Tuesday, 22 May 2018

When Smells and Sounds Collide: Meeting Geza Schoen in a surprise intersection of the Perfumer and Monochrome Sets

Source: Digital Bauhaus Summit 2017
I have long been an admirer of Geza Schoen and his work. He is one of those spendidly maverick perfumers, whose daring launch of the Molecule range based around a single aromachemical was a groundbreaking departure from the classic conventions of perfume construction. I am also a big fan of Ormonde Jayne, for whom it only latterly emerged that Geza Schoen was in fact the nose working alongside Linda Pilkington. Ormonde Jayne is the house with which I probably enjoy the highest 'strike rate' of any brand, as explained in this (rather preamble-y) post on the range's potential as a capsule scent wardrobe. Or I certainly did with the relatively compact offering prevailing then. I have rather lost track now of all the sub-collections they do, some with exotic back stories.

And then there is the fact that Geza Schoen famously 'scented' my home town of Belfast, after spending a couple of days wandering around inhaling the city's smells, an intriguing project I reported on here. And finally he lives in Berlin, a stone's throw (more or less) from the venue where The Monochrome Set often play when they come to the city, a venue in which Geza himself has given a perfume talk! I even wrote about that coincidence some four years ago in my account of the band's 2014 German tour, when the idea of meeting the man himself was not even a twinkle in my imagination, never mind my eye. It makes me smile to re-read that post, and see that I called the section in question: "Channelling Geza Schoen". This was because I had chosen Ta'if as my SOTE to wear to the gig, before I discovered the perfumer's links to the area and Monarch itself.

Monarch (upstairs) - in Geza's 'hood!!

"Wow, if I had known that Geza Schoen - to whom I feel a particular bond because he once scented my home city of Belfast - was a local, I would have spent longer hanging out in the falafel parlours on Skalitzer Strasse.  I did have a couscous in a tagine restaurant on Lausitzer Platz, and a mushroom pancake in a cafe on Oranienstrasse, but there was no sign of his distinctive rangy form in either eaterie."

Fast forward to 2018, and there has been a further twist in the tale, namely that I have made a little bit of progress in my quest to make the band adopt perfume on even a very occasional basis. For the singer has taken to wearing Ormonde Man as a stage scent every now and then, the nearest thing to having a perfume 'in rotation', as we fumeheads would say, though I don't wish to overplay it. ;) He was cheerfully unaware though of the increasingly organic connections between scent, venue and perfumer, but when I brought him up to speed, jokingly threw down the gauntlet to me with the challenge: 'Get him down the gig!'

Well, I know it was just a flip comment, but it wormed away in my mind for a while, until eventually a head of steam built up and I psyched myself up to message Geza (who, like so many people in the perfume industry whom I don't know in real life(!) is a friend on Facebook), explain all the connections that have curiously arisen between me/him/band/Kreuzberg/Belfast, and suggest meeting up before the gig for a drink and a chat about perfume. I added that he would be most welcome as a guest at the concert itself, only I had no idea what his taste in music was, such that a refusal would absolutely not offend!

And Geza wrote back in the affirmative - to meeting up for a drink initially - before later confirming that he would also like to attend the gig, and could he bring an English musician friend too?! Why, of course he could, and it further transpired that his friend knew of the band, liked their music, had one of their albums, and had commended them to Geza. All of this was starting to feel pleasantly surreal. I had been amazed in the past that fellow perfumistas had been fans of the music and/or up for coming along to gigs, but never would have imagined this particular intersection between my perfume and music worlds.

As he painstakingly wrote down the names of the guests on a piece of paper, Bid paused on Geza Schoen, remarking: 'That has to be an alias, surely?' Not at all, haha...

Source: Stadt Berlin ~ we sat on the lower terrace

So it was that at 8pm on the sunny Saturday in question, we met at a bar by the river just a hop and a skip away from Monarch, installing ourselves at a table on a terrace by the river. I drank beer and Geza had shandy, the German word for which I learnt was Alster, which is also the name of a lake in Hamburg, where the band had played the previous night. The venue's address was even 'Alstertor'. This was getting every so slightly weirder by the hour, though I am probably overly sensitive to Twilight Zone-y things. ;) After about 20 minutes or so were joined by Geza's friend, Paul - check out his own brand of electronic music here - and the conversation rightly shifted to more general topics.

Perfumewise, in the course of the evening we touched on Geza's training at Haarmann & Reiner - he was a contemporary there of Frank Voelkl, who went on to work with Firmenich. I had visited H & R myself on a study to do with fragrance ingredients (it was sadly just another chemicals job in those days!). I also explained my work connection to Kassel, Geza's home town (valves for the city's gas pipe network, since you ask ;) ), and inquired whether he wears perfume day-to-day much himself, or whether it is a bit like working in a chocolate factory. (Turns out it is!, although he is enjoying wearing a current mod featuring a ginger note.)

We talked a bit about the old synthetics vs naturals chestnut, and Geza was clear in his view that perfumes almost always benefit from a combination of the two. I asked him for his views on the 'skin chemistry' conundrum and he confirmed that it categorically is 'a thing'. He has a young daughter, and I was not surprised to learn that Geza is getting her to smell all manner of things from an early age, and confidently predict that she will go far in the business one day if she wants to! Then I surprised both Geza and his friend by saying that I had once blogged about the notion of being forced to wear the perfumes of only one house for ever, and whether that could actually put you off scent altogether. At the time - and it was many years ago, so possibly due for revisiting! - Jean-Paul Gaultier was the house that might have tipped me over the edge in that way. I was thinking of two feminine fragrances in particular: Classique and the plastic mac/bubble gum monstrosity that is Ma Dame. (Sorry, FK, whose work I normally enjoy, notably APOM pour Femme, but this was not for me.) Maybe there are more congenial scents in the line by now, but those two I found quite alarming.

Source: Escentric.com

I also brought up the topic of a project Geza had worked on with Wolfgang Georgsdorf, involving a fabulously off the wall olfactory organ called The Smeller. If you only check out one link in this post, may it be this one, as The Smeller is as hilarious as it is ingenious. Here is a taster...

'The Smeller is an electronic olfactory organ. It looks like an alien from behind, huge, with 64 writhing metal tubes. Each tube leads to a source-chamber with a single smell in it. You could put anything that has a smell in the source-chambers: an aroma-chemical, a flower, a dead fish. Wolfgang ‘plays’ these smells like someone playing the piano.'

Yet another music and scent crossover right there...!

Stage edge to drum kit is a perilous matter of inches!

And soon it was time to head to the gig, which was jam packed - or 'gerammelt voll', as they say over there. I explained that it is my wont (on account of 'tall German man at gigs' syndrome) to stand near the front if they didn't mind, and accordingly wiggled my way through the press of people to a vantage point near the stage. It was quite good that I did in fact, as the night was fraught with technical problems, and I ended up catching a light that fell on the floor and rolled under a speaker cab. The drum kit they had borrowed from the support band occupied a good two thirds of the stage area, which already seemed smaller than we remembered from last time. ;) The other band members were in constant danger of either falling off the edge of the stage themselves, or knocking off any movable items such as bass drum, mike or music stands. The mixing wasn't great in the opening few numbers either, and between all the technical mishaps, the heat, and the delayed start to the set, I was worried that Geza and Paul were not seeing the band at their best to put it mildly, and frankly wouldn't have been at all surprised not to find them still there at the end. But amazingly they were! And said that though the sound was iffy to start with, it had got better as the set went on, and they had enjoyed themselves despite these minor glitches that had seemed all too major to me.

Post-gig scene with perfume samples

Before he left, Geza kindly handed over a box of perfume samples from his Molecule and Escentric Molecule ranges and the Beautiful Mind Series - 'for the boys to sniff through'. The unorthodox method of their conveyance back to Britain will be covered in a companion post on the travel aspects of the trip, and a week later I divvied the samples up and formally distributed them to the band in little organza bags, with the following results...

So...Bid, one of the relatively more receptive members of the band, olfactorily speaking, accepted a set, ditto Jon, who if you recall had asked me to help him find a new perfume after the Edinburgh gig that fellow fumehead Crikey attended. Thanks to the collective suggestions from Bonkers readers, that project is ongoing, and now Jon has even more things to try! In an amusing turn up for the books, no sooner had I given him his haul when he was accosted in the smokers' garden of the pub where they were playing by a girl who said she worked at McDonald's, and could he give her something to mask the smell of frying oil?!! Then Andy the bass player asked if he could take them for his wife, who is Japanese, and wears scent, while he does not. And Mike the drummer said no thanks, he never wore the stuff, and neither did his girlfriend particularly, which means I have a set for reference, hurrah!

But even though he claimed not to be interested in perfume, Mike burst into the venue after the sound check, running around holding Molecule 03 aloft, the most singular of the whole selection, though it was doubtless pure chance he had picked that one out. He must have nicked it from Jon's stash...And thought it extremely odd too, saying it reminded him of fish and chips. Eh?? He sprayed it on the sound girl, who didn't know what to make of 03 either, but clearly did not mind the random aspect of being spritzed by a band member, and seemed happy to keep the sample as a souvenir - for the box at the very least, as I said to her. It is funny how Geza's perfumes are finding their way into the world in unexpected ways...

Now in due course I will try to elicit feedback on what the band made of their windfall, as I will on the complete bunch of samples I gave Jon. If anyone can 'scent' The Monochrome Set, as in encouraging them to wear more perfume, it would surely be a true original like Geza Schoen. Both he and band leader Bid (the initials of whose 'official' name are also GS, just saying ;) ) have a decidedly individualist and independent streak. They are free spirits who plough their own furrow and have turned their back on the mainstream. What's not to like about a man who, in an interview with Fragrantica, famously stated that if he hadn't been a perfumer he'd have been a 'really trendy lamp post' instead? And now - though I am still not sure that that really happened! - their paths have actually crossed...

I say, here is a pre-bagging collage of the band's samples - 10 scents x 4, except that one of the Escentric Molecules is missing (04).

I would rather like to think that was a deliberate omission on Geza's part, for I do like a curved ball...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

"The Sex Robots Are Coming!" - but how do they smell?

Source: viraldazed.com
A few weeks ago I watched a Channel 4 documentary on the future of sex robots.  It isn't even the first programme I have seen lately on this controversial topic, so if the sex robots are coming, so too are the programmes about them. It was compulsive yet deeply disturbing viewing, and even the young male presenter broke down after a tour of a Japanese factory mass producing these eerily lifelike dolls, partly because he spotted some models which looked alarmingly immature.

Without further ado though, I would like to qualify the expression 'eerily lifelike'. They are lifelike in the sense that they have come a long way from those inflatable dolls you would see casually slung over the shoulders of men on stag 'do's. Or male dolls similarly wielded like a trophy on female hen nights. These days they have flesh that gives way to the touch if you press it, including buttocks that are both firm and optimally squidgy (as opposed to 'runaway squidgy' in my own sorry case). Then the top of the range models have eyes that follow you round the room, a remarkable range of facial expressions and utterances (you really don't want to know about the utterances), and the ability to make conversation and even crack jokes. As they get to know you over time, they tuck away facts they have learnt about their owner and deploy these in later exchanges, just as a real girlfriend would.

But crucially they are NOT lifelike in so many other ways. For one thing they are preposterously sexualised, like a hyper-realistic porn star from their luxuriant tresses and sooty, hockey stick eyelashes down to their tapered scarlet fingertips. Always assuming you aren't curious enough to remove their wig and the back of their heads and reveal the extraordinary circuitry that lies within.

Secondly, at the risk of stating the obvious, sex robots still need a lot of work before they can interact conversationally - or emotionally - with the complex and nuanced responses of a real woman. (To be fair, there are also male dolls, but the bulk of the market is female at this point for reasons you may readily infer.)

Thirdly, they are not warm to the touch, like a living body, but at best have more of the sensation of a freshly dead person. (Though I am speculating somewhat here.)

Source: Kulture Klub ~ 'Harmony'

And fourthly, as a friend pointed out to me, crucially they do not smell!

Why did I, as a perfume blogger, not think of this significant drawback!? I think my friend meant they would not have a properly human smell, as opposed to silicone or whatever they are constructed of. I imagine the scent of their base materials might all be quite similar. And while you could spray the dolls with perfume, that doesn't help the underlying issue of not having an inherently human odour. Which got me thinking about the whole topic of the science of attraction and the role of pheromones and all that malarkey. I am very sketchy on the subject, but I do distinctly remember a sweaty T-shirt test, where women were divided into two groups: one was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one that had been worn by their partner, and the other group was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one belonging to a stranger! They were not told what type of shirt they were sniffing, and subjected to a maths test and a mock job interview afterwards to try to provoke a stress response. The study found that the women who received a T-shirt that had been worn by their partners, rather than strangers, had lower cortisol levels.

Well, well...the study concluded: "The findings could be used to help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones", and went on to suggest that people take an item of their partner's clothing away on trips to lower their stress levels while travelling. ;) The full article may be found here.

I found all this rather interesting, not least because I am citing lack of natural odour as a reason why sex robots might be fundamentally flawed, yet I am simultaneously wracking my brains to remember what my exes actually smelt of. If they were in an identity line up with other men, and I had to sniff their chests blindfold, say, would I be able to pick them out? Hmm, the distribution of chest hair and other physical characteristics like build etc might be a clue, so they would probably need to wear T-shirts as well, to create a level playing field. Or maybe it would have to be just the T-shirts, as in the experiment.

The Flirtation by Eugene de Blaas

But my basic point remains. Do I know how anyone I have dated smelt at the time, never mind whether I would recognise their smell now? Did it play a role in our being attracted to each other? Frankly I have no idea. I would have said things like: 'They were a good listener' or 'they had kindly eyes' or 'they made me laugh', but what if their smell had also played a role in bringing us together? In my defence all these relationships predated my interest in perfume and scent generally, so I am allowed to be a little shaky on the olfactory front. But it has got me thinking certainly. Maybe the whole business of attraction is subliminal, but is still a 'thing'.

And as it happens I have very occasionally done what the researchers are suggesting people do when separated, or rather I have sniffed an item of their clothing when they went on a trip, not me. I felt a bit silly doing so, mind you, I'll be honest. And while the scent did seem familiar to my nose, could I have picked it out versus other worn T-shirts? I really ain't sure...! By the same token I am rubbish at identifying perfumes on people just by their smell. Unless it is blindingly obvious, like Angel or Coco Chanel.

Source: Pinterest

So yes, sex robots are coming, and will be socially divisive. I can clearly see how they would fill a need in the lives of lonely introverts who might struggle to date women in the normal way, but the more mainstream these dolls become, the more this hyper-sexual image of how women should look might become adopted as the norm. I am lucky I guess to be pushing sixty, and poised on that delicate cusp between cougar and care home, but I worry about the younger generation, who are already feeling insecure about their appearance thanks to cattle market 'swipe right' dating apps like Tinder.

So yes, sex robots don't smell human, but to what extent will that even matter?

For readers out there with partners, do you think you could pick out your loved one's T-shirt from a selection of three...or ten even?! And would they also pass the same test?

Then speaking of the science of attraction, up next is a post about my meet up with Geza Schoen earlier this month, who wrote: "The sexiest part of a woman is her mind."

I liked what I knew of Geza and his work before, but I like him even more now...!

And finally, here is a tongue in cheek / spoof song on this very subject...watch out for the incomparable line: 'My sister is a pillow.'

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Aldi's £9.99 trio of luxury scented candles - scoop up a Jo Malone dupe...and dare to play with fire! ;)

No 8 appears to have shifted in transit...
It may seem odd of me to be featuring a review of scented candles during weather that might cause the lawn to spontaneously combust at any moment. Well, I say that...as I type it has suddenly turned rather cloudy outside, and I am keeping a watchful eye on the washing. But it has been decidedly scorchio in recent days and additional sources of heat, however minimal, are the last thing on one's mind at such times. Added to which I am not normally a fan of scented candles...no, that is not right - I am, provided they steer well clear of the in-your-face fragrances of the dreaded Yankee Candle and its pound store ilk, together with some of the cruder fancy offerings at T K Maxx.

No, it is more that when I own a scented candle I tend not to light it, because I am very, very shaky - nay, wobbly - on wick care. I am dimly aware that there is a whole skill involved in maintaining wicks at an optimum height, not unlike a barber indeed with his Number 3 and 4 cuts, and I have never quite grasped it. On the odd occasions when I have burned candles, they often gave up the ghost after only burning a few mm, because I have accidentally managed to pull off the wick somehow, or bury it below the surface like a troublesome splinter, never to be prized free again. I have also had issues with 'smoke burn' (I may have made that term up), affecting the previously pristine white surface of the candle, along with something I will just refer to gnomically as 'hot bottoms'.

So dotted around the house are a number of examples of my 'very lightly burnt' scented candles, the complete combustion of which I have eschewed for one or more of the reasons above. And I also have a Roja Dove Sandalwood one which looks way too fancy to ever get cosy with a match. It has remained swaddled in bubble wrap for some years now. But as with wool and perfume, of which I have a glorious glut, sometimes I override all the mental brakes and levers telling me I don't need more examples of an item, and go and buy one anyway. Or in the case of the aforementioned Aldi trio of luxury scented candles, several!

The pineapple is also a candle!

Yep, for £9.99 you can buy three substantial, pleasingly heavy candles in glass jars, with chrome lids, with a cream and black label that screams 'Jo Malone'. The names are not merely cheekily similar to actual Jo Malone scents, but downright outrageously identical. My three pack comprises Red Roses, Wood Sage & Sea Salt, and Orris & Sandalwood. I have no idea how they even get away with that.

I hadn't noticed these candles myself, even though I shop at Aldi, because the multipack was being merchandised amongst the melee of non-food stuff in the middle of the store, where I don't tend to look, though I did get some bargain free weights and yoga socks there at Christmas! It was my good friend Lizzie who tipped me the wink, when I went round to her exquisitely decorated new home and spied one on the bathroom ledge (the only light in the room in fact, as she was waiting for an electrician to visit the following day ;) ), one on the dining room windowsill, and one in the living room fireplace. They were all burning away merrily, their unimpeded wicks clearly the result of expert trimming...and on closer inspection, they smelt delightful.

Which leads me to the point that these candles do not project their scent unduly - is there a word for the candle equivalent of 'sillage'? - but they look very classy in situ as they burn and have a lovely subtle scent when you are within range. And I really cannot stress enough how pleasantly surprised I was by just how high end the fragrances smelt. For the price it was truly uncanny, and as with some of the Lidl perfumes I have comprehensively covered on here down the years, I would like to shake their (doubtless highly covert!) perfumer by the hand, for he or she has done an extraordinary job with a minimal budget. Which is not to say that the ingredients - whether the wax itself, or the aromachemicals - will have cost the same as a proper Jo Malone, but at £3.33 a pop vs £45 the choice is a stark no brainer. And as I say these Aldi candles are streets ahead of other budget kinds I occasionally dare sniff in the likes of Home Bargains, B & M and Wilko.

I mention the wax possibly being different because of the intriguing warnings on the back of the box, the like of which I don't remember reading before. First and foremost, we are advised: "WARNING: CANDLES CAN CAUSE FIRES". Crikey, I would never have considered that. But that is just the start of it...We are also told:

"May produce an allergic reaction"

"Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects"

"Avoid release to the environment"

But hold on, how does one go about burning a candle in the first place without releasing its smoke / emissions to the 'environment' of one's living room? Or does the advice relate to the great outdoors? Are they saying it is okay to gas yourself and your goldfish quietly in the comfort and fragrant ambiance of your own home, but not to allow noxious particles to escape in your street for passers by to inhale? It's a conundrum. Interestingly, Red Roses is NOT deemed harmful to aquatic life. I just toss that titbit out there in case you were considering investing in a three pack and splitting it with friends. Give the fish owners the rose one, that would be the smart move.

I also learnt that you are meant to snuff out a candle, not blow it. I am not sure I have snuffed a candle out in my entire life. I thought that was something the Victorians did with special long handled metal snuffers. They are the sort of people who also used letter openers instead of ripping their post open with their bare hands like us modern folk. And you are meant to "keep the wax pool clear of matches and other debris to avoid flaring". Hmm, I think I may have had this flaring thing happen in the past, which could be what leads to my 'smoke burn'. But only from fragments of dead matches falling in there - and never deliberately allowed to fall in there - let alone 'other debris'. I wonder if people chuck used tissues on burning candles or exactly what "other debris" the manufacturers had in mind.

All of these warnings have rather served to reinforce my wariness around the whole tricky business of interacting with a candle, as there appears to be a strong safety dimension on top of my functional failure one.

And yet I shall light one of these candles when the weather properly goes over! I am feeling reckless. And keen to work on my wick whittling. Plus I have no fish! And even if I had, thanks to Truffle I wouldn't have them for long.

Finally, it says on the box that these candles are a limited edition, so I suggest that if you are not put off by the unnerving Health & Safety aspects, you hie thee to an Aldi sharpish before they are all gone. Bearing in mind that you may have to rummage amongst an eclectic mix of other household items to find them, as is the way with the discounters. But at that price it will be worth it, trust me.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Spitalfields Spritzers: sniffing and scoffing with a gaggle - and giggle! - of international perfumistas

It's all about the friendships...
Last weekend saw one of the biggest gatherings of perfume lovers from all over the world, drawn at least in part by this year's Art and Olfaction Awards in London. I wasn't invited to that event, but I gladly took the opportunity of this formidable foregathering of fumeheads to spend some time with a sizeable subset of those who had hit town . Now I wouldn't normally run two 'perfumista meet-up' posts back-to-back, but if I wait another week, there is a real risk that the day's events will become 'yesterday's smelling strip'.

Thus it was that I set my alarm for 6.15am last Saturday. This ungodly hour alone would have been enough to arouse Truffle's suspicions of an impending trip. Her fears were compounded by the sight of multiple little rucksacks being auditioned for the optimum combination of capacity and unobtrusiveness, and several jackets lying around the dining room - none of them objects I would normally interact with at that time of day. But Truffle could also see that her access to the garden remained unblocked, so decided to make a sharp exit to the great outdoors while the going was good.

I set off at 7.30am to walk to the station...you see a different side of a town when you are up and about so preternaturally early: cleaners wiping down office windows, staff opening up cafes, shop assistants walking to work. I also got a good view of the famous 'Pickup cats', who live in Stafford's only remaining electrical store. There are three altogether I believe, though given that they have been resident in the shop ever since I moved to Stafford over 30 years ago, there is every chance that the total number of cats - as well as the individual cats themselves - may have changed in that period!

At the station I hit my first technical hitch...the ticket machines were not working - neither the self-service ones nor the ones in the manned ticket office - so I was told (by Robert - always wise to clock people's name badges for added verisimilitude!) to get on the train with my paper confirmation of an online purchase and explain to the guard what had happened. Everyone who got on at Stafford would at least be telling a consistent story. ;)

The next apparent hitch in my journey - albeit not technically a technical one - was the fact that from Atherstone onwards I was hemmed in on all sides by six young mothers from Birmingham. Or at least five, because Whitney didn't look particularly motherly to my untrained eye. For two and a half hours I listened to them all talking about social media, their children's behaviour, other children's behaviour towards them (some of it involving sticks), their childrens' ailments and accidents, their pregnancies with their children, their husbands and partners, their parents' taste in music / dancing styles(!), their lust for a particular pair of shoes, make up bargains, the selection of T-shirts in Peacocks (with and without glitter), their jobs in various shops, and much more besides. The roll call of children whose names I caught were: Darcy and Poppy, Connor and Cody, and Willow and Brandon. I thought they were really going to bother me, talking so animatedly the whole way there, but I ended up being completely engrossed - I think I must be genuinely curious about other people, or should that be merely nosy? ;) At one point we all burst out laughing, when the woman opposite me (Emily, mother of Connor and Cody), inquired: 'What's the word for school?' She meant 'Academy', but everyone (me included!) simultaneously blurted out: 'School!'

Source: Birmingham Mail

Speaking of children, at every station there was the same announcement: "Please step onto the platform first before taking the pushchair off backwards." I must have heard it half a dozen times, and wondered how much practical benefit results from the advice in terms of parents correctly alighting from trains with their buggies, versus all the other passengers being irritated by its constant repetition. None of my mothers had their children with them, for example - why, that was the whole point of their trip to London - to have a nice lunch and some drinks, take in a show, and be unencumbered by kids for a day.

The next (actual!) technical hitch was the train being delayed due to something that was euphemistically described as 'an obstruction' and 'an issue' - in a tunnel just beyond Rugby. Obviously, everyone in our carriage immediately started thinking the issue and obstruction might in fact be a 'person'. We had to go via Northampton, but didn't stop there thankfully, and ended up with half an hour's delay, such that I was only ten minutes late for the brunch.

Are you ever going to get to this perfumista meet-up, or what??!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Coming, coming!
Yes, so as you can imagine, I was pretty socialised out when I finally got to Euston, three hours after I set off, and with the whole day still ahead of me(!). The group of eight of us was truly cosmopolitan: three people from Austria, only one of whom was Austrian born and bred (Val's daughter, Hannah), while Val is from everywhere as we know, and Lady Jane Grey is from Hungary/Slovakia, but lives in Vienna (with her French husband, to add a further international twist). Then there was that fumehead fulcrum of Facebook, the spectacularly globe-trotting Margo (who is from Poland), Lucy of Indieperfumes, who lives in New York, Megan - from Sainte Maxime (there's a clue in her blog name!) - and who is in fact a Kiwi, hehe - and Tara from London! (Her report on the day's events may be found here.)

The brunch when it came was very good - I would cheerfully have eaten pretty much anything anyone else had ordered, but opted for a vegetable burrito, on the basis that it was the most 'labour-intensive' dish on the menu, which I would never attempt to replicate at home.

'Al fresco' diners

I did have an 'issue' with my tea, mind. It tasted of onion, improbable as that may sound. Realistically it might just have been that limescale-y taste you get with water from the bottom of a kettle, but onion was the first thing that sprang to mind. I passed my mug round the assembled company, and of the three people who tried it, one thought it tasted funny in a non-specific way, one thought it was fine (admittedly a coffee drinker ;) ), and one agreed with me on the onion. So a slight majority found in my favour, which was enough to embolden me to complain about the tea and elicit a replacement. The next mug proved to be an altogether different kettle of fish (though happily not tasting of it!).

It was predictably great - and slightly surreal - to be there. I had met everybody before except Megan and Margo (I clearly need to work on my 'M's). People had strewn the table with samples of every stripe. To be perfectly honest, I was only interested in the new Hermessence samples, of which Val had a full set. She kindly gave me sample vials of Cèdre Sambac and Myrrhe Églantine (with its gratuitous accent on the capital 'E', which, contrary to my usual contrariness, I have faithfully reproduced, as I like it so much!). I have been wearing both on rotation ever since, indeed I just bought a travel spray of the latter on a Facebook group - yup, me who swore blind she wouldn't ever buy perfume again! Though it is quite small, and will get used if the rate at which Val's sample is going down is anything to go by.

 After brunch, I peeled off with Lady Jane Grey, while the others went straight to Bloom in Covent Garden. At this plateau stage in my perfume j*****y I find myself more excited by a high quality craft market than the prospect of sniffing random unknown things in a shop. I did buy an upcycled silk pencil case from a lovely Japanese lady, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on LJG's news and generally having a mosey round the market. The craft stalls seemed to have shrunk though, while the food stalls have mushroomed exponentially since I was there last. And the whole enterprise has become way more commercial and slick. But the craft side of things still had the wow factor for me, and offered much richer present pickings than anything I could have found at home.

I was given a scarf from here - the red one, bottom left! 

After about an hour, we joined the rest of our party at Bloom, where they were still going strong! I only popped my head inside, as I find the ever-changing system of bottle organisation quite impenetrable, and the shop also a little on the dark side for my liking. But mostly I need a friend to quite literally press a clutch of samples into my palm and say: 'You are soooo gonna love these, V', before I can be seduced into trying something new. And Val is very good at doing just that.

While in the alley, Val presented me with another little friendship bracelet, to add to the one she gave me in Augsburg the last time we met. You see, Val, Tara and I have a bit of a three way conversation group (aka 'coven' / 'triumvirate') going on on Messenger, and V figured it could be a kind of symbolic uniform for us - you know, like boy scout neckerchiefs in the same colour. Only we got to choose different colours, hehe. I happened to have first pick, and went for one in a sort of bluey grey, while Tara chose peach and Val got the remaining blue one by default. But the bracelets are otherwise identical, with tiny copper pieces all the way along the cord.

Source: Wikipedia

After Bloom, we went en masse to a branch of The Forbidden Planet, which Wikipedia describes as 'the world's largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer'. Val specifically wanted to go there to buy a poster for her gym trainer back in Austria, and quickly found one he would like of Batman. The shop was crammed with merchandise of every kind to do with sci-fi and fantasy films, comics and books etc. I gazed in awe at the cabinets full of figurines of monsters and robots and dinosaurs and Manga women fighters with preposterous physiques and I don't know what else, and also marvelled at the fact that there was absolutely nothing I would wish to buy in here, however long I spent combing the fixtures. While standing in the store, somewhere between scarily be-logo'ed T-shirts and tin tardises, I had an incongruous conversation with Lucy about our respective skincare regimes, in which she sang the praises of The Ordinary. Looking at her completely unlined complexion, I couldn't help but agree.

Next up, we made our way back to Covent Garden, where there was a half-hearted and abortive attempt to buy ice creams (the queues!!). Instead, we ended up fleetingly refuelling in Starbucks with an assortment of beverages before heading off to our next destinations - in my case the station, while the others were going to change and rest up before the awards ceremony with its intriguing dress code of 'bohemian cocktail', which I for one would much rather drink than wear.

I am pleased to report that there were no further train related incidents on the way home. I had had quite enough fun and excitement for one day!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Bonkers meets Crikey, in another happy intersection of the Perfumista and Monochrome Sets

Source: The Voodoo Rooms
It's good to have a hobby. Perfume, knitting, and the music of a particular band (no prizes for guessing which!) would be my top three. I have knitting friends, perfume friends, fellow music fans - and then very occasionally, friends who fall into more than one category. When that happens, it is as exciting to me as one of those uncommon astronomical events that I often forget to look out for - like the Super Blue Moon Eclipse in January, though I did catch that one, as it happens. The moon wasn't particularly blue though, or even what I'd call 'super', but I daresay these things are relative.

That said, 'knitting perfumistas', while not exactly two a penny, are by no means as rare as hen's teeth - and may in fact be commoner than I think. On the other hand, perfumistas who are also fans of The Monochrome Set are an altogether different - as in highly sliverish - intersecting set, in punning Venn diagram parlance. To date, for example, there is Val the Cookie Queen, who got into the music in the 80s, when she lived in Amsterdam. She and husband Chris have now clocked up four gigs with me in Germany and Austria, where she massively endeared herself to the band with epic feats of impromptu roadie-ing.

Up next is Katie Puckrik, who attended her first Monochrome Set gig in 1980, the same year as me, though she saw the band in Washington DC, and I saw them in the Tottenham Court Road(!). I cannot honestly say whether Katie has an ongoing interest in the music, but I am shoehorning her into our intersecting set until I hear to the contrary!

Then we have Susanna Pellinen, who was a moderator on Basenotes about ten years ago when I used to hang out there - and may still be, indeed! - it's just that I never visit the site now. I know Susanna has a ton of Monochrome Set records, as she has posted attractive montages of her collection on the band's Facebook page, though I can't speak to her gigging history.

But the most striking and dramatic crossover of our two sets has to be Rachael Potts. Rachael has the double distinction of being a perfumista and married to Tony Potts, the band's video maker of yore, who is widely regarded as the TMS equivalent of 'The Fifth Beatle'. Rachael was arguably catapulted into fandom by dint of her attachment to Tony, rather than getting into the band organically like the rest of us through the normal channels of record shops, the NME, the John Peel show etc. However, she is now a card carrying lover of the music in her own right, quite independently of spousal influence / three line whippery. ;)

Finally I could count a slightly looser category of people associated in some way with The Monochrome Set, namely those whose interest in niche perfume I have in some way encouraged - equating to a small handful, certainly. Posts about my fragrancing exploits within the wider band scene do pop up from time to time, for example about Jessica of The Would-be-goods, and her (now happily concluded) rose perfume quest.

Source: Edinburgh Spotlight

And then recently....drum roll...a reader of various perfume blogs (including Bonkers) named Crikey 'came out' as someone who had been to a Monochrome Set gig in the mid-90s, at the 12-Bar Club in London, right before the group split up (again!). I only went to three gigs in the 90s - none of them beyond 1992 - so I was most interested to hear of someone who heard their UK swan song, as it were. Though the swan turned out to have strong phoenix-like proclivities, for here they are, still touring some 20+ years later.

But firstly, how good an Internet handle is Crikey? So quintessentially British, so understated and faintly retro. I am not aware of a blog reader called 'Blimey' or 'Golly', but there is surely a vacancy for both. Crikey and I have engaged in a few perfume swaps, plus she had the misfortune to win one of my most ludicrously lacklustre raffle prizes - a strangely sexist perfume book focusing on mainstream classics of the 20th century - so, you know, we had already had a bit to do with each other postally, and by email.

But when I heard Crikey was thinking of coming to a gig in her home town of Edinburgh in April, I was beyond delighted! There were several concerts in a northern cluster, and I managed to get round them all as well as spending several nights with Sibling and SIL Bonkers (aka Hazel). The Edinburgh gig was the last date, held (as is customary) in the highly characterful Voodoo Rooms, noted for its fin de siecle grandeur, and featuring ornate chandeliers, gilded swag-type architectural mouldings, and special offers on gin. It was in The Voodoo Rooms that I famously spotted an Andy Tauer lookalike called Graeme, and ended up devoting a whole post to this remarkable Doppelgaengerish incident.

Crikey and I didn't make a specific arrangement to meet in advance, as I wasn't sure quite what was happening in terms of my own logistics, plus those of several other friends I knew were coming. These included my 'dancing partner' of 13 years, Ruth from Belfast, and a former band member from Staffordshire(!), now resident in Edinburgh. Things worked out really well though, for Crikey arrived just as our party were finishing eating, and we adjourned to another part of the bar for a proper chat - initially just the two of us, but gradually joined by Ruth, then the current keyboard player, Jon, then Sian, a former keyboard player(!), and last but not least Jane Barnes, the promoter.

While the two of us were together, Crikey most generously gave me a little travel pot of Frederic Malle's Portrait of a Lady, which just happens to connect me to two of the other fumehead fans I have come to know - Katie Puckrik and Val. For when I first properly met Katie she was wafting PoaL on her pashmina - my first encounter with the scent too - while Val has worn it to at least one TMS gig. I distinctly remember her spritzing herself with abandon with PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, though not on the most recent occasion, when she was rocking Dior Oud Ispahan. But PoaL is an absolute link amongst us all now - a gossamer scented thread, if you will - and I have worn it several times since I got home, enjoying in particular the intensely rosy note in the drydown.

Before the others joined us, Crikey and I also had time for a 'turbo download' about our respective lives: Crikey is a world class power lifter in her spare time, lifting being another thing she has in common with Val, along with statement lippie, short stature, a love of cats, and more besides. I was also pleased to hear about - and see photos of - Crikey's two cats, the charmingly chubby-cheeked Herschel and the newest addition, monochrome-themed ;) Atkins. In case anyone is curious, Crikey was sporting Encens Mythique d'Orient by Guerlain, while I was in my new winter squeeze (it was still winter then, believe it or not!) of House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved.

And then before we knew it, it was time to go into the venue itself, as the gig was about to start. Jane had thoughtfully reserved a table for our party near the front, so we had the option of sitting or standing, and most importantly, somewhere to deposit coats, bags and drinks!

Crikey told me afterwards that she had very much enjoyed the set - and later in an email added that it had serendipitously featured a number of her favourite tracks - but sadly had to head home straight afterwards, as it was technically a school night, as it were. The rest of us took root at our table, and had an interesting conversation about how all people can be divided into one of two types, foxes and hedgehogs (FYI, I count myself as an out-and-out hedgehog, though with a small 'standby' fox somewhere deep inside, to be deployed in dire emergencies). We also drank the remains of the wine rider, and were finally ejected by the venue staff in the wee small hours (as is also customary).

The next day, I bumped into Jon, who mentioned that he would be glad for me to find him a perfume if I was up for that, and that he was completely open in terms of fragrance style. Are bears Catholic?!?! So I eagerly said yes, and now I would be grateful if readers could help me with that. For info, Jon has long hair and a beard, but typically wears gender bending stage outfits that nod towards the 70s. Here he is in Newcastle the other night...while the shot above was taken in Germany or Austria - I can't quite remember which. ;)

Any suggestions gratefully received! I hope to assemble a little clutch of half a dozen or so samples for him to try. So far I have set aside Rima XI, as it is a wispy woody number that might fit the bill. I wouldn't exclude an outright feminine fragrance either. Also, Jon enjoys a swift half or two, so I wondered also about Penhaligon's Tralala, which has a whisky note and even features in the lyrics of a TMS song!

Finally, I have the good fortune to be seeing Val and Tara and a whole clatter of other perfumistas tomorrow in London! No more TMS fans to my knowledge in our midst, though I should perhaps just check....

Jon looking happy on a train

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Le Labo Labdanum 18, and when perfumes go out with a whimper, not a bang

I am sorry my posts have been a bit sporadic of late, or more sporadic than usual, say(!), for which there is a litany of reasons I shan't trouble you with, or not now. So I thought I would squeeze a quick one in while the going is good, namely a musing on the varied ways in which that very real hazard faced by those of us in a SABLE situation (Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy © Hazel) ie perfumes gone rogue, can occur. If you had asked me what a turned perfume was like, I would have said: 'Oooh, it is hard to describe, but a nasty alcohol-y-crossed-with-dead-flower-water kind of vibe.' Always in the top notes, and when the scent has really gone, permeating the whole juice. Though even that image isn't right. I am not sure I have the descriptive powers to do justice to the rank smell of a scent that has properly gone off. Vintage ones seem to be the most offensive - you know, those fierce chypres of yore. Or an old fashioned animalic oriental. A turned one of either of those can be truly repellent.

But what I have discovered of late is that there is another kind of 'offness' - where the perfume has undergone a sufficiently marked metamorphosis to not be remotely classifiable as itself anymore, while not necessarily smelling disgusting. A mild example of this phenomenon was my bottle of Diptyque Eau Duelle that I sold through a Facebook group only to have the buyer promptly ask for their money back. This was because the fragrance - like small children who will only eat pudding - had completely lost its top notes and gone straight to the base, which I would characterise as an 'Om-like', vestigial vanilla hum. Can you tell I do yoga now? ;) Albeit not the kind with chanting. This latest incarnation of Eau Duelle isn't unpleasant, but there is no light and shade and no development, that's for sure. It is indistinct and vague, like the olfactory equivalent of a smudged watercolour, and reminds me of the 'comfy jogging bottoms' stage of Penhaligon's Tralala (© Tara). So my Eau Duelle no longer qualifies as itself, but to my mind it has a pretty strong kinship with how it should be, as in being its own drydown at least.

So there was that, and then I encountered the very strange beast that is Le Labo's Labdanum 18, some 7 years after my bottle was first compounded - just for me! - not long after this event, which I wrote up in my then guest blogging capacity for Cafleurebon. Eyeballing that label, I see that the Best Before date (which is what I take 'Fresh until' to mean), was only a year after I got it. A year? The very how very dare they idea! Do they imagine I will bathe in it, like asses' milk? I have no idea when exactly Labdanum 18 went all funny on me, but I swear it can only have been in the last couple of years, so in hindsight the 'Fresh until' warning was breathtakingly conservative.

So feeble and thin now that it has taken to bed

And how does Labdanum 18 smell now? Hmm, well the opening is a thin, reedy and resinous vanilla spiked with anise, and as the scent wears on, it cycles through every nuance of liquorice in a box of Eponymous Allsorts. A note to which I am far from partial, so I was most taken aback by this unexpected mutation. The scent is not horrible by any means, and I have liberally anointed myself with it out of sheer astonishment quite a few times in the past week, but this version is a far cry from the rich, warm and enveloping barnyard vanilla of Labdanum 18 in its prime.

I would therefore have to concede that my Le Labo has well and truly turned, but NOT in our horrible alcohol-y way mentioned at the top of the post. This is almost a different perfume entirely, though I can detect the wan connection with balsamic vanilla. So in summary it has definitely gone, but gone out with a peculiar whimper, not a whiffy bang. Howver, it is so weak and so 'other' that I may have to subtract a few digits off it though, and recast it as Labdanum 6.25. They haven't got one of those in the line, I don't think.

Have you had any perfumes turn in ways that surprised you?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Complex complexions: patch test upshot and my top topical tips for dealing with dermatitis

Queued for ingredient reading!
When I was a kid, I remember my mother going to the local pharmacy and asking for a moisturiser called 'Pretty Face'. "Sorry", said the chemist, "We don't stock that, but I do have 'Happy Feet'?" Or maybe it was the other way about, but whatever, it still makes me smile.

Now to create a mash up of the two products, I have not had a 'Happy Face' for over forty years, in terms of the state of my skin. For I have been an acne sufferer without interruption - but with lots of eruptions! - since I was 15, then about two years ago I was diagnosed with contact dermatitis AND another kind of eczema that manifests itself as red blotches with or without a kind of white scurfiness. I hope you are not reading this at a mealtime. A condition possibly known as seborrheic dermatitis, but I am way too scared and squeamish to look in Google images, with it being as we all know a bottomless pit of grossness, pretty much regardless of what you look up of a medical nature.

But the distinction between the two is that I get symptoms of contact dermatitis when I use a skincare or beauty product that contains a specific ingredient to which I am allergic, while the causes of seborrheic eczema - if that is indeed what it is - are harder to pinpoint. They include stress, cold, dry weather and hormonal changes, as well as things like harsh chemicals, detergents etc, where it crosses over with the other kind of dermatitis.

So in short I now have a double whammy of skin ailments, triple if you include the acne of yore. I was moved to write this post because last weekend I happened to be back in Preston, staying at the very same guest house where the notorious 'Clarins cleanser incident' occurred in April 2016, triggering this latest on-off phase of contact dermatitis. I wasn't in the same room thankfully, but one of my friends was. He looked much the same at breakfast, so I assume that no such dermatological disaster befell him in the night.

Source: booking.com

While remembering back to this trouble all kicking off two years ago, I realised that I never did do the follow up post about my allergy tests last June(!) and their upshot. It might also be useful to recount how I have gone on since in terms of experimenting with skincare products of varying degrees of innocuousness.

I had the patch tests during the hottest few days of last year - it was 35C in my car on the drive down to Wolverhampton, and I was absolutely drenched in sweat by the time I got to the hospital. And no, I don't have air con in my car in case you were wondering. ;) As a result, my back was far from the ideal substrate to have a load of sticky fabric strips affixed to it, in which dozens of would-be allergens nestled in little pockets. I had some 120 different substances split across ten strips and the nurse drew notches at intervals in black marker pen all the way down both sides of each strip to facilitate the reading of any reactions. I was told to come back in a couple of days for a review, and again about five days later (the exact time frame is approximate as it was a while ago). During that period I was told not to wash my back and to stay cool and dry! Well, fat chance of that, as I was semi-liquefied on arrival, and the presence of ten strips of gauze taped to my back made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, and if anything more inclined to perspire in these extreme weather conditions.

Black marks still visible after patch removal!

After what seemed like an eternity, the day of the final 'reveal' arrived, and the strips were whipped off my back. The tests showed three different allergies:


Now nickel by any other name is very common, to the point of being dull and boring, like the house sparrow of allergens. It is found in jewellery, coins, household utensils - the list is endless.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population is allergic to nickel. The reactions can be unpleasant, but not fatal."

That's reassuring. You can't really avoid nickel in life, so I basically moved on to...


This is an interesting one, as I used to use acne medications with this as the active ingredient, and found it really harsh and liable to bring me out in a worse reaction than I had to start with. Actually, if you read all its applications, it doesn't sound too appealing:

"This chemical is used to bleach edible oils, flour, bread and other food. It is also used in some dental applications, for the treatment of acne and as an antiseptic and local anaesthetic in the treatment of burns and ulcers. It is also used in vinyl flooring, in fast drying printing inks and in mixed fabrics with viscose, silk or cotton. Further research may identify additional product or industrial usages of this chemical."

Hey, you can stop right there for me with your research - I am sufficiently put off as it is! I don't think this allergen has anything to do with my recent outbreaks, however, because I ditched the acne creams decades ago, and I don't eat much bread, haha. Leaving us with the final culprit, which the nurse said was the main one:

Tocopherol...aka Vitamin E

Oh my lord, this is also a tough one to avoid, for Vitamin E is added to a ton of toiletries, make up and skincare products, including both the suspects I featured in my last post on this subject.

Only at that time my finger of suspicion was pointing to two other chemicals: a formaldehyde-releasing microbial preservative called 2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1, 3-DIOL (in some makeup removing wipes that had triggered an isolated, but earlier attack in early 2014), and METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, a controversial preservative found in the Clarins cleanser I used in Preston. And instead the villain is the harmless - nay, positively benign-sounding - Vitamin E! Surely vitamins are meant to nourish and feed the skin, not sent it into paroxysms of allergic mayhem.

And what a pain it was to eliminate tocopherol in its various forms from my wash bag...! My gut feel was that the synthetic form of tocopherol, where it is combined with acetic acid to become tocopherol acetate, was more likely to be dodgy than the naturally occurring Vitamin E you get in many facial oils, so over the next few months or so I set about cautiously testing toiletries one by one to see what happened. I did also throw out any that had tocopherol acetate very high up in the ingredients list, but kept an open mind about any that had it as a middle ranking one!, which was more typical. Because logically the amount of the chemical may have a bearing on the matter, also whether it was present along with a whole bunch of other fairly aggressive things such as the two mentioned above, even if the tests had not revealed an allergy to those in particular - and they did test for both. I still don't like the sound of them, and quite a lot of other chemicals if I am honest!

Nine months on, I have a routine of skincare that broadly works. I have had no reactions as bad as the one in the picture below(!), but I do get shadows under my eyes and extra wrinkles in a sort of sweeping semi circle - the "engraved" look I developed after the make up wipes disaster of 2014. I think stress could be a trigger on its own, mind, and also lack of sleep, but the problems tend to occur more when I am travelling. This suggests that it could partly be a reaction to unfamiliar toiletries in hotels, though I do try to take my own. That said, there may be nefarious effects from the manky bits of moisturiser I shouldn't still be keeping in my travel pots! ;) Oh, and of course who knows what fumes are emitted from the aggressively laundered bedding I have blogged about recently.

Me on a very bad dermatitis day before the tests!

Here is a round up of the main products I use now:

Morning cleanser

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish


Dr Organics range from Holland & Barrett

Actually I don't think what I put on my head is the issue here, or I am working on that assumption. So I do still use shampoo freebies in hotels, but NOT those generic 'hand and body and hair and everything washes' in those wall mounted dispensers to which hotels are increasingly migrating, which don't have an ingredient list you can inspect.


Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum

Daytime moisturiser

Paula's Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense Normal / Oily / Combination SPF30 (when it is sunny!)


Nivea Daily Essentials Light Moisturising Day Cream for Normal to Combination Skin SPF 15 (when it is dull!)

The former doubles up as a foundation on good skin days, as it is slightly tinted, so were it not for the price I would use it all the time.

Source: Paula's Choice

Make up removal

La Roche-Posay Toleriane

I do additionally use one or two micellar waters specifically to take off eye make up, though they can sting a bit. And sweet almond oil is a good standby for stubborn areas.

Acid toner (once or twice a week)

Bravura Purifying Calendula Toner

Nighttime moisturiser 

Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM (with ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid).

How much do I love this product!, which I was put onto by a blog reader. It is cheap and packs a lot of skin boosting goodies for the money.

Source: Dermstore

Sometimes, if my skin feels a bit twitchy, I just use a very neutral moisturiser for sensitive skin such use Avene Skin Recovery Cream for Hypersensitve and Irritable Skin. You can use it in the day but it doesn't have any SPF. Or even just slather my face in coconut or sweet almond oil to mix things up a bit, taking care not to get oil all over the pillow.

And that is it more or less, though I occasionally ring the changes round the margins beyond what I have described. But here is the kicker...several of these products have Vitamin E in them, also in its synthetic form! And I appear to be completely fine with that, much like Eleanor Oliphant. So assuming the tests were in fact accurate, all I can say is that the precise amount of tocopherol in each must be at a sufficiently low level not to trouble me. From which I also take that there is no point having a knee jerk response and ditching literally everything containing the allegedly offending allergen. For that way lies baby and bath water throwing.

Meanwhile, controlling the seborrheic eczema is a whole other game, and the bottom line is that I frankly don't think I can. Or rather I cannot stop it coming back every few days - which doesn't sound like controlling to me! - mostly on my forehead (mercifully screened by a fringe), above one eye only, and in both eyebrows. The only thing that really shifts it is hydrocortisone ointment at the very gentle 0.5% strength, making it suitable for the delicate eye area. Though I still don't like using it very often as it is said to thin the skin. Tara kindly gave me a new eczema remedy called Gladskin - I need to have a few more go's with that before I can definitively report on the outcome. And am a bit wary of using it round my eyes.

Have you every had patch testing? If so, what did it find, and how did you go about rejigging your skincare routine?

I would love to hear anyone else's experiences!