Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Felanilla, languid and luxurious

Adding a new perfume bottle to your collection is always exciting, but sometimes there is a level of anxiety involved. Will I still like it? What if it smells suddenly different from the sample (has happended!) Was it really worth the money? 
My Full Bottle wish list is usually quite short and also short lived; scents appear on it for a few weeks or months and then get chucked out and replaced by something else. Apart from the odd "bargain" buy, I can wait pretty long before I make a commitment. Last week, the list had Hasu no Hana (longest ever contender, on there for a year, which is no surprise, given the price tag), Atkinson's Odd Fellow and/or Fashion Decree and Parfumerie Generale's Felanilla on it. Thanks to London's Bloom perfumery and their lovely little Halloween game, Felanilla is off the list and on my shelf now. A 28% discount is not to be sniffed at. But as I said at the beginning, receiving a new bottle can be a bit stressful. It has been a few months since I last smelled it. Will I still love it?

My visual interpretation of Felanilla

Thankfully, I do, although it does smell ever so slightly different from how I remembered it. The animalic aspect is not as pronounced as I had previously thought. Not that it ever was a civet feast, but it had an element of strokeable furryness that I can't find for now. It's still there, I'm sure, I just have to wait. What is unmissable in this creation is a wonderfully softened wood base over which a purple iris and a powdery vanilla hover in a gentle embrace. All the warmth comes from the spicy saffron and the wood (banana, according to the note list). Both the iris and the vanilla feel cool and, at least for the first few hours, "refreshing" on top of it. The iris is the first to exit the party, leaving all the fun to a gloriously dry vanilla that makes me want to bite, not lick my wrists. Because despite me not really spotting the animal, it is most definitely hiding there somewhere. Felanilla is a proper grown up vanilla, not one for the kids. Its uncomplicated and simple structure gives it a natural, barefoot luxury feel that I often associate with easy going tropical holidays. Languid, subtle but deeply erotic.

How and where to wear:
A  daybed on a veranda overlooking the jungle. A knackered old fan is doing its best to cool down the hot and humid air. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Absolue Pour le Soir

Sometimes you don't need many words to describe a perfume. The kinkiest scent around is probably all you need to know about Absolue Pour le Soir by Francis Kurkdijan. Amazing.

My visual interpretation of Absolue Pour le Soir

How and where to wear:
You will be under no doubt once you've tried it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Elegant hippy: Patchouli 24 by Le Labo

Once a hippy, always a hippy? I do have pictures of me wearing purple, hand died dungarees, a Palestine scarf and about 2 dozen badges showing all my caring for the world's problems. I used to burn a lot of incense, drank gallons of vanilla flavoured tea and liked patchouli. Still do. These days my patchouli just has to be a bit more sophisticated. And Le Labo's creation certainly delivers on the sophistication front. 

My visualisation of Patchouli 24 by Le Labo

What I mostly get from this fragrance is a smokiness that manages to be both wet and dry, stays away from the churches AND the BBQs, and is harsh and soft in pretty equal measures. My friend Nick described it once as sexy bacon, and while I agree that there is an edible element to this, for me it's not bacon. I hate the smell of fried bacon! This perfume far more evokes the image of smoked chestnuts. And because there is a strong leather element coming through it feels like holding a bag of hot chestnuts in a leather gloved hand. Not that the perfume actually smells of chestnuts. That's confusing, I know, sorry for free associations running wild. Patchouli 24 pops up on my skin with a surprisingly herbal patchouli note. A very short Bang! From then on the note stays very silently in the back. Leather, resin and burned woods take over. Wet leaves in autumn fires is another image that comes to mind, and right now, with autumn finally in full swing, is a great time to wear this perfume. It has earthiness and elegance in perfect balance, and that is what autumn very much means to me. A time for long walks in the countryside but also the best season for indulging in fashion. I have worn P24 during a 4 hour walk in a damp forest in Kent and it did work splendidly on slightly sweaty skin.  The perfume finally settles in a vanilla, which is a tiny bit too sweet for the entire composition, I find. For once, I had wished for the woods to continue. It has remarkable staying power, over 10 hours on me, which doesn't happen all that often. This will probably smell quite different, but nonetheless most delicious on a man.  

How and where to wear:
Guy Fawkes night, here we come!

P.S. I had my finger on the purchase button for a 15ml bottle of this from the Le Labo website. £37.50 isn't cheap for such a small amount, but at least they do offer bottles under a 100ml..... But, dear LeLabo people, do you think it's clever to add the VAT sneakily at the very end, when all the form filling and credit card numbering is done? It's not

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Whiter than white: Pure eVe by The Different Company

This Pure eVe (pretentious spelling alert!) by The Different Company was originally released as Pure Virgin, a name that probably only Etat libre d'Orange would be able to get away with. They'd make it smell anything but virginal, of course. The Different Company on the other hand, created an extraordinary washing detergent. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. 
Baby powder, whitest musk, a hint of something floral and an almondy aftertaste. This perfume won't allow dirty thoughts, never mind acts but it is certainly very suitable as a cover up. The perfect olfactory camouflage for the urban sinner. Innocence in a bottle. Like most things innocent, it's pretty, but also pretty boring and linear. Purity is an unforgiving concept that doesn't really allow for change and ambiguity. Pure eVe has excellent staying power but whether that's a good or a bad thing is debatable. It is not something I'd like to wear, not even occasionally, but if you like to smell squeaky clean and soft, then this is the scent for you. 

Pure Eve

Going back to the name change I mentioned, I would love to hear the reason. I assume it's something copyright related, but the switch from Virgin to Eve is an interesting one. Isn't Eve the ultimate sinner? The seductress responsible for our rather abrupt dismissal from paradise? May be she should have worn this fragrance...

How and where to wear:
Might come in handy when you're anything But innocent...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Cuir Cannage

I am just back from a holiday in France where the temperamental weather meant that we spent most of our time with eating, drinking and visiting neolithic monuments. Nothing wrong with any of these, of course, but it wasn't quite the summer holiday we had hoped for. Autumn was in the air and that air was strong, as we realised when we attempted to put up a newly bought (and never before tested) sun tent thingy in situ, giving the entire beach a perfect show and testing the strength of our 10 years marriage. But I disgress. 
The lack of hot and sunny weather allowed for more perfume testing than I had originally planned. I am not a fan of wearing perfume on the beach and did therefore bring only a few decants and samples, some of which I then didn't like all that much. This basically left me with a decant of the latest of Dior's  Exclusive Line: Cuir Cannage and I wore it on most days and evenings, until Mael clearly had enough and stated that he was bored by it!

And that came a s a surprise, because Cuir Cannage is not only a very, very pretty perfume, it turned out to be a bit of a shape shifter on me as well. The opening  smelled slightly different on most days, and I can't blame hormones or my nose, Mael recognised that too. Most of the time Cuir Cannage opens with a blast of soft leather, followed by the floral aspect of mostly iris and white flowers. But on other days the floral took over the leather and gave it a run for its money. And on certain mornings I perceived a strange medicinal campherous note. But after these different beginnings, the development of the scent stayed constant. Cuir Cannage is one of those leathers which are so beautiful that you want to stroke them. Figuratively speaking, obviously. But it represents the finest, the shiniest and surprisingly hard wearing leather reserved for the most exquisite gloves. Women's gloves. The floral notes are mostly of the powdery sort, rosy, elegant and quite subtle. The wood comes in form of birch and gives the perfume a strong backbone and acts as the frame to the interwoven accords. Cuir Cannage is a very apt name for this fragrance. The weaving pattern of rattan chairs, named Cannage in French, has become a household design of Dior, used on iconic handbags, jewelry and cosmetic lines. I like to think that it was the pattern itself that inspired the perfumer here. Hard materials made pliable and soft, but hold in a simple structure that gives it strength and beauty. Both ethereal and durable.

My visual for Cuir Cannage by Dior

I used the rattan weave as a starting point for my visual, in combination with a layered purple that can be both feminine and masculine, just like the perfume. Before this holiday I had Cuir Cannage on my ever changing  wish list and I can't really say what has changed, but now I don't feel so sure anymore. It is a lovely perfume, no doubt, but like Mael, I got a bit bored by it. Too pretty for its own good, or too predictable? I don't know. I will give it some time before I empty the last bit of the decant and see what happens then. 

How and where to wear:
I'm not overly seasonal with my perfume wearing, but this is autumn material. Wear it when the coat has to come out for the first time and the gloves go in the handbag, just in case...

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Architects Club

Different cultures have different rules as to what is considered an unsuitable topic for polite conversation around the dinner table. In Germany it's certainly politics, religion and money, in the UK it might be business and sex, I'm really not sure. But I would suggest to add architecture to the list. All art forms can be fascinating and/or devastating discussion topics, but it's architecture that brings out the strongest and often unexpected opinions. Most of my friends are fairly open minded when it comes to modern art or theatre, but throw the Shard or the Walkie Talkie (two new additions to the London skyline) at them and nothing is certain any more. Avid steel and glass defenders sulk stubbornly next to Traditionalists and Brutalism victims will shout down Bauhaus aficionados. People in the UK who yearn for the Good Old Times when buildings were pretty and tasteful, have not only the Prince of Wales, but most of the press on their side. I wonder how it really was in those Good Old Times...? Did Georgian house fronts with their lack of ornamental chichi win public opinion by storm or were they considered plain ugly? And what about Art Deco, the ever popular backdrop to thousands of Hercule Poirot film at first sight?

Carlos Huber, the creator of Arquiste perfumes and an architect himself, used the Art Deco interior of a hotel bar as starting point for his inspiration and brief to his perfumer. As always with his perfumes he tries to capture a very specific moment:

Fumoir at Claridges
"A group of architects gather for cocktails at Mayfair's smartest Art Deco smoking room. As they settle in the warm interior of dark woods, leather and velvet, London's bright young things burst in, frosted martinis in hand, surrounded by a cloud of laughter, white smoke and fine vanilla." 
The first time I smelled The Architects Club, I was in the company of Carlos at Bloom perfumery in London. Things bursting in with frosted Martinis is a pretty accurate description of what hit me: One of the best Gin notes that I've encountered in a perfume. Frozen glass and a bittersweet metallic freshness. Delicious and promising. On my skin the transformation from cold to cosy happens very fast though, almost immediately after the gin comes the smoke, polished wood and the leather. These elements throw a lively party for quite some time, and on different wearing days different notes became more or less dominant while the juniper notes wafted in and out for balance.  I liked it when the tobacco was stronger than the woods, because the latter isn't a favourite of mine and I don't wear those notes well. But overall I am impressed with the development of the scent. It doesn't just represent a bunch of  intense looking men discussing the finer points of modern architecture; enough frivolity and sensuality is thrown in to keep that party interesting. It doesn't really get raunchy or's a rather British affair, I find. Dinner jackets will end up with lipstick on the collar, but it doesn't go any further... 

Every party has to end at some time, and this one does with a sexy, sweaty vanilla note after a few hours. It then also becomes a skin scent, rather fittingly. I enjoyed the ride and the party, The Architects Club is an unusual one, and were it not for that woody middle section I would love it that much more. As it is, I find it more on the masculine side.  Like with all Arquiste fragrances you can let your imagination follow the initial idea but if you're not bothered, the perfume speaks for itself and stays  modern  throughout. 

My visual interpretation of The Architects Club by Arquiste

An opportunity to use an Art Deco theme for the visual was too tempting to let pass, so this one is more on the graphic side and the colour palette follows the muted tones of interiors of the period. 

How and where to wear:
Spray it on your nicest silk scarf and book yourself a table at the Air Street branch of Hawksmoore restaurants in London. Best steaks in town in beautiful Art Deco surroundings. Good martinis and if you must, lobster. 

And just because I can: Here a photo of a vanity table in colonial Art Deco style that would make the most perfect backdrop for a perfume collection and that I dream of ever since I saw it displayed in the luggage arrival hall of Chiang Mai airport. (Yes, weird place, I know)

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Odd Fellow's Bouquet, much better than it sounds

I used to be a smoker and I am sure the habit has done unspeakable things to my sense of smell; just how much it improved after quitting was astonishing. It came therefore as a bit of a surprise when I learnt that many a famous perfumer is happily puffing  away the cigarettes. Very few people in my vicinity still smoke, and those who do have taken to sucking on funky looking plastic sticks that glow in the dark, aka vaping. Before those e-fags, the weaning off method of choice often was pipe smoking. It looked ultimately better than lightening up a rollie, gave you instantaneously an air of sophistication and smelled good. Men who smoked pipes (it was pretty much a male domain) were often in their 40's, with grey strands of hair in their beards, a tumbler of whiskey or brandy in one hand, pipe in the other. Wealthy, classy, cultured...that was more or less the image, the Marlboro man with a university degree, after his mid life crisis and just before the younger, second wife (who will, sooner or later, make him give up the nicotine in any form). I was always quite fond of the typical pipe smoker, not least because I really liked the smell of good, slightly sweet tobacco. Still do, but these days I prefer it to be a perfume note and it's been ages since I last saw someone smoking a pipe.

A few weeks ago I met up with Vanessa of bonkersaboutperfume and after lunch we paid a short visit to Roullier White, which happens to be in my neighbourhood. We sniffed here and  sniffed there, and then Vanessa pointed me towards the Atkinsons line, an old school English brand with an impressive 1799 under their name, reworked&rejuvenated like so many other traditional houses. She had heard good things of the brand and was particularly keen on trying The Odd Fellow's Bouquet, a soft oriental tobacco.

My visual interpretation of The Odd Fellow's Bouquet

A sample went home with me, and I have developed a real liking for the scent. My skin often brings out the sweetness in perfumes, and it does so here as well. The first spritz is a gingery cologne type blast with a woody undertone. Nice, classy and promising. Dressy, M. finds and he is right, this is not a jeans and T-shirt scent. Or, it is, if being under dressed is just right. From then on the smokyness takes over and centre stage. This is the softest, most precious tobacco, the dangerous sort that makes you forget health warnings and doesn't stain your teeth. And it brings with it all the benzoin and the amber, creamy, soft and golden. This scent has absolutely no sharp edge, everything melts and flows and wafts in the most gentle way, like exquisite cognac swirling in a glass, leaving honey coloured tears on the surface. After a few hours the flow and the pulse of the fragrance gets a bit slower, but puffs of sweet benzoin are still coming strong, and even after 6 hours I still get the occasional vanilla tinted incense whiff as a reminder. For an Eau de Toilette this is truly remarkable. But I keep wondering whether it is a men's scent; something that usually doesn't bother me at all. I guess it's the strong image of the pipe smoking gentleman that keeps interfering here, because the perfume itself is perfectly unisex. The name doesn't help though. That's probably my only criticism: The Odd Fellow's Bouquet... Seriously?

How and where to wear:
Nice to play with expectations and miss match this gentle sophistication with whatever feels inappropriate. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gorilla Gallery, or why I smelled a shop dummy's crotch

It's not going to surprise anyone that I enjoy a bit of media cross over. Visual art, cinema, patterns, performance art, design and architecture, food, music... all these things can play a role in perfume, not only as inspirations for their initial creation, but also in the way perfume houses use them as tools to introduce -and teach about- new releases. A bit of pomp and circumstance goes a long way and we all love to be entertained. That this is by no means a one way street was recently demonstrated by the collaboration between Mark Buxton and Wes Anderson for the "Grand Budapest Hotel" movie and the use of perfume for the "Cheapside Hoard" exhibition in the Museum of London. Multi-sensory experiences go a bit deeper...

Curtain up the for the Gorilla perfume gallery, on show in London's Soho in an underground space beneath the city's coolest record shop:

Perfumes put on show via playful and often interactive installations from a garden shed to a disco environment, a corn circle simulated by a sand picture, a wall comic or headless cardboard dummies. While it is certainly possible to just amble about and read the explanations on display, the whole experience is much better if you take the guided tour offered by one of the lovely and enthusiastic staff. Not only will you learn more about the Death, Decay and Renewal idea behind the show and the perfumes, you will definitely sniff more, because he or she will spray the fragrances in the relevant pages of the little comic booklet you get on entrance. 

This is not really meant for in depth perfume testing (the ink of the print has a strong smell itself and after 4 or 5 different scents your booklet will have acquired something of a bouquet...) but to give a first impression. The fragrances can also be smelled directly on installation objects, including the crotch of a shop dummy which is not only a personal first but also pretty weird. Nice perfume though... 

Not all the fragrances were made for production, but will just be there to complement the concept of the show and some are not even meant for using on skin. 

This  is  a not a review post, but my favourites perfumes were Kerbside Violet (clue is in the name), Stayin' Alive, a surprising frankincense and Death &Decay, a powerful lily. Honourable mention to Dear John, a manly but soft cologne.

Altogether a lovely experience. Playful, charming, open to everyone, not taking itself too seriously but meaningful, while showing some impressive perfumery. That it all took place underground came as an added bonus on the hottest day of the year and the booklet with all its accumulated scents made for the most intriguing fan on my 1 1/2 hour unairconditioned bus trip home. 

How and where to go or buy:
The gallery will only be open until the 24th of July and is usually calm during the day, busy in the evenings when there is music, talks and booze. It's on 51 Poland St. in Soho. 
The new scents will be released over the coming months, but can be  bought exclusively either  at the gallery or the new Gorilla perfume shop in Islington. 

P.S. No, I'm not getting paid by them I just really, really  enjoyed myself.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Cologne du Maghreb

I think I mentioned in one of my last posts that I am not looking for refreshment in a perfume, and while that is still the case, I have to agree that a spritz of a well made cologne can be a bit nice indeed. There are a few new and lots of good old candidates on the market, from the cheap and cheerful to the eye-wateringly expensive, but I personally don't see the point in paying a huge amount of money for something that is just a short little pleasure and has to be used in abundance to make an impact. 
Tauer perfumes Cologne du Maghreb is sort of in the middle ground, price wise, and I when I was offered a sample I was very grateful for the opportunity to test it. Andy Tauer created this cologne from all natural ingredients because he believed it didn't need anything else. The result is very much the equivalent of proper home made lemonade: Made of 3 ingredients and a thousand times better than anything you can buy in the supermarket. 
It opens with a wonderful citrus note, not too bitter, not too sweet, not too green, just right and bright and gradually warming on the skin into a more golden orange. There is a hint of what I would clumsily describe as 'dust' which I find unusual and pleasant. Around an hour into wearing a touch of warm, dry wood adds the composition which then stays in a kind of hovering layer just above the skin....and then it's gone. On me, that is. A lot of bloggers describe their ride differently, expressing  great surprise at CdM's longevity. I envy them, because I would very much like it to last longer on me. In all fairness, colognes often require a repeat. And therein lies a certain pleasure. It was the idea of repeating the opening again, and again, and again that finally gave me the inspiration for the visual of Cologne du Maghreb.

Seamless geometric repeat patterns, or Tessellations, are a whole world of wonder. If you've ever looked intensely at intricate patterns and complicated ornaments your eyes got probably lost following the meanderings of eternal ribbons, laces, triangles and interwoven colours. The system behind them is pure geometry and surprisingly easy. (ish) It all starts with a primary cell, the smallest particle of a pattern. This can be a square, a triangle, or, if you are M.C. Escher, pretty much anything. 

The next step is creating a repeatable tile, I used the 4 cells in a pinwheel rotation to form this particular, square tile. Had I chosen a different symmetry, the end result would look very different. In fact, you can create up to 24 different patterns from just 1 primary cell depending how you turn or mirror it. 

Now you can repeat the tile endlessly and you have simple lace pattern. 

For the visualisation of Cologne du Maghreb I chose not to just recreate a vaguely Moroccan inspired pattern, but to capture this rhythm of reapplying CdM by breaking the absolute symmetry of the pattern. You won't be doing a repeat spritz at equally timed intervals, so what will happen on the skin is an overlap of layers at different stages of the scent. The effect can turn a simple structure, may it be olfactory or visual, into a surprisingly complex experience. I certainly enjoyed mine.

My interpretation of Cologne du Maghreb by Andy Tauer

How and where to wear:
A good travel companion, this one. Take it with you when you know that the journey will be long but rewarding.

Monday, 16 June 2014

El Born, it takes all sorts...

Spanish perfume house Carner have dedicated their 5th scent, El Bornto the ueber trendy local borough in Barcelona of the same name. My personal memory of Barcelona is a bit hazy but I certainly wouldn't mind a refresher any time soon, not least because the city has become a bit of a perfume destination. I have tried the whole Carner range before and while I certainly liked them, I found longevity to be a bit of an issue. Considering they are all created around woody notes, I thought they should last longer. But there is a certain aesthetic about their fragrances, a moody, warm and somehow languished sensuality, that appeals to me and I was happy to try their latest creation.

El Born has 2 distinctive phases for me. The first, which I call the wet one, is a strong honey and angelica mix with some added citrus notes. This honey has been made by bees who get stupidly drunk on strong cocktails on a daily basis. Well, the bee equivalent of a cocktail obviously. The sweet/sour/booze mix is interesting, but quite 'in your face' and I sit through this first half hour a bit impatiently because I want the second, dry phase to begin. The one that screams:

My visual interpretation of El Born, by Carner

LIQUORICE ALLSORTS! Because that is what is, in all its delicious glory. The list of notes is long and let's say, colourful, and congratulations to anyone who is able to sniff out half of them, but for me it's all a blend to conjure up the liquorice. If you like your allsorts and your black wheels, this scent will make you very, very happy. Otherwise you might want to stay away. It covers the whole spectrum of the legendary candy, the woody bits, the strange salty sourness you get when you munch on the all black stuff and your teeth get funny, the fruitiness from all pastel coloured ones, and the creamy sweetness from the yellow/brownish bits.  When I was a child, I hated liquorice, but these days it's a flavour I like to find in whiskeys, wines, gins and... perfumes. Alcohol makes a lot of things better.
It has excellent staying power and good projection. Once the dry phase has started it gets gently softer and softer until vanilla replaces the fruity sourness. All in all, a wonderful and sweet-wood fragrance for those who like their Haribo with a shot of spirits. Of course, there was no way I could resist using the marvellous colours of the Liquorice allsorts world for my visual. It might not be exactly what Carner had in mind, but for me it totally works. Also: sorry for headline pun but again, irresistible.

How and where to wear:
A perfect choice for a long night out. I bet it will smell lovely on a hot summers evening in Barcelona, while you desperately wait for the restaurants to open and serve you some food. 
At 10 p.m. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Imaginary Authors, Chapter 1

Backstories for perfumes are sometimes interesting, often ostentatious and nearly always written by some more or less clever PR company. Having worked in advertising myself I usually waver between cynical disbelieve and appreciation when it's really well done. Imaginary Authors is an American perfume house which have apparently found someone to do that job very nicely, and even better, with a fun twist. Not only have they invented a backstory for their scents, they invented the authors as well, complete with his or her biography and a blurb of the novel which inspired the perfume. Pretty meta. On top of the written stories the line has quirky aesthetics, complete with washed out photography and cute illustrations. Despite all the lovingly done visual identity and the well written copy they have not forgotten the most important thing: The fragrances. There are 8 scents available in the UK, I have so far tested 5 and today I want to write about the two I liked the most, The Cobra and the Canary and The Soft Lawn.

The Cobra and the Canary is an orris/leather melange which starts with a citrus note that never entirely leaves the scene, just invites the other components to have a go when it's their time. The leather is somewhere between suede and butch, on my skin that depended on the outside temperature (it's been pretty warm this week in the UK). The usual softness of the orris is flanked with tobacco and dried grass which gives a nice smoky/dry texture. The whole feel of the scent is very summerly, a bit like an On the Road Again version of Cuir Ottoman, and it's pretty damn sexy. Projection was good enough to earn compliments from random people, something that doesn't happen all that often. As I said at the beginning, the freshness stays on until the dry down and TCATC is quite a linear affair, but not by any means simple. Lovely scent, makes me want to meet the young man who will wear this and break my heart. (Entirely imaginary) 

The second fragrance did come as a bit of a surprise: Green perfumes and me, we have a problem. I often find them too harsh, too bitter, too medicinal, and even the harmless refreshing ones or the great classics of the genre do not work for me; and I have really tried. Consequently I am very reluctant to test a perfume called: The Soft Lawn, with the given notes of Linden blossom, Ivy, vetiver, oakmoss, tennis ball and clay court. Hm. Not sure. The tennis ball and the clay are probably just some gimmick, and the rest is green.

My visual interpretation of The Soft Lawn by Imaginary Authors

But, but... what a nice one! It really is super soft this lawn. One on which you can rest your head and aching body and it will give you comfort and peace. The opening is full of Linden blossom, a fresh and yet calming note, and ivy and vetiver following suit to add some weight to all the fluffyness. It stays pretty linear from there on until it disappears on me after about 4 hours. I can't detect any tennis balls, but it's been a while since I smelled one that wasn't drenched in dog drool. The tennis inspiration for this fragrance isn't so much Wimbledon with hints of sweat and glory, but playing a relaxed double with your friends at the end of a glorious British summer day. In your own court, at the back of the garden. If Brideshead Revisited ever needed a perfume, it would be this one. Understated, sophisticated and terribly lovely it soothes and wraps you in soft green blankets. There is a mild melancholy hidden there somewhere (all that ivy gives more shade than light) and may be that is what attracts me to it. I rarely seek refreshment from a perfume, that's what shower gels are for. An all green scent that manages to be soothing rather than refreshing is a rare find and this one goes straight on the full bottle wish list, despite the fact that I do not own a tennis court, a well trimmed hedge and a worn out teddy bear. 

How and where to wear:
Grab a copy of Brideshead, in paper form, not as an e-book, and find yourself a nice spot in a park.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Violent Violets

Ach, violets. Such delicate little things. I always thought it odd that the German word for them, Veilchen,  is also used to describe a black eye. Totally unjustified, misleading and rather lazy. Yeah, they are purple blue and so is that bruise in your face, but still, so many other plants come with that colour and are far better suited for fist fights. Thistles, for example, or even bog standard pansies seem more robust and outgoing than the shrinking violet. For me, a perfume smelling of violets should carry an innocent sweetness around for a little while. I don't mind at all if the fragrance turns into something different, modern or dark after ten minutes, but I do want that intense powdery hit for the briefest of moments.  Otherwise, what's the point? 

So, why has this violet here, the one in that innocuous little glass vial labelled I Profumi di Firenze, Violetta di Bosco, just punched me in the face like some thuggish alpha violet on steroids? You remember these cartoons when someone bends over to smell a flower on a lapel? This. Not nice, not fair, not done. I mean, I understand that perfumers use the violet leaf rather a lot these days, and the word bosco in the name indicates that this could be a rather savage version of the note, so one can say I should have known. May be. But it didn't prepare me for this:

Violetta di Bosco, the visual. 

So much for shrinking.... Poisonous, bitter, wild, out there to eat through my skin layers. It's not a very blue smell either but comes and goes in wafts of ugly and medicinal screeching greens.  It's not entirely impossible that I have a very bad skin/nose day... and I understand the attempt to create a greener, manlier(!) version of a note that is often perceived as cloying and grannyish, but on me these violets from the woods are a complete disaster and I hate them too much for another trial on skin time. One Veilchen is quite enough. 

How and where to wear:
You don't like violets? Why not wear a violet perfume? What could possibly go wrong? 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A strange Virgin and her signature perfume

I cannot remember where and when I first met her, this strange Virgin with child surrounded by angels, but I do come across her in different scenarios, often entirely unexpected. The last time I saw her, as part of an installation on screen and not in person as she had been on loan to Madrid, was at the Dries van Noten Inspirations exhibition in Paris (which I hereby also highly recommend). She has always been a muse to artists and designers  and the late Alexander McQueen used her as an inspiration for his last, unfinished, collection.  It's not surprising, just look at her:

Jean Fouquet, Virgin and child surrounded by angels, around 1452, image via wikipedia

Painted by the French artist Jean Fouquet in the 1450's, it is a piece of art that most people describe as surprisingly modern and of disturbing beauty. Her alien paleness, emphasized by the high hairline, is part of the beauty ideal of the time and even the unnatural breasts, poking out under her armpits like perfectly shaped marble balls, can be seen in many virgin and child paintings. It's the colour and texture composition that I find so striking, and if you will, modern about this Madonna. Her white figure is set against a group of angels in red and blue, arranged in a strange Tessellation style pattern reminding of H.W.Escher. Mastering the art of perspective was still a bit hit and miss in the early Renaissance, but this doesn't look like it was done due to lack of skill, it's a very deliberate effect. Despite them forming a background pattern, the chubby little angels are very three dimensional, especially the red ones.  And, ever so slightly disturbing: they are covered in a glossy texture that is not dissimilar to latex. In contrast to the naughty cherubim the virgin has almost no real texture, Fouquet didn't render her skin very differently from the folds of her cape, making her appear like an alabaster statue in her own painting, highlighting her otherworldly-ness. A lot of the paintings startling allure is probably due to the mixture of realistic (baby Jesus and the virgin's face) and iconic (her figure and costume) elements and it's certainly a great example of a dualism in style in early Northern Renaissance art. Also not untypical for the time, she is depicted as a Queen more than a  mother and art historians are now pretty certain that Fouquet used Agnes Sorel, favourite mistress of King Charles VII of France as his inspiration and model. Being regarded as the most beautiful woman of her time, he certainly did her honour. 

And because I love the painting and the myth that surrounds her I now try to find a perfume that best captures this 15th century virginal pop art queen. My first idea is Alexander McQueen's violet number MyQueen,  for the connection mentioned above. It has the edge I'm looking for and a sharp hairspray weirdness at some point during the wear, but it's altogether a bit too one dimensional. I went back to the Relique d'Amour from Oriza and a few other incense-strong perfumes  to see if that would work for her, but they either lacked the modern/alien aspect I was looking for or were too   masculine. Serge Lutens' La Vierge en Fer, an interesting Lily, is, while certainly more modern, too sweet and innocent. It's interesting how, when searching for a specific scent, the name, the packaging, the whole brand identity suddenly becomes such an integral part of it. This virgin's perfume has to be daring, a bit alien, cold but sensual and definitely modern, futuristic even.  A little bit sweetness is fine and incense and lilies would be perfect. And the brand has to be daring too. Bold. And preferably French. Don't ask me why, it just has. 

Perfume brands don't get much bolder than Etat libre d'Orange, and even their logo goes terribly well with my chosen artwork. But I'm not all that familiar with their scents apart from a few exceptions, and was also in need of some more ideas. It was my perfume friend Nick who helped me out here. I gave him a few hints about the nature of the fragrance I was looking for and he made two suggestions: Comme des Garcons 2011 EdP, to which I will come back later,  and for the land of Orange he named Charogne

Charogne had featured in a "skanky scents" Perfume Lovers London event held by the very same Nick not too long ago, and I remember liking it a lot. On the right side of wearable, with some weird sensual undertones, a bit rubbery. When I test it now in connection with the artwork seeks perfume quest it behaves even better than expected. A strong lily, jasmine accord is combined with a leather/rubber note, incense and a lot of creamy and not overly sweet vanilla. I can for the life of me not see why anyone would find this offensive. It's daring, I admit, but a lot of the provocation comes from the name. And even that doesn't hold when you look into the inspiration for it:

 Beaudelaire's poem Une Charogne 

The perfume evokes the beauty of decay. And when you see flowers in their very last stages before they wilt and wither away completely, you understand the intent. However, as much as I love the perfume - particularly how  the lily is partnered with the rubber  - it's not quite right for the virgin. It embraces and celebrates the cycle of life and death, and in doing so it's all too human and grounded to our bodily ways. 

So I go back to Nick's first choice, the Comme des Garcons 2011. The one in the wonky, melted pear shaped bottle that won't stand up. And at first sniff I know that this is it. This is the scent that the painting should give off, the virgin's signature perfume.
Ingredient lists can be very boring reads, but this one certainly isn't: Industrial glue and brown scotch tape, aldehydes, saffron, styrax, lilac and rubber? I assume there is also a long list of fluffy and nice smelling things which didn't make it into the press material because they are just...well, boring, but there has to be a reason why this actually smells so great. I get a lot of aldehydes and yes, they are paired with an industrial note I can't really identify, but then comes a spicy freshness and the soft lilac. It has all the elements that I wanted for the Virgin, it's sharp, cold, sweet, alien, futuristic, plasticky, intriguing and intoxicating. And, most importantly, it defines beauty  in an unfashionable and unconventional way. 

Where to see:
You can visit The Virgin surrounded by angels at the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp

Monday, 19 May 2014

Springtime in Paris

This spring, time is flying by even quicker than usual. While it definitely feels like it  was just last week that we were visiting Paris, since then we had: celebrated Easter, a visit from the mother in law, a week in Germany, lots of gardening, a countrywalk, the first BBQ of the year and and and.. What I hadn't done so far is writing a post about the trip, so here it is, short and with quite some delay.

Not a bad view to have...

On our first day we headed to

Tiny and design conscious shop, functional, lots of clean white lines doused in pink light. 
You can browse on your own and/or with assistance from the lovely SA. Unsurprisingly they have the whole range and M. and I did a lot of sniffing together. He bought his second Incense series bottle, this time the Zagorsk, and I came home with a Stephen Jones, which hadn't been on the card/list at all, but  felt right at the moment. The fragrance was a great companion for Paris in spring. Green and floral with hint of pollution. M. wears his Zagorsk often and with real gusto. Other than the Avignon which is more of a special occasion scent, this one "makes him feel properly dressed, whatever he is wearing".

French pharmacy window display

We also had a quick look at:
This mallish perfume shop, tucked away in a little side street at the South end of the Marais, has a good selection  including Laboratorio Olfattivo, Amouage, van Euersdorff, David Jorquin, Etat libre, MDCI, Phaedon, Jul&Mad, Kilian, Mark Buxton...
Had I been on my own I could have spent a nice hour in there, but my husbands' love for perfume only goes that far so I sniffed around a bit and promised myself to come back on a later date. Which I then didn't, so this lovely shop has to wait for another Paris visit.

Coffee table

Monday was the day of undisturbed perfume testing, and for this there is no place better in Paris than 

Deep in tourist wonderland that is the Louvre area, this shop is easiest my favourite place in Paris. All the perfumes, comfy sofas, coffee, lovely service, lots of space...if they had free wifi I would probably never leave. This time the shop was very quiet and I got all the help  I wanted. If you want to try the fragrances on your own they won't bother you at all, but you'll get very honest assistance. I had come with a list of things to try, mostly lines that are difficult to find in the UK, like nobile 1942, Mendittorosa and 2 houses new to Jovoy: Volnay and Parfumerie Moderne. 

I had high hopes for Parfumerie Moderne, despite the unimaginative name, but none of the three perfumes left a very lasting impression on me. Cuir X was nice enough, but felt like a mix between Mon Cuir and Cuir Ottoman and I would rate both of those higher. Volnay, on the other hand, had 5 scents on offer in very beautiful cristalle bottles. Yapana, a floriental and Objet Celeste, a chypre, were my favourites and one of them will certainly feature in a review very soon. I also spend lots of time with the nobile 1942 scents and you've already seen my love for that line. On the list was also a Heeley, not exactly difficult to get in London, but while in Paris...It was the L'Amandiere that had caught my attention for it's green almond notes. And worthy of attention it definitely was. On paper quite a head spinner, the almonds are really captured in their green skin phase with just a promise of a sweetness yet to come. Of all the perfumes I had tried, this was the one I wanted to work for me the most and it therefore got a lot of my skin space. The lovely SA offered a sample without me even asking and I have to say, I'm really grateful for that because I had been in spending mood and would have probably made a purchase there and then. Thankfully I didn't. L'Amandiere, despite being an extrait, had the life span of a geriatric gnat on me. Gone in half an hour. 

Jovoy are again doing the 5x5ml sample box which had been such a succsess at the end of last year. This time the selection (available only online) is much smaller, mostly newcomer lines and the decently priced ones like Histoire and Pd'Empire, but it's still a good idea to have a look. Unfortunately their website is a bit wonky and the link they provide doesn't work. It's easier if you do a search for black box on the site. The decants are €6 per 5ml splash bottle plus shipping (free inside France, handy if you have mules or going there for the summer holiday). There is also a so called red box, reserved for more expensive frags but that selection isn't great and at €12 rather overpriced, I find. Why they not just do 1 type of box with different prices per bottle is beyond me...

During my 5 day visit I also managed to go to Colette, De Filles a la Vanille, Marionnaud, Sephora and last but not least, Serge Lutens,  did lots of not perfume related things, ate and drank (mostly) well and had a great time. As one has when in Paris.