Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Lemmings and lemons reprised: a current capsule collection of 20 'desert island' scents

Every once in a while, I fantasise about having a smaller, more 'curated' collection of perfume bottles, instead of the sprawling, multi-plastic tub-, box- and drawer-filling monster it has in fact become, even though I hardly ever buy full bottles of perfume anymore. Such a notion remains a fantasy though, as I only managed to lose a few bottles in a recent two pronged sales push on here and on a Facebook selling and swap site. One of these bottles of course famously came straight back to me due to its missing top notes! Well, we are all getting on, my perfume included, and the ageing process is so gradual that you sometimes don't notice slight changes in your own appearance or that of your stash. So I may have to accept that however carefully I have looked after them - regular readers will remember the fridge years ;) - the potential to sell more bottles from my wardrobe aged 5 years and over, as most are, is probably limited.

So instead I thought I would just play a game with myself - as I did nearly exactly three years ago, it turns out! - to pick my Top 20 Desert Island Perfumes at the moment. A compact capsule collection, if you will, to last me until the next time I change my mind, as surely I will. Yes, I thought it would be interesting to compare the results of this latest exercise with my previous list, though this time round my focus has been as much on the possible ways to go about such a selection, and which methods I ended up choosing, as my fragrance choices in themselves.

I have just had a quick look back at my previous post to see which MO I used there: in 2014 the first phase of the process was to get all my bottles out and stare long and hard at them, then make a list of the perfumes I would actually buy again. I came up with 19 out of 70(!). Then I scratched my head and asked myself: 'Which perfumes do I wish I had bought instead?' and came up with a further 16. And promptly had to knock five off the first list to come up with a final (and somewhat luxurious, it now seems to me) tally of 30. Helped by the fact that I am probably in even more of a plateau phase of my hobby, three years on - assuming it is possible to have plateaus of varying degrees of flatness - I am going to limit myself this time to a whoppingly whittled 20.

There are some scarf albatrosses in there also.

So without further ado here are the MOs I used/considered:

The burning building speed grab method

Otherwise known as: 'Which perfume bottles would you save if you only had minutes to leave a burning building?' (You may rescue up to 20, and it doesn't matter if you don't own them in the first place.) By dint of including imaginary bottles, this is in effect a cunning fusion of the two methods I used in 2014. And is more or less what I did this time, namely, I took a sheet of blank paper and tried to come up with my top 20 perfumes in a spontaneous and fairly speedy brain dump. So that pretty much is it, and I could almost stop the post right here, except that I did go on to refine my selection by partially dabbling in other methods along the way...

The systematic review of ALL perfumes owned, including samples, to determine favourites

This goes beyond Phase 1 of the actual method used last time, and in 2017 fell at the first fence. I couldn't be bothered to even open the cupboard to look at a couple of boxes of full bottles, never mind my decant drawer and seven bulging bags of samples. I took all these photos after writing my post! So by setting the bar too high, I was quickly paralysed by inertia, preferring to rely on a much more knee jerk MO of what I could remember I liked off the top of my head. As a result, I may well have forgotten some major loves. Even though as a market researcher, I always maintain that unprompted beats prompted recall every time, so I may have been unduly swayed by my professional principles here. ;)

The travel bag 'nuclear precedent' method

Ex-Mr Bonkers used to worry about falling sick and a dep taking his place in one of the many bands he played in, on the premise that the last man to do a gig is likely to get the call next time. So by the same token, it could be argued that whatever scents are in my 'grab and go' travel bag - a variant on the burning building concept you might say - are ones that I have enjoyed wearing recently and which might equally serve as a capsule wardrobe 'going forward' (did I really say that, even in inverted commas? - shoot me now!). But I wasn't buying that argument and didn't even look in the bag, firmly believing I should cast the net of my mind more widely, notwithstanding its wide mesh (and the associated big holes of my recall).

The fragrance family method

I entertained this briefly, noting that there was nothing on my list that resembled a citrus cologne, and promptly dismissed it. Why should I have to include colognes or chypres for the sake of some vague impulse of deference to Michael Edwards? I mean wheely? And maybe some of them ARE chypres, you never know. I obviously wasn't going to take the time to find out, though it might have been quite revealing. I know in my heart that I am ineluctably and primarily drawn to wistful powdery orientals, sultry florals with a twist, and the odd soft leather, and if that means I end up doing the fragrance selection equivalent of buying 25 pinky nude lipsticks and nary a one in that orangey red that would also suit me, so be it. Or buying the same shirt in every colourway, as I observed last time.

My complete 'winter collection' against a backdrop of snowy duvet!

The scents for all seasons method

Now this is an MO I did toy with, and in the direction of which I do in fact partly nod, though not so slavishly as to segment my picks by all four seasons. I just kept a vague eye on whether I had wintery orientals and ambers in the mix as well as some summery florals - that could equally be springlike if we don't confine that season merely to scents with notes of hyacinth, daffodil and narcissus. I do actually keep both my full bottles and samples in bags for 'winter' and 'summer', so this split is clearly meaningful for me.

My complete summer collection' against a backdrop of blue blanket sky!

The scents for all occasions method

As I work from home, if I work at all, and the 'holidays' I take tend to be going on tour with The Monochrome Set and loitering on station platforms rather than lazing on sun loungers, I am more or less immune to the classic 'occasion-based' perfume wardrobe categories along the lines of 'office appropriate', 'beachy', 'kicking back on a Saturday in a crisp white shirt and jeans', 'dolled up to the nines for a Christmas party straight out of Love Actually' etc. I pretty much have 'sitting in the bedroom I use as a home office', 'going to Lidl', 'visiting my elderly friend', and 'going to gigs' scents - I shall resist adding 'poking round garages and hedges looking for the cat' scents, in the hope that those episodes are not to be repeated. So as you can imagine, this method barely flitted into my mind before flitting right out again.

The covering all my favourite notes method

Well, I entertained this one for a millisecond and it went straight onto the 'too hard' pile. There are so many notes I like, that to achieve a balanced collection where they are all represented with no undue weighting towards one or another would need the mindset of an investment manager balancing a portfolio of cash, gilts, property, bonds, bellwether tracker funds, slightly riskier ones in emerging markets, and a punt on the Health Lottery. I did vaguely notice along the way that certain fragrances had rose or lily or ylang ylang in - and I know I like those - but if I am picking scents I like overall in the first place you would think I must be homing in on my favourite notes, even if only at a subliminal level.

The scents I had happy times in method

Now this one was quite appealing, but I tried to resist picking scents this way, confining myself to a selection based on a perfume's intrinsic appeal rather than experiential association. It is theoretically possible to have a brilliant time wearing a very mediocre scent, which then gets uprated just because it happened to be in the right place at the right time. So I ditched that as an MO, though I will say there are a handful of scents in my shortlist whose wearing does bring back happy memories, but which made the cut largely on their own merits.

The 'inclusive' perfume house / perfumer approach (I am a bit 'method'-ed out at this point)

This started out as a casual (retrospective) consideration of whether I had at least one scent each from Chanel and Guerlain in my shortlist (I do!) - just because they are behemoths, no more that that - and segued into musings on whether I should consciously include the work of indie perfumers I admire and/or like as individuals (whether I have met them or not - this exercise is getting more and more abstract :) ). But I decided that despite certain personal leanings, that shouldn't influence my fragrance choices, and concentrated solely on the perfumes, regardless of provenance. I have to say that there would be a slew of such scents bubbling under the top 20, but I have been very strict, sadly.

The Bois de Jasmin seal of approval approach!

Now at this point the plot thickens and takes an unusual turn...with my 20 perfumes more or less in the imaginary bag, I was googling the note lists at the end of Victoria's reviews of some of them on Bois de Jasmin - I know, I  know, I cracked a little bit about the notes! - and realised in passing that the first few perfumes I looked up were (quite fortuitously) either rated by her as four - or even five stars. So I immediately stopped paying any attention to the notes(!) and started googling reviews of my shortlist purely from a star point of view, to see how consistently my selection lined up with Victoria's seal of approval. And it transpired that all of the scents on my list had either been awarded four or five stars or were not featured at all, which may or may not be significant. I am sure I have seen three star reviews on BDJ, and I hope I haven't picked a mix of her favourites and a bunch of other ones she rates too poorly to feature, being as diplomatic by nature as she is erudite, dainty, and winsomely immersed in the culture of her native Ukraine.

So there you have it...a list completely conjured up out of nowhere, with a few backward glances at other selection approaches, which slightly influenced the outcome round the margins.

Drum roll...please feel free to heckle at me, with pained cries of: 'But hey, you forgot xxxx!' (Not least the accents, I know...)

Am splitting my list loosely into 'wintery' and 'summery', which is not to say I wouldn't break those rules too, obviously.

Wintery scents

Guerlain Attrape-Coeur
Chanel Bois des Iles
Caron Parfum Sacre
Hermes Doblis
Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Chine
Ormonde Jayne Ta'if
Parfumerie Generale Brulure de Rose
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue
Flower by Kenzo Oriental
Christian Dior Ambre Nuit
House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved**
Prada Candy

Summery scents 

Annick Goutal Songes
Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse
Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
Mona di Orio Tubereuse
Serge Lutens Un Lys
Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess
ELDO Fils de Dieu, du Riz, et des Agrumes
En Voyage Perfumes Zelda

**NB This was very nearly Aroma M Geisha Noire, and may yet flipflop to that some day.

And how many of these do I actually own? Er....four! (See top photo.) I did own Brulure de Rose, but it is all gone. Not that there is much left of three of the four fragrances in question. And I must still have 50-60 bottles in my collection in total, some of them inveterate albatrosses. The most distressing of these have been relegated to the cupboard under the stairs or a special plastic bucket dedicated to 'aspirational sales'.

I would love to know if you have had a go at compiling your own top 20 scents lately, and if so, whether it was a struggle, and what made the cut. In the light of people's comments, I could be mightily tempted to do mine all over again!

Hmm, yes, that is yet another possible selection MO, come to think of it:

'The what do my fellow perfumistas rate' method


  1. Brilliant post, V. I love Top whatever lists and you varied list of possible MOs are inspired! Particularly loved the Bois de Jasmin and Happy Times methods. I should give more thought to this. Each fragrance should earn its position in theory but that's not how it usually works out.
    I think your list is excellent. The only one I can think might be missing is the Armani Privee Myrhh you liked?
    Isn't it funny how in the beginning we dream of a big collection and now we dream of having a small one :)
    Oh I remember the fridge days...

    1. Hi Tara,

      Certainly if you look at the collection I have managed to acquire over the years, I do wonder how some of the fragrances have snuck in there. No earning of their position, that's clear. ;)

      Interesting that you mention Myrrhe Imperiale. It was formally auditioned in a head to head with Immortal Beloved, Geisha Noire, and Damien Bash Lucifer #3 and seemed a tad too dark, though the drydown was awfully nice. It would have been in the next tranche I suspect, not that I allowed one, hehe.

      Oh no, I clean forgot to mention the shortlist whittling stage, though that only applied to a small handful...

      Yes, it is ironic that we dream of having a small collection, but I definitely do!

    2. Ah interesting to hear about the myrrh battle round. I really admire how systematic you were about reaching this list. Know you can set about trying to achieve it though I know that will take time and won't be easy.

      I had a count up last night and it came to 25 bottles but I'm not completely content with some of them and would like a smaller collection. It puts me off buying more. However, part of me thinks this is just guilt and I shouldn't stress over something I love and enjoy.

    3. Oh, I have no hopes whatsoever of trying to achieve that perfect collection, and I do enjoy all the bottles in the two winter and summer baskets pictured - they are just not my absolute favourite scents in the world. Saying that, several of the FBs I own were just outside the Top 20, notably Piguet Calypso, Diptyque Volutes EDT and Tauer PHI de Kandahar. I do think I will need to get another purse spray of Cimabue in due course, spurred on by Undina's recent post on small sizes. And I would look out for decants of some of these, most of which I only have a small sample of remaining.

    4. Tara, I think you should do a post on your top 20 (you'll have to put 5 aside - since that's what V. set as a parameter). I'm thinking about doing that as well. I think that V.'s systematic approach deserves to be linked to from other blogs :)
      Vanessa, did you always have just one level of comments' nesting? I had a strange feeling that it used to be more - but I'm not sure...

    5. Oh sorry, I missed coming back to this. I am all for us all compiling similar lists - I would be interested to see everybody's.

      Hmm, I think I did once have more levels of comment nesting, but it isn't playing ball beyond one at the moment, I agree.

  2. I love the MOs too, even if I don't think I could use any of them, and each time I try to do a favourites list, I more or less end up including everything I have 😊. Whether that's self deception, I'm obviously not the one to say.
    Attrape coeur is, however, together with Vol de Nuit, are my two all time favourites

    1. Hi Asali,

      Perhaps you have a modest collection to start with, such that you could keep the lot? You, Undina and Tara I see as people who make more considered FB purchases as a general rule than I have tended to do over the years...

      Glad you like Attrape-Coeur. I respect rather than love Vol de Nuit, but am not surprised you like it. It would also feature in Tara's Top 20, I am sure, along with Vega.

    2. Nothing modest I'm afraid, it's 100+ 😱 So, that probably means it IS self deception... I do make very considered purchases though, and hardly ever do I buy full price.

    3. Whoo! That is a lot. I'd be tempted to sell a couple to help fund the new pc, though I know you don't want to part with any of them. ;) I knew you made considered purchases so you clearly have catholic taste!

  3. You are a sorceress and not a market researcher- is my humble opinion. All of your methods are interesting, although the happy times one is most beguiling.

    My list is short unlike Asali I don't have 100. Here it is:
    1) Tabac Blond own
    2) Bois d'Armenie own
    3) Plus Que Jamais own
    4) New York don't own
    5) En Avion have dinky tiny bottle!!!
    6) Penhaligon's Lily and Spice have 1/2 bottle
    7)PdN Musc Intense own
    8)Jean Patou Moment Supreme got SO lucky- own
    9)Creed Angelique Encens this is the bomb don't own never will
    10)Neil Morris Afire don't own this- is crack to people who liked Fendi Theorema
    11) Alpona Thank God Almighty! own
    12) Frederic Malle Lys Mediterranee don't own and scared of refos now...
    13)CB I HATE PERFUME Cradle of Light so great but really expensive don't own

    And that's it. I mean I would not say no to Guerlain Cachet Jaune but bottle of that cost arm + leg so just don't think about it. Great idea!

  4. Sorcery in the sense of getting a bunch of perfume hoarders to consider (sort of) a downsized list :-)

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      LOL at sorceress...

      For my part I am impressed both by your modest list and the fairly high percentage that you own on there. Well, a lot better than my ratio, certainly. Plus Que Jamais just slipped off my list this time because much as I love this one I haven't been reaching for it, I think because it is too formal for day and not quite va-va-voomy enough for evening. Or maybe I am just nervous of using up my various samples and decants I've got squirrelled away.

  5. I loved this post, and I'll probably steal the idea and write my own soon - I came up with the list though I might re-think it (I was going by perfumes I own though)

    It's interesting: three perfumes from your list happen to be on my preliminary list as well and 3 more could have made it, had I owned them. I wrote "only three" first but then I realized that three is a very significant number taking into the account the number of perfumes being released every year - and you weren't even limiting yourself with perfumes at hand!

    1. Hi Undina,

      Glad you liked it and steal away! I wore Piguet Calypso for two days over the weekend (for which I have you to thank), and am seriously thinking of a possible substitution for one of my list - I may have too many florals, for example. Mutable, moi? Not half!

      I would expect Ta'if to be on your list, and possibly some combo of Fleur de Chine, Bronze Goddess and Ambre Nuit?

      I agree that it is quite a feat to restrict oneself in this way, especially when allowing 'virtual ownership', hehe.

    2. You've guessed it perfectly! The first three are those that made my list, and Ambre Nuit would have - but I'm done with my decant, and now need to think what to do next :)

    3. Whee - go me! I can spare you a sample of Ambre Nuit from my decant if you would like to wear it some more to help you decide?

    4. Nah, I decided already that I want it - I just need to figure out if I should get another decant, or if I have space for one more bottle... But thank you for the offer!

  6. I really enjoyed this post--both the methodological pondering and the final list. And I've been rearranging bottles in my head (and on the shelves) a few times, wondering how I'd group, whittle, and choose if I had to.

    I agree entirely on the "no cocktail parties, no crisp white shirts at leisurely brunch" scenarios, because, nope, not my life. But part of me is leaning towards scents-for-situations approach (from take-no-prisoners spine-stiffening battle armour required, to wallowing in sloth, to hello-trees-hello-sky-isn't-life-lovely, to trying to pass as a competent grown up, to drifting about being a whimsical snorkmaiden smitten by one's own loveliness, et cetera, et cetera...)

    Clearly, moar thinkings are required on my part.

    (p.s. I think Rainmaker is bloody marvellous. Thank you so much for sharing that. That's straight on the full bottle hankering list.)

    1. Hi crikey,

      How much did I enjoy your comment! Very gratifying to meet a person whose go-to outfits slip through the occasion cracks. That was a very good alternative 'occasions' you came up with, as in 'situations'. I definitely have needed 'armour' for difficult meetings, though not lately - Cristalle used to hit the spot, as I recall, though I once swathed myself in a bolero of Bois des Iles for a challenging interview at a German car company. Yes, that would be them or the other one. ;)

      And now I am off to google Snorkmaiden, while noting with pleasure that Rainmaker was a hit. Worth the wait I hope.

  7. oh, phew. I worried about my late night whiffling...

    Interesting, though, as Bois des Iles is very much a wallowing scent for me--a luxury, even decadent wallow, though, rather than a misery-wallow. I think it improves most situations, though, and see how it would work incredibly well in the one you mentioned.

    There has, however, been the need for rather a lot of my armour in rotation lately, along with full battle slap and dark red lipstick: vintage Miss Dior, Bandit, Bapteme du Feu... I even considered a dose of Poison but figured that might be stretching my colleagues' tolerance.

    Possibly the only matching of fragrance to outfit is a quite surreal one: singlet, wrist wraps, striped socks, and a cloud of Mitsouko. The glamour! (Ha. There is nothing glamorous about singlets, or about powerlifting.) But, it's my scent of choice when I'm competing, and confuses the hell out of people. Which is always a bonus.

    p.s. I hope you have a terrific trip this weekend.

    1. Hi crikey,

      Whiffle away for me! Your comments are always good value. LOL at misery-wallow...I think in such situations I probably eschew perfume altogether. On past form at least.

      Whoo, those armour scents you mention sound a bit like the fragrance equivalent of Trident, in a good way - I hope they did the trick for you. You have just reminded me that I really like Visa, though I haven't smelt it in years.

      Wow, you powerlift! I did not see that coming. Mitsouko does seem quite fitting, mind, as it has a lot of backbone for all its peachy facet.

      How much do I need to work out? - and fail! Though I will do a lot of walking this weekend. And powerlift luggage up flights of stairs in stations and eclectic hostels.

    2. I don't think you're far off with the Trident analogy: I have been picturing these scents as one of those military parades in the old soviet union, the ridiculous shows of strength with endless lines of tanks and pointy missiles. And I have more in my armoury. Wish I didn't have to roll them out, but, it is what it is.

      Powerlifting is one of the last things they would imagine when looking at a short-arse middle-aged woman with a walking stick! (It's bench press only for me, because of the wonky leg.) And it's possibly the last thing I ever imagined I'd start doing, and then fall in love with and find such joy in. (I hadn't even heard of it as a sport until I started taking part a few years ago.)

    3. I am sorry you do have to roll them out - you don't actually work in Defence, by any chance? That is something of a man's world, I would imagine.

      I am going to have to google pictures of a bench press, so out of touch am I with most forms of exercise, hehe.

    4. Thanks. It's just been ridiculous work politics and nonsense which all got a bit out of hand and I had to dig my heels in hard. Not defence, fortunately.

      With benchpress, if you are curious, action videos over on my instagram (I'm slowlight there) but that's the more arcane paralympic style rather than the more typical feet on the floor version. I do both, though.