If you author a fashion and beauty only blog, then the chances are, I don’t read it. This is no reflection on the quality of the blogs in question nor on the size; in fact, many of us are well aware of the fashion bloggers who have gone on to amass millions in revenue from successful blog and social media channels, far more than I will ever earn in my day job but ultimately, we read what interests us and for me, that is very rarely fashion and beauty. After all, this is the girl who had her first ever professional manicure the week of her wedding!!
Maybe, all I really needed was the right person to show me a side of the fashion and beauty world that I would enjoy and to unleash the girly girl within me. (Though if you read my Hello Kitty Cafe post, surely you would agree I’m girly girl enough?!) In any case, along came my sister, who despite being younger than me, was the first to show me how to use mascara, the first to show me how to use eyeliner, (I somehow got through university without owning this) and that not everything I spray on myself needs to come out of an 8-year-old perfume dispenser found in a Christmas stocking, donated by a distant Aunt.
Perhaps, she suggested, that the time had come to invest in a little something more special. Still, a hundred bob spent on a bottle of perfume? I’d take a well-priced airline ticket over that any day but with both sister and I on a day of annual leave to celebrate her birthday, I left it to her to decide what we ought to do on our afternoon off together.
And, after an obligatory round of coffee and cake at Peggy Porschen just opposite for quite possibly the best cupcakes in the prettiest pink cafe in all of London town, this was what she proposed:
The Jo Loves Fragrance Tapas Experience
The Jo Loves brand, for those of you far more fragrance-savvy than I am, is the same Jo that many of you may recall from Jo Malone, her previous well-acclaimed venture that is no longer under her ownership. Now, as the founder of the Jo Loves brand, she has set up a boutique in Belgravia, walking distance from where I once lived. We pottered into the boutique ahead of time for our pre-booked appointment for the Fragrance Tapas Experience and having been assured by my sister that we wouldn’t actually be eating any of the fragrances, I ruminated about what on earth this experience would comprise.
We were seated on stools in a bar area that truly did invoke the feeling of being perched up against a Spanish bar, awaiting an aperitif. After being brought some water, we were introduced to the member of staff who would guide us through our experience. She started off by asking us what sort of scent we usually go for. Whilst my sister nattered away about her likes and dislikes, my mind fumbled hesitantly to put together a sentence that would avoid me sounding entirely clueless.
“Umm….flowery smells I suppose”, I muttered, barely persuaded myself by the feeble threads of my proclamation.
With a tray of sleek perfume bottles by our side, our host spritzed different fragrances on smelling sticks, encouraging us to cast aside the ones that we couldn’t warm to and prompting us to jot down the names of the ones that lingered with the most appeal.
In between inhaling these aromas, we had a pot of fresh coffee beans to sniff to eradicate the previous smells from our memory and start afresh for the next one. Think nasal version of a palate cleanser or the pickled ginger one munches on between individual sushi rolls. (Can you tell I am more in my comfort zone with food speak than perfume speak?)
If the host thought I was a fish on dry land, she did a stellar job of concealing it, engaging me with smiles, giving me descriptions of the kinds of fragrances that may work for different occasions and observing the differences in tastes between my sister and myself.
With our shortlist of preferences decided, the time came to be whisked away by the perfume genies into a plate of fragrance tapas. This included our choice of bath cologne warmed in a tagine, allowing the uplifting, crisp and fresh scents to be released into a cloud of steam that wafted towards us with aplomb.
Then, two cocktial glasses arrived and we were quite sensibly reminded not to drink the contents. Might sound obvious but it is incredible just how easy it is for auto-pilot to kick in when you are sitting at a bar and you see a filled Martini glass presented to you. On this occasion, however, our “cocktails”, which involved our chosen cleansers being shaken over ice first, were unsurprisingly for our smelling pleasures.
Tapas, whilst seeming a most unusual description for something that might be found inside a fragrance boutique, was a most accurate description of what unfolded inside the store that morning -an opportunity to sample multiple different ingredients in tiny portions (albeit with our noses rather than mouths), cocktail glasses, mini tagines, an array of different textures and an informal but indulgent way to spend an hour.
The final and most lush part of the experience, in my opinion, was when we selected our favourite lotion scent to then witness the host whip this up into a foamy consistency before applying it onto hands so that in the freezing January winter, our hands felt nurtured, pampered and suitably moisturised.
I can be prone to rather sensitive skin, particularly when using pefumed products so my sister’s main worry was whether I’d leave the premises with an allergic reaction to thank her for. Like any geeky girl, I carried my anti histamines but I am pleased to report my hands left feeling a million dollars and my strip of capsules stayed firmly tuckced away in my handbag.
The Jo Loves Fragrance Tapas Experience is entirely complimentary but it is best to book ahead. I personally would have felt a bit cheeky turning up to this if we had no serious intentions to purchase anything at all either that day or in due course, primarily because, contrary to my expectations, this was not just a hurried, disinterested 10 minute trial kind of affair; rather, the staff welcomed us inside for just over an hour, never rushing us and not once showing any streaks of the aggressive sales techniques that I detest.
We had gone purely as a relaxing way to enjoy a morning and to help my sister select a fragrance as a birthday gift from the family; but with the laid back, un-pushy and inspiring speak from the host, who emphasised the brand’s passion for fragrances that both evoke and conceive deeply personal memories and the diverse array of ingredients in the fragrances, including peppercorn, fig and mango, it was not long before I started dropping hints about my own birthday.
And sure enough, just a few days ago, I found myself an excited new owner of the Jo Loves Gardenia fragrance, reminiscent of the fresh jasmine flower garlands that would be looped around my neck during childhood visits to India, thrown loosely but with intense affection by doting relatives, who are no longer with me.
For those of us who take our intact senses for granted, this was a curious reminder of just how powerful our sense of smell can be.
Have you ever had a pampering experience you never expected to enjoy so much?