Thursday 24 February 2011

5 Daily Essentials

The ever lovely Jeska from Lobster and Swan tagged me in a post about bloggers five daily essentials. Jeska's are here- and very chic.

Mine are above- I decided to literally pull things out of my bag thinking those items at the top of the bag would be the most used. So we have: 2 moleskins (one diary, one for jotting notes because I still like pen and paper for creative thoughts); one inhaler for breathing more easily; one i pod for good sounds and 2 lip things which I'm sort of including as one because I'm a cheat, one is a lip balm and the other is a lip stick which I put on in emergencies when I'm looking particularly tired or my outfit needs a lift.

I surprised myself because the two real essentials that aren't in the picture are my phone (because the picture was taken on it) and my bank card which is very necessary. I also don't seem to have any perfume! (but worry not there is an atomizer buried in there somewhere).

Thanks very much to Jeska for asking me to play the game.

Friday 18 February 2011

Theatre: Vernon God Little at The Young Vic

Mindful of this recent and very thought provoking article in the Guardian about bloggers reviewing plays before the preview period is over to the detriment of the theatre they supposedly support I have waited a little while to review Vernon God Little.

Now firstly I must declare something of a bias towards the Young Vic. I loved it when it was more ramshackle for it's programme and it's space- and I love it even more since its makeover- it retains a theatre where no seat is a bad seat and in addition is now a cool destination even if you aren't going to watch a play there.

Vernon God Little is a terrific production. Of course it comes from excellent source material (the book of the same name by DBC Pierre) but this production takes the story off the page using the set, music, movement and everything a theatre has at its disposal that a book does not. This is a revival of the original Young Vic production which starred Colin Morgan (who now stars in Merlin); I didn't see the original cast but Joseph Drake who plays Vernon currently is a brilliant choice- his performance is a layered mix of troubled teen, wise old man, petulance, Eminem style rage and goodness.

As ever tickets for this production are ridiculously good value and the Young Vic really do put back into the community. In my humble opinion your money would be much better spent on this than some musical of a film that wasn't even very good in the eighties for double the price with half a view. If all of that isn't enough to recommend the production there is also makes excellent of moving sofas- and a banjo. I rest my case.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

What's on the outside

I think all the time about changing the way my blog looks- and I often regret letting go of my old school original template (although I still love my header- thank you Jayne).

I know that the professional thing to do is to become a .com or and change to a different template but I quite like my blogspot- and if it's good enough for the Sartorialist then why not?

How do other people feel- not so much about my blog but about how blogs in general look and what they like and don't?

Friday 11 February 2011

Eating Perfume: Penhaligon's chocolates

Flower food and scented recipes get my pulse racing in exactly the same way as a new fragrance. I've written about eating perfume before in the context of the ingredient ambergris but Penhaligon's in Edinburgh and their neighbour The Chocolate Tree have gone one better and collaborated on chocolates inspired by Penhaligon's perfumes.

The fragrances they produced chocolates for are: Malabah, Cornubia, Endymion, Orange Blossom, Amaranthine and Gardenia; a mixture of classic and newer formulations.

I was excited and fascinated by this process- and the chocolates themselves sounded delectable. Alex Musgrave, the delightful manager at the Edinburgh branch of the perfumers, agreed to answer some of my questions about how this chocolate collection.

1 How did the idea for a collaboration between Penhaligon's and The Chocolate Tree come about?

The collaboration was almost accidental. With a touch of fate! I have wanted to create scented chocolates for almost as long as I have worked for Penhaligon’s which is six years now. It’s a tricky thing to do. The artisan chocolate market is awash with a huge array of convoluted flavours, some successful some not. I had criteria. I wanted something local and therefore exclusive to my boutique, flavours reflective of our fragrances, not slavish imitations and delicacy and originality. I wanted them to surprise my clients. We succeeded on all these points.

One of the Chocolate Tree team, Josie, their talented baker, came in looking for fragrance. We got talking about flavours, scents and mutual ideas. Then Ali (Alistair Gower), the owner of the Chocolate Tree got in touch and we sat down to talk chocolate and perfume. He was new to fragrance and truth be told I am not a massive chocolate eater and knew very little about the way artisan quality chocolate is made. We looked very carefully at the fragrances with the ingredients we thought might produce the most unique finished product. I wanted a range of tastes, finishes, textures and sensations. I really wanted each chocolate to be savoured on the palate in the way a scent opens and blooms on the skin. Big ask, but you know what….we got very close. Especially with some of them. We did a couple of trials and changed the ganaches, tweaked ingredients, changed the colour of chocolate shell here and there and then kept tasting until we were happy. The final six chocolates were just beautiful and worked better than I could have hoped for.

2) I am a great lover of rose and violet creams- which are obviously made with perfume type flavours- I know they are quite love or hate- what was the reaction of customers to the perfumed chocolates? Was there a particularly successful chocolate?

We knew the reaction from clients would be really interesting. Everyone (the team included) had quite pre-conceived ideas about scent-inspired chocolates. So it seemed did many of our customers. I trained all our staff in the collaboration process and the inspiration and the ingredients. I had involved them in all stages of the process too, asking for feedback from them about the different drafts of the each chocolate. So when we started to sell them and talk about them we were more than we prepared. We all loved different chocolates too and were passionate about the project. We launched them at a special evening for local businesswomen, talking about the collaboration and letting the ladies sample them for the first time. It was interesting to watch reactions as I talked. Some were intrigued some not, some not really liking the idea at all, imaging a straight perfume/chocolate mix. After tasting however was a different matter. Hugely positive, everyone surprised and really intrigued by the witty interpretation of the fragrances, the scented echo if you like. We sampled them in store as we sold too and this really worked, talking each client through the project and letting them sample the same scent too. The feedback was so positive, with repeat sales for the chocolates and so much encouragement from our clientele.

3) I think using floral ingredients in food is becoming more fashionable- and gourmand fragrances continue to be very fashionable- did anyone find that they liked the chocolate of a scent they didn't like on their skin?

This is an interesting question. The Amaranthine chocolate was in many ways the most challenging to create and the fragrance for me that I wanted to be absolutely perfect. The fragrance was launched in November 2009 and exploded across the artisan scent world with its divisive and compulsive blend of tropical banana leaf, spiced oils, high levels of ylang oil and a deeply weird hot milk note in the base of the scent that made it so moreish and sensual. It is perhaps one of the most unusual and shocking scents that Penhaligon’s has launched and was created by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. I wanted the oddness of this scent to come across. The contrast of comfort and carnality, the creaminess and unsettling power of ylang, a renowned aphrodisiac oil. This fragrance divided our clients. Some loved, some hated. The chocolate however worked like a dream, (we used tiny touches of ylang ylang essential oil) seducing all who tried it and for me is the stand out chocolate in the collection. On a personal level, one of the chocolates is based on Malabah, a ginger and rose based oriental we have in our collection. The scent itself is witty, juicy and stylish but smells sharp and bitter on my skin, much as I want to wear it. The chocolate however is smooth and beautifully made, with delicate notes of green coriander running through it and the earl grey tea note which in the scent is fresh, is smoky and warm in the chocolate. Wonderful.

4) I am especially intrigued as to how the non floral ingredient like sandalwood tasted- could you tell us a little bit about that?

The sandalwood note (and the use of myrrh and the Endymion chocolate) works very well with chocolate. They are both warm, woody, earthy notes. This plays well with the bitterness of dark chocolate in particular. Ali the chocolatier and his team use these notes with great finesse, the aromatic creaminess of wood oils breathes into the chocolate and seems to give it an extra dimension without ever overpowering it. Like base notes in fragrance, I noticed as the chocolate finished on the palate, these wonder bitter woody notes resonated last of all, smoothing and rounding the experience off.

5) Might the collaboration be repeated in the future?

I have future projects in the back of my mind already. The valentine’s project is already up and running in Edinburgh and selected London stores. I would like to look at working on chocolates for the new Anthology fragrances launching in late spring. One of them is a sparkling fruity gourmand begging to be made in a chocolate. We are looking at making Blenheim Bouquet, out bestselling citrus into a mini bar for father’s day, I love the idea of playing with black pepper, lemon, pine and bergamot. Maybe a small box of limited edition Orange Blossom chocolates for mother’s day. So there are ideas galore. I want Ali to be considered like a perfumer in some respects, someone who I consult with a brief, who creates something special to sit alongside our beautiful fragrances. We both like a challenge and the process so far has been fun and surprising for both of us.

Thank- you very much to Alex and everyone at Penhaligon's. There is lots more information about the upcoming Valentines chocolates on the Penhaligon's facebook page and you can follow the fragrance house on twitter- they have lots of competitions and interesting events throughout the year.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Strange Invisible perfume

One my major perfume discoveries last year was Strange Invisible Perfumes, a range of completely natural (and importantly) certified organic perfumes made in America. You can read more about Strange Invisible Perfumes and their ingredients here.

My new found love for the line is in fact purely driven by the scents I have found which are interesting, daring and inventive; that they are natural is, to me, a bonus. However if for you this is an important factor (and I can increasingly see that it would and perhaps should be as much for fragrance as it is for skincare) then these are the best perfumes I have found that do not contain any chemicals.

I have tried the following perfumes from this line but there are more and I would love to hear about the ones I haven't tried yet if anyone has.

Musc Botanique: A perfume that smells of musk without containing any. Musk although an extremely popular smell is of course derived from animals and as such some people disagree with its use in perfumery. Strange Invisible perfumes have crafted this scent entirely from botanical ingredients and I must say it is really quite successful at mimicking the more ish, nuzzling quality of musks. It also has a very pleasing salt quality. This is a very successful unisex scent that I would recommend to anyone who wants to wear a non floral, musk type scent but who prefers to only wear perfumes that contain natural ingredients.

Fire and Cream: This perfume has a delicious bright orange, marmalade colour in the bottle. On the skin this is also an orange scent- with top notes of the fruit itself and orange blossom and beautiful basenotes of a particularly rich grassy vetiver as well as sandalwood and patchouli. For anyone who loves orange and or vetiver and anyone who likes to be a little bit different.

L'Invisible: The signature scent of the line and the perfume they describe as the 'little black dress' of the collection. With beautiful and overtly sexual notes of amber, moss and ylang ylang they are quite right- this would be the ideal natural perfume for a date night. It has quite a pronounced lemon citrus top note which rescues it from being too heady and old fashioned.

Prima Ballerina: This is absolute lovely but as I have already reviewed it I will say no more than this is my personal favourite and direct you to my former review here.

Aquarian Roses: Is obviously an aqua rose scent- now with my love of all things rose and particularly salt notes I always expect to love aquarian roses (Rosine and Lostmarc'h have their own versions as well). Honestly I have never found they live up to my expectations but this one is the best I've found. The rose oil is clearly of a very high quality and the perfume smells exactly like a rose garden when it's raining; perhaps because this is where natural perfumery works best, it can really mimic smells you would find in life and would never expect to find in a bottle, but you can.

Fair Verona: A very beautiful name for a perfume, I wondered if it would be rather hard to live up to- but this scent does fair Verona and Juliet great service. As with all the other scents in this line the quality of the raw ingredients in Fair Verona shine through. This is especially true of the jasmine, which is listed on their website as being a combination of oils from that flower.

In many ways a classic scent Fair Verona could, in other hands, have been over- poweringly feminine but here the jasmine retains a freshness which prevents this. That lightness may come from the pink grapefruit note, which also suggests youth and vibrancy. The scent is not without complexity though and sandalwood stops it from being too carefree. A scent for women of all ages who want to smell like ladies but not girls.

Peloponnesian: The only specifically male fragrance I have tried from this line (although I think several of the scents that are not listed as unisex could easily be for an open minded man). Peloponnesian is quite simply everything you want from a man's scent (well that I want, as a woman). It is a very well balanced blend of the classic citruses that do tend to dominate men's cologne type smells together with some of the more unusual ingredients that do seem to be characteristic of this companies way of working. Those rarer ingredients include mountain sage honey and the botanical musk which I discussed above as a major ingredient in L'Invisble- which again here adds a salty aspect which works incredibly well for me. It would be very hard for a man not to be well dressed in fragrance terms in Peloponnesian.

Photos taken in Content/ Wellbeing who offer the range of Strange Invisible (and other natural perfumes and beauty products) in their lovely London shop and online.

I was given samples of all the scents reviewed here which in no way influenced my opinion of the products.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Cold water surfing

Surfing in Sweden- it's unexpected.

I first came across the notion that people actually walk out into the surf of the Baltic Sea in Intelligent Life magazine. Their story was inspired by and featured the beautiful photographs of Daniel Månsson.

The art of photography has been long established and with digital cameras giving most of us the ability to take passable photographs it is easy to forget just how remarkable these still moments in time can be. Månsson's pictures reminded me how much I wished I was a great photographer and that I am definitely not.

The pictures speak for themselves- both for his talent and for his desire to share the story of the Swedish surfers. You can view a slide show of the pictures at Kontinent. Daniel also has his own website with a print shop and guide to his books- and you can like his Facebook page (if you like to like). He doesn't just do surfing- he has some awesome pictures of skateboarders doing things I don't understand which look good and gorgeous pictures of Sweden that are making me want to visit there again sooner than now (happily I am actually going in May).

It was the cold water surfing that first led me to him though- and which particularly inspired me too. Having surfed in the relative warmth of British waters in the summer (with a wet suit on, obviously) and found my body elated but exhausted afterwards I can only imagine loving something so much that you would wear a 5cm thick wet suit and get into water that is colder than the freshly chilled glass of water on my desk- that is making my teeth stand on end and my fingers turn white when I drink from it. To need to do something so much, that's cool- that's what I want to find in the world.

If you like surfing stuff why don't you also check out this blog by Joanna Goddard on pre second world war surf photographer Don James- with a great re- print.

When I got in touch with Jo to ask if she could give me the link to this story she also recommended a really interesting documentary called Surfwise about an 85 year old surfer, his wife and their nine children- thanks Jo!

I've started making a Spotify playlist of surf songs which I will be popping up here later- but you know what- just put on the Beach Boys and you're pretty much there.

Thanks very much to Daniel for letting me use the above image.