Sunday, 28 June 2015

Guest Writer - Clive Sax, on how perfume can evoke significant life events

YSL, depict a statue in real (ish) man form

Recently I conducted an experiment which was designed to discover if inexpensive scents could be loved as much as their costly brethren. You can click here to read the results.
Upon recruiting my scent lover testing panel, I asked each person to name their favourite five scents (simply to enquire if they had breadth in their tastes). What I wasn’t expecting to receive was a literary delight written by my friend Clive. I invited him to take part because I admire his taste greatly, particularly the fact that he appreciates scents for their value to him, not for their current hype and bluster. What I didn’t know was that he was superbly engaging writer. With his permission, I give you unedited access to his correspondence. Thanks Clive.

"After a little contemplation and soul searching my top 5 fragrances (at this time) are....

Zelda - En Voyage Perfumes
(vintage) Kouros - YSL
Ambre 114 - Histoires de Parfums
Fleur de Matin - Miller Harris
Centrepiece - 4160 Tuesdays

That was such a painful process! I just keep thinking about all the beauties that didn't make the list.

 It's interesting to me that the selection I have made really does speak strongly to memory. Not specific events but rather periods in my life, realisations and developmental milestones. I'm going to describe how I experience the scents rather than listing notes. For me a scent is alive and so much more than it's component parts. 

Zelda represents the matriarchal and the love of mothers, grandmothers and aunts along with all the women in my life I called aunt (even though they weren't my aunties.) Auntie Win, Auntie Kitty, Auntie Brenda. All the women who worked together to raise one another’s children and grandchildren. Visiting their homes and the first time I understood that peoples houses all smelled different along with clothes, furniture, handbags, bed linen and skin. Zelda represents that to me and is a testament to family, longevity, difference, individuality, community and love.

Kouros is the period of anarchy, finding my own path, experiencing liberation and fighting against the status quo, the norm and the expected. It represents my own sexual awakening and the beginning of a time when my own hedonism became uncontrolled. Looking back to that period I could so easily have fallen and not got back up, but I was somewhat lucky or blessed or just wise enough to pull back from some precipice on the edge of a gaping chasm. Kouros represents that period. With its overbearing grandiose statement of maleness it worked to give me courage to explore darker aspects of my own psyche, and in doing I was able to expand into life. Kouros is the scent of a time when I questioned nothing and jumped in feet first. And yet it gave me a period after of reflection and with that came wisdom and knowledge.

Ambre 114 is the unconditional love of family. It is the warm cozy smell of intimacy in childhood of stories and books, of archetypes made real through AA Milne, Disney, Brothers Grimm. The magic of being thrilled and scared by the dark and monsters under the bed. It is the oversized teddy bear I held in the dark as I let my imagination run wild. Trolls under bridges, the wicked, the cruel. All made real because love was the saviour. Ambre 114 is that love. A safe haven and a constant in a wicked world of childhood.

Fleur de Matin is the summer weekend mornings of childhood in our South London back garden. When as young children we explored everything with our noses. We were small and everything within reach was touched and sniffed. We got into everything, we hid under bushes, we crawled under sheds, rooting around as the sun warmed the earth. It's the sparkle of morning dew and the sound of Terry Wogan on the radio while across the sky vapour trails melted into blue skies. It's ants, bees and birdsong. It doesn't have great longevity, but the times we spent in the garden was also limited, a morning garden becomes an afternoon garden and so time is somehow a poignant aspect of perfumery, and for me this perfume in particular.

Centrepiece represents appreciation, serenity, balance and a holding together of all the experiences of the lived life. It's the scent of acceptance and gratitude, of coming full circle, of the ouroboros and the recognition of the continuous and eternal. Interconnectedness and spirituality. For me it is the scent of wisdom without words, the benign overseer of the active mind and the intellect, the watcher of the ego and it's desperate fight to justify it's existence. Centrepiece is the antithesis of the selfish and the self absorbed. Expansive and knowing.

And there we have it."

What thrilled me about Clive’s revelation was his great ability to describe the evocative nature of scent, i.e. the capability of a little bottle of smelly water to adorn a significant moment in time, the reawakening of feelings and long lost adventures, beloved people and places. Isn’t this ultimately what it’s all about?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Does a high price tag signal a 'superior' scent? (No, of course it bloomin doesn't!) Here's an experiment...

Joy, once the most costly perfume in the world, 
now mere pennies in comparison to it's niche contemporaries.

I recently spent the 'whopping sum' of £18.95 on a brand new bottle of one of the most enjoyable scents that I have worn this year - Moschino's 80s classic, Moschino Femme. This bargainous whiff struck me as far more elegant, creative and wearable than many of the significantly more valuable vials competing for space in my sample boxes.

The fact is this, magnificent scents exist at both ends of the price spectrum. Equally, boring and unpleasant ones do too. A luxe name and a huge price tag does not necessarily equate to olfactory beauty or 'quality' ingredients (whatever that means).

I rant about this a lot.

So I decided to create an experiment to see if the tastes of other dedicated scent lovers detected a superior nature in more costly scents. I ensured that my panel had broad tastes (i.e. wore and appreciated several different genres) to encourage a fair outcome. I asked them to blind test an unmarked numbered sample, give it a rating out of five, and estimate the retail price of a 50 ml bottle.

I purposely selected four scents for the experiment that I personally appreciate, with the cheapest creation coming from Yves Rocher and the most costly from Grossmith. These are two of my favourite lesser known brands. There was no point including famous beauties from my Guerlain or Chanel collection as my panel would possibly be familiar with their wares and therefore be biased. A fifth scent was my own invention, included as a kind of decoy or placebo, to see how an unbranded personal creation would fair against commercial products.

Here are the results:

Scent No.1 MoschinoMoschino Femme EDT 

RRP £32 for 45 ml (actual price £18.95 recently from

Clive"Something here makes me go weak at the knees. I get beautiful white florals (frangipane) in the opening and an almost immediate strong sense of the past. A classical structure where exemplary balance, blending, and note separation make for a deeply enjoyable wear. I think this might be Centrepiece by 4160 Tuesdays, but I’m not sure!" 
Estimated cost per 50 ml £110, 5/5

Alice: "Pleasant enough creamy floral opening. This creaminess really thickened up and I thought it was going to become cloying but then it just disappeared! Very familiar, almost ubiquitous. Smooth with some quality but felt like it was trying to be more expensive than it probably is?"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £40, 2/5

Holly: "Fresh, not very floral, woody, quite smooth and subtle. Rather bland nondescript – destined to appeal to the high street masses and offend no one ?"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £100, 3/5

Claire: "A polite and thoroughly pleasant citrus opening, with white florals. Nicely constructed though to about 2 hours then it changed drastically to sweet caramel vanilla with a little musk. I felt like they ran out of money to do the scent they wanted."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £30, 3/5

Scent No. 2 Lubin - Nuit de Longchamp EDP
RRP £85 for 50ml 

Clive: "Soft fruits, juicy, complex and faceted, quite busy opening, lots going on, cough syrupy, resins, Iris, florals. Different notes grabbing attention in the first 5 minutes. On skin the fragrance has integrity, the green and floral notes come forward, polite and balanced on skin. Very different to Card"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £45, 2/5

Alice: "A plush fruity blast that made me think of green and purple. Slight medicinal note stopped it being too sweet. Very enjoyable, if I thought it had good sillage (need to spray) and wasn’t too expensive would probably buy this for fun!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £35, 3/5

Holly: "More floral than No1. Brighter, Rose. Smells like Agent Provocateur which I like."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £80, 4/5

Claire: "Very soft spicy oriental,with some Iris? This felt like it didn't want to offend, maybe I didn't put enough on, it didn't lift off my skin. Again I found this changed to basically just give of musk after 3 ish hours. Not a cheap musk but not a perfume."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £25, 2/5

Scent No 3 Grossmith - Shem el Nessim EDP
RRP £170 for 50 ml

Clive: "Vintage, old school, heliotrope floral, summer hay note, Habanita without the dirtier aspects, reminded me of French perfumery, vanilla, maybe labdanum, bold aldehydes. Like a Piguet or a Caron."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £120, 5/5

Alice: "I got nothing from this at all, inoffensive with no development. There was a smell there but what it was or how it made me feel? Nothing! Maybe its my skin’s fault but this didn’t even really appear on me or affect me on any level."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £20, 1/5

Holly: "Has a classy vibe - something by Chanel? Powdery, iris/orris root."

Estimated cost per 50 ml £150, 3/5

Claire: "Suspect this has Guerlain DNA but it's one I don't have! I'm getting jasmine Ylang Ylang, peach Vanilla, darlings… anyway I like it. Drydown smells more consistent with the rest of the fragrance. This got a compliment from the husband too."
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 4/5

Scent No. 4  Mine, no name This was my 'placebo'. It's a floral chypre that I created solely using essential oils. I estimate it would cost me about £50 to £60 to make 50ml (there is a lot of rose and jasmine absolute in here) but a professional perfumer would obviously pay a lot less when buying ingredients in bulk quantities.

Clive: "Big bold camphor note, unctuous rich and tear inducing. Patchouli on steroids with a beautiful mint note, quite linear. Leans eastward."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £90, 4/5

Alice: "Lush and layered like an underwater iris, this wouldn't necessarily be my thing but I appreciated it a lot. Was scared it was going to end up disappearing into powder but that didn't happen and I happily kept sniffing my arm. My family thought it smelt really nice!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £50, 3/5

Holly: "Very Dubai? Masculine? A heavy hitter with a urinous note and oud in there. Herbal, Resins. Best part was the dry down with Patchouli coming through."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £150, 2/5

Claire: "A style of perfumery I have trouble wearing. High in essential oils this is either a skilled artisan (cheers Claire!) selling for peanuts or someone like Bogue. The camphoraceous patchouli hits you hard and I didn't enjoy wearing it until an hour had passed, amazing lovely dry down. Quality ingredients!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml  "Hmmm, £15 or £100 per 50ml?", 3/5

Scent No. 5 Yves Rocher - Secrets D' Essences Voile D' Ambre EDP
RRP for 50ml £52 (which is nonsense as they always sell all of their scents with at least 40% off RRP, todays mail order price is £26.)

Clive: "Citrus lavender  tonka and almond with a hint of something that resembles pear drops, banana note. Gourmand, edible.   Beautiful tonka, Amber whilst retaining a sweet  benzoin note right to the end. The drydown is stunning!!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £80, 4/5

Alice: "The most familiar smell! Which is probably why it was my favourite out of the whole bunch. There was something moorish about it and I even got some compliments! Quite linear but there was a depth to it I loved. Can’t wait to find out what this one is so I can explore it further…"
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 4/5

Holly: "Weak, little impact,dilute. Hard to detect any notes in this wan insipid floaty floral."
Estimated cost per 50ml £50, 1/5

Claire: "This felt like a classic perfume. Herby citrus top, with some flowery and animalic benzoin showing through so you know the journey, felt creamy and rich. this got the most compliments too. Sadly this one leaked so I only got to wear it once!"
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 5/5

Our winner

Score summary

Yves Rocher - Secrets D' Essences Voile D'Ambre 14/20 Winner
Moschino - Moschino Femme 13/20
Grossmith - Shem el Nessim 13/20
My unnamed scent 12/20
Lubin - Nuit de Longchamp 11/20

So, with only 3 points separating the winner from the loser, I can summarise that my panel, in this instance, agree with me. Superb! It also highlights the extremities of taste, ultimately suggesting that there is no such thing as a universally appealing scent. I will also reveal that the winner cost me nothing, it was a free gift when I spent £15 on some foundation.

If you want to find out more about Yves Rocher, you may enjoy this post featuring another scent from the Secret D' Essences line - Neroli

Enormous thanks to my panel for both their time and their honest opinions. It was greatly entertaining to read your responses. 

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