Tuesday 28 May 2019

Mini-leopard in the boudoir: Papillon Perfumery Bengale Rouge 'review'

Source: eBay
Topic advisory: this post may end up being more about cats than the upcoming release from Papillon Perfumery, the 6th perfume in Liz Moore's carefully curated scent stable. That is no reflection on the merits of the fragrance itself, which has all the hall- - and paw- - marks of a (highly-hyphenated) feline-themed lemming-in-waiting, but rather on my own increasing shortcomings as a reviewer. The inability to parse notes is one aspect, for which some combination of nose and brain are to blame, but I also struggle these days to even convey the overall 'vibe' or atmosphere of a perfume. I shall of course give it my best shot, confident that there will be other reviews along shortly which will more than pick up the slack, if they haven't already indeed.

But first, to cats. I received this sample in the post at the weekend, along with an amusingly surreal card painted by Liz's artist friend Tracy Dovey. "Those fish aren't long for this world", was my first thought. "That poor woman is going to stink of them", was my second - assuming she escapes the cat's embrace, which is moot. The sample was accompanied by a note list written on the back of a photo of Liz's beloved cat Mimi, one of her Bengal harem.

In an exchange following my receipt of the package, Liz explained the inspiration behind Bengale Rouge:

"...little Mimi was my muse for the new perfume. It is my attempt at recreating the scent of her fur, which is generally a mix of cat or any fragrance that I seem to be wearing."

Mimi muffler

While here Liz seems to be wearing her cat...;)

A bit of background may be in order on these 'mini-leopards', as they have been dubbed by the magazine, 'Your Cat'. Today's Bengals are descended from the Asian leopard cat, which was bred with regular moggies. Prized for their beautiful markings, 'Your Cat' goes on to describe them as 'a domestic cat in wild wrapping'. The Chairman of the Bengal Cat Club has likened them to the Duracell bunny on account of their boisterousness and boundless energy, which - as Liz would be the first to admit - often spills over into 'a funny five minutes'. She rather aptly calls her home in the New Forest 'the funny farm', which is at least in part a reference to the madcap behaviours of the cat contingent rather than just the foibles of her human family. Here is Noo, eschewing her designated sleeping spot in order to luxuriate in a sea of discarded polythene, in time-honoured cat fashion.

Noo, coming over all unnecessary on some packaging

So we know that Mimi - and more specifically the smell of her fur - was the starting point for Bengale Rouge. But we don't know exactly how she smells. I am kicking myself now, as I have been to Liz's house a few times, and reckon Mimi would have been threading herself between people's legs on each occasion. I had the perfect opportunity to bury my nose in her fur and sniff her thoroughly, and would then be able to compare that scent memory with Bengale Rouge the perfume. Oh well, 'hindsmell' is a wonderful thing.

Mimi the muse

Hunting digression - contains upsetting scenes that some readers may find distressing

There is nothing for it but to compare the perfume with my own cat, Truffle. An important point to mention, with olfactory implications, is the fact that she and Mimi both go outside. In Mimi's case this is only during the day - to stop her wandering off under cover of darkness and into other people's homes, for which she has form apparently - whereas  Truffle pulls many an all-nighter on the tiles. This is of course prime hunting time, and Truffle's killing sprees have been escalating lately, Jack the Ripper-style. Only this time last week she brought in both a disembowelled starling AND a mouse in a similar state of intestinal disarray. In a curious presage of my writing this post, I had a nightmare the other day in which I conflated Liz's diverse menagerie with Truffle's prey, and dreamt that she had brought in a whole owl and a cock's head and neck. An owl would have been jolly tricky to pick up using only a bit of kitchen towel, my go-to disposal method on such occasions. In desperation, the next day I made Truffle wear a collar again for the first time in three years. And added a bell to warn wildlife of her approach! Tolling of bell = reduced death toll, was my thinking. It has worked a treat all week, until Sunday morning, when the pitter patter of rain helped disguise the telltale tinkle of the bell, and Truffle left me this on the landing...Hmm, she looks like she is sniffing the mouse there!

Not saved by the bell!

Despite their big cat vibe, Bengals are apparently not that bothered about hunting. Here is the Chairman of the Bengal Cat Club again:

"Bengals don't prey on wildlife. Even with their history and where they've come from, they're not mass killers. Bengals are generally not good hunters; they're more likely to just watch."

Goodness me, that gives a whole new meaning to the term 'peeping Tom'(!). So it seems like Mimi wouldn't need a bell then, even if she hadn't been grounded for sauntering nonchalantly into neighbours' houses. She is more likely to curl up on top of someone else's Aga than bring a brace of pheasant home at dawn, with or without their full quota of innards.

So given that she does go out (hunting!), Truffle's fur has its own innate animal smell, plus a few extra accords from the great outdoors. Chief amongst these is an earthy, patchouli-like scent from her routine latrine-digging in flowerbeds. I have often caught a hint of gravel or concrete too - some kind of stone, anyway - and when it has been raining, this of course morphs into the full petrichor, haha. Oh, as is the case for Liz with Mimi, there's also a smidge of whatever scent I am wearing thanks to my frequent nuzzling in her fur.

The particular sniffing action pictured below was staged specifically for this post, mind, and took about ten takes before I got both of us in the shot, and the shot vaguely in focus.

Notes: Turkish rose, orris, sandalwood, tonka, oakmoss, honey, vanilla, labdanum, benzoin, sweet myrrh

On first sampling Bengale Rouge, I was struck by how quiet it was compared to the big production bodice ripper that is Salome, and Liz agreed with me that it was more understated, adding that it was 'fluffier', and the 'softest' of her creations. I cannot convey how soft it is - I could have included Bengale Rouge in my 'Careful Whispers' series if I could have been bothered to work out from my archives which number it would be. Editor's note: No 4 at a guess, but I am not going to change the title now...!

From the off I have to say that Bengale Rouge smells a lot more like an indoor cat, notwithstanding Mimi's daytime excursions. Lose the earthy smell and the petrichor; there is none of that here. It is a 'Bengal with a bell' scent, ie de-wilded (no really, that is a word, like de-planed), even though we have established that it doesn't need to wear one. It is a mini- or should that be a Mimi-? - leopard in the boudoir, an image that came to me after I chanced across this item on eBay (see above):


This is not a Lipstick Rose kind of boudoir scent, mind - it is nowhere near as overtly feminine and stylised as that - but there's not a whiff of rock hyrax either. Bengale Rouge's fur is faintly sweet smelling and clean. It is a cat that has been freshly bathed and dusted down with talc. Yes, Bengals like water apparently, though I don't know quite to what extent. Truffle won't let me near her paws when she comes in muddy and sopping wet, though she is not averse to a quick back rub with a tea towel. Hmm, I should perhaps have said 'en suite' rather than 'boudoir', being less loaded with sexual imagery, but Bengale Rouge is still sensual all right, in a muted kind of way.

Then by analogy with the 'YLBB' style of lipsticks, I could say that this is '(The Scent of )Your Cat, But Better'. And if you aspired to be 'Catwoman', you might very well wish to smell like this. Bengal Rouge is unmistakably animal-like, thanks to the cunning interplay of the oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum and myrrh - more so than a woman, yet more fragrant than a cat. Though not more fragrant than a cat that lives with a perfumer...!

Liz and Mimi, briefly tolerating the pose

On first spraying Bengale Rouge, I get a faint hint of rose trussed in a corset of oakmoss and labdanum, The overriding impression is smoky and resinous rather than floral, but I love labdanum, so that's okay.. Even the opening is quiet, then very soon the composition becomes wistful and attenuated, and very slightly sweeter as the honey and vanilla notes kick in, buttressed by puffs of orris and little wisps of incense. The myrrh does not have that vaguely static buzz you sometimes get with the note - for example in AG Myrrhe Ardente, where it fizzes like Pepsi or root beer. The overriding feel of Bengale Rouge is definitely more powdery. That and meditative, and Lord knows my cat sleeps a lot when she is not out killing things, so 'meditative' is the very word for it.

I should also mention my observation that over the course of writing this post, Truffle's scent has changed slightly. You wouldn't believe how many times I have toggled between sniffing my wrist and her fur! I am now getting a distinct aroma of carpet, which I swear wasn't there earlier, but which may simply be scent transference from her fabric collar to her head and neck area as she has been scratching herself. And there have been times in the past - most notably when she got stuck in a garage for 36 hours - that she ended up smelling primarily of cobwebs and piss. So while your cat's smell is very much a moving feast, as it were, Bengale Rouge has deftly rendered a generic 'base smell' that would be typical of most cats, then cleaned and prettied it up just enough to elevate it from smell to fragrance.

In short, Bengale Rouge is a ballgown scent without the va-va-voom. It's the ne plus ultra of discreetly mysterious sillage as you swish past in your bustle of silk. (Sorry, I have uncharacteristically been watching the period drama Gentleman Jack, but only because it's got swashbuckling, coal mine sinking Suranne Jones in it.) Bengale Rouge is where - perhaps counter-intuitively - orientals meet 'office appropriate'.  Through her ingenious blend of 'actual cat smell' and notes more closely associated with 'perfume properly speaking' Liz has delivered on the brief she set herself of recreating her 'collaterally scented cat'. And because of its quiet elegance - think Volutes edt, but even quieter and more refined, and I love Volutes! - Bengale Rouge is 'paws down' my favourite of the line to date.

Finally, here is Truffle, weary from her earlier mousing exploits, followed by a long stint of being the 'control' sample.

Truffle's bottom partially obscures the notes

PS Any fans of Volutes edt would love Bengale Rouge, I reckon. The scents have a similar languid vibe, and though the compositions are obviously different, there is some crossover of notes, namely iris, honey, benzoin and myrrh.

PPS Hmm...now Truffle has come in smelling of coal. I think I might start smelling people to work out where they have been.

Friday 10 May 2019

Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel, and a four star way to pre-empt 'post-perfume purchase cognitive dissonance'

Guerande salt marshes~ Source: definingfrance.com
I did the unthinkable the other day. I bought a nearly full bottle of perfume on the Facebook Fragrance/Sale/Swap/Split UK site. A woman was offloading her entire collection - or so it seemed - at very reasonable prices, and I quickly joined in the buying frenzy that ensued within a short while of her post going up. "MH Fleurs de Sel please if still available". My fingers tapped out the order as though with a life of their own. The very next day the bottle arrived, mine for £25 all in. Mint condition, with just 2ml or less missing.

I was very, very shocked at this impulsive behaviour. As regular readers know, I have absolutely no need of any more perfume, given my 60? strong bottle collection, countless decants, and innumerable samples. And while I do hanker after a few things: more/back ups of DSH Foxy and House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved, for example, plus samples of Chanel 1957 and that new rose Hiram Green people are raving about - Lustre, that's the one - it is a big old leap from hankering to actually acquiring any of the stuff.

UPDATE: I have broken off writing this post to go and order samples of Lustre and Slowdive from the Hiram Green website! And was also bidding on eBay on a BNIB bottle of 1957 that is running at £75 at the moment, so I have accepted that while it is still a bargain at that price it is too much to pay, and way more juice than I need, so have bowed out of that particular fray...

Source: notino.co.uk

But back to my 48ml of Fleurs de Sel. I wasn't lemming after this scent - not remotely. I only have a dim recollection of how it smelt, though I do remember it as haunting in a flinty, grassy, salty way, as well as being splendidly evocative of the Brittany coastline with its wild, wind-whipped vegetation, spiky thistles underfoot as you tread on hot sand. Well, hot in the summer, maybe. You may recall how I am quietly obsessed with this particular hair gunk from Label M, which sadly makes my locks greasy, but has the most wonderful scent imaginable, far superior to many non-functional fragrances.

I blogged about the Label M mousse here, and note that I incorporated a mini-review of Fleurs de Sel into my post, along with one of The Different Company's Sel de Vetiver, of which the hair goo also reminded me:


Notes: rosemary, thyme, clary sage, angelica, iris, rose, narcissus, leather, amber, oakmoss and vetiver

This is very piquant and aromatic and an excellent rendition of the wild grasses in the sand dunes  and the beach. It is grainy in texture and a bit salty too, as though someone had gone for a swim and then rolled around immediately afterwards in a carpet of marram grass, sea rocket, holly and spurge. Maybe even the odd sprig of mouse ear hawkweed.

So notwithstanding its strongly vegetal focus, I think FdS is a very successful olfactory interpretation of the Breton coast which was its inspiration."

Well, well, I appear to have appreciated how Fleurs de Sel captures the Breton seascape way back then, even though this is the furthest thing from the style of scent I usually go for - vanilla-forward orientals and sultry white flower florals being my go-to genres for the most part.

Source: frenchfoodintheus.org

And in that split second when I perused the Facebook seller's list and typed my request to buy her bottle of Fleurs de Sel, a switch must have flicked in my brain and reconnected me to that beautiful rocky wilderness, even though I have never in fact been there. I have been to Brittany, mind, to interview a company that made cling film, but saw very little of the area. I just looked up where the factory was - in Pontivy - which is about as far inland as it is possible to go. Now that I have the house in France I am perhaps more drawn to perfumes inspired by anywhere in the 'hexagon', as the French refer to their country.

On a whim, I googled Batz-sur-Mer, the childhood home of perfumer Lyn Harris, which provided the inspiration for Fleurs de Sel. And lo and behold - it isn't in Brittany after all, but a bit south and round the coast in the Pays-de-la-Loire region, specifically the Loire-Atlantique department. Maybe there has been a deliberate spot of geographical fudging, as Brittany is so close, and more people would have heard of that area than its sister region. I have also pegged the salt marshes that provided the aromatic trigger to the scent's creation as those of the Guerande peninsula, also in the Loire-Atlantique (Pays-de-la-Loire). Frontier quibbler, moi? Oh, and I so wanted to put 'Quimper quibbler', but Quimper, being about as inland as Pontivy, doesn't come into it.;)

UPDATE: further research has uncovered the fact that the Loire-Atlantique department was spun off from Brittany in 1941, but was part of 'Old Brittany'. Apparently there is a big kerfuffle about it all that is still raging on, with many of the locals eager to be reintegrated into Brittany. More on the controversy here:

Batz-sur-Mer ~ Source: Tripadvisor

So anyway, the bottle arrived, and the perfume was just as I remembered it: bright, granular, herby, salty and earthy. I am pleased to be adding a bottle by Miller Harris to my collection - I have had one or two in the past - including Fleurs de Bois, for sure - but must have sold or lost them. Obviously I would not dream of suggesting I might have actually used them up!

Oh, just checked the notes of Fleurs de Bois - now discontinued - and it is classed as aromatic-citrus. I must be a closet herbal fan after all...For there's rosemary and grass in there!

Notes: galbanum, grass, Sicilian lemon, tangerine, rose, rosemary, iris, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver

I have been wearing Fleurs de Sel for two days now, and it is as haunting as I remember - and as 'not-really-me-but-I-like-it'. Then, because it was so out of character for me to buy a whole bottle of something so vaguely remembered and so far from lemming status, I felt I needed extra validation for my - if not blind exactly, but definitely somewhat myopic - buy. I turned to Bois de Jasmin first of all, whose taste happens to be closely aligned with mine, such that many of my most loved perfumes historically have been ones she has awarded four or five stars. And blow me if she didn't give Fleurs de Sel four stars too...;)

In her review, Victoria writes:

"Fleurs de Sel is one of the best examples of Lyn Harris’s ability to marry a lush, nature-inspired quality with modern minimalism. The result is nuanced and elegant, with an interesting twist on the classical theme."

On a reviewer roll here, I dared to consult the original Perfumes The Guide book, and was delighted to see that Luca Turin gave Fleurs de Sel four stars as well! He calls it "this elegant, highly original herbaceous-marine composition", adding that it cannot have been easy to compose.

So I feel completely vindicated now.  I Did Not Need this perfume - and didn't even know I wanted it until a moment before I committed to buy - but it feels like a distinctive and special addition to my collection. Intimately bound up with my happy links to France. And as I have a friend in Nantes, the nearest city, maybe I will visit the Loire-Atlantique one day...

Source: ucipliban.org