Thursday, 19 December 2013

Histoires de Parfums Tuberose 1, the Capricieuse

Sometimes I think it would be great if our political leaders would have the bynames of old. While they are all undoubtedly hoping for being labelled the newest reincarnation of  "The Great", or "The Magnificent", it's far more likely that history and the Internet will judge them as "The Incompetent" or "The Fence sitter". Mocking people for their physical features is not very P.C., but names like "The Bald" or "The Hunchback" always striked me as rather flattering in their unimaginative directness. If you did nothing noteworthy you probably did well, because there is an abundance of kings and emperors whose actions deserved them labels such as "The Bloodthirsty" and "The Impaler", or simply "The Mad". 
Unsurprisingly, you can also find dozens of "The Good", "The Wise" and several "Holy" ones, demonstrating quite nicely that spin doctoring wasn't invented by the Labour Party in the 90's. By now you probably wonder why I am bothering you with all this history stuff. It will lead to the perfume eventually, promised. My top three royal nicknames are:

Unfortunately I couldn't find a "The Capricious". That would have been really handy. I'm sure there have been plenty of men and women of influence whose unpredictability and impulsive nature qualified them for such a by-name. It's a description mostly reserved for women, in that slightly patronising :"What goes on in her little head ..." way, but it works formidably for Histoires de Parfums Tuberose No.1 "The Capricieuse".
Histoires de Parfum, a French niche house, have created a fragrance library based on historical events and characters, with perfumes like 1804, George Sand, 1725, Casanova and their newest, 1899, Ernest Hemingway. They have, however, derived from the year/person pattern a few times and in 2010 they've created a trilogy of tuberose scents, named No.1 Capricieuse, No.2 Virginal and No.3 Animale. Tuberose is not very high on  the list of notes I  like and therefore I would normally not pick a scent that is especially dedicated to it, but I am a big fan of Iris.  So when I read on various blogs that this perfume is more of an Iris with a mere hint of tuberose, I ordered a sample. 

My interpretation of Tuberse No 1, The Capricieuse

One could argue that the nickname is already justified by the fact that what's written on the bottle is mischievously misleading, and if you are a fan of tuberose that might very well be the case. For me it is capricious in more than one way. It hits me with that iris note, quite powdery and rooty, a bit sweet, a bit dry. And then it makes a jump, or the olfactory equivalent of one, and it's suddenly stripped of all its melancholy elegance and smiles at me like a tooth gapped, x-legged 13 year old girl wearing a polka dot dress. I have no idea why, or how, but that is what it does to me. It then changes quickly back to the violet powdered lady in the purple velvet gown. And this little magical trick continues as long as the scent lasts. Back and forth, back and forth. In terms of colour it has to be a red bordering on purple against bright pink, and those colours come with their own special textures. The suede/velvet for the purply red and a shiny plastic for the pink. When I wear it I feel slightly giddy, in a good way. It does something to my mind, pokes me when I had just forgotten that I wear it. This is the essence of capriciousness, with a capital C. And that doesn't make it an everyday perfume, but it's a delicious and strong minded little thing, this "Non Tuberose" and a fantastic addition to my perfume collection. I also have to applaud HdP here for their 50 ml bottle and moderate price policy. Not universally done in the niche world. 

How and where to wear:  
For the days when your outfit doesn't "match" and the colours are "clashing". The only pair of tights you have found in the morning has a ladder (female version) or your tie has a big marmite stain (male version) and your hair could do with a hat. 
Do you care? Not a lot. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

4711, the gift that kept on giving

The run up to Christmas: the busiest time of the year for the fragrance industry. What exactly is it that makes us reaching for nice smelling things as presents for loved ones and not so loved ones in equal and enormous quantities? Is it the lack of fragrant flowers and plants during the winter? (works only in the Northern hemisphere...) Are perfumes and soaps just conveniently universal and independent of tricky matters like clothes sizes? Is it the way the bottles and boxes look luxurious and presentable? Can it be that many perfume get bought simply because they are usually located at the ground floor of massive department stores, close to the entrance, making it easy to get in, buy and get out in less than 5 minutes? Perfumes certainly make very good last minute presents, and I did read in an article not long ago that it's not uncommon for panic stricken husbands to buy entire perfume ranges because they have forgotten the name of their wives' favourite perfume. In these cases I wish that the wive wears a Roja Dove or Bond No.9 to make that lack of attention and respect at least painfully expensive. I wonder what the women who get gifted in that way do with the unwanted scents. Ebay? The Tory party's xmas raffle?

I certainly know what happened to Undesirables in our family. They went into the Christmas tombola held by my parent's local choir. Every year at the beginning of December choir members and local shopkeepers would drop packages and gift vouchers at our house. My mum would then pack them up nicely and sometimes make gift bundles if the objects in question were just too embarrassingly cheap. For that reason we had a very good idea of what horrors were lurking behind the shimmery paper and lovely ribbons when all the boxes were laid out at the table reading for the new owners with the lucky numbers. It was a 4711 gift set that we aptly named the Wanderpokal, because it got donated again and again and again, over years and years without exception. We knew it was the always the same one because of a characteristic scratch mark on the box. 
In my youth 4711 Eau de Cologne was a regarded as a traditional cheap smelling scent that could be found in every German household, collecting dust on the bathroom shelf. For me it never registered as a fragrance that should and could be worn, more like a medicinal all round "thing" that grandmothers would spray on a handkerchief and dab on their temples when they felt a bit faint and nauseous. Why that vile smelling stuff would be any good in these instances I never understood. But some things , like spinach, just need time to get appreciated.

My interpretation of 4711 Eau de Cologne

Fast forward some 20 odd years, the house of 4711 had undergone a miraculous transformation. Like other weird and old fashioned icons of Germanity, the herb liqueur Jaegermeister for example, the brand had started to regain a certain cult status and sales had started to rise accordingly. It was then that I took my first unbiased sniff. And surprise, surprise, I actually liked it. The freshness was not as medicinal as I remembered and all in all it was nicely balanced and totally wearable. An orange, bergamot and lemon layer over a floral, and slightly woody base. It's not only not offensive, it actually does give you a wake me up moment, so my grandmothers had a point with their fragrant handkerchiefs. It's also a good dupe for Tom Ford's Neroli Portofino
I smell clean and proper when I wear it and that's usually not something I aim for when reaching for a perfume, but there are moments when this scent is just right. It's a bit like a watercolour, sparkly and transparent, but with a solid geometrical structure. I haven't tried to layer it with something else and have the feeling that might go horribly wrong, but if any of you have done so with success, let me know. These days a 4711 gift set would not get re-wrapped and thrown into the next tombola. I'd rather keep it for myself.

How and where to wear:

Walk the walk of shame with an air of innocence (but still have that shower...) 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Esprit du Tigre by Heeley

It seems that year after year I cope less well with winter. My skin gets itchy and red from the cold wind and my mood darkens with the lack of natural light and colours. For the last 5  years we managed to get a break from the bleakness and escape to somewhere warm and humid. The planning of these trips is part of the pleasure, I can spend hours and hours drooling over pictures of turquoise waters and white beaches. SE Asia, Thailand in particular, is a place we love and long for. I'm not boring you to death with holiday descriptions, but of course these destinations come with an extraordinary bouquet of smells. I'm still dreaming about the scent of Hanoi at 5 o'clock in the morning and wish someone could bottle it up for me: Chinese incense, burnt rubber, cold jasmine rice, fish sauce and cooking oil, car fumes and a myriad of exotic flowers, all slightly diluted during the night, but ready to come to full bloom! again for another hot and humid day.

But there is one single scent that has been a close companion on all our Asian adventures and that is the camphorous stink of the little helper Tiger Balm. You can spray as much DEET or citronella oil as you like, total vigilance is impossible. The tiny monsters will get some blood out of you at one time or another. Mosquitos can be a real pain and ruin much of your otherwise picture perfect happy hour cocktail with sunset on the beach. Tiger balm helps with the itch and we have amassed quite a collection over the years. There is even a curry flavoured one for those who don't like the original smell. So my own association with tiger balm is mixed. On one hand it reminds me of tropical holidays, on the other it's connected with one of the least appealing aspects of it. Let's see what James Heeley, the English perfumer who works and lives in Paris has done with that challenging concept. 

My interpretation of Esprit du Tigre by Heeley

My, what a beauty. A minty fresh start that already has a hint of spice in it. The camphor is very well behaved and toned down. Nothing seems out of balance here and although it's suitably exotic, it's not in your face. No one will ask you if you had just put on some muscle rub when you wear it. The spices give that camphor a real grounding earthiness and it's not like that curry flavoured tiger balm I mentioned at all. My skin drinks it up quite quickly and the perfume dries down to cinnamon and sweet mint. It's  very much a skin scent on me, not much  sillage but I don't mind that at all in this instance. The camphor sort of hovers over the skin and feels, just like the less odorous tiger balm used in traditional Thai massage, cooling and warming at the same time. Esprit du Tigre is a very modern take on the old concept of an Oriental perfume. Our idea of Asia and the Orient has obviously changed dramatically since the late 19th century, but the allure of the exotic is still there, it just manifests itself in different ways now.  I am astonished how beautiful this perfume smells on my skin and I think it's a perfect "secret" scent. I will wear that as a bedtime perfume for the coming cold nights and dream of the beaches of Koh Tao. 

How and where to wear:
As it's christmas soon, give it to the modern day explorer of your acquaintance.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Win, the Surprise, his colours and the Lovers

It has been an interesting week in perfume terms. On Tuesday I won my first ever sample from a fellow bloggers perfume draw, thank you Elena. Then I managed to get totally star struck when I met Frederic Malle at the stall in Liberty. I had come to have a look at the new packaging, based on Liberty designs chosen by the man himself, and there he was, being all charming and pleasant. After I had regained my wit I did ask him about his synethesia and he very humbly played it down with the words:" Yes, I do see perfume in colour but its not a big deal." It certainly helps when you go through Liberty's vast textile and pattern archive to find the right designs for your creations. The designs are lovely, all completely different in terms of style, colour and period, ranging from 18th century to modern day patterns. My favourites are probably the floral ones for Lipstick Rose and Lys Mediterranee and the bold and graphic interpretations for French lover, Angelique sous la Pluie and L'Eau d'Hiver.  Basenotes shows them in all their glory:

For someone who creates surface pattern designs AND loves perfume it cannot get much better than that. Those will be Liberty exclusive (obviously). 

And then there was the London Perfume Lovers meet up. My very first. It's always a bit nerve wracking to go and meet a bunch of strangers on your own, but I needn't have worried. The bunch was a lovely one, the host Lila super welcoming and the whole feel of the evening was a bit like children left alone in a candy shop. I mean, how often can you sit around with 30 people and sniff perfumes? In this case quite regularly once a month and I plan to go back. The theme of this evening was Orientals and a summary will be written by Tara of Olfactoria's travels, but my personal highlights/surprises were:

1. Oud smells of cowshed
2. I don't like Ambre Sultan anymore
3. But I love Tom Ford Shanghai Lily

The evening ended with Portrait of a Lady, this most wonderful Frederic Malle creation. 
The design he chose for it is this elegant and slightly mysterious 18th century fabric that manages to be entire timeless and wouldn't look out of place as a modern day wallpaper: 

And here comes the weekend. Have a good one.

Frederic Malle limited edition for Liberty images via

Monday, 18 November 2013

Happy Hour Special: Speakeasy by Frapin

A few months ago M. and I went to Berlin for a long weekend. Together with friends we had  rented a flat in the fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district and life was good. One evening on the way back to the apartment, our bellies full of Schnitzels and potato dumplings, we recognised a brightly lit corner shop. It wasn't just your average open till late serving for the night owls type of corner shop. It was a proper specialist liqueur and wine store, with shelves after shelves of interesting bottles containing precious juicesThe owner was a young Turk and a real spirits aficionado. Not only did he know his stuff, he had a lot of it as well. A fantastic selection of Whiskeys, Malts and Blends, Brandys, Cognacs, Rums and Gins. This quintessentially British tipple seems to enjoy a great new following on the continent and of course, they try to do their own now. 
The bottle we ended up buying was a limited edition Berlin distilled Gin, named Berliner Brandstifter*, which smells and tastes of woodruff and elderflowers. It's dangerously delicious.  *Berliner arsonists, but it's also a pun on "gifting" a "liqueur"

The whole process of admiring the bottles, talking to an enthusiastic sales person, being able to sniff and even taste some of the open bottles reminded me a lot of perfume buying and M. and I started thinking that opening a combined perfume and liqueur boutique is a fantastic idea. If we did that we would be travelling all over Europe and beyond in search of the loveliest of smells and tastes and aromas. From the best Mirabelle Austria can offer to the foulest smelling Italian Grappa, from independent perfume houses in Barcelona's medieval back streets to candle factories on the coast of Ireland. We liked the idea. A lot. We imagined having a theme of the month, comparing the use of, let's say peach or rhubarb   
                                                               notes in both categories and...........................

Yes, we did get a bit carried away. The gin was, as I said, delicious. But since then I have become more interested in perfumes with a boozy note.  A perfume named Speakeasy has had therefore not much trouble to get my attention. Even better when this perfume is a collaboration between the house of Frapin and Marc-Antoine Cortacchiato, the perfumer and owner of Parfum d'Empire. Not paying homage to one particular alcoholic beverage but the concept of prohibition and how to cheat it in style, it was bound to be an interesting mix.

My interpretation of Speakeasy by Frapin

It starts with a shot of lime with a sugar crust. Have you ever had a T-Punch? It's a popular aperitif/cocktail in France, made of Rum, cordial, lime juice and, in my case, some brown sugar for extra crunch. Very squaffable, and nice in summer and winter. Speakeasy's opening is like an olfactory version of it. Lime green with some sugar freckles. This aromatic splash is then followed by a hint of mint and some immortelle, which now turns the colours of this fragrance into a bright yellow. And it gets brighter and brighter as the sweetness of it takes over and just when I think:"That's too much now", a smoky note starts to develop and the balance is shifting. The slightly tarty sweetness  is now accompanied by a tobacco/leather mix and becomes much more bearable. This transition is my favourite. Fortunately it's also is the most long lasting. In general, Speakeasy is quite a stayer, and not exactly a whisperer either. The last accords before it vanishes are soft, dry smoke with just a hint of fruityness.
It has a jazzy vibe to it and I tried to capture that in my image. A lovely boozy perfume, unusual and fun. I am more than happy to take it out for a night in town. Or three.

How and where to wear:
For one of those nights when you're either not drinking at all (perfume works as a substitute), or drinking a lot (you will at least remember that you did smell very nice throughout)

Determined women image via flickr from foxtongue, some rights reserved

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Hasu-no-Hana, They do make them like that again!

Various articles, reviews and books in the perfume world are beginning to suggest that old fashioned, classical scents are making a slow comeback. I think it's only natural for trends to turn upside down after a few years and if the prediction is going to be true it wouldn't surprise me. In fact, I'd be delighted. There is also a trend in re-branding and relaunching old perfume houses up to the point when there was never an original in the first place, but a depuis/since 18XX looked temptingly good on the bottle. Grossmith is  a good old fashioned British name for a perfume house and it comes with a remarkable history. It makes me think of manly Eau de Cologne, moustache wax, shaving foam and brilliantine, all administered to the real gentlemen by his personal valet. And I wouldn't be totally wrong, but not quite right either. Wrong gender, for starters. I managed to get the three "classical" scents as samples from Bloom, and I highly recommend to try them all. My favourite is Hasu-no-Hana, described on the company's website as a Japanese lotus lily with chypre and oriental facets.

If money wasn't an issue, in what sort of hotel would you stay for a weekend? The latest boutique affair with all the modern features and some quirky design and contemporary art in the middle of a cool city, or an old fashioned 5 star luxury manor house full of grandeur and excellence surrounded by spectacular countryside? Usually I'd go for the former. Aesthetically I will be more at home there and I suspect the old palace to be a bit stuffy and full of retired rich people who demand a personal butler to care for their every whim. But sometimes.........for just a few days....I think it would be great to pretend and go for the whole Gosford Park thing. And if I do, I will take a bottle of Hasu-no-Hana.

My lotus pattern inspired by Hasu-no-Hana

I usually don't want to go the illustrative route with my perfume visuals, but in this case I feel like doing something different. Deepest purple and orange silk with golden embroideries. Iridescent and fluid like a chypre, but in the boldest colours, with wooden strength and incredible, dusty and dry oriental staying power. After a spectacular bitter orange opening it develops deeper and stronger than any modern designer fragrances ever dared and it keeps a grandeur that most niche houses would equally shy away from. It's not that it uses notes that have gone out of fashion, on the contrary, the list reads like so many other from quality fragrances today: Iris, tonka beans, ylang ylang, sandalwood, bergamot, oakmoss. But is that really a perfume that a Victorian woman would have worn? I have to confess my ignorance here and will need to catch up on my perfume history knowledge. Another reason to get Barbara Herman's new book "Scent and Subversion", I suppose.

Another lotus pattern inspired by Hasu-no-Hana

Hasu-no-Hana is so rich that I feel a bit like an impostor wearing it. My middle class, middle age, middle everything status is slightly at odds with the glory that evaporates from this fragrance. It's marvellous. It's wonderful. It's delicious. It's pure luxury. I want a bottle. I can't afford a bottle. I will spray the last drags of my sample on my loveliest silk scarf and sigh melodramatically.

How and where to wear:
There isn't much need for anything else. A silk wrap or an open kimono will do. Spread yourself lasciviously over a chaiselongue, sip on  some tea from a delicate porcelain cup and make a witty comment about the weather

Product picture via website

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Souvenir from Paris

This morning I opened the little plastic bag in which I had kept all the smelling strips from my Paris trip. Quite an aroma and a nice little souvenir. I will leave them out for a few months until the scents have disappeared and then re-use some of them for perfume testing. 
Which brings me to the question? What do you use for smelling strips? Do you make your own from cardboard, go the recycling route, or do you nick them from the shops? 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Fuoco Infernale, a Potion master's fragrance

Back from Paris, I can feel it coming: The nasty post trip cold. Normally it's the combination of the dry air in a plane occupied by 200 people of which at least 2 are bound to have a nasty virus lurking around. This time I took the train, but why would the Eurostar be any better...So while I'm trying to fight off the worst with paracetamol and some throat spray I am also looking for a perfume to warm me up. I have accumulated quite a stack of untested samples by now but this utterly beautiful set certainly deserves my attention:

I know, I know, I know. But isn't it beautiful? I am a sucker for nice packaging, I'm afraid. It comes with being a graphic designer. Linari is a German based perfume house, trying to combine the usual niche concept with some very stylish design. This sample pack can be ordered from their website. So, I am looking for a warm me up scent, and something named Fuoco Infernale, created by Egon Oelkers,  should be just what the doctor ordered. Will it warm my senses, kill the germs and protect me from further evil?

My visual interpretation of Fuoco Infernale by Linari

It certainly has a medicinal, healthy glow to it. Herbal, but not in a fresh green way , more like bundles of herbs that have been hanged to dry out over a giant stove, giving off some gentle, fragrant smoke. The very beginning was a bit too aftershavy for me, but that settles down quickly and the herbs get company from orange and sepia tones in the form of spices woods, a bit iris and then they all huddle together in a worn out pouch made out of the softest leather. In an urban and cool sophisticated sort of way this would have made a great Halloween perfume; to be worn by a woman in a non-tacky witch costume, or even better, by sexy Potion Master Professor Snape alias Alan Rickman. May be I already have a fever... never mind me. (In case you are wondering, my nose is not yet affected by any fluey symptoms, so far it's only the throat). 
Fuoco Infernale is not really a feminine scent, but that wouldn't deter me. Despite my Harry Potter reference, this is actually a very modern take on a classical, masculine herbal leather fragrance and I think it's perfect for November. Real winter hasn't settled in yet, but leaves get burned and fireworks are getting off. It's a scent that carries the transition well, I find, but while it certainly has a good portion of warmth, glow and smoke, I wouldn't call its fire infernal. Has it worked its magic to cure me? Time will tell.

How and where to wear:
The modern wizard can't go wrong with this on the collar of his cloak

Friday, 1 November 2013

Aubade Le Parfum, all knickers, no fur coat

It's been a while since I have spent hours in a meeting room with disgruntled clients who didn't like the latest ad we created for them, but in  those days everyone talked about diversification. If, as in my case, the client was a major tobacco company, they talked about it rather a lot, because they knew what was coming for them and it didn't look good. So tobacco companies became travel agents, fashion outlets and sponsors of all kinds of activities that attracted the, ahem, over 18's. For me it always smelled of fear and/or greed. If you're good at what you're doing there isn't much need to spread your resources and claim other fields in which you most probably feel slightly out of your depth. Unless of course you believe that there is a lot of money in it. 

When I saw that French lingerie bran Aubade has just launched a perfume, my first thought was surprise that they hadn't done it before. Everyone and their mother has a perfume out there these days, and the makers of fine dessous are at least already in the luxury and seduction segment. Aubade happens to be a brand I really like so I was interested. The flacon looks good too and one late morning after my French lesson I went to the nearest boutique and tried it. My hopes weren't all that high, but at first sniff I got hit with a nice spicy clove note, and that was unexpected. I took a sample home and tested it last night before I went to bed. I have had better ideas.

That clove note unfortunately vanishes quite quickly and then it's back to the musks and some floral bits, in this case they call them freesias. It's the worst case of washing detergent perfume I have tried for a while. And of course it sticked to my skin like it wanted to eat it. 
Why, oh why do you have to have a perfume in your portfolio, Aubade? Does it really make that much money? And why did you not try to be a bit more daring? The opening had promise......and then you didn't deliver. That's the equivalent of a bra fastener snapping open every 5 minutes or a pair of knickers pinching your lady bits. Women don't want that. Diversification fail. 

 How and where to wear:
I'm really at a loss here, no idea

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Les Grandes Dames

One of the things I was most excited about when I planned this trip to Paris was a visit to Guerlain's boutique on the Champs Elysees.  I had seen the photos and had no difficulty to imagine spending a lot of time there, smelling and trying all of their wonderful creations. I had also set aside a bit of my spending money in order to purchase whatever scent I would fall in love with. So on this wonderful sunny autumn day I stepped out of the Metro and walked along the Champs Elysees, which has lost about 110% of the charm it most probably had before the arrival of the Multinationals. And there it was, the lovely, inspiring, closed due to refurbishment until the end of November Guerlain store:

Yeah, that was a bit shit. 

While I perfectly understand that a grand dame has some work done from time to time I was 
really unhappy with her timing. To overcome that shock I went into the gigantic Sephora next door and sniffed all the Guerlains they had (quite a few, actually). So instead of being surrounded by style and timeless elegance I found myself perched between gift boxes, sweaty teenagers from all over the world and remarkably calm and friendly sales assistants. 

When I came out I was a bit at a loss, but decided to make the best of the lovely day and just walk. A lot. In fact I walked all the way down to Rue Faubourg St. Honore. My new goal was the Hermes store on Rue FStH. I wanted to try Jean Claude Ellena's creations for Hermes and hoped to profit from the brand's well known generosity when it comes to samples. The shop was  busy, but no one was manning the perfume section so I helped myself with the testers. I tried  Iris Ukiyoe, Paprika Brasil, Vetiver Tonka, Rose Ikebana, Poivre Samarcande and Osmanthe Yunnan. The Iris didn't work on me at all and neither did the rose and the Osmanthe. But the more 'manly' ones I really liked a lot, namely the Vetiver and the Poivre. When the SA arrived to offer some help I managed to ask for a sample in proper French and with my biggest smile. It worked. Most chuffed I decided to walk along further and make it the afternoon of the big names. Chanel was next, and although I have already tried all the Exclusives I tried my favourites again : La Pausa (Irises are my new obsession) and the wonderful 31 Rue Cambon which would be my all time favourite perfume ever if it stayed longer than half an hour.  

Then there was the Dior, and although I love some of the men's scents I don't have Dior on my radar much. I had a go at heir newest Exclusive offering , Gris Montaigne. I It's an elegant, understated scent. But it's not a 250 Euro per bottle kind of scent, sorry. 

I know it is impossible to put a realistic price tag on perfumes or any luxury item, because the highest price you can get away with is seems like the right one, but sometimes I just find it all a bit silly.

And last, but not least there is the Jean Patou boutique. They don't have many scents on display, and have to take on the ones which also have been bought by the Watford based owners. There is a new Joy. Joy Forever, and its a  chypre and I think it was nice, but my nose and me were tired by that time. The lovely lady in the shop complemented me on my French which is a total winner for me and my subjonctif meddled up mind, and  I think she was honestly sorry that she had run out of samples for the Forever. Thus ended my big names afternoon. After a disappointing  start it had actually turned into a lovely experience and a good French lesson. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A most pleasant Saturday afternoon

The times when going shopping in Paris was an affordable past time for Brits are long long gone. These days it's not just the exchange rate that's less than brilliant, Paris has just completely and formidably overtaken London in terms of prices. A simple croque monsieur can now send you back 15 Euros, and you still get a funny look when you dare to ask to have ketchup with it. 
My 2 week trip to Paris will therefore cost an arm and a leg and then some, but c'est la vie. Window licking is not a bad past time either and Paris is undoubtedly great for that, because nobody does luxury quite so sophisticated than the French.


In order to get to the perfume places I had on my list I passed so many lovely shoes, bags, paintings, scarves, coats and dresses that I have dressed myself   imaginary five times over. The good thing about being a perfumista rather than a fashionista is that perfume does actually cost roughly the same everywhere and is, at least compared to the latest Maison Martin Margiela coat or Pierre Hardy stiletto, an affordable passion. 
While I'm typing this wafts of perfume are gently floating around me, I have spend 3 hours having fun and not a Euro (on fragrance, coffee and eclairs don't count). 
Today I went to Jovoy, a funny place called Astier de Vilatte and the Serge Lutens boutique in the Palais Royal. 
The three can be easily combined with a stroll along Rue St. Honore and there are worse places to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Jovoy is simply a marvel. A dark walled but still airy interior, lots of space, armchairs for resting and polite and discreet sales assistants who offer coffee and advice, but let you totally in peace if you want to just wander around and sniff. Which is what I did.

My first stop was the selection of MDCI parfums. I sampled them all and my favourite five were: Chypre Palatin (Wow), Vespres Sicilienne, La Belle Helene, Ambre Topkapi and Invasion Barbare. Those 5 will be my choice for the coffret sample set which I hope to order and receive while I'm still here in Paris. 
After that I tried Ramon Monegal Mon Cuir, and Undina was absolutely right to recommend that for my Iris quest. It's wonderful. 
Then I couldn't resist a brand called VanessaTugendhaft. Her perfumes weren't quite so virtuous, and my favourite was Or Jaune, a slightly rosey floral with some spritz to it.
My nose got seriously weak after that and I decided to take a break and come back another day, but before I left the SA recommended Perfume d'Empire's Cuir Ottoman as another leather Iris, and he also mentioned that they will go up in price soon because of a re-design, so PdE fans should stock up. I probably will too, because I tested it on skin and it's a good contender with some powerful sillage and standing. 
Out I went (didn't dare asking for samples, that's the downside of this trying to speak French malarky: it makes me even more clumsy when asking for them. The French word alone is a tongue breaker). Next stop around the corner and approximately 3456 shoe shops later on Rue St. Honore is Astier de Villatte. Apparently it is known. Well, it wasn't to me, and it's the sort of shop that makes me slightly grumpy, so without a perfume agenda I would never have set foot in it. If you are the sort of person who goes on ebay or has a wander around car boot sales and the like, you will have heard of 'shabby chic'. Shabby chic makes me stabby, because its basically just any tat painted with a chalky finish which is then brushed off again to give it a 'distressed' look. Astier sells that. A lot of it. The shop is so distressed it makes me weep. Everything from the floor to the walls, the 'authentic' dirty sink in one corner to the worn out hand knitted lines they use to prevent customers to enter the upper floor is so artfully old and broken that you might think you do your bit for charity when you buy some of their overpriced tat. I was glad that I had left M. at home. He would have hated every crooked inch of it. 
I only came for the perfume. Not their own range, but the Odeur de Saintete fragrances, which I had first seen the day before in another  'cult' shop, Merci in the Marais.
I love everything about this range. The name, the quirky bottles with the rosary type chain and the name of the perfume on a little cloth label. And the scents of course. What smells!
More about those then tomorrow, time is running out.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Cuir de Nacre, Verweile doch...

...Du bist so schoen. 
It's usually not my style to get overly poetic when describing perfumes; I leave the elegies and opulent odes to those better equipped for that sort of thing, but in this case I have to make an exception and use a quote from Goethe's Faust.
"Verweile doch, du bist so schoen.."  (Stay a while, you are so beautiful) is probably the most quoted quote from the most quoted play from the most quoted author in the German language.

Often tragically misquoted, these few words do not describe a romantic encounter with a woman, but Faust's wish to capture the impossible: the fleeting momentBliss, we would probably say these days. I don't want to get too literature lectures here, but it is a defining moment in the play and I have spent many an hour in school debating it. What I find interesting is the connection with perfume and when I tested Cuir de Nacre from Ann Gerard it was the thing that immediately came to my mind, and with some regret. 

My visual interpretation of Cuir de Nacre by Ann Gerard

How can something so beautiful be so eager to disappear? It is the most elegant and soft leathered Iris, much softer than the Cuir d'Iris from PG, and I want to bury my nose in it and cry out:" Verweile doch...!" But no, it won't. Not only does it not stay forever, it doesn't even keep long enough for polite company. The moment of bliss, when you fall in love with a scent is very bittersweet here, because it makes puff and it's gone. I actually thought that something was probably wrong with the sample, or my skin or both, but it seems its fleeting temperament has been noted by other perfume bloggers as well. I'm a tiny bit heartbroken. 

How and where to wear:
High speed dating

Verweile doch image via flickr by silviaN, some rights reserved

Friday, 18 October 2013

It's not just black and white... least not in equal amounts.

It's probably not very difficult to guess who would win in a battle of black vs. white in fragrance names. If you go on basenotes and search for black (in English and French) you get 1054 hits in the product category, whereas white only brings up a meagre 296. 
I just have to look at my admittedly not very big perfume collection (getting there...) to confirm this. Apart from a sample of Lalique's White, I don't own any other scent with this colour in its name, and the only other one I ever tried was White Linen, by Estee Lauder. It smelled exactly like I imagined, of white, innocent bedsheets. Terribly uninteresting but reassuring. Blacks on the other hand I have quite a few as I'm sure so have most perfumistas and my findings (you can probably tell I was a bit bored this afternoon) are not at all unexpected.
But, what about the ever entertaining competition game between the Anglo Saxons and the French?


Black 921 versus Noir 133. That did come as a surprise, at least to me. 
Sorry, the French. 


Man in black beret image via flickr from Bob Jagendorf, some rights reserved

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Parfumerie Générale, Cuir d'Iris

I am on a quest for an Iris based scent. I can't properly explain why, it just felt like the right thing for autumn, although I'm usually not overly fussed by seasonality. In my head I have this idea of a cold and elegant yet powdery scent that encapsulates  the sensual and even more so: sexual beauty of the flowers. I also wanted a perfume that isn't cosy, but makes you feel like you could kiss ass in a boardroom full of self importance and testosterone (not that I have much opportunity to do that, but that's not the point). I'm not sure if I can find what I'm looking for; it might not even exist. And may be when I do find it it will not contain even a hint of iris. But I know that there is good fun to be had in the process and I will have found some interesting fragrances along the way. 
One of the perfumes I've discovered is Cuir d'Iris from niche perfume house Parfumerie Générale. So, Iris covered in leather, how do you smell?

My visual interpretation of Cuir d'Iris, Parfumerie Générale

Rather beautiful. It starts with a  bit of a fanfare, like an overture, setting the musical theme for the rest of the symphony: Iris! Leather! Chocolate! Then comes a very leathery first movement, so leathery in fact that I asked M. if I smell a bit of cow, which he dismissed as a silly idea. And while the leather softens, the iris hovers over it and gets more attention. And with the animal in the background the perfume gets sweeter and melts on my skin like  the most delicious praline. And this, in combination with my earlier cow suggestion brings this association.....

Please don't think I'm making fun of the hard labour of a perfumer. Nothing can be further from the truth,  but once you have an image in your head it's difficult to get rid off.  Fortunately I really love cows.  And chocolate. And this perfume. It's not the type of Iris I was looking for, but it's unusual, it smells delicious, lasts forever and doesn't cost an obscene amount of money. It's a full bottle candidate. Parfumerie Générale have another iris based scent, Iris Oriental  which is also gorgeous, but even further from my very personal Iris fantasy. So I will keep on sniffing and also looking out for the candyperfumeboy's  Iris note special which he has promised to write soon. 

How and where to wear:
If you happen to be on a diet and feel a bit low, this scent will make you feel a lot better, sexy and seductively sweet. 

I'm hoping that the people at Nestle won't sue the live out of me for using the Lila Kuh image, which belongs to them entirely. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Shopping review: Kristal pharmacy, Nunhead

It's not very likely that you have ever heard of Kristal pharmacy in Nunhead. You might also be forgiven for not knowing were Nunhead is. It's a small South East London neighbourhood, just between Peckham, Brockley and East Dulwich. And it's on the up, as they say in estate agent circles. It also happens to be the place where I live. The small high street is home to a slowly changing array of shops; from the strictly useful (dry cleaners, corner shops) and nice to have (florist, hairdresser), to the new and aspirational (bike repairs, musical instrument maker and vintage furniture), the foodie goodies (deli, bakery, butcher, greengrocer), the famous (best fishmonger in South London) all the way to the arty pop up. Throw in a handful of fast food places, a solicitor and  an estate agent and you have all you need at your doorstep. And of course there is a pharmacy. Not just any pharmacy, the NHS takes residence in  Aladdin's cave type of pharmacy. 

Air freshener, Bath oils, Camping accessories, Dior, Egg warmer in the shape of an Easter bunny, Fish food, Guerlain, Halogen bulbs, Incontinence pads, Jazz CDs, Kenzo, Lipsticks, Moth balls, Nurofen, Olive oil, Plastic Buddhas,  Q-Tips, Rice cooker, Superglue, Tomato soup, Umbrellas, Versace, Water feature with blinking lights, Xylophone, YSL, Zorro mask. 

I particularly like the "In loving memory" for Granddad and Grandma items (whatever they are) next to the mummy and the skeleton. 

The place is an amazing treasure trove. I have yet to go in there and ask for something they don't have. Their storage space must be some sort of Tardis like emporium. The best thing is the ever changing, often seasonal shop window and I will put up  more photos when the Halloween deco is out. (Done!) It's also always busy, with people waiting for their subscriptions to be processed and taking the time to stroll around, having a chat...

But of course I wouldn't write about it if there wasn't any relation to perfume. 
Quite surprisingly in such a crammed place, there is a decent wall of fragrances. They have all the big brands, and lots of them, with prices ranging from "Wow, that's cheap" to "good value". It's always a pleasure to go in and check if anything has been newly discounted. There are some dust collectors, big gift sets at the top of the shelf, but this is not a place to shop for vintage, pre-reformulation Caron, people here know their stuff, and it gets bought. I came a few days too late for a 50 ml Mitsouko Edp that was better priced than anything on ebay. 

What places like this make me realise is that perfume is cherished and valued pretty much all over the social spectrum, and that, niche perfumes aside, the lady of leisure with a Bentley driving husband is wearing pretty much the same fragrances as the working class girl with the South London accent. 
So, I'd like to say, do come and visit Nunhead, because it's lovely and all that, but more realistically you will find a similar place just down the road from your home. You have probably never been inside, dismissing it as a place where the blue rinse brigade shops, but give it a try, you might find some treasure. Or just all the things you never knew you needed...

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Testa Maura, Carticasi the Green

Buying perfume samples online makes me feel like a child in a sweet shop. Whenever I'm on a website offering me x amount of samples for a small sum I go a bit nuts. And if they have testing friendly prices, like Bloom, Les Senteurs and Roullierwhite, I'm very happy to indulge in my hobby and include some never heard of scents just for the fun of it.

Testa Maura is a Corsican perfume house and Carticasi is described as: Mastic, galbanum, rose. That's it. Take it or leave it. Completely fulfilling any clichéd image I ever had about Corsica. If you don't like it, f... off. We don't need you or any of your Parisian friends. Don't buy our houses, don't eat our food, stay away from our women (this knowledge is entirely based on Astérix en Corse...)
Unfortunately, I've never been to Corsica. M. has been, and he says it's the most beautiful place in Europe. I'm not disputing that, but I really want to see for myself. A lot of travelling descriptions seem to agree on the particular aroma of the island. Chestnuts, for sure. And this alluring mastic. The resin of the mastic shrub, often used as a spice to flavour Mediterranean sweets, can also be chewed as a gum, the word "masticate" actually derives from the very plant. 
Testa Maura perfumes are labelled as being made of 100% natural ingredients so I assume that the scent is quite a true rendition of the original plant and its resin, but I wouldn't be able to tell for sure before I have been to Corsica and smelled it myself (hint, hint, hint.)

My visual interpretation of Testa Maura, Carticasi

There is a German rhyming song about colours and this line:" Gruen, gruen, gruen sind alle meine Kleider, gruen, gruen, gruen ist alles was ich mag..." sums up this perfume quite nicely. Even if you don't speak any German, I think you get the gist of it. This is a green scent, make no mistake. But what a green! All the greens! From the citrussy yellow to the mossiest dark, and lots and lots in between. A fresh scent with tons of warmth. Does that make any sense? I hope it does. The freshness here is not the Northern European pine tree sort, it evokes the Mediterranean, sun burnt soil and dry, resinous shrubs. There is something raw and untamed about it but it's never harsh. For the rose note you have to wait a while and when it arrives it's faint and a mere hint. Carticasi is a beautiful fragrance but it needs some sun on the skin, so I will come back to it in summer. Or even better, take it with me on a journey to Corsica (hint, hint, hint.) 

How and where to wear:
On a ferry to Corsica, sprayed on hair that gets swept in the warm wind

La Corse image copyright Astérix en Corse by Hachette Livre, Paris