Tuesday 23 January 2018

Le Jardin Retrouvé retrouvé! - how I came over all Nécessaire, and Citron Boboli review

Me in the Boboli Gardens, 1978 - bubble perm mercifully just out of shot
It must be a good year or more since I was sent a discovery pack from Parisian perfume house, Le Jardin Retrouvé. After my initial interaction with the perfumes  around that time, I put them away somewhere safe, so safe in fact that it was only the other day that they all turned up again in a box file that I thought contained some tax documents. Which is clearly not the sort of box you wish to rummage in terribly often. Having now at last retrouvé'd the scents, I am finally getting down to blogging about the line!

Originally founded in 1975 by Russian-born perfumer Yuri Gutsatz, the company was relaunched in 2016 by Yuri Gutsatz's son Michel, with help from his wife Clara. As stated in the press release accompanying the sample set: Le Jardin Retrouvé "needed to be brought up to standard with the norms of the twenty-first century, both as far as its aesthetics and formulae were concerned". Assuming "formulae" relate to the fragrances themselves, I can't help but wonder what the company's perfume portfolio was like before. I am reminded of one of those houses for sale on Rightmove that are described as being "in need of some updating", and which turn out to be derelict wrecks. I am sure that was not remotely the case here, but I am still curious about how the brand used to be...

To continue the story, Michel Gutsatz and his wife chose seven of the thirty odd fragrances that his father had created, and completely revamped the bottle format and livery. Me being me, I was just as interested in the packaging aspect as I was in the perfumes, though they appealed too! Right from the off I was reeled in by these dear little cardboard boxes-cum-postcards, each with a colourful image related to the scent in question. After each testing session it was haptically highly satisfying to stack the boxes up neatly and pop them back in their cotton bag.

Then as with Ormonde Jayne's core range, I am pleased to report a very high strike rate with this 'capsule collection' from Le Jardin Retrouvé. The only scent of the seven I did not actively care for was Cuir de Russie, but I know it has quite a few fans in the blogosphere. And I will give it another go sometime, as I usually am drawn to leather scents.

Having already sent me the sample set, Le Jardin Retrouvé followed that up with another generous offer, namely to send me a package called Le Nécessaire featuring my favourite scent of the bunch. This was a tough choice, as I was torn between Citron Boboli and Tubéreuse Trianon, but the Citron Boboli narrowly won as on balance I felt it was slightly more distinctive.

Le Nécessaire is the company's amusing name for the innovative new packaging format that is a central plank of the brand's relaunch. It comprises "a box containing an estagnon (aluminium bottle) of 125ml,and two extra bottles (50ml and 15ml) to fill using the glass funnel supplied. When they are empty the bottles can be refilled from the LA RE:SOURCE collection - 125ml estagnons of the precious perfume that can be bought separately..." [Capitals are the company's own. ;) ]

Well, lots of things to say about that, starting with the fact that I have now learnt the word 'estagnon', which sounds remarkably like a character in a Beckett play but is in fact a metal canister. The concept of a refill bottle of perfume is unusual but not unique - I am thinking of those plainer By Kilian bottles, for example, if you want to save a bob or two by eschewing the tassles. But I have never seen anything like this kit where the estagnon aka 'master receptacle' is NOT the original presentation bottle, but a container from which to decant into not one but a choice of two smaller bottles. One of these looks very like a Miller Harris bottle and the other a Nasomatto. I like them both! The 15ml size is a particularly welcome touch.

Also worthy of note is the box itself in which all this Le Nécessaire tackle comes: it was positively writhing with squiggly white hamster straw, against the backdrop of the striking blue and white pattern on the edge of the box. Which also featured a built-in shape sorting puzzle!

Guess where the estagnon goes!

There was a note with the package exhorting me to keep my estagnon in the fridge, which I have faithfully been doing for a whole year or more - just to the left of the onions and mango chutney (photo evidence on request ;) ).

Then the next step in engaging with the Le Nécessaire kit was to decant from the estagnon into my chosen bottle. This did not go well, so I wrote and told Michel Gutsatz so:

"I think it is a great idea, though the canister didn't pour very well into the funnel, unless it was my technique that was lacking. It sort of dribbled down the side each time. That said, there is plenty of perfume to play with. I will try again and see if I am maybe tipping it at the wrong angle."

To which Monsieur Gutsatz sent me this friendly and upbeat reply:

"I am so happy you have received it! I am aware that pouring the perfume needs a firm gesture! Please check our video to see how it should be done:"

Wow, check out this guy's assured funnel action! I think that is where I was going wrong...not holding the funnel as decisively, or pouring from the top down in such a perpendicular angle.

So it just remains to tell you a bit about Citron Boboli the perfume!, namely its inspiration, and how it smells once it has been successfully decanted into its necessary bottle.

Notes: Italian lemon, petitgrain, bitter orange, galbanum, black pepper, cloves

As with all the scents, there is a garden theme - clue in the name, I know! - in this case the Boboli Gardens in Florence, which are on a hill and boast a panoramic view of the city. I have been to the gardens at least three times: once on a backpacking holiday with a friend in 1978 (see photo at the top of the post of the Spider's Lane tunnel of trees), once with family friends in 1989, and once with a boyfriend in 1993. There was in fact an unfortunate incident on that last holiday in a cafe in the gardens. My boyfriend had been learning Italian at night school and was keen to deploy it at every opportunity. I had also been learning it by association - collateral language acquisition, if you will - sufficiently so to know that instead of asking the waiter: 'Where are the toilets?' what he actually said was: 'See you in the toilets!', which put an altogether different complexion on his purpose in visiting the gents, and an altogether different - and more ruddy! - complexion on the face of the shocked waiter, who hightailed it to the kitchen to hide.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (author: Sailko)

But I digress...Citron Boboli is a pleasingly astringent scent, pitched somewhere between sherbet lemons and creamy soap. I cannot truthfully say that it smells green to me, or of oranges, or even of cloves, which I would think I would notice, but all of those notes must keep the blend from being too overtly lemony, which it isn't. It is a 'pepper-spiked creamy citrus mélange', with considerable panache - not to be confused with panaché, which is of course the French for shandy - and I am afraid that is all I have to offer you, other than to recommend it unreservedly. And the whole range indeed.

To flesh out my extremely sparse review, here is a snippet from the brand's own visualisation of Citron Boboli:

"The view of Florence is stunning, but a grotto on your right draws you with its chilled air. Just at the entrance, a statue is bedecked with beautiful lemons. Are they real? Are they virtual?"

Source: uffizi.it

Well, I can't remember any of the grottos(!), despite having been there all those times, and it turns out that the gardens are awash with the things - well, there are three, each with multiple statues. I have no clue which statue Michel Gutsatz was thinking of, but having inspected lots of photos in Google images, I am confident in my deduction that the lemons were either virtual, or had been placed there by a tourist with a surfeit of fruit and a mischievous sense of humour. I am running with a picture of the Madama Grotto, also known as the Goat Grotto, because it amused me and contained no embarrassing displays of nudity or necking on the part of the statuary. ;)

I can also confirm that Citron Boboli the scent most definitely has a cooling feeling on the skin - more than any perfume I have come across since the cryogenic Chanel La Pausa. And I don't say that just because I have been diligently keeping my estagnon in the fridge!, for the little bottle has been kept variously in a box file and a bureau. But yes, a most refreshing choice for a hot day in Florence...

Oh dear me, please disregard the impossibly high and unflattering waist on those trousers! And do I spy a lemon top??

'Ponte something', 1989

Sunday 14 January 2018

A nest lined with bubble wrap: hoarding tips from a 'perfume packaging magpie'.

It is over eight years now since I wrote about the endearing and slightly bemusing practice of popping a sweet in with a perfume package - standard practice on Makeupalley swaps back in the day. Since then the business of sending parcels of perfume and the actual packaging used to do so have continued to fascinate. I have blogged about insulation tape and bubble wrap and a little cardboard box that shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic on multiple scent carrying missions. And I am still fascinated, despite the fact that my perfume sending of late has been radically curtailed: as regular readers know, I don't attempt it at all overseas anymore, and even domestically I worry a lot, as you are only meant to post full unopened bottles in their original packaging, preferably cellophane-wrapped according to the rather draconian post office nearest to me. In vain did I try to explain that these days not all perfumes ARE cellophane-wrapped, even if I were ever minded to send a bottle that was BNIB, as they say. In fact I am not sure I have ever posted a single thing that HAS met the official Royal Mail guidelines...!

Yet notwithstanding my dwindling postal habit, I am still hoarding suitable bits of packaging like a good 'un - or like a magpie. THE Perfume Magpie is obviously someone else altogether, with her own blog - her magpie tendencies doubtless relate to being attracted to perfume and stashing that away. And a magpie might not in fact be the correct term for my own behaviour, because bubble wrap and envelopes are not exactly the bright, eye-catching trinkets traditionally associated with this opportunistic bird. Moreover, according to an article on the Discover Wildlife site, entitled 'Debunking myths about magpies' (would you believe there are quite a few myths, beyond their alleged bling-nicking proclivities?) that isn't even true either. It seems to be a much misunderstood bird. On balance, perhaps I am more like a squirrel, then!

The avatar of The Perfume Magpie!

So, you may be wondering, to what in the way of packaging am I drawn exactly? A considerable array of things is the answer, starting with bubble wrap, that classically protective wrapping that augments the intrinsic bubble wrap of a padded envelope. There is always a trade off between appropriate levels of swaddling and the ensuing fatness of package and associated postage costs, but I usually come down emphatically - and pneumatically - on the side of wrapping.

Pictured in the basket at the top of the post (sorry, nest!) are some random scraps of bubble wrap of varying widths and lengths, all potentially useful to our cause. But before I go on I must point out that not all bubble wrap is created equal. As I mentioned in my 2012 post on the subject, the ne plus ultra of all bubble wrap formats, the jewel in the crown - to briefly reprise our magpie musings - is the ready-made bubble wrap pouch or pocket, with handy foldy over flap, complete with traces of adhesive, if you are very lucky. Could a more perfect receptacle be devised for neatly enclosing and protecting a clutch of decants or samples?

Also featured in that post is another variant on the same theme - I still don't know the definitive word for this material six years on!, but back then I thought that it might be some kind of polystyrene. It is opaque and a bit stretchy, and does the job pretty well too. I may be wrong, but I associate this second pouch style with the USA. Can anyone confirm if it is a common bagging material over there?

Then I also squirrel away assorted plastic bags like this - they aren't particularly aesthetic, and offer zero padding, but come in handy as a leakproof layer at the very least, for which there is much to be said.

Still on the theme of bags, I also keep and recycle any decorative drawstring bags I am sent, as these make a nice form of gift packaging, again with minimal protective value. Though saying that, the velvet and suedette ones are a lot better in that regard than the organza, while the mighty white faux leather ones from Micallef are best of all in the padding department!

Moving on from bubble wrap, bubble wrap bags, and bags of other materials, I also collect small boxes. I have many more than this example, but I suspect I may have hidden a whole bunch of boxes inside a bigger box and then gone and hidden that somewhere(!) for so-called 'safekeeping'.

Speaking of bigger boxes, a special tribute should be paid to the trusty Jo Malone box, which is ideal for a large collection of slim decants or samples. There is more inherent sound proofing with a box than a bag, so it is easier to conceal the incriminating fluid nature of your shipment(!). This particular specimen is much travelled, and its sturdiness and rigidity means it still has many more miles in it.

Ditto this Hermes box, a much rarer animal, with its striking orange livery. The mini orange sleeves that house Hermessences samples - of which I am sure we have all had a few in our time, thanks to the generosity of Hermes stores the world over! - are also handy for stowing the Hermessence tubes they originally contained, or other long thin samples. ;)

And no review of packaging for posting perfume would be complete without a mention of the humble Jiffy bag, or Bubble Mailer, for readers across the pond. I have a drawer absolutely rammed full of the things: in every size imaginable, some more padded than others, some in white and some in fawn, some with ID8000 labels already affixed, some without. I am often tempted to pop a reused envelope with the hazard label on it into the post box, but I believe you are supposed to have the thing scanned in a post office, even though this does invariably invite a barrage of awkward questions!

So there you have it - a house groaning with packaging materials, and an ever growing reluctance to post perfume. I also have a bowlful of appropriate postal sweets as it happens...maybe on the increasingly rare occasions when I do send scented packages, I should pop one in for old times' sake...

Please do tell me if you are also a packaging magpie - or squirrel - and if so, what are your materials / formats of choice?!

Sunday 7 January 2018

Happy New Year! Plus flu-induced musings on perfume and life in general, and yet another surfeit of cat photos....

'You're really not very well, are you?'
Getting back to blogging after a month's hiatus is not unlike getting back into exercise after a long absence. Though I wouldn't know about that as I haven't done any exercise yet. Not that I do an awful lot at the best of times. But I thought I'd have a crack at a blog post, even if it isn't overly perfume-themed. My Facebook friends are already aware that my mad work phase in December segued seamlessly into a protracted bout of illness, from which I am only just emerging: I succumbed to a regular cold, which then morphed into this pesky Aussie flu which is doing the rounds. Or maybe it was two separate viruses, not that it matters really. As anyone who has had full-bore influenza knows, it really chops the legs off from under you, such that you would instantly fail the "not too ill to pick up a twenty quid note from the bottom of the drive" test. When the flu was most acute, I stayed in bed for four days straight, drifting in and out of consciousness. As in sleep, sorry - I am not trying to be melodramatic and suggest I was in a coma or anything. Any sound from radio or TV would have been too intrusive, so I just lay there thinking and dozing. Obviously I had to get up periodically to fetch water, or the crispbread bites off which I was largely subsisting at that point. Or to put more crunchies down for the cat.

Before I took to my bed, I took to the sofa.

Oh yes, a special mention is due to Truffle, whose quizzically concerned looks and sustained ownerside vigil were a source of great comfort. On New Year's Eve, a night when I would usually be out whooping it up amongst friends, Truffle lay on my chest with her face pressed to mine, intermittently licking the tip of my nose as if to say: 'You're poorly and I don't like the loud bangs - but we can make our own fun here just as well.' A big thank you is also due to the friends who did 'porch drops' of home made soup, stewed fruit and other nourishing foodstuffs. When you live alone, the good offices of friends are an absolute mainstay.

A change of room is as good as a rest - which we also had!

As the days went by and I felt a bit better, the cat noticed that I was changing levels in the house for a few hours here and there, so she relocated her watch to the radiator cradle in the dining room. At the first sign that I might be tiring and need to lie down again (a daily occurrence over the past week), she would return upstairs and continue her bed sitting duties, whether to one side of me, on me, in the bed, or on the warm spot at the bottom of the bed occupied by the hot water bottle. And eventually, a couple of days ago, Truffle decided that if I was well enough to get dressed I no longer needed constant ministrations, and promptly took up residence again in her cooker top eyrie.

Now although it is customary at this time, I am afraid that there will be absolutely no 'launches of 2017' retrospective from me - and probably never again. I am too far out of the loop to have anything approaching a proper overview of new perfume releases, though I have tested and liked a number of things which were launched last year. In terms of my favourite scented discoveries overall, they might actually be Annick Goutal Songes - in both the edt and edp versions (my only full bottle purchase of the year, and technically a re-discovery!), and House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved. Yep, if you restricted me to just two perfumes - one for summer and one for winter - at the time of writing these may be they. I cannot believe I just limited myself to two perfumes! And of course I reserve the right to change my mind at a moment's notice. I am indebted to perfumers and friends alike for continuing to send me samples, which is the main way I get to try new things these days, apart from my (exceptional) sniffing marathons like the one I had with Undina and Tara last May.

Songes also having a nice little lie down

If I am honest, I would probably not go near the perfume counter of a major department store even if I happened to find myself in one - not without being pushed in that direction. I know how much I already tune out to the fragrance section of Duty Frees in airports these days, albeit their selection is not typically in the same league. I will definitely try new perfumes if they land on my mat or are otherwise put in front of me, but I don't seem to go out of my way to seek things out any more, and a lot of the conversations that go on between perfumista friends pass right over my head. I haven't heard of whole houses, never mind individual scents!

I don't know if this is just a phase or whether my interest in perfume has now muted down to a positively passive level. Given that I already have such a huge stash to use up, it is probably for the best that I don't start developing too many new lemmings.

The night shift

During my time lying in bed all sorts of other random thoughts came to me about my perfume hobby: my attachment to friends is the blogosphere is as strong as ever, if not more so; I am still troubled by cliches in reviews (also from me!), by an excess of flashing, fruit machine-style ads - which to be fair you don't see very often, but I wouldn't like them if I did! - and by unspoken commercial connections between bloggers and perfume houses. As well as relationships that strike me as frankly coercive, whereby bloggers use a degree of emotional manipulation to 'extract' free product from perfumers and/or retailers to use in giveaways, or sell on privately to hapless newbies unaware of the bottles' provenance. I have been that (latter) soldier myself when starting out in this hobby. Nor do I care for perfumes with preposterously blingy bottles and eye-watering price points that cynically target stratospherically rich Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs, though I sense I have a problem with conspicuous luxury in every sphere! I also feel uneasy about decadently swanky perfume launches - apart from anything, the cost of those has got to be going on the price of the perfume...

Some of my sense of detachment from the perfume scene may be attributable to my current difficulties at finding work (notwithstanding the recent overload!). The enforced frugality which inevitably ensues may also have led to an estrangement from consumerism in general. For it is not just the scarcity of work: such projects as I have been offered tend to be pitched at more or less the going rate earnt by Romanian strawberry pickers. It would be unthinkable for a person in full time employment suddenly to be told they will be receiving a third - or even a fifth - of their usual monthly pay packet while doing the same job, yet in the freelance world it is clear that anything goes. So the viability of my current profession, and the need to find more lucrative and/or less stressful alternative sources of income is weighing heavily on me at the moment, such that the notion of buying a new bottle of perfume or an expensive item of skincare feels completely alien. In the event of a fillip to my finances that could of course all change...;)

Purple Christmas gin!

I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions as such, although one or two appear to have made themselves. For example I was very pleased to learn - following a statistical computation worthy of Undina - that in 2017 I achieved my target of an average of 2 alcohol-free days a week, up from 'just over one' in past years going back as far as I can remember. It doesn't sound like much of a lifestyle change, but that still probably equates to 40 days on which I consciously opted not to have a drink when it might so easily have been the default choice before. Thanks to the flu, 2018 has got off to a stellar start in terms of non-drinking: in the first week of the year I have had two days on which I have had a drink, rather than the reverse. So I am well in credit for the rest of the month at least, haha.

(Editor's note: In case I come across as a bit of a lush, I could perhaps add that I do mostly just have one drink at a time, so my weekly units remain within the Government guidelines. ;) )

The other 'not a resolution' that seems to be spontaneously happening - also prompted by my gradual recovery from illness - is reading. I am already 450 pages into the New Year, hurrah!, an unprecedented improvement on my reading rate in past years. I am sorry to report that I read just 11 books in 2017, so didn't quite make my target of one a month. Though work might make a jolly good excuse for December...

Beyond that, I have the usual clutch of vague aspirations: to go to bed earlier, knock off Facebook a bit(!), drink more water, and obey Michael Mosley to the letter and incorporate 150 minutes of medium intensity exercise into my life every week, at all of which I will most likely fail. Inspired by Louise Woollam, I'd also quite like to relearn to crochet...2017 has in fact been a great year for my knitting endeavours, and I have even earnt a bit of money from selling my wares. It is sadly too labour-intensive a hobby to ever become a full-time occupation, but it has its place as a hugely satisfying sideline. Oh, and I am actively considering doing Airbnb, as a friend in the next street makes a tidy living from that, with pretty much zero stress, beyond guests flaunting her house rules of not flushing the wc with the lid up. I have even let in one or two of her clients when she couldn't be around.

'Naja' the scarf

So we will see...2018 is definitely set to be a year of change for me on the work front - it just has to be. I haven't been wearing much perfume while I was ill, but here and there I did dab on a spot of Bois des Iles, which acted as a perfect complementary comforter to the cat. Thanks, Val! There are other perfumes I discovered in 2017 that I fully intend to write about, but simply didn't get round to, so I promise I am still a perfume blogger after a fashion till the fat lady sings. Or the thin lady more like, as I inadvertently lost 9lb over Christmas!

It remains to wish readers near and far a very Happy New Year - I hope your holidays were not characterised by illness or existential doubt. I will be back with perfume reviews in due course, and the inevitable tangential posts on toiletries, travel and Truffle...

Oh, and I am getting a flu jab next year. The requisite tenner is already on the hall table...;)