Tuesday 31 July 2018

Swoon Bloom: Anya's Garden Strange Magic perfume review

Earlier this month, during the very hottest weather of all the hot weather we have had lately, I drained my sample of Strange Invisible Perfumes L'Invisible, a juicy marvel which for no good reason had been languishing in one of my sample bags for years. I recall popping into the Strange Invisible Perfumes store in Venice, LA, on a work trip in 2010, but having checked the relevant blog post I note that I didn't get round to trying L'Invisible on that occasion, and have no idea how or why I acquired this sample.

Notes: Sicilian lemon, bergamot, mandarin, ylang-ylang, hibiscus, Moroccan red rose, jasmine, vanilla, amber, oakmoss

Ooh, am I sorry to have finished the vial. L'Invisible is a really cheerful, tangy scent with a luscious citrus and ylang-ylang opening, seguing into a cosseting drydown of amber and vanilla, that is perfect as the temperature drops on a summer evening - I don't pick up much moss. Invisible it is not. So L'Invisible had 'strange' in the brand name and was orange in colour, a combination to which I was now very favourably disposed. Such that when natural perfumer Anya McCoy kindly offered to send me a sample of her latest creation, Strange Magic perfume, "made of 95% handmade tinctures of flowers from my Miami garden", I jumped at the chance. Anya went on to explain: "I believe it's the first perfume to be made mainly of tinctures, with just a few essential oils and absolutes added where necessary."

Source: Anya's Garden

It wasn't so much the fact that this perfume is made of tinctures per se that got me excited, but rather its enticing name (no pun intended - Anya's last release was called Entice), and the fact that the blooms of flowers used in the making of Strange Magic had changed colour in the process. I was already in the mood for an orange perfume, while this one was reportedly dark red. I also read this blog post of Anya's with interest, which documents her decades-long tincturing experience generally, and how she noticed a few years back that the flowers of Michelia alba (white champaca) went radically different colours when in contact with the 190 proof alcohol she uses to make her tinctures, beginning with pink and ending up a deep burgundy, the more flowers she added.

Oh, I do love things like that which appear to be magic! I was given some Portuguese gin at Christmas which is a violent purple in colour like meths, and is meant to turn pink when you add tonic. That unfortunately proved to be mere advertising puffery, for the gin actually goes pale mauve instead, just as you would expect. Then there was the wonder in chemistry classes at school of copper sulphate solution, whose bright blue hue - a small miracle in itself! - would go mysteriously white when heated. I find such things endlessly fascinating, and couldn't wait to try this particular instance of 'strange magic' in perfumery.

But before I come onto the fragrance itself, as I so often do on Bonkers I must pay tribute once again to the exquisite packaging in which the sample arrived. I love the bold combination of orange and purple - even if it reminds me vividly of Loyalist marches in my home town of Belfast. I have already bestowed the accolade of 'packaging highlight of 2015' on what I dubbed Anya's 'bias-beribboned box' in this New Year's round up post. That had contained her Ylang-Ylang tincture, which I remember enjoying wearing that summer, but as it was sadly stolen along with my luggage I never felt able to review it.

I took an even closer look at the box this time round and could see that it was recycled. Very commendable. There was the telltale haphazard fibre pattern you get with OSB (oriented strand board aka Sterling board), a material on which I have done multiple pan-European studies (which may come as no surprise to you). Here is the very same stuff being used to line the bar in a quirky cafe called Spout in Leek.

Source: Tripadvisor

And finally, on to the sample of Strange Magic...which is indeed dark red as billed, veering to reddish brown. It stays brown on paper but goes on clear on skin. Maybe that's because I am a bit tanned at the moment, but no, I really think it is colourless on skin - that's another aspect of its magic, then. ;)

And as you can see from the extensive (but still deliberately not comprehensive for perfumer as magician reasons!) note list below (plucked from Cafleurebon), the fragrance comprises a whole host of tinctures of different flowers.

Notes: Chinese Perfume Tree: yellow flowers (Dark amber tincture), Orris: pale white rhizome (Bright coral, orange tincture), Chamomiles: white flowers (Blue oils when distilled), Gardenias: white flowers (Dark amber tincture), Jasmines: white flowers (Deep amber tincture (some, not all), White Champaca: white flowers (Crimson red to dark red tincture),  Ylang ylang: yellow flowers (Olive green to dark green tincture),  Cashmere Bouquet: white flowers (Deep red tincture), Vintage white ambergris from Vanuatu (Orange tincture)

When I first smelt Strange Magic I was instantly reminded of my dabbling in natural perfumes at the start of my hobby - in a purely sampling sense, I mean. I was very taken with the range by Ajne of Carmel, to which I was introduced by Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon, as it happens, and over time I acquired samples of Printemps, Desire, Bloom, Divine, Lakshmi, Om, Fleur Blanche, Vanille and Aphrodite, and even went on to own a small bottle of the frangipani and jasmine beauty that is Calypso, reviewed here. My Calypso is also orange now and very aged, but still not off I wouldn't say! The sheer intensity and Dolby Surround Smell effect of natural perfumes is hard to describe, but it is like sniffing something in HD, where the florals are incredibly present, whilst sometimes seeming to be showcased against a darker, murkier, slightly treacly base (in a good way!). If you put L'Invisible in a cave you might get a sense of what I mean, though there again probably not. I pick up on a heady bouquet in which I can detect ylang-ylang and a sensual blur of other sweet and narcotic flowers, but I would be lying if I said could make out anything else distinctly. But that truly doesn't matter: suffice to say that Strange Magic does indeed cast a spell over me, and as I say is extremely evocative of those equally heady early years of experimentation and discovery when I first fell down the rabbit hole.

Circe, by John William Waterhouse ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

The only downside to mention is that as with magic tricks, so with Strange Magic the perfume, it is rather a case of 'Now you sniff it, now you don't' ie Strange Magic doesn't last very long on me, and mutes down to a whispery trace within a few hours. I would like to say that its ephemeral nature is part of its mystique, but we are talking a scent that, due to its handcrafted and natural provenance, is necessarily a high end item - it costs $125 for 15ml. That said, I see my Calypso from Ajne is now $195 for 15ml, so by that yardstick Strange Magic is a relative bargain, longevity aside! And if you are someone who pays most attention to how a perfume smells in the first few hours anyway, that might not be an issue. Assuming you even had the same experience as me of its being somewhat fleeting. I note that Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur got 6-8 hours wear from Strange Magic, so maybe I am the one with 'strange' skin in that regard!       

In closing I will just say that I wish the things in my garden smelt anywhere near as nice as the flowers in Anya's. Currently there is only scorched yellow grass and some tall white daisies that are keeling over and turning brown prior to giving up the ghost completely. Oh, and one unnaturally tall peach rose, so much so that I hadn't even noticed it was in bloom. But I doubt I have anything like the wherewithal to make a tincture...so will gladly leave that to professional perfumers in more tropical climes.

Friday 20 July 2018

'Pure Poison': the bizarre and tragic case of the perfume bottle that wasn't

3D-Novichok ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (ChiralJon)
When the news of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia broke last March, it seemed like the most preposterously unlikely event ever to occur in the sedate cathedral town of Salisbury. The weapon of choice was the military-grade Novichok, a series of nerve agents first developed by Russian scientists back in the 1970s. Yes, this was the stuff of John Le Carre novels rather than a tale of everyday folk eating pizza on a Sunday afternoon in a shopping centre. As the story unfolded though, we learnt that Sergei Skripal was a former Russian spy / double agent, so (without naming names!) a possible motive for the attack was starting to emerge. Both father and daughter recovered, thankfully, after a long stay in hospital.

Fast forward to the end of June, and two more people were poisoned by Novichok, thought to be from the very same batch used against the Skripals, but at a much higher strength - at least ten times as concentrated. The victims on this occasion - Dawn Sturgess and boyfriend Charlie Rowley - were, however, random members of the public, who became exposed to the substance after Charlie picked up an abandoned perfume bottle in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury and took it back to his house in Amesbury.

Queen Elizabeth Gardens, Salisbury ~ Source: Geograph

Some reports say that only Dawn sprayed the contents onto her skin, while others state that both she and her partner did. And I say 'spray', but I have seen one newspaper account which describes the transfer method used by Dawn as 'dabbing'. All the papers agree that it was a 'small glass bottle'. None has mentioned the brand, so perhaps it was unbranded and just a recognisable perfume atomiser or dab bottle of some kind. Then unless this was an obviously unisex scent, it seems unlikely to me that Charlie would test it on himself, but the mere act of handling the bottle may have been enough to lead to serious levels of contamination.

I heard on the news tonight that Charlie Rowley was discharged from hospital this morning. Dawn Sturgess sadly died eight days after collapsing at her boyfriend's home, where the little bottle was recovered by police.

Coming hard on the heels of the Skripal case, this incident is equally if not more shocking, in that the attack was aimed at mere passersby, with no connection whatsoever to the Russian state and its apparatus. It suddenly makes you think that any found object, however innocent-looking, has the potential to be dangerous - or even fatal. And it seems horribly perverse that fragrance, the transformative power of which is invariably a force for good, should be subverted to these evil and destructive ends. As well as sadly making the names of Dior's 'Poison' range - that infamously groundbreaking collection comprising original Poison from 1985 and its flankers - sound like an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

Would this incident make you more wary about found objects generally, and perfume specifically?

According to the Daily Mail, police have warned people in Salisbury: "If you didn't drop it, don't pick it up." So that appears to be the official line, at least locally.

But on the other hand, is there a danger we could become immobilised by fear from touching anything that doesn't belong to us? What if someone dropped their wallet...surely the public-spirited thing would be to pick it up and hand it in?  That said, the sheer audacity and inhumanity of this attack certainly gives you pause...
Source: Fragrantica

Wednesday 11 July 2018

The Analgesics Mini-Tour: The Monochrome Set in Germany, May 2018

Headache not helped by sound check ~ via Mike Urban
I have already written about the serendipitous colliding of my perfume and music worlds in this post about Geza Schoen and his friend coming to a Monochrome Set gig in Berlin. In it I mentioned that at some point I would write up the travel aspects of this mini-tour, which also took in Cologne, Mainz, and Hamburg. Predictably on Bonkers, that time has come somewhat belatedly, and I may have picked up one or two other travel anecdotes from later gigs that I will append here, using a dollop of chronological licence.

And rather than adopt a chronological approach to this travelogue, I will opt for my tried and tested formula of grouping incidents and observations thematically, starting with...

Going by our middle names

At St Pancras, on the way out to Cologne, Andy the bass player had the whimsical idea that for the duration of the trip we should refer to one another by our middle names. This yielded some amusing discoveries before we even started playing the game:

Me: Jane
Singer (Bid): Tara!!
Bass player (Andy): Peter
Keyboard player (John): Paul
Drummer (Mike): refused to tell us ;), so we promptly gave him a German name - Joachim (when we could remember), and Juergen (when we couldn't).
Dave (merchandise team): Alistair (spelling is approximate)
Jane (merchandise team): 'haven't got one', so that is exactly what we called her

It didn't take long for the game to fall into complete disarray, as we kept forgetting to use the alternative names, though not before I had worried a couple of them by threatening to 'rob Peter to pay Paul'.

Signally failing to eat satsumas

Although there is sometimes fruit as part of the rider, it can never be counted on, and I decided to clear my fruit bowl before I left and bring seven satsumas out with me rather than let them go soft and mouldy at home while I was away. I dutifully dragged this fruit on and off trains and from hotel to hotel, periodically offering them to the others...but only had one taker in the four days. I then forgot to eat any of the remaining half dozen myself, and brought them all back home again. However, I am pleased to report that they did in fact withstand the rigours of the journey, and I promptly juiced the lot on my return.

Ongoing pillow disappointments

The pillows continued to disappoint on this tour, being mostly of the large square flat variety, which is neither use nor ornament - or not any use for sleeping, anyway. Occasionally these 'expansive flaccid travesties', as I came to term them, sported a curious embellishment in the shape of a tiny boudoir pillow perched on top, to which someone had administered a swift karate chop. It was so small that it was completely futile as a second layer. As ever I ended up trying to fold the main pillow in half, but when I stuck my head on it, it quickly had the same effect as the karate chop on the little one, and I could feel myself sinking right down to the level of the mattress, as though I were 'sleeping' (I use the word advisedly) in a feathery gorge.

Eating leftovers in a timely manner

Eating on the run has its downsides, not least the lack of a fridge to store any remnants of food you might have. My natural squirrelling tendencies mean that I hate waste, and often fashion eclectic meals at home from an array of unrelated leftovers. I get excited at the uncharacteristic appearance of a mini-bar in hotel rooms - not because of the drink contained within, but the boon of a refrigerated appliance for storing food. Thus it was that I kept a few wedges of pizza left over from a late night snack in Berlin in my mini-bar, before packing them to take on the plane back to Gatwick the next day. It was very hot that Sunday, yet amazingly the food was still cool to the touch when I opened my case at the airport, and shortly afterwards I stood munching cold pizza on the platform at 3pm, feeling smug that I had got it down me before it became unsafe to eat. To be fair, I would have felt even smugger had it been warm, but I can't see me travelling with a microwave in tow anytime soon.

Cold pizza not pictured!

Bananas as an airport security risk

While we are on the subject of food and airports, I could mention a conversation about bananas I had with Andy - sorry, Peter - at the airport in Berlin. We were both eating the fruit in question simultaneously, and I explained to Peter that I had given the working title of 'Banana in the Briefcase' to a humorous travel book I have yet to write about my escapades on work - and latterly also band - trips (though a fair bit of potential copy ends up here, which I may repurpose one day...!). Peter immediately twigged to my intended meaning, namely as a metaphor for an accident waiting to happen, because of a banana's propensity to turn to blackened mush at the drop of a hat, which can of course be disastrous if you keep any important papers or a favourite fountain pen in your briefcase. This in turn prompted him to observe: 'Better eat up, or Security will construe them as a pulpy liquid and take them off us.' And we all know how many alarming attempts there have been to hijack planes with bananas that are well past their best...

Musicians as scent mules

Also at Berlin airport, I realised that thanks to Geza's generosity with samples for everyone, I was now well over the limit of toiletries one can reasonably stuff in those plastic freezer bag things you take through the X-ray machine. So there was nothing for it but to distribute my surplus amongst those in our party who had hold luggage with room to spare. Consequently, some of Geza's perfumes went in Tara's guitar case, along with my own perfume selection for the trip, while the majority, still in their cardboard box, were packed away with the drummer's cow bell. Oh, and my deodorant went with the merch team, who were flying to Luton, not Gatwick(!), so I was reunited with that item some weeks later. Jane whipped it out of her handbag with a dramatic flourish at an Indian restaurant, much to my amusement. And it would have been funny if the various members of our party who had acted as mules for me had been asked if they were 'carrying anything for somebody else', and had all said: 'Oh yes!!' and pointed at me...;)

The running joke of glass in Tara's foot

Quite early on in the trip, Tara the singer announced that he had a splinter of glass in his foot, which was giving him considerable gip. Over the course of the week he poked and prodded it in a bid to wiggle the sliver to the pinprick-sized hole where it had got in in the first place, before burrowing laterally under the skin. At one point, Peter came out with the cruel yet priceless quip: 'If we laugh at your poorly foot, would that be 'Shard-enfreude'?

Gig in the round, King Georg, Cologne ~ via Mike Urban

Miscellaneous missions

Scarf retrieval

One of my roles on tour is to be a kind of 'runner' / 'gofer' / 'woman Friday', responding to any requests as they arise, often on an emergency basis. A prime example of this was when Tara realised he had left his scarf in his hotel room, just 15 minutes before our train was due to leave. I was immediately nominated as the fastest jogger, even on a hot day as it was, and despatched forthwith to the hotel (under an underpass, up a hill). I made it to the seventh floor, somewhat breathless, just as the 'chamberman' was cleaning Tara's room. There on the corridor floor was his scarf, which I scooped up in a flash, calling through the open door: 'This belongs to one of our party!' before hotfooting it down seven flights of stairs rather than waiting for the lift.

Source: hotelbb.de
Holding things

Holding and carrying things is one of my main jobs, from guitars to drinks vouchers, to drinks themselves, to train tickets - and even lighted cigarettes. On a previous tour, Joachim the drummer had asked me to take his rucksack back to the hotel and keep it in my room overnight, while he went clubbing, unimpeded by the extra weight. He only went and realised at 2.30am that he had left his key in the rucksack that was now in my room(!), whereby hangs a tale...These past experiences rather conditioned me to expect to have to hold and keep things for hours at a time. Thus it was that at a gig in the UK the following week, three of the band were getting out of the car when the drummer handed me his rucksack, saying: 'Would you mind taking this?' I immediately asked if he wanted it back in the morning, to which he replied: 'No, only while I tie my laces.'

Impromptu photo shoots

The band had an official photo shoot in the afternoon before the gig in Mainz. The relaxed shot below was taken by Jane of the merchandise team, who was snapping away at the same time as the professional photographer:

Silly photo opportunities were not missed at any point, however. Here is a snap I took of them all (and a chap from the venue) in A Very Tall Lift at a theatre in Hamburg.

And here is one of me and Peter being all kinds of silly with the word 'Blumen' (flowers) in Mainz.

The Mutter of all headaches

On the first night of the trip, I drank a couple of strong glasses of red wine rather quickly - for logistical reasons with which I shan't trouble you. That evening (a Wednesday) an evil headache set in as soon as my head hit the flat pillow, which was to dog me till the small hours of Saturday morning. Everything became a struggle, especially in the heat, but I kept going, lapsing into lulls of pained slumping whenever the opportunity arose. As the week wore on, I ran out of my own stocks of Solpadeine, so members of our party stepped into the breach, offering their own analgesics of choice in ever increasing dosages and strengths. I tried paracetamol, ibuprofen, Co-codamol and finally, at midnight on Friday in the band dressing room, I popped a tablet of neat codeine kindly donated by Jane, and it saw the headache off in seconds!

I can't believe it's gone!

Now I have taken to calling life on tour as 'gruelling fun', and this trip was very high on the 'gruelling', but I felt so euphoric when the headache lifted - which segued into the happy encounter with Geza Schoen the following day - that it was almost worth the pain of the past few days, 'hitting your head against a brick wall and it being so nice when you stop'-style. Okay, I might not really mean that.

But you can be sure that while I still have the stamina, and the resilience to deal with the logistical curved balls that will inevitably arise when on the road, I will do it all again in a heartbeat.

Lighting at the Nachtasyl, Hamburg

Thursday 5 July 2018

"Let's drip together": Roja Parfums sandalwood candle, and thoughts on all things hot and bothered

It seems to have been hot for as long as I can remember - easily since time immemorial - though realistically it has probably only been two weeks so far, with a further heatwave forecast for the next two. I could well say it is too hot to blog, as my office upstairs is an absolute sun trap, and there are times of day when the glare on the screen makes my desktop computer unusable. Well, I do have a Venetian blind, but it is such a faff interacting with cords, and a bunch of bunched up slats invariably lands on my head in the process. So I just accept a lesser window of computer activity, and a greater window of doing jobs round the house and in the garden.

Then later this month I am going to the 60th birthday party of a friend in London, and although the date is still a way off, my mind turned to possible presents for him. Thinking about it, the train fare was rather steep this time, so my presence may have to be a major part of his present, as it were. ;) Anyway, the first idea I had was this Roja Dove candle, which I have had for a while now. I always meant to give it to someone, as it is an inherently gifty sort of item that is suitable for pretty much anyone, except people who only like silver or who think that burning candles is an environmentally suspect practice (see my post on Aldi's scented candle range, which touches on this very matter). I had carefully kept the candle in its protective bubble wrap bag, but when I went to pick it up I noticed spots of what looked like black ink on the packaging, but which was of course molten black wax. Eeeugh, was my first thought, as I quickly discarded the wrapping and considered the candle itself. The label was also splattered in spots of black wax, while the surface had started to pool and bubble, not unlike a very sluggish geyser.

So clearly Roja Dove the candle has got a little bit hot under the collar in this weather, and sadly must be demoted forthwith from gift status. I was jolly interested to see how readily it started to melt though, even without the application of any incendiary material, like a match, say! Someone could write a bestselling song about the phenomenon, calling it 'Candle in the sun'...IAnd it is also a bit like the sunshine equivalent of that cake in MacArthur Park - though obviously substitute candle for cake and black wax for green icing.

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain

Ooh, rain, that would be novel?!

Anyway, this got me thinking about the trials and tribulations generally of being hot. I am managing to function by dint of sleeping only under a sheet, and changing my clothes a lot, but from time to time I do worry about my perfume collection. It is all upstairs in the warmest part of the house - in the dark, admittedly, in a variety of drawers and wardrobes - but the ambient temperature is still too warm. Are you experiencing unusually high temperatures where you are at the moment? And if so, have you altered the storage arrangements of your perfume collection?

I think I am going to do something about mine sharpish. And I guess I have the dripping Roja candle to thank in fact for bringing it home to me in such a dramatic fashion quite how hot it has got in my home...!

Ooh, it's left a little puddle!