Sunday, 3 April 2016

Proustian purses: travel bags of perfume samples with stories to tell

As time goes by, I seem to have accumulated more and more small bags full of perfume samples. Now I consciously put the word 'travel' in the title to distinguish the type of bags I am talking about from your basic polythene baggie with one of those easy seal tops that are in practice quite fiddly to close, especially when passing through security at airports. The staff will not fail to ask you to shut your bursting bag of sub-100ml toiletries that is on the point of disgorging its contents onto the belt, the gaping top of which you vainly try to conceal with some combination of passport, shoes and belt.

No, I mean the cosmetic or regular purse variety made of fabric or leather etc - and that's regardless of whether you do in fact travel with such things. And by purse I may mean wallet, depending on which side of the pond you are on.

Not the kind of travel bag in question!

So the other day I was having one of those 'reorgs', to reprise my favourite management speak term, and laid my multitudinous bags out on the bed, moving samples from one to another in a very loosely themed way: 'summer', 'winter', 'overflow winter','ones with myrrh in them', 'Guerlain Plus Que Jamais Only', 'a lucky dip of evening-y things I can just grab and go', and so on. But this post is not about the perfumes contained within, but rather the bags themselves, and the memories they evoke, which may only partly relate to their scented cargo.

So I have selected the purses (which is most of them!) which have a particular resonance - either because of the time they were acquired, or the place, or the person who gave them to me.

Source: tripadvisor

No 1 - The Düsseldorf bag

I have had this black patent bag since about 2008 at a guess. It was on offer in a bargain bin in one of those pharmacy-cum-perfumeries you get abroad - in a shopping mall in Düsseldorf. I bought a cheap bottle of Yves Rocher Voile d'Ambre at the same time, which turned out to be a mistake, and which was re-homed shortly thereafter. The bag has been an absolute workhorse ever since, however, and I just have to touch its shiny - and now somewhat scratched - surface to be instantly transported back to dark autumn nights in the the slippery mulch of leaves underfoot, and the inviting glint of tea lights in the windows of arty cafes; to grandiose buildings with baroque flourishes juxtaposed with more brutal concrete blocks; to the sluggishly dark depths of the river Ko, and the cosy wood panelled interiors of traditional German restaurants serving monstrous hunks of ham on the bone with sticky dumplings and mounds of vinegary cabbage.

No 2 - The Nick Gilbert bag

Now this bag wasn't given to me by Nick, but I associate it very closely with him because I bought it in T K Maxx the day before I went to meet him in the branch of Boots where he worked at the time - on a retail park on the outskirts of Bristol. Yep, I was his mate before he was famous! I managed to hover by his side for some two and a half hours while he let me test a ton of perfumes - including a bunch of men's scents which were new to me - without losing any sales in the process. I will have had the bag with me to show him some samples of my own and possibly to take home bits and pieces Nick gave me. It was six years ago, but I can place the bag at the scene!

Check out the funky interior!

No 3 - The lost Sabine elephant bag

Right, so this one was given to me by Sabine of Iridescents - she brought it back from her holiday in Thailand. I thought it very sweet, being a sucker for elephants in all their incarnations. I took it with me on my work trips last summer, full of pretty floral fragrances like Mona di Orio Tubereuse, which I remember wearing several days on the trot in the sweltering heat wave.

But then, not long after I had acquired it, the elephant bag was sadly lost in my stolen luggage, and I felt frankly bereft. So I was delighted when Sabine presented me with a replacement purse, bought on her next holiday to Japan!  No elephants, but a pretty velvet and brocade design in red and black.

No 4 - The repurposed Tara perfume bag

A few years ago Tara of A Bottled Rose gave me this charming bag for my samples, with an applique perfume bottle on it and my initials on the back. A perfume purse just doesn't get more quintessential than that! However, I must 'fess up to the fact that owing to its capacious size, it makes the perfect travel bag for make up, of which I need more - and more voluminous - items than perfume on a typical trip. ;)

No 5 - The vivid Val perfume pouch

I cannot for the life of me remember what was in this bag, but I know that Val kindly gave me some perfume in it. The quirky felt design with its retro tie closure - reminiscent of medieval money pouches, if you overlook the small matter of its being shocking pink! - is a gift in itself to be fair, and ideal for taking away a couple of larger decants, which is what I think may have been in it to start with. Half a story, I know - sorry, Val! 

No 6 - The go-to gig bag

I bought this pretty silk drawstring bag in a hippy shop in Sidmouth, which if any of you have been there - and I know Blacknall has - is an incongruous sort of emporium to find in a town congested with mobility scooters. Anyway, I love the fabric and the feel of it, and it holds enough small vials for a one-off gig (I need to whip up a bit of option anxiety even for a single night out!) or even a longer tour.

No 7 - The cat bag

I think this bag - a serendipitous find in T K Maxx a while back - was telling me to get a cat.


The cat's pyjamas - for Lindaloo

Do you have perfume sample travel purses that are lined with memories? 


  1. OMG! I love this piece. Not much of a travel bag person myself but now I want to find you an Aussie one to add to your collection.
    I'll start looking immediately.
    Portia xx

    1. Oh Portia, you little duck.;) (As they say round these parts...)

      I have embarked on a hat for you now by the way - well, I may do a couple of prototypes and send you my top hat pick... xx

  2. I read this and as I did so, unearthed virtual wallets full of memories.

    I also have a collection of fabric envelopes and pouches (ducking the purse/wallet for now) with assembled delights gathered by various means of divining. One of which is a demo-velvety multi-colored print that by practical selection housed my flight of Dior decants, but with whimsy and fond stirring always reminded me of the Britisher that bestowed it upon me. It was my travel go-to, with all sorts of fond associations with travel both at the start and collected over time.

    It is good to find you amidst your pulchritude of purses.

    1. Hi ScentScelf,

      Pulchritude makes a good collective noun in this instance!

      I wish people could post pictures of said envelopes and pouches. I am intrigued by the one you describe, also the identity of the Britisher in question. Did you just make that word up, hehe?

    2. I may have coined that word -- particularly appropriate verbing in the context of purses, no? ;)

      As for the identity of said Britisher, ours was a meeting in the midst of a whirlwind U.S. tour, wherein I at one point took the lout's way out and made tea from bags. Which benefits from being of a theme in this particular conversational thread, but which still makes me wince when thinking about it.

      Back to pleasant purses exchanged among friends.

    3. I did think I might be the Britisher in question, but didn't like to presume. Even the description of the fabric purse wasn't completely conclusive - given the sieve-like nature of my memory for such detail. I do remember our meeting vividly though - two meetings indeed, at either end of the whirlwind US tour - and if you made tea from bags I wouldn't have batted an eyelid, haha.

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed this post, V! So many lovely connections through this fetching assortment of bags. You also have every occasion covered. I'm very pleased mine is helping to accommodate your expanding make-up collection.

    Elephants were a motif of the retreat so I'm particularly sorry that one was lost. Lovely of Sabine to replace it though.

    1. Hi Tara,

      Glad you liked it, and thanks for partly inspiring it with your lovely perfume-that-is-now-make up bag! My cosmetics collection isn't really supposed to be expanding, but as you know that isn't how these things work, hehe.

      Yes, I really appreciated Sabine's serial purse purchases for me. I have other elephant imagery in my life, at least. ;)

  4. Loved your post as usual and thanks for sharing the stories of your sample/travel bags and pouches. I always enjoy the thoughts behind the ways that little treasures come to me. My favourite travel bag is from a competition that i won from the lovely Magpie - its a beautifully soft handmade leather bag with a long tie strap (only a few were made). I feel so happy and indeed special to have one of these. :-) I'm going to keep an eye out for little travel bags from now on....

    1. Hi Pats,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for reminding me of your win on The Thinking Magpie. I remember thinking what a lucky person the winner of that leather bag was, but had forgotten it was you! It is a very special thing for sure, and you won't see anyone else walking round with one in Anderson & McCauley, even if it still existed. ;)

  5. I laughed *very* out loud when I saw the last picture, before I even noticed the dedication. I was so impressed, "Vanessa managed to find a legitimate reason for a picture of Truffle."
    I liked the purse-piqued Proustian memories. In my case you'd more likely hear, "that would be perfect to hold that set of bangles" which I had bought in a specific place, found at an amazing deal, or been given by family or friends.

    -- Lindaloo

    1. Hi Lindaloo,

      You know I am not sure I can keep this bi-postal cat pic frequency up, you know, but I will see how I go. The legitimacy must be maintained, which is the tricky part. ;)

      LOL at 'purse-piqued'. I have learnt something about you I didn't know, namely that you are into bangles. The jangly bangle kind, or just bracelet-ery in general?

    2. Much belated reply. Yea verily, you will find me with bags of bangles. Most are not the jangly kind, although I do miss a set of three glass ones that clinked against each other. Broke them one by one (not on purpose). The others are wood, leather, fabric and a range of plastic (unfortunately no bakelite).

      -- Lindaloo

      I appreciate how demanding a fixed schedule of Truffle pics is. Occasional ones are fine with me.

    3. Oops, I realized I wasn't alliterative as I could have been, so "Yea verily I beareth bags of bangles." ;-)
      -- you know who

    4. Hi Lindaloo,

      Thanks for the lowdown on your bangle collection. The added alliteration is also greatly appreciated, as is the slack cutting vis-a-vis my Truffle pic posting schedule. I promise only to include a photo if its usage is 'organic', which could be every time or one time in six, we shall see, haha.

  6. I truly enjoyed this post, but even more so for its gorgeous ending :-) Truffleeeeeeeeee! I was just thinking that out of all the nice bags I really love the 'Tara-bag', when the kitty bag showed up, and I went into kitty-mode. I adore her Khol-eyes.
    Sorry, I forgot, where we talking perfumes?

    1. Hi Asali,

      You are clearly as bewitched as me, haha. The kitty bag is rather jolly, I must say. I think there was a tenuous link to perfume in there what was it?

      Truffle has had a good old rootle in the garden today - lightly supervised by me - and am hoping to get some photos of her kohl-rimmed eyes peeping out coyly from the foliage. ;)

  7. Being sentimental, I love those things that are linked to other people, events or times - so I really enjoyed reading your "bagged" memories.

    I have just a couple of bags that are associated with people: an extremely cute bag with a cat on it (thank you once again!) and another one - from Val (similar to yours but of a different color). Other than that... I have to confess: I haven't bought a single cosmetic bag/pouch in my life. Not because I do not need or use them - I do! - but because I keep buying my skincare from different brands during their GWP promotions and get more bags than I can possible use. They are not as individual as most of those you featured in your post but they do the trick on those rare occasions when I travel.

    1. Hi Undina,

      LOL at 'bagged' memories! I had forgotten that my preoccupation with cats runs to my gift choices, hehe. And I am glad you are so well catered for in the bag department thanks to your GWPs. I do have a few like that - eg the thin cream Clarins one on the left in the top photo - but on the whole I have mostly needed to buy my own. Some of those GWP bags are really stylish though, even if less individual as you say.

  8. Finally I could read this post!! I love those little pouches. I have a few but my favourite is THE leather case of my own design. ;) I had a few of them made by a leather craft shop and I'm so happy with how it turned out.
    By the way, the cat bag you have that predicted your destined meeting with Truffle, I have a shopping bag with the same design. :D

    1. Hi Magpie!

      Thanks for persisting, especially as I know you are still travelling - well, you may be home now.

      THE leather case of your own design is exquisite and you are so gifted to have come up with the idea.

      Oh what fun that you have a larger cat bag - great minds and all that jazz...;)