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.
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...