Hello! Lisa Wordbird here. I’ve persuaded Sam to let me come and play, and I would love to know what you want to read about. I have a big box of samples and I’ll review things you’re interested in if I have them or I can get hold of them.
Like Sam, I’m a big fan of a bargain and I think an inexpensive perfume can be just as beautiful as something incredibly costly. Equally, I think that there are perfumes that justify a whopping pricetag. I’m a fan of artisan perfumers like Andy Tauer, Sarah McCartney and Liz Moores, and I appreciate how much goes into creating and producing their perfumes.
Equally, I recognise that some of the greatest geniuses in the fragrance industry are the ‘functional fragrance’ creators. These are the unsung heroes and heroines who produce delicious scents for shower gels, fabric softeners and shampoos on an ingredient budget of sixpence a kilo. Don’t believe me? I am eking out a Shower Crème from Lidl called Indian Summer, which is a gorgeous woody oriental. It cost less than £2 when I bought it 18 months ago.
Personally, I lean towards orientals, incense, chypres, leather and animalic fragrances. Some of the things I like make Sam say ‘Eurgh!’ and look at me as if I’ve left the house without my trousers. However, Sam likes some white flowery things that make me go ‘yikes!’ and feel like I’m a drag queen.
Some things we both love, like vintage Miss Dior. Oh, I love vintage perfumes, too. Partly this is because they can be so much cheaper on ebay, partly because things I bought years ago now count as vintage because they date back to before the IFRA made companies reformulate perfumes to reduce possible allergens. (They’ve done it a couple of times now. The IFRA are not my friends.)
So – what would you like to hear about? Vintage perfume? Scented toilet paper? My boundless love for the Yves Rocher Secrets d’Essences range? Please let me know, and I’ll do my best.
Mother’s Day is one of the busiest times in High Street perfume departments and no wonder. For many people (not me!) perfume is a luxury item that they feel self indulgent buying for themselves. It is seen as a treat, in a similar vein to a box of chocolates.
There are usually three problems with buying Mother’s Day Fragrance: a) Either you don’t know what your Mum likes or, b) you think you know what she likes but she secretly went off it years ago and has to make happy faces when she unwraps it for the umpteenth time, or c) what she used to like has been discontinued or reformulated and she wants something new.
I’m going to put a few ideas out here that ought to help with all of the above. There’s the Classics, the Discovery Sets, and finally, at pocket money prices, there are the Cheap and Cheerfuls. At these prices, if you’re buying for your Mum, you may as well pick something up for yourself…
These are the stalwarts that have been around for years and which, in my opinion, don’t get enough love from younger perfume fans. If your Mum likes the mossy chypres, orientals and aldehydes of the Seventies and Eighties, these are all safe bets.
Good enough to make a grown woman weep, Ysatis fans are rarely casual about their love for this oriental chypre. Ysatis is priced very reasonably for such classic quality and prices start at £24.50. You can read my review here. Ysatis can be bought from Boots,Amazon and trusty allbeauty.com
Estee Lauder Cinnabar
For oriental fans, Cinnabar is a classic that’s hard to beat. It’s been around for a long time whilst fashions have come and gone, and it still stands majestic on the beauty counter. You can read my review here and buy it from Amazon, House of Fraser and John Lewis.
Yves Saint Laurent Opium
It’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still a very good oriental. Find my review here. There’s another review here which compares old and new. Die hard fans really know their stuff, but sadly the original formulation is only on eBay these days. You can buy Opium from John Lewis, Boots and House of Fraser to name but a few. Do not confuse this with Black Opium, which is very different indeed. (I’m pulling a face and being tactful).
Chanel No 5
Arguably the most famous fragrance in the world. I have seen more red faced men buying this than women. Personally I’m not keen, but its popularity shows no signs of waning ever. At all. I like it on other people, but on me it smells like stale face powder. My review is here and you can buy it everywhere: Boots, John Lewis, and Escentual to name but a few.
Miss Dior Originale
This is the one that’in the glass houndstooth check bottle, not the pretty floral Miss Dior that comes with a little bow. It’s green and mossy and longlasting. I much prefer it to the latest incarnation of Miss Dior (which is pretty good, but is more of a fruity floral) You can buy Miss Dior Originale from John Lewis, House of Fraser and Amazon.
Clinique Aromatics Elixir
I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this one. With aldehydes, spices and oakmoss, I often happily find myself in a miasma of this whilst gadding about town. It’s usually on more mature perfume lovers: the youth of today are missing a trick. You can buy Aromatics Elixir from House of Fraser, Amazon and John Lewis.
TASTER SETS AND DISCOVERY SETS
Many perfume houses offer a “Try Some Then Buy One” service, which is a great way of getting some samples to try and a follow on bottle of your choice afterwards. Another alternative is buy a sample set and a voucher. Here’s a selection of the best:
I’m a big fan of 4160 Tuesdays and can’t hide it.: quirky artisan scent hand made with passion in a London studio. If you haven’t tried any yet, enter the portal now! For £95 you can get 7 samples and a voucher for a full 100ml bottle of whichever is her favourite. It works out cheaper than buying the bottle and samples separately by £20. Here’s the link you need to the site.
Jo Loves is the brainchild of Jo Malone MBE, former CEO and founder of Jo Malone. Jo couldn’t stay away from fragrance and started her own perfume house on a smaller scale after stepping down from her original flagship business. You can buy a Fragrance Discovery Gift Experience for £100 which includes samples and a voucher for a full bottle.
The Perfume Society Discovery Boxes
These boxes contain around ten hard to get samples and a couple of very good beauty treats such as hand cream, skin serum or nail polish. A VIP Subscription at just £25 gets you a free Discovery Box and a discount off all the other Discovery Boxes on offer as well as many more benefits throughout the year. Your Mum might well find a brand new favourite and learn something along the way: each box has testing notes and sniffing strips. Quick plug- I have five VIP subscriptions up for grabs, but be quick- entries must be in by 25th February at midnight. See my post here to find out how to enter.
Pell Wall Perfumes
Pell Wall is a perfume house that consists of a delightfully eclectic mix by Shropshire based Nose Chris Bartlett. A set of minis costs just £49 for 9 x 10ml bottles. My favourites are Pretty in Pink and Deep Purple. Try the website and read my reviews here and here.
THE CHEAP AND CHEERFULS
Cheap needn’t smell cheap. Some of my favourite and most frequently worn perfumes cost under ten quid. You can often find me wearing some of the following. In fact I wear them more often than my posh stuff because I know I can afford to replace them when they’re empty.
This was my grandmother’s favourite. It came hot on the heels of Chanel No 5 and there are many similarities in this powdery aldehydic gem, created in the 1920s. My review is here and you can buy it from allbeauty.com or Fragrance Direct. Often you can get beautiful gift sets with talc, body spray and a little cosmetics bag for under ten pounds. (The one pictured is from Fragrance Direct and is 6.99 currently).
Tweed makes some people pull faces and say “old Lady”- a term I avoid, but I say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. It used to be made by Lentheric but is now made by Taylor of London. My Mum wears Tweed and it smells amazing on her. It’s woody and mossy with a nice bit of citrus in the opening notes. You can read my review here and buy it from Boots, allbeauty.com and Fragrance Direct.
Avon has been a favourite among several generations of women in my family. My late Nanna used to like Soft Musk and Timeless, as does my Mum today. Avon launches new scents all the time, and prices are so reasonable that even a blind buy won’t break the bank. Here’s my guide to my Avon Top Ten. You can buy online from AvonShop UK.
Marks and Spencer Rosie for Autograph
This is an excellent rose scent, that smells far more expensive than it’s low price. Containing centifolia roses, this is a beautiful perfume and the one I chose for myself for Mother’s Day last year. Here’s my review. It’s currently only £11.20.
Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass
Blue Grass was another of my late grandmother’s favourites. It is widely available for under a tenner and is especially good sprayed fridge cold in hot weather. I reviewed it here. You can buy Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass from Half Price Perfumes , Fragrance Direct or Superdrug.
That’s my round up for Mums everywhere, including me! So what scent reminds you of your Mum? Do feel free to comment below. I always love to hear from you.
I was inspired to review Givenchy Ysatis by a kind reader who wrote in and told me how much she loves it. It prompted me to ask why on earth I have left this wonderful classic so long?
Created in 1984, Givenchy Ysatis ( “Eeh-Sah-Teece”) was down among the brash Eighties hard hitters such as Dior Poison, Giorgio Beverly Hills and YSL Opium (which is technically late 70s, but was very suited to the excesses of 80s life). Eighties perfumes still have a what-the-heck nostalgia about them ( I will always have a bottle of Cacharel LouLou), but Givenchy Ysatis has somehow quietly acquired a bit of a classic status and still holds it own to this day, but not as a gimmick, more out of sheer respect. In fact, if I smelled it blind I would have attributed it to Estee Lauder. It reminds me of Private Collection, Knowing and White Linen.
The notes in Ysatis are too numerous to list here, so I will tell you my impressions of it (which are, as always subjective). Ysatis opens with strong aldehydes, lemon and woods. This phase lingers on for over an hour (reminding me very much of Taylor of London Tweed). In the middle, the notes blend into a woody, green phase with a few flowers around the powdery edges. Not girly freesias or peony though: spiky geraniums and rooty Iris, still with a background of aldehydes and greenery (think ferns and greenhouses).
The finish lasts for several more hours and has more of that delightful powderiness to it. It is rounded off with a hint of rich resins, a soupcon of honey, more woods, vetiver, oakmoss and even a hint of tobacco.
I tried this on my skin and my coat sleeves a few days ago and again today and every time my coat touched my skin, a bit more Ysatis would waft up deliciously. Use sparingly on skin, and add to a scarf and coat sleeve for a scent that lasts all winter.
Ysatis has die hard fans and is here to stay, I hope ( although you can never say for sure in PerfumeLand). From the glitzy excesses of the eighties, we found elegance and daring that still looks good today. Oh and don’t worry about the eau de toilette version being weak, it absolutely is not!
Mothers are often our first point of reference when it comes to perfume. It never ceases to amaze me how people can forget what they had for breakfast yesterday but remember exactly how their mother smelled to them when they were four. It often moves me to read comments on my blog where posters nostalgically muse about scents of their much missed mothers, or even the much missed years of their childhood.
One thing I admire about my own mother is that she always tried a different scent. She has by turns, worn Louis Feraud by Avon, YSL Rive Gauche, Paloma Picasso, Chanel No 5, Estee Lauder Knowing, Dior Dune and several late great Avons that I cannot name but would immediately recognise.
Today she favours Avon Soft Musk, Body Shop White Musk, Tweed and Dana Tabu, which I introduced her to and which smells terrific on her. She doesn’t very often like anything I like, but she has always been interested in perfume, wearing it every day, and that in turn, has made it part of my ordinary day to day life.
My son asked me “When is Kid’s Day?” and I said “every day is Kid’s Day”.
Dior Dune is a steady seller that has had a firm fanbase for 22 years. I cannot, off the top of my head, think of a recent launch that is anything quite like it, except perhaps for Penhaligon’s Love Potion No 9, created in 1998, which has some similarities.
Created just after the excesses of the Eighties, Dior’s 1991 creation was almost a gateway between the heavy Orientals of the Eighties, and the “back to nature” feel of scent in the Nineties. It kind of had a leg in each camp.
When I think of Orientals, I often think of strong scents such as YSL Opium or Estee Lauder Cinnabar that, although excellent, can sometimes be too much for daytime (but what the heck, right?). However Dune, with its Woody notes and smooth undercurrent of velvety Patchouli, is certainly light enough for daytime, even office wear, whilst still retaining its originality and character.
The funny thing is that smelling this really does remind me of sand. It’s smooth, dry and smells like it’s been baked in a dry desert heat. It opens like an aldehyde, and when I first tried it today, I thought “Things ain’t what they used to be.”, but after half an hour that old familiar smell from when I was 21 came back just as I remember it. There is a sweetness I hadn’t picked up on in my youth, and I would attribute it to the citrus fruit within: in this case Oranges. I often find that Oranges can work well alongside spice or wood in the same way that it can be used in a fruit cake without taking over.
The basenotes come in fairly quickly and remain steady for around six or seven hours. What I have at the end, when all has settled is a warm, Ambery, sandy scent like the heat of a Summer evening after a day on the beach. It’s not at the forefront of any big campaigns, it has just quietly got on with being a little bit of a classic.
I have very fond memories of YSL Rive Gauche, (named after the arty Left Bank of the Seine) but it has been so embedded in my memory that I find it hard to de construct. When considering what to write about it, my first instinct was to write “Rive Gauche smells like Rive Gauche”, which of course, would make a short and inadequate review.
Created the same time as I was (1970) and launched a year later, Rive Gauche and its iconic tin canister has certainly played its part in my olfactory memory. My first memory of it is of my primary school teacher wearing it in 1978. I didn’t know its name then, but the scent memory stayed with me.
My mother then wore it in the 80s, which is how I learnt its name. My recent foray was yesterday, when I tried the modern formulation, and unlike many purists, I did not find it lacking. It was still very recognisable as Rive Gauche and the memories came flooding back, although the opening was a very 70s melange of powder, soap and white noise.
As I said, it’s heard to break this down. It’s not an Oriental, but it’s sort of Woody. It’s definitely an Aldehyde and a Floral. Longevity is remarkable at ten hours..
So what’s it like? It’s very 70s, yet timeless. The opening reminded me of Givenchy Ysatis, which isn’t good on me: it was soap, powder and dust. However, when this small fog cleared, the good old fashioned smell of Rive Gauche was there, just as I remembered it. It opens with clean smelling aldehydes, with a background of flowers: definitely Jasmine, Iris, and Rose. The flowers are muted though, in a refined sort of way, rather than the modern “in your face” way that can sometimes happen.
Dare I say it? The Iris calms everything down and keeps this both smooth and rich. It wouldn’t be the same without it. The finish is slightly woody (Oakmoss), but the florals stay true and rich. It’s so good I may consider getting a bottle. I rarely smell it on anyone these days, which is a great shame.
So hard to describe, yet I could recognise it in an instant. Are there any fragrances that you remember form when you were very young? Do you find them hard to describe or it is just me?
When I first tried Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps in 1991, I was 21 and thought it an innocuous and pretty light floral. Revisiting it in 2013, aged 43 (but I look younger, we decided *cough*), I realised that my first impression was way off the mark. This is a floral with a bit of bite. This one is all about the warmth. The flowers are just the picture frame.
L’Air du Temps was created in 1948 and the classic bottle represents the dove of peace: a poignant symbol in post war Europe. The fragrance itself is a complex mix of light and shadow. The light comes from Rose, Bergamot and Violet: made airy and floaty with a light hand. The shadow comes from spicy warm Amber, raspy Vetiver, Benzoin and deep, dark Cloves. In other words, just when you think you’ve got it sussed, it changes into something different.
The balance of the two results in a fragrance of genius. It is light enough to be as delicate as a cloud, yet the base that remains makes it smoky, warm and rich. When I tried it yesterday the most prominent note was Amber. It was there from beginning to end. However, this is no rich Oriental: all warm and cosy. This is almost a sleight of hand. All those light, pretty florals promise one thing and then they fade into that classy and gently spiced finish that seems to say “there’s more to me than meets the eye.”
This is a classic scent that everyone should have in their collection. I understand there have been reformulations across the decades, but I cannot speak for them unless I have smelled them. It is also interesting, that I can’t for the life of me, name a scent that it resembles. (Fragrantica readers say Prince Matchabelli Wind Song, but I would have to have smelled that in order to agree).
For a flawless classic, this is a great price, starting at around 15GBP. I’ve run out again, but will be putting that right very soon.
During the Nineties, Jean Paul Gaultier co hosted the late night post pub TV programme Eurotrashwith the equally bonkers Antoine de Caunes. With his iconic Breton tops and kilts, and that Gallic twinkle in his smiley eyes, I was a fan of Jean Paul from the start.
In 1992 he launched Jean Paul Gaultier Eau de Parfum, now called Classique, thanks to a plethora of confusingly named flankers. I recall reading an interview with him around this time, though I sadly cannot find it now. The gist of it was that he wanted to base a perfume on the matriarchs in his family and he said that his Mother and Grandmother smelled of nail polish remover and face powder and he wanted to include that in his scent.
He was as good as his word and I can never smell Classique without thinking how he understands that women, gorgeous as we are, often have messy handbags which smell of stuff we’ve spilled. It’s human. We don’t need to be perfect or smell perfect. A smell is a memory encapsulated in a bottle. As a result of this charming vignette, I have always had a soft spot for JPG , or Jpeg as we call him in the Digital Age (joke).
I haven’t ever owned a bottle of Classique myself since I once knew someone for whom this was a signature scent to the power of a thousand. However, in isolation, it is marvellous. It’s sweet with Vanilla, but not Britney Vanilla, and has a touch of Anise and Pear which evoke the strange chemical hint of nail polish remover. It’s floral and feminine with Roses, Tuberose and Neroli, and beds down into a sandy finish with rich Amber and powdery Musk.
Bravo Jean Paul!
… and now a clip of some very large European breasts. Bon nuit mes little British chums and faîtes des bonnes rêves!
Mitsouko is spoken of in revered whispers by perfume lovers. Reviews are dripping with love and awe. It’s top of every list as a classic, as a best ever, as a masterpiece. It got to the point where I was starting to feel a bit “Emperor’s New Clothes” about it. Should I pretend to like it just to fit in? It smelled like gone off old paper and lemons last time I tried it.
So what happened to change my mind and tempt me into the web of love for Mitsouko? All I can think of is that must be the weather. I last tried Mitsouko in Winter and it smelled like petrol. It also reminded me of Guerlain Jicky, which I still can’t love. I was starting to think I wasn’t a proper perfume lover and all the other perfumistas would laugh at me. But no, they’re not like that for one thing, and for another thing, as I have said before, there is no right or wrong in perfume, only your personal response.
I tried some Mitsouko this morning, rather disconsolately, before writing it off as an unloved scent. It is a bright, sunny day: more demanding of a light citrus if anything. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrist. There is a delightful roughness to Mitsouko today, almost like a prickle that I often find in aldehydes or chypres. It’s probably the oakmoss. The peaches are there, which I still have a bit of a problem with, but the spices, lilac, amber, and vetiver make this a delightful, slightly raspy beauty.
It is important to remember that this was made in 1919, the year WWI ended. The lives of women were far more austere then, with a post war lack of frivolity. Their tastes were different. They had not been exposed to years of talc, soap, bleach, air freshener and the thousands of perfumes available to us today. I therefore couldn’t help noticing that what makes Mitsouko stand out is an almost total lack of sweetness or sugariness so common in thousands of scents today. It’s as if Mitsouko could teach us a thing or two about going back to basics.
No vanilla, no blueberries, no gourmand notes (unless you count those peaches): just the spice, flowers, bergamot, oakmoss, and vetiver grass, made complex by their juxtaposition. I prefer this when it has settled and the peaches have retreated. When that’s happened, you are left with an addictive chypre, replete with spice and a pepperiness that balances all the flowers and stops this from being just another bouquet.
The only fragrances similar to Mitsouko are L’Heure Bleu and Jicky. However having said that, these three would have smelled very different to a woman in 1919, in the same way that in a few decades time, all our fruity flroals will smell identical to someone looking back at perfumes made from 2005 onwards.
It is said that L’Heure Bleu represented the start of the war, and Mitsouko the end. Mitsouko is a combination of melancholia and optimism.
Mitsouko is as essential to a scent wardrobe as a good coat is to your sartorial needs. If you like perfume at all, the Guerlain Heritage scents are a living museum of where modern scent began and it is important to try them, even if you don’t like them.
Estee Lauder launched Cinnabar within weeks of YSL Opium coming out. The gauntlet was well and truly thrown down. That they are competitors cannot be coincidence with such a close time lapse between them and such unmistakable similarities.
Cinnabar was created in 1978 and has become somewhat of a standby classic. I don’t smell this very often on under 50s, which is a great shame . I would love to see younger people seek out fragrances like this and escape from the fog of modern fruity florals.
Cinnabar has a lot to offer. It is an Oriental Spice perfume, with other notes that make it chameleon-like in its adaptability. On first spray it is loud, fresh and spicy before drying down into a talcum powder masculine scent . But bear with it, as it soon changes again and becomes a delightful Incense fragrance with a hint of powdery orange and peach, and a definite loud-ish note of clove standing in the background. This is serious perfume: it’s not playful. I can’t help thinking of rather sombre females in dark suits, or elegant dames with pearls and no laughter lines.
On me I’m afraid it reminds me of a Toilet in a rather well to do house I visited years ago. I can’t help it. I smell a fragrance and a long forgotten memory just pops up and won’t go away. I think the hint of Jasmine, which is often indolic, has made this hard for me to love, but easy to admire. It also reminds me of a soap called Shield, used by a former adversary, which has kind of spoilt it for me. Strangely enough, I found this so similar to Estee Lauder Youth Dew, now in its 60th year, that I am not entirely clear why they made two fragrances so very similar. Yesterday I wore Cinnabar on one arm and Youth Dew on the other. At one point they were so alike I thought I was going to have to write “This one is Youth Dew” on my arm.
Cinnabar is not for me, but I hope it sticks around as we need more classics like this. It would be a tragedy if a beautiful Oriental were to be discontinued through lack of sales. With today’s trends for the lighter more modern fruits and vanillas, I sometimes fear for the good guys like Cinnabar.