Posts Tagged ‘intangible’

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Describing Scent workshop at Les Senteurs. (review)

April 15, 2012

On a bright Saturday lunchtime in April, Toby and I headed to Marble Arch to attend Les Senteurs‘ “Describing Scent” workshop, hosted by my good friend Nick (who also happens to be the Store Manager of the Les Senteurs store on Seymour Place). We arrived and as the shop starting filling up with attendees, we made our way downstairs to be greeted by a large table, laid out with place settings which each had a slice of orange on a neon plate, a loop of string, a coin, a rubber band and a glass with ice. The dozen of us seated ourselves, introduced ourselves to the group (among us was a florist, a composer, a student of fashion journalism, a mathematician, a chemist, and the rest of us who were also fans of perfume via various avenues) and then Nick proceeded to explain the purpose of the workshop. Part of it would be smelling scents (starting with the objects on the table, and then followed by a range of perfumes passed around the room on blotters) and experiencing fragrances mostly stocked by Les Senteurs. But the real point, as hinted at in the name of the workshop, would be to describe the fragrance. Not only in terms of smell, but in terms of taste, colour, light, shadow, temperature, textures, shape, sound, the kind of place it evoked and so on. It’s extremely difficult to describe a scent effectively using only the limited vocabulary of adjectives normally ascribed to smell – scents are intangible, and so they evoke a range of images, sounds (interestingly, “notes” and “accords” are used in the language of perfumery), textures and emotions in each of us.

As we proceeded through the objects on the table, and then onto the eight fragrances, we discussed how each of them made us feel, and what they evoked in us. Nick guided us through each of the perfumes, which we firstly smelled ‘blind’ (i.e. not knowing anything about the fragrance – neither its name, nor the brand behind it) and then were tasked with describing as fully and accurately as possible. It was a comfortable environment for us to be honest and unguarded about what the perfume evoked, as we were all passionate about fragrance and we all understood that perfume is personal to each of us. Nick would eventually reveal the perfume’s name and brand, composition and concept. It was intriguing to see what notes each of us picked up (which frequently included ingredients not listed in the perfume’s composition), and how different our own thoughts were from others’. For example, Toby’s scientific knowledge was able to explain various smells and associations in a way that was completely beyond me, but at the same time I made other connections for different reasons. Moving through fragrances by Creed, Parfumerie Générale, Heeley and others, we exposed the different connections and our own varying preferences between a range of scents. But whatever we preferred, be it niche or “high street”; leathery or floral; warm and introverted or cool and expansive – this workshop worked because we were all passionate about fragrance, and because Nick facilitated the workshop in such a way that we all felt comfortable to express ourselves.

At the end of the session, we all filled out a feedback form which asked some intriguing questions – among which were:

  • “Is this kind of event something you would talk to your friends about” (evidently so!);
  • “What is most important to you in a perfume?” (for me, a fragrance has to smell beautiful, but also different to everything else in my collection, so that it complements one of my moods. I am far too fickle / moody to have a ‘signature’ fragrance that would suit me every day, day in and day out! I also think that it’s important that the fragrance has a well-chosen name and attractive bottle, as these are the things that will initially attract me towards trying it out.); and
  • “Are there any events you would like to see that haven’t been suggested already?” (I feel that I would love to attend workshops that would each focus on ‘classic perfumes’ – such as Joy, Chanel No. 5, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Poison and Opium).

I can’t recommend the Les Senteurs workshops highly enough for anyone even slightly curious about perfume beyond the Superdrug counter (for their list of events, please click here). Toby and I both had an excellent time, and it was both luxurious being able to spend an afternoon smelling such wonderful scents, and intellectually stimulating being challenged to describe them and contemplate how others react to fragrance. At the end of the day, there are few rights and wrongs in one’s experience of perfume, and this workshop served to underline how intangible and thus personal fragrance can be.

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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intangible.

July 24, 2009

Two of my very favourite things in my life are music and fragrance.  Music has been something I have loved from day one, and I never looked back: ever since I was little my mum and I would dance around the living room to Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, Kool & The Gang records (on vinyl! Somewhere in my bedroom is Mariah Carey’s very first single “Vision Of Love” on vinyl, which I imagine might be worth some money!).  We’d sing along to Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters in the car (on cassette), and as soon as we had MTV I knew that my ideal vocation was a pop star.  I think by force of habit (I was singing long before I got my first Mariah Carey album, which was at age 12) I made myself a decent singer, and once I was 13 I broke through at my school singing anywhere and everywhere, making myself a little celebrity status and signing autographs at school (it was a stressful time with gossip and rumours, but also a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the renown.).  I did concerts, dance competitions, displays and random other stuff, and I made myself my own brand… it was good training for the real world!  But primarily, I did these things because I love to sing, I love to dance, and I have always enjoyed these things.  To sound corny, they make me feel free and allow me to escape the monotony, depression and pain of everyday life, and the fact that I seem to be genuinely talented (though I need occasional reassurance from my friends, now that I don’t do performances very often, that I’m not secretly shit – they are always supportive of me 🙂 ) is a bonus.  But writing songs, making my own music, and singing along to everything is such an intrinsic part of who I am, and it’s something that can’t be taken away from me (unless you rip out my larynx) because it’s intangible.  It’s the air I breathe, the way I control my voice, the years of daily practice… it’s nothing tangible.  It’s more ethereal and spiritual to me.

On the other hand, my love of fragrance is something much more recent in comparison.  Though I realised, leafing through the Avon catalogue tonight, that I have had fragrance in my life since the age of 15, when I used to buy their cheap n cheerful classics Black Suede, Modern Balance, Mesmerise… I can’t remember what my first “proper” fragrance was (I know my mum bought me CK Contradiction when I turned 17, but I don’t know what the first one I bought for myself was), but I have always loved Black XS, Dior Homme and A*Men, and despite working at a perfume shop for a year and a half and coming into contact with all the brands and all the scents a guy could want, those are still probably my favourites (along with a couple of others 😉 )!  I think there is something so captivating and seductive about someone who smells intoxicatingly good, it’s like an addictive allure (wading into Bai Ling territory there…).  Although a lot of fragrances have a ridiculously long list of notes of which most normal people can only smell two or three, there is something mysterious about the way certain aromas or elements (well, they’re actually aromachemicals, but we can pretend it’s something more organic and exotic 😉 ) are combined to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And again, it’s something that travels on the wind, something subjective that triggers individual reactions and desires, something that is unique to each person and which suggests something primal about who that person is (and after all, the fragrance someone wears can tell you a lot about them! Perfume SAs around the world can vouch for this 😉 ).  I think that is why both of these things are so important to me, because they come from within, they are both things which are at once intangible and primal, and they are an opportunity for us to expose the essence of who we are.