Thursday, 29 April 2010

No Scent Please, We're British

If I may be permitted to resort to generalisations for a moment: the British attitude to perfume never ceases to leave me dismayed and disappointed.

The other day, during my day job, I was chairing a meeting of the sort which I regularly have with my team. As per usual, at the end, when we'd discussed all the main issues, I looked at the faces before me - all of which, I should add, were female - and I said, "Right, that's the main part of the agenda done. Does anyone have any other business?"

As expected, the expressions I received in response were blank.

"Well, I've definitely got a question I've been dying to ask for the last hour," I continued. "Who's wearing the tuberose fragrance?"

The room exploded in a fit of giggles.

When some semblance of self-control was restored, one of my colleagues - who normally wears Eternity - turned to me and said, "Well, I know I'm wearing Lovely."

"Ahh, Sarah Jessica Parker. That's a very interesting scent," I replied, "but it's not a tuberose."

Glances of horrified surprise were aimed in my direction.

"Actually, as it happens," I carried on, "I've read a book about the creation of Lovely. It was really fascinating."

A muttered comment from the other side of the room reached my ears: "Oh my God, how sad is that!"

"Is no-one else going to confess to wearing a perfume?" I asked, grinning broadly at the scandal I'd apparently caused.

"Well..." another bashful voice ventured, "I'm wearing something I found in my daughter's bedroom... but I don't know what it is..."

More giggles, more red-faced shyness, more English mortification. Someone had sprayed themselves with a very elegant tuberose scent, but for some reason, no-one was willing to admit to it, and everyone thought it was utterly hilarious that I'd even raised the subject.

Don't get me wrong: the whole incident was good-natured and amusing... but I wonder how differently it would have played out if it had taken place, say, in France.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

And The First One I Sprayed Was...

Although this blog doesn't have thousands of readers, I flatter myself that perhaps one or two people wander by every now and then to read my ramblings, so I thought I'd take a minute to let you know that my wife and I are now safely home and trying to get back into normal routines. Thanks again to all of you who sent comments and positive thoughts.

I'll try to resume regular blogging duties as soon as possible, but for now let me just say that although I returned to the UK  with a lot less money and many more grey hairs than when I left, I did manage to buy some Bulgarian rose perfume in Bulgaria and some 4711 cologne in Cologne. And when I finally walked into my study - completely exhausted after another manic day of travelling - I went straight to my perfume bottles, sprayed a mist of Habit Rouge around myself and felt the world slot right back into place.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

On The Move...

I've got free wifi for a few minutes, so I just wanted to say that my wife and I are doing ok and using trains to head north-west towards Britain.

Big thanks to all of you who've sent good wishes. I really appreciate it. I haven't currently got the facility to post all your comments on the blog. Will write again when I can.

My little bottle of Antaeus is proving to be a huge comfort!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Glass, Ash & Sand

I guess my refusal to buy some civet-infused oud must have angered the gods, because the volcano in Iceland has meant that my wife and I are now stranded in Istanbul with no clear idea of when we'll be able to return home.

Here's a question for you: which perfume would you use to disperse a volcanic cloud? Would Kouros do the job? Or maybe we should just get Björk to lull the mountain to sleep?

Sending positive thoughts to all the stranded souls scattered across the world...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

All Rosy In Istanbul

Istanbul's Spice Bazaar doesn't offer nearly as many olfactory temptations as the markets in Marrakesh and Tangiers, but I can't deny I've spent a good deal of time sniffing the contents of several oversized glass bottles. As expected, most of them hold oil-based knock-offs of designer scents, with J'Adore and L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme appearing to be the favourites. At the outset, they're certainly accurate enough to bring a sly smile to my lips, but when they shift to their heart and base notes, they lose my interest.

I've been more intrigued by the supposedly pure essential oils, specifically the Turkish rose otto and a couple of varieties of oud (aka agarwood). I'm told they're all genuine and authentic and "approved by the government" etc, all of which may, of course, be true, but the niggling doubts in my mind have so far stopped me from parting with my money.

The cause of the doubts? Well, I've never smelled 'reliably real' Turkish rose before, so I can't determine if the stuff being sold here is what it claims to be. It's certainly got a dirtier aspect to it than the Bulgarian otto - and so it should, according to what I've read - but it also carries a strong whiff of geranium... and as geranium oil is a common ingredient used in the adulteration of rose otto, my alarm bells have started ringing. Then again, rose otto and geranium oil do have a few common constituents, which brings us back full circle and leaves me none the wiser.

The oud is a slightly different story. There's one shop in the Bazaar which sells a thick, dark liquid that, to my nose, has the distinctive woody/petroleum-like, attractive/repellant quality of real Cambodian oud... but it costs 50 UK pounds a gram, a price light years beyond my humble holiday budget. Other shops sell stuff which is suspiciously cheaper and smells pretty convincing when you first sniff it... but apply some to your skin and after a few minutes you detect the unmistakable stink of synthetic civet. Real oud certainly has some qualities that one might call animalic, but I'm fairly sure it shouldn't smell fecal.

Of course, the real irony about all this is that I spent many years living in the Middle East and never really questioned the authenticity of all the different things I happily purchased from the souqs. But maybe when it comes to certain situations, the confidence of the resident is stronger than the curiosity of the visitor. Back then, I could call on the pooled knowledge of the expat community to point me in the direction of a worthwhile buy. Here, I'm a bundle of ignorance.

So there we are: I shall probably return home without any smellies. If I weren't so obviously a tourist, or if I had a stupendously trained rose, or, better yet, if I had an Istanbul-based friend, I might have landed some kind of bargain. But I think I'll save my cash for an extra portion of grilled halva and some more Turkish coffee.

Friday, 9 April 2010

I Need My Hit

Further to my last post, I can't help mentioning that, at the airport, en route to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, I actually sampled some of what's being passed off as YSL's Opium. Words cannot express the shock I experienced.

We all know that many scents undergo less than sympathetic reformulations, but this new beast is a very curious creation indeed. Fortunately, I was able to compare it with the older version and, as far as I could tell, the main alteration has been to flip the background and foreground of the top and mid notes. Opium has always been a spicy, resinous oriental - one of the classics of the genre - but if you examine its heart, you can detect a fair bit of dry, galbanum-like greenery. In the new 'interpretation', the green notes are made more prominent, whilst the familiar headiness isn't allowed to do more than hover in the distance. The result is that the juice that is now being called Opium is a) not Opium and b) borderline repugnant. I almost wished they hadn't bothered to include any of the original notes at all, because what I could smell of them just made the sense of loss more acute.

Unable to believe what my nose was telling me, I rushed across to M7, about whose transformation I'd also heard horror stories. Sure enough, the bold, hairy-chested, fiendishly woody-citrus-animalic opening has vanished and been replaced by something depressingly thin and airy. And if this new juice contains oud, I'm Edmond Roudnitska's uncle! How very, very sad indeed.

I sought consolation in a mightily liberal dose of Chanel's Cuir De Russie... and I drowned my wife in Coromandel, just for good measure.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Somewhere Between Europe And Asia

This blog will be quiet for a little while, because I'll soon be rummaging through the wares on offer at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Wifi permitting, I might upload a few posts about any interesting fragrance finds.

In the meantime - and in keeping with the spirit of the orient - I'd like to take a moment to mourn the passing of YSL's Opium. Apparently the company's purchase by L'Oreal has brought about a change of the bottle and of the legendary formula. One of my strongest childhood memories is of my mum applying a few dabs of the potent stuff whilst sitting in her bedroom in the south of Iran. Sad to think that scent will be gone for good.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Evasion Tactics

As a rule, I'm not a fan of big gatherings. Today was Easter Sunday. The entire clan came over to our place for lunch. Was I a happy bunny? I'll let you do the maths...

Mind you, I am capable of being a semi-genial host, so I hope none of our guests noticed that whilst I was walking around with a plate of salmon pie in one hand and filo tarts in the other, I was desperately willing time to move faster so that my wife and I could get our little haven back to ourselves. I started the day by enoying a few sprays of Dior Homme; it was only much later in the evening that I realised - with a chuckle of Saharan dryness - that a more appropriate choice would have been Guerlain's Vol De Nuit - Evasion. Weird how both fragrances evoke potent images of the sort of cooking one carries out at around Christmas.

Not much else to blog about at the moment, except to say that a) I haven't had a chance to play with the toys that arrived the other day (see previous post) and b) I'm very much looking forward to the end of the week, because we're off to Istanbul for a few days. I wonder if the city's perfume scene will be as interesting as Tangiers'.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Review: Malabah by Penhaligon's (2003)

This isn't quite a scrubber, but it outstays its welcome very quickly and adds fuel to the argument made by several critics that Penhaligon's scents aren't nearly weighty and meaningful enough to justify their high price tags.

The opening is far more fresh than it needs to be: a simple, linear citrus that's so clean, you're bored within seconds. Then the spices start bobbing their heads up and down with a giggly bashfulness that makes you want to slap them across the face and yell at them to stop being so silly. And then things get a little bit floral, a little bit woody, a little bit oriental... and everything cancels out everything else and you're left with the worst sort of English pleasantness: cheap, spineless and yawn-inducing, it tries to please everyone and fails in irritatingly underwhelming fashion. 

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy To Pay

Who would ever have thought I'd be looking forward to paying a custom's charge! I arrived home today to find a slip left by Royal Mail which meant only one thing: my order of goodies from Perfumer's Apprentice has arrived. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait till Saturday to get my paws on it, because of tomorrow's Bank Holiday. And even when I do get to bring it home - after I've paid the UK government for the privilege - I won't be able to do very much with it, because of the aforementioned shortage of bottles, droppers, tester strips etc etc. But I'm not getting too down about that right now because somewhere, in a depot not too far away, is a box with my name on it containing my very first ever supply of aldehydes. And that's a thought that's very, very exciting!


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