Sunday, 4 November 2012
Bonkers In Belgium: Part 2 - Straight To (Birgit) Heaven - Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme, Wevelgem
This post picks up the thread of my solo sniffing exploits in Belgium, following a most enjoyable day in Brussels with Victoria of Bois de Jasmin. Some two and a half months on, I sense this will by no means be a straightforward exercise, but I did jot down the odd observation at the time, and I still have the umpty zillion scent strips I acquired left and right, most of which smell of nothing much now, while some of the scent names I have scribbled on them are also on the impenetrable side.
But anyway, here goes...For the other standout highlight of my trip was without question my visit to the Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Wevelgem, for the heads up about which I have Birgit of Olfactorias Travel to thank. I remembered that she had bought a number of high end bottles from there and was curious to take a closer look.
The ironic thing is that I was in Wevelgem on business several times over the course of last summer, and in some other towns with which I persist in confusing it such as Waregem, Desselgem and Zwevezele (okay, so they may not sound that similar on the face of it, but I managed to get them mixed up anyway!). And last year as I bombed up and down the Kortrijk corridor I had no clue that such a gem of a perfumery existed - I bet I drove right past it at least once. Now this is easy enough to do, for Wevelgem itself is not awfully memorable, not compared to the tourist meccas of Bruges and Gent. The very street where Place Vendôme is located has its fair share of pizza takeaways, garages and other humdrum business premises. And you are of course welcomed to the town by the obligatory diversion or "wegomlegging" sign, without which no road trip to Belgium would be complete.
Once inside the Place Vendôme perfumery all that changes, and it is like stepping into another world, an Aladdin's cave of exclusive and rare scents. The store (if "store" isn't too pedestrian a word for it) which Place Vendôme most closely resembles is Roja Dove's Haute Parfumerie at the top of Harrods, minus the Arabian Nights boudoir and some of the most recherché fragrances found in that other hallowed temple. Mind you, Place Vendôme seems all the more miraculous and fairytale-like because it is in Wevelgem. Given the lavish opulence of every department in Harrods - of its escalators even! - you would expect a perfumery on the top floor of that iconic emporium to be rather amazing. Here in Wevelgem though, the contrast with the other shops nearby was so marked that the wow factor was necessarily amplified.
As soon as I walked into Place Vendôme, I was warmly greeted by Steven Verstraete, sales associate and friend of the owner, David Depuydt. He proceeded to devote a good couple of hours to my fragrant exploration of the entire store - we tested 35 scents, some of them on fans! - and focused on things I might not have tried, that also bore in mind my personal preferences.
Yes, just moments after my arrival, Steven demonstrated his psychic perfumista powers by correctly guessing my three favourite Amouage scents as Ciel, Reflection and Honour Woman! I have no idea how he did this, as I had only given him the vaguest idea of my taste leanings at that point. I mentioned that I had also had a bit of a rapprochement with Lyric Woman lately - I find it quite wearable in the winter months, certainly.
Interlude Woman - the Messiaen of the Amouage line
My mention of Lyric prompted Steven to inquire whether I had tried the new Interlude scents. I had, at Victoria's, and it was a thumbs down to both. Steven explained that - to take a musical analogy - while Lyric Woman consisted of a single tune, Interlude Woman opened with a cacophony that was nigh on overwhelming, however, the disparate parts of the piece came together in a more harmonious blend some 1-2 hours in. That may well be so, but I am not sure I can be bothered to test this theory out. If Interlude were a piece of music, it would be by Messiaen. I only know of this composer because I got a cheap ticket to a prom concert of his music when I was about 18. It was discordant white noise to me, but I clapped enthusiastically, knowing that my mother was listening to the broadcast on the radio.
Chanel extraits - intense, but not in a bad way
Steven correctly anticipated that my experience with Chanel scents in extrait form would be limited, so we made a beeline for a few familiar scents in parfum form. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find Chanel 22 extrait not as sweet as I remembered the regular strength to be. Steven felt it was more elegant even than No 5, less of a blockbuster production, maybe. I also tried Cuir de Russie in extrait, which wasn't as oily as the EDP - result!
Chanel Coco Noir - not as noir as all that
Staying with the house of Chanel, we lingered for a moment over the promotional display of Coco Noir bottles, which had recently been launched at the time. I had tried it in a perfumery in Waregem the night before, and it had left me distinctly underwhelmed. To my nose it seemed raspy and indeterminate. Steven diplomatically volunteered the fact that the ingredients were very high quality and correspondingly expensive. I said that I didn't doubt it, but to me the result was still a patchouli-forward but otherwise fuzzy mess with a disagreeable grapefruit note going in. Which of course was never going to get past me... We agreed that if any Chanel deserved a black bottle, it wasn't Coco Noir, but rather the classic Coco, the most "baroque" of the line.
Chanel No 19 Poudré - misty over you!
Still on the subject of the Chanels, Steven revealed a fun fact about the difference between the newish Chanel No 19 Poudré and the original version: the original No 19 sprays in a classic horizontal trajectory, while the Poudré dispenses a fine mist in more of a cloud formation. Apparently the difference between the two scents is partly attributable to its spritzing MO. Who knew? It was quite the party trick and I must have a go myself next time I am in Boots.
A Montale (phantom?) pineapple epiphany
Me and Montale have never really clicked. Sibling and Sister-in-law Bonkers are big fans, owning his and her thermos flasks from the line. They were gutted to find the Montale store had disappeared on their last visit to Paris - from that other Place Vendôme, funnily enough. But Steven was determined to show me scents that might challenge and surprise my preconceptions, and a Montale scent showcasing the pineapple note counted as a double challenge. Now the only scent strip I have kept that is a Montale is Embruns d'Essaouira, a spicy marine scent with no pineapple listed amongst the notes; so I am wondering if the pineapple one might have been Soleil di Capri, which is a bit of a fruit cocktail of a scent, though there doesn't appear to be any pineapple in that either. Yet my recall is that the perfume in question had a very strange name, and Embruns d'Essaouira certainly fits the bill from that point of view. I could always drop Steven a line to ask. The pineapple Montale may turn out to have been a fruity chimera...stranger things have been known.
A citrus chariot and a carousel of Shalimars
Here is a photographic palate cleanser for you. I never fathomed the exact purpose of the lemon trolley, though Steven said that he and his colleagues were very drawn to the fruit, and liked having lots to hand. Come to think of it, I am the same with wool, so I can relate.
SHALIMAR CAROUSEL (PARFUM INITIAL)
Cartier Heure Vertueuse and Déclaration d'un Soir - sneaky sniffs of upcoming launches
Well, I say a sneaky sniff, as the scents had not been released at the time of my visit. However, given the tardiness of this post, both perfumes will surely be in the public domain by now. I wouldn't be surprised if they were all over Debenhams like a rash. Well, I exaggerate...but in the likes of Harrods and Harvey Nicks, certainly. Anyway, Heure Vertueuse features lavender and miscellaneous other herbs, but the lavender was well blended such that I didn't recoil instantly, as I did with Chanel Jersey. (So glad I didn't try that one in extrait form.) I imagine Vertueuse would appeal to lovers of Guerlain Sous Le Vent or the numbered colognes from Sisley. I have written on the blotter "3 o'clock at night" so I assume that that must be the "heure" allocated to this one. Déclaration d'un Soir I remember as a rose scent for men, which was rather pleasant in an oud-y Portrait of a Lady kind of way. More rose-y than oud-y even. The blotter actually still smells of it, so I can state with confidence that this one is quite scrummy after 10 weeks.
Guerlain Cologne du Parfumeur - my new favourite cologne!
Steven truly had my number when he invited me to sample this refreshing cologne. Up till now my reference cologne had been the one in the Chanel Exclusives range, but Cologne du Parfumeur has pipped it, and I am kicking myself for not asking for a sample. Whilst googling more information on the scent, I came across a review of it on Basenotes by Persolaise, which sums up my thoughts exactly. This is as happy a summer fragrance as you could wish for, perfect for the warm August day on which I tested it.
"Many consider Chanel's Les Exclusifs Eau De Cologne to be the epitome of this genre, and whilst I agree that it's an impressive piece of work, I also think it could do with being a bit more cheerful. Wasser's effort is a smile in a bottle, giving you just what you want in every spritz: an instant, uncomplicated lift."
Steven desconstructed its appeal for me - a nifty fusion of white flowers, citrus notes and musk in a base he referred to as "muscinade", a lighter take on the classic "Guerlinade"!
Guerlain Les Déserts d'Orient range
Now thanks to Birgit, I had already tried one of this trio - Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert - which was another one of these refined, elegant woody roses that don't really excite me for some reason - maybe because I don't see myself as the refined elegant target wearer : - ). And now here I was in front of a gorgeous display of the full trio, and got to try the other two, Encens Mythique d’Orient and Songe d’Un Bois d’Été. The latter had an innocuous opening, but became rampantly animalic as it wore on, Amouage Tribute Attar-stylee, while the former was a woody, spicy incense-y number, but perfectly wearable, even to a relative wimp around incense like me. The whole range is a big seller in The Middle East (no surprises there), with Encens Mythique a particular favourite if my memory serves me - and why ever should it after all this time?!
Guerlain Les Parisiennes Mon Précieux Nectar
Birgit had also given me a sample of this one earlier in the summer, and I know she loves it - owns it, indeed! - but try as I might, I couldn't get into it on a retrial at Place Vendôme. It was too musky I think, and the orange notes were not sufficiently juicy. It suffered a bit from the same amorphous fuzziness as Coco Noir, if I am honest - it was just neither one thing nor another, and didn't move me. Indeed the first time I tried it it brought on a headache, which makes me wonder if the musks are to blame. Or the bitter almond powder may be putting my sensibilities on edge, for I am not an almond lover at the best of times. This reminds me texturally of Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu ie veering towards the suffocatingly dense - sorry, B!
Guerlain L'Art et la Matière Myrrhe & Délires
By contrast, this one was love, though not at first sniff precisely. Steven said I should revisit it after it had worn in for a while, when it was softer and less oddly fruity. This scent shares Belle d'Opium's unusual teaming of peach and incense, yet there the similarity ends, for Myrrh & Délires is far more sheer and luminous...and well, classy. It also has a hint of the suede-like feel of a (less sweet) Bottega Veneta, or Myrrhiad without such a pronounced licorice note. Offbeat, discreet - in short, a smooth operator.
Les Senteurs Gourmandes - a Ronseal range to reckon with
Towards the end of my visit, when I was all but sniffed out, I just managed to romp through the many scents in this budget range of simple fragrances, which typically combined one or two notes (vanilla was a recurring theme) in a straightforward but effective way: I have blotters for Figue Sauvage, Musc Blanc, Tendre Madeleine (a perfume worthy of Proust!), Vanille Pamplemousse, Vanille Chocolat, Vanille Patchouli (a poor man's L'Ombre Fauve), Vanille Orientale and Prune Jasmin, a new release.
(NB For the benefit of UK-based readers, I just noticed that these are available in our very own M & S - fancy that...for £22.50 they are a bargain.)
Louis, the scented hound
No account of my visit would be complete without a shot of the very cute Louis, a King Charles spaniel - is there a Belgian equivalent for the breed? A King Albert II maybe? This perfumista pooch (with apologies to the other Scented Hound) appeared to be the store mascot-cum-doordog, and was surprisingly camera shy for such a friendly animal. Well, maybe it was not so much that as the fact that he simply wouldn't stay still for two seconds!
So as you can imagine, I emerged blinking into the bright sunlight with sated nose and a smile on my face after possibly the most intensive session of niche scent sampling ever undertaken. And it goes without saying that Place Vendôme should figure on every perfumista's road map of Europe. For by the standards of the Belgian road network, it barely even counts as a wegomlegging - and is well worth the trip across The Channel in its own right.
Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme
Tel: 00 32 56 41 24 68
UPDATE - Birgit has since featured Steven Verstraete in her 'People in Perfumeland' series - read the interview here!
Photo of Guerlain Cologne du Parfumeur from Fragrantica, other photos my own