This might be a relatively short post (as my scented travelogues go), simply because the present-opening ceremony and perfume grab-fest at the Roter Engel cafe had left all our noses completely sated. But no visit to Basel would be complete without at least a token sniffing session at Parfumerie Hyazinth, a short stroll from the Marktplatz.
Given that half the store's compact interior is already allocated to cosmetics, Hyazinth is all the more remarkable for the extensive range of niche lines carried, including two of my favourite discoveries from 2011, Carner Barcelona and Puredistance. The shelves are stacked literally from floor to ceiling, and on any given section of the fixture there will be at least three niche fragrance ranges below shin height that are all too easy to miss. One of these was Odin: thinking that Potiron might like a couple of scents from this house, I inquired of the sales assistant if they carried the brand, only to find the complete range just north of my left ankle. Potiron was in fact quite taken with 01 Nomad, so my hunch proved correct.
I decided that my nose was too jaded for me to adopt a scattergun approach in my sampling, so I pretty much focused on one range, Andrea Maack, and left it at that. This artist and founder of Iceland's first perfume house has been on my radar for a while and I was intrigued by the blunt monosyllabic names of the individual scents, that match the dour, craggy (and collapsed bank- and ash cloud-overhung) image I have of Iceland.
Additionally, their quirky ring seemed ideally suited to the homeland of Björk, to whom I am often compared. Not for my song writing or singing ability, obviously, but for my looks and occasional propensity to wear outlandish outfits. Several Facebook friends have been egging me on to replicate the famous swan costume, but my progress is slow on the feather gathering front. You wouldn't credit how many of my old pillows appear to be polyester.
So I started out sniffing these Andrea Maack scents predisposed to like them, not least for their pleasing white granite tops, reminiscent of the better end of Magnet fitted kitchens.
Here are my mini-reviews, which should be taken with a pinch of volcanic dust, because my nose was severely challenged by this stage. Moreover, these are no ordinary perfumes, but were created as olfactory interpretations of a series of drawings, as stated on the perfume house's website:
"...the challenge for the perfumers was to reflect on Maack's intricate pencil drawings and turn them into
olfactory experience, making only one version of each."
In an interview last year with Jill Singer of Sight Unseen magazine, Maack explains (somewhat tellingly) that she never set out to be a perfume house per se, adding:
“The next step is to do something more with the drawings, perhaps turn them into textiles. The point is to take my artwork and mass distribute it. It doesn’t really matter what the product is.”
For each of the scents therefore, in addition to listing the fragrance notes, I will extract or paraphrase parts of the website copy about the premise or concept behind it.
Premise: Smart started with a delicate pencil drawing and was developed for an art exhibition - its inspiration comes from an empty white gallery space.
Notes: Violet leaf, jasmine, sandalwood, vanilla, white musk, buckskin.
I see exactly where Maack is going with this "empty white gallery space" idea. This scent was so light and gentle as almost to defy my nasal receptors. I thought no scent could be too subtle for my tastes, but this one was quiet to the point of mute. I'll call it "soft violets smelt from outer space on a cloudy day".
Premise: Craft stands for Couture Art and "was created for a museum show to enhance the experience of a unique work of art, a hand made sculptural dress made from original pencil drawings". I'll skip the description of this as "a godlike scent" for a "once in a lifetime experience".
Notes: Aldehydes, elemi, cold metal, ice, cedar wood, patchouli.
Craft smelt unpleasantly metallic and cold. Verdict: resoundingly Not A Perfume, though I realise that these scents are not supposed to conform to most people's idea of what a "normal fragrance" should smell like.
Premise: "The idea of Silk is to enhance the feeling of wearing a perfume - its powdery, airy, earthy, leathery aura makes you imagine a silky smoothness caressing your neck."
Notes: Violet leaves, freesia, lime tree, linen, magnolia, Spanish cistus, earth (ground), papyrus, vanilla, amber.
Well, Silk does more or less deliver on the smooth texture front, however, the consensus of our party was that Silk smelt like a cheaper make of perfume than one would expect for the £85 price tag. Alicka61 was reminded of an Avon scent, which pretty much killed this one stone dead.
Premise: Dark is "a take on the classic rose note, a bloody, flowery, leathery, seductive perfume with a purpose".
Notes: Yellow mandarin, pink bays (berries), petitgrain, lemon tree, aldehydes, rose, metal, green apple, ambergris, orange blossom, Virginia cedarwood.
I didn't care for Dark, which seemed a confused mix of different scent styles. My notes on the day state: "sharp metallic floral citrus", and both the notes and the website blurb confirm the presence of a "heavy" metallic note which brings an "unexpected surprise". Well, I am sorry but I am not a fan of heavy metal in fragrance as in music, and this dark galvanised rose scent is no exception.
Premise: "Sharp was made for an art exhibition to accompany an artisanal dress with drawings carved into the material, creating a repetitive signature pattern."
Notes: Orange blossom, angel skin (pardon?), sweet vanilla, white musk, soothing softness (you are kidding, right?).
Notwithstanding the patently silly note list, this is the scent out of the five which a) I could clearly smell, b) contained no discernible metal note and c) most resembled a "normal" perfume that cost a bob or two. Now it is perhaps wrong of me to look to these "olfactory exhibits" for a fragrance to which I can personally relate, but I can't help thinking whenever I sniff ANY scent, however avant-garde its origin: "Do I like this and would I wear it?"
With Sharp the answer to both questions is yes, and I am pleased to report that it isn't the least bit sharp. Ha - there's another "unexpected surprise"! Sharp is a sweet vanilla and orange scent, and we all thought we had smelt something similar before, but couldn't put our fingers on it. I think it may have reminded me of a less spicy Fendi Theorama, or Ajne Bloom de Nuit or quite possibly Givenchy Organza - it had that "thick" vanilla oriental quality to it.
So in summary, the Andrea Maack perfume range was not an unqualified hit with any of us, though I do admire the concept behind the project of creating scented versions of art works in other media. Yes, I really want to buy into the names of these scents, the bleakly atmospheric backdrop of Iceland's lava fields, the geological packaging - and the quirky Spirograph prints and spiky paper dresses which inspired the range - but I just don't want to smell like most of them.
Finally, this latest visit to Hyazinth was notable for a chance encounter with an American customer, who was standing in the middle of the store regaling a group of friends with a tale of how he loved a particular men's cologne so much that he went and bought a further 20 bottles of it! Well, clearly I couldn't let the matter rest there, and - after first excusing myself for my involuntary eavesdropping - asked him what this extraordinary scent was which had prompted such a stockpiling frenzy. Remarkably it turned out to be a mainstream men's scent, Zino by Davidoff. I made a point of trying this scent when I spotted it a couple of days later in a department store in St Gallen, and have to report that it was a fairly generic woody spicy number, somewhere between Marc Jacobs Bang and D & G By Man. Ah well - serves me right for asking...
Photo of Parfumerie Hyazinth from stoffe.ch, photo of Iceland's lava fields from boddie.org.uk, photo of Björk from gawker.com, photo of Andrea Maack range from the company's website, photo of girls in Andrea Maack dresses from whats-wrong-with-the-zoo.com and trendhunter.com, photo of knives from jayfisher.com, photo of orange and vanilla from hookah-shisha.com, Andrea Maack publicity shot from grapevine.is, photo of Zino perfume from beneash.com, other photo my own.