Sunday, 17 April 2016

'Remember Preston': a surprise perfume and music mecca of the North!

Harris Museum ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons
Back in July 2011, I was up in Preston for a Monochrome Set gig at the town's noted music venue, The Continental, and managed to fit in a lightning visit to the Harris Museum just before closing time. I was keen to have even a quick look at Britain's largest collection of perfume bottles, which is on permanent display there. Some seven months later, I blogged about the visit, apologising for my woeful snook-cocking at chronology. Then the other day- four years later!- I received the following comment under my 2012 post:

"Hello - I am a curator from the Harris Museum & Art Gallery and I've just read your blog entry. I'm sorry not to have read it sooner and/or known about your visit. There is an information sheet available on Mrs French's collection which I can send to any interested parties. But I'm afraid we have no idea about whether Mrs French loved perfume or scent generally. She certainly loved the bottles. We look forward to welcoming more perfume enthusiasts at the Harris in the future. 

Sending all best from Preston."

Now the reason I found this spectacularly asynchronous comment worthy of mention is because I happened to be in Preston again myself last weekend, for another gig by - you've guessed it - The Monochrome Set, their fourth at that same venue since 2011. So the timing of the curator's comment felt a little Twilight Zone-y. ;)

The Continental

On this occasion, instead of a last minute dash to the museum, I dived into Debenhams just before they closed, on a skincare-related mission that I am saving for another day. (I am stockpiling dermatological disasters, you see, until I have a quorum worthy of a post in their own right.)

Skincare solution sorted, and after an M & S salad, a bit of a lie down and a hot shower, I drove the half mile to the gig at what seemed to me to be the fashionably late hour of 9pm, Hmm, maybe not all that fashionable in hindsight, as the band weren't on till 10.15pm. (Oh, and I would normally walk such a derisorily short distance, but I was on band ferrying duty later, and stuck to the very wonderful Fentiman's Rose Lemonade all night. It is infused with spicy botanicals and is like drinking a pink version of Hendricks the gin.) I immediately ran into the singer in the beer garden, closely followed by fellow fan Andy V, whom I am proud to have converted to Ormonde Jayne. Isfarkand and Zizan are his two favourites from the line as regular readers may recall, but the samples I gave him have long since run out, so he has defaulted to his existing stocks of aftershave.

Like this, only dark ~ Source:

As is the way of perfumistas at large, I asked to sniff Andy, while the singer looked on in mild bemusement. I inhaled the merest vestige of a woody, spicy scent. "No idea" I said, with not even a millisecond's hesitation: "You're going to have to tell me."

"It's Bang!" he replied, "Cillit Bang!" Adding, after a dramatic pause, "Only kidding - it's by....."

"...Marc Jacobs, haha." I laughed, as I finished his sentence.

Next up, I made Andy V and the singer sniff my sample of Amouage Journey Woman, which Hamamelis had kindly sent me that very week. For a fruity floral with leather and tobacco and a smattering of spice it really is surprisingly light. To my nose, if you crossed APOM pour Femme with Diptyque Volutes edt you'd get a vague idea of how it smells. Then if you were to read the reviews on NST and Perfume Posse you'd get a much better one!

Source: Fragrantica

The pair leaned in and smelt my wrist assiduously several times. "It's supposed to represent Shanghai Art Deco or something", I added helpfully.

The singer looked incredulous: "Nah, I am getting more...more flowers, lots of flowers - we are talking French country garden."

So that was that, but whatever continent it conjures up, boy, do I love Journey!

Then inside the venue, I bumped into Andy's ex-wife J and her friend X (no, her name really did begin with 'X'!), who quickly engaged me in a conversation about perfume, announcing that they would both like to make their own natural fragrances - as would J's daughter, apparently, and did I know where to start. My mind quickly cycled through all the natural perfumers I had heard of - in the US, mostly - and I vaguely remembered that The Perfumer's Apprentice might be a good port of call for starter kits of materials. But I really didn't know what to advise, and admitted as much, adding that I would see if I could dig out any pointers on the Internet that might get them going. But even after having a look, I am still at a loss as to what to suggest to them, frankly - perfume making of any kind is just not something I have been interested in pursuing myself.

Is that you, Lindaloo?

J also remarked on how photogenic Truffle was, which reminded me that we must already be Facebook friends, and that J must therefore be one of the many hundreds of (apparently remarkably resilient!) people subjected to the near daily barrage of kitten pics...

Now J is a taxi driver, and recently picked up a lady who was wreathed in a cloud of Rochas Femme. (J couldn't resist asking her what she was wearing.) So we talked about that for a while: about vintage and modern versions of scents, and about reformulation and skin chemistry - sadly J's quest to find the very same version she sniffed in her cab is ongoing. Or it may just be that her own skin is not such a perfect canvas as that of her passenger. I mentioned that I had a smidge left of a vintage parfum formulation, not that we know if that is 'the one'...

But the perfume sub-theme to this gig did not stop there. For I handed over a bag of Le Labo samples to Caryne, who is in charge of band merchandise, and a vegan. A long-time Lush lover, she was sporting the new release All Good Things - it's reportedly a bit of a Marmite fragrance, but it was spectacular on her. I have only recently discovered that the Le Labo line is also vegan, so it will be interesting to get Caryne's take on the line.

And the last perfume-linked aspect of the gig - again thanks to one of my readers - was the fact that on the way out I donned the reflective armband that Ingeborg had kindly sent me, to boost my visibility in dark alleys and the like.

There's even the word 'band' in the name!

It didn't get much of a workout this time, as I was only walking a few yards to the car, but I am sure that in future there will be other possible outings.

Low jinks with the keyboard player ~ Source: Caryne Pearce

If anyone has any tips on how to go about making natural perfumes, do let me know in the comments!


crikey said...

Ahhhh... Preston. I spent a peculiar six months living and working there when I left school. Six months stamping numbers on files at the DHSS, while gazing out of the rather grimy window at the bus station, and wondering it it was time to go to the pub yet. There used to be some very good secondhand book stalls in the marketplace though, which helped the hours go by. I don't think I ever looked at the perfume bottle collection in the Harris... but I seem to remember they had some rather gorgeous medieval books there.

How was the gig? (Hope to get to see them when they are up here in November. Currently rather over excited by the Shonen Knife tickets I have for about ten days from now. Been a fan for 25 years or more, never seen them live!)

My only knowledge of natural perfume making is the almost obligatory mashing of flower petals into a jamjar with water, and leaving it to fester until yelled at on discovery. So, more of a what not to do...

"All good things" doesn't work well on me which makes me sad, as it's rather lovely. (I think I amplify cade oil a bit too much.) But I am rather partial to quite a few of the Gorilla line.

also... ah, truffle. She really is quite ridiculously pretty.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Harris Museum warrants another, longer visit. I really like how you describe the incidental encounters with people into fragrance or just starting to dabble.

For info on natural perfumes and the making of them J and X might start with the Anya's Garden website.

And in my response today to your reply about bags, I rescinded my obviously unfair demand/request for Truffle pictures every second post.

-- Lindaloo

Tara said...

Truffle really is extraordinarily photogenic, it's true!

Nice lot of gig/perfume intersecting going on here, V. As for natural perfume-making, I'd suggest they start with Mandy Aftel's first book "Essence and Alchemy" and begin with oil-based perfumes.

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

I was amused to read of your time living and working in Preston. That does sound like a rather soul destroying job - my student job in the back room of a bank was not dissimilar.

I am afraid time did not permit me to see the medieval books - another, more leisurely, visit is definitely indicated.

The gig was an absolute hoot! You must come to the one at the Voodoo Rooms later in the year if you can. I must check out Shonen Knife meanwhile, which is a new one on me.

Yes, there's natural perfumery and natural perfumery...;)

I gather All Good Things is a bit like Breath of God in that polarising respect. Or Breath of Dog as it was on me. I must ask Caryne if I can spritz a bit on sometime and see how I get on.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Oh, great minds - I just mentioned above to crikey that I should go back to the Harris Museum. It is also notable for having a Foucault's Pendulum - the only other one I have ever seen being in Geneva.

Anya's Garden is a good starting point, thank you.

I have just replied to your comment about the Truffle posting request. I will certainly try to oblige wherever it is 'on-message' to do so, while stopping short of shoehorning the poor puss in, haha.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Yes, my two hobbies seem to be becoming even more intertwined.

Thanks for the Mandy Aftel steer, that's a good one.

Truffle will get a big head at this rate, hehe. Though I have to agree she takes a much better picture than I do. ;)

Unknown said...

I love the coincidences (there are no coincidences?!) in your life.
I think Karen Gilbert is probably a good person to contact about natural perfume making. She does classes in the UK.

Carol said...

I applaud you for going to shows at that 'late' hour - after dark, it is difficult for me to leave the house! xox

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

The coincidences do amuse me, I must say!

Karen Gilbert - great idea. I need to establish if these friends would rather teach themselves or be taught, but I can give them the option at least.

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks, hehe. Well, I often don't feel like going out of an evening myself, and certainly not very far. But for this lot I will happily make an exception in terms of both distance and hour. ;)

odiferess said...

Hi Vanessa,
Maybe your friend could start by reading Mandy Aftel's book - Essence and Alchemy. It has some great recipes for building natural scents with a kind of 'base set' and 'posh set' of suggested EOs. She guides you through making an oriental amber type scent and it's a beautiful read. You've probably read it already!
Joseph sends a little cat nuzzle to Truffle.

odiferess said...

Ah, I see Tara has already mentioned it. Second thumbs up from me then!

The Scentimentalist said...

Vintage Femme - yes! All Good Things - certainly! Breath of Dog - NEVER! I must check this museum out; my Aunty Lesley lives pretty close by.

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

Second thumbs up gratefully received! D'you know, I haven't read that book - but there again I am not interested in making perfumes myself. Maybe I would enjoy it anyway from what you say.

Please thank Joseph from Truffle!

Vanessa said...

Hi Scentimentalist,

Breath of Dog really does work beautifully on some people - but certainly not me!

I think a visit to Aunt Lesley and the museum sounds indicated. ;) Nice tea rooms too.

Blacknall Allen said...

Just love the idea of a frag that smells a bit like marmite (All Good Things)and shall have to try some when I next get to a Lush.

Will second Odiferess on Essence and Alchemy as a good starting place for natural perfumers...

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

Oh, I was using the term 'Marmite' in its metaphorical sense to denote a polarising perfume.;)

Essence and Alchemy is looking like the way to go!

crikey said...

I *love* Breath of God, even after a smashed bottle in my luggage...

And here's to never having such soul-destroying jobs again. But, on the upside, I did escape (was there while doing university interviews and applications, and saving money to run away to New York. So, there was light on the other side of the bus station...)

Vanessa said...

Well, I would like to sniff it on you, because it does play so differently on different people's skin.

I am glad Preston served as your gateway to the Big Apple. More inspiring than Garstang or Leyland, say.

Blacknall Allen said...

Oh darn it! I was so hoping that someone had actually done a Marmite perfume-that I took this literally. You could do a Marmite/marmalade accord and call it "Boris Johnson".

Undina said...

As always, extremely amusing post! I enjoy following this type of chains/coincidences/links both in your stories and in my own life. And Truffle is sooo beautiful - I don't believe anybody from your FB roll would object to seeing her.

I do have a suggestion for J and her daughter on how to go about making natural perfumes: DON'T.

Well, in reality, it's rather a choice: either don't do it at all or it doesn't really matter where to start. Most natural perfumes smell good, besides the people who created them (or at least I hope that at least creators enjoy their concoctions), either to people who personally know the perfumer and transfer the good will towards them into appreciating their creations or to people with the agenda of not using anything "not natural." So J & Daughter will like whatever they produce, and it'll stink for almost everybody else ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for the compliment about Truffle - she will be very chuffed when I tell her.

I love your straight up advice for J and her daughter - I think I will send them the link to this post so they can read the comments first hand and decide for themselves how to proceed.

Vanessa said...

Well, Union have their Celtic Fire of course, which has a marmite note. Still smells mostly of bonfire to my nose, but you could always check it out.

I wouldn't want to give Boris the extra publicity, haha. He is a loose cannon over this Brexit business...

Asali said...

To my thinking there still isn't *enough* pics of Truffle :-)
Anyway, perfume, yep, I'm with Undina. The natural extracts are so expensive, unless they are loaded, I would say it's a very expensive messing about. It's not your average watercolour evening class kind of money.
As to Femme: unfortunately there are a lot of different formulations out there. It's not that the pre 1989 formulations are very different in their scent, but they do wear differently, and I would say only one version has real sillage. The 1989 version has cumin and sillage, but was reformulated several times too, so here one needs to get an early version.

crikey said...

next time you are up in Edinburgh, let me know and I'll happily provide sniffage opportunities!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Haha - look what is coming up next!

I hadn't really thought of the natural route being more expensive but of course that does make sense now you mention it.

I was interested to hear your thoughts on Femme, not being so well versed in its different incarnations. What with one thing and another it seems like J might have quite a job on her hands trying to smell just like her passenger!