Friday, 22 August 2014

Scent Shopping In Knutsford At Pulse Of Perfumery & The Discovery Of Lubin

This week I had the joy of spending some time with fume retailer Peter Murray at Pulse Of Perfumery, an independent scent shop in Knutsford. For my International readers I must explain that Britain is sadly lacking in independent scent shops, having just a small handful outside of London and (I think) only three very much spread out over the North of England.
Knutsford is a great example of ‘ye olde England’, a teeny historic town in the heart of Cheshire, dripping with wealth, yummie mummies and day trippers. An ideal spot to launch a shop that sells luxury items. This seams to be a commonality as the other two are in Lytham St Annes and York, both towns of a similar nature.

Pulse Of Perfumery has been a great success, launched during Britain’s financial recession, it could have easily been boarded up six months into it’s life. A quirky shop in a small town is a dangerous investment these days. There are several reasons why I think it thrived.

Firstly, range. The lines are a mix of the classic (such as Chanel, Acqua di Parma, Hermes), the contemporary designers (Tom Ford, Jimmy Choo, Narciso Rodrigues and the like) and Niche (Bois 1920, Serge Lutens, Lubin, Grossmith and Atkinsons). Breadth has allowed for a wide spectrum of tastes and aspirations to be catered for.

I arrived purposefully early to get some time with Peter before the lunchtime rush. With just a few early morning customers, I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on some sales. The first was what could only be described as a ‘hit and run’. As we were chatting over some smelling strips, a lady hurried in, muttering the words Chanel No. 5. Nothing else, no hello and certainly no stolen glances at the marvellous wares on display. Peter wrapped, bagged and swiped at record speed and the woman was gone. The entire purchase took about 60 seconds. I’ve never seen a bigger contrast in shopping style to my own, I can only imagine she was parked on double yellow lines.

It’s a shame she hurried because she missed out on reason number two that the shop thrives – Peter. The man is a true scent lover who believes in the value of lingering with testers and handing out samples. Shopper number two had called in previously to buy a fragrance (I think it was for her daughter or niece). Instead of hammering a sale, he’d sent her away with samples to be tested, allowing the purchase to be of choice rather than a quick buck for his till. This lady returned to buy the chosen one, a contemporary designer brand, and then came to join me in my ‘Lubin swoon area’ where the three of us had a thoroughly lovely time sniffing from the decadently opulent bottles. I could tell in that instance that she’d be back to buy something spectacular for herself.

Personality and passion is crucial in scent retail, I’m sure we’ve all endured the bored type Sales Assistant bereft of any real passion.  Peter reminded me of the wonderful ladies at Manchester’s House of Fraser, who instead of employing teenagers, chose to staff their perfumery with Assistants old enough to have experienced a few decades of great perfumery. My favourite Assistant is an uber glamourous blonde with scarlet lips who personally wears Estee Lauder’s classic leather chypre – Azuree. I can tell her in a meagre few words what atmosphere or concept I’m hoping to write about and she’ll find exactly the right scent for me to sample. She knows and she cares.

Peter also ‘knows’. Whilst playing with the bottles he gave me a whiff of a very popular niche perfume that I won’t name, then followed it with a vastly superior scent that shared some similarities allowing me to compare. I was wowed at the complexity of the second, the recent release by Van Cleef and Arpels – Collection Extraordinaire Precious Oud. Now you know I don’t really ‘do’ oud but this one used it’s precious wood with subtlety, allowing it to dress a composition of incense and white floral notes. Somehow I was smelling an olfactory utopia that was rich with oud and tuberose that didn’t made me gag, in fact it made me sigh wistfully.

Double swoon..

The grandest discovery of my morning lay in the introduction to the scents of the historic French brand, Lubin. I’m going to cover a couple of these in a future article so I won’t babble on about them here, but with limited shelf space in the tiny shop, I can see exactly why he selected this brand for his niche chosen few.

Peter's prized vintage possession, brought down from the mysterious 'upstairs'.

Amongst the online community, we tend to be bargain hunters who rarely pay ‘shop price’ for our scents. Rather cheekily, we tend to browse the shops to gain our sniff and then wait for a discount online or a slightly used Ebay bargain. We are different from the average shopper in that our collections are often incongruent to our personal wealth. Average folk with millionaire scent cupboards. However, I think there is still worth in spending some time (and moolah) in an independent real world shop. If only for the fact that the small stock selection has been ‘curated’ by somebody who actually cares about what he’s selling. And if it costs you full price at least you’ll walk away with a pretty bag stuffed full of samples!

Readers, where in the world are your favourite scent shops? Do you have a fabulous dusty rummager full of discontinued gems, or a palace of contemporary creation? Do share your stories in the comments section or over at:

You can also ‘subscribe by email’ using the link on the left hand side, ensuring that you never miss a post of fragrant waffle. 

Contact details for POP: 25 Princess Street • Knutsford • Cheshire • WA16 6BW • 01565 755650

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: Guerlain - Idylle, And Why We Should Stop Wasser-Bashing

Consider Idylle, presuming that numerous Odiferess readers are Guerlain devotees, how many of you actually know what it smells like or own a bottle?

Some time ago I chatted to a Sales Assistant in Selfridges who used to work for Guerlain. We were occupied sniffing niche roses together when she announced that she thought there were none comparable to the beauty of Idylle. Somehow I’d never smelt it despite about 20% of my wardrobe being composed of Guerlain scents.

Why do we ignore this scent?

It could be due to the phenomenon of Wasser-bashing. When Thiery Wasser succeeded Jean Paul Guerlain as In-House Perfumer at Guerlain, he embraced on the terrifying prospect of directing the output of the world’s most revered historic fragrance house. How do you possibly create the next Shalimar, Jicky, Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, the fragrances that signify the archetype in a market of stereotypical genre replications and adaptations? Add to this the 1990s acquisition of the brand by LMVH (Luis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) that I suspect necessitated a whopping great output of scents, and we have a very pressurised career. I can’t imagine that LMVH would relish a potentially uncommercial quirky scent that might be a flop, potentially meaning that the innovation of the avante-guarde in line with scents such as Vol De Nuit or Apres L’ Ondee would be undesirable unless marketed as an ‘exclusif’ and priced up accordingly.

Wasser perfects the sniff and pout technique

And then tells someone to do something expressively..

That said, Wasser created a superbly quirky scent in his Acqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea. The name possesses connotations of fairies, watercolour washes and girly stuff, not very appealing to me, the owner of a pair of Doc Martens and a tool box. But the scent! Oh my.. this is a gargantuan wodge of hardcore feral floral sex, perhaps as stonkingly indolic as Fracas (Robert Piguet) or Tuberuese Criminelle (Serge Lutens). I did not expect to be challenged to my floral limit by a scent containing the word Nymph. Wearing it requires one of those ‘safe’ words used by people who practice S&M. I’ve reached my boundary, I need out!

He’s clearly not sitting on the ‘safe’ bench, despite the restrictions of the parent company.
I admit to having developed a whopping great crush on Monsieur Wasser. It’s partly because of his voice, Swiss born, his accented French has a peculiar sweetness a little like when Bjork speaks English with a haywire intonation. Add to this that he looks damn fine in a well cut suit and we have an enigmatic handsome man.

I’m waffling.

Back to my point. Idylle is an exercise in elegance and simplicity. Released at a time when the perfume world was churning out increasingly lurid exercises in fruity patchoulis, and amber orientals were rising to niche domination, Idylle quietly arrived shouting not very much at all.

For his first large mainstream release within Guerlain, Wasser chose to encompass the history of French perfumery in a bottle. There was however no nod to the Guerlain house style, no powdery iris, no tonka bean and vanilla sweetness, simply the great ‘trilogy’ of Frenchness – rose, jasmine and lily of the valley. With just a little patchouli and musk to earth the composition, Idylle is a thoroughly minimalist chypre.

Of course, in the employ of Guerlain, Wasser could draw on the finest ingredients. Heady Bulgarian roses hand picked at dawn and (in a later ‘Duet’ Flanker) an unusually fruity jasmine sourced from a resurrected plantation in Calabria, meant that simple could be exquisite.
Wasser checks out the rose crop (during my fantasy holiday)

The first appearance of Idylle took the form of an EDP which was followed a year later by an EDT, my favourite of the two formulations. Whilst the EDP possesses the greatest depth of grand patchouli rose, the EDT’s top notes radiate an almighty great whoosh of lilac and lily of the valley. It does not last very long, but that gives me an excuse to spray repeatedly, relishing my hit of intense green florality. Both share a similar heart with the Bulgarian rose sitting majestically dominant. And that’s all it is. Essentially a very good floral chypre with no ringing bells or dancing bears.

As perfume lovers we often yearn to smell the unique, that which smells unlike any other fragrance we’ve encountered before. Idylle doesn’t offer this experience, perhaps that’s why it lacks a vocal following amongst the online perfume community? What it does do however, is present a recognisably ‘French’ composition, an exercise in how to convert classical ingredients into an elegantly understated wonder. As the perfume industry churns out increasingly high numbers of new scents, with superstar perfumers ‘creating’ at record speed, there feels like nowhere else to go in terms of innovation. I am thankful that Monsieur Wasser rejected the notion of a ‘concept’ scent and pared his perfume back to a sumptuous simplicity.

If you would to know more about Wasser’s rise to Guerlain head-honcho (or just want to feast your eyes on him whilst glugging gin and crisps on the sofa), the BBC’s marvelous 3 part documentary on the perfume industry is still available on Youtube. If you input Guerlain + BBC + perfume you should find it.

Rose lovers might also find the following posts interesting:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Mitsouk-alikes: Grossmith - Golden Chypre, Acqua Di Parma - Profumo & Carven - Ma Griffe

I’m a devoted Mitsouko lover. I’m working my happy way through bottle number three following my first encounter with this rather snooty beauty about six years ago. I know Mitsouko will always reside in my perfume cupboard on the ‘often picked’ shelf, perhaps turning her nose up at the lesser loved bottles.

This is one lady's collection of Mitsouko bottles that she alone used up - I salute her

However, it’s possible to get bored smelling the same scent year after year, especially if you’re a promiscuous perfume lover. One way to shake up your Mitsouko addiction is simply to change formulation. I’m currently wearing the EDP which seems to have an increased florality in comparison to the EDT (the incitement of my adoration). Although all three formulations are awash with moss and cinnamon, the lilac and jasmine notes are more prominent in the EDP.

You could consider adopting an entirely new perfume that echoes the spirit of Mitsouko. My favourite Mitsoukalikes are Grossmith’s - Golden Chypre and Acqua Di Parma’s Profumo.
Acqua Di Parma’s Profumo is very similar to Mitsouko indeed. I’ve just reached for my sample to perform my comparison and to my terror, found it completely empty. So empty that in a thorough dismantle of forlorn plastic there is not even a ghost whiff remaining. However, from memory, a powdery iris/orris note was distinct, as was a milky ‘sucking a brazil nut’ sensation. I remember thinking that, although a beautiful composition, this was a very expensive alternative and probably a bit too close to Mitsouko to warrant the £100 difference in price.

Regular readers will know that I’m a champion of the cheapie. The prices of Creed, Tom Ford, Clive Christian and their fellow moollah shelf mates appall me when I consider how much their ingredients actually cost. A high-end perfume is highly unlikely to contain ingredients worth more than about £10. Occasionally, I’ll encounter brands that really are worth the investment. For me, that means that the perfume itself is exquisite and the bottle is an object of great desire that I’ll keep forever. One of these rare brands is Grossmith who I previously featured in this article. There is no bombastic marketing team behind Grossmith, just a small family firm who resurrected their historic brand to bring it back to lovers of bloomin great perfume.

One day I shall own this grand glass monolith

Grossmith’s Golden Chypre is a contemporary interpretation of the chypre. Alike Mitsouko, it shares an earthy, spicy and arid quality that typifies what we would expect within the genre.  Golden Chypre has done the impossible act of IFRA imposed modernity– replaced oakmoss with patchouli and created a perfume that does not smell of patchouli! It’s essentially an orange juice chypre, which sounds vile, but is extraordinarily lovely. The opening is ripe with orange zest, not at all sugary sweet, but distinctively perky. This awards it an optimistic quality, unusual for the earthy chypres that tend to feel somewhat Greta Garbo in their understated moodiness. 

Greta, chypre personified

It takes about an hour for the orange vibe to diminish, at which stage it develops the complex composition of a Mitsoukalike. A faint powdery floral, a whisper of sun baked hay, a deep forest floor soiliness and hint of nutmeg spice. As I sniff at my competing arms, Golden Chypre reeks of subtlety and (dare I say it?) smells more intellectual than Mitsouko. Less dense, less obvious and intensely shape-shifting. There is a marked difference between beginning and end. It’s only drawback is that it doesn’t provide the enormous trail of Mitsouko, it sits much closer to the skin doing it’s own complicated thing in quiet motion. Although very similar at the drydown stage, Golden Chypre retains a clear personality of it’s own. For that reason, I’d definitely consider this an admirable alternative to Mitsouko, even with the significant leap in price.

My final contender is Carven’s classic chypre - Ma Griffe. This one smells the least like Mitsouko but ‘feels like’ her. I’d wear Ma Griffe in a similar mood to that which finds me reaching for Mitsy. Carven re-bottled and upped the price significantly, what was once a reasonably low priced drugstore perfume has been poshed up with no major difference other than a pretty bottle. I’d go and test it in Debenhams then buy the cheaper old bottle whilst there are still plenty available online.

Ma Griffe is a ‘feral yet soapy’ chypre. Oddly it carries a slightly urine whiff, not the almighty outright wee smell of MFK’s Absolu Pour Le Soir, more a kind of ‘freshly cleaned loo’ with a bit of wee - wee plus a pleasingly scented disinfectant. I’m not trying to put you off here, it really is a very good scent indeed. On top of Ma Griffe’s abundant earthy moss, there is a bright green astringency and a soapy aldehydic vibrancy. It is famous for it’s gardenia note, a recently revived floral trend. Despite it’s 1940s heritage, it feels surprisingly modern. Don’t buy this thinking it will smell like Mitsouko. It’s only very vaguely similar. But do hunt it down if, alike myself, you enjoy some quirk and sparkling greenery with your moss.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Mitsoukalikes. Do you agree or disagree with my comparisons or have you discovered one of your own?