Molton Brown’s festive box of jewels

Few brands offer the kind of bathroom eye candy that Molton Brown does. Their superb shower gels are the Quality Street of skincare: brightly coloured jewels of deliciousness. Nowhere is this more apparent when they’re brought together, as they are in this 10-piece, limited edition Christmas Gift Collection. The dinky 50ml bottles are perfect for gym and travel bags, as stocking fillers or for crackers, if you’re brave enough to make your own, and come in a gift box that makes wrapping a cinch – or obsolete, given that it comes with a gift ribbon. They’ll last longer than Quality Street too.

Molton Brown’s Limited Edition 10-Piece Shower Gel Stocking Fillers Gift Set is available now priced £30.

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Here are five new fragrances worth a sniff.

As someone who writes about male grooming for a living I’m often asked for gift suggestions around this time of year. Fragrance, of course, is one of the best gifts there is, partly because the average bottle will last for months – or years if it’s only worn for special occasions – making it the gift that really does keep on giving. Question is: which fragrance do you buy? 2017 saw some great new launches, some distinctly average ones and a few that I’d happily spray onto a radiator to get rid of the smell of cooking fish but not onto my actual skin. But since nobody’s interested in buying something ‘meh’ and conventional room sprays are available for hiding the honk of your haddock, here are a few fragrance launches I really rated this year. If you’re stuck for a festive gift idea you could certainly do worse than one of these…

Good for grown ups: Gucci Guilty Absolute

Gucci Guilty Absolute shocked me a little when I got a sneak preview of it earlier this year, mainly because it eschews the overt, hyper-commerciality of the other Gucci Guilty fragrances in favour of something altogether more grown up and gentlemanly. The work of perfumer Alberto Morillas (whose track record includes Ck One) and Gucci Creative Director Allessandro Michele, it’s woody, earthy and ludicrously leathery, has been designed to smell the same after a few hours as it does the moment it’s applied, and also has excellent staying power on the skin. The real beauty of Absolute, though, is that you get something akin to a niche creation for a mainstream fragrance price. If that doesn’t convince you to give it a go I can report that, out of all the fragrances I’ve worn this year, it’s the one that has elicited the most ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’.

The everyday workhorse: Joop! Wow!

The arrival of Joop’s latest fragrance for men earlier this year took industry bods like myself by surprise, mainly because it was so damn good. That isn’t to say that Joop! doesn’t have form in producing great fragrances (1989’s groundbreaking Joop! Homme became one of the most popular men’s fragrances of the 90s) but that the brand had become a little tired, had lost its way and become – let’s be honest here – a little ‘bargain basement’. Wow! however is a genuine return to form, blending woods, spices and creamy vanilla notes with a touch of bourbon to create a boozy, woody and comforting fragrance that’s both commercial and sensual without being pedestrian. Cool bottle too.

The premium perfume: Tom Ford Private Blend Fucking Fabulous

Few fragrances divided beauty world opinion this year quite like Tom Ford’s unisex Fucking Fabulous. Half of the industry thought it was, well, fabulous while the other half thought it was the olfactory equivalent of one of those headline-grabbing pop videos which feature buttocks quivering like jellies and debased and cheapened one of the world’s most famous luxury brands. I must say, I was firmly in the pro camp and can only assume that those who thought it somehow ‘off brand’ had forgotten about all those controversial nude fragrance ads Ford is famous for.  The fragrance, too, has sharply divided opinion: people seem to either love its woody, almondy powderiness and underlying leatheriness or hate it. (One reviewer described it as ‘one of the skankiest perfumes I’ve ever smelled’). Personally, I think it’s well worth a sniff, though do check it out first: at £205 for 50ml it’s a pricey mistake if you don’t think it’s, you know, f-ing fabulous.

The fresh alternative: John Varvatos Artisan Pure

Discovering John Varvatos’ fragrances through his latest one is like stumbling on a rock star via their latest album and realising they have a whole back catalogue of wonderfulness. Unusually for a fragrance released at the back-end of the year (it popped up as a Selfridges exclusive last month and won’t go nationwide until January) it’s a deliciously light and sparkling citrus floral affair (lemon, orange, bergamot, petigrain, coffee tree flower and jasmine are some of the notes) with a piquant spiciness and a solid cedarwood base. Perfect for those who don’t like sickly sweet, cloying gourmand fragrances or heavy oriental ones it’s a breath of fresh air and the bottle –  a reworking of the hand-woven bottles for which the Arisan range is now known – is fab. Try it, and then explore Varvatos’ other fragrances – you won’t be disappointed.

For the connoisseur: Etro ManRose

After mandles and manbags it was inevitable that perfume would eventually be subject to a masculine portmanteau in order to butch it up a little, which is the case with Etro’s ManRose – a masculine floral launched in the spring. All fragrances are essentially genderless, of course –  and more men than ever are thinking out of the box and beyond the usual woody affairs – but for those who are just dipping their toe into florals this one if perfect. Delicate, commercial and suedey, with the almost edible Turkish rose note dirtied up a little by patchouli, pepper and leather, it’s a delight. A man still needs a certain amount of confidence to carry off a distinctly floral fragrance like this but for the bold and daring it’d make the perfect Christmas present.

 

Get out what you put in with new skincare brand PROVERB

The other week in my column for The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine I wrote about the amazing rise of British male grooming brands in the last twelve months. Sadly, just missing the deadline for the piece was Proverb – a new skincare brand that launched in October. The brainchild of husband and wife team Luke and Kirstie Sherriff – he a former rugby pro and she someone with over 20 years experience in the beauty industry – along with Ben Burch, a former rower for Great Britain, it takes its primary inspiration from the world of sport (and sports nutrition) as well as the proverb ‘you only get out what you put in’. Hence the name.

“A good skincare regime starts with the truthful recognition that results come from ‘inside out’ – your skincare products combined with supplements, diet and water intake – not one without the other,” says Kirstie, summing up the ethos behind the brand and offering, in the process, a refreshingly 360 view of men’s skincare in 2017.

The range features six products: a Skin Defining Facial Scrub; an Oil Balance Pro Moisturiser; a Strengthening Skin Serum, a Hydration Pro Moisturiser;  a Cleanse & Shave Nutrient Mud and a Skin Resistance Training Supplement.

Out of all of these it’s the last two of that stand out most for me. Given Proverb’s inside out approach and their sport influences it was inevitable some form of supplement would be in the line up, and with few other brands including one it certainly gives the range a point difference. The Skin Resistance Training Supplement is much more than just a collection of skin-friendly vitamins though; it also includes hyaluronic acid, which is crucial for skin health, and resveratrol – a powerful anti-oxidant, included here for its anti-ageing benefits.

The putty-coloured Cleanse & Shave Nutrient Mud, meanwhile, has become a favourite product of mine, partly because of its smooth, creamy texture and smell (it reminds me a bit of unbaked cake mix – which I love) but also because of its multi-functionality. As well as being a great cleanser it also doubles up as a shave cream which, because it contains ingredients to calm and nourish skin, reduces the stress put on skin by shaving. Although it’s not flagged up as a face mask I also treat it as one – applying liberally and letting it sit on my skin for five minutes to give the kaolin and hectorite clays it contains time to suck up any grease and grime, before washing it off.

With prices ranging from £30 – £65 Proverb is very much at the premium end of men’s skincare but then you’re paying for the well-thought out formulas, which include the brand’s Lycoprotene complex, created from fermented tomatoes, and the protein-rich egg white albumen, and the use of natural and organic ingredients. Plus, of course, in buying British you’re supporting our economy, which can’t be bad in this time of pre-Brexit uncertainty. So if you’re a grooming-junkie looking for a new brand to try give it a go. After all, as another very famous proverb says, if you never try you’ll never know.

Proverb is available from proverbskin.com with products starting from £30.

Advice for would-be journalists. Part 1: Navigating briefs

As someone who’s been actively employed as a journalist for more than 25 years now I’m frequently asked by aspiring writers how they should navigate what can seem like a very competitive, scary and somewhat bewildering industry. With this in mind I thought it might be fun to impart some of the knowledge I’ve accrued over these years to anyone interested in a career behind a keyboard.

So here’s the first in an occasional series of advice pieces for aspiring scribes. I know. I’m a sucker for alliteration. We’ll touch on that later, when I talk about personal style, but for now here are a few words on handling briefs. Not the type in the picture above (I just used that pic to grab your attention and I assume you’re already fully trained in the art of underwear adjustment) but the type of brief you get from magazines and websites when they want you to write something for them…

Navigating a brief

Over the years I’ve been on the receiving end of all kinds of briefs, which have resulted in pieces on everything from baldness to bereavement, and they’ve been a mixed bag to say the least. Some have been detailed and precise in a modern-weapon-of-warfare kinda way; others may as well have been written by your nan –  after she’s just popped a diazepam.

Receiving a good brief is like getting instructions to a wedding reception that say, ‘Take the right turning and travel exactly 2.3 miles down the winding road until you see a pub called the Dog in Diamanté. Take a sharp left and you’ll see a red post box to your right – the entrance to the Cricket Club where we’re celebrating our nuptials is directly opposite’. A bad brief may as well say ‘we’re having one almighty piss up in a local Cricket Club. Look for sick in the street. Laters!’

Having been on the receiving end of hundreds of briefs and having been a Commissioning Editor myself I can spot a bad one a mile off. A bad brief invariably started life as an idea that sounded brilliant in a features meeting and was agreed to with an enthusiastic nod of heads – especially if the features meeting in question happened to take place just before lunch or at 5.30pm and everyone couldn’t wait to exit the office.

I’ve been in those meetings myself and have been the Editor who chaired them so I know the score. The only teeny-weeny fly in the ointment is that on occasion the idea in question is actually a load of old bollocks: it’s either ill-conceived, ill-thought out or, as is sometimes the case, utter nonsense of the first order. In my experience, a lot of modern-day Commissioning Editors don’t really care about this: they just want the idea off their desk and palmed off onto some poor journalist to sort out so they can scurry off down the gym or attend an imminent tights launch (never underestimate the lure of a goody bag to addle the brain).

Now, do not let that poor journalist be you because, trust me, if you do the day you submit that piece will most definitely not be the last time you see it before it appears in print or online. I once wrote an article for a men’s magazine that came back to me so many times for rewrites it resembled a flesh-starved zombie I’d hit repeatedly with a shovel but which still rose from the dead to scare the bejesus out of me. This was not because the piece itself was badly written (a second opinion from a fellow journalist confirmed this) but because the person who commissioned me had absolutely no idea what they wanted from the piece in the first place. Of course, they knew exactly what they didn’t want from it. Yes, my eyes are rolling right now too.

And a bad brief doesn’t just cost you sleepless nights – if you work for yourself it costs you time and money too. If you ever hear the words ‘it’s just not quite right’ take that as shorthand for ‘I honestly don’t know what I’m doing here and never have. Only three weeks ago I was an intern doing the sandwich run, and even then I messed up and bought the office vegan a pastrami on rye’ (a more common experience than one might think given we’re in an age of o’erhasty promotions).

The kind of brief I’m talking about here is the one that instantly sets off alarm bells when it lands in your inbox. So, if the one you get isn’t clear or is too all-encompassing  politely force the Commissioning Editor to pin it down. If it’s of the ‘nan-on-diazepam’ variety and makes no sense whatsoever ask them to block it out for you and explain what information they want and how they want it presented. Ask about tone, any expert input required and any sidebars or panels they want added.

If you’re feeling bold ask them to sum up the piece up in one sentence. That’s usually a good test of how robust an idea is and was a practice I often used when I was an Editor. Trust me, if you can’t sum it up in sentence, a thousand words of carefully crafted prose ain’t gonna shed any light on things. If you’re feeling really brave, pick up the phone and talk to them in person: a big ask in this day and age I know but sometimes old-fashioned, actual talking is the best way to bring clarity to the situation. I remember a brief that made no sense to me whatsoever, despite a three-day email exchange, but when I spoke to the Commissioning Editor on the ‘phone it suddenly all made perfect sense – for both of us, since it turned out he wasn’t sure what he was on about either.

Truth is, they’ll probably hate you for all this because it puts them on the spot and the burden of responsibility back where it firmly belongs – on them – but it’s better for everyone in the long run because they get exactly what they want and you get to move onto the next next piece and fire off your invoice.

Also, don’t be afraid to go back to them if you discover, in the course of your research, a better or more original story idea. Such is the organic, tangential nature of writing that, on occasion, the original story is not the best story. If a more captivating angle emerges as you start writing flag it up. You might even curry favour by allowing them to claim the idea as their own.

Interestingly (and this is merely a personal observation gleaned from years of experience so if you’re a men’s rights activist kindly do one) I’ve found that female Commissioning Editors tend provide much tighter, better thought-out and better articulated briefs than male ones. I honestly don’t know why this is and, as I said, it’s just my personal experience. One commissioning ed, at a well-known women’s magazine, was so good at communicating what she wanted, how she wanted it and when she wanted it by that I was moved to email her to thank her for her old school professionalism. I say ‘old school’ because, alas, a good brief is a bit like cooking from scratch these days  – something of a dying art.

 

PS. Hopefully you’ll never encounter the kind of loose brief I had where an editor asked me to explore the subject of teen suicide with a ‘personal angle’. On filing what was a deeply moving and rather affecting interview with the mother of a young girl who’d taken her own life, the editor in question hauled me into their office, banged their fist on the table in disgust and screamed ‘Why, WHY, do we always end up talking to the person left behind and not the victim themselves?!’ Hey, nobody said a writer’s life was easy.

 

Dunhill ICON: a fragrance of diminishing returns

I love Dunhill ICON. When it was launched back in 2015 I named it as one of my favourite fragrances of the year, even going so far as to call it a future classic. And if you look at the reviews of it around the time of its release I was not alone – it was almost universally praised, which is no mean feat for a new men’s fragrance these days. Wasting no time in capitalising on this success, a reworked version, Dunhill ICON Absolute, complete with differentiating gold-coloured flacon, was launched that same year. It too, was a pretty good fragrance, though as is often the case with hastily thrown out flankers, it wasn’t quite as good as the original. Then, in 2016, came ICON Elite (are you keeping up?). The original award-winning bottle, jet black this time, was as wonderful as ever – it truly is a work of art  – but the fragrance itself was a little less impressive than both of its predecessors.

Thankfully, we were spared an ICON Elite Absolute but the brand is back this September with yet another ICON variant in the shape of Dunhill ICON Racing (it was originally called Racing Green from what I can gather but the Green bit seems to have been dropped). And, following the downward trajectory of the ICON concept it’s, in my opinion at least, the weakest of the bunch so far. A woody oriental with notes of Volcanic Red Orange (your guess is as good as mine), bergamot, saffron, clary sage, leather, vetiver and patchouli it moves things ever more mainstream and predictable. Whereas the original ICON was one of Dunhill’s most complex and intriguing fragrances ever, Racing revels in blunt, unsophisticated mass-market simplicity. It’s sweet and soapy and although the dry down is pleasantly woody it’s simply not a patch on the fragrance whose DNA it (now only vaguely) shares.

The problem here I think is once facing many fragrance companies at the moment –  Tom Ford and Jo Malone amongst them unfortunately – and that’s that there are simply too many launches in too quick succession. Obsessed by newness (it’s what the customer wants these days I’m told) houses like Dunhill are signed up to a release schedule that feels like it’s on speed and there’s little time to pause for thought or grow loyalty to one particular fragrance or another.

Maybe, pressurised by such a release schedule, the perfumers themselves don’t have the time or creative breathing space to come up with something truly amazing, (though it’s more likely they have soul-destroying mass-market briefs to contend with) but what I do know is that with each successive version, ICON gets weaker and weaker. When you truly love a fragrance – as I do with the original ICON – this is terribly sad to witness and, although I’m sure the company won’t pay a blind bit of notice to what one reviewer like me has to say, my message to them anyway would be to take a deep breath and slow down a little. More haste, less speed – that’s how to create an icon.

Dunhill ICON Racing launches in Harrods next month and nationwide from October 2nd, priced £63 for 50ml EDP

Create your own meteor shower tonight

It’s one of my favourite annual events this weekend – the spectatular Perseid Meteor Shower. On a good year you can see up to 200 shooting stars an hour, which is a lot of wishes you can make if you believe seeing one happens to be lucky. If it’s too cloudy to see them where you are, though, I suppose you could always create you own little display at home with BLAQ’s new Meteor Shower shower scrub.

The final frontier in exfoliation (it actually contains meteorite dust) it also features sea salt and activated charcoal to help remove impurities. It’s also designed to leave a slight iridescent glow on the skin though don’t fret is leaving the house with glittery shoulders isn’t your thing – I found that the sparkle is minimal if you rinse thoroughly. The good news is that it’s 100% biodegradable, devoid of additives and preservatives and is cruelty-free too. What more could you wish (upon a star) for this weekend?

Blaq Meteor Shower is available from blaq.co, priced £19.95 for a resealable pack 

Reviewed: Cryotag Skin Tag Remover

Few skincare concerns are more unglamorous than skin tags – or ‘acrochordons’ as they’re known to their dermatologist chums. They’re those harmless but annoying little flaps of skin that often protrude on little ‘stalks’ known as peduncles which are often found around the neck, groin and armpits. They form when the outer layer of skin overgrows (a process called hyperplasia) and encloses a layer of skin with abnormally swollen collagen fibres and are thought to affect half the population. Genetics, being overweight and age all play a part (the older you get the more likely you are to have them) and they’re especially common when skin rubs, or is irritated by, clothes or jewellery.

Since they’re harmless doctors are often reluctant to remove skin tags routinely – and sometimes they simply fall off by themselves anyway – but if they’re unsightly or are causing irritation they can be removed by freezing or with the aid of a scalpel or surgical scissors, though chances are you’ll need to have this done privately.

I’ve had numerous tags in the last ten years (one popped up on my neck within months of me wearing a new silver neck chain) and a few years ago I had a couple removed by a dermatologist who anesthetised the skin around the tags and whipped the blighters off with an ultra fine scalpel. It was a procedure that worked like a dream but it’s definitely not one I’d recommend you try at home.

For years though, people have attempted to remove their own tags – with varying degrees of success (strangling them with knots of cotton is one often-attempted method) but it’s always been a risky business – until the advent of a new product called Cryotag.

Using the same cryotherapy technology used by doctors and dermatologists Cryotag freezes the tags to their core so that they eventually just shrivel up and drop off. Having been annoyed by a couple of new tags (one under my arm and another in my groin) for several months I decided to give it a go and have to say am pretty impressed by the results.

The product itself is a cinch to use: you insert an applicator into the canister; press down for three seconds to charge the tip with the freezing agent; use the plastic tweezers included in the pack to pull the tag away from the skin slightly and then place the tip of the applicator onto the tag itself for 40 seconds. The tag turns white almost instantly, which means the freezing process is working, and then you simply wait for it to fall off.

The instructions say this shedding process can take up to a fortnight but mine disappeared in under five days. The one in my groin – situated exactly where my pants rub my inner thigh – simply vanished of its own accord while the underarm one began to sting a little after a few days so, ignoring the instructions to leave it, I gave it a little tug with the tweezers and it came away, which immediately stopped the stinging sensation. Both are healing nicely (I applied a little Savlon for a few days to help things along) and nearly a fortnight on you can only see the faintest of red marks which are fading with each day, in the way the scar from a spot might.

It’s really no more complicated than that, making Cryotag a fast, efficient and cost-effective way to remove skin tags in the privacy of your own home. Admittedly, it’s not the most glamorous skincare product I’ve ever road-tested but, trust me, it’s certainly one of the most useful. Curiously fun too.

The Cryotag skin tag remover is available from Boots and Amazon.co.uk priced £21.95  for 12 applicators, which will deliver up to 12 skin tag treatments.