Wednesday 22 February 2017

Super furry animals and the cat's peignoir (including a mini-review of House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved)

Source: Poshmark
Undina's recent 'month of roses' project - in which I have greatly enjoyed participating, even if I did fall off the wagon a few times by testing samples that had nothing to do with the romantic topic in hand - reminded me that 'roses with a twist' are one of my top two favourite fragrance styles. I'll call them 'rosientals', as the scents I like best tend to be a subset of floral orientals. Which is also why I found the task of looking for a rose perfume in that vein for my friend Jessica so rewarding, even if we never came up with a definitive contender in the end.

And my top category of perfumes - or Holy Grail genre, if you will - is those faintly animalic woody orientals that connote furriness and intimations of what a male friend of mine persists in calling 'rude business'. Or 'intimations of intimate business', even. My prim father's slightly more opaque term for this was 'filthy slop'. Now for reasons of semantic sensitivity I am reluctant to talk about my 'louche perfume j*****' - obviously I am more sheepish about the actual journey than the louche bit (eek, it slipped out!) - but you may be interested to learn that there has in fact been one.

My first introduction to the 'WAV-style' of fragrance (Woody-Amber-Vanilla - with or without patchouli) was probably PG L'Ombre Fauve, or Bestial Shadow, as it is amusingly known in English.

PG L'Ombre Fauve

Notes: woods, incense, amber, musk, patchouli

Now L'Ombre Fauve is wonderfully hoochy, but the patchouli lends a rough edge to the scent going in. I don't mean hoochy in a Hooters way exactly, but the opening is certainly not refined. It's earthy and ragged and a bit clod- - as in sod- - hopping. I never reviewed L'Ombre Fauve, because despite being such a fan of woody orientals, I find myself even more tongue-tied than usual in describing what I smell. What I can give you, if you can 'take it' (as all good mediums say), is an image of me sitting on a stool in a moodily lit tapas bar in Hamburg with my Swedish perfumista protegee Louise and several of her friends, while wearing L'Ombre Fauve. The whole party couldn't stop sniffing my wrist, having clearly succumbed to the perfume's animal magnetism, which proved more irresistible than even the dates wrapped in bacon and dainty morsels of chorizo.

Schankwirtschaft, now sadly closed. Source: Yelp

For a good while L'Ombre Fauve stood alone as the exemplar of this category. Bvlgari Black has some crossover with it in note and mood terms, but to my nose it is ultimately more (good) weird than louche. I also tried Paloma Picasso around that time, but it is a retro animalic chypre - a classy face slap with a beaver's business end.

The other scent from my early exploration to provoke a similar sensual shiver was the discontinued Damien Bash Lucifer #3. I am indebted to Louise - by now up and running on her own perfume quests! - for the introduction to this one. Uncharacteristically for me, I did manage to review Lucifer #3, but only because I was reeled in by the association between elemi, one of the key notes in the composition, and boat caulk. However, it cannot be included in 'The WAV files' proper, for it doesn't appear to contain vanilla, or any other note with a vanilla inflection...!

Damien Bash Lucifer #3

Notes: rose, jasmine, frankincense, black pepper, sandalwood, myrrh, labdanum, ylang-ylang, elemi

In these early years I also dallied with PG Felanilla and Le Labo's Labdanum 18, fellow furry numbers - quite literally in the case of Labdanum 18.

PG Felanilla

Notes: vanilla absolute, saffron, orris, banana wood, hay absolute, amber

Le Labo Labdanum 18

Notes: French labdanum, castoreum, civetta, musk, vanilla, birch resins, cinammon, patchouli, gurjan balsam, tonka bean

Source: Pinterest

Both fragrances are sultry, but these days I find the latter a tad too 'out there'. Looking at those notes, I can see why that might be - there are several ingredients that would collectively conjure a resinous and va-va-voom vanilla vibe. Labdanum 18 lacks the mysterious quality shared by L'Ombre Fauve, Lucifer #3 and Bvlgari Black, which is so key to the genre. The same could be said of Felanilla, which is from the same stable as L'Ombre Fauve, and fittingly has a barnyard quality to it.

Fast forward a fair few years to my discovery of Ramon Monegal's Ambra di Luna while visiting Jovoy in Paris with Undina in 2013. We are firmly back on terra furra with that one, and I could best describe Ambra di Luna as a 'roughed up' Prada L'Eau Ambree (insert your own accent):

Ramon Monegal Ambra di Luna

Notes: amber, labdanum, Egyptian jasmine, castoreum, sandalwood

Then last year I discovered yet more prime WAVs: Aroma M's animalic amber Geisha Noire and By Kilian's Amber Oud. Thanks to Undina for the tip off about the By Kilian via her review (from a year ago today!).

Aroma M Geisha Noire

Notes: amber, sandalwood, tonka bean

By Kilian Amber Oud

Notes: amber, oud, bay leaf, cedarwood, vanilla

Of the two, Geisha Noire is the furrier and loucher, and though I didn't review it either, I made reference to my growing attachment to Geisha Noire as a gig-going scent in this rag bag of a post that is also about old books, a dishwasher, and my ongoing battle with eczema. Ooh, leitmotif Louise makes a cameo appearance in it - that was the last time we met, in fact. And I did at least describe Geisha Noire as a 'smouldering, furrily sensuous, ceremonial cupcake of a scent'. Geisha Noire is more sensual and sweeter than Amber Oud. Crucially, it oozes mystery.

Val (who also gave me a mini-bottle of Ambra di Luna she inexplicably didn't need!) has kindly been keeping me topped up with samples and decants of Geisha Noire. But just when I was limbering up to possibly buying my own bottle - eminently desirable on account of the decorative Japanese paper alone! - a sample of Immortal Beloved arrived. Immortal Beloved is the latest release from House of Cherry Bomb, a creative collaboration between Brooklyn-based independent perfumers Maria McElroy of the aforementioned Aroma M and Alexis Karl of Scent by Alexis. And now all bets are off as to which way my cash will fall...Though it goes without saying that owing to my chronic SABLE (Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy) situation, I am trying to resist all additional purchases until some of the extant bottles are either used up or go rogue on me, which can only be a question of (not very much) time.

Truffle savaging the bag, eager to access its contents

And never mind the fact that I am smitten with Immortal Beloved, my trusty familiar has clearly marked it out as Her Favourite Perfume Yet. Readers may remember that I featured Truffle's fetishistic reaction to perfume packages in my recent Winter Special post about her, in which she was pictured nuzzling a FedEx parcel sent by Undina. I also showed her mouthhandling the little drawstring bag containing the vials of edp and oil of Immortal Beloved. A feat I filed under Agility, whilst noting that it could equally sit with (Dis)-obedience and Fetishes.

But what I omitted to mention was that not long afterwards I caught Truffle lasciviously licking the bag, which is an absolute first where any possession of mine is concerned. From which I take it that she really, really thinks this is the cat's pyjamas - or 'peignoir' perhaps, to coin a more suitably slinky phrase. Eyeballing that note list, there is a lot going on in Immortal Beloved, but after a surprising start, it settles into WAV-ish territory.

Immortal Beloved

Notes: tobacco blossom, lily-of-the-valley, henna, ambergris, labdanum, vanilla, agarwood, beeswax

Yes, when I applied Immortal Beloved, my first thought was of similarities to Serge Lutens Eau Froide...with its frankincense / lemon accord; that is too extreme a comparison, but it's all I've got! At this stage I wouldn't class Immortal Beloved as an oriental, or any kind of furry animal. It is most unusual and reads on my skin as a soapy, fresh and prickly thing I am going to call incense - which I know sounds like an oxymoron, given the more immediate association of incense with death. But that impression is fleeting in any event, and must be due to some playful alchemy between the LOTV and tobacco blossom. Or even the henna listed in the notes, to which in my perplexed state I have had retrospective course! I have no idea how any of those smell, mind, apart from the LOTV, though it is not quite itself here, conveying a spring-like backdrop rather than a marked muguet scent per se.

When Immortal Beloved reaches its cruising altitude it wears incredibly close to the skin - it is far and away the most delicate and 'barely there' of all the WAV perfumes featured in this post. A WAV-wisp of a scent no less, which you really wouldn't expect from the notes. It's an immemorial murmur like old Tennyson and his bees, which figures, as there is of course beeswax in it. Oops, my bad - it's the elms that are immemorial!

"The moans of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees."

Strange to relate, Immortal Beloved melds with my skin so completely that it feels as though it was telepathically tailormade. Maybe that is why Truffle is so taken with it - as her besotted owner, I like to think she loves me - or any olfactory associations with me - back, hehe. Though perhaps she is merely high on tobacco blossom. ;)

Thinking of the HOCB name, funnily enough one of The Monochrome Set's members used to play in a football team called The Cherry Bombers, named after their record label at the time, Cherry Red. The Cherry Bombers were pitted against a team of jocks from the BBC, including John Peel. Perhaps the Beeb team should have worked 'satsuma' into their name somehow.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

And I note on Wikipedia that a cherry bomb is in fact an 'approximately spherical exploding firework', also known as a 'bangarang', which sounds like an 80s pop group of ill repute.

Also - and this is timely given that it was Shrove Tuesday only yesterday! - "during an episode of The Simpsons entitled 'The Crepes of Wrath', Bart discovers an old cherry bomb among his things and proceeds to ignite and flush it down a toilet at school, resulting in his deportation to a foreign exchange program in rural France."

In short, I can highly recommend a walk on the WAV side. And this compilation of 'WAV files' is by no means exhaustive, so please mention any further furry faves in the comments!

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Votive duet: Aftelier Perfumes Vanilla Smoke & Amber Tapestry mini-reviews - plus an Ajne retrospective

Made by me - a rare gift TO my elderly friend!
Strange to report, I didn't develop a liking for wine till I was at least 22, and olives still remain a challenge too far today. In the nine years of my perfume hobby, I have also come late to appreciating natural perfumes - that's with the exception of Carmel-based Ajne, a house to which I was introduced by Michelyn Camen early on in my perfume j*****y, before she founded Cafleurebon. I still possess a small bottle of Calypso - a woozy blend of frangipani, jasmine, cardamom and vanilla - which doesn't seem to have turned yet, despite being at least eight years old. Ajne* had quite a low profile in the blogosphere back then, and I never hear tell of them now. For a while though the range exerted a hypnotising pull over me, due to the hyper-realism of the luxurious ingredients, coupled with the delicate filigree of the Bohemian bottles, and the ritualistic way I would dab on my precious collection of samples. There was even one called Om, described as 'a consciousness-altering blend of smoke-laden sandalwood, Himalayan heart incense cedar, deep forest lichen and smooth musk'. I remember liking Om quite a lot, but I was busy chasing samples and splits of the other heady florals in the range apart from Calypso, notably Printemps (gardenia, linden), and Fleur Blanche (gardenia, stone fruit). It all feels like a lost chapter in my life, with only the increasingly amber-toned remnants of Calypso as testament to my ever having had this intense but fleeting dalliance with natural perfumery...

Ajne Calypso

Then something happened recently to ignite a spark of interest in naturals again, namely an email from Mandy Aftel, explaining that she had spotted my comment on a blog post by Tara of A Bottled Rose, expressing an interest in trying Amber Tapestry and Vanilla Smoke, both of which Tara had reviewed. Mandy invited me to pick a couple more samples to go into the package, and after an enjoyable evening spent reading the reviews of fellow bloggers with tastes congruent to mine, I settled on Wild Roses and Honey Blossom (which I may feature one day).

But before getting to my impressions of the scents themselves, I must devote a paragraph or two to the packaging, which greatly contributes to the 'devotional' aspect of my response to them - though not before mentioning the lightning speed with which the package arrived. It took an astonishing three days to come by FedEx Express all the way from Berkeley, California (including a brief pitstop in a depot in Cannock!). Why, I have known Christmas cards take longer to get from Littleworth to the other side of Stafford.

After the speed, I was completely smitten by the packaging...the golden Jiffy bag, the dear little cardboard box with its charming country scene and the tiny scent pots nestling in paper 'straw' at each corner.

Oh, and the distinctive use of priestly purple as Aftelier's 'house colour'. (Which reminds me of the time my father - not known for his largesse - bought me a colour TV on a whim, purely so he could watch a televised procession of bishops in New Zealand in all their ecclesiastical finery.)

Then there are other dainty touches to savour: the mysterious motif of a long stemmed retort, like a spindly garlic bulb, and Mandy's characterfully spiky calligraphy on her little note, enclosed in a glassine bag to protect the ink from the elements.

How much did I love all these thoughtful trappings? It activated whatever part of my brain - somewhere deep in the amygdala, perhaps? - is excited by miniaturisation, and brought back happy memories of dolls' houses and advent calendars of yore.

And there is something very significant too about the little pots; the Ajne samples were similarly presented, though it was all so long ago. I do believe these tiny receptacles predispose one to a mood of solemn reverence when applying - nay, anointing oneself with - the perfumes. And Vanilla Smoke in particular had the meditative quality of Ajne Om, or the Om at least of my distant recall.

So without further ado, here are my impressions of these two - I must stress that they were both written without reference to the note list!:


Vanilla Smoke 

I was not too sure about the first few seconds of Vanilla Smoke, as it was all about the smoke initially. A resinous puff of something like birch tar - or gunpowder? - in a quiet register, but still a bit too 'medicinal smoky' for me, if that makes sense. Very slightly like burning Band-Aids. But I was not at all daunted, having read enough reviews to be confident of a more seductive sequel, and so it proved. Soon a veiled sweet note emerged, like jaggery sugar or a dark, veering to treacly, vanilla, and smoothed out the smokiness. The texture of the scent was now silken and soft and comforting, the stern opening quite forgotten.  Who knew a bonfire (for there is smouldering wood still going on in the base) could be so cosseting? If anyone knows Om, cross it with Mona di Orio's Vanille and you would be in the right general ballpark. Vanilla Smoke is a judicious blend of austere smoky backbone and yielding vanilla vulnerability, if I may lapse into purple prose for a moment. Given the purple livery of Aftelier, I am hoping this may be excused! Vanilla Smoke is at once haunting and calming, and unlike any take on vanilla I have ever smelt - and vanilla being my favourite note, I have made it my mission to sample as many of its incarnations as I can find. I am not religious, but as I intimated earlier, dabbing a drop of this on my wrist borders on the spiritual. Hmm, I sense the dabbing part is key. Maybe Aftelier perfumes should only be available in tiny, dabbable quantities to foster this association. Now there's a radical idea... Or if my reference to transcendental experiences sounds a bit un-bonkerslike of me, at the very least Vanilla Smoke would be the perfect accompaniment to one of those Headspace apps where you sit still in a chair, scan your body parts one by one, and generally try to feel floppy. I  loved it, and wouldn't mind if I never smelt any of those 'straight up gourmand' vanilla scents (of which I have so many iterations in my collection) again.

Notes: yellow mandarin, Siam wood, saffron absolute, vanilla absolute, lapsang souchong tea essence (for which the tea leaves were smoked over pinewood), coumarin and ambergris

Source; pixabay
Amber Tapestry

Now although I didn't peek at the note list before marshalling my thoughts on this one, I remember reading somewhere that Amber Tapestry had jasmine in it - very likely in Tara's review - and was also waiting for a cosy, more amber-forward drydown. Instead I got a whoosh of fresh, green, vaguely mentholated, mahoosive and slightly bubble gummy phantom tuberose! And I promise I mean this in a good way! It was really, really interesting, and transported me back to the Palm House of Belfast's botanical gardens, inhaling the dewy, fleshy, otherworldly scent of some unspecified and faintly triffid-like plant. Think the blowsy Vero Kern Rubj crossed with Tubereuse Criminelle and you won't be far off, though I have only smelt the latter once. I see Tube Crim contains jasmine AND tuberose, as well as orange blossom and vanilla. And an eclectic collection of spices. And it is amber coloured to boot! So yes, those two...and maybe lob in a soupcon of Nuit de Tubereuse for good measure.

Source; Wikimedia Commons

Amber Tapestry is a highly unusual scent: odd and shapeshifting and not at all what I expected. Now that I have spied the note list, I reckon the faux-tuberose effect may in fact have been created by the combination of heliotrope (which can read big and 'plasticky') and the jasmine. And how intriguing that both Vanilla Smoke and Amber Tapestry should contain yellow mandarin and coumarin, not that I could have picked either of those out unaided. I suspect the coumarin could also be amping up the heliotrope and helping it stage this surprise tuberose stunt. I can't honestly say I get amber. Or even a drydown as such. The compelling tuberose chimera simply becomes more attenuated and finally fades away.

To compensate for my strange take on this scent, which I realise is way off the reviews I have now caught up with(!), I am inserting pictures of tapestries I have made - or co-made with my mother in the case of the footstool. Both feature an orange colour that could loosely be called amber.

Notes: heliotrope, yellow mandarin, jasmine, jasmine sambac, pear and cinnamon, amber, labdanum, benzoin, castoreum, ambergris and coumarin

The full footstool!

*Ajne did of course famously mark their card by unexpectedly closing early on the day I said I was coming to visit, hehe.

Monday 13 February 2017

'Hunting the Snark': results of the perfume putdown flingaway / giveaway prize draw

Source: Living
So I threw down the gauntlet last week, asking people to dish up their favourite perfume putdowns and creatively snarky critiques. A lively and entertaining discussion ensued, in the course of which a consensus emerged about the style of perfume review people favour, namely one that steers a diplomatic line between bland deferential puffery and mean spirited thuggery, ideally with a bit of humour thrown in.

Once the deadline for the competition had passed - a little later than loosely advertised, it must be said - I compiled a list of the entrants who did not officially exempt themselves and did the aleatory biz with Random-org.

Accordingly, I am now in a position to announce the winner:


Congratulations, Crikey! 

Please get in touch to let me know which of the prize options you would prefer, from a ceremonial chucking away of a loathed scent to a decant of a lemming to have and hold, not forgetting the notebook option.

In other news, a perfume review post is up next - no, really!

Saturday 4 February 2017

Diss your worst! Share your scent slur similes in a perfume putdown throwdown. (Featuring a 'subject to availability' fragrance flingaway, and other prize options)

Photo by Tom Haroldson of - just add creosote
I love a good perfume simile - or metaphor for that matter. I don't stand on figure of speech ceremony, me. And I'll be honest that I sometimes enjoy the negative imagery more than the positive, even though there is less of it about. Not least because there are still lots of hackneyed tropes flying about the blogosphere like the dreaded 'cosy as a cashmere stole', for which I keep meaning to start a swear box. With 'sitting on my pipe-smoking grandfather's knee' and 'billowing fresh laundry on the line' following closely behind. With and without accents of mown grass and roses growing round the back door. Of the grandfather's house, indeed. There is arguably mileage in a whole post devoted to perfume writing cliches, but that is for another time.

There isn't that much negativity in perfume reviews, as I say, people in our community being by and large of the 'if you can't think of anything nice to blog, don't blog anything' persuasion, to slightly adapt all our mothers' adage for these social media-savvy times. I will qualify that though. I don't like swingeing critiques of perfumes from smaller houses, as they feel more personal somehow, a bit like mugging your neighbour and nicking their wallet rather than shoplifting in T K Maxx, if you get my drift - or not taking back the extra fiver you were mistakenly given in your change in John Lewis. Not that I would condone these activities either, obviously. So in my view there is a time and a place - and a sliding scale of appropriate targets - for wicked perfume putdowns.

Luca Turin is of course the master of these, though he has occasionally strayed into 'neighbour mugging' territory, most controversially in his dissing of Mona di Orio's original range. There is still much to savour in 'Perfumes: The Guide' without feeling you are rubbernecking at said mugging. Also, I would contend, if you disagree with his views, as I frequently do.

Two of my all-time favourite quotes from The Guide have to be:

"Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut" (Caroline Herrera 212)

Why, I don't mind this one at all!

"Powerfully cloying and nauseating. Trails for miles. Frightens horses. Gets worse." (EL Spellbound)

Ooh, I totally agree with him here, also his sub-heading for that one of "medicated treacle".

Then I am sure Turin had another corker about a perfume that smelt of molten plastic bottles floating down river, but I am blowed if I can find it.

I was actually moved to write this post by a chance comment of my brother's on Facebook the other day. He was reporting on a dream he'd had, in which someone was offended by another person's perfume, likening it to "last Friday night's spectacle cleaner". Now I know the subconscious is noted for its kaleidoscopically random firings, but the originality of this phrase is as startling as it is enigmatic. I don't know about you, but I tend to clean my glasses with a little slippery cloth from Sunglass Hut et al. What are these pungent cleaning products on which I am missing out? And is Friday night typically a time to make whoopee, as it were, with one's spectacle cleaning regime? And how long ago was Friday, in this particular instance? Also, does spectacle cleaner have a poor shelf life such that once opened, it deteriorates at an alarming rate - like flat tonic water, the dreaded occupational hazard of committed gin drinkers, only smellier? Who would have thought five words could be so gloriously baffling?

Source: Boots

Then I thought back to some of my own perfume putdowns - mostly (but not all) from back when I was VM I hate civet on Basenotes eight years ago or so, and lived in terror of any scent that was remotely animalic or overly spicy. For the record, I don't suppose I would still endorse these images, but they will serve to get the ball rolling.

"Sticks of celery coyly peeping over a freshly creosoted fence" (LesNez The Unicorn Spell)

"Like being trapped in a tea chest" (SL Tam Dao)

"Vintage embalming fluid" (Dioressence)

"Tuberose fright wig" (Givenchy Amarige) I stand by this one!

So today's 'Hunting the Snark' challenge is: hit me with your favourite perfume putdowns - your own, or favourite ones by other writers.

Then after the customary time has elapsed - say a week from today - I will hold a draw from those who have entered, and offer the winner a choice of prize:

- Cite a perfume that is a pet dislike of yours, and if I happen to have any of it in the house, I will ceremoniously throw away a sample of it in your name(!). ;)

- OR I will send the sample to a friend of your choice who you think might like it. Not out of mischief, obviously.

- OR I will consult with the winner as to their favourite styles / houses, and devise a decant prize that would appeal.

OR (for anyone who has enough perfume in their life) there is the option of a notebook in which to record your perfume wearings / musings / smart one-liners!

NB I will gladly ship within the UK, while Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has kindly offered to post the winner's item within the US, thanks to the good offices of an associate who regularly shuttles across the pond. It might delay the delivery a little until we can coordinate with his next visit to England, but it won't get me into trouble with the customs authorities again.

And I would also be most interested to hear whether you think there is enough negativity / frankness in perfume reviews - or too much - and/or whether it is more about how the criticism is conveyed rather than whether or not a negative view is expressed. Though wishy-washy comments like: "It doesn't work on my skin, sadly" (of which I am as guilty as the next man) are surely the equivalent of having your boyfriend break up with you by saying: "It's not you, it's me", or "You will make some guy very happy one day".

Source: Fragrantica

Editor's note: I happen to agree with LT's assessment of Mona di Orio's Nuit Noire - or I did in my civet-averse days at least. I even had a pop at it myself, so I will put my hand up and say that I am by no means squeaky clean myself on the mugging front. By way of defence, my main issue at the time was with the amount of the scent with which I was forcibly sprayed by the sales assistant, though I suspect I wouldn't have cared for it back then anyway.  I really like a number of her later creations, mind, notably Tubereuse, Musc and Vanille.