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.


odiferess said...

Hi Vanessa,

Thrilled to read your review of my new favourite perfume, your experience of Poland sounds fittingly bonkers and more than a little like a 'carry-on' style business trip I made to Prague in 1997. The highlight of which was probably my technique of pointing at random unidentifiable words on any menu and it always turning out to be meat, fermented cabbage and dumplings. A good job I bloomin' love dumplings.
This made me chortle:
"there are echoes of Antonia, which Jan Ewoud Vos famously said I was 'too fragile' to carry off in terms of my build."
Sadly I am no longer too fragile to carry off Antonia and haven't been since about 1997 (was it the dumplings?).
Thank you for the mentions.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

I loved your comment, as much as I also love dumplings. I was in Prague for business in 1996, so our paths nearly crossed. And I do remember the Czech word for them - 'knedlicky' - but not the Polish. So true about things always being meat though, also in Hungary and Slovenia. Occasionally bear goulash, in the case of the latter, or at least I saw a worrying sandwich board to that effect. But dumplings are the business. With duck leg and red cabbage for preference, but I will take them anyhow.

I chuckled at your reported lack of fragility. I have steadily been putting on weight since the summer actually, such that I no longer fit into either of my two pairs of black 'Zawa' jeans. So by Christmas, who knows? I may also be able to hold up a corset and pull off this perfume. ;)

Asali said...

I loved your memories of Poland. I haven't been there since I was 10, but one of my best memories was of how my (Polish) grandparents always put up an extra dinner service for Christmas, apparently a custom so that anyone alone on the holy night, should be able to come and join.
Just a little nerdy perfume thing; violet leaf is a green smell, not the sweet violet scent. Perhaps the broom gives Warszawa its sweetness?
Hooray for a strong perfume, I salute any brand who cares to make something loud these days, which doesn't consists of candy and white musk, obviously

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

What a lovely custom to set out a place for someone who might drop in. I have some friends who practise that by holding what they call 'extra guest' festivals and parties.

I hear you on the violet leaf, but my nose did read it as more like the flower as well. Maybe there was a bit of flower still attached to the stalk, hehe? I have no idea what broom smells like, but didn't think it was the main agent of sweetness. Hold on, I just found this on The Scented Salamander:

"The plant has notes of sweet honeyed floral vagueness - the mellifluous scent of spring - and green crunchy ones; it can smell a bit of the balmy air of the forest, and to modern noses, of a natural green herbal shampoo accord; it edges towards hay-like when a little dry and when profusely wet, it starts smelling like the sea, more precisely of deep green algae; it also contains some manure notes in its arsenal, being able to trick you into thinking that it is living by a heap of cow dung or close by a sheep barn or not far from horse stables."

It looks like you could pin pretty much any facet on the broom! ;)

Unknown said...

I have yet to meet a Pole I didn’t like. Great bunch of lads and all that, but i declined an offer to sniff this due to my non blogging anymore status. Puredistance is also a great bunch of lads and ladies, so I’m glad that Warsawa is a good one.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

They are hard grafters too. I didn't realise you had parked the blog indefinitely...I assumed you were waiting for the next perfume / visual association to strike. Well, you can of course sniff this the next time we meet. It is not for the fainthearted - in its early stages at least - but you don't have to be blessed with an embonpoint or be otherwise 'statuesque' to appreciate the drydown. ;)

Anonymous said...

This sounds right up my street - I love good old-style stonking chypres and I am definitely more than the right body shape for this one!

My school uniform was green too, and if only it had been bottle, (which would have been OK on me); rather it was a sickly, yellowy green that managed to not suit any complexion at all. Later in life I bought the best dress I have ever had - long, bottle green velvet, empire line (with a slash at the neck down to said line), and a big white collar and long white sleeves. I felt like I should have been playing Maid Marian! Warsawa would have been the perfect perfume for wearing with it.

I have several very dear Polish friends and they are all so lovely and slightly eccentric; one of them makes delicious pierogi - are they the dumplings you mean? She puts different stuffings in them every time, and I can not move after eating them!!

Anonymous said...

It's me, Jillie - I don't like to be anonymous!

Tara said...

Brilliant post, V! I had to stifle laughs at several points - not least throughout the list of your notable Polish moments.

Is a stomatolog a castle then?

I am the recipient of one of the striking packages from Puredistance for the fist time and am very happy that the scent is very much my jam. "Forest green corset" sums it up perfectly.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

I wondered if it might be you! 'Stonking' is a great word for WARSZAW. I think you might well care for it. Ooh, I am getting a vivid mental picture of your school uniform, and I can well imagine that it wouldn't suit anyone's colouring. The velvet dress you describe would indeed have been the most marvellous backdrop for this perfume.

Pierogi, ah yes, I know what you mean. When I was speaking of knedlicky, I meant more those big suet-y balls - somewhere in size between a golf ball and a tennis ball - that you get in the Czech Republic. They are also a major thing in Germany. But I do know what you mean by pierogi, having been taken to eat some in London once by a Polish friend. I would liken those rather to outsize dim sum!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Glad you enjoyed my Polish escapades - there were more where those came from!

A stomatolog is a dentist. The Poles are extremely well catered for in the teeth department, as there seemed to me to be as many stomatologs as pubs.

Glad you have your own Puredistance package! I look forward to reading your take on it in due course. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are like huge dim sum (which I also love).

It occurred to me that maybe you were writing about kopytka, which are potato dumplings - no filling - and rather like Italian gnocchi. They may have no filling themselves, but they certainly fill YOU up; rib-sticking might be a good way to describe them!

odiferess said...

Ooh that would have been fun to do Prague together. I spent my (infrequent) bits of free time trying to get a dining table for one on a bank holiday weekend - not easy. This was due to the fact that my work colleague had pulled a gorgeous young translator on the first night.

Let me know if you want a little Antonia. I could give you 1ml per stone gained!

Vanessa said...

Well I never, I think I know the gorgeous translator! Or someone equally gorgeous. We had one in Prague, summoned rather after the fact, because my young colleague and I turned up to our interview at an aviation components factory, only to find a man with an Alsatian sprawled at his feet, supervising several ladies shrinkwrapping toothpaste and copies of The Reader's Digest. The 'lost in translation' aspect had come about because his Nissen hut happened to stand on the premises of an aircraft parts company, and he was himself a pilot in his spare time! The translator quickly jumped into the breach, and we had our (correct) interview in the main building later that day.

Haha, I am 'well covered' for Antonia, thank you, but it's a kind offer!

Vanessa said...

Ah no, but I do recognise your kopytka as gnocchi-esque. Gnocchi are indeed good and sticky! I meant something like these, albeit the Czech ones seem smaller than their German counterparts, 'Kloesschen'.

Anonymous said...


I let the computer translate the recipe for me and have laughed so much. "First make dumpling stuff. Fry the onion on the fat and roast it on a gentle breeze. Add the crumbly yeast and let it dissolve on a mild fire. Next, until the yeast is reconnected and the fat is not separated, roast. Sprinkle the flour, bake briefly and pull out of the fire, place the mixture in a bowl and allow to cool." And so on. I look forward to cooking with a gentle breeze ....

Vanessa said...

Oh, Jillie, that is just priceless. ;) So much to savour about this savoury dish, with the gentle breeze a particular highlight!

Asali said...


Undina said...

I wrestled with myself for a while trying to stay away from your post until I get to try this perfume but then gave up and decided just to skip parts about how it smells ;)

Your struggle with the language made me smile. While I do not know Polish, out of all the languages I don’t know this one is the easiest for me: in writing I can recognize many words since they sound similar to Ukrainian, which I understand well.
Interestingly, until you mentioned your difficulties with the name, I haven’t even thought twice about it because the was it’s spelled is much closer to how it is pronounced in my native language than the regular English spelling (I know this city as Varshawa). And all the talks about dumplings, dim sum, pjerogi (funny thing: in Ukrainian this word means a different food - the closest I can offer is “pie” though it won’t be the exact translation) made me hungry.
I look forward to trying Warszawa and comparing our notes :)

Anonymous said...

I love the gentle breeze recipe, it made me remember struggling to shop in Sweden. The names on what we were hoping would be flour were impressively incomprehensible until in deep exasperation I saidout loud, " how the hell am I supposed to know what fullcornmeal is .. ". Stripped of the weird letters accents, dots and so on a surprising amount turned out to be comprehensible. Helen

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I fully expected you to stay away from my post, because I know you like to try new scents in a vacuum, unaffected by others' views. So well done for sticking to the travel related parts for now!

I can well imagine that your knowledge of Ukrainian would give you a big head start over me in decoding unfamiliar words in Polish. Varshawa is very similar! I find the same thing in Dutch and Flemish thanks to my knowledge of German - I can understand a fair bit of those, when written at least.

I had dumplings tonight, would you believe? On a ready meal of beef stew, but they still tasted quite nice - all crispy on top from the oven.

Yes, can't wait to see how you get on with Warszawa!

Vanessa said...

Hi Helen,

"Fullcornmeal" would have foxed me too! I remember driving up the west coast of Sweden, and hardly meeting another car. Ironically, the local bus company - whose buses were about the only vehicles I did see - was called 'Vasttrafik'. ;)