Last weekend I popped up to NYC to meet Patty for some quick sniffage and cheesecake. It wasn’t clear she was going, and it wasn’t at all clear I was going (I had to wangle someone to stay with the kids) until the last second, when I hopped on the Vamoose bus and joined her. There was a perfume tour; there was also a cheesecake tour, which I’m going to write about at the bottom. The weather could have been so much warmer and less windy, but it was great fun.
We visited the newish Annick Goutal boutique in the West Village, which I’ve wanted to do since it opened – I’m pretty sure it’s the first/only AG store in the states. Alexandra was welcoming and the boutique is as charming as you’d expect, if not quite as foofy as the one in Paris. It smelled amazing in there, let me tell you. I tried the new tea frag, L’Ile au Thé, and the sweetpea one, Vent de Folie. It’s very pretty and not at all insipid or overly sweet; I liked it more than I thought I would based on reviews elsewhere, although it reads a bit young for me personally. If you’re an AG fan looking for a nice fragrance gift for a young person, anywhere from sweet 16 to a graduation gift, Vent de Folie’s a possibility. I’ll write about both of these later on; L’Ile au Thé moved right to the top of my to-buy list. Alexandra pointed out its layering possibilities, and it’s perfect for summer.
Brief shout-out to the very kind gentleman at JAR in Bergdorf, who is chatty and knowledgeable and never applies any pressure to buy; he always seems as happy to be there as I am – and I am happy, believe me, in part because every time I drop by I’m worried it’s going to be gone. Patty and I are still mourning the closing of Takashimaya, which was always an oasis of calm in the crazy. I loved getting tea in their basement and then wandering upstairs to watch the artfully solemn assembly of some floral arrangement that probably cost more than my car.
It was my first visit to Osswald – man, I want to move into that store. They have so much stuff – things I’ve never seen anywhere else, check out their website. Josie turned out to be a Posse fan and provided us with all sorts of directions and dessert suggestions (did I mention the cheesecake?) I’ve never understood the adage that New Yorkers are unfriendly; they’re busy, and in a hurry, but in general they’re hugely helpful, even if I’m just standing on a street corner with my map, looking like a yokel while I try to figure out which way’s uptown. Patty says there’s a compass on my iPhone if I look for it.
I tried eleventy-seven things at Osswald and it was a bit of an embarrassment of riches, particularly since I was trying some pretty hefty scents. By the time we left we were wafting some serious sillage. I’d sprayed on my shirt as well, and I almost hated to wash it. We played in the Amouages and the Stéphane Humbert Lucas — which were phenomenal. Patty fell in love with Khol de Bahrein, and I loved the spicy-incense-animalic Oud 777. So I started building today’s post in my head right there in the store – five scents for the skank bank, if you will.
Roja Parfums Risque (called Creation-R in the US due to copyright issues). Notes via Osswald website: Top notes: Bergamot Heart notes: Chamomile, Hyacinth, Jasmine, Rose, Ylang Ylang Base notes: Cedarwood, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Vetiver, Civet, Labdanum. They have …. like … 36 Rojas? squeeeeeee Anyway, Risque is allegedly reminiscent of the famed, long-gone L’Arte di Gucci, which I’ve never tried, in part because it’s a rose. If L’Arte di Gucci smelled like this, yeah, I feel your pain. Risque is fantastic – kind of a sleeper skank. It’s got a lot of bubbly shimmer at the top, very classic-chypre elan… and then some rose … and then whammo! Dirty bits! I drenched my right arm and spent the afternoon walking around burying my face in it like some weirdo – but it’s cool, it’s New York, right?
Jubilation 25 Extrait – I can’t find it on the website, pretty sure it was extrait? That’s what my sample says… I own a bottle of the EDP, it’s the only Amouage I splashed out for. Top notes: tarragon, rose, lemon, ylang-ylang. Heart notes: davana, labdanum ciste, rose, frankincense. Base notes: amber, musk, vetiver, myrrh, patchouli. “A fresh fruity chypre with an arabic twist” – the twist being that healthy dose of armpit I can’t ever get enough of. It’s fresh armpit, though – like your lover’s sweaty tee shirt that you steal for the walk home, and then don’t wash. If we played that game of Which Ten Perfumes would you take to Mars, this would be on the list.
JAR Ferme tes Yeux – (detour back to Bergdorf). It smelled like a barnyard the first time I met it, years ago, and now…. it still smells like a barnyard. As far as I know Joel Rosenthal doesn’t do “notes” or scent pyramids or whatever. Our friendly JAR rep said the perfumer’s intent (paraphrasing here) was to capture moments of scent-memory that by definition had naturalistic elements and provoked emotional response. So there’s ozone, green vegetation, carnation, gardenia, etc. However you feel about JAR (and my initial reaction was “…w…t…f”) if you’re remotely curious and ever find yourself in Bergdorf, please screw up your courage and go in that room and smell them, because there is simply nothing like them, and trust me, the man’s not expecting you to whip out your Amex black. Ferme tes Yeux (“close your eyes”) has grown on me – it’s more horse stall than county fair – and after 36 hours (!) on my wrist it smelled like honey. Honey made by gold-winged bees in a fairy tale.
Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 – Oud 777 The bottles for these are gorgeous, and situated on a wall at Osswald between the MDCIs and Amouage…. really, I was concentrating on not drooling all over the merch. Anyhoodle. I’d never heard of these, although it was clear without looking that they were super-expensive, and there’s a lot of oud going on. Can we chuckle about the oud thing for a hot second? That oud’s still having a moment? That oud’s the yuzu/pink pepper/peony of the perfumed darlings? I’m not Luca Turin (clearly) and other than being able to recognize the general smell, mostly what I know about oud scents is: after I smell one or three I’m done, I can’t smell anything else. I asked Josie to walk me through these and she described this one as spicy, so I went for it. Oud, resin, spices (cinnamon/cardamom?), leather, and a whiff of taint. I want this so bad I could cry, and it’s not happening, but a girl can dream.
Absolue Pour le Soir Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Hehe. Kurkdjian’s masterful rebuttal to the argument that he only makes airy-fairy colognes and luxe laundry detergent. APLS is a great test to see if your nose is working. Apologies to your delicate sensibilities, but the impression is of a laundry basket of unwashed panties, and all that entails. I feel like there’s a French term for this, but googling only produced the kind of hits that land one on an FBI watch list, so I gave up. APLS makes me think of the apocryphal missive from Napoleon to Josephine, saying, in effect, home in three days. Don’t wash.
PS Cheesecake – I feel about cheesecake the way some people feel about chocolate or sex – even bad, it’s pretty good, yes? My go-to is from Zaro, because its shops in Grand Central and Penn Station are waiting for me as soon as I get to the city. Junior’s in Grand Central is…just okay? I know, shame on me, pissing on the icon. (I also know there’s also plenty of great Italian cheesecake in the city, but that’s totally different.) Elaine’s is well-known and they come in small, round portions. I like plain; Patty had hers with various flavorings/fruits. Elaine’s plain was darn good; their chocolate was even better; their salted caramel was outstanding (yes, we had all three at one sitting, why?) Magnolia Bakery’s version is a hair too sweet, and I could do without the whipped topping, but it’s tasty…. I might as well cut to the chase and tell you that Two Little Red Hens on the Upper East Side is my cheesecake ideal, and I’m clearly not the only person who feels that way, judging by the constant line. Perfect crust, nicely browned, firm and tart. If I lived nearby I’d have to get around with one of those anti-gravity suspensors like Baron Harkonnen in Dune.
When I fell in love with perfume, the fact that someday I’d run around like a fool sampling it with other people was an unanticipated bonus. Really – a day or two of playing with perfume, in rooms of perfume, aided by folks like Josie at Osswald, Alexandra at AG, and Dinara at Malle, who really like perfume and will talk about it forever – well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a shy lurker, or new, or just haven’t done something like Sniffa – sharing the joy of perfume sampling with like-minded people adds a wonderful dimension to something that’s already pretty darn wonderful. Perfume people are the best.