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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Urban Decay Naked palette: so not a 'smoky eye tutorial'...

A long time ago I had a boyfriend who memorably likened my eye colour to that of 'foetid puddles'. The term that was on the tip of his tongue was of course 'hazel'. Never one to overstate a case, he also described my legs as 'serviceable'.  My mother, meanwhile, used to lament the fact that she was cursed with small eyes, instead of 'limpid pools'. I don't know the minimum size for an expanse of water to qualify as a pool, but swimming, paddling - and even some rock - pools are certainly bigger than a puddle. Like mother, like daughter, then... I do remember a green matte eyeshadow my mother owned - and which was an authorised plaything in childhood games of charades - but I am not sure she wore it much. Sadly, I think my father had convinced her that her eyes were too small to be noticed, with or without embellishment.

I too have a bit of a hang up about my eyes - they are so small that I have to pay a premium for contact lenses, for example - and I don't often brave the world without makeup. But where I differ from my mother is in my firm belief in the transformational power of eyeshadow. Without makeup I have 'no eyes', as ex-Mr Bonkers and I used to joke, but with makeup I magically do; I would often speak of going to 'put my eyes on'. That said, my use of eyeshadow is woefully basic, as I don't seem to have the conventional ocular architecture you see in makeup videos. My lids are narrow and crepey, you see. The area above my eyes is also a bit crepey, and the socket between them is so shallow that there are no clearly defined zones to address with different shades - as per a classic smoky eye look, for which this palette is famously suited. The whole area is a bit like a rumpled, crinkly picnic rug spread over bumpy terrain (my eyeballs!).

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Kenneth Allen

But this palette called my name regardless. A brand called Urban Decay was, after all, always going to appeal to someone with eyes the colour of anything foetid. I first saw it in an in-flight magazine, but took a while to work up to a purchase: as a frequent traveller, I have long been drawn to the convenience of having so many colours in one product, but have held back till now, concerned that I wouldn't like enough of the shades in the selection to get full value.  In the end I bit the bullet and asked my sister-in-law for the Naked palette last Christmas, and it has been in heavy rotation ever since.

Right off the bat I will say that this, the original Naked palette, is a capsule wardrobe of eyeshadows for those with warm, 'autumnal' colouring, and mostly comprises shades of gold, bronze, brown and taupe. Cooler complexions may fare better with Naked 3, which takes a rose gold theme and runs with it. Naked 2 is somewhere in between, with somewhat lighter, cooler neutrals that already lean a bit to the pink side. To its credit, Urban Decay has been good at minimising crossover between the palettes, so I could imagine people buying 1 and 2 or 2 and 3, but despite the talk in some quarters of the trio of palettes being 'universally flattering', I doubt if all three would suit one person.

Source: Carmen_Lo via Fragrantica

For myself, I'll probably stick with my original choice, but if I was feeling flush, I would be curious to dabble in Naked 2, which reportedly has five unique shades and only one direct overlap with the first palette (the shimmery gold, Half Baked).

Now I haven't attempted a look featuring several shades for the topographical reasons outlined - or rather 'not outlined' above ;).  However I have been utterly mesmerised by the many smoky eye tutorials on YouTube based on this palette - where serious make up buffs manage to incorporate 4 or 5 colours in a single wear! And despite my limited application technique, I have got huge use out of seven of the twelve shades already, the others being too light, too dark - or too matte. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I should perhaps at least give these a go sometime. Turns out that the black shade, for example, fetchingly named 'Creep' - which I rejected right off the bat thinking it was a rather Goth-looking colour for an eyeshadow - is in fact mainly intended to be used as an eyeliner. That's how ignorant I am of such things, haha...So I could try using it in place of a kohl pencil, say.

And now, a word on the packaging: I am not a fan of the furry cover, it must be said, which reminds me of flock wallpaper in 70s Indian restaurants. I much prefer the metallic tins adopted for Naked 2 and 3. Then the set comes with a (single-ended) brush - another alien concept to me - but one which I am gradually psyching myself up to embrace. For the world of make up brushes - with their Masonic-style serial numbers such as MAC 217, 239 etc - strikes me as involving another layer of arcane complexity beyond the already somewhat tricky business of choosing flattering colours and wacking them on your eyelid. I have just looked on the MAC site in fact and there are different brushes for all the separate activities listed: application, blending, contouring, highlighting, shading and lining. Why, there's even some for 'separating'!

Baerbel helpfully holding up the Urban Decay brush

And of course this multiple brush imperative goes hand in hand with composite, multi-zonal looks - for those blessed with zones - like the smoky eye. I know this in theory, but it is something in the far, far corner of my peripheral vision. Me, I just buy packs of sponge applicators, notionally assigning one eyeshadow colour per side. My bathroom is overrun with dozens of the little blighters, like so many discarded matches. I try to perch them on ledges so the colour doesn't transfer onto things, and am constantly knocking them off again. They regularly fall into the bath, adding an unintentional swatch of colour to its clinically white sides on the way down. Now...I know that Katie Puckrik, who has acted as a bit of a makeup mentor to me in recent years, would be appalled by this. Her twin bete noires are superannuated makeup and accessories (she's very hot on hygiene), AND age-inappropriate sparkliness (aka mica malfunctions). Readers of a nervous disposition may wish not to click on this earlier post about the shameful secrets of my makeup bag - though I have rerun a photo from it at the end of this post, on account of its amusing Hallowe'en theme!

Personally, I think the Naked palette stays the right side of a glitterfest: 10 of the 12 colours are shimmery / metallic shades, but the effect is quite subtle when applied. Moreover, shades that look a bit dark in the pan - am thinking of Hustle, Dark Horse and Gunmetal - are actually quite a bit lighter and more wearable than I imagined. They seem to soften down once they have been on for a while. And by that I don't even mean that they wear off quickly, just that the colour seems to settle in and be at the correct register for your own eyes. I know, I know, I sound like some strange Urban Decay Moonie, but that really has been my experience. Then some people consider the colours in the original Naked palette to be better suited to heavier evening looks than daytime, but I wouldn't say so. Maybe I am just an overly made up old trollop though!

And the subject of eyeshadow 'wearing off' brings me neatly round to the subject of primer. Like brushes, I am dimly aware of primer in the context of makeup. I am more familiar with both in the context of painting and decorating, to be fair, but I have heard the term. I even clocked the little tube of primer that came with my Naked palette, and promptly stuck it back in its box and shoved it in the wardrobe. If you had asked me what primer was for, I would have said 'stopping your eyeshadow running away'? But hey, I may have oily skin, but not on my eyelids particularly - we are not talking Laurel Canyon in a mud slide here. But in preparation for writing this post I did google the function of primer, and found that it enhances the colour of your eyeshadow as well. And no, I categorically refuse to say 'makes it pop'. Though as an unwanted spin off, primer makes it harder to remove the eyeshadow at night, without a lot of tugging and dragging, which as we all know, is to be avoided in the eye area. I have now worn primer under my chosen eyeshadow two days running, and it certainly keeps it in place, but I think it would have stayed put anyway, so that's a step I probably shan't bother with in future.

As for the shades themselves, for the full lowdown I commend you to read a proper review! by a blogger called Pretty Gossip. My own personal favourites from the original Naked palette are as follows:

Toasted - a definite taupe, not unlike MAC Satin Taupe, with a pinky undertone
Sidecar - a lighter, pinky taupe
Smog - a metallic bronze
Half Baked - a metallic gold
Hustle - a soft brown with slight shimmer and a lilac undertone
Dark Horse - a true dark brown with a slight shimmer
Gunmetal - a metallic blue grey

The last three are all examples of shades that soften to a very wearable tone, or seem to! If I could customise this collection, however, I would lose the matte shades and replace them with an olive-y green and a mauve (like MAC Green Smoke and Frozen Violet - or a shimmery version of MAC Shale). Then I probably wouldn't need to use anything else ever again...!

Me with a shiner - another take on the smoky eye!

PS The winner of the anniversary draw will be announced soon! I'll probably call time on it at midnight tomorrow...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Bonkers turns 5! An updated stocktake and an even odder giveaway

I was surprised to clock the fact that today is the fifth anniversary of Bonkers about Perfume! I have missed a couple of anniversaries in past years, due to being sidetracked one way or another: the three year milestone found me still in the midst of house move related chaos, while the four year one fell during a band tour. I did, however, have the forethought to mark my 3.6 year anniversary in June 2013, and so I thought it would be fun to look back at my thoughts on that occasion and see how much, if at all, my views on the perfumed life and blogging have changed.

A number of the themes from that post still hold true: 'the mania is past, but I still love perfume', 'my collection scares and delights me in equal measure', and 'the people matter as much as the perfume, if not more so'.  I am also still very much into 'slow blogging', whether I happen to have work - or not (as has been the case rather too much this year).

But my stance on a few topics has shifted since last year, plus I have thought of a few other things to mention, so here goes...

Decorating killed the perfume fridges

In my 3.6 year post I voiced concerns that the damp atmosphere in my fridges might be doing my perfume collection as much harm as the chilled temperature was doing it good. And then I had the two bedrooms decorated in the second half of 2013 and it took me all of two seconds to decide that whirring lumps of metal and glass are not a particularly aesthetic look, and both fridges were promptly relegated to the garage, where they remain today. One of them is an actual fridge in fact, rather than just a drinks chiller, so it does get pressed into service at Christmas as a temporary turkey repository. My perfumes take their chances in a cupboard under the stairs or shoeboxes under beds - oh, and I have one open receptacle for favourite bottles, that is just kept on the floor, but in a darkish spot.

The late Charlie Bonkers with one of the fridges at the old house

The Facebook ban has lifted - as mysteriously as it appeared!

Back in June 2013, I was troubled by my inability to promote my blog posts on Facebook, owing to the fact that a supposed 'friend' of mine anonymously had reported my blog as 'spammy or abusive', as a result of which I was not able to link to it on an indefinite basis. Then just last week, some two and a half years after this dastardly deed ;), Liz Moores tipped me the wink that the ban had vanished - as she was able to post a proper link to my review of Angélique. I feel like a suspect against whom all charges have suddenly been dropped. So, to reprise the point in my earlier stocktake - 'You can't please everybody' - you can't, but it seems the obstructive effects of trollery have an expiry date after all.

A bit blurry, but featuring an actual Facebook link to my blog!

I am no longer - even ever so slightly - affiliated!

At the time of my post last year I had recently agreed to display a promotional banner for Ormonde Jayne in the side bar of the blog. It was a house I had a lot of time for, and the static banner seemed in keeping with my general scheme - in fact it added a welcome dash of colour in the margins. I was most particular that I didn't want anything flickering or revolving, as that way lies an amusement arcade. However, it had only been up a matter of weeks when the PR company who acted as the go-between in this arrangement was ditched by the brand, taking my little punt at 'monetising' with it. I haven't had the urge to investigate any further tie ups, though I do get a steady stream of strange requests, the most recent being:

"We are on the lookout for fantastic bloggers (like yourself) to join our new blogger program to utilize our site to help earn more money from the products you write about as well as expand your reach with our network of users and social channels!

I would love to schedule a quick chat with you and our CMO about the program, he can explain how it works, what you get and how to get started! Just let me know a time that suits you and which medium (Google Hangout, Skype or phone) is best."

If I was in any doubt about my lack of fit for such a commercial enterprise, somebody suggesting we meet in a 'Google Hangout', whatever that might be, would pretty much nail it.


A Top Sniffs and Nasty Niffs post is not in the offing 

At the start of 2014, I ventured a round up of my favourite perfumes from 2013, dubbing it a  'slightly wonky edition'. For I had sniffed so few of the actual releases from that year that I decided to supplement them with any 'newish' perfumes that had crossed my path in 2013. But when January 2015 comes round, I can't see me attempting even a hybrid post like that, because I am so behind the curve with perfume launches - and testing generally - that such a list would be a complete non-starter. ;)

Guest blogging, and liking the sound of my own voice!

I have noticed a trend in the perfume community to enlist the help of guest bloggers - either to add alternative 'voices' or to maintain a steady flow of content. Even at the five year mark I will be honest and say I don't feel the need to introduce another 'voice' on Bonkers, which may be a bit selfish of me, but there it is. I figure that if someone wants to read a different style or tone of writing they have only to hop across to one of the host of other blogs out there. Put another way, I guess I have yet to get sick of the sound of my own voice, as it were (sorry!). As for the need to maintain regular content, in the spirit of slow blogging I don't adhere to any particular schedule, so that doesn't really apply to me.

I am getting more into skincare

Ex-Mr Bonkers used to joke about my being prone to fads: jogging, sudden urges to walk on Cannock Chase, cooking, knitting, whatever it may be. Perfume seems to be a long running fad at least, albeit at a lower level of intensity. Meanwhile, my interest in skincare is at an all-time high, fuelled as of this week by the doctor taking me off my long term regime of antibiotics to combat acne. From now on, the wellbeing of my complexion is in the sole care of brands such as La Roche-Posay and Paula's Choice, which - however well formulated these products are - is a bit of a scary prospect. I do struggle to follow a single routine though, not least because I have accumulated so many tubes and samples that I want to try all of them out, sometimes even segmenting my face into different trial zones(!) Then other days - or more usually nights - I can't be bothered with all the steps of a proper skincare ritual, and end up just slapping on a bit of Astral, my new surprise cheapie love, which may get a post of its own at some point.

Perfume Land is still a warm and friendly place (by and large)

Much has been written about what a courteous, supportive and generous place Perfume Land is, with its many blogs, Facebook groups and off-line gatherings, both formal and informal. My own experience of the 'perfume scene' has also been very positive and heartwarming in the main. Underlying tensions do sometimes surface, however, and there are even occasional outbursts of mean spiritedness, posturing and borderline thuggery. But I shan't dwell on these. I would say: 'You know who you are', but I am not at all sure they do!


I am still 'bonkers about bathrooms'

My bathroom renovation - research for which has popped up in blog posts over the spring months in particular - has ground to a halt this autumn, owing to all the relevant tradesmen going temporarily awol. As I don't like the thought of being without a bathroom in winter, I probably shan't mount a major cat herding offensive now till next year. But even though the project has stalled, my heart still skips a beat when I see an unusual or particularly sought after sanitaryware fixture. Last night, for example, I spied a Lefroy Brooks deck mounted bath shower mixer set at a friend's house, and was unfeasibly excited!

And so to the odd giveaway, which consists of two prizes this year: one winner will receive a lavender scented cushion with perfume bottles on it, and another a T-shirt (UK size 12 / Europe size 40 / US size 10). Worn once, I must be truthful - to Scent Bar in LA, no less! - but I have come to the sad conclusion that I am probably too old to carry off even the merest dusting of sparkliness. (It has been washed since, I hasten to add.) The first winner picked out of the draw gets a choice of the two items, and if the second winner doesn't care for the remaining option - or if it is unlikely to fit, in the case of the T-shirt - I am sure we can come to an alternative arrangement - perfume, perhaps (outside the US, sorry!), or some other perfume themed artefact (I do have a couple of other ideas). But I thought a cushion and a T-shirt more likely to appeal in the first instance.

To enter, just leave a comment - of any kind! If you additionally have suggestions of topics you would like me to cover - or not cover(!) - or stop covering(!) - do let me know those as well.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers who have supported Bonkers down the years - or who have only recently come across it! - not forgetting the many who have landed here entirely by mistake. Followers and non-followers, lurkers and regular commenters alike, I salute you all. For while I probably would blether on like this even if no one was out there, knowing someone is reading does make the whole thing feel more worthwhile.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Scent of the Underground: a finger farce, a phantom note, and sniffing a gaggle of gig-goers

This time last year, I was looking forward to a whole slew of UK gigs by my favourite band, The Monochrome Set - the tour kicked off in Edinburgh on 19th October and finished up in Bristol on 26th. This autumn there has only been the one date, in Brighton last weekend. Well, I tell a lie, as they are playing two gigs in Tokyo next week, but for those of limited means, the Brighton one was the only real contender.

I arrived last Saturday at about 3pm, did a bit of shopping in Boots, then thought I'd best reconnoitre the venue in daylight, as these sorts of places are notoriously tricky to find. True to form, the Green Door Store was tucked away 'under the arches' in an alley behind the railway station. As I rounded the corner and clocked the place - which to its credit did boast a very obvious green door - I spied the guitarist and singer from the band, loitering on the cobblestoned concourse outside. I gave them a thumbs up sign as if to say: 'Hi there, I know where the place is now - see you later', but the singer beckoned me over. As I approached, I noticed that his thumb was bleeding rather profusely, though he seemed oddly detached about it, and had clearly not summoned me for my first aid skills, but rather to pass the time of day while they waited for the promoter to arrive and open up. I couldn't overlook his darkly dripping digit, however, and immediately rummaged in my handbag, producing a cotton wool pad (notionally for mascara malfunctions) and a large fabric strip of Elastoplast, of the type you trim to size. Assuming you have scissors on you, which I didn't. So the singer dabbed the cut with the cotton wool and slapped the entire bandage on his thumb, all the while playing down the seriousness of the cut. 'This is just a little flesh wound', he remarked. 'It's nothing compared to Andy's finger!'

Having so recently injured my own finger, I was finding this inventory of band hand mishaps rather Twilight Zone-y. I asked what the bass player had done to himself, and they said they didn't know, but his finger was very swollen apparently, and he hadn't played a note since he hurt it. Whether he would be able to rise to the occasion that night was a moot point in fact, assuming he got here at all - there was a snarl up of some kind at Gatwick Airport. My Florence Nightingale duties discharged, I went back to the hotel to rest after the long journey down, and wished them luck at the sound check.

Just before nine I headed back to The Green Door Store, bumping into an old fan called Warren and his wife, who were looking rather lost at the station. I offered to accompany them to the venue, which they eagerly accepted, as they had been going round in circles trying to find the correct alley. As we approached the entrance, another fan, Andy - who had made the trip from Cumbria, no less! - came out to greet me, instantly proffering his left wrist and the right side of his neck for me to sniff. On his neck was Ormonde Jayne Zizan, on his wrist Isfarkand, both of them procured by yours truly. I pronounced him very fragrant, and watched as a look of bemusement came across the faces of Warren and his wife. Quickly entering into the spirit of this strange masonic ritual, Warren thrust his neck in my direction and asked me to guess the identity of his strongly spicy woody scent, but I was floored. It turned out to be Armani Diamonds - I clearly need a refresher of my mainstream sniffing knowledge.


Once inside, I made a beeline for the merch table, where the stalwart sales team of Caryne and her husband had been in place since 5.30pm. Caryne instantly stood up, leant across the table and announced brightly: 'Smugglers Soul, as requested!' A long time Lush fan, her rate of purchase from the line has definitely gathered momentum in recent years, partly due to my influence, I like to think. Anyway, Smugglers Soul did smell of a very fine sandalwood as billed, and I would have liked to have tested it myself on skin.


As I went through to the room where the gig was held, I smiled at the thought of my fellow fans dutifully applying perfume and offering themselves up to my questing nose. It struck me as a happy confluence of my two favourite hobbies, and lifted my already high spirits even further.

The bass player turned up at last, and stoically played his way all through the set and an encore or two. I went up to him afterwards, thanked him for pushing himself to the limit in this way, and inquired which finger it was. One look at his left hand told me that it was the same one I had hurt, since it was nearly twice the size of the others! He had hit it on a fixture in a tube train, I didn't catch what exactly.

And there was one more perfume-related incident before the evening was out...I was wearing Guerlain Attrape-Coeur - possibly rather liberally applied - because in the course of the post-gig mingling the singer inclined his head towards me and said: 'Hmm, is there cinnamon in that?' I was put on the spot rather, but in my cursory reading of reviews of this scent I couldn't rightly recall any mention of cinnamon. I replied that I didn't think so, though not all the notes are always listed. He took another sniff and declared: 'Yep - it's definitely there. And I am not sure cinammon should come into direct contact with human skin.'

Well, that's me told, haha. Good job I wasn't wearing Puredistance BLACK, I thought! ;)

Have you ever had someone say they don't care for a perfume you are wearing because of a note you didn't think was in it?

And for those of you familiar with Attrape-Coeur, do you detect cinnamon in it?

Source: Pinterest

PS For another post featuring perfume and a gig, check out the latest postcard from Undina!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

"2ml or not to fill?" Musings on the etiquette of sample sizes

Endangered 1ml vials spell out their fate
My friend Clare was in Florida earlier this year and reported that since her last visit, the concept of the 'bottomless' cup of coffee - ie with refills available on tap - has been extended to main meals (slightly confusingly called 'entrees' in the US), such that she was offered a 'bottomless plate'. I guess this is really just a rebranding of the 'All you can eat buffet', except that presumably the wait staff replenish your plate for you, I don't know. But anyway, Clare reported this latest manifestation of the creeping trend in the Western world towards 'supersizing', remarking that if she were ever to take up such an offer, she would soon be far from 'bottomless' herself.

In parallel, in recent years I have noticed that perfume quantities exchanged between perfumistas appear to have got larger than at the start of my hobby, six years ago. Back then, if someone agreed to send you five samples of perfumes to try, you would typically receive five 1 or 1.5ml vials with stoppers in a little plastic bag. Invariably accompanied by a boiled sweet. If perfume extras were included, they were most likely also of the same sizes.

A swap package of yore

Over time though, sending a 1ml vial as a 'sample' has become almost unheard of, unless the sender is really short of the perfume in question, or it is insanely expensive - something like a Puredistance scent springs to mind, or an extrait strength, say - or where you only had 1ml left in total and are trying to split it into vanishingly small fractions. These days, when perfumistas are sending people samples, they often send quite a bit more than is necessary merely to test a scent, sometimes even a quantity around the 3ml mark or above, which for me is the threshold which distinguishes a sample from a decant. I am not sure that 3ml is the official definition, or even if there is one, but above 2.5ml starts to feel like a decant to my mind.

These larger samples are usually put into spray bottles, which makes the testing process a lot more enjoyable than the dabbing ritual from the 1ml vials. I welcome this trend, as you can spray at will multiple times and get a really good idea of whether you like the scent or not. That said, I am not always as forthcoming myself with goodly amounts, mainly because I have these three receptacles in my decanting stash to choose from...

My paltry collection of sample vial variants

- 3ml plastic spray vials (just a few left now out of a bulk consignment from Accessories for Fragrance).

- 1.5 plastic snap on vials (these are the ones that Freddie of Smellythoughts got me into, which are intended to be used for centrifuge samples. I like them, because they are cheap, available in the UK, and you can dispense with funnels and their associated washing, a tedious task from which I find myself increasingly shying away. I remember Mr Bonkers joking that one of the things he appreciated after I left him was not finding metal funnels lurking in the washing up water. ;) Hmm, I say they are easy to fill 'commando', ie without funnel, but - perhaps becasue of their tapered shape - you get serious splashback after about 0.75ml or so, meaning that I end up just giving people 1ml again like in the old days - at best! It doubtless looks a bit parsimonious on my part, but they are so user-friendly for the decanter, at least.

Tapered 'Freddie' vials - 1.5ml

- 1ml glass vials with stopper (also from a big - nay, huge! - consignment from Accessories for Fragrance). Old habits clearly die hard to have prompted me to buy them...Yet I hardly ever send someone a sample in one of these except for the exclusions mentioned above, because it combines funnel requirement, non-sprayability and stinginess in one inconvenient package. I really do recall their being the standard vehicle for samples back in the day, though!

When I have finally exhausted my supplies of the 3ml plastic sprayers, I might well invest in some slightly smaller glass ones instead - 2ml or 2.5ml, maybe, if they do them in that. I am still partial to the 'Freddie' snap on vials, so can see me getting more of those, even though they do feel rather unorthodox and out of step with pefumista sampling etiquette, as I perceive it.

Sample perfection - unmistakably Undina :)

If the 2ml or 2.5ml bottle is the gold standard receptacle for perfume sampling - note that it doesn't even have to be quite full to appeal - what makes me personally very uncomfortable is when people send me large amounts of samples I have asked to try - or (worse still) of random extras enclosed in the package. If I haven't tested a scent it seems ludicrously reckless to do that, and the largesse behind the gesture is trounced for me by the potential for waste. I once received a whole set of large extra samples - well decants, as there must have been 4-6ml in each - and hated all of them. Then I felt bad for the rest of the day before screwing up the courage to thank the perfumista in question for their generosity...through gritted teeth.

So that is what I like and don't like in the state of the sampling world as it is today. I do feel I am not pulling my weight here in my choice of packaging, though in the case of international shipments, I tend to throw in amusing red herrings to distract the customs wallahs such as scraps of wool, buttons, bookmarks or pieces of fabric, which hopefully raise a smile at least.

Foxing fodder for customs officials

So...I would be most interested to know what others perceive as the 'etiquette' of sampling - if you think there is such a thing, however loosely and unofficially?

And what are you own pet peeves about types of vial or fill levels - specifically for samples rather than decants?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

An Ealing Comedy? Holly Cranmer *and* Sarah McCartney (of 4160 Tuesdays) come for tea at Bonkers Towers

I just learnt that Ealing is the third largest of Greater London's 32 boroughs, with a population of 318,500, spread in turn across 23 wards each with c13,800 residents. The population of Greater London meanwhile is 8.3m, meaning that a mere 4% of Londoners live in Ealing Borough, the widest definition I could find of the place! In view of these compelling population statistics, it is all the more remarkable that in the space of 10 days, not one but TWO perfumistas from Ealing made the detour to call in on me in Stafford....I make the odds of that happening - using London (rather than the whole universe ;) ) as our universe - 0.000016. But in fairness it is a long time since I did probability at school.

Yet come they did, Holly on her way back from some family history inquiries n Shropshire, and Sarah and her husband Nick on their drive home from a vintage fair in Morecambe. There are a number of similarities between the two visits: both prompted a flurry of house cleaning; especially the bathroom, as I had been bigging up my house as a more well appointed alternative to the nearby Stafford Services - you know, boasting that there were no broken hand dryers in the Ladies or stainless steel teapots with chronically dripping lids. Both also prompted a flurry of baking - the same cake in fact, with slightly different decoration. Holly additionally brought some macarons from a baker in Market Drayton, as a humorous nod to my recent post on the subject. They weren't quite comparable to Ladurée, but they were certainly the nearest match I have tasted.

Holly pre-perfume pandemonium

Holly had brought a few batches of things for me to try, while I lugged my plastic containers of bottles and decants from out under the hall stairs. The usual chaos and scented cacophony ensued, and we both ended up with a little bag of decants from our respective stashes. Holly had given me her sample of Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Vermeille, but in an amusing turn of events - not unconnected with the aforementioned chaos - she accidentally tidied it away and took it home with her again. As luck would have it, I have won a decant of this very scent in Natalie's 'closing down giveaway' on Another Perfume Blog, and when it comes I will be grateful to Holly for alerting me to this beauty.

Stock photo of the garden!

Sarah and Nick's arrival was delayed by the usual holiday snarl ups on the M6, which is just as well really, for moments before they were due to turn up, I was still scrubbing tomato and pepper soup with a toothbrush out of the sisal rug on the kitchen floor. And swabbing gory blobs off every single cupboard door, plus a few walls and skirting boards, with balls of damp paper towel. I wasn't planning to serve soup, I might add, but as household objects are wont to do, it just kind of leapt out when I opened the fridge door to get some milk.

It was a pretty warm day, so we were able to have tea and cake (the Smartie variant pictured) in the garden. Having clocked the elaborate hospitality rituals that go on at The Wall of Scent functions, unbeknownst to Sarah, I had been having practice runs on and off all morning with my £10 bargain Wedgwood teapot and some little cups, on the assumption that Sarah would be too refined to be a 'bag in the mug' kind of person. In the event, Sarah opted for an elderflower spritzer (ha - didn't see that coming!), while Nick asked for coffee. Luckily I keep some individual plastic filter cups for just such an eventuality (don't drink the stuff myself), and Nick pronounced it very acceptable.

A parade of 4160 Tuesdays scents 

Sarah and I chewed the cud about the perfume scene in general, and I remarked on the excellent press coverage her indie brand 4160 Tuesdays has been enjoying lately. We also chatted about the vintage event they had just attended in Morecambe, about Nick's work - and my lack of it. ;) I am sure I must have bored them with tales of my home improvements at some point - Sarah certainly copped for the full house tour. And as they were leaving, Sarah left me a serried rank of purse sprays of her scents, namely:

Doe in the Snow
Tart's Knicker Drawer
The Sexiest Scent On the Planet Ever (IMHO)
New York '55
Rome 1963
London 1969

Nick's sofa-toning teal shirt - he can come again!


Of these, my favourites are the first two: Doe in the Snow is a chilly, citrus-forward, peach chypre, not unlike a sort of lemony Mitsouko, with a glacial blast of aldehydes and a crystalline, candied peel effect in the opening. I was also reminded a little bit of scents like Guerlain Sous le Vent and The Party in Manhattan, but it was less herbal than the former, and less filthy than the latter. And generally more citrus-y and modern in feel than either, though the chypre structure does give it a classic twist.

Top notes: grapefruit, cedrat, yuzu, peach aldehyde, snow
Heart notes: cedarwood, rose, jasmine, musk
Base notes: opoponax, oakmoss, leather, green tea absolute


Tart's Knicker Drawer (formerly 'Tart's Boudoir') is billed as a 'floral amber oriental', and is quite sweet, with a pronounced raspberry note, and generally powdery and aldehydic at all times. It has a retro vibe, like the cosmetics brand Benefit or its cheaper imitation, Soap & Glory. Here I saw a slight resemblance with Lyn Harris's La Poudrée for M & S (review here), though Tart's Knicker Drawer is more approachable and easy to like. Now the expression 'smelling of a tart's boudoir' is traditionally an insult levelled at someone reeking of too much perfume, but notwithstanding the lengthy note list, Tart's Knicker Drawer doesn't feel 'too much' at any point. Nor, despite its raunchy name, is it remotely animalic or smutty. At the risk of being coarse, one can only conclude that the tart in question was having a bit of a slow day.

Top notes: bergamot, orange, grapefruit, pink peppercorn
Heart notes: raspberry, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, cedarwood, violet, tuberose
Base notes: amber, musk, vanilla, benzoin, tobacco

A pensive and sunlit Sarah

I accompanied my visitors to their car, which was filled to the gunwhales with luggage, purchases and all manner of vintage paraphernalia. I was particularly interested in some Liberty fabric squares Sarah had bought at a mill (or a cheap fabric emporium of some kind!) on their way down here, along with several bolts of floral fabric.

I will end this post with a photo of a tea room in Chester I visited recently with my friend Gillie - it reminded me vividly of Sarah and her devotion to pretty vintage style..

Correction - I will end this post with a new infographic Sarah has designed to help people pick out scents from the 4160 Tuesdays range that will best match their personal taste and the wearing occasion. If you look closely, you will spot that there is (quite fortuitously) a scent category with my name on it!

PS The lowdown on Ealing Comedies may be found here...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

'Lid hydration best practice' : It's an eye opener - and grease is NOT the word!

Regular readers will be aware that from time to time, I go a little bonkers on Bonkers. More bonkers than usual, I mean, typically by researching a topic of interest to the absolute max. It damn near kills me every time and I still never feel satisfied that I have scoped all the options. As with the bathroom renovation project in the spring - and still ongoing in fact - I have been off down a research rabbit hole, as I am periodically wont to skincare again. I delved deep below the epidermis you could say, penetrating several layers of dermis no less with the laser beam of my relentless curiosity. Or subcutaneous tissue, should that be? Yes, this time my inquiries were more extensive than ever before, as I sought to identify the optimum skincare products for my skin type in every single usage category, from cleansers and toners to exfoliators, eye creams, day and night creams, serums - the works!

You may wonder what precipitated this current flurry - nay, frenzy - of research. And actually there was a reason, though I also had to dig quite deep to figure it out. Firstly, the recent business with my finger meant I lost out on over two weeks' work, so had time to twiddle my thumbs, which luckily have full mobility. Though to be fair, doing the washing up without getting the affected finger wet is taking up a ridiculous amount of my day, and all chores are proving more tricky and time-consuming indeed. But I suddenly had a tract of time I was not expecting, and which I could devote to research.

As for why I chose to go mad on this particular topic, it was prompted by a casual comment from my local pharmacist to the effect that I may need to have a medication review with the doctor's surgery to which I recently switched, before I can be prescribed further supplies of antibiotics for my rosacea- and acne-prone skin.


So the mere thought that my customary safety net of 'big gun medication' might be removed - and having some sympathy for that decision, for who knows what decimation the drugs may be wreaking on the delicate ecosystem that is my gut flora ;) - I decided to investigate the very best regimes that could help me look after my skin in the absence of a more heavyweight solution.

It wasn't easy, I should say, right off the bat. I have googled and googled - deep into pages 4 or 5 on any given search term, and studied each citation with interest. I have watched endless videos by Sali Hughes and Lisa Eldridge (who are both fab);  I have read posts galore by other beauty bloggers, including the formidable Caroline Hirons. Following a tip off from Olfactoria I have browsed the highly scientific website of Paula Begoun, a veritable Oprah Winfrey of the US skincare scene. Then I also had an email exchange with Katie Puckrik, who gave me the topline on her own skincare MO, and mentioned a couple of her favourite products. I also read the famous book by Leslie Baumann, 'The Skin Type Solution', which reader AnnieA commended to me in a comment on an earlier Bonkers post. It didn't take long to establish that I am an OSPW type (Oily, Sensitive, Pigmented & Wrinkled). Arrggh!

None of which is directly related to eyes, I hear you say. Which is true, and if I ever go on to write about suitable cleansers and moisturisers for OSPWs, anyone with fundamentally different skin characteristics may wish to skip that post. Though some of the best products I found are in fact 'broad spectrum' in their benefits, to borrow an antibiotic term for a moment.  One thing led to another, basically, and the discoveries about eye care were pretty startling! To someone like me anyway, who has clearly been living under a rock.

And the most striking thing about my inquiries generally was the sheer, dizzying, hyper-segmented diversity of the skincare market. It has exploded beyond all recognition since my childhood, when an opaque tub of Nivea or Astral and the iconic green and white pot of Pond's Cold Cream were the mainstay of our mothers' beauty regimes. It is so deeply, bafflingly scientific nowadays, and the Internet is rife with conflicting information. If you are the sort of person who is likely to find inconclusive research a stressful waste of time, I would counsel you not to undertake any in the skincare sphere, for it nearly drove me over the edge....

You need toner; you don't need toner...fragrance is pleasant and soothing; fragrance is a sneaky way to disguise shoddy ingredients...'you get what you pay for', or cheap doesn't have to mean 'cheap and nasty'...SPF50 is the gold standard sunscreen; SPF30 is better because the sun is a good source of Vitamin D...moisturisers with SPF built-in are a good idea - or a lazy, inferior choice... facial oils make oily skins oily, or oils are good for everyone......foaming gels are good for acne, or they dry the skin out unduly....splash your face with cold water; splash your face with tepid need a separate eye cream; eye creams are a waste of money (see below).  If I had a quid for every flagrant contradiction I encountered in my reading, I could afford a resident dermatologist. And someone to do the washing up!


'Orbital "eye bypass" cream'

The biggest paradox I stumbled upon was to do with eye creams. In the past I have often noticed on pots of day cream the warning 'avoid the eye area'**. For the longest time I thought that was synonymous with 'avoid contact with eyes', as in 'don't get this stuff in your eye', but it is only relatively recently that I learnt that in the case of day creams, the whole area in and around the eye should be given a wide berth, and that specially formulated eye creams were designed to be more suited to the thin and ultra-sensitive skin here. Though that premise is disputed by some beauty experts in a YDMMV (Your Dermatological Mileage May Vary) kind of a way, including by Sali Hughes herself.

"I'm not convinced that eye cream is anything more than a tiny pot of anti-ageing moisturiser (which I like, by the way), and I don't think all skins need the extra product and considerable financial outlay."

And whether you believe they are more marketing hype than not, who knew eye creams ALSO shouldn't actually be used in the eye area?! Well, most of it, anyway. This bombshell has yet to 'sink in' in fact. I had not twigged that according to 'lid hydration best practice' - which I didn't even know existed as a concept either till this week - you should never put eye serums or moisturisers on your actual eyelids, or the crepey stretchy bit just above (which some readers may know as their 'upper eyelids'). Or, for that matter, on the skin immediately below the eyelashes, but rather follow the orbital bone structure of your eye socket and bypass the eye itself completely.


The idea is that if you dot the cream or serum on the bone well away from the eye itself the cream will migrate to where it needs to go. You need to use your weakest finger for the purpose (typically your ring finger), and blend the dots in in a clockwise motion for the right eye and an anti-clockwise one for the left. This is in order to avoid stretching the super thin skin around the eye, thereby completely negating the effects of using a restorative product in the first place. Too rough a touch, and you might even precipitate the creation of new wrinkles. Actually, the idea of blending is also hotly contested. Some people say that dotting and tapping only is the way to go.

Now I am sure that to the vast majority of readers, especially those in the US who have recourse to dermatologists - an all but unknown breed of healthcare professionals over here, outside of Harley Street, maybe - none of this is news, but it was a staggering revelation to me! For when you buy a mass or mid-market moisturiser completely unaided by a sales assistant, the information on the pack simply does not clarify this point about the correct deployment of eye cream. No indeedy. It was only in the act of buying an expensive eye serum in Boots that the Estee Lauder sales consultant happened to volunteer this nugget of information about the orbital blobbing technique - I wouldn't have had the first clue where to put the serum otherwise, and would doubtless have slapped it all over my eyelids, as I have done with pretty much everything else that looks remotely emollient. Though not SPF-containing products anymore, thanks to a recent tip off from Undina in a comment on my post about Aldi's Lacura range.

Some of my motley collection of day creams - pre-research

Yes, I gather now that if the cream gets applied directly to the eyelid and immediate vicinity, it may irritate for starters, and there was some (admittedly rather apocalyptic) talk about eye creams transferring to the eyeball, singleblobbedly forming under-eye bags and taking up permanent residence - and causing swelling - in eyelids. Plastic surgeons performing eyelift surgery were said to have discovered gunky deposits of eye cream in the course of doing their procedures.  This could be true or scaremongering by the manufacturers, fearful of claims from people who have stung their eyes on account of creams having been applied so close to the eye itself. Me, I am going to avoid the eyelids from now on and see how I go, if it is not too late to reform my ways. And eye cream in my view should be renamed: 'Orbital "eye bypass" cream'.

(**So I just reread the instructions on some of the many day creams I have accumulated in recent years. Two say 'avoiding the eye area', while a further three say 'avoid contact with eyes', which as I have established above, is not the same thing at all. One was more explicit, with 'avoid direct application into the eye'. FOUR just say 'apply to face and neck'. Well, hey - are eyes not part of one's face? They were the last time I looked in the mirror. One - Astral (which appears to have missed the photo shoot) - calls itself an 'all over moisturiser' and claims to provide 'all the intense moisturing care your skin needs'. So just based on that small straw poll, you can see why I might have been confused.)

My shameful stash of facial wipes

Wiping wipes off the face of the earth

And here is the other area of skin maintenance where I have been going wrong all my life - using wipes to remove make up from the delicate eye area. Wipes - with their often harsh formulae, rough textures, resultant pulling and incomplete cleansing action - are the abomination of make up artists and beauty experts, for all but emergency and in-flight scenarios. Yup, I am afraid that my own chronic use of wipes to take off eye makeup has been so cavalier and rufty tufty as to be tantamount to dragging my face through a hedge backwards. Moreover I have stockpiled a load of packets of wipes that were on offer - probably at least 3-4 months' worth! They are mostly by the brand Simple, whose products are generally well regarded in the budget category, but they remain wipes and hence are still off-limits. I do also possess a Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish set, and should be using that for makeup removal as well as my morning cleanse it seems. At least I was doing something right! The watchword generally on the beauty blogs is to use a gentle product - even for oily skins - and to take makeup / dirt off with a hot muslin cloth or impregnated cotton wool pads. And to do so in such as way as to minimize tugging of any kind...

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish

Now I haven't tried all the products for eyes which my research threw up, but here is a tiny(!) list of products I have ordered or am already using, plus a few promising-sounding things to investigate. Though I must use up some of those wipes first!

Eye serum (day / night) - Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Serum Synchronized Complex II (currently using).

Eye cream (day / night) - at the moment I only possess sundry Crème de la Mer samples Blacknall kindly gave me in a swap package (eg Baume de la Mer, Emulsion de la Mer), so I will carry on using these all up. Additionally I do have my eye on Boots Botanics 80% Organic Hydrating Eye Cream - which Lisa Eldridge cites as a cheaper alternative to Kiehl's Eye Treatment with Avocado - and I have also come across multiple recommendations for Eucerin Hyaluron Filler Eye Treatment and Eyes It's Potent! by Benefit. I would be very open to further suggestions here, as I haven't properly eyeballed this category by any means. ;)

Cleansers suitable for the eye area (also to take off makeup) - Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish, Bioderma Sensibio (a Lisa Eldridge recommendation which I have ordered), Clinique Take The Day Off Balm Cleanser (recommended by a friend, and also well rated on blogs).

There is one eye-related procedural conundrum I haven't cracked yet. Short of wearing prescription sunglasses - as Katie Puckrik favours - I don't know how to go about applying SPF protection to the eye area without provoking another stinging episode. And I am also not sure I would be brave enough to use a retinol cream near the eye without medical supervision!

My hotchpotch collection of skincare samples

Yes, this post has been more about my methodological epiphany than about recommending the perfect skincare products for eyes, not least because everyone is different. And I may in fact be the only person in the world who didn't know that you should put dots of cream around your eye and give wipes a miss. But if anyone would like to share their favourite eyecare finds, that would actually advance the cause of skincare wisdom - or eye lore...a bit further. That's 'eye lore' as opposed to 'Eyelure', which, as everyone knows, is the world's favourite eyelash brand.

Oh, and the picture at the top of this post reminds me that I also learnt you shouldn't stand with your head under the shower, not even in the interests of hydration - the skin around the eyes isn't robust enough to withstand powerful jets of hot water. So there you go.

Friday, 19 September 2014

'Cover girl': The Social parfum and the Sindy doll school of perfumery

Source: pinterest
When I was a kid, I had a Sindy doll. Well, I had a steady procession of Sindy dolls in fact, as my mother persisted in melting their heads under the grill. Every time she did, I would write a plaintive letter to Mattel, whereupon the empathetic people in Customer Services would promptly send me a replacement. I was not allowed Barbie, I might add - her physique was deemed too preposterously provocative. Nor was I allowed Tiny Tears for that matter - too anatomically correct. So serial Sindys it was. That said, one outfit you could buy for her comprised a rather raunchy patent mac - for a very affordable half a crown as I recall - so she wasn't entirely the wholesome girl-next-door sort she was cracked up to be.

But what, you may ask, is the connection between Sindy and a new perfume with the rather curious name of The Social parfum? Well, my initial take on the scent was that it's not so much about being sociable as about dressing up. For the distinctive feature of The Social parfum is that it is one scent, however, as a kind of 'fashion accessory', for want of a better term, you can buy one or more spare boxes (The Social parfum calls them 'covers'), from a range of fairly vivid shades, swapping them over as the fancy takes you. I see echoes here of the different coloured bottles of Kenzo Amour - there you can pick a bottle at the outset in your preferred shade, but if you then fancied a change, you would have to commit to buying a second bottle. Here of course you are only investing in a replacement box.


So at some point over the summer I was contacted out of the blue by The Social parfum. After my usual demurral and request for a sample instead - I levelled with them and admitted that I didn't think this perfume would be my cup of tea - the company assured me that it was no trouble to send me a complimentary bottle anyway. Shortly afterwards, a bottle duly turned up in its default white plastic box, together with a separate pink box to swap the flacon into - why, they didn't even ask me what colour I'd like, hehe! ;) ;) At a pinch you could even just swap the top over, so you would have a white bottom and a pink top, though I am not sure why you would want to do that, unless you were very drawn to the look of Neapolitan ice cream.

Yes, this whole 'dressing up' game is doubtless not aimed at the likes of mature women in their 50s, I sense - or even immature 50-somethings, which is more apt. I am guessing from the marketing photos that their target audience is teens to early 20s, though even that age group has surely long since abandoned their dolls. But hold on, hold on.....I suppose if people swap the covers out on their mobile phones or Kindles etc - which is a distinct possibility - there might be a market for doing this with perfume bottle boxes after all...?

The Dolly Mixture / Neapolitan look

I should perhaps have clocked the blurb on the brand's website sooner - the rationale behind the launch is set out there. And I think we can guess the target audience from the inclusion of the word 'totally' - that's 'yoof speak' all right, though I am occasionally guilty of it myself.  Hmm, now 'code' in what sense? 'Code' as in a received mode of behaviour, like 'dress code', or 'code' as in speaking in a secret language with your mates? You know, in a Masonic funny handshake kind of way? Could be a mixture of both in fact.

"The new perfume code.

The one and only women's eau de parfum you can totally mix & match as you like. 6 covers 1 fragrance for the new social woman.

Collect them all, share your personal parfum with your friends and get social!"

And another thing - this is eau de parfum, not 'parfum', though I don't suppose anyone looking at the presentation would be misled into thinking this was extrait strength...

Also, the 'parfum' is only 'personal' if you happen to have chosen a different box from your pals - the perfume of course remains the same. And that's always assuming you know anyone else with it in the first place. But that is most likely the whole point - a group of young female friends, united by a common perfume, but distinguished by their own choice of coloured box.

It's a concept, no question, but I wouldn't buy into it now, and I am not sure I would have done so back then, had I been into perfume at that age. Though as I say, there could be something in it, based on the swappable mobile phone covers fad. I'd be interested to hear what any readers think of this, especially those with daughters in the target age group.

I also took a look at The Social parfum's Facebook page - it is an Italian company and there are a number of photographs on there of young women holding little cards with the house's heart shaped logo on them, looking happy together - and quite sociable, it must be said - in piazzas up and down the land.

And what about the scent itself, I hear you ask?

Top notes: bergamot, blackcurrant, white peach
Middle notes: waterlily, rose, almond blossom
Base notes: exotic woods, vanilla musk


Hmm...The Social parfum reminds me a bit of how I would imagine a mainstream take on L'Artisan's Mure et Musc to smell, and it also has some crossover with YSL Parisienne, which I remember describing once - rather uncharitably perhaps, looking back - as 'disgruntled purple talc'. I am wearing the two scents side-by-side, and there is a definite resemblance, though The Social parfum has a cleaner blackcurrant note and a marked kind of nuttiness to it (or pepper, maybe?), where Parisienne is more powdery. For the market they are aiming for, The Social parfum is probably in the right ballpark, even if it isn't my thing. If you are any age and a particular fan of blackcurrant, it might be worth a sniff too, though I am not sure that these are available in store anywhere.

Oh, and if anyone is curious about the colourways, they are as follows - mostly on the bright side, as I say:

BLUE'S (sic)

The separate covers are 11 euros each and the 50ml eau de parfum + a white cover (the 'starter cover') is 67 euros, which strikes me as rather expensive for what is essentially a mainstream scent from an unknown house. I note on the bottom that the perfume is made by ROLS SAS in Italy, a company of which I can find absolutely no trace in Google. And having had a little play with the shopping part of the site, there doesn't seem to be a way you could pick a coloured cover as your base box, meaning that if you fancy anything other than white, you automatically have to fork out the extra 11 euros for the spare.

The gargoyle reassembled the boxes into their correct colours

So may I you swap your mobile phone covers, or Kindle or iPad covers etc, and would you be inclined to do so with perfume boxes - just for the hell of it to ring the changes, or to differentiate yourself from your friends' bottles? 

And if not, do you know anyone who might?