Vanessa Musson is who I want to be when I grow up: a hilarious British lady with an ancient cat who weaves fascinating tales from her ceaseless travels across Europe. (I’m still working on the British part.) I squeal with delight every time I see a new post on Bonkers About Perfume, because I know that whatever the subject matter (a rock concert in Germany, an afternoon spent scampering around London with Katie Puckrik, the usefulness of various types of bubble wrap), Vanessa will find the humor and the wonder in the everyday oddities that the rest of us so often miss. It is an honor and a pleasure to share this interview with the impossibly cool Vanessa.
Why do you write about perfume?
For eight years I used to write a humorous column in a business magazine about the weird stuff that routinely happens to me on my overseas work trips. (I am a market researcher, specialising in industrial products, many of which are also inherently a bit weird.) Quite by chance, the closure of the magazine in the recession coincided with the onset of my perfume mania. So in hindsight – although I didn’t make the link till now – starting the blog may have filled a “creative writing vacuum” at a time when I had very little work, but was resisting the temptation to fritter away the hours watching daytime TV. Then over time, as readers will have spotted, the travel writing crept back in… : – ) In fairness, though, it is the business trips that afford me my best sniffing opportunities, as well as some great chances to meet fellow perfumistas, so the two are inextricably linked really.
Why did you not tell us you wore glasses??? You look so cute in glasses!!!
My goodness, do you really think so? I hate myself in specs, because they make my eyes look even smaller, which they can ill afford to do. Given that glasses are supposed to be all about magnification, this has always struck me as a cruel irony. (Would you believe I have to pay a surcharge for my contact lenses, as the ones that fit my abnormally small eyeballs are made in correspondingly small production runs!) But at least my current pair of semi-geek glasses have distractingly bold frames, such that people may not notice the lack of eyes beneath.
What are your favorite perfume houses?
In terms of my “strike rate” with different perfume houses ie liking a high proportion of their offering, I would have to say Ormonde Jayne is right up there, as in my view their relatively compact range is as close as it gets to the fragrance equivalent of a capsule wardrobe. After Ormonde Jayne, my “strike rate” is more hit and miss, so here it is a case of being strongly drawn to a few scents in a range and tuning out to the rest. In this category I would include (in no particular order) Parfumerie Générale, Hermès, Ajne, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Chanel, Guerlain, Kenzo, Jo Malone, Penhaligon’s and Bvlgari. Additionally, Dior and Van Cleef & Arpels have recently snuck onto this list on account of their niche collections.
Special mention should also go to perfume houses who are “nice people” to deal with, whether it be the perfumers themselves, or their PR person, in-store staff etc. Ormonde Jayne, Puredistance and Penhaligon’s all score highly here, also Sonoma Scent Studio, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Andy Tauer.
What is your favorite place to shop for perfume?
There’s an inherent contradiction in this question, for as the owner of 70+ bottles I really shouldn’t be allowed to shop for perfume at all, and do my best to curb the urge. It is a bit like asking a drug addict about their favourite place to shoot up. : – ) So given the fact that I am meant to be on the wagon most of the time where fragrance purchases are concerned, the answer to your question has to be “the cheapest place possible”, by way of damage limitation. So that means Ebay for the most part, with occasional lapses at online retailers and airports, like this week with a bottle of Violet Blonde at Stansted.
Your Basenotes username is “VM I hate civet”, but rumor has it that you’re softening on your former nemesis. Have your perfume preferences changed in any other ways recently?
You are absolutely right about my doing – if not a 180 exactly – certainly a 60 degree turn on civet lately, though I am not ready to resniff Caron Narcisse Noire any time soon. I seem to have the knives out for lavender at the moment, as exemplified by the “pointy sprig” monstrosity which is Chanel Jersey. Conversely, I have a higher tolerance for sweet perfumes than I used to, and am slightly relaxing my hard line on heliotrope. Age-related hormonal changes may be a factor, but don’t ask me how! The good thing about all this is that my other screen name of flittersniffer cuts me a lot of slack when it comes to such flipfloppery. I think it would still be fair to sum up my taste as “not too much of anything, please”. With exceptions even to that rule, obviously!
What are some of your other interests outside of perfume?
Well, I would say Pilates, but my teacher just emigrated to New Zealand, so that’s the end of that then. Plus I had to make myself go every week, even though I felt virtuous and floaty afterwards. I would also say drinking gin, but I have had to cut that right back lately due to unrest amongst my red corpuscles. So I will just say knitting (a constant “thread” since I was seven), reading (thrillers and contemporary fiction mostly – nothing too worthy or with too many pages or too small print these days), and music (indie and jazz fusion).
What perfumes are you hoping to find under the Christmas tree/Menorah branches this year?
Well, I’d have to say none, because my immediate circle think I have enough perfume to last me several lifetimes, such that I don’t even harbour hopes in that direction. What I would like to find under the Christmas tree is another story – a bottle of Guerlain Plus Que Jamais that some sale assistant miraculously found knocking around in a store room somewhere, or a bottle of Dior New Look 1947 or PG Bois Naufragé would do very nicely, thank you. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t throw Prada Candy out of my stocking either. Now a little elf did let slip that Mr Bonkers has got me some rare vintage examples of perfume merchandising material for Christmas. The bidding on Ebay went way over the cost of actual perfume apparently, so I do have high hopes for these mystery items!