Sunday 29 October 2017

The almost reality of my £1 'lipstick wardrobe', and how a late onset light bulb layering moment led to less lurid looks

I often get asked what my favourite perfume is. Rarely does anyone pose a similar question about lipsticks, though that may just be because I am not known as a beauty blogger.  I have certainly written about my lipstick collection on here - the periodic culls, my separate quests for the perfect pink or red lipstick, my surprise at finding a cheapo dupe in Boots for a particular Burberry and so on, but lipstick is not my 'core business' as it would be for Get Lippie, say.

But like the average woman I seem to have accumulated a lot more lipsticks than I can regularly use. Happily they have more forgiving expiry dates than some categories of toiletries I might mention, not that that tends to stop me, hehe. And despite my periodic purges, the tally gradually creeps up again.

My browny/pinky/nude collection!

Left to right: Dior Pisanelle Pink**, Poundland Choca Mocha (No 4), Burberry Nude Rose, Bourjois Bruns o petits soins**, and Rimmel Not an Illusion. (And yes, my arm was a bit chilly!)

**NB To the best of my knowledge, both the Dior and the Bourjois are discontinued. Which also explains why I can't be bothered to give the Bourjois its circumflex over the 'o'.

As well as having too many lipsticks, I am guilty of having too many in the exact same shade, or at best in infinitesimal variations thereof. Like a homing pigeon or an iron filing to a magnet, every time I scan a make up fixture my eye is drawn to the identical narrow range in which most of my lipsticks lie - in my case, a sort of browny/pinky/nude. That said, I do have another small and burgeoning group of quite similar definite pinks, and a more heterogeneous assortment of reds, most of which I could never bring myself to wear, with the exception of a single lip gloss, now finished and discontinued, which is what prompted the second part of this post.

Revlon Firecracker lip gloss - many happy memories!

My £1 almost lipstick wardrobe 

But back to the first part: the almost reality of my £1 lipstick wardrobe and the notion of a favourite lipstick. My mother had a favourite lipstick...oh yes. Yardley's Pink String, which she wore for as long as I can remember. There is absolutely zero information in Google on that now, which is interesting. Mother used to stockpile that particular shade, and had several unopened tubes at the time of her death (see photo, though the colour is a bit darker and even more vibrant than it appears here).

Yardley Pink String

I made sure (indirectly(!) via the undertakers) that she wore Pink String to her funeral, for she would never go out without applying that finishing touch. In my own case, I think 'favourite lipstick' is perhaps a misnomer, but I certainly have a 'go-to lipstick' that I wear more than any other. I am not even sure if the lipstick in question suits me the best out of all the ones that I own in that category, which includes a high end Burberry that cost over twenty times as much. And I also can't speak to the colour pay off (not least because I have never known exactly what that is, though you see it mentioned in beauty blogs), or the staying power, or the feel of it on your lips. Even though I wear this one most days when I wear lipstick at all, I don't really notice such things. (Which may well be why I am not a beauty blogger!)

Poundland Choca Mocha (No 4) and my enormous fingers

All I can say in this lipstick's favour is that it is the one that more often than not seems to be lying on the dining room table, or at the bottom of my shopping bag, or at the top of my cosmetic bag - in short, it has eminent grabbability as its key attribute. And it tends to go with most things, or I am sure I would notice in the mirror that something was amiss. It's that old adage of 'the musician who played the last gig gets the next gig'. It is top of mind, and always at hand.

And it so happens that in my case, 'the last lipstick that got the gig' cost a mere pound from Poundland - who in a smart marketing move are the only high street retailer to still accept the old £1 coins! - which they are doing till the end of the month. UK readers, hie thee along to Poundland and bag - if not a lipstick - an ingot of Toblerone or a box of Maltesers at the very least. But if you have a yen at all for browny/pinky/nudes, it is No 4, the amusingly named Choca Mocha. A cheapo workhorse, no question. (For anyone interested, Part 1 of my overall review of Poundland's make up range may be found here.)

My late onset light bulb layering moment

And what of the light bulb layering moment alluded to above? Well, since my favourite lip gloss, Revlon Firecracker, got the chop, or self-combusted, or whatever happened to it, I was a bit at sea on the red lipstick front, being chronically wary of the whole category on account of my thin lips. Katie Puckrik and I went on a shopping mission five years ago that culminated in the purchase of a Laura Mercier lip balm in Crimson Tint, but left to my own devices at home, without Katie's chutzpah and moral support, it felt too bold on its own, and had languished in a drawer ever since. Until the end of September that is, when I was down in London for a design awards ceremony, as the 'plus one' of my friend M - the designer I worked for at the trade fair in Brussels - and on a whim, decided to try a slick of Crimson Tint over Choca Mocha, which gave the perfect muted red I craved. (The Laura Mercier is a deeper red than it appears in the photo!)

Laura Mercier Crimson Tint & Poundland Choca Mocha (No 4)

So Crimson Tint has finally come into its own, and please don't tell me it should have been thrown out by now, as it was too expensive to chuck and buy again!

Crimson Tint over Choca Mocha

On a roll, I experimented with another red I am too timorous to wear on its own - Spicy Cinnamon in the Clarins Joli Rouge range - topping it with a layer of Revlon Colorburst Lip Butter in Creme Brulee, another Katie steer.

Revlon Colorburst Creme Brulee & Clarins Joli Rouge Spicy Cinnammon

And as with the previous combo, this had a slightly glossy effect, as well as perfectly toning down the rich red of the Clarins to a more orange-y number that works better with my yellow-leaning complexion. So suddenly, out of the ashes as it were, I have found two options for a non-lurid red. I have scotched the scarlet woman! Not that I wore any of my failed red experiments out of the house, but I have scared the bejesus out of myself in all the mirrors indoors.

Clarins Joli Rouge Spicy Cinnamon - too strong a look on its own

And the more wearable combo...

Revlon Colorburst Creme Brulee layered on top of the Clarins

And the daft thing is that while I have always known about adding a bit of lip gloss to a lipstick - usually in a transparent or fairly sheer colour - I have never ever thought to layer lipsticks (or two lipstick-like entities shall I say, because they are called such a variety of things these days) with a more pronounced colour. We do it with perfumes - actually I don't personally layer scents as a rule, but it is a fairly established 'thing' - and of course artists mix paint colours in their palette, but I just hadn't twigged to the fact that I could do it with lipstick and solve my lurid lip conundrum.

So there you have it. I accept that the £1 wardrobe idea is stretching the point, because I do like a proper pink lipstick as well, even if I could maybe survive without one. But a red option is a must for evenings out and generally making more of a statement. And while I don't feel the Laura Mercier owes me anything after all this time, I think it cost about £14, taking my total wardrobe cost to...ooh er!...scary multiples of the original quid I dropped in Poundland.

Red lips at the awards ceremony!

So may I ask - do you have a favourite lipstick, or one that you keep coming back to because it is an easy wear?

Could you actually live with just one lipstick? And if so, would it be a neutral like mine or something bolder - perhaps red even?!

Sunday 22 October 2017

Returned to Sender: (an occasional series featuring postcards I wrote that have variously boomeranged their way back to me) - No 1: Galway, 2003

In one of my comments under the post on why people do or don't comment under posts(!), I mentioned that I was toying with another style of travel writing, in postcard form, that I might include on here. When you come to think of it, a postcard is the most succinct format of travel writing there is: it is more expansive than a haiku, and certainly not as poetic, but much more compact than a travelogue-style post, of which there are many examples on Bonkers. Every line has to pack a punch, as space is at a premium, especially if the postcard is one of those with lots of printed description of the image overleaf, or has a warning at the bottom not to write below this line, because it is 'For Official Use Only'. Although in my experience - as evidenced by the state of the card on its arrival - officials rarely use the area in question!

Following the deaths of my mother and father (a long time ago in both cases, I should add), when I came to clear out their respective homes I found that both parents had separately kept bundles of postcards from me, secured with long since perished rubber bands, of which only 'sticky toffee' traces remain.

In my mother's case, she may well have kept the postcards for their sentimental value; in my father's it was more likely due to his incorrigible hoarding instinct. To give you an idea, he had also kept a tottering pile of Kays' catalogues stretching back 20 years, as well as every piece of post he had ever received. Whatever their reasons, thinking that the cards might provide some additional travel writing material, I proceeded to sound out a few colleagues and friends, and sure enough, they had kept my cards too. One chap I worked with in the '80s at St Ivel had 25(!), which he has kindly forwarded on the proviso that he would like them back at some point before he reaches his dotage, in case he feels like re-reading them.

So after giving the matter some more thought, I decided to feature one or two of these cards every now and then on the blog, as a kind of a 'palate cleanser' / diversion. Some are from holidays, some from work trips, while others are from work trips that felt like a holiday, or holidays overshadowed by the prospect - or memories - of work trips!

And postcards they may be, but I should warn you that some of them are not terribly 'pc', so apologies in advance for that. I do tend to speak as I find in terms of my impressions of places and people. I hope they don't overstep the mark - it is certainly not my intention to cause an international incident!

Before I lit upon 'Returned to Sender', I did think long and hard about what to call this series: 'Postcards from the Edge' was sadly taken, though it would have chimed nicely with my usual bonkers theme. I briefly considered 'Postcards from the Grave', but not all the card donors are dead - by a very long chalk. And nor am I.  'Postcards from the attic' had quite a nice ring to it, but not all the cards were found in attics. Well, only a handful in fact, and poetic licence isn't quite that elastic a concept, even in my book.

So without further ado here is the first card, sent to the aforementioned colleague in 2003 from a holiday in the West of Ireland with ex-Mr Bonkers (aka 'N'). I thought I would kick off the series with a card that isn't particularly contentious, unless perhaps you happen to work for TII (Transport Infrastructure Ireland).

"And you thought our dining room was vivid! Well, despite the mixed weather, and the loose chippings and switchback roads (could definitely do with some more polyurethane foam** in the chassis of our car), and the road signs exclusively in Gaelic, and the ones that aren't there at all, and the kamikaze sheep, and the appalling reception on Channel 4, Ireland has worked its magic on N, who, in his black jumper with white T-shirt peeping coyly out the top, is even beginning to look like a pint of Guinness. Drinking copious amounts of the black stuff is helping complete the transformation!"

(**the latest product I was researching)

Experimenting with new formats is always risky, so if you have a view on this new idea either way, do let me know!

PS Back shortly with a post on lipsticks, one on perfume packaging, a Truffle 2 year anniversary special(!), and some more reviews!

Monday 16 October 2017

Forest green corset: Puredistance WARSZAWA review

I have been deferring writing this post until I had mastered the spelling of the latest addition to Puredistance's carefully curated stable, the fully capitalised WARSZAWA, and I reckon I have cracked it now. The secret turned out to be splitting the word into two parts: 'Wars' (to which sadly Warsaw is no stranger), and 'zawa', which despite appearances is not a fast moving Polish fashion chain. Though I have no excuse really for not being able to spell 'Warszawa', having lovingly kept a sewing kit from the Hotel Forum there for the past 21 years (which I note has since morphed into a Novotel). Yes, 1996 saw my first visit to the country, and I have been going there on and off for work ever since, my last trip being 2011, when I drove my Mini all the way from the Polish border to the Belgian coast in one go, pausing only briefly in Duisburg to break my front tooth in two places on a banana chip. (Or a chip bananowy, that would be.) But more of my associations with Poland in a bit.

Hotel Forum, as was. Source: Wikimapia

First I would like to pay tribute as ever to the superlative packaging in which samples of the new Puredistance releases are sent out. The company truly understands the sensuous power of the pretty parcel. Actually, my eye was drawn to this latest shipment before I even opened the cardboard outer, on account of the fact that it was addressed to 'Bonkers about PE'. However did the PR folk at Puredistance know that I am currently on a major exercise kick? ;)

Then inside was the by now customary hard shell white presentation box, swathed in bubble wrap. My eye went straight to the latter, but that is material - quite literally - for a whole other post... And there was the usual slinky ribbon, forest green this time. I am careful not to call it 'bottle', for fear of evoking unhappy memories of my school uniform. The sample itself was in the familiar black satin drawstring bag, laid on a rich backdrop of forest green velvet. Already, without even smelling the perfume itself, I had a good idea of how it was likely to smell from such opulent trappings. Something rich and luxurious, a special occasion scent to be worn in a grand setting.

The PR blurb inside the lid of the box, together with a fetching illustration of a lady in a coordinating green corset holding back heavy green curtains, left me in no doubt at all as to the creative inspiration and style of WARSZAWA:

"Inspired by the class and elegance of Polish women and the rich history of the city of Warsaw. WARSZAWA evokes the grandeur of the golden days of Fashion and Perfume. The perfume has style, warmth - great depth of character - and will make you feel beautiful in a lush way. If you care for classic feminine beauty, Puredistance WARSZAWA will unveil a dreamy world of old-time chic."

Before coming on to my own testing of WARSZAWA, I have to say right off the bat that the scent was always going to have to work hard to conjure up this romantic world, which is entirely outside my ken - and my era, obviously! Working in the field of industrial market research, I inevitably end up seeing a completely different side of the country, one far removed from the glamorous milieu conjured up by the press release.

By way of illustration, I have many memories to draw on from my various road trips in Poland. I have driven all over the country, and much of my Polish vocabulary is based around traffic signs warning of road surface deformities, the king of which is the dreaded 'koleiny'.

Source: Nonsensopedia

What I really like about Poland - due in part to my inability to speak the language - is its unstinting ability to surprise, wrongfoot, and disarm the traveller. Or me, anyway. Here are a few highlights:

- The time I bought postcards and was given a stock cube in with my change.

- Finding a shop entirely by mime that would photocopy questionnaires. (I drove to Poland specially, as Germany was having one of its many public holidays!)

- Staying in a discotheque with rooms, decorated from top to bottom in silver. 

- Walking into the men's showers at a swimming pool (related to the point above about my limited vocabulary).

- A taxi driver in Krakow, who was a complete and utter star and lent me fifty quid's worth of zlotys so I could take the next train to Kielce and rescue a colleague bound for her first solo assigment, who had thrown up on the train and fainted. (This was before the days of cashpoint machines and the banks hadn't yet opened.)

- On that note, having a respondent suddenly abort a meeting, saying (via an interpreter) that he had to go to the bank. By way of apology, as he got up to leave he wordlessly handed me a set of highlighter pens, a large plastic bulldog clip, and a box of chocolates.

- The chipboard factory with a hotel attached, where almost everything in the hotel was also made of chipboard: the ultimate showcase - nay temple - to this versatile material.

- The incomparable splendour of Malbork Castle, with its atmospheric en suite amber museum.

- The scantily clad women standing at the edge of country roads, who I eventually 'twigged' were not in fact part of a Forestry Commission car pool.

- The beetroot at every turn. Which luckily I love!

- The plethora of 'stomatolog's, who - most counterintuitively - have nothing whatsoever to do with stomachs. (If Margo Kubiscik is reading, I do know that is not the correct Polish plural. ;) )

Malbork Castle ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (via DerHexer)

So there you have a snapshot of my impressions of Poland, a country to which I would gladly return, though preferably with a phrase book, and not in winter. Apart from the castle in Malbork, I have not yet had the opportunity to play the tourist, not even in Krakow, which is a real shame. So given that I have no imminent plans to go back to Poland, I turned to WARSZAWA the perfume to transport me there...

Here without further ado are the notes, which I have taken the liberty of 'de-capitalising':

Notes: galbanum, grapefruit, violet leaf, jasmin absolute, broom absolute, orris butter, patchouli, vetiver and styrax

The first time I tried WARSZAWA was just before attending a hospital appointment with an elderly friend. Now bear in mind that by definition, a person at a hospital is not going to be on perfect form, which was also the case with my friend. Undeterred, I proffered my wrist for her to smell:

"It's soapy."
"Okay...anything else?"

After a pause:

"It's very strong. Could you sit further away?"

Unfortunately, to my left was a thicket of wheelchairs, their brakes locked, so it was not practical to distance myself from her sensitive nose.

So that was the first learning point: WARSZAWA is without question a big production scent, a bosomy, womanly, all-enveloping kind of perfume. What Odiferess in her recent review calls a 'proper perfume' and a style which I am wont to describe as a 'perfumey perfume'. Apply sparingly to start with (I had doused myself rather liberally for the hospital run), and see how you go. Being pure perfume extrait @ 25%, WARSZAWA already packs a punch in terms of its concentration.

Thanks to the violet, WARSZAWA starts out as a sweetish floral; big as it is, it is also characterised by an airy feel, with a faint hint of powder. A scent that it reminds me of from the era which inspired it is vintage Bourjois Soir de Paris - aka Evening in Paris for non-French speakers - created by Ernest Beaux (the nose behind Chanel No 5, no less) in 1928. The original formulation of Soir de Paris, which was discontinued in 1969, was markedly sweeter than WARSZAWA to my nose, and made to a price point using far less luxurious ingredients, but I was nevertheless struck by a certain similarity in vibe, though I wouldn't wish to overplay it. There is some interesting note crossover too, of violet, jasmine, vetiver and styrax. Both Soir de Paris and Warszawa are what the French call 'capiteux' or 'heady' scents, and if you were feeling at all delicate like my friend, it would perhaps be better to desist from wearing this - and probably any perfume, to be fair.

My vintage mini, now irrevocably congealed

And while the opening of WARSZAWA is sumptuous and full on (in a paradoxically airy way!), the drydown is in a quieter register. The cloudy sensation burns off, leaving a sensual concoction I would be at a loss to parse. I suspect the combination of galbanum and broom keep the composition from veering into cloying territory. Soir de Paris rather lent that way, owing to the inclusion of violet AND lilac - but with WARSZAWA we are talking a cleaner, greener 'direction of travel' (did I really just say that??!!), especially in the later stages. It is positively juicy and sappy, and becomes progressively smoother in feel, with a tantalising hint of sherbet in the far drydown. The galbanum fades to a warm hum in the end, and there are echoes of Antonia, which Jan Ewoud Vos famously said I was 'too fragile' to carry off in terms of my build. (This was the time I met the team while on a big road trip in 2011 that took me to Groningen - and also to Poland indeed!) I sense I may well be physiologically unsuited to WARSZAWA too...more on that anon.

Going back to Soir de Paris, it was interesting to me to read what Victoria of Bois de Jasmin had to say about Ernest Beaux and this classic fragrance, for I feel the same could be said of WARSZAWA and its creator, Antoine Lie, also in the fact that WARSZAWA presents different facets - and different atmospheres/textures - as it develops.

"His style is elegant and graceful, but with a strong character. Soir de Paris, a fragrance he created for Bourjois, doesn’t just skip from one note to another; it shimmers, revealing in one moment a peppery citrus and green leaves, and in another a velvety rose and wood shavings."

So have Puredistance delivered their brief of 'a dreamy world of old-time chic? Absolutely they have. WARSZAWA is dreamy in the same way that Opardu is, without having the extra dimension of muskiness in that scent. In its unashamed, blowsy femininity, WARSZAWA seems the anthithesis of perfumes made today - or since the 80s, perhaps. Sarah spotted some kinship with the 'shoulder pad' style of fragrances from that decade, and I see where she is coming from. A few scents from that period also create this airy, 'big cloud' sensation that WARSZAWA does, initially at least. I also detect a mossy rasp - that catches in the nostrils slightly, and reminds me of chypres from that period or even earlier, at different points along the austerity spectrum. I couldn't probably name one though. A Givenchy, maybe? But for all that I am (half!) reminded of other fragrances from down the decades, WARSZAWA is an original and striking creation in itself. It is no shrinking violet, and neither will its wearers be at a guess. I'd liken it to the olfactory representation of a forest green corset - sexy in a refined way, like Ava Gardner, say. Very much an off the shoulder number, with no padding required elsewhere by the looks of it! (Now you see why on balance I feel physiologically unsuited to this scent. ;) )

"What is that scent she is wearing?" Source: Wikimedia Commons

To close, even if my own experience of Poland is a far cry from gas lamps, carriages to the opera and cobblestoned streets - though as I say I can certainly relate to rugged road surfaces of every stripe - I can well believe that WARSZAWA captures the essence of this bygone era, when even the Hotel Forum would have been a twinkle in a town planner's eye.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

The comments conundrum: a post by Val the Cookie Queen on Australian Perfume Junkies

I will be back shortly with a review of the latest release by Puredistance, Warszawa - that's as soon as I am able to spell it without looking it up each time - but I just wanted to link to a thought-provoking post by Val the Cookie Queen over on Australian Perfume Junkies today, considering why readers choose to comment on blogs or not:

Comments and Fleur de Lalita by Parfums Dusita

As you may have noticed, every New Year without fail my paranoia about the relative lack of interaction with readers on Bonkers - for example, my latest post has attracted 332 page views to date comments(!) - reaches its seasonal peak. At that time I reach out to readers - and trust me things have to be in a pretty parlous state to even use the words 'reach out', never mind actually do so! - and ponder what this radio silence may or may not betoken. And resolve to carry on blogging regardless.

And then the other day, I got to talking with Val the Cookie Queen about the whole issue of comments on blogs, and how they do seem to be tailing off generally, although some notable sites - like Australian Perfume Junkies, indeed - still act as a watercooler or focal point in the blogosphere, and get a good quorum of comments on a regular basis. We wondered if the cumbersome steps involved in commenting on a Blogger blog might be offputting, or whether the visual feast that is Instagram has siphoned off some readers. If feasts can be said to siphon, though if they are capable of moving, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But based on the comments coming in so far to Val's post on APJ, it seems that the fall in commenting may not be so much to do with the fragmented nature of today's social media scene, or the physical mechanics of engaging with Blogger blogs (my top theory), but more with people's reluctance to contribute to the discussion unless they feel they have something significant to say. (Which might not be the case with a brand they haven't heard of, like the Civette & Unicorn one I just featured. So I may well have pinpointed the reason for the lack of comments on that particular post!) I must say I did not see that coming. And then I gather other readers hold back because the fragrances in question are not accessible where they live, or are not affordable, or not their kind of thing stylistically / notewise. Others lack the time generally to comment, while a few hold back for fear they might be gatecrashing the 'commenting community' that already exists, like going to a party where you hardly know anyone. I do hope nobody feels that about Bonkers, for the fellow bloggers who mostly pitch in on here are doing so not because we are a clique, truly, even if it may sometimes seem that way. Rather (I suspect!) it is precisely because they are also bloggers that they know how much store I set by any kind of interaction with readers.

And something just occurred to me, namely that the main reason I blog is to entertain. That's it, in a nutshell. The posts are often - but by no means always - hung on a 'hook' of perfume, but the topic could be travel, or the antics of my cat, or a skincare crisis, or a crazy band tour - oh, and I do also plan to report on the upshot of my recent wave of allergy testing for contact dermatitis! But whereas with a stand up comedian the normal rules of engagement are clear, namely to laugh if you find the act funny, and heckle or walk out if you don't!, with the printed word there are no comparable conventions, no set feedback loop.

And I am not sure I have ever fully understood what matters to the readers who stop by here, assuming it wasn't by accident. Plus I may be being presumptuous to even bring up the notion of 'perfume blog as entertainment', which could be purely a figment of my intention. All I know is that if the lack of comments becomes too pronounced (which it tends to by the end of each year, as I say!), I start to question the merit of what I am doing, in terms of quality of output, theme, tone - everything, basically, hehe.

However, by the time the comments have stopped coming in on Val's post, I reckon I shall have learnt an awful lot more about what makes readers of perfume blogs tick, and I would like to thank her for thinking of doing a post on this very subject. It really struck a chord, and as I was part of Val's 'mini-focus group', along with Tara of A Bottled Rose and Thomas of The Candy Perfume Boy, I felt moved this afternoon to write a companion post on Bonkers.

Oh, and notwithstanding all of the above, please don't feel obliged to comment here if you wouldn't naturally have done so. I think my deliberate policy of winkling out lurkers every 12 months in a New Year round up post is probably often enough!