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!


Tara said...

Your writing is so good V we can't possibly let you fade away.
I enjoyed the trip down memory lane as well as the recent meander along civvy street.
Interested to read about the Sigur Ros frontman being a perfumer but zero interest in Libre and My Way which I only know from the adverts.
I'd certainly see it as a compliment that someone didn't feel your perfume reflected your complexity!

Anonymous said...

You know I have said I would read whatever you wrote on whatever subject! My perfume obsession has diminished greatly over recent years, but I am sad to see blogs disappear to be replaced by the video "ads" of influencers etc - I miss the personal perspectives, stories and knowledge of those who wrote for the love of the art (both fragrance and writing). Everything changes, I suppose.

I haven't sniffed the YSL - apart from anything else I get annoyed that they used part of the name of one of my all-time favourites, the original YSL Eau Libre which obviously was nothing like the new offering, and was said to be the first "unisex" perfume; it was gorgeous. I am feeling very grouchy!

My husband has difficulties smelling perfumes on me if he doesn't like them. Which is good. Because if I don't like something, it lingers forever, even through scrubbing. Also his idea of a suitable smell doesn't always match with mine, so I guess your friend might be a little like that. But I don't let him put me off, and I hope you are the same!


Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Aww, kind of you to say I shouldn't fade away! It will happen one day, though - that is inevitable. I suppose being told your perfume didn't live up to your complexity is a backhanded compliment, hehe.

I don't think Libre or My Way would be your cup of tea at all. Libre was a big no-no for me, and My Way is very mainstream still, but a pretty example of a cheerful floral scent all the same.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

Thank you for sticking with Bonkers despite your dwindling interest in perfume. You make a good point about blogs moving more to video formats, which don't appeal to me at all, but it really is a big trend. That said, I did enjoy the ones Katie Puckrik did back in the day - she pretty much pioneered the genre, and now it is ubiquitous, with much less wit and flair for the most part.

I shan't encourage you to go out of your way to sniff Libre, as it didn't agree with me at all. The bottle is striking, mind.

Interesting to hear how your husband reacts to your perfumes. My winter staple of Immortal Beloved is a gorgeous scent to my mind, and I would persist in wearing it even if I was the only person who cared for it!

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

Hey Vanessa,
Well, that was at least 4 blog posts worth of reading in one.
Thanks for the full circle round up of a perfumistas addiction.
Laughed at the guy saying your perfume didn't reflect his view of you. Lucky he said it to you and not me. He would definitely have got a surprise.
My tastes in frags have always been pretty omnivorous but I'm yet to try those two. Next department store visit I'll give them a whirl.
Portia xx

Anonymous said...

What a lovely surprise to read a perfume review from Bonkers (though, I happily read anything that you write :)

I agree with Libre wholeheartedly - received a sample and just find it very cloying and thick but cannot tell what’s in it. My Way sounds intriguing.

White florals tend to be difficult for me. Upon your blogs about Songes, I bought a 100ml edt and loved it. But other white florals like Do Son, Magnolia (FM) or Honour are just ok. That Cherry Bomb bottle design looks amazing and looks like it should house some $$$ brandy and hey, it’s always good to surprise/unconfirm other people’s assumptions!


Undina said...

If I ever make it to Reykjavik… :)

To describe how uninterested I am in mass-market perfumes, I should mention that I have at home samples of at least one but maybe both of Armani’s perfumes, and I’m not sure if I tried them even on paper.

Whilhelm (not sure about spelling but can’t easily check it while commenting on the phone) is quite popular in the US niche stores, so I came across the brand more than once. But somehow none of perfumes I smelled at a store grabbed me enough to want to pay their prices (I don’t think they are overpriced - just expensive enough for me to expect more). But I might revisit them at some point and change my mind.

These days, whenever I choose perfume to wear while meeting friends who pay more attention to my perfume hobby, I pay special attention to my choice (to not disappoint them :) ).

Please tell us more about the book once you have read it. I’m curious what you think about it.

Undina said...

… and to add insult to injury, I mixed Armani with YSL ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

It was a bit of a monster, wasn't it? I fully expected Undina to tell me off, hehe, and did wonder how I might have split it up. On balance I don't think two posts on the Civvy Street theme would have flown, and I didn't want to dilute the impact of so many tip offs from regular perfume users!

Your taste is omnivorous, as your sizeable collection attests, but I think Libre is a tricky one unless you have a great appetite for musk?

Vanessa said...

Hello Joyce,

To reprise Portia's comment above, thanks for being an "omnivorous" Bonkers reader - it is much appreciated.

Glad I am not alone in finding Libre "all wrong". I did feel positively queasy after a while, and am convinced I have a sensitivity to musk.

I was so pleased to have pointed you in the direction of Songes, and agree that Do Son and Magnolia are underwhelming. I did love Honour Woman at one stage, but find it a bit tart nowadays, not sure why. Maybe my love of rhubarb is not what it was.

I love the HOCB bottle, and sadly have never owned one! Next time I go to the US, I hope to rectify that though, if it hasn't been discontinued, which would be just my luck.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I would be curious to go to Iceland one day, though it is quite far down my bucket list - partly on account of the weather.

I do agree that Vilhem Parfumerie is very pricy given how relatively unknown and unestablished it is. I didn't try Purple Fig on me, and caught a pleasant whiff of it on my friend, but at the best part of £200 for a full bottle that is steep. I have been into this hobby long enough to remember when an Ormonde Jayne 50ml could be had for about £65! Also a Parfumerie Generale.;)

D'you know, I do the same thing about choosing a perfume with care if I am going to be amongst friends who are interested in what I am wearing. I clearly didn't pick very well, though two women friends thought Immortal Beloved smelt nice!

If you have a sample of Libre I would be intrigued to know what you make of it, if you can get round to testing it, hehe.