Persistent Memories

Alityke asked an interesting question on last Monday’s thread which I wasn’t sure was related to Tom or my comment. But given I was planning on writing on the topic anyway I start off with her query.

“… are the ones (ie, perfumes) you have a strong memory of buying ones that stayed the course?”

Short answer: no. But really the answer is not necessarily.

In fact, thinking back to the really strong, solid purchase memories, only one of the fragrances is still within my collection (granted, my collection ain’t that big at this point).

So, four ‘stories’ of buying and what happened after.

My first solid adult memory of buying something was Goutal Eau d’Hadrien. But in that case I recall the purchase only – not where I bought it and not the experience itself – just that for a time I owned a bottle of Hadrien. First real memory goes to l’Artisan Mure et Musc. It would have been mid- to late 1980s, walking from work in midtown Manhattan up Madison Avenue to the tiny l’Artisan shop somewhere in the 70s (ie, streets, probably somewhere between 73rd and 76th because I know it was above 72nd). Jewel box of a shop, gold and black. I went thinking I wanted Mure et Musc but the SA was savvy enough to have me sample other things as well. No one else came in while I was there and I did end up with MetM. Beautifully wrapped and packaged in a l’Artisan little black stamped bag. Out I went into the gloaming, gently swinging my new purchase. I expect I got on the subway and went home. That I don’t recall. I wore Mure et Musc exclusively for two or three years, repurchasing from that same shop several time. Got a lot of compliments when wearing that fragrance. One morning I sprayed it on as usual and realised I was done: it didn’t do it for me any more.

Next ‘big’ memory is probably early 1990s and Bergdorf’s perfume/makeup hall, which at that time was on the ground floor (why did they exile it to the basement???). Bergdorf’s frontage is 57th Street at 5th Avenue. I always went in the 5th Ave door. Guerlain. My first experience of Guerlain and I went back multiple times before I bought what I was planning. Again, the SA was good and patient and got her sale in the end. Not Mitsouko or Shalimar, but a half ounce of Vol de Nuit perfume. And I recall the whole shebang once the decision was made: the beauty of the bottle (it was the unusual bottle, not the regular VdeN — I couldn’t find a pic of it I felt confident stealing), the credit card coming out and the whole signing thing (you don’t do that much here any more), the wrapping and bagging in a small Bergdorf bag. This time, for reasons I can’t recall, I took my purchase and went for a walk in the darkening evening – on to 5th but then left towards Madison and down Madison for a while. Maybe savouring having been able to fork out what was then a fair bit of money for my first ‘real’ perfume. I know I wore it – it was beautiful – but I have no clue if I finished the bottle.

Final NYC memory is Santa Maria Novella Melograno from the concession in Takashimaya on 5th. This would have been late 1990s, right before I moved away from NYC and when I was working at the ill-fated Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. Takashimaya was such a special shop – a department store but very specialised and much more of an experience than Bergdorf or anything else nearby. Upmarket but unique. The guy in front of me at the till was buying Patchouli (which I switched to once living in London) and made some big faff about how it was the best thing in their line. I guess that stayed with me. Anyway, I wore Melograno for a year or so. It was very pretty and the SMN bottles are great. But one day on the bus to work I smelled someone wearing patchouli and was reminded about the Santa Maria Novella version. The next time I went to the Walton Street shop I tried that instead of buying Melograno and that was that. Hooked for the next few years (actually swam in the stuff – I am now surprised that no one I worked with told me to tone it down). Once I got pregnant patchouli stopped working. Which made me rather sad (it still doesn’t sit well on my skin).

Finally, there’s the recent significant birthday purchase of an ounce of Guerlain Shalimar perfume. This tied in with a trip to London. I had other things to do and wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit to the shop in Covent Garden (or any other that stocked Guerlain), so I called, got a weird not-clued-in SA who nevertheless managed to take my order. Thing was I asked that the purchase be delivered to my hotel. All over central London you see people (mostly young men) delivering (ie, couriers) multiple bags of stuff from luxury shops. I figured it couldn’t cost me that much on top for the Guerlain woman to bag my purchase and get someone to deliver it to the hotel. Silly me. Turns out she delivered it herself. Who does that in luxury retail in London??? In any case, the bag finally got to the hotel on Friday night (I’d ordered it on the Monday of the week I was going to London) — I was checking out Saturday morning. Waiting there at reception in the evening. I thought about telling her there were other, easier ways to do this but in the end didn’t. The bag, another lovely fancy stamped one, included the beautifully wrapped Shalimar box (I still have the ribbon somewhere) plus a load, and I do mean a load, of samples. Took me several weeks once home to go through all of them. The Shalimar is the only one on the list I still own and wear.

I really have a thing about these luxury bags. Doesn’t matter what I’ve bought – perfume, macarons, fancy chocolates, something from a place like Liberty – I always get a thrill from wandering around with these fairly small beautifully designed bags which hold something I’m really excited about.

So, how about you. Have there been perfume shopping experiences that have stayed with you for years? Do you still own any of the fragrances?

Pic: Pexels

  • Dina C. says:

    Beautiful essay, Cinnamon. Miller et Bertaux Green, Green, Green and…Green and L’Artisan Premier Figuier Extreme from the quirky Art with Flowers boutique were two memorable early purchases that I still have and wear.

  • Tom says:

    I think the most memorable was purchasing a bottle of Kolnisch Juchten (sp?) from Parfumerie Jaqueline in San Francisco. It was the only place in the US that had it and the proprietor was notoriously thorny, so I was a bit on guard. He could not have been nicer, showing me the rest of the line and other obscure scents he had in that magical little shop. I was goggle-eyed: if I could have knocked over a BofA I would have spent the dough on that shop. This was years ago and the shop is long gone but I can remember it like yesterday.

    And yes, he packed my purchase beautifully and it was in a heavy gauge shopping bag in (if I remember correctly) glossy flannel-suit grey. I felt super-glam floating around Union Square and on the BART back to Berkeley.

    • cinnamon says:

      I am going to have to run and look up that name. Those bags are just so satisfying — pretty and fun to carry round. Though mine generally end up in recycling because I can’t think of anything else to do with them.

  • March says:

    Love these, and mine are so similar! The same magic places in NYC — L’Artisan, Tak, Bergdorf. Boy, I miss that time and place and those days. I was absolutely gutted when Tak closed, one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in NYC. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    • cinnamon says:

      Oh, my, Tak was wonderful. It wasn’t only that its stock was great. The place looked incredible and so many interesting nooks. Indeed, was so sad when it disappeared.

  • Portia says:

    LOVED reading this Cinnamon,
    My most cherished perfume buying experience was in Vienna, right across from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There is a tiny, hole in the wall perfumery. It’s all wooden shelves and cupboards floor to ceiling on one side behind the counter and some more shelves on the back customer side wall.
    Went there with Jin and a few of our perfume buddies. Bought Niral by NVC, it had just been launched.
    We sniffed so many things. Heaven
    Portia x

    • cinnamon says:

      Yes, it’s those types of experiences that really stay with you. I don’t think I’ve ever bought perfume in places like Macy’s in NYC or John Lewis here — I certainly don’t remember doing it. But I remember all those small specialist places. And I think with something like NVC I’d want to do it at a perfume shop vs online. They are such special perfumes.

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    My first perfume memories was shopping for Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon at the store and Clinique Happy. In high school and many years afterwards. That was all I could afford. Family gifted me Pleasures for either Christmas or my birthday. This is back when online shopping wasn’t a thing yet.

    • cinnamon says:

      I never lived near a Bath and Body Works. They got so much noise — I was so curious. And I have never actually smelled Clinique Happy. Will have to remedy that the next time I’m in town.

  • Kathleen says:

    Thank you for sharing your past perfume buying experiences and the perfumes that you loved and wore. Before the interweb, I shopped for perfume at department stores in the 1990s and early 2000s, before I discovered websites. There was something special about in-person purchases and agreed those special little shopping bags. My favorite was Nordstroms. They had an annual “Perfume Festival” where they would close the store in the evening and serve wine and hors d’oeuvres. SA and reps would generously give away samples and perfume would be sold at a discount, especially the sets with body care products. It was such fun! I don’t own any of the perfumes I purchased from those events, either worn or given away.

    • cinnamon says:

      That Nordstrom event sounds wonderful. In-store shopping was/is a totally different thing, much more exciting to my mind.

  • ElizaC says:

    When I first started learning about perfume, I would go browse at a lovely, jewel box of a store in Seattle called Essenza. I purchased my ultimate vanilla (Serge Lutens) and my desert island perfume (Amoureuse) there. There is also a perfume store in downtown Seattle called Parfumerie Nasreen. Situated in a hotel and very elegant. I was randomly walking by and decided to go in and browse. For some reason, I asked the owner if they had any vintage Patou – her eyes lit up. I walked out of there the very happy owner of Que sais-je?, Chaldee and Colony (the 1980s releases). There was also the adventure of finding the entire mini box set of Patou Ma Collection at a shopping mall perfume store!

    • cinnamon says:

      Wow, on the vintage Patou. You read about that sort of thing in novels, ie, going into a regional pharmacy in France and coming away with all kinds of jewels.

  • alityke says:

    Thanks for such a great reply!
    In the best job I ever had, I attended a meeting just outside Edinburgh every 3 months for many years. I travelled up by train & arrived with time to spare every visit for shopping. Jenners was a beautiful department store near Waverley station. On entering my nose smelt something different. I followed my twitching nostrils like a bloodhound & found tiny group of perfumes & an SA surrounded by shoppers. The air was thick, medicinal & erotic. Serge Lutens had arrived & I had fallen under the spell of Ambre Sultan. I almost sobbed when I was told the price. Back then 50ml was almost double to cost of Mitsouko or Shalimar.
    The SA must have understood my dilemma & gave me a boxed 5ml miniature & a drenching.
    No one at the meeting commented but when I arrived home many hours later, DH was less than impressed!
    For many years I wore dabs from that mini when DH worked a long shift.
    Then one day I got his shift wrong & I’d dabbed generously. He loved it! You bet I ordered a bottle that evening.
    I still have that mini in its box. I still occasionally dab it. It is far richer & medicinal than the bottle I’m currently using.

    • cinnamon says:

      I remember sampling Ambre Sultan back in the day. In fact, I think I even bought a bottle (lord knows where it ended up). I don’t think most houses understand any longer what giving something like that 5ml bottle to perfumista customers means. To me it implies that they understand where sales might come from — ie, you having time with something rather than just taking home a blotter. And that you’d remember the SA and use his or her services again and consistently.