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Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Scent of the Underground: a finger farce, a phantom note, and sniffing a gaggle of gig-goers

This time last year, I was looking forward to a whole slew of UK gigs by my favourite band, The Monochrome Set - the tour kicked off in Edinburgh on 19th October and finished up in Bristol on 26th. This autumn there has only been the one date, in Brighton last weekend. Well, I tell a lie, as they are playing two gigs in Tokyo next week, but for those of limited means, the Brighton one was the only real contender.

I arrived last Saturday at about 3pm, did a bit of shopping in Boots, then thought I'd best reconnoitre the venue in daylight, as these sorts of places are notoriously tricky to find. True to form, the Green Door Store was tucked away 'under the arches' in an alley behind the railway station. As I rounded the corner and clocked the place - which to its credit did boast a very obvious green door - I spied the guitarist and singer from the band, loitering on the cobblestoned concourse outside. I gave them a thumbs up sign as if to say: 'Hi there, I know where the place is now - see you later', but the singer beckoned me over. As I approached, I noticed that his thumb was bleeding rather profusely, though he seemed oddly detached about it, and had clearly not summoned me for my first aid skills, but rather to pass the time of day while they waited for the promoter to arrive and open up. I couldn't overlook his darkly dripping digit, however, and immediately rummaged in my handbag, producing a cotton wool pad (notionally for mascara malfunctions) and a large fabric strip of Elastoplast, of the type you trim to size. Assuming you have scissors on you, which I didn't. So the singer dabbed the cut with the cotton wool and slapped the entire bandage on his thumb, all the while playing down the seriousness of the cut. 'This is just a little flesh wound', he remarked. 'It's nothing compared to Andy's finger!'

Having so recently injured my own finger, I was finding this inventory of band hand mishaps rather Twilight Zone-y. I asked what the bass player had done to himself, and they said they didn't know, but his finger was very swollen apparently, and he hadn't played a note since he hurt it. Whether he would be able to rise to the occasion that night was a moot point in fact, assuming he got here at all - there was a snarl up of some kind at Gatwick Airport. My Florence Nightingale duties discharged, I went back to the hotel to rest after the long journey down, and wished them luck at the sound check.

Just before nine I headed back to The Green Door Store, bumping into an old fan called Warren and his wife, who were looking rather lost at the station. I offered to accompany them to the venue, which they eagerly accepted, as they had been going round in circles trying to find the correct alley. As we approached the entrance, another fan, Andy - who had made the trip from Cumbria, no less! - came out to greet me, instantly proffering his left wrist and the right side of his neck for me to sniff. On his neck was Ormonde Jayne Zizan, on his wrist Isfarkand, both of them procured by yours truly. I pronounced him very fragrant, and watched as a look of bemusement came across the faces of Warren and his wife. Quickly entering into the spirit of this strange masonic ritual, Warren thrust his neck in my direction and asked me to guess the identity of his strongly spicy woody scent, but I was floored. It turned out to be Armani Diamonds - I clearly need a refresher of my mainstream sniffing knowledge.


Once inside, I made a beeline for the merch table, where the stalwart sales team of Caryne and her husband had been in place since 5.30pm. Caryne instantly stood up, leant across the table and announced brightly: 'Smugglers Soul, as requested!' A long time Lush fan, her rate of purchase from the line has definitely gathered momentum in recent years, partly due to my influence, I like to think. Anyway, Smugglers Soul did smell of a very fine sandalwood as billed, and I would have liked to have tested it myself on skin.


As I went through to the room where the gig was held, I smiled at the thought of my fellow fans dutifully applying perfume and offering themselves up to my questing nose. It struck me as a happy confluence of my two favourite hobbies, and lifted my already high spirits even further.

The bass player turned up at last, and stoically played his way all through the set and an encore or two. I went up to him afterwards, thanked him for pushing himself to the limit in this way, and inquired which finger it was. One look at his left hand told me that it was the same one I had hurt, since it was nearly twice the size of the others! He had hit it on a fixture in a tube train, I didn't catch what exactly.

And there was one more perfume-related incident before the evening was out...I was wearing Guerlain Attrape-Coeur - possibly rather liberally applied - because in the course of the post-gig mingling the singer inclined his head towards me and said: 'Hmm, is there cinnamon in that?' I was put on the spot rather, but in my cursory reading of reviews of this scent I couldn't rightly recall any mention of cinnamon. I replied that I didn't think so, though not all the notes are always listed. He took another sniff and declared: 'Yep - it's definitely there. And I am not sure cinammon should come into direct contact with human skin.'

Well, that's me told, haha. Good job I wasn't wearing Puredistance BLACK, I thought! ;)

Have you ever had someone say they don't care for a perfume you are wearing because of a note you didn't think was in it?

And for those of you familiar with Attrape-Coeur, do you detect cinnamon in it?

Source: Pinterest

PS For another post featuring perfume and a gig, check out the latest postcard from Undina!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

"2ml or not to fill?" Musings on the etiquette of sample sizes

Endangered 1ml vials spell out their fate
My friend Clare was in Florida earlier this year and reported that since her last visit, the concept of the 'bottomless' cup of coffee - ie with refills available on tap - has been extended to main meals (slightly confusingly called 'entrees' in the US), such that she was offered a 'bottomless plate'. I guess this is really just a rebranding of the 'All you can eat buffet', except that presumably the wait staff replenish your plate for you, I don't know. But anyway, Clare reported this latest manifestation of the creeping trend in the Western world towards 'supersizing', remarking that if she were ever to take up such an offer, she would soon be far from 'bottomless' herself.

In parallel, in recent years I have noticed that perfume quantities exchanged between perfumistas appear to have got larger than at the start of my hobby, six years ago. Back then, if someone agreed to send you five samples of perfumes to try, you would typically receive five 1 or 1.5ml vials with stoppers in a little plastic bag. Invariably accompanied by a boiled sweet. If perfume extras were included, they were most likely also of the same sizes.

A swap package of yore

Over time though, sending a 1ml vial as a 'sample' has become almost unheard of, unless the sender is really short of the perfume in question, or it is insanely expensive - something like a Puredistance scent springs to mind, or an extrait strength, say - or where you only had 1ml left in total and are trying to split it into vanishingly small fractions. These days, when perfumistas are sending people samples, they often send quite a bit more than is necessary merely to test a scent, sometimes even a quantity around the 3ml mark or above, which for me is the threshold which distinguishes a sample from a decant. I am not sure that 3ml is the official definition, or even if there is one, but above 2.5ml starts to feel like a decant to my mind.

These larger samples are usually put into spray bottles, which makes the testing process a lot more enjoyable than the dabbing ritual from the 1ml vials. I welcome this trend, as you can spray at will multiple times and get a really good idea of whether you like the scent or not. That said, I am not always as forthcoming myself with goodly amounts, mainly because I have these three receptacles in my decanting stash to choose from...

My paltry collection of sample vial variants

- 3ml plastic spray vials (just a few left now out of a bulk consignment from Accessories for Fragrance).

- 1.5 plastic snap on vials (these are the ones that Freddie of Smellythoughts got me into, which are intended to be used for centrifuge samples. I like them, because they are cheap, available in the UK, and you can dispense with funnels and their associated washing, a tedious task from which I find myself increasingly shying away. I remember Mr Bonkers joking that one of the things he appreciated after I left him was not finding metal funnels lurking in the washing up water. ;) Hmm, I say they are easy to fill 'commando', ie without funnel, but - perhaps becasue of their tapered shape - you get serious splashback after about 0.75ml or so, meaning that I end up just giving people 1ml again like in the old days - at best! It doubtless looks a bit parsimonious on my part, but they are so user-friendly for the decanter, at least.

Tapered 'Freddie' vials - 1.5ml

- 1ml glass vials with stopper (also from a big - nay, huge! - consignment from Accessories for Fragrance). Old habits clearly die hard to have prompted me to buy them...Yet I hardly ever send someone a sample in one of these except for the exclusions mentioned above, because it combines funnel requirement, non-sprayability and stinginess in one inconvenient package. I really do recall their being the standard vehicle for samples back in the day, though!

When I have finally exhausted my supplies of the 3ml plastic sprayers, I might well invest in some slightly smaller glass ones instead - 2ml or 2.5ml, maybe, if they do them in that. I am still partial to the 'Freddie' snap on vials, so can see me getting more of those, even though they do feel rather unorthodox and out of step with pefumista sampling etiquette, as I perceive it.

Sample perfection - unmistakably Undina :)

If the 2ml or 2.5ml bottle is the gold standard receptacle for perfume sampling - note that it doesn't even have to be quite full to appeal - what makes me personally very uncomfortable is when people send me large amounts of samples I have asked to try - or (worse still) of random extras enclosed in the package. If I haven't tested a scent it seems ludicrously reckless to do that, and the largesse behind the gesture is trounced for me by the potential for waste. I once received a whole set of large extra samples - well decants, as there must have been 4-6ml in each - and hated all of them. Then I felt bad for the rest of the day before screwing up the courage to thank the perfumista in question for their generosity...through gritted teeth.

So that is what I like and don't like in the state of the sampling world as it is today. I do feel I am not pulling my weight here in my choice of packaging, though in the case of international shipments, I tend to throw in amusing red herrings to distract the customs wallahs such as scraps of wool, buttons, bookmarks or pieces of fabric, which hopefully raise a smile at least.

Foxing fodder for customs officials

So...I would be most interested to know what others perceive as the 'etiquette' of sampling - if you think there is such a thing, however loosely and unofficially?

And what are you own pet peeves about types of vial or fill levels - specifically for samples rather than decants?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

An Ealing Comedy? Holly Cranmer *and* Sarah McCartney (of 4160 Tuesdays) come for tea at Bonkers Towers

I just learnt that Ealing is the third largest of Greater London's 32 boroughs, with a population of 318,500, spread in turn across 23 wards each with c13,800 residents. The population of Greater London meanwhile is 8.3m, meaning that a mere 4% of Londoners live in Ealing Borough, the widest definition I could find of the place! In view of these compelling population statistics, it is all the more remarkable that in the space of 10 days, not one but TWO perfumistas from Ealing made the detour to call in on me in Stafford....I make the odds of that happening - using London (rather than the whole universe ;) ) as our universe - 0.000016. But in fairness it is a long time since I did probability at school.

Yet come they did, Holly on her way back from some family history inquiries n Shropshire, and Sarah and her husband Nick on their drive home from a vintage fair in Morecambe. There are a number of similarities between the two visits: both prompted a flurry of house cleaning; especially the bathroom, as I had been bigging up my house as a more well appointed alternative to the nearby Stafford Services - you know, boasting that there were no broken hand dryers in the Ladies or stainless steel teapots with chronically dripping lids. Both also prompted a flurry of baking - the same cake in fact, with slightly different decoration. Holly additionally brought some macarons from a baker in Market Drayton, as a humorous nod to my recent post on the subject. They weren't quite comparable to Ladurée, but they were certainly the nearest match I have tasted.

Holly pre-perfume pandemonium

Holly had brought a few batches of things for me to try, while I lugged my plastic containers of bottles and decants from out under the hall stairs. The usual chaos and scented cacophony ensued, and we both ended up with a little bag of decants from our respective stashes. Holly had given me her sample of Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Vermeille, but in an amusing turn of events - not unconnected with the aforementioned chaos - she accidentally tidied it away and took it home with her again. As luck would have it, I have won a decant of this very scent in Natalie's 'closing down giveaway' on Another Perfume Blog, and when it comes I will be grateful to Holly for alerting me to this beauty.

Stock photo of the garden!

Sarah and Nick's arrival was delayed by the usual holiday snarl ups on the M6, which is just as well really, for moments before they were due to turn up, I was still scrubbing tomato and pepper soup with a toothbrush out of the sisal rug on the kitchen floor. And swabbing gory blobs off every single cupboard door, plus a few walls and skirting boards, with balls of damp paper towel. I wasn't planning to serve soup, I might add, but as household objects are wont to do, it just kind of leapt out when I opened the fridge door to get some milk.

It was a pretty warm day, so we were able to have tea and cake (the Smartie variant pictured) in the garden. Having clocked the elaborate hospitality rituals that go on at The Wall of Scent functions, unbeknownst to Sarah, I had been having practice runs on and off all morning with my £10 bargain Wedgwood teapot and some little cups, on the assumption that Sarah would be too refined to be a 'bag in the mug' kind of person. In the event, Sarah opted for an elderflower spritzer (ha - didn't see that coming!), while Nick asked for coffee. Luckily I keep some individual plastic filter cups for just such an eventuality (don't drink the stuff myself), and Nick pronounced it very acceptable.

A parade of 4160 Tuesdays scents 

Sarah and I chewed the cud about the perfume scene in general, and I remarked on the excellent press coverage her indie brand 4160 Tuesdays has been enjoying lately. We also chatted about the vintage event they had just attended in Morecambe, about Nick's work - and my lack of it. ;) I am sure I must have bored them with tales of my home improvements at some point - Sarah certainly copped for the full house tour. And as they were leaving, Sarah left me a serried rank of purse sprays of her scents, namely:

Doe in the Snow
Tart's Knicker Drawer
The Sexiest Scent On the Planet Ever (IMHO)
New York '55
Rome 1963
London 1969

Nick's sofa-toning teal shirt - he can come again!


Of these, my favourites are the first two: Doe in the Snow is a chilly, citrus-forward, peach chypre, not unlike a sort of lemony Mitsouko, with a glacial blast of aldehydes and a crystalline, candied peel effect in the opening. I was also reminded a little bit of scents like Guerlain Sous le Vent and The Party in Manhattan, but it was less herbal than the former, and less filthy than the latter. And generally more citrus-y and modern in feel than either, though the chypre structure does give it a classic twist.

Top notes: grapefruit, cedrat, yuzu, peach aldehyde, snow
Heart notes: cedarwood, rose, jasmine, musk
Base notes: opoponax, oakmoss, leather, green tea absolute


Tart's Knicker Drawer (formerly 'Tart's Boudoir') is billed as a 'floral amber oriental', and is quite sweet, with a pronounced raspberry note, and generally powdery and aldehydic at all times. It has a retro vibe, like the cosmetics brand Benefit or its cheaper imitation, Soap & Glory. Here I saw a slight resemblance with Lyn Harris's La Poudrée for M & S (review here), though Tart's Knicker Drawer is more approachable and easy to like. Now the expression 'smelling of a tart's boudoir' is traditionally an insult levelled at someone reeking of too much perfume, but notwithstanding the lengthy note list, Tart's Knicker Drawer doesn't feel 'too much' at any point. Nor, despite its raunchy name, is it remotely animalic or smutty. At the risk of being coarse, one can only conclude that the tart in question was having a bit of a slow day.

Top notes: bergamot, orange, grapefruit, pink peppercorn
Heart notes: raspberry, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, cedarwood, violet, tuberose
Base notes: amber, musk, vanilla, benzoin, tobacco

A pensive and sunlit Sarah

I accompanied my visitors to their car, which was filled to the gunwhales with luggage, purchases and all manner of vintage paraphernalia. I was particularly interested in some Liberty fabric squares Sarah had bought at a mill (or a cheap fabric emporium of some kind!) on their way down here, along with several bolts of floral fabric.

I will end this post with a photo of a tea room in Chester I visited recently with my friend Gillie - it reminded me vividly of Sarah and her devotion to pretty vintage style..

Correction - I will end this post with a new infographic Sarah has designed to help people pick out scents from the 4160 Tuesdays range that will best match their personal taste and the wearing occasion. If you look closely, you will spot that there is (quite fortuitously) a scent category with my name on it!

PS The lowdown on Ealing Comedies may be found here...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

'Lid hydration best practice' : It's an eye opener - and grease is NOT the word!

Regular readers will be aware that from time to time, I go a little bonkers on Bonkers. More bonkers than usual, I mean, typically by researching a topic of interest to the absolute max. It damn near kills me every time and I still never feel satisfied that I have scoped all the options. As with the bathroom renovation project in the spring - and still ongoing in fact - I have been off down a research rabbit hole, as I am periodically wont to skincare again. I delved deep below the epidermis you could say, penetrating several layers of dermis no less with the laser beam of my relentless curiosity. Or subcutaneous tissue, should that be? Yes, this time my inquiries were more extensive than ever before, as I sought to identify the optimum skincare products for my skin type in every single usage category, from cleansers and toners to exfoliators, eye creams, day and night creams, serums - the works!

You may wonder what precipitated this current flurry - nay, frenzy - of research. And actually there was a reason, though I also had to dig quite deep to figure it out. Firstly, the recent business with my finger meant I lost out on over two weeks' work, so had time to twiddle my thumbs, which luckily have full mobility. Though to be fair, doing the washing up without getting the affected finger wet is taking up a ridiculous amount of my day, and all chores are proving more tricky and time-consuming indeed. But I suddenly had a tract of time I was not expecting, and which I could devote to research.

As for why I chose to go mad on this particular topic, it was prompted by a casual comment from my local pharmacist to the effect that I may need to have a medication review with the doctor's surgery to which I recently switched, before I can be prescribed further supplies of antibiotics for my rosacea- and acne-prone skin.


So the mere thought that my customary safety net of 'big gun medication' might be removed - and having some sympathy for that decision, for who knows what decimation the drugs may be wreaking on the delicate ecosystem that is my gut flora ;) - I decided to investigate the very best regimes that could help me look after my skin in the absence of a more heavyweight solution.

It wasn't easy, I should say, right off the bat. I have googled and googled - deep into pages 4 or 5 on any given search term, and studied each citation with interest. I have watched endless videos by Sali Hughes and Lisa Eldridge (who are both fab);  I have read posts galore by other beauty bloggers, including the formidable Caroline Hirons. Following a tip off from Olfactoria I have browsed the highly scientific website of Paula Begoun, a veritable Oprah Winfrey of the US skincare scene. Then I also had an email exchange with Katie Puckrik, who gave me the topline on her own skincare MO, and mentioned a couple of her favourite products. I also read the famous book by Leslie Baumann, 'The Skin Type Solution', which reader AnnieA commended to me in a comment on an earlier Bonkers post. It didn't take long to establish that I am an OSPW type (Oily, Sensitive, Pigmented & Wrinkled). Arrggh!

None of which is directly related to eyes, I hear you say. Which is true, and if I ever go on to write about suitable cleansers and moisturisers for OSPWs, anyone with fundamentally different skin characteristics may wish to skip that post. Though some of the best products I found are in fact 'broad spectrum' in their benefits, to borrow an antibiotic term for a moment.  One thing led to another, basically, and the discoveries about eye care were pretty startling! To someone like me anyway, who has clearly been living under a rock.

And the most striking thing about my inquiries generally was the sheer, dizzying, hyper-segmented diversity of the skincare market. It has exploded beyond all recognition since my childhood, when an opaque tub of Nivea or Astral and the iconic green and white pot of Pond's Cold Cream were the mainstay of our mothers' beauty regimes. It is so deeply, bafflingly scientific nowadays, and the Internet is rife with conflicting information. If you are the sort of person who is likely to find inconclusive research a stressful waste of time, I would counsel you not to undertake any in the skincare sphere, for it nearly drove me over the edge....

You need toner; you don't need toner...fragrance is pleasant and soothing; fragrance is a sneaky way to disguise shoddy ingredients...'you get what you pay for', or cheap doesn't have to mean 'cheap and nasty'...SPF50 is the gold standard sunscreen; SPF30 is better because the sun is a good source of Vitamin D...moisturisers with SPF built-in are a good idea - or a lazy, inferior choice... facial oils make oily skins oily, or oils are good for everyone......foaming gels are good for acne, or they dry the skin out unduly....splash your face with cold water; splash your face with tepid need a separate eye cream; eye creams are a waste of money (see below).  If I had a quid for every flagrant contradiction I encountered in my reading, I could afford a resident dermatologist. And someone to do the washing up!


'Orbital "eye bypass" cream'

The biggest paradox I stumbled upon was to do with eye creams. In the past I have often noticed on pots of day cream the warning 'avoid the eye area'**. For the longest time I thought that was synonymous with 'avoid contact with eyes', as in 'don't get this stuff in your eye', but it is only relatively recently that I learnt that in the case of day creams, the whole area in and around the eye should be given a wide berth, and that specially formulated eye creams were designed to be more suited to the thin and ultra-sensitive skin here. Though that premise is disputed by some beauty experts in a YDMMV (Your Dermatological Mileage May Vary) kind of a way, including by Sali Hughes herself.

"I'm not convinced that eye cream is anything more than a tiny pot of anti-ageing moisturiser (which I like, by the way), and I don't think all skins need the extra product and considerable financial outlay."

And whether you believe they are more marketing hype than not, who knew eye creams ALSO shouldn't actually be used in the eye area?! Well, most of it, anyway. This bombshell has yet to 'sink in' in fact. I had not twigged that according to 'lid hydration best practice' - which I didn't even know existed as a concept either till this week - you should never put eye serums or moisturisers on your actual eyelids, or the crepey stretchy bit just above (which some readers may know as their 'upper eyelids'). Or, for that matter, on the skin immediately below the eyelashes, but rather follow the orbital bone structure of your eye socket and bypass the eye itself completely.


The idea is that if you dot the cream or serum on the bone well away from the eye itself the cream will migrate to where it needs to go. You need to use your weakest finger for the purpose (typically your ring finger), and blend the dots in in a clockwise motion for the right eye and an anti-clockwise one for the left. This is in order to avoid stretching the super thin skin around the eye, thereby completely negating the effects of using a restorative product in the first place. Too rough a touch, and you might even precipitate the creation of new wrinkles. Actually, the idea of blending is also hotly contested. Some people say that dotting and tapping only is the way to go.

Now I am sure that to the vast majority of readers, especially those in the US who have recourse to dermatologists - an all but unknown breed of healthcare professionals over here, outside of Harley Street, maybe - none of this is news, but it was a staggering revelation to me! For when you buy a mass or mid-market moisturiser completely unaided by a sales assistant, the information on the pack simply does not clarify this point about the correct deployment of eye cream. No indeedy. It was only in the act of buying an expensive eye serum in Boots that the Estee Lauder sales consultant happened to volunteer this nugget of information about the orbital blobbing technique - I wouldn't have had the first clue where to put the serum otherwise, and would doubtless have slapped it all over my eyelids, as I have done with pretty much everything else that looks remotely emollient. Though not SPF-containing products anymore, thanks to a recent tip off from Undina in a comment on my post about Aldi's Lacura range.

Some of my motley collection of day creams - pre-research

Yes, I gather now that if the cream gets applied directly to the eyelid and immediate vicinity, it may irritate for starters, and there was some (admittedly rather apocalyptic) talk about eye creams transferring to the eyeball, singleblobbedly forming under-eye bags and taking up permanent residence - and causing swelling - in eyelids. Plastic surgeons performing eyelift surgery were said to have discovered gunky deposits of eye cream in the course of doing their procedures.  This could be true or scaremongering by the manufacturers, fearful of claims from people who have stung their eyes on account of creams having been applied so close to the eye itself. Me, I am going to avoid the eyelids from now on and see how I go, if it is not too late to reform my ways. And eye cream in my view should be renamed: 'Orbital "eye bypass" cream'.

(**So I just reread the instructions on some of the many day creams I have accumulated in recent years. Two say 'avoiding the eye area', while a further three say 'avoid contact with eyes', which as I have established above, is not the same thing at all. One was more explicit, with 'avoid direct application into the eye'. FOUR just say 'apply to face and neck'. Well, hey - are eyes not part of one's face? They were the last time I looked in the mirror. One - Astral (which appears to have missed the photo shoot) - calls itself an 'all over moisturiser' and claims to provide 'all the intense moisturing care your skin needs'. So just based on that small straw poll, you can see why I might have been confused.)

My shameful stash of facial wipes

Wiping wipes off the face of the earth

And here is the other area of skin maintenance where I have been going wrong all my life - using wipes to remove make up from the delicate eye area. Wipes - with their often harsh formulae, rough textures, resultant pulling and incomplete cleansing action - are the abomination of make up artists and beauty experts, for all but emergency and in-flight scenarios. Yup, I am afraid that my own chronic use of wipes to take off eye makeup has been so cavalier and rufty tufty as to be tantamount to dragging my face through a hedge backwards. Moreover I have stockpiled a load of packets of wipes that were on offer - probably at least 3-4 months' worth! They are mostly by the brand Simple, whose products are generally well regarded in the budget category, but they remain wipes and hence are still off-limits. I do also possess a Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish set, and should be using that for makeup removal as well as my morning cleanse it seems. At least I was doing something right! The watchword generally on the beauty blogs is to use a gentle product - even for oily skins - and to take makeup / dirt off with a hot muslin cloth or impregnated cotton wool pads. And to do so in such as way as to minimize tugging of any kind...

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish

Now I haven't tried all the products for eyes which my research threw up, but here is a tiny(!) list of products I have ordered or am already using, plus a few promising-sounding things to investigate. Though I must use up some of those wipes first!

Eye serum (day / night) - Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Serum Synchronized Complex II (currently using).

Eye cream (day / night) - at the moment I only possess sundry Crème de la Mer samples Blacknall kindly gave me in a swap package (eg Baume de la Mer, Emulsion de la Mer), so I will carry on using these all up. Additionally I do have my eye on Boots Botanics 80% Organic Hydrating Eye Cream - which Lisa Eldridge cites as a cheaper alternative to Kiehl's Eye Treatment with Avocado - and I have also come across multiple recommendations for Eucerin Hyaluron Filler Eye Treatment and Eyes It's Potent! by Benefit. I would be very open to further suggestions here, as I haven't properly eyeballed this category by any means. ;)

Cleansers suitable for the eye area (also to take off makeup) - Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish, Bioderma Sensibio (a Lisa Eldridge recommendation which I have ordered), Clinique Take The Day Off Balm Cleanser (recommended by a friend, and also well rated on blogs).

There is one eye-related procedural conundrum I haven't cracked yet. Short of wearing prescription sunglasses - as Katie Puckrik favours - I don't know how to go about applying SPF protection to the eye area without provoking another stinging episode. And I am also not sure I would be brave enough to use a retinol cream near the eye without medical supervision!

My hotchpotch collection of skincare samples

Yes, this post has been more about my methodological epiphany than about recommending the perfect skincare products for eyes, not least because everyone is different. And I may in fact be the only person in the world who didn't know that you should put dots of cream around your eye and give wipes a miss. But if anyone would like to share their favourite eyecare finds, that would actually advance the cause of skincare wisdom - or eye lore...a bit further. That's 'eye lore' as opposed to 'Eyelure', which, as everyone knows, is the world's favourite eyelash brand.

Oh, and the picture at the top of this post reminds me that I also learnt you shouldn't stand with your head under the shower, not even in the interests of hydration - the skin around the eyes isn't robust enough to withstand powerful jets of hot water. So there you go.

Friday, 19 September 2014

'Cover girl': The Social parfum and the Sindy doll school of perfumery

Source: pinterest
When I was a kid, I had a Sindy doll. Well, I had a steady procession of Sindy dolls in fact, as my mother persisted in melting their heads under the grill. Every time she did, I would write a plaintive letter to Mattel, whereupon the empathetic people in Customer Services would promptly send me a replacement. I was not allowed Barbie, I might add - her physique was deemed too preposterously provocative. Nor was I allowed Tiny Tears for that matter - too anatomically correct. So serial Sindys it was. That said, one outfit you could buy for her comprised a rather raunchy patent mac - for a very affordable half a crown as I recall - so she wasn't entirely the wholesome girl-next-door sort she was cracked up to be.

But what, you may ask, is the connection between Sindy and a new perfume with the rather curious name of The Social parfum? Well, my initial take on the scent was that it's not so much about being sociable as about dressing up. For the distinctive feature of The Social parfum is that it is one scent, however, as a kind of 'fashion accessory', for want of a better term, you can buy one or more spare boxes (The Social parfum calls them 'covers'), from a range of fairly vivid shades, swapping them over as the fancy takes you. I see echoes here of the different coloured bottles of Kenzo Amour - there you can pick a bottle at the outset in your preferred shade, but if you then fancied a change, you would have to commit to buying a second bottle. Here of course you are only investing in a replacement box.


So at some point over the summer I was contacted out of the blue by The Social parfum. After my usual demurral and request for a sample instead - I levelled with them and admitted that I didn't think this perfume would be my cup of tea - the company assured me that it was no trouble to send me a complimentary bottle anyway. Shortly afterwards, a bottle duly turned up in its default white plastic box, together with a separate pink box to swap the flacon into - why, they didn't even ask me what colour I'd like, hehe! ;) ;) At a pinch you could even just swap the top over, so you would have a white bottom and a pink top, though I am not sure why you would want to do that, unless you were very drawn to the look of Neapolitan ice cream.

Yes, this whole 'dressing up' game is doubtless not aimed at the likes of mature women in their 50s, I sense - or even immature 50-somethings, which is more apt. I am guessing from the marketing photos that their target audience is teens to early 20s, though even that age group has surely long since abandoned their dolls. But hold on, hold on.....I suppose if people swap the covers out on their mobile phones or Kindles etc - which is a distinct possibility - there might be a market for doing this with perfume bottle boxes after all...?

The Dolly Mixture / Neapolitan look

I should perhaps have clocked the blurb on the brand's website sooner - the rationale behind the launch is set out there. And I think we can guess the target audience from the inclusion of the word 'totally' - that's 'yoof speak' all right, though I am occasionally guilty of it myself.  Hmm, now 'code' in what sense? 'Code' as in a received mode of behaviour, like 'dress code', or 'code' as in speaking in a secret language with your mates? You know, in a Masonic funny handshake kind of way? Could be a mixture of both in fact.

"The new perfume code.

The one and only women's eau de parfum you can totally mix & match as you like. 6 covers 1 fragrance for the new social woman.

Collect them all, share your personal parfum with your friends and get social!"

And another thing - this is eau de parfum, not 'parfum', though I don't suppose anyone looking at the presentation would be misled into thinking this was extrait strength...

Also, the 'parfum' is only 'personal' if you happen to have chosen a different box from your pals - the perfume of course remains the same. And that's always assuming you know anyone else with it in the first place. But that is most likely the whole point - a group of young female friends, united by a common perfume, but distinguished by their own choice of coloured box.

It's a concept, no question, but I wouldn't buy into it now, and I am not sure I would have done so back then, had I been into perfume at that age. Though as I say, there could be something in it, based on the swappable mobile phone covers fad. I'd be interested to hear what any readers think of this, especially those with daughters in the target age group.

I also took a look at The Social parfum's Facebook page - it is an Italian company and there are a number of photographs on there of young women holding little cards with the house's heart shaped logo on them, looking happy together - and quite sociable, it must be said - in piazzas up and down the land.

And what about the scent itself, I hear you ask?

Top notes: bergamot, blackcurrant, white peach
Middle notes: waterlily, rose, almond blossom
Base notes: exotic woods, vanilla musk


Hmm...The Social parfum reminds me a bit of how I would imagine a mainstream take on L'Artisan's Mure et Musc to smell, and it also has some crossover with YSL Parisienne, which I remember describing once - rather uncharitably perhaps, looking back - as 'disgruntled purple talc'. I am wearing the two scents side-by-side, and there is a definite resemblance, though The Social parfum has a cleaner blackcurrant note and a marked kind of nuttiness to it (or pepper, maybe?), where Parisienne is more powdery. For the market they are aiming for, The Social parfum is probably in the right ballpark, even if it isn't my thing. If you are any age and a particular fan of blackcurrant, it might be worth a sniff too, though I am not sure that these are available in store anywhere.

Oh, and if anyone is curious about the colourways, they are as follows - mostly on the bright side, as I say:

BLUE'S (sic)

The separate covers are 11 euros each and the 50ml eau de parfum + a white cover (the 'starter cover') is 67 euros, which strikes me as rather expensive for what is essentially a mainstream scent from an unknown house. I note on the bottom that the perfume is made by ROLS SAS in Italy, a company of which I can find absolutely no trace in Google. And having had a little play with the shopping part of the site, there doesn't seem to be a way you could pick a coloured cover as your base box, meaning that if you fancy anything other than white, you automatically have to fork out the extra 11 euros for the spare.

The gargoyle reassembled the boxes into their correct colours

So may I you swap your mobile phone covers, or Kindle or iPad covers etc, and would you be inclined to do so with perfume boxes - just for the hell of it to ring the changes, or to differentiate yourself from your friends' bottles? 

And if not, do you know anyone who might? 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Perfume-themed pratfalls - could fragrance be a hazchem after all?

Could the label be more admonitory?
I have been quite disparaging in the past about the new postal regulations. These prohibit the sending of flammable liquids - including perfume - overseas, while allowing shipments of fragrance within the UK, as long as they bear an ID8000 label, declaring them to be 'exempt from requirements for dangerous goods transport document'. If they are exempt, and not considered risky to transport in this country, you have to wonder why they even have to carry such a label. Why not put one on everything from CDs and books to clothes and Interflora? After all, these things aren't dangerous either, unless you stab yourself with the roses or swallow the buttons on your Boden Henley top...

When sending perfume, it gets more tricky when you have a package full of homemade samples or decants, as is frequently my - and other fumeheads' - wont. The Post Office doesn't have a category for these, so you have to pretend they are the manufacturer's carded samples or the clerk could refuse to accept the package altogether. And because of problems with these grey areas of classification, I tend to flit from PO to PO in the hope that I will find more accommodating staff the further I roam - or staff who have yet to brand me as an awkward and deviant customer at least. I am reminded of those people who are addicted to over-the-counter painkillers, and travel far and wide to supermarkets and chemists out of their normal area, scoring a couple of packets of their analgesic of choice in each outlet.

So up till now you will have heard me speak no ill of perfume, other than to note that a few all-natural scents occasionally brought me out in a rash, prompting me to desist from wearing the stuff for a while.

Could I construe this as the 'Serge Lutens shroud'?

And then the other week, I was making up a swap package comprising lots of little vials of precisely the unorthodox type the Royal Mail cannot contend with, when I accidentally spilt a couple of ml of Serge Lutens Un Lys directly on my dining room table. It is sod's law that if such a mishap were going to happen, it would be with a Paris Exclusive of which I had very little left in the first place. However, it was not so much the wasted perfume that troubled me as the fact that old Serge fetched the varnish / colour right off a small patch of a beloved piece of furniture. Seemingly it is a case of redoing the whole top for a proper even finish, though I did have a tentative go on just the affected area with a selection of materials from olive oil to Pledge. There are some really random restorative agents cited on the Internet, would you believe? - I am sure salt and ammonia, white spirits and vinegar were amongst them. Maybe I will eventually come to think of the pale patch as yet another characterful sign of the table's great age (it dates from 1790), along with a number of other dents and black rings it has sustained down the years - presumably from flagons of porter and the like.

Resin crystals - 'myrrh trouble than it was worth'...;)

So that was one incident of perfume behaving badly...The next also occurred in the dining room, though it wasn't directly caused by perfume. Still, perfumery materials were involved and were the immediate trigger for what was to follow...

A little while ago - ever on the lookout for new ways of experiencing scent - I had a go at burning some myrrh crystals that my friend Gillie had given me around the time of the We Three Kings joint blogging project in 2010. The procedure involves igniting a charcoal disc and dropping a few crystals on it once it starts to smoulder. The crystals are supposed to emit a fragrant smoke - we are back to the very origins of perfume and its name indeed ('per fumum') - from the days when ancient Egyptians would burn incense as a sacrifice to their gods.

Except that the overriding scent I got from my own experiment was of the burning charcoal - I was strongly reminded of barbecue fuel, while the myrrh scent was undetectable. I wondered if I had set the crystals on the disc too soon, before it had settled down to a quieter burn rate - a case of 'premature incineration', if you will. Anyway, Gillie offered to come over this weekend with her own resin-burning tackle, and show me how it should be done. Accordingly, Saturday lunchtime found us sitting at my dining room table, rubbing our respective crystals in our hands to see which ones were properly fragrant. It seems my myrrh crystals had pretty much lost their scent for whatever reason, so we decided to burn a blend of Gillie's, containing frankincense and myrrh.

Before getting stuck into our pyrotechnical antics, Gillie suggested we open a window. I should mention that my windows are the old-fashioned sash style - I have since learnt that their full name is 'vertical double-hung box-framed sliding sash windows', which I find oddly amusing. I don't open my windows very often, and sometimes they are quite sticky when I try to do so, on account of a fairly recent paint job. You have to push the bottom pane up from the top with all your might, basically. We did eventually get the bottom pane to shift up, but somehow - and it is all a queasy-making blur now - I managed to trap my finger between the two wooden frames. Gillie responded with lightning speed, yanking the pane down again and freeing my rather limp and lifeless digit. An afternoon in A & E later, we established that it wasn't broken, but crushed and cut, and I will lose the nail in due course. Which is a bit ironic, as after years of nail biting I had just kicked this childhood habit for long enough to paint my nails. A purple colour to boot (Chanel Paradoxal), which is also ironic, as the injured nail is doubtless that colour naturally now, though I couldn't bear to look - not even at the X-Ray! For the rest of yesterday and all last night I had to keep the finger elevated above my heart, but I think the bleeding has stopped now, so I can do a few more things with the hand. Though not peel carrots. Or change the bedding. Or type properly.

So this one-handed post has taken rather longer than usual!

And Gillie and I agreed to take a rain check on the incense burning, possibly opening the front door instead next time. I will report back if I crack it some day and would recommend this presumably more intense fragrance experience. Meanwhile, it's back to joss sticks and matches for me. And I shan't be sporting a full set of painted nails any time soon...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

'Men and (wet) sheds': dipping into The Library of Fragrance in a focus group down the pub

Note the 'Drinkaware' presence of cycle clips
Following the arrival of a set of eight scents from the new Library of Fragrance collection (aka Demeter Fragrance Library) which launches in Boots today, I decided to host a mini-focus group at The Vine pub in Stafford this weekend. My (very loose) aim was to check out the brand's stated unisex orientation, and generally get some feedback on any aspect of these perfumes from my mates. The group comprised my friend Clare and her husband Tony, our painter friend David, and his friend Jim, whom the rest of us met for the first time that night, though we'd all been Facebook friends for a while. I wasn't expecting Tony to come along, so he was a 'bonus respondent', albeit tipping the gender split slightly into the masculine camp at 3-2.

For anyone who just wants to know the topline findings from the focus group - as clients are wont to do with real life research exercises - skip straight to the end. For a blow by silly blow account of what went down, please read on...

I should state right off the bat that despite being a researcher by profession, this wasn't a focus group in any meaningful sense of the term. I was voicing my own opinion for one thing - occasionally even before I asked the others(!) (which as everyone knows is highly irregular behaviour in a market research exercise). But I did at least pose a few market research-type questions about the whole positioning and marketing of the brand before we got stuck into the business of sniffing proper.

Where would you expect to see this range displayed in store?

Aware of the unisex premise, the group puzzled over this question, as The Library of Fragrance range clearly falls between the two genders, so in theory needs a separate area. We concluded that it might have its own display in a prominent place where people might fall over it - not even necessarily in the perfume section as such.

What do you think of the bottle?

The men in the group were particularly exercised by this question, and leapt straight in with comments about things it reminded them of - none of which were perfume as it happened. Tony said 'nail varnish remover', while images of Windsor & Newton's range of artists' supplies immediately popped into both David and Jim's minds. Clare thought it looked like 'reed diffuser bottles'. I am of course familiar with many different styles of fragrance bottle, including smallish rectangular ones like these, and am greatly in favour of smaller formats. To the others in the group, however, it didn't really compute as a perfume bottle, partly down to the shape, but also the size. Jim said he would have expected a bottle of men's aftershave to be a lot bigger. On the other hand, it was deemed too bulky to be construed as a handbag-sized perfume. I still think it is great that someone is offering a 30ml size, so it will be interesting to see what Boots' customers make of it.


On a more whimsical note, the coloured strips on the bottles reminded David of Monopoly, and he imagined amassing a whole load of perfumes in the range and inventing games on a Monopoly theme. Picking up the orange banded Amber bottle, he remarked: 'I could put a house on that one.'  (He was perhaps thinking of the aptly named Vine Street...) Oh, and speaking of 'picking up', the bottles are all labelled as:

Cologne Spray
Vaporisateur Naturel'

Because of the layout - with the three terms listed underneath one another - we weren't sure if 'Pick-Me-Up' was an adjective governing 'Cologne Spray' below, or the American equivalent of 'Cologne Spray'.

The eagle-eyed David (spot the artist!) noticed that on a couple of the bottles, the text below the fragrance name was in lower case and employed commas, while on most of the bottles it was capitalised, with full stops, making for a punchier, more abrupt style.

"Simple, subtle, singular scents.
Each day. Everywhere."


"Simple. Subtle. Singular Scents.
Each Day. Everywhere."

There was a strong preference for the lower case version, and the capitalisation of 'Day' in the bottle pictured above especially bothered people. 'It's a bit shouty', observed Jim.

Having discussed the packaging in a lot more depth than I was expecting to, it was time to start sampling the perfumes themselves. I had devised a handy map of a left and right hand and forearm. I thought that if everyone applied each fragrance to the same spot, we could critique them in an orderly sequence, as we would all know where to sniff. I was also assigned the role of presiding over the spraying, administering two sharp squirts to each person's skin to give as consistent results as possible. Nevertheless, there were considerable variances between group members in terms of how each perfume smelt.

So here is the feedback, in the order in which the scents were tested...

How did they all smell?


Only Clare (a major lover of the fig note in perfumery) and I recognised this as any part of a fig, and even Clare took a little while, though it ended up being her favourite of the bunch, and she took the bottle home with her. Here are a selection of comments:

Jim: 'If I sprayed this on in the dark, I would wonder what it was.' (Editor's note - Jim seemed rather preoccupied with darkness throughout the discussion, as you will see.)

David: 'This smells like the sort of varnish you used to be able to buy in the 60s, but can't get anymore.'

Those really are meant to represent arms, not rolling pins
I was concerned that they might have been smelling the initial blast of alcohol you experience with any perfume, but even though they revisited it later - when to me and Clare it smelt most definitely of fig leaf - the men in the group never made the vegetal connection, didn't care for Fig Leaf, and persisted in using vocabulary along the lines of 'lacquer' and 'tanning solution'. Somebody observed that their nose may have been confused by the shiny look on skin of the perfume. Sure enough, the scents all lingered on everyone's skin as a sticky translucent shine, and in the case of Tony in particular, seemed visibly to have darkened his skin where I had sprayed the scent. I admitted to the group that I couldn't recall that ever happening with perfumes before. The shine was long gone the next morning, mind, but persisted for the duration of our trials.


This one initially proved more popular, and was considered to be 'more like a cologne'. It was variously described as 'pleasant', 'dry', 'orangey', 'citrusy' and 'quite sweet'. There was one comparison to 'lemon meringue'.

Jim: 'If I picked that up in the night and smelt it, I'd put the light on.' Praise indeed from Jim, the nocturnal operating, non-perfume wearer in our midst.

It was still shiny, however, and went quite indolic on several people's skin during the session, which put Tony right off. None of the men would wear this, but Clare - whose second favourite perfumery note is orange blossom - was happy to take this bottle home too.

Clare and Tony perfectly executing the perfumista's salute


Jim: 'Now I would expect this one to be very shiny!' It didn't disappoint.

Beyond that, Rain didn't smell like rain to anyone, but rather of mint and the pith of a satsuma. Clare couldn't smell anything at all to begin with, but her anosmia was suddenly broken by the satsuma reference, and - whether or not thanks to the power of suggestion, who can say? - she could just about smell a slight acerbic orangeness from that point onwards. David also got a bit of the Indian yoghurt dip with mint, raitha. This perfume was quickly renamed 'Satsuma', and on resniffing it much later, Tony pronounced it to be 'really quite nice', though nobody said they would wear it.



This is the perfume which people were most intrigued to try, and although everyone found the opening offputting (to put it mildly), it provoked a great deal of lively debate. Images came pouring out along the lines of 'wet leaves', 'wet moss', 'wet gardening', 'rotting leaf mould from leaves that you forgot to burn', 'dry rot', 'wet rot' and 'wet shed'.

Jim: 'It's the smell of taking up the floorboards and seeing what is really going on....'

David: 'Probing at the back of your shed...or sorting out your wood pile - you know there's going to be woodlice and wriggly things.'

Me: 'It's the smell of my Dad's old car coat that had been lying in his damp abandoned caravan for four years.'

Jim summed up the feelings of the group when he inquired: 'Do I want to smell of wet wood mould?' Much much later, when this earthy, patchouli(?) scent had quietened down, Tony said it was actually at a wearable point for a men's fragrance, however, in his view it had taken far too long to get there. This was the most challenging perfume in the selection and Thunderstorm was swiftly renamed 'Wet shed'.



Clare's immediate response on sniffing this was to say it would make a nice room fragrance for a kitchen. Fresh Ginger was generally considered pleasant, and was one of the scents that smelt most differently on different people's skin, with additional notes of 'lemon', 'sherbet', 'almonds', 'pear drops' and 'Dolly Mixtures'. Tony described it as 'ginger Edinburgh Rock', while David thought it a 'bit Christmassy', and also like some kind of fabric conditioner, in a good way. Jim said he would also have it in the house - as a room fragrance again - and probably more in winter.


Gin & Tonic was unanimously pronounced to smell of shampoo or bubble bath. One of the men mentioned 'Matey', which led to a brief nostalgic digression about bath time products from our childhood. I got a hint of lime, and then remembered how soapy Jo Malone's French Lime Blossom is, which could be why we were 'reading' this scent as being more like a bodycare product than an astringent aperitif. There was no discernible juniper, for example. Much later, after it had softened considerably, Tony announced that he liked it and would be happy to wear it, whereupon he promptly copped for the bottle. Someone else thought it would make a pretty room scent for a bathroom.

At this point, Jim started to engage in a banned activity we had previously dubbed 'nose buffing', whereby you press your nose deeply into one scent, then drag it down to another scent location, thereby risking possible olfactory contamination. We watched as he slid his nose from Thunderstorm down to Gin & Tonic, before remarking: 'I am having a bath in the shed. Perhaps that is why the shed is damp...??'

Once again, this perfume one went on - and stayed - shiny. 'I'm way the shiniest I've ever been', mused Jim.

Jim and David


I requested this one from Clare the PR lady specifically on account of its titillating name, only to find to my chagrin that Sex on the Beach is a cocktail, and nothing at all to do with salt, sand in every interstice and scratchy marram grass. The general consensus was that this perfume smelt of sweets, ranging from that traditional favourite of 'sherbet lemon pomegranate' to 'rhubarb and custard' and generic 'boiled sweets'. The imagery then moved to 'powdered orange juice you used to get when we were kids', while I was reminded of the sweeter end of the J2O fruity mixer range.  People found this pleasant, but not something that a grown-up would wish to smell of. We judged it to be another possible contender as a room fragrance, though we could see it appealing as a perfume to young girls. At this point in the discussion, I mentioned how some US-based readers of Bonkers had talked about spraying Demeter scents on their sheets, which the group heard as 'sheep', prompting much merriment.



On first application, everyone got a big whoosh of vanilla, before the scent settled down into a distinctive amber groove. Jim admitted though that based on the name, he wouldn't have any preconception of how amber does smell. After the general consensus of the vanilla opening - and despite most people's recognition of amber as a perfumery note - this scent conjured up some quite contradictory images. Despite these differences, Amber proved to be my and David's favourite of the selection - David took a decant of this one home.

Tony: 'Middle Eastern incense; the souks of Baghdad; a belly dancer in Turkey...this is the sort of thing the sales assistants in the aiport at Dubai try to spray you with.'

David: 'Almonds, pepper, something a bit antiseptic - what they rub on you before they give you an injection? - or the kind of floor cleaner you add water to.' (Editor's note - he did really like this.)

Once everyone had tested all eight perfumes, Tony got up to get some more drinks. On his return, he announced brightly; 'So.... the bar lady liked Wet Shed, Amber, Sex on the Beach and Fig Leaf.' We commended him for gathering this bonus titbit of consumer feedback.



For anyone who has jumped to this part - or who would simply welcome some attempt at a synthesis of our very Singular Discussion, here are the Topline Findings (sorry, I am really not feeling these capitals...):

- Everyone found at least one scent out of the eight they said they would wear - except Jim, who doesn't wear aftershave anyway, but nevertheless went home with a decant of Fresh Ginger on the offchance that a cologne-wearing urge might randomly come over him (in the night, presumably...;) ).

- In general, the perfumes were seen as pretty straightforward and borderline functional - there were several suggestions that they might make good room scents.

- The perfumes smelt slightly different on each person's skin - nothing new there!

- Layering is very likely a good way to add depth and interest to these scents - especially as you can buy four 30ml bottles for the price of your average 50ml designer perfume.

'Shiny, happy respondents'

There was no time to layer on the night - people were arguably a bit punchdrunk by this point - and the notion provoked ribald comments along the lines of: 'Sex on a beach on top of a wet shed.' and 'Goodness, you'd be so shiny if you did that!'

As I write, however, I am wearing Orange Blossom + Amber, and Fresh Ginger + Amber, and both are rather pleasant with - just as you would expect - greater complexity than either scent on its own.

Let's keep the focus group going! If you have had your nose in one of these 'fragrant books'- whether as Demeter in the USA or under the new UK name of The Library of Fragrance - do let us know in the comments.

Tony reviewing the right arm trio