Saturday 6 April 2024

Meet the new perfumistas...aka the public at large!

Photo courtesy of N

Sorry for the longer than usual gap between posts - I have managed a monthly frequency for a while now, but I have been slightly distracted by another round of health investigations(!). Last year, having exhausted the suggestions of my local chemist, I sought out a nurse at my GP practice to advise on an effective cream for chilblains, from which I had been suffering for several months, occasionally to the point of not being able to walk. The nurse took one look at my feet before escalating them to a GP at my practice, who outsourced them to a doctor at another surgery, who ordered a battery of blood tests, which threw up a strong suggestion of an unspecified autoimmune condition, for which I was referred to a rheumatologist, who has not managed to determine what may be amiss, though the last consultation segued unexpectedly into an apparent diagnosis of middlingly problematic kidney disease just as I was going out the door. I say "apparently", as that remains to be confirmed by another battery of tests. The moral of the story being that if your feet are playing up in any way, on no account seek medical help, as you don't know where it will all end up. ;)

But anyway, this post is not about that, but rather about where I am up to in my perfume hobby. Long gone are the days when I would be invited to launches of fragrances or sent samples for review (or not for review, if I wasn't moved to write about them). I have slipped quietly out of the official scene in recent years - but I really don't mind, as my curiosity about perfume is at a much reduced level and I largely tune out to the constant churn of new releases. These days my information sources are more likely to be friends and other people I come into contact with. Or random finds in shops, especially at the cheaper end of the spectrum. I have recently made another discovery on a par with those scents by Jeff & Co I posted about last time, and will probably feature it soon.

Indeed I have been so impressed by these ultra cheap imitations that I think they have affected my whole relationship with the niche sector, possibly irrevocably. I remind myself that there is a lot of time, skill and artistry involved in creating the fragrance that might go on ultimately to be copied, on which you can perhaps not put a price? Still, I realise I would find it difficult now to spend more than £50, say, on a bottle of perfume. When I was building up my collection nothing seemed to cost more than £65! My last acquisitions were secondhand bottles of discontinued scents or vintage formulations which cost exactly that - Cuir de Lancome and Caron Parfum Sacre in the purple "shagreen" bottle - and they were the only FBs (or almost FBs) I've bought in years. So it is fair to say that these cheap knock offs you find in discount stores like Lidl and Aldi and Home Bargains have rather spoilt me, and also distanced me psychologically from the full price market I used to move in quite happily. And maybe the feeling will pass, and I will become more interested in branded (as in real McCoy) releases again, but we'll see.

Meanwhile, here is a round up of some of my recent exchanges with friends, acquaintances and total strangers on the subject of perfume:

My hairdresser

My hairdresser (who is a man) told me that he and a few 50-something male friends are part of a WhatsApp group called "Good Smells" that is devoted to swapping perfume tips. Recently he was singing the praises of ELDO Fat Electrician in the group to the point where two of his friends went out and bought it blind(!).

My acupuncturist

On hearing I was into perfume the lady I go to for acupuncture announced that she is a "Chanel girl", but also loves Jo Malone, a brand she perceives as "clean" and less likely to trigger allergies than some scents. This is an interesting - and I suspect common - perception of the brand, and probably accounts in no small part for its runaway success. 

My friend N

N recently showed me her collection of Chanel bottles, which occupy an upper shelf in a towel cabinet, while the rest of her collection lives in a cupboard in her study. 

Photo courtesy of N

They take the prize for being the most beautifully presented bottles in a domestic setting I have ever seen. NB The rest of her house is equally showstopping!

Photo courtesy of N

Diane, an American fan of The Monochrome Set

Diane and I have been corresponding about perfume on and off ever since the US tour in 2019. She is a big vanilla lover, and features in this post, which describes our first meeting, and a rather primal three-way sniffing exercise with a band member. Anyway, every email Diane sends is full of links to articles about scent she thinks I might like, or reports on her own sampling sessions in high end department stores in her home city of Philadelphia. 

"I just looked at and checked the newer Tom Ford vanilla perfume in the pretty tan bottle, but mannnnn, it's overpriced at 400dollars."

"Are you familiar with Ellis Brooklyn perfumes?  They have a few nice perfumes, one of their vanilla type scents is Vanilla Milk and another is called Sweet, they're pretty good!" 

Well, needless to say I am not familiar with Ellis Brooklyn perfumes, but in my defence I don't think they have made it across the pond.

C, the wife of the drummer in TMS

C tipped me off the other day that a company called Noted Aromas do a very passable clone of Le Labo Santal 33.

My friend C's friend C

C came to have a sniff-in with my collection the other day, and brought along her quartet of scents: Balmain Jolie Madame (she was surprised I knew it - go me!), D & G Feminine (a lovely but sadly discontinued floral woody musk), YSL Y (empty and discontinued) and Givenchy Amarige. I liked the Feminine quite a lot but couldn't think of anything similar, whereas Papillon Perfumery's Salome is in the same territory as Y. Moreover, C has actually seen a rock hyrax in South Africa(!), and likes badgers, so it really was made for her, and I gave her a sample to try at home. C also loves ylang-ylang and orange blossom, neroli, bergamot and lilies, so I tried her with Donna Karan Gold and Serge Lutens Un Lys. C put me straight when I wrongly stated that Un Lys was the scent of Casablanca lilies, when it is of course LOTV - she practises aromatherapy, so between that and her keen gardener's nose she was not fooled. ;)

A man in T K Maxx

As we were standing in the queue to the checkouts the other day, a man behind me started picking up a set of bargain scents by Olivia Blake that were only about nine quid each - they looked like copies of Jo Malone perfumes, in coloured boxes. I asked him if they were perfumes and not room scents or something and he confirmed that they were. In the absence of testers the man surreptitiously sprayed each scent into its box lid and stuck his nose in that to smell it - a trick I have never seen done before. I just hope it didn't stain the box. ;)

Source: The Fragrance Shop

Which brings us back to the notion of the rights and wrongs of knock off perfumes, something I sense I may wrestle with for some time to come. What do you think of these imitations - a triumph of economic engineering, or a parasitic scourge?

(PS Sorry for the surfeit of friends coyly called C.)

Photo courtesy of N - a woman with two bottles of Fame to her name!

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Jeff & Co (Jeff Banks) women's perfume dupes at Home Bargains, and how I couldn't resist Temptation...

I am a regular shopper in the discount chain Home Bargains, much as I am in B & M, which is a similar cheap and cheerful purveyor of just about anything short of a full food shop. Home Bargains is my go-to destination for cheap firewood, Poppets, rhubarb yoghurt, cat soup, and kitchen towel (which regular readers know is of the utmost importance to me). On any given visit where I am typically going in for just one thing, I will of course come out with armfuls of items I never knew I needed. But as the whole lot will have been unbelievably cheap - and I will of course need more Elastoplast, paracetamol, washing up sponges, and turmeric glucosamine chondroitin supplements in the fullness of time, it really doesn't matter.

And thus it was that I went to Home Bargains yesterday looking for a specific gauge and style of interdental floss picks, and came out with mini Easter eggs to restock my mock Faberge egg (as you do) and a hand of bananas, no floss sticks, and a chunky bottle of perfume by Jeff & Co, called Blush. It is a whopping 90ml for £4.99, and there are three other scents in the range: Lush and Seductive (also in pink bottles), and Temptation, in a less girly mauve-y grey / taupe one. Why three of the four should be in pink packaging beats me. Okay, so Lush could be described as more of a beige colour, but they are still all quite similar. It had clearly confused the punters, as the two definite pinks, Blush and Seductive, were mixed up together in the decidedly basic(!) cardboard display tray. I sorted them out again and told a passing sales assistant that I had done that, plus an instinctive spot of "facing up", for which she thanked me.

I should mention that this wasn't a random encounter with the brand: I had seen a feature about them in The Sun - on social media, I hasten to add - which claimed that they were all dupes of well known designer perfumes, namely:

Blush ~ Miss Dior

Lush - Armani Si

Seductive - Givenchy L'Interdit

Temptation - Tom Ford Black Orchid

It has been a while since I got really curious about a new bargain basement range of perfumes - the last time was probably a set of Acqua di Parma knock offs in Aldi, but neither store in my town carried those, so I never did get to try them. I was especially intrigued by the thought of a Black Orchid smell-alike, which is what propelled me to seek the Jeff & Co range out. The fragrances are made in Turkey, I note, which adds a bit of exoticism to their provenance.

Another key thing to mention is the fact that these perfumes have no boxes, so every bottle on the fixture is a potential tester, haha. I think the store should have designated one bottle of each fragrance to be a tester, with a label on it, so it is clearly identifiable. However, given the vast quantity in each, and the price, no prospective customer could possibly mind the fact that 25 other people might have had a spray or several from their bottle already. ;)

A word on the packaging next, whose squareness and squatness reminded me of the Maison Kurkdjian range, but in an opaque version. I am sure Francis wouldn't thank me for the comparison. I am not a fan of opaque bottles, as you know - to the point of including them in my "Scent Crimes Series" - but I will let that pass. I have more of a beef these days with their weight and chunkiness, making them hard to lift and spray from, while the sharp edges dig into my arthritic fingers. I am sure that will prove to be a minor issue, however, amongst the intended target market of much younger women than me(!). But it is definitely a tricky business to wrap your hand round the bottle and operate the nozzle, or I find it so.

Before I get down to what I thought of these scents, I must just tell you about a YouTube video, in which the vlogger describes all four perfumes as "nice". Nothing more, just nice. I have never considered myself a proper reviewer , but maybe there is hope for me yet.

And what of Jeff Banks, I hear you ask? Well, when I first heard the name, my first thought was that that was an unexpected venture from a goalie, before quickly realising that that was Gordon Banks. Here is a bit about the correct Banks from Wikipedia:

"Jeff Banks CBE PPCSD (born Jeffrey Tatham-Banks, 17 March 1943) is a Welsh fashion designer of men's and women's clothing, jewellery, and home furnishings. Born in Ebbw Vale, Wales, Banks co-founded the fashion chain Warehouse in the late 1970s. He later created and presented the television programme The Clothes Show, broadcast on BBC One from 1986 to 2000."

I never knew he was born a Tatham-Banks! That would be quite a mouthful to put on the side of even these generously-sized bottles. I think I once owned an item of crockery by him, or some dinner mats, but I can't remember what exactly. He is over 80 now I see, and still coming up with line extensions, so fair play to him. I am sure he can't need the money, so perhaps the launch of this bargain range of fragrances is part philanthropic venture.

By Chris Phutully from Australia

Finally, on to what they smell like...

Seductive - I honestly couldn't really smell this, it was so faint. If it is like Givenchy L'Interdit, which I haven't tried for years, it will be in homeopathic proportions.

Lush - also very faint. I thought I could just catch a whiff of blackcurrant, which would be consistent with its being a dupe of Armani Si, but it was a bit elusive.

Temptation - this was much more detectable. On the first pass, I thought Temptation was like a disagreeable sort of mentholated blackcurrant sweet. I was also reminded of my description of YSL Parisienne as "disgruntled purple talc". Oh, look at that post I have linked to - the bottles of The Social parfum are also hard plastic and partly pink!

Blush - my nose registered this one okay: it was a pretty, girlish summer floral (woody musk) that reminded me of Hugo Boss Femme. I haven't tested Miss Dior either in forever, but I could well believe it was a copy of that, having looked at the notes, even though it was Femme I thought of off the bat. Femme being a mainstream fragrance I cut my newbie teeth on at the start of this hobby, so it holds a special place in my memory, if not in my collection anymore. We are not privy to the notes of Blush, but I think I picked up lily-of-the valley in there, as per Miss Dior, and the general atmosphere of the composition is light and sherbety and innocent. And yes I  know, wildly ironic for someone not far off the state pension. I walked out with Blush all the same, because I hadn't got past Temptation's cough sweet opening, and was so excited that I could actually smell it compared to its pink stablemates.

NB Maybe the secret is simply to spray a shedload more than I usually do - goodness knows there is enough juice to allow for extravagant application!

Soon the base of clean musk ramps up a bit in Blush, on which I am less keen, albeit I am hyperosmic to musks. The powderiness has echoes of Cartier's Baiser Volé, though it is more to the fore in that scent. Blush still retains its "pretty" vibe, which I fully admit is not much of an improvement on "nice". 

I went home, but the comparison of Temptation to Black Orchid continued to niggle away at my brain. I quite like Black Orchid and admire its quirkiness, and hey...£4.99! I remembered there being only one bottle left of it too, so a couple of hours later I found myself back in Home Bargains, where I succumbed to Temptation, and also scored a bumper pack of loo roll and three caramel Kit-Kats.

And I am glad I did, because after the strange cough sweet and licorice-like opening, Temptation turned out to be a lot less weird and medicinal; now it was reminiscent of Calvin Klein Euphoria or indeed Black Orchid - both scents share an almost sickly, sultry quality, and there's a darkness to them both. But it is all very attenuated in Temptation, which is only to be expected I guess from such a budget scent, though these are stated as being edp strength. All in all, I don't regret my purchases, and half wondered if Temptation in particular might become a cult item one day and fetch a load of money on eBay, hehe.

And I am sorry I didn't spray more of Lush and Seductive on myself in store, even if that might have raised an eyebrow amongst the staff. They may well have turned out to be good dupes of the Armani and Givenchy, if only I had saturated my arm in them.

As for lasting power, it is hard to say as I may not have sprayed enough to start with, so do not take my word for it. Blush is still going after six hours, while Temptation is more of a gentle murmur. If you wanted a scent that lasted all day, it wouldn't really be practical though to carry these weighty bottles around with you to reapply at intervals.

In conclusion, if you live anywhere within range of a Home Bargains, do have a spray of these, then spray some more to make sure, and report back! Remember, every bottle is a tester... ;)

Friday 26 January 2024

From "Dead man in garage" to "Rather odd boyfriend": tantalising snippets from my mother's book book

Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. This isn't going to be a tribute post as such - I have already written one of those, on the occasion of the 11th anniversary. It is true, however, that an item belonging to my mother has inspired this wit, her book log / book diary? / book book?!. This is a small hardbacked notebook in which she used to write down every title she had read in recent years. I don't know how far it goes back exactly, as there are no dates next to the entries, but she was clearly jotting things down in it right up till her death. (I will explain how I know in a bit...)

Taking a leaf out of my mother's book (no pun intended), I have kept a similar record myself for the past 15 years, and have been reading quite a lot lately. Michael Mosley (the ubiquitous TV doctor) has included "reading fiction" in his list of "just one things" that are beneficial for our health - in this case because it supposedly staves off dementia. I must say I don't need any encouragement to pick up a book, unlike some of his other exhortations, such as cold water showers, playing video games, or fasting, but it is nice to know that reading is not simply a stimulating escape into other worlds, but good for the old grey matter. I do find it harder to follow plots now than I used to, mind. I get so far into a book and come across a reference to Dorothy's bad leg, say, when I have no recollection of who Dorothy is, never mind an issue with either of her legs; this invariably has me flicking back fifty pages to see if I can find an earlier reference I must have missed. 

I read 40 books last year in fact, and will mention some of my favourites here (they are not all fiction, to be fair). It is a pretty mixed bag...or, as the Germans say, "diagonally across the garden":

Bill Bryson - The Road To Little Dribbling

Dorothy Max Prior - 69 Exhibition Road 

David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty Some Day

Laurent Gounelle - Le Réveil

Philippa Perry - The Book You Want Everyone You Love To Read

Mitch Albom - For One More Day

Lionel Shriver - Should We Stay Or Should We Go?

Lucy Atkins - The Night Visitor

Shari Lapena - The Couple Next Door

Molly Keane - Loving And Giving

Going back to Mother's notebook, there were a few symbols to decipher: a tick means she has acquired a book, then the tick is turned into a cross when she has read it. 

She also writes where she heard about each title ("Times", "Telegraph", "S.T. (Sunday Times), "Spectator" - and occasionally me - "Van"), notes down the price, and often adds a comment. Some books my mother admits she didn't finish, and there are quite a few mentions of not being able to get into a story, or not being in the mood for a particular style of novel: I should add that she was ill throughout this period, and it is possible that the treatment she was undergoing could have affected her stamina / interests.

Without further ado, here is a selection of her intriguing mini-synopses ;):

"Lesbian's Foxy (sic) interspersed with torturing deaf boy next door."

"Set in E Coast resort. Moslems and murder. Stars Barbara Havers."

"19th C magician used by French to sabotage Algeria."

"US woman wanting to escape 4 men in family."

"NZ novel couldn't read."

"Dead sister - heroine seeks regression."

"18th C man who felt no pain." - I can recommend that one myself!, by Andrew Miller. Has a feel of The Miniaturist about it.

And finally:

"Women has three men but gets rid of them to Dublin."

I also chanced across a postcard I had sent my mother in March '86, where I am talking about a book she must have recommended to me - no idea what it was, though my curiosity is piqued now. 

"So glad Edith tore up the letter in the end - much better to have so small a ration of great happiness than a whole lifetime of mediocrity if she'd married that smug Swindon businessman!"

Then over Christmas I decided to see how many of the books featured in my mother's book book I had read myself, and interestingly there were a good 15 or so - we had similar taste it seems.

As for how I know the notebook was up-to-date, this is to do with one of the later entries,"The Breaker" by Minette Walters, which is marked as unread. I had sent it to my mother as a present, as it had just come out and hadn't yet reached the hospital library, and when I finally made it to the hospital in Oxford on the day she died, I spotted my handwriting on a parcel at the nurses' station. The book had arrived, but Mother had not opened it. I took it home with me again, but couldn't bring myself to broach it for a long time afterwards. The last book Mother finished was "Eleven Hours" by Paullina Simons, which was one of the titles we had in common. I bought a used copy the other day with a view to rereading it sometime...

Do you keep a book book / log / diary, and if so, what the heck do you call it? ;)

How many books a year are you managing to read, and what would be any recent top picks?