Friday, 27 August 2010

Who Needs Bleu

My month in Mumbai is well and truly over and I'm back at home, trying to restore my routines. Normal life can't fully recommence just yet, though, because from tomorrow, Maison Persolaise is playing host to a couple of guests for a while. But rest assured that come the first week of September, I'll endeavour to return to regular blogging... and I'm hopeful that one of my first posts will be about a meeting with the creator of some of the most important and well-loved scents of the 20th century!

For today, I'll leave you with this anecdote. After months of anticipation, I finally got a chance to smell Bleu De Chanel today and, like several other people before me, I was deeply, deeply disappointed: it is the absolute essence of generic predictability in a bottle. I may post a detailed review at some point, but I'm not sure I need to bother.

As I was walking around the Cascades mall in Portsmouth, sniffing my arm, not quite able to believe that the house of Chanel had released this insulting Eau De Rien, I walked into my local Lush... and, to cut a long story short, about half an hour later, I walked out with a new fragrance: The Smell Of Freedom, a complex, sophisticated essay on liberation (from which, as it happens, the Chanel team could have learned a thing or two whilst composing the allegedly escapist mood of Bleu). I confess I wasn't overly familiar with the Gorilla Perfume range until today (some of you may remember it from the defunct B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful brand) but I was impressed with its bravery and I think it deserves a post of its own here on before too long. Oh, and I've got a new official Favourite Sales Assistant: Lush's own Ash. If you're ever in the chain's Portsmouth branch, he's your man!


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Blissful Attack

It really is impossible to over-emphasise the prominence and importance of smells in Mumbai. My last post was just a brief, tip-of-the-iceberg sample of the stream of chemicals that constantly enters one's nose in this genuinely sensuous city. I could've mentioned the aroma of jasmine and tuberose coming from the garlands hanging by the florists' stalls, or the salty freshness blowing into Chowpatty Beach, or the dampness of rotting wood in the ramshackle buildings from the 20s and 30s...

If nothing else, all these olfactory encounters make me realise how extremely sanitised our version of reality has become in the western hemisphere. We tend to experience smells on our own terms: we decide when to spray the deodorant or dispense the fabric softener or light the incense stick from the 'ethnic' store. We're very rarely confronted by smells, and when we are, we tend to find the experience unpleasant or downright repellent.

There's no doubt that India's changing at a breathless rate and that it isn't quite the same country I visited 6 years ago. But if there's one quality it appears to have retained it's a sense of being more closely connected to the elements than we are in the west. Fear not: I absolutely don't mean that in a 'pseudy', neo-spiritualist way... although there's plenty of that sort of thing here in the growing number of suspicious, tourist-trap ashrams, but that's another story... No, I mean it in the simplest, most prosaic sense I can imagine: you walk in the city and almost nothing stands between you and the world. You're welcome to see, hear, smell, touch and taste as much as you're able. And that's something that doesn't happen very often when you're a tourist in Europe.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Two-Minute Walk In Mumbai

You stroll past a sugar-cane juice seller and catch a whiff of an incense cone: rich and smoky, a Catholic scent that feels out of place amidst the noise of the streets. You look to your right as you pass a side street and you almost gag as the stench of rotting fruit and stagnant water rises from the collection of rubbish that’s been dropped from the flats above. Next comes the bhel puri wallah, with his bags of chilli powder, coriander chutney and sev. Your nose detects green herbs and peppery spices. Moments later, as you cross the street, you have to hold your breath as a passing bus releases a cloud of petrol fumes right into your face. Then you’re in the midst of stalls selling multi-coloured fabrics and you breathe in the soothing cleanliness of pressed cotton. The humid breeze carries the unmistakable scent of fried onions. Sure enough, a few seconds later, you see a mountain of pakoras, glistening with hot oil. And then, someone opens the door of an attar wallah’s shop and you close your eyes to enjoy the dusty richness of sandalwood, the green smokiness of vetivert and the near-indescribable animalic sledgehammer of oud.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Classic Scents 1990-2010 According To Grain De Musc

If you enjoy lists, you might like to click here to read Grain De Musc's proposal for ten 'classic' perfumes of the last twenty years. Be sure to check out the interesting dicussion in the Comments section too.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Lawn Sipping

I've been in India for almost two weeks and I've got so many perfume-related stories to share, I doubt I'll ever get the time to write them all down, but here's one amusing little incident for you.

I was at a restaurant with Madame Persolaise and I ordered a non-alcoholic cocktail called a Green Envy, purely on the basis that I liked the name. It arrived in due course: a clear, emerald liquid in a tall glass, topped with a slice of lime. I took a sip and somewhere, hidden behind a pleasant citrusy sweetness, was a very familiar flavour. Slightly earthy, slightly woody, I knew that I knew what it was, but each time I thought I was about to pin it down, the sweetness reappeared to conceal it. 'An odd flavour,' I thought to myself, 'almost like... almost like drinking a perfume...'

At the end of the meal, I asked our waiter what was in the drink and everything clicked into place when he said, "Khus syrup." That's exactly what it was: a gentle, clean, transparent vetivert, cunningly hidden in my mocktail. Shame on me for not recognising it!

What's even more interesting is that you can buy the stuff in shops, bottled as a cordial. Perhaps I ought to import it into the UK and give Ribena a run for its money...?


Monday, 2 August 2010

Smelly ABCs

When people are learning a new skill or craft, you quite often hear them complaining about the fact that they're forced to spend hours mastering the basics. Budding pianists can't bear scales. Young poets don't see the point of rhyme schemes. Student teachers don't understand why they have to trawl through heaps of theory. Of course, sooner or later, most of them come to realise that structures and routines - once fully absorbed - have a liberating effect: you are so intimately acquainted with them that you can clearly see the points at which to depart from their boundaries and enter the realms of true innovation and excellence.

It's a shame, therefore, that no-one has yet produced some sort of 'basic perfumery primer'. Of course, several prestigious perfume schools exist around the world, but they conceal their methods beneath miles of secrecy. There are now quite a few interesting and worthwhile books about the profession, but they don't contain many pointers either, especially when it comes to the nitty gritty, nuts and bolts of creating a serious, workable fragrance. Perhaps this is all well and good: maybe it's best that 'non-mainstream' perfumers are forced to develop their talents entirely on their own. But maybe we'd have an even larger number of talented perfumers out there if someone took it upon themselves to push aside the scented veil and write a serious, detailed 'starter text'.


After the above was written, Michael published this post on his Perfume Patter blog, which of course reminded me that Mandy Aftel's Essence And Alchemy is generally considered a good place for an amateur perfumer to start. I have read the book and I must confess that it didn't inspire me in the way I'd hoped, but perhaps a re-read is in order. Andy Tauer claims it had a tremendous influence on him years ago, at a stage in his life when he was just starting out on the journey that would lead to Lonestar Memories and Orange Star... so if it had that kind of effect on him, maybe I need to give it a second chance...



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