Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Swiss student's thesis on the influence of perfume blogs - one blogger's view!

Source: Wikipedia
Further to my recent post, requesting readers' help with a Swiss business student's online survey on the influence of perfume blogs, I feel enough time has passed since I published it to present my answers to Nina's survey for bloggers. I have added the odd thing I have thought of since, and made a couple of slight edits here and there, notably to the formatting. So here goes...

What is especially important to you when choosing a scent?

1. Trend
2. Recommendation
3. Ingredients
4. Origin
5. Price
6. Breakdown of scent
7. Design

"I sense this question is about buying a perfume, which I rarely do these days as I have so many already, and must not be encouraged to add to my existing (ridiculously big) collection! But if something did overcome my resistance at this point in my perfume hobby I would say ‘the way a fragrance smells’, which is different from ‘breakdown of scent’ in 6. I would not look for it to definitely contain x or y notes, though I would be curious after the fact to see what notes were in it to explain why I liked it so much. And sometimes it is not possible to detect the individual notes in a perfume but just be transported by a generally pleasant scent. So ‘how it smells’ is No 1, and then probably ‘Price’ would affect whether I actually bought it at all! ‘Design’ would be a factor of some importance - I recently blogged about how a cheap box that looked like it might contain condoms(!) would hamper sales of a perfume that was recently launched. The packaging must be broadly commensurate with the fragrance. But I am not bound by trends or origin, and tend to go on my own nose’s findings, though a fellow perfumista’s recommendation might steer me towards something now and then."

What is special about a perfume blog compared to a fashion blog, for example?

"Pass - I don't read fashion blogs so don't know what they are like or what they set out to do."

How often do you blog?

"Nowadays I aim for once a week, but work and ‘life’ sometimes sidetrack me, such that the frequency is a bit less often. At the start, nearly six years ago, I posted 2-3 times a week, but that is hard to sustain unless you are a professional."

Source: Wikipedia

How many followers do you have?

"172 at the time of writing. These are people who have actively chosen to follow the blog. I believe Wordpress has a different way of calculating followers, and may just ‘sweep up’ all your friends on Facebook, which is not the same thing at all, hehe. ;) I must be honest and say that if I lose a follower - I can never even work out who, never mind why, for I just see the tally change - it is surprisingly unsettling. I would like to talk to the person to find out what prompted them to stop reading, in case it is anything I can readily fix!"

Why do you blog?

1. Because you want to influence people
2. Because you want to inform
3. Because you would like to warn
4. Because you would like to educate
5. Because you enjoy it, because you are communicative
6. Because your followers value your opinion

"Quite simply - to entertain, which is closest to your #5, though not the same. Perfume is a hook on which to hang what I hope are amusing posts - oh, and I also write travelogues, which have the same aim, and may feature perfume sniffing along the way."

Are you able to describe a scent so well that people buy it without having smelled it beforehand?

"I doubt it very much, in fact I think I am quite bad at this. Yet somehow by dint of using metaphor and various images to conjure up a scent in different ways, I can convey something of its character, and some readers have said they have an idea of whether they might like a perfume or not from my reviews. But I would hope they would read quite a few more reviews before doing anything so rash as to blind buy a scent! That is a practice I don’t approve of - though I am guilty of it myself in the past, haha. I certainly don’t want to encourage it in others, because that way can lie disappointment and buyer’s remorse…;)"


In general, how do you estimate the influence of a perfume blog on the market?

"It depends which one you are talking about. There are some very authoritative, ‘senior bloggers’ with large followings and excellent noses - a couple of the ones I am thinking of are industry insiders, indeed - so their blogs would have influence, maybe more on the subset of the public who like niche perfume. I don’t know to what extent the mainstream market would be influenced by blogs - it tends to operate on woolly copy, pushy sales staff and glossy advertising, and to rely on impulse purchases at the point of sale. They are two different markets in my opinion."

Do you have the feeling that you can influence your readers?

"I really don’t know, because I only ‘engage’ with the small number of readers who leave comments, most of whom are also bloggers. ;) I have no idea what the 95+% of people think or do as a result of landing on Bonkers - or who they even are. It is possible that they do check out perfumes - and the beauty products I also occasionally review - on my blog and take my opinion into account, but I have no way of knowing."

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Do you read other perfume blogs or do you exchange ideas with other bloggers?

"Oh yes, routinely, and I comment on them. And sometimes we have done group blog post-type collaborations, though I haven’t been involved in one lately. I have met quite a lot of other bloggers in person, and they have become proper friends. We often email and message one another - every day I would have some conversations like that online."

Do you only present perfumes that you like?

"Mainly, but not exclusively. When I write a negative review it is usually of something spectacularly bad for whatever reason. The type of perfume I find hard to write about is the kind that merely leaves me cold. Then I do also write reviews of perfumes I admire, but which may not be quite ‘me’."

Do you feel that you are a relevant source of information for your readers’ purchasing decisions?

"That goes back to your earlier question about influencing readers. I would say I am a relevant source up to a point, if they choose to use my reviews in that way. Whether they actually do is another matter that I can have no handle on."

The band at worship ~ Source: A Secret Picnic

What information do your readers look for on your blog? Information regarding:

1. Trend
2. Recommendations
3. Ingredients
4. Origin
5. Price
6. Breakdown of scent components
7. Design

"Probably similar things to me as in your earlier question ie how a fragrance smells, plus maybe a note list for reference and an indication of price. A pack shot, so they can see how the box looks. But I can only speculate here as to what matters to readers. Perhaps I should ask people just that! ;)"

What is your relationship to companies? (influence of companies on blog entries)

"I retain an independent stance in my dealings with companies. I get solicited a lot to write reviews in return for samples - or full bottles, even - but I never agree to do that. I say I will try the perfume and may or may not write about it as a result. And if I do decide to do so, the review may or may not be positive. So the only influence on the blog is the fact that if people send me samples, they are de facto on my radar and if I feel moved to feature the perfumes sent to me, I will. But that only occurs in a minority of cases, and often only months after the event when the muse strikes me!"

An art card bought in a bookshop in St Gallen

To what extent do you represent the interests of certain companies on your blog? (Specific influence of companies on blog entries)

"Not at all - see above. I will qualify that slightly, as there are some companies I have featured repeatedly on Bonkers and may do again, notably Papillon Perfumes, Puredistance, 4160 Tuesdays, and the company that makes Travalos. That is not what I would construe as a formal 'representation', but more a case of my liking those companies and their products, and genuinely wanting to write about them. What is also important is that there has to be a certain something about a perfume house/fragrance - it could be anything! - that is a good fit for the Bonkers 'house style' of nuttiness and frivolity. However great a perfume, if I can't spot a slightly left field angle from which to review it, I probably won't.

To what extent do companies try to influence your opinion? (influence on the blogger)

1. Sample copies
2. Personal contact
3. Newsletter
4. Other

"#1, #3 and #4! I get sent things in every media, including newsletters and press releases, samples and whole bottles. I have also met a number of perfumers, but they have never tried to influence me through that personal contact. It’s the PR companies who do that, but they do vary. Some are quite respectful and low key, others more pushy in actually requesting a ‘tit for tat’ arrangement - product in return for copy. It is my impression that as a sector beauty blogs are more open to that kind of remunerative MO, but that is a very broad generalisation."

St Gallen shoppers!

Is there a link on your blog where you can buy a specific perfume?

"In the body of individual reviews I might link to the website of the perfume house, and maybe to a store where you can buy that perfume, but not in any systematic way. They certainly can’t buy any perfume through the blog as such."

Do you recommend buying a perfume?

"No, only ever trying it! (See previous.)"

Are you compensated by other companies for:

1. The sale of perfume directly on your blog

2. Advertising
3. Production introduction


Dom Hotel ~ Source:

How do you handle complaints or critique regarding one of the products that you introduced?

"Not applicable, if by ‘introduced’ you mean ‘recommend’. My reviews are just opinions, so people are at liberty to say in a comment that they didn’t like something I was raving about in my post! I am not personally involved in promoting a scent in the sense you may mean?"

How would you describe the relationship to your readers?

1. Interactive
2. One-sided
3. Regular 

"I would say I have an interactive relationship with the small minority of readers who comment - who are mostly fellow bloggers as I say. People come and go, but some are regular visitors and commenters. Other readers may in fact visit regularly yet never comment. To the vast majority who don’t interact with the blog through comments, I guess the relationship may be what you mean by ‘one-sided’, but that's normal with blogs."


To what extent do you entice the readers to try a new scent or to purchase new perfumes?

"That’s for them to decide really, hehe. Where I absolutely love a perfume, I may try to arouse people's interest in it by writing an appealing, sensuous review, because I would be happy if the scent gave others the same pleasure as it does me. But I would never try to get anyone to purchase it, merely to take the step of trying it for themselves."

PS Next up...I break my own rules above about blind buying, hehe. Or as good as break them.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Swiss student's thesis on the influence of perfume blogs - online survey request!

A picturesque place in Switzerland which is a little bit off the tourist trail - and for which I have a soft spot for that very reason - is St Gallen. Long term readers may recall that I based myself there one weekend in late October, 2011. I caught a gig by The Monochrome Set (I know - they get everywhere!) on the Saturday night, following a meet up with Swiss perfumistas in Basel and a solo perfumery crawl in Zurich. The impressive baroque cathedral in St Gallen gets a brief mention in this airport sniffing post.

So when I received an email out of the blue from an undergraduate student there, my ears pricked up:

"My Name is Nina Meier and I am currently writing my bachelor thesis at University of St. Gallen (HSG, Switzerland) about 'the influence of blogs on the perfume market'. In course of  my thesis I am now looking for qualified interview partners who are willing to answer a few questions regarding this specific topic."


Nina's degree is in business administration, and her professor, Claus Noppeney, has a special interest in scent. Nina drew my attention to an interesting post on the Scent Culture Institute within the university, which I see counts Andy Tauer as one of its collaborators. Here is an excerpt from the About page of the Institute's website, explaining the olfactory tie up in more detail.

"The sense of smell has long been disregarded as one of the lower senses. More recently, however, the cultural and social relevance of the sense of smell is increasingly recognized. The formation of the Scent Culture Institute reflects this development. It is involved in different kinds of projects focusing on the sense of smell in culture, business and society. Projects vary in orientation: research, consulting, education, scent design, etc. The growing number of projects show how olfaction, scent and smell are increasingly the focus of cultural studies, art and design practice, as well as management research."

Me in St Gallen - wearing my sample scoring coat!

Well, as a market researcher myself, I am always happy to help out where I can - I am often excluded from surveys by virtue of being a professional 'insider' - but no such criteria applied here. So Nina sent me - along with a whole clatter of other bloggers, many of them familiar names on the scene - her survey questions, and I plan to post my own answers on Bonkers shortly. I am holding off from doing so for a while longer though, so as not to bias any readers who wish to take part in a short online survey Nina has also devised.

"Furthermore my current research design is also intending a qualitative part, in which course I would also like to make an online survey with the followers/readers of your blog."

The aim of this parallel line of inquiry is to see what sources of information about fragrance are consulted by the perfume wearing public, and how relatively influential they are in shaping people's views of brands or individual scents. So clearly my saying whether I think Bonkers about Perfume has any part to play in all of that might prejudice the results of this related 'consumer' research.

So without further ado, here is the link to Nina's online survey. It only takes a few minutes - no, really, I did a dummy run myself to see! - and your participation would be very helpful for her thesis.

Online survey link

My answers to the bloggers' survey to follow...

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Bonkers Kitten has landed! A tale of litter picking, bed hopping, and (playing) furry sardines

Sorry for the posting hiatus, but this week has been a bit full-on, settling the new Bonkers kitten in. I am not a mother, but I sense there are definite similarities between a newborn baby and a tiny kitten. I have caught myself thinking: 'Do I have time to take a quick shower?' and 'If I nip out to the shop, will it still be alive when I get back?' One key difference of course being that you are supposed to take the baby with you to the shop. But I am running ahead of myself again - first of all there was the 110 mile round trip to pick her up on Monday. When I arrived, Truffle and her grandmother Daisy were engaged in a slightly disconcerting 'top and tail' / '69'-style multi-tasking kind of arrangement whereby Truffle was feeding at one end, while her foster mum cleaned her bottom.

It was quite apparent that Daisy - who had stepped up to feed her three orphaned grandkittens in addition to her own litter when her daughter Nala was sadly run over - was heartily fed up of this whole breastfeeding lark. All the kittens had now gone to their new homes except Truffle - leaving aside the small matter of a random ginger kitten who had appeared out of the blue the day before to assuage the owner's nascent empty nester syndrome - and Granny was clearly looking forward to giving her chest a rest. Anyway, eventually Daisy batted Truffle off with a brisk clip of the paw, and the owner's daughter skilfully lured her into her travel basket using a catnip banana.

Truffle's last stand - while Daisy's gaze is firmly fixed on the pet carrier

I am sorry to report that on the long, dark drive home, Truffle mewed piteously non-stop, which was quite harrowing for me as the driver, trying to concentrate on the road ahead. At one point I had the idea to play a CD quite low on the car stereo to soothe her, Super Plastic City by The Monochrome Set, and interestingly - and possibly by way of coded mixed message? - her miaows were more intermittent / muted during the songs 'If I Could be Woebegone', 'Strange Young Alien' and 'It's a Wonderful Life'. And then she almost stopped mewing completely during 'Dark Red Rose', which happens to be my favourite track too.

Oh, the bike has now gone. Oily chains? Not going there...

I should add at this point that in advance of the new pet's arrival, I had taken some steps to kittenproof my home. I put a mosaic of cushions and pillows on the hall floor, for example, their degree of bounciness cunningly correlated with the height of the drop at each point. Meanwhile, I blocked off the landing banisters directly with perspex double glazing, a hardboard sheet, a huge picture, a V & A calendar, and a teddy bear wedged in the remaining gap. In the utility room, which is supposed to be off limits anyway on account of all the warm tempting crevices at the back of appliances, I managed to squeeze four gym shoes 'on pointe' in between the freezer and the washing machine. Though as will become apparent later, my nook and cranny coverage was to be found seriously wanting...

Having safely brought Truffle home, as is the standard drill I introduced her to her litter tray straight away (of which more anon), and to the smallish area where I was going to keep her initially, comprising dining room, kitchen and the back corridor. I had erected a camp bed in the middle of the dining room floor, which looked most outlandish, but I figured it would enable me to bond with the kitten in situ for the first few days - or however long I could stand sleeping in a main domestic thoroughfare with multilateral draughts and no socket within reach for my phone.

I can report that by lunchtime on Day 2 Truffle had finally flaked out in her basket for the first time in nearly 24 hours. I had lain on the camp bed all night, weathering seven hours of frenetic nocturnal activity on the kitten's part, which according to the RSPCA website, is perfectly normal 'crepuscular behaviour'.

'Night time activity is quite a common issue for some cat owners and can include cats that nibble or pounce on the owner's ears or toes in bed, walk across the sleeping owners, night time vocalisation, or highly energetic play sessions across the furniture and/or owners during the night or early morning.'

Yep, we had all of this behaviour, except, crucially, the 'sleeping owner'.

That bleary-eyed day was largely devoted to inducting Truffle in the important life skill of litter recognition, and to picking out a user friendly sort. I had got in two types already: the hygienic white crystals kind and the wood pellet variety. The former she tried to eat, while the latter she batted around for the hell of it like a plaything. So I dashed out to a local pet store where - under the watchful eye of Smudge, the feline sales assistant, pictured here sitting rather ironically on some dog food, for all the world like those promotional girls who perch on car bonnets at the NEC, or used to - I bought some regular Fullers Earth. This immediately computed with the kitten, as evidenced by her frequent and copious christening of the size-appropriate tray I had also bought. The original one was like the hull of the Titanic and had really taxed her clambering skills.

Sponge bag had been blocking it, but clearly not enough!

On Day 3 - possibly as part of her owner training - Truffle went and upped the ante... For I spent a frantic six hours turning the house upside down after she decided to well and truly hide in - as I finally deduced by a process of 'elimination' - the boxed pipework behind the loo. I was so distressed at her disappearance that I even had to switch Women's Hour off, imagine that. I felt so irresponsible, like a mother who loses her toddler in the supermarket. But in the end, having watched a YouTube video by a behavioural expert (thanks Anka!) on how to lure out your lost feline, and right before I turned to God in my desperation - or the fire brigade, or a plumber, or a joiner, or a truffle pig or dog - she was successfully 'flushed out' by the tried and tested bowl of wet tuna trick.

So Truffle is clearly living up to her name as 'something special, inaccessible and highly sought after'. Oh boy, did I do epic levels of 'seeking after' that day, involving a stepladder, screwdriver, torch, catnip wand and sundry other utensils. I must also confess that the scale of dust under and behind my furniture is as spectacular as it is shaming.

Day 4 saw the arrival of the kitten's first parcel, from Auntie Tara, formerly of OT. It contained a bee toy and some food and treats, but for me the real kicker was seeing my new housemate's name on the typed label, initials all present and correct - looking so very official:

'Miss Truffle G. S. Bonkers'

Then that night, Truffle found her way to the 'mothership' bed to which I had eventually retreated in my state of cumulative exhaustion. She promptly curled up between the two sets of pillows and didn't budge - or make a sound - for eight hours straight. I didn't sleep very well, mind, as I was worried about squashing her, but I am sure we will figure out some kind of workable system by and by.

So looking back over the first few days, I can confirm that I don't feel remotely 'alone' in the house anymore - it has a completely different atmosphere. The kitten feels like my immediate and obvious 'family', even though she is a tiny little ball of fluff who seems only to emit a noise if you drive at speed up the M1 or kick or tread on her - something of an occupational hazard at this early stage. But even if she doesn't communicate verbally, Truffle Ganache Salome Bonkers (to give her her full name in all its ridiculous splendour) really does tug the heartstrings with that beautiful face of hers. Asali was right to predict that I would be just another 'spineless owner', pliable as putty in this puss's paws...

Could you not find one more size-appropriate like the litter tray?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Luca Turin hosts Saturday Classics on BBC Radio 3, presenting a selection of music that conjures up some of his favourite scents

Quick interim post to pass on a tip off I received last night from my friend Jessica - she of the apparently still ongoing rose scent quest! - about a marvellous two hour programme on BBC Radio 3. It was on air yesterday afternoon, but is still available online for 28 days at the time of writing. Luca Turin hosts the entire programme, talking about some of his favourite scents and playing pieces of music which capture the essence / structure / character / 'timbre' of each, including quite a few I had never heard of, or had no clue as to what they were like, such as Diorama. To be truthful, I couldn't quite make out the names of one or two, and he didn't always cite the perfume house concerned, so if anyone was able to compile a complete list of the fragrances covered, I would be most interested to see it!

Oh, and being Radio 3, the music featured is mostly classical, and as well as enjoying Luca Turin's eloquent commentary on the link between each scent and its paired piece of music, I am indebted to him for introducing me to the stirring composition Lento, by Howard Skempton. I was also pleased to see contemporary jazz guitarist Ralph Towner on his playlist, who was part of my musical education during my time with Mr Bonkers, and whom I have even seen in concert once!

I must admit I skipped through some of the classical pieces, as they weren't quite my thing, but I can't recommend the broadcast highly enough for Luca Turin's fascinating descriptions of his chosen perfumes.

Here is the link - catch it while (and if!) you can:

Luca Turin hosts Saturday Classics on Radio 3

Apologies for the fact that I can't seem to embed the link in a directly clickable way - I just did a screenshot of my computer as a rather poor second!

However, I can give you a link to Lento, which is something. Blow me if I can't recall which perfume was associated with it - all the more reason to listen to the programme again, which I was minded to do anyway...;)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Bonkers about Perfume and the Bonkers kitten turn six (years and weeks old respectively)!

Well, technically the six-themed milestone for both my blog and my upcoming new feline arrival was Sunday just gone. However, though I managed to go and visit her - and take an utterly preposterous number of photos, much like her full name (big - or should that be long? - reveal to follow) - I was dogged again by a chronic headache for much of the rest of the day (to mix my animal metaphors slightly). The headache has been hanging around for six days now in fact, though I feel a little better at the time of writing.

So yes, 25th October, 2009 saw my first post on Bonkers - about the genesis of the blog, where I explain the strange phenomenon of Sudden Onset Perfume Mania which descended on me some 18 months before thinking of writing about scent in the public domain. I am surprised to have kept it up as long as I have, albeit there has been the odd hiatus along the way - notably in the summer of 2012, when I moved house. And I did seriously consider kicking the blog into touch a few times as well: once when it was hijacked by an Israeli site, once when I ruffled a few feathers with a guest post on Now Smell This, which I shan't even link to in case I ruffle a few more(!), and once when my blog template got accidentally corrupted to the point where I had to set it to Private until a friend kindly unscrambled it for me over the course of two nights' work on his part.

I have noticed that some of my 'generation' have also slowed down their pace of blogging or stopped altogether - The Left Coast Nose, Another Perfume Blog and Parfumieren being three much missed examples of 'retired blogs'. And while they each had their own reasons, maybe it is natural to move on to other things after x number of years, because of the not inconsiderable time and effort involved in blogging. I may well get to that point too by and by. Though we do also have examples of behemoth blogs such as NST, The Non-Blonde and Bois de Jasmin, which have been going for much longer than me - and maintained an impressive posting schedule to boot. For myself, I shall continue to pootle on on this ad hoc frequency of 'about a week'-ish, and see where that goes...

Source: pinterest

Oh, together with a number of bloggers 'on the scene', I recently took part in a survey hosted by a postgraduate student at a Swiss university on the subject of the influence of perfume blogs. It was quite an interesting and thought provoking exercise, and I might post my answers in full in a later post, but it is perhaps appropriate on my anniversary to mention here how I answered this multiple choice question about why I blog in the first place. The options were:

'Because you would like to...

1. 'influence people'
2. 'inform'
3. 'warn'
4. 'educate'
5. 'because you enjoy it, because you are communicative'
6. 'because your followers value your opinion'

So I replied:

'Quite simply - to entertain, which is closest to your #5, though not the same. Perfume is a hook on which to hang what I hope are amusing posts - oh, and I also write travelogues, which have the same aim, and may feature perfume sniffing along the way.'

Though increasingly they don't, haha! And it seems only a matter of time before my compulsive collecting of wool aka 'yarn harlotry' creeps into a blog post, that being the other key 'pillar' amongst my interests. Well, soon to be joined by the Bonkers kitten, with whom I expect I shall spend a fair amount of time playing wool games of one kind and another.

So I went to see her on Sunday, as I say, and she was as enchanting and cute as ever, if not more so. My Facebook friends will already be aware that the kitten's mother was killed in a hit and run incident two weeks ago, but most fortuitously, the mother cat's mother happened to have had a litter of her own just four days previously, and by the end of that sad day had stepped into the breach and started to feed her three orphaned grandkittens. She was still feeding them on an 'on demand' basis during my visit, bless her. ;)

The owner said that out of all the kittens, my one - and one other - were the most loving, in terms of liking to sit on laps and be cuddled, which is all very promising. She added that if I had picked Betty - a grey tabby - she would  have been a little more concerned, as Betty is a bit more self-contained, and a darn sight more mischievous than Truffle.

Which brings me lastly to the 'long reveal' of the Bonkers kitten's name, prompted partly by the fact that the owner latched onto one of the names on the shortlist a couple of weeks ago and started to call her 'Truffles' off her own bat. ;) My brother said that Truffles plural sounds a bit like a 1930s burlesque dancer, while it reminds me of someone doing a whole box of Ferrero Rocher watching Strictly. So I will probably singularise the  name when she comes. The other kittens have also all got rather sweet names now, to wit: Lottie, Simba, Betty (as mentioned), Cleo and Willow.

Oh....and Truffle's full name is...brace yourselves!...'Truffle Ganache Salome Bonkers' - or just 'Truffle Musson', obviously, if she is visiting the vet. The complete and decidedly bonkers suite of names was designed by committee, which says it all, really. But I'd like to extend a big thank you to everyone who came up with such a variety of thoughtfully chosen suggestions. I can assure you that they all went into the pot for consideration, even if, as it turns out, a rather eclectic 'dish' of nomenclature has come out of it again.

And lastly it remains to thank readers everywhere for your interest in Bonkers, however long or short a time you have been reading. If there are any types of posts you would like to see featured on here, let me know in the comments. And if you think that I should continue to resist sneaking wool-themed posts in, do please speak up. Also if you love dogs. Actually that might just be too bad. But I realise I am already digressing quite a bit from the supposedly core topic of perfume with my travel / band-related posts, so there may be a natural ceiling to the number of permissible tangents I can go in, hehe.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A potpourri of postal musings, including 4160 Tuesdays' new self-adhesive, cushion wrap corrugated packaging

I know, I know. You've glanced at the title and thought to yourself: 'A blog post about cardboard? I'll pass on that, thank you very much...' And that's fair enough, but as an industrial market researcher I have always been interested in packaging, which has been a bit of a recurring theme in my work down the years. This in turn has prompted me in the past to blog about those 'unsung heroes of the swap scene', bubble wrap and electrical insulation tape. It wouldn't suprise me if I had blogged about Jiffy bags, parcel and Scotch / Sello-tape at some point, but I don't believe I have - yet. Or I may have written about them in passing - an observation about the apparent trend towards black and hot pink and metallic Jiffy bags, say - but not on a standalone basis.

Cologne clear out - no casualties reported!

But firstly I wanted to announce the good news that after quite a few weeks and a fair degree of nail biting on my part, all the overseas perfume packages I posted as a result of my recent cologne clear out and giveaway made it through to their destinations in Croatia, Denmark, Australia, Canada and the USA. All the packages contained an eclectic assortment of decoy items, from a wind up reindeer to an unwound paper clip, as well as tea bags, strands of wool, universal ink cartridges, torn bits of material, sweets, skincare samples, an elastic band, a lone earring, a bookmark, a button or two - and a vividly coloured coaster with reindeer on it. (I say, there seems to be a bit of an accidental reindeer theme going on....!)

For the most part, these extraneous items were nothing you would actually want or could use, but their inclusion, however token, enabled me to access whole new categories on the customs declaration such as 'Stationery', 'Jewellery', 'Artists' Materials', 'Children's Toys' - and my personal favourite, 'Haberdashery'. Had space permitted, I would dearly love to have popped in a scarf to one or other of the parcels, so I could have added 'Ladies' Apparel' to the list. Next time I might just try that with entry level apparel items like pop sox! Maybe (clean) ones with ladders in them for added comedic futility.

It seems the recipients were also amused by my creative labelling / inclusions. When two of the packages made landfall in Australia, I received a photo of them sitting on the new owner's desk with the following running commentary as she opened them one at a time:

"LOL! Fabric samples...Nice work!"

Me: "If there's a tea bag in there, on no account drink it. It's something green and nasty."

"Shoe polish sponge. Button. I'm laughing my a*** off in the middle of an open plan office !!"

My next stash of fabric samples, ready to go

The Post Office inquisition, and the onside rule

The other aspect of my postal MO to mention is that I have taken to splitting my custom across multiple post offices for the more sensitive shipments, much as people stockpiling painkillers are wont to visit a number of different chemists. I now pretty much only use my local post office for sending perfume within the UK, which is of course not a problem, except that you are limited to how many bottles you can send, and even what constitutes a bottle. For the fact that you are meant only to send full bottles in the first place is perplexing, given that I mostly want to post decants and samples. Then there is the complicating factor of the 'bottle' supposedly being in its original packaging, which the things I am sending may well not be, if I have decanted them myself.

Then the other day I was sending two decants and a sample of something to a friend - which I gaily construed as 'one bottle' on the hazardous goods label, because on aggregate it was nearer to one bottle than anything else, hehe. And because I had told the postmaster earlier that I was having a clear out of my perfume collection, which is what had prompted the earlier flurry of UK packages he had handled, on that afternoon he piped up: 'Hey, have you got any perfume going spare?' He meant for himself, as it turned out, so I am going to give him a little miniature of a unisex scent by Micallef that Sabine of Iridescents had recently passed on to me, which is a bit rosy and oudy. I happened to be wearing it at the time, and the postmaster sniffed my hand and said he liked it a lot. So the next time I am in I will drop it off, for given how globally dispersed this perfume hobby is, it is quite important to keep your local PO staff onside...

Not my post office ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

4160 Tuesdays: padded packaging prompts patient prising

The other postal observation I wanted to make is about the packaging in which Sarah McCartney, owner of 4160 Tuesdays, had kindly sent me a promotional notepad featuring a colourful graphic of iconic London buildings interspersed with perfume bottles. It arrived in a corrugated cardboard pack that was so well sealed I had to take both scissors and knives to it in the finish. It was hard to find where exactly the ends of the package were sealed so I could insert my sharp implement of choice between them, but eventually brute force and a ragged kind of cutting action prevailed.

As seamless as your average sting ray

Here for reference is a photo of an average sting ray - bet you can't see the join on it either?


I mentioned the impregnability of her parcel to Sarah, who explained that it was a new style of 'cushion wrap' packaging they were trying out, which cleverly only sticks to itself and not to the item enclosed. Despite having done a project on single, double and triple-walled corrugated cardboard in Poland, Germany and Austria, I was not aware of this nifty technical feature, albeit the project in question was in 1996.

I think the new style of packaging is excellent for protecting contents in transit - there would be no dog ears or creased dustjackets if you were sending a book, say - but it does require a fair degree of patience and the ownership of an armoury of pointy utensils on the part of the addressee.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

'Between a rock hyrax and a festival': a pleasantly pungent Papillon pitstop en route to Rockaway Beach

Back when I wrote my 'not a review' of Salome by Papillon Artisan Perfumes - which featured the perturbed reactions of my friend Lizzie and her children to the perfume's thoroughly 'unnecessary' behaviour on my skin, to wit, that I shouldn't really be encouraged to wear this, especially not outdoors - Liz Moores expressed an interest in smelling Salome for herself on my skin, to see if I did indeed amp up the skank factor, as Liz's own skin does. And it wasn't long before a suitable opportunity arose, for I found myself bound for Bognor Regis and a 'boutique indoor music festival' called Rockaway Beach, and realised that Papillon's HQ was only a short squirt away up the M27. So I arranged with Liz that I would pop in on Saturday afternoon for a quick pitstop en route to the coast.

It is well documented - also in my own 'okay, let's call it a review for once' of Angelique - that Liz lives in splendid isolation in the middle of the New Forest. Well, isolation only in the sense of proximity to neighbours maybe, for the household is quite populous, comprising a shifting kaleidoscope of up to five children and (extremely) assorted animals.

The first thing to mention about my visit is that Liz gives good directions. Sat nav is positively superfluous when you are armed with such safety-conscious and meticulous instructions - including a current assessment of the degree of obstructive vegetation that might be compromising local signage:

"On this bend you need to turn right (signposted as a dead end IF you can see the sign which is battling with nature). BE CAREFUL HERE as it's a blind bend!!!"

Papillon HQ, where you are never more than 6ft away from a perfume bottle

I forgot to mention that I was a bit late getting to Liz's house, on account of roadwork-related lane closures on the A34 south of Newbury. Consequently, my first words to her after 'Hello' were - in a for me uncharacteristically ungrammatical blurt - 'I have four unreasonable demands I hope that's okay toilet cup of tea may I fill up my water bottle and charge my phone thank you where is the toilet in fact?'

A few minutes later, I was comfortably perched at the island in Liz's vast kitchen, while Liz's partner Simon put the kettle on, Liz cut me a piece of gooey chocolate cake, and my phone charged quietly on a cable reel normally used with the lawn mower. Over tea, I was treated to a smartphone tour of son Rowan's collection of 'monster' images. Well, in fairness some of them may have been his older sisters, but the more we swiped through, the blurrier our definitions seemed to become.

After tea, we adjourned to the living room, which was equally vast and notable for its squashy sofas, comfy jumble of cushions, and occasional stately Bengal threading its way through your legs. At this stage in proceedings Liz sniffed me wearing Salome, whose delicate powdery trail she likened to the way the scent played on her eldest daughter Jasmine's skin. I was quick to point out that Salome had been on me for seven hours already, and promptly reapplied it so that Liz could experience it straight out of the starting blocks in all its raunchy splendour. 'Oh okaay, now that is rather funky!' she laughed. We chatted about some samples I had received lately, and about the different ways natural materials and aromachemicals behave in perfume compositions, eg how relatively predictable a synthetic ingredient is compared to a natural. We agreed that they both have a role to play, and indeed the Papillon range of fragrances seems to gravitate 'naturally' to a 50/50 ratio of each.

Next up, I had a tour of Liz's studio with its floor to ceiling shelves laden with glass bottles and metal canisters of perfumery ingredients. Some of these were thematically grouped according to the perfume they go into, while others were part of Liz's extensive library of materials. A number sported intriguingly oddball names like 'Bornax' and 'Okanaul'. Okay, so I made both of those up, but trust me when I say that the correct names (which I can't immediately bring to mind) were every bit as random. I do remember another bottle that was definitely called Pink Lotus, and which smelt beguilingly of Toffos.

Source: Twitter

I got to sniff a selection of raw materials, including some of the ones that went into Angelique, Tobacco Rose and Salome. I was liberally anointed with African Stone - and not just hyrax, but styrax, castoreum and red bitter orange, mimosa and Turkish rose, plus a foresty number named after the area in France where I accidentally fetched up in a nudist camp. I also had two different mods on my arms of White Moth, a tiare-centric work in progress, and of course the recently refreshed application of Salome! If the truth be told, I was a bit pungent by now, veering to pongy possibly, but I didn't care...

Liz also showed me her stack of notebooks, full of handwritten formulae and jottings about her impressions of different materials, both on their own and in various accords. It was reassuring to see that her work bench bore the scars of battle in the form of numerous marks, scratches and stains(!), as I have managed to strip the polish off my dining room table in a couple of obvious places due to accidents while decanting...;(

'Piccadilly patio': the cat wanted out and the dogs wanted in

Then we were looking out of the window at one point onto a patio area behind the kitchen - specifically because Jicky the cat had escaped and was sloping off towards the clothes line, prompting Liz to ring Simon and ask him to go and catch her (I told you it was a big house!) - and this was the trigger for Liz to tell me a bit about the creation of Tobacco Rose. I admitted right off the bat that while I admire Tobacco Rose, I find a bit prickly/fuzzy and austere, and neither upbeat nor sultry - nor particularly feminine. It's quite haylike on me - and kind of autumnal - and that's as much as I could say about it, other than the fact that I am leaning ever more towards Salome, the surprise grower of the range for a former hater of animalics!

Me being quite haylike on hay, c1974

Liz could understand why Tobacco Rose might not have clicked with me, and explained that it was a perfume with which she had wrestled for a long time, scrapping and tinkering in an endless and at times furious cycle. For by her own admission, she had been in a bad place in her personal life at that time, and the catalyst for Tobacco Rose had been the combination of this inner turmoil and the sight of the trees ranged around her house and the carpet of autumnal leaves on the flagstones of the patio. I think she may have mentioned that it was also windy and/or raining - and even if it wasn't, in the interests of pathetic fallacy I think we can reasonably add some turbulent weather conditions into the mix. So, short story short Tobacco Rose was created in anger, as it were - or an ongoing state of emotional upset - which got me wondering whether the finished scent embodies that conflicted mood at its heart, and whether that is why I didn't bond with it. Liz also lobbed in the observation that if she cooks when she is in a bit of a strop, she reckons that her dishes actually taste different. Which interesting notion is probably fodder for a whole other blog post on its own. ;)

And before we left the studio, because I had been swooning quietly over the scent strip smeared in this, Liz very kindly scooped some flakes of eye-wateringly expensive orris concrete into a plastic bag for me. I have since decanted them into a plastic container that originally had ear plugs in it, given to me some time ago by DJ and blogger Ron Slomowicz of Notable Scents. I knew it would come in handy some day.

Then having retrieved my phone charger, but forgotten to fill my water bottle, I followed Liz on a quick tour of the snake collection, which - in case anyone wants to avoid them - was just to the left of the cockatiels in the hall. They are housed in a sort of filing cabinet system the family refer to as 'racks', and Liz pulled out a few drawers to see which scaly residents were out and who was in - as in under their little platform to the rear of each drawer. Cleo was out but I am very pleased to report that Phantom, the ueber-creepy white Royal Python, was firmly IN, and out of sight. I also noticed a bottle of Hoegaarden on the worktop to one side. Who knew that pedigree snakes are partial to the odd beer?

From Papillon HQ, it was on to Bognor, though not before I had stopped to photograph this wonderfully vintage petrol station in the next village.

The Rockaway Beach Festival is held at Butlins, which has come a long way as a holiday destination since its Red Coat and 'hi-de-hi' days, though if you ask me my honest opinion, not nearly far enough, haha. I was staying offsite in a very traditional B & B, so much so that I got ticked off the next morning at breakfast for inadvertently taking the communal jug of orange juice to my table, and spilling a drop in the process. Meanwhile, the band and merchandise team had rooms in the two main onsite hotels, memorable for their whimsical touches of nautical imagery and 'towel animals'.

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

The Monochrome Set were playing the Centre Stage, in an auditorium that was disconcertingly reminiscent of a channel ferry, but without the slight rocking motion and dedicated lounge for long distance lorry drivers. But it was afterwards, over a takeaway pizza in the reception area of The Wave Hotel, that the Papillon story continues...For it was here - notwithstanding the fact that we were eating - that I invited the band to smell the remnants of neat African Stone(!) as well as Salome, which was about six hours in now on the second application of the day, and partially washed off by a pre-gig shower. Yes, Bognor may go down in history as the first time I have tried to un-perfume myself before a gig rather than the reverse.

Butlins with its distinctive meringue peaks

The band duly sniffed both the remnants of Salome AND the African Stone, intrigued by my explanation that it was the fossilised excrement of the rock hyrax, an animal I tried to big up by likening it to a robust yet endearing variant on the guinea pig. They continued to chew thoughtfully on slices of the family size pepperoni pizza several of us were sharing, and didn't bat an eyelid - or flare a nostril in disgust.

Now my wearing of actual African Stone may have been a lifetime one off, but in the light of this rock 'n' roll nonchalance in the face of the ne plus ultra of poo, I plan to wear Salome to the next gig without a backward glance...

Segregated scent strips in the festival programme