Saturday 25 August 2018

Kitchen sink cologne and over-egged coleslaw - and how, as with slaw, less is more

When I was very young, I asked my brother (who is six years my senior) why there was no white crayon in the crayon tin. Being older, he was at that stage in physics where you learn about light, so extrapolating from the process whereby white light is created, he assured me that if I used ALL my crayons on top of each other, I would get a white colour. He was only teasing, as was his wont, but I followed his instructions to the letter and was crestfallen to end up instead with a decidedly muddy and unappealing shade of brown. Which taught me the valuable life lesson that using everything in your armoury at once - 'everything but the kitchen sink'-style - isn't always a good idea. It is still apparently true of light, mind...well, if you mix the primary colours of red, blue and green at least.

Fast forward to the mid-1980s. Of my 700+ friends on Facebook, there is only one, a Simon Staddon, who probably won't be reading this - unless I tag him, haha - who worked for the same company as me back then and can vouch for the fact that I was once a coleslaw mogul. No, really. In the marketing sense I mean - it wasn't all mine as such. God forbid, with a three week shelf life or whatever it is. But yes, for a year or two I presided over an empire of £11m worth of the creamy cabbage condiment, give or take a few tubs of potato salad and beetroot in jelly round the margins. And even more briefly, some whelks, cockles and rollmop herrings. Because for a short spell the empire almost doubled, when the powers-that-be bought out one of our main coleslaw competitors (with a side of shellfish) in a hostile takeover. They were dragged kicking and screaming into our corporate fold, and were so fiercely opposed to the merger that the factory staff took the law into their own hands and began to sabotage the production lines down which our products now flowed. You have heard the expression 'p***ing in a pot'? Well, that is exactly what happened. Police were called, and later swarms of management consultants descended on the factory in full-on crisis mode. I could see the writing on the wall for my year-in-the-planning summer launch of a new range, so I jumped ship and applied for a job in Staffordshire. The rest is history, but my friends up here are amused to this day when I say we wouldn't know each other were it not for someone in Essex p***ing on coleslaw.

Contrary to what you might think, that incident hasn't put me off coleslaw as such, even though the fact I had to eat 36 different competitor products first thing every Friday morning so easily could have done, even with the interspersal of Jacob's cream crackers to clear the palate. I still buy the stuff from time to time and can always tell in the first mouthful whether they have used 'aged cabbage', that has been overwintered in a huge hanger in Ely. Then the other day I spied a variety in Lidl that was completely off my radar, and which showed what light years - would they be coloured?/white? - the market had come in 30+ years:

Coconut, butternut squash and broccoli coleslaw

"Finely shredded cabbage, coconut and butternut squash, in a rich creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing with dried cranberries."

Are you thinking what I am thinking? This is none other than a blatant case of 'superfood bingo', in which the manufacturers devise an upmarket concoction featuring all the buzzword ingredients they can possibly think of that might appeal to the health-conscious gastrosnobs of Middle England. I am actually quite surprised there are no chia seeds in there. To be fair, I didn't even spot the cranberries, so it would probably have been a waste. For my overriding impression was of a creamy, sickly, very coconut-forward goo, in which the cabbage was evidently too finely shredded to put up much of a fight in terms of bite. Because a tangy bite is the sine qua non of traditional coleslaw, which in this case had been sacrificed on the altar of rich and bland 'creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing'. I would rather it had erred on the side of sharp and vinegary, as some of the low-cal coleslaw versions can be, than this inoffensively offensive coconut slime.

Something has gone radically wrong when marketers think that bunging a load of 'in vogue' ingredients into its recipes is going to sell a product. Though I cannot deny that it worked a treat with me!! Fizzy water with a hint of blueberry and pomegranate? I'm there! It may have worked once though, but never again. This was nothing like coleslaw as I know it. It didn't even resemble other offerings on the market that veer towards the creamier, more luxuriant mayonnaise end of the spectrum. This was merely a hot creamy mess. In a chilled food kind of a way, obviously.

Which major disappointment - it is rare for me to throw away food, but in the bin this had to go - got me thinking about whether there are any perfumes I have encountered of this 'kitchen sink variety', with lots of the good stuff thrown in, just too many ingredients altogether to work in harmony, leading to the olfactory equivalent of our white crayon fiasco.

I have given the matter some thought, but my recall is fuzzy, and I would be glad to call upon readers for some suggestions in this vein. Off the bat I would say that Amouage Ubar may be a possible contender:

Top notes: tangerine, orange, litsea cubeba, violet leaf
Heart notes: jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang, tuberose, freesia, lily of the valley, rosewood
Base notes; sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, copahu balm, vanilla, animal amber

And also Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, though it has even fewer notes, and Ubar turns out not to have anywhere near as many as I was expecting:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries
Heart notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon, jasmine
Base notes: frankincense, vanilla, peru balm, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli

I am not happy with those examples - they do smell over the top to my nose, but only Ubar arguably has too many different things going on in it. I tried googling 'perfumes with lots of notes' but there is absolutely nothing out there on the topic! Or not in the first couple of pages of Google, certainly. So please help me out if you can think of perfumes with such a surfeit of notes as to create a nose-thwacking scent overload.


I know, I will look up a few of the older, historical recreations from Grossmith...yes, the effect is broadly what I am after, even though the note lists aren't unduly long again. You know, Shem-el-Nessim and Phul-Nana - that style of heavy, powdery scent from a bygone era.

Hmm, if I can't google perfumes with loads of notes - or remember any! - I am a bit stumped really. Though you see at least where I am trying to go with this. I think the more vintage scents may lean this way, perhaps the odd Guerlain, even. I feel sure there is a culprit in the Penhaligon stable, but don't ask me which. Or another Amouage that would knock your block off with the length of its note lists if not an overpowering composition as such. Or conceivably both.

Finally, my parting advice to manufacturers of coleslaw would be: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' and - most importantly - 'Don't skimp on the carrot!'

Sunday 12 August 2018

Batch point: the surprising guises of Creed Virgin Island Water

I meant to publish this post to coincide with Wimbledon. So that went well then, I hear you say. But there again regular readers of Bonkers will know that I am no stranger to chronological inexactitude, being also prone to celebrating my blog anniversary days or even weeks off its actual date. I am probably not too far out this year to do it now in fact, but have other things to cover for the moment.

Down the years I have done quite a bit of informal perfume 'consultancy' for friends, some of which I have documented on the blog. I use the term 'consultancy' most advisedly, for we are talking a session of 'guided sampling' here, not anything akin to the work of McKinsey or KPMG. Especially as I wouldn't dream of charging my friends £1500 a day for the privilege of my olfactory insights, such as they are.

One of these friends is Simon, the chap who lives on a boat, and on my instructions dutifully keeps his perfumes in a fridge - despite living on a boat, where space is at a premium! - and to whom I introduced two of what proved to be big hits with him: BEX Londoner SE1, inspired by the spice wharves of that post code (review here), and Fragrance Republic's FR! 01/03, a scent built around the elements of a Cuban mojito. It is no longer in production, indeed I think the whole company went bump, possibly dogged by the twin shackles of excessive serial numbers and exclamation marks, but this is mere speculation on my part.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Vodopivez)

Top notes: mint, lemon
Heart notes: rum pure jungle essence (excuse me??)
Base notes: Gurjum balsam

So having drained his bottle of FR1! 01/03 - of which there is none to be had through the usual channels of eBay and Facebook groups - I got together a little bag of samples for him to try in a bid to find my friend another zesty and spirit-themed scent.

And perhaps unsurprisingly - though I thought Penhaligon's Juniper Sling might have been a contender - Simon was drawn to Creed Virgin Island Water, of which I had a little splash pot from many years ago, procured in a swap on MUA (two mentions in as many posts!), but which to my nose was still in pretty good nick.

So Simon drained that with alacrity and I set about procuring some more for him via the UK Sales/Swap/Split site on Facebook. I soon found a 10ml decant, which he applied liberally and again quickly drained. I thought I would seek out a bigger quantity next time, and found a chap on the same site hosting a split that involved a humongous bottle - a veritable Jeroboam of the scent world - divided nine or ten ways, I can't quite remember the exact proportions, but it certainly made 50ml a very affordable £50 or thereabouts, compared with a much higher price were you to buy a 50ml bottle in store. At least three times that much, if not more.

Source: Fragrantica

So the 50ml decant bottle arrived, and Simon carried on spraying with abandon - if anything, with even more abandon that usual, as he had so much perfume to play with. However, he quickly noticed that this lot of Virgin Island Water did not smell like the smaller 10ml decant OR the original tiny splash pot. It was less coconutty to his nose and had a monster fruity opening, which we concluded must be lime. That said, the drydowns were nigh on identical, so it was a fairly fleeting, if startling difference.

So on the Interwebs I jumped in a bid to solve this puzzle, and it was the work of a few minutes to stumble upon a forum thread on Basenotes where mostly male fumeheads from all over the world were discussing different variants of Virgin Island Water, or VIW as it is typically abbreviated, in which not only the coconut vs the lime-forward versions are discussed, but people are lamenting changes in the colour of the cap, or even the juice,

"Does anyone with a 16a01 batch experience the big lime? Should I return this? I read from other threads that they got a perfect balance on this batch.... But I get straight up lime?? What should I do?? (sorry if I sound like I'm going nuts but this smells like lime juice on the opening)"

"For those looking for a nice coconut note who either can't find the right VIW batch and don't have the patience to fool around with batches in the first place, I'll suggest Diptyque Philosykos."

"I ended up paying full retail (15% off actually for Christmas) at the Creed Boutique for their last 2 super-large 17 oz. flacons of VIW from the year 2013. The juice is clear white, and the coconut is dominant. I could have saved hundreds online; however, I love the coconut in VIW and can't stand the lime-intensive versions....I would be thrilled if Creed introduced a new fragrance called Creed Coconut."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (unknown author)

What also struck me was the matter-of-fact way in which members were bandying around batch numbers to back up their observations. In my ten years down the rabbit hole, I have never once looked for, never mind referenced, a batch number of a perfume in current production, though I may have peered at the bottoms of flacons of vintage scents for any kind of numerical steers. But the very idea of going into Boots, picking up a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (not that I would, given Lidl's perfectly adequate dupe for a sixteenth of the money), and checking it had the batch number I was after is a completely alien concept.

But I had learnt loud and clear that with Creed perfumes, or with VIW specifically at least, batch numbers are very much a thing. I did wonder if the coconut-forward variant is simply an older formulation whereas the lime-intensive one is the latest incarnation, but from all my reading it seems that there is more to it than that. But if anyone has the definitive line on this I would be interested to know!

So given that Simon was not as smitten with this 'lime whoosh' version, I wondered if I could track down a different one for him. Maybe even send this decant back. But if there were different, equally bona fide versions of this scent, that might not be an option. At  least, I thought to myself, I could prove that the lime whoosh variant he has is kosher. That seemed a good starting point. So he gave me back his decant for now, and I studied the homemade label the seller had put on it with forensic interest. Sure enough, there was a long batch number in small type in the bottom corner of the label. Hurrah! I had something to follow up...

I jumped right back on the Net and did a trawl of sampling sites, seeing if any of the ones selling VIW actually stated the batch their sample was from. I struck lucky with a company whose name escapes me in Bangor, Co Down, a seaside resort where I spent much of my childhood summer holidays wasting my pennies on slot machines on the prom (though I resisted the urge to add that as a note with my order). The sample cost £5, plus £2.50 or so postage, but I figured that was well worth paying to prove that what Simon had was 'proper', even if it was not to his taste as much as the coconutty variant. And when the sample came, supposedly from the very same batch as our decant, it was absolutely clear that they were identical, so assuming this was a kosher sampling site, which I did assume, I could tell Simon that he had good - if rather limey - gear.

Barry's Amusements ~ Source:

Having established that we had no come back from the Facebook seller because he was simply hosting a split of VIW, not a batch-specific one, Simon got on with using the one he had in the spirit of that Stephen Stills song: 'Love the one you are with'. And now he has finished that too, all 50ml of it!

Another big split came up on the same site recently - involving another gigantic bottle but a different seller - however that fell through unfortunately, when the online retailer suddenly realised it was out of stock. We all got our £50 back and I am currently on the waiting list (on my friend's behalf) for another bottle to appear. It sounds a bit like waiting for a kidney to become available, and certainly Simon is very attached to this scent, even if it is not entirely essential to life. So much so, that he is now completely comfortable in the knowledge that finding a cheap source of Virgin Island Water is already good going: the coconut or lime inflection may have to remain in the lap of the gods.

Have you ever come across this phenomenon of batch variations? Is it a Creed thing or more general?