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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

picking up the scent

Like many women I love the theatre of fragrance. The seduction of the packaging, the complex way it can govern our emotions and the allure of the advertising.  Highly polished imagery can promise everything from romance to seduction to confidence. Who can’t resist spritzing? But what really interests me about the world of fragrance are the noses behind the juice.

English Perfumer, Cath Collins is acclaimed in creating unique compositions that instantly blast away jaded spirits and deliver aromatic notes that represent pure olfactory escapism. Each of her fragrances captures her skill to take the familiar and embroider it with an olfactory twist.

Just launching three new fragrances, here I caught up with her to tap into her expertise and uncover her inspirations.

Dolly Mixture (DM) What was the first fragrance you remember wearing and how did it make you feel?   
Cath Collins (CC): Chant d’Aromes by Guerlain.  I was about 15 and remember the excitement of buying it on the ferry, duty free.  It made me feel incredibly glamorous and... broke. But the fragrance was so intoxicating and the bottle so beautiful that all my common sense went straight overboard!

DM: How did you start out in the world of perfumery?
CC: I bought a book about aromatherapy and some essential oils in the local health shop.  The top of my piano became my ‘laboratory’ and I used to stand for hours mixing things drop by drop, mostly very unsuccessfully, except for one blend which formed part of my first range. I was very determined and soon discovered the benefits of endlessly questioning the supplier of the oils and gradually found myself talking to real experts in the field. 

DM: What qualities do you need to make a good perfumer in terms of smell? Do you believe this skill is intrinsic or can it be cultivated?
CC:  I think you need an aptitude for seeing a ‘global picture’ of the scents you are creating.   But the vital thing for a good perfumer is an acute olfactory memory which can only be developed by a combination of inherent talent and experience.

DM: Any funny anecdotes about life as a perfumer?
CC: One of my very first fragrances was called Lemon, Clove and Geranium and after we’d had a piece in the press a customer rang up to request some Lime, Clemon and Gymnasium! 

DM: Having interviewed you before, I know your garden in Devon is a huge inspiration to you – viewing it as an outdoor room. What flowers are your absolute favourite and why?   
CC: There are so many, but Jasmine is a favourite. It’s a plant whose heady fragrance wafts you away on a magic carpet.   The Daphne Odora are tiny starry flowers which belie their exotic and slightly citrus-y scent; just a sprig brought into the house in winter is utterly delightful.  This has been a great inspiration for my Winterflower fragrance. A stunning orchid called Zygopetalum Mackayii smells like hundreds of hyacinths. Roses and freesias of course, and velvety dark purple petunias which smell of a combination of chocolate and vanilla!  I grow them beneath the summer Jasmine under my office window.  Bliss when all the windows are open!

DM: Do you believe fragrance has to be age appropriate?
CC: I like to create with a real person in mind and having a large family, covering just about every age group, provides a rich seam of different types. It’s very interesting testing a new scent on them and all their opinions are immensely valuable. Scents react differently on every skin type but I think a girl in her 20’s will always like something lighter than someone older.  Mature people definitely go for more complex and often far heavier perfumes.

DM: What do men find appealing in women’s fragrances and why? 
CC: Scent sends powerful messages, it says so much about the woman who wears it.   If a man likes the scent his girlfriend is wearing I think, subconsciously, it makes him confident of other men’s approval.

DM: You’ve created three new fragrances – can you just give me a brief overview of each and the stories behind them?
CC: Evening Flowers has a wonderful blend of exotic sophistication with a base of rich heliotrope. All my favourite English florals are packed into this fragrance. I think I had the headiness of romantic Mediterranean summer nights in mind.  Morning Flowers indulges my passion for citrus fragrances especially when combined with flowers and woods.  A waft of freesias and zesty lemon were the inspiration for this vibrant and flirty fragrance. It’s really young at heart.  Flowers of the Orient came from wanting to create something different from anything I’d done before. The opening hint of citrus leads you to flowers and spice and ultimately envelopes you in rich and seductive folds of Patchouli, Vetiver and Vanilla.  An adventure drawing you deep into the Medina.

DM: Where should a woman wear her fragrance?
CC: That is a secret she should never give away!

DM: Finally, if you could have created any perfume in the world, which one would you choose and why? 
CC: This is such a difficult question!  Maybe Diorissimo or Parfum d’Hermes.  Both so completely different from each other, and both exquisite.

Cath Collins’ Eau de Toilette costs £35 for a 50ml glass atomiser. Available from or call 01803 813064 for stockists.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

the guy you want to fake it with!

I have to confess I’m a bit of a self tanning phobe. I understand when it’s applied well it looks fantastic, but when it’s not, it’s horrid. And I’m always afraid of creating the latter scenario.  Although fake tans have come along in leaps and bounds when talking formulation, it can still go, oh so wrong. It’s much like foundation, you need to select a shade that shouts honey, not creosote so it complements your skin and hair tone. Equally, meticulous application is a must to ensure you side step the streaks, the blotches and the orange hands.

Now, if there’s one guy that knows how to fake it brilliantly, it’s James Harknett. Dubbed ‘spray tan man’ in beauty circles, what he doesn’t know about fake tan isn’t worth noting. James has been a power tanner for over 10 years and has worked with some of the best people in the industry. His appointment service is used to naturally bronze the likes of Katherine Jenkins and Patsy Kensit. He’s also been integral in launching key products from brands such as St Tropez and Xen-Tan.

We could all do with a little bit of a get-up-and-glow in winter so here James answers my questions on faking it good.

Dolly Mixture (DM) How should you tweak your shade in winter so you don’t look overly tanned?
James Harknett (JH) A lower based DHA tanning product is much more suitable in the winter months or a gradual tan. A gentle dusting of colour works perfectly. Around Valentines Day, a full body spray is popular and looks great when worn with limb flashing dresses.

DM: What are the tanning crimes most people commit?
JH: Using too much product and not blending. Tan clings to drier areas of the skin, especially the ankles and the wrists. I recommend tanning to just above the ankles and then blending down with an oil free moisturiser. A small amount of tan on these areas is crucial – that way no one will know you’re faking it.

DM: How can a skilfully applied tan boost your beauty factor?
JH: A tanned body is a slimmer body. It can give a sense of confidence and glamour as well as making eyes appear brighter and teeth whiter. You can be more sparing with make-up, especially foundation. And it's amazing how a tan brings your old wardrobe back to life.

DM: What brands do you like working with?
The new Sun-Believable range is by far the most advanced tanning range I have come across and used. It’s virtually odourless and dries on contact. The tan also fades like a natural tan and lasts for well over a week. Their TAN ME Self Tan Mousse and mitt costs £30 ( For a gradual tan I recommend Sisley Tanning Gel, £67. It builds up to your desired shade over a couple of days. For an instant olive glow I always use Lee Stafford’s Fake My Tan which can be applied over make-up for dramatic cheekbones and enviable Jennifer Aniston arms. Try Brown My Bits Tanning Spritz, £9.18 available from Boots.

DM: What are your tips for thoroughly modern faking?
  • Wear a mitt or latex gloves for effortlessly smoothing.
  • Squirt or pump a small amount into your palms, smooth onto skin and repeat until the area is covered.
  • Start with the arms from the shoulders downwards. Move onto the chest and torso. Sweep your hands across your stomach using an arched motion. This gives a slimming effect. Next stop is your back. Use a circular motion to ensure the whole area is covered – you may need help with this! For legs start from the inner thigh, sweeping down towards the ankle. For hands and feet, mix product with a bit of moisturiser. This thins out the product making sure it doesn’t grab to hard and dry areas such as toes and knuckles. Wipe fingers and toes with a cleansing wipe.
  • For your face, glide your hand over your forehead and then bring it down the sides of your face, blending onto the neck. Tan the nose and around the mouth and chin. Using a dry mitt or flannel, gently rub over your face.
  • Moisturise your tan twice a day to lock in hydration and help your colour to fade naturally.

DM: Finally, if you could fake it with anyone who would it be?
JH: Keira Knightley has that classic porcelain complexion, but I would love to gently airbrush a subtle olive tone onto her skin to enhance her natural beauty. Madonna is well known for staying out of the sun and never using a fake tan. For her Ray of Light video in 1998 she used make-up to give the appearance of tanned skin which worked well. I would love to tan her skin.
James has new residency at Bob Soho Salon, London W1. For appointments call: 020 7734 2444.

Monday, 10 January 2011

cling onto the clutter!

It’s the beginning of a brand new year and along with giving up everything that’s pleasurable (for at least a week, anyway), it’s also our annual cue to clear the clutter and start afresh.

Generally, we are all ticked off for being clutter collectors by the so-called ‘house doctors’ and lifestyle gurus. We’re ordered to reclaim our space and clear our minds by whirling through our homes like a mad dervish, getting rid of clothes and items that we haven’t touched or thought of for a year or more. However, although I’ve been guilty in the past of passing on this kind of advice, I’ve had a rethink. And here’s why. I’ve recently had a loft conversion and in the cavernous space where boxes were once piled high full of old school reports, a few pieces of my nan’s old crockery, questionable 80's records and my son’s first mobile that hung above his cot, there’s now a spacious, light room with a bed. But instead of feeling light and airy myself, I feel bereft of the loss of these totally useless but sentimental items that I chucked out.

The exercise of past clutter clearing has made me realise that a home is clearly much more than more space, mortgage payments and a bedroom refit, it’s about things that capture the past and say something about who you are and the life you have led. Stuff – any kind of stuff, whether it be a childhood teddy with an eye missing or the first birthday card sent to you from your partner holds meaning and memories. Some de-clutterers say it keeps us trapped in the past, but for many of us that’s a good thing. Advertisers have fast caught onto the fact that nostalgia sells, primarily because those battered and familiar objects tell a story, revive memories and bring about a feel good factor.  Dubbed ‘psychological medicine’ it’s why we like looking through old photographs.

Ultimately your home showcases who you are and what does it say about a person who hasn’t a little bit of clutter? Surely it’s a house that’s homesick.   

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I'd go to the gym if it wasn't for...

Quelle surprise! You’ve discovered all those choccies you scoffed over Christmas have made you a little soft centred in the middle. And that means only one thing: wriggling into Lycra! Yep, it’s gym time and let’s face it, getting to the gym can almost be an achievement in itself, so the last thing you want to be faced with are ill mannered, or just plain annoying fellow gym goers. Gym etiquette is not only polite it’s essential and it pays to know which ones to avoid working out besides. Here’s my personal experience of gym stereotypes…

Blame Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. She made it socially acceptable to grunt, groan and scream in public places. But enough is enough. Why do people think we want to hear their animalistic noises when lifting weights? Do they assume if they make enough grunts to revival that of Wimbledon champions their performance can only be viewed as explosive in the bedroom? And to make matters worse, these noise polluters never return their free weights back to their proper resting place. They arrogantly drop them on the floor, leaving them for someone to trip over and twist an ankle.

Using the place as a social club to vent the ups and downs of their personal lives, you are privy to their very loud conversations. They cover such topics as the ending of the latest blockbuster movie you haven’t yet seen and the ‘she said, I said’ scenario of a mutual friend they’ve fallen out with. It’s enough to put you off female bonding for life. And let’s not even mention those that plug themselves into their iPods and give it some vocal aerobics. Out of tune.

First there are the showers abusers. They’ve squeezed the last of the shampoo out of their bottle and leave it to bob on a sea full of foam in the corner of the shower. The CRM also has the arrogance to leave the shower door open and proceed to wash all their intimate bits and pieces right in front of you.  Once dried, the CRM is in no hurry to cover up. She parades around the changing room naked until she has squeezed her blackheads in front of the mirror and applied a full face of make-up. The bottom line is: we don’t love seeing your bootie as much as you do.

Yes, you have a body of a Greek Adonis and your biceps are something to be admired. But please stop flirting and flexing at every female that comes through the door. The mirrors were put there to check posture and form, not your hair. And I beg you to stop asking me if I would like to break a sweat with you for an hour – not at £50 a session anyway!

If there’s a sight that makes you want to head straight for the exit sign before you’ve even warmed up, it’s the girl with the body of a playmate working out in a bikini top. Guy’s heads swivel 360 degrees just to catch that tantalising glimpse of her full and pert breasts. Okay, so you’ve got a body worthy of Jennifer Aniston, but remember, you’re not on a beach in Hawaii, you’re at the David Lloyd in Hounslow.

What is it about latecomers to a class that makes them act like D list celebrities?  First off, it’s a Pilates class, not a date. It’s not cool to be late. Secondly, why the big entrance? Bursting in gushing their excuses, they proceed to distract the whole room by waving at other members of the class and generally acting like we should be grateful they’ve arrived at all. Another five minutes is spent unrolling her mat and trying to squeeze herself in prime position at the front of the class. That tight little smile from the instructor shouldn’t be misread as “glad to see you”, but “bloody get here on time.”

Are we in the beauty hall at Selfridges? No, well stop spritzing. Perfume induced nausea at the gym should be classed as an infringement of our olfactory rights. Not only do you spend half your workout time trying to detect the origins of the scent (making a fragrant note never to buy it), but haven’t you caught on eau de gym doesn’t take away from the aroma of your perspiration?