Monday 29 August 2016

'La vie est belle': thoughts on 'Lancôming' home to Limousin, and a curious confluence of perfume and porcelain - Part 2

It is to Birmingham airport's credit that the whole of Part 1 of this post ended up being dedicated to my wanderings in its duty free section, but the time has come to move on to the visit to France itself, which took a surprising number of unexpected fragrant turns. Though not before I report on my unlikely baby epiphany on the plane! Yes, longtime readers may be aware that - possibly thanks to my travelling status as 'single woman of a certain age who if she doesn't already have children must surely want them' - the seat planning alogrithm of all the budget airlines never fails to randomly assign me a seat beside an infant. Beside or in the row in front or behind, say. Very definitely within proximity and earshot of its inevitable sustained bouts of wailing during the flight. Now I have a certain amount of sympathy for the babies in question: I was young once, and I understand the thing about engine noise and ear pressure - it must be quite scary for them.  But I really don't think it is fair that I should attract babies like iron filings on every flight. Sometimes also a young child who delights in kicking the back of my seat while keeping up a stream of aviation-related 'Why?' questions.

And on the way out to Limoges, not only was there a baby on its mother's lap on the seat next to me, but a bonus baby across the aisle and one row back. I was in for some serious stereo grizzling, I thought. But then two things happened to make me completely revise my opinion on the matter. Firstly, as its mother came down the aisle and spied the seat they had been allocated, she immediately exclaimed: 'Oh, I am sooooo sorry!', which predisposed me to like her from the off. Why, the baby in her arms had yet to emit a sound!, and thanks to the mother's cunning plan of breastfeeding her (for she turned out to be a four month old girl, and to have the exact same name (and middle name!) of the friend I was visiting) for much of the flight, she was as good as gold, quietly feeding until she eventually dozed off, A model baby, no question. There were adults on the plane with loud voices, complicated drinks orders and no small change who were considerably more annoying. Moreover, it turned out that the baby's mother and I had a ton of things in common in addition to the spooky coincidence of the baby's name: we had both worked in waste management(!) and for part of Unigate, and we both had a close relative who had undergone the same cutting edge medical procedure.

Sightseeing on the 'Route des Noix'

So between the well stocked duty free perfume section at the Brum end, and having my faith in babies - or specific babies and their mothers - restored, that was a jolly good start to the holiday you could say. My friend L was waiting in Arrivals at Limoges' Lilliputian airport (which is a rare treat for me), and we drove back to her village, just over an hour away by car. I immediately fell in love with L's mid-18th century stone townhouse and en suite barn(!). The previous owners, two elderly sisters, had died some time ago and the house was sold with a number of their beautiful pieces of furniture thrown in.

To kick off the scented aspects of this report, check out L's dressing table in her bathroom, with its artistically arranged perfume bottles and jewellery. (Yes, I know the photo is quite small.) On a side note, L wishes she had bought the new rose scent from Acqua Nobile, the Iris one being a blind buy, and famously not very iris-like. Iris Nobile was one of the first three niche scent purchases I made - all in the space of one impulsive day in Paris in 2008 - and I too lived to regret it. And offload it.

And then there was the piano, with its amazing smell of incense-impregnated wood. Perhaps it had lived some of its life in a church, I don't know. I closed my eyes and pressed my nose to the gleaming curved cover. You could so easily fancy that the meditative scent it yielded was some high end release by Armai Privé. Suggestions of names welcomed!

Then my bed - a cunning improvisation of two inflatable mattresses stacked on top of each other - was the most comfortable one I have lain on in a long time, and even though I am noted for not liking lavender in perfumes, I was touched to find a sprig in a little organza bag on my pillow. I don't seem to mind the stuff in nature, plus I was predisposed to like everything about L's quirky and venerable house: the hydrangeas in milk churns, the toilet rolls in plant pots, the beautiful silver name plate on the boiler.

Oh, and this account would not be complete without a special mention of the orange blossom-scented gentle shower gel in my bathroom, from the brand Le Petit Marseillais. Despite its cheap and cheerful packaging, it smelt decidedly high end and felt benign on my increasingly jumpy skin (of which more in another post).

The next significant crossing of paths with perfume on this trip was on our way back to Limoges the next day, to visit the Bernardaud Foundation, Bernardaud being a brand that is synonymous in France with very upmarket porcelain - the kind that ends up as a bespoke dinner service in a luxury hotel such as Claridge's, for example. L's friend S, a long time resident of the village and a ceramicist herself, came along with us for the day, and I was immediately struck by how pretty her perfume was, and how well it suited her. It turns out that S was wearing La Vie est Belle by Lancôme, which I would never have placed, and may never have smelt, or only hurriedly in an airport somewhere.


Jessica of Now Smell This describes La Vie est Belle as a 'gracefully composed' and 'very wearable' 'fleurmand', describing its drydown as 'a polished and long-lasting harmony of cocoa and soft patchouli and white floral notes'. It has vanilla too, I see, which always tends to reel me in. I will definitely have a spritz of this the next time I am in Boots.

The Foundation visit had two memorable perfumed aspects, in addition to felicitous wisps here and there of S's sillage: the Bernardaud house line of scented candles, which I sniffed in the gift shop - all were well done with delicate and subtle fragrances - there was even a candle that made a very good fist of capturing the scent of porcelain!

So there was that, and then - most startlingly - there was a further perfumed twist to some artefacts in an exhibition of contemporary Korean ceramics, with which our visit happened to coincide. For we stumbled across a series of vases that were made from soap and varnish - and perfume. Whoever would have thought that it might be a good idea to make a vase from soap? The scent of each was quite pronounced - we had to stand on tiptoe to smell inside some of the works on display, though a few were too tall even so!

Another surprise scented object was a walnut windfall, a number of which we came across while walking through an orchard on the second day of the trip. About the size of a green plum, with a leathery aspect and incipient wrinkles, I can confirm that a walnut pod smells oddly herbal, like sage maybe?

And the final perfumed aspect to the trip - for in case you were wondering, there was no duty free at Limoges airport, or even a cafe for that matter! - was a chance encounter in the local 'brocante' (secondhand shop) with a number of retro perfumes: several colognes specific to local French pharmacies, and one or two other curiosities, including a violet perfume from Toulouse.

I didn't buy any perfume, though I did pick up a kitten saucer, a French missal from 1920, and an antique print of a collection of eggs. I could have come away with a stuffed owl or squirrel, but resisted.

However, what I may be less able to resist is the lure of France itself, specifically the area where my friend lives. Okay, the very village. The sense of wellbeing I felt while out there bordered on the transcendental: the gentle pace of life, the simple pleasures of bread and cheese and paté eaten outside on a warm summer's evening...the comforting solidity of the house also felt nurturing, as did the charming selection of vintage tableware and glasses the two sisters had left behind.

As it happens, I collect mugs and egg cups and crockery generally, in addition to being bonkers about perfume...and knitting, and cats. Yep, I love porcelain and bone china and earthenware - and with a bit of time could come to appreciate vases made of soap. And I live within spitting distance of The Potteries, Limoges's opposite number in Staffordshire. So downsizing and retiring one day to France, where houses can still be picked up for a relative song, is only a twinkle in my eye at the moment, but it is one that I think is set to grow...

Truffle, guarding her walnut

Sunday 21 August 2016

'La vie est belle': thoughts on 'Lancôming' home to Limousin, and a curious confluence of perfume and porcelain - Part 1

I have just been away for a few days to France, visiting my friend L, who recently bought a house out there. Much of the travelling I do these days is gig-related, so it was unusual for me to go to a place where not only was no music involved, but where I was struck by the profound silence that reigned at night, though her village was also pretty peaceful by day. Lying in bed, the snuffling of barn owls in the eaves of the house opposite and the occasional gurgle of vintage plumbing were pretty much the only sounds I could make out. Ironically, I found the silence so extreme that I wore ear plugs anyway, to recreate more normal sleeping conditions. ;)

I left home on Wednesday morning, having managed to conceal the whereabouts of the suitcase from Truffle right up until the moment of departure.  From the baleful look on her face as I said goodbye I think she may have known all along anyway, the constant transferring of clothes and other assorted objects from room to room over several days in the run up to my trip being a bit of a giveaway.

I caught the train to Birmingham without incident, and had a luxurious amount of time to kill at the airport. Now that my hobby is in its 'mature' phase, I tend to walk straight through the perfume section of the Duty Free, but my resolve weakened at the sight of a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Poudrée. I had been curious to try Poudrée ever since reading Ines of All I am a Redhead's glowing review, and it was as lovely - in that dreamy, cold creamy, and finely milled powder kind of a way - as I had expected.

Source: Fragrantica


Heartened by my favourable take on the Narciso, I decided to pop to the Chanel Exclusifs section to retest Misia. I also got my first sniff of Boy, and had a spritz of the already familiar Coromandel and No 22 for good measure. I am still not sure about Misia - it reminded me of a rosier version of 1932, and there was something slightly suffocating about its stereo cosmetic powderiness - from both the violets and the iris/orris. I also thought I got a hint of lavender and heliotrope, but maybe it was the tonka bean playing tricks. I guess it is not a good sign if you even think you smell notes you don't care for in a scent. Plus it didn't have half the staying power of Coromandel, not that that really warrants a black mark in my book.

I also had a quick whiff of Boy on card, which struck me as a refreshing, faintly fougèristic, broadly unisex cologne with a lavender(!) twist, that didn't seem to bother me unduly. I would like to give it another go, as I was distracted by my Misia musings.

And to be truthful, the most memorable part of the visit was chatting to Kelly, the very helpful and knowledgeable sales assistant, about their (I think relatively new?) porcelain 'dipper sticks'. If anyone knows the proper technical term for these, please do let me know in the comments!

Some readers may be aware of my longstanding interest in perfume sample delivery mechanisms - I can only find this post (on the subject of 'olfcartophiles'), but there have been several. Over time, I have detected a gradual evolution from giving physical samples away to encouraging people to make do with cards, blotters, lengths of ribbon, Frédéric Malle-style walk in fibreglass Tardises, IUNX- and Mugler-style trumpets, bell jars and so on. This was my first encounter with porcelain dipper sticks, mind, and as I was about to board a flight to Limoges, the ceramics capital, the Stoke-on-Trent if you will, of France - or do I mean the Dresden? - I took a lively interest in this novel and niche application. They are white tubular things, thicker at one end, and looked ever so slightly like a certain feminine accessory that enables you to play tennis, swim and canoe, even if you have never previously engaged in such active pursuits. Or perhaps like a deeply disappointing satay skewer. Anyway, they certainly did the job here.

I asked Kelly how long the dipper sticks sit in their little wells before the scent is refreshed - it turns out that they are redipped once a week in small screw cap bottles that live in a cupboard behind the counter. Well, I thought, that is interesting. Kelly also showed me her tray of raw material miniatures, which guide clients through the process of choosing a perfume by enabling them to discover which notes they are drawn to - like the Ormonde Jayne Perfume Portrait idea, but without the blind sniffing aspect. And there was also a table with samples of the complete Chanel range laid out on it, organised by fragrance style, to help the customer narrow the field further to specific perfumes that might match their olfactory leanings. Here it is, together with the examples Kelly gave me for each - or rather at least one that I managed to jot down:

Citrus - Cristalle
Green floral - Bel Respiro, No 19
Light floral - Chance (make that dull, insipid floral for me!)
Intense floral - No 5
Aromatics - Bleu
Soft woody - Bois des Iles
Intense woody - Sycamore
Enveloping oriental - Coco Mademoiselle
Oriental - Coromandel

Now I was tickled by the idea of an 'enveloping oriental', however for my money the categories are transposed and I'd call Coromandel the true enveloper of the two. I mentioned this to Kelly and we went on to discuss the ubiquity of Coco Mademoiselle, which is now the biggest selling perfume in the world, you won't be surprised to learn.

Finally, Kelly mentioned the imminent launch of No 5 L'Eau, a lighter version of No 5 aimed at a younger market, or anyone who finds the original a bit aldehyde-heavy. I was quite happy for Eau Première to fulfil that role, but am intrigued to try this new interpretation.


After Chanel, I spied a display of Armani Privé scents, which was definitely new since my last visit. They favoured the 'bell jar' system of perfume dispersal, and I dutifully picked them all up and stuck my nose inside. What really caught my eye though were the geologically lifelike bottles of Rouge and Vert Malachite. Well, I say that, but to be honest the green one reminded me a bit of Shield deodorant soap from the 70s if anyone remembers that. No, seriously, they did have the marbling and sheen of an actual geode of malachite, but there was also a fake and plasticky aspect to the bottles that put me right off the scents - though if you ask me what they smelt like I would be hard pushed to describe either.

I certainly wouldn't have recognised Rouge Malachite from the company's oddly capitalised PR blurb, for example, which I found on Now Smell This:

'The singular meeting of an opulent, voluptuous and carnal Tuberose and a wild Sage along with the surprising vibration of AmberXtreme.'

I have resisted the urge to put a comma in after 'Sage'! Actually, come to think of it, Rouge Malachite was a little like a more demure Coromandel, and I note that both scents have a big white floral, amber, and benzoin in them, albeit Rouge Malachite is more about the tuberose to Coromandel's jasmine, plus there is a shedload of patchouli in the Chanel. I did like Rouge Malachite though. And I didn't mind Vert Malachite, but my inability to classify it in any way whatsover rather spoilt my appreciation of how it smelled. (Ooh, there's a meaty behavioural topic for another time!)


Next up, I swung by the Tom Ford fixture, drawn by the blingy ribbed allure of the bottles of Orchid Soleil and Velvet Orchid. As I was spraying one or other of these on a blotter - yes, blotters are still with us!- a man came up behind me and asked: 'Are you looking for something for yourself or your husband?' And he didn't even work there. ;) Yep, he was just another punter, who reached for the tester of Noir and pronounced it not 'Extrème' enough. 'I only really like the Extrème' he added, deftly reinforcing his he-man credentials, before vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared. Maybe he should have given Rouge Malachite and its AmberXtreme a spin(!) - the pair are unisex after all.

On a side note, the number of Tom Ford scents with 'Orchid' in the name is spiralling out of control if you ask me, like the whole sorry busy of confusing Stella flankers, which I elevated to the status of a 'Scent Crime' in this post from 2009. My nose had sort of had it by this stage however, so I shan't attempt to describe my impressions, which would have been sketchy at the best of times...And now I am scratching my head about another perfume by Tom Ford that was discontinued, and that I thought was also called Velvet Orchid - it contained a notorious blue cheese-inflected gardenia note and oozed a general aura of sex and depravity that was straight out of John Fowles' The Magus. Like a more complicated and corrupt version of Versace Crystal Noir perhaps...Velvet Gardenia, that was it!! So 'Velvet' may be shaping up as the new 'Orchid' in terms of irritating iteration.


Nasal fatigue notwithstanding, I couldn't walk on past the Jo Malone concession, yet another niche-ish line to have popped up at Birmingham airport in the past year. They didn't have any long porcelain dipper sticks, but they DID have short white porcelain cork-like stoppers adorned with black ribbons, also resting in scent wells. So obviously I had to ask the assistant how often they refresh / redip the stoppers in the perfumes, and the answer is every day! Make of that what you will - there may be a correlation with the relative evanescence of the Jo Malone range versus the Chanel Exclusifs in terms of adhering to the porcelain surface, or something to do with how the scent wells are designed to minimise evaporation - or it may be an arbitrary frequency on the part of each brand!, I don't know. I would be interested to sniff a Jo Malone 'cork' that has not been redipped for six days, say, to see if you can still smell the perfume in question or not. (And in case you were wondering, I failed to ask about the receptacles in which the dipping supplies are housed. ;) )

The assistant, whose name I also didn't catch, allowed me to smell a tester of the upcoming September release, Basil & Neroli, which is billed as a more modern take on the bestselling Jo Malone classic, Lime, Basil & Mandarin. As with the latter, I sense that Basil & Neroli may work beautifully on the right skin; but even if I had the right skin, I don't care for basil in a perfume, though I love it on the plant and in the mozzarella and tomato salad, so I was destined not to like this. The neroli gives the basil a good old run for its money, mind. To be honest, the basil seemed more sage-like to my nose, though I am not big on sage either. Anyway, please don't be put off by my lack of enthusiasm - if you like herbal citrus compositions it may be just the ticket.

After all of that, there was just time to grab a takeaway tea and rush to the gate as instructed, only to be kept waiting on the steps down to it - and in the bus to the plane - for a further 40 minutes or so, as you do.

PS Interesting factoid about Narciso Rodriguez!....My friend's niece, whom I met at dinner the other day, used to work for Kenneth Green Associates, which has Narciso Rodriguez in its marketing portfolio. During her time there she had the job of pre-spraying the ribbons-in-lieu-of-samples with perfume, and also did a stint of promotional work. Her top tip for clinching the sale was to give the ribbon to a small child, assuming there was one available, from whose possession the ribbon would eventually get transferred to the mother's handbag, who would marvel at this lovely smell wafting up from its interior when they got home, and go back to the store to buy a bottle! This lady is also one of the world's top experts in voodoo culture (no kidding), so she clearly knows a thing or two about making stuff happen...

Sunday 14 August 2016

Vial bodies*: how I seem to diss scent samples in sprayers with white tops

70s Go-Go boots ~ Source: eBay
This week on A Bottled Rose, Tara posted some mini-reviews of the new range by Art de Parfum. She had a better strike rate than me - I liked one quite a bit once it dried down (Sensual Oud - I know, it has Oud in the title, but it was really rather nice!). Then another one I found 'interesting' (Signature Wild), though by rights I shouldn't have liked it because it has the dreaded davana note in it - hey, Jasper Conran Mister, that I ordered by mistake instead of Mistress and ended up giving to my brother, who is using it as an air freshener, here's looking at you! And does anyone even remember Jasper Conran Mistress or Mister, such is the evanescent nature of the perfume scene...?

But the other new releases in the Art de Parfum range seemed more like oddball mainstream rather than niche scents to my nose, and I even thought one or two smelt overtly aromachemically, if you know what I mean, such that the overall composition failed to engage / mesh, let alone wow. Tara and I chatted about this afterwards because she has a much superior nose to mine and did not get a synthetic vibe from this range, something I know she would normally pick up on straight away. So I vowed to try the quintet of scents again, because I was disappointed by my own lacklustre reaction to them.

But there's more...!

I remembered that I had a similarly mixed reaction to the ROADS collection of fragrances, a number of which I featured in a post here. I quite liked several, but the rest sadly left me cold. I couldn't imagine buying a bottle of any of them. Why am I not surprised that piece didn't make the Jasmine shortlists this year? Well,for starters it is more of a travelogue than a set of perfume reviews, never mind its less than reverent tone...;)

And then there was another coffret of samples I was kindly sent by Jeffrey Dame of Hypoluxe - a capsule collection of scents under the aegis of Thorsten Biehl's Kunstwerke, by perfumers Geza Schoen, Mark Buxton and Patricia Choux. I featured a Mark Buxton composition (mb01) that particularly caught my fancy in this German-themed post from 2014, but again I was underwhelmed by the set as a whole, notwithstanding the pedigree of the perfumers whose work it showcased. I remember one perfume reminding me forcefully of  Dior's J'adore L'eau cologne florale, for example, a resolutely mainstream flanker of the ever popular J'adore.

It was the same script - only more so - with a range called Aura Soma, the least said about which the better.

And yesterday it dawned on me that the common thread between all four sets of samples is the fact that they have WHITE TOPS. It seems that at some subliminal level, my brain does not equate white tops with 'niche' / 'luxury' / 'high end' scents, regardless of their actual quality and how they may or may not smell.

A quick delve into my 'samples in progress'  boxes and bowls reveals that the scents I do regard highly mostly have black tops, or little stoppers. One range (not pictured and yet to be featured) even has classy blue apothecary-style vials!

In the bowl above are samples from the following brands:

Ormonde Jayne
Mona di Orio
4160 Tuesdays
Papillon Perfumery
Hermes - translucent!
Aftelier Perfumes
Ex Idolo
Acqua di Parma - a sort of mother of pearl finish, but definitely not your bog standard white!

So then I scurried off to find my presentation box of Puredistance samples, which - whether I like each and every one of their range or not - is a house which resoundingly epitomises quality ingredients for me. I was reassured to see the serried ranks of black tops, giving further weight to my theory.  Yes, I know M is missing - I gave it to a friend who gave it to her colleague.

And to put the lid on my research, I opened a big box of atomiser samples that I had collected at the start of my perfume hobby. Verdict: of the seven white plastic-topped sprayers that came to hand, six were mainstream designer scents, including a couple of 'regular' Chanels. The only high end brand that had gone for white was By Kilian (Forbidden Games), and I am now racking my memory as to whether they may actually use black tops on their other collections?

Well, what a turn up! I am not saying that I have never loved a perfume in a sample sprayer with a white top, or never disliked one in a black top, but I can say that in the main my perception of perfume in quality terms really does seem to be a black and white issue. ;)

Finally, here is Serge Lutens, taking absolutely no chances with an opaque brown number, similar to the (black?) vials of Keiko Mecheri. Which is all very well, but these come with their own issues, namely that you have no clue about fill levels. Until they finally stop working. An annoying phenomenon which I have addressed in this Scent Crimes post - from six and a half years ago, no less!

So I have to ask - is it just me whose perception is influenced by sample top colour, or can anyone else relate?

It sounds a pretty preposterous theory on the face of it, but I toss it out there notwithstanding. Maybe top colour is in fact some kind of  unspoken 'code' in the perfume industry that I have only now tumbled to?!

And yes, I did own a pair of boots like that in the 70s - white patent, which I teamed with my pink (you heard right!) wet look coat. Personally, I am not sure that white boots - or white atomiser tops - or white shoes on men, even on a golf course - were ever a good thing...

*With apologies to  Evelyn Waugh. (It shouldn't really be 'bodies', come to think of it, being more about the tops, but I shall push the envelope of poetic licence.)

Actually, in the case of that Art de Parfum sample pictured above, we are also talking a bit of the body as well as top... Maybe it was the additional - and substantial - plastic 'shoulder' that tipped me over the edge?!

Monday 8 August 2016

Results of the Papillon-hosted (and -posted) - Plum prize draw!

Last night's deadline for the Plum prize draw has Mary Greenwell and truly passed, and in time-honoured tradition I have had my usual recourse to that trusty number tumbler,, to pick the winner.

So without further ado, I can reveal that the bottle of Plum is going to:


Congratulations, Angie! I hope you will like Plum, or find a good home for it otherwise. Please drop me a line with your address, which I will forward to the powers-that-be at Papillon Perfumery.

Yes, a big thank you is due to Liz Moores for kindly donating her bottle of Plum to this giveaway. As mentioned in my previous post, it has the added cachet of having spent some time in her 'never a dull moment' home and company HQ.

Daisy may well have had fun taking the top off and putting it on again, or at the very least a Bengal cat will have brushed past it with its tail. It is to be hoped not a snake at least.

PS That plum picture was the closest I could find to those multi-coloured lottery balls. ;)