Category Archives: Floriental

BLOWING RASPBERRIES: HOT COUTURE (eau de parfum) by GIVENCHY (2000)

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‘Who’s smoking a pipe? I could swear someone’s smoking a pipe’ said my Japanese colleagues as I sat, silent and embarrassed (but amused) at their reaction to my wearing Hot Couture to the teacher’s room one cold winter morning.

 

Trying to decide what I thought about this perfume (given to me by a friend who had found it just that bit too much), aromatic, flavoured (raspberry) tobacco was actually the first thing that had come to mind, so it was hilarious to have my initial instincts confirmed. Hot Couture, which came in a fantastically passé and non-ergonomic sculptured bottle – so eighties, so c h i c  – is a peppery, aromatic and vanillic framboise: an unusual main note for a big house perfume, and perhaps the reason why, like all the best perfumes, it has disappeared (the eau de toilette is a fresher, floriental raspberry scent). From a distance, though, the eau de parfum really did smell exactly like pipe smoke; curls of thick, woody, vaporous raspberry.

 

Hot Couture is a pretty good scent I would say, worth picking up if you find it cheaply somewhere: nice on either sex, cosy and distinct, but with its atmosphere of smoke-infused nightclub cloakrooms – and swathes of thick, rising, dry ice on the dancefloor – I have to say it doesn’t leave much room to breathe.

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Filed under Floriental, Perfume Reviews, Raspberry, Tobacco

POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

 

 

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There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most certainly memorable; intensely so – seared as it was onto the collective memory when released to the world at large in 1985; a perfume that even the perfume haters were unwillingly forced to inhale on a daily basis as lustrous sorceresses clicked their heels on the pavements of world cities enveloped provocatively in mushroom clouds of venomous berries and plummy-cinnamon, purpled tuberosa musks…..

At this time, a project such as Poison was as secretive, as closely guarded, as a new film by Kubrick –  and unveiled with as much publicity and fanfare, with launch galas and champagne parties of the crème de la crème partying under the giant factice flacons and juicily indulging in the sheer excess of it all, the centre of the eighties, the shameless vortex of capitalist fun made even bigger, more implacable, in a smell.

The name that was saucily given to that aroma was the first thing that guaranteed this clever product would capture our attention (apparently it was seen as literally scandalous that the maker of such refined scents as Diorissimo and Diorella could come with such a monstrosity), but the juice itself was an entirely new departure in scent as well, so different to anything preceding it. How often can we say that now? In recent times, few perfumes can claim similar levels of pioneering, especially not in the commercial arena, where new fragrances are consumer tested, sanded down and sanitized to the sellable point where they smell pleasant (though that is debatable) and lack any obvious personality. With Poison, this real shock of the new, both in terms of marketing/advertising and the gloriously vibrant liquid within, really worked; the perfume was an enormous international hit, but was vilified in equal measure, being one of the three ugly sisters who were famously barred from restaurants and boutiques (the others being Obsession and Giorgio) due to their extraordinary potency: many simply cannot bear Poison.

 

 

I myself love it. Partly because it so beautifully captures my world of mid-eighties teenage self-discovery (all the bangle-wearing Madonna wannabes and naughty girls at every party I went to smelled of it, as did their mothers), but mainly because I just enjoy its daring, delicious, purple toxicity – that rich, sweet potion of pimiento spiced berries, coriander,  honey, opoponax, and carnal tuberose that glows from a woman’s skin with such brilliant alacrity. It is not a ‘pretty’ perfume, is not subtle, but to me Poison is a great classic; fruity, fun and ludicrously seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Note: The current version of Poison has been diluted and reformulated, as is often the case with formulae that are expensive or ‘difficult’, and the current perfume hangs her head, thinned and embarrassed, as though she has been through bouts of electric shock treatment therapy. She has been punished….

Yet I do still smell it on the streets sometimes: this must have been a big hit in Japan too, back in the day, as you sometimes catch drifts of the vintage jus surrounding Japanese older women glammed up for the theatre or some ladies’ function, especially in winter, when it warms the cockles and the lungs (just as Madonna herself still rocks that gutsy tuberose Fracas by Piguet, she herself no longer a young thing). Here, middle aged and older women are often very desexualized and put down by their male counterparts the older they get, an aspect of living in Japan that infuriates me to the core, and to me, their wearing Poison along with their furs and finery somehow seems like a quiet middle finger; a proclamation of self-worth and untapped, wasted sexuality. It smells wonderful.

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Filed under Floriental, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

NOT HILARY SWANK: INSOLENCE by GUERLAIN (2006)

 

 

In its attempt to reach a younger audience, and to rid that most poetic flower of its timid, knees-clenched legacy, Guerlain audaciously chucked a synthetic neon-violet cannonball at department stores back in 2006. It was a funky, monstrous thing I immediately knew would be a flop (especially given the choice of Hilary Swank for the ad campaign, which to me felt totally ill-matched..)

 

 

But I was wrong.

Apparently Insolence has had its fair share of takers, and the scent now has its place assured in the Guerlain mainstream line-up, targeted primarily at a younger audience who will presumably later then grow into the illustrious stable’s grands classiques. Maybe it’s the sense of Guerlain’s Finest Moments  re-segued for the modern age (the marzipan of L’Heure Bleue; the powdery iris-violet of Après L’Ondée; the vanilla sexy of Shalimar, cleverly concealed within the caterwauling mix…) but it all felt so totally wrong yet ever so strangely familiar….

 

 

 

 

 

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On top we have:

 

pink, purple and red laminated ra-ra skirts of lacquered, lacquered violets (the eau de toilette famously beginning with an indigestible, raucous Indian hair spray note that really takes you by surprise): then, a back-of-your-throat sheen of plastic red fruits: red currants, red apples, and all manner of other synthetic fruits rouges whirly-gigging frantically about the glo-stick violets…..but if you survive the hilarious first ten minutes of Insolence, as  you careen about from all the scintillating lacquer that is pinking up the oesophagus, you can actually have a lot of fun with this party-crashing violet

 

 

( for me, in truth, part of the very enjoyment of this scent is that opening, as it does what the name suggests: shock, slightly, with its brash impudence. The ‘reformed’ woman of the eau de parfum, for which another perfumer was roped in to apparently smooth things over, and where everything is blended just… so to make this lady smoother and more palatable to a wider mainstream audience, is to me so….. bustily bourgeois: more wearable yes, and more seamless, but with a slight suggestion of feminized lobotomy – though that might be somewhat overstating it.)

 

 

In Maurice Roucel’s more ‘vulgar’ original edt, Insolence has a girl’s- night-out vibe: shrill, fun, and very loud in a slightly late eighties/early nineties manner. It gradually dies down, though, to a perfectly nice vanilla-violet perfume with softer, blurrier, gourmand edges, those traditional notes of the Guerlinade base, that really let you know that despite all the ‘acting out’ of the perfume’s foot-stomping opening, THIS IS A GUERLAIN,  and that the girl in question fully intends, at a pre-destined age, to follow unquestioningly in the faultlessly chic footsteps of her immaculate, Jardins de Bagatelle wearing maman.

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KEEPING THE FAITH : On signature scents and ROMA by LAURA BIAGIOTTI (1991)

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Do you have a scent that you have worn for years; one that ‘becomes’ you, that truly suits you, that represents you, that is you?

One that everyone you have ever known associates with you; that, if left lingering in a room conjures you up like a living, disembodied phantom?

 

In other words, your ‘signature’?

 

For most perfumistas, perhaps not. Not just one.

 

I am not sure if even I do, to be honest, as we are promiscuous, and it is difficult for us to remain faithful to only one scent when there are so many temptations out there to make us stray from our betrothed. We are compelled to play the field, sample different lovers….

 

I myself have been wearing scent continuously and obsessively for twenty seven years or more, and there have been many, many scents that have come and gone in that time: some that I look back on with disdain, others that I see as cherished memories, and others that I still wear now. I imagine that many other fellow perfume lovers will have had similar experiences.

 

And yet : I think we all do have perhaps ten or so perfumes that more fully represent us, that have hooked us; that, if they were there, standing by the coffin, with testers and paper strips at our funerals, would partially bring us back to life for our family and friends…

 

 

For those who do stick to one perfume ( and I salute you! ) the associations left in people’s minds from your choice of scent will be final and incontrovertible: it will be you, bottled, and suspended in liquid, and people who have known and loved you will SMELL you in that flacon, the person and the scent they are smelling indivisible. Because some  people really do wear one scent for a lifetime (after all, it was once seen as the way to go: you bought a perfume and stuck to it), and Roma, a lovely Italian sweet thing from the late eighties that was very fashionable for a while back then, is my sister encapsulated. She has been wearing it ever since she entered her teens, and of all the people I have known, Deborah has been the most faithful to her scent. Roma is her signature, and has been for almost two decades: – a genial, fresh, minty oriental with a whiff of the confectioner’s (the first time I ever smelled it I immediately thought of those cola cubes that used to be sold in big jars at the sweet shop: concentrated, deep orange-pink; and frosted with sugar).  Rich and complex,  Roma for me is somehow sexy, knowing and ridiculously flirtatious while remaining young, carnally innocent and very cute (or is that just a big brother talking?)

 

The ‘floriental’  in its modern guise is a bane, so brutishly buxom, that tacky, bust out down the bar ‘siren call’ that I find so lacking in tact. The difference between these recent Saturday night floriental wannabes and Roma however, is that, like my sister, it has heart and soul (and guts as well). You would also never think of Roma as overtly animalic (despite the presence of those subtle additions far down in the dry-down: they exist more at the subliminal level), yet with this perfume’s insistent, gorgeous aura, my sister has consistently had compliments from people over the years, from men especially who practically want to devour her.

 

 

**

 

 

On a whim I once bought Deborah the original, boringly discontinued Fendi, that spicy 80’s perfume of broad-shouldered, Milanesque brocade that I have always enjoyed , and she loved it, and wore it for a time, yet kept getting asked by her colleagues if she had just been down the pub (apparently she smelled like soaked beer mats when she wore it, not something a girl wants to hear on a Monday morning at the office). It just didn’t work on her, and this only reinforces my belief that certain perfumes, do, obviously, suit some people, and others don’t, and not only in terms of temperament and atmosphere, but physically, literally. Some very good perfumes clearly smell horrendous on certain people, yet there seems to be a movement among some perfume critics which dictates that the whole ‘skin chemistry’ thing is a myth.

 

I can categorically state that it isn’t. If you sit me and my friend Helen down, for example, and spray us with any perfume, the differences will be immediately striking, often amusingly so.  On Helen’s skin, all orientalia, all muskiness and fattiness disappears, almost immediately. What is left is flowers and leaves; something light, pure and elegant.  On me it is the opposite: all is opoponax, vanilla, patchouli: flowers flown off, torn and mangled in the Sagittarian gusts.

 

Fendi is a great, operatic perfume, just not meant for my sister. Someone will be out there tonight at La Scala in this perfume smelling essential, fabulous, while another will be in some coffee shop stinking as though she has spent the night with her lanky hair sprawling among overturned beer barrels. And that’s just the way it is.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

There is a moment when man or woman and a scent meet, and it is love at first sight.

 

Until this point this we have made do with something that works fine, even though deep down we instinctively know that it isn’t quite what we want, that there is something either too much or not enough; that incorrigible something, that particular combination of ingredients or even a void, a lack that is somehow alien to our soul.

 

And then we find it: that scent that, like the lover we click with, feels so right. So natural. In whose presence we can be ourselves. A palpable, beautiful extension of our personality that reels people in, imprinting itself narcissistically on their memories….

 

If you have not yet had this experience then that is one of the joys of perfume; and of this and other perfume books and blogs: the persistent belief deep down inside that it is out there; that it exists, and knows you do too, but is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered…

 

 

Deborah and Roma met some time in her early teens ( I am nine years older, and the poor girl was assailed with perfume from a very early age, not that she seemed to mind..), and  I can’t remember how this fateful union came to pass, exactly, whether it was me, or her and the school teenage posse, but in any case, it was love at first sight and she has worn it ever since (though in truth I am being slightly disingenuous: there have been occasional other perfumes worn over the years, a few sent by me for Christmas and birthdays, but none has ever stuck, and there always seems to be a bottle of this in her room, full, half-full, or nearing empty. Now that it is no longer available in England (but is, for example, at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – I often fly KLM from Tokyo to Birmingham), everyone on a trip to Europe is always instructed to bring back some Roma. My mum was even talking about it on the phone last night: she had had to go on Amazon to order a bottle, as ‘Deborah is low on Roma’ (as though she were a diabetic dangerously about to be out of insulin). It is a perfume that she always sprays on with abandon after her endless bathing and make-up rituals that always seems to take an eternity but which always result in a gorgeous vamp glamming up wherever she happens to be in her Debroarian splendour.

 

And Roma just finishes it all off to perfection.

 

 

As I have written before, I used to live in Rome, and you could find this everywhere (even the parfum, which must be very rare now), but I used to see it in various gift shops by the colosseum, where I would spend the days lying on the grass reading novels and listening to my walkman, delighting in the facts of being twenty one, and an adventure-ready, English boy in Rome. At the time, Lancôme’s Trésor was all the rage (you cannot imagine how much: I remember going to some rich girl’s house and her bathroom (I am always totally shameless in people’s bathrooms, raiding the closets and cupboards guiltlessly to see what is there), but this girl had everything: the bath foams, shower gels, body creams, deodorants, eau de toilette, parfum…and for a while on the metro it seemed that Trésor (which I do like, by the way) was being pumped from the central ventilation systems. You could practically taste it, and it seemed that almost every woman in Rome was wearing it.

 

My sister wasn’t. It was all about Roma: a fresh-fruity oriental, light and simultaneously licentious, that begins with a spritz of summery innocence (Sicilian bergamot, blackcurrant bud, grapefruit and, crucially, mint) over a cushiony, floral heart bouquet of rose, jasmine, carnation and lily of the valley. From the very start though, you cannot elude the sensuality of that base, which in its original incarnation in any case was  a warm, ambered accord of great complexity – patchouli, oakmoss, and a special accord known as ‘balsamo’: a whirl of North African myrrh, balsamic resins, and vanilla. On top of, or rather beneath, lies  a trio of animalics; civet, castoreum, and Siam ambergris, which smooths out the blend into a lingering, velveteen caress. I personally think it is a great scent, coming from a time when perfumers still made orientals that genuinely seduce. The more recent additions to the genre, such as Dior’s cheap-thrill Addict, and Calvin Klein’s Euphoria, just aren’t in the same league – competitive, hard-faced cows in comparison. An anaemic rip off of Roma (Armani White) was released in 2001 but disappeared quite quickly without trace. Roma is still going strong, in Europe at least. It is a scent of passion, and I’m glad my hot head of a sister found it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MITT, now you GIT on down to New Orleans right NOW and take out that MAN!!!!! I MEAN it!!!!!! (Senso, by Ungaro, 1991)

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Today I expect there will be a good few Republican vixens despairing across America with something like the facial expressions above. Tearing their teased, well-groomed hair in their master suites at the mere mention of their taxes being increased, their wealth being siphoned off by those hordes, now with health care and no longer dying in the streets, edging ever closer, and blacker, to their white-gated paradises….

 

 

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The first time I ever smelled Senso, I thought ‘Marietta’. Marietta: screeching, taloned harridan in her Texas satin dress, Lula’s hit-man devouring mother in Wild at Heart – David Lynch’s kaleidoscopic mash up of The Wizard of Oz and the classic road movie that mythologized the beauties and horrors of America,  all captured brilliantly in Diane Ladd’s interpretation of the gorgon, man-chewing  blonde: a matriarch who’d slit your throat at the flick of a switch, yet would be horrified at the mess. Come to think of it, this she wouldn’t do herself but instead would hire one of her ‘gentleman friends’ to do the job. The men love her; this dolly, come-thither old belle with her flaxen, Rapunzelesque hair; an uncurbed, materialistic witch who purses her rouge-caked mouth, smacks her lipsticked lips and immediately gets what she wants.

 

 

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You might be wondering what the connection could possibly be between evil ‘Tea Party’ crones, a wicked old witch of the west, and a long discontinued perfume by Ungaro. Well, leaving aside the fact that senso means ‘war’ in Japanese – Marietta Fortune’s war against Sailor (Nicolas Cage), the man who rejects her at some fundraiser in a public toilet – a humiliation that can only end in his death – there is the bottle, which is the most  exquisitely kitsch bottle I own, draped like a real Ungaro dress in the brightest shocking pink and hard enamelled baby blue. So belle of the ball, so…..Reagan.

 

To me it is a great flacon, and wouldn’t look out of place in Southfork, the poison dwarf weeping uncontrollably at her dresser, impetuously shattering her bottle of Senso against the mirror in some love and dollar-drenched tantrum.

 

 

And then you smell it – hit, blown away by the sheer voluptuous sweetness of the thing, a precarious tightrope balancing act of the glorious and the sickening; a perfume that aggregates rich domestic propriety with sex, just like Marietta, in her dream home: crawling, like a writhing, curvaceous beast under that glass coffee table; pursing and cooing and seducing the dumb, witless Johnnie Farragut.

 

We smell the newly washed carpets; the curtained, pink silken bedroom, the polish on the floor. And, especially, the laundry room, where the maid, off for the day, has left everything as a warm, puffed up refuge.

 

 

In Senso there’s a very comforting aura: the powerful sanctity of the washer and dryer –  the blithe reassurance of Downy – but, like Marietta, who ends up drooling, her face caked in blood-red lipstick, also an almost insanely sugared, libidinally ruinous bouquet of hysterical flowers, as though she has just fallen down and, watching her cocktail glass fall slowly to the shimmering tiles, wet herself desperately down among her tumble-dried whites: powderly, dirtily pink.

 

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Cherryade and the fluff: G de ROMEO GIGLI (1994) + DIAMONDS AND RUBIES by ELIZABETH TAYLOR (1993)

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Sometimes I wake up and my brain has already, instinctively, reached out for a particular kind of smell: I know upon opening my eyes that only that smell will do. And yesterday it was cherry. Something sweet, light, and fruity. Reminiscent of freshly plucked cherries, the stalks intact, but also that deliciously cheap and artificial, cerise-coloured drink from my childhood: chip-shop cherryade.

I have two scents in my collection that happened to fit the bill perfectly (…the joy of a large collection and being able to pinpoint the specific in mood by reaching into ones cabinets!):  G by Romeo Gigli, an early nineties concoction that fell by the wayside rather quickly (possibly because of its luridly overdesigned harlequin flacon) and Elizabeth Taylor’s cheerful, fulsome Diamonds and Rubies, which I have in perfume extract and which complements the greener, more bracing Gigli perfectly (wearing the rubies on my wrists and spraying the Gigli liberally elsewhere as I headed out to Tokyo on Saturday, I enjoyed their company throughout the day immensely). Both perfumes were released within a year of each other and comprise a very similar basic accord that is pleasing and somehow serotonin-boosting when you are in the mood for easy comfort.

Despite the complexity of the notes contained in G, the perfume comes off as simple and buono, a warm yet fresh fragrance with a gorgeously Italian optimism: two different themes fusing deliciously with each other after initial apparent frictions. The vanillic cedar of the base, with its clean, gentle orchids, wisps of sandalwood and oakmoss, is far from apparent in the Milanese zest of the opening: an inventive, herbaceous scherzo on pineapple, citrus, green notes and a curious dose of fresh tarragon leaves that is quite frankly delightful.  Cloves, not listed in the official notes but apparent to my nose, cleave to the floral heart (cyclamen, jasmine, rose and orris), but the tarragon remains throughout like star anise in a fragrant compote de fruits. When spritzed, G de Gigli is immediately happy and uplifting, but subtle: it lasts for hours yet remains close to the skin like a flower-patterned silk.

A more American riff on morello is Elizabeth Taylor’s Diamonds and Rubies, which is also constructed on a ambery cedar base with lashes of orchid, but which is richer, more powdery and, well, Elizabeth Taylor than the Romeo Gigli: a thick-waisted embrace of sweet cherry liquor: heliotrope, ylang, orris, cyclamen and bitter almond; red rose, benzoin and peach. The base of the scent is significantly erotic, in a mature, experienced kind of way, while the opening – tender, as fluffily romantic as a puffed up angora sweater, has the blow-dry glamour of a pressed, immaculate Floridian dame:  soignée, not a hair out of place on that dandelion head: yet benign, loveable; sweet.

I have tried Diamonds & Rubies only in parfum form, but can say it is surprisingly enjoyable and well-made: recommended for those who like an ‘occasion’ floriental. Although I wear these two only rarely, I like knowing they are there: scents with a ripe, cherry-lipped goodness. They are both available for a song at online discounters.

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Party girl : LOU LOU by CACHAREL (1987)

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‘Pandora’s Box’, a silent film from 1929, stars Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu: a ravenous, naughty fille fatale who leads all those who fall for her irresistible charms to catastrophic ends. That is, until she herself tumbles into the greedy hands of one Jack The Ripper – and we all know what happens next.

This lithe, luscious character was supposedly the inspiration behind Cacharel’s oozy ’87 blockbuster, Loulou, a fragrance that made no effort whatsoever with restraint (some might say taste, either): a thick, gorgeous, but airless block of scent by the creator of Obsession – that other 80’s, giantesque sex kitten which it resembles like some exotic, Polynesian cousin.

On the right girl, however, (and strangely enough, on me), Loulou is simply one of the most instantly feel-good perfumed things that there is: fun, disinhibiting, and gleefully sexy.

 

The perfume’s addictive, shock-sweet main melody is a seductive, powdery, almost furred, tropical flower: Tahitian tiare, coconut, cherry-bomb heliotrope, iris, vanilla, ylang ylang, and a darker, woodier base of sandal and incense that is the perfume’s master stroke, tempering the leis and pina coladas with a plunge into ambiguous island shadows. The whole is perfectly constructed; though sweet, and very extroverted, it never really tips over the edge. Rather, it is a knowing, sloe-eyed cocktail of undeniable erotic presence that trails a girl like a challenge. You up to this?

If all of this sounds somewhat vulgar, it is. But it is great nevertheless, and if worn now, something of a tongue-in-cheek 80’s classic. I have been draining my bottle in the last few weeks as the Japanese spring has heated up and I crave something beachy and ‘up’; and in fact on Sunday, at Rainbow Pride in Tokyo, I  practically doused myself in the stuff, with touches of other exotica (Yves Rocher’s Malaysian coconut; a spritz of Montale’s Intense Tiare), to get into the party spirit – a silent Mardi Gras of scent that I took as my costume.  Despite my semi-ironic wearing of Loulou however, several people kept grabbing me close to smell it again saying how lovely it was.

The best thing about this perfume, apart from its depth and richness (unusual now, where even many of the best niche scents exhibit a certain anorexia) is its price: a 100ml bottle can be purchased online for practically nothing from discounters, and you can be sure that hardly else will be wearing it. For fun evenings out, and as an instant serotonin booster – and if you can carry it off – Loulou is very highly recommended.

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