Sunday 31 July 2016

Papillon Perfumery is poised to post a Plum prize in the latest Bonkers giveaway!

So in my review of Hermès Muguet Porcelaine last week I compared Jean-Claude Ellena's craggy looks to a softer, more approachable version of Samuel Beckett. It was one of those random similes that seem to pop into my head all the time, for better or worse.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received an email from Sue Phillips, the CEO of Scenterprises. Scenterprises is the US equivalent of The Perfume Studio over here, of which I used to be an associate. I helped people create their own custom perfume from 'building blocks' in the form of 18 pre-prepared accords / blends, which had in turn been created by a UK perfumer, whose name escapes me now(!), but who had worked with The Body Shop, and whose understated style had garnered praise from Luca Turin himself. And here my blog post about my own experience as a punter, which is what prompted me to become involved as a facilitator.

Sadly, I gave up the job after about a year, because I couldn't make any money from it after the cost of materials and packaging - it was taking me three hours in all, half of which was spent on the session with the client, and half in setting up the room to create a nice ambience, making up their chosen scent afterwards, and clearing away after they'd gone.  We were encouraged to offer the experience for one person at about £40 - having just checked the website, that seems to still be the case.

By contrast, I see that Scenterprises charges $500 for what I take to be a broadly equivalent one-to-one service in the US. This is in New York, mind you, where people clearly have a lot more disposable income than in The Midlands, and where the venue would be be subject to higher overheads. On the face of it, it does still strike me as a big differential between our two continents, though.

Some of the blends as they were in 2010

So that was by way of background...I am getting to the bit about Ellena Sue mentioned in her email:

"I loved your post about Jean Claude Ellena and met him and his wife Susanna (who is the niece of Samuel Beckett), so I got the reference!"

The thing is, the reference was quite fortuitous! Sue elaborated further in the course of our email exchange:

"I worked with Jean Claude when I was at Elizabeth Arden and he had worked on Lagerfeld for Men in collaboration with a US perfumer friend of mine, and when I visited him and Susanna I was overwhelmed at all the Beckett first issues and books."

Well, what a remarkable and satisfying coincidence, for I had no idea that Jean-Claude Ellena had any family connection - even by marriage - to Samuel Beckett!

So that was one surprising thing. But there's more... For while at The Fragrance Shop chatting to the sales assistants about Muguet Porcelaine, I clocked the deep discount on Mary Greenwell's range of fragrances, including Plum,which is the only one I have tried personally. I mentioned it in my previous post, and also on Facebook, where it prompted a small stampede(!) of people worldwide, availing themselves of this offer, partly on a blind basis, which readers know I don't normally condone, haha.

Anyway, Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes was one such who took the plunge and found that Plum wasn't in fact quite her cup of tea. And she has kindly offered to donate her bottle to a giveaway on Bonkers, and post it from Papillon HQ free of charge to the winner. So not only do you bag a bottle of Plum - it may even be the 100ml size, I can't recall - but one which has spent a little while in the lively menagerie which is Liz's home and studio, which I am betting will considerably increase its cachet!

So many thanks to Liz for her generosity. Then in order to be eligible for the giveaway you have to be in the UK, alas, after my recent overseas mailing misdemeanours, painfully documented here.

And please also leave a comment saying why you would like to win a bottle of Plum, whether you know it already, and if not, what you plan to do with the bottle if you don't like it when it comes! ;)

The draw will close on Sunday 7th August at midnight, UK time (well, obviously). Liz will mail the bottle at her earliest convenience once I have notified her of the winner's details.

But here's the other funny thing. The perfumer for Mary Greenwell is François Robert, and blow me, if he isn't the new perfumer behind the blends for The Perfume Studio!

I have had a look at the website and the notes in the different blends have changed since I worked with the company, so I would be curious to smell Robert's creations and see how they compare to the ones I remember. In the absence of myself, it seems I would have to go to Manchester, Stratford-upon-Avon or Nottingham to find out firsthand...;)

Friday 22 July 2016

Premium Melon Chameleon: Hermès Muguet Porcelaine review

Giant Cavaillon melon, Provence ~ Source:
I like Jean-Claude Ellena. He has a likeable air of weathered cragginess. A bit like Samuel Beckett, but tanned, more approachable, and without the slightest trace of demented woodpecker. I watched an interesting documentary about Ellena a while back, which showed him at work in his airy studio in the pine-covered hills near Grasse. Having lived on the Riviera myself for a year, with frequent forays into the Provençal hinterland, I can well imagine what a sensory paradise that would be. Then I once met up with Denise Beaulieu of Grain de Musc the day after she had been to a launch-related Hermès jolly in Brittany, where the great man was in attendance, so I felt I'd come a little bit closer to him in an asynchronous, 'one degree of separation' kind of a way. Oh, and I have read Ellena's book, 'The Diary of a Nose, A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur' - in the original French, even. I also lapped up 'The Perfect Scent', Chandler Burr's fascinating account of the making of Jardin sur le Nil, one of Ellena's numerous aquarelle compositions on which I cut my neophyte perfumista teeth.  And I could cite a number of perfumes he created for which I have a very soft spot to this day.

Jean-Claude Ellena's village of Cabris

But the latest addition to the Hermessence line, Muguet Porcelaine, the very delicacy of whose name unleashed a flutter of anticipation when the über-generous enabler Val the Cookie Queen of APJ said she had scored a sample with my name on it, did not quite work for me. Or rather, the opening is sufficient to put me off the later stages. Specifically, it's the mahoosive melon and cucumber accord that whooshes up on first application which floors me. I am not partial to either note in perfumery, and in Muguet Porcelaine they are very big, very juicy and in your face - or 'up your nostrils', to localise the phenomenon a bit more precisely. And though it pains me to say so, for it feels like heresy, given the prestigious nature of this line and the high regard in which I hold Ellena, but this big fruity explosion also comes off as noticeably synthetic to my nose.


And I do love lily of the valley, I really do. I have a soft spot for this particular flower too because it was my mother's favourite. She copped for many a tin of Yardley talc with that scent from me as a child. Plus I know that lily of the valley can only be replicated by artificial means, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to proceedings. Once Muguet Porcelaine settles down I do think it comes a very close second to Diorissimo, having conducted a number of side-by-side trials with an old sample of the EDT from The Perfumed Court. Or rather it is in a soprano register to Diorissimo's alto. But crucially Diorissimo is not remotely synthetic smelling from the off. If anyone is curious as to how this compares to Van Cleef & Arpels Muguet Blanc, I would say that that one is much softer and musky - the Puredistance Opardu of LOTV scents, if you will.

Source: Hermès

Yes, to my chagrin the opening of Muguet Porcelaine is too strident for my liking. To my mind, the word 'porcelain' conjures up whiteness and stillness, not shrillness. I think of Birgit of Olfactoria's Travels' serene and milky-white complexion, for example, And also of course the delicate little white bells of the flower itself, so tiny and dainty you would assume them to be constitutionally incapable of producing a scent that loud. Though I do concede that the slight indolic facet you get with lilies in general can readily translate as decibels rather than harebells, or flowers in that general neck of the woods, say. The opening of Muguet Porcelaine is a china bowl that you have vigorously pinged with your fingernail, creating a booming soundscape that fades away (eventually, though not nearly fast enough imho) to a more pleasantly muted frequency.

So yes, I would like to stress that it is just the opening that bothers me. And not only me, it would seem, as I got a couple of sales assistants in my local branch of The Fragrance Shop to sniff my freshly spritzed wrists and give me their off the cuff observations in a blind test. Of the two ladies in question, one was about my age at a guess, the other still in her teens. She was rather shy and would only say she liked it and thought it was a young person's scent, so the following commentary is all from her older colleague.

Source: The Fragrance Shop

"It's a floral...I'm getting some fruit...a fruity floral, then. Is there honey in there? It reminds me of Marc Jacobs Honey. It's a bit young for me, and a bit too sweet - I don't think an older woman would wear it. That said, it probably settles down after a while."

When asked where she would position this perfume, in terms of brand or price point, she ventured, quick as a flash:

"Oh, Premium, certainly, I'd put it on a par with BOSS."

I am still struggling with my take on this one, as I did a while back with Alaia, where I seemed to be flying in the face of the consensus. At least I care enough to put the accent in in Hermès. Now there are some stellar reviews of Muguet Porcelaine out there from bloggers whose noses I respect far beyond my own, yet I still cannot come to terms with the 'fruitbomb' opening, to channel Viktor & Rolf for a moment. And I have dubbed this scent a 'melon chameleon' because I sense that other people's melonious mileage will vary.

And hey, the upside of the whole unfortunate saga is that if I hadn't gone into The Fragrance Shop to seek a second opinion, I wouldn't have clocked the fact that Mary Greenwell Plum is on offer at £28.50 for a 100ml bottle, or £19.50 for 50ml. The more you spray, the more you save!

PS Here I am in Cavaillon c1980, home of the giant melon pictured at the top of the post. So my inability to bond with the melon note in Muguet Porcelaine is clearly not due to a lack of early exposure to this refreshing fruit.

Friday 15 July 2016


Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ by Stephen Pearce
Er, I know I am not noted for my punchy titles - two lines are pretty standard, with at least a modicum of alliteration / assonance, if not both. Nor am I prone to cryptic cliffhanger pronouncements, which in my view are one of the most annoying types of posts on Facebook. You know, where someone puts: 'How am I going to get through the night?!' or: 'Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse!', when you had no idea it was bad already, never mind the specifics of the badness - and here you are being casually served up a terse portion of worseness without so much as a by your leave. Yes, there are the non-specific misery posts, and also those 'whipping the reader up into a frenzy of anticipation' posts, where someone has great news but is not yet able to share it. Which I also find quite annoying, but hey, I am easily annoyed these days.

No, the reason for the laconic one-word title is to preempt the specifics of my sorry predicament being readily found in Google searches. If my embryonic SEO knowledge serves me, the title is far and away the most searchable aspect of a post, and therefore not the place to be too explicit about my fumie felonies. To the same end, I shall also eschew my usual labels, which help people find posts on a particular topic.

But now we are well into the body of this post, I don't have a problem in telling readers that I was busted this week: yes, indeedy, for being a slipshod, shifty shipper. My mailing misdeeds involved sending perfume abroad during my recent bottle sale, despite it being designated by the Royal Mail and IATA as a prohibited good.

Now just as the police don't usually disclose the precise MO of serial killers, for fear of inspiring copycat crimes, I shall draw a veil over the exact nature of my packages, their contents, and any description/declaration thereof. For I am a reformed character, grateful not to have copped for a hefty fine - or worse still, a stint in Stafford's slammer, where I could allegedly have watched convicted paedophile Rolf Harris fashion a makeshift didgeridoo out of some random bits of plumbing implements.

No, all that happened in the end was that I had my parcel returned to me - by Special Delivery, no expense spared! - even though it was by now on the...ahem...derisorily light side. The accompanying letter explained that the offending contents - some 100ml on aggregate of decants and a nearly full bottle - had been 'disposed of'. I am actually hoping that that is not a synonym for 'destroyed'. I would rather the sorting staff at the Belfast-based National Returns Centre smelt fabulously fragrant than that the whole lot got flushed down the sink. But I will never know.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Customer Services representative who wrote to me apologised for any inconvenience caused. Less surprising was their urging me 'to ensure you do not send items classified as dangerous goods in the post'.

Meanwhile, another overseas parcel has failed to arrive, nearly three weeks after it was sent. I can only conclude that it has suffered  a similar fate, but because I had purchased extra tracking on the one to Europe, I could read on the Royal Mail website that the package had been 'identified as suspicious' and was being 'subjected to examination'. And the rest is history / put down to experience / a crying shame - and waste.

The non-dangerous contents returned to me...;

So there you have it. I don't want to say any more about what I have done in the past, or what I have thought or said on the subject of perfume as a dangerous good. I am taking this as an expensive shot over my bows, which it assuredly is, even without any additional fine, and I am going to be good from now on. Or not good necessarily, but compliant on this particular point. ;)

PS Waves to Martha of Rambling Chicken!, whose postal phobia - even within the US - is the stuff of legend. I am now officially, and somewhat belatedly, much closer to you along the regulatory line-toeing spectrum...

Sunday 10 July 2016

The Scent Crimes Series: No 16 - Lalique Flora Bella and unexpected flecks in the spritzing area

As I mentioned in my last post, there were two perfume related incidents during my recent bottle sale which I felt warranted inclusion in the Scent Crimes Series. Having got them both off my chest, I will revert to 'normal trading' on Bonkers, whatever that might be, as Prince Charles famously said of 'love'.

So one of the perfume packages I was making up comprised a full bottle and a few decants, including one of Lalique Flora Bella. The very last of the bottle, as it happened. For anyone not familiar with this languid, milky, tropical-leaning floral, I have uncharacteristically featured / reviewed it twice here and here!

But the subject of this post is not how Flora Bella smells, but rather its consistency or texture. Specifically, the fact that as I was decanting the last 15ml for a fellow perfumista, I couldn't help noticing that there were...ahem...'particulates' suspended in the juice, to borrow the technical term for those little 'bits' in soup and yoghurt. I might be inclined to describe them as 'foreign bodies', only it seems inconceivable that anything could have entered the bottle after manufacture. Which left the twin theories of the perfume itself separating out and emitting? / spawning? a shower of tiny white flecks, or some kind of partial disintegration of the plastic atomiser tube, my preferred theory.

Flecky Flora Bella

This curious phenomenon reminded me fleetingly of those gold sparkle-type perfumes - Thierry Mugler Alien Eau Extraordinaire Gold Shimmer being one example that springs to mind, though there are others. You know, where the perfume has little flakes of gold shimmer deliberately added, so that it resembles a snow globe when you shake it, and the little gold bits add a glint to your skin. Come to think of it, the very best execution of this concept simply has to be Jean-Paul Gaultier's discontinued tuberose scent Fragile, where the bottle was an actual snow globe, but with gold rather than white flakes!

Anyway, this was not that, and the white flecks were certainly not some kind of 'late onset snow' that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.


Obviously I 'fessed up to the prospective recipient that the Flora Bella was strangely adulterated in this way, and she gamely agreed to take it anyway, assuming it smelt the same, which it does.When I carried out a few test sprays, I had no sense of little white pellets landing on my skin like fine gauge ammo or - God forbid - dandruff! Or should that be the other way about in order of disagreeableness? images of White Shoulders by Elizabeth Arden have just popped into my head. ;)

The parcel is still en route to my friend, but should make landfall this week. If there are any developments, either in terms of the flecks having disappeared - or multiplied(!) - in transit,I will be sure to do an update.

And in a curious coincidence, not only do we have an instance here of 'flecky Flora Bella', but there is a rather fine bluegrass / jazz fusion / funk rock band called Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Okay, so that was a bit contrived, but I toss it out there, much as this atomiser seems to be doing with its little white specks...


Have you ever observed any floating detritus in a perfume? 

If so, whether 'small bore', or big chunks of flotsam or jetsam, do share your experiences of unexpected items in the spritzing area!

Saturday 2 July 2016

The Scent Crimes Series: No 15 - The infuriating shape sorting puzzle that is Cuir de Lancôme packaging

It's been a while since the last instalment of The Scent Crimes Series. Looking back through my archives, I had a massive flurry in the early years of Bonkers, before the posts became much more sporadic. For no good reason though, as I am still as irritated by things in the fumisphere as much as ever I was, if not more so, haha. This and the next post in the series were directly inspired by my recent perfume bottle sale, as part of which I decided to save underbed storage space by reuniting bottles with their boxes (where I had them) - both the ones I was selling and those that stayed behind.

One of these was the very wonderful Cuir de Lancôme - the only scent of which I have a back up bottle. Um...except Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour, that is, which I am sure must be a mistake. One bottle is quite enough to meet my Coco Mademoiselle Doppelgänger needs. Anyone want the other one? BNIB for £4 plus postage!

Yes, Cuir de Lancôme is an unctuously sumptuous leather scent, one I find sufficiently bewitching to warrant my being bothered to give it its circumflex, so go figure. But I only rate the perfume, mind, and categorically not the box. The bottle top is also a bone of contention, and I have had a moan before about its woeful wobbliness, and inability to screw tightly, or snap shut, or remotely achieve hermetic closure in any way whatsoever.

But it is the box itself for which I reserve my greatest opprobrium - or the maddening shape sorting puzzle apology for one. For anybody not familiar with the Cuir de Lancôme packaging, it comes in two parts - three if you include the cute yet ultimately annoying concertina product leaflet, that is shaped like the bottle and vaguely reminiscent to readers of a certain age of paper dollies.

The box itself consists of a plinth and a cover, which has a cut out recess in the inside to accommodate 'Mr Weeble Top', as he shall henceforth be known, while the plinth has two cut out recesses - one to accommodate the base of the bottle and one to house the foldy-out leaflet. Once opened to its full extent, the leaflet seems to gain a mm or two in the process, and proves a tad tricky to slot back into the slit.

However, this fiddly procedure pales into insignificance compared with the Herculean task of inserting the bottle in the plinth recess, while simultaneously ensuring that Mr Weeble Top goes into the one in the 'roof' of the box. It is not unlike those fights we have all had inserting toilet rolls into toilet roll holders with a spring mechanism. Or batteries into devices, if you are one of those people who are career dodgers of toilet roll changeovers. No sooner do you get one end in when the other one promptly pops out.

Not only this, but the recess in the top of the box is nearer to one side than the other, ditto the one in the plinth for the bottle base. So you have to take care to put the box on facing the right way round, which isn't necessarily immediately obvious to anyone like me with less than optimal spatial awareness.

And I bet that if we all totted up the collective minutes we have spent trying to return our Cuir de Lancôme bottles to their boxes, we'd have enough time to exfoliate or make our own pesto or read the Sunday supplements. Or take up artisanal pencil sharpening (cue the most entertaining and informative nine minutes I've spent in a long time)...or stuff a mushroom, even.

Yes, Cuir de Lancôme may be one of the finest leather scents out there, but the packaging designers most certainly deserve 'a taste of the cat'. And I don't mean Truffle!

What are your pet packaging peeves? Do share in the comments!