Monday 1 July 2024

"Saddle up the mare of dreams": Papillon Perfumery Epona review

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Papillon Perfumery, the artisanal brand founded by elegant epicurean earth mother Liz Moores - whose birthday is today in fact! In that time she has released eight perfumes, and the rectangular 3 x 3 display on her website is clearly crying out to fill the bottom right hand corner with No 9. So when she announced the latest addition to the Papillon stable, Epona, set to be launched on 1st August, I was delighted by the news, not least for reasons of geometrical equilibrium. Equine equilibrium indeed, as Liz explains:

"Epona embodies the cherished memories of my bond with my beloved horse amidst the beautiful English countryside. Inspired by our intimate connection, it captures the essence of long summer days, a warm leather saddle, and the sweet meadow breath of my horse."

When I heard the name of the new perfume, I must admit that I didn't immediately twig to the connection with Liz's horse: it was rather the Spanish town of Estepona that popped into my head, which has the name "Epona" nested within it. For any grammar or maths nerds, I believe this is an example of the somewhat abstruse phenomenon known as "recursion".

Screenshot of the Papillon website!

Further searches of the word quickly revealed that Epona is a Celtic goddess, patron of mares and foals, as well as a character in the Legend of Zelda Nintendo game, and a highly engineered type of horseshoe. ;) So all in all, a very apt choice of name for the new fragrance.


Leather, Violet, "Saddle Soap Accord", Labdanum, Vetiver, Oakmoss, Petitgrain, "Horse Skin Accord"

Right off the bat you can tell that this is a perfume best appreciated by horse lovers, who will be familiar with "the rich scent of a well-worn saddle", and the saddle soap that is part of the tack cleaning ritual.

I should come right out and say that I am not a horsey person, and if anything am a little afraid of them, along with cows, sheep, and dogs - or for that matter creatures of any size that are capable of launching a surprise attack. Why, even Truffle has become alarmingly bitey of late and I have had to dial back my petting intensity after she narrowly missed a big vein. My diffidence around dobbins, as you might say, goes back to the summer of 1974, when I went pony trekking in Wales on a Scripture Union holiday (of all unlikely auspices!). Within minutes of setting off, my feisty mount cantered down a steep field and promply threw me off. Luckily I was unharmed, but I have never had the urge since to "get back in the saddle".

Source ~ WorthPoint: a plate featuring a JohnTickner drawing (1968)

Now I may not be the ideal person to relate to Epona, but I do have surprising horsey connections. My first cousin-once removed-in-law(!), John Tickner, was the cartoonist for Horse & Hound for some 20 years, and also wrote many books on the themes of country life. In a surprising twist, it turns out that Liz remembers his cartoons from when she was growing up and already a hippophile.

Then there was the old flame who held senior marketing roles in food companies, before turning his back on the gravy train and taking up painting - of race horses. He eventually became a noted equine artist. I'd never have placed a bet on that career change! And there is also the ex-girlfriend of my actual first cousin, who is a sports coach and psychologist teaching NLP techniques to riders.

But despite my own lack of affinity with horses, I was most curious to try Epona, and jumped on the sample Liz sent me as soon as it arrived.

A black pen leaked in my handbag, sorry!

On first application I get a blast of freshly mown grass mixed with a strong leather scent - of the kind you find on the more rugged end of the Spanish handbag spectrum. A friend who sniffed it on me described the smell as "rubbery", which may have been his way of describing the leather note. The arresting opening soon becomes more attenuated: the bracing dart of green disappears, giving way to a softer leather scent mixed with soap. We are definitely in Camay territory now. I found a note to myself that reads: "creamy glowing soft leather and soap". Very beautiful it is too. In the same register as Cuir de Russie, though with more soap.

I must explain that the two other people I have tried Epona on so far - an actively horsey female friend and a chap who has sat on donkeys and elephants in India, which I figured might do as well - were quite different canvases for the scent: on both of them the bright green facet was more noticeable, with longer staying power. They both liked Epona a lot, and in the case of my female friend, it was an absolute epiphany for her. She had previously avoided ALL perfume, dismissing it as "chemically" and allergy-provoking, but the second Epona landed on her skin she knew she was in the presence of luxurious and benign greatness, and was won over. Her partner is now under instructions to buy her a bottle for her birthday - a volte-face the like of which I never thought I'd see. ;)

I did!

As for me, I have continued to bury my nose in my wrist in the hope of detecting the "summer meadows" salvo again, but it seems that my version of the horse has gone back into its stable, where the fresh sappy greenery has been supplanted by straw, and a sort of animalic woodiness that might be the oakmoss or the muddy tones of vetiver. Maybe that is the "horse skin accord" kicking in, which I am obviously not in a position to confirm, but I could well believe it is exactly that. Which reminds me that another waggish friend said he was surprised there was no dung in Epona, prompting me to point him in the direction of L'Artisan's Dzing!. That said, in the drydown there is an alluring stables-cum-barnyard vibe going on - no really, I mean that - which could encompass straw at least. In the far drydown the perfume recedes to a gently soapy whisper, though I thought I could smell a faint trace of vetiver on one wrist. Basically, I think Epona may prove to be another shapeshifter, and you may get a different combination of the leather / soap / fresh greenery / muddy greenery & animalic hints compared to me - or the same combination in a different order. However it reads on your skin, I am confident you will also enjoy the ride! 

In summary - and notwithstanding the fleeting nature of the juicy greenness on me - Epona has leapt to the top of my favourites list, nudging Bengale Rouge and Hera into second and third place on the winners' podium, though I still like them both as much as ever. Hera didn't go quietly as you might imagine, poking Epona's flank with her pomegranate-topped sceptre as she stepped down. As for Bengale Rouge, I guess if this were an actual race, a horse could outrun a cat after all. (Yep, 40mph to her 30mph, I have established, though Truffle may just beat her "species best" when she sees me coming at her with a worming tablet.)

Editor's note: "Saddle up the mare of dreams" is the opening line of a song by Scarlet's Well called "Mid-morning Lily Songs" (video here). I don't expect a single reader to have placed it. ;)

Tuesday 11 June 2024

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm review - a squeezy, sensitive skin solution to take the day off

Ceramic bowl by

As any Instagram followers may be aware, my profile blurb there reads: "Perfume blogger and industrial market researcher, prone to occasional bouts of travel writing, mindless knitting, and several kinds of dermatitis."

I should update it really, as I retired five years ago(!), though I still often undertake ad hoc research-related favours for friends - currently one to do with the relative merits and facilities of pitches at a motorhome park near Koblenz, whose website is only in German. The rest of my byline remains true, though touch wood I seem to have shaken off one of the three kinds of dermatitis, namely "seborrheic". For the record, I am convinced it was L-glutamine that fixed it by healing my gut in some way, though my GP was dismissive and said that dermatitis naturally comes and goes, so it was more likely just coincidence. Be that as it may, I continue to suffer from allergic and irritant contact dermatitis, especially in the current pollen season. The skin on my upper eyelids goes dry and crinkly / crepey (or more so than it is normally, say!). My eyes feel prickly and my face hot and stinging, prompting me to seek relief by spraying calming canisters of thermal water on it. In extreme cases**, I get redness, creasing and bags under my eyes as well, though not so far this year, thankfully. So while the pollen creates a baseline of irritation half the year, if I come into contact with an aggressive toiletry product as well, all dermatological hell breaks loose!

**For a very scary picture of how bad my skin used to get in summer, click on this post.

Ceramic cup on the right by

Now I already have a completely benign product for taking off make up (there will always be tinted sunscreen to deal with, even if my face is too sensitive to bear any more cosmetics than that), namely La Roche-Posay's Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser. It is absolutely bombproof for sensitive and angry skin, and I recommend it unreservedly, ditto their Toleriane Dermallergo Eye Cream. The Toleriane range is routinely endorsed by dermatologists on both sides of the pond, and I can't fault these two products for gentleness and lack of irritating ingredients.

However, for some time now I have been looking for an alternative to the Toleriane cleanser, for no other reason really than I find it a bit chilly when it hits my skin! I realise this must sound a bit illogical, when I have just said I spray my face with cold water to cool it down. But I also use the cleanser year round, and on a cold winter's night it can be tempting to go to bed with a face of slap on, rather than subject my complexion to chilly blobs of white goo...before remembering the dark admonitions of Caroline Hirons, and pulling myself together!

In the past I have enjoyed using the scentless - I flat out refuse to say "iconic", though it is revered as something of a gold standard of cleansers - Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, which is white and odourless and reminds me very much of a craft glue we used in primary school, which came in a big tub. Reminds me in a good way, I hasten to add. ;) What I liked about it was the way it melted onto your skin, with no drag factor, and left it feeling silky soft. The downside was the fact that you were continually dipping your (potentially grubby) fingers into the tub, and the last one I owned ended up growing a disconcerting patina of black mould when it was only half used. Obviously, even I had to toss it in the end(!), though had it been a lump of cheese I might have just cut out the offending bits. I think the twin flaws with Take The Day Off were the size of the pot as well as the fact that it came in a pot in the first place rather than a squeezable tube. Had it been half the price and size, I might have been able to use it up in a timely manner, even with frequent finger forays. I have since established that there is a 30ml size for about £12, compared to £20-£34 for 125ml, but it does work out very costly that way, ditto the 15ml travel size for about a tenner! I might go for one of those even so, though the premium cost of the small tubs irks me.

But meanwhile I did a lot of research into well regarded cleansers, comparing different women's magazine polls and the like, and homed in on The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm as a possible budget contender, at £12 for 150ml versus £16 for 200ml in the case of the Toleriane (which makes them exactly the same price pro rata).

Source: Amazon

Here are the magic ingredients listed by The Inkey List(!):

  • 3% Oat Kernel Oil: a rich, natural oat oil which effectively removes stubborn makeup and SPF whilst hydrating and moisturizing by gently supporting skin’s moisture levels. 
  • 1% Colloidal Oatmeal: Helps to reduce the appearance of redness and soothe irritation.

I immediately thought that The Inkey List balm would be kind to my irritable skin on account of the oat-based formulation. I had tried an Aveeno moisturiser in the past that was primarily meant for babies and contained "colloidal oatmeal"; it didn't irritate me, though it was not as hydrating as I had hoped. To this day I don't know what a "colloid" is... Wikipedia to the rescue!

colloid is a mixture in which one substance consisting of microscopically dispersed insoluble particles is suspended throughout another substance.

Is the oatmeal suspended in something, then? Moving on...I have been using The Inkey List Cleansing Balm for a couple of weeks now, and I can confirm that it is completely safe for sensitive skin - you can't get much more sensitive than mine, I wouldn't have thought, so I feel very confident in recommending it to the public at large. It goes on easily, but doesn't glide as such, or melt into your skin in the way the Clinique Take The Day Off does, or certain oil cleansers I have used in the past. There is a little bit of dragging involved, but not in an overly concerning way. It cleanses perfectly - even lashings of mascara - I wipe it off with a damp cotton wool pad, and it does leave my skin feeling comfortable and moist. Occasionally the balm seems to separate in the tube into a part clear, part opaque gel, but that doesn't bother me unduly either, and it doesn't happen routinely. And of course it is in a tube, which is great for hygiene reasons, and most importantly, it isn't cold on my skin! I can see this being a real winner in winter.

In conclusion, I wouldn't go so far as to say that this balm is my Holy Grail because of the lack of gliding and melting ;), but if (whatever the season) it keeps me from looking like Joe Bugner after he's gone six rounds, it's a keeper! 

Sunday 5 May 2024

"Quoth the raven, 'Not till September at the earliest'", and why April was the (second) cruellest month

Longer term readers may recall my account of first getting the keys to my French house in the depths of winter in early 2019. I clearly remember it was -2C, and I was able to keep yogurt and Camembert on the decking outside my Airbnb in the run up to the big day. The title of that post began: "January is the cruellest month..." so in case anyone is keeping tabs on the league table of meteorological cruelty covered on Bonkers, I thought I'd better qualify my description of this April as the second cruellest, with apologies to T S Eliot. And to Edgar Allan Poe for that matter, of whom more anon.

But yes, I came back to Corrèze for a fortnight, a little later in the spring than on past visits, but still in time to see the wisteria in bloom that encircles my house like a blossomy girdle. And it was absolutely - and most unseasonably - and almost unbearably - freezing! As in very. very cold, not actually freezing, though some of the locals were muttering darkly about temperatures possibly plummeting further. Additionally it rained hard for about a week, so altogether a rather dispiriting take on spring.

The journey down was dry at least, though not without its challenges: I found myself suffering from double vision when I emerged from the Channel Tunnel in Calais, and had to drive all the way to nearly Paris with one eye shut. The resulting tension from such sustained screwing up of ocular muscles provoked a headache on reaching the halfway point in my journey. Also on the way down, an HGV in front of me in the slow lane suddenly lurched into the middle lane, causing a domino effect of three lorries making violent crab-like manoeuvres, all to avoid half an HGV tyre that was bouncing across the carriageway. Their evasive tactics only managed to flick the offending tyre right under my bumper with an almighty thwack! It was like running over a rubberised small child or a large sheep - quite frightening at the time, but miraculously it didn't seem to damage my undercarriage, or not in a way that affected the drive quality, say.

Source: Moonik, via Wikimedia Commons

Then the following day, driving round Paris on the dreaded Périphérique was even more fraught than expected. (For anyone not familiar with it, this road is a cross between the North and South Circular Roads in London and the M25 - the US equivalent of which might be the Sam Houston Beltway.) For I had another shock when the GPS on my phone plunged me right into central Paris...I have never felt so crestfallen to see a tree-lined boulevard, because driving in a congested area with so many signs in close proximity - and an even more tetchy breed of fellow motorist than usual tailgating you at every junction - takes the pressure of urban driving to a whole new level. Eventually, the satnav spat me out on the Pont de Sèvres, and the sight of the Seine lifted my spirits, as I knew I would soon be leaving the city behind me.

But as is customary during my stays here, I wasn't out of the woods yet...! I typically arrive armed with an agenda of jobs, which is invariably overtaken by more pressing crises or unforeseen incidents. I shall take these in turn, in the time-honoured thematic tradition.

Picking holiday dates without consulting the boulangerie

Who would have thought that the bakery in the village would have chosen the exact same dates as my stay for their holiday? No apple doughnuts, oozing custard-filled choux buns or half a rustic baguette for me then. ;( That will teach me. Luckily the local supermarket was well aware of their closure, and ups its own stocks of baked goods during this period, including a very moreish flan. 

Collecting spectacle arms

On the drive down, I was dimly aware that my long distance glasses had become rather loose. Once I was settled at the house, I realised that the problem was much worse than I thought, with the left arm of the frame splayed out at a wild and ungainly angle. It got so I couldn't bend down without their starting to fall off my face, and even when I was upright they would slide a good inch down my nose as fast as I could push them up again. A visit to a local optician was urgently on the morning of my first full day here, I went to the biggest one in the small neighbouring town of Objat, a branch of a chain like Specsavers. The optician there took my (black) glasses into a back room, and returned with them a few minutes later, having amputated the offending arm and replaced it with a brown and tan one. I am not the sort to stand on aesthetic ceremony unduly, but he also said that he wasn't very satisfied with his workmanship, and having got back in my car, I could see why. The new arm was also splayed out at quite a dramatic angle, and the slippage cycle started all over again.

So within ten minutes it was on to Optician No 2, who was wearing trendy two-tone hexagonal glasses, a bit like a more muted version of eyewear sported by Elton John. I liked his nerdy manner and sprinkling of technical terms into the conversation as he worked in front of me, the other side of a little hatch. I learnt the French for "tapping" and "screw thread", as he solemnly pronounced all the parts of my spectacles to be "défectueux". I still had confidence that he would do a better job, and so it proved. My latest arm was now at the same angle as the other one, and was mostly black, with the addition of purple and blue streaks(!). I was confident that no one would really notice, and that they would most certainly do for now. A couple of days later, I decided they were in fact still a bit loose after all, and threw myself on the mercy of Optician No 3. She was a very young woman, who looked as though she could only have recently qualified. Be that as it may, she was more than up to the tightening task I entrusted to her, and I emerged feeling that apart from the blue and magenta flecks on the new arm, this was a good result, even if it had taken the combined skills of every optometrist in town. ;)

The log fire that never was

On this trip I brought over two big bags full of paper and cardboard toilet roll inners(!) and 16 bricks, with a view to raising up the grate in the fireplace and lighting a fire in it. Despite the fact that the temperature in my house never went above 13C in the whole fortnight(!), I was not able to use the fire at all, for the simple and most unexpected reason that a pair of jackdaws were building their nest in it. The telltale sign of a pile of sticks in the hearth was waiting for me when I arrived, and I soon "twigged" to the fact that I hadn't left them there, but rather that avian miscreants were steadily chucking them down the chimney - every 30 seconds at the height of their construction fervour. 

Caught in the act!

Their method is decidedly haphazard...a chimney is of course a vertical shaft, and they drop the twigs vertically down it, in the hope that they will catch on a brick on the way down and become lodged horizontally, creating a framework for a nest, which will gradually take shape the more they keep shoving stuff down there. It took the whole of my stay before the twigs stopped coming, and in that time I took five full bags of detritus to the tip. I popped to the Mairie to understand my obligations as a home owner towards these pesky corvids, and was told that I had to wait until the end of the "saison de nidification" (nesting season) in September before I can light a fire or have the nest removed and the chimney swept. Which was a bummer, given how cold it was in the house, but there was nothing to be done. In hindsight, I actually think it was better that I was there during this key time - if I hadn't come till high summer, there would have been a veritable tsunami of debris all over the floor!

Before I left, I rigged up an elaborate combination of dust sheet, newspaper, strategically placed bags for life and bits of cardboard in a bid to intercept any remaining twigs, soot, bird poo, moss, or other chimney projectiles, such as a smashed egg that sadly fell down at one point. I dubbed this my "caca-countering cardboard carapace", on the basis that no one had probably said that exact sentence ever.

NB I did learn an extraordinary amount about jackdaws during my stay, for which the French word is "choucas". They are mostly monogamous, with some amusing exceptions, and go on "synchronised dating flights" with their mates. I think I spotted my pair at it...! Or maybe it is just another twig foraging sortie...

Driving on the wrong (wrong) side of the road

On exiting the tip after my first dumping of twigs, I don't know what possessed me but I turned onto the wrong side of the road, despite the fact that over the past 35 years I have driven on the right side of the road more often than the wrong, as in the left. ;) A van suddenly came round a sharp bend and we both swerved. He honked at me, very understandably, and I was mortified at my error. Then I remembered that jackdaws are thought in some circles to be a portent of early death...and it so nearly could have been. I popped to the church the next day and prayed to Jesus on the cross not to have me done for dangerous driving, even though I had conspicuously sinned against the Code de la Route.

The microbrewery based on an obscure namesake

On the second weekend I decided to check out the market in the optical mecca that is Objat. It was busy with locals and the odd tourist enjoying the sunshine and milling around the many stalls, which sold every kind of fresh produce from cheeses, meat and fish to kiwi fruit shaped like kidneys, giant radishes, and vegetable fritters from the Aveyron. 

There were stalls peddling clothes, wicker baskets, plants, paperbacks, jewellery, and even mattresses made of soya. My eye was caught by a man selling bottles of beer with labels featuring a distinguished looking bearded man on them. I asked him who the chap on the label was, and he explained that it was the first President of Brazil, one Manuel da Fonseca, which happened to be his name too. ;) To commemorate his famous namesake, Objat Manuel set up a brewery and started making a variety of craft beers in different flavours. I got him to pick me out a "normal" one without some strange fruity adjunct, and also asked if I could take a photo of him holding the bottle, given his close personal links with the Brazilian government, albeit of yore. "Only if you will be in it too!", he rejoined, and though neither of us like having our pictures taken in fact (and I hadn't even washed that morning ;)), his son did the honours with my phone. 

French farçous farce!

Going back to the vegetable fritters, I saw a man making them, and after a quick and delicious taster on a cocktail stick, I promptly bought a couple. I carried on wandering through the market and chanced across another street food stall also doing them, but different varieties, along with paella and other things. When I told the stall owner I had already bought some farçous he looked really shocked, and said: "How come?", and I replied: "From the guy back there", and he clearly had no idea there was any competition. He asked to see inside my box and quizzed me about what vegetables were in them, and generally looked indignant. "Mine have got spinach!" he exclaimed. I hadn't the heart to tell him there was also some spinach in these. I half thought he might go and beat the other man up. Two farçous sellers in a market in a tiny town like Objat is comparable to two sets of British expats in an even tinier village like Juillac called Hughes, which there also are. ;)

A perfume-linked find!

There wasn't much perfume-related content to my time away...I tended to wear pretty much on rotation the decants or small bottles I keep out in France, namely Kenzo Eau de Fleur de Magnolia, Gucci by Gucci, and Ajne Calypso. Then on one of my forays to the local charity shop (black jeans and a cashmere sweater for 6 euros the pair!) I spied the French edition of one of the "Fifty Shades" Trilogy, called Fifty Shades Freed in the English original. Which I happened to remember was translated by our very own Denyse Beaulieu, and sure enough her name was prominently mentioned on the title page. I had a flashback to the launch of L'Artisan's Seville a L'Aube in Covent Garden, where she first told me about her writing commission, and joked about her variegated hair being "fifty shades of grey". Now I haven't read any of the books in English, and wasn't planning to, and I may never read this one either, but of course it came home with me... In fact all three books in this picture were thrown in for free with my other bargain purchases.

The funfair that was no fun

On my last night in France, at the halfway point in Senlis, north of Paris, I chanced upon a funfair. I promptly regressed about 55 years and, risk taker that I am, went on a ghost train on my own. As in no one else on it, not just no companion. ;) It was terrifying...! They played the noise of a chainsaw and somebody poked me in the back - an actual person or a mechanised scarecrow maybe, but definitely a big figure right behind me wielding a sharp pointy implement. I thought what if he/it runs amok/malfunctions and stabs me properly? Later in the (mercifully short) ride a huge sinister-looking clown waved sparklers next to my head, while laughing maniacally. Whatever possessed me? If I want to be scared witless, give me the Périphérique in rush hour any day. ;)

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?