Apart from the duty free fragrance section at Birmingham airport on my outward journey, I didn’t expect to have any other sniffing opportunities on this trip - my itinerary mostly took me to rural areas, where you would struggle to find a McDonald’s (my go-to tea, toilet and wifi pitstop), never mind a quality department store or an independent niche perfumery. What I could count on though were Christmas markets – or Weihnachtsmärkte as they are known here. I encountered no fewer than three in fact: in Rüdesheim, Heidelberg and Rottenburg am Neckar. I wouldn’t say I am “marketed out” now, but let’s just say that if I see another pair of olive wood salad servers, felt wrist warmers, chunky candles in every shade of lurid, guardian angels fashioned out of wire and wisps of fluff, and stalls selling Glühwein and currywurst, I will scream.
Imagine my delight then to discover – tucked away behind the serried ranks of wooden huts lining the Rhine promenade in Rüdesheim – a perfumery called Parfümerie Bauer carrying an eclectic selection of niche and designer scents.
When I say eclectic, I mean things like the Les Notes Gourmandes range from Reminiscence, which I have only ever come across in Budapest. There it was, in all its pastel finery, next to the more usual suspects like Creed and Serge Lutens.
But what caught my eye immediately on entering the store was the enormous collection of miniatures, and I mean enormous. I have never seen so many gathered together in one place, and it took me a full forty minutes to get the measure of the selection, and to realise it is high time I got myself some reading glasses, for the labelling on some of these bottles was minuscule.
And at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I might also point out that the proprietor, Herr Bauer, complimented me on my competent handling of the glass fronts to the display cabinets, saying that I slid them back and forth "like a pro", and would be welcome to work there. : - )
Herr Bauer also asked me if I was by any chance related to the German perfume company called Mouson. I said I didn’t think so, and on seeing a poster for this brand at the back of the shop I realised that Mouson was spelled differently, though my name is pronounced just like that in German, with a round “u”, so I could see why Herr Bauer should think to inquire. I have since found a listing of the company's scent launches, starting around the turn of the last century.
Herr Bauer pointed out another curio in the shop, namely part of a collection of scent bottles belonging to Hugh Parsons, a British perfume house known better overseas than in its home markets – the fragrance equivalent of Beefeater Gin, if you will, which is another well known export brand.
A lone bottle of Amouage in a glass case on a plinth was another talking point, and I learnt that Parfümerie Bauer has some very exclusive customers in the Middle East and Africa, amongst them royalty and other dignatories. Herr Bauer drew my attention to a group photo in which he is posing – in some form of ceremonial dress - alongside his distinguished clientèle.
Things were getting more surprising by the minute! I also learnt that Parfümerie Bauer is one of only eight stockists in Germany of Lancôme Climat. By my reckoning that equates to one for approximately every 10 million inhabitants. Now is that a reasonable ratio, do you think? I have not tried Climat (I didn’t spot a tester), but it certainly sounds on the light side to me...
Oh, and I also did that picking up and fondling routine with a bottle of Après L’Ondée, but at 99 euros for 100ml (the only bottle size, sadly), that is more than I wanted to spend, and more perfume than I could ever use.
Finally, after much peering, I ended up buying minis of Private Collection parfum(!), Knowing parfum(!) and vintage YSL Paris EDT (I wanted to give those violent violets another crack of the whip, as it were). In return, Herr Bauer showered me with an assortment of unexpected gifts with purchase: a box of chocolates, a pen shaped like a lipstick bearing the name of the shop, a mini of Dior J’Adore, and a clutch of other designer samples.
So that was another example of "scent-related serendipity" on my travels... Oh, and on my way back through the market stalls, I succumbed (to the cold as much as the sales pressure!) and bought some wrist warmers too...
Photo of Lancôme Climat from fragrantica.com, all other photos my own.