Tuesday 22 May 2018

When Smells and Sounds Collide: Meeting Geza Schoen in a surprise intersection of the Perfumer and Monochrome Sets

Source: Digital Bauhaus Summit 2017
I have long been an admirer of Geza Schoen and his work. He is one of those spendidly maverick perfumers, whose daring launch of the Molecule range based around a single aromachemical was a groundbreaking departure from the classic conventions of perfume construction. I am also a big fan of Ormonde Jayne, for whom it only latterly emerged that Geza Schoen was in fact the nose working alongside Linda Pilkington. Ormonde Jayne is the house with which I probably enjoy the highest 'strike rate' of any brand, as explained in this (rather preamble-y) post on the range's potential as a capsule scent wardrobe. Or I certainly did with the relatively compact offering prevailing then. I have rather lost track now of all the sub-collections they do, some with exotic back stories.

And then there is the fact that Geza Schoen famously 'scented' my home town of Belfast, after spending a couple of days wandering around inhaling the city's smells, an intriguing project I reported on here. And finally he lives in Berlin, a stone's throw (more or less) from the venue where The Monochrome Set often play when they come to the city, a venue in which Geza himself has given a perfume talk! I even wrote about that coincidence some four years ago in my account of the band's 2014 German tour, when the idea of meeting the man himself was not even a twinkle in my imagination, never mind my eye. It makes me smile to re-read that post, and see that I called the section in question: "Channelling Geza Schoen". This was because I had chosen Ta'if as my SOTE to wear to the gig, before I discovered the perfumer's links to the area and Monarch itself.

Monarch (upstairs) - in Geza's 'hood!!

"Wow, if I had known that Geza Schoen - to whom I feel a particular bond because he once scented my home city of Belfast - was a local, I would have spent longer hanging out in the falafel parlours on Skalitzer Strasse.  I did have a couscous in a tagine restaurant on Lausitzer Platz, and a mushroom pancake in a cafe on Oranienstrasse, but there was no sign of his distinctive rangy form in either eaterie."

Fast forward to 2018, and there has been a further twist in the tale, namely that I have made a little bit of progress in my quest to make the band adopt perfume on even a very occasional basis. For the singer has taken to wearing Ormonde Man as a stage scent every now and then, the nearest thing to having a perfume 'in rotation', as we fumeheads would say, though I don't wish to overplay it. ;) He was cheerfully unaware though of the increasingly organic connections between scent, venue and perfumer, but when I brought him up to speed, jokingly threw down the gauntlet to me with the challenge: 'Get him down the gig!'

Well, I know it was just a flip comment, but it wormed away in my mind for a while, until eventually a head of steam built up and I psyched myself up to message Geza (who, like so many people in the perfume industry whom I don't know in real life(!) is a friend on Facebook), explain all the connections that have curiously arisen between me/him/band/Kreuzberg/Belfast, and suggest meeting up before the gig for a drink and a chat about perfume. I added that he would be most welcome as a guest at the concert itself, only I had no idea what his taste in music was, such that a refusal would absolutely not offend!

And Geza wrote back in the affirmative - to meeting up for a drink initially - before later confirming that he would also like to attend the gig, and could he bring an English musician friend too?! Why, of course he could, and it further transpired that his friend knew of the band, liked their music, had one of their albums, and had commended them to Geza. All of this was starting to feel pleasantly surreal. I had been amazed in the past that fellow perfumistas had been fans of the music and/or up for coming along to gigs, but never would have imagined this particular intersection between my perfume and music worlds.

As he painstakingly wrote down the names of the guests on a piece of paper, Bid paused on Geza Schoen, remarking: 'That has to be an alias, surely?' Not at all, haha...

Source: Stadt Berlin ~ we sat on the lower terrace

So it was that at 8pm on the sunny Saturday in question, we met at a bar by the river just a hop and a skip away from Monarch, installing ourselves at a table on a terrace by the river. I drank beer and Geza had shandy, the German word for which I learnt was Alster, which is also the name of a lake in Hamburg, where the band had played the previous night. The venue's address was even 'Alstertor'. This was getting every so slightly weirder by the hour, though I am probably overly sensitive to Twilight Zone-y things. ;) After about 20 minutes or so were joined by Geza's friend, Paul - check out his own brand of electronic music here - and the conversation rightly shifted to more general topics.

Perfumewise, in the course of the evening we touched on Geza's training at Haarmann & Reiner - he was a contemporary there of Frank Voelkl, who went on to work with Firmenich. I had visited H & R myself on a study to do with fragrance ingredients (it was sadly just another chemicals job in those days!). I also explained my work connection to Kassel, Geza's home town (valves for the city's gas pipe network, since you ask ;) ), and inquired whether he wears perfume day-to-day much himself, or whether it is a bit like working in a chocolate factory. (Turns out it is!, although he is enjoying wearing a current mod featuring a ginger note.)

We talked a bit about the old synthetics vs naturals chestnut, and Geza was clear in his view that perfumes almost always benefit from a combination of the two. I asked him for his views on the 'skin chemistry' conundrum and he confirmed that it categorically is 'a thing'. He has a young daughter, and I was not surprised to learn that Geza is getting her to smell all manner of things from an early age, and confidently predict that she will go far in the business one day if she wants to! Then I surprised both Geza and his friend by saying that I had once blogged about the notion of being forced to wear the perfumes of only one house for ever, and whether that could actually put you off scent altogether. At the time - and it was many years ago, so possibly due for revisiting! - Jean-Paul Gaultier was the house that might have tipped me over the edge in that way. I was thinking of two feminine fragrances in particular: Classique and the plastic mac/bubble gum monstrosity that is Ma Dame. (Sorry, FK, whose work I normally enjoy, notably APOM pour Femme, but this was not for me.) Maybe there are more congenial scents in the line by now, but those two I found quite alarming.

Source: Escentric.com

I also brought up the topic of a project Geza had worked on with Wolfgang Georgsdorf, involving a fabulously off the wall olfactory organ called The Smeller. If you only check out one link in this post, may it be this one, as The Smeller is as hilarious as it is ingenious. Here is a taster...

'The Smeller is an electronic olfactory organ. It looks like an alien from behind, huge, with 64 writhing metal tubes. Each tube leads to a source-chamber with a single smell in it. You could put anything that has a smell in the source-chambers: an aroma-chemical, a flower, a dead fish. Wolfgang ‘plays’ these smells like someone playing the piano.'

Yet another music and scent crossover right there...!

Stage edge to drum kit is a perilous matter of inches!

And soon it was time to head to the gig, which was jam packed - or 'gerammelt voll', as they say over there. I explained that it is my wont (on account of 'tall German man at gigs' syndrome) to stand near the front if they didn't mind, and accordingly wiggled my way through the press of people to a vantage point near the stage. It was quite good that I did in fact, as the night was fraught with technical problems, and I ended up catching a light that fell on the floor and rolled under a speaker cab. The drum kit they had borrowed from the support band occupied a good two thirds of the stage area, which already seemed smaller than we remembered from last time. ;) The other band members were in constant danger of either falling off the edge of the stage themselves, or knocking off any movable items such as bass drum, mike or music stands. The mixing wasn't great in the opening few numbers either, and between all the technical mishaps, the heat, and the delayed start to the set, I was worried that Geza and Paul were not seeing the band at their best to put it mildly, and frankly wouldn't have been at all surprised not to find them still there at the end. But amazingly they were! And said that though the sound was iffy to start with, it had got better as the set went on, and they had enjoyed themselves despite these minor glitches that had seemed all too major to me.

Post-gig scene with perfume samples

Before he left, Geza kindly handed over a box of perfume samples from his Molecule and Escentric Molecule ranges and the Beautiful Mind Series - 'for the boys to sniff through'. The unorthodox method of their conveyance back to Britain will be covered in a companion post on the travel aspects of the trip, and a week later I divvied the samples up and formally distributed them to the band in little organza bags, with the following results...

So...Bid, one of the relatively more receptive members of the band, olfactorily speaking, accepted a set, ditto Jon, who if you recall had asked me to help him find a new perfume after the Edinburgh gig that fellow fumehead Crikey attended. Thanks to the collective suggestions from Bonkers readers, that project is ongoing, and now Jon has even more things to try! In an amusing turn up for the books, no sooner had I given him his haul when he was accosted in the smokers' garden of the pub where they were playing by a girl who said she worked at McDonald's, and could he give her something to mask the smell of frying oil?!! Then Andy the bass player asked if he could take them for his wife, who is Japanese, and wears scent, while he does not. And Mike the drummer said no thanks, he never wore the stuff, and neither did his girlfriend particularly, which means I have a set for reference, hurrah!

But even though he claimed not to be interested in perfume, Mike burst into the venue after the sound check, running around holding Molecule 03 aloft, the most singular of the whole selection, though it was doubtless pure chance he had picked that one out. He must have nicked it from Jon's stash...And thought it extremely odd too, saying it reminded him of fish and chips. Eh?? He sprayed it on the sound girl, who didn't know what to make of 03 either, but clearly did not mind the random aspect of being spritzed by a band member, and seemed happy to keep the sample as a souvenir - for the box at the very least, as I said to her. It is funny how Geza's perfumes are finding their way into the world in unexpected ways...

Now in due course I will try to elicit feedback on what the band made of their windfall, as I will on the complete bunch of samples I gave Jon. If anyone can 'scent' The Monochrome Set, as in encouraging them to wear more perfume, it would surely be a true original like Geza Schoen. Both he and band leader Bid (the initials of whose 'official' name are also GS, just saying ;) ) have a decidedly individualist and independent streak. They are free spirits who plough their own furrow and have turned their back on the mainstream. What's not to like about a man who, in an interview with Fragrantica, famously stated that if he hadn't been a perfumer he'd have been a 'really trendy lamp post' instead? And now - though I am still not sure that that really happened! - their paths have actually crossed...

I say, here is a pre-bagging collage of the band's samples - 10 scents x 4, except that one of the Escentric Molecules is missing (04).

I would rather like to think that was a deliberate omission on Geza's part, for I do like a curved ball...

Tuesday 15 May 2018

"The Sex Robots Are Coming!" - but how do they smell?

Source: viraldazed.com
A few weeks ago I watched a Channel 4 documentary on the future of sex robots.  It isn't even the first programme I have seen lately on this controversial topic, so if the sex robots are coming, so too are the programmes about them. It was compulsive yet deeply disturbing viewing, and even the young male presenter broke down after a tour of a Japanese factory mass producing these eerily lifelike dolls, partly because he spotted some models which looked alarmingly immature.

Without further ado though, I would like to qualify the expression 'eerily lifelike'. They are lifelike in the sense that they have come a long way from those inflatable dolls you would see casually slung over the shoulders of men on stag 'do's. Or male dolls similarly wielded like a trophy on female hen nights. These days they have flesh that gives way to the touch if you press it, including buttocks that are both firm and optimally squidgy (as opposed to 'runaway squidgy' in my own sorry case). Then the top of the range models have eyes that follow you round the room, a remarkable range of facial expressions and utterances (you really don't want to know about the utterances), and the ability to make conversation and even crack jokes. As they get to know you over time, they tuck away facts they have learnt about their owner and deploy these in later exchanges, just as a real girlfriend would.

But crucially they are NOT lifelike in so many other ways. For one thing they are preposterously sexualised, like a hyper-realistic porn star from their luxuriant tresses and sooty, hockey stick eyelashes down to their tapered scarlet fingertips. Always assuming you aren't curious enough to remove their wig and the back of their heads and reveal the extraordinary circuitry that lies within.

Secondly, at the risk of stating the obvious, sex robots still need a lot of work before they can interact conversationally - or emotionally - with the complex and nuanced responses of a real woman. (To be fair, there are also male dolls, but the bulk of the market is female at this point for reasons you may readily infer.)

Thirdly, they are not warm to the touch, like a living body, but at best have more of the sensation of a freshly dead person. (Though I am speculating somewhat here.)

Source: Kulture Klub ~ 'Harmony'

And fourthly, as a friend pointed out to me, crucially they do not smell!

Why did I, as a perfume blogger, not think of this significant drawback!? I think my friend meant they would not have a properly human smell, as opposed to silicone or whatever they are constructed of. I imagine the scent of their base materials might all be quite similar. And while you could spray the dolls with perfume, that doesn't help the underlying issue of not having an inherently human odour. Which got me thinking about the whole topic of the science of attraction and the role of pheromones and all that malarkey. I am very sketchy on the subject, but I do distinctly remember a sweaty T-shirt test, where women were divided into two groups: one was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one that had been worn by their partner, and the other group was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one belonging to a stranger! They were not told what type of shirt they were sniffing, and subjected to a maths test and a mock job interview afterwards to try to provoke a stress response. The study found that the women who received a T-shirt that had been worn by their partners, rather than strangers, had lower cortisol levels.

Well, well...the study concluded: "The findings could be used to help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones", and went on to suggest that people take an item of their partner's clothing away on trips to lower their stress levels while travelling. ;) The full article may be found here.

I found all this rather interesting, not least because I am citing lack of natural odour as a reason why sex robots might be fundamentally flawed, yet I am simultaneously wracking my brains to remember what my exes actually smelt of. If they were in an identity line up with other men, and I had to sniff their chests blindfold, say, would I be able to pick them out? Hmm, the distribution of chest hair and other physical characteristics like build etc might be a clue, so they would probably need to wear T-shirts as well, to create a level playing field. Or maybe it would have to be just the T-shirts, as in the experiment.

The Flirtation by Eugene de Blaas

But my basic point remains. Do I know how anyone I have dated smelt at the time, never mind whether I would recognise their smell now? Did it play a role in our being attracted to each other? Frankly I have no idea. I would have said things like: 'They were a good listener' or 'they had kindly eyes' or 'they made me laugh', but what if their smell had also played a role in bringing us together? In my defence all these relationships predated my interest in perfume and scent generally, so I am allowed to be a little shaky on the olfactory front. But it has got me thinking certainly. Maybe the whole business of attraction is subliminal, but is still a 'thing'.

And as it happens I have very occasionally done what the researchers are suggesting people do when separated, or rather I have sniffed an item of their clothing when they went on a trip, not me. I felt a bit silly doing so, mind you, I'll be honest. And while the scent did seem familiar to my nose, could I have picked it out versus other worn T-shirts? I really ain't sure...! By the same token I am rubbish at identifying perfumes on people just by their smell. Unless it is blindingly obvious, like Angel or Coco Chanel.

Source: Pinterest

So yes, sex robots are coming, and will be socially divisive. I can clearly see how they would fill a need in the lives of lonely introverts who might struggle to date women in the normal way, but the more mainstream these dolls become, the more this hyper-sexual image of how women should look might become adopted as the norm. I am lucky I guess to be pushing sixty, and poised on that delicate cusp between cougar and care home, but I worry about the younger generation, who are already feeling insecure about their appearance thanks to cattle market 'swipe right' dating apps like Tinder.

So yes, sex robots don't smell human, but to what extent will that even matter?

For readers out there with partners, do you think you could pick out your loved one's T-shirt from a selection of three...or ten even?! And would they also pass the same test?

Then speaking of the science of attraction, up next is a post about my meet up with Geza Schoen earlier this month, who wrote: "The sexiest part of a woman is her mind."

I liked what I knew of Geza and his work before, but I like him even more now...!

And finally, here is a tongue in cheek / spoof song on this very subject...watch out for the incomparable line: 'My sister is a pillow.'

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Aldi's £9.99 trio of luxury scented candles - scoop up a Jo Malone dupe...and dare to play with fire! ;)

No 8 appears to have shifted in transit...
It may seem odd of me to be featuring a review of scented candles during weather that might cause the lawn to spontaneously combust at any moment. Well, I say that...as I type it has suddenly turned rather cloudy outside, and I am keeping a watchful eye on the washing. But it has been decidedly scorchio in recent days and additional sources of heat, however minimal, are the last thing on one's mind at such times. Added to which I am not normally a fan of scented candles...no, that is not right - I am, provided they steer well clear of the in-your-face fragrances of the dreaded Yankee Candle and its pound store ilk, together with some of the cruder fancy offerings at T K Maxx.

No, it is more that when I own a scented candle I tend not to light it, because I am very, very shaky - nay, wobbly - on wick care. I am dimly aware that there is a whole skill involved in maintaining wicks at an optimum height, not unlike a barber indeed with his Number 3 and 4 cuts, and I have never quite grasped it. On the odd occasions when I have burned candles, they often gave up the ghost after only burning a few mm, because I have accidentally managed to pull off the wick somehow, or bury it below the surface like a troublesome splinter, never to be prized free again. I have also had issues with 'smoke burn' (I may have made that term up), affecting the previously pristine white surface of the candle, along with something I will just refer to gnomically as 'hot bottoms'.

So dotted around the house are a number of examples of my 'very lightly burnt' scented candles, the complete combustion of which I have eschewed for one or more of the reasons above. And I also have a Roja Dove Sandalwood one which looks way too fancy to ever get cosy with a match. It has remained swaddled in bubble wrap for some years now. But as with wool and perfume, of which I have a glorious glut, sometimes I override all the mental brakes and levers telling me I don't need more examples of an item, and go and buy one anyway. Or in the case of the aforementioned Aldi trio of luxury scented candles, several!

The pineapple is also a candle!

Yep, for £9.99 you can buy three substantial, pleasingly heavy candles in glass jars, with chrome lids, with a cream and black label that screams 'Jo Malone'. The names are not merely cheekily similar to actual Jo Malone scents, but downright outrageously identical. My three pack comprises Red Roses, Wood Sage & Sea Salt, and Orris & Sandalwood. I have no idea how they even get away with that.

I hadn't noticed these candles myself, even though I shop at Aldi, because the multipack was being merchandised amongst the melee of non-food stuff in the middle of the store, where I don't tend to look, though I did get some bargain free weights and yoga socks there at Christmas! It was my good friend Lizzie who tipped me the wink, when I went round to her exquisitely decorated new home and spied one on the bathroom ledge (the only light in the room in fact, as she was waiting for an electrician to visit the following day ;) ), one on the dining room windowsill, and one in the living room fireplace. They were all burning away merrily, their unimpeded wicks clearly the result of expert trimming...and on closer inspection, they smelt delightful.

Which leads me to the point that these candles do not project their scent unduly - is there a word for the candle equivalent of 'sillage'? - but they look very classy in situ as they burn and have a lovely subtle scent when you are within range. And I really cannot stress enough how pleasantly surprised I was by just how high end the fragrances smelt. For the price it was truly uncanny, and as with some of the Lidl perfumes I have comprehensively covered on here down the years, I would like to shake their (doubtless highly covert!) perfumer by the hand, for he or she has done an extraordinary job with a minimal budget. Which is not to say that the ingredients - whether the wax itself, or the aromachemicals - will have cost the same as a proper Jo Malone, but at £3.33 a pop vs £45 the choice is a stark no brainer. And as I say these Aldi candles are streets ahead of other budget kinds I occasionally dare sniff in the likes of Home Bargains, B & M and Wilko.

I mention the wax possibly being different because of the intriguing warnings on the back of the box, the like of which I don't remember reading before. First and foremost, we are advised: "WARNING: CANDLES CAN CAUSE FIRES". Crikey, I would never have considered that. But that is just the start of it...We are also told:

"May produce an allergic reaction"

"Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects"

"Avoid release to the environment"

But hold on, how does one go about burning a candle in the first place without releasing its smoke / emissions to the 'environment' of one's living room? Or does the advice relate to the great outdoors? Are they saying it is okay to gas yourself and your goldfish quietly in the comfort and fragrant ambiance of your own home, but not to allow noxious particles to escape in your street for passers by to inhale? It's a conundrum. Interestingly, Red Roses is NOT deemed harmful to aquatic life. I just toss that titbit out there in case you were considering investing in a three pack and splitting it with friends. Give the fish owners the rose one, that would be the smart move.

I also learnt that you are meant to snuff out a candle, not blow it. I am not sure I have snuffed a candle out in my entire life. I thought that was something the Victorians did with special long handled metal snuffers. They are the sort of people who also used letter openers instead of ripping their post open with their bare hands like us modern folk. And you are meant to "keep the wax pool clear of matches and other debris to avoid flaring". Hmm, I think I may have had this flaring thing happen in the past, which could be what leads to my 'smoke burn'. But only from fragments of dead matches falling in there - and never deliberately allowed to fall in there - let alone 'other debris'. I wonder if people chuck used tissues on burning candles or exactly what "other debris" the manufacturers had in mind.

All of these warnings have rather served to reinforce my wariness around the whole tricky business of interacting with a candle, as there appears to be a strong safety dimension on top of my functional failure one.

And yet I shall light one of these candles when the weather properly goes over! I am feeling reckless. And keen to work on my wick whittling. Plus I have no fish! And even if I had, thanks to Truffle I wouldn't have them for long.

Finally, it says on the box that these candles are a limited edition, so I suggest that if you are not put off by the unnerving Health & Safety aspects, you hie thee to an Aldi sharpish before they are all gone. Bearing in mind that you may have to rummage amongst an eclectic mix of other household items to find them, as is the way with the discounters. But at that price it will be worth it, trust me.