Gri Gri from Anaïs Biguine – fragrance for tattooed skin

Gri Gri fragrances

“Do you think perfume smells different on tattooed skin?” I ask Anaïs Biguine when we meet at Aubaine in Selfridges. Our table is tucked around the corner from the main gallery, in a section whose bleak air conditioning-vent covered ceiling has been cleverly transformed to an abundant hanging wisteria garden. Faux pale purple blossoms dangle from every available surface.

“Of course not!” she replies, and this doesn’t have to be translated – Sharon from Aspects Beauty PR is there with us because Anaïs speaks French and my French is remedial at best (I understand more than I can speak, but I would have missed most of the conversation without help).

“You don’t suppose the way in which bottles, packaging, colours… context affects our perception of scents could affect the perception of perfume sniffed from tattooed skin?” I ask, almost winking – I’m being a little bit playful because Anaïs has called her new Gri Gri (“good luck charm”) perfume range “perfume for tattooed skin” and I want to find out why.

She considers and nods: “Yes, a psychological effect, absolutely, there could be one. Maybe it would push your imagination a bit further. I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.”

I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.

Anaïs tells me about her creative process: “My creativity has a kind of incubation period and one day I will embark on a project for reasons that may not be clear at the time – but eventually it will start to make sense. And because I am very organised in my working life, everyone thinks that’s what I’m like, but I’m not like that at all outside work. I write, I think; I circle around different concepts and disciplines.”

Yoga meditationFor this range, there was one very specific spark of inspiration, however.

Professeur de Yoga

“I practice Kundalini yoga, which works on muscle groups and parts of your body that you didn’t even necessarily even know were there”, says Anaïs, “and a fragrance should allow you to discover parts of you that were unknown to you as well.”

“Quite often, what you think of as smelling good to you or smelling bad to you is related to your own olfactory recollections,” she explains, “and if it takes you to a good place which unlocks good emotions, that’s going to give you a great experience. So, when creating a fragrance, if you know something is going to smell good, that’s fine, but a good fragrance should also take you someplace – transport you. And it is possible that it will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.”

It is possible that [a fragrance] will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.

Anaïs describes herself as a deep thinker and tells me of her daily meditation – we all have eyes to look into the world and meditation gives you the third eye to look inside. And because through meditation she effectively has a meeting with herself every day, it helps with her intuitive creativity.

It was her yoga teacher who sparked off a burning curiosity about tattoos and eventually led to the creation of Gri Gri – perfume for tattooed skin.

“He has a lot of tattoos – and I realised I knew absolutely nothing about tattoos,” says Anaïs about her yoga teacher, “I realised that a lot of very spiritual people have them. I had the same prejudices that many people have about tattoos – that it’s only rebellious people who have them. I realised that tattoo was a universal language, but one I didn’t know anything about.”

“I’ve always been very curious about things and it was natural I should start exploring tattoos next – initially I didn’t think about perfumes at all; just felt bad that I had really misunderstood tattoos and felt remorse for misjudging tattoeed people.”

In some ways, Gri Gri became an artistic apology of sorts. Anaïs felt she had to be thorough, and so studied tattoo history, attended every exhibition she could find, read lots of books – and found a whole world she hadn’t known anything about before.

She quickly realised that there were parallels between perfume which she really understood and tattooing, which she really didn’t.

“A tattoo is a message that goes into your skin and perfume is a message that rests on your skin,” says Anaïs.

Both are costumes that we display to the outer world – messages we send out about ourselves.

Gri Gri

“I am a specialist in narrative fragrances,” says Anaïs, “very caught up in history and stories.” Indeed, her first range Jardins d’Ecrivains was about authors and their gardens – a blend of perfume and literature, two of her great loves and sources of inspiration.

She cites 19th century, baroque and the beat generation as landscapes she likes to travel over and over again and explore in different ways. For Gri Gri, each fragrance is its own story, with the tattoo and its subject as the starting point, which meant that Anaïs was keen to create fragrances based around smells native to that region and unusual raw materials – some of them artist’s impressions made up of naturals and synthetics, some locally-sourced materials.

Anaïs feels synthetics are an important part of fragrance creation: “Synthetics enhance your palette immensely and allow the perfumer to express things one can’t with naturals alone,” she explains. She works with a Japanese technician in a Grasse laboratory to refine each scent. “She’s really good at balance, so we spend a lot of time working together. Every note has to sing,” says Anaïs.

Every note has to sing.

“I had lots of completely crazy materials sent to me from all over the world so I could explore the scent profiles and be inspired,” she explains.
Moko Maori from Gri Gri

Moko Maori

Anaïs started with the facial tattoos of the Maoris of New Zealand. “Every tattoo tells of a stage in their lives,” says Anaïs, “the symbolic fern-curls found in these shapes led to an obvious theme – fougere. It also happens to be a place where they have the greatest variety of ferns in the world. You’ve got to imagine a forest in New Zealand when you smell Moko Maori.”

Moko Maori opens with a manuka honey accord so realistic I would expect bees to be attracted to the wearer of this scent – it’s not a sugary honey impression, but hay-like and very polleny. The fougere character becomes immediately apparent and the impression is of an ode to the perfumer’s fern, decorated with heavy New Zealand fantasy. The hay and pollen turn out to provide a counterpoint to the fougere-on-steroids accord; a kind of dampener which allows it to be overloaded. When I wore the scent for a few days I got a mental impression of a giant fern totem carved out of soap; of a hyper-lush alien forest full of exotic birds and insects; of a well-to-do body-conscious American juicer-type wearing it after a session with her personal yoga guru. Moko Maori is a genuinely new combination of olfactory impressions, yet achingly on-trend because it could really be described as a feminine fougere (and that’s all the rage right now, boys and girls).

If Anaïs is on trend, she doesn’t attribute it to any kind of planning or market research on her part; just following her gut. She tells me that her methods are intuitive, she composes the scents for herself, and that she loathes the idea of thinking of a ‘target market’ or even a specific person when composing a fragrance.

“Lots of fragrances are born for the wrong reasons,” says Anaïs.

I found this was the one scent out of the whole collection that I couldn’t get out of my mind and felt a real craving to re-visit again and again. It felt like discovering a novel that stays in your dreams after reading it.

Moko Maori official notes list
Top notes: Tussock Grass, New Zealand Flax
Middle notes: Fern, Kowhai, Manuka
Base notes: Lichen, Kanuka

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra

According to Anaïs, Tara Mantra is based on Buddhist Sanskrit language which inspires wisdom and introspection. Most of the influence comes from India and Nepal.

Anaïs has chosen a herbal theme for this scent – it opens with a soft saffron accord, much more reminiscent of saffron in food than in perfumery and the fantasy “hing” accord, based on an Asian cooking herb follows. In fact, the whole fragrance has a quasi-edible quality and on wearing it, I found a slightly unsettling fatty animal note lurking underneath, which made the experience like wearing some kind of mystic broth instead of perfume. However, as with all of the Gri Gri scents, I strongly encourage trying them on your skin for a while and seeing what happens. This scent may take you to a place where you want to be.

Many fragrances (and indie fragrances especially) smell better on skin than on scent strips and what could be more appropriate for a range designed for ‘tattooed skin’ than perfumes which require your skin as the last ingredient.

Tara Mantra official notes list
Top notes: Saffron, Cardamom, Hing
Middle notes: Patchouli, Ajowan
Base notes: Lotus, Jasmine, Agarwood

Ukiyo-e from Gri Gri

Ukiyo-e

“I learned that the Japanese tattoo tradition was wrapped up in criminal activity, but that it has been largely reclaimed from that in recent years and become a really wonderful artform,” explains Anaïs.

She wanted to make this a very theatrical scent; the most unusual of the three, and based it around a genmaicha tea accord. Genmaicha is blend of green tea and brown rice, and so the fragrance opens with a cereal-type accord which my nose interprets as hazelnut (though I was assured by my partner-in-scent Nick Gilbert that there was a recognisable genmaicha impression in this scent; he studies Japanese and his tutor has treated him to this beverage on occasion).

However, whether a fan of hazelnut or genmaicha – this perfume is a really fun exploration and also (accidentally) rather trendy – there have been praline and nutty accords popping up in scents lately. This isn’t a fashion fragrance, so the nutty-cereal accord is dominant rather than a cautious hint. It’s a scent I really recommend experiencing for yourself, just for the ride. And I have to add this cheeky thought – far from the artistic inspiration of this scent, but one I want to share nevertheless –  if you happen to be a fan of the Dove Deep Care Nourishing Lotion with Pistachio and Magnolia, I cannot think of a better perfume for you to layer it with.

Ukiyo-e official notes list
Top notes: Genmaicha, Yuzu, Aralia
Middle notes: Daphné, Green tea
Base notes: Sakura, Ashibi

1920s tattooed woman

A new scent from Gri Gri, due out next spring

I was let in on a little secret – Anaïs is putting finishing touches on a new perfume for the Gri Gri range which she hopes to launch next spring.

“I was really inspired by the tattooed women of the 1920s and 1930s,” she says, “in some ways they represent real forerunners of female independence to me. But there are also stories of how tattoos were still viewed as something freakish, and tattooed people would sometimes be more at home in sideshows among the bearded ladies.”

Anaïs wanted to play with the idea of turning the shock value up; of creating a scent that would be as bizarre as a head-to-toe tattooed woman in the 1920s, and so, Sideshow was born.

It is a completely bonkers perfume of bubble gum, candy floss, leather and circus animal bedding – almost two scents in one – the pink ballerina tutu twirling into the ring first. It takes a moment for you to realise it’s been worn by a dancing bear.

I wore Sideshow for a night and kept giggling at it, which is usually a good sign – I am not sure if I could get away with wearing this seriously, but on the other hand, I am a huge fan of wearing scents un-seriously.

The art of tattoos

Tattoos have moved on, diversified, developed and become their own art form – above are a few wonderful examples of wearing art on your skin.

Check out these examples:

Tattoo art by Bicem Sinik

41 inspirational examples of tattoo art

Flora and fauna tattoos by Tenderfoot Studios

Double exposure tattoos by Andrey Lukovnikov

“Having a tattoo is a strong statement for someone to make. A tattoo can make you feel stronger,” says Anaïs.

It’s an excellent point. Many people choose tattoos as a way to mark their body after something else has marked it; or as a self-defining act.

On the other hand, with so many styles and inspirations to choose from, tattoos have become just another way for people to decorate themselves and it’s no longer shocking to be tattooed. If Dame Judi Dench has one, I’m pretty sure anyone can.

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Yardley Hermina & London 1770

There almost couldn’t have been a better lure* to get me out to a press launch than combining an evening at a stationery boutique (squee!) talking about perfume (yay!) whilst learning calligraphy (wow!) – so the Yardley PRs didn’t really have to try hard to get me to come on over. I was also very curious to see what the classic British perfume house of Yardley would be up to these days because my last impression of it was that of a reliable but rather too safe a brand (though something I remember fondly from my make-up artist days when I’d always have a bottle of Yardley English Lavender cologne in my kit).
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The evening was held at Quill London and our modern calligraphy workshop was taught by the sickeningly talented Imogen Owen. We were shown how just the right amount of pressure is required to create artistic, modern calligraphy with real flair. Settling down to the exercises, I quickly realised I had no natural talent in this art whatsoever and all my early attempts looked like a daddy long legs had fallen into a large jug of Pimms No1 Cup and drunkenly swayed back and forth on a page after an accidental encounter with an ink well.

A few pages of exercises (and much diplomatic and kind encouragement from Imogen) later, I was quite happy with an ampersand. Yes. I can now draw a satisfactory calligraphy ampersand. Happily, Quill London and Yardley equipped us with a goodiebag that included everything we needed to continue practicing at home. Thank goodness.
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Yardley has been having a quiet make-over. Heritage brands can end up trapped by the very thing that made them famous in the first place. What happens when your original products are now thought of as old-fashioned and the newer generations think of them as something that just isn’t for them? Quality, reliability and brand recognition are all very nice things to have, but when we choose a perfume for ourselves, don’t we want it to be a little bit more… exciting?

Back in the 70s and 80s, you’d get a few major fragrance launches a year and the kinds of affordable mass-market fragrances that were available didn’t exactly compete with fine fragrance – they were more distinct from the fine fragrance offering.

Fast-forward to today: thousands of new fragrances each year across every price point and every conceivable market segment. We’ve got ultra-niche all-natural artisanal microperfumeries and super mass-market commercial blockbusters – and everything in-between. Consumers have more choice than ever, but this doesn’t necessarily make choosing easier. It can actually make choosing harder. And more choice doesn’t mean better quality.

It’s hard for brands to stand out and to carve a unique niche. Who needs another perfume? Why now? What’s so unique about yours?

Yardley is turning to its heritage but they seem to be up to something that could be the Holy Grail of heritage brand revival if it works – apply a modern twist to its classic knowhow and remind people that yes, we know what we’re doing and have been around for hundreds of years, but we’re also up on modern trends and what people want from their fragrance today.

One of the frustrating things about just wanting to smell good is that with all the thousands of fragrances out there, surprisingly few brands actually fulfil this apparently simple brief: an elegant fragrance that smells good and doesn’t cost more than a typical celebrity perfume.

Of course we know that a huge amount of fragrance cost comes from advertising, packaging and other elements associated with creating those big, commercial blockbusters. But that doesn’t guarantee success – it just means consumers have to pay more (and may not end up getting a better perfume as a result because perhaps the perfumer or fragrance house wasn’t given an adequate budget in the first place).

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We were shown Hermina, which Yardley describes as hitting the androgynous trend of featuring masculine notes in feminine scents (and yes, this cross-referencing is a trend that’s happening both ways at the moment). Hermina is a crisp, elegant floral-woody chypre with a tart, fig and fruit aspect and a subtle, woody drydown. It could easily pass as a launch from a leading cosmetic brand; something you’d imagine a well-dressed professional woman or a glowing English country wife wearing (as she’s preparing that giant jug of Pimms No1 Cup, blissfully unaware of its hazards to passing daddy longlegs with calligraphy aspirations).

Hermina was named after a real Yardley historical figure, the wife of William Cleaver and whose father (also William) was the first Yardley to officially own the business since the original founder. The fragrance was created by Nelly Hachem-Ruiz at IFF and retails at £19.99 for 50ml.
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We were also shown a new masculine fragrance, London 1770, and I thought I recognised the Robertet signature in it, and I was right – it was created by Jean Charles Mignon and Amandine Galliano from Robertet UK. It’s a warm, spicy, ambery fragrance that has a fruity twist and just enough patchouli and moss to give you a real feel of modern and classic in one fragrance. It smells very good, very wearable and for £19.99 for 50ml, I hope many, many men will practically bathe in it.

Having checked what other new fragrances Yardley has been launching recently, I noticed there is one called Ink – an award-winner, no less – and thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity not to at least bring a bottle of it for us to smell to a calligraphy evening. Alas!
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Oh, the notebooks! I couldn’t resist a little bit of sneaky shopping on the side. My name is Pia and I am a stationery hoarder. Aren’t these just stunning? The one on the right came in our goodiebag and I bought the other two for important freelance journo purposes. You’ll see one of them at a perfume event soon.
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I’m going to be watching what happens with Yardley with interest. Based on what I learned earlier this month at the press launch, I think they deserve to do well, and I hope their new fragrances get noticed by the right people. Modern classics in the making? We shall see.

 

* Stationery + artistic penmanship + perfume = a pretty perfect event for me, let’s face it. Now add something Moomin, Ghibli, Muppet or science fiction-related and I’d be first in the queue. That’s pretty unlikely to happen, though.

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!

Zombie Scents: A Real Horror Story

Zombie scents - a real horror story about perfume that is no longer the sameThe walking dead are among us. They sound the same, they sometimes even look the same, though in many cases you’ll spot something odd about their appearance. Unlike a flesh zombie, a perfume zombie appears polished and modern, stylish and clean, suspiciously so…suspiciously so.

Perfumes get reformulated for many reasons. Cost of materials may have become prohibitive (or just undesirable). The scent may be re-adjusted to better match modern tastes. One or more of the key components may have been banned or restricted. Sometimes justifiably so; sometimes using the “let’s crack this walnut with a hammer”-approach. IFRA, despite popular opinion to the contrary, has actually managed to save many perfume ingredients from getting removed from the perfumers’ palette completely. When the EU and individual governments are left to ban and restrict materials, you end up with what happened in Denmark (the government banned parabens in products for children – not because there was any new science on parabens being harmful, but because there was a data gap. So they banned parabens “just in case”, partly to stop mothers worrying. Of course people who stand to gain from anti-paraben scare-marketing will triumphantly quote that the Danish government has banned parabens without putting the statement in context).

The point is: as suspicious as IFRA may seem from the outside, it’s acting as a barrier between NGOs, pressure groups and overzealous governmental ingredient regulation. On the other hand, if a fragrance material is applied undiluted to shaved rat skin or fed to an animal until it dies, does that really reflect what happens to perfume in normal everyday use?

The peanut thing. This topic always turns to “But lots of people are allergic to peanuts and they’re not banned. Why can’t perfumes just have a warning label?”

It does seem to make sense. Alas, peanuts are food and perfume is considered a non-essential luxury product (non-essential! Yes, this story is a real chiller). As far as regulators and safety experts are concerned, it is easier to eliminate any potential risk from perfume than to remove peanut products from sale. There is also some misunderstanding about how allergies to perfume form and how many people get them. Only about 3% of the EU population is allergic to fragrances but some of the cases can be quite severe and result in permanent skin conditions or damage. According to Lisa Hipgrave from IFRA UK, perfume allergy develops over time, so you could use the same fragrance for years and suddenly become violently allergic to one of its ingredients.

Some perfume materials are more problematic than others: Lyral (a common lily material) is significantly more problematic than many other synthetic ingredients. A shame because I really like the way it smells. Some materials contain constituents which cause phototoxicity: bergamot oil naturally contains furanocoumarins which, if left in, would cause skin discolouration when exposed to sunlight. Furanocoumarins are now removed from bergamot oil in most cases as part of its processing for perfumery use.

I think the main problem with the fragrance allergen issue has been the perfume industry’s secretive nature. Trying to engage, educate and participate in the allergen discussion when we’re already so far down the road of restrictions and bans seems like the old “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.” I don’t personally think it should have to be necessary to restrict so many materials so severely. I do think we would be better off with warning labels and perhaps a return to the fashion of scenting scarves and handkerchiefs, or wearing little nosegays and scented lockets.

It is heartbreaking to encounter a Zombie Perfume. My beloved Diorella, secretly squirted from my grandmother’s dressing table, now a shadow of its former self due to so many restrictions on lily of the valley materials. Tabac Blond, so anemic; now a leather handbag with an electronic cigarette instead of a smouldering jazz club in the 30s.

And what of Mitsouko, such beauty of a mossy forest with naked nymphs frolicking, now a tight-lipped executive woman who sometimes dreams of the woods. Poison, the outrageous 80s power dresser, now wearing a purple bathrobe and sipping Ribena in front of the telly. Destroyed by restrictions on damascones.

Some of the Zombie Scents are still wearable. I have a modern Mitsouko and it still gives me pleasure. I’ve encountered some older perfumes which have survived very well and retained their original character. Some others (Byzance by Rochas being one of them) are just painfully sad to smell in their current form.

Would it be better to remove the walking dead from sale? Is it not a travesty that when you describe how gloriously vulgar or sexy or stunning some vintage perfume or another used to be, then encounter a blank stare from a person who has only ever smelled the current juice… would it not be kinder to leave our scent memories be instead of milking more money out of a zombie? The alternative is trying to campaign for the status of perfumes to be like works of art and rightly preserved in their original state (as much as the availability of materials permits).

Happy Halloween!

Images from: Vieux Papiers, Lord Price, Fragrantica, Yesterday’s Perfume

Awful book covers

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Only most of us do. I present to you two sources of car-crash book jacket design:

lousybookcovers
Lousy book covers is a Tumblr blog that scours the depths of self-publishing and e-books for baffling examples of cover design. Some of the covers on the site are actually quite effective, and convey the contents well, but many display a desperate need for some professional help. Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you can design its cover.

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Are these the 10 Worst Book Covers In The History Of Literature as the writer of this blog would have us believe? Take a look and judge for yourself. I think some of the covers from the first site are strong contenders.

Macabre and Beautifully Grotesque

If you’re a fan of horror books, dark themes and Guillermo del Toro’s films, you might really like a Facebook group called The Macabre and the Beautifully Grotesque. It’s a daily showcase of haunted houses, chilling scenery and macabre art.

If this sort of thing appeals to you, Clive Barker might be a familiar name. He also posts on Facebook and has a devoted Twitter following. He doesn’t seem to run his updates past a PR agency and shares his inner thoughts, snapshots and illustrations.

If you like all of the above, I have one final recommendation for you: if you haven’t read China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (because you’re new to horror and fantasy, because you’ve never really read genre literature, because you’ve been in cryogenic sleep and only woke up yesterday), please do seek it out and read it. It’s the most textured book I’ve ever read. Reading it was closer to a sensation than a cognitive process for me. Give it a try and see what you think.

Via Curufea

New Crobuzon via Curufea