As I indicated in my travel post, the ratio of perfumista hook ups to “proper” meetings on my latest US visit was impressively high – some might say worryingly so, for it was supposed to be a business trip after all. I think it was more a case of work hard, play hard, and only time will tell whether I have in fact got away with it…
The perfume sampling got off to an early start – 8am on the day of departure saw me scoping the duty free at Manchester (International) airport. This preternaturally early sniffage was not particularly memorable: I tried Jimmy Choo (a watery, peony-type floral that delivered a candy floss punch in the guts a bit later), and Estee Lauder’s Adventurous and Wild Elixir, which were neither adventurous nor wild, never mind having the characteristics of a “wild elixir”, though I am not entirely sure what might fit that particular bill. “Special brownies”? A good malt? One of those nasty bitter remedies like echinacea or goldenseal tincture that are frankly worse than the maladies they are meant to prevent? Okay, so Wild Elixir was a watery, sweetish green floral that smelt better than your average Holland & Barrett supplement, but the name remains “wildly” inappropriate.
Later that day I was installed in my uncomfortably fancy boutique hotel in Chicago, planning how - with supreme sleight of Filofax - I could shoehorn as many perfumistas into my itinerary as work commitments permitted. First up, I had agreed to meet ScentScelf on the Sunday afternoon. Sunday was not quite a day off, as you might have thought: I was drafted into a four way Skype conference that morning, which overran by 10 minutes, prompting a frantic semi-jog to Union station from where I was due to catch a suburban line train to ScentScelf Central. I had less than a minute to find my platform, and one glance at the ticket counter queue said I had no time to buy the correct type of ticket either. So I made a split second decision and bought an incorrect one from a machine instead, on the basis that a wrong ticket is better than none, before sprinting on to what I hoped would prove to be the right train.
Right train, wrong ticket, as I had feared. However, the good-natured inspector sold me a new one at no extra cost and I didn’t even have to play the hapless foreigner card that has served me so well on ticketless tram journeys in Germany – only because the machine wouldn’t accept large notes, I hasten to add.
Soon I had arrived at my destination, and as I crossed the tracks, I immediately spied a figure hoving into view who had to be ScentScelf - on the fairly reliable basis that they were the only person walking towards me smiling. As a back up, I had brought a little bag of perfume samples with me and was holding it conspicuously aloft, but I needn’t have worried. On the day there weren’t too many people alighting at this particular halt who resembled my avatar. In case anyone is wondering, ScentScelf in person is not in fact a montage of disparate artefacts, but an attractive whole person, stylishly attired.
Introductions over, we headed to a local mall, which boasted a Nordstrom and a Macy’s. We hit the perfume hall running, as it were, and cruised the counters looking for new launches or scents we hadn’t tried. In my case these included Kiehl’s Original Musk (too soapy), L’Artisan Poivre Piquant (promised to be interesting later, had I only clocked the later when the time came), and Fou d’Absinthe (not a fan of the drink or the scent). We both scored samples of Si Lolita, a peppery sweet pea scent that I preferred to regular Lolita Lempicka, and which I figured would make an acceptable work scent on those days when, regrettably, an end-to-end fumehead-filled agenda could not be contrived.
The main sample coup from Nordstrom’s was a freshly made decant of Creed’s Sublime Vanille. It may have been our fulsome admiration of the presentation puffer bottle that prompted the SA to make so free with the tester bottle, but that was a definite result. Sublime Vanille reminded me a lot of the lighter versions of Shalimar, of Eau Duelle and also of Guerlain 180 Ans de Création – it had that same granular texture and comforting warmth.
After the perfume hall we made a detour to the hosiery department in Macy’s, as I wanted to buy some sheer brown tights to replace the hastily grabbed pairs of scarily pale ones I had brought with me. I agonised long and hard over deniers and degrees of sheerness, over stateside sizing systems and nuances of colour. ScentScelf launched herself into the hunt with me, and demonstrated infinite patience as I flitted from smoke to nude to barely mahogany and back again, settling in the end for a pair of Calvin Klein Cocoa in a size B. They were just the ticket and I wish I had cleared out their entire stock.
Exhausted by the tight-vetting episode, we repaired next to a cosy bakery-style café, where ScentScelf treated me to one of those soup and sandwich combos and a reassuringly hot – and tall! – tea. Which may actually mean “small”, but it looked plenty big enough to me. We chatted about perfume and blogging, and our families and work and goodness knows what else, and it became apparent to me that whether we made it to another perfume pitstop or just ended up here shooting the breeze till chucking out time, I was just enjoying the company of a likeminded, virtual friend who had just taken surprise corporeal form.
As it turned out, we were able to squeeze in another sniffing session that same day – in Barneys in downtown Chicago. ScentScelf was well aquainted with the SAs here, especially Lydia, who was manning the Frédéric Malle concession that afternoon and invited us to stick our heads in the perspex scent tubes (the one I tried had Portrait of a Lady). Lydia was wearing Portrait in fact, and had also – rather incongruously you might think in the case of a FM scent - gone clubbing with it on the night before, and garnered a lot of compliments, apparently. It smelt pretty good on her, I have to say, thought it is not a style I care for normally. Like Agent Provocateur, but more plank than rose. Lydia was very generous to us too in terms of samples: I scored “red cards” of Une Rose, L’Eau d’Hiver and Iris Poudre.
ScentScelf and I also chatted to a male SA who was hovering around Le Labo counter, but wasn’t attached to any particular house as far as I could tell. I smelt the Chicago exclusive, Baie Rose 26 (a peppery rose that was pleasant if not ground breaking). I also caught up with the rest of the Le Labo range that I had not had a chance to sample during my recent workshop in London. I was surprised to find myself quite liking another oud scent, Oud 27, which was soft and mild mannered, not at all the rasping bandaidfest I always dread.
Two lines we spent a fair bit of time testing were Yosh and Chantecaille, and ScentScelf made me a large sample of Ginger Ciao (a big white floral with a spicy kick), deploying the decanting kit she had had the foresight to bring with her (with prior clearance from staff, obviously). The only scent in the Yosh range I flat out disliked was Omniscent (too much of everything bar the kitchen sink!), and several of the others actively appealed, notably Sottile (tea rose and lily) and Stargazer (Kenya lily and ginger). The Chantecailles are a bit of a “girly floral” blur, but I do distinctly recall my reaction to Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau, namely that it was too overtly praliney for my taste, though much as I expected from the reviews I had read. Another SA tried most insistently to press me to a bottle of Clair de Musc, insisting that it was totally “me”, however, it went ultra soapy on my skin and a purchase couldn’t have been further from my mind. I am in fact quietly hankering after a bottle of Piguet’s Calypso, but Barneys did not carry the line, which is probably just as well.
And then before we knew it, it was chucking out time from Barney’s(!), and we headed to a Starbucks round the corner, where we holed up till it got dark, drinking tea - and a milky latte in ScentScelf’s case - if that is not tautology? And I may have misremembered anyway. At 7.30pm we called it a night – ScentScelf had a fair drive home, while I needed to do some preparations for the working week ahead. As luck would have it, another opportunity presented itself for a follow up meeting, namely a two hour window on the final day before I caught my return flight.
This time I had my own wheels, and drove to ScentScelf’s home, the very epi- and nerve centre of Notes from the Ledge operations – the Ledge itself, no less! I met a very affectionate dog and a rolypoly cat in a snowy shade of marmalade; I admired SS’s fridge magnets and eclectic set of candle snuffers; reader, I saw the dress in its entirety, and was also kept intrigued by a leafy leitmotiv in SS's soft furnishings. We had a delicious brunch of freshly baked banana bread, warm pains au chocolat, Greek yogurt and grapes, accompanied by a vanilla-flavoured tea (she has my number!). ScentScelf is quite the tea collector on the quiet, I can reveal...
And then…drum roll…I was introduced to her perfume collection, which was stashed in various locations around the house in a fascinating array of receptacles, which are properly documented here. I saw the egg cups and other "repurposed" items of pottery, the shoe boxes, a drawer full of exquisite minis, a secret bunker in an airing cupboard, a dresser top display and – most excitingly of all - the vintage lipstick holders! ScentScelf’s collection is more classic and retro than mine, with a significant vintage contingent, and a leaning towards the green, the chypre and the “complicated oriental”. I could have poked around and sniffed and rummaged all day, but I had to rip myself away in an untimely fashion from this Aladdin’s cave of scent, and head back to the airport, and home.
Within a matter of hours, I was back in England, and the only proof that I had actually met ScentScelf - let alone been in her home playing with her scent bottles - was the little rope handled bag of samples on my desk (look carefully to the left of the shot). I have had another rootle in it since my return, half expecting a pebble and a feather to fall out...
So what did I learn from my encounter with another fellow blogger? Well, perhaps this: that the shared interest is what brings you together, but what cements the friendship is all the other things that prompted you to share the interest in the first place. I would like to think that, were it not for the distance between us, I would be friends with ScentScelf without a love of perfume in common, and I am grateful to it for having been the catalyst.
In Parts 3 & 4 – meeting Beth of PST and the eponymous Bloody Frida!
PS I haven’t forgotten the 200th post giveaway – now something of a retrospective, admittedly - but circumstances require me to fudge the timeline!
Photo of Baie Rose 26 from secondcitystyle.typepad.com, photo of Wild Elixir from shopstyle.co.uk, photo of Union Station from flickr.com, photo of Sublime Vanille from fragrantica.com, photo of tights from sockshop.co.uk, photo of Barneys exterior from cheekychicago.com, photo of Starbucks from booked.net, photo of banana bread from homebakedmemories.com, other photos my own.