Thursday, 17 April 2014

Review: Clinique Wrappings, Oxygen Bottled

Regular readers of Odiferess will already know about my hibernation tendencies, and when I wake up in the Spring, I REALLY wake up. It’s as if the sunbeams, brightness, warmer temperatures and crucially, opportunities to hit the great outdoors, make me see (and smell) everything in technicolour. My mood is elevated, I feel creatively enlivened and I recall that I have a libido. Ultimately – I’m fizzy.

 My happy place, Marsden Moor

During the Odiferess Spring, I need a scent to match my mood. Jour D’Hermes is ideal with it’s bubbling grapefruit and rhubarb vivacity. Les Eaux de Caron Fraiche emits sunny sharp lemons,herbs and moss, my personal fragrant Prozac. But last weekend these scents were temporarily shelved in favour of an enchanting and unexpected birthday present – Clinique’s extraordinarily effervescent ‘Wrappings’.

A vintage advert for Wrappings

Wrappings is a rarity in the UK. It appears in Harrods as a brief Christmas gift set then buggers off into a secret hidey hole for a year. I have no idea why Clinique choose to limit distribution as it is by far the most creatively exciting of their offerings. Also, it really doesn’t suit Christmas, it’s a gambolling spring lamb.

Wrappings smells ‘clean’. Not a scent-sation that I tend to speak of with positivity. Clean implies boring, as if scent is a mere cleanser, a ridder of bodily secretions. It is the olfactory world of white musk and laundry powder. To understand Wrappings’ cleanliness you have to ponder the word clean from a different viewpoint, specifically the cleanliness of the natural world; the smell of mountain air, water in peaty streams, freshly cut grass, wet limestone rock, soil, crushed leaves and oddly – snow.
Olfactory Heaven

There are plentiful woody and green wonders out there (Ormonde Woman being my personal witchy favourite), but I have not smelt anything that additionally smells airy. I am astounded that a scent can invoke the feeling of being cooled by a breeze in the countryside. I can only deduce that it must be due a whopping great dose of aldehydes which offer a peculiarly ‘metallic’ chilly edge to the intensely natural composition. Oxygen bottled.

This week I took a hike into the Yorkshire moorland with my friend Kerry. At the onset of our ascent, we encountered an ancient stone bridge under which a stream flowed, delivering a rapid burst of peat rich water from the hills. It was magnificent. Both in it’s historic spectacle and it’s olfactory sparkle. Cold wet stone is an underutilised note. Comme Des Garcons, this sounds like your type of thing.

The ancient Easter Gate Bridge on Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire

As I stood at the bridge I momentarily thought of Wrappings. If I’d laid underneath motionless in the icy waters and allowed them to wash over me (whilst holding a piece of steel close to my nose), I could recreate the scent in a sort of performance art/extreme spa activity. I didn’t, but I might return when it warms up a bit!

A look at the notes on Fragrantica reveals a fairly accurate readers interpretation of what you can detect, with green notes, cedar and moss sitting at the top of the list. I am surprised that aldehydes and leather feature lower in the list as both have a strident presence. Forget the florals, they are barely discernible apart from an edge of quirky hyacinth which tends to read as more sharply green than floral to me.

Who would I recommend it for?
  • Hikers
  • Naturists (naturalists?) Who are the folk who like being outdoors in the nude?
  • Steel workers
  • People who couldn’t afford to shell out for Andy Tauer’s Noontide Petals but rather liked it
  • People who were eager to smell but ultimately disappointed by Comme Des Garcons ‘Blue’ series
  • Menfolk, it’s a great unisex despite the ‘for women’ tag

I’d like to say thank you to Mags and Mum for finding this magnificent gift, it will be worn with joy. Thank you also for risking the wrath of your husbands whilst ignoring the boarding calls at the airport perfumery!

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: Caron - My Ylang, Summer Bottled

It seems appropriate that as the UK has been bound up in rather melodramatic smog (complete with drizzle) recently that I turned to a delightfully sunny fragrance for escape, Caron’s 2013 release – My Ylang.
Caron’s output is much smaller than that of it’s historic rival – Guerlain. Meaning that a new release is a rare thing of excitement, my sample should have come with one of those greeting cards that plays a tune, in this case, a trumpeted fanfare to announce it’s arrival.
My Ylang fits neatly into the genre of ‘solar floral’, a term which could be interpreted in a number of ways. Elena at Perfume Shrine suggests that molecules called salicylates (which occur naturally in the Ylang Ylang plant) are a vital component of the solar effect:
To the perfume student these molecules present fascinating facets on the path of creation because salicylates encompass complimentary aspects and aid diffusion, making fragrances open up and "expand" in a sunny, exhilarating way. Gardenia, tiaré, and frangipani accords are usually built on salicylates and their summery vibe warms our heart even in winter.” Perfume Shrine
The ultimate sunshine girl, Bardot.

Typically, salicylates have been long used in sunscreen lotion which is probably why we associate perfumes containing these molecules with the joy of the holiday season. Guerlain’s Lys Soleia and Terracotta fragrances, Estee Lauder’s Bronze Goddess and Lancaster’s Sunwater all emit a veritable ‘Thomas Cook’ aroma that remind us of time away from work spent in the throes of heat and decadent leisure. It’s no wonder we love them.
 Ylang Ylang

However, another association occurs for me as there is a definite whiff of Nivea Crème radiating from My Ylang. Nivea was for many years my mum’s choice of skincare meaning that the ‘Nivea note’ signifies love, warmth and protection to me.
This how it wears:
My Ylang opens with a gargantuan burst of citrus and ylang. If you’re curious about what ylang actually smells like, you can take a whiff anywhere that sells essential oils as it is often used in aromatherapy for it’s anti-depressant and sensual properties. Oddly, I really dislike it on it’s own but when mixed with other aromas it becomes a thing of beauty. Mandarin Orange is the only official listed citrus but there is a ‘bells of St. Clements’ effect similar to that found in Jour D’Hermes, but significantly less spiky. A little blackcurrant creeps into the fruit bowl in a very pleasing manner. In recent years this note has been used in abundance, often paired in a sickly gloop of flat sweetness. YSL’s Manifesto and Armani’s Si were responsible for creating ‘blackcurrant haters’ as they introduced to the world their berry puddings, effectively giving us all olfactory diabetes. When blackcurrant is used in collaboration with barely sweetened background (as in My Ylang), it offers us a dazzling edge of greenery and piquancy that ‘lifts’ the composition in a similar fashion to the use of aldehydes. Paired with a trace hint of lily of the valley, you could can sense an atmosphere of nature thriving.
My Ylang is complex, unsurprisingly for Caron who are masters of ‘the journey’ i.e. creating perfumes with a great transformation from start to finish. The different facets of the scent feel almost as if they are moving, dancing about, weaving in and out of our perception. Underpinning the dance lies a grounding base of authentic vanilla that is detectable throughout the journey. It isn’t particularly sweet, simply warm and comforting. Unlike many other solar florals, there are no tropical fruit or coconut elements, which keep it a long way from becoming a genre stereotype.

I’d recommend My Ylang for those who are seeking a cheering lift, an essence of summer and a fragrance that offers a multifaceted ride. It does however retail at a high price. For a less expensive (but not as delightfully complex) alternative, a similar vibe can be found in Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia. Failing that you could root out last summer’s flip flops, download The Isley Brother’s Summer Breeze, sip away at a Pina Colada and hope the weather looks up.

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

From Ambre Sultan to Chanel No. 5, A Curious Journey In Taste

Eight years ago, I lifted a curiously understated rectangular bottle of fragrance to my nose and inhaled. At that moment, my concept of ‘what perfume smells like’ changed forever. It was Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens.

This revelation occurred whilst I was teaching in Dubai. Being so deeply opulent and spicy, I assumed it was an Arabic brand. Not being a certified fume junkie back then, I didn’t buy it, waiting instead until my bottle of Opium ran out to consider a purchase. Of course I did re-visit the store to indulge in it’s heady lure several times. 

From discussion with fellow fumies, it appears that many of us began our journey into niche with this creation. Unsurprising when you consider that the most popular genre amongst contemporary niche fans tends to be orientals.
As my interest developed into a hobby increasingly more compulsive than a serious train spotting habit, I smelt a great many niche perfumes. I developed a distinct personal taste that was dominated by; citrus chypres, intense orientals and outdoorsy feeling woods. A jasminophobe, I was highly unlikely to feel the love for a full on white floral or (gulp) the horror of an old fashioned floral aldehyde.

So, how the hell have I fallen hard for Chanel No. 5?
Whilst having a boozy dinner at my beautiful friend Jo’s house around Christmas time, we delved into her very grown-up stash of fumes. Jo Loves ‘proper perfume’, i.e. the likes of Moschino, 24 Faubourg and Chanel No. 5, that which we associate with drinking champagne in an immaculate dress. Or more relevantly to our friendship, glugging Asda’s Prossecco in tatty clothes. My overriding sensation whilst sampling Jo’s grown up lady scents was a sense of exoticism, they smelt extraordinary, innovative and otherworldly. Odd, because that’s exactly how I felt when I smelt Ambre Sultan.

As I dozed off in her absent son’s big red tractor bed that night, I pondered the curiously soapy whiff radiating from my arm. The Chanel No. 5 was emitting the fizzy sherbet like quality of aldehydes over a complex mélange of sappy woodland greenery and an abstraction of floral delights. It was beautiful. I was astonished.

 Harry, a budding fumie takes a shine to Jo's Rochas Alchemie..

..but decides that Moschino is more pleasing
And so to Ebay. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 Elixir Sensuel was rapidly obtained and a couple of days ago, an EDP of the original arrived courtesy of a kindly regular swopping buddy.

What’s essentially happened is that over the last few years I have smelt so many repetitions on the theme of amber and woody orientals that they have become ‘normal’ and no longer feel unique or ‘niche’. Ambre Sultan has been emulated so many times that Chanel No. 5 feels like a contemporary innovation. The mainstream has (with exception of some truly awful leaden fruitchoulis) become the exotic.
So, you can expect to see some changes at Odiferess this year as I embark on a journey into new genres. This year I will be mostly seeking out notes that I didn’t used to like (yes, I am emitting a vociferous air of jasmine from my wrists today courtesy of No. 5 and enjoying it enormously) and seeing how far my tastes have broadened. I have on my current list of things to review; fruity hedgerow delights from Mark Buxton, Penhaligon’s ‘busty’ Cornubia, Caron’s ‘shining happy people’ scent - My Ylang, Boucheron’s dazzlingly snooty - Place Vendome and Le Labo’s unfeasibly sticky lily- Lys 41.

The result of a google search for 'Woodland Flowers'. This is better than woodland flowers.

I shall be continuing to read the insightful words of some of my favourite blogs written by men who love a lavish bouquet. In particular, The Scented Hound who has a penchant for Caron and The Silver Fox who is as unafraid of a strident white floral.

Disclaimer: Despite my current adoration for No. 5 I reserve the right the state that Brad Pitt looked and sounded like a complete buffoon in the recent fragrance advert which was as humourous as Tom Ford's 'naked female bottom-crack scent smelling strip dispenser' was vile and sexist. I want to hear a secret tape of the associated marketing exec meetings, what were they thinking?!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on matters of taste, has anybody had a drastic shift in recent times?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Oriental Roses: Neela Vermeire - Mohur & Scent On Canvas - Rose Opera

Last spring I wrote about two of my favourite ‘alternative roses’, taking an exceedingly French angle with the exploration of Robert Piguet’s broody masterpiece – Calypso and Parfum D’Empire’s effervescent – Eau Suave. You can read about them by clicking here.
For the rest of the year my nose fatigued of the ongoing replications of current trends, i.e. rose + oud and rose + patchouli, samples of which lay unloved the dusty yawn of my ‘unlikely to review’ box. However, I searched hard for word worthy roses and discovered two with distinct and worldly personalities. Although both classified as unisex, I interpret them as ‘his and hers’ orientals, Rose Opera by Scent on Canvas and Mohur by Neela Vermeire Creations.

The Rose In Victorian Orientalism 
For him:
Men just don’t wear enough roses, and when they do it’s often butched-up with buckets of black pepper or a strident wood. I’m thinking of Cartier’s Declaration D’ Un Soir here which makes me sneeze uncontrollably with watering eyes. Some of the finest roses hail from the beauty counters of the high street, in particular YSL. I would grant a definite second glance to a man striding past me in a cloud of the aldehydic mossy rose - Rive Gauche (women’s version) or in the fizzy, sour, rose-Ribena of (the rather sickly named) In Love Again.
Scent On Canvas present an abstract rose composition that is dominated by a dry spicy saffron note, rendering it sufficiently butch to avoid being perceived as overtly feminine.

A complex composition, Rose Opera rather suits it’s orchestral name. It does that peculiar thing that we associate with Mitsouko in that it’s so well blended that single notes (it’s instruments) do not shout for noisy dominance, in fact some are undetectable amongst the symphonic aroma simply serving a supporting role. A peak at it’s Fragrantica page reveals that many can smell a wild strawberry note. I highly doubt this would be the case if it weren’t previously revealed to be nestling amongst the top. I can’t detect it. Above all else, this is a distinctly arid spiced oriental, rich in saffron, smokey woods and cardamom, where even the suggestion of rose appears in an abstraction. Alike YSL’s eternal spice bomb Opium, it lasts for aeons, unlike Opium, it’s subtle.

Maria Coluccelli's beautiful artwork for the Rose Opera  packaging
Rose Opera fits into the heavily replicated genre of ‘Cod-Arabic Rose’, a bore-fest of Western perfume houses filling everything with oud, naming it something to connote a desert or souk and overpricing it. Except, that this one is not boring. It’s beautiful. Thankfully it’s creator, Jordi Fernadez, avoided the recognizably nose piercing screech of dominant oud and relied on alternative harmonic notes to create a much softer souk-a-delic trip.

'Souk-a-delic', soon to be as frequently mentioned as 'fruitchouli' and 'floriental'

For her:

In opposition to the aridity of Rose Opera, Neela Vermeire’s Mohur is a heady voluptuous juice. Although it shares many notes with the former, it drenches you with the suggestion of rain on petals. Meteorologically, more Indian, which fits rather well with Neela’s heritage and the inspiration behind the range of scents.  I’ve been underwhelmed by recent Duchaufour compositions, but this one feels truly creative, as if he’s felt genuinely inspired by the brief.
Again, describing individual notes in Mohur is a challenge. Although it is noticeably ‘rosy’. This time the concept of rose is less abstract, feeling akin to the milky and almost ‘apple-like’ sensation that occurs when you press your nose into an old fashioned globe shaped shrub rose. My mum grew a ‘Geoff Hamilton’ rose in her previous garden that gave off a scent of such profound beauty that it would necessitate sniffs on an hourly basis. Rather than shrieking ‘rose’ it was creamy, powdery, confectionary and woody, as if it were soaked in Mysore sandalwood. This is how Mohur feels.

The Geoff Hamilton Rose

Mohur was inspired by an olfactory concept of the time of the British Raj in India. An Anglo-Indian atmosphere is conjured here by an impression of Masala chai (tea). We think of tea as a quintessentially English habit, amplified by the idea of the civil servants and gentry who inevitably continued their tea parties and upper class twittery on the croquet lawns and polo fields of their ex-patriot creation. This isn’t an old fashioned British brew up though. It is the exotic cardamom rich delicacy first offered to me by a mini bus driver in Dubai. I admit I gagged at the spiced tea, made bizarrely sweet and lukewarm by the inclusion of Nestle condensed milk, but it grew on me over the following months.

Tea chaps?

So that’s Mohur, a candied and creamed sandalwood rose with an exotic eau de Holland and Barret tea bag appeal. I adore it. I want a full bottle.

Also worth a mention:

La Parfums De Rosine - Rose Kashmirie (smells a little like the scented towels given out at up-market Asian restaurants, but in a beautiful way).

Ormonde Jayne - Ta'if (peppery and woody oriental rose, elegant and sensual)

Neal's Yard - Pure Essence EDP 2, Rose (as natural as a rose can be, affordable and photo-realistic).

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Adventures In Scent At 4160 Tuesdays: Day 2, A Chypre Perfume Making Workshop

 The archetype, Coty's long gone Chypre

I was lucky. Not only had I made it to a scent making day, but I’d made without catching a nose immobilizing cold. February half term is often spent with whatever virus has been troubling the students at my school since Christmas. I work with kids with learning disabilities who aren’t proficient at the ‘hand over mouth during sneeze’ routine.

And so, nose on top form, I joined my fellow (and significantly more sophisticated) students to be taught about the form of chypres by the highly engaging Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays. Our mixed cohort included a keen novice fumie, two long term fumies, an admirable obsessive with a vast collection and myself (insert your assessment of compulsion here).

We began with an introduction to the structure of the chypre. The chypre genre is widely acknowledged to be ‘perfumey perfume’, characterised by a distinctly classic French feel and a slightly snooty dry temperament. I love them, possibly because I’m not snooty. Possessing a more ‘dappy spaniel’ character, I like the fact that a chypre transforms me into a  ‘graceful greyhound’. They are the polar opposite of a warm-hearted oriental or a cheerful fruity floral.

Sarah delves into a vintage Eau Sauvage for our sniffing pleasure

The Queens of the genre could be said to be Guerlain’s Mitsouko and Dior’s Diorella. Both of which Sarah proffered for a sniffing from astoundingly well preserved vintage bottles. As we sat around the grand desk together, we amassed hoards of smelling strips, studiously comparing variations on the theme. With the majority of the examples dating from a time pre- IFRA regulations, we smelt the real thing. My favourite of which was The Edmond Roudnitska creation for Rochas – Mousseline. I’d never heard of it before, but this heart breakingly cool madame was the mossiest thing I’d ever smelt, aside from actual moss, which doesn’t smell of much unless it’s been raining and you have stuck your face to the ground in a wood (I have of course done this, as I imagine have some of you). To add to it’s appeal, it was packaged in a beautifully minimal and art deco reminiscent yellow box. Although it was created later than the deco period (in 1946), it both smelt of and looked like the liberated masculine habits of those women lucky enough to be wealthy and socially mobile in the 1930s. A round of golf chaps?

The marvelous Mousseline

Another Roudnitska marvel was passed around, the citrusy classic Dior masculine – Eau Sauvage. Chypres marketed at men tend to incorporate abundant citrus and herbal notes, making them hugely appealing to my personal taste. I successfully wore Chanel’s Pour Monsieur, another classic citrus chypre with a soapy accord, for some years without growing a moustache or a fondness for football.

After sampling some classic chypres came the table-top scientist part, about which I was wobbly with excitement.  Time to smell some ingredients.

Sarah’s first offer was oakmoss, the ‘bones’ of the chypre, which we smelt at a 20% dilution. It was symphonic. By this, I mean that there was a multitude of sensations to associate with it’s scent. As I look back to my notes, I see that I wrote; multifaceted, woody, earthy, whole. It was utterly whole, indeed I wish I’d have ‘made’ a perfume containing solely oakmoss, such was it’s complexity. I’d imagined it to be an olfactory challenge as natural notes often are (white birch on it’s own can tear my nose to broken pieces) but it wasn’t. It was everything I love about the outdoors bottled, delivered with sensitivity and gentleness.

We went on to sample the other natural chypre bones; patchouli, cistus labdanum and bergamot, each familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in aromatherapy and regularly haunts the isles of Holland and Barret. This was followed by less familiar synthetic smells, a real treat for hardcore fumies; Exaltolide and Fixolide (two musks, the first of which smelt like Body Shop - White Musk), ISO E Super (wood for wizards), Hedione (used to bring radiance to florals and citrus, used heavily in Van Cleef & Arpels – First, smells to me disgustingly like Cystitis salts – Cystopurin-a-go-go), Suederal (a beautiful soft leather) and several others including a peculiar crème brulee plus strawberry note used to great effect in Sarah’s own ‘The Great Randello’. I was most bewitched by two synthetic violet notes – Alpha Ionone and Ionone Beta, the first of which radiated the rubbery tyres and sugar side of violets that was instantly recognisable in BVLGARI Black and Midnight In Paris. The second presented a more woody interpretation.
Brilliant stuff to play with in bottles

The final smell of the morning was Sarah’s curious ‘seaside’ accord, a mixture of Calone (melon/cucumber/water) and Verimoss (moss, akin to seaweed) which smelt unerringly like the beaches of my childhood holidays in North Wales.

Tired noses headed off to a local café for lunchtime resuscitation.

Upon our return we had about four hours in which to become perfumers. You’d think this would be a laughable amount of time in which to create our personal desires but one of the students was markedly thrilled by his creation which he deemed complete in far less time. For me, it was more difficult.

Wrists soaked, I move progressively up my arm for a skin test

Before the day I vowed to keep an open mind about my ingredients, and focus upon the never before smelt synthetics which are really hard to get access to if you’re an amateur enthusiast. The studio at 4160 Tuesdays was chock full of bottles to play with but I found myself drawn back to the leather and violet notes that I sampled in the morning. My initial mixture contained oakmoss, both violets, Exaltolide musk and Suederol (which dominated the blend). This excited me. I planned to later brighten it with citrus in a kind of homage to Cartier’s Eau de Cartier Essence du Bois. The studio however was filled with scent and a ‘used smelling strip mountain’ so upon Sarah’s advice I took it outside to experience it in the open air. It smelt overtly powdery and smothering. A rethink was required.

Whilst I’d been outside Sarah had produced refreshments of delicious blackcurrant and coffee cordial. This aromatic drink spurred me into pursuit of another of my favourite themes – the hedgerow. Sarah talked me through a few relevant ingredients, this time three picturesque natural accords – raspberry leaf absolute (curiously jammy and tart), cassis (astringent green blackcurrant, bordering on cat pee but unfeasibly beautiful) and buchu (a heady and herbal feeling blackcurrant). With just five students, she had plentiful time to assist each of us, helpfully delving into the stash of materials to find potential interpretations of our olfactory ideas.

Notes a-plenty

I combined my berries with small amounts of other naturals (see the photo of recipe), a great mass of oakmoss and ISO E Super. The unscientific measurement is listed on my recipe as ‘shed loads’ of ISO E Super. Roudnitska would have been appalled.

The process of creation involved using tiny drops of our selected notes and building it up judging quantity by nose alone, an intuitive process that required methodical recording and a fair bit of maths. My records were (typically for me) a little slapdash and I found myself losing count. Care is required. As I peruse my notes tonight I can still smell the lovely patches of accidental drips, a souvenir of the day.

My final creation is without doubt, a hedgerow bordering on a forest. Only six days old, it still needs time to continue to mature but I like it. It’s hints at a drier, leafier version of YSL’s In Love Again (although obviously nowhere near as professional). The 4160 Tuesday’s brand is all about conjuring places and memories, olfactory experiences rather than perfumey perfume. With this in mind, I’m pleased that I made something that echoes the character of the brand. I am unlikely to wear my perfume regularly but I am sure that I will lie in bed on drizzly urban nights and let it transport me to the countryside of my youth.

My finished creation, entitled "Could It Be Mossier?"

What I gained from the event was more than just the creation of a bespoke perfume. It was more significantly about the fun and camaraderie of the day. As you’d expect, we fumies talked each other to death and eagerly absorbed Sarah’s chypre education with delight. As a true perfume geek, I already knew a lot about the genre but I learnt a great deal of fresh information, with the exploration of ingredients being of particular interest to me. This combined with the opportunity to smelt unknown pleasures such as the Mousseline and Miss Dior as it was intended to be, was in itself worth the trip to London. Sarah is an enigmatic teacher. Warm, witty and hugely knowledgeable. She manages to pull off a serious olfactory presentation with a friendly informal atmosphere. Instruction is personally tailored and given frequently or you can withdraw into your own world of pipette heaven and suit yourself. It would be unlikely for a newbie to feel out of place.

The day closed with a sprawl on the sofas with lemon cake and champagne. A chance for us to ponder our creations and a much needed rest for our exhausted conks.

Sarah’s perfume making workshops run once a month throughout the year. Upcoming genre themes include such treats as florals, citrus, watercolours (think Jean Claude Ellena for Hermes) ambers and abstracts (the last of which I imagine it will be tres Comme De Garcons). For more information, take a look here:

Thank you Sarah for a truly wonderful couple of days at the perfumery. In suitably Northern style I can only say – It was bloomin brilliant!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Adventures In Scent At 4160 Tuesdays: Day 1, The Magnificent Wall Of Wonders

Last weekend I ventured to London to visit my first real life perfumery, the multi-coloured abode of indie brand 4160 Tuesdays.

I was familiar with 4160 Tuesdays after featuring it’s (more or less) self taught perfumer, Sarah McCartney in a feature exploring the spirit of British perfumery last summer. You can read it by clicking here.

I was primarily visiting to attend a Saturday workshop on the chypre genre, but Sarah kindly allowed me to call in the day prior to have a nosey around with my camera.  I fully intended to shoot a fantastic batch of photos, with my best camera in hand (rather than my ‘travelling light’ camera phone) that would beautifully illustrate the nature of a perfumery - a pictorial treat for my readers. What actually happened was this:

I arrived, we had a fine natter on her mum’s vintage sofa over some top notch coffee, said hello to her assistant Agnieszka who was urgently bottling by hand and then I was let loose upstairs.

I was immediately faced with ‘The Wall of Scent’.

A small section of the wall featuring citrus and Vanilla scents

Imagine that you are faced with EVERY scent that you’ve heard about but never tried, the vintage mythical ‘scent unicorns’ that have long since been discontinued, those which you have curiously stalked on ebay and never quite got round to blind buying, the hoards of rare bottles that you found in a scent shop in Mallorca but couldn’t spend enough time with because your partner had started sighing with boredom half an hour ago, the historical wonders that Turin and Sanchez raved about. It was all there.

The top shelf of the vintage section (there is a huge cabinet full underneath that I forget to photograph in my state of shock, my journalistic abilities having been smacked in the face after confrontation with YSL's In Love Again.

I dumped my camera on the floor and stuck my greedy hands into the vintage section of the wall, in fact a sliding glass windowed cabinet. Had it not slid smoothly I’d likely have smashed it with my bare hands. I lost my ability to speak and made a sort of whispery “unnnhh” as I picked up a perfectly preserved bottle of Givenchy lll. Close by sat a teeny bottle of Schiaparelli’s Shocking “wooah”, Dior’s original Eau Suavage “wow” and Houbigant’s Chantilly “ooohee”. It was difficult to allot a proper sniff at these grand elderly ladies and gentlemen because I was transfixed by what was behind them – very old Guerlain boxes. You’ll recognise the squiggly geometric lines in the picture. But take a closer look and regard the misty blue box, yup, 1930s L’Heure Bleue! You’d imagine that by now it would be reduced to the scent of nail varnish but this Goliath bottle was unsealed by Sarah herself and smelt like L’Heure Bleue on steroids, an enormous wet vat of history, perfectly preserved. Shockingly, her 1930s bottle of Mitsouko EDT smelt almost identical to today’s formulation, who’d have thought it?

Sarah McCartney pictured with her beloved treasure - L' Heure Bleue

Also nestling among the mythical Guerlains was a beautiful blue crystal flacon of Guet Apens, the impossibly rare discontinued chypre that brings unfeasible amounts of moolah on Ebay.

Somewhere around the time that I saw the Guet Apens, I became overwhelmingly hot and had to de-robe. My cardigan and silk scarf were thrown to join my forgotten camera on the floor and a sip of water allowed me to continue.

Atop of the vintage section was a little tray of samples, recognisably 4160 Tuesdays, some with names that I had not heard of. I enquired about ‘A midsummer Night’s Breeze’.

“What’s this Sarah?”

“Oh, it failed IFRA completely. You can have it.”

Stunned and grateful, I took a whiff and pocketed the little bottle of the distinctly ‘breezy’ and outdoorsy scent. My feelings of excitement were more than the fume junkie’s standard “I’ve got perfume, woohoo!”. They were increased by the fact that I had been gifted a unique scent that violated IFRA regulations ‘completely’.  This made me happy.

Although there are many delightful reasons to sign up for a day of making perfume at 4160 Tuesdays, massively violating IFRA is one of the most seductive. As Sarah said, IFRA allow just a minuscule 0.07% concentration of Oakmoss to be included in a scent. This is because 1 to 3% of perfume users develop (get ready to be worried), eeek, a rash! As Oakmoss is the essential base to what we know as a chypre perfume, this restriction is a bore. But if you are making it for your personal use, you can include as much as you damn well like. I discovered that I can apply a whopping 20% concentration of Oakmoss on my skin without it giving me a rash/the plague.
Oakmoss, apparently dangerous enough you a slight rash

After spending around an hour ogling the vintage section of The Wall Of Scent, I pondered how much of the rest of it I wouldn’t experience on that day. There’s simply too much to take in. I estimate that I smelt about 1/8th of the collection. I wasn’t concerned that I’d miss out on smelling plentiful bottles of niche brands, that’s an easily possible activity that you can undertake at Les Senteurs, Bloom and Roullier White. For me, the ‘must smells’ were the recent and ancient popular scents that we simply can’t test anywhere because they are not currently stocked in mainstream department stores or indie shops, such as Laura Biagotti’s Roma or the Lagerfeld Kapsule scents. 

Sarah offers afternoon group sessions to explore The Wall of Scent, priced at £60. This includes your choice of a 30ml bottle of 4160 Tuesday’s scent (worth £40), a guided tour through the various genres and notes, leisurely sniffing and the devoted camaraderie of other obsessive fumies. This is all topped off with a glass of fizz and cakes whilst lounging around on some funky vintage sofas.

Who would I recommend it for?

Newbies can learn a great deal about the history of scent and gain a clear idea of their personal preferences. They’ll get chance to do this in a friendly, relaxed environment without the pressure of sales assistants. Hardcore fumies will get to see and smell some scents that they’ve only heard and read about and may experience dizziness and a sense of euphoria. They’ll probably make an enormous list of things to buy on Ebay. Vintage fans will possibly offer up prayers to the ancient perfume gods and weep quietly into their Liberty print handkerchiefs in admiration.

A report on day 2 of my scent adventure will be posted later this week where I’ll be discussing Saturday’s adventures in creating my own chypre. I apologise for my rubbish photographs, as you can imagine, I was distracted!

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: Jul et Mad - Terrasse a St-Germain, Recollections Of The Scent Of Love

 Jules Bastien-Lepage, Rural Love, 1882

It seems timely that as Valentine’s Day approaches, I contemplate a fragrance inspired by love - Jul et Mad’s Terrasse à St-Germain. The fragrance tells an olfactory story of the moment that the couple behind the brand first encountered each other (no prizes for guessing that it was a breathless moment on a pavement in the Left Bank of Paris). I’ve had my sample for some time now and despite judging it to be one of the most achingly beautiful scents that has found me in the last year, I’ve found it awkward to write about. This is why:

Jul et Mad is a couple. ‘Mad’ is Madalina, a well respected cosmetics and fragrances industry executive. ‘JUL’ is Julien, a scientist and entrepreneur. Both are extremely good looking, well educated, young, internationally travelled and high achieving. Their three perfumes are composed around key moments in their love affair, taking in alluring picturesque locations such as the streets of Paris and New York and a grand palazzo in Venice. They are exceptionally well composed perfumes, inspired by, and this is where it gets difficult – two very fortunate people having a marvelous moment in time.

Julien and Madalina

Take literature and cinema, when has a story line ever been enthralling when it features a romance that appears to be perfect? There needs to be a struggle, some conflict to overcome, a resolution to the conflict and a happy ever after/heartbreaking demise. It helps if our protagonists are wrapped up in mystery and beset by tragedy. If Juliet had moved into Romeo’s place shortly after their besotted first meeting and had a brilliant time living it up around Europe, there wouldn’t be a story. Although I find this couple’s narrative beguiling, I desire to know more.

It brought me to thinking about the scents of my own great romance, which alike that of Romeo and Juliet’s, had a rather tragic ending. I won’t be discussing much of the tragic ending the blogosphere but I will reveal some of the moments of splendor and consider, what did our love smell like?

My ex husband, ‘J’, truly was my partner. If I could summon a definition of love, I would describe it thus ‘a feeling of utter contentment, where there is no sense of a ‘relationship’ to be analysed and pondered, simply a pairing where two people create an adventure and a genuine life’. In this I recall the feeling of ‘being alive’, waking up with an overwhelming sense of optimism and exhilaration. Even if the day ahead would simply consist of a walk along the river park, a marvel at the uniquely fudge coloured potentially hermaphrodite duck, a vinegary wrap of chippy chips and a lazy peruse of the newspapers, with J by my side, this day would still make me feel like The Queen of F***king Everything.

We were young when we met, just 16. I was at art college with his brother, through whom I met J. We first encountered each other on the dance floor of Jenks, a local indie nightclub in Blackpool. Although a vague memory, we danced in a much crazed state to The Fall’s weirdly bendy single ‘Telephone Thing’. Weirdly bendy more or less summed up J. He was a deeply creative and inventive soul with a soaring imagination which gave him both his magnificent sense of wonder and also his debilitating mental health problems. He didn’t think like other people, and for that, he was enchanting.

J had a really strong scent of ‘man’. He didn’t look particularly masculine with his halo of golden brown curls, his pretty ‘cartoon cow’ eyelashes surrounding limpid eyes and a love of vintage girl’s shirts from the 70s which he could pull off with his slender frame and quirky attitude. He must have had really strapping hormones as showers cleaned him but didn’t take away his musk. He had a definite warm and heady personal smell that I can still recall if I try really hard to bring it back.

We lived in a small Victorian mill town in the hills of West Yorkshire named Otley. Looming large behind our house was the Chevin, a grand hill topped with dense pine woods. We played amongst the pines most weeks, they were our ‘set’ had our romance been a stage production. We picnicked atop a bit of ‘sticky out’ cliff and gazed down at what felt like our kingdom. He kissed me in the woods in the manner of Lady’s Chatterley’s gamekeeper and reduced me to terrified giggles whilst tearing after me in the twilight shrieking of the Judderman. Today, so many years later, the smell of pine needles and mossy bark still transports me to place of both elation and melancholy in equal parts.

Our sticky out picnic rock

Our first home was a damp and chilly rented flat above a stinking fish and chip shop. Our back yard wore the sad must of mouldy potatoes. I have never felt happier.

J loved perfume, perhaps as much as me. With York in easy reach by train, many a day was spent rooting through it’s fusty junk shops and ‘high reward’ charity shops. Nowadays they are filled with terrible cheap clothing from Asda and Primark, but years ago they’d yield bountiful treasure in the form of characterful 50s silk scarves and J’s aforementioned beloved flamboyant shirts. York possessed a Crabtree and Evelyn shop that sold divine masculine colognes. J bought West Indian Lime Cologne and the original Sandalwood (oh my that was a thing of beauty).

Sadly, these perfumes later concealed the smell of his ‘breakfast booze’, a regular prop for facing a ‘down-day’ in the horrific grip of bi-polar disorder, that eventually led to our demise.

Gulp.. Back to Terrasse à St-Germain:

What I recall most clearly about the onset of our romance was the extraordinary feeling of optimism. Citrus notes have always uplifted me, which is probably why they feature so prominently in my collection.

Terrasse à St-Germain projects radiant beams of tangerine, grapefruit and rhubarb, a metaphor for the fizzing excitement of the ‘first glance’ at a future beloved. The floral heart reveals a vintage sensation, perhaps invoking memory and sentimentality, after all, shared histories build love and life. In the note descriptor, a ‘blue’ rose is mentioned. I have no idea what a blue rose smells like but I like to think that it hints at melancholy, bringing balance to the euphoric citrus notes. No romance exists without sadness, even within a blissful 70 year long marriage, someone will ultimately die and leave the other bereft. The base combined of sandalwood and Indonesian patchouli is detectable from start to drydown, with the patchouli delivering it’s familiar associations of a damn fine time in the clutches of bohemia. Maybe it speaks of the late nights of excess that decorate the narrative of the commencement of love stories?

It’s virtually impossible to describe the overall effect of this perfume. It’s the blogger’s nemesis, in that it’s seamless. How do you describe the perfection of a marriage of truly harmonious notes? Perhaps that’s why I find it tough to engage with the tale of Madalina and Julien, they too appear to have achieved a perfect harmony.

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Finally, I leave you with a truly magnificent love song, The Birds In Your Garden by Pulp.