Perfume Tour, or Love to Smell Live, 2016 Edition

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Penguin burlesque at Bloom Perfumery (representing the ‘daring’ fragrance cabinet, according to the store).

Ever since 2009 there has been a bit of a tradition of a ‘Smelly, Cakey Perfume Meet’ (as it unofficially became known) – the first one was a Basenotes meetup which I helped co-hosted with Grant and Dani and it was such fun that I started arranging tours (almost) every year since. I actually met Nick at the first one, and he has helped co-host the last couple because they’ve been steadily getting bigger. They’re no grand affairs. There’s no ticket price, no formal invites; we all know each other and the theme is very much “we all love fragrance” and that’s a great equaliser – every year the group is a fantastic mix of people.

Since Nick and I have been running our YouTube channel for a few months now, we called this year’s tour “Love to Smell Live” and took some video footage of the day (which you can check out below, though expect a very ‘found footage’ style video rather than high production values).

You’ll find links to blogs written by others about the day in the video description.


I’ve gathered some photos of the day here for your enjoyment and would like to thank everyone who came to have fun with us – I’ve said it many times before and will say it again here – one of my favourite parts about fragrance is smelling things with other people and comparing notes. Smelling through other people’s noses is a fab way to learn more and a great source of entertainment, too.

We visited Fenwick of Bond St, Lalique, By Kilian, Miller Harris, Bloom and B Bakery. Thank you to everyone who hosted us (officially and unofficially).
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Ruth took us through her fragrances and had brought along two raw materials to smell, too.

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Some people couldn’t smell Javanol.

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Fenwick of Bond St were kind to let a group of over 20 people spend a morning occupying their perfumery department.
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The cheeky cherub at Zadig & Voltaire. We’ll be reviewing these scents soon at Love to Smell.
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Chanel wasn’t part of our official route, but we had some free browsing time at Burlington Arcade, so some of us popped in to shop.
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The brand new (2 days old at the time of our visit) Lalique boutique were very welcoming and took us through their brand history. It was the highlight of the tour for many.
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Just one of the enormous flower displays at Lalique.
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Lalique is more famous for its glass and crystal than for its perfumes, but the fragrances deserve a bit of attention.
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Everyone adored Frederick.
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We smelled the new fragrance L’Insoumis which had not officially launched yet. A very interesting herbal accord.
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We stopped at By Kilian, too, and were shown several fragrances, plus their scented jewellery and candles.
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Davina looked after us very well.
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This perfume smells of liquorice…
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It’s still a Cakey meet as well… so we had afternoon tea at B Bakery, Covent Garden.
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Here are some photos from two of the members of our group this year:

Phoebe’s gallery:

Laurin’s gallery:

 

Translating scent into words – come see me at the Free Word Centre

Translating scentThe Free Word Centre in London is hosting an evening of language and scent exploration on the 2nd of June. I’ll be joining the panel discussion on translating scent into words and we’ll hear about a new autobiography told in smells from the author Philip Claudel himself.

Translating smells into words (and the other way around) is very close to my heart and I am looking forward to seeing how the panel and the audience respond to this topic and what we uncover.

There will be a writing exercise at the end where participants will receive scented jars (kindly on loan from Orchadia Solutions) and will be challenged to write about what they are smelling.

I am really looking forward to the evening – it starts at 18:45 and tickets are only a fiver. Maybe see some of you there?

Oud to Joy

Abstract smoke

There are several kinds of agarwood which, when infected with the parasitic mould (Phaeoacremonium parasitica), can produce one of those perfumery’s perversions – something heavenly out of something unfortunate (see, also: whale excrement; natural musk).

Alas. You can already see this ingredient isn’t going to be easy to mass-produce, no matter how much we’d like to. Trees take a long time to grow. Infected heartwood from a specific subset of trees  – which then has to be cut down to be processed into oil (so no more tree; no repeat harvest like with oranges or roses) – it doesn’t bode well for price and availability. Oud oil is one of the most Milli Vanilliexpensive perfumery raw materials still in use today. Which is why the majority of oud scents on the market are interpretations of the theme with a little bit of real oud in them or no oud in them at all. Sometimes another material called nagarmotha or cypriol (Cyperus scariosus) is used in oud accords. All kinds of other naturals can help tremendously – a bit of patchouli; other woods. Often oud accords are made with the help of synthetic materials – various animalic, amber and woody notes, and the results can be beautiful. And, as with all perfumery – these fragrances range from the tragic to the sublime. We get everything from the Milli Vanilli of oud to actual oud.

Real oud oil comes in a few varieties, too. There are at least a couple which have strong animalic notes and at least one which has a strong whiff of camel undercarriage dipped in gorgonzola. That oud variety is very difficult to mimic in the lab without the real thing. I’ve tried. It also doesn’t usually appeal to Western noses.

Oud as a word has been a big marketing hit for a while now. I’ve spoken to several indie perfumers who claim to have started the trend. You know something is truly popular when everyone claims credit. And you know a trend is meant to be over when it has trickled down to deodorants and fabric conditioner. We’ve had absolutely everyone and their mum jumping on the bandwagon. Let’s not pretend otherwise. I’ve smelled a fragrance which was a cringeworthy combination of a Barbie-pink fruity-floral with a bit of fake oud thrown in, pushed to me on a scent strip at a posh London department store by a sales assistant whose demeanour was a cry for help: “I don’t like it either!” I’ve smelled an impressively authentic cheesy-animalic oud scent in an equally posh London department store. The fragrance felt serious, expensive, well-made and completely unwearable, bar to a highly niche group of connoisseurs.

As a consumer I don’t really care if an oud fragrance has real oud in it, but I do want the fragrance to hang together. I don’t like the idea of bandwagon-jumping, so the transparent attempts at throwing oud in just to be ‘on trend’ make me sigh. As do the scents which feature oud in the name and haven’t really managed to create an oud impression at all. On the other hand, I don’t find the ultra-authentic oud scents my cup of tea either (even though I like the smell experience itself – as an experience – just not on my skin. But I also like to smell new glossy magazines and the tar of old railway tracks and I don’t want those as a perfume either).

Something has happened to the way Western noses are calibrated towards the oud accord, though. The other day I spoke to my hairdresser about the kinds of perfumes she buys and was completely shocked to find that she buys Arabian Oud. I had her down as a happy-go-lucky celeb fragrance wearer (nothing wrong with that, by the way). My jaw dropped. What did I like to smell of when I was 21 years old? Coco Chanel. Not of camels. But here we are.

So when I was invited to meet the people behind a new brand Amouroud, I was a little concerned. Uh-oh. Aren’t they a little… late to this trend? Is this going to be a really cynical attempt to cash in? Are those glossy-looking black bottles going to cost £250? Are they going to have even a hint of oud in them?

Perfumer’s Workshop

Custom blending conceptPerfumer’s Workshop International was founded in States in the early 70s and has been creating highly commercial and successful fragrance concepts ever since. They were the first to think of bringing custom fragrance blending to department stores (long before Aveda and others had a go) and they were talking to Arabs about oud fragrances at their Selfridges perfume counter back in the 80s when virtually no other fragrance marketer in the West had heard of it.

I met the co-founder Donald G. Bauchner along with his team William Skinner and Denis Roubinet in London last week to talk about Amouroud. It’s always interesting to talk with real industry veterans and I was open to be convinced.

Trying my best to ignore all the official marketing and focus just on their own words and the scents themselves, piece-by-piece, note-by-note, the concept opened up to me. These guys have watched the oud trend be handled by others in the variety of inconsistent ways we’ve seen – and spotted an opportunity to do something better.

Has it worked?

Amouroud packaging conceptThe concept is this – use oud as an amplifier to add intrigue to other fragrance themes. Blend the notes in such a way that oud is not what jumps out, but it does something to all the other materials in the scent; something good, hopefully.

One could say that where Jo Malone scents are for people who want an elegant fragrance but find typical perfumes too heavy, the Amouroud range is for people who wish their designer perfumes had a bit more depth and interest. Amouroud is also attempting to sew together everything that is good about the oud trend and make it accessible. Those glossy black 100ml bottles? £140. For a luxury niche brand, that’s a jaw-droppingly good price. Consider that the current UK best-seller Paco Rabanne 1 Million Eau de Toilette for men retails at the equivalent of £69 for 100ml and we’re talking about a mass-market EdT strength designer fragrance. For that price point alone; that lack of cynical cashing in on ‘niche pricing’ this brand deserves some attention. They have done everything with care – worked with some fine perfumers (Cecile Hua, Patricia Choux, John Mastracola, Claude Dir and Irina Burlakova), packaged everything in beautiful bottles and cartons and have not rushed to be the first on the oud train but watched and learned from other people’s mistakes and chosen to do things their own way. I suppose in this they’re not the innovators, but the potential success story – not the Myspace and LiveJournal, but maybe the Twitter and Facebook. Remains to be seen.

Their sales technique is designed to show off the drydown – a good approach when you’ve invested money in your base notes and the main theme of your collection rests there. You are given a scent strip which was sprayed yesterday and has been kept sealed in a glass jar. So you skip to the end where the oud accord is on full display, but remnants of the main theme are still lingering. I enjoyed testing the scents I had samples of fresh, too – the comparison gave a full picture. I do think the top note and heart are an important part of the experience as well.

The packaging is perfect for the concept. The boxes are heavy card with a metal label affixed to the front (great attention to detail) and the bottles are heavy black glass with a metal label. When you purchase a 100ml bottle, you are given a travel spray of your second most favourite fragrance as a gift. How very cheeky of them to marry you to one scent and immediately enable a love affair with another.

So what about the scents?

TobacconistSay Harrison Ford was playing an incredibly wealthy Russian businessman walking past the Harrods tobacconist eating pear drops while wearing a classic woody masculine fragrance – that scene would smell of Safran Rare. This scent is old-fashioned in the best possible way. It’s a little bit showy but not trashy. It absolutely does have that luxe Harrods oud fragrance signature that one would assume from the look of this brand – perhaps more than any other in the line. But it still manages to have lightness, space and a degree of playfulness that is not what one would expect. Every one of these scents has an American twinkle in the eye.

Oud du Jour – a modern raspberry-apple fruity-floral meets oud – and is done well. What could be a mismatch is actually a seductive tango. It’s like watching a film where an older actor is paired with an actress 20 years younger and you fear they won’t be plausible as a romantic couple but instead the chemistry sizzles on screen and later you find out they had a real off-screen romance. I can’t decide if the name is meant to feel a little playful in your mouth when you say it out loud, but it does. This fragrance is full of genuine fun and contrast. I have nicknamed it Oud to Joy.

Midnight Rose opens with a popular rose – lychee theme which sings in crystal-clear tones from the top for a good while and swells to a classic green-tinged rose melody at the heart until the oud accord joins in – and doesn’t break the tune. It just provides a thrum of bass line; an amplifier. It’s like listening to a fully orchestrated cover version of a pop song. It’s beautiful. Do not be fooled by the name and expect a typical Middle Eastern rose + oud combination. This might be the most accessible of the line-up for the oud-curious.

Candy in FinlandDark Orchid – well, I am just going to have to be honest here and say my immediate impression was Tom Ford Black Orchid x Covonia cough syrup x Finnish dark liquorice … and I ADORED it from the first sniff. Adored it. There is something unsettling about Black Orchid to me, whereas Amouroud Dark Orchid is just right. This fragrance amps up all the dark, medicinal, ambery notes and that flips the scent from an apologetic attempt at a Halloween costume to a full-on drag queen out and proud, head held up high and killing it. If you’re going to dress up, go to town or go home. The more Dark Orchid blooms, the less it looks like its wallflower of a
cousin and the more it takes on its own, fabulous personality.

You’ve got to make a choice about how to lift a sandalwood – do you
stick with a woody theme (oh goodness, that was an accidental pun,
wasn’t it?) or do you build a bouquet which reveals a sandalwood
drydown? The perfumer for Santal des Indes has chosen the former
strategy and leads us to the idea of sandalwood through a woody theme –
we get that almost fizzy cola aspect of a cedarwood and incense accord on top,
which develops over time to a sensation of heat – and after a while conjured another Finnish reference for me: sauna benches. If there is a fatty sandalwood
note, I can’t quite detect it, but if it’s there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed close to skin, as sandalwood often does.

Nancy PorterMiel Sauvage made me giggle with delight when I first smelled it (I have witnesses) and this is a good sign (and the last time a fragrance did that to me I bought it immediately). I also love it when the name of a scent is completely at odds with what pops into my head when I smell it (as regular readers will know). The image Miel sauvage conjured for me was that of a saucy pinup lolloping about in an abundantly overflowing bubble bath, coyly managing to keep the bubble cover just a smidgen too low around her cleavage. This scent makes me think of Camay soap ads from the 50s; of glamorous film stars on just the wrong side of saucy and fruity goings-on in a chiffon dressing gown and fluffy slippers. It’s fantastic; every time I smell it on my skin, I find myself smiling and feel the champagne bubbles of laughter beginning to form in my chest. I’m calling this Pinup and it may become one of my treasured signature scents. I love it that much. Oh – and the honey note? It’s not the urinous kind. It’s the waxy, soapy kind. Just in case my florid description didn’t make that clear.

Oud to Joy

Amouroud has nailed it. At least for people like me who were sitting on the fence about oud and were thinking it wasn’t for them. And there must be millions of us left. If you’re one such person and any of the above made you think “hmm…” run, don’t walk to a store where you can smell these scents and have a play. I think they’re worth the money and I think these guys deserve to do well.

Amouroud will be available at Harrods in the UK first. You can already explore the range in Sweden (this might have something to do with the fact that Donald’s wife Gun is Swedish. They got first dibs).

Just one more thing

I’m wondering something about oud. I’m wondering whether what we’ve got here isn’t a trend at all, but the birth of a whole new fragrance family. That would explain a lot.

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Agarwood, Milli Vanilli and  Nancy Porter images via WikiMedia Commons

Travel samples and one full bottle of fragrance provided for review purposes by Amouroud. My policy is not to review at all unless I like the fragrance(s) in question and freebies do not influence this decision in any way.

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.

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!

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.