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

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Perfumes in the friend zone: Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.15

Do you have a beauty regime? Quite a silly expression, I know. But since I have one, I actually feel better in and with my skin and it shows too. I think. Before I came across Liz Earle's skin care products and her hot cloth cleansing method in particular, I was a complete slattern in terms of make up removal. Not that I used much anyway, but the little I did put on stayed on, over night, clogging up pores, giving me panda eyes and blotchy cheeks. Very bad habit. I have actually forgotten how I came across LE, I guess it must have been Sali Hughes writing about it in the Guardian, but since then I have not not washed off my make up in the evening once. Even when drunk. With one of my online orders I got a sample of her fragrances, Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.15. I sort of dismissed it, thinking that if I had never heard of any of the 14 others before, it was probably OK to give this one a miss too. Fast forward a few months and now seriously back into perfume after a long pause, I one day emptied the washing machine and found the very same little perfume sample vial stuck in the rubber sealant around the door. No idea how it had ended up there, but it must have been through at least one circle in the machine, if not more. 
And this time I did try it. 

My visual interpretation of Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.15

It would be in accordance with my little entry story for the perfume to smell soapy and clean, but that's actually not the case. And of course, the No. 15 in the name doesn't stand for the 15th effort in fragrance making either, but describes its 15 main botanical ingredients.
It's a spicy and fresh start, middle and finish. It stays exactly like is is from the very first sniff. Cinnamon, pink pepper, a bit rose, a bit wood, nicely combined and with some good staying power. I am a big fan of spicy roses so I definitely like this one a lot and it ticks all my boxes but it doesn't manage to wow me. May be it's the linear structure, the complete lack of surprise due its unchanging nature,  but the tiny little bit that makes us falling in love with a perfume is missing. It will stay firmly in the friend zone. Sorry, Liz.

How and where to wear:
A good companion for a great night out, which may or may not include some snogging, just don't forget to take off your make up afterwards!