Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Jasmine awards: a memorable way to start the day (very early!), plus Penhaligon's Ostara mini-review

Regular readers - well, even very recent readers of my last post! - will know that I am not a morning person. So you can imagine my great surprise to find myself at the BAFTAS venue in London last Wednesday morning at 8.30am. You read that right - actually in London at 8.30am! That's as opposed to...er...in the bathroom, maybe. At best. I was a bit bleary-eyed, despite having gone down the night before (the trains to Euston would have been prohibitively expensive first thing). On the one hand, going down the night before was good, because it also meant I got the chance to meet Sabine of Iridescents for a meal and a quick recce of a French pharmacy in South Ken. Lots of lovely skincare brands, priced to reflect the catchment area. Plus we did rock up just before they were closing, so didn't even have time for a leisurely ogle. Over dinner, we had an in-depth chat about the German culture and language - in English, because my German is woefully eingerostet. I will just say though that my Pad Thai dish, while tasty, 'hätte wesentlich wärmer sein können'.

On the other hand, going down the night before was a high risk move, as it meant throwing myself on the mercy again of the cheaper end of the accommodation options near the Piccadilly Line. My hotel in Gloucester Road was in a very good spot, with a spacious lobby area remarkable for its enormous 'water torture feature' (as ex-Mr Bonkers was wont to call such things), but there the positives stopped. For only the second time ever, I felt moved to submit a review to the Booking.com website:

Great location, staff perfectly friendly, the foyer looked nice!
Room was minute (208 - economy single), and looked out onto a high enclosed wall / well, giving it a prison-like feel. The bed was rammed between the two walls such that a power socket was almost unusable between the struts of the bed head. I had to boil the kettle in the corridor outside! Couldn't dry my hair in front of a mirror either. Bed sloped in both directions so my feet were higher than my head, *and* I thought I was going to fall out laterally. The toilet seat swivelled and the shower dripped all night. Slight smell of drains. Paper thin walls. One towel and one very flat pillow. Didn't sleep a wink.

So there was that. But I figured to myself in my sleep-deprived state the next morning that the beauty of a breakfast function is that you can keel over at 10.30am if you must - well, you can if you don't have to rush back to work straight afterwards, which obviously I didn't.

There was one other person in the lift going up to the floor where the event was being held. 'I will let this lady out first', I thought to myself, 'as she might be one of the judges'. Sure enough she was(!), but I sense the allocation of the awards in no way hinged on my last minute impromptu bellhoppery.

Having registered, I hurried to the toilets, where a number of impeccably groomed and beautiful women of all ages were applying the finishing touches to their already immaculate makeup. Meanwhile, I had multiple contact lens crises in quick succession, thinking at one point that there was a real possibility that I had put TWO lenses in the same eye, but it seems not. Liz Moores had asked me to take photos of my chosen outfit, and I did manage to take a quick selfie in front of a dispensing machine, over the precise contents of which I shall draw a veil. It was one of only two ensembles on the shortlist - the dress I had in mind was a little snug and I could anticipate a few strange looks if I persisted in standing for an hour in an all-seater auditorium.

Contact lenses inserted, the next hour was spent in major milling mode, mostly with other bloggers, but also with the friendly lady ahead of me in the tea queue. Of special note were the exquisite canapes dong the rounds - tiny wisps of smoked salmon, blinis topped with blueberries so minute they looked like caviar. Unfortunately I was way too nervous to sample any of these miniature delicacies, which verily were the amuse-bouche equivalent of your name written on a grain of rice.

The proceedings proper got underway about 9.30am or so: all the judges sat in a row on stage, while the President of the Fragrance Foundation addressed the audience from a lecturn. Maybe I need a public speaking engagement to get some wear out of that dress I rejected. One of the highlights of the ceremony was the awarding of prizes to a clutch of small children who had written poems on a fragrance theme. Richard E Grant was a judge in that particular 'Mini-Jasmines' category, but sadly not in attendance. 'We want the finest perfume poems available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!' A couple of the kids were in their school uniform, the others in flouncy party dresses, and all looked exceptionally sweet.

In case anyone hasn't caught up with the details of the winners in the 'grown up' Jasmines(!), here is the complete list. Persolaise won the blogger award, for which I had been shortlisted - that's a hat trick of Jasmines for him now! - while Thomas, The Candy Perfume Boy, next to whom I was sitting, picked one up in the digital category for a piece he wrote for Escentual - second time round for him! Thomas was shortlisted in no fewer than four categories, and while I dearly hoped he would sweep the boards this year, realistically there might have been practical issues with multiple bouquet storage in the small area by our feet. Meanwhile Liam Moore's online magazine, ODOU, won again this year in the Literary category. Big congratulations to all the winners!

After the ceremony, I spent an enjoyable hour with fellow nominee, Pia Long of Volatile Fiction, mooching in the shops north of Piccadilly, before we headed off to our respective lunch dates with friends. The scent of Penhaligon's new release, the quintessentially spring-like Ostara, lured us into the venerable brand's Regent Street branch, where we each bagged a sample and a hanky impregnated with the fragrance. Having tried Ostara on skin a few times now, I can say that it plays much more nicely with a human canvas than a fabric one. The hanky went incredibly indolic, such that I was not sorry to pop it into the wash when I got home, whereas on skin Ostara is a warm, sweet, radiant scent, nicely accented with spiky hints of green to evoke the trajectory of daffodils 'from bud to full bloom'. It also has a so-called 'solar note', as does Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia, to which it is quite similar - that's if you imagine a greener interpretation, as befits the spring rather than high summer theme. Ostara is the soprano to Lys Soleia's alto, type of thing. There are also echoes of Puredistance 1, in terms of its strong, warm, musky vibe, say. Going back to Lys Soleia, there is a lot more going on in Ostara than in the Guerlain scent, because of its 'whole of life' daffodil rendition - as you would deduce from the note list indeed! Also, the sharper facets ensure that Ostara doesn't tip into overly sweet territory for those with a low sugar threshold.

Pia sniffing Ostara


Top notes: bergamot, lemon and palm leaves
Heart notes: lily, ylang-ylang, tropical fruits
Base notes: tuberose, vanilla and white musk


Top notes: bergamot, clementine, juniper, red berries CO2, currant buds CO2, violet leaf absolute, green leaves and aldehyes
Heart notes: daffodil, hyacinth, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, hawthorn, wisteria and beeswax
Base notes: styrax resin, vanilla, benzoin, musk, amber and blonde wood

No appraisal - not even a mini-one - of Ostara would be complete, however, without a word on the name. To me it conjures up the German for Easter, 'Ostern', but I am also reminded of Ostrava, a town on the border with Slovakia where my friend and I accidentally ended up on a short train ride from Prague. Yes, so engrossed were we in our girly chat that we managed to overshoot our destination by some 180 miles, the truth of which error took some explaining to the bemused ticket inspector.

Royal Apothic Balmoral Rain

After Penhaligon's, Pia and I browsed in Anthropologie, toying with the testers of their fragrance line. None of the scents really grabbed me, but they deserve a big thumbs up for their small formats and pretty packaging. From there, we headed to Space NK, passing an amusing sign outside a house where the poet William Blake used to live. One wonders if he had ever availed himself of the Ministry's services? For his moustache, perchance? Here is Blake, waxing lyrical...

"What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

In the bijou branch of Space NK I learnt the disturbing news that my favourite cream blusher, NARS Penny Lane, had been discontinued. So after Pia and I split up at Bond Stree tube, I hotfooted it to Selfridges on a NARS blusher dupe mission. The sales assistants at the various concessions were surprisingly helpful in suggesting rival brands that might be worth trying, and the trail of recommendations finally led to Laura Mercier's slightly darker take on Penny Lane, called Canyon. Then in an unprecedented - and ill-advised! - splurge, I picked up not one but two brow pencils: a MAC in Lingering and a Suqqu in Moss Green. What between those and my Benefit Gimme Brow in Light/Medium, I hope to have the greyish-browny-taupe shade I sense my brows are craving thoroughly covered off. Plus I am happy to report that since returning home, I have had a professional plucking session for a fiver(!). And though I still need to grow my 'sprouts' back on one side, my eyebrows look related at last. Not twins, and maybe not even sisters yet, but first cousins, certainly.

A post-shopping cuppa with added lightbulb moment


Tara said...

V, I really loved hearing about your Jasmine experience and all the added extras. So good to have been nominated and get to go along and see what it was all about. The "Mini Jasmines" sound adorable.

Very interested to hear your take on Ostara as I'm very intrigued by that one. I'd like more narcissus than green daffodil but I look forward to trying it sometime. I'm lemming Chamade for Spring at the moment after Asali recommended it.

If you decide against any of those brow products I know Caroline Hirons has a charity called Give and Make Up that use Escentual as a collection point to distribute decent used make up to women's refuges.

I'm so sorry I ddin't think to invite you to stay at mine the night before the Awards. I'm on the right tube line too! Consider yourself invited for next year, when you're nominated again :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I think I get a hint of narcissus in Ostara too - and hyacinth - it's a bit of a chorus of spring flowers to be honest - with an interesting interplay of ultra sweet and sappily green. Anyone who likes Lys Soleia is likely to like it as least as much if not more, I would say. Are you familiar with that one? Chamade is a lovely choice for spring, with a pretty powdery edge as I recall.

What a great idea about donating pre-owned make up - I was talking about that very thing to a friend on Friday, and we assumed that no one would touch second-hand stuff, however lightly used. It doesn't also apply to lightly broached skincare products by any chance? I know I went a bit mad on the brow pencil front, and am trying to construe them as early birthday presents. Or Christmas maybe!

No, please don't think you were remiss in not inviting me to stay. I specifically wanted to be just a few stops away from the venue, so bad am I at getting up early. As it was, the alarm went off before 7! Fancy that!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

So lovely reading about your day jn London. I had my fingers tightly crossed for your win, but, alas, maybe my wishfulfilment abilities are a bit eingerostet. ;)
Your outfit looked lovely!

Vanessa said...

Hi B,

Hahaha! Your finger - or thumb? - crossing is much appreciated. I greatly enjoyed the whole experience, and I guess I might have had to square up to your decluttering lady if I had been lucky enough to bring home another ornament. ;)

Tara said...

Thanks for making me feel better V, though I think it would have been a better quality of sleep at mine, if less of it.

Give and Make Up do take cleanser/toner/moisturiser as well. Here's the link -


Oh and I didn't really hit it off with Lys Soleia but then I'm not a lily person.

Vanessa said...

Haha - you are absolutely right that I would have had a much better night at your house, even though you are further out. I guess I really don't want to impose on people, and psychologically I felt that on this occasion I needed to be really close to the West End. So I did get what I wanted in terms of the 'great location'!

That is great news about skincare being accepted too - I might have a little consignment for them...

Ah, ref Lys Soleia, obviously it has lily in it and Ostara doesn't. The resemblance is in the juicy, musky, radiant, warm characteristics rather than what flowers are involved, though both crucially have ylang-ylang, citrus and other fruity notes, vanilla and musk, which may account for much of the resemblance.

odiferess said...

Boo... You should have won. A scent sniffing pub sesh would have been a real coup for eccentricity in blogging and god knows we need some some more bonkersness in our world. Glad you had a fun day though.

Thinkingmagpie said...

You looked absolutely fabulous. :) I was hoping that you would win... Next year then? Had a great time reading about your hotel (if you can call it that) and Jasmine Awards episodes. But 8:30? I'm definitely not ready to be in public at that time in the morning!!

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

It is kind of you to have rooted for me, but the competition was very strong, and my piece may have lacked the necessary gravitas to catch the judges' fancy. And yes, it was a fascinating insight into the world of perfume/beauty journalism in its wider sense.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

Thank you! I was very nervous, also about my appearance. I don't see so well in contacts for starters, and was worried that my trouser hems were fractionally too short, as you do - or I do!

Am so heartened to meet someone else who is not so good in the mornings. And of course where you live, mornings come an hour earlier, hehe.

Asali said...

Dear Vanessa, you looked great and for getting up at such a time AND look great you should recieve an award :-) Of course I hoped you'd win the real one, but I assume it's an honour just being a nominee?
As to Ostara, (what's up with ugly O- names?, has a perfume of great success ever had one word of three syllables starting on an O?) I also has to think of Ostern every time I see it, or even worse; Osterhase. But it sounds quite nice, the solar note especially, even if I do prefer Altos ;-)

Asali said...

Arrg! 'I hassss' Looks like one of those cat pics with funny captions, like this one http://www.lolcaption.com/lolcats-funny-cat-pictures-with-captions/funny-cat-pics-i-haz-made-it-to-china/

Undina said...

8:30 is godless time for anything but maybe a shower! :) On the other hand, on those several occasions when I couldn't get a decent sleep I remember being glad that the morning had finally come. Still you managed to look great.

I was hoping for your win but now you'll have to try again the next year!

I'm very curious to try Ostara. The name doesn't bother me and I like the sunny bottle/color.

Anonymous said...

All that gravitas sometimes feels like preaching to the converted, as opposed to your post about how the real world looks at scent.
Do hope you will enter again, if only so the judges can see a broader perspective.

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Yay! Another non-morning person. Yes, the bathroom is definitely the furthest I would normally have got at that hour. ;) And you are right that there was a kind of relief that the alarm had gone off and it was time to get up and draw a line under this whole sorry hotel experience.

I may well try again next year if I think I have written something that might possibly fit the criteria.

Ostara is the epitome of sunny, no question. Lots of springy cheerfulness in a bottle, but with much more warmth than some other hyacinth / narcissus-type scents.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Nice to see you and thanks for your kind comment. The fact that my entry was accepted - and nominated - I find most encouraging in itself, for there was a lot of larking about on the respondents' part and mixed feedback about the perfumes themselves. I hope to keep trying with my usual sort of post, and just see what happens.

Gil said...

I loved this post, Vanessa!
The insight on the awards and the hotel was very funny despite the fact that at the time I'm sure the hotel wasn't very entertaining to you. ;)
Have a wonderful week!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Hahaha! You should have seen my eye bags first thing. They took a good hour to subside, I can tell you. I was chuffed to be nominated, really, especially with me being a bit 'left field' to say the least. I also laughed at your comment about 'O' perfumes - we were just talking about that of course, and another one pops up. 'Osterhase' also popped into my mind.

Vanessa said...

PS Typo duly excused. I make lots myself on other blogs, though I blame my phone. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Gil,

Glad you liked it! As with my business travels over the years, I do tend to see even the bad experiences as blog fodder, so that is something at least! And I have stayed in some very rum hotels in the past, it must be said...;)

Anonymous said...

I'm sad to read that you didn't win an award! Was rooting for you to be honest, because your style is quirky, unique, and super refreshing. Oh well, I'm sure you'll win something eventually, although winning isn't the point of writing! :) I found it intriguing how you compared Ostara to Lys Soleia... I recently tried Ostara when I was on holiday in the UK and found it to be rather green indeed, rather than yellow! Must be because I associate the coconut sun-tan lotion quality of Lys Soleia with the colour yellow more so than anything else. Lovely read! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Joshua,

Aw, thanks for your support and kind comment about my writing. If it is not to be, it's not to be, and I am fine with that - as you say, winning is not the point of writing. After 5 and a half years of blogging for fun, I can certainly say that with confidence, hehe.

Ostara is also green - I would visualise it as a greeny-yellow, much like the factice in the photo, while Lys Soleia is more a yellow-orange. But they do feel like different seasonal interpretations of the same warm, solar vibe if that makes any sense. The base of both once I get to the drydown is quite similar in side-by-side testing on me.

Unknown said...

I was rooting for you too, but that's allowed, isn't it? And next time you come to London I will make you a really hot Pad Thai. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Thanks for your rooting! Your offer of a hot Pad Thai is also gratefully accepted. ;)