Beauty Without Fuss

Friday 31 July 2015

A Parosmic at the (An)Osmotheque

Did you hear the one about the parosmic who went to the perfume museum?*

A trip to the Osmotheque perfume museum in Versailles seemed like a dream come true when I’d booked it through Odette Toilette in April 2014.  Billed as an opportunity to smell classic fragrances dating back as far as the 1800’s (in faithfully recreated “original” formulations), plus an opportunity to talk through the history of those fragrances with master perfumer Thomas Fontaine of Jean Patou, it was a trip genuinely not to be missed.  I booked gladly, and forgot all about it for the best part of the year.

Come November, and the time to travel however, the trip seemed more like a cruel joke put out by the universe. Having lost my sense of smell completely in the meantime, only to have it partially recover (then further discover that all smells were now completely distorted; being both disgusting and nauseating), a trip to a perfume museum under the circumstances seemed rather perverse, not to mention slightly masochistic.  Who would want to put themselves through that? 

Turns out, I would.

On the Eurostar over to Paris, my travelling companions were sweetly amused when they found out my predicament: “Everything smells like poo?  Really?  Why on earth are you coming?” I had answers for the first and second of those questions ("yes", and "yes, I know, you couldn’t make it up, even it you wanted to"), but a clear handle on the third proved elusive.  One of the reasons was that I’d paid for the trip already, dammit!  Plus, there was the fact that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a perfume nerdling like myself. A lot of my friends were going and I wanted to see them, and share in the experience with them. And finally (probably the most likely): I’m stubborn, and I HATE the situation I’ve found myself in, so I was blummin’ well going to show my nose who is boss, for once. 

A lunch at the Palais de Tokyo before the museum visit proved parosmia-challenging, consisting of giant chunks of raw radish with butter and bread, followed by fish (noticeably delicious) in a bacon sauce which proved in the end to be too inedibly creamy and slimy-feeling for me to finish off. But there was tapioca with slices of mango for pudding, and I could eat some of that, and as you might expect, the wine was good. Very good.  Not as good as gin would have been, but I digress. However, in a hugely amusing twist (for me), it actually turned out I was far better served by my food than my “olfie”*** colleagues who had ordered the “chicken in caramel sauce”, which turned out to be a far more literal dish than anticipated. Chicken in runny, buttery, sugary caramel. So for once I got to watch others being completely off-put by their meals in a way that felt both amusing, and, in its way, oddly comforting. Schadenfreude, perhaps? Anyway.  "Possibly", I thought, "today might not be entirely what I am expecting".  And so it proved to be, in a variety of ways.

The Osmotheque is oddly situated in what appears to be a residential street, and Versailles itself feels far more “surburban” than I anticipated.  I guess after spending time in Serge Luten’s rather monastic Morrocan-themed private rooms in his Palais Royal salon (again a surprise after the gorgeously insanely-lit deep-purple intergalactically baroque shop-floor) and, having experienced the marble and gilt splendour of Guerlain’s spa on the Champs Elysees firsthand,  then having felt my heart flutter in the beautifully “frou-frou" (not to mention marabou!) stores of Caron around Paris, I was expecting the world’s only “perfume museum” to be a little less, well ... less of an unassuming office block with an attached canteen, let’s put it that way.  I think I was expecting more of a temple. A monument. An eden.  Something with glitter, at the very least. Paris tends to have that effect on me! Admittedly, I never expect things to be merely “normal” in the City of Lights.

What is clear from the Osmotheque’s d├ęcor is that perfume is a serious, not-at-all frivolous business in France, and it was made clear from the outset of our day that maintaining the history of the perfume industry is also a serious undertaking.   Thomas Fontaine, who led our discussion on fragrance, also takes his perfume seriously.  French perfumers, with a few gloriously eccentric exceptions generally do, in my (brief!) experience. Thomas, who is a charming, handsome, and entertaining gatekeeper of scent, treated us to a brief background into the history of the Osmotheque itself, then rattled off some entertaining statistics and “facts” about olfaction and fragrance, before taking us through a guided sniff of 30 or so fragrances through the ages.  (I’ll discuss why the “facts” in the “facts about olfaction” part of that sentence is in inverted commas in a later post – it is too big a digression to go into here).  We started with fragrances from 1880 and worked our way forwards to (almost) the present day.

Beginning with Lubin and Eau de Lubin, alongside Vinaigre des 4 Voleurs as examples of the earliest, and entirely natural, fragrances, we quickly moved onto two unabashed classics, Fougere Royal by Houbigant and Jicky by Guerlain as synthetics became important in the making of perfumes.  Each fragrance was presented with a little history of the notes, the perfumer, the perfume house presenting the fragrance, and a notation of why the perfumes were important, or just noteworthy in themselves.  Also included in our “tour of fragrance” were original formulations of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, Chypre from Coty – so influential an entire category of fragrance is named after it to this day – Tabac Blond by Caron, the original Arpege by Lanvin, Shocking by Schiaparelli, and Joy by Jean Patou.

Going through the fragrances one by one, and learning more about each one’s tiny place in history was fascinating, even when (as I’d feared), I couldn’t smell much. And, it turned out that much of the little that I could smell at times was indeed parosmically distorted.  The alcohol that dilutes many fragrances has a salty, metallic, oddly savoury scent to me, completely masking any ingredients, and this was compounded by the sweetness of many fragrances also causing a strange flatly-stale vanillic effect, so many of the fragrances we sampled simply smelled of salty, savoury, vanilla, in a way strangely reminiscent of bacon-flavoured candyfloss after a night on the Southern Comfort, if you can imagine such a thing.  Headache inducing, and slightly stomach-churning, but not too terrible.  But then, violets happened.

Specifically, Vera Violetta by Roger et Gallet happened.  I realised that what I could smell wasn’t a booze-soaked gastroenteritis-plagued pig who’d been rolling in icing sugar, like the previous fragrances, but actual, real and undistorted violets.  This was the first thing I’d either smelled at all, never mind “correctly” in over six months.  Do you know what smelling something undistorted is like after six months of either smelling nothing or only smelling sewage for more than half a year?  Well, whatever you’re imagining now, you’re wrong, let us put it that way.  That first, ever-so-faint, and rather prickly smell of violet was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever had near my nose, and will probably remain the most beautiful thing I’ve had near my nose for a long time yet to come.  There were tears, and for the first time (but not the last, it turns out) since losing my sense of smell, they were happy tears.  No parma violet has ever smelled so sweet, not will ever do so. 

Other revelations followed, with pointy and fresh citrus in Jean Patou’s 1000, and Rochas Moustache Concentree, and with more violetty ionones turning up  in L’Heure Bleue, and Bourjois Soir de Paris, it was a revelation that not only were there things that smelled “right” to me, but things that smelled “good”. This, coming along at a point where I genuinely thought I was having to resign myself to never smelling anything “nice” ever again, was a turning point for me.   I hadn’t realised just how dark, and unfulfilled, a life either without smell entirely, or a life with only bad things to smell had been until then.  Violets were a sweet revelation, but a bittersweet one beneath the initial happy reveal. 

I also found that I was smelling even non-violet or citrus fragrances much better at the end of the session than at the beginning, which was another revelation.  From what was genuinely one of the darkest points of my life, a tiny, purple light had started to beckon, and, unbeautiful though it may be in its own right, the Osmotheque now gains landmark status in the heart of this parosmic perfume writer at least.  All in all, if you can smell (and, as it turns out, even if you think you can’t) and have an interest in perfume, then a trip to the Osmotheque is probably the most magical experience, comprising theatre, history, and, of course, perfume,  that you can have in an office block in the Paris suburbs.  I urge you to go.  But if you can’t get to Paris then Odette Toilette is bringing the Osmotheque to London in May, and I’ll be there once more, parosmia be damned.

All I need now is a violet and citrus perfume of my very own.  There’s one on the way, it turns out, thanks to an astonishingly talented (and incredibly generous) friend, but that is very much a story for another day …

* How did she smell?**


*** An “olfie” is how dysosmics sometimes describe a person who can smell “normally”.

Note: This piece was first published in a slightly different form on The Parosmia Diaries at: reproduced here by permission of the shared author.

Many thanks must go to Jo Fairley for the horrifically fabulous pun in the title, and for much more besides.

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Thursday 30 July 2015

Guerlain Terracotta Joli Teint Natural Healthy Glow Powder Duo

I've been a bit mystified (not hard, I realise) by the "glow powder" craze recently, lots of brands are bringing them out, and I couldn't see what the point of a powder that is darker than a normal face powder, but not dark enough to use as a bronzer was.  Then I came home from my holiday with a (slight) tan and had a little "aha!" moment.  They're for adding just a touch of subtle colour to your skin (and I do mean subtle), enough to emulate that you've spent a lovely sunny day (or two) somewhere.  I picked up two from Guerlain recently to find out what all the fuss is about.

From the brand's iconic Terracotta range, there are four shades of Healthy Glow powder, two for blondes, and two for brunettes.  Now, I am a brunette but I don't think I'm a Guerlain brunette, as I have extremely pale skin, and the Guerlain brunettes range seems to be for people with much more olive skin than myself, so the two powders I picked up are 00 Light and 02 Natural, both considered for "blondes".

 Both of them are, essentially very pale bronze powders, with a sliver of "blush" alongside, ostensibly for you to add a "pop" of colour to your cheeks to stop the powders looking "flat".  I think the slivers are just a bit too thin to use for this purpose properly, so I just swirl the two shades together, and use them that way.  I've been using 002 (on the right above) almost exclusively since I came back from Croatia and I use it as a normal face powder. I imagine that when I'm back to my usual year-round pasty-face, I'll be able to use it as a bronzing powder.

The powders are finely milled, and have a very slight - discreet - shimmer about them, hence the "glow" part of the name, and both have the usual terracota fragrance which is quite apparent in the compact, but is unnoticeable on the skin.

Perfect for swirling all over your face to simulate having spent a day (or two in the sun) without worrying about bronzer "tidemarks", or useable as a contour powder if you're very pale, they're a bit more versatile than I imagined when I first came across them.  They are well named, as they're great for a bit of a glow!  Me, I can't be bothered with normal bronzers, they're too brown, and too dark for my very pale skin, but these will be great for me when I need a bronzer as they're pale, and have a hint of pink, so it won't just look like I've painted myself with gravy browning ...

Guerlain Joli Teint Natural Healthy Glow Powder duos are in store now, and cost £35.50 each. 

The Fine Print: Purchases.

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Wednesday 29 July 2015

Omorovicza Refining Facial Polish

A few years ago, I fell deeply in love with a cleanser, so deeply in fact, that I hoarded the final few millimetres in the jar for three years, saving it's use for only very, very special occasions.  Recently, I was lucky enough to be reintroduced to the entire Omorovicza range (and that heavenly cleanser) and this product has become a little obsession recently as a result.

A bright emerald green from the algae and the copper in the formula, Refining Facial Polish is both a chemical and physical exfoliant, lava powder provides the physical (grainy) exfoliant, and there is a selection of fruit acids in here too, which provides the chemical exfoliating effect.

To use, you massage (lightly!) over clean, dry skin, taking time to admire how it fades from deep, deep kermit-with-a-suntan green to a pale pistachio as you massage:

You're welcome
Then, once the dark green has completely disappeared and your face is fully covered, you can either leave it as a mask for two minutes (taking selfies at this point is completely optional, I assure you) or simply skip the mask step altogether and rinse off completely and follow with serum and moisturiser as normal.

Once rinsed, your skin will be smooth and soft, and free from any rough patches.  There's a slight tingling sensation on the skin whilst in use, as you will get from most acid-based exfoliants, but it is very slight, and passes as soon as you rinse the product from your skin.  Omorovicza recommend this for all skin-types except the very sensitive, and I'd go along with that.  It hasn't irritated my sensitive skin, but I have spent years accustoming myself to acid peels, so I may not be typical.  I love how velvety soft this polish leaves my skin, and I'm having a hard time rationing myself to using it just once a week.

Omorovicza Refining Facial Polish costs £65, and is available from

The Fine Print: PR Sample

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Tuesday 28 July 2015

Ultimate Nars Lip Pencil Set

This summer's (Selfridges only) limited edition collection from Nars is a godsend for nude-lip lovers!  Billed as the "Ultimate Lip Pencil Set", the bright and lovely box contains three nude lip pencils in Stourhead, (satin formula) a lavender nude which is limited edition to this collection only, Biscayne Pink (satin formula), a browner pink, and Sex Machine (velvet matte formula) which is a more mauve nude:

And you also get a Nars-branded sharpener for the pencils.

Some long-time readers may remember that I'm not much of a nude-lip lover, but this is a cute set for anyone who is, having a range of pale lipshades, two of which aren't too scary.  The lavender pink of Stourhead however, on me, is one of the scariest lip colours ever.

Top to bottom: Stourhead, Biscayne Pink and Sex Machine.

 I do love the NARS Velvet Matte formula, owning quite a few pencils already, and the satin formula  has been a very nice discovery too, being shiny, but not too sheer, and feels quite moisturising in wear:

Top to bottom: bare lips, Stourhead, Biscayne Pink, and Sex Machine
 For my colouring however, both Stourhead and Biscayne Pink contain a bit too much white for me to be entirely comfortable wearing them, but Sex Machine is a pretty good (if pale) "my lips but better" shade.

It's a pretty collection, housed in a great and sturdy box, and if you like nudes, for £29 then this is a difficult collection to beat.  You can see more at: Selfridges Nars Ultimate Lip Pencil Set

The Fine Print: PR Sample

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Monday 27 July 2015

Lipstick Queen Seven Deadly Sins Collection

Such plans I had for the blog in June/early July, but life got in the way, and a holiday plus starting a new job, plus a bunch of weekend plans that had been in place made blogging a logistical impossibility ... anyway, I'm back now, and I'm armed with a new camera! 

Anyhoo, back before all hell broke loose I attended the marvellous launch of the latest Lipstick queen collection. Based on the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins, the range comprises seven full-pigment lipglosses with colours to match each "sin":

picture from press release
The colours as described in the press release are:
Vanity (wine),
Avarice (nude-peach),
Decadence (fuchsia),
Envy (purple),
Anger (red coral),
Indolence (nude-pink) and
Lust (deep red).

I've managed to get my hands on Avarice, Envy and Decadence to show you.

From left to right Avarice is a peachy-caramel tone, Envy is an unusual almost greyed-purple, and Decadence is a cool white-based fuchsia.

 Coverage on swatching for both Avarice and Decadence was definitely full-pigment, leading to an unexpectedly opaque coverage.  Envy, however, despite being darker is slightly more sheer on the skin.  Coverage on lips is similar:

Top to bottom: bare lips, Avarice, Envy and Decadence
 Avarice and Decadence cover lips fully, but because Envy is both sheer and so dark, it leads to patchiness on application, unless you want to apply several coats.  Of these three shades, Decadence would be my pick - Envy is just too patchy (and makes me look cyanotic, to boot!), and Avarice is just that little bit too brown for my skintone, which would make wearing it a challenge for me.

Wear, however, is lovely.  The glosses are non-sticky and unfragranced, and leave the lips feeling soft and hydrated, I have had no issues with dry lips, or even getting my hair stuck on these glosses!  Wear time is actually better than you'd expect from a normal gloss, owing to the high amount of pigment in the formula, and I actually (unexpectedly) found that they faded very evenly even through eating and drinking - Decadence in particular wears down to a lovely soft stain on the lips, which I liked very much.  I didn't wear Envy long enough to discover how that wears, however, sorry!

I wish I'd had some of the redder shades to look at, hopefully the formula of those is nearer to Decadence than Envy ... I'll keep you posted.

The Seven Deadly Sins collection will be available in SpaceNK from September, and will cost approximately £22 each.

The Fine Print: PR Sample

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Sunday 26 July 2015

Skincare of the week ...

Or, my week on Instagram, basically.  I've been doing a project and messing about with a new camera, so my instagram has been full of pictures of skincare.  I thought you might like to see them too - although, if you don't already follow me there, whyever not?

Skin has been a bit parched lately, so I've been doubling up on the hyaluronic acid serums recently.  Loving the First Aid Beauty pads (very mild, so good for stressed skin), and the moisturising RMK toner.

Another parched day, so more doubling up of serums, this time hylamide with Vichy, and bringing back my beloved Zelens cleansing balm.

Nighttime treats, the rosy goodness of the Oskia Cleansing Gel, coupled with Good Genes for brightening, and I finally remembered my eye cream ... I'm horrific for forgetting my eyecream.

Another morning routine on a less parched (rainy) day.  Old favourites abound.  The chantecaille will be released in October, and a full review will be coming soon.

A simple nighttime routine, the Omorovicza facial polish will be on the blog on Wednesday.

Yeah, sorry.  I just like this picture, and Artemis is a BIG favourite.

A simple but effective routine for a lazy Saturday around the flat ...

I like this routine so much, featuring a couple of really old favourites - the May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon and Omorovicza  thermal cleansing balm, and something I'm developing a real crush on, the Sunday Riley blogger favourite (which I bought, btw, it's not a sample) Luna oil.

Any questions?  You know where the comments are ... how was your week in skincare?

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