there is enough fun to be had in the simple act of picking out the scents with the most wacky names and seeing if they live up to them. Even where they fall down slightly, as with Rain, the novelty factor alone kind of makes it worthwhile.

Odiferess said...

Ah no, the dirty musk was actually a scent called Musk 7, not Thunderstorm. Entirely different. Sorry, confusing!

SallyM said...

Matey! How I loved that stuff when I was a kid. Here's an old ad I found (I have no life) - although its from 1977 when I was in my 20s, it still sums up the memories.

I loved this post - what a hoot you had. I have never heard of this line but I'd like to check out the orange and the amber. Also the wet shed - my uncle kept rabbits when I was a kid and I used to help him look after them. I had to go into his shed at the bottom of the garden to get the new straw and it always had a musty, damp smell - in fact I can remember little mushroom thingies growing along one of the walls. It would be interesting to see if this perfume jogs that particular memory.

I love the idea of a rolling pin map - so many times when my friend and I go sniffing, we totally forget what is where.

Blacknall Allen said...

This did sound like a giggle, and I'm not surprised that they sell Fresh Ginger, their Gingerale used to be one of the best in the line, sparkling and fun. Short lived though.

Vanessa said...

Aha - I thought one of the five of us might have spotted a dirty musk in that one. But no, it was unremitting wet shed. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi SallyM,

Ah, that ad was a blast of nostalgia, even if it was much later than our own era of Matey usage. As you are in the US now, you will have no trouble tracking Demeter down, I wouldn't have thought. You can check out the complete selection here - it is different for Demeter than the ones launching over here, probably tailored to each market.


Definitely try Thunderstorm if you can - I'd love to know if the memory synapses for those mushroom thingies were triggered, hehe. And the rolling pin map was a resounding success, though it could have been a little more anatomically correct.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

I just learnt when copying the link to the Demeter site that the selections for both countries are different. Gingerale is clearly a more popular drink Stateside. We just have the Fresh Ginger and Gingerbread!

And I see you had problems with longevity too - seems to be a common issue. Though respraying is no big deal at that price point.

Asali said...

Dear Vanessa, what a wonderful focus group, and delightful answers :-) the only Demeter fragrance I actually remember trying is 'Dirt', which smelled like dirt, and garbage bag. Interesting.
These novelty perfumes are perhaps less for us fumies and more for....??? Well, I actually don't know. However, I hope you'll be keeping up the group:-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Dirt and garbage bag - delightful! It is one of their original line up and a best seller, I believe. I think calling them novelty perfumes is quite right - some are more of a source of amusement, but some are definitely wearable, especially in combination, I sense, as the company suggests. It will be fascinating to see what the great British public makes of them. The fixture is going up in my local Boots this weekend. I may have to photograph it!