Tuesday 24 September 2019

Are you one of PAN's People?: Barbury Castle PAN gentleman's cologne review (eventually)

Source: Barbury Castle

Oh dear, it has been a month or more since I last posted. I do still think of myself as a perfume blogger - no, really - just one who is frequently waylaid and overtaken by events. Since I last wrote there has been much more of the same: the mice, the malfunctions, the migraines, the medication side effects, and assorted mishaps and mayhem. Yesterday by mid-morning, for example, I had clocked up a dead mouse, a printer jam, a default notice from HMRC for failing to file my VAT return on time, and a headache. I was absolutely mortified to have forgotten my VAT, I might add - a first in 28 years! - but have now paid up and made an honest self-employed person of myself. I will spare you any more of my own travails, not least because it seems there are a lot of us in the blogosphere having a torrid time of it lately. But, as I mentioned on Facebook, if you think you go through chaotic phases, I urge you to watch ITV's rollercoaster drama, 'Deep Water'. By comparison with the women featured, our lives are positively shallow and smooth as a millpond. Though Anna Friel's problems are somewhat mitigated by her enviable collection of knitwear.

But I promised you a review of the debut scent from new perfume brand Barbury Castle in my last post, and here it is!  

Firstly, a word about the links that bind me and Val the Cookie Queen: we both like perfume, we both like The Monochrome Set, and we both have links to Swindon! For along with Diana Dors and Billie Piper, Val was born there, while I moved to the city with my first job in the mid-80s, prophetically staying in digs in Stafford Street.

And Barbury Castle is a start up company founded by Stanley Bolden, an accountant at a water control equipment company (how much do I like him already ;) ). Stanley lives in a village outside Swindon, and also a few miles from the iron age hill fort in question. Barbury Castle also has particular memories for me, as I have walked the 140 km length of the ancient Ridgeway path with my friends Clare and Nicola, and Barbury Hill is close to the western end where we chose to start. We completed the hike over three weekends a year apart, and had lots of laughs - and one cheeky train ride to Wendover (in pouring rain, to be fair) along the way. I did pull rank and veto a taxi, mind. 

Source: Clare Chick

As it happens I was in charge of map reading on Day 1 and caused us to take a wrong turn, precisely at Barbury Castle. This was partly because I was chatting animatedly at that point, and partly because the sign was slightly skew-wiff, adding four miles to our quota for the day. So the castle has become synonymous with my big navigating fail of the whole trail. Well, apart from nearly sending us down the A4 towards Bristol earlier that day, that is. At least we were in the car at the time.

This picture was taken right after we got lost...!

Nicola and I, looking a bit lost and windswept

Stanley's associations with the place, meanwhile, are more upbeat:

"Climbing up the hill fort gives fantastic views of the local countryside and an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of nature, to which Pan has a strong connection."

So...back to the story behind the perfume and its inspiration. Note that I am not sure whether it should be spelled in lower or UPPER CASE, but I shall go with UPPER when I remember. This concern may well be a hangover from reviewing Puredistance BLACK and WHITE, and Stanley may well not mind either way.

"Inspired by Pan, the mythical Greek god of nature, forests and rustic music, with a mischievous side, Pan is a classy, refined, stylish and sophisticated fragrance. A woody and earthy fougere, Pan has depth, contrast and complexity in its structure."

Source: Barbury Castle

Stanley opted for a men's fragrance, as there are fewer on the market, meaning less competition for PAN. Without wishing to dampen his enthusiasm unduly, I did suggest that this may be down to the lower percentage of men who wear fragrance versus women, ie a case of fewer fish in a smaller pond.

After initally having a play at creating a woody, earthy fragrance himself using some 100 ingredients sourced from Plush Folly - "without even measuring or recording the proportions" - Stanley quickly twigged to the fact that this was a "science and skill acquired over a long time", aka a job for the professionals. Cue the appointment of John Stephen of The Cotswold Perfumery, who is also an independent perfumer, and who took on the brief to transform Stanley's vision into a well composed reality.

Stanley did suggest some ingredients to John, namely:

  • ivy
  • juniper berry
  • oakmoss
  • sandalwood
  • carnation
  • geranium

Here are the notes that ended up in the composition, plus Stanley's summary of the effect of each combination:

Top notes: bergamot, lavender, lemon - "fresh clean top notes"
Middle notes: black pepper, cardamom, coriander - "spicy, warm and slightly sweet aroma"
Base notes: oakmoss, patchouli, ambergris - "woody, earthy, musky character"

So what did I make of PAN? Right off the bat I should say that I could almost wear this myself! And in its drydown I definitely could, and I speak as someone much more drawn to outright feminine scents. PAN teeters on the cusp between unisex and masculine territory with its fougere style, albeit quite a muted one. Also, PAN has a shade more lavender than I care for. Yet despite this, it does remind me quite a lot, and in a good way, of Ormonde Jayne Man - both have bergamot, pepper, cardamom and coriander in common - and also of Carner Barcelona D600, where the notes in common are the same, minus coriander. Bergamot and pepper are of course fairly standard ingredients, but my nose must have homed in on the coriander and cardamom to spot that connection. That said, PAN is different from either, but with a similar vibe for sure. I think it would appeal to men who like the fougere style, but with a woody/earthy twist. I don't want to overplay the fougere aspect, if that is not your thing either, as it does fade away to a large degree.

Source: Wikipedia

For any readers who happen to live or work in Swindon, there is/was a poster advertising PAN inside the railway station! By the ticket barrier, to be specific. Stanley is also advertising the scent in the magazine 'The English Garden', on the premise that it might appeal to genteel male gardeners or nature lovers more widely, and is open to any other promotional suggestions.

"My gardening knowledge rivals my fragrance knowledge", he quipped good-naturedly.

By his own admission - and this is another reason why I warm to him - Stanley is an 'ingenu' on the perfume scene, blissfully unaware of most of the nonsense and factions with which we fumeheads are all too familiar. He genuinely wanted to create something tangible and put it out in the world, and Pan is his baby. I found Stanley's unstuffy approach to the process of creating a new fragrance frankly refreshing - there is such a lot of overwrought tosh said and written in this industry. 

I also like the fact that his pricing is fair and realistic at just £50 for 50ml, namely the sort of pricing levels I remember - even for some niche - ten years ago when I was first getting into the hobby. Ormonde Jayne Man and Carner Barcelona D600, against which I do genuinely feel PAN holds its own, cost £110 and 100 euros respectively for the same size bottle.

So are you one of PAN's People? Are your curious to check out its moves? And please don't tell me that's a terrible joke and to 'pipe' down. ;)

Source: Barbury Castle