Wednesday 28 February 2018

A trio of perfume packaging titbits, including a haberdashery-themed hoarding tip

I am sorry for the rather relaxed pace of my blogging lately - so relaxed as to be almost supine! - but I have been preoccupied with a series of knitting commissions, and as this is a seasonal activity, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Or while the ambient temperature is really cold, more like, which it is now. I have just trudged in a blizzard about 100 yards from car to optician, and feel like a veritable Scott of the Antarctic. Yes indeed. I am amazed that the cold weather doesn't seem to faze Truffle - does her fur coat have different settings or something? Oh, and I also had a work inquiry to field, and have just met up with Val the Cookie Queen!, as some readers may have seen on Facebook, and had a visit (and pep talk) from the fire brigade, so it has been all go one way and another.

I do have some perfume reviews in the pipeline, but this time round I thought I would share one more perfume packaging hoarding tip to add to those in my recent post, and also report on a couple of other packaging-related matters. One is merely a bit annoying, and doesn't quite qualify as a scent crime - well, if you've had the same experience, you decide!

Button tins - an unexpected source of 'plastic baggie bounty'

Eek! Did I just say 'baggie' there? How much do I dislike that term, when there is the perfectly good alternative of 'bag'? Actually, I dislike it easily as much as 'veggies', oh my goodness, yes. Preserve me from anyone 'prepping the veggies'. But in this instance, 'bag bounty' doesn't pack such a punch - in a consonance way, I mean, so I have run with my baggie nemesis. I am talking about those little sealable plastic bags that perfumistas find so handy to use for smaller sizes of perfume vials, whether singly or in small huddles.

In the old days I used to buy loads of 1ml stoppered glass vials, which came with their own supply of plastic bags, but you don't see them so much with the larger sizes like 2ml and above, or not where I buy my stocks. Then a chance search for a decorative button to sew on a new style of wrist warmer I was working on led me to the cornucopia of small plastic bags that is my button tin. At some point these buttons all belonged to a garment I owned, and the little bags may even have hung from the fabric on a thread when you bought it. I would have cut them off and transferred them carefully to the tin for safekeeping, against the time I lost a button on that item of clothing. 30-40 years after I started this collection, Lord only knows what happened to most of the clothes, and even in the case of the ones I may still have, it would take me forever to locate their relevant matching buttons. So I now feel completely free to plunder the tin for bags, and tip the buttons out to take their chances in a general melee, safe in the knowledge that they will probably never be needed.

Clam-like perfume bottle boxes 

Now this is a topic I have been meaning to raise for some time, as I encounter it across all the categories of makeup, skincare and perfume. Quite simply, I am talking about those boxes which resist all attempts to open then, and even your most concerted prising efforts are to no avail. The only way to open the damn box is to yank or rip it in the process of tugging wall of box away from flap. The precise nub of the geometrical problem at issue is the little indented bits of card that sort of catch at the corners: in vain do you try to make the side wall bow out to release the flap from those cut out bits; you can never pull it far enough away to get purchase inside and meanwhile you risk distorting the whole shape of the box.

I do not mean to single out Yves Rocher's Quelques Notes d'Amour as the main culprit here, for it is a 'thing' with lots of boxes, as I say. But this was the last one where I observed the phenomenon, and the nearest to hand.

Unexpected factices in the conservatory

The other weekend I was invited to a Chinese New Year party hosted by the sister of the friend who feeds Truffle. She was also there, resplendent in Chinese costume, which reminded me that I also have an authentic outfit, though I would be way too self-conscious at this age to wear it!

Anyway, it was a great party, with the perfect combination of good company, food and drink, and cute pets running around - the house was even bedecked in Chinese lanterns.  A particular highlight for me was the party trick of the hostess's labrador, Obi, who would obediently balance a prawn cracker on the end of his nose until further notice.

At the end of the night, I was thanking my friend's sister for her hospitality, when she piped up: 'So did you see the factices?' This threw me, and I asked her to explain. 'There are three in the conservatory, behind the door. I thought you might have clocked them.' No, I didn't, to my shame, even though that was where we were sitting all evening! I should have half expected such a novelty, as our hostess used to be a perfume buyer for House of Fraser - I think she has moved onto jewellery now. I hardly need mention that there were no perfumes on display in the bathroom...

PS I didn't feel I could possibly follow up a music-related post with yet another one(!), but at some point I would like to write an account of this latest trip in which I met up with Val and her husband. I fully intended to take Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's cosy animalic scent Foxy away with me, so that I could justify the title: 'Fur, fur, fur auf die Autobahn', but aside from the forgetting of the perfume itself, it would have been rather disingenuous given that we travelled around entirely by train. ;)

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Secular joy: The Monochrome Set 40 Years of Aural Pleasure at The Lexington, sniffing Mrs Potts, and Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour

For those of you who remember my post in November about a B & B in West Hampstead and its aggressively laundered bedding, you may also have clocked the reference at the end to the fact that I had booked a Travelodge for my next trip to London at a very favourable rate, and that it was even prepaid. And that time came round finally last weekend, and I was beyond delighted at the prospect of paying considerably less, while not having to rough it in a 'plywood hotel', to reprise my sister-in-law's incomparable term for this most basic category of accommodation. Okay, not the most basic, maybe, as that way lie dormitories in hostels, but the most basic kind I can possibly tolerate.

Accordingly, on Saturday I set off on the train, and had a table and four seats to myself most of the way, for the rather offbeat reason that the guard had poured a pile of red sand on the carpet in the gangway to ensure no one tripped on some ground-in food a thoughtless passenger had left. I don't know about you, but I associate piles of sand on messes with vomit in particular, and I think other people entering the carriage may have had the same idea. Not quite travelling first class by the back door, but a crowd deterrent for sure.

Once in London, it was only a quick squirt up the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park, and my hotel was just a stone's throw from the station. On arrival, the first thing I did was close the window. What's the deal with open windows in the dead of winter? It wasn't even a smoking room. I guess if you are the sort who regularly sleeps with an open window you might see the point, but it definitely negated the benefit of the central heating set to a luxurious 23C. The second thing I did was to assess the stocks of those little milk portions (or 'jiggers' in the trade - or in the trade in 1984, certainly, when I was briefly product manager for catering products at St Ivel),and kick myself for not assuming they would only last one mug and requesting extra milk before I even left reception. I should know better. I stay in a lot of Travelodges.  Indeed - as I may have mentioned on here, so forgive me if so - it is a superb irony that while I regularly stay in her hotel rooms, the current HR Director for Travelodge Europe used to live in my house as a teenager, where she had the middle bedroom.

Source: Tripadvisor

I still haven't mentioned the reason for my trip to London, though there is a clue in the title, which contrary to appearances is the actual name of the event and not the usual bonkersness I might well have dreamed up myself. For the weekend just gone marked the 40th anniversary of The Monochrome Set, and the band decided to put on a couple of concerts, playing their entire first two albums in track order - one on each night - as well as a set of mixed stuff from different eras. The event attracted a lot of media attention, and fans flew in from as far afield as the USA and Japan. I can only claim to have had 39 years of aural pleasure personally, having discovered the band via a John Peel session on my 20th birthday, but that still makes me an old timer as fans go.

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a guest basis...well, there was a bit of an administrative glitch about the first night, and I had to be hastily reconstrued as 'crew'. This would have meant arriving preternaturally early before the door people opened up to retrieve my crew credentials - the all-important 'artist/staff' wristband - while possibly also carrying a dummy bag of leads for extra verisimilitude. I would have gladly done that, but in the end another guest was unable to come on account of his wife having fallen downstairs at the last minute, breaking several ribs. My first thought on hearing this was: 'Oh my gosh, poor woman!' and my second: 'I bet she was popular!' The guest in question had sadly missed the last gig he had planned to attend due to being rushed to hospital himself, so it seems he is pretty well jinxed on that front. So I was hastily re-reconstrued as 'Honorary Him' for both nights, and could pick up my guest wristband anytime I liked.

Source: Ents24

A word about these wristbands, which you were required to keep on your person for the duration of the weekend event, including in the shower and in bed at night. There were stern warnings to the effect that if the wristbands were tampered with in any way you would be refused admission on Night 2. Accordingly, after the gigs, the band page on Facebook was full of stories of activities people attending had undertaken while keeping the wristband on and intact. The most impressive of these was without doubt 'burying a dead fox in the garden'.

Having queued up to get 'banded', I repaired to the bar, and apprehensively ordered an alcoholic drink. I say apprehensively, because as I once said of The North in my post about Giles Coren:

"Why, you can buy a whole terrace for the price of a glass of Merlot in a trendy bar in Hoxton!"

 I gingerly proffered a fiver and asked for a 'small glass of house white'. And guess what? It was exactly a fiver! The last time I was at the venue I remember a bottle of cider costing £7.50 (the Jeroboam of cider bottles, admittedly!), so that felt like a bit of a win.

Source: Pinterest

Once upstairs, I made a beeline for Rachael Potts, who is not only a perfumista well known to many readers, but also - quite fortuitously - the wife of the legendary Tony Potts, the 'fifth Beatle' of The Monochrome Set, who used to do all their promotional videos and moody black and white films on stage during the early days of the band. He has come back into the frame all these years later, creating the latest video for their new album, Maisieworld, and was also responsible for all the back projection of film footage at the two gigs.

Obviously I had to sniff Rachael without further ado and ask her what she was wearing, as my spontaneous powers of recognition are nigh on zero. 'It's a mixture of ancient resins, topped up with Minotaure'. That's Minotaure by Paloma Picasso, which was famously one of the scents worn by David Bowie. Well, I was never going to guess that combo!

Jane, now the band's promoter outside Germany, and also co-manager of the growing merchandise enterprise with husband Dave, was next up on my sniffing list. She was sporting neat jasmine oils procured on her recent holiday in Granada. They smelt dark and rich and not unlike Rachael's 'ancient resins' indeed.

Staying with our perfume theme, another long time fan of the band was down from The Lakes. I had recently spotted a killer deal on a nearly full bottle of his favourite perfume, Isfarkand, on a Facebook perfume site, and had brought this to his attention. In the end, however, he blew his money on a box set of six vinyl LPs, the reissue of which coincided with the launch of the new album. And of course I really couldn't argue with that. ;)

On the first night I wore Immortal Beloved by House of Cherry Bomb. I have a little purse spray that is beautifully presented in a burnished red metal canister with a black leather bow. Well, the base knot of a bow, strictly speaking, not the bowy bit as such. It actually matched my outfit of red top and black trousers, though as I didn't need to re-apply the scent, such serious attention to colour coordination was rather wasted.

On the second night, Rachael was in Geisha Noire, also by Maria McElroy - to start with at least. I think she said she added another layer of something after that, but you know how hard it is to hear people at gigs. I had opted for Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, which is my second favourite winter scent after Immortal Beloved. That said, I am on such an Immortal Beloved kick at the moment - and Rachael really liked it too - that I could quite happily stay in this till spring.

Then as she does from time to time, Jane kindly gave me some 'gift with purchase' freebies that she had no use for (being a vegan, and a non-make up wearer), which included a mascara - yay! - and a bottle of Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour. Now my go-to review site for all things Yves Rocher is I Scent You A Day. Samantha didn't initially care for this perfume on account of the opening whoosh of red pepper, but she came solidly round to it not long after, while I liked Quelques Notes d'Amour from the off. I totally agree with Sam that it is a 'grown up rose', more suitable for autumn and winter. And for a scent that costs just £20 for 30ml on Yves Rocher's own site it really is punching above its price tag, at at least the level of Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari, say, which is the fragrance I would say it is most closely resembles. Both have a sandalwood/rose/patchouli thing going on, while avoiding that 'catch in the throat' issue you can often get when the patchouli is too heavy-handed. And the light and airy feel also steers clear of wan, cheap chemicalness that is a feature of scents at the bargain end of the designer spectrum.

Notes: bergamot, red pepper, Damascena rose, guaiac wood, patchouli, cedar, amyris wood, benzoin

Oh, and Quelques Notes d'Amour comes in a cute little bottle too, not unlike a miniature Maison Kurkdjian! Maybe I am drawn to this scent because of the happy associations with the weekend when I was given it, plus its name is rather fitting for Valentine's Day, if you are celebrating. I just checked back and I haven't written any kind of Valentine's post on Bonkers since 2016, and it's a pretty tongue in cheek one at that. But there's the link in case anyone is feeling shortchanged today by this 'secular' post.

Because the crossover of TMS aficionados and perfumistas reading the blog can be counted on the fingers of one hand (to date, to my knowledge! ;) ), I shan't dwell on the gigs themselves, amazing as they were, or on the fantastic feeling of fellowship with fans from far and wide, though that was one of the highlights. An American woman living in London - whom I would have very much like to have met - summed up the weekend perfectly in a post on Facebook, which I have abridged below:

"Two nights of unadulterated joy at The Lexington with TMS and 200 plus like-minded people, a community of true music lovers and the ineffable pleasure and infectious joy coming off the stage..... I danced, I swayed, I got so warm I had to take off everything but my tights and top ,feeling like Edie ( without the money or youth) at a Velvets gig..... Thank you for a tremendous evening, a foray into my wild and happy youth. There is no reason to stop feeling young and gay and listening to TMS."

Source: Jane Barnes

Finally, on my way back on the Sunday, I was accosted by a woman who asked if I had any spare change - not a homeless person, though clearly someone on her downers, who didn't have the train fare to Surrey. There's been a lot of positive publicity lately about people living on the streets, and though this woman's circumstances were somewhat different, I immediately got my purse out and gave her a pound. To my surprise, she looked unimpressed. 'Could you not give me a fiver, or six quid? That's what my fare is?' I said I was very sorry, but that that was all the change I had, tossing in my unemployed card for good measure. 'I am sure if you ask a few more people you will get the fare together', I added cheerily. 'No, I won't, I have been here for an hour and a half already and that's all I have got.' After a split second's thought I decided that I wouldn't feel personally liable for the lack of donations of other passers by and stuck to my original amount. I was really curious to know, but too polite to ask, why she would have come to London knowing she hadn't got any money to go home again. The answer may be obvious and I am being naive, but it did puzzle me no end.

So there you have it - a truly memorable weekend, with a gratifying perfume element, and a resistance to being shamed by an impecunious stranger.

Source: Jane Barnes

Saturday 3 February 2018

Stepping into niche scent Narnia: a tale of two friends and a beauteous be-tassled bottle of By Kilian Beyond Love

Source: Best Wallpapers
When I have been at a loose end lately due to the general lack of work, I have taken the opportunity to do a bit of 'enabling', as we perfumistas call the process of helping friends to discover new scents. In my case, I have specifically been helping local friends who are 'regular' perfume wearers but who were curious to widen their repertoire by exploring some of the niche brands they knew I had in my collection. I wouldn't call it perfume consultancy exactly, as that sounds rather too grand / pompous, but in each case it was certainly a guided sampling session, whereby the friend would say what style of fragrance or individual perfumes they were drawn to, and I would fetch out things that were in that vein or something related. We didn't always end up in the place we expected, mind: for example, one friend requested 'rose perfumes with amber', and her favourites turned out to be a mixture of 'markedly spicy rose with amber', 'rose, vanilla and patchouli', and one featuring dominant notes of iris and tobacco and no rose or amber whatsoever.

But it is the upshot of the latest sampling session that is the subject of this post - with two friends at once! That took some fancy toggling footwork, to ensure that they each had a constant pipeline of things to try. Also, I had a much clearer idea of the taste of one friend (whom I shall call 'B') than the other, 'J'. B is a lifelong perfume wearer, whose earliest - and rather atypical - fragrance purchase was of Arpege by Lanvin, and who later gravitated towards floral / floriental scents such as Dior J'Adore and D & G The One. In recent years B has been troubled by the fact that The One in particular seemed a pale shadow of its former self due to (presumed) covert reformulation, and she was keen to see what else was out there. J, meanwhile, was a diehard Mitsouko wearer, who had recently smelt and liked Byredo Gypsy Water on her son's girlfriend, and decided to track down a sample for herself, as well as hunting further afield for a new scent she could call her own. J had also recently come across Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon, with which she was also very taken. I couldn't really detect much of a pattern emerging here!

So one evening in January, B and J came over to my house - they also know each other, as luck would have it - and over a few glasses of Chardonnay we explored 'sultry white/tropical florals' for B, and 'orientals and chypres of every stripe, plus a few leather perfumes for good measure' for J. I told you J's taste was more diffuse and hard to pin down...;)

After a couple of hours the dining room looked like a bomb site, and we had emptied several bowls of rather eclectic nibbles (beetroot and goat's cheese crisps and strange extruded, 'penne'-shaped pea snacks in a Thai curry flavour). And done the bottle of Chardonnay, obviously.

Both B and J put a cluster of bottles / decants in the middle of the carpet, representing their top picks from the night's testing. It took me a few days to make up samples for them - partly for them to keep, partly to return afterwards where I either had very little left of the scent in question or where there were practical issues making decanting tricky (eg rollerballs). Finally I duly presented them both with little organza bags containing the following:

B's selection

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur
Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale
Van Cleef & Arpels Lys Carmin
En Voyages Perfumes Zelda
By Kilian Beyond Love
By Kilian Love and Tears
Belinda Brown Blessings
Dior Grand Bal
Byredo Flowerhead
Hiram Green Moonbloom
Illuminum White Gardenia Petals
The Party in Manhattan (surprise hit wild card)

J's selection

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if
Chanel Cuir de Russie
Dior Ambre Nuit
L'Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant
Serge Lutens Boxeuses
Sarah Jessica Parker Stash
Guerlain Apres L'Ondee
Biehl Parfumkunstwerke Mb 03
Bright Earth Parfums Eau de Earth

J's favourite on the night was Ta'if, a big love of mine, and I have yet to hear how the others went down after her systematic testing. For her part, B was extremely quick off the mark, having instantly and heavily fallen for Beyond Love, which Luca Turin famously called 'the greatest tuberose soliflore on earth'. Link to my own review of it here. B is working abroad at the moment and has already had compliments from colleagues about it (of either gender!). So smitten is B with her new fragrant squeeze that she wanted to move quickly on a full bottle purchase, so I said I would check out relative prices on the Net and suggest the best stockist.

Now I have never bought a By Kilian myself, though I was aware that the perfumes come in a very luxurious presentation bottle with the option of a plain refill at half the price for future topping up. B really liked the look of the presentation bottle @ £205, and I was able to reassure her that future purchases would be a fraction of her initial investment.

Source: Olfactoria's Travels ;)

Harvey Nichols and Les Senteurs had Beyond Love at similar prices once you factored in the shipping costs, but I figured Les Senteurs would include a couple of samples with that. And I do feel more drawn to Les Senteurs, because of Nick Gilbert having worked there, plus I know Claire the owner slightly, and their Seymour Place store (which sadly closed in December!) has been the setting for many a happy meet up of perfumistas - and its baroque sofa the backdrop for my avatar. ;) So I rang the Belgravia branch and the chap there confirmed that they do indeed offer samples. He organised for B to receive one of Carnal Flower (which she also wanted to test, but of which I had too little left to be able to share with her), together with a couple of others I steered B towards from the Parfum d'Empire line. So far, so satisfactory.

Not long afterwards, B texted me from Belgium to inquire whether the bottle she had bought was dab/splash only, which floored me rather. I knew it had to act like that in order to be refillable, but had assumed that there would be the option of a spray mechanism as well, especially at that price. My bottle of Un Lys from Serge Lutens came with a detachable spray mechanism, so I knew of at least one precedent for that type of dual system.

By Kilian tassles in the Naegele store, Augsburg!

To make sure, I rang one of the By Kilian boutiques in London, and spent the next ten minutes at complete cross purposes with the foreign lady in the store, possibly because I fatally used the word 'atomiser' to describe the nozzle-y bit at the top that does the actual spraying. So when I inquired: 'Does the bottle come with an atomiser?' I was told it didn't, and that the only way to get one was with the travel set, the cheapest version of which came in at £55. Which all seemed a bit steep and a bit mysterious. You spend £205, then you have to spend another £55 minimum to be able to squirt your new perfume directly on skin in the conventional way?? I kept reframing my question, but to no avail, so I rang Les Senteurs again and the lady I spoke to there - who was also foreign, but got what I meant immediately - assured me that there is a spray mechanism in the bottle already, but that it is unscrewable to permit refilling.

Phew! I was worried there for a moment...

Have you ever owned a By Kilian bottle - the full monty one, with tassle? (Undina...?)

If so, can you also confirm the presence of an integral spray mechanism? Just in case I misunderstood the lady in Les Senteurs...!

Editor's note: Not knowing at the time where it was all going to lead, namely to a significant purchase!, I completely failed to photograph any of our in-home sampling session, so am mostly improvising with a selection of photos from 'stock' of By Kilian and the esoteric pea snacks.