Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Bengals, birthdays, and blotters galore: another visit with Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes

It was my birthday last weekend. Since hitting 50, I have been hopelessly in denial about getting older. If you ask me, your 50s are not the new 40s - they are very much the 'How come nobody ever thought to tell me about (insert debilitating physical or mental malfunction)!' decade. And I just turned 57. Now I am quite sure of this, because I counted the rings on my neck. ;) No really, it's not just trees you can date in this way. Worryingly, turkey necks may turn out to be for life, not just for Christmas, but such gloomy thoughts didn't stop me moisturising that general 'neck of the woods' - or 'woods of the neck', even - for the very first time ever this week.

Speaking of woods, that is also where I was headed on my birthday, to visit Liz Moores in her forest hideaway again, along with my dear friend and fellow blogger Tara of A Bottled Rose. The run up to the big day was full of excitement, though sadly not of the pleasant anticipatory kind.  I stupidly locked myself out of my house the night before(!), but managed to break back in using only a screwdriver and an armpit-swivelling yoga posture I didn't even know I knew. My relief at this cat burgling coup - and yes, the cat flap was also involved! - was shortlived, however, for I spent a near sleepless night thanks to an unholy rumpus next door, the least said about which the better.

So anyway, the plan was that I would pick up Tara from Salisbury station, so we could travel down down to Liz's together. I was just half an hour into the journey, swigging water and munching on flapjack in a bid to offset that dastardly duo of sleep and glucose deficits, when the warnings of tailbacks on the M5 prompted a Gordian knot-type manoeuvre at Spaghetti Junction, and a radical rethink of my chosen route. This was a good call, as I made it to the station with twenty minutes to spare, even though this was not quite time enough to change, buy a compact to powder my nose (the obligatory forgotten item of the trip!) - or to take a photo of the sign for Nether Wallop.

On arrival at Liz's, there was a comprehensive exchange of presents, which would have made for an intriguing and densely plotted graph if you were to draw lines from donor to recipient: there were early birthday presents for Liz, late birthday presents for son Rowan, who turned 10 this week, and presents for Daisy for no particular reason other than that she is the baby, and impossibly cute. Then there were presents for me because it was my birthday that day, and presents for Liz in her capacity as hostess, plus a few extra random items I offered up to anyone who wanted them, including a set of lavender guest soaps and a jar containing what Tara confirmed to be an Indian condiment.

Lemon verbena soap in  a Papillon-themed box!

After I had changed into one of the several outfits I had hastily grabbed on the way out that morning, the three of us repaired to the patio with drinks; Richard E Grant-style, I demanded tea in the biggest mug Liz owned, as I set about addressing my caffeine shortfall - yes, make that a tricky triumvirate, not a dastardly duo of dietary and other deficits.

I should also mention that because of the immense floor plan of Papillon HQ, even though we stayed home the whole time, we hung out in three distinct zones over that time: patio, kitchen, and perfume studio, which felt almost like going to three different addresses. This periodic decamping to other parts of the house created the sense of an 'episodic' day - or of a 'sodding epic' day, as ex-Mr Bonkers was waggishly wont to transpose the term.

And epic it was! Our conversational topics lurched seamlessly(!) from hangover cures to genetic legacies, to the wonders of M & S and the mindset of artists - and everything in between. At one point Liz demonstrated the relative mobility of each of her arms, following her shoulder surgery earlier this year. On the plus side she is now able to rub sun cream into that awkward spot between the shoulder blades that eludes some of the most able-armed amongst us, myself included, however, anything around head height or higher remains a challenge. So no overhead jerks with dumb bells or pinning of fascinators on elaborate top knots any time soon.

The middle phase of our visit took place in Liz's humongously big kitchen - any bigger and we would have needed to have communicated via Messenger. I was delighted to see my friend Gillie's 'big jugs' gracing the long dining room table. It was here that Tara and I installed ourselves, as Liz went about making lunch, deftly navigating her way round the combined no-go lists of ingredients that Tara and I had submitted (of which more anon...).

Son Rowan sat at one end, and in an admirable display of diplomacy, got stuck into assembling Tara's present of a Lego Ninja figure, while simultaneously 'building a burger' out of the jelly sweets I had given him (one of several items of whimsically interactive confectionery that caught his attention).

'Burgers someone built earlier' ~ Source: emmalemmadingdong

In a matter of minutes the Ninja figure was finished, complete with retractable helmet and multilateral weaponry, and before you could say: 'That chap who played Cato Fong in The Pink Panther has just died', Tara and I were being showered with a hail of minute plastic pellets, which we dutifully retrieved from the interstices of our laps and handbags - not least to ensure they didn't stray into the burgers.

My newly Ninja-ed handbag

Apart from the sporadic pellet gathering, Tara and I were by no means idling all this while. No, we had been assigned the important job of testing Liz's pretty much finished mod of White Moth, together with a still 'potentially to be tweaked' one of a new chypre fragrance. Over the course of an hour or two, we would continually resniff our own and each other's wrists and report back to Liz about what the perfumes were doing at that point in their development, and how we felt about them at every stage.

So White Moth is a pretty summery floral, with a bouquet of frangipani and tiare and a tangy, sherbety accord (involving some kind of fruit of which I am sure Tara will have made a note) - the whole thing laid over a gauzy vanilla base. Or so it seemed to me!

Then the chypre has three distinct phases: a bright opening of a very unusual orange that presents as grapefruit(!), which segues into a spicy heart with cinnamon and clove, which Liz may well beef up with narcissus, followed by the most deliciously sweet and sultry musk, the like of which I have never smelt before.

And while all this was going on, family members and friends would turn up in dribs and drabs, starting with Liz's partner Simon and Daisy, zonked from her first swimming lesson, and followed at intervals by the three older daughters and their boyfriends. This drip feeding of arrivals smacked of those cumulative nursery rhymes-cum-memory tests that get progressively longer as they go on - the likes of 'Old Macdonald had a Farm' or do I mean 'The Farmer's in His Den'? So Liz and Ro, and Simon and Daisy, and Lily and C, and Jaz and...Poppy and T...and have I forgotten anyone? - and E.I.Adio, we all pat the bone! ;)

Speaking of farms, in my review of Angelique I have already reported on the eclectic menagerie that also lives at Papillon HQ: the horses and dogs, the Bengal cats (twice as many as before!), the snakes, owl(s) and cockatiels. Turns out I completely missed the tortoises, but Tara spotted them in a terrarium by the fridge as Liz was contemplating what to give us as a takeaway snack for the road (or rail).

Blotter monitor

After a hearty lunch of asparagus risotto (completely free of anchovies, offal, squid, gherkins, onion, sweetcorn and Tiramisu!), followed by birthday cake for me with one(!) tactful candle, we adjourned to our final destination, Liz's perfume studio. I covered Liz's business generally - and the wonders of her studio at every turn! - in more detail in my earlier post, but there were still new things to sniff and see this time around. For example, I was interested to know how Liz handled the alcohol side of her perfume business, not least from a H & S point of view, and she showed me the plastic jerrycans she buys the alcohol in, which reminded me of oversized packs of screenwash, though mercifully not blue.

Alcohol to the right, blotters just about everywhere! ;)

I spied a couple more of those comically named materials on Liz's shelves this time round - there was one that looked like 'Aggression' and another that I read quickly as 'Frank Sinatra'. I think it was in fact something ending in 'Serrata' - a type of frankincense, perchance? ;)

Under Liz's expert guidance, Tara and I sniffed a ton of fragrance materials, from fruity notes like apricot, plum, rhubarb and pear, to florals such as jonquil, narcissus, lilac and tiare, to vanillas and musks of every stripe, as well as black tea, jade, a markedly clean patchouli, and the specific orange used in the new chypre.

At one point we also stared out an unsettling lump of ambergris floating in a murky liquid in a see-through tub. At another, Liz warmed a canister of hyraceum - and one of a Persian rose material - between her thighs(!). Tara captured this 'money shot' on camera and I look forward to seeing it on her post. ;) And as she had done for me, Liz scooped out a generous spoonful of orris concrete for Tara to take home - you get a quality goody bag at Papillon, I can tell you! None of your lame Sherbet Dip-and-balloon combos, oh no.

And all too soon it was time to take Tara back to Salisbury, and drive on to the pub where I had booked in for the night. Many thanks are due to Liz and Tara for giving me a fun- and family- and fragrance-filled birthday to remember!

And I simply can't wait for White Moth and the chypre to see the light of day - I am sure they will be winners. For to reprise the names of Lego figures for a moment, Liz Moores may not be the Ninja of the perfume world exactly - she doesn't have the range of movement in her arm to do all that abseiling business, for one thing - but she most certainly is its Aroma Transformer...


Tara said...

Fabulous report, V! I had to stifle a giggle at several points because I am supposed to be working. Especially at all the present giving, comings and goings and Rowan's Lego Ninja antics.

You were on great form considering the run-up. I look rather miserable in that pic but I honestly had the best time!

Unknown said...

Cool. What a great report.
And you don't have a turlte neck my dear!

Hazel said...

'anchovies, offal, squid, gherkins, onion, sweetcorn and Tiramisu' - my favourite menu just there.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

It is a lively household all right - I really liked how we could just sit at the table and stuff would happen around us. ;)

I was running on empty after two hours' sleep, but you pair were a great pick-me-up.

Hey, you don't look miserable at all - you look relaxed and pensive, more like!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

It was a shame you couldn't make it, though Germany looked like a lot of fun!

You are very kind to say I don't have a turtle neck, though I do have as many rings as Saturn, really. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Hazel,

You and Liz would get on famously - she has much more catholic tastes in food than me!

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Vanessa. I love reading get together stories and seeing what you all got up to.
What a day.
Portia xx

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping this comment works. I can only say that this looks like a fabulous day with Liz and Tara and a very happy belated birthday!

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

You were the first to wish me Happy Birthday at 4pm the day before, and I called time on the celebrations yesterday evening, haha.

It was a great day, and lovely to be with Tara this time. xx

Vanessa said...

Thanks Megan! And sorry for any bother from Blogger - it is better than it was but still largely a law unto itself. If it had the audacity to swallow up your earlier comment I can only recommend saving stuff to clipboard first. All a bit of a pain, I know.

Thinkingmagpie said...

What a fabulous report, Vanessa. Made me feel like I was actually there!The Ninja handbag is great. I hope you didn't take it off! :D

Vanessa said...

Ooh, Yukiko, I must 'fess up to the fact that at some point over the weekend I transferred the sticker somewhere....but where? ;)

Asali said...

I'll join in the chorus: fab report! It sounds like you had a wonderful birthday, however I had hoped for more on those Bengals :-)
I must say I feel absolutely envious with the sight of all those amazing fragrance material bottles, I want to reach through the screen and smell them.
And many happy returns dear V.

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Sorry for the post being a bit cat-lite - apart from Noo sitting in my present, we didn't really interact with the cats much. Also because poor Tara is allergic to them!

Sampling the fragrance materials was a highlight indeed, and thanks for the birthday wishes. x

Blacknall Allen said...

Happy Birthday Vanessa, your neck looks fine to me, and what a nice time you all seem to have had! Lovely picture of(I assume)a sleeping Bengal.

Undina said...

I'm with Vanessa on this: I think you look great on that picture (well, on both pictures ;) ).

Undina said...

Every time (OK, two out of three) I read your posts I'm reminded that English isn't my native language :) I got curious if Google would find this post by seven words I looked up while reading - and it didn't! Mostly it returned sites with dictionaries ;) Maybe it's too early and I should give their crawlers couple more days.

Enjoyed the story but I'm also a little disappointing by the "cat-lite-ness" of the post, especially after such a prominent placement of the certain felines in the title and mentioning of their increased population.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

Thank you! That is a sleeping Bengal all right - she was in my present (of a bowl) for ages apparently before I even arrived.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Oh, you crack me up. I am sorry to have inadvertently foxed you in a few places - it is never deliberate, I promise. Loved the idea of trying to search for my post in Google via the offending words. One day - if I ever get a lot bigger than I am now - maybe that might just work! But give the crawlers another chance in a few days just in case, haha. They are apparently not so good with words in the body of a post.

LOL at 'cat-lite-ness', but we really were keeping the cats as far away as possible out of deference to Tara, who is allergic. Jicky did show an interest in her at one point, but was quickly intercepted!

Vanessa said...

Thanks for seconding that!

Ingeborg said...

Fab report, what a nice birthday that must have been.

Sampling a lot of fragrance materials must be such fun! And thank you for the information about the chypre, it just might be my thing. Must try to sample once it becomes available.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ingeborg,

The sampling was fascinating, and a definite highlight. And do watch out for the chypre - I hope you like it!

Unknown said...

I'm no expert, but I work in the cellar door of a winery, and when wine has been stored at a cold temperature, it often develops tartrates which show up as little crystals in the wine - more visible in a white wine. They are sometimes romantically called 'wine diamonds'. I think there is tartaric acid in perfume, so perhaps these bits in your perfume could be perfume diamonds.

Vanessa said...

Hi there,

I think you meant to put this under my most recent post. Will copy and paste!