Saturday, 29 December 2012

Scented Santa 2012 - The Inventory

So, Christmas is over and it is time to put away the presents, though not the decorations. They have another week or so to run thank goodness, as I am a two-tree household and it will be a bit of a performance to dismantle everything come January 6th. I don't know about you, but I always find it difficult to put away my Christmas presents immediately after opening them. If I do that it makes me feel I haven't actually received anything, which is silly I know. Yes, I leave the presents for a few days where I can view them - I'd say like a deceased family member in a chapel of rest if it weren't such a ghoulish image. They start off on the living room floor where the unwrapping session took place, then they typically migrate to on top of a bed, and then finally get dispersed to a suitable long term home.

Presents come in a variety of categories: first off there are the ones with an immediate wow factor (an axe!, a beautiful scarf!, a set of funky cheese knives!, a packet of fudge (briefly) pre-owned by Tom Cruise!).


Next up you have gifts that you really need and of which you will make extensive use, but which don't make the heart sing in quite the same way (a large mixing bowl!, a set of Russian doll measuring cups!). That said, the mixing bowl is just about as beautiful as a functional item of kitchenware can be, and I have already christened it with the stuffing.

Then there are the ones that you haven't worked out if they are really you or not, but you aspire to like them (a jar of antipasti aubergines!, facsimiles of vintage seed packets!).

And then there is inevitably the odd gift that is a complete non-starter for reasons too numerous to mention; these may actually bypass the bed display stage and go straight to the recycling box. I will draw a veil over the specifics of this year's (happily very few) "straight to box" candidates, but I can perhaps mention my mother's worse ever Christmas present, which was a pair of punctured rubber gloves.


And perhaps I should create a separate category for my fragrant presents, which pretty much all fall in the wow factor category. It is a measure of how entrenched this perfume hobby has become that friends automatically think to buy me something in the "smellies" department in the broadest sense of the term, and that is absolutely fine by me.


If that lady is meant to represent me, I feel duty bound to point out that Gillie has been more than generous in the bosom department. ; - )



The Instant Boost Skin Tonic which comes with it has a delicate scent that is so nuanced and fresh that it would make a charming perfume in its own right. In fact I may do a post about the Liz Earle range at some point, as I have also recently tried her perfumes - I didn't even know she had any - but a friend had bottles of both!

Notes: organic aloe vera, calendula, rose-scented geranium, cucumber


Note that one of the bars has an intriguing metal embellishment.


No prizes for guessing what he smells of - unless your Swedish is even worse than mine - and mine is seriously rudimentary.

I would be interested to hear about your perfume-themed presents this Christmas - and if you dare tell me, your worst gifts generally, and why they were so awful if it is not immediately apparent.

Photo of rubber gloves from

Friday, 28 December 2012

It Never Raineys But It Pours! Bonkers Is In The Daily Telegraph Again!

At the end of September I was interviewed over the phone by a features writer at The Daily Telegraph, Harry Wallop, about my views on discount chain Lidl's latest perfume release, X-Bolt for men. A couple of quotes from me were used in his article on the Hugo Boss smell-alike.

To my great surprise, a colleague of Harry Wallop's at the paper, Sarah Rainey, rang me the other day to quiz me - on the spot again! - about my views on celebrity-endorsed perfumes in all their manifestations, to feed into her upcoming feature on the subject.

Well, it appeared in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, and also includes quotes from Nick Gilbert, Manager of Les Senteurs' Seymour Place store, who is known to many of us, and has a wealth of expertise about fragrance as well as being an all-round good egg.

Here is the link:

The Sweet Smell Of Celebs

There are two soundbytes from me as before, about half way down. The article also mentions the current Chanel No 5 campaign featuring Brad Pitt and the one for Hugo Boss Nuit de Femme fronted by Gwyneth Paltrow, but didn't include my thoughts on those - perhaps for the best... ; - )

But here they are anyway - from an email I sent by way of a PS after my phone chat with Sarah - or should I call her "Rainey" by analogy with "Musson"? : - )

"I have to say that Brad looks like he has just got out of bed, and though Marilyn Monroe was famously said to have worn No 5 to bed, personally I don't think it is an elegant look for the brand. No 5 to me is more Catherine Deneuve in a French pleat than a rumpled Brad in a goatee. Maybe he should just borrow the wife's Bvlgari Black instead......And then you have Gwyneth Paltrow, who - along with three other high profile women - featured on the Estee Lauder Sensuous ads, which were very effective, I thought, in a clean-but-sexy-white-shirt-kind-of-a-way. At the moment Gwyneth is the face of Hugo Boss Nuit Pour Femme, but in the poster ad at least I think her smile strikes me as a little tentative - see what you think. She doesn't appear to be doing that Tyra Banks 'smiling with her eyes' thing. Maybe she is worried that there will be another Lidl me-too along shortly... ;-)"

Hmm, come to think of it, Brad's not really "smizing" in that shot of him either, which I'd have thought was inevitable for the money they're paying him... ; - )

Photo of Hugo Boss campaign from Vogue website, photo of Brad Pitt and Britney Spears from The Daily Telegraph

Monday, 24 December 2012

Turkey, Stuffing, & "Stuff On My Cat" - Have A Merry Bonkers Christmas!

Only yesterday I still had it "all to do", as they say, in terms of the big Christmas food shop. Well, that is not strictly true, as I had laid in alcohol of every persuasion to accompany the many courses I had yet to procure: champagne, pink Cava, red and white wine, gin, sherry, port and dessert wine. And I wasn't even planning on doing a dessert, as there is only me this year, and I am usually stuffed after the main course. There was a point last night where I thought I might not even bother battling round Sainsbury's, but just get pissed and eat Twiglets. For these I do have in, despite scoffing nearly a whole canister in one sitting last night while agonising over fan oven settings, as is my annual wont.

But I girded my loins this morning and made a foray into Asda and Sainsbury's, coming back with a turkey and the wherewithal to make some traditional accompaniments, like my signature dish of apricot and pecan stuffing, which I have traditionally made for the vegetarian Mr Bonkers, and which I shall make again on autopilot this year. Note, I plan to make dishes "to accompany" rather than "to trim" the turkey, a curious verb I have seen creep into British English lately that makes me think of someone cutting bits off the poor bird. Though I guess it might have come to that if the turkey hadn't fitted into the oven - or later indeed, if it turned out to be edible.

And the other great news is that I have managed to hunt down some vintage thin tinsel on Ebay in time for Christmas, instead of succumbing to a distress purchase of the vivid-hued chenille caterpillars that pass for tinsel in the shops nowadays.


So it just remains to wish readers of Bonkers everywhere a very Merry Christmas however you are spending the holiday period - I know some people are doing the traditional nine yards - or three yards like me - while others are having "beef on Tuesday" or a curry in their pyjamas.


Oh, and I should also explain that one of my best known readers, Anna from Edinburgh, sent in this photo of her cat Lucy posing in a sweetie wrapper bauble hat at the top of this post, "Stuff on My Cat"-style. She was inspired by the original shot (above) of Charlie Bonkers modelling a Lindt chocolate wrapper in a post entitled "Lindt and Fluff", and assures me that this photo involved an astonishing feat of cat whispering. Lucy apparently has your hand off if you approach her, never mind corral her into humiliating festive poses.


Photo of Lucy via Anna from Edinburgh, other photos my own.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Painting The Town Red With Katie Puckrik - Part 2: A Scented Sit-Down Of Comediennes And A Stunning Sleight Of Stuntman At The Card Shark Show

After our purposeful whizz round Selfridges - Katie being a past mistress at purposeful whizzing - we speed walked in the direction of Soho. Along the way we popped into a few clothes shops, including a branch of Barbour, where Katie tried on a selection of what I now know to be called Ladies Wax Trench hats. These sported varying degrees of brim width, which distinguished your 20s flapper girl look from your country lady angler. My superior height (not by much, but even a few inches was enough to count) meant that I could fetch down the top shelf hat piles for Katie's consideration.

Once in Soho, Katie suggested grabbing a bite to eat in a little noodle place she knew, when suddenly her phone rang...As a result of that call, the evening took an unexpected - but most entertaining - turn. For the friend who rang was Hattie Hayridge, a stand-up comic and actor in the comedy series Red Dwarf, and she was inviting Katie to join her at The Groucho Club, where she had just secured a table in a prime spot by the window.

And so it was that just moments later, we were sitting down in a plush corner of the club, cocktail in hand(!), and none other than Chris Evans in our line of sight - he was standing at the bar, surrounded by a clutch of friends. It took me about 20 minutes before I realised that this place was in fact the iconic Groucho Club, and not just some West End pub with Groucho in the name - you know, like "The Groucho and Ferret" or "The Groucho's Head". And then before you could say: "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member", we were joined by another comedienne, Helen Lederer, who ordered a glass of bar Twiglets, of which we all made light work. Then the four of us proceeded to shoot the breeze in a "Grumpy Old Women" kind of a way. Somehow I also managed to shoehorn into the conversation a recent shortchanging incident, whereby a roll of Sellotape ended up costing me £11.55, and the others came through with the head-shaking empathy I so desperately craved.

From the depths of her handbag Hattie then produced a couple of vintage Russian perfumes she had picked up on her travels, which we duly sniffed, and all preferred the more honeyed one - should have noted the names really! And at one point we all sniffed Helen, who challenged us to identify her signature scent - to which I am sworn to secrecy - but anyway, it turned out to be a layering of two perfumes, so we were on a losing wicket from the off, really.

And before long it was time for Katie and me to head off to the main event of the evening, namely the press night of The Card Shark Show at The Mayfair Theatre - an auditorium housed in the hotel of the same name. Katie and I were fortunate to have been allocated front row seats, which meant that in theory we could have been called upon to participate in any of the card tricks. As it turned out, some other people in our row had already been primed for this purpose, and they jumped to their feet as soon as the call came for a volunteer.


So what exactly did the show consist of? Well, I can best describe it as a novel hybrid of cinematic documentary and live commentary from the show's host, stuntman and magician Steve Truglia, all interspersed with his dazzling performance of jaw-droppingly slick card tricks.

As the show programme states in its introduction:

"From the middle ages through Wild West saloon bars to murderous gangsters, discover how sleight of hand techniques honed by hardened gamblers influenced modern card magic."

And here is a promotional trailer for the show, featuring a number of the media personalities who attended. One of them, the presenter Dominic Littleton (whom I was sure I had seen on TV, but couldn't quite place), was sitting the other side of Katie, and at one point during the show reached across to offer us a mint. I politely declined, then swallowed my embarrassment and said: "I am sorry, but you look awfully familiar", to which he replied, quick as a flash: "Do I owe you any money?!", which struck me as a wonderfully sharp riposte.

After the show, we adjourned to a large function room for drinks and food, in the shape of dainty pokes of fish and chips in mock newspaper. We are talking goujons, basically - I guess you would expect nothing less genteel in a hotel of that calibre! ; - ). As people milled around, I scoped the room for more celebrities, of which there was a goodly smattering. Meanwhile, Katie had her picture taken several times by the numerous agency photographers who had been sent to capture the action. And one actually asked me to stay in the shot, though clearly he didn't know me from Adam! A fine example of "collateral papping", as I remarked to Katie afterwards. That shot has also been included in the official photo album on The Card Shark Show's Facebook page, about which I must confess to feeling secretly chuffed. Or not so secretly, even, given that I just told you all... : - )


And as if the show wasn't electrifying enough, when I got back to my hotel and read the programme, I felt that my viewing pleasure was retrospectively enhanced by reading about Steve Truglia's other exploits in the course of his career as a stunt coordinator and performer. His film credits include Saving Private Ryan, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. Specifically, his stunts include driving a car round a 12 metre high loop the loop for Channel 5's Fifth Gear, while he also holds the 2004 record for the fastest ever abseil, as well as - my personal favourite - the longest fire burn within the UK at two minutes five seconds.

Tickets for The Card Shark Show cost £50, which by the standards of London's Theatre Land, is not excessive, I don't think. It really was a complete one-off, and though the theme had piqued my curiosity when Katie first sounded me out about going, I found the show even more entertaining - nay, enthralling - than I expected.

And in a nice touch as we were leaving, all the guests were given a pack of cards specially produced for The Card Shark Show. I don't suppose for one minute that I will master how to "control the deck" any time soon, but it could come in handy for the odd game of patience.

Photo of The Groucho Club from, photo of the Mayfair Theatre from, photo of me with Katie Puckrik by Gabor Scott, photo of Steve Truglia from, other photos my own

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Painting The Town Red With Katie Puckrik - Part 1: Another Lippie Epiphany

Regular readers - or should I refer to you as irregular readers, as my posting frequency has been decidedly erratic since the house move - may recall that for a long time now I have been on a quest to find Holy Grail lipsticks in a variety of shades. I think I found the perfect nude-browny-pink in Burberry Nude Rose, and the perfect nude-and-not-too-vivid-or-trashy-pink in Dior Pisanelle Pink. However, the perfect red (or even a half-decent red that doesn't make me look like a clown, a hooker or Cruella de Ville) continued to elude me. Back in September, Katie Puckrik, a bit of a make up guru on the quiet, took up the discarded gauntlet / cudgels? on my behalf, and on the occasion of one of our whistlestop meetings at a cafe near Euston, her first act was to upend her handbag and spill a good dozen red lipsticks and lip glosses onto the table. (I wish I had taken a photograph of that!)

As a direct outcome of that testing session (on skin and on Katie in what I can best describe as the lipstick equivalent of a series of lightning costume changes), I went home and bought Revlon Sizzle Lip Gloss and Revlon Lip Butter in Candy Apple. Despite their being on Katie's shortlist of possible contenders for me, I couldn't quite believe in them myself. For I have a real mental block about red lipstick suiting me, partly based on my sallow colouring, but also to do with the relative thinness of my lips compared to Katie's pillowy pout. Somewhere I have taken on board the notion that red lipstick can be unflattering on mature skin. Sharon Stone gives the lie to that supposed "rule" here, but then I am not Sharon Stone, just her age.


And then at the end of November, I was down in London again, and Katie kindly took me on a make up sampling spree in Selfridges before we headed off for dinner and the evening's (partly unscheduled) entertainment, of which more in Part 2. Sniffing wasn't so much on the agenda, as we had done a bit of that at Les Senteurs where we met up, but we did swing by the Dior display specifically so I could try Grand Bal. I am currently on a jasmine hunt for my Scandal- and Fracas-loving friend Sharon. She is a born-again tuberose lover, who is looking to branch out into other heady white soliflores, of which jasmine seemed as good an example as any. Anyway, I thought Grand Bal very pretty, like a quieter version of By Kilian Love & Tears, maybe. It was of necessity just a fleeting impression, because the sales assistant had no samples to give away. This surprised me, as Dior had always been pretty good bet for doling out those little 4ml pots in the past - hey, between me and Tara, who assiduously scored them on my behalf every time she was up the West End, I must have at least four of New Look alone!

No, the main objective of our dive into Selfridges was to slay this red lippie lemming of mine once and for all, and after a quick scope of every high end beauty counter from Yves St Laurent and Tom Ford to Benefit and Illamasqua, we narrowed the choices to Laura Mercier Crimson Tint and an Armani Sheer Red lipstick, the name of which escapes me. I plumped for the Laura Mercier in the end a) because Katie swore black, blue, white and red that it suited me, b) because it was cheaper than the Armani - I never actually got as far as inquiring, but you just know that it had to be! - and c) because my natural dark pink lip tone kept dragging the Armani red back to pinky-neutral YLBB territory. This was as unhelpful as looking foolishly scarlet, especially at that price, whatever it may have been.


Some weeks have passed, and it is dawning on me that if I can carry off the Laura Mercier, I must have suited the other lipsticks all along, which are in similar vein really. The Revlon Sizzle is perhaps a slightly warmer, more orange-y red, while the Candy Apple is in the same sheer mid-red territory as the Laura Mercier. Crucially not too blue on my olive skin. So the upshot of all of this is that I have been wearing overtly red lipstick in public on a number of occasions since my outing with Katie. Nobody has screamed and recoiled in horror, not a single small child has pointed at me and sniggered, and no one has refused to serve me in a shop. This Christmas I may finally have overcome my irrational hang up about red lippie after all, just in time to accessorise the holly.


NB Bonus points to anyone who spots Bloody Frida's pennants in the background!

Coming up in Part 2: The press night of The Card Shark Show, and an entertaining detour en route.

Photo of Dior perfume counter from, other photos my own

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 2 - Chanel: An Intimate Life By Lisa Chaney

I consider myself a conscientious person. I dutifully fill in census forms, while some of my friends rail and moan and make up pretend religions; I feel I should have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday - even if I usually fail - and I always pick up my own litter. And when it comes to books, in the 49 years since I learnt to read "into myself", I have only abandoned one book mid-way through. I can't recall the title, but it was a Henry James, not even one of the longest ones. It ended up in a rubbish bin attached to a lamp post outside a launderette in Swindon, and the vision of me throwing the book away haunts me still - I just had to put some physical distance between my person and the frustrating book which had so spectacularly failed to engage my attention.

Well, to be precise, I had only abandoned one book till this year, when I gave up reading Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney at Page 189. I am not proud of this fact, but at least I didn't throw the book away. That would have been rather ungracious on my part, as Chanel: An Intimate Life was a complimentary copy from the publishers, Penguin. I must say it looks rather well on my antique bookcase, which dates in fact from Coco Chanel's era. It has a nifty quilted-effect dust jacket, and is one of the best dressed spines on its shelf (spot the other perfume-themed books in the close up lower down!).

So why did I give up on this book, given my usually conscientious nature in all things? Well, quite simply, it is a very pronounced case of TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Now I don't mean by that that there are titillating details of Coco Chanel's love life, as it wasn't as "intimate" as all that, not that I am particularly shockable in that regard. If anything, the numerous colourful euphemisms for "prostitute" which pepper the book are its standout highlight, "croqueuses de diamants" and "grandes horizontales" being my personal favourites.

No, what I mean by "too much information" is quite literally that. Rachel Cooke writes in her review of the book in The Observer: "there is no doubting Chaney's tenacity as a researcher....But there is something desultory about her narrative, and she sometimes struggles to say what she means." I take her point about the lacklustre pace of the action, which does feel long and drawn out much of the time, but for me the nub of the problem is simply the fact that there is so much detail about Chanel's life - the book is about 450 pages long - that I am just not interested to know.

Hey, I am not even interested in knowing that much about my own life.

Yes, I shot my atttention span not long after the death of Coco's lover, Boy Capel, in a car accident in the South of France, a strand of the biography that interested me more than most. However, by Page 189, just as we were about to be introduced to Dimitri Pavlovich, something snapped and I put the book down for good. Turns out that Pavlovich was another lover, so that might have been an absorbing interlude for all I know, but I am afraid I was "biographied out" at that point. Minutiae overload. And it was only 1921.

So in summary, if you are fascinated by the life of Coco Chanel to a level way, way beyond a passing interest in the woman who founded the iconic fashion and perfume house that bears her name, this painstakingly researched biography may be the very ticket. Sadly, in my case it was just a source of personal anguish at my lack of staying power and all-round flitter-readerness.

For the sake of good order, here is a link to Olfacta of Olfactarama's take on this book, which I had deliberately not read until now. It tells you some more about the coverage of the book, and as much about Olfacta's strength of character as that of Coco Chanel, because Olfacta clearly made it to the end...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 1 - The Rottweiler By Ruth Rendell

I guess with a title like The Rottweiler, any kind of review - or even a not quite one such as this - was bound to be "bitesized", in a manner of speaking. I must firstly confess to not having read much of anything lately. This has been partly due to the upheaval of moving and the cat being ill, but equally to the fact that the central heating system at Bonkers Towers is seriously underpowered. Compound this with an original Edwardian cast iron bath that turns hand hot water to barely tepid in a matter of seconds, and you have a recipe for showers. Or you would do if I had one. In this instance you merely have a recipe for Very Business-like Baths. And before you ask (very reasonably) what all this has to do with a thriller boasting a perfume theme, the thing is that I do most of my reading in the bath, or used to at the old house.

So it has taken me almost nine months to read this book and finally finish it. In truth I think I would have made speedier progress - in or out of the bath - if it had been more engrossing. I am a big fan of the thriller genre as a rule: I devour all those Kathy Reichs with "Bones" in the title, for example, and equally enjoy sensationalist TV programmes of what ex-Mr Bonkers used to take pleasure in calling the "forensic prostitute" genre, on the basis that the killers' victims were very often ladies of the night.

Not so in The Rottweiler, as the murderer is dubbed. He does murder young women - a whole clatter of them indeed - and takes an item of jewellery from their dead body as a trophy. Curiously, he doesn´t do any biting, just garotting, so the name of the book is a bit of a misnomer. And by the same token, though the novel does indeed have a perfume theme - central to the MO of the killer, no less - it doesn´t make its appearance till about Page 320, by which point I have long since lost interest in the otherwise lacklustre characters and plot. Which is a shame, as the revelation of the perfume connection is dark and deeply disturbing when it comes.

Yes, from Page 1 I was keeping an eagle nostril out for references to fragrance, and apart from a few desultory mentions of so-and-so wafting this or that unspecified scent before them, there is very little for a perfumista to get their teeth or nose into. I do recall one character sporting a tuberose scent by Jo Malone (I didn´t know there was one - on the face of it this sounds like an olfactory contradiction in terms!), but that is about it, till you get past Page 300, as I say.

So I would say give this book a miss, belated shocking perfume-themed denouement and all. I like thrillers, and I usually like the work of Ruth Rendell, but this book signally fails to grab me by the jugular.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A Very Fine Cat Used To Live Here: RIP Charlie Bonkers

For the benefit of any regular readers of Bonkers about Perfume who are not also my friends on Facebook, I am breaking this latest hiatus to mention the sad news that I had to put Charlie Bonkers down last month. She was suffering from a triple whammy of ailments, namely chronic kidney disease, deafness, and feline cognitive dysfunction (the cat equivalent of Alzheimer's), and had a pretty poor quality of life. If I am being perfectly honest, owing to Charlie's blood curdling bouts of nocturnal wailing, I was chronically sleep deprived towards the end and wouldn't describe my own quality of life as all that great. However, the decision to let the cat go at the time that I did was primarily to spare her further suffering. For Charlie was drinking and eating very little by this stage, being sick a lot, and had taken to adopting a dejected pose with her head hung over the edge of the bed she slept on. I have since learnt from feline renal forums (you know there had to be some!) that this is called the "Meat Loaf Position", and is typically a sign that the cat is "crashing" ie entering the final stage of the illness.

So the neighbour who had fed Charlie for the past twelve years and I took her to the vet's together, where we gave her as loving and peaceful a send off as anyone could have wished for.


In the immediate aftermath of this final trip to the vet, I was deeply touched by the deluge of good wishes I received on Facebook and in emails from friends, real and virtual. Yes, I guess only 30%? of the well-wishers have met me in the flesh, and probably only 10% at most have met the cat herself, yet the messages of sympathy and support kept coming and I felt greatly buoyed up by them during that first very difficult week. So to anyone reading who was part of that outpouring of kindness, thanks very much again - it meant a lot to me.

A special word of thanks goes to Tara of Olfactoria's Travels for sending me a "condolence travel vial" of one of my favourite perfumes - that I don't even own! - namely Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, to Anna from Edinburgh for the chocolate and aromatherapy oils while Charlie was ill, and to my friend Gillie (she of my birthday herb garden challenge) for making me this commemorative tile. I know the photographs show the tile laid on a rug, but I am going to place it in the porch by the front door, as a memento of Charlie Bonkers, a very fine cat who used to live here. It was only for four months sadly, but I am glad she made the move to the new house - Charlie helped me settle into this new chapter of my life and will be much missed.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Bonkers In Belgium: Part 3 - A Bunch Of Mostly Oud-y Things At Senteurs D'Ailleurs, Brussels, And The Perfect Scents For Your LBD (Sticky Tape Not Supplied!)

Belgium, though a small country, punches above its weight in terms of numbers of niche perfumeries, and this post recounts my remaining solo sniffing sessions during the three day trip last August. Victoria and I had thought of spending the afternoon of our day together at Senteurs d’Ailleurs, a high end fragrance and cosmetics store in Brussels, but we ended up not leaving her flat! So after checking out of my hotel the following day, I set off in the car for Place Stéphanie, and instantly regretted my decision to drive. For I soon became snarled up in traffic gridlock caused by the inevitable road works and diversions everywhere I turned. My satnav was in meltdown and I wasn’t far behind it. In the end, I conceded defeat and abandoned the car in a side street. More by luck than judgement, Senteurs d’Ailleurs was only about 10 minutes’ walk away, and soon I was browsing the fragrance fixtures of its cool, onyx-clad interior.


As with my visit to La Place Vendôme, I have kept the scent strips from that day, and it is apparent from the scribbled names on them that I mostly smelt a bunch of oud-y things. This is not because I am particularly partial to oud as a note – on the contrary – but because most of the new scents that I spotted happened to showcase the blessed stuff, so I sniffed them merely in the spirit of getting with the program, as it were:

The Different Company Oud Shamash
The Different Company Oud for Love
Byredo Oud Immortel
Byredo Accord Oud
Maison Kurkdjian Oud
Heeley Agar Wood

Tip for The Different Company – if you want to be different, maybe lay off the oud next time…?

I also tried a couple more Byredos that were new to me (Mister Marvellous and Seven Veils), plus the clean and forgettable Pure Virgin from The Different Company. None of these featured oud as far as I recall, but that alone was not enough to endear them to me.


My other important discovery in Senteurs d’Ailleurs was Mona di Orio’s Etoile de Hollande, a refined and retro woody rose in the general vein of Lyric Woman / Portrait of a Lady / Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert - which is to say, not really my style. But I could appreciate its elegance nonetheless, and there was a certain piquancy about trying a scent with Holland in the name in another one of The Low Countries... : - ) Plus the blotter smells rather wonderful nearly three months later...

Notes: Bergamot, White Peach, Heliotrope, Bulgarian Rose, Turkish Rose, Geranium, Clove, Patchouli, Cedar, Vanilla, Bezoin, Ambre, Balsam

One thing that struck me during my visit to Senteurs d’Ailleurs is that when I was alone at the back of the store, one of the staff immediately found a reason to come and fiddle with the stock in that section, possibly because they didn’t trust me not to have one of the testers away in my copious tote bag, or so it seemed to me...they did let me take photographs, mind, so credit where credit’s due.


Next up I popped into Annick Goutal over the road to try out one of Victoria’s favourite scents, Neroli, which – as she explains in a review of this scent from 2011 - she appreciates for the delicate interplay of neroli and orange blossom absolute:

“Orange blossom is darker, richer and more voluptuous, while neroli is greener and fresher. Their complementary qualities make for a particularly multifaceted orange flower accord. The composition is accented with aromatic basil and bergamot, while vanilla and cedarwood create a smooth, polished base.”

I could see why Victoria was so taken with Neroli, and wouldn’t have minded a sample of it, however, my main focus on the sample scoring front was to blag one of Nuit Etoilée instead, despite being rather intimidated by the beautifully made up sales assistant. I got lucky! I was delighted to find that I liked Nuit Etoilée very much. The minty opening was shortlived – and it didn't even bother me it as I'd feared it would. Also, despite the resinous notes of the base, the overall vibe of the scent was very refreshing and crisp, clean and citrusy, and I would defy anyone not to like it, which I don’t say of many scents. I thought it would be more “Blair Witchy” like Ormonde Jayne Woman, but not at all. For a forest-inspired scent, there was an unexpected softness rather than a prickle of pine needles. It was a “forest scent for wimps”, just the way I like them…


When I finally managed to drive out of Brussels – after a catalogue of wegomlegging woe, the tortuous nitty gritty of which I will spare you - I made it to my next port of call, Waregem, just before the shops closed. There was a rather gaudy funfair in full swing in the market square, but I headed straight for Parfumerie Gutmann, drawn to its window by this remarkable mannequin, a novel window dressing idea designed to illustrate the Guerlain fragrance, La Petite Robe Noire. Though in my view the frock, which had been carefully studded with miniature perfume bottles of every brand and shape, was a work of art in its own right... For when it comes to choosing a perfume to accessorise your little black dress, don’t believe anyone who tells you "less is more".

Senteurs D'Ailleurs
Place Stéphanie 1A
1050 Brussels
Tel: +32 2 511 69 69

Photo of Etoile de Hollande from Fragrantica, other photos my own.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Bonkers In Belgium: Part 2 - Straight To (Birgit) Heaven - Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme, Wevelgem

You know it is high time you blogged again, when the spam comments blow across - and alight upon - your archived posts like tumbleweed. It is fair to say that I have had a lot of distractions lately, between the day job (on those days when I had one!), the cheeky cameo appearances of woodworm, the ongoing home improvement mayhem and the ever more imperious demands of a sick and geriatric cat. But still, I felt it was time to get back to Bonkers on a less intermittent basis.

This post picks up the thread of my solo sniffing exploits in Belgium, following a most enjoyable day in Brussels with Victoria of Bois de Jasmin. Some two and a half months on, I sense this will by no means be a straightforward exercise, but I did jot down the odd observation at the time, and I still have the umpty zillion scent strips I acquired left and right, most of which smell of nothing much now, while some of the scent names I have scribbled on them are also on the impenetrable side.

But anyway, here goes...For the other standout highlight of my trip was without question my visit to the Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Wevelgem, for the heads up about which I have Birgit of Olfactorias Travel to thank. I remembered that she had bought a number of high end bottles from there and was curious to take a closer look.

The ironic thing is that I was in Wevelgem on business several times over the course of last summer, and in some other towns with which I persist in confusing it such as Waregem, Desselgem and Zwevezele (okay, so they may not sound that similar on the face of it, but I managed to get them mixed up anyway!). And last year as I bombed up and down the Kortrijk corridor I had no clue that such a gem of a perfumery existed - I bet I drove right past it at least once. Now this is easy enough to do, for Wevelgem itself is not awfully memorable, not compared to the tourist meccas of Bruges and Gent. The very street where Place Vendôme is located has its fair share of pizza takeaways, garages and other humdrum business premises. And you are of course welcomed to the town by the obligatory diversion or "wegomlegging" sign, without which no road trip to Belgium would be complete.

Once inside the Place Vendôme perfumery all that changes, and it is like stepping into another world, an Aladdin's cave of exclusive and rare scents. The store (if "store" isn't too pedestrian a word for it) which Place Vendôme most closely resembles is Roja Dove's Haute Parfumerie at the top of Harrods, minus the Arabian Nights boudoir and some of the most recherché fragrances found in that other hallowed temple. Mind you, Place Vendôme seems all the more miraculous and fairytale-like because it is in Wevelgem. Given the lavish opulence of every department in Harrods - of its escalators even! - you would expect a perfumery on the top floor of that iconic emporium to be rather amazing. Here in Wevelgem though, the contrast with the other shops nearby was so marked that the wow factor was necessarily amplified.

As soon as I walked into Place Vendôme, I was warmly greeted by Steven Verstraete, sales associate and friend of the owner, David Depuydt. He proceeded to devote a good couple of hours to my fragrant exploration of the entire store - we tested 35 scents, some of them on fans! - and focused on things I might not have tried, that also bore in mind my personal preferences.

Amouage Bingo

Yes, just moments after my arrival, Steven demonstrated his psychic perfumista powers by correctly guessing my three favourite Amouage scents as Ciel, Reflection and Honour Woman! I have no idea how he did this, as I had only given him the vaguest idea of my taste leanings at that point. I mentioned that I had also had a bit of a rapprochement with Lyric Woman lately - I find it quite wearable in the winter months, certainly.

Interlude Woman - the Messiaen of the Amouage line

My mention of Lyric prompted Steven to inquire whether I had tried the new Interlude scents. I had, at Victoria's, and it was a thumbs down to both. Steven explained that - to take a musical analogy - while Lyric Woman consisted of a single tune, Interlude Woman opened with a cacophony that was nigh on overwhelming, however, the disparate parts of the piece came together in a more harmonious blend some 1-2 hours in. That may well be so, but I am not sure I can be bothered to test this theory out. If Interlude were a piece of music, it would be by Messiaen. I only know of this composer because I got a cheap ticket to a prom concert of his music when I was about 18. It was discordant white noise to me, but I clapped enthusiastically, knowing that my mother was listening to the broadcast on the radio.

Chanel extraits - intense, but not in a bad way

Steven correctly anticipated that my experience with Chanel scents in extrait form would be limited, so we made a beeline for a few familiar scents in parfum form. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find Chanel 22 extrait not as sweet as I remembered the regular strength to be. Steven felt it was more elegant even than No 5, less of a blockbuster production, maybe. I also tried Cuir de Russie in extrait, which wasn't as oily as the EDP - result!

Chanel Coco Noir - not as noir as all that

Staying with the house of Chanel, we lingered for a moment over the promotional display of Coco Noir bottles, which had recently been launched at the time. I had tried it in a perfumery in Waregem the night before, and it had left me distinctly underwhelmed. To my nose it seemed raspy and indeterminate. Steven diplomatically volunteered the fact that the ingredients were very high quality and correspondingly expensive. I said that I didn't doubt it, but to me the result was still a patchouli-forward but otherwise fuzzy mess with a disagreeable grapefruit note going in. Which of course was never going to get past me... We agreed that if any Chanel deserved a black bottle, it wasn't Coco Noir, but rather the classic Coco, the most "baroque" of the line.

Chanel No 19 Poudré - misty over you!

Still on the subject of the Chanels, Steven revealed a fun fact about the difference between the newish Chanel No 19 Poudré and the original version: the original No 19 sprays in a classic horizontal trajectory, while the Poudré dispenses a fine mist in more of a cloud formation. Apparently the difference between the two scents is partly attributable to its spritzing MO. Who knew? It was quite the party trick and I must have a go myself next time I am in Boots.

A Montale (phantom?) pineapple epiphany

Me and Montale have never really clicked. Sibling and Sister-in-law Bonkers are big fans, owning his and her thermos flasks from the line. They were gutted to find the Montale store had disappeared on their last visit to Paris - from that other Place Vendôme, funnily enough. But Steven was determined to show me scents that might challenge and surprise my preconceptions, and a Montale scent showcasing the pineapple note counted as a double challenge. Now the only scent strip I have kept that is a Montale is Embruns d'Essaouira, a spicy marine scent with no pineapple listed amongst the notes; so I am wondering if the pineapple one might have been Soleil di Capri, which is a bit of a fruit cocktail of a scent, though there doesn't appear to be any pineapple in that either. Yet my recall is that the perfume in question had a very strange name, and Embruns d'Essaouira certainly fits the bill from that point of view. I could always drop Steven a line to ask. The pineapple Montale may turn out to have been a fruity chimera...stranger things have been known.

A citrus chariot and a carousel of Shalimars

Here is a photographic palate cleanser for you. I never fathomed the exact purpose of the lemon trolley, though Steven said that he and his colleagues were very drawn to the fruit, and liked having lots to hand. Come to think of it, I am the same with wool, so I can relate.



Cartier Heure Vertueuse and Déclaration d'un Soir - sneaky sniffs of upcoming launches

Well, I say a sneaky sniff, as the scents had not been released at the time of my visit. However, given the tardiness of this post, both perfumes will surely be in the public domain by now. I wouldn't be surprised if they were all over Debenhams like a rash. Well, I exaggerate...but in the likes of Harrods and Harvey Nicks, certainly. Anyway, Heure Vertueuse features lavender and miscellaneous other herbs, but the lavender was well blended such that I didn't recoil instantly, as I did with Chanel Jersey. (So glad I didn't try that one in extrait form.) I imagine Vertueuse would appeal to lovers of Guerlain Sous Le Vent or the numbered colognes from Sisley. I have written on the blotter "3 o'clock at night" so I assume that that must be the "heure" allocated to this one. Déclaration d'un Soir I remember as a rose scent for men, which was rather pleasant in an oud-y Portrait of a Lady kind of way. More rose-y than oud-y even. The blotter actually still smells of it, so I can state with confidence that this one is quite scrummy after 10 weeks.

Guerlain Cologne du Parfumeur - my new favourite cologne!

Steven truly had my number when he invited me to sample this refreshing cologne. Up till now my reference cologne had been the one in the Chanel Exclusives range, but Cologne du Parfumeur has pipped it, and I am kicking myself for not asking for a sample. Whilst googling more information on the scent, I came across a review of it on Basenotes by Persolaise, which sums up my thoughts exactly. This is as happy a summer fragrance as you could wish for, perfect for the warm August day on which I tested it.

"Many consider Chanel's Les Exclusifs Eau De Cologne to be the epitome of this genre, and whilst I agree that it's an impressive piece of work, I also think it could do with being a bit more cheerful. Wasser's effort is a smile in a bottle, giving you just what you want in every spritz: an instant, uncomplicated lift."

Steven desconstructed its appeal for me - a nifty fusion of white flowers, citrus notes and musk in a base he referred to as "muscinade", a lighter take on the classic "Guerlinade"!

Guerlain Les Déserts d'Orient range

Now thanks to Birgit, I had already tried one of this trio - Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert - which was another one of these refined, elegant woody roses that don't really excite me for some reason - maybe because I don't see myself as the refined elegant target wearer : - ). And now here I was in front of a gorgeous display of the full trio, and got to try the other two, Encens Mythique d’Orient and Songe d’Un Bois d’Été. The latter had an innocuous opening, but became rampantly animalic as it wore on, Amouage Tribute Attar-stylee, while the former was a woody, spicy incense-y number, but perfectly wearable, even to a relative wimp around incense like me. The whole range is a big seller in The Middle East (no surprises there), with Encens Mythique a particular favourite if my memory serves me - and why ever should it after all this time?!

Guerlain Les Parisiennes Mon Précieux Nectar

Birgit had also given me a sample of this one earlier in the summer, and I know she loves it - owns it, indeed! - but try as I might, I couldn't get into it on a retrial at Place Vendôme. It was too musky I think, and the orange notes were not sufficiently juicy. It suffered a bit from the same amorphous fuzziness as Coco Noir, if I am honest - it was just neither one thing nor another, and didn't move me. Indeed the first time I tried it it brought on a headache, which makes me wonder if the musks are to blame. Or the bitter almond powder may be putting my sensibilities on edge, for I am not an almond lover at the best of times. This reminds me texturally of Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu ie veering towards the suffocatingly dense - sorry, B!

Guerlain L'Art et la Matière Myrrhe & Délires

By contrast, this one was love, though not at first sniff precisely. Steven said I should revisit it after it had worn in for a while, when it was softer and less oddly fruity. This scent shares Belle d'Opium's unusual teaming of peach and incense, yet there the similarity ends, for Myrrh & Délires is far more sheer and luminous...and well, classy. It also has a hint of the suede-like feel of a (less sweet) Bottega Veneta, or Myrrhiad without such a pronounced licorice note. Offbeat, discreet - in short, a smooth operator.

Les Senteurs Gourmandes - a Ronseal range to reckon with

Towards the end of my visit, when I was all but sniffed out, I just managed to romp through the many scents in this budget range of simple fragrances, which typically combined one or two notes (vanilla was a recurring theme) in a straightforward but effective way: I have blotters for Figue Sauvage, Musc Blanc, Tendre Madeleine (a perfume worthy of Proust!), Vanille Pamplemousse, Vanille Chocolat, Vanille Patchouli (a poor man's L'Ombre Fauve), Vanille Orientale and Prune Jasmin, a new release.

(NB For the benefit of UK-based readers, I just noticed that these are available in our very own M & S - fancy that...for £22.50 they are a bargain.)

Louis, the scented hound

No account of my visit would be complete without a shot of the very cute Louis, a King Charles spaniel - is there a Belgian equivalent for the breed? A King Albert II maybe? This perfumista pooch (with apologies to the other Scented Hound) appeared to be the store mascot-cum-doordog, and was surprisingly camera shy for such a friendly animal. Well, maybe it was not so much that as the fact that he simply wouldn't stay still for two seconds!

So as you can imagine, I emerged blinking into the bright sunlight with sated nose and a smile on my face after possibly the most intensive session of niche scent sampling ever undertaken. And it goes without saying that Place Vendôme should figure on every perfumista's road map of Europe. For by the standards of the Belgian road network, it barely even counts as a wegomlegging - and is well worth the trip across The Channel in its own right.

Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme
Menenstraat 2/A
8560 Wevelgem

Tel: 00 32 56 41 24 68

UPDATE - Birgit has since featured Steven Verstraete in her 'People in Perfumeland' series - read the interview here!

Photo of Guerlain Cologne du Parfumeur from Fragrantica, other photos my own