Thursday, 13 January 2022

Back on "Civvy Street": how my perfume intel sources have come full circle...

YSL Libre

It is fourteen years ago this month that I first became passionately interested in perfume, one rainy Tuesday afternoon while idly googling ones worn by a friend to confirm my impression that she liked strong scents with sweet flowers in them. A great deal of sniffing and sampling, shopping, swapping and hanging out on Basenotes, Makeupalley, and in person has gone down since then, not to mention a lot of blog reading and writing and commenting. I was thinking back the other day to how my sources of information on developments in the perfume world have evolved in that time. Before I fell down the rabbit hole I mostly encountered new perfumes in airport duty frees or was given bottles of classic scents by boyfriends. After being struck down with "sudden onset perfume mania", I sought out information on fragrance websites, blogs and forums, then got chatting to perfumistas (virtually and IRL), and also started receiving news of releases directly from some of the perfume houses. If I had to call it, I'd say the peak of my interest in perfume - and in writing about it - was between 2009 - 2015 approximately, since when everything has been in slow decline, hehe. Sorry if you discovered Bonkers late!

I still hear now and then from a few perfume brands, but have increasingly have noticed that they mostly want to send you samples in return for a review. Case in point, from a "luxury vegan brand":

"If you’re interested in trying out the products, then I’d love to send you some samples to test and create a ‘Christmas Gift Guide’ with on your blog."

My standard response to such overtures is that I might write about their line if I like it and can find my own (invariably oddball) angle from which to cover them. It used to be that the house in question accepted that explanation and sent the samples in the hope that I would be inspired to write about them...these days I rarely hear from the PR person again. Now I know that Bonkers will have lost traction in terms of traffic and SEO indices and whatnot (not that it ever had much of all that to start with!), making it an inherently less interesting site for brands to engage with, but there is definitely a more transactional element creeping into the relationship between perfume bloggers and fragrance houses - more like the one that has long obtained in the beauty sphere, say.

As time went on, I mainly heard about new things directly from fellow perfumistas, and just lately the wheel has come full circle and I find I am having perfume conversations with my friends (aka "civilians", to reprise Tara's term for "normal" perfume consumers - ie people who have a few bottles to their name, or one signature scent, which they may refer to simply as "Chanel", or "Coco" (Mademoiselle)).

There have been so many interactions of late between my friends and me on the subject of perfume (in its many guises) that I thought I would document a few here.

The new book by Jean-Claude Ellena & Lionel Paillès: "Petit lexique des amateurs épris d'odeurs et de parfums"

Yesterday I received an unexpected package in the post from my old tutor friend in France who came to stay in my house in the summer. It is a new work by Jean-Claude Ellena in collaboration with Lionel Paillès, a French scent critic and author. There is a photo of Paillès on his Instagram page where he is holding the book, whose cover is a rather fetching shade of purple. I have only had a quick glance at it so far, but it is essentially a dictionary of some 170 terms associated with perfume - whether in a concrete or a more abstract and subjective sense - and the pair share the task of explaining the words, in the process of which they let their minds wander "free associatively" where they will. Once I have read it, I may come back and review it properly. If anyone has come across an English translation, do let us know in the comments.


The Icelandic perfume boutique-cum-museum, and its musical nose

Just today, the friend who gave me the sample of Alien I mentioned in my last but one post (and some Salvador Dali perfumes in 2019), drew my attention to this dear little museum in Reykjavik, tucked away downstairs from a perfume and aromatherapy shop called Fischersund. Those rough hewn stone walls make it look all the more inviting! I was reminded of the mini-museum of perfume bottles I visited in Barcelona in 2012, to which Undina has also been. But I feel confident in saying we have neither of us made it to this Icelandic museum.;) What is also noteworthy and surprising about the fragrant venture is its link with an Icelandic band(!).

"The cozy aromatherapy shop is located in the former music studio of Jónsi, the frontman of prolific Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Jónsi founded the store alongside his sisters and extended family."

Not only founded the store, but Jónsi is the family's self-taught perfumer, and the store sells his eclectic and evocative range of scents. According to a feature on Fischersund in the FT (the sumptuous photos are more atmospheric than a Toast shoot!) Jónsi's first creation, No 23 - not to be confused with the Ava Luxe scent of that name - "references smoke in the air, tarred telephone poles, mowed grass, a beached whale and tobacco leaves with notes of black pepper and Icelandic Sitka spruce". 


Source: Atlas Obscura

YSL Libre & Armani My Way

Goodness, I have had not one but two different friends recently ask me if I had tried YSL Libre(!): one had tested it at an airport while the other had progressed already to buying a full bottle, which she produced out of her suitcase during a recent stay. The first friend also sampled Armani My Way at the airport and liked it even more than Libre. I had not heard of either of these scents, but tried Libre from my friend's bottle and have now also caught up with My Way, after managing to find a sales assistant in Boots armed with a key to the cabinets.

Both are musky white florals, My Way being the more sparkly and bright of the two. The two key differences to my nose are that Libre has a lavender note that gives it more of a herbal twist, while My Way is a straight up floral bouquet, like a more bergamotty version of Dior New Look 1947 perhaps, with echoes too of Elie Saab. I did quite like My Way - as did Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur, I see, who likens it (in a good way) to "grilled cheese" - but Libre did not agree with me at all on account of the musk, which made me feel a little nauseous as the day wore on. I could do a post on my extreme sensitivity to musk molecules one day - if I haven't already done one, which is possible!



Vilhelm Parfumerie Purple Fig

Another complete surprise - for in this case I hadn't heard of the perfume house, never mind the scent in question - was Vilhelm Parfumerie's Purple Fig, which the friend who invited me for Christmas dinner showed me (quite rightly) within moments of my arrival. Her husband had given her this 20ml travel spray as a gift, thoug it was her own discovery (in Liberty's) - she loves all things smelling and tasting of figs.

Top notes: Sichuan Pepper, Angelica Seeds
Heart notes: Galbanum, Green Fig, Jasmine Absolue
Base notes: Vetiver, Cashmere Woods

The founder of Maison Vilhelm, Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm is his middle name), is Swedish, but lives in Paris. In the introduction to the brand, he writes:

"Within identical bottles, fragrances are so many narratives that call to all senses, housed in a hefty bottle of spun glass, dressed in a saffron yellow label that nods to a piece of Bakelite found in a Parisian flea market." 

I particularly love the ghoulish backstory to Purple Fig, namely that it references one of the items on the menu of a Danish doctor condemned to death. Undina will be pleased to note that they also do discovery sets of 3 x 10ml sprays. (The 20ml size is fittingly termed the "Nomad".)


My SOTE not being "me"

Last week saw a pub gathering for ex-Mr Bonkers' birthday, for though he is not the least bit bothered about birthdays he is always up for a trip to the pub, something I don't believe I had done for nearly two years myself. Six of us came - the same faces as mustered for a similar celebration at the start of 2020 before the pandemic shutters came down, and we even managed to take over the same small room off the main bar that we had done back then. I had put on a dab of House of Cherry Bomb's Immortal Beloved, which is now unequivocably my favourite winter perfume, and one of the three men there (not ex-Mr Bonkers, whom long term readers may recall is as uninterested in perfume as he is in birthdays, but a fan of Penhaligon's) asked to sniff me. When I drew my wrist back, I could see the look of disappointment on his face. "Oh", he said, "that doesn't smell like you at all." When I pressed him to elaborate, he added: "I would have expected something more exotic and multi-tonal."

"That's me told!" I thought, but in truth I was impressed at the forthrightness of his statement, and the fact that he cared that my chosen scent should be congruent with his perception of "perfumista me". ;)


Source: House of Cherry Bomb

Which seems a fitting note to end on...the realisation that without the input and interest of my "regular" friends I might end up fading away in more ways than I knew!