Regular readers of Bonkers may get the impression that I am perfectly self-contained on my business trips, and don’t really need company. It is true that I am rarely lonely, but that doesn’t mean I am not very glad to meet people on my travels, especially likeminded fellow perfumistas. Indeed I positively light up - head permitting! - when I have a blind sniffing date with a virtual friend from the blogosphere, and so it proved yesterday when I travelled to Olfactoria, of Olfactoria's Travels.
We agreed to meet at 1.30pm at a tube station right by the cathedral in the city centre. I arrived ten minutes early, and dived into a branch of the perfumery Marionnaud to kill a few minutes in the welcome air conditioned interior (it was in the mid 30s C that day). Olfactoria (aka Birgit!) was not far behind me and texted to say she was in position at our agreed meeting point of the Graben exit. I recognised her instantly from her avatar. Even in the extreme heat, Olfactoria was every inch the poised, pale-skinned beauty she appears in her photo.
Throughout our sniffathon, I felt very welcome and “gut aufgehoben” in Olfactoria’s company – an expressive German phrase that loosely translates as “well looked after”. Oh by the way, we slipped into English from the off, only dipping into German occasionally in the various stores. This is because Olfactoria’s English knocks my German into a cocked hat, even though – as I learnt to my astonishment – she has never lived in an English-speaking country. Nor does she appear to have an English parent tucked away anywhere, though I did inquire. : - ) My German is “fit for purpose”, but that purpose is always in a resolutely business context. Why, I am at a bit of a loss when it comes to articulating my thoughts about perfumes in English, never mind in German!
First stop on our sniffing tour was Le Parfum, Vienna’s equivalent of Les Senteurs. It probably stocks more niche brands than its London counterpart, thinking about it. Olfactoria encouraged me to try the By Kilian oud range (Incense Oud, Rose Oud, Pure Oud), and I was pleasantly surprised by all three, not being a lover of the note as a rule. I caught up with the relatively new releases Parfumerie Générale Praliné de Santal and Tonkamande – the former reminded me of Womanity or that Thierry Mugler Miroir scent that has a popcorn note – Miroir des Envies, that’s it – while the latter smelt like furniture polish on the blotter. Olfactoria explained that Tonkamande is a lot better on skin, but I wasn’t prepared to spare any more at that point, having already wasted a spot on our popcorn friend. We agreed that Praliné de Santal was rather like SL Jeux de Peau, which I had tried with ScentScelf in Chicago and not liked either. Don’t get me wrong – I can happily scoff a 150g bag of Butterkist in one sitting as well as the next man, but I just don’t want to smell OF the stuff.
Now we did both spray PG Indochine on skin – or more exactly, my forearm was caught in crossfire when Olfactoria was applying it on her own - but I was perfectly fine with a spot of collateral sillage! It was a gourmand woody oriental on her, and disappeared rather quickly on me, sadly, but was interesting while it lasted – softly spicy and slightly foody.
Speaking of gourmands, Olfactoria introduced me to Lira, her favourite of the Casamorati 1888 range from Xerjoff (the ones in those ghastly plastic bottles). Lira was a rich, creamy gourmand – like Teo Cabanel Alahine but more so. It was rather too rich and sickly initially for my taste, but I liked its later stages.
We also dabbled in the Armani Privés (to wit, Ambre Orient), Mark Buxton (English Breakfast - or at least the orange juice starter), and the Huitième Art range, which I had systematically tested in Düsseldorf in April, and was happy to revisit. But, as the Germans would say, "das absolute Highlight" for me in Le Parfum has to be Nuda from Il Profumo, a “cold cream” skin scent – like a more refined version of Clinique Simply crossed with a de-floraled Dior New Look 1947, if that makes any sense at all to anyone.
Whilst looking in vain for a note listing, I have since read Marina’s review on PST, in which she likens this scent to “that special place on a small child's neck, right under the plump little chin- the sweetest place to smell and to kiss”, and I would totally agree with this. Apparently, though, Nuda is meant to evoke the scent of a woman in the throes of ecstasy, which is clearly complete tosh.
A short stroll from Le Parfum is Pure Day Spa, which stocks beauty products and scents as well as offering spa treatments. The four main brands stocked are Frédéric Malle, Floris, Lalique and Annick Goutal. I was pretty up to speed with FM, but had a sniff of French Lover on card and retested Le Parfum de Thérèse. French Lover was too butch for me and Le Parfum de Thérèse by no means as civetty as I remembered, but still not really my style. Olfactoria, however, seemed to be having a bit of an epiphany with it and would gladly have taken away a sample to test at leisure, but they only had Lipstick Rose left. I can well imagine why, haha...
The languidly beautiful sales assistant then suggested a few Annick Goutals for us to try, including Songes (the jasmine indole-fest I remembered) and Duel, which was new to me. Duel was a woody citrus number, featuring notes of “Green Maté absolute, Paraguay petitgrain, iris root, absinth, gaiac wood, leather and musk”. I thought I really liked it at the time, but later changed my mind - on balance, I felt it was just too masculine. We also had a sniff of original Lalique by Lalique on card, which was an unashamed white floral of some kind – quite pleasant, but not as intriguing as Flora Bella.
After Pure Day Spa, we decided a pitstop was in order, and repaired to a favourite ice cream parlour of Olfactoria’s. At this stage in proceedings it was time for the mutual tipping out of perfumes on the table, as you do, including gift samples for each other. I felt totally spoilt by Olfactoria's goody bag for me: there were countless decants and samples, including a whopping one of Guerlain Cologne du 68 and…drum roll…Elie Saab! For Olfactoria had just that morning taken receipt of a big bottle, and found time to siphon off a full 30 ml before she left the house to meet me. Well, I didn’t know where to put myself….
I recounted to Olfactoria the story of how, just two days previously, I had had another go at scoring an Elie Saab sample in yet another branch of Müller, this time in Switzerland. The sales assistant had denied stocking it, only for me to find it immediately, at the other end of the fixture. I called her over and she picked up the tester bottle with a squeal of surprise, before proceeding to spray it copiously all over her décolleté and general head area, for all the world as though it were a can of Ellnett hairspray. “Oh fein, fein!” ("Oh nice, nice!" or possibly "Oh classy, classy!" - it's rather a multi-purpose word) she exclaimed, now thoroughly impregnated with the stuff herself, though this didn’t advance my sample gathering cause one jot. And as it turned out, she didn’t have any samples. The Ingolstadt branches must have got the sample allocation for the entire Müller chain...
After a good deal of highly unsystematic rummaging and sampling, we set about the business of eating our ice creams before they melted. Just then, Olfactoria spotted a local celebrity sitting a couple of tables away, tucking into a sundae of some kind. She looked like an aging Brigitte Bardot, and Olfactoria drew my attention to her “extensive hair”. We speculated as to whether her equally “extensive lips” might have had “work” done…
Having refuelled and cooled down a bit, we headed on to Duft und Kultur, the final stop on our sniffing tour, which was in fact only a couple of doors down. This was an Aladdin’s cave of a store, selling a vast selection of ethnic clothing and arts and crafts alongside perfume, room fragrances, soaps etc. It stocked L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque and Les Parfums de Nicolai, along with some - arguably less common - brands such as Eau d’Italie, Teo Cabanel, Comptoir Sud Pacifique and Miller & Bertaux. Olfactoria was keen for me to try Jardin du Poète, which I sprayed on my upper arm, though not upper enough as it turned out, for it got mixed up with the remnants of Lira. I sprayed Eau d'Italie by Eau d’Italie on the other arm around the same latitude, and thought I liked it better initially. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, but Olfactoria’s prediction that a weird note would emerge and spoil the composition of Eau d’Italie came true, and as I resniffed the spot later that day, I no longer cared for it, though I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me.
Before we knew it our three hours were up and it was time for Olfactoria to go back and relieve the babysitter. We walked to the tube station together and parted company at the top of the stairs to my line. Back in my hotel room, the whole afternoon might have felt like a dream were it not for the Ormonde Jayne box bursting with samples (not OJ samples, in case anyone is wondering), a huge bag of Gummibears courtesy of Olfactoria’s boys(!), and some parcels that I promised to mail for her from a less robdog country than Austria – which we believe will be pretty much anywhere I happen to be passing through...
Yes, I enjoyed myself so much that I went back today and visited everywhere again. : - ) Only very briefly, mind: to retry Nuda and Indochine in Le Parfum, AG Duel in Pure Day Spa, and most importantly to pick up a favourite pen that I had left behind in Duft und Kultur, where it turned out that I had left a bottle of apple juice as well. “We haven’t had a slug out of it, honest!” the proprietor assured me. On my way out, I had a quick spritz of CSP Vanille Abricot, remembering that Katie Puckrik selected it for one of her TV chat show appearances – I think as a general “yummy come hither” scent, but I could be wrong. Anyway, it is certainly yummy – I walked out of the store smelling like one of those dainty Viennese pastries you could find at any of the smart cafes in the city. A fitting way to end my happy travels to Olfactoria.
PS Mindful of confusion in a previous post over the meaning of "Jammy Dodgers", it might be helpful to mention that Viennese Whirls are also a variety of biscuit / cookie! An oblique reference to the waltz may also be inferred... : - )
All photos my own