Sunday 22 May 2016

Fountains and firemen's hoses: En Voyage Perfumes Rainmaker review

The other day I entrusted a king size mattress protector to the genial proprietor of my local launderette, which offers service washes for bulky items. He quoted me £15 before adding gnomically: "We pray for rain." "Well, you can stop now", I thought to myself, for it had absolutely chucked it down not twenty minutes previously.

How odd that a man in Posh Wash in Stafford should try to conjure up rain, just like those Native Americans whose shower-charming ritual is referenced by the name of the perfume I was about to review - Rainmaker, the upcoming release from En Voyage Perfumes. Then in modern parlance, a rainmaker is also someone who drums up business with rabbit out of a hat aplomb, or who is the 'creator of something valued'. As Shelley Waddington, En Voyage's founder, elaborates:

"In expanding my creative work, I wanted to provide a fragrance of beauty and attraction that would in turn become a 'Rainmaker' for the wearer."

And then Rainmaker the perfume also gives a humorous nod to the clouds hanging over Shelley's adopted home town of Portland, which she wryly describes as "some of the best rainmakers in the world".  ;)

Ha! I can relate to that here all right. For when I sat down later in the week to gather my thoughts about Rainmaker, in a fine show of pathetic fallacy the weather promptly obliged with another downpour. Which, like the Portland clouds, it often does with or without the supplications of the faithful.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On to the perfume itself, a "woody-amber chypre for men and women".

Top notes: Rose leaf, Silver Pine Tips, Wild Citrus
Heart notes: Incense, Patchouli, Iris, Rhododendron
Base notes: Mossy Rain Forest Notes of Cedar, Fir, Redwood Needles, Petrichor, Oak Moss and Amber

As regular readers know, I am the world's worst deconstructor of perfumes, able only to articulate the vaguest of impressions - which reminds me, I still have to do that set of "tiny 'unreviews' of unprecedented vacuousness" that I promised Portia in my review of Papillon's Salome.

But eyeballing those notes, it is not hard to imagine that Rainmaker was inspired by the "forested terroir" of the Pacific Northwest, as well as its "Bohemian lifestyle". 'Imagine' is the operative word, mind you, for despite having spent a week in the state (on a mission to do with a fairly niche kind of plastic), I didn't encounter any Bohemians, and the terroir I stayed in - a suburb of Portland called Beaverton - was forested largely by the signs of nail bars, used car lots, and branches of Taco Bell. That was where I first came across the fast food chain's  masterly slogan  of "Think outside the bun", a mantra I have been trying to live up to ever since.


So what do I make of Rainmaker? Well, I was drawn to it right off the bat: it felt obviously 'niche' in quality terms, and seamlessly blended. I note that Rainmaker has a "high percentage of pure extraits, natural materials, and proprietary blends", which are perfectly well behaved here, the epitome of suave urbanity indeed. In truth, the scent doesn't feel particularly Bohemian or 'indie' in the sense of quirky to me. I could picture the wearer as a go-getting professional, who likes to kick back at the weekends, don some high end walking gear by The North Face or its Pacific Northwest equivalent (Trew?, Poler?, Holden?), and get amongst nature.

Which is not to say that I don't feel I could wear Rainmaker too, even though I don't exactly fit that profile(!) - I like the scent for its own sake and because of my own memories of that region - and further down the Pacific coast (of which more anon). The dominant aspect is fairly full-on woodiness,  as you would expect from that quintet of tree species, but as its creator intended, to my nose Rainmaker stays bang on the gender divide, This is no Marc Jacobs Bang or whichever Comme des Garcons scents are particularly woody - you know the ones I mean(!). Its glowing amber core and rich earthy/patchouli base lend a warmth and softness to Rainmaker that tone down the woodiness, and also ensure that the delicate inflection of damp forest foliage never tips into anything remotely resembling strident janitorial pine.

Mount Hood ~ Source: pinterest

Also, foresty scents can sometimes skew plangent and austere - arguably Ormonde Jayne Man and Woman lean that way, ditto FM Angeliques sous la Pluie. Of the latter I once wrote that it reminded me of "rolling fog in Northern California on a November morning". But I'd say Rainmaker captures the spirit of this general neck of the woods more comprehensively - and without being at all bleak!

And Shelley Waddington has also pulled off quite a coup in making Rainmaker authentically foresty, whilst incorporating more feminine facets, thanks to the iris and rose leaf. Carner Barcelona's D600 walks a similar line with its inclusion of jasmine and iris in an otherwise resolutely woody composition, so if you like that scent, I'm willing to bet you will like Rainmaker too. They are very much in the same vein / 'register', albeit D600 is possibly a little sweeter.

So would I wear Rainmaker? Sure! Would I like to smell it on a man? Oh, yes.... Has it displaced my current top three from the En Voyage Perfumes stable - Zelda (review here), Captured in Amber and Fiore di Bellagio? Well, noooo, but that is because genre-wise I happen to be more drawn to florals and orientals - I do think Rainmaker is very well done. It is polished, smooth and naturalistic, and thanks to the addition of incense, verging on meditative and cosy too. Not so much your well worn 'cashmere wrap' kind of cosy, as that afforded by donning a bolero of sphagnum moss maybe - a short garment which obviously I can't resist shortening further to 'sphag bol'.

Ron and Nina's house! Source ~

So yes, back to memories of the region... First off, when I see redwood trees mentioned anywhere I am immediately transported back to my childhood, to afternoons spent reading Look & Learn magazine and gawping at images of (what would now be vintage!) cars driving through the lofty pines' humongously thick trunks. I also remember more recent visits to my Swiss cabinet maker friend Ron and his wife Nina, who lived in the middle of a redwood forest in a Hansel & Gretel-style house they built themselves(!) out of local timber (see above). Strictly speaking, this was NorCal rather than the Pacific Northwest, but I imagine that the general ambience - and scent - of the forest might have been similar to the more northerly 'terroir' Shelley had in mind.

California again, but it's down the road (and through the tree!) ~ Source: Pinterest

Going back to my trip to Oregon, I based myself in Beaverton as it was closest to the headquarters of a well known sports brand, which incorporated the plastic in question in some of its running shoes. I stayed at the Shilo Inn and Suites, noted for its gardens - and fountains. I would lie in my room at night listening to the soothing plishing sound - not of rain, admittedly, but falling water for sure. And of course some other people who are in the business of 'falling water' would be the fire service. Thus it was that I also drove south to Medford to interview a group of fire fighters about the performance of this plastic in their hoses. (No, really!)

Shilo Inn and Suites ~ Source:

Then on my way to the airport, I chatted with the shuttle bus driver who took me from the rental car lot to the terminal. He asked how long I had been in the area. "A week!" I answered brightly. 'So did you go to the Crater Lake National Park? The Columbia River Gorge? You must have seen Mount Hood?' Dismayed to learn I had missed all these 'must see' sights in the state, he tentatively inquired where I had been. "Um...mainly Beaverton?" He shook his head in disbelief, at what clearly struck him as an epic tourist fail.

But though I didn't manage to breathe in the scent of the forest floor in the actual Pacific Northwest, or hang out in the boho cafes of downtown Portland - famous for their coffee I believe, if that is your thing - and though I don't remember it raining the whole time I was in Oregon, or even being noticeably overcast, I did at least have a brush with the wet stuff in my own bonkers the road that Ron's house was on is called Bohemian Highway...

Hoses stowed ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

PS It is a further testament to this perfume's instant appeal that I felt moved to write about it so promptly after receiving the sample from En Voyage. As anyone who follows the blog will have noticed, I might take weeks or months to review a new release - if I ever do at all, even if I like it - but once in a while the muse is pretty much perched on the postman's shoulder.

PPS My elderly friend's verdict in a blind testing of Rainmaker: "It's a strange smell. It's quite strong to start with, though it's softer after a while. And it's not scented as Fleur de Shanghai."

PPPS I did also buy this woody pen out there...

Sunday 15 May 2016

A Newport Pagnell near miss, innumerable bees briefly reprised, and my failure to crack the 'Givenchy Code'*

I fully intended to write a post about the pros and pros of skincare products in tubes - actually I did just think of a con - and no, really, I promise it will be more interesting than it sounds. But I was away for the weekend, and having always been more of a closet travel writer at heart than a perfume blogger I feel compelled to tell you about my trip instead. There is a bit of a perfume theme to this tale, which I'd like to think isn't too flagrantly peripheral or shoehorned in, but you must be the judge of that.

So yes, I have been to visit the last surviving friend of my (sadly not surviving) mother, who at 91 is even more elderly than 'my elderly friend', aka ex-Mrs Bonkers Senior. I have featured my mother's friend in a couple of posts already: for example, on my last visit she kindly gave me a cast off bottle of Magie Noire and O de Lancome. P, as I shall henceforth call her, lives on the edge of The Cotswolds in a picture book cottage with her one surviving corgi.

The journey down should have taken an hour and a half and ended up taking three. For I was listening with such rapt attention to Paddy Ashdown's fantastically articulate answers on Question Time that I sailed down the M1 and inadvertently ended up at Newport Pagnell, which is really not something you'd want to do by accident, let alone on purpose. It's not that the Sat Nav didn't try to get me to turn off sooner, but I had already marked its card at Rugby, where it said to turn around and go back up the M1 the way I had come. So when it suggested I come off at every single subsequent junction I assumed it was having another of its funny turns - and that it just wanted to go home, basically. I decided to ignore it and keep my eyes peeled for the turn off to the big town nearest my friend. Then promptly became mesmerised by Paddy Ashdown and forgot to watch out for signs. Not that it would have made a difference if I had, for the signs are on the M40, and I was on the M1. Maybe the Sat Nav had been trying to tell me as much in its own cryptic and inflammatory way. But Newport Pagnell jolted me out of my navigational stupor, and I eventually manage to tack cross country to P's village.

Fortified by tea and lemon cake, we spent a pleasant afternoon sitting in the conservatory, listening - I kid you not - to the murmuring of innumerable bees. 'I know they say there is a world shortage of bees', P remarked, 'but not in my garden there's not!' P needs to take things steady, as she has spent long stints in hospital in the past year, following a series of falls. I thought she had stumbled over her corgi - corgis being notiorously low slung trip hazards as dogs go - but it turns out that that was some years previously. These falls were precipitated by less colourful causes, which I signally failed to record.

But what I did do for the very first time, was ask P to tell me the story of her life. It took four hours, and was absolutely fascinating, full of twists and turns that soon had me scurrying for pen and paper to jot the key points down. I knew she and my mother had been old friends in Northern Ireland, who lost touch after they moved back to England, but found each other again when P's son spotted a letter in The Times sent in by my mother  - not such a strange coincidence as you might think - my mother was forever writing to The Times about this and that, almost to the point of it being a sport, and every now and then one of her letters made it into print.

Here then are a few interesting facts about P:

- Her father was a big cheese in coal - or should that be a 'big lump'?

- P first met my mother through a neighbour whose son fell out of a tree, and who asked to use her phone to call a doctor (in the days when phones were far from universal).

- She lived in a house called The Wooden House, which burnt to the ground. (Accident waiting to happen, I hear you say.)

- The upside down ostrich on the wall belongs to the corgi, but he cannot be trusted not to savage his own toys.

- P's grandson played Simba in a much acclaimed production of The Lion King on Broadway.

- A family member is married to a Havers!

- And best of all....P was a code breaker at Bletchley Park during the war! I tentatively asked her what she did exactly, and obviously she couldn't tell me, as this was  all highly classified Secret Squirrel stuff. Which doubtless explains the wraparound shades she was wearing.

- P always opens a banana from the bottom, so of course I had to have a go.

But, despite having paid such careful attention to the narration of P's life, I completely forgot to inquire about the story behind the perfumes on the dressing table in the spare bedroom where I stayed - which featured in my 'through the keyhole' post about the way other people store/display their fragrance collections. The perfumes in question are Floris Elite and Eau de Givenchy - now that I am home I realise that the latter is in fact a women's scent:

Givenchy Eau de Givenchy edt 

Notes: bergamot, spearmint, tagetes, greens, fruits, honeysuckle, jasmine, lily of the valley, tuberose, rose, cyclamen, orris, musk, cedarwood, sandalwood, and moss.

Floris Elite

Notes: top notes are bergamot, virginia cedar, grapefruit, juniper and petitgrain; middle notes are fir, lavender and bay leaf; base notes are amber, oakmoss, musk, patchouli, vetiver, cedar and leather.

By an odd coincidence both were launched in 1980. The Givenchy perfume is definitely vintage, though I am not sure from what year.

Yup, I can't believe I didn't ask P if I could test either of them, though that does rather give me a mission for next time...

Do you ever find yourself distracted from perfume sniffing opportunities by other absorbing pursuits?

Does it ever get to the point where you question your perfumista credentials? 

(*With apologies to Dan Brown)

Sunday 8 May 2016

The 'myrrh-muring of innumerable bees': Armani Privé Myrrhe Impériale review

You know how you always remember where you were when Elvis died, or the men landed on the moon - or when Prince died - (for any significantly younger readers)? Well, by the same token, I remember where I was when I first learnt about onomatopoeia, that satisfying figure of speech where the very sound of a word connotes its meaning, as in 'gurgle', 'hiss', 'choo choo' and 'tinkle'.

I first came across onomatopoeia in an English lesson at school. One of our set texts was a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called 'Come Down, O Maid', which closes on the immortal lines:

"The moan of doves in immemorial elms
And murmuring of innumerable bees"

Why, the whole couplet is a phoneticist's delight!...the soporific effect of all those syllable-heavy words with constantly repeated 'm & n's (not to be confused with the confectionery of the same name). Yes, the lines perfectly capture the lazy, languid haze of a warm summer's day, such as today (bizarrely!).

The preceding line is pretty good too with its 'myriads of rivulets', and I am also rather partial to 'spirted purple of the vats' a bit higher up; those are admittedly more about assonance than onomatopoeia, though I could see a case being made for the 'spirted' part of the latter. A case being made, and then happily being drunk!


So what, you may ask, has any of this lit crit of Tennyson's poetry got to do with the Armani perfume of the title? Well, quite simply that that last line perfectly sums up how Myrrhe Impériale plays on my skin. For myrrh scents can be quite cold and sharp - I am thinking of Serge Lutens La Myrrhe in particular, which, though widely regarded as the Musc Koublai Kahn of the incense world, showers you with stabby little daggers of aldehyde that I find problematic to say the least. And even in the absence of aldehydes as such, the crystalline texture of myrrh can  make it seem icy and forbidding. And dank like church flagstones that never see the light of day.

So here is the rather laconic note list for Myrrhe Impériale:

Myrrh, benzoin, vanilla, amber, pink pepper and saffron

I love many perfumes with saffron in them, though I am damned if I could tell you how saffron smells in them. I have even cooked with those little frondy things - which may have been red, come to think of it - most memorably in my abortive attempt at making French toast. I can't remember what they smelt of either, though they turned the milk pink.

Is it an omelette? Is it a bird?

So what I do smell, is myrrh blended with warm, vanillic amber - not too sweet and not too oddball as in the cola-forward concoction that is AG Myrrhe Ardente - Myrrhe Imp, as it pleases me to call the Armani for short, is myrrh shot through with the faintest hint of burnt vanilla - the register of Mona di Orio Vanille is perhaps the closest analogy. At other times it seems like a subliminal dusting of icing sugar - the sweet note is a bit of a shapeshifter at best. And at no point does Myrrhe Impériale stab or prickle, but rather brushes your skin with the gossamer touch of bees' wings.

Now I have read a few less favourable reviews of Myrrhe Impériale, typically to do with its lack of development - and in fairness it is a very linear and monotonal scent. But hey, that is what makes it so zen-like for one thing, plus that is what bees do - you won't find them performing the insect equivalent of Mariah Carey-style vocal gymnastics as they go about their business. They just murmur on and on - I shan't say droning, because apart from its negative overtones, drones are all male while worker bees are all female, a fact I only recently learnt on Country File.

Source: Fragrantica

I first mentioned my liking for this scent in a post from my travels last summer, in which I said I would be looking out for a split on the Facebook Fragrance/Sale/Swap/Split UK site. Well, I have patiently bided my time, and a 10ml decant popped up the other day. Well, it was technically part of a bundle, but the owner had already unbundled it to let Tom Ford Plum Japonais go separately, so I was in luck when Myrrhe Impériale was similarly set free.

While I have been trying to wrestle the hay fever hydra into submission over the past week or so I have scarcely been wearing perfume, and on the rare days when I have, it has tended to sting my neck and has generally failed to settle down on my skin. Then yesterday my split of Myrrhe Impériale arrived just as I was setting off to see the out of hours doctor about some heavier duty meds than the over the counter kind that were failing to keep my symptoms in check. It was shaping up to be a hot day with a very high pollen count and I hesitated to test Myrrhe Imp again. Firstly, it didn't seem like the weather for it; secondly, it seemed like contributory negligence to knowingly aggravate my hay fever in this way, even as I was off to the doc's to see about a cure!; and thirdly, if my symptoms did flare up I would have gone and imprinted a negative memory on the scent, potentially blighting my future enjoyment of it.

In other words, wearing my much awaited lemming could have gone horribly wrong on several levels. But the lemming prevailed, the perfume bloomed on my skin in the ambient warmth, and the little wisps that reached my nose in the doctor's waiting room were calming and meditative. Myrrhe Impériale is both a true oriental and the perfect summer incense.

Truffle doing a spot of beekeeping (bottom right!)

Oh did I say? Since the better weather, Truffle has been out all day long, mostly chasing...yes, you've guessed it, bees. She has had one or two in her paw before now, but they have eventually broken free. I tried to explain to her about the value of bees to our ecosystem, and how they might actually sting her for that matter, but it falls on deaf ears. I am only glad that the bee population in my garden - far from being innumerable - can be counted on the fingers of one hand, or else Truffle would have even more of a field day, and most likely a very sore nose.

'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!'

Monday 2 May 2016

Hay fever mayhem, featuring histamine hysteria and my putative 'pollen mule' puss

You would think I would have built up a tolerance by now
Well, I fully intended to retest an interesting line of niche perfumes from a company in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, but the holiday has been unexpectedly kiboshed by sudden onset hay fever. Now I know that hay fever is a common ailment - there are something like 18 million sufferers in the UK - yet as I have managed to dodge this irritating and debilitating condition for all of my nearly 57 years, I had thought I had got away with it altogether...and then bam!

So while I have been grappling with my symptoms, googling remedies and going in search of them, I haven't particularly felt like wearing perfume - indeed in my darkest moments (and there have been a few!) I wondered if hay fever might even be exacerbated by perfume, though I am currently in complete denial about that.

And just as allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, has nothing to do with rhinos, neither does it have all that much to do with hay, it seems. Or fever for that matter - so far at least, though it has only been three days. Allergic rhinitis is a collection of pollen allergies, basically, and I didn't see hay actually feature in this list of key suspects, unless it counts as 'grass that has been around the block a bit'. Speaking of which, who knew Timothy and Cocksfoot were grasses? Hmm, based on the precise timing of different pollen types, I should be allergic to oak or plane, though I don't think there are too many of either kind of tree in my neighbourhood.

Source: Zirtek

There again, given that Truffle is now roaming quite far on her own, she could conceivably be acting as a 'pollen mule'. And every time I bury my face in her fur (which is a lot!) I may be unwittingly inviting a myriad of miscellaneous plant allergens to mount a multilateral attack. As for the possibility that I might suddenly have become allergic to cats, it has also gone straight into my complete denial spam folder.

Does this kitten look sheepish - and a bit powdery - to you?

So having dosed myself up with Piriteze and Sudafed nasal spray (not to be used for more than three days!), popped a turmeric tablet or two, and commissioned my elderly friend (aka ex-Mrs Bonkers Senior) to custom buy some locally sourced honey for me from her beekeeping neighbour, I decided that I would distract myself this weekend by doing a spot of much overdue housework. It was the profusion of Miss Havisham-style cobwebs that finally shamed me into this most shunned of chores, though God knows the sticky patina on the top of the extractor fan and clumps of dust drifting like tumbleweed under beds and chests of drawers should have been reason enough really.

And it did also occur to me that the cumulative effect of all this domestic sluttery might have been to precipitate a dust allergy! But if I am going to try to steer a perilous path between the Scylla and Charydis of outdoor pollen and indoor dust - nay, the Scylla, Charybdis, and Truffladis - of a possible cat hair allergy, life really won't be worth living. Especially with the added tack factor of a bit of Vaseline smeared inside my nose.

Here is Truffle preparing to deploy my (somewhat Heath Robinson-esque) telescopic cobweb-busting duster contraption.

So anyway, I hope to have properly got to grips with this annoying condition shortly - not least because I have a rush work project on, so I could do with being on top form, and not finding that performing the simplest of tasks is like wrestling a wriggly octopus in treacle. Plus I am genuinely impressed by this trio of perfumes I sampled, though even if fragrance doesn't make the hay fever worse as such, the latter is certainly capable of zapping my interest in perfume at the moment.

Oh, and nobody mention tonka or coumarin while we are about it...! ;)

Are you a seasoned sufferer? If you have any tips for a newbie I'd be glad to hear them. Though preferably not involving stripping off all my clothes and taking a shower every time I come into the house. The resultant irritation from all that extra laundry would be every bit as bad as the pollen.