There are so many fascinating people in the fragrance and beauty community. From the creative minds that bring products to us to the critics who tell us what to buy, you can learn so much by asking a few questions. In this series I send a list of questions to individuals I look up to and share their answers with you.
This week we have Vanessa from Bonkers about Perfume. I’ve enjoyed Vanessa’s blog for years, and love her often humorous point of view on the perfume world and elevated choice of words. In a recent article she wrote about UK-based Signature Fragrances and its particularly persistent marketing, with a cheeky journalistic approach that had me smirking in amusement. You can check out the piece here.
Below are her thoughts about what blogging platform newbies should start with, how to develop a thick skin, and perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena.
1. How did you get started in blogging, and what made it attractive to you?
For eight years I used to write a humorous column in a regional business magazine about my escapades on overseas work trips. Friends used to remark that ‘weird stuff happens to you’, and I enjoyed having an outlet for my travel writing. The closure of the magazine coincided with the onset of my perfume obsession, so in hindsight I think that starting a blog filled a ‘creative writing vacuum’ at that time. Also, it meant I no longer had to bore my then partner rigid by rabbiting on about my latest exciting parcel from The Perfumed Court etc – instead I could share it with readers – or the void, as applicable…
2. What has been the best thing that’s come out of your blogging experience, and why?
Hands down, I would say meeting fellow bloggers and readers, with whom I have connected through Bonkers. I would ideally like to plot the whereabouts of fellow perfumistas on a big world map and go and visit them one by one in a series of geographically-efficient sorties. As for why that is, the short answer is that I love meeting people – it’s what I do for a day job after all – but in this case there is the added bonus of a common interest. I guess I am naturally curious – ex-Mr Bonkers would say ‘nosy’, and he’s probably right.
3. If you could do it all over again, would you change anything? What is it, and why?
I would have gone with WordPress! The layouts seem to be a bit slicker and well laid out, though it’s years since I looked at templates, so Blogger may have moved on since then. That said, I am quite attached to my current ‘travel’ theme. A bigger drawback is that Blogger is more clunky and the commenting mechanics horribly prone to crashing. You have to make an effort to comment on a Blogger blog, and I really appreciate the people who persevere on mine! I think I would also have registered Bonkers as a dot com instead of a blogspot URL – I did own the dot com for a while in fact. Ooh, I just checked and I see it is still free! I can’t remember why it is good to have your own domain, but that is one of those random SEO factoids I have picked up along the way without truly understanding them.
4. Think back to any particular event in your blogging experience that stands out, negatively or positively. What was it, and what did you take from it?
The biggest event that happened to me was in connection with a guest post I did on Now Smell This in early 2012 entitled: ‘Five things to think about before you start a perfume blog’. Well, we split the post and there were five things on NST and five more on Bonkers the next day. The sub-heading for my first point – about trying to find some kind of angle IF you want your blog to stand out in a growing crowd – was changed by NST, and to be fair the point itself was a bit muddled anyway, looking back. As a result, it sparked something of a furore on a few other blogs about whether I meant that if you don’t have something really new and original to bring to the table in your blog, don’t bother! I am pleased to say that the most critical post has since been taken down by its author, so maybe they realized things had got out of proportion, I don’t know. Anyway, apart from losing a lot of sleep for a week or two – and coming quite close to closing Bonkers down at one point – I took from that that your wording needs to be pin sharp to avoid causing offence, and that with the best will in the world, tone is notoriously difficult to convey. And even if you do a good job of both of those things, you may still end up offending someone somewhere! It’s just how it is.
5. What is your blogging process? Does it start with a product, an idea, or something else?
On the odd occasions when I feel moved enough to write a perfume review – or what broadly approximates to that in my world! – the post starts with a product, but it doesn’t progress beyond that until I can think of an angle from which to approach the review. I never write ‘straight’ reviews with product background, note lists and a ‘How does it smell?’ section – there has to be a twist of some kind. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with ‘straight’ reviews – far from it – I rely on them extensively to find out in advance how things which I am interested in sampling do in fact smell! It is rather that because my nose is a very blunt instrument and I am incapable of meaningfully deconstructing a scent, I feel I have to compensate in some way – through tangents, waffle, twists and other assorted nonsense. Which may take months to come together. Other times the post is directly triggered by an experience: dithering over my choice of Travalo, crushing my finger while attempting to burn incense crystals, or something more substantial like a four part travelogue on a trip abroad. And yes, I might also have ideas that aren’t directly related to my experience. But they all invariably take time to ferment before I start writing. I often jot down sub-aspects on bits of paper around the house as they pop into my head. Olfactoria asked me a similar question in an interview a couple of years back, and there I said: ‘I fear the inside of my head may resemble Random.org after one of those “Messy Day” parties, but I shan’t rush to look.’
6. How do you manage the administrative side of your platform?
Haha – what is this word ‘manage’? Or ‘administrative’ for that matter? Google (which owns Blogger, I assume) counts my page views and I periodically go: ‘Ooh, I am getting closer to a million hits!’ if that counts as ‘managing’? I do also have a StatCounter program set up, but it only counts a subset of my hits since the blogspot URL split off into a myriad of different country terminations. I use that one for hunting down the very odd troll or just marvelling at the random diversity of my readership, many of whom I don’t doubt have landed here by mistake, inadvertently lured into my baffling web of tag words.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers?
Apart from the practical advice about going with WordPress, I would say be yourself and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Oh, and avoid cliches as far as possible. I reckon we should start the cliché equivalent of a swear box for the one about cosy scents feeling like ‘a cashmere wrap’. Hmm, I probably owe the box a bob or two myself for past offences… 😉 Beyond that, don’t set yourself unrealistic goals about posting schedules, but if you really want to make a go of your blog, be prepared to set aside a good amount of time. I worked out that as I approach the 500 post mark, I have probably spent nearly nine months(!) out of the five and a half years I have been blogging actually writing posts. Also, engage with your readers: answer comments in a timely manner – it’s courteous to do so when they have taken the time to leave one – especially given the technical hurdles they may have had to overcome along the way on Blogger blogs!
8. Do you have particular fragrances for specific occasions or rituals? What are they, and how do they inspire you?
Definitely not for rituals. I have a subset of about 10-15 ‘going out perfumes’, which in winter tend to be your foxy orientals, like Ormonde Jayne Ta’if, Diptyque Volutes edt, Shalimar Extrait, Dior Ambre Nuit, Guerlain Attrape-Coeur and more in that vein. Then in summer I favour sultry white florals like the discontinued Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, Amouage Honour Woman, En Voyage Perfumes Zelda – oh, I can’t quite think of those ones yet as it isn’t warm enough!
9. Any product you’re currently obsessed with? What makes it stand out?
You mean a perfume related product, or any kind of product? I am very partial to my new Black & Decker Dustbuster, for example, which is excellent for getting into those tricky crevices the Hoover can’t reach. Perfume-wise, I have been on a bit of a frankincense and myrrh kick, which is surprising perhaps in the light of the crushed finger incident. Am trying to do that whole mindfulness / meditation thing – rather amateurishly, in truth – and as part of that I am into incense perfumes and burning Nag Champa joss sticks and such like.
10. A product you hated in recent memory? What made it so horrible, and does it have any redeeming qualities?
Perfume again? Hate’s a strong word, but there have been a number of perfume samples lately which have spoiled my day, certainly. And I am not being coy or anything, but I can’t remember what they were. I just stuffed them into a bag and sent them to a fellow blogger, in the forlorn hope that her mileage might vary. I can tell you that they tended to be strong and weird, and had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, unless you consider lasting power a strength. In more distant memory, I could easily name names, because those experiences were so pungently ghastly that I am still haunted by the experience today – but you did say ‘recent’…
11. Congrats on being shortlisted for the Jasmine awards! What has the experience been like?
Exciting and a little bit surreal, as my submission was so far removed from the kind of articles which normally win that I genuinely didn’t think I had even qualified, never mind been shortlisted! Quite a few readers have de-lurked specifically to wish me well, which was a lovely spin off.
12. What does the future hold for Bonkers about Perfume?
Goodness knows! I hope to trundle on at my current weekly posting pace for as long as I can – assuming the inspiration continues to flow, which it seems to be doing for the moment. If I ever got a full-time job again that might all go out the window, mind, as I imagine I would barely have time to do the laundry!
13. Any up and coming fragrance bloggers to watch for?
I would definitely put The Silver Fox in that category, but as time moves so quickly in the blogosphere, it could be that he already belongs to the establishment, hehe. Truly up and coming – as in just starting out and destined to go places – I am not really aware of, but I am sure they are out there. I spend a lot of time keeping up with my ‘generation’ / ‘wave’ of bloggers who started out about 4-5 years ago, because I have formed longstanding ties with them, and sadly can’t manage to keep track of all the new blogs on the block.
14. If you could talk to anybody in the perfume industry, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Jean-Claude Ellena, because for the most part he creates perfumes that are very much to my taste. Also because he lives in an amazing house in a forest on the Côte d’Azur, not far from where I spent a year teaching – I am assuming that I can visit him in situ? – so I would really love to hang out at his house. Then he was the star of one of the two stories in Chandler Burr’s book ‘The Perfect Scent’, which I absolutely loved, so that would be another reason – plus it would be a good opportunity to practise my French.
15. Do you ever look at your collection and think ‘that’s enough’? Do you think that you will ever?
I routinely look at my collection and think ‘That’s way more than enough!’ What my sister-in-law calls SABLE – Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy. It doesn’t stop me sneaking in the odd new bottle from time to time, but it also renews my resolve to have a proper cull / sale / clear out.
I would like to thank Vanessa for taking time to share her ideas with me. You can find her at her blog.