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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Perfume-themed pratfalls - could fragrance be a hazchem after all?

Could the label be more admonitory?
I have been quite disparaging in the past about the new postal regulations. These prohibit the sending of flammable liquids - including perfume - overseas, while allowing shipments of fragrance within the UK, as long as they bear an ID8000 label, declaring them to be 'exempt from requirements for dangerous goods transport document'. If they are exempt, and not considered risky to transport in this country, you have to wonder why they even have to carry such a label. Why not put one on everything from CDs and books to clothes and Interflora? After all, these things aren't dangerous either, unless you stab yourself with the roses or swallow the buttons on your Boden Henley top...

When sending perfume, it gets more tricky when you have a package full of homemade samples or decants, as is frequently my - and other fumeheads' - wont. The Post Office doesn't have a category for these, so you have to pretend they are the manufacturer's carded samples or the clerk could refuse to accept the package altogether. And because of problems with these grey areas of classification, I tend to flit from PO to PO in the hope that I will find more accommodating staff the further I roam - or staff who have yet to brand me as an awkward and deviant customer at least. I am reminded of those people who are addicted to over-the-counter painkillers, and travel far and wide to supermarkets and chemists out of their normal area, scoring a couple of packets of their analgesic of choice in each outlet.

So up till now you will have heard me speak no ill of perfume, other than to note that a few all-natural scents occasionally brought me out in a rash, prompting me to desist from wearing the stuff for a while.

Could I construe this as the 'Serge Lutens shroud'?

And then the other week, I was making up a swap package comprising lots of little vials of precisely the unorthodox type the Royal Mail cannot contend with, when I accidentally spilt a couple of ml of Serge Lutens Un Lys directly on my dining room table. It is sod's law that if such a mishap were going to happen, it would be with a Paris Exclusive of which I had very little left in the first place. However, it was not so much the wasted perfume that troubled me as the fact that old Serge fetched the varnish / colour right off a small patch of a beloved piece of furniture. Seemingly it is a case of redoing the whole top for a proper even finish, though I did have a tentative go on just the affected area with a selection of materials from olive oil to Pledge. There are some really random restorative agents cited on the Internet, would you believe? - I am sure salt and ammonia, white spirits and vinegar were amongst them. Maybe I will eventually come to think of the pale patch as yet another characterful sign of the table's great age (it dates from 1790), along with a number of other dents and black rings it has sustained down the years - presumably from flagons of porter and the like.

Resin crystals - 'myrrh trouble than it was worth'...;)

So that was one incident of perfume behaving badly...The next also occurred in the dining room, though it wasn't directly caused by perfume. Still, perfumery materials were involved and were the immediate trigger for what was to follow...

A little while ago - ever on the lookout for new ways of experiencing scent - I had a go at burning some myrrh crystals that my friend Gillie had given me around the time of the We Three Kings joint blogging project in 2010. The procedure involves igniting a charcoal disc and dropping a few crystals on it once it starts to smoulder. The crystals are supposed to emit a fragrant smoke - we are back to the very origins of perfume and its name indeed ('per fumum') - from the days when ancient Egyptians would burn incense as a sacrifice to their gods.

Except that the overriding scent I got from my own experiment was of the burning charcoal - I was strongly reminded of barbecue fuel, while the myrrh scent was undetectable. I wondered if I had set the crystals on the disc too soon, before it had settled down to a quieter burn rate - a case of 'premature incineration', if you will. Anyway, Gillie offered to come over this weekend with her own resin-burning tackle, and show me how it should be done. Accordingly, Saturday lunchtime found us sitting at my dining room table, rubbing our respective crystals in our hands to see which ones were properly fragrant. It seems my myrrh crystals had pretty much lost their scent for whatever reason, so we decided to burn a blend of Gillie's, containing frankincense and myrrh.

Before getting stuck into our pyrotechnical antics, Gillie suggested we open a window. I should mention that my windows are the old-fashioned sash style - I have since learnt that their full name is 'vertical double-hung box-framed sliding sash windows', which I find oddly amusing. I don't open my windows very often, and sometimes they are quite sticky when I try to do so, on account of a fairly recent paint job. You have to push the bottom pane up from the top with all your might, basically. We did eventually get the bottom pane to shift up, but somehow - and it is all a queasy-making blur now - I managed to trap my finger between the two wooden frames. Gillie responded with lightning speed, yanking the pane down again and freeing my rather limp and lifeless digit. An afternoon in A & E later, we established that it wasn't broken, but crushed and cut, and I will lose the nail in due course. Which is a bit ironic, as after years of nail biting I had just kicked this childhood habit for long enough to paint my nails. A purple colour to boot (Chanel Paradoxal), which is also ironic, as the injured nail is doubtless that colour naturally now, though I couldn't bear to look - not even at the X-Ray! For the rest of yesterday and all last night I had to keep the finger elevated above my heart, but I think the bleeding has stopped now, so I can do a few more things with the hand. Though not peel carrots. Or change the bedding. Or type properly.

So this one-handed post has taken rather longer than usual!

And Gillie and I agreed to take a rain check on the incense burning, possibly opening the front door instead next time. I will report back if I crack it some day and would recommend this presumably more intense fragrance experience. Meanwhile, it's back to joss sticks and matches for me. And I shan't be sporting a full set of painted nails any time soon...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

'Men and (wet) sheds': dipping into The Library of Fragrance in a focus group down the pub

Note the 'Drinkaware' presence of cycle clips
Following the arrival of a set of eight scents from the new Library of Fragrance collection (aka Demeter Fragrance Library) which launches in Boots today, I decided to host a mini-focus group at The Vine pub in Stafford this weekend. My (very loose) aim was to check out the brand's stated unisex orientation, and generally get some feedback on any aspect of these perfumes from my mates. The group comprised my friend Clare and her husband Tony, our painter friend David, and his friend Jim, whom the rest of us met for the first time that night, though we'd all been Facebook friends for a while. I wasn't expecting Tony to come along, so he was a 'bonus respondent', albeit tipping the gender split slightly into the masculine camp at 3-2.

For anyone who just wants to know the topline findings from the focus group - as clients are wont to do with real life research exercises - skip straight to the end. For a blow by silly blow account of what went down, please read on...

I should state right off the bat that despite being a researcher by profession, this wasn't a focus group in any meaningful sense of the term. I was voicing my own opinion for one thing - occasionally even before I asked the others(!) (which as everyone knows is highly irregular behaviour in a market research exercise). But I did at least pose a few market research-type questions about the whole positioning and marketing of the brand before we got stuck into the business of sniffing proper.

Where would you expect to see this range displayed in store?

Aware of the unisex premise, the group puzzled over this question, as The Library of Fragrance range clearly falls between the two genders, so in theory needs a separate area. We concluded that it might have its own display in a prominent place where people might fall over it - not even necessarily in the perfume section as such.

What do you think of the bottle?

The men in the group were particularly exercised by this question, and leapt straight in with comments about things it reminded them of - none of which were perfume as it happened. Tony said 'nail varnish remover', while images of Windsor & Newton's range of artists' supplies immediately popped into both David and Jim's minds. Clare thought it looked like 'reed diffuser bottles'. I am of course familiar with many different styles of fragrance bottle, including smallish rectangular ones like these, and am greatly in favour of smaller formats. To the others in the group, however, it didn't really compute as a perfume bottle, partly down to the shape, but also the size. Jim said he would have expected a bottle of men's aftershave to be a lot bigger. On the other hand, it was deemed too bulky to be construed as a handbag-sized perfume. I still think it is great that someone is offering a 30ml size, so it will be interesting to see what Boots' customers make of it.


On a more whimsical note, the coloured strips on the bottles reminded David of Monopoly, and he imagined amassing a whole load of perfumes in the range and inventing games on a Monopoly theme. Picking up the orange banded Amber bottle, he remarked: 'I could put a house on that one.'  (He was perhaps thinking of the aptly named Vine Street...) Oh, and speaking of 'picking up', the bottles are all labelled as:

Cologne Spray
Vaporisateur Naturel'

Because of the layout - with the three terms listed underneath one another - we weren't sure if 'Pick-Me-Up' was an adjective governing 'Cologne Spray' below, or the American equivalent of 'Cologne Spray'.

The eagle-eyed David (spot the artist!) noticed that on a couple of the bottles, the text below the fragrance name was in lower case and employed commas, while on most of the bottles it was capitalised, with full stops, making for a punchier, more abrupt style.

"Simple, subtle, singular scents.
Each day. Everywhere."


"Simple. Subtle. Singular Scents.
Each Day. Everywhere."

There was a strong preference for the lower case version, and the capitalisation of 'Day' in the bottle pictured above especially bothered people. 'It's a bit shouty', observed Jim.

Having discussed the packaging in a lot more depth than I was expecting to, it was time to start sampling the perfumes themselves. I had devised a handy map of a left and right hand and forearm. I thought that if everyone applied each fragrance to the same spot, we could critique them in an orderly sequence, as we would all know where to sniff. I was also assigned the role of presiding over the spraying, administering two sharp squirts to each person's skin to give as consistent results as possible. Nevertheless, there were considerable variances between group members in terms of how each perfume smelt.

So here is the feedback, in the order in which the scents were tested...

How did they all smell?


Only Clare (a major lover of the fig note in perfumery) and I recognised this as any part of a fig, and even Clare took a little while, though it ended up being her favourite of the bunch, and she took the bottle home with her. Here are a selection of comments:

Jim: 'If I sprayed this on in the dark, I would wonder what it was.' (Editor's note - Jim seemed rather preoccupied with darkness throughout the discussion, as you will see.)

David: 'This smells like the sort of varnish you used to be able to buy in the 60s, but can't get anymore.'

Those really are meant to represent arms, not rolling pins
I was concerned that they might have been smelling the initial blast of alcohol you experience with any perfume, but even though they revisited it later - when to me and Clare it smelt most definitely of fig leaf - the men in the group never made the vegetal connection, didn't care for Fig Leaf, and persisted in using vocabulary along the lines of 'lacquer' and 'tanning solution'. Somebody observed that their nose may have been confused by the shiny look on skin of the perfume. Sure enough, the scents all lingered on everyone's skin as a sticky translucent shine, and in the case of Tony in particular, seemed visibly to have darkened his skin where I had sprayed the scent. I admitted to the group that I couldn't recall that ever happening with perfumes before. The shine was long gone the next morning, mind, but persisted for the duration of our trials.


This one initially proved more popular, and was considered to be 'more like a cologne'. It was variously described as 'pleasant', 'dry', 'orangey', 'citrusy' and 'quite sweet'. There was one comparison to 'lemon meringue'.

Jim: 'If I picked that up in the night and smelt it, I'd put the light on.' Praise indeed from Jim, the nocturnal operating, non-perfume wearer in our midst.

It was still shiny, however, and went quite indolic on several people's skin during the session, which put Tony right off. None of the men would wear this, but Clare - whose second favourite perfumery note is orange blossom - was happy to take this bottle home too.

Clare and Tony perfectly executing the perfumista's salute


Jim: 'Now I would expect this one to be very shiny!' It didn't disappoint.

Beyond that, Rain didn't smell like rain to anyone, but rather of mint and the pith of a satsuma. Clare couldn't smell anything at all to begin with, but her anosmia was suddenly broken by the satsuma reference, and - whether or not thanks to the power of suggestion, who can say? - she could just about smell a slight acerbic orangeness from that point onwards. David also got a bit of the Indian yoghurt dip with mint, raitha. This perfume was quickly renamed 'Satsuma', and on resniffing it much later, Tony pronounced it to be 'really quite nice', though nobody said they would wear it.



This is the perfume which people were most intrigued to try, and although everyone found the opening offputting (to put it mildly), it provoked a great deal of lively debate. Images came pouring out along the lines of 'wet leaves', 'wet moss', 'wet gardening', 'rotting leaf mould from leaves that you forgot to burn', 'dry rot', 'wet rot' and 'wet shed'.

Jim: 'It's the smell of taking up the floorboards and seeing what is really going on....'

David: 'Probing at the back of your shed...or sorting out your wood pile - you know there's going to be woodlice and wriggly things.'

Me: 'It's the smell of my Dad's old car coat that had been lying in his damp abandoned caravan for four years.'

Jim summed up the feelings of the group when he inquired: 'Do I want to smell of wet wood mould?' Much much later, when this earthy, patchouli(?) scent had quietened down, Tony said it was actually at a wearable point for a men's fragrance, however, in his view it had taken far too long to get there. This was the most challenging perfume in the selection and Thunderstorm was swiftly renamed 'Wet shed'.



Clare's immediate response on sniffing this was to say it would make a nice room fragrance for a kitchen. Fresh Ginger was generally considered pleasant, and was one of the scents that smelt most differently on different people's skin, with additional notes of 'lemon', 'sherbet', 'almonds', 'pear drops' and 'Dolly Mixtures'. Tony described it as 'ginger Edinburgh Rock', while David thought it a 'bit Christmassy', and also like some kind of fabric conditioner, in a good way. Jim said he would also have it in the house - as a room fragrance again - and probably more in winter.


Gin & Tonic was unanimously pronounced to smell of shampoo or bubble bath. One of the men mentioned 'Matey', which led to a brief nostalgic digression about bath time products from our childhood. I got a hint of lime, and then remembered how soapy Jo Malone's French Lime Blossom is, which could be why we were 'reading' this scent as being more like a bodycare product than an astringent aperitif. There was no discernible juniper, for example. Much later, after it had softened considerably, Tony announced that he liked it and would be happy to wear it, whereupon he promptly copped for the bottle. Someone else thought it would make a pretty room scent for a bathroom.

At this point, Jim started to engage in a banned activity we had previously dubbed 'nose buffing', whereby you press your nose deeply into one scent, then drag it down to another scent location, thereby risking possible olfactory contamination. We watched as he slid his nose from Thunderstorm down to Gin & Tonic, before remarking: 'I am having a bath in the shed. Perhaps that is why the shed is damp...??'

Once again, this perfume one went on - and stayed - shiny. 'I'm way the shiniest I've ever been', mused Jim.

Jim and David


I requested this one from Clare the PR lady specifically on account of its titillating name, only to find to my chagrin that Sex on the Beach is a cocktail, and nothing at all to do with salt, sand in every interstice and scratchy marram grass. The general consensus was that this perfume smelt of sweets, ranging from that traditional favourite of 'sherbet lemon pomegranate' to 'rhubarb and custard' and generic 'boiled sweets'. The imagery then moved to 'powdered orange juice you used to get when we were kids', while I was reminded of the sweeter end of the J2O fruity mixer range.  People found this pleasant, but not something that a grown-up would wish to smell of. We judged it to be another possible contender as a room fragrance, though we could see it appealing as a perfume to young girls. At this point in the discussion, I mentioned how some US-based readers of Bonkers had talked about spraying Demeter scents on their sheets, which the group heard as 'sheep', prompting much merriment.



On first application, everyone got a big whoosh of vanilla, before the scent settled down into a distinctive amber groove. Jim admitted though that based on the name, he wouldn't have any preconception of how amber does smell. After the general consensus of the vanilla opening - and despite most people's recognition of amber as a perfumery note - this scent conjured up some quite contradictory images. Despite these differences, Amber proved to be my and David's favourite of the selection - David took a decant of this one home.

Tony: 'Middle Eastern incense; the souks of Baghdad; a belly dancer in Turkey...this is the sort of thing the sales assistants in the aiport at Dubai try to spray you with.'

David: 'Almonds, pepper, something a bit antiseptic - what they rub on you before they give you an injection? - or the kind of floor cleaner you add water to.' (Editor's note - he did really like this.)

Once everyone had tested all eight perfumes, Tony got up to get some more drinks. On his return, he announced brightly; 'So.... the bar lady liked Wet Shed, Amber, Sex on the Beach and Fig Leaf.' We commended him for gathering this bonus titbit of consumer feedback.



For anyone who has jumped to this part - or who would simply welcome some attempt at a synthesis of our very Singular Discussion, here are the Topline Findings (sorry, I am really not feeling these capitals...):

- Everyone found at least one scent out of the eight they said they would wear - except Jim, who doesn't wear aftershave anyway, but nevertheless went home with a decant of Fresh Ginger on the offchance that a cologne-wearing urge might randomly come over him (in the night, presumably...;) ).

- In general, the perfumes were seen as pretty straightforward and borderline functional - there were several suggestions that they might make good room scents.

- The perfumes smelt slightly different on each person's skin - nothing new there!

- Layering is very likely a good way to add depth and interest to these scents - especially as you can buy four 30ml bottles for the price of your average 50ml designer perfume.

'Shiny, happy respondents'

There was no time to layer on the night - people were arguably a bit punchdrunk by this point - and the notion provoked ribald comments along the lines of: 'Sex on a beach on top of a wet shed.' and 'Goodness, you'd be so shiny if you did that!'

As I write, however, I am wearing Orange Blossom + Amber, and Fresh Ginger + Amber, and both are rather pleasant with - just as you would expect - greater complexity than either scent on its own.

Let's keep the focus group going! If you have had your nose in one of these 'fragrant books'- whether as Demeter in the USA or under the new UK name of The Library of Fragrance - do let us know in the comments.

Tony reviewing the right arm trio

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

'Read my scent': The Library of Fragrance (aka Demeter Fragrance Library) gets a UK boost in Boots

That perfume looks decidedly fresher than my knob of ginger
I first encountered the New York-based perfumery, Demeter Fragrance Library, under (by any yardstick) very odd circumstances. It was during my visit to fellow blogger Bloody Frida's home town in the Mid-West, in March 2011. The full story of our extremely full-on weekend is recounted here, but the bit about the two perfumes from the Demeter line that I discovered back then bears repeating - to set the scene (and the requisite oddball tone) for this latest post about the line.

"As the night wore on, and my two bottles of beer somehow managed to be chased down (note the careful use of the passive voice) by a vodka martini that had been abandoned by one of our party (rude not to drink it, really), I started to feel a bit merry. Indeed I was probably not far off the state to which I refer in my 1984 diary rather more bluntly as 'pissed'. The rest of the evening is a fabulous blur, but we ended up back at the house of the Yorkshireman and his wife (friends of Bloody Frida we had bumped into earlier that evening), who live in a warehouse conversion tastefully decorated with a surreal assortment of art works in every conceivable medium, vintage 50s furniture, and reclaimed industrial materials repurposed as quirky ornaments - in short, a stunningly strange collection of artefacts that had been lovingly curated over many decades. We sat cross legged on the floor knocking back - and partly also, OVER - rather too many glasses of red wine, crunching wholegrain crackers with the gusto of people who hadn't eaten for a week, not just a few hours earlier, and spraying the entire length of our hostess's arms with the assortment of perfumes we had had the foresight to bring with us in case just such a consultancy opportunity should arise. We also got to try the only two perfumes she currently owned: Demeter Snow and Fireplace, and empathised over a lost chypre scent she had once loved."


That is rather a long preamble, I know, but I will forever associate the Demeter brand with the extraordinary house of the quirky artist whose perfume collection was so sparse by comparison, comprising just this duo of Snow and Fireplace. I remember Snow as being a cold, watery, slightly other worldly and faintly spring floral scent, that did a good job of conjuring up the sensation and smell of burying one's head in the white stuff. Fireplace I can't recall, but I think it might have been a woody spicy number.

In the intervening three and a half years I can frankly say I haven't given the Demeter range a single thought, mostly because it hasn't really been available over here - or only in fits and starts in places like Liberty's, say. But the brand popped back into my mind this week, when I received an email out of the blue from the MD of a distribution company called House of Blend, who is charged with launching the brand in the UK under the name 'The Library of Fragrance'.

As it happens, I have been doing some thinking lately about the various approaches I receive from what I shall loosely and collectively term as 'PR people'.  I alluded briefly to this topic in my recent Papillon Perfumery post, because exchanges with Liz Moores are a shining exception to the bland, impersonal, automaton-like communications I often receive from such quarters. Clare Rees, the MD of House of Blend, has a similarly down to earth manner. Hence I was immediately 'engaged' by her email (there goes another quid in the 'orrible business speak equivalent of a swear box...), also by the fact that she addressed me by name (a small thing you might think, but by no means a given!). Moreover she had clearly read my blog, and not just pretended to have done so in some glib throwaway reference. So the 'real sounding' and personalised nature of her overture immediately warmed me further to this offbeat brand I dimly recalled from that drunken night in Ohio...


In a press release accompanying Clare's email, I learnt that a 'capsule collection' of 28 'best selling' scents from the Library of Fragrance will be launching on 9th September in 400 Boots branches nationwide. Hmm, not sure why 'best selling' should be in inverted commas - unless there are some interpretation issues with the sales figures - but there you go. The rest of the range (there are a staggering 101 scents overall!) will be available to buy online from the Library of Fragrance's UK website. The price will be a snip at £15 for a 30ml bottle, and there will additionally be a '2 for £25' promotion at Boots, possibly as an indefinite basis.

For anyone not familiar with The Library of Fragrance, the brand is founded on the principle of creating perfumes that smell of everyday things.

"Rather than trying to capture the ‘essence’of an aspirational ideal or glossy advertising image, The Library of Fragrance presents scents that are ‘real’ and ‘familiar’ and can be chosen to reflect the preferences of the wearer, instead of those dictated by a perfumer or designer. Selecting a scent to wear becomes as easy as asking yourself, ‘what sort of things do I like?’"

Gin & Tonic the perfume cosying up to Aldi's finest

Well, I have nothing in principle against perfumes that reflect the preferences of a perfumer or designer - I just accept that I may or may not like their compositions, just as I may or may not like some of the everyday things The Library of Fragrance supposes I might care to smell. It is certainly refreshing, however, to get away for a while from that 'wafty, soft focus, chiffon-clad Keira Knightley / Scarlett Johansson' style of perfume marketing implicitly referenced in the quote above. And interestingly, this more prosaic approach to perfumery is exactly the kind embraced by my friend Clare - whom I recently featured in my 'perfumista protege progress report' series - in answer to the question about how her feelings towards perfume had changed since I started introducing her to more niche scents.

"I think that as a result of owning more bottles and trying more 'stuff' I have understood more about what I really like. I describe this as a perfume that smells of a thing. Something organic, not something perfumey."

Well, the Library of Fragrance concept looks right up her street...;)

The other aspect that will be promoted by the brand is layering. With such a humungous range to explore - even the shortlist of 28 available in-store is pretty darn extensive - I can't see me experimenting with layering any time soon. I suppose though that it is a logical extension of the philosophy of a person enjoying 'smelling of things'. You can basically mix and match your favourite smells to create more complex scented settings / scenarios. As the press release goes on to explain:

"The most basic rule of thumb is that if things smell good together in real life, they will smell good on you. For example, ‘Grass’ + ‘Sunshine’ + ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ smell incredible worn together, perfectly conjuring a summer day’s stroll in the park, whilst ‘Gingerbread’ + ‘Marshmallow’ is a comforting duo that gourmand fragrance fans will fall for."

So in Clare's case, as a diehard fig lover and the anchorwoman of Cake Club, she could perhaps combine Fig Leaf with Vanilla Cake Batter, say. To fully meet her tastes, however, the range has a glaring omission in the shape of Wet Dog.

Hypothetical Wet Dog & Snow layering idea? ~ Source: Clare Chick

As I say, I don't feel ready to layer yet, and am not a big fan of layering generally, for even with the relatively small Jo Malone range, which also sets store by the notion, the infinite permutations used to blow my mind and increase the anxiety levels I was already feeling from having so many perfume options to choose from in my collection as a whole. So I will just toss the idea out there for the moment in case any readers are more inclined that way.

Having piqued their curiosity about the upcoming launch, I am meeting with Clare and two other male friends - who are both delightfully eccentric and generally drawn to 'weird stuff' - down the pub shortly. Here I plan to hold an utterly unscientific mini-focus group about the Library of Fragrance line. I thought my mate David would be a good test subject, as he is an artist in the realist tradition and loves nothing more than to paint juxtapositions of food and flowers with other random objects. The other chap, Jim, actually suggested that on her recent sodden charity bike ride, Clare could equally well have worn the Demeter Rain perfume in place of her choice of Bradley Wiggins-inspired Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers. At the time he had merely found a link to it in Google, but now - thanks to the generosity of House of Blend - we have a 'starter kit' of scents representing various points along the 'orthodox to well wacky' spectrum for our focus group, including the very weathers with which Clare contended on that day, ie Rain and Thunderstorm! Then in my invitation, I initially wrote 'mini-ficus group' by mistake, which of course would only work for the Fig Leaf one.

David's take on things figgy

I am actually wearing eight Library of Fragrance scents at once as I write, and my initial thoughts are that each perfume faithfully smells of the thing it purports to represent, however abstract or concrete that thing may be. They are verily the Ronseal of the perfume world. Which prompted Jim to pipe up: 'There's one that smells of creosote? Oh good!" For the moment I have had to disappoint him, but who knows what line extensions may yet come down the pipe?

So I will report back with their - and more of my own - feedback in due course. I confidently predict that the comments from that trio will be as 'off the wall' as the perfumes themselves.

UPDATE - We have had the focus group now, and the predictably bonkers post about it is now up!

Oh, and the 28 scents that will shortly be available in-store at Boots may be found on their website here.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

'Love the one you're given': a tale of Grand Amour no more and my dual Goutal windfall

Seriously luxe packaging for an eBay buy
I would like to start this post by apologising to Suzy Nightingale (aka 'Disappointed of Tunbridge Wells') for the complete lack of Sindy dolls in this post. I will write that one very shortly, but it got bumped by a recent fragrant haul. For Thursday's post brought a duo of Annick Goutals - Grand Amour and Myrrhe Ardente - which I got for a steal on eBay. Actually, that day's mail very nearly didn't bring my package: the postman pulled one of those 'knock and run' stunts, and stuck a red card through my door telling me I was out when he called and to collect my parcel from the sorting office. I doubt whether he even knocked, to be honest, for I would have heard all but a very light tap. To add insult to injury, he had written the time on the card as 10am, then crossed it off and put 11am instead. It was 10.50am when I found it, so both 10 and 11 looked like pretty arbitrary choices on his part.

Incensed at the thought of having to leg it over to the sorting office that afternoon, I pulled on my dirty clothes from the day before and ran out the door in search of a tell-tale figure dressed in red. In a matter of moments I spotted the offending postie delivering to houses at the far end of the street. I challenged him about the failure to knock, but he insisted that he had. I challenged him about the phony time and he said he didn't have a watch, so was obliged to estimate it. Hmm, based on the number of people likely to be out at work while he is doing his rounds, he must do a lot of estimating of the time in a typical shift. Anyway, I remained calm and polite and he promised to come back and deliver the package when he had finished at that end.

Sure enough, he was as good as his word, helped by a little note I had affixed to the door, pointing to the (admittedly rather archaic style of) doorbell that you twist to operate, and enjoining him to ring it vigorously. Parcel signed for - which, despite containing some 130ml of perfume across the two bottles, arrived refreshingly devoid of hazchem warning label - I spent a very satisfying few minutes unpacking it. The seller had not skimped on the bubble wrap and tape, and both bottles were tightly swathed like mummies, nestling in a beautiful silk lined box.

My Edwardian doorbell

I should point out that this was a partial blind buy on my part: Grand Amour I am familiar with, and very much agree with Elena of Perfumeshrine and Victoria of Bois de Jasmin, who both detect similarities to Chamade. Yet Grand Amour is more complex and ambivalent than that analogy implies, as both go on to explain. I love this quote in particular from Perfumeshrine:

"The atmosphere of Grand Amour is one of sustained uncertainty, poised as it is between the unctuous base of its resinous orientalia and the grassy, sappy, almost refreshing floral top."

"Orientalia" is a splendid - and ever so slightly suggestive- term for the base of Grand Amour...

Victoria also captures the contrasting facets of Grand Amour with her usual eloquent lyricism:

"While Chamade plays up the radiant green crispness, the sweetness of Grand Amour conveys a certain disarming tenderness. In an unexpected twist that makes Grand Amour such a fascinating fragrance, a ribbon of myrrh resurfaces under the floral opulence of the heart. Its somber incantation provides a brilliant counterpoint to the headiness of the composition, suggesting that even great love always retains an air of mystery."

My bottle is the edt, but nevertheless, the natural ageing process has lent it the colour of the edp. I have two samples of Songes edt that are also at opposite ends of the colour spectrum, which again I put down to their respective ages. Grand Amour was one of the very first niche fragrances I smelt after the onset of perfume mania, and I remember how close I came to buying a bottle. It feels fitting to have finally done so, especially for under £20.

Myrrh crystals donated by my friend Gillie

Myrrhe Ardente, on the other hand, was new to me, but the two bottles came as a job lot, so I scrutinised the reviews to determine whether I might like it. Katie Puckrik of Katie Puckrik Smells had likened it to 'mushroom-flavoured root beer', which didn't initially fill me with confidence, while numerous other reviewers on Makeupalley and Fragrantica alluded to a 'cherry soda' or 'cola' note going in. They are all right, but the cola / root beer note soon settles into a generalised subtle sweetness that is seamlessly blended with myrrh and benzoin. The incense registers as the softest of tingles, a nuzzling, comforting prickle that is far removed from the flagstone-y or medicinal facets of the note. In the end, it was Victoria's review that tipped me over the edge, for she is one of several bloggers with whom my own taste is broadly aligned. She had me at the 'alluring softness' and 'sensual warmth', which perfectly sums up the character of Myrrhe Ardente now that my bottle is here!

Then in a bid to extend my repertoire of myrrh experiencing MOs, I have just ordered some charcoal discs off eBay so that I can burn the resin at home - for the in-home combustion equivalent of Dolby surround sound.

Charcoal discs doing an excellent impression of black pudding ~ Source:

Yes, I am delighted with this semi-blind buy, and as I was writing my glowing feedback on eBay, I remembered that the seller had included an explanation in her listing as to why the owner was divesting herself of these two bottles.

"I am selling them for a friend who has now found her 'perfect perfume' -- given to her by her new true love -- and is renouncing all others in a dramatic gesture!"

So on a whim, I wrote to the seller, thanking her profusely for her extremely conscientious wrapping of the parcel, and inquiring what was the perfume her friend now considers "perfect".


This was her reply: "As for my friend's new fragrance, it is J'Adore by Dior, and I suspect the name has something to do with her preference, since it was given to her by her new love, and of course she loves his giving her something that says he adores her..."

Well, you can't argue with that. Plus it has a pretty top, in a 'National Geographic-tribeswomen-wearing-ten-gold-necklaces-at-once' kind of a way.  As for the extra emotive charge / aptness of the name, the name Grand Amour is a perfectly good contender, come to think of it, however, that is a fragrance the owner had presumably bought for herself - or been given by a relative, perhaps - so it wouldn't have done at all.


This little story got me thinking - would a perfume given to me by a Significant Other have instant superior status to others in my collection, whatever it was? Hmm...And would a perfume name that alluded to the donor's love directly or in some other oblique way further enhance its appeal?  Say, if they gave you "Enchanted Forest", and you had had your first clinch on a woodland walk.  Or is it more the case that if the juice is not to your taste, nothing could redeem a perfume in your eyes, and confer merit upon it through the transformative power of love....?

For myself, I reckon that if the scent were half way passable, sentimentality could well fill in the gaps. But mostly I prefer to 'love the one I've chosen' rather than 'love the one you're with' - or given, as in the present case.

Friday, 22 August 2014

'Eat my scent': The Three Degrees of perfume ingestion, featuring some far from 'precious moments'

Elvis comes to Stafford
Earlier in the summer, I had the good fortune to go and see Elvis's crown. Yes, Elvis was not in fact 'down the chip shop', but - for one day only at least - at a dentist's surgery round the corner from my house. By way of refreshments, the staff had knocked up a plate of Elvis's favourite cookies, based on a somewhat eclectic combination of banana, peanut butter and bacon. Here we have biscuits that are the quintessence of what Elvis liked to eat - but crucially, not how he liked to smell. Cue the Estée Cookie, heralded in the New York Daily News.

"As part of the new lifestyle channel launched last month, Estée Edit, beauty giant Estée Lauder has commissioned rising star Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar to whip up the cookie version of Ms Lauder's personal perfume, 'Private Collection'. To evoke the perfume's signature Bulgarian rose scent, the Estée Cookie is made with rose extract and freeze-dried strawberries."

Okay, so the cookie recreates a facet of Private Collection the perfume, but not its distinctive green character, I infer. Even so, the Estée Cookie is a foodstuff that smells consciously of a fragrance.

The Estée Cookie ~

This in turn got me thinking about that rather oddball restaurant in Spain I featured on Bonkers last year - El Celler de Can Roca - which set out to capture famous scents in pudding form eg Shalimar, Eternity, Terre d'Hermès etc. Here is the description of the Hermès dessert again, taken from a Thai gastro blog called Sfreelife:

"Jordi had to distil the earth and pour the clear liquid over the chocolate-orange heavenly combination. The other key elements include patchouli, jasmine, pomelo, shiso and beetroot leaf."

So there are further examples of foods that deliberately set out to replicate a perfume - I'll call this 'the third degree' of perfume ingestion, on the basis that - as with burns - 'first' is the strongest / most severe.

Then the other day I clocked this comment on Carlos J Powell's Facebook wall - also, as it happens, on the subject of Shalimar. In this instance his friend was inadvertently reminded of the iconic scent by a drink:

Shalimar-alike ~ Source:

"Tasting perfume, funny you should mention it. My sis made me a Dark and Stormy - ginger beer, dark rum, and lime - and my first reaction was, Good Lord, I'm drinking Shalimar!"

Clearly this was a pleasant experience for Carlos's friend, and to all intents and purposes this may be no different from the dishes at El Celler de Can Roca, because no actual perfume is used there either - not even in the Estée Cookie, for that matter - the perfumes are consciously or unconsciously conjured up using what are, broadly speaking, 'normal' culinary ingredients. I put 'normal' in inverted commas, as the recipe for Terre d'Hermès sounds a mite weird if you ask me. ;)

But...Carlos's original post was about a less pleasant experience, namely that of ingesting actual perfume in a crowded subway, which I will term 'the second degree'. He probably is eating the stuff in the atmosphere, albeit in fairly dilute form. Kind of fitting, given that Angel was such a ground-breaking gourmand perfume...


"Truth be told, I'm a fan of Thierry Mugler Angel, it's just a shame that most women who wear it tend to over apply. Coming home on the 6 train after work, I stood next to a woman all dolled up, obviously going out tonight, but I could taste how much Angel she was wearing." (Italics are my own)

Which brings me to 'the first degree' of perfume ingestion, which happened to me this week with some fragrance oil samples that arrived from a London-based company much given to hyperbole (thereby hangs a tale for another day), and called Signature Fragrances. The samples had very small plastic tops relative to the overall proportions of the vial, and they were terribly tight. And I mean terribly. I am quite resourceful in matters of taking tops off - only this lunchtime I channelled my mother and used the boiling water technique to loosen the lid on some homemade chutney. In other words I am not usually daunted by a plastic stopper. Till now.

The Riddle of The Terribly Tight Vial Top

So in the end, I used my teeth, didn't I? There simply was no other way. The sample I had the particular problem with was thankfully the less potent of the two. I would counsel readers under no circumstances to remove the top of a vial containing 'Overbearing Desire' by Déjà Vu Oils with their teeth. No, I bit off the top of the other sample of Modern Touch. Rather ironic, when you consider how low tech and primeval my grappling touch was in the end. Modern Touch is described as 'sensual, salient, calm, fruity, sweet'. Oh my goodness, I missed the strapline on the bottom of the sample cards:


So, sod's law that I ended up eating a perfume oil described in these alarming terms. Well, obviously I wasn't intending to eat it, but that is the unfortunate consequence of wrenching a stopper off in this way. There is an unavoidable degree of collateral ingestion. So how did it taste? Um...pass. It was sweet and oily is about the best you are going to get from me. It really wasn't an experience I would like to repeat, and I may be trying to erase it from my memory.  It stayed in my mouth for a fair old while, though I did rinse with water and whatnot.

Oh, this amused me...the Yahoo answers to 'wat happens if u eat perfume':

"am pretty sure it won't harm you"

"why the f*** would you eat perfume" (Asterisks are my own)

"if it was dangerous they wouldn't be Abel to sell it"

No, they'd get 'cained' for that, no doubt...

And the moral of the story? Pliers, probably. Or get Elvis's redoubtable gnasher on the case...!

DON'T BE FOOLED! ~ Source:

PS Here is the video to which Tara refers in her comment below!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

'Soak my shorts': Clare's rainswept ride for rhinos with perfume-assisted pedal power

Source: Prudential RideLondon via Clare
My friend Clare seems to have been popping up on Bonkers quite a bit of late, between my post about her perfumista protege progress, a couple of posts on Cake Club, and coverage of her cycling feat last year in a London to Brighton charity ride. Despite a bandaged knee, she gamely made it round the punishing 50 mile course, spurred on by whiffs of Sarah McCartney's scent, Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers. This eclectic perfume - featuring notes of marmalade and Shimano gears - was famously inspired by Sir Bradley Wiggins' podium moment when he won the Tour de France in 2012.

In hindsight, 50 miles now seems like a leisurely pootle, for last weekend, my indomitable - and some might say completely loopy - friend took part in Prudential RideLondon-Surrey, a whopping 100 mile circuit that covered most of Greater London before meandering through large swathes of Surrey.  For months she had been following a rigorous training schedule, but until last weekend she had never ridden more than 65 miles in one go. So when last Sunday dawned (wet and stormy, as the remnants of Hurricane Bertha lashed The Home Counties), I was concerned that she might have bitten off more than she could chew this time.

Shortly after 8am, Clare posted this status on Facebook:

"On the start, in the rain. Feeling sick. Vanessa Musson will let you know if I've been taken off the course in the comments below. Fingers crossed!"

For Clare had sent me a link to a whizzy GPS app, which enabled me to follow her progress every step - or revolution, rather - of the way. This was important, as any riders found to be lagging behind risked being intercepted by marshals at one of half a dozen check points and removed from the race.  I kept logging into this app on and off through the morning and all was well in terms of Clare's mileage and average times until 13.57 when the route updates suddenly stopped around Epsom. This prompted me to call her husband in a panic, who reassured me that the battery had probably died on her phone.

Source: Prudential RideLondon

And so it proved. For at 16.13, four minutes short of eight hours since she set off, Clare arrived in The Mall, and understandably burst into tears when she saw the finishing line, in a heady mix of relief, joy and pride. For the conditions in which she had covered the course were nothing short of diabolical - at several points riders had to carry their bicycles aloft through flood waters, and two hills were taken out of the route altogether, as it would have been too dangerous to have people whizzing down a wet road at speed. This actually lopped 14 miles off the total distance, but to cycle 86 miles in such hostile weather took unbelievable grit and determination.

Source: Clare's equally proud husband!

Here was Clare's Facebook update on Sunday evening:

"Thank you everyone. I am totally and completely shattered. We went through crazy floods, thunder and rain like I've never seen. I only lost my temper once. There was a very plump girl just in front of me who, like me, had carried her bike through the floods and trundled on. Two yobs by the side of the road pointed and laughed at her. If I could ride one handed I would have slapped them. Instead, I suggested they get on their own effing bikes and try it. The rest of the people along the way were wonderful and definitely kept me going in the headwinds. Nobody tried to take me off the course. Had they done, I would have decked them."

I wrote back that I was 'proud to know' her, which I most certainly am. In fact I have been a bit tearful writing this post, which isn't at all like the Bonkers you know. ;)

Source: Clare

So...obviously, having given Clare a few days to recover this week, I had to pop the question about whether wearing Sarah McCartney's 'Eau de Wiggo' perfume again helped her focus.

"I couldn't smell anything at all. Throughout the entire route I was sniffing, but the tissues in my sleeves had soaked through. I wrung them out, but blowing your nose on papier mâché is limited in effectiveness.

I did inhale at the Start line before the downpour and felt invincible. That lasted about 20 miles. Then I just felt wet and a long way from the Finish.

I didn't get a sniff of Bradley."

Source: Cycling Weekly

Ah, too bad then, but most understandable. And would you believe Bradley was also cycling in this race? Though he will have started well ahead in the pack, so there was no chance of his catching Clare's sillage during that first section, and wondering about the identity of this olfactory impostor.

I found this amusing quote in The Guardian from another prestigious participant, former Olympic track champion, Chris Boardman, describing the weather on the day:

"It went from torrential to biblical and then just to horrendous."

And what of the rhinos, you may be asking? Well, Clare decided to raise money to protect the rhinos of Pilanesberg in South Africa, and at the time of writing has already exceeded her target by £160!. This is not a fund raising post by any means, but if anyone particularly supports wildlife causes, the link to her fund raising page is here.

Source: Prudential RideLondon via Clare

Friday, 8 August 2014

'Hot orange': Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger ~ Néroli Blanc Eau de Parfum Intense review

The other week I was contacted out of the blue by Bloom Perfumery in London asking if I was interested - on a no strings basis - in sampling a brand they had just acquired, Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger ('in the country of orange blossom'). The company, founded in 1998, is owned by Virginie and Antoine Roux, who have a longstanding family connection to perfumery: Antoine Roux's great-grandfather, Victor, was a flower merchant supplying the perfumeries of Grasse. Bloom described the trio of scents, which are exclusive to the Spitalfields store at the moment, as "a simple, very French, collection of neroli straight from Provence".  Well, in this sort of weather - okay, it has been intermittently warm lately, says she looking out the window at dense cloud cover - I am rather drawn to perfumes featuring orange blossom, and 'simple' is never a bad word in my book, so I said "Yes, thank you" to their offer. Actually, it's not the latest fragrance collection Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger has released - this spring saw the launch of La Collection les inédits, which recently featured in The Chemist in the Bottle. Additionally, Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger offers a range of room fragrances, soaps and other body care products, all focusing on the scents associated with this part of France, such as rose, jasmine, lemon blossom, lavender and above all, orange blossom.

As the Rouxs (not sure about the plural -s, but no matter) state on their website (translation is my own): "Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger...a brand where orange blossom, recognised for its gentle and soothing virtues, is queen."

'Do I look a bit warm in this?'

Such an orange-centric range of perfumes got me thinking about my own personal associations with oranges, going back to my childhood. I remember 'hot orange', for example, a rather watery drink made by diluting orange squash. We were issued with thermos flasks of this warming but insipid stuff on school youth hostelling trips, to wash down the queasy-making spam sandwiches. By contrast, Haliborange tablets provided a gloriously intense hit of orange sweetness - the one vaguely 'medicinal' product I used to look forward to taking.

Then in the early 70s I went on holiday with my parents to Yugoslavia, and this photo of me in a woolly tank top standing in front of an orange tree forever sums up that holiday. It was unseasonably warm for April, and I must have been boiling. So there is another instance of 'hot oranges', if you will. To see the actual fruits growing on trees was impossibly exotic to my 12 year old self.  Fast foward to the end of the 70s, and I spent a year teaching English on the French Riviera, from where I made many forays into the hinterland, including to the village where Au Pays de la Fleur d'Oranger is based, and has a shop - La Colle sur Loup. For anyone not in a position to visit, but wishing to steep themselves in the ambience of Provence, I would heartily recommend La Gloire de Mon Père by Marcel Pagnol or the film Manon des Sources, which has some lovely footage of the area. You can't smell it though, which is where the Néroli Blanc collection comes in...

Suitably stonking bottle ~ Source: fragrantica

I have tested - and like - all three fragrances in the collection, but the edp and eau de cologne are relatively fleeting on me.  I should perhaps clarify that they are all quite different - not just in terms of concentration - and despite sharing four common notes: neroli, bergamot, rose and jasmine. My standout favourite was the Néroli Blanc Eau de Parfum Intense (henceforward to be referred to as 'Néroli Blanc Intense' or possibly just 'Intense' if I am feeling lazy):


Notes: neroli, verveine, bergamote, jasmine, rose, cedar

I don't know if there are some key notes missing from that list - and I am not aware of either the verveine or the cedar - but my overriding impression of the Intense perfume is of a sweet, honeyed, juicy, jammy wallop of orange blossom, flanked by jasmine and rose, and resting on a pillow of warm, unctuous vanilla. It is hot, and it is bothered. Imagine the love child of Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger and Van Cleef & Arpels Orchidée Vanille. It differs from the Serge Lutens in two key ways, namely that it is more vanillic, in a nuzzling, cosseting way, and it also teeters just the right side of indolic. Yes, Néroli Blanc Intense is sultry and exotic, but not out and out erotic. I checked the notes of the SL for comparative purposes - the addition of tuberose may help to amp up its vampish, orange bombshell vibe:


Notes: orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose, rose, citrus, cumin, nutmeg


A 'big white floral scent with vanilla' of which I was also reminded - especially texturally - is Annick Goutal's Songes. So I dug out my sample of that and promptly fell in love! It has different floral notes: frangipani, tiare, jasmine, ylang-ylang (though ylang-ylang has a bit of a tangy orange-y facet to it). Crucially, it has the vanilla base that I detect in Néroli Blanc intense, though it is not mentioned and I may be making it up. And Néroli Blanc Intense also has something of the dreamy, soft quality of Songes - Songes is actually a tad quieter I might add, in case that helps people position the two along the diva spectrum. Songes melds with my skin more readily, whereas the Néroli Blanc Intense sits on my wrist like a big gorgeous hot shouty orange thing. Big and shouty, yet paradoxically warm and comforting at the same time, like Songes. But it is in a louder register all the same - it never loses its 'not quite indolic twang', if you know what I mean. Interestingly, both scents are a similar colour.

Another analogy I might draw would be with an orange-forward Lys Soleia or Mary Greenwell Plum, say. We are talking those kind of levels of projection and radiance and 'juiciness' and 'in your face-ness'. There are also echoes of Ajne Bloom de Nuit, which includes notes of flowering orange, citrus and rock rose, amber and sandalwood, but I don't suppose too many people will have tried that one, and my own memory of it is pretty distant now. I could also say that it smells the way I hoped Guerlain's Mon Précieux Nectar would smell, but that was a bit of a disappointing fuzzy mishmash on me.

La Colle sur Loup ~ Source:

Aha - I just spotted the note list for Néroli Intense on Fragrantica, and it is more extensive, with added vanilla, sandalwood and fruits!

Top notes: orange blossom, Sicilian bergamot, mandarin orange
Middle notes: jasmine, rose and fruits
Base notes: cedar, vanilla, musk and sandalwood

I am retesting all three of the Néroli Blanc collection at the moment - they have been on skin for a couple of hours and the other two (even the edp) are indistinct blurs, sadly, so I shan't dwell on them. The openings were very pretty though, and other reviewers - as with Tauer's new Cologne du Maghreb - seem to have got more mileage out of them, so do give them a go if you get the chance.  The older I get, the more my skin seems to eat perfume.

So, the upshot of my testing of this trio is that I would love to have a bit more of Néroli Blanc Eau de Parfum Intense - a purse spray-sized amount, say. And the other surprise finding is that I am now dreaming of a bottle of Songes...