Saturday 29 January 2022

Thierry Mugler Angel, and my chocolate-sniffing - and eating! - prime

There has been much mention of the designer Thierry Mugler in perfume circles lately, following his death last week at the not very old age of 73. I had never seen a photo of him before, and must confess to googling "What happened to Mugler's nose?", which was on the oddly chunky side. I learnt that it had been reconstructed following a gym accident in 2017. Which only serves to validate my determination not to join one. I must also admit to never really having been a fan of Mugler's perfume line: some of the scents come off as a bit synthetic, though I remember liking a couple of those gourmand flankers from about 10 years ago, the names of which escape me now - the Basenotes site is down or I would look them up. Then I never got to try Aura, though its bottle is pretty amazing. When I see a bottle as intricate as that my inner St Ivel brand manager wants to cry out: "Think of the tooling costs!"

And then of course there is Angel - packaged in probably my most unfavourite blue - a sort of "dirty Man City" colour - but another cracking bottle, and one that I even owned, despite this being many years ago in my stoutly "civilian" days. I remember the year (1992) and where I bought it (Tegel airport in Berlin, which doesn't even exist anymore). It is rare for a perfume to survive while an airport gets discontinued, haha. I gather the site is being turned into a residential area with homes for over 10,000 people, shops, and an office park, while the terminal buildings will be integrated into the Beuth University of Applied Sciences. Never let it be said that this blog is not educational - also to me. ;)

Anyway, I had just finished a work project in Germany - I think to do with accidents caused by fireworks, but don't quote me on that - and decided to treat myself to a bottle of perfume in the airport duty free, as normal people do. I was accosted by a sales assistant brandishing a tester of Angel, and promptly fell for her spiel about it being the latest release blah blah, and bought it on the spot before the top notes had even landed. I do remember suffering a little from buyer's remorse, as I could not quite reconcile myself to this cloying, chocolate-patchouli-vanilla meringue cloud at first. Over the years I came to bond with Angel more, and to appreciate its extraordinarily distinctive and original scent for the time - it is the first modern gourmand fragrance, don't they say? I did end up throwing my bottle away, presumably because it had turned - my perfume curation habits left a lot to be desired back then. Here is a post I wrote about my pre-rabbit hole perfume-owning CV, which formally logs my Angel purchase in the airport category.

I only have a sample now

But there is something more to say about Angel, which has nothing to do with how it smells per se, but rather its ability to connect me with that younger self, in the prime of life and at the peak of my career, such as it was. I have already touched on this topic through the lens of a perfume in another post, namely the rather unwieldily named biehl. parfumkunstwerke mb03. There too it was my many (and often arduous!) business trips that the scent called to mind.

The photo of me above was taken in 1991 I think, in Chicago, after the hardest couple of days of my working life. I had flown out the day before from Manchester on the only plane in the UK whose captain dared to fly due to the extreme high winds - I thought if he is willing to risk it so will I. The flight was massively delayed as it consolidated passengers from all over the country, and I didn't get to bed in my hotel in Chicago till about 6am local time, only to have to get up again at 7am for a presentation at 9am. I then spent the next 13 hours on my feet in the boardroom of my English client's US distributor's offices, defending a report I had written on the North American market for the particular kinds of large pharmaceutical plant the English company made. There were 13 men in the room, including two representatives from the client organisation, who remained mute throughout. With the exception of the Chairman of the company the rest were sales managers for different territories, who didn't like the news I had to tell them of a huge spike in demand of which they had collectively failed to take advantage, especially in Puerto Rico. To make matters worse the area manager for Puerto Rico was the Chairman's son. The sales managers spent the long day querying the findings on every page and generally trying to shoot my report down in flames, while the Chairman also remained mute...till 10pm, when he leaned forward unexpectedly like a living statue breaking its pose, and spoke: "Leave it...she's right." Whereupon the meeting abruptly broke up, and the Chairman, the client team and I went out for an awkward and very late dinner. I do remember the monkfish being spectacular, and strangely at odds with the insanely stressful 48 hours that had gone before.

They had run out of standard length taxis!

Now I hadn't bought Angel at this point, but I very much associate it with that whole period of my early 30s, when my stamina and mental resilience were in another stratosphere compared to my much older self today.

I will end with another chocolate-themed tale - also work-related, but fictional this time! For I entered a short story competition in Good Housekeeping in the mid-80s, back when I actually was that brand manager at St Ivel alluded to earlier. There was a word limit and a requirement to incorporate a box of chocolates - the prize I won (for third place!) was also a box of chocolates as it happens, as the competition was sponsored by Lindt.

Room Service

The phone rang. Julia was surprised such an elegant period piece actually worked. That it might be a reproduction did not occur to her.

"Miss Murray? Could you come down a moment please? The manager would like a word."

Julia replaced the receiver with a bemused air and reached for another of the Lindt chocolates donated by the hotel. The standard of service really was first rate with extra touches like this and the rose, which she planned to press later in her directory of cash 'n' carrys. The only gift she could recall receiving in a hotel was a "Conference Survival Kit" - a useful but prosaic collection of paperclips, drawing pins, pencils and aspirin.

Julia went hurriedly downstairs vigorously crunching a hazelnut cluster.

"I'm sorry Miss Murray, but you have been given the Romantic Luxury Suite by mistake, which is reserved from tonight. Would you mind moving to a single room?"

Julia struggled to conceal her embarrassment. "But I've started on the chocolates." Having accepted these as compensation for the error, she was shown to her new room, with its familiar orange and brown decor and a posy of plastic freesias. The sense of anticlimax was acute. Though she attempted to study her papers for tomorrow's meeting, Julia's imagination strayed back to the other rooms, which, given different circumstances, had such potential...

She put down her work and picked up a competition form which had lain at the bottom of her briefcase for several weeks: "Win a holiday break for two at The Castle Hotel". "For the price of a stamp", she mused, biting into a praline. "Ludlow is my ideal location for a romantic weekend because...(15 words)" Julia scratched the back of her head and began to write.

To illustrate my story, here is the late Charlie Bonkers, grudgingly tholing a Lindt wrapper bauble on her head, "Stuff On My Cat"-style.

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!