Saturday 30 September 2017

Le Civette & Unicorn: Figue de Collonges, Vetyver Coeur, Buddhas Orange, Mille-Feuille, and Lune de Turenne mini-reviews

Well, my French holiday in the Limousin seems a distant memory now that autumn is enveloping us in its dank, leaf mouldy folds, but I promised you a Part 3 in my series of posts about the trip, in which I would feature the fragrances L and I sampled at Le Civette & Unicorn, the bijou artisanal perfumery upon which I was so delighted and surprised to stumble.

So accordingly, I am sitting down with a cup of tea - I draw the line at a tisane (alien, frondy things) - in one of my duo of rustic mugs from nearby Turenne, having spent some more time this week testing a selection of perfumes from Le Civette & Unicorn's signature range. It bears repetition that the fragrances have a very high percentage of naturals in them - as high as 'P' the (English expat!) nose could contrive, basically. And now I am ready to channel happy memories of my stay with L by writing up my impressions of these scents. Which have made the journey back to Britain much more successfully than retsina is famously wont not to do after island hopping holidays in Greece. Oh, and the mini-reviews that follow are in no particular order.


P and his wife describe this fig-based scent as the 'marmite' in the collection, and on first sniff I wasn't at all sure about it myself. However, Figue has grown on me over time, and its curious accords continue to tantalise and intrigue. From Le Civette & Unicorn's website:

"The end of a summers evening, underneath a fig tree, savour the sweetness of the fruit and the freshness of the leaf."

Now we are not even at Buddhas Orange yet, but note that P seems to be refreshingly parsimonious with his apostrophes. He is also parsimonious with note lists, come to that, and if you are relying on yours truly to 'parse' the notes in Figue you'll be waiting a long time. P did mention that he wanted to capture every bit of the fig tree - and there is a strong woody vibe to the scent for sure, not just woodiness - but also (to my nose) almost a whiff of liqueur in an aged oak barrel. Don't ask me what liqueur, as I am on shaky ground with spirits once we get beyond gin. But something sweet and woody and seemingly laced with alcohol.

My own trials at sniffing 'the whole of the fig'

Going back to his 'capturing the whole fig' mission, P mentioned that he likes to take fig leaves and rub them between his hands to release as much of the aroma of the plant as possible. I can't recall if he does the same with the actual figs - I am thinking that could get messy. And amusingly, L remembers P saying that he rubs the fig leaves between his thighs, but I have double-checked with P and this turns out to be a 'figment' of her imagination. Maybe the mention of 'fig leaf' subliminally relocated the crushing action to a lower part of the anatomy... But moving on, Figue de Collonges has that oddball quality that sets it apart from other fig scents that are more accessible and fruity, and I reckon it would appeal to lovers of niche scents that really smell different from the herd. (That's the scents, not the lovers, though they may do too.) Think Ava Luxe Fig Wood as your starting point but with a dark, unfamiliar twist.

Some weeks later...


Without further ado, here is the un-apostrophised Buddhas Orange. I just want to make it quite clear to readers that this has Nothing To do With me. Now had it been reversed as 'Orange Buddhas' that would have been perfectly fine. I have found quite a lot of orange buddhas in Google images, as it happens, whose significance - apart from being imbued with a Tango'ed glow - I have yet to fathom. A little bit more digging reveals that 'orange buddhas' are a type of pill. And no, don't ask what kind, but suffice to say we are not exactly talking Haliborange.**

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Milei.vencel)

"A Sandalwood Heart with notes of orange and incense which reflect the spirituality of the Buddist temples.  An invitation to travel to faraway places."

As you can see, P is up to his random capitalising tricks again here, while also engaging in a spot of 'h' dropping, all of which I find frankly endearing. And we have references to three notes in the composition, which I might just about have managed to guess myself. Buddhas Orange is probably in my top two of the perfumes I tested: the orange of the opening is bright and fruity, with a rosy facet; you can already detect the undertow of wood and incense, which gains prominence as the scent develops. There is also a light dusting of spice throughout - cinnamon, clove? But it is very subtle, and I doubt that it would offend even those who are 'agin' spicy notes as a rule. Buddhas Orange has a meditative quality, but the upbeat orange note stops it from veering into more austere monastic territory - the perfume equivalent of one of those Trappist orders, say. It reminded me a little of Baume du Doge, but without the heavier dollops of spices and vanilla in the base. It is simple but effective, conveying an upbeat cheeriness grounded by zen-like calm.

Source: Exquisite Artz


This was L's favourite, though I don't believe she has any prior exposure to vetiver as a note in perfumery. I am not really a fan myself, but this scent makes it into my top three, on account of the stunning incense in the base, that was particularly amplified on L's skin, though not so much on my own. I kept catching whiffs of her sillage as we walked around Collonges after our visit to the perfumery, and simply had to lean in and sniff her every time, however 'Well of Loneliness' that may have looked to passersby. You may recall from my earlier post that Vetyver Coeur is thought to be the first perfume in the world to use Malawian vetiver. Here again is the amusing story of P's involvement in its production. Vetyver Coeur gets a much fuller write up on the website too, though I shall only quote a couple of snippets:

"Our very special Vetyver Coeur fragrance is made with special high altitude Lavender, Tonka Bean absolute and 13 other essential oils to make a beautifully smooth, rich woody fragrance. Its aroma is clean, complex, subtle..."

"For both earthy men and women." Ha! Great. ;)

I would not have known Vetyver Coeur had lavender in it, never mind a special high altitude variety, and I am usually good at picking out the note, being even less keen on lavender than I am on vetiver. So it is all the more of a testament to the fragrance that I liked it as much as I did. Not so much the opening salvo, mind, which read a bit 'grassy', strongly earthy and manly on me - still with incense present from the off, but in a back seat role at this point - but definitely as the scent wore on, and became suffused by the soft and creamy tonka bean.

Source: MAJI Project, Malawi


When I hear the word mille-feuille, I can't help but think of those layered pastry slices filled with patisserie cream/custard. Especially the one Nick Gilbert ordered at a perfume meet up in Shoreditch, which struck us as the epitome of such a delicacy. I may even have photographic evidence somewhere. I do!

The particular mille-feuille which lends its name to this fragrance is in fact "l'achillée mille-feuille', or 'yarrow' in English. 

"A fresh perfume inspired by the Correzian Countryside: the spring sunshine, the hay, the warm flowers with notes of sugar and wood."

Now the French text on the website has the actual word for yarrow rather than 'warm flowers', which doesn't give English readers much of an idea of how the scent smells. The opening of Mille-Feuille is a big soapy spring bouquet, shot through with something astringent and more herbal that isn't immediately identifiable to my nose. My elderly friend thought the opening smelt a bit like shampoo and I know what she means. (Herbal Essences shampoo, maybe?!) You could be forgiven for thinking Mille-Feuille was more conventionally synthetic - more mainstream, say - yet this wrongfooting impression is shortlived, for soon the singular scent of yarrow emerges and hits its stride. It is a little bit like chrysanthemums,, I am at a loss to say quite what it smells like! By the far drydown, Mille-Feuille is down to a few hundred leaves and is a sherbety, faintly herbal whisper. I can't think of another perfume with yarrow in it - or certainly none with yarrow to the fore like this - so hats off to P for daring to showcase the flower in this way. But then the whole collection of Le Civette & Unicorn is inspired by the local area and/or his travels, and is categorically not driven by any 'safe' and obvious commercial considerations.

And I can't leave any consideration of yarrow without a passing reference to the flower's genus of Achillea, named after the Greek hero Achilles, he of the Trojan wars fame. Achilles learnt about the medicinal properties of the plant from Chiron, the elder centaur of Greek mythology - not the model of Bugatti, just to be clear. For this reason yarrow rejoices in a bunch of other graphic names, mostly to do with the business of administering first aid: "nosebleed plant, old man's pepper, devil's nettle, sanguinary, soldier's woundwort, and thousand-seal."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Fritzflohrreynolds)


And here comes my favourite scent of the lot, and the one with which I have the most personal associations...

"On top of Turenne Hill at night in the summer, watching the full moon rise, a soft breeze breathes by you carrying the scent of the warm night and white flowers."

My mugs from Turenne

On the night of her birthday, having already sat outside in the garden from 6pm till 1am drinking, eating and talking (account of my shopping exploits here) - oh, and half of that time in near complete darkness! - L suddenly suggested we go for a postprandial stroll. I am pretty sure that the amount of drink we had both imbibed that night had a lot to do with her making the suggestion - and with my eager acceptance of it. Even at that late hour it was invitingly warm, and we were the only people still up in the now silent village. Soon we had passed the last house and L led us down a wooded lane by the side of a field. The moonlight created a dappled effect through the canopy of trees overhead, lighting our way along the stony track. Eventually the path disgorged us into open countryside - a field with a vast wraparound view - for this part of the Limousin does the kind of enormous horizons I normally associate with certain US states. The sky was a deep inky blue, dotted with constellations of stars, while broad spokes of light radiated out from the nearly full moon in all directions like the pointy ends of a jester's hat. Indeed the 'man on the moon' had something of the look of a sad Pierrot about him. And so we stood there in awe staring at the huge sky, with only a chorus of crickets for company, before finally stumbling back to the village and our beds at gone 2am...

Now that wasn't 'Turenne Hill' of course, or any hill for that matter, though we did go up it the next we certainly had our fair share of Lune outside L's village that night!

Turenne Hill!

As for how this scent smells, it is a pillowy cloud of jasmine and honeysuckle - sweet, but not excessively so, thanks to the addition of another sprinkling of spices and a touch of oakmoss in the woody, musky base. But sweet nonetheless. And even though those notes might sound familiar enough in themselves, I cannot think of another perfume that smells like Lune de Turenne. As with Mille-Feuille and yarrow, there aren't too many scents that I can bring to mind with honeysuckle in a leading role. I like Lune de Turenne very much because of its undemanding, dreamy quality. The white flowers are demure rather than raunchy, and the overall impression is of a scent that is diffuse and fluffy - almost marshmallowy, but not in a tooth rotting way. The same vibe as Prada Candy, maybe, but less gourmand, and with a white flowers spin on that. 

P's idea of 'samples'(!)

So there you have it. Just five examples from Le Civette & Unicorn's signature range - with its strong natural bias, quirky vibe, and affordable price tag. (The bottles range from 22 euros to 58 euros for a whopping 100ml, all in eau de toilette strength.) And though P was more than generous in his supply of samples as you can see above, I can promise you that I was always planning to feature the range on here even if I had only had my paper strips to go on. In which case this review would have been in a long time ago! ;)

** Editor's note: Following a subsequent exchange with P, I have established that he was hitherto unacquainted with the aforementioned orange pills, and accordingly any link between the scent Buddhas Orange and certain transcendental experiences beyond those normally achieved by orthodox meditation techniques is entirely coincidental. P couldn't resist engaging in a spot of googling himself, mind, and came up with this quote, which tells you everything you didn't need to know about these happy pills and their devotees(!).

"orange buddhas are the perfect pill yo 
i love em, and they are my fave. they give me the mood that i want, like when i wana dance, ill have a speedy roll, when i wanna chill, ill have a mellow roll."

Sunday 24 September 2017

The Scent Crimes Series: No 19 - Diptyque's email marketing campaign: "You can unsubscribe, but you can never leave", and how I finally 'addressed' the issue

I like Diptyque a lot. Their perfumes, I mean. I own a bottle of Eau Duelle - which I did admittedly try to sell - but that was only because it was 100ml and I was never going to get through it, given the size of my stash generally. I had already decanted more than enough for my ongoing needs. Anyway, that didn't come to anything, because the buyer noticed that the top notes had vamoosed, causing the scent's pyramid structure to collapse like a building brought down in a controlled implosion...only a lot slower, and in a way that was sadly imperceptible to its owner. I also have a bottle of Volutes edt in a more manageable 50ml format. I love that, and expect to use it all by and by - which is fighting talk, I know. Indeed Volutes was my SOTE at the International Design and Architecture Awards ceremony I attended on Friday with M, the designer friend and colleague featured in my last post, one of whose wallpaper collections had made the shortlist. The Diptyque narrowly pipped Ta'if, because M is averse to all things spicy, from curries and barbecue flavour nuts to third party sillage that might accidentally waft into her vicinity. So Volutes it was.

Given that on the Belgian trip I forgot ALL my toiletries, you would think I would have been totally organised on our overnight stay in London. Yet I managed to bring not one but two toothbrushes, although I forgot the particular blusher that would have gone with my outfit, and also forgot the brush that would have gone with the blusher I did bring, which was the wrong colour. Meanwhile, M forgot perfume! Or rather, a choice of perfume. She did find a small mini of Gucci Flora in the bottom of her handbag, but I managed to talk her out of it as being more of a daytime scent, and tipped a bag of samples on the bed for her consideration, that I had hastily grabbed before leaving. Interestingly, M was drawn to Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede, which like the Gucci features peony, but the suede note just tipped it into more evening-y territory. Meanwhile, the 'Blush' in the name teasingly underlined my latest senior moment on the makeup front.

The view from Table 38

But back to Diptyque. I am keen to set my stall out as a general fan of the brand. I also love their sample presentation, in those dear little slide-y out boxes, with their striking monochrome livery. Some of which have ended up going the band's way for that very reason. And my brother and his wife are also big fans - I'd say Diptyque is probably their joint favourite house along with Miller Harris, and anytime they come within orbit of a Diptqyque concession, they inevitably make 'his and hers' purchases, most recently Oyédo and 34 Boulevard Saint Germain respectively.

What else is there to say about Diptyque? They are famously - and fabulously - generous with their free samples, which astonishing largesse moved me to devote a whole post to the subject!

But when it comes to Diptyque's direct marketing activities, or more specifically their email campaigns with news of offers, launches, and what have you, the company annoyed the heck out of me. I must have received at least one email a week - or that is my perception, which is what counts at the end of the day, and this doesn't remotely correlate with the frequency of my thinking about the brand, let alone considering a further purchase. Which is what I find irritating about overly frequent email contact by perfume houses: the assumption - not arrogance exactly, but perhaps more a belief in the power of attrition to bludgeon the consumer into submission, I don't know - but it is certainly taken as read that you are sufficiently interested in the brand to want to hear from them as often as it pleases them to mail you. Why, I don't want to hear from my dearest friends that often, never mind a fragrance brand!

I put up with this for months, maybe even years - my recall is happily vague on the matter - then it got to the point where I simply didn't read the emails anymore before deleting them. And eventually my frustration gained such a head of steam that I tried to unsubscribe in the usual way. And yet the emails kept coming, even after factoring in a period of 'tailing off' grace, while Diptyque got their databases in order. And still they came... So I kept deleting them, and periodically unsubscribing again whenever I could be bothered, though by now I was not at all hopeful of it working. It was very much a case of being stuck in that Hotel California song of the title...

"Trouble viewing this email?" I wish!!!

And it wasn't as though the emails were amusing, like those ones I used to get with similar frequency from Signature Fragrances, which also spawned an (amused and maddened) blog post.

In the end, on 13th September, the penny suddenly dropped as to why the unsubscribing process was failing to stick to the wall. While the emails were coming to my correct address, the pop up asking me to confirm that I wanted my email to be removed from their list referred to an address that was not mine!

It was!! WTF??

So seconds later, I dashed off an email to Diptyque's general address explaining what was going on, and asking them to additionally remove my blog address - - for good measure. And that finally seems to have done the trick. Big sigh of relief. But it would have been nice to have had a human response, apologising either for the glitch in the unsubscribing mechanism, or for the deluge of emails that preceded it. And had their campaigns not been so intense in the first place, I would not have minded receiving them, whereas now I know I could miss news of a new perfume that might be right up my street. And there are also some very attractive illustrations to Diptyque's emails, such as this bird and foliage one, promoting what I take to be a new release, Exuberant Vetiver, though obviously I haven't read it. ;)

Source: Diptyque

So this is my second post now about excessive direct marketing. Sign of the times, I guess.

Do you have any pet peeves to bring to the table - or the inbox, rather? I would love to know who you consider as the worst offendors.

Or does that sort of intensive mailing not bother you?

Oh, and here is another shot of the hotel where the awards ceremony was held. There are no actual volutes on this particular column - that would be the ones with Ionic capitals, I see in Wikipedia - but note the recurring palm theme in this post. ;) Yes, along with pineapples, I am a sucker for palms in all their guises!

Sunday 10 September 2017

MoOD Indigo at Tour et Taxis, Brussels - aka the 'No Toiletries Tour' (though not by design!)

I have just come back from a whirlwind week in Brussels, helping a local designer friend (whom I shall call 'M' for now) to man - or 'wo-man', should that be? - her stand at the well-known trade fair for surface pattern designs called Indigo. It is held in a magnificent former warehouse by the canal in the heart of Brussels, sharing the space with another (strangely semi-capitalised) exhibition called MoOD, which showcases suppliers of upholstery fabrics, window textiles and wall coverings. It was nothing like my normal work (more on that anon), and as with the band tours could best be summed up as 'gruelling fun', as well as being a fascinating insight into an industry of which I was only dimly aware. For designers are the silent, largely unacknowledged creatives behind the patterns on our wallpapers, bedding and cushion covers, shower curtains and tableware, and much more besides. In the UK, my friend's designs have ended up on products sold by Harrods, IKEA, and numerous other household names. She has customers in every continent though, so there is just an outside chance that wherever you are reading this, you may have one of her patterns on an item in your home without knowing... ;)

Tour et Taxis, Brussels

Oh, and I haven't forgotten Part 3 of my Civette & Unicorn post(!), but I wanted to write about the Belgian trip while it is fresh in my mind, plus I haven't had a chance to properly reacquaint myself with the perfumes from their range. It will be up soon though.

The venue gave good girder!

The No Toiletries shocker

So back to the trip. My first role was as driver - of my friend's car - which I had given a little test spin a few days earlier, so it wouldn't be too alien at 5.45am last Monday morning. Though the time certainly was. I am not a morning person at the best of times, and stupid o'clock starts agree with me even less. Not least because they bring out the stupid in me. Sure enough, fifteen minutes into the journey I realised I had forgotten - not just a single item like some hair product or other (see this example of one of my regular dishevelling putty crises), but ALL my toiletries. As in ALL. A whole bulging bag full. This is an omission that reaches new heights of egregiousness, and is all the more surprising considering that I call myself a seasoned traveller. I immediately knew how the mistake had come about: I had put everything to be packed on the bed...except the sponge bag, which I set down on the chest of drawers, such that it totally escaped the insufficiently broad scope of my 'idiot check' on leaving the house. Luckily I had remembered to pack my medication and some make up, but the wash bag also included my foundation, which is, after all, 'fundamental'.

I'd specially bought more travel pots!

And there's me thinking I was so prepared. I had packed a fire extinguisher and Hi-Viz jacket, mustered the Werthers Originals and not one but two Thermos flasks, as well as paying the Dart Charge online in advance, following a lucky tip off that they had removed the toll booths since I was last down that way.

There was no time to go back, so I had the four and a half hour journey to Dover to come to terms psychologically with my loss, and to plan out a capsule set of toiletries to be purchased in Brussels whenever I got the chance. My friend kindly offered to share whatever she could, so I was able to cadge 'all hair types' shampoo off her, say, but her CC cream was sadly too dark. Ironically, M had forgotten her own toothbrush, and I had looked out a new spare one for her from my stocks before we set off. Well, it would have been most churlish of me to have taken it back again(!), even unused, so on the list it went.

The robdog phone charge that wasn't

The next incident on the journey out was a text from Vodafone, warning me that I had already incurred an £18 charge while on the ferry to Dunkirk. I assumed it was for ringing my elderly friend for all of one minute, but the charge turned out to be not so much for the call as my 'passive' / background usage of data (3MB @ £6 per 1MB!) just by having my phone on in the first place. For I was in the 'Maritime Zone', with its eye-watering associated costs - and not, as I naively assumed, in either England or France, where roaming charges have been abolished.

On my return to the UK I complained to Vodafone, and got talking to a nice man in Egypt, who agreed that the charge was disproportionate. The call handler offered to knock off £15 as a gesture of goodwill, before adding that the refund hadn't in fact been sanctioned by the so-called 'Leakage Team', who oversee the amount and frequency of waived charges to customers. If he can't persuade them otherwise, he could get the sack. 'I don't care if they fire me over this', he said, 'as it is a matter of principle'. And on that note, he wished me a nice evening and ended his shift.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Raimond Spekking)

My staple gun initiation

We arrived in Brussels at about 5pm, and immediately set about unloading all the big design folders (industrial-style trolleys were involved!), and customising the stand. The basic frame was in place, but it was up to us to decorate the walls and organise the tables and chairs, lay out table cloths etc, which had the dual function of making the stand look more homely, while providing a large cubbyhole underneath for stashing stationery, coats and other belongings. My friend had created some trompe l'oeil wall paper hangings featuring a selection of her designs from different collections, and in no time I was standing on the tables being shown how to use a staple gun. (At the end of the show, there was a similar induction into removing staples using any sturdy yet pointy object that comes to hand - in the event, my penknife.) I can't speak for myself, but between the staple removal and all manner of impromptu food-related usages, my penknife definitely earnt its keep over the course of the week.

'If it's Monday - or any day this week - it must be Belgium.'

Our rum Airbnb

The next task was to find and check into our Airbnb, which I had picked out and recommended to M, and for which I take full responsibility... For starters, I wasn't unduly put off by the strict house rules - PLEASE THREAT EVERYTHING WITH RESPECT' - or the fact that it looked a tad blokey (lots of black faux leather and bedding). And in its favour the flat claimed to sleep five people, so I figured that the two of us would be rattling around the place like peas in a tin. Well, what can I say? The five people would have to know one another very, very well, and be most economical with their personal space. There was a double bed and a sofa bed, which might just about have slept two in supremely confined discomfort. Then M suddenly spied the camp bed for Person 5, whose sizeable footprint made it a non-starter for deployment on the floor, but whose separate camping mattress - when used as a 'topper' - instantly transformed the brutal and unyielding squares that passed for sofa cushions, and I was perfectly comfy all week on that cunning combination.

What else? There was no bathroom door. Or rather there was, but it was not attached to anything, such that when my friend went to slide it across, it promptly fell on top of her. Then the toilet cistern took about 20 minutes to fill up - it was off the living room, just beyond my feet when I was lying on the sofa, while the kitchenette was just beyond my head. Both in their different ways were jolly handy for what I could perhaps loosely term 'water in the night'.

Every evening we heard loud music emanating from another flat - or probably several, unless the occupants in question had very catholic taste. And the communal hall smelt of drains. Then there was no bath mat or tea towels (the bloke thing again), BUT the water was nice and hot, the price was right, there was complimentary frozen milk in the somewhat temperamental fridge - and the welcome and most unexpected touch of an iron - and ironing board! How many times have I been abroad and attempted to iron on the floor, on a towel - or even on my own knee. (Please don't try this, though it did at least greatly expand my German vocabulary for burn creams.) Moreover, M and I have both travelled enough to take the vicissitudes of accommodation completely in our stride, and were able to appreciate the funny side. And in my own case, the bonus blog fodder side...;)

The slow, cumulative toiletry hunt

After settling in, M and I sallied forth in search of food and late night toiletry vendors, but everywhere was already closed in our part of town. So that night I pinched some floss from my friend, smeared my teeth with a bit of her toothpaste to give myself the illusion of that freshly brushed feeling(!), splashed my face with water, and borrowed a blob of her day moisturiser to use as night cream (it was sufficiently rich to have crossover potential). But as you can imagine, I was still hankering after some products of my own, so the next morning on the way to the show we kept our eyes peeled for a drugstore, or a supermarket with a 'personal care' section. Thus it was that by the end of the day I had managed to score a pack of three toothbrushes (safety in numbers!), some more toothpaste for us both, and antiperspirant. By Day 3 I had added a Nivea day cream that seemed fairly close to my own, and by Day 4 I had gone back and swapped it for the actual one I use that I know doesn't provoke my eczema. (I carried on using M's meanwhile.) This was also the day that I finally tracked down something benign and tried and tested to remove makeup, namely sweet almond oil. While on Day 5 I finally identified a budget dupe of my Clarins Skin Illusion foundation, but as this was the end of the week it hardly seemed worth buying a bottle at 15 euros. Instead I pinched a bit from the tester in the shop and whacked it on my chin, the zone of most concern. (It was quite a week for pinching things, as you can see!)

Survival kit - five items by Friday!

My toiletry 'cold turkey takeaway'

Now I realise I have juxtaposed the word 'turkey' with 'takeaway' - in the sense of 'learning point' rather than anything to do with fast food, so I hope it doesn't cause confusion. Yes, I have to say that although I was appalled and dismayed to discover the absence of my toiletries - which included the following items, over and above what I was able to buy on the fly or cadge off M: eye cream, night cream, serum, an extra type of day cream and a tinted moisturiser, hydrocortisone cream for flare ups, Te-Pe floss sticks, antiperspirant, razors, contact lenses, painkillers, bandage, scissors, tweezers, 4Head headache remedy, soap and foundation - the minimalist approach I was forced to adopt in a week when I had more face-to-face contact with industry people than I do in a typical year taught me a valuable life lesson: people will accept you with a blotchy chin and slightly straggly eyebrows, that's if they even notice. For as my mother used to say, meaning it in the best possible way: 'Who's looking at you?' Wise words indeed.

My forgotten stash!

Sure, I had some makeup I could use, but in the end I applied it very sparingly, since for most of the week I did not have the wherewithal to take it off. I have now had the results of my allergy tests you see (a post on that may well follow at some point), and the vast majority of cleansing products in the stores to which I had access had this particular ingredient in them, which I now know I must avoid. So I ended up going pretty barefaced, as well as caring for my skin in the most rudimentary fashion!

And yet I had a great time, sold some designs, and nobody squealed at the sight of me or ran away in horror. In truth, over the past year, since my bad 'do' with eyelid contact dermatitis, I have been wearing a lot less makeup as a rule, but then I am at home most of the time, and work mainly on the phone when I work at all. By contrast this trip involved contact with people all day it was still an emotional challenge on top of the mental one of the new, unfamiliar work.

The design folders spend their week against a wall

The job proper: 'showing', 'pulling', and selling

So on to the job proper, in case anyone is curious. This exhibition attracts people from all walks of the industry, but principally the all-important buyers at manufacturers of wall coverings and home textiles ('converters' as they are known in the trade), who may spend several days on the trot shopping for new designs for their companies' product ranges. They could often be identified by the drawstring bags slung over one shoulder, in which they would put their pattern roll purchases. Now there were 87 other studios exhibiting(!), so the first part of the job entailed attracting would-be customers to your stand - no easy task, given the option anxiety inherent in such events. Certain buyers were very focused and business-like, and made a beeline for the studios on their hit list, which is great if you are on it, and which you can't do much about if you are not. But most people - including some of those with a hit list - were open to spontaneous cruising of stands, pausing when a design on display caught their eye, or when you got their attention some other way... M had amused me with her explanation that she doesn't do a 'hard sell', but rather a 'hard welcome', the precise execution of which is really down to your own personal MO, and will also inevitably vary by customer.

I'd say my finest example of  a 'hard - and cheeky! - welcome' was attracting a French buyer of wallpaper (who happened to look at me as he was passing the stand), with a broad smile and the opening line: 'Do you still have room in your bag?' ;) He ended up buying a leaf design, despite the fact that I wrongly - and repeatedly - referred to the motif as 'lupins'.

Having got the buyer to approach your stand, the next task is to invite them to a presentation of whichever collections best match their brief or general interests. This is known as 'showing', for reasons you may readily infer, but there is more of a knack to it than might appear. For you have to transfer each design in a collection (which are placed upside down to facilitate the buyer's view) from right to left - not too fast, and not too slow. There should be no fat finger fails as you prise up the corners, and an elegant arm action is preferred. If the client likes a particular design, they will ask you to 'pull' it, which basically means setting it to one side for later consideration.

As a complete newbie, I was obviously not able to talk the talk in technical terms as someone with a design background could - I have yet to discover what a half drop is, for example, and am still shaky on 'repeats' and different types of digital file. But I can now tell my geo 3Ds from my trailing florals, and my novelty tropicals (with or without monkeys, though to be fair they are easy to spot) from my metal or marble effects. A good memory is essential, as much of the job rides on being able to quickly put your hand on any design that could be a match for what the buyer is looking for. Though even I failed to find 'turnable artichokes', or indeed artichokes of any description.

The stand by night!

When you have shown people as much as you think could possibly appeal, you spread the pulled designs out on the table and wait for them to hopefully pick one or more to buy! In this game it isn't a case of 'selling' in the sense of persuading someone to like something, as you might with a perfume - you know, flattering the customer and saying how much a particular scent suited them. Such glib techniques wouldn't wash at all with design professionals. For these buyers have a particular idea in mind, and are merely waiting until they see it.  As I mentioned, the trick lies in identifying - and physically finding - the very thing they are after. And that, in a nutshell, was the job. Well, there were also some clerical aspects to it, plus tea making and launching regular speculative forays on the free pastry stand. Though as with the fair as a whole - the keenest buyers came even before it was open!! - it was very much the case of the early (or adjacent) bird catching the worm.

Time to go home...

Then before I knew it, it was the end of the last day. We had to undecorate the stand, which felt as sad as taking the Christmas tree down, and load the car. On the advice of a local, we made a sharp exit to avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic, and drove straight back to Stafford that night. I kept myself awake with Werthers Originals and a fair bit of cheek pinching after Warwick (I told you there was a lot of pinching!), and - to Truffle's great surprise - we made it back to my house by 2am.

As I unpacked, I realised that I still seemed to have a number of Mary's belongings: a denim jacket, a bar of Fry's Chocolate Cream, a rubber, a Road Atlas of the UK, and - most intriguingly - a red onion.

Taking stock

In summary, the week at Indigo was an adventure and a half. I acquired new skills, made friends amongst the other exhibitors, got to know Mary better, and just as importantly, learnt that I could be endlessly people-facing without the physical and moral support of my usual armoury of skincare products.  And that it would be okay - on the stand, at the after show party, anywhere. This was a revelation to me, no question.

And since arriving home, I have already been invited to join the stand team at the much larger exhibition in Frankfurt next January, where I would be one of two, or even three helpers. I had better get googling 'half drop', then...;)

A strangely fitting display spotted at the after show party

PS In case anyone is interested to know what perfumes we wore on the stand, M was in Jo Malone Orange Blossom the whole week, while in my shocked state I forgot to put any on the first day(!), then wore Mona di Orio Tubereuse (Holland being only up the road) twice, and a scent from the Civette & Unicorn range (still to be revealed!) on another day. At least I didn't forget to bring perfume with me - that would be as sorry as it would be a worrying day.

(By the end of the week, even the Brussels metro was getting in the zone with this design from its Geo Linear collection.)