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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Déjà Vu from Signature Fragrances, and thoughts on tenacity and 'lasting impacts'

As readers may deduce from my recent reaction to Bogue Profumo's MAAI, I have come a long way from the days when only perfumes described as 'wispy', 'delicate' and 'subtle' called my name. I can take the odd heavy hitting diva scent these days - even one with animalic notes of all unlikely things! - and am more open generally to trying scents that would once have been firmly outside my comfort zone. So when I was approached last summer by Signature Fragrances, with an offer to try a couple of their 'extremely pungent' pure parfum strength fragrance oils, I was more intrigued and amused than alarmed, also by the company's tongue in cheek aim of allowing its customers 'to become EXTROVERTED' in the process. I wrote back with my address and in due course received a sample of Déjà Vu and Lola.

I'll be honest, because of the sub-title underneath of 'Fragrance Oils' (italics my own), I initially thought that Lola was 'a house within a house', ie that Signature Fragrances acted as the overarching stable for a number of individual fragrance oil brands. So for a while there I thought that Déjà Vu was actually called 'OVERBEARING DESIRE' and Lola 'MODERN TOUCH'. I have since read reviews by The Chemist in the Bottle and The Smelly Vagabond and put myself straight on this point - the wording doubtless refers to the fact that instead of being a perfume suspended in alcohol, each scent is a blend of multiple fragrance oils.

Now I didn't really care for either I am afraid - Déjà Vu was a big peachy amber number with an oddly plasticky vibe to it - the intense fusion of coconut and a boozy note, maybe? - so it was never going to appeal, sadly. Plus I am not really one for the texture of oils, to be honest, though in fairness it only felt sticky in the moments after application. Lola was quieter, though not especially memorable - I was going to retest it for this post, but I have been ill this week, and in my enfeebled state I am blowed if I can get the top off the vial now! So, sorry about that.

But the perfumes are not the focus of this post - I have encountered some fans on the Net, and they are undoubtedly of a very high quality / concentration, and in attractive, luxe-style packaging. It was just bad luck that I didn't like the ones I was sent. No, it is Signature Fragrances' marketing campaign that is on my mind at the moment...

To go back to the story, I wrote back, thanking Signature Fragrances for the two samples, and explaining that unfortunately they were not my thing. Undeterred by my reaction to these two, the company wrote back: 'If those were not to your fancy, then I'm sure we'll have some that will fascinate you.' I thanked them again, said: 'Very possibly', and we left it at that.

Then in November, the marketing emails - just the generic kind, this time - started coming thick and fast, triggered by the upcoming launch of a new clutch of scents on 25th of that month. 'You are special', read the first. There was talk of their fragrances being brought to the customer 'through tenacious pure oils'. As it turns out the tenacity of the oils was just the start of it.

By 5th December, I was deemed special enough to be addressed as 'Dear Signateer'. Which sounded oddly cultist - certainly not something I was aware of having signed up to.;) On 6th, I received a mailshot about a prize draw. On 18th the whimsical communications stepped up a gear in upper case urgency: 'Hurry! Indulge, Dab and Fascinate.' I was asked whether I had purchased a fragrance yet from their 'array of luscious perfumes crafted to leave you fascinated.' Ha! They were still hell-bent on fascinating me, I could tell, by now in on this running joke. ;)

There followed a bit of a Christmas lull, then on 16th January the marketing wheels cranked into life again. This time the focus turned to the company's sampling programme, on the basis of buy two, get one free, with free shipping worldwide - which was actually a very good deal in itself. Each vial was said to deliver a 'sensational experience that will last for the whole month'. That struck me as not beyond the bounds of possibility, given its pure parfum strength. Prospective purchasers were encouraged to 'select the drop down box to reveal your treasure'. Once again, there seemed to be an assumption on the part of the company that their perfumes would definitely get the thumbs up from the public, whereas people's success rate with any fragrance house is often a lot more patchy than that.

Then I learnt a little more about the owners, Solomon and Yinka, in this piece from the Croydon Guardian: it seems the duo are keen to bring the overt, rather than covert perfume-wearing MO of the Saudis over to Britain.

'The Saudis are very mature in their wearing of perfumes, the fragrances they wear are not in the range of Eau de Toilette. It's all about oils and robust fragrances crafted to leave lasting and iconic impacts.'

Okay, I think there may be a bit of a backlash in the market at the moment away from wimpy perfumes - hey, I am that soldier! - so the owners could well have their finger on the pulse in that regard. That said, I don't buy into the slight implication?? that the more pungent and robust the fragrance, the more 'grown up' / 'proper' the wearer. That's like saying that people who get up early in the morning are morally superior. ;) It's a little off-topic, but there was a great article on this very theme in the New Yorker.

Source: marketing email from SF!

But back to our chronology...Also on 16th January I had another email, this time featuring a quote from Armani; 'Elegance is not about being noticed, it's about being remembered.' On 20th, I had the same one again. On 23rd, 26th and 29th I had the one about the sampling service for £4.95 a pop. On 1st February I had an email offering 40% off the range, addressing me as 'Dear Signateer' again, and entitled 'I'll buy if the price is right.' Oooh no, I won't buy if I don't like or don't know something! The email had the strapline: 'Explore the diversity and united of scent', with a little 'TM' trademark sign over it, which was puzzling. Then on 5th February I received the 'elegance' email again, and on the same day, the one about the 40% discount. On 12th - and staying with our theme of exploration (a pre-Valentine's pitch no doubt) - an email landed entitled 'Explore, then treat her.' Forgive me, but that sounded slightly rude to my ear... ;) It went on: 'There is still time, fascinate someone!' It's the fascinating imperative again! They are wags, I thought. ;)

On 13th, I was urged to 'make someone happy' with a 10% discount. Ah, but the 40% one from earlier this month would make them happier? Also on 13th, I got the 'Explore, then treat her' email, which raised another guilty chuckle. On 16th I noticed that the sampling programme had been given a fillip by the renaming of the vials as 'little teasers'. Then the email of the 17th was a repeat of the one from the 13th - this time blending the 'Explore, then treat her' with the 10% discount. Also on 17th, I received another 'ENJOY OUR LITTLE TEASERS' email about the sampling service, along with the rather endearing slogan: 'When you're feeling sad, dab some perfume.' On 19th, I was invited to 'celebrate Great Britain in scent from the defining point of modern Britain'. On 24th I got the teaser email again, with the sad dabbing advice, which I judged sweet and poignant enough to bear a little bit of repetition! On 26th I got an oddly entitled email, which reminded me of that staccato style of some of the Library of Fragrance labels, which Jim famously dubbed 'a bit shouty'.

'Leave. an Iconic. impact on your. Friends.'

And that's it so far, but it is only 28th of February. To all of this I would say -  not 'Elegance is not about being noticed, it's about being remembered' exactly - but rather that it is about being remembered in a good way. I don't have a problem with pungent perfumes - there may be some really lovely scents in the range (I'm curious about the powdery floral Endure, for example), and the company's sense of humour has raised a few smiles along the way. However, thanks to this avalanche of marketing messages, I fear I just can't summon up the inclination to investigate further. It's the frequency of the emails that bothers me and also the assumption that I will like these perfumes and I will buy them. Yet 26 emails in, a purchase is still not forthcoming, and the messages simply leave a leaden feeling of 'déjà vu'....

I could liken it to the blizzard of pizza leaflets which are put through my door with relentless regularity. I have yet to take up the offers on a single one of them. As takeaway foods go, this Italian staple has now become 'pizza non gratis' as far as I am concerned, and that's even without any of them claiming that their BBQ Meat Feast with Double Pepperoni is 'The Most Pungent Pizza in the World'. ;)

Have you ever felt inundated by marketing communications from a particular perfume house? (I have a feeling Jo Malone might also be quite prolific, for example.)

If so, can you easily shrug it off, or does it affect your perception of / interest in the brand in question?

Props for beautiful, chunky bottles ~ Source: fragrantica


Another email has come in since I wrote this post - possibly not the last... Here is the title:


Hmm, that has something of the ominous quality of 'Read.My.Lips'?

Then the email itself:


Perfume has the power to make you feel unique.  Royalty have always used perfume to adorn themselves and express superiority."

'Superiority'? Another spin on 'maturity' perhaps?

Later we are back on familiar (fascinating ;) ) ground:

"The focus is on the perfume, so one dab will leave you fascinated and yearning for more."

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The trials and travails of committing to a Travalo

This isn't the post I intended to follow the one about Jessica's rose perfume quest, but I sort of fell over this fairly short and snappy - or should that be pumpy! - topic today, and decided to report on it while it was fresh in my mind. The seed for it was sown last night when I did one of those silly Facebook quizzes, in this case about which nationality best fits your personality profile. I got Australian, on account of my allegedly 'relaxed and even temperament'. On a good day, maybe. ;) Though as it happens, I have an Australian mother and the same birthday as Kylie Minogue. Frankly, I'd rather have her bottom and a birthday in March, but there you go.  One of the questions - the precise relevance of which continues to elude me - concerned the way one goes about making decisions. Was this:

- Impulsive and spontaneous
- Methodical and efficient
- Emotional and intuitive
- Delayed and avoided
- Laborious and agonising

(Or 'none of the above'.) Well, ask anyone I know about how I cannot choose a dish in a restaurant, even one I have had before!, without asking at least one, if not several, questions about the menu - see also the notorious Mushrooms on Toast incident in this connection. So obviously I clicked on 'laborious and agonising' - I'm a researcher!, I visited every bathroom showroom in the West Midlands! The act of completing the quiz, while just a bit of nonsense really, made me keenly aware of my tortured decision-making process, which I confronted again today when I decided to open a Christmas present of a twinpack of Travalos and their accompanying case.

What to put in them? Shall I fill one and leave the other for a future acquisition? Shall I leave both for now? Decisions, decisions...

I wandered from room to room, poking around in my boxes of bottles and very large decants that might also warrant siphoning off into this handy travel format. In a past post on Travalos I focused mainly on the mechanics of filling them, with just a brief aside on what scents readers might consider 'Travalo-worthy'. For I had only got as far as filling one at that stage, but have filled a few more since - and today my mind was exercised yet again by this same question.

In the end, after a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I filled the silver one with PHI Rose de Kandahar. After all, if I loved it enough to make it my one new bottle purchase this year, you would reasonably assume I would love it enough to commit some to a Travalo for trips away. And I put the black one back in the cupboard for another occasion...

Then I thought to review my existing collection of Travalos and decide whether I was experiencing any 'filler's remorse'. I don't know how many Travalos you own, but this is likely to be a much easier exercise to conduct than reviewing the wisdom of purchasing your whole bottle collection in the first place!

In my current collection are two atomisers that I was given, one filled with Shalimar Extrait and one with Juniper Sling. So while I can't take myself to task for the fact that those particular perfumes are contained in Travalos, I can decide if I would have kept the contents as they are if it had been up to me. And the answer is YES for the Shalimar and NO for the Juniper Sling.  Hold on, the Shalimar is just a purse spray shaped like a Travalo, of which more anon.

The interloping bullet-style purse spray

And here is my verdict on the rest, for whose act of filling I was responsible (Happy with decision - YES/NO):

Diptyque Volutes edt (black) - YES
L'Erbolario Meharees (red) - YES
Chanel 1932 (gold) - NO (this is elegant, but doesn't move me like the first two)
Ormonde Jayne Tiare (gold) - NO (as above)
L'Agent Provocateur L'Agent (pink) - NO (but I think it looks great in pink!)

I realise that strictly speaking - given the fact that no atomiser can really be reused - you could extend this review to one's whole decant collection, but there is something really special about a Travalo. I could certainly include the bullet shaped purse spray of similar size that looks like a Travalo, but it would have to be pretty high end to count, as this one surely is - costing £8 and up, say. For as I see it, the weightiness of the decision directly correlates with the cost of the atomiser and the fact that it contains so little juice - 4-5ml tops.

Yes, what I take from this exercise is the fact that in order to commit to a Travalo, I have to feel a visceral attachment to the scent, which I suppose is pretty obvious really, but it was interesting to me to nail it.

The remaining empty Travalo and its nifty stripy case

And now I have to ask...

Do you have a collection of Travalos, however small? 

Did you find the decision-making process as to what to put in them difficult? 

Do you regret any of your choices?

Have you ever tried to rinse out a Travalo? ;) (Which is a whole other controversial can of worms...;) )

And here's another thought...the branded Travalos at least, which are the only ones I have experience of, come in a fairly limited range of colours. This means that - given the inadequacies of my nose - if I acquire too many more of the things I may have to resort to labelling, which I am very reluctant to do, as it spoils the sleek look of the burnished metal exterior. So yes, another question would be...

Could you bring yourself to label a Travalo, however tidily?! 

Have you tried any Travalo knock offs, and if so, were they as good?

Saturday, 14 February 2015

'Really rosy yet cosy' perfumes: a 'hybrid' rose scent challenge

Mondo (1993) ~ Source:
So I am writing a post about rose perfumes, and it happens to be Valentine's Day. This being Bonkers, the emphasis is very much on 'happens'. Not because I am at all Bah Humbug about the event - well, leaving aside its most rampantly commercial excesses, that is - but because I am simply not that organised as a rule. Scurries to the archives to see if I have ever blogged on a Valentine's theme before...the answer seems to be twice in five years(!), so it has been a bit patchy, certainly. This post from 2013 still perfectly sums up my view of the day, while this one from 2012 (a day late, admittedly) features Kate Walsh's Boyfriend scent, which just three days later - and rather tellingly, looking back - I reported smashing on the kitchen floor.

But as I say, the Valentine's / rose theme this year is fortuitous; the trigger for this post was rather a request the other day from my friend Jessica:

"Can you recommend some rose perfumes that might suit me (personality-wise)? Roses never used to be my thing (although I did wear 'Paris' and 'Tea Rose' for a while in the early 80s), but I do seem to be drawn to rose-scented things at the moment for some reason."

Now this is interesting, for Jessica recently celebrated a milestone birthday - her diligent wearing of sunscreen down the years means you would never think it, mind - and when I passed that particular milestone I too found myself strongly attracted to rose perfumes... Make of that what you will.


But while I was delighted to note Jessica's budding interest in rose perfumes, my first reaction was: 'Ooh, roses, that's a tricky one.' So I wrote straight back, mumbling some psychobabble about my friend being 'a bit of a dichotomy, personality-wise', to buy myself some time. ;) And because she had found Tauer's PHI Rose de Kandahar too full-on - she sniffed me wearing it at our last meeting - I also asked for some general steers as regards 'fuzziness vs limpidity', 'strong and ballsy versus soft', plus any thoughts on degrees of spice, which features in a lot of my own favourite rose scents.

"I think what I want is something soft and comforting without too many other notes competing with the rose. A little spiciness would be okay, eg cardamom. I want it to wear every day, for myself, rather than to make a statement."

By way of background, Jessica is a singer songwriter and front woman of Would-be-goods (a band name to which I am itching to add a definite article, which I have almost certainly done in the past by mistake!). Regular readers may recall that Would-be-goods have featured in a few of my posts, most recently this one about a gig in London last summer, where I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy my first experience of passive vaping. In person Jessica is warm and demure, with a charming gentility, while the band's music has been characterised as 'classy, elegant pop tunes with a wispy European air' and 'clever, witty and biting lyrics'. Jessica's voice meanwhile is 'a sultry measured tone that sounds both educated and sensuous'.

The Lexington gig last summer

Now I say 'demure', but Jessica is also one of the few people I know who can really rock true red lipstick, and a friend of hers reportedly said she looked 'total badass' (that word again!) when sporting it at the gig in question. So maybe I wasn't far out with my talk of dichotomies...;)

Also worthy of note is the fact that Jessica has distant Indian ancestry and would ideally love the perfume to connect in some way to India - or at least as far as the Middle East if that could possibly be contrived. And she doesn't care for a lot of patchouli, owing to unfortunate hippie associations involving a third party, over the precise specifics of whom I will draw a veil...;).

Having given the matter some thought, and sifted through the best of the 'best of' lists of rose perfumes on the Internet for inspiration, the conundrum I am wrestling with at the heart of Jessica's brief is the fact that in my experience the rose perfumes which are 'all about the rose' - or mostly, say - such as Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare, Lancome Mille et Une Roses, Frederic Malle's Une Rose or Serge Lutens Sa Majeste La Rose, tend not to be what you would call 'soft and comforting'. While the powdery, cosy, contemplative scents like Parfum Sacre or Lush Gorilla Imogen Rose, Ormonde Jayne Ta'if or Rose Kashmirie, NV Mohur etc are more about the softness and do not smell that glaringly of rose - or not on my skin at least. Jessica revisited her sample of Ta'if in fact, and pronounced it to be insufficiently rosy, hehe, giving us a helpful benchmark.


I have discounted all the rose-forward Tauers as well, by analogy with PHI Une Rose de Kandahar, as they are all a similar intensity. Then FM Portrait of a Lady, By Kilian Rose Oud and Amouage Lyric have the requisite Indian / far away feel to them, but are also not overtly rosy enough to my mind. YMMV of course, as might Jessica's indeed, when she catches up with them. And I would say that most of the above perfumes have too many notes competing with the rose, though as long as the latter as very prominent, that aspect may well fall out of the equation.

Next up, I ran the question past Katie Puckrik, who came up with two suggestions: the new scent Spirituelle by Divine (which I have not yet tried) and Rose Splendide by Annick Goutal, which I smelt during my last visit to Fascination Perfumery, but by the looks of things may have muddled up with Rose Absolue in that post. It turns out that Jessica used to own and likes Rose Absolue, but again it lacks the cosy aspect.

Source: fragrantica

We are kind of back to 'spiky vs fluffy' territory, though for spiky substitute 'realistic'. And here we are of course trying to combine both facets in one, as well as incorporating Eastern influences and possibly a slight 'badass' undercurrent for good - as in bad! - measure. For even though Jessica envisages this as being more of an everyday scent, I think it would be nice if it had a hint of a sultry kick to it somehow.

My own best tips at the moment - which are cosy-ish and 'somewhat, veering to quite markedly' rosy - are Agent Provocateur Original and Tom Ford Cafe Rose. However, I could really use your help on this to generate some more contenders. Is the notion of a rose scent that is 'really rosy yet cosy' too thorny for words, hehe, or is the perfect 'hybrid strain' out there somewhere...? ;)

Oh, and this is not the sort of powdery rose look we are aiming for - that poor specimen is suffering from mildew!

Source: "Podosphaera pannosa 1" by Clemson University (Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, as we are on the theme of Asian-inspired perfumes, I was touched to receive a joky Valentine's gift this year from fellow blogger Sabine of Iridescents, who brought it back from her recent holiday in Thailand. Thanks, Sabine! My only other post today was a £1.50 Tesco coupon, which wouldn't even stretch to the smallest box of Ferrero Rocher...;)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Bonkers is shortlisted for the Jasmine awards!

As my Facebook friends may know already, I heard yesterday that a post from my 2014 archives has been shortlisted in this year's Jasmine awards. Administered by The Fragrance Foundation, 'the Jasmines', as they are colloquially known, are 'the premier awards for journalists writing on the subject of fragrance'. Thanks to a nudge from Tara of OT, I entered the competition this year for the first time, as much as anything to see whether my writing fitted the eligibility criteria in terms of both coverage and style. I was told, for example, that write ups of events are not normally accepted, but the post that got shortlisted is about a focus group down the pub, which perhaps was a sufficiently loose sort of gathering to escape definition as an 'event'. And we were foregathered there with the express intention of testing The Library of Fragrance range of perfumes, so this collective purpose may have redeemed us right there from any 'event-y'-type auspices.

I should mention that I am up against some very distinguished bloggers in this category: past winners Persolaise and Thomas Dunckley, the Candy Perfume Boy, plus Pia Long of Volatile Fiction, who was shortlisted last year. Of note is the fact that Persolaise has three entries in this category alone, while Thomas has no fewer than five spread across four categories.

The full list of shortlisted authors may be found on the Fragrance Foundation website here, including several other well known names on the blogging scene, such as Victoria Frolova (for articles in FT how to spend it in the Digital category), and Liam Moore, Alex Musgrave and Neil Chapman (all writing for ODOU in the Literary category).

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who has been selected and to wish them the best of British! And a big thank you is also due to Jim, David, Clare and Tony, my four focus group respondents, without whom this post would not have been possible. ;) Whatever the outcome, I am as pleased as I am surprised to have even got this far, and am looking forward to the ceremony on 18th March. To minimise travelling on the day, I have organised a B & B a few stops down the Piccadilly line, but I still foresee that my general aversion to morning may be woefully at odds with this breakfast event.

And I note that Sali Hughes, beauty columnist for the Guardian, whose skincare tips I have woven into past posts, and of whom I am not a little in awe, may be attending. Assuming I spot her in the throng, it will be all I can do to restrain myself from buttonholing her and begging her to sort out my eyebrows / hooded eyes / sun spots / turkey neck / everything.

Will be back shortly with a post about the thorny business of finding a very specific style of rose perfume for a friend...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Turning Japanese and a filthy anomaly: Bogue Profumo MAAI review

'On guard!' ~ Source: Wikipedia
It is seven years this week since I was struck down by sudden onset perfume mania, and began tentatively buying samples of designer fragrances on eBay: DKNY Cashmere Mist was amongst my very first purchases, as the name sounded fuzzy and romantic. I quickly formed a preference for light and feminine scents, eschewing - nay, running a mile from! - the few diva perfumes I inadvertently stumbled across. The tuberose fright wig that is Givenchy Amarige was one early traumatic encounter, Caron Narcisse Noir another. I soon developed a twin aversion for bombastic florals and animalic notes. I gave myself the Basenotes handle, 'VM I hate civet', and was known 'on the scene' for my sanitised and lily-livered tastes. The only exception to that was my sneaking - and ongoing - affection for Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles, whose flouncy underskirts were steeped in this unsavoury secretion.

Fast forward seven years and the 'Best of 2014' posts are all in - I didn't compile one myself, for the reasons explained in my New Year stocktaking post. One of the recurring names that lodged in my mind was MAAI by Antonio Gardoni, the founder and perfumer of the Italian house, Bogue Profumo. There was a real buzz around this scent, and arguably it doesn't need any further comment from me, as the reviews are already 3-4 pages deep in Google. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn't have got as far as seeking MAAI out, but Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery kindly offered to send me a sample of MAAI and its predecessor Cologne Reloaded. She has a bottle, and is as taken with it as so many in the blogging community.

Source: Bogue Profumo

I'll be honest, based on my cursory reading of reviews, I was a little apprehensive about trying MAAI, fearing that it would be an animalic horror - I noted that the photos of Antonio Gardoni mostly show him wearing a little (fencing?) mask on a stick. I took this as an omen that protective clothing - over the nose at the very least - might be in order. Looking back, it may have been a reference to the Japanese derivation of the name: MAAI is a martial arts term meaning 'engagement distance' ie the distance between you and the attack surface of your opponent. Hmm, I thought, it all ties in - both the (shouty!) capitalised name of the fragrance and its associated imagery were telling me to approach this one with caution...***

But I needn't have worried. Which is not to say that MAAI is not a challenging, epically singular scent that packs an animalic punch when it gets into its stride, but it was precisely that part that was strangely to my liking. As with Bal a Versailles, MAAI is another bonkers filthy anomaly.

But let me try it yet again and take it from the top. Here are the notes from Luckyscent:

Notes: tuberose, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, civet, castoreum, hyraceum, dried fruits, sandalwood, oakmoss

Source: luckyscent

On first spraying MAAI on skin, I get a jumbled impression of a citrus-herbal - quite masculine leaning - cologne, which gets progressively mossier and sort of dank undergrowth-y over time. There is a pronounced earthy aspect, as in soil, I mean - the 'earthy' / raunchy notes come later! I even thought I detected a fleeting hint of spearmint. Notwithstanding the extensive list of heady florals, I would never call MAAI a floral perfume at this point. There is a cool sensation to the opening, as though a breeze was whipping across a freshly dug grave in a forest glade. In terms of airiness, I was immediately reminded of Le Labo's Ylang 49, albeit that is floral from the off and nowhere near as mossy, though it has oakmoss in it.

And whereas Cologne Reloaded was composed almost entirely from vintage materials - following a tip off, Gardoni acquired a collection of bottles from the 1940s that were gathering dust in an old pharmaceutical laboratory - MAAI is a modern construct, though with a high proportion of natural ingredients. That said, it is a modern spin on an old school genre: the animalic chypre, but one that is way more herbal than you might expect. And as I say, the dirty quality remains firmly of the 'wipe your feet' / 'great outdoors' variety for some time to come...

In an interview with Basenotes, Gardoni explains the starting point for MAAI:

"When I started MAAI I wanted to do an oriental incense perfume with a lot of smoke and sandalwood sawdust; parallel to that I was trying to grow a better relationship between me and what I always considered a difficult flower, tuberose."

Tuberose looking deceptively easy ~ Source: Swaminathan / Wikimedia Commons

Now that is interesting, not only because I also have a tricky relationship with tuberose, but because tuberose can present itself in intriguing, non-obviously floral ways. Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle has that strong camphoraceous note to it, for example, and MAAI's take on tuberose has more in common with that scent than Amarige or Giorgio Beverly Hills, say(!). Tuberose can sometimes just be hunkered down in the background of a composition - more 'badass' than 'big ass' (as with the likes of Giorgio). So yes, the tuberose is certainly playing peek-a-boo at best, but I don't mind that.

And then, 2-3 hours in, a (to my nose) non-specific floral bouquet finally pokes through the damp ground, and it is only now that I actively start to enjoy MAAI. This soon segues into the honeyed, creamy, animalic drydown which is my favourite part of the scent's development. This reminds me of a similar (but briefer) stage in Rozy edp. It is faintly floral but more about the honey and plushly soft filth. Tangy (ylang-ylangy?) and faintly urinous in places, but not objectionably so. Oh MAAI! Whoever would have thought it?! The animalic facet is also evocative of Bal de Versailles, though Bal lacks the juicy, honeyed facet I'd say. The civet in Bal de Versailles is soft and diffuse - and unmistakably fecal, as here - but is more of a bass hum. There are also echoes of retro chypres such as La Perla, Paloma Picasso and L'Arte di Gucci. However, La Perla has more of a plasticky, soapy quality, while the other two are in a deeper register and are heavier hitters generally - the front end of MAAI is cleaner and more breezy than those two, but is murkier and mossier than La Perla.

You can't see my spectacular overbite! ~ Source: wikipedia

Eyeballing the list again, what a veritable menagerie of animalic notes that is! Musky secretions of the civet cat and the badger (castoreum) are teamed with hyraceum, the petrified and rock-like excrement (composed of both urine and feces!) of the Cape Hyrax, a little creature akin to the guinea pig to the untrained eye. Hold the snot and sweat, why don't you? The mucky melange should be way too much, yet I am lapping it up, nasally speaking. I don't think I would wear MAAI in company when it is cycling through its forest floor phase, but I would be curious to get friends' opinion on the deliciously skanky stage - even if it is only to be told to go away.

Oh, and out of curiosity, I used one of those Internet pronunciation apps to see how to pronounce MAAI correctly - with three consecutive vowels it wasn't immediately apparent to me - and the answer is 'Muh-eye'.

***Editor's note: further research has uncovered the fact that that mask on a stick is in fact an ingenious portable aroma diffuser designed to scent whole rooms!

Also, I had quite forgotten that the song that inspired the title of this post is rather fittingly by a band called The Vapors. There is even a bit of light fencing in this video:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Chromatically correct (scented) candles, and a Lidl bit of customer care (Suddenly!)

Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour the candle - aka scenting your house with ambient Keira Knightley

Apologies for the longer than normal hiatus since my hyacinth post - why, that is nearly assonance, though not quite! I managed to climb out of my temporary slough of despond as the month went on - thanks to the encouraging comments from readers, a spot of 'beditation', avoidance of the news, and (latterly) the comforting furry presence of my sometime cat boarder, Speights. He stayed for ten days, and his toy-savaging and other antics are lovingly chronicled on Facebook if you are my friend over there. And now, finally, I have a bit of work at last, which has given me a further fillip, but of course less time for blogging!

I did want to cover a couple of Lidl-related topics in this post, though: the first concerns the Suddenly Madame Glamour scented candle @ £3.99, in an on-message pink colour. For like the Tiny Tears doll of my youth - or rather not of my youth, as my mother wouldn't let me have one, because it was all too anatomically correct - so a pink shade for a candle based on a Coco Mademoiselle perfume dupe is chromatically correct. This candle may have been out for a while, but I only spotted it in the run up to Christmas. Anyway, I had to have a sniff, and it is a very faithful rendition of Coco Mademoiselle, as candles go - a pretty blunt and forgiving medium, admittedly. The scent was not overtly synthetic or over the top, as scented candles can so often be. I have spent hours in the untidy and ransacked aisles of T K Maxx, systematically sniffing every scented candle whose packaging is remotely broachable by the uncommitted customer, and believe me, I have smelt a few frogs in my time. So I would commend the candle to anyone who likes Suddenly Madame Glamour or Coco Mademoiselle and who would be happy to scent their home with even a suggestion of the wispy, wafty, diaphanous Keira.

I didn't buy one, I might add, as I prefer my scented candles to be more meditative and not mere replicas of a perfume that I love. Yes, I have just realised that I never seek out the candle corollary of a perfume I know and rate, but rather other combinations of notes that make for a happy and low key bouquet, invariably along the woody / incensey spectrum - or maybe involving sandalwood. Only ever a hint of vanilla, mind, as it is a slippery slope to the hellish sticky fug of cheap vanilla tea lights.

Yes, it's shaped like a pineapple, but no, it shouldn't be yellow

But more than that, I realised that regardless of how much I liked its scent, I couldn't have a pink candle in the house. Not simply because I don't have a room where baby pink could possibly coordinate with the existing scheme, but because I don't hold with the idea of a coloured candle in the first place. My rummaging in T K Maxx has thrown up the occasional mud-toned candle, and ones in pale teal and - God forbid - purple. They are just wrong on every level. Okay, wrong on the chromatic level for starters - and often the more vivid the hue, the more trashy the scent, though it doesn't always follow, as in our present case indeed. Yes, the default colour for ALL candles, irrespective of scent, is white. I didn't realise I had such strong views on the point, but seeing this pink candle in Lidl focused my mind wonderfully.

I know Christmas is over, but at least it's white

A Lidl bit of customer care (Suddenly!)

The other Lidl-related matter I wanted to mention is my attempt to return a spare bottle of Suddenly Woman 1. Actually both bottles I bought - having fatally succumbed to a BOGOF deal of two for £7 - are superfluous to requirements, but obviously I can't take back the one I opened. I assumed the other one might be a contender for a refund or credit note or something. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the receipt, but given the uniqueness of the product and the fact that I couldn't very well have bought it anywhere else, I thought I was in with a good chance. Well, as long as they didn't think I had stolen it of course.

Intercepting a sales assistant in free circulation in Lidl is a bit like spotting a hoopoe - they do exist, but a fair bit of 'active loitering' is required to hunt one down in their retail habitat. After ten minutes of cruising the aisles, I collared a chap filling the ready meal freezer and explained my predicament. 'Oh, not having the receipt won't be a problem' he reassured me with a smile and outstretched arm, 'take the box and go and see my colleague on Till 2.' So I hotfooted it over to where I was directed, but the check out assistant said tersely: 'Oh, he gave you wrong information - he's new here. You can't have a refund without a receipt unless you contact Customer Services first and get a reference number. The number to call's on the back of the in-store magazine - here.'

So back home I went and rang Customer Services, who firmly told me that I had been given duff gen in store by both SA No 1 and No 2, and that I wasn't entitled to a refund at all, because I had crucially lost the receipt. They said I could write in and dispute the policy if I wished. So I spent an hour crafting a perfect complaint letter, explaining that I understood that because of their low prices, Lidl may not be able to offer as generous / flexible a returns policy as other retailers. Then I based my main argument around the fact that I had been given conflicting - and progressively more discouraging - information by three separate Lidl staff, and that this was tantamount to 'messing with my mind'.

So I had the letter all ready to go on the hall table the next morning, when I received a phone call from the same Customer Services lady, announcing brightly that she was mistaken and that she could give me a reference number and I could get my money back after all.

So, a clear case of the left hand not knowing what the right hands are doing - all two of them! - or even what the left hand itself is doing, come to that - but a result for me, and I am now all of £3.99 richer, not just the £3.50 that I actually paid, though I came clean about that.

So when it comes to scented candles, where do you stand in the 'the only colour is white' debate?

And do you have any heartwarming - as in 'change of heart'-type - stories about returning unwanted perfume - or do your (involuntary) albatross sanctuaries simply keep growing?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Halcyon hyacinths, and New Year musings on not being amusing

My cousin's husband (long dead now) used to be the cartoonist for a magazine beloved of the country set, 'Horse & Hound'. I remember how, just before a heart bypass operation, John worked overtime, stockpiling cartoons for when he came out of hospital. 'You see', he explained: 'even if everything goes okay, I don't suppose I shall be feeling madly funny for a while.' By inference, he didn't feel he could submit a cartoon to the magazine if it wasn't amusing, which got me thinking about my own 'house style' on Bonkers. And yes, it struck me that while you, as the reader, may visit the blog for all sorts of reasons, I mostly write with the aim at least of entertaining. And I have been slow getting round to this post, as I haven't felt 'madly funny' myself this week, far from it. But unlike my cousin, I have no posts put by for just such an occasion / frame of mind. T S Eliot famously described April as 'the cruellest month', but January 2015 hasn't been overly kind to put it mildly, and I have felt correspondingly downcast. There's something about living alone that makes bad things happening in the world impinge more, and (to stay with our cartoon theme) I found the Charlie Hebdo business last week very distressing, to the point where I barely slept for two nights in the immediate aftermath. The shock of the Paris attacks was compounded by the sad loss on Friday of one of our perfume community, Tama Blough. Although on the cards, her eventual passing came sooner than expected, just two months into her prognosis of six. One small piece of good news is that Buster, Tama's cat, has already found - and moved to - a new 'forever home' nearby. I was nearly considered as a potential owner myself, but only because one of Tama's friends mistakenly thought I was in Connecticut. ;)

I know my own problems - difficulties sleeping, an ongoing lack of work, an expensive repair on the car - pale into insignificance compared with recent events, but the combination of weariness, worry and gloomy news has made me greet the New Year with less of that 'shiny new diary' gung-ho spirit to which I am usually as prone as the next man. But I thought I would have a go at a bit of a 2014 review or New Year stock take, call it what you will. It may be odd, mind, and not especially perfume-forward, I warn you...;)

New launches and hiding under a rock

To jump start my look back at the past year in perfume terms - and spurred on by Undina's traditional analysis of how many scents she tested in 2014, by which brands, and how many of them were new releases etc - I fetched out my perfume diary and started flicking through. Here I had faithfully documented what I wore each day. It was clear that I was sometimes testing several things, or partly wearing familiar scents and partly testing new ones. I soon got bogged down, however, on realising that I didn't know if I was in fact testing or wearing a given scent, ie I simply couldn't remember what I already knew. Nor could I distinguish the perfumes released last year from ones from previous years, though all that could have been ascertained with a bit of digging around, had I really cared.

Evidently also a drinking diary

As I continued to flick through, it was clear that not many of the perfumes tested had made much of an impression on me, which is consistent with Undina's own low success rate in such sessions. And significantly, most of any testing I have done was invariably prompted by samples sent to me spontaneously by companies or received as extras in swaps, rather than burning lemmings I have tracked down, though there were a few of those too. The thing is - and I am a little ashamed to say it - nowadays I can quite happily go to an event at Les Senteurs or wherever and hardly sniff anything. I will also walk right through Duty Frees at airports, barely taking in what is new, despite prominent displays specifically designed to intercept the captive traveller with time on their hands. These days I am so lazy and 'not bovvered' in fact, that I can't even manage to put the proper accents in some of the perfumes listed below.

Scented discoveries (from 2014 or otherwise)

One key exception to this tuning out to new - or newish - launches is Tauer's PHI Une Rose de Kandahar from 2013, of which Val of APJ gave me a precious vial in February, and which turned out to be a lemming of the highest order. If I had to pick my top perfume discovery of last year, that would be it, albeit I tried so little in the grand scheme of things that it is not as great an accolade as it might be coming from bloggers who have explored many more new offerings on the market. Penhaligon's Tralala would be the worthy runner up.

My one *new* bottle purchase of the year (Lidl excepted)

In terms of other new perfume loves that are not necessarily year-specific, Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess and Hermes Eau des Merveilles are two key ones to cite, along with Guerlain Attrape-Coeur and Shalimar Extrait, Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse, Vero Profumo Mito Voile d'Extrait and Extrait, Farmacia SS Annunziata Vaniglia del Madagascar, Chanel Coromandel, Annick Goutal Songes and Black Flower Mexican Vanilla from the Dame Perfumery in Scottsdale. (Thanks to Undina, Lila das Gupta, Tara of OT, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery and Blacknall Allen of aperfumeblog for the above!). I also had an unexpected rapprochement with Chanel No 5, on discovering that Lidl's latest dupe of a mainstream scent had fallen far of the mark. And there are doubtless a few others that will occur to me presently.

It's more about the people than ever before 

Yup, 2014 has resoundingly shown me that I am more interested than ever in talking to people at fragrance events and meet ups, rather than taking this unparalleled opportunity to test the many perfumes all around us. For I have formed deep and rewarding friendships with a number of perfumistas, some of which have escalated to the next level: visiting them in their homes, and even staying the night in a couple of instances - hospitality I would be glad to reciprocate. ;)

Russian doll-reflected perfumistas

I am belatedly bonkers about skincare

Readers may well have noticed a number of 'beauty posts' creeping into the blog lately, and though I feel my recent waves of frenetic research have run their course for now - not least because I can't afford to buy anything else! - I think that to be purely practical about it, good skincare products are more necessary for me at this time of my life than the next lovely perfume. After all, I already have umpty dozen scents to choose from, and something that smells good is an embellishment at the end of the day - albeit a mood-enhancing and transformative one. Skincare, meanwhile, can address actual physical problems like my pesky chronic acne and the damage from decades of kamikaze sunbathing, as well as setting you on course to arrest or at least slightly mitigate the ageing process. I'm 55 after all - it's not too late exactly to take corrective action, but oh, how I wish I had started a sensible regime thirty years ago...

My redeployed cutlery drainer

Slowing down and easing up

I have talked about the principle of 'slow blogging' in previous 'stock taking' posts, and am still convinced of its merits. Additionally, a change I would like to make this year is to slow down in terms of my electronic life generally: 'engaging' with fewer blogs perhaps, and focusing on the ones with whom I have a personal connection, checking emails less frequently throughout the day and taking longer to reply to them, to avoid what I shall elaborately - and possibly impenetrably - call 'Groundhog Day ping pong syndrome'. Then I hope to spend less time on Facebook, where I am mercilessly teased for one thing, and which is the most terrible vortex at the best of times, even though I do like interacting with people that way. But it's a time-sucking curate's egg all right, not to mince metaphors about it. I am also trying to wind down before bedtime, which means resisting the urge to go online in the last hour or so of the evening, as the blue light emitted by electronic devices, coupled with the general mental stimulation entailed, is almost certainly a key factor in my inability to get to - and stay - asleep. That and my middle-aged bladder, of course.

Look, no phone!

To this end I am also trying mindfulness, or rather a somewhat simplifed version known as 'McMindfulness'. When practised last thing at night, it morphs into the equally snappily named 'beditation'. Interestingly, a psychologist writing for The Guardian urges people to have ONLY these three New Year's resolutions and to ditch the rest:

1) Take up meditation
2) Stop doing something (ie the opposite of the usual injunction to take up a new sport, hobby etc, but rather to find something in your life - whether a person or activity or goal or state of mind which is unhelpful / too hard / consuming of time and emotional energy etc - and drop it.
3) Go easy on yourself in reference to 1) and 2), or more widely!

Therapeutic Tara

'Consider the hyacinths...'

Right, so that is not exactly how the Biblical quotation goes, but I am sure the sentiment transfers across species. For I must say that in all my low level agitation so far this month, I have found a lot of solace and a calming quality in a potted hyacinth a friend gave me for Christmas. It is going over now, with brown bits starting to colonise its white tendrils, but every time I walk into the kitchen I sniff it, and the flower's sweet narcotic scent seems so restful and somehow so sufficient unto itself, just like the non-spinning lilies of the New Testament. Which is not to say that I am poised to abandon manmade perfumes any time soon - not at all - but it was a nice object lesson in the simple pleasures of life, including scented ones. Which, if the work situation doesn't improve, may take on a greater importance by and by.

Anyway, as warned, that was an odd 'round up' post, but I hope to be back next time with something a touch more lighthearted - and squarely perfume-related. Oh okay, that might be pushing it...;)

Has your New Year got off to a more upbeat start, or have you felt a bit weighed down with the cares of the world, or your own?

Liz Moores - a pint-sized tonic who punches above her height!