Thursday, 26 September 2013

Am I being reasonable?

Winter is coming. Not my favourite time of year, with some exceptions: Ginger bread, stews, soups and other heavy food, Christmas trees and hot baths. I assume I'll find the ginger bread when I go to Lidl this week and the hot baths season has already started. I like all kinds of fragrant oils and bubbly soaps in the bath and Lush does some fun things that are sometimes just the ticket. Many people hate Lush for what they describe as olfactory noise, stinking up shopping malls and high streets. I was always fairly tolerant to the nasal onslaught, but still, the idea of going perfume shopping at Lush never occurred to me. Just too much goes on on there, screaming at your nostrils. Well, you read this book and that blog and live to learn that Lush has a decent perfume range. Opinions about quality differ, but it certainly got me intrigued. The first thing I tried in the shop was called The Voice of Reason. Cool name.

 "It's dedicated to the written word, like, you know, ideas... and that time in Paris when people were sitting in bars and smoking cigarettes." O-tone from the very, very enthusiastic and very, very young shop assistant. I felt positively ancient because I can remember people smoking in bars and used to do that myself, sometimes even in Paris. Philosophy and smoking go well together, visually. And olfactory? An ashtray smell is not everyones cup of tea, but if well done even that can be a vital ingredient to a wonderful perfume. Balance is everything. So, is this Voice of Reason reasonable?

My visual interpretation of The Voice of Reason, Lush

Of course it isn't. Where would be the fun in that. This perfume smells of all things unhealthy. Smoke, cold ashtrays, hot ashtrays, booze in various forms and colours, strong coffee, liquorice, sweat, flesh. Not one for delicate natures. When I open the little bottle (they do a 5 ml version) it actually reeks. But it's totally bewitching at the same time and I want to smell more of it to see what happens. On skin it develops slowly, the smokiness gets softer and drier, and sweeter and gentler notes make themselves heard, but it's still quite a beast of a perfume. I'll use that one sparingly, but it stays close to the skin. Many people will hate it, I think it's great. It's the fragrance version of all things that your parents ever warned you about. I'm soon hitting menopause and still find that cool, so make of that what you will.

Edit: A few days after I wrote this review I got felled by a really bad cold. Not being able to smell anything is quite annoying (and I am bored) so I tried a few perfumes by sniffing at their bottles. VoR is incredible. Not only can I actually smell it through my blocked nose, it feels like it crept out of the bottle like some living creature, a djinny, and it still stays with me after half an hour although I didn't put it anywhere on my skin or clothes. (And no, I don't have a fever.)

How and where to wear:
Well, what can I say? A bar? In Paris? Wearing a black turtleneck? 
Who am I to tell you how to wear your perfume anyway? 

  Beatnik image via flickr from Dunechaser, some rights reserved

Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle, a most elegant cookie

Dries van Noten & Frederic Malle
A designer perfume usually describes a fragrance created for and marketed by a fashion or beauty label. And while fashion and perfume are natural best friends, far more thought and effort seems to go to design the former and not much creativity is then left for the latter. Often the perfume feels like just an afterthought and a nice little money spinner. 
Hence the arrival of the niche perfume, small perfume houses creating nothing but fragrances in collaboration with independent perfumeurs who are given  freedom of creation without having to appeal to the mass market. But nothing is ever black and white. There are fashion label who produce perfumes that could be described niche just for the fact that they are distributed in the genre typical way of relative exclusivity. Maison Martin Margiela, for example. Others, like Etro or Comme de Garcons have enough of an "edgy" image to allow perfume creations that have been quite extraordinary. 
But when a niche perfume house releases a scent named after a fashion designer all these classifications are turned upside down. Or are they? For this perfume Frederic Malle acted as an intermediate between the perfumeur Bruno Jovanovic and the Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten to create a scent that would be his olfactory version of the world of Dries van Noten. The ultimate bespoke perfume. You cannot get more 'niche' then that.

My visual interpretation of Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle

I don't know whether the scent is a true representation of him as a person, I only know his magnificent collections, and as important those might have been for the style of the perfume, I doubt that DvN (the man) can be described by them alone. The first sniff of DvN (the perfume) is a surprise. It has a slight fizz to it, in German I would say:"Es bizzelt." And that brings always brings a smile on my face. And very soon that fades and develops into something incredibly soft and smooth, like custard cream, silky panna cotta and the softest buttery biscuit. This sweetness is again unexpected but very pleasant. There is a lot of sandalwood and patchouli to ground it, and for me it stays elegant throughout. An elegant cookie, who would have thought? I usually don't like gourmand scents too much, but this is different, probably not even a real gourmand, and simply delicious. It's perfectly unisex, but I think the softness/elegant juxtaposition will work to better effect on a man and on the Right one this will be incredibly sexy AND comforting, irresistible AND reliable. Dries van Noten is only the first of a new series of scents dedicated to special people that Frederic Malle will curate over time and I am very curious about who he will pick next.

How and where to wear:
Propose in style

Image of DvN & FM via

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Andrea Maack, Craft

So here I am with my first blog related dilemma. While the discussion is still out whether perfume is an art form on it's own, artists have becoming increasingly interested in using scent as part of their work and vice versa, perfume houses are collaborating with artists from all disciplines to create inspired fragrances. Andrea Maack is an Icelandic artist who started to use perfume in her installations which then became a product in their own right and she launched a niche perfume house "by accident". I like her idea of taking a piece of the artwork from the wall and use it as blotting paper for the fragrance. 
The problem I have is that I would be doing a colour interpretation of a perfume that was created as an olfactory interpretation of an illustration. Having seen the pieces she apparently created for "Craft", I am faced with the fact that my view on this perfume couldn't be more different. I'm not an artist and this is not an art project, but I do feel a bit uneasy about it. In the end I have decided not to show some of her drawings here, but leave the link to the promotion video for reference. Please have a look at her work online. I like her intricate patterns and think they will work well on fabrics which is apparently her next line of work.

But,  as soon as you take them out of their artistic context, these art perfumes are indistinguishable from any other on the market. You can buy them, they get promoted and shown at trade shows, they get reviewed. Andrea Maack wants us to believe that they have "stripped perfume off it's nostalgic feel" and the aim was to have a "futuristic, clean approach"; a simple scent that "does convey a strong message". I know this is just PR, but somehow it grates on me. Many potential customers will try the perfume without having seen any of the art or even heard of the artist and it's the quality of the fragrance that counts then, not a artistic concept which has long become obsolete. If the scent was fantastic I would forgive all that brouhaha, but unfortunately I really don't like it. 

My visual interpretation of Andrea Maack, Craft

It has an interesting start, suggesting a deep dark forest of doom. Grimm's fairy tales in their original, rather adult versions before they got smoothed and made suitable for bedtime stories. The German in me likes that. The smell gradually gets a bit lighter, but the opening in the forest is never full of sun light or pretty ditsy flowers. The lightest colour comes from the fog hovering above the ground. Or is that the steam from the sauna? Because that is really what Craft smells on me after half an hour. And that is not a good association. The original idea was for the perfumes never to be worn, and as part of an installation that's a valid concept. But as soon as you step into the world of commerce that just doesn't work anymore. In the video Andrea Maack says that she just took whatever fragrance was created without any discussion or further participation. So why on Earth should I give this perfume any more thought than she did ? I find it a bit of a shame, to be honest, and a missed opportunity. But may be I'm just a grumpy old cow and not futuristic enough.  

How and where to wear:
On wool scarf when you have a cold

Forest ground image "Sleeping beauty" via flickr, by Frau Boeb, some rights reserved

Monday, 16 September 2013

Shopping review: Liberty, London

So, where do you go for your perfume shopping? Department store, independent boutiques, online or in person? Do you try to get samples before you purchase a full bottle?
I do a mix of everything but some shopping experiences are nicer than others. Therefore, I will describe mine here in a series of posts. I start with my favourite hunting ground for perfume in London: Liberty.

It's difficult not to like the outside of  the shop with it's iconic timber framed front and the often quirky shop windows. It feels totally out of place amongst the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus. But it's not a Disneyland imitation, it's still the right thing, very British, very stylish and very expensive. The scarf hall on the ground floor is a collection of wonderful silky things of nothingness that you can drape yourself in. And the shop assistants not only allow you to do so, they encourage you, knowing that the more you play the more you'll want to buy. So first go and find the perfect scarf and then imagine to spray it (carefully) with your most loved perfume...Yeah, I know, I can't afford them either, but one can dream.
So, away from the silks and to the perfume. Apart from the pop up stalls of various perfume houses, amongst them Byredo and Frederic Malle, there is the main perfume room at the back. Slightly dark with lots of shelves in all the nooks and crannies, it has an intimate feel to it. It doesn't try awfully hard to be hip or boudoir or extravagant and allows the perfumes be the heroes. And I like that. So you start to browse. And you will probably be asked if you need help, but that can take a while. And again, that's something I like. You can spend as much time as you need there. And you can spray and sniff. Whichever bottle you like. The collection is fantastic and much bigger in store than online, so keep that in mind when you plan your shopping. You will find most of the major niche brands, selected designer fragrances and some of the classics. It's great for people watching as well, the last time I went a woman who apparently visited from the Middle East bought three massive Liberty bags full of perfume. The staff must see a lot and are totally unfussed. When it comes to asking for samples, Liberty is a mixed bag. Some shop assistants are more generous than others. It helps if you have a bit of a chat. And also, be persistent in a charming way. Buying a perfume helps of course as well. You will have better luck at the pop up stalls, especially Byredo are usually very helpful. If you like your perfume browsing undisturbed and your collection more on the high end niche side then Liberty is the place in London I would recommend.

Image via

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Parfums de Nicolaï, New York

Cities and perfumes have one thing in common: They sell dreams.
Whether they are mythical or real, cities inspire us, bring out the best and the worst in us, make and break us, and have promised glory  and delivered doom. They evoke strong opinion and fight hard for a place in our hearts. So naming a perfume after a city can be tricky, because so many imaginations are already out there and in general no one will agree with your olfactory version of Paris, Bombay or New York.

And, of course cities change incredibly fast, one just has to look at the rapid transformation of places like Shanghai. When Patricia Nicolaï created New York in 1989 her idea of the city must have been different from the one we have now. Back in the late 80’s New York was still regarded as the true and only melting pot and whether you believed that to be a good or a bad thing depended on your political couleur.

My visual interpretation of New York, Parfums de Nicolaï

The first time I was wearing it it created a veritable rainbow in my mind, and this will be forever the image I'll have when I think of the scent.  PdN N.Y. is indeed a celebration of the melting pot New York, and all the colours of the rainbow come and say Hello while it dries down after a strong citrus beginning. There is orange spice and red flower, green and blue freshness, and most surprisingly, this rather old fashioned poudre, like a Guerlain compact, for which I have chosen the purple. To manage this kaleidoscope without  making a mess is no small feast. It is classified as a masculine scent but I think nowadays it would suit both genders. I’d happily wear it. It doesn’t set my world on fire, but it’s beautifully made, slightly formal and it makes me a bit sentimental. I would certainly like that on a man and so my How and where is more for the boys this time.

How and where to wear:
First date, while the conversation will flow from A to Z and back, so will your perfume

Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York City Subway Map (image:

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Portrait of a Lady, best in Bloom

In my childhood photo album there is a picture showing me all dolled up in a red velvet dress, white knee socks and black patent leather shoes. I have long forgotten who got married that day and made me a flower girl, but the dress and the shoes I remember. Or better, I remember how proud and pretty I felt wearing them. To this day velvet holds an irresistible magical fascination and when I see a velvety item in a shop I will need to touch it. Sometimes also buy it. There are a few velvet things in my wardrobe, but they don't get out much. The little bolero found in a second hand shop in N.Y. 15 years ago is now worn permanently by the vintage mannequin, the Ibiza style dress for which I'm now 20 years too old, the black graduation dress hand made by my Godmother and a few other oddities. They all mean something to me and made me very happy at some time.
So as the soft and shiny texture of velvet, its opulence and figure hugging properties will always seduce me, a perfume that can translate this into scent will have no problem to entrance me. Meet the "Portrait of a Lady" by Edition de Parfums Frederic Malle.

My visual interpretation of Portrait of a Lady by Edition de Parfums Frederic Malle

She is a rose, of course, this Lady. No surprise here. Velvety petals of the darkest red rose, soft, seductive, rich and and proud. But be aware that his is no innocent rose, probably not even a lady.... She has smoke and spice in her, and sparkling wit. I don't know what parfumeur Dominique Ropion's inspiration was, may be the Henry James novel, but I like to think that it was a very special woman and that he wanted to make any woman wearing his perfume feeling beautiful, seductive and ever so slightly dangerous. For the colour interpretation I wanted to show the shiny wafting ripples of the scent and its amazing sillage accompanied by the black resin that gives it its darker side. It doesn't change all that much on me during the dry down, it just gets a bit softer and lasts amazingly long. I think someone should name a rose after it.

How and where to wear:
The Chelsea flower show, grubby Jeans and T-shirt, killer heels, red lipstick

Rose image via flickr by aling_, some rights reserved

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Scentertainment event in East Dulwich

Not a perfume review, but an announcement to an event I am very much looking forward to at the lovely Roullier White perfume shop on Lordship Lane, East Dulwich:

L'Ombre dans L'Eau, substantial south facing garden with mature shrubs

If you ask people who neither know nor care much about perfume to describe a scent you will undoubtedly hear " like a garden." a lot, so I am very reluctant to use this image myself. 

But I will have to, because this is exactly what Dyptique's L'Ombre dans L'Eau reminds me of. Launched in 1983 by the brand that can be described as one of the first niche perfume houses, it's probably their second best known fragrance after the fig based Philosykos. I first came across it during a stroll in the aisles of Space NK and was instantly smitten. It had been in the early days of spring and the weather so abysmal that I had given up on the idea of buying and potting tomato and flower seeds for the garden and wasn't really caring much how the garden would look like in the coming summer. And suddenly I was transported to a garden which I had visited the year before and loved : The garden at the Red House in Bexleyheath, created and owned by William Morris

My visual interpretation of L'Ombre dans L'Eau by Dyptique

The L'Ombre dans L'Eau garden is not the exotic type. There are no orchids, no shangri las, no enchantment, no fairies, no tropical birds. It's a garden where you dig the soil, bury the tulip bulbs, water the tomatoes, prune the hedges, harvest the veggies, dead head the petunias and sit under the apple trees with a book and a glass of wine.
If this doesn't sound appealing then you probably don't have a garden. I do most of these things in my little London back garden, and I love that this fragrance reminds me of them.   
It has leafy, green notes aplenty and there is a good splash of earth as well. And of course it has the roses. What would a garden be without a rose? It's the most intimate and secret of all my perfumes, I love to wear it when no one is around. This is helped by the fact that I own the little roll on perfume oil, there is no spraying and no wafting. I obviously lose the top notes but I don't mind. 
A garden can be home to an astonishing array of colours, but for the postcard of this scent I stick to the greens and some red/pink tones, and the pattern is inspired by William Morris textiles, albeit in a very abstract way. Go visit the Red House in Bexleyheath in late summer, buy a book and sit under the apple trees.

How and where to wear:
First date, the Arts and Craft section in the Victoria and Albert museum, 
Liberty print scarf