Wednesday, 14 October 2015

'Between a rock hyrax and a festival': a pleasantly pungent Papillon pitstop en route to Rockaway Beach

Back when I wrote my 'not a review' of Salome by Papillon Artisan Perfumes - which featured the perturbed reactions of my friend Lizzie and her children to the perfume's thoroughly 'unnecessary' behaviour on my skin, to wit, that I shouldn't really be encouraged to wear this, especially not outdoors - Liz Moores expressed an interest in smelling Salome for herself on my skin, to see if I did indeed amp up the skank factor, as Liz's own skin does. And it wasn't long before a suitable opportunity arose, for I found myself bound for Bognor Regis and a 'boutique indoor music festival' called Rockaway Beach, and realised that Papillon's HQ was only a short squirt away up the M27. So I arranged with Liz that I would pop in on Saturday afternoon for a quick pitstop en route to the coast.

It is well documented - also in my own 'okay, let's call it a review for once' of Angelique - that Liz lives in splendid isolation in the middle of the New Forest. Well, isolation only in the sense of proximity to neighbours maybe, for the household is quite populous, comprising a shifting kaleidoscope of up to five children and (extremely) assorted animals.

The first thing to mention about my visit is that Liz gives good directions. Sat nav is positively superfluous when you are armed with such safety-conscious and meticulous instructions - including a current assessment of the degree of obstructive vegetation that might be compromising local signage:

"On this bend you need to turn right (signposted as a dead end IF you can see the sign which is battling with nature). BE CAREFUL HERE as it's a blind bend!!!"

Papillon HQ, where you are never more than 6ft away from a perfume bottle

I forgot to mention that I was a bit late getting to Liz's house, on account of roadwork-related lane closures on the A34 south of Newbury. Consequently, my first words to her after 'Hello' were - in a for me uncharacteristically ungrammatical blurt - 'I have four unreasonable demands I hope that's okay toilet cup of tea may I fill up my water bottle and charge my phone thank you where is the toilet in fact?'

A few minutes later, I was comfortably perched at the island in Liz's vast kitchen, while Liz's partner Simon put the kettle on, Liz cut me a piece of gooey chocolate cake, and my phone charged quietly on a cable reel normally used with the lawn mower. Over tea, I was treated to a smartphone tour of son Rowan's collection of 'monster' images. Well, in fairness some of them may have been his older sisters, but the more we swiped through, the blurrier our definitions seemed to become.

After tea, we adjourned to the living room, which was equally vast and notable for its squashy sofas, comfy jumble of cushions, and occasional stately Bengal threading its way through your legs. At this stage in proceedings Liz sniffed me wearing Salome, whose delicate powdery trail she likened to the way the scent played on her eldest daughter Jasmine's skin. I was quick to point out that Salome had been on me for seven hours already, and promptly reapplied it so that Liz could experience it straight out of the starting blocks in all its raunchy splendour. 'Oh okaay, now that is rather funky!' she laughed. We chatted about some samples I had received lately, and about the different ways natural materials and aromachemicals behave in perfume compositions, eg how relatively predictable a synthetic ingredient is compared to a natural. We agreed that they both have a role to play, and indeed the Papillon range of fragrances seems to gravitate 'naturally' to a 50/50 ratio of each.

Next up, I had a tour of Liz's studio with its floor to ceiling shelves laden with glass bottles and metal canisters of perfumery ingredients. Some of these were thematically grouped according to the perfume they go into, while others were part of Liz's extensive library of materials. A number sported intriguingly oddball names like 'Bornax' and 'Okanaul'. Okay, so I made both of those up, but trust me when I say that the correct names (which I can't immediately bring to mind) were every bit as random. I do remember another bottle that was definitely called Pink Lotus, and which smelt beguilingly of Toffos.

Source: Twitter

I got to sniff a selection of raw materials, including some of the ones that went into Angelique, Tobacco Rose and Salome. I was liberally anointed with African Stone - and not just hyrax, but styrax, castoreum and red bitter orange, mimosa and Turkish rose, plus a foresty number named after the area in France where I accidentally fetched up in a nudist camp. I also had two different mods on my arms of White Moth, a tiare-centric work in progress, and of course the recently refreshed application of Salome! If the truth be told, I was a bit pungent by now, veering to pongy possibly, but I didn't care...

Liz also showed me her stack of notebooks, full of handwritten formulae and jottings about her impressions of different materials, both on their own and in various accords. It was reassuring to see that her work bench bore the scars of battle in the form of numerous marks, scratches and stains(!), as I have managed to strip the polish off my dining room table in a couple of obvious places due to accidents while decanting...;(

'Piccadilly patio': the cat wanted out and the dogs wanted in

Then we were looking out of the window at one point onto a patio area behind the kitchen - specifically because Jicky the cat had escaped and was sloping off towards the clothes line, prompting Liz to ring Simon and ask him to go and catch her (I told you it was a big house!) - and this was the trigger for Liz to tell me a bit about the creation of Tobacco Rose. I admitted right off the bat that while I admire Tobacco Rose, I find a bit prickly/fuzzy and austere, and neither upbeat nor sultry - nor particularly feminine. It's quite haylike on me - and kind of autumnal - and that's as much as I could say about it, other than the fact that I am leaning ever more towards Salome, the surprise grower of the range for a former hater of animalics!

Me being quite haylike on hay, c1974

Liz could understand why Tobacco Rose might not have clicked with me, and explained that it was a perfume with which she had wrestled for a long time, scrapping and tinkering in an endless and at times furious cycle. For by her own admission, she had been in a bad place in her personal life at that time, and the catalyst for Tobacco Rose had been the combination of this inner turmoil and the sight of the trees ranged around her house and the carpet of autumnal leaves on the flagstones of the patio. I think she may have mentioned that it was also windy and/or raining - and even if it wasn't, in the interests of pathetic fallacy I think we can reasonably add some turbulent weather conditions into the mix. So, short story short Tobacco Rose was created in anger, as it were - or an ongoing state of emotional upset - which got me wondering whether the finished scent embodies that conflicted mood at its heart, and whether that is why I didn't bond with it. Liz also lobbed in the observation that if she cooks when she is in a bit of a strop, she reckons that her dishes actually taste different. Which interesting notion is probably fodder for a whole other blog post on its own. ;)

And before we left the studio, because I had been swooning quietly over the scent strip smeared in this, Liz very kindly scooped some flakes of eye-wateringly expensive orris concrete into a plastic bag for me. I have since decanted them into a plastic container that originally had ear plugs in it, given to me some time ago by DJ and blogger Ron Slomowicz of Notable Scents. I knew it would come in handy some day.

Then having retrieved my phone charger, but forgotten to fill my water bottle, I followed Liz on a quick tour of the snake collection, which - in case anyone wants to avoid them - was just to the left of the cockatiels in the hall. They are housed in a sort of filing cabinet system the family refer to as 'racks', and Liz pulled out a few drawers to see which scaly residents were out and who was in - as in under their little platform to the rear of each drawer. Cleo was out but I am very pleased to report that Phantom, the ueber-creepy white Royal Python, was firmly IN, and out of sight. I also noticed a bottle of Hoegaarden on the worktop to one side. Who knew that pedigree snakes are partial to the odd beer?

From Papillon HQ, it was on to Bognor, though not before I had stopped to photograph this wonderfully vintage petrol station in the next village.

The Rockaway Beach Festival is held at Butlins, which has come a long way as a holiday destination since its Red Coat and 'hi-de-hi' days, though if you ask me my honest opinion, not nearly far enough, haha. I was staying offsite in a very traditional B & B, so much so that I got ticked off the next morning at breakfast for inadvertently taking the communal jug of orange juice to my table, and spilling a drop in the process. Meanwhile, the band I had come to see (The Monochrome Set) and its merchandise team had rooms in the two main onsite hotels, memorable for their whimsical touches of nautical imagery and 'towel animals'.

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

The Monochrome Set were playing the Centre Stage, in an auditorium that was disconcertingly reminiscent of a channel ferry, but without the slight rocking motion and dedicated lounge for long distance lorry drivers. But it was afterwards, over a takeaway pizza in the reception area of The Wave Hotel, that the Papillon story continues...For it was here - notwithstanding the fact that we were eating - that I invited the band to smell the remnants of neat African Stone(!) as well as Salome, which was about six hours in now on the second application of the day, and partially washed off by a pre-gig shower. Yes, Bognor may go down in history as the first time I have tried to un-perfume myself before a gig rather than the reverse.

Butlins with its distinctive meringue peaks

The band duly sniffed both the remnants of Salome AND the African Stone, intrigued by my explanation that it was the fossilised excrement of the rock hyrax, an animal I tried to big up by likening it to a robust yet endearing variant on the guinea pig. They continued to chew thoughtfully on slices of the family size pepperoni pizza several of us were sharing, and didn't bat an eyelid - or flare a nostril in disgust.

Now my wearing of actual African Stone may have been a lifetime one off, but in the light of this rock 'n' roll nonchalance in the face of the ne plus ultra of poo, I plan to wear Salome to the next gig without a backward glance...

Segregated scent strips in the festival programme


Tara said...

Ha! Brilliant. The Africa Stone in Salome doesn't bother me at all. In fact I like it. It's just the cumin that I have trouble with. Perhaps I can talk Liz into making me a de-cumined version :)

I totally fell for your made-up perfume ingredients! You could get a job at IFF or somewhere doing that.

I love how Liz's house sounds like a comfy ranch type home. Lots of room and very homely. I am a bit perturbed about the snakes being out. Do I need to keep an eye out for rogue reptiles when I visit?!

Very interesting story about TR. It is very autumnal to me too. I'll wear it tomorrow and think about what Liz said and your own reaction.

Aren't TMS cool with sniffing out there aromas these days? You have trained them well :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

That's interesting about the cumin - I know what it smells like in a curry, but I am not sure my nose can detect it in perfumes particularly, and I doubt I'd have a problem with it anyway. Maybe I need to practise on that famous fragrance by Alexander McQueen!

Glad you thought my made up ingredients had a ring of truth to them. I *think* the actual names weren't that far off, hehe.

Ranch home is a good term for it, with its spacious layout and overhanging eaves. The house is not entirely made of wood, but you could imagine it is, because there are trees all around and a generally woodsy feel at every turn!

I plan to wear TR again from the decant you kindly gave me. And in this connection I enjoyed Gaia's review of TR - well, of the original trio of scents in fact - today on The Non-Blonde.

Pats said...

How wonderful to read all the goings on and the photos from your visit to Liz. I laughed out loud at various places. Loved also your picture of you with the hay bales back in the day when they were rectangular, and not round. You had a fancy tractor and i'm jealous! :-)

Unknown said...

What a fun story. Thanks for further feeding my girl-crush on Liz ;) I'm really envious that you got to try the Africa Stone and keep thinking I should try to source some just for fun. I can't get enough of the stuff in perfume, and actually would like an extra-skank version of Salome. I want that cuminy-musk opening to stick around for the entire wearing and will have to spring for a bottle someday soon so I can reapply with abandon. I am surprised to say, Salome has topped Anubis as my favorite Papillon fragrance. I can hardly wait for the next one.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful report. Needless to say that I would love to see the house, the kids, the animals and the perfume lab...
Tobacco Rose didn't really click with me, I'm a Angelique (day) and Salome (night) kind of woman, but I will go back to my sample of it to see if I can get the anger in it.

DJ Ron said...

Wow.. I can't thank you enough for recycling the earplug case. I am a huge fan of Orris as well.. so I am kinda jealous. Thank you for the shoutout :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Pats,

Nice to hear from you again! Glad the post tickled your fancy. That shot of me on the bales was taken on the farm in Herefordshire where my second cousin grew up (pictured in the cab). He was also only about 14 at the time, so I was a bit alarmed when I suddenly found myself up in the air! ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Liz K,

A crush on Liz M is all too easy to develop, I get that! Can recommend the neat Africa Stone - maybe the Perfumer's Apprentice or one of those kind of places would have a drop you could buy?

I am struggling to imagine an even skankier version of Salome. Maybe they should bring out a body lotion with it in so you can do that double application / fixative routine, hehe.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

I gather a visit is on the cards... ;) Angelique by day and Salome by night sounds like a good combo, not least because if you wore Salome by day you would automatically be wearing it by night, hehe. I would also be interested to know what you make of Tobacco Rose when you retest it with its backstory in mind.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ron,

It was the perfect receptacle. I did also use the ear plugs a while back and couldn't bear to throw out the dinky plastic holder. Thanks to you for giving it to me way back when at Les Senteurs!

Jennifer Wells said...

Sounds like your friend has a beautiful, interesting home, but snakes! I just couldn't. They're beautiful animals, and it's my sign on the Chinese zodiac, but watching them eat things has always given me the creeps. I think it's the unhinging jaw that gets to me.

What did the orris root smell like? I've never had the privilege of trying it straight up, although I recognize its note in perfumery. In my experience, single notes smell different once they are amalgamated into a blend of any kind. Palmarosa gives other fragrances a delightful, "antique" smell in my mind. Don't ask me what I mean by that. But on its own, I find it unpleasantly alcoholic, like overripe pears.

Vanessa said...

Hi Nora,

I am not sure I even find snakes beautiful to be honest. My father had a full-blown phobia of them and couldn't even look at Snakie, my brother's knitted toy snake. I certainly didn't get close enough to Liz's lot to notice the hingeability of their jaws.

Okay, this orris concrete smells like metallic butter and earth all mixed up. It is downright weird really, but utterly compelling with that. Liz herself is reminded by it of the smell of her children's necks when they were babies, indeed I could have put that observation in my post!

I have not tried Palmarosa but you are not selling it to me with mentions of 'alcoholic overripe pears', haha. Yes, it is a kind of alchemy when raw materials are completely transformed in a fragrance in combination with other ingredients...

Blacknall Allen said...

Fossilized poo of hyraxes! It is an important thing to educate the public about the ingredients of fine perfumery. Can't recall if I've ever worn "the ne plus ultra of poo" (a great phrase) or not.

Anyway great post, it's fun to hear about the perfumers and the curious backstories of frags. I shouldn't be surprised at all to find that the perfumer's state of mind influenced the end product.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

I thought it would amuse the band at the very least, and it didn't seem to put them off their dinner.

I am wearing Tobacco Rose again today and it does smell elegant but brooding, if that is possible.

crikey said...

What a lovely tale of a houseful of delights...human and otherwise.

I keep wavering over a bottle of Anubis, and should probably take the plunge because I think it's lovely. TR, however, just doesn't work on me--it goes oddly sour and mean. Which seems like I'm missing out terribly, given the elegant beauty some people seem to find in it. I've not picked up a sample of Salome yet.

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

Ooh, I think you should check out Salome before you spring for a bottle of Anubis, just in case you love that more, which has happened to a few people I have talked to.

I do think TR is elegant and wistful, but it doesn't warm to me particularly. Shame it goes sour on you - I would be curious to sniff that effect!

Asali said...

Wow, who would have thought that you of all perfumistas would end up smelling of fossilised poo for a whole evening. Daring in anyones books, and by your own 'I hate civet'- meassure, surely unexpected.
Sounds like the whole day was great fun :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I have come on by leaps and bounds in my animalic apprenticeship, no question. It was a great day from end to end, and I look forward to my next outing wearing Salome!