Tuesday 22 November 2016

Abusive caramel: Musings on Thierry Mugler Angel, and Angel Muse

It's taken me a while to psych myself up to writing this review, to whose imminence I alluded a few posts ago. This is because I was putting off the day when I would try Angel Muse again on skin, a preliminary step to even my own meandering and tenuously on-topic style of fragrance writing. I felt I needed to feel fairly robust before exposing myself to what I can best describe as 'abusive caramel'. This notion of 'toffee as terrorist', 'fudge as felon' etc is not as fanciful as you might imagine, for one of the only two occasions on which I remember my mother crying was when she was making caramel tarts. A tin of boiling condensed milk exploded on opening, splattering the entire kitchen with scalding streaks of toffee, and resulting in her being carted off to hospital with second degree burns to her face, neck and arms. I am a reluctant cook at the best of times, and have studiously avoided trying to replicate that particularly perilous recipe.

Fast forward to 1992, the year the original Angel came out. In a post from 2011 about my pre-perfumista perfume-wearing past, I included my purchase of Angel in the 'SA-driven impulse buys at airports' category, in this case Berlin Tegel in December of that year. I can remember the main thrust of the assistant's sales spiel, in which she set about reeling me in with talk of a novel chocolate note. Team that with a curious blue juice and sparkly festive star-shaped bottle, and in the homeward bound pre-Christmas hustle I must have been an easy sale.

Would you look at that list of notes? There is pretty much every flower, fruit and confectionery ingredient known to man in there, with the possible exception of Rice Crispies and nuts.

Top notes: melon, coconut, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, bergamot and cotton candy

Middle notes: honey, apricot, blackberry, plum, orchid, peach, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, red berries and rose

Base notes: tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, dark chocolate and caramel.

Now I don't intend to link every review I write of a perfume to memories of a past boyfriend(!), as I recently did in my account of Ruth Mastenbroek's Oxford and the medieval lutinist who forgot he actually was my boyfriend.  But I feel moved to mention that Angel is inextricably bound up in my mind with a tempestuous rollercoaster of a relationship in the early 90s. (Please excuse the 'r' word, but it really is most apt.) I felt intensely alive the entire time, but not always in a good way, and when a potted spider plant went flying across the room one morning, narrowly missing my head, I finally upped sticks and left. At one point I even developed an eating disorder, and recall episodes of binging on Thornton's toffees...and well, you can imagine the rest. But how odd that toffee should yet again show up in the context of 'abuse', however administered.

And years later, here I am trying the latest Angel flanker, and trying very hard to keep an open mind. I am grateful to Liz Moores of Papillon for the sample, which I was most eager to try, having heard that several of my fellow bloggers took an instant liking to it.

These are the notes I could find, which are decidedly sparse compared to original Angel!:

Grapefruit, pink peppercorn, hazelnut cream, vetiver, patchouli

Well, well, I wrote that comment about Angel only missing nuts before I found this list!

And despite having the most sensitive grapefruit radar of anyone I know, the opening salvo of Angel Muse is promptly drenched in a sickly nap of candy floss-cum-gooey Ferrero Rocher innards. It is syrupy, but in a hard, cruel way, like the confectionery equivalent of the lava tide that engulfed Pompeii. The vetiver, such as it is, is keeping its head down, but is horribly aware of its impending fate. There is no overtly chocolate note this time, though the patchouli vaguely hints at it. In this case, its purpose is to ground the goo and give it its malevolent heft.

As Angel Muse wears on, the brooding, discordant hostility lifts, and I am left with a wispy gourmand trail not unlike Dries Van Noten, but less nutty. It manages to be distinctive yet inoffensive, but I cannot bond with Angel Muse in its more benign phase, for the damage is done. So yes, Angel Muse 'speaks' to me, and it has indeed inspired this post, but the 'Angel' bit is if anything even more of a misnomer than it was in the case of the original.

Now with wings!

As a lover of most gourmand scents, I was frankly surprised at the capacity of Angel Muse to serve up such painful memories in this punch-packing poisoned patisserie of a perfume. As I was mulling over how much of these bad vibes to share with readers, I decided to take a quick scan of other reviews to see whether I was out on a limb with my more downbeat take on Angel Muse, and was heartened to read this assessment by Jtd of Scenthurdle, who also detected a jarring quality:

"Muse streamlines the flavors but not the dissonance. Forget Innocent, Angel EDT and the extrait. Muse is the true successor to Angel."

"Muse is different, creepier. It gives me the shapeless fear of sitting through a dogmatic, atonal modernist piano piece."

Yes to 'dogmatic'! The opening of Muse is arresting, in your face, provocative and intentionally annoying. I don't want to be badgered and bothered by my perfume, thank you very much, even if it does settle down later to something the right side of captivating.

Angel or Angel Muse? Better the devil you know? I think so, for the Angel I just met may be wanner than its gutsy gourmand antecedent, but is on balance worse.

And don't even get me started on that horrid shade of blue, an ill-assorted affront to the copper trim. So here instead is the Blue Copper butterfly, a much lovelier creation in the kingdom of winged things.

Source: bentler.us

Thursday 17 November 2016

A brief Bonkers hiatus!

I am mindful that I have missed my usual posting day of Sunday by quite some margin. I have even missed the slightly slipped day of Monday, which I note was the date of the last post. I do hope to resume perfume-themed(!) blogging soon, as I have been trying a bunch of interesting and/or provocative things lately. I have, however, been overtaken by snagging issues on the ongoing bathroom refurbishment, compounded by problems with a leak downstairs and a faulty dishwasher, and topped off by two challenging work projects and the erroneous transfer of my electricity supply to a neighbour with an eerily similar address(!), which took me four hours to bottom out and resolve last night. Oh, and I have also been getting to grips with a new secondhand smartphone with a different operating system to my old one - working out the right way round to insert the SIM card (after watching a few YouTube videos) was a major challenge to a technical numpty like me. And I have even been exercised by the question of whether the leather case I bought to go with it smells sufficiently of leather to be the real deal. First world problems of the first water, as you can see!

Anyway, the cumulative impact of all these wayward occurrences has been to put paid to any proper blogging, and to throw me into a bit of a ball juggling tailspin, to mix my metaphors. I have been living off processed food for days, and the house is inexorably silting up with bits of fluff, scattered cat crunchies, and Truffle's not inconsiderable collection of abandoned grape and pear stalks. And when the Post-it notes proliferate to the extent pictured above, you just know something is up.

Hmm, yes, the fruit bowl is looking decidedly unlike a cornucopia. Speaking of loosely harvest festival-related matters, I was speaking to a friend the other day about past blog posts of mine for which I have a particular soft spot, and mentioned my review of ELDO's Like This from 2010, with its autumnal pumpkin theme. 'Ooh', he said, 'you should post it again, if you think some readers will have missed it.' To which I replied that normally I think it is the height of laziness by bloggers to regurgitate old copy in this way, but I promised to mull it over. The upshot of my cogitations is that I will insert a link to it at least. I am not entering the Jasmine Awards this year, for a number of reasons, not least the rather material fact that I don't believe I have written anything in 2016 that remotely approximates to what the judges are looking for. But if I had written my 'Like This' review this year, I might have taken a punt on it...

And finally, till I sort myself out and get back to perfume reviewing in earnest, here is a never seen before photo of my very own coach(!), captured on my travels, and earmarked for just such fallow occasions.

Monday 7 November 2016

Results of the elephant perfume bottle giveaway!

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Editor 5807)
So Saturday night's deadline for the highly desirable(!) elephant perfume bottle prize draw has passed, to the rather timely accompaniment of Bonfire Night fireworks. The name of anyone who met the entry criteria and didn't explicitly exempt themselves themselves went into the trusty Random.org virtual number generating hat. Now if the winner actually meant to exempt themselves but didn't say so in so many words, I shan't be offended if they decline the prize, and have taken the liberty of drawing the draw twice so that I have a back up contestant to whom I can offer this most prized pachyderm(!) instead. For I am mindful that it is a rather singular ornament, and when it comes to adding the finishing touch to your home interior, it may not have quite the impeccable style cachet of a Fornasetti candle, for example.

Ooh, I could spend hours deciding which one or half a dozen of those I would choose if money and mantlepiece space were no object.

But back to the giveaway...

The winner is:


Let me know if you would like to accept your prize and I will get it off to you!

UPDATE: Blacknall has kindly offered to pass her prize along to the second person whose name I drew, who happens to be:

The elephant- and perfume-loving CYNTHIA!

A worthy (and entirely fortuitous) runner up! Will try to contact you, Cynthia, as I am mindful that you may no longer be checking this post after the initial result was announced.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Cheap smells for men that don't smell cheap - suggestions please for a reader on a budget!

Grooming Tiger ~ Source Wikimedia Commons (byKoshy Koshy)
Most of the blog-related mail I get these days is from perfume houses inviting me to try their range, or from PR companies trying to get me to write to order on this or that product for money, or to develop 'collaborative synergies' with brands, that you just know would amount to the same thing. These I bat off pretty sharpish, as you can imagine.

Then just as I was sitting down to marshal my thoughts about Angel Muse, an email came in from a male reader, whom I shall call P, inquiring about budget scents for men that I would recommend.

"Can you recommend a good value men's fragrance? Quite a short question I know, but one which is ever so perplexing when on a budget."

I liked P right off the bat for his use of 'perplexing', as you can also imagine. P didn't say what styles of fragrance he wears at the moment, but maybe his taste is a broad church and price is the main driver.

P's approach to me is quite timely as it happens, as only the other day I found myself moved to comment on a post entitled 'Shared Atmospheres' on A Perfume Blog about the rights and wrongs of curbing the wearing of fragrance in public spaces. I came down on the side of freedom, even at the expense of being personally affronted by other people's perfume choices.

"And I do smell a LOT of things I don't care for in the general ambient air, as much on men as women it must be said."

Source: Harper's Weekly via Wikimedia Commons

The distinction I would make is that whereas there is ample choice out there for women, so in theory it is easy enough to smell delightful on a shoestring, I wouldn't say the same is generally true for men. There is a lot of what I would call 'sport colognes' or 'gym & tonic'-type men's colognes, in the same general vein as Chanel Bleu, but nowhere near as classy. A chap serving in my local Coop was wearing one such scent the the other day, and his sillage in and around the checkout area nearly drove me to do my grocery shopping online! So my point is that it is harder to pick out decent options in the men's category that are also a real bargain.

And it seems Blacknall agrees:

"A larger proportion of men seem to be wearing aggressive fragrance (actually it's not fragrance properly speaking so much as olfactory artillery)."

So while I am not for a minute suggesting that any of the colognes P currently owns are remotely of that ilk, the relative scarcity of non-offensive options at the less spendy end of the spectrum makes the search that bit more of a challenge. But I immediately recalled a few fragrances I have sniffed on male friends and liked, only to learn to my surprise when I asked them what they were wearing that they were in fact pretty darn cheap, and clearly punching above their price tag. Examples of this are Activist by the Body Shop and Lynx Excite, which I even felt moved to blog about, here and here respectively!

So I wrote back to P this morning with the preliminary results of my brainstorm, and of a quick google of men's style/grooming blogs.

"Thanks for your email - that's a short but big question, hehe, as it depends so much on what styles of perfume you like and how much you want to pay.

And to be honest, I mostly cover women's fragrances, but I could ask around for you from the male blogging community. Or if you are a member of Basenotes, which is mostly populated by men, you could lob in a question there.

I personally like L'Occitane Eau des Baux on men (a vanillic woody amber number), and have smelt one of the Body Shop's range on a friend that impressed me - Activist, also an oriental. See, that is the style I like. ;) Also thought Lynx Excite (Axe in the US) wasn't bad on another friend. 

If you like Oud, there's one in the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range that is cheap, and Jovan Intense Oud is a drugstore scent that smells like a poor man's Roja Dove at a hundredth of the price.

Bottle kindly donated by Liz Moores

I have heard good things of the Paul Smith range, but I can't tell you which.

And it is worth cruising the perfume aisle of T K Maxx for discounted scents from Penhaligon's or L'Artisan.

Check out this link - it mentions Activist I see! And a Paul Smith! I can endorse the 4711.

Also I have seen a few mentions of Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene, and remember that as good. 

Good luck in your hunt and let me know if you would like me to approach anyone else."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Nevit Dilmen)

So that is where I am up to so far, and on a whim I decided to share P's inquiry with readers in a blog post to see if anyone has some more suggestions. Roger & Gallet Jean-Marie Farina just popped into my head, and P could of course also play around with the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range for days, on account of its enormous selection...featuring everything from oud to marshmallow to wet shed and beyond!

Oh, and if P likes Hugo BOSS the original, Lidl's X-Bolt by Bellini is a fantastic dupe at £3.99. Here's my review of that one, that caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph, no less. ;)

Then I see Old Spice is also mentioned in the link I sent P - the one and only scent I ever remember my father wearing, or at least keeping a bottle of the stuff on the bathroom shelf. I wasn't at all close to him, mind, so there was no question of me ever sitting on his lap and inhaling the smell. He wasn't a smoker either, so you can forget any Proustian pipe tobacco associations, that other friends associate with their fathers. So yes, nothing retro and paternal to bring to the party.

Editor's note: I cannot believe I have just spent an hour googling pictures of three childhood homes in Belfast, one with an epically bad avocado suite, above which Father's Old Spice bottle would have been perched - sadly I am unable to fetch up any photos from Rightmove or Lettings sites that do justice to its monstrous green splendour.

And I am assuming that P would prefer colognes that are overtly marketed to men. I say that, for we might otherwise collectively think to recommend some feminine fragrances a man could carry off with panache and aplomb, especially once you get into the realms of niche, though for cost reasons we are of course not going there. ;)

Aha, I see Panache is also an aldehydic perfume!, formerly by Lentheric, and reviewed by I Scent You A Day. I don't believe there is a fragrance called 'Aplomb' or 'Budget', or I would be tempted to pop them on the list too.