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