Friday 27 April 2018

The Spitalfields Spritzers: sniffing and scoffing with a gaggle - and giggle! - of international perfumistas

It's all about the friendships...
Last weekend saw one of the biggest gatherings of perfume lovers from all over the world, drawn at least in part by this year's Art and Olfaction Awards in London. I wasn't invited to that event, but I gladly took the opportunity of this formidable foregathering of fumeheads to spend some time with a sizeable subset of those who had hit town . Now I wouldn't normally run two 'perfumista meet-up' posts back-to-back, but if I wait another week, there is a real risk that the day's events will become 'yesterday's smelling strip'.

Thus it was that I set my alarm for 6.15am last Saturday. This ungodly hour alone would have been enough to arouse Truffle's suspicions of an impending trip. Her fears were compounded by the sight of multiple little rucksacks being auditioned for the optimum combination of capacity and unobtrusiveness, and several jackets lying around the dining room - none of them objects I would normally interact with at that time of day. But Truffle could also see that her access to the garden remained unblocked, so decided to make a sharp exit to the great outdoors while the going was good.

I set off at 7.30am to walk to the see a different side of a town when you are up and about so preternaturally early: cleaners wiping down office windows, staff opening up cafes, shop assistants walking to work. I also got a good view of the famous 'Pickup cats', who live in Stafford's only remaining electrical store. There are three altogether I believe, though given that they have been resident in the shop ever since I moved to Stafford over 30 years ago, there is every chance that the total number of cats - as well as the individual cats themselves - may have changed in that period!

At the station I hit my first technical hitch...the ticket machines were not working - neither the self-service ones nor the ones in the manned ticket office - so I was told (by Robert - always wise to clock people's name badges for added verisimilitude!) to get on the train with my paper confirmation of an online purchase and explain to the guard what had happened. Everyone who got on at Stafford would at least be telling a consistent story. ;)

The next apparent hitch in my journey - albeit not technically a technical one - was the fact that from Atherstone onwards I was hemmed in on all sides by six young mothers from Birmingham. Or at least five, because Whitney didn't look particularly motherly to my untrained eye. For two and a half hours I listened to them all talking about social media, their children's behaviour, other children's behaviour towards them (some of it involving sticks), their childrens' ailments and accidents, their pregnancies with their children, their husbands and partners, their parents' taste in music / dancing styles(!), their lust for a particular pair of shoes, make up bargains, the selection of T-shirts in Peacocks (with and without glitter), their jobs in various shops, and much more besides. The roll call of children whose names I caught were: Darcy and Poppy, Connor and Cody, and Willow and Brandon. I thought they were really going to bother me, talking so animatedly the whole way there, but I ended up being completely engrossed - I think I must be genuinely curious about other people, or should that be merely nosy? ;) At one point we all burst out laughing, when the woman opposite me (Emily, mother of Connor and Cody), inquired: 'What's the word for school?' She meant 'Academy', but everyone (me included!) simultaneously blurted out: 'School!'

Source: Birmingham Mail

Speaking of children, at every station there was the same announcement: "Please step onto the platform first before taking the pushchair off backwards." I must have heard it half a dozen times, and wondered how much practical benefit results from the advice in terms of parents correctly alighting from trains with their buggies, versus all the other passengers being irritated by its constant repetition. None of my mothers had their children with them, for example - why, that was the whole point of their trip to London - to have a nice lunch and some drinks, take in a show, and be unencumbered by kids for a day.

The next (actual!) technical hitch was the train being delayed due to something that was euphemistically described as 'an obstruction' and 'an issue' - in a tunnel just beyond Rugby. Obviously, everyone in our carriage immediately started thinking the issue and obstruction might in fact be a 'person'. We had to go via Northampton, but didn't stop there thankfully, and ended up with half an hour's delay, such that I was only ten minutes late for the brunch.

Are you ever going to get to this perfumista meet-up, or what??!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Coming, coming!
Yes, so as you can imagine, I was pretty socialised out when I finally got to Euston, three hours after I set off, and with the whole day still ahead of me(!). The group of eight of us was truly cosmopolitan: three people from Austria, only one of whom was Austrian born and bred (Val's daughter, Hannah), while Val is from everywhere as we know, and Lady Jane Grey is from Hungary/Slovakia, but lives in Vienna (with her French husband, to add a further international twist). Then there was that fumehead fulcrum of Facebook, the spectacularly globe-trotting Margo (who is from Poland), Lucy of Indieperfumes, who lives in New York, Megan - from Sainte Maxime (there's a clue in her blog name!) - and who is in fact a Kiwi, hehe - and Tara from London! (Her report on the day's events may be found here.)

The brunch when it came was very good - I would cheerfully have eaten pretty much anything anyone else had ordered, but opted for a vegetable burrito, on the basis that it was the most 'labour-intensive' dish on the menu, which I would never attempt to replicate at home.

'Al fresco' diners

I did have an 'issue' with my tea, mind. It tasted of onion, improbable as that may sound. Realistically it might just have been that limescale-y taste you get with water from the bottom of a kettle, but onion was the first thing that sprang to mind. I passed my mug round the assembled company, and of the three people who tried it, one thought it tasted funny in a non-specific way, one thought it was fine (admittedly a coffee drinker ;) ), and one agreed with me on the onion. So a slight majority found in my favour, which was enough to embolden me to complain about the tea and elicit a replacement. The next mug proved to be an altogether different kettle of fish (though happily not tasting of it!).

It was predictably great - and slightly surreal - to be there. I had met everybody before except Megan and Margo (I clearly need to work on my 'M's). People had strewn the table with samples of every stripe. To be perfectly honest, I was only interested in the new Hermessence samples, of which Val had a full set. She kindly gave me sample vials of Cèdre Sambac and Myrrhe Églantine (with its gratuitous accent on the capital 'E', which, contrary to my usual contrariness, I have faithfully reproduced, as I like it so much!). I have been wearing both on rotation ever since, indeed I just bought a travel spray of the latter on a Facebook group - yup, me who swore blind she wouldn't ever buy perfume again! Though it is quite small, and will get used if the rate at which Val's sample is going down is anything to go by.

 After brunch, I peeled off with Lady Jane Grey, while the others went straight to Bloom in Covent Garden. At this plateau stage in my perfume j*****y I find myself more excited by a high quality craft market than the prospect of sniffing random unknown things in a shop. I did buy an upcycled silk pencil case from a lovely Japanese lady, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on LJG's news and generally having a mosey round the market. The craft stalls seemed to have shrunk though, while the food stalls have mushroomed exponentially since I was there last. And the whole enterprise has become way more commercial and slick. But the craft side of things still had the wow factor for me, and offered much richer present pickings than anything I could have found at home.

I was given a scarf from here - the red one, bottom left! 

After about an hour, we joined the rest of our party at Bloom, where they were still going strong! I only popped my head inside, as I find the ever-changing system of bottle organisation quite impenetrable, and the shop also a little on the dark side for my liking. But mostly I need a friend to quite literally press a clutch of samples into my palm and say: 'You are soooo gonna love these, V', before I can be seduced into trying something new. And Val is very good at doing just that.

While in the alley, Val presented me with another little friendship bracelet, to add to the one she gave me in Augsburg the last time we met. You see, Val, Tara and I have a bit of a three way conversation group (aka 'coven' / 'triumvirate') going on on Messenger, and V figured it could be a kind of symbolic uniform for us - you know, like boy scout neckerchiefs in the same colour. Only we got to choose different colours, hehe. I happened to have first pick, and went for one in a sort of bluey grey, while Tara chose peach and Val got the remaining blue one by default. But the bracelets are otherwise identical, with tiny copper pieces all the way along the cord.

Source: Wikipedia

After Bloom, we went en masse to a branch of The Forbidden Planet, which Wikipedia describes as 'the world's largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer'. Val specifically wanted to go there to buy a poster for her gym trainer back in Austria, and quickly found one he would like of Batman. The shop was crammed with merchandise of every kind to do with sci-fi and fantasy films, comics and books etc. I gazed in awe at the cabinets full of figurines of monsters and robots and dinosaurs and Manga women fighters with preposterous physiques and I don't know what else, and also marvelled at the fact that there was absolutely nothing I would wish to buy in here, however long I spent combing the fixtures. While standing in the store, somewhere between scarily be-logo'ed T-shirts and tin tardises, I had an incongruous conversation with Lucy about our respective skincare regimes, in which she sang the praises of The Ordinary. Looking at her completely unlined complexion, I couldn't help but agree.

Next up, we made our way back to Covent Garden, where there was a half-hearted and abortive attempt to buy ice creams (the queues!!). Instead, we ended up fleetingly refuelling in Starbucks with an assortment of beverages before heading off to our next destinations - in my case the station, while the others were going to change and rest up before the awards ceremony with its intriguing dress code of 'bohemian cocktail', which I for one would much rather drink than wear.

I am pleased to report that there were no further train related incidents on the way home. I had had quite enough fun and excitement for one day!

Friday 20 April 2018

Bonkers meets Crikey, in another happy intersection of the Perfumista and Monochrome Sets

Source: The Voodoo Rooms
It's good to have a hobby. Perfume, knitting, and the music of a particular band (no prizes for guessing which!) would be my top three. I have knitting friends, perfume friends, fellow music fans - and then very occasionally, friends who fall into more than one category. When that happens, it is as exciting to me as one of those uncommon astronomical events that I often forget to look out for - like the Super Blue Moon Eclipse in January, though I did catch that one, as it happens. The moon wasn't particularly blue though, or even what I'd call 'super', but I daresay these things are relative.

That said, 'knitting perfumistas', while not exactly two a penny, are by no means as rare as hen's teeth - and may in fact be commoner than I think. On the other hand, perfumistas who are also fans of The Monochrome Set are an altogether different - as in highly sliverish - intersecting set, in punning Venn diagram parlance. To date, for example, there is Val the Cookie Queen, who got into the music in the 80s, when she lived in Amsterdam. She and husband Chris have now clocked up four gigs with me in Germany and Austria, where she massively endeared herself to the band with epic feats of impromptu roadie-ing.

Up next is Katie Puckrik, who attended her first Monochrome Set gig in 1980, the same year as me, though she saw the band in Washington DC, and I saw them in the Tottenham Court Road(!). I cannot honestly say whether Katie has an ongoing interest in the music, but I am shoehorning her into our intersecting set until I hear to the contrary!

Then we have Susanna Pellinen, who was a moderator on Basenotes about ten years ago when I used to hang out there - and may still be, indeed! - it's just that I never visit the site now. I know Susanna has a ton of Monochrome Set records, as she has posted attractive montages of her collection on the band's Facebook page, though I can't speak to her gigging history.

But the most striking and dramatic crossover of our two sets has to be Rachael Potts. Rachael has the double distinction of being a perfumista and married to Tony Potts, the band's video maker of yore, who is widely regarded as the TMS equivalent of 'The Fifth Beatle'. Rachael was arguably catapulted into fandom by dint of her attachment to Tony, rather than getting into the band organically like the rest of us through the normal channels of record shops, the NME, the John Peel show etc. However, she is now a card carrying lover of the music in her own right, quite independently of spousal influence / three line whippery. ;)

Finally I could count a slightly looser category of people associated in some way with The Monochrome Set, namely those whose interest in niche perfume I have in some way encouraged - equating to a small handful, certainly. Posts about my fragrancing exploits within the wider band scene do pop up from time to time, for example about Jessica of The Would-be-goods, and her (now happily concluded) rose perfume quest.

Source: Edinburgh Spotlight

And then recently....drum roll...a reader of various perfume blogs (including Bonkers) named Crikey 'came out' as someone who had been to a Monochrome Set gig in the mid-90s, at the 12-Bar Club in London, right before the group split up (again!). I only went to three gigs in the 90s - none of them beyond 1992 - so I was most interested to hear of someone who heard their UK swan song, as it were. Though the swan turned out to have strong phoenix-like proclivities, for here they are, still touring some 20+ years later.

But firstly, how good an Internet handle is Crikey? So quintessentially British, so understated and faintly retro. I am not aware of a blog reader called 'Blimey' or 'Golly', but there is surely a vacancy for both. Crikey and I have engaged in a few perfume swaps, plus she had the misfortune to win one of my most ludicrously lacklustre raffle prizes - a strangely sexist perfume book focusing on mainstream classics of the 20th century - so, you know, we had already had a bit to do with each other postally, and by email.

But when I heard Crikey was thinking of coming to a gig in her home town of Edinburgh in April, I was beyond delighted! There were several concerts in a northern cluster, and I managed to get round them all as well as spending several nights with Sibling and SIL Bonkers (aka Hazel). The Edinburgh gig was the last date, held (as is customary) in the highly characterful Voodoo Rooms, noted for its fin de siecle grandeur, and featuring ornate chandeliers, gilded swag-type architectural mouldings, and special offers on gin. It was in The Voodoo Rooms that I famously spotted an Andy Tauer lookalike called Graeme, and ended up devoting a whole post to this remarkable Doppelgaengerish incident.

Crikey and I didn't make a specific arrangement to meet in advance, as I wasn't sure quite what was happening in terms of my own logistics, plus those of several other friends I knew were coming. These included my 'dancing partner' of 13 years, Ruth from Belfast, and a former band member from Staffordshire(!), now resident in Edinburgh. Things worked out really well though, for Crikey arrived just as our party were finishing eating, and we adjourned to another part of the bar for a proper chat - initially just the two of us, but gradually joined by Ruth, then the current keyboard player, Jon, then Sian, a former keyboard player(!), and last but not least Jane Barnes, the promoter.

While the two of us were together, Crikey most generously gave me a little travel pot of Frederic Malle's Portrait of a Lady, which just happens to connect me to two of the other fumehead fans I have come to know - Katie Puckrik and Val. For when I first properly met Katie she was wafting PoaL on her pashmina - my first encounter with the scent too - while Val has worn it to at least one TMS gig. I distinctly remember her spritzing herself with abandon with PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, though not on the most recent occasion, when she was rocking Dior Oud Ispahan. But PoaL is an absolute link amongst us all now - a gossamer scented thread, if you will - and I have worn it several times since I got home, enjoying in particular the intensely rosy note in the drydown.

Before the others joined us, Crikey and I also had time for a 'turbo download' about our respective lives: Crikey is a world class power lifter in her spare time, lifting being another thing she has in common with Val, along with statement lippie, short stature, a love of cats, and more besides. I was also pleased to hear about - and see photos of - Crikey's two cats, the charmingly chubby-cheeked Herschel and the newest addition, monochrome-themed ;) Atkins. In case anyone is curious, Crikey was sporting Encens Mythique d'Orient by Guerlain, while I was in my new winter squeeze (it was still winter then, believe it or not!) of House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved.

And then before we knew it, it was time to go into the venue itself, as the gig was about to start. Jane had thoughtfully reserved a table for our party near the front, so we had the option of sitting or standing, and most importantly, somewhere to deposit coats, bags and drinks!

Crikey told me afterwards that she had very much enjoyed the set - and later in an email added that it had serendipitously featured a number of her favourite tracks - but sadly had to head home straight afterwards, as it was technically a school night, as it were. The rest of us took root at our table, and had an interesting conversation about how all people can be divided into one of two types, foxes and hedgehogs (FYI, I count myself as an out-and-out hedgehog, though with a small 'standby' fox somewhere deep inside, to be deployed in dire emergencies). We also drank the remains of the wine rider, and were finally ejected by the venue staff in the wee small hours (as is also customary).

The next day, I bumped into Jon, who mentioned that he would be glad for me to find him a perfume if I was up for that, and that he was completely open in terms of fragrance style. Are bears Catholic?!?! So I eagerly said yes, and now I would be grateful if readers could help me with that. For info, Jon has long hair and a beard, but typically wears gender bending stage outfits that nod towards the 70s. Here he is in Newcastle the other night...while the shot above was taken in Germany or Austria - I can't quite remember which. ;)

Any suggestions gratefully received! I hope to assemble a little clutch of half a dozen or so samples for him to try. So far I have set aside Rima XI, as it is a wispy woody number that might fit the bill. I wouldn't exclude an outright feminine fragrance either. Also, Jon enjoys a swift half or two, so I wondered also about Penhaligon's Tralala, which has a whisky note and even features in the lyrics of a TMS song!

Finally, I have the good fortune to be seeing Val and Tara and a whole clatter of other perfumistas tomorrow in London! No more TMS fans to my knowledge in our midst, though I should perhaps just check....

Jon looking happy on a train

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Le Labo Labdanum 18, and when perfumes go out with a whimper, not a bang

I am sorry my posts have been a bit sporadic of late, or more sporadic than usual, say(!), for which there is a litany of reasons I shan't trouble you with, or not now. So I thought I would squeeze a quick one in while the going is good, namely a musing on the varied ways in which that very real hazard faced by those of us in a SABLE situation (Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy © Hazel) ie perfumes gone rogue, can occur. If you had asked me what a turned perfume was like, I would have said: 'Oooh, it is hard to describe, but a nasty alcohol-y-crossed-with-dead-flower-water kind of vibe.' Always in the top notes, and when the scent has really gone, permeating the whole juice. Though even that image isn't right. I am not sure I have the descriptive powers to do justice to the rank smell of a scent that has properly gone off. Vintage ones seem to be the most offensive - you know, those fierce chypres of yore. Or an old fashioned animalic oriental. A turned one of either of those can be truly repellent.

But what I have discovered of late is that there is another kind of 'offness' - where the perfume has undergone a sufficiently marked metamorphosis to not be remotely classifiable as itself anymore, while not necessarily smelling disgusting. A mild example of this phenomenon was my bottle of Diptyque Eau Duelle that I sold through a Facebook group only to have the buyer promptly ask for their money back. This was because the fragrance - like small children who will only eat pudding - had completely lost its top notes and gone straight to the base, which I would characterise as an 'Om-like', vestigial vanilla hum. Can you tell I do yoga now? ;) Albeit not the kind with chanting. This latest incarnation of Eau Duelle isn't unpleasant, but there is no light and shade and no development, that's for sure. It is indistinct and vague, like the olfactory equivalent of a smudged watercolour, and reminds me of the 'comfy jogging bottoms' stage of Penhaligon's Tralala (© Tara). So my Eau Duelle no longer qualifies as itself, but to my mind it has a pretty strong kinship with how it should be, as in being its own drydown at least.

So there was that, and then I encountered the very strange beast that is Le Labo's Labdanum 18, some 7 years after my bottle was first compounded - just for me! - not long after this event, which I wrote up in my then guest blogging capacity for Cafleurebon. Eyeballing that label, I see that the Best Before date (which is what I take 'Fresh until' to mean), was only a year after I got it. A year? The very how very dare they idea! Do they imagine I will bathe in it, like asses' milk? I have no idea when exactly Labdanum 18 went all funny on me, but I swear it can only have been in the last couple of years, so in hindsight the 'Fresh until' warning was breathtakingly conservative.

So feeble and thin now that it has taken to bed

And how does Labdanum 18 smell now? Hmm, well the opening is a thin, reedy and resinous vanilla spiked with anise, and as the scent wears on, it cycles through every nuance of liquorice in a box of Eponymous Allsorts. A note to which I am far from partial, so I was most taken aback by this unexpected mutation. The scent is not horrible by any means, and I have liberally anointed myself with it out of sheer astonishment quite a few times in the past week, but this version is a far cry from the rich, warm and enveloping barnyard vanilla of Labdanum 18 in its prime.

I would therefore have to concede that my Le Labo has well and truly turned, but NOT in our horrible alcohol-y way mentioned at the top of the post. This is almost a different perfume entirely, though I can detect the wan connection with balsamic vanilla. So in summary it has definitely gone, but gone out with a peculiar whimper, not a whiffy bang. Howver, it is so weak and so 'other' that I may have to subtract a few digits off it though, and recast it as Labdanum 6.25. They haven't got one of those in the line, I don't think.

Have you had any perfumes turn in ways that surprised you?