Friday, 20 April 2018

Bonkers meets Crikey, in another happy intersection of the Perfumista and Monochrome Sets

Source: The Voodoo Rooms
It's good to have a hobby. Perfume, knitting, and the music of a particular band (no prizes for guessing which!) would be my top three. I have knitting friends, perfume friends, fellow music fans - and then very occasionally, friends who fall into more than one category. When that happens, it is as exciting to me as one of those uncommon astronomical events that I often forget to look out for - like the Super Blue Moon Eclipse in January, though I did catch that one, as it happens. The moon wasn't particularly blue though, or even what I'd call 'super', but I daresay these things are relative.

That said, 'knitting perfumistas', while not exactly two a penny, are by no means as rare as hen's teeth - and may in fact be commoner than I think. On the other hand, perfumistas who are also fans of The Monochrome Set are an altogether different - as in highly sliverish - intersecting set, in punning Venn diagram parlance. To date there is Val the Cookie Queen, who got into the music in the 80s, when she lived in Amsterdam. She and husband Chris have now clocked up four gigs with me in Germany and Austria, where she massively endeared herself to the band with epic feats of impromptu roadie-ing.

Up next is Katie Puckrik, who attended her first Monochrome Set gig in 1980, the same year as me, though she saw the band in Washington DC, and I saw them in the Tottenham Court Road(!). I cannot honestly say whether Katie has an ongoing interest in the music, but I am shoehorning her into our intersecting set until I hear to the contrary!

And then we have Susanna Pellinen, who was a moderator on Basenotes about ten years ago when I used to hang out there - and may still be, indeed! - it's just that I never visit the site now. I know Susanna has a ton of Monochrome Set records, as she has posted attractive montages of her collection on the band's Facebook page, though I can't speak to her gigging history.

Finally I could count a slightly looser category of people associated in some way with The Monochrome Set, namely those whose interest in niche perfume I have in some way encouraged - equating to a small handful, certainly. Posts about my fragrancing exploits within the wider band scene do pop up from time to time, for example about Jessica of The Would-be-goods, and her (now happily concluded) rose perfume quest.


Source: Edinburgh Spotlight

And then recently....drum roll...a reader of various perfume blogs (including Bonkers) named Crikey 'came out' as someone who had been to a Monochrome Set gig in the mid-90s, at the 12-Bar Club in London, right before the group split up (again!). I only went to three gigs in the 90s - none of them beyond 1992 - so I was most interested to hear of someone who heard their UK swan song, as it were. Though the swan turned out to have strong phoenix-like proclivities, for here they are, still touring some 20+ years later.

But firstly, how good an Internet handle is Crikey? So quintessentially British, so understated and faintly retro. I am not aware of a blog reader called 'Blimey' or 'Golly', but there is surely a vacancy for both. Crikey and I have engaged in a few perfume swaps, plus she had the misfortune to win one of my most ludicrously lacklustre raffle prizes - a strangely sexist perfume book focusing on mainstream classics of the 20th century - so, you know, we had already had a bit to do with each other postally, and by email.

But when I heard Crikey was thinking of coming to a gig in her home town of Edinburgh in April, I was beyond delighted! There were several concerts in a northern cluster, and I managed to get round them all as well as spending several nights with Sibling and SIL Bonkers (aka Hazel). The Edinburgh gig was the last date, held (as is customary) in the highly characterful Voodoo Rooms, noted for its fin de siecle grandeur, and featuring ornate chandeliers, gilded swag-type architectural mouldings, and special offers on gin. It was in The Voodoo Rooms that I famously spotted an Andy Tauer lookalike called Graeme, and ended up devoting a whole post to this remarkable Doppelgaengerish incident.




Crikey and I didn't make a specific arrangement to meet in advance, as I wasn't sure quite what was happening in terms of my own logistics, plus those of several other friends I knew were coming. These included my 'dancing partner' of 13 years, Ruth from Belfast, and a former band member from Staffordshire(!), now resident in Edinburgh. Things worked out really well though, for Crikey arrived just as our party were finishing eating, and we adjourned to another part of the bar for a proper chat - initially just the two of us, but gradually joined by Ruth, then the current keyboard player, Jon, then Sian, a former keyboard player(!), and last but not least Jane Barnes, the promoter.

While the two of us were together, Crikey most generously gave me a little travel pot of Frederic Malle's Portrait of a Lady, which just happens to connect me to the other fumehead fans I have come to know - Katie Puckrik and Val. For when I first properly met Katie she was wafting PoaL on her pashmina - my first encounter with the scent too - while Val has worn it to at least one TMS gig. I distinctly remember her spritzing herself with abandon with PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, though not on the most recent occasion, when she was rocking Dior Oud Ispahan. But PoaL is an absolute link amongst us all now - a gossamer scented thread, if you will - and I have worn it several times since I got home, enjoying in particular the intensely rosy note in the drydown.




Before the others joined us, Crikey and I also had time for a 'turbo download' about our respective lives: Crikey is world class power lifter in her spare time, lifting being another thing she has in common with Val, along with statement lippie, short stature, a love of cats, and more besides. I was also pleased to hear about - and see photos of - Crikey's two cats, the charmingly chubby-cheeked Herschel and the newest addition, monochrome-themed ;) Atkins. In case anyone is curious, Crikey was sporting Encens Mythique d'Orient by Guerlain, while I was in my new winter squeeze (it was still winter then, believe it or not!) of House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved.

And then before we knew it, it was time to go into the venue itself, as the gig was about to start. Jane had thoughtfully reserved a table for our party near the front, so we had the option of sitting or standing, and most importantly, somewhere to deposit coats, bags and drinks!




Crikey told me afterwards that she had very much enjoyed the set - and later in an email added that it had serendipitously featured a number of her favourite tracks - but sadly had to head home straight afterwards, as it was technically a school night, as it were. The rest of us took root at our table, and had an interesting conversation about how all people can be divided into one of two types, foxes and hedgehogs (FYI, I count myself as an out-and-out hedgehog, though with a small 'standby' fox somewhere deep inside, to be deployed in dire emergencies). We also drank the remains of the wine rider, and were finally ejected by the venue staff in the wee small hours (as is also customary).




The next day, I bumped into Jon, who mentioned that he would be glad for me to find him a perfume if I was up for that, and that he was completely open in terms of fragrance style. Are bears Catholic?!?! So I eagerly said yes, and now I would be grateful if readers could help me with that. For info, Jon has long hair and a beard, but typically wears gender bending stage outfits that nods towards the 70s. Here he is in Newcastle the other night...the shot above was taken in Germany or Austria - I can't quite remember which. ;)




Any suggestions gratefully received! I hope to assemble a little clutch of half a dozen or so samples for him to try. So far I have set aside Rima XI, as it is a wispy woody number that might fit the bill. I wouldn't exclude an outright feminine fragrance either. Also, Jon enjoys a swift half or two, so I wondered also about Penhaligon's Tralala, which has a whisky note and even features in the lyrics of a TMS song!

Finally, I have the good fortune to be seeing Val and Tara and a whole clatter of other perfumistas tomorrow in London! No more TMS fans to my knowledge in our midst, though I should perhaps just check....


Jon looking happy on a train

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Le Labo Labdanum 18, and when perfumes go out with a whimper, not a bang


I am sorry my posts have been a bit sporadic of late, or more sporadic than usual, say(!), for which there is a litany of reasons I shan't trouble you with, or not now. So I thought I would squeeze a quick one in while the going is good, namely a musing on the varied ways in which that very real hazard faced by those of us in a SABLE situation (Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy © Hazel) ie perfumes gone rogue, can occur. If you had asked me what a turned perfume was like, I would have said: 'Oooh, it is hard to describe, but a nasty alcohol-y-crossed-with-dead-flower-water kind of vibe.' Always in the top notes, and when the scent has really gone, permeating the whole juice. Though even that image isn't right. I am not sure I have the descriptive powers to do justice to the rank smell of a scent that has properly gone off. Vintage ones seem to be the most offensive - you know, those fierce chypres of yore. Or an old fashioned animalic oriental. A turned one of either of those can be truly repellent.

But what I have discovered of late is that there is another kind of 'offness' - where the perfume has undergone a sufficiently marked metamorphosis to not be remotely classifiable as itself anymore, while not necessarily smelling disgusting. A mild example of this phenomenon was my bottle of Diptyque Eau Duelle that I sold through a Facebook group only to have the buyer promptly ask for their money back. This was because the fragrance - like small children who will only eat pudding - had completely lost its top notes and gone straight to the base, which I would characterise as an 'Om-like', vestigial vanilla hum. Can you tell I do yoga now? ;) Albeit not the kind with chanting. This latest incarnation of Eau Duelle isn't unpleasant, but there is no light and shade and no development, that's for sure. It is indistinct and vague, like the olfactory equivalent of a smudged watercolour, and reminds me of the 'comfy jogging bottoms' stage of Penhaligon's Tralala (© Tara). So my Eau Duelle no longer qualifies as itself, but to my mind it has a pretty strong kinship with how it should be, as in being its own drydown at least.

So there was that, and then I encountered the very strange beast that is Le Labo's Labdanum 18, some 7 years after my bottle was first compounded - just for me! - not long after this event, which I wrote up in my then guest blogging capacity for Cafleurebon. Eyeballing that label, I see that the Best Before date (which is what I take 'Fresh until' to mean), was only a year after I got it. A year? The very how very dare they idea! Do they imagine I will bathe in it, like asses' milk? I have no idea when exactly Labdanum 18 went all funny on me, but I swear it can only have been in the last couple of years, so in hindsight the 'Fresh until' warning was breathtakingly conservative.


So feeble and thin now that it has taken to bed

And how does Labdanum 18 smell now? Hmm, well the opening is a thin, reedy and resinous vanilla spiked with anise, and as the scent wears on, it cycles through every nuance of liquorice in a box of Eponymous Allsorts. A note to which I am far from partial, so I was most taken aback by this unexpected mutation. The scent is not horrible by any means, and I have liberally anointed myself with it out of sheer astonishment quite a few times in the past week, but this version is a far cry from the rich, warm and enveloping barnyard vanilla of Labdanum 18 in its prime.

I would therefore have to concede that my Le Labo has well and truly turned, but NOT in our horrible alcohol-y way mentioned at the top of the post. This is almost a different perfume entirely, though I can detect the wan connection with balsamic vanilla. So in summary it has definitely gone, but gone out with a peculiar whimper, not a whiffy bang. Howver, it is so weak and so 'other' that I may have to subtract a few digits off it though, and recast it as Labdanum 6.25. They haven't got one of those in the line, I don't think.


Have you had any perfumes turn in ways that surprised you?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Complex complexions: patch test upshot and my top topical tips for dealing with dermatitis

Queued for ingredient reading!
When I was a kid, I remember my mother going to the local pharmacy and asking for a moisturiser called 'Pretty Face'. "Sorry", said the chemist, "We don't stock that, but I do have 'Happy Feet'?" Or maybe it was the other way about, but whatever, it still makes me smile.

Now to create a mash up of the two products, I have not had a 'Happy Face' for over forty years, in terms of the state of my skin. For I have been an acne sufferer without interruption - but with lots of eruptions! - since I was 15, then about two years ago I was diagnosed with contact dermatitis AND another kind of eczema that manifests itself as red blotches with or without a kind of white scurfiness. I hope you are not reading this at a mealtime. A condition possibly known as seborrheic dermatitis, but I am way too scared and squeamish to look in Google images, with it being as we all know a bottomless pit of grossness, pretty much regardless of what you look up of a medical nature.

But the distinction between the two is that I get symptoms of contact dermatitis when I use a skincare or beauty product that contains a specific ingredient to which I am allergic, while the causes of seborrheic eczema - if that is indeed what it is - are harder to pinpoint. They include stress, cold, dry weather and hormonal changes, as well as things like harsh chemicals, detergents etc, where it crosses over with the other kind of dermatitis.

So in short I now have a double whammy of skin ailments, triple if you include the acne of yore. I was moved to write this post because last weekend I happened to be back in Preston, staying at the very same guest house where the notorious 'Clarins cleanser incident' occurred in April 2016, triggering this latest on-off phase of contact dermatitis. I wasn't in the same room thankfully, but one of my friends was. He looked much the same at breakfast, so I assume that no such dermatological disaster befell him in the night.


Source: booking.com

While remembering back to this trouble all kicking off two years ago, I realised that I never did do the follow up post about my allergy tests last June(!) and their upshot. It might also be useful to recount how I have gone on since in terms of experimenting with skincare products of varying degrees of innocuousness.

I had the patch tests during the hottest few days of last year - it was 35C in my car on the drive down to Wolverhampton, and I was absolutely drenched in sweat by the time I got to the hospital. And no, I don't have air con in my car in case you were wondering. ;) As a result, my back was far from the ideal substrate to have a load of sticky fabric strips affixed to it, in which dozens of would-be allergens nestled in little pockets. I had some 120 different substances split across ten strips and the nurse drew notches at intervals in black marker pen all the way down both sides of each strip to facilitate the reading of any reactions. I was told to come back in a couple of days for a review, and again about five days later (the exact time frame is approximate as it was a while ago). During that period I was told not to wash my back and to stay cool and dry! Well, fat chance of that, as I was semi-liquefied on arrival, and the presence of ten strips of gauze taped to my back made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, and if anything more inclined to perspire in these extreme weather conditions.


Black marks still visible after patch removal!

After what seemed like an eternity, the day of the final 'reveal' arrived, and the strips were whipped off my back. The tests showed three different allergies:

NICKEL(II)SULFATE HEXAHYDRATE
BENZOYLPEROXIDE
TOCOPHEROL

Now nickel by any other name is very common, to the point of being dull and boring, like the house sparrow of allergens. It is found in jewellery, coins, household utensils - the list is endless.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population is allergic to nickel. The reactions can be unpleasant, but not fatal."

That's reassuring. You can't really avoid nickel in life, so I basically moved on to...

Benzoylperoxide

This is an interesting one, as I used to use acne medications with this as the active ingredient, and found it really harsh and liable to bring me out in a worse reaction than I had to start with. Actually, if you read all its applications, it doesn't sound too appealing:

"This chemical is used to bleach edible oils, flour, bread and other food. It is also used in some dental applications, for the treatment of acne and as an antiseptic and local anaesthetic in the treatment of burns and ulcers. It is also used in vinyl flooring, in fast drying printing inks and in mixed fabrics with viscose, silk or cotton. Further research may identify additional product or industrial usages of this chemical."

Hey, you can stop right there for me with your research - I am sufficiently put off as it is! I don't think this allergen has anything to do with my recent outbreaks, however, because I ditched the acne creams decades ago, and I don't eat much bread, haha. Leaving us with the final culprit, which the nurse said was the main one:

Tocopherol...aka Vitamin E

Oh my lord, this is also a tough one to avoid, for Vitamin E is added to a ton of toiletries, make up and skincare products, including both the suspects I featured in my last post on this subject.





Only at that time my finger of suspicion was pointing to two other chemicals: a formaldehyde-releasing microbial preservative called 2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1, 3-DIOL (in some makeup removing wipes that had triggered an isolated, but earlier attack in early 2014), and METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, a controversial preservative found in the Clarins cleanser I used in Preston. And instead the villain is the harmless - nay, positively benign-sounding - Vitamin E! Surely vitamins are meant to nourish and feed the skin, not sent it into paroxysms of allergic mayhem.



And what a pain it was to eliminate tocopherol in its various forms from my wash bag...! My gut feel was that the synthetic form of tocopherol, where it is combined with acetic acid to become tocopherol acetate, was more likely to be dodgy than the naturally occurring Vitamin E you get in many facial oils, so over the next few months or so I set about cautiously testing toiletries one by one to see what happened. I did also throw out any that had tocopherol acetate very high up in the ingredients list, but kept an open mind about any that had it as a middle ranking one!, which was more typical. Because logically the amount of the chemical may have a bearing on the matter, also whether it was present along with a whole bunch of other fairly aggressive things such as the two mentioned above, even if the tests had not revealed an allergy to those in particular - and they did test for both. I still don't like the sound of them, and quite a lot of other chemicals if I am honest!

Nine months on, I have a routine of skincare that broadly works. I have had no reactions as bad as the one in the picture below(!), but I do get shadows under my eyes and extra wrinkles in a sort of sweeping semi circle - the "engraved" look I developed after the make up wipes disaster of 2014. I think stress could be a trigger on its own, mind, and also lack of sleep, but the problems tend to occur more when I am travelling. This suggests that it could partly be a reaction to unfamiliar toiletries in hotels, though I do try to take my own. That said, there may be nefarious effects from the manky bits of moisturiser I shouldn't still be keeping in my travel pots! ;) Oh, and of course who knows what fumes are emitted from the aggressively laundered bedding I have blogged about recently.


Me on a very bad dermatitis day before the tests!

Here is a round up of the main products I use now:

Morning cleanser

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish

Shampoo

Dr Organics range from Holland & Barrett

Actually I don't think what I put on my head is the issue here, or I am working on that assumption. So I do still use shampoo freebies in hotels, but NOT those generic 'hand and body and hair and everything washes' in those wall mounted dispensers to which hotels are increasingly migrating, which don't have an ingredient list you can inspect.

Serum

Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum

Daytime moisturiser

Paula's Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense Normal / Oily / Combination SPF30 (when it is sunny!)

OR

Nivea Daily Essentials Light Moisturising Day Cream for Normal to Combination Skin SPF 15 (when it is dull!)

The former doubles up as a foundation on good skin days, as it is slightly tinted, so were it not for the price I would use it all the time.

Source: Paula's Choice


Make up removal

La Roche-Posay Toleriane

I do additionally use one or two micellar waters specifically to take off eye make up, though they can sting a bit. And sweet almond oil is a good standby for stubborn areas.

Acid toner (once or twice a week)

Bravura Purifying Calendula Toner

Nighttime moisturiser 

Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM (with ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid).

How much do I love this product!, which I was put onto by a blog reader. It is cheap and packs a lot of skin boosting goodies for the money.


Source: Dermstore


Sometimes, if my skin feels a bit twitchy, I just use a very neutral moisturiser for sensitive skin such use Avene Skin Recovery Cream for Hypersensitve and Irritable Skin. You can use it in the day but it doesn't have any SPF. Or even just slather my face in coconut or sweet almond oil to mix things up a bit, taking care not to get oil all over the pillow.

And that is it more or less, though I occasionally ring the changes round the margins beyond what I have described. But here is the kicker...several of these products have Vitamin E in them, also in its synthetic form! And I appear to be completely fine with that, much like Eleanor Oliphant. So assuming the tests were in fact accurate, all I can say is that the precise amount of tocopherol in each must be at a sufficiently low level not to trouble me. From which I also take that there is no point having a knee jerk response and ditching literally everything containing the allegedly offending allergen. For that way lies baby and bath water throwing.

Meanwhile, controlling the seborrheic eczema is a whole other game, and the bottom line is that I frankly don't think I can. Or rather I cannot stop it coming back every few days - which doesn't sound like controlling to me! - mostly on my forehead (mercifully screened by a fringe), above one eye only, and in both eyebrows. The only thing that really shifts it is hydrocortisone ointment at the very gentle 0.5% strength, making it suitable for the delicate eye area. Though I still don't like using it very often as it is said to thin the skin. Tara kindly gave me a new eczema remedy called Gladskin - I need to have a few more go's with that before I can definitively report on the outcome. And am a bit wary of using it round my eyes.


Have you every had patch testing? If so, what did it find, and how did you go about rejigging your skincare routine?

I would love to hear anyone else's experiences!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Jessica finds closure on her 'really rosy yet cosy' signature scent quest

Essaouira ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Kayaky)
It's been just over three years since I embarked on a quest to help my friend Jessica find a 'really rosy, yet cosy' perfume, ideally to become her signature scent. The initial phase of the search is recounted in the original post, and for reference this was the brief:

"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."


Over the weeks I sent Jessica a clutch of samples I happened to have of things I thought she might like, forwarded links to compendium posts of rose perfumes of every style on Perfume Posse, Boisdejasmin and NST, sporadically came up with names of other scents that might conceivably hit the spot, and enlisted the help of Tara and Birgit a month or so into the exercise, who auditioned a handful of additional perfumes when we swung by Libertys (Jessica's preferred hunting ground) after our brunch in Soho. 


I did struggle to find really rosy perfumes with that extra touch of spice Jessica was after, as the ones in that vein invariably proved to be insufficiently rosy. After a while, we narrowed the focus to the fragrances' inherent rosiness and dropped the 'spice route', as it were. Even so, it was important that the rose notes were not overpowering - Frederic Malle's Une Rose, while initially promising, ultimately failed on that count.


In the end, as is often the way of these things, Jessica has found 'the one' entirely unaided, and I couldn't be happier. I don't mind how a person finds a perfect scent for them, as long as they do!


The other day, out of the blue, I received this email from her:


"Hi Vanessa,

I was in Liberty’s today and gave Mogador by Keiko Mecheri another go. It’s definitely the one! Pure creamy rose - I don’t detect jasmine although I know it’s in there - but with that Japanese lightness and subtlety. So glad my quest is over!
Jessica xx" 



Source: Fragrantica


Now I couldn't remember ever recommending Mogador at any point (doh!!), though I know that Tara and Birgit and I thought Keiko Mecheri's Attar de Roses might be a contender. A delve into my email archives revealed Jessica's own early reference to it...


"...another scent that nobody mentioned, 'Mogador' by Keiko Mecheri. (Do you remember last year my saying I was interested in Japanese perfumes? I gather KM operates from NYC but she is Japanese...). I have one on each wrist and think that while 'Une Rose' is longer-lasting, I might prefer 'Mogador' because it is not as sweet. I'll try them again, though, along with the others on the list (although it could take me some time)."

To which I replied:

"Interesting about Mogador, which I hadn't heard of, although I have tried some others by Keiko Mecheri, and have a decant of her musk one. It's a line I have seen in store in the US and which you do also find in good European perfumeries. However, it is much less talked about and reviewed on the blogs than many other brands. I can see how the Japanese angle would appeal.

Here are some Basenoters on the case - they are pretty in favour as you can see - it seems a very rosy rose all right, which is what you were after. Does it have a darker drydown / twist, and if not, do you think abandoning the twist might be the price for gaining extra rose?"

http://www.basenotes.net/ID26125085.html

And then I promptly forgot all about Mogador for three years, even though Undina kindly gave me a 'Flo' of it last May when we met up - which is now completely drained! At no point did I think to go back to Jessica and add it to her list of scents to try, but as luck would have it she remembered Mogador herself, even after all this intervening time...





On hearing the good news about her rosy epiphany, I inquired further into the exact circumstances:

"I think Mogador was one I found while browsing in Liberty's at the beginning of my quest. I remember thinking it was lovely, but I thought at the time it was a bit too subtle. It certainly seemed a bit weedy in comparison to Frederic Malle's Une Rose (which I now find completely overpowering). I think I may splash out on a bottle when I'm next there as I can't see myself going off it in a hurry."

Mogador was created by Yann Vasnier and has the following notes:


Bulgarian rose, May rose, Dades rose, jasmine


And a word on the name, Mogador, which makes me think of Mogadon, a class of benzodiazepine drugs to combat insomnia. A post on that very topic may well be coming along soon! But getting back to Mogador, it was the Portuguese name up until some time in the 1960s for a resort on the Moroccan coast now known as Essaouira. It is additionally the name of an island just off the coast opposite Essaouira. And Dades roses are cultivated in the Dades Valley, in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. A Moroccan theme is nicely knitting together...




Valley of the roses ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

My favourite titbit about Mogador is that in the early 1950s, Orson Welles filmed several scenes of his 1952 version of 'Othello' there. Wikipedia goes on to tell us more about the famous director's connection with the town:


"Legend has it that during Welles's sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the Hotel des Iles. A bas-relief of Orson Welles is located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea. It is in a neglected state being covered in bird droppings, graffiti and with a broken nose. In addition, the dedication plaque below it has been stolen (as of Dec 2008)." Alas poor Orson!




Source: Wikipedia

So there you have it...sometimes it takes no time at all to find the scent that blows you away - my friend B who fell hard for Beyond Love is testament to that - and sometimes it takes slow, meticulous trial and error. Either way, Jessica has finally found rosy closure, hurrah!

To round off this post, here is another video of Jessica's band in action, featuring Val the Cookie Queen's favourite bass player!




Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 3 - Damage Control by Denise Hamilton

If anyone out there is contemplating a career in Public Relations, they may well wish to reconsider after reading this book. Or certainly reconsider accepting a job putting a favourable spin on the lurid shenanigans and dodgy dealings of LA's great and good. Or great and bad, more like. 'Bad, mad and dangerous to know' indeed, to reprise Lady Caroline Lamb's astute assessment of Lord Byron.

Damage Control is a psychological thriller combined with a well observed social commentary on the privileged and intractably amoral West Coast elite. The book's plucky heroine, crisis management professional Maggie Silver - who pops a cocktail of amphetamines in a bid to stay awake 21 hours a day in the execution of her job, in the course of which she is nearly executed herself on more than one occasion - is a latter day Jane Bond. Indeed, she has days which make James Bond look like a pen pusher in a building society by comparison. But I am running a little bit ahead of myself, much like the page turning, cliff hanger-bristling plot of the book itself, which manages to combine the breathtaking twists and turns of its narrative with a languid and lyrical evocation of the surf-tossed coastal landscape of Southern California. In that regard I am vividly reminded of the book White Oleander by Janet Fitch, and Maggie is well versed in the local flora, as it happens. Denise Hamilton also captures that edgy, 'city that never sleeps' feel to LA. I have been there a few times, invariably staying somewhere not overly salubrious, and the sense of danger in the sultry night air is palpable.

But in what way perfume-themed, I hear you ask? Well, I suppose it would be more correct to say that Damage Control is perfume-inflected. To backtrack a bit, author Denise Hamilton is an LA-based writer, journalist and blogger, and has a perfume column in the Los Angeles Times, or did up to 2013 at least. And because she is a fumehead and 'one of us', she imbues her protagonist with a similar love of perfume. On and off through the novel Maggie will comment on her scent of the day and bottles spied on other people's dressing tables. She will score a long discontinued perfume in a thrift store, foist unsolicited decants on friends in a bid to cheer them up and/or broaden their horizons, and notice ambient smells generally.

"At a traffic light, I smelled carne asada juices dripping onto hot coals, the toxic bite of lighter fluid exploding against a match."

My favourite line in the book - and this isn't a spoiler - has to be Maggie's upbeat comment:

"I must be okay, if I can smell Chanel Sycomore." (!!)

Moreover, a particular bottle of perfume does in fact serve as a material clue in the unravelling of the plot, but I will draw a fragrant veil over that.

Now I abandoned the last perfume-themed book I didn't quite review - Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney - part way through, something I haven't done since I chucked a particularly impenetrable Henry James into a rubbish bin in Swindon. By contrast, I was completely swept along by Damage Control, rooting for the heroine to strip back the dizzyingly complex layers of intrigue and double dealing and work out who if any the good guys are that she can trust - also within the company she works for!

Luckily justice prevails, and the multiple pile up of damage broadly controlled, but the reader is quite exhausted by the time the nerve-racking denouement finally comes. And what I have learnt about the PR profession is that even a daily drenching in your most fortifying 'scent as armour' will not cut it, and you may need to top up with caffeine and stimulants of every stripe to get the job done.

And finally here I am, looking worryingly starry-eyed in my first ever branch of Starbucks in LA's Westwood district (in 1994). I am about to get my first fix of caffeine of the day, albeit from my beverage of choice, English Breakfast tea (or its nearest approximation).



Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A trio of perfume packaging titbits, including a haberdashery-themed hoarding tip

I am sorry for the rather relaxed pace of my blogging lately - so relaxed as to be almost supine! - but I have been preoccupied with a series of knitting commissions, and as this is a seasonal activity, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Or while the ambient temperature is really cold, more like, which it is now. I have just trudged in a blizzard about 100 yards from car to optician, and feel like a veritable Scott of the Antarctic. Yes indeed. I am amazed that the cold weather doesn't seem to faze Truffle - does her fur coat have different settings or something? Oh, and I also had a work inquiry to field, and have just met up with Val the Cookie Queen!, as some readers may have seen on Facebook, and had a visit (and pep talk) from the fire brigade, so it has been all go one way and another.

I do have some perfume reviews in the pipeline, but this time round I thought I would share one more perfume packaging hoarding tip to add to those in my recent post, and also report on a couple of other packaging-related matters. One is merely a bit annoying, and doesn't quite qualify as a scent crime - well, if you've had the same experience, you decide!

Button tins - an unexpected source of 'plastic baggie bounty'

Eek! Did I just say 'baggie' there? How much do I dislike that term, when there is the perfectly good alternative of 'bag'? Actually, I dislike it easily as much as 'veggies', oh my goodness, yes. Preserve me from anyone 'prepping the veggies'. But in this instance, 'bag bounty' doesn't pack such a punch - in a consonance way, I mean, so I have run with my baggie nemesis. I am talking about those little sealable plastic bags that perfumistas find so handy to use for smaller sizes of perfume vials, whether singly or in small huddles.




In the old days I used to buy loads of 1ml stoppered glass vials, which came with their own supply of plastic bags, but you don't see them so much with the larger sizes like 2ml and above, or not where I buy my stocks. Then a chance search for a decorative button to sew on a new style of wrist warmer I was working on led me to the cornucopia of small plastic bags that is my button tin. At some point these buttons all belonged to a garment I owned, and the little bags may even have hung from the fabric on a thread when you bought it. I would have cut them off and transferred them carefully to the tin for safekeeping, against the time I lost a button on that item of clothing. 30-40 years after I started this collection, Lord only knows what happened to most of the clothes, and even in the case of the ones I may still have, it would take me forever to locate their relevant matching buttons. So I now feel completely free to plunder the tin for bags, and tip the buttons out to take their chances in a general melee, safe in the knowledge that they will probably never be needed.

Clam-like perfume bottle boxes 

Now this is a topic I have been meaning to raise for some time, as I encounter it across all the categories of makeup, skincare and perfume. Quite simply, I am talking about those boxes which resist all attempts to open then, and even your most concerted prising efforts are to no avail. The only way to open the damn box is to yank or rip it in the process of tugging wall of box away from flap. The precise nub of the geometrical problem at issue is the little indented bits of card that sort of catch at the corners: in vain do you try to make the side wall bow out to release the flap from those cut out bits; you can never pull it far enough away to get purchase inside and meanwhile you risk distorting the whole shape of the box.




I do not mean to single out Yves Rocher's Quelques Notes d'Amour as the main culprit here, for it is a 'thing' with lots of boxes, as I say. But this was the last one where I observed the phenomenon, and the nearest to hand.

Unexpected factices in the conservatory

The other weekend I was invited to a Chinese New Year party hosted by the sister of the friend who feeds Truffle. She was also there, resplendent in Chinese costume, which reminded me that I also have an authentic outfit, though I would be way too self-conscious at this age to wear it!




Anyway, it was a great party, with the perfect combination of good company, food and drink, and cute pets running around - the house was even bedecked in Chinese lanterns.  A particular highlight for me was the party trick of the hostess's labrador, Obi, who would obediently balance a prawn cracker on the end of his nose until further notice.

At the end of the night, I was thanking my friend's sister for her hospitality, when she piped up: 'So did you see the factices?' This threw me, and I asked her to explain. 'There are three in the conservatory, behind the door. I thought you might have clocked them.' No, I didn't, to my shame, even though that was where we were sitting all evening! I should have half expected such a novelty, as our hostess used to be a perfume buyer for House of Fraser - I think she has moved onto jewellery now. I hardly need mention that there were no perfumes on display in the bathroom...




PS I didn't feel I could possibly follow up a music-related post with yet another one(!), but at some point I would like to write an account of this latest trip in which I met up with Val and her husband. I fully intended to take Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's cosy animalic scent Foxy away with me, so that I could justify the title: 'Fur, fur, fur auf die Autobahn', but aside from the forgetting of the perfume itself, it would have been rather disingenuous given that we travelled around entirely by train. ;)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Secular joy: The Monochrome Set 40 Years of Aural Pleasure at The Lexington, sniffing Mrs Potts, and Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour

For those of you who remember my post in November about a B & B in West Hampstead and its aggressively laundered bedding, you may also have clocked the reference at the end to the fact that I had booked a Travelodge for my next trip to London at a very favourable rate, and that it was even prepaid. And that time came round finally last weekend, and I was beyond delighted at the prospect of paying considerably less, while not having to rough it in a 'plywood hotel', to reprise my sister-in-law's incomparable term for this most basic category of accommodation. Okay, not the most basic, maybe, as that way lie dormitories in hostels, but the most basic kind I can possibly tolerate.

Accordingly, on Saturday I set off on the train, and had a table and four seats to myself most of the way, for the rather offbeat reason that the guard had poured a pile of red sand on the carpet in the gangway to ensure no one tripped on some ground-in food a thoughtless passenger had left. I don't know about you, but I associate piles of sand on messes with vomit in particular, and I think other people entering the carriage may have had the same idea. Not quite travelling first class by the back door, but a crowd deterrent for sure.

Once in London, it was only a quick squirt up the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park, and my hotel was just a stone's throw from the station. On arrival, the first thing I did was close the window. What's the deal with open windows in the dead of winter? It wasn't even a smoking room. I guess if you are the sort who regularly sleeps with an open window you might see the point, but it definitely negated the benefit of the central heating set to a luxurious 23C. The second thing I did was to assess the stocks of those little milk portions (or 'jiggers' in the trade - or in the trade in 1984, certainly, when I was briefly product manager for catering products at St Ivel),and kick myself for not assuming they would only last one mug and requesting extra milk before I even left reception. I should know better. I stay in a lot of Travelodges.  Indeed - as I may have mentioned on here, so forgive me if so - it is a superb irony that while I regularly stay in her hotel rooms, the current HR Director for Travelodge Europe used to live in my house as a teenager, where she had the middle bedroom.


Source: Tripadvisor


I still haven't mentioned the reason for my trip to London, though there is a clue in the title, which contrary to appearances is the actual name of the event and not the usual bonkersness I might well have dreamed up myself. For the weekend just gone marked the 40th anniversary of The Monochrome Set, and the band decided to put on a couple of concerts, playing their entire first two albums in track order - one on each night - as well as a set of mixed stuff from different eras. The event attracted a lot of media attention, and fans flew in from as far afield as the USA and Japan. I can only claim to have had 39 years of aural pleasure personally, having discovered the band via a John Peel session on my 20th birthday, but that still makes me an old timer as fans go.

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a guest basis...well, there was a bit of an administrative glitch about the first night, and I had to be hastily reconstrued as 'crew'. This would have meant arriving preternaturally early before the door people opened up to retrieve my crew credentials - the all-important 'artist/staff' wristband - while possibly also carrying a dummy bag of leads for extra verisimilitude. I would have gladly done that, but in the end another guest was unable to come on account of his wife having fallen downstairs at the last minute, breaking several ribs. My first thought on hearing this was: 'Oh my gosh, poor woman!' and my second: 'I bet she was popular!' The guest in question had sadly missed the last gig he had planned to attend due to being rushed to hospital himself, so it seems he is pretty well jinxed on that front. So I was hastily re-reconstrued as 'Honorary Him' for both nights, and could pick up my guest wristband anytime I liked.


Source: Ents24

A word about these wristbands, which you were required to keep on your person for the duration of the weekend event, including in the shower and in bed at night. There were stern warnings to the effect that if the wristbands were tampered with in any way you would be refused admission on Night 2. Accordingly, after the gigs, the band page on Facebook was full of stories of activities people attending had undertaken while keeping the wristband on and intact. The most impressive of these was without doubt 'burying a dead fox in the garden'.

Having queued up to get 'banded', I repaired to the bar, and apprehensively ordered an alcoholic drink. I say apprehensively, because as I once said of The North in my post about Giles Coren:

"Why, you can buy a whole terrace for the price of a glass of Merlot in a trendy bar in Hoxton!"

 I gingerly proffered a fiver and asked for a 'small glass of house white'. And guess what? It was exactly a fiver! The last time I was at the venue I remember a bottle of cider costing £7.50 (the Jeroboam of cider bottles, admittedly!), so that felt like a bit of a win.


Source: Pinterest

Once upstairs, I made a beeline for Rachael Potts, who is not only a perfumista well known to many readers, but also - quite fortuitously - the wife of the legendary Tony Potts, the 'fifth Beatle' of The Monochrome Set, who used to do all their promotional videos and moody black and white films on stage during the early days of the band. He has come back into the frame all these years later, creating the latest video for their new album, Maisieworld, and was also responsible for all the back projection of film footage at the two gigs.

Obviously I had to sniff Rachael without further ado and ask her what she was wearing, as my spontaneous powers of recognition are nigh on zero. 'It's a mixture of ancient resins, topped up with Minotaure'. That's Minotaure by Paloma Picasso, which was famously one of the scents worn by David Bowie. Well, I was never going to guess that combo!

Jane, now the band's promoter outside Germany, and also co-manager of the growing merchandise enterprise with husband Dave, was next up on my sniffing list. She was sporting neat jasmine oils procured on her recent holiday in Granada. They smelt dark and rich and not unlike Rachael's 'ancient resins' indeed.

Staying with our perfume theme, another long time fan of the band was down from The Lakes. I had recently spotted a killer deal on a nearly full bottle of his favourite perfume, Isfarkand, on a Facebook perfume site, and had brought this to his attention. In the end, however, he blew his money on a box set of six vinyl LPs, the reissue of which coincided with the launch of the new album. And of course I really couldn't argue with that. ;)




On the first night I wore Immortal Beloved by House of Cherry Bomb. I have a little purse spray that is beautifully presented in a burnished red metal canister with a black leather bow. Well, the base knot of a bow, strictly speaking, not the bowy bit as such. It actually matched my outfit of red top and black trousers, though as I didn't need to re-apply the scent, such serious attention to colour coordination was rather wasted.

On the second night, Rachael was in Geisha Noire, also by Maria McElroy - to start with at least. I think she said she added another layer of something after that, but you know how hard it is to hear people at gigs. I had opted for Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, which is my second favourite winter scent after Immortal Beloved. That said, I am on such an Immortal Beloved kick at the moment - and Rachael really liked it too - that I could quite happily stay in this till spring.

Then as she does from time to time, Jane kindly gave me some 'gift with purchase' freebies that she had no use for (being a vegan, and a non-make up wearer), which included a mascara - yay! - and a bottle of Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour. Now my go-to review site for all things Yves Rocher is I Scent You A Day. Samantha didn't initially care for this perfume on account of the opening whoosh of red pepper, but she came solidly round to it not long after, while I liked Quelques Notes d'Amour from the off. I totally agree with Sam that it is a 'grown up rose', more suitable for autumn and winter. And for a scent that costs just £20 for 30ml on Yves Rocher's own site it really is punching above its price tag, at at least the level of Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari, say, which is the fragrance I would say it is most closely resembles. Both have a sandalwood/rose/patchouli thing going on, while avoiding that 'catch in the throat' issue you can often get when the patchouli is too heavy-handed. And the light and airy feel also steers clear of wan, cheap chemicalness that is a feature of scents at the bargain end of the designer spectrum.




Notes: bergamot, red pepper, Damascena rose, guaiac wood, patchouli, cedar, amyris wood, benzoin

Oh, and Quelques Notes d'Amour comes in a cute little bottle too, not unlike a miniature Maison Kurkdjian! Maybe I am drawn to this scent because of the happy associations with the weekend when I was given it, plus its name is rather fitting for Valentine's Day, if you are celebrating. I just checked back and I haven't written any kind of Valentine's post on Bonkers since 2016, and it's a pretty tongue in cheek one at that. But there's the link in case anyone is feeling shortchanged today by this 'secular' post.

Because the crossover of TMS aficionados and perfumistas reading the blog can be counted on the fingers of one hand (to date, to my knowledge! ;) ), I shan't dwell on the gigs themselves, amazing as they were, or on the fantastic feeling of fellowship with fans from far and wide, though that was one of the highlights. An American woman living in London - whom I would have very much like to have met - summed up the weekend perfectly in a post on Facebook, which I have abridged below:

"Two nights of unadulterated joy at The Lexington with TMS and 200 plus like-minded people, a community of true music lovers and the ineffable pleasure and infectious joy coming off the stage..... I danced, I swayed, I got so warm I had to take off everything but my tights and top ,feeling like Edie ( without the money or youth) at a Velvets gig..... Thank you for a tremendous evening, a foray into my wild and happy youth. There is no reason to stop feeling young and gay and listening to TMS."



Source: Jane Barnes


Finally, on my way back on the Sunday, I was accosted by a woman who asked if I had any spare change - not a homeless person, though clearly someone on her downers, who didn't have the train fare to Surrey. There's been a lot of positive publicity lately about people living on the streets, and though this woman's circumstances were somewhat different, I immediately got my purse out and gave her a pound. To my surprise, she looked unimpressed. 'Could you not give me a fiver, or six quid? That's what my fare is?' I said I was very sorry, but that that was all the change I had, tossing in my unemployed card for good measure. 'I am sure if you ask a few more people you will get the fare together', I added cheerily. 'No, I won't, I have been here for an hour and a half already and that's all I have got.' After a split second's thought I decided that I wouldn't feel personally liable for the lack of donations of other passers by and stuck to my original amount. I was really curious to know, but too polite to ask, why she would have come to London knowing she hadn't got any money to go home again. The answer may be obvious and I am being naive, but it did puzzle me no end.

So there you have it - a truly memorable weekend, with a gratifying perfume element, and a resistance to being shamed by an impecunious stranger.


Source: Jane Barnes