(March’s note: I’m home, but I wrote this while still in London, and I’m doing work catch-up now, so I’m not picking through this to fix typos and update the perspective, please muddle through!)
Saturday was the big day — the reason I’ve been living on Cornish pasties and fruit pilfered from the front desks of hotels for two weeks. Saturday was Perfume Day with Lee.
You know what I want to bring home from London? Lee. He is every bit as charming and adorable and British and self-effacing and silly and funny (and handsome) as I expected, and he was wonderful. He traveled a long time to show me around and I am insanely grateful. I am sitting here in a dodgy (hah!) internet joint with signs everywhere warning about theft, with several hundred smackers worth of juice wedged between my feet. So let’s get on with it. As the Brits say, I am knackered (tired) so forgive any lapses. Also please pardon any gaffes in perfume house spelling, I’m not going to have time to write this AND look everything up, and you know how lousy my French (and my handwriting) can be.
All right. We started off at Les Senteurs (did I spell that right?) where the estimable James Craven was holding court. I filled in some gaps in my scent knowledge there, and the shop is lovely; it also turned out to be a seven-minute walk from my hotel (neener neener!), so I’m hoping to get back there. The one thing I’ve regretted not buying in Vienna was Knize Sec, which starts out a bit wine-y on me but settles into a lovely churchy incense, but they were out, so no joy there. I did enjoy smelling others of the Parfums d’Empire and various other confections. Lee and I took a crack at the new Malle, French Lover, which is pleasantly hairy-chested and reminded us both very much of something, but we couldn’t think what. A bit of Musc Rav, for sure. (Update — came home and picked through my various manly male scents, looking for the reference. What does this smell like? Not Yatagan … this is driving me nuts. I can’t find my MKK … is that it?)
Then we strolled to Patricia de Nicolai, a line I have to say I’ve neglected, both because there’s nowhere to sample them and because the couple I’ve tried, while nice, are a bit light stylistically and I felt I’d given them short shrift. We were there quite some time, during which my ignorant eyes were opened. I’ll add an aside here that one thing I learned from Vienna was that if I really liked something, go ahead and buy it, because I can’t count on seeing it again. I was particularly fond of Eau Exotique, which (horrors!) is a fruity-floral, but there you are. You tobacco nuts all need to do yourselves a favor and get ahold of the quite reasonably priced Havane, which is a room spray but can easily be worn. A Coin du Feu is a spicy incense meets John Galliano, very smoky with a spicy edge, also lovely, and I think they may be discontinuing it. I came thisclose to buying either Balkis or the brand-new spice-fest Maharanai (sorry, didn’t write the name down properly) but ultimately fell in love with and bought their deservedly popular Fig-Tea, which will be perfect for summer, along with Eclipse, which is being removed from their shelves because some ingredient in it has now been banned by the Fragrance Police. I thought it smelled like Patty, so I bought her a surprise bottle (ssshhhhhh, don’t tell!) The lovely lady’s name there is Barbra Lindell and they ship.
We wandered into Santa Maria Novella up the street to admire both the fancy bottles and the markup. Lee and I both fell hard for Aqua de Cuba, which the SA said was tobacco, we said was honey — rich and sweet and heady, quite enticing. We spritzed and went to sit in a park for a lovely French takeout lunch while we pondered whether we needed a spendy bottle. During that time, fortunately/unfortunately, it turned into a perfect rendition of mildew — or, as Lee put it, a wet wash-cloth that’s been sitting around. It was interesting how similar it was on our skin. Oh, well. We dodged a bullet with that one.
On to (are you ready?!?!) Harrods and the Roja Dove boutique. It is everything I ever wanted and more. The excellently trained Marcel will spend as much or as little time as you want assisting you. We smelled the divine Les Larmes Sacre de Thebes (the sacred tears of Thebes) which is only £950 for a smidgeon in a baccarat flacon, althugh you can buy the ugly little refill for only £200 ($400+ish at the current exchange rate) but only if you lie and say you already own the flacon. It’s … well, if I had the $2000 I don’t know that I’d buy it, but mostly because the flacon’s very modern-looking, an extremely flattened purple pyramid, and doesn’t do much for me. The tears refer to ambergris and they don’t give you any listed notes, but we get ambergris and very expensive incense. It’s the sort of smell you’d use to anoint kings. Or the baby Jesus. Hours later I can smell the tiny dab on my arm. I picked up Patty’s Diors (Diorling and Diorama — last bottle, they can’t keep it in –) and smelled some things I’ve not seen elsewhere, including the Xerjoff from Italy (the men’s is lovely), Lalique’s Encre Noir, which I can live without (black squid ink? but interesting, sure), and a set of Pradas we’d not seen before. No. 1 is Iris and it is just gorgeous, somewhere between orris and the flower, although it goes on with a salve smell, as does No. 2, Oeillet, which is a lovely carnation but I’m not sure is covering ground outside Malmaison and Garofano, although it’s a bit more streamlined and greener. No. 3 is Cuir Ambre, which smells like Cuir Ottoman with more amber, and No. 4, Fleur d’Oranger, which smelled a lot like the new Fleur du Male Gaultier one. These are £103 for 30ml. If someone gave me one, I’d take … two, Iris and Oeillet. Okay, fine, plus the Sacred Tears. Thanks very much. I also bought a bottle of Worth Courtesan while I was there, because that I can’t live without, and compared to the rest it’s a bargain, isn’t it?
Finally, off to Fortnum & Mason, where I concentrated my attention on the Micallefs, which those of you with long memories will recall have been irritating/eluding me ever since I emailed their company and they told me I could smell them in Dubai and Cannes next time I was there. Anyway. The saleswoman, Frances, was a total professional and (confession, I’d made two visits) helped me determine based on my likes and dislikes which I might like to sniff, although I swear she was going to wash us off in the powder room because we had so much stuff on at that point. I’d gone there to get Gaiac. Seriously. That’s what I was getting, and they have nice small 30ml bottles. But … Autumn with its cumin-armpit splendor was calling to me, so I had to wear that home as well. Anyway, during this visit I was seduced by Black Sea, which has some notes of Gaiac, plus an almost creamy, woody base — more complex — and a stunning bottle, and I decided that was The One. Their counter book doesn’t list the notes, although Frances will tell you. Black Sea reminds me, on the Compelling Scale and in some vague feeling, of Donna Karan Chaos. It’ll be interesting to compare the two when I get home.
So those are my sweet remembrances of London, a town whose charms I can totally perceive. I hope you’ve enjoyed this London tour, and I look forward to my return to the blog next week! Hugs to you all. In the meantime, I’m offering this week’s giveaway: Smells Like London, a set of samples of the things I bought for myself on this trip (Fig-Tea, Courtesan and Black Sea). If you’d like to be included in the drawing, please say so below.
**Airport Update: I spent 30 minutes in the Heathrow Duty-Free, smelling various summer-version whatevers. Two comments: they have the new Matthew Williamson gang of four scents, and the Incense is not the same as the original MW Incense, for those of you who’ve been wondering. It’s quite pleasant, summer-weight, a very faint fruit note, the closest smell comparison I can make is the Encens Mystic from the Crazylibellule perfume-stick folks. It lasted maybe 3 hours. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, and if you have to own every incense frag on the planet, you knock yourself out. But I didn’t snap it up at $60ish. There is also Warm Sand, a fruity (ugh) musk that goes sour on me, and Jasmine Sambac, and Lotus, and I didn’t try either of the latter two. Instead, for a laugh I dumped on some Shiseido Feminite du Bois EDP, just to get that whole freaking cut-your-hand-off cedar trainwreck thing going on the plane. And guess what? It was stunning. I know, I know, news flash, right? I bet that was at least the 20th time I’ve tried it, and I wonder what’s changed, if anything. My skin? My perception? Whatever. I’m seeing a bottle in my future.