Ruth Mastenbroek launches Oxford – giveaway!

RMF_Oxford_100mlJust a quick heads up and a giveaway for you – Ruth Mastenbroek launched the third perfume under her own brand last week and its warm, ambery scent is wafting from my skin as we speak. Oxford is described as a unisex scent and is exclusively available from Fenwick of Bond Street, London.

I have a sample vial to give away to a lucky reader – leave a comment to let me know why you’d like to try this scent and I will draw a winner at random next weekend (19th of July) and edit this post on that day to announce the winner, so please check back if you participate.

From the press release:

Inspired by her time as a Chemistry undergraduate at Oxford in the 1970’s, Ruth’s latest fragrance captures the essence of discovery, being exposed to things you have never come across before… a feeling of self awareness and learning, the negatives and the positives; coming out the other side richer, wiser, more mature. This fragrance is the story of an awakening, a personal discovery of becoming a complete person.

Oxford will be EXCLUSIVELY available from Fenwick from 8th July 2015.

“Oxford is inspired by the French cigarette brand Gitanes – chic, rough, and exotic. Oxford captures that moment in life when you discover you can make your own choices, you can make mistakes. It is your life and no one else’s.

“Oxford…the scent of an awakening…the discovery of life’s extraordinary adventure.”

Ruth has been creating fine fragrances for over 30 years. The invisible ‘nose’ behind some of the world’s most well known brands and designers, Ruth has also created scents for some of Britain’s finest premium fragrance brands including Jo Malone and Kenneth Turner. In recent years Ruth has also launched her own range of exquisitely blended luxury fragranced products, the culmination of her decades of experience in perfume alchemy.

An Oxford University graduate in chemistry, Ruth went on to learn her craft in Grasse.
Ruth has also spent time as President of the British Society of Perfumers.

Oxford Eau de Parfum
50ml RRP £60.00 / 100ml RRP £80.00

Top notes: Bergamot, Galbanum, Basil
Heart notes:  Clary sage, Rosemary, Jasmine
Base notes: Amber, Vanilla, Vetivert, Oudh

Disclaimer: Ruth is a friend via the British Society of Perfumers and I have received two samples of her fragrance to blog about – I’m keeping the other one! ;)

WINNER: Congratulations to Zenimue – you won! I used a random picking tool and your name came out of the digital hat. A sample of Oxford will be on its way to you very soon.

Pia’s (almost) annual perfume meet, tube strike edition

Valerie, Thomas and Freddie at Penhaligon's

Once upon a time I co-arranged the first UK Basenotes meet with Grant Osborne and a whole bunch of people came – many of whom became good friends. It’s the friends from that day and a few new ones each year who amble around London perfumeries with me. We also tend to indulge in nice things to eat – cake, afternoon tea, or exotic snacks (or lunch, ice cream, gin and chips like yesterday).

This year we changed the date from a Saturday in May to a Thursday in July because Valerie Cookie Queen Sperrer was going to be in London and we all wanted to meet her. To add to the serendipity, Odysseusm from Basenotes was in the UK all the way from Canada and I was so happy to have him join us.

Then the tube strike was announced. Irrespective of solidarity, the general reaction was very sweary. Of ALL days, it had to be the one that had been in the calendar for months AND could not be changed because we had more than one person from overseas! However, everyone shrugged it off. Ok, so there’s a strike – so.what.

We made our way in groups and alone to our first stop in Covent Garden by various means (mostly on foot) and actually, tube strike London was gloriously empty and quiet.

Covent Garden on tube strike dayWe also lucked out on the weather – warm, sunny; not too hot.

Nick Gilbert from Penhaligon’s had kindly agreed to host us in their basement and we spent the morning trashing it, more or less. Perfume bottles… perfume bottles everywhere…

Penhaligon's basementWe headed to Bloom afterwards and had a great time sniffing our way through scents and chatting. Had I known in advance that Antonio Gardoni from Bogue Profumo was going to be there at 4pm, we’d have arranged our visits another way, but our group was very good about going with the flow, so we just went to Bloom twice in one day. As you do.

Bloom Covent Garden

After our (first) Bloom visit, we had lunch at Bill’s in Covent Garden and I can’t recommend them highly enough after our seamlessly organised and tasty experience. They accomodated our large group very well and the food and service were both excellent. Will definitely be going there again!

Bills Covent GardenWe walked over to Fortnum & Mason because I wanted to take everyone to check out the revamped perfumery.

Our perfume meet group

Nick, Valerie, Freddie, Hannah, Grant, Pia, Thomas, Penny, Suzie, Steven, Samantha, Tara, Danny, Lisa, Andrew

Ice cream was also purchased (to go) from the Parlour (I had a blood orange sorbet which was perfect) and we walked back to Bloom to meet Antonio.

Ice cream at Fortnum's

Antonio is such a charismatic man that I think we all swooned a little bit… he let us smell various blends and components he uses for his perfumes which was an interesting insight into his process.

Antonio Gardoni

Some of us felt thirsty, so we headed to Nook and spent a couple of hours taking advantage of their two-for-one cocktail offer (I only had mocktails, by the way – the same can’t be said for the others…).

Strawberry mocktail

It was an absolutely fantastic day and I can’t wait to do it again next year (we’re also hoping to make some other trips in the future; tad more ambitious, but when there’s a will, there’s a way…)

Thank you to everyone who came!

An illustration interlude

Feeniks illustration by Pia Long

Hymy illustration by Pia Long

I have a whimsical hobby. I draw, paint and create photo manipulations for fun. I’m no professional artist, but have always been doodling and did originally consider some kind of art career (with hindsight, I wish I’d known about textile design when I was a teen. On the other hand, I am very glad to be working with perfumes now, and with sites like Society6 even amateurs can have a go at popping designs onto various products).

The way the templates are set up is a little bit limiting (for example using the same template for both laptop and iPad skins). My favourite template on the site is the all-over print t-shirt – I had a lot of fun designing those.

Editing t-shirt

Feeniks all over print by Pia LongEka all over t-shirt by Pia LongLento all over t-shirt by Pia LongHymy all over t-shirt by Pia LongI use Copic Ciao markers on paper and tidy any smudges from the scan in Corel Painter. That’s it for these – so the illustration quality is definitely hand-drawn and not defined and solid. I think it works for these images.

Copic markersPop over and take a look at the available products – I’ll be adding new designs from time to time (I doodle in the evenings and weekends when I want to do something creative and useful. It’s a bit like my version of knitting).

I’d really appreciate any tweets and Facebook posts to spread the word!

In futile search of the Bad Guys

EU regulations foot by Grant OsborneYou know what would be easy? If we could all join forces to fight the Dark Lord of Anti-Perfume and drown him in a special potion of oakmoss and alpha damascone.

Alas.

The reality is that the regulations squeezing the juice out of fragrances are complex, inconsistent, overlapping, hard to understand even for professionals and not black-and-white. They all stem from good intentions.

Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. T. S. Eliot

Are fragrance regulations evil? They certainly seem to be if you’re a perfumer, struggling to reformulate a classic scent to fit IFRA or a perfume fan whose favourite fragrance has been discontinued because it could not be changed without destroying it.

It’s very easy to cast IFRA in the role of the Bad Guy, but it really is not that simple. It’s complicated and nuanced. Understanding what is really going on with the EU fragrance regulations is tough.

I’ve written a long piece for Basenotes about the topic. It came out of sheer frustration – as some Basenoters of old will remember, I’ve had a long journey from a perfume enthusiast to perfumer, much of which has been documented here and in various blogs and articles over the years. In the sorts of jobs I do now, I have to understand what is really going on behind the scenes and therefore attend training courses and symposiums and whatnot.

I went to an IFRA day a while back now (must have been 2013!), hoping I’d come out of there a little wiser. Well, I suppose I did, but I also came out of there with pages and pages of notes and more questions than I went in with. It was obvious that many of the industry representatives in the room were frustrated about all the restrictions; didn’t feel that the EU’s actions – while well-meaning – were really protecting consumers as intended and just causing lots of extra pressure… and nobody seemed to be able to present a comprehensive overview of how all these parallel regulatory requirements fit together. So I decided to have a go at gaining a better understanding.

What became obvious was that there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” and that there were lots of inconsistencies, even loopholes, and the whole thing seemed in parts to be over-protective but in others, curiously obscure. I needed to learn more for my work anyway, so read through everything I could, asked subject matter experts to help spot errors in my facts (hence the fabulous Penny – who since has offered me a job; nothing to do with this piece, just the fact we’ve had a growing friendship and mutual respect over time and I happen to have skills which she can use).

I held back from finishing the article until I’d attended lots of extra training and spoken to many people who know more than I do.

And yet, any failings (such as the sad way in which this piece seems to have come across as scaremongering or propaganda to some of the Basenotes readers – or most confusingly, as a piece advocating the use of synthetics over naturals… that’s certainly not the message)… any failings are mine alone, and it’s been an interesting education to see just how tough it is to communicate complex topics like this from an informed position. The irony is that in order to understand something like this, one has to get knowledgeable enough that to many people one can appear like an industry shill. That I am not. My desire is to understand and I certainly don’t speak for the industry.

I hope this piece will generate healthy debate and discussion. I’m not the slightest bit offended by some of the more frustrated comments on the article; it is to be expected and I understand.

What I’d love to hear is your take on the final question I pose. “So now what?”

What do you all think would be a reasonable and realistic way to protect perfumes from over-regulation while protecting the consumers? Is it a totally naive idea to reason with the giant bureaucracy monster? Who do you think would be in the best position to protect the industry’s interests AND reassure consumers that their products are safe?

 

I’m joining Penny at Orchadia

Orchadia SolutionsA small interlude if you’ll allow – I have such exciting news that I have to tell you all right now! Penny Williams has been a friend and a mentor for some years now. She is an experienced perfumer and a respected consultant. I’ve watched her business blossom (pun intended…sorry; I couldn’t help myself) over the years and I’m delighted that she has asked me to work for her at Orchadia Solutions.

Orchadia is based at Colworth Science Park – it’s a great place to work with a pristine perfume lab, office space and conference facilities set in beautiful parkland.

Colworth Science Park

Penny also runs The International Perfume Academy which provides workshops and distance education.

I’ve set up a team Twitter account for us (which will be shepherded by Penny, Richie and myself) – would you do me a favour and add @OrchadiaS on Twitter to help us get started? Since we’re all obsessed by the science of smell and perfumery there will be a steady stream of geekery and behind-the-scenes stuff.

In other, related news, I was surprised and honoured to be invited by Kate Williams, current BSP president, to join the council at the British Society of Perfumers. I’ve got my tea making skills ready. @BSP50 is also on Twitter so while you’re following perfumery-related things…

So it’s been a bit of a crazy month! I don’t think any of this has sunk in yet.

Armpit sweat and Fragrancestein (or the 33rd BSP annual symposium)

BSP symposium PFW brains

Move over, scent strips! The new way to experience potent aroma chemicals in their pure state is…BRAIIIIIIINS!

The 33rd One Day Symposium by the British Society of Perfumers was unusually stinky this year: armpit sweat and skatole overdoses, oh my! It’s an important date in the UK perfume calendar and this year’s event was once again held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester, to a full audience of perfumers, evaluators, sales and marketing people. I was lucky to be put in the same group as Karen Gilbert with whom we had only just sniffed some gorgeous Osmotheque recreations, so the day offered us plenty of opportunities to compare notes.

The first item on the agenda was a talk by a bright, young PhD candidate Caroline Allen, who, with the help of Kate Williams (who was elected as the new BSP president during the AGM that followed), has been researching the effect of artificial fragrances on our ability to advertise and judge body odour. A few years ago another talk at the BSP explained the human major histocompatibility complex and its role in mate selection, so Caroline’s research is a perfect follow-up. Since it’s been shown that we prefer the scent of potential mates with an MHC type that is different to our own, how does using, say, underarm deodorant affect this?

What seems to be happening is that when people are left to choose their own fragrance, they pick a scent which enhances (advertises) their natural body odour in a good way, meaning that potential mates will not be thrown off scent. If a scent is randomly allocated (you wear something your gran bought you for Christmas even though you don’t like it, for instance), our own odour fingerprint still comes through, but not as well.

Caroline roped us into helping her by making us smell cotton pads soaked in armpit sweat. By recording our impressions using descriptive words (musky, sweet, floral… or in the case of one of the samples, onion, cumin…), we were able to contribute to the odour mapping work that Kate and her team have been doing at Seven Scent.

BSP symposium Caroline AllenIncidentally, sample 32 (I think) smelled of sweet musk and fruit to me, and I felt very happy sniffing it – whereas others who sniffed it didn’t have the same reaction. Everyone’s impressions of each sample varied greatly, which in itself was fascinating.

These days follow a similar format – fragrance raw material suppliers present a selection of new materials or existing materials used in new ways. Presentations include demonstration formulae in various bases (candles, body creams, shampoos, detergents, fine fragrance and so on) and some go to great lengths to be creative with the way in which they show their materials off.

None more so than PFW who always seem to come up with an off-the-wall presentation. This year, their mascot Master Perfumer, Pierre the Perfumer was the star of a truly frightening film-slash-demo formula, FRAGRANCESTEIN.

BSP symposium PFW Fragrancestein
Keen-eyed readers will note the massive skatole overdose, and keen-nosed ones will know that it truly smells of excrement. Where indole has a mothball quality and flip-flops between poop and mothballs (and where with indole, once you’ve worked on enough floral accords containing it, your brain starts to construct a flower around it, so it no longer smells bad after a while)… with skatole, I am yet to arrive at such a happy state (and wonder if it’ll ever happen). It really does smell bad. So the challenge was – how to hide the ‘monster’ and create an accord that would not only be acceptable but pleasant and desirable to consumers.

Bit by bit, we followed Pierre on the silver screen as he tried to tame the monster. Body parts were replaced, the formula tweaked, and we could smell the transformation. Perhaps a little too influenced by the initial horror, many in the room did struggle to find the final accord pleasant, but that’s where being a trained nose can sometimes trip you up; if you smell the construction rather than the naive overall effect, you can sometimes miss an interesting piece of work.

BSP symposium PFW footBSP day PFW heartBSP symposium PFW hulk hand

BSP symposium PFW the man with two brains

I’d like to put in a request to PFW: could we see Pierre the Perfumer in “The Man With Two Brains”, please?

I missed out on a PFW goodiebag (what was in there? Dare I ask?) because there wasn’t one on my chair, but did come home with lots of goodies. BSP has its own tote bag now, too!

BSP symposium BSP tote
It wasn’t the only tote of the day; DRT, a company producing impressive volumes of a variety of chemicals all from trees gave us this lovely forest-themed tote:BSP symposium DRT toteBSP symposium DRT goodiesTwo materials which really stuck in my mind from the Nactis/Synarome presentation were Oudharome and Agarome (the former having a lovely orris-type character more so than oudh, really); both made me want to rush into the lab and use them in something.

BSP symposium goodiesIFF‘s presentation of Amber Xtreme was another highlight of the day for me – they’d gone to real effort to make the session interactive and demonstrate the material in use. We experienced a floor cleaning application, laundry care, hair care and fine fragrance – all at different concentrations; all very effective. I was a ‘volunteer’ (read: everyone else suddenly found the ceiling really interesting). My job was to cover a large floor tile with suds.

BSP symposium IFF volunteer

BSP symposium IFF buckets

At least it didn’t turn out to be an ice bucket challenge!

BSP symposium IFF laundryBSP symposium IFF hairThis material is POTENT. I see where the Xtreme comes in, really – a trace in fine fragrance still somewhat dominated the blend, and very small amounts had noticeable effects in other applications. I also love the jaunty whale illustration. It almost has a Japanese quality to it. “Here I am, sending my magic poop into the ocean!”

BSP symposium IFF hairWe were also given generous goodiebags with a new perfumer’s fragrance ingredients compendium, demo bottles of Amber Xtreme and a pen.

BSP symposium IFF goodiesBSP symposium IFF compendium

The day went by fast and I am already looking forward to next year’s symposium. There will be other BSP events before then, of course, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for additions to the calendar – even if you are not a member but happen to be interested in this crazy, poop and sweat-scented world!

The Osmotheque comes to London

Osmotheque in LondonWhen an email with the above header popped into my inbox, I booked a ticket immediately. How could I not? Somehow I’d missed several opportunities to visit the Osmotheque – I wasn’t about to miss this one!

The event was held in Brasserie Zedel for 50 lucky guests, including a bit of a familiar cast of UK perfume-lovers whose company made the day all the more wonderful. We started off with a glass of sparkling wine, sandwiches and little cakes. For some reason the table I was sitting at was immediately branded “the naughty corner” by Odette and Jo. I’m sure we proved them wrong by our impeccable behaviour throughout. The whole day whooshed past – it was absolutely worth every penny – and my only regret is not having taken a proper camera. Of course the most important souvenir from yesterday is the pile of carefully wrapped up scent strips, doused in antique perfumes which we were allowed to keep. I’ll take them out and sniff them on special occasions.

Perfumer and Osmocurator Stephanie Bakouche gave a thoroughly enjoyable presentation, briefly covering perfume history and then each of the houses we were to experience perfumes from. Guerlain, Bourjois, Coty and Poiret were on the cards (figuratively and literally).

My favourite scent above all from the selection was the outrageous tuberose-laden original Parfum des Champs Élysées – heady, sweet, animalic, sensual; dripping with nectar. Guerlain’s Chypre de Paris was also glorious, and not how we think of a chypre today; it smelled very much like Imperial Leather soap, actually. For some reason Coty always gets credit for ‘the first chypre’ (even though it wasn’t), and we were lucky enough to smell that, too. It took me by surprise – a banana note (amyl salicylate?) over animalic, mossy base. Not at all what I expected.

Osmotheque in London

The most educational perfume of the night for me was from the bonus round (not listed): original Eau Sauvage. Educational because as soon as I smelled it, I realised Ô de Lancôme and Eau Dynamisante owe their character to it, and that it really represents a trend in its own right.

La Jardin de Mon Curé was a big, animalic rose, the Muguet was not at all like the way we think of lily-of-the-valley accords nowadays (I got a strong citral note, indole, vanillin, and we thought hydroxycitronellal, too), Cuir de Russie recalled Finnish tervapastilli (birch tar sweets), Soir de  Paris was a powdery, animalic clove, Kobako had a glorious, dry, almost 70s feel, Jasmin de Corse was very indolic, yet balanced, L’Aimant was floral carnation and not as powdery as the modern version, Le Muguet des Bois was beautifully described by Karen Gilbert as “the end of an orange lolly when you get to the stick” and I immediately got what she meant (whereas the others at our table didn’t – Karen and I must have been eating the same orange lollies!). It was more recognisable as ‘lily of the valley’ than the earlier Guerlain Muguet, too. From Poiret, the scents seemed to divide opinion – I was fascinated by Le Fruit Défendu, which made me think of marzipan fruits and I couldn’t get that impression out of my head after the thought popped in there.

Before the official talk, our table also had a little sneak peek preview of a special scent created by 4160Tuesdays for Louise Woollam (whose parosmia has made scent appreciation a difficult task. Violets were among the few acceptable fragrance notes at the time, so a violet perfume was born. It’s a gorgeous blend of ionones and violet leaf which will be launched soon, I hear).

Odette Toilette and The Perfume Society are running this event again on the 27th of June – book as soon as you can because it’s likely to sell out fast.