Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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...


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Papillon Perfumery Angélique: reprising the notions of the 'suggestible schnoz' and 'unrepresentative squirt'

An animal-loving perfumer piqued the toys' interest
This is not the post I had planned to write next. It is not even the one after that, or the one after that again - in fact I never intended to write about Papillon Perfumery's Angélique at all. And maybe I still won't, or not very much.  There are numerous bloggers who have done far more eloquent justice to this softly elegant scent than me. I am, however, conducting an interesting experiment with two samples of Angélique right now, so I feel I should log my thoughts more or less as they occur.

But first a few words about Liz Moores herself, starting with the fact that it takes some considerable discipline to remember to put the 's' at the end of her name.

So yes, Papillon Perfumery was launched just the other week, with Liz Moores' (note careful placing of apostrophe) trio of scents - Tobacco Rose, Anubis and Angélique - available exclusively in Les Senteurs (in the UK) and Indigo Perfumery in Cleveland, Ohio. Liz has, however, been gradually building up a following in the perfume community on social media networks in the run up to the launch, engaging (sorry, that most annoying of words just slipped out!) in a completely natural and 'regular' way with bloggers and perfumistas. This is in stark contrast to the more pointed tactics of some PR people, who bluntly ask you to collaborate with the companies they represent, or who send you a Facebook friend request, only to fire off an invitation to 'like' a brand's page about two milliseconds after your acceptance. Even though I have often never heard of the fragrance house / distributor / pop-up shop / trade fair / bar of artisanal soap with trailing olive foliage motif in question. Nooo.... Meanwhile Liz is more likely to chat to you about mowing the lawn or the fact that the bananas are on the turn in the village shop. So refreshingly organic was Liz's approach to creating interest in her upcoming fragrance line that Nick Gilbert felt moved to devote a whole post to the success of her marketing approach.

'Would you like some Mr Muscle with those?'

Moreover, Liz is what my late mother would have termed "an absolute hoot". She is charmingly unstuffy and informal, glamorous and flamboyant, with boundless energy, a supreme ability to multitask, and a bee-stung pout to die for. She operates her perfume company from her "open house" home in the depths of The New Forest, a location so remote that you are lucky to have Internet access a couple of hours a day, and where it is a matter of conjecture whether the aforementioned village shop will actually stock the item of which you have just run out. You know you live in a far flung spot when you instinctively check the best before dates on staples such as pasta and tinned food. I should also mention that Liz has five children, including a floating graduate daughter and a baby (for a while I seemed to be continually stumbling across additional offspring on Facebook - typically pictured holding pets or interfering with the printer - but I think I have logged them all now). It is worth noting that all the children are commendably named after flowers and trees.

And yes, let's not forget the pets...there's a tabby cat called Jicky, a pure white cat called Miss Golly Gosh, and a visiting cat called Hero (at the time of writing); there are two retrievers, umpteen "snakelings" (Liz's word) - including a fat pink "ivory morph", which looks like a disconcerting cross between chicken fillets and a Pirelli tyre, or an extruded frankfurter that went a bit wrong. Oh, and not forgetting two tawny owls, one of them called Freckle. As Liz explains:

"If you've never taken a selfie with an owl, you haven't lived."  

Then there are horses, though not in the house, as far as I could gather. There used to be chickens, which mostly succumbed to a fox, while the remaining one, Cherry, died a while later of natural causes. In short, Liz presides over a vibrant, tumbling, Noah's ark of a household, and how she manages to run a business at the same time is a minor miracle. Well, the children do their bit, to be fair. Her little boy has been pressed into service tidying up her studio and doing a spot of clerical work. If you ask me, positioning chores as fun is absolutely the way to go in modern parenting.

But back to the experiment...this involves a vial which Liz Moores sent me a month or two ago, and one which arrived  the other day, to help me check out my theory that different samples of Angélique may smell different. This whole notion was prompted by my experience in store at Les Senteurs the other day, when I sprayed my skin from the tester of Angélique and (at last) found the opening to be more iris-y - in line with what I took to be the general view - and less aquatic-metallic-angelica-y than on my very first trial from the original vial I received. Though this watery opening chimes with Tara's finding in her review on OT:

"There's a gorgeous spring-like, dewy freshness at this opening stage that is no doubt due to the champaca." Tara goes on to note - of the perfume's later stages, I infer - that "there's a feeling of melancholia about it too. It's bittersweet, like a smile tinged with sadness."

Strips of candied angelica ~ Source:

To recap, in my initial sprays from the first vial - and without any reference to the notes - I thought I was dealing with a sparkling bright floral, but one which was blended with a flinty, watery facet that smelt like angelica. Angelica is a note with a slightly offbeat, spiky quality, so I seem to have got Tara's melancholic vibe from the outset.  Whereas in Les Senteurs my first spray from the tester went straight into the fuzzy, powdery iris and mimosa accord, which is what triggered the idea of conducting a side-by-side sample test back home.

I can now report that the new sample smells just like the tester ie quite intense, soft, powdery, and noticeably iris-y from the off.  It has the wistful quality of an Après L'Ondée - or a L'Heure Bleue that has thankfully gone easy on the heliotrope. What is more interesting though is that I have now sprayed the first vial on several further occasions, and each time it gets more and more like the tester in store and Sample 2 and less like my intial impression of angelica rather than iris.

Following repeated testings of Sample 1, the difference between its successive openings has now progressively morphed (not unlike the Moores snake) from "90% more like angelica vs iris" to 40% to its current (comically low!) level of around 10-20%.  I am now so befuddled by the whole business that I have got to the point where I don't even understand my own percentages, so please don't ask me to clarify. When I compare it with Sample 2, I do still detect a slight difference between the vials even now, though it is becoming harder and harder to put my finger on. A less fuzzy, more lucid aspect maybe?


But what of those early sprays from Sample 1, which had reminded me a little of my first exposure to an angelica note, in FM Angéliques sous la Pluie? That also has cedarwood in it, but is more manly and plangent - I'd go so far as to liken it to the olfactory equivalent of the Moomin Groke, a big lumpen grey gloomy hulk, but in a good way - you know, like rolling fog in Northern California on a November morning. I really don't wish to overplay the FM analogy though, for while Papillon Angélique also has a poignant facet due to the angelica and cedarwood, the mimosa mitigates it with a much more cheerful, springlike vibe.  And though I can't actually pick out the osmanthus, it is doubtless contributing to the warmer, more gourmand character overall - at no point does Angélique stray into full-on funereal, cryogenic or overly carroty territory like some other famous iris scents.

Anyway, to answer that question I dived back into a post of mine from 2009 that few if any readers will remember, I don't suppose, entitled "A Probably Preposterous Notion - The Unrepresentative Squirt" (I was big on capitals back then).  In it I puzzle over why I initially thought Guerlain Idylle a run-of-the-mill fruity floral, only to later discern its pretty rosy musk accord and see resemblances to Narciso Rodriguez for Her and JHAG Lady Vengeance. Having given the matter due consideration, in that post I dismiss the notion of suggestibility, ie that I might have been influenced by the opinion of other bloggers who had drawn this comparison with NR for Her et al - because I was aware of that view at the start when it came off to my nose as a more indifferent mainstream scent. So in the absence of any other theories, I defaulted on that occasion to the apparently preposterous notion of the 'unrepresentative squirt' - check out the post itself for further specifics and some rather silly imagery about pooling musk molecules and bottom feeders in vintage scents.

So in that case I knew of the generally received comparison with those other musky scents from the outset, but couldn't see it at first. Here, I had an open mind to start with, but by the time I got to London, I was aware of 'the iris opening faction', as it were.

'Those are LIME NUTS, obviously' ~ Source:

Now even if peer influences were not at work in the Idylle instance, I do have previous for being easily led. Witness, for example, the 'shamelessly suggestible schnoz' incident with the Le Labo City Exclusive Baie Rose 26, which the SA mistakenly told me was Tubereuse 40. And for a few moments, white floral overload is what I smelt!  Or the time as a kid when my father swore blind that my pistachio ice cream was in fact lime, because he knew I hated pistachio as much as he abhorred waste.

And then, just to complicate matters, Liz messaged me to say I hadn't dreamt the angelica note after all!:

"You're not imagining the Angelica note, it's definitely there, but I didn't use Angelica to achieve it", later adding: "I always get Angelica in the top notes."
It is kind of Liz to give me the credit for detecting the angelica note, but even now that I know angelica to be officially in the composition, I may still have been imagining it, simply because the name Angélique sounds like angelica. In other words, I may have been smelling with my brain rather than my nose. Which adds another layer of suggestibility to proceedings, this time for the angelica note itself!

More toys get wind of this perfumer-cum-animal whisperer

So suggestibility remains a possible explanation for these variations along the 'iris-angelica' axis. But there is another possibility which may shed light on the 'unrepresentative squirt' conundrum and blow out? / confirm? my molecule-clumping hypothesis. It turns out I may not be going mad by getting different notes coming to the fore in successive sprays, for in our most recent exchange Liz alludes to the fact that Angélique may be a bit of a shape shifter in itself anyway...

"It changes more than any perfume I know. I literally smell different aspects on different days. One day the orris note is more pronounced and another day it's the cedarwood. A few days ago I wore it and the osmanthus was huge. It's a weird one but I liked it for its weirdness!"

So who knows what exactly is going on here?  Personally, I'd like to run with Liz's kaleidoscopic take on Angélique, which makes me feel no more bonkers than usual. And however Angélique presents to your nose, if you are after something in the general territory of 'pale and interesting angelica-cum-iris with a powdery, faintly fruity vibe and a tendency to toggle between facets with no prior warning', look no further. You're guaranteed hours of entertainment trying to figure out what you are smelling, and a lot of pleasure in the attempt. And I may yet have my own osmanthus moment.

Oh, and a quick PS about the name of Liz Moores' perfumery. Speaking as someone called after a genus of brush-footed butterflies, and whose blog handle is flittersniffer, I was always going to have a soft spot for a brand called Papillon! ;)

Have you ever experienced variations in how a perfume smells from spray to spray, and if so, how have you explained this phenomenon? Nasal suggestibility, an inherently shape shifting scent, or a 'shake before use' malfunction, which may or may not be related to point 2?

And can anyone tell me if I have missed any of the Moores family pets?  I feel sure there must be a brace of gerbils tucked away somewhere, and possibly also a pet bat, rat or wombat.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Blistering heat with matching feet: Tara, Val and I 'stick together' on a London sniffathon

The Gang of Three at Les Senteurs ~ Photo by Callum on Val's phone
Last week saw the return to London of Val the Cookie Queen of APJ - she was over in England (which I am flattered to report she calls 'home') for a week's holiday, staying with friends in North London.  Tara hooked up with Val on both Wednesday and Thursday (her report is now up on Olfactoria's Travels!), while I joined the pair at lunchtime on Day Two for an eight hour perfumery crawl. Okay, that is rather a grand term for a visit to Penhaligon's and Les Senteurs, but Tara and Val had done a lot more crawling that morning, as you will learn.

The day started quite early for me, with only a minor clothing crisis by the standard of Val's last visit in February (the bedroom devastation scene on that occasion was captured here). It has been so hot lately that I was naturally drawn to a tiny sub-section of my wardrobe, namely my most insubstantial (while not overly revealing) outfits. This is quite a tricky combination to pull off as it turned out, 'pull off' being the operative term. In the end I went for an apricot, cream and black patterned sundress I bought in Majorca in 2007, which I had only ever worn once! I was particularly gratified to find a use at last for garment featuring apricot coloured straps. That item of clothing has been waiting 20 years or more to come into its own, and last Thursday was the day. On the flip side, my matching cream shoes were chafing terribly before I even made it to the station, prompting an earlier than expected switch to the emergency footwear I had packed in my rucksack for just such an eventuality - a pair of black plimsolls that rather undermined the floaty tea dress look I was going for, but which were endlessly forgiving on the feet.

Piazza pitstop purveying pricey but perfect bagels

Just before the appointed time of 1.30pm, I emerged from Covent Garden tube station to find Tara and Val already outside waiting for me. After ginger hugs all round (on account of our generalised stickiness), we repaired to the nearest eaterie, an al fresco Italian restaurant in a prime spot (read 'tourist trap') on the square. Privately we were all thinking: 'Bring on the robdog prices!', but frankly no one really minded what it was going to cost, so grateful were we for shade, fluid and food, in approximately that order. Oh, and a toilet, mentioning no names... As it happens, our predictably expensive snacks were extremely good - Tara and I had the absolute non-pareil of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and I have tasted a few non-pareil pretenders in my time. As it happened, Val's very generous husband treated us to lunch - and yes, it was indeed one of those 'card holder not present' scenarios. His card was actually present, but not the holder. Thanks, Val and Herr Sperrer!

Revictualled and revitalised, at my instigation we decided to track down the stand of British perfumer Tom Kosmala, whose Rose Amber Musk perfume I featured in a recent post. His address was listed as 'Apple Tree Market', which refers to a collection of stalls under cover, bang in the centre of the Covent Garden complex. We systematically walked the length and breadth of the market, but there was absolutely no sign of the man - or his stand. I checked the opening hours on my phone, in case it was 'Sunday to Tuesday' rather than 'Tuesday to Sunday', but no, this was technically a day when he should have been there. What can I say?  The man is chronically elusive, with his light-as-a-feather Google footprint and conspicuous absence on the ground. Maybe it is all part of a marketing ploy, to whip perfumistas up into a frenzy of pent up curiosity? Meanwhile, the three of us shrugged and ambled into Penhaligon's instead.

The Covent Garden branch of Penhaligon's - formerly a L'Artisan Parfumeur store which I visited two years ago almost to the day for the launch of Séville a l'aube! - is a thing of great beauty.  I am not sure I have ever set foot inside a more lovingly curated and aesthetically pleasing retail space. It has been merchandised to within an inch of its life, with exquisite attention to detail and quirky architectural motifs and artefacts at every turn.

Penhaligon's perfume bottle pendant lamps!

I could have stood there all day, gazing at the fixtures both upstairs and downstairs, a womblike subterranean cavern that serves as both office space and a customer 'lounge' where people can sit down at a long mirrored table to sample the entire range at their leisure. Fellow fumehead Nick Gilbert works for Penhaligon's of course, as their Fragrance Ambassador and Events Manager. He greeted us warmly and invited us to have a sniff of any of the recent releases we might have missed - it was Val's first trial of Tralala, for example, which is shaping up to be a full bottle lemming of mine - at this rate I might even have to make my peace with the scary doll's head. ;)

We also got to try the newest addition to the Penhaligon's stable, Bayolea. Bayolea is the colognic(?) - don't lose the 'g'! - centrepiece of Penhaligon's first ever men's grooming range. It is a reformulated classic scent from the company's archives, in which the citrus aspect has been amped up and the 'barber's shop' vibe toned down. All the products in the range are in fact scented with Bayolea, which is billed by Penhaligon's as 'zesty and invigorating'. And while the rest of the line may be aimed at men, we all agreed that Bayolea the fragrance could work just fine on a woman. It is probably worth a review in its own right once I have caught up with a sample, but while in store we sniffed it on our own and on Nick's skin, and it was variously lovely all round. On me it resembled Tauer's Cologne du Maghreb, with a similar lemon verbena brightness and herbal undertow. It really hit the spot on such a hot day.

Top notes: lemongrass, mandarin, tangerine
Heart notes: cardamom, black pepper, neroli, lavender
Base notes; cedarwood, sandalwood, musk, moss, patchouli, amber

Downstairs, we parked ourselves at the long table, catching up on the latest news and gossip on the perfume scene, such as Nick's recent trip to Paris where he got to hang out in Bertrand Duchaufour's lab - dream job or what?!

Val, Nick and Russian doll-effect Tara

A major highlight of the visit for me was a close encounter with this gorgeous French sink. Apparently the Regent Street branch of Penhaligon's boasts equally splendid sanitaryware from a venerable English manufacturer called Chadder. Well, given my keen interest in bathroom fixtures at the moment, it was an unexpected bonus, and from now on I vowed to pay more attention to this fundamental aspect of perfumery fixtures...

Me, starstruck by sanitaryware

From Penhaligon's we headed over to Nick's previous workplace, the Seymour Place branch of Les Senteurs. Liz Moore's Papillon Perfumery range had recently arrived, and was prominently displayed on a dear little perspex podium, which I signally failed to photograph.  I was too hot and bothered by this stage to do very much sniffing, though my nose was momentarily distracted by a new Creed called Vetiver Geranium, which may well appeal to my vetiver-loving teacher friend, Sheila.

Barefoot Val and no-foot Tara at Les Senteurs

The most enjoyable aspect of our visit to Les Senteurs was flopping on the regal looking sofa and chatting to Callum, the perfumery's Digital Marketing Manager. Val sprang for a bottle of the new Frédéric Malle, Eau de Magnolia, and on the spot gave Tara and me generous decants from her treasured purchase. Though not until she had (quite rightly) copiously anointed herself with the opening spray (or three). It is as beautiful a scent as I was expecting, and now that I have tried it for myself, I can wholeheartedly endorse Tara's evocative review. The comfy sofa also gave me an opportunity to discreetly attend to T's own emerging blister collection with scissors and bandage I had thought to bring along - well, she did have one angry-looking patch on her right? heel. (For anyone studying the photo above, Tara does have feet really...!)

Callum of Les Senteurs

By now, Val's coffee deficit was reaching critical levels, so we legged it round the corner to a cafe, where Tara treated us to the pick-me-up beverage of our choice - a big pot of tea in my case.  Here we chatted about life in general and got to know one another better. As is so often the way in Perfume Land, you could take our hobby away from us all and we would still have loads in common and ample foundation for a good friendship. Then it wasn't long till the first hunger pangs stirred, so we introduced Val to Roti Chai, the modern Indian restaurant round the corner, which a bunch of us had frequented on the night of Neil Chapman's talk on vanilla for Perfume Lovers London back in March. The food didn't disappoint this time round - Tara and I had the chicken curry I really rated from that earlier visit, while Val opted for a spicy dish involving chilli and paneer.

Tara at Roti Chai

Val also tipped me off about the pretty groovy Ladies toilet downstairs, and so it proved. The compact sink was by the sleekly modern brand Duravit - oh, the one at Les Senteurs was by Laufen if anyone is curious, and there was additionally an amusing sign over the toilet which I resisted the urge to feature here...;)

Generous edge for putting stuff on this Duravit sink!

In no time at all, it was the parting of the ways again and I reluctantly headed back to Stafford.  As in February, the presence of a (by now half eaten) cookie on the train home reminded me that the day's events had not all been a pleasant dream.

Well, not just a cookie, even, for between the pair of them I had taken receipt of a number of decants and samples, a tea towel (Portia, what have you started?) and a tube of Bergsalz from Austria (mountain salt). Goodness, I have just read the label and it turns out to be very ancient stuff indeed. If I looked that bright and sparkly after 150 million years buried deep in the Alps, I'd be well pleased.

So yes, a big thank you to Tara and Val, Nick and Callum for a hot, happy and fragrant day out that I will remember for a long time to come...let's do it all again soon!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Crocuses and crow's feet: Aldi Lacura Expert Day & Night Cream review

To my great surprise, my eBuzzing Beauty ranking jumped up to 75 recently, after languishing in the over 100 doldrums for some time before that. For newer readers, I might just explain that I never intended to acquire this rating - it was a clerical error, more or less - but now that I am officially listed as a 'beauty blogger', I do like to lob in the odd post on beauty products just to keep my unintentional hand in.  Usually on the subject of skincare products that (also) suit 'mature' skin, as in the present case. Without further ado, I will therefore apologise to anyone solely interested in fragrance-related topics (however tenuously so), or who IS interested in skincare but does not have any Aldi stores in their part of the world.

So...shortly after I wrote my post about the Ladurée/Aldi macaron throwdown, Aldi's advertising agency, McCann (they appear to have lost their Erickson since I last looked) contacted me to ask whether I was interested to try their new skincare duo, launched earlier this year: Lacura Expert Wrinkle Filling Day Cream and Regeneration Night Cream. So, given that my moisturising regime has got more intensive since I hit 50 I said: 'Yes please!' to that. Hmm, if only I could top up my pension as readily at this late stage, and in fairness it may be too late for the complexion (some readers may recall my 'closing the stable door after the collagen has bolted' quip in this context).

Soon I was in receipt of a shiny blue metallic Jiffy bag containing the twinset of moisturisers: the day cream had a red cap and a clear glass pot, while the night cream had a slightly darker scheme, namely a silver cap and red glass pot. To be perfectly symmetrical, the glass on the day cream should have been silver really, but that would have been a bit weird, as would a glass top on the night cream. However, the outer boxes do keep this contrasting silver/red theme going as you can see, while the jars themselves are as matching as they can be, and the overall look is still pretty classy for £3.99 a pop.

Content-commensurate packaging - that's what we like to see

Now if I was a proper beauty blogger I would regale you with a detailed breakdown of the creams' ingredients and all the science about their effects. But here at least is an extract from Aldi's website, giving the topline:

Day Cream

- SPF 15
- 5-star UVA rating and antioxidative protective complex protects the skin from ageing caused by the sun
- Pro-vitamin B5 for 24 hour moisture

Night Cream

- Abyssinian oil and shea butter improves suppleness
- Regenerative and wrinkle reducing
- Hyaluronic acid for intensive moisture

Tamper-evident foil - no substrate spared
From my reading of the leaflet - I caved in! - both products in fact contain this antioxidative complex (is that even a word? ;) ), which is based on white tea.  There is additionally an anti-ageing peptide in both called Mimox X, as well as a 'Cell-to-cell Communicator' (though even Aldi thought fit to put that one in inverted commas). It is based (rather arcanely) on crocus extract. (Further details on application.)

I will also refer you to this article in The Daily Mail about how a group of women got on with the creams in trials (very well as it turns out!), and point out that the leaflet that comes in the box with each jar has the details of both products printed on it - one on each side. I did a double take initially, thinking I had been sent the night cream leaflet for both creams, when in fact all I needed to do was flip the blinking thing over. A slightly embarrassing phone call to the ad agency sorted that one out. It is actually a clever idea, because it obviously keeps costs down to have one multi-purpose leaflet across the pair.

The (perversely) more luxuriant day cream is on the left

Right, so the next thing to talk about is how I got on with the creams themselves, from an aesthetic / application point of view as well as in terms of their efficacy.

But first off, a word about the name, which makes me think of a slightly dated, top of the range saloon car - the Renault Lacura, say.  Wow, I note that there is actually a luxury car brand called Acura! So there you go - all my associations are automotive and I can't see any obvious link with skincare.

I have to say that while the scent is less lemon Pledge-y than the previous skincare range called Siana, which came in a blue pot as I recall, after sustained sampling it is still a bit harsh to my nose. Not lemony per se, more like a poor man's version of Clarins Eau Ressourcante body butter, say, by which I mean that it aspires to be a spa or sauna kind of smell, but the attempt doesn't quite come off. I accept that there wouldn't have been a lot of money left for an expensive fragrance after shelling out on these whizzy active ingredients - you don't get many crocuses to the pound, based on the price of freesias in my local Tesco, say - but it does rather let the products down.

Stark illustration of my relative product preference!

The second thing to mention is that I have used each product at very differential rates - and that is an understatement. Basically, I am almost through the night cream after two and a half months or so, while the day cream is largely unused. I must have had about ten go's with it and on at least six of those the product got into my eyes and stung like crazy, even though I took care to avoid the eye area, and applied it in exactly the same parts of my face as the night cream. I would love to know if anyone out there has tried the day cream and had the same experience. I can't believe it is anything I am doing wrong, or I would have had the same issue with the many other brands of daytime moisturiser I have tried lately. Actually, I did have it with Boot's Sanctuary Illuminating Moisture cream, but that is the only other one that I can think of that migrated (most painfully) into my eyes.

The third thing to mention on the aesthetic / application front is that the day cream is much richer than the night cream, which might have had something to do with the getting into my eyes business, I don't know. You may or may not just be able to see the difference in the first photo showing the pots side by side, but trust me on this one. And intuitively it all seems wrong. By day I want something lighter that is going to sink in quickly and not look too greasy, go under foundation etc, whereas by night I can slather on any kind of thickness of cream and it doesn't matter as my eyes will be shut and I will hopefully be asleep.  So I don't know how that came about.

'Does my skin look smoother, firmer, tighter in this?'

Finally, in terms of how I got on with the products, I can say that my skin feels hydrated all right, but then any moisturiser might have done that. I didn't take any before pics, though here is an 'after' one, in which I don't notice any difference in terms of my skin appearing 'smoother, firmer, tighter' or 'more young-looking', like the women in the trials reported in The Daily Mail, nor any obvious improvement to my wrinkles. But my skin is certainly in a holding pattern. So I think the product probably did as good a job as my usual brands of night cream - which range from the usual high street suspects of Nivea and Garnier to the cheap luxury brands you find in T K Maxx (notably Lange in my branch). I prefer the Aussie brand Dr Lewinn best of all the face creams I have tried, as it smells and feels very pampering. But again, I have no idea whether my wrinkles were improved by any of them.

My hunch is that it is the heavy duty anti-ageing products containing retinol that have had a really noticeable effect in the past on my forehead and lip to mouth lines - to wit Roc Retinol Correxion and Indeed Retinol Reface. But I haven't been using those in the period when I was trialling the Lacura creams. So I would say that the Lacura products would keep your hydration levels topped up at the very least, and save you a lot of money versus the dearer brands if hydration is your main goal.

Personally, I can't recommend the day cream because of its overly rich texture and the stinging business, but if you don't mind the harsh scent the night cream was a pretty good buy. Actually, I could always try using the day cream at night, as it may not migrate into my eyes so easily if they are shut. And there's SPF15 sun protection with that, in case it turns out one day that not only is there a risk of sunburn through cloud, but also darkness.

Ooh, but look - there is a new cream on the block - from rival chain Lidl: OSIRIS AVISE, which costs under a quid for a pot while stocks last.  I may have to test that next - I mean how bad can it be for 99p?

Have you tried either of these Aldi creams?  Or the Lidl one pictured - or any other bargain basement brands or non-brands for that matter?

If so, I would love to know how they worked out for you on the general moisturising and wrinkle filling fronts...