Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Adventures In Scent At 4160 Tuesdays: Day 1, The Magnificent Wall Of Wonders

Last weekend I ventured to London to visit my first real life perfumery, the multi-coloured abode of indie brand 4160 Tuesdays.

I was familiar with 4160 Tuesdays after featuring it’s (more or less) self taught perfumer, Sarah McCartney in a feature exploring the spirit of British perfumery last summer. You can read it by clicking here.

I was primarily visiting to attend a Saturday workshop on the chypre genre, but Sarah kindly allowed me to call in the day prior to have a nosey around with my camera.  I fully intended to shoot a fantastic batch of photos, with my best camera in hand (rather than my ‘travelling light’ camera phone) that would beautifully illustrate the nature of a perfumery - a pictorial treat for my readers. What actually happened was this:

I arrived, we had a fine natter on her mum’s vintage sofa over some top notch coffee, said hello to her assistant Agnieszka who was urgently bottling by hand and then I was let loose upstairs.

I was immediately faced with ‘The Wall of Scent’.

A small section of the wall featuring citrus and Vanilla scents

Imagine that you are faced with EVERY scent that you’ve heard about but never tried, the vintage mythical ‘scent unicorns’ that have long since been discontinued, those which you have curiously stalked on ebay and never quite got round to blind buying, the hoards of rare bottles that you found in a scent shop in Mallorca but couldn’t spend enough time with because your partner had started sighing with boredom half an hour ago, the historical wonders that Turin and Sanchez raved about. It was all there.

The top shelf of the vintage section (there is a huge cabinet full underneath that I forget to photograph in my state of shock, my journalistic abilities having been smacked in the face after confrontation with YSL's In Love Again.

I dumped my camera on the floor and stuck my greedy hands into the vintage section of the wall, in fact a sliding glass windowed cabinet. Had it not slid smoothly I’d likely have smashed it with my bare hands. I lost my ability to speak and made a sort of whispery “unnnhh” as I picked up a perfectly preserved bottle of Givenchy lll. Close by sat a teeny bottle of Schiaparelli’s Shocking “wooah”, Dior’s original Eau Suavage “wow” and Houbigant’s Chantilly “ooohee”. It was difficult to allot a proper sniff at these grand elderly ladies and gentlemen because I was transfixed by what was behind them – very old Guerlain boxes. You’ll recognise the squiggly geometric lines in the picture. But take a closer look and regard the misty blue box, yup, 1930s L’Heure Bleue! You’d imagine that by now it would be reduced to the scent of nail varnish but this Goliath bottle was unsealed by Sarah herself and smelt like L’Heure Bleue on steroids, an enormous wet vat of history, perfectly preserved. Shockingly, her 1930s bottle of Mitsouko EDT smelt almost identical to today’s formulation, who’d have thought it?

Sarah McCartney pictured with her beloved treasure - L' Heure Bleue

Also nestling among the mythical Guerlains was a beautiful blue crystal flacon of Guet Apens, the impossibly rare discontinued chypre that brings unfeasible amounts of moolah on Ebay.

Somewhere around the time that I saw the Guet Apens, I became overwhelmingly hot and had to de-robe. My cardigan and silk scarf were thrown to join my forgotten camera on the floor and a sip of water allowed me to continue.

Atop of the vintage section was a little tray of samples, recognisably 4160 Tuesdays, some with names that I had not heard of. I enquired about ‘A midsummer Night’s Breeze’.

“What’s this Sarah?”

“Oh, it failed IFRA completely. You can have it.”

Stunned and grateful, I took a whiff and pocketed the little bottle of the distinctly ‘breezy’ and outdoorsy scent. My feelings of excitement were more than the fume junkie’s standard “I’ve got perfume, woohoo!”. They were increased by the fact that I had been gifted a unique scent that violated IFRA regulations ‘completely’.  This made me happy.

Although there are many delightful reasons to sign up for a day of making perfume at 4160 Tuesdays, massively violating IFRA is one of the most seductive. As Sarah said, IFRA allow just a minuscule 0.07% concentration of Oakmoss to be included in a scent. This is because 1 to 3% of perfume users develop (get ready to be worried), eeek, a rash! As Oakmoss is the essential base to what we know as a chypre perfume, this restriction is a bore. But if you are making it for your personal use, you can include as much as you damn well like. I discovered that I can apply a whopping 20% concentration of Oakmoss on my skin without it giving me a rash/the plague.
Oakmoss, apparently dangerous enough you a slight rash

After spending around an hour ogling the vintage section of The Wall Of Scent, I pondered how much of the rest of it I wouldn’t experience on that day. There’s simply too much to take in. I estimate that I smelt about 1/8th of the collection. I wasn’t concerned that I’d miss out on smelling plentiful bottles of niche brands, that’s an easily possible activity that you can undertake at Les Senteurs, Bloom and Roullier White. For me, the ‘must smells’ were the recent and ancient popular scents that we simply can’t test anywhere because they are not currently stocked in mainstream department stores or indie shops, such as Laura Biagotti’s Roma or the Lagerfeld Kapsule scents. 

Sarah offers afternoon group sessions to explore The Wall of Scent, priced at £60. This includes your choice of a 30ml bottle of 4160 Tuesday’s scent (worth £40), a guided tour through the various genres and notes, leisurely sniffing and the devoted camaraderie of other obsessive fumies. This is all topped off with a glass of fizz and cakes whilst lounging around on some funky vintage sofas.

Who would I recommend it for?

Newbies can learn a great deal about the history of scent and gain a clear idea of their personal preferences. They’ll get chance to do this in a friendly, relaxed environment without the pressure of sales assistants. Hardcore fumies will get to see and smell some scents that they’ve only heard and read about and may experience dizziness and a sense of euphoria. They’ll probably make an enormous list of things to buy on Ebay. Vintage fans will possibly offer up prayers to the ancient perfume gods and weep quietly into their Liberty print handkerchiefs in admiration.

A report on day 2 of my scent adventure will be posted later this week where I’ll be discussing Saturday’s adventures in creating my own chypre. I apologise for my rubbish photographs, as you can imagine, I was distracted!

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: Jul et Mad - Terrasse a St-Germain, Recollections Of The Scent Of Love

 Jules Bastien-Lepage, Rural Love, 1882

It seems timely that as Valentine’s Day approaches, I contemplate a fragrance inspired by love - Jul et Mad’s Terrasse à St-Germain. The fragrance tells an olfactory story of the moment that the couple behind the brand first encountered each other (no prizes for guessing that it was a breathless moment on a pavement in the Left Bank of Paris). I’ve had my sample for some time now and despite judging it to be one of the most achingly beautiful scents that has found me in the last year, I’ve found it awkward to write about. This is why:

Jul et Mad is a couple. ‘Mad’ is Madalina, a well respected cosmetics and fragrances industry executive. ‘Jul’ is Julien, a scientist and entrepreneur. Both are extremely good looking, well educated, young, internationally travelled and high achieving. Their three perfumes are composed around key moments in their love affair, taking in alluring picturesque locations such as the streets of Paris and New York and a grand palazzo in Venice. They are exceptionally well composed perfumes, inspired by, and this is where it gets difficult – two very fortunate people having a marvellous moment in time.

Julien and Madalina

Take literature and cinema, when has a story line ever been enthralling when it features a romance that appears to be perfect? There needs to be a struggle, some conflict to overcome, a resolution to the conflict and a happy ever after/heartbreaking demise. It helps if our protagonists are wrapped up in mystery and beset by tragedy. If Juliet had moved into Romeo’s place shortly after their besotted first meeting and had a brilliant time living it up around Europe, there wouldn’t be a story. Although I find this couple’s narrative beguiling, I desire to know more.

It brought me to thinking about the scents of my own great romance, which alike that of Romeo and Juliet’s, had a rather tragic ending. I won’t be discussing much of the tragic ending the blogosphere but I will reveal some of the moments of splendour and consider, what did our love smell like?

My ex husband, ‘J’, truly was my partner. If I could summon a definition of love, I would describe it as a feeling of utter contentment, where there is no sense of a ‘relationship’ to be analysed and pondered, simply a pairing where two people create an adventure and a life truly lived. In this I recall the feeling of being alive, waking up with an overwhelming sense of optimism and exhilaration. Even if the day ahead would simply consist of a walk along the river park, a marvel at the uniquely fudge coloured potentially hermaphrodite duck, a vinegary wrap of chippy chips and a lazy peruse of the newspapers, with J by my side, this day would still feel blissful.

We were young when we met, just 16. I was at art college with his brother, through whom I met J. We first encountered each other on the dance floor of Jenks, a local indie nightclub in Blackpool. Although a vague memory, we danced in a much crazed state to The Fall’s weirdly bendy single ‘Telephone Thing’. Weirdly bendy more or less summed up J. He was a deeply creative and inventive soul with a soaring imagination which gave him both his magnificent sense of wonder and also his debilitating mental health problems. He didn’t think like other people, and for that, he was enchanting.

J had a really strong scent of man. He didn’t look particularly masculine with his halo of golden brown curls, his pretty ‘cartoon cow’ eyelashes surrounding limpid eyes and a love of vintage girls shirts from the 70s which he could pull off with his slender frame and quirky attitude. He must have had really strapping hormones as showers cleaned him but didn’t take away his musk. He had a definite warm and heady personal smell that I can still recall if I try really hard to bring it back.

We lived in a small Victorian mill town in the hills of West Yorkshire named Otley. Looming large behind our house was the Chevin, a grand hill topped with dense pine woods. We played amongst the pines most weeks, they were our ‘set’ had our romance been a stage production. We picnicked atop a bit of ‘sticky out’ cliff and gazed down at what felt like our kingdom. He kissed me in the woods in the manner of Lady’s Chatterley’s gamekeeper and reduced me to terrified giggles whilst tearing after me in the twilight shrieking of the Judderman. Today, so many years later, the smell of pine needles and mossy bark still transports me to place of both elation and melancholy in equal parts.

Our sticky out picnic rock

Our first home was a damp and chilly rented flat above a stinking fish and chip shop. Our back yard wore the sad must of mouldy potatoes. I have never felt happier.

J loved perfume, perhaps as much as me. With York in easy reach by train, many a day was spent rooting through it’s fusty junk shops and ‘high reward’ charity shops. Nowadays they are filled with terrible cheap clothing from Asda and Primark, but years ago they’d yield bountiful treasure in the form of characterful 50s silk scarves and J’s aforementioned beloved flamboyant shirts. York possessed a Crabtree and Evelyn shop that sold divine masculine colognes. J bought West Indian Lime Cologne and the original Sandalwood (oh my that was a thing of beauty).

Sadly, these perfumes later concealed the smell of his breakfast-booze, a regular prop for facing a ‘down-day’ in the horrific grip of bi-polar disorder, that eventually led to our demise.

Gulp.. Back to Terrasse à St-Germain:

What I recall most clearly about the onset of our romance was the extraordinary feeling of optimism. Citrus notes have always uplifted me, which is probably why they feature so prominently in my collection.

Terrasse à St-Germain projects radiant beams of tangerine, grapefruit and rhubarb, a metaphor for the fizzing excitement of the ‘first glance’ at a future beloved. The floral heart reveals a vintage sensation, perhaps invoking memory and sentimentality, after all, shared histories build love and life. In the note descriptor, a ‘blue’ rose is mentioned. I have no idea what a blue rose smells like but I like to think that it hints at melancholy, bringing balance to the euphoric citrus notes. No romance exists without sadness, even within a blissful 70 year long marriage, someone will ultimately die and leave the other bereft. The base combined of sandalwood and Indonesian patchouli is detectable from start to drydown, with the patchouli delivering it’s familiar associations of a damn fine time in the clutches of bohemia. Maybe it speaks of the late nights of excess that decorate the narrative of the commencement of love stories?

It’s virtually impossible to describe the overall effect of this perfume. It’s the blogger’s nemesis, in that it’s seamless. How do you describe the perfection of a marriage of truly harmonious notes? Perhaps that’s why I find it tough to engage with the tale of Madalina and Julien, they too appear to have achieved a perfect harmony.

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Finally, I leave you with a truly magnificent love song, The Birds In Your Garden by Pulp.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Perles de Lalique Sample Giveaway, Winner Announed!

According to the mystic depths of my woolly hat, the winner's name is..

Keith Chirnside

Who commented at the facebook page. Happy Sunday Keith.