Last Friday I flew to Stockholm for a long weekend, which included a solo sniffing trip in Stockholm's finest perfume emporia. But before leaving Liverpool airport, I had a little nosey round the Duty Free there to see what new releases they had which my local outlets had not yet caught up with. So I tried Victor & Rolf's Eau Mega, undaunted by the incredibly naff chocolate money top thingy, and it was much as I expected - big pear note, been there, sniffed that. I also had a spritz of D & G Rose The One, and in the opening I got a fleeting but very true representation of a rose, swathed in a green and powdery accord, but then I lost it and thought that maybe this is your run-of-the-mill designer rose scent after all. So the jury's out on that one till I can test it again...
Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime, which finds me in Stockholm's top department store, NK, which I would liken to Selfridges in the UK and Neiman Marcus in the USA. It had a designer section which flowed seamlessly into a more niche area, which in turn flowed into a concession of Cow, a high end and funky cosmetics and perfume chain. Within this relatively compact area I was immediately struck by the preponderance of bath and body products from brands such as Voluspa, Abahna, La Source, Compagnie de Provence, Crabtree & Evelyn, India Hicks, Harn, Molton Brown and the quirkily named "Björk & Berries". I had always thought as much, but the profusion of such brands was definite proof that the Swedes are indeed a very clean nation.
In terms of niche fragrances, for NK proper as opposed to the Cow concession I spotted the following: Diptyque, Apothia, Keiko Mecheri, Acqua di Parma, Piguet, Juliette has a Gun, Costume National, Bond No 9, Creed, M Micallef, Neotantric Fragrances, Library of Fragrance, Byredo and CLEAN, and possibly a few more I missed. Looking back, that is quite an unusual mix of brands which I have never seen together anywhere else in Europe... The Byredo counter didn't have the new Baudelaire, but sent me over to the menswear department(!), where, right in the midst of the suiting and booting, there was a stand with men's colognes, including Byredo. Baudelaire also smelt as I imagined from what I had read of it so far: a bit spicy, dusty and fundamentally blokey, so thumbs down to that one too.
In the designer area I at last tried a scent I have been curious about for some time, because it contains some of my favourite notes - Helena Rubinstein's Wanted. In the event it was a very pleasant blur on my wrist, not because I can't recall it properly but because it was innately blurry in style. I asked for a sample, but to no avail. I don't suppose I'll miss it, but I would have liked to have given it another shot.
I more or less ignored the Cow concession in NK, as my next stop was its flagship yet bijou store in Mäster Samuelsgatan. Here again I was struck by the eclectic mix of fragrance brands: E Coudray, Cumming, Laura Mercier, Vicolo Fiori, Etro, Comme des Garcons, Humiecki & Graef, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Les Parfums de Rosine, Carthusia, CB I hate Perfume, Profumum and Stephanie de Saint-Aignan. I have never seen Cumming, Humiecki & Graef, Stephanie de Saint-Aignan OR CB I hate Perfume anywhere before, so that was exciting for me. : - )
Space constraints meant that Cow didn't stock the full range of some of these lines - not that I carried out an inventory as such! - but that was my impression. My first question was: "Do you have Havana Vanille?" and the answer was sadly not. So I contented myself with a sniff of CdG's Daphne on skin, which was a disagreeable spicy number. I also tried (from the Red series) Carnation and Harissa. Both were as fiery as I thought they would be, and if you were a carnation lover (which I am not), Carnation did seem to me to be the real deal. Then I had a little spritz on skin of CB I hate Perfume's At The Beach 1966, and rather liked it, but didn't ask for a sample because the SA was tied up with cosmetics customers at the crucial moment. I wondered whether to dabble in the Humiecki & Graef line, but the reviews - and odd names (Skarb / Geste / Askew!) - had rather put me off.
The final stop was the new Byredo store in the same street. It was small and clinically white, and they had mini bottles containing the top, heart and base notes of each of their range, as well as the finished compositions. By way of experiment, I sniffed the three bottles that make up Fantastic Man, which was mildly interesting but ultimately pointless, as the scent for sale is after all the blended version rather than its component parts. So I asked for a sample of it instead (to give to a male friend), and after some concerted rummaging in drawers, the SA drew a blank. So I decided to call it a day at that point and went for a long walk on one of Stockholm's many islands, before heading out later that night in a curious Wanted-Daphne-L'Eau Nirique-Fantastic Man-Ta'if melange.
Then yesterday at Skavsta airport I dared to test not one but three of the Neotantric range of fragrances, which I realised just today are actually Swedish. It was a bit early frankly to try perfumes with such wanton names as Manic Love (Women), Sex Goddess and Dropps of Me (I swear there were two "p"s on the tester bottle). All three were unspeakably awful in ways I am not sure I can accurately convey. All I will say is that if you are tempted by the wacky names to try these yourselves, please resist the urge, for they will spoil your day. I also retested Gucci Flora, and though the drydown was quite inoffensive - pleasant even - at some point in the development there was a discordant note that troubled me. Badass patchouli maybe?
So in summary I would observe that the Swedes are very hygienic (I even saw the CLEAN range at the bus station!), not averse to whimsy or eroticism as exemplified in the Neotantric range, while the lack of samples confirms my belief that things in Scandinavia are only available at a very high price - as in a full bottle purchase - which in turn would have cost up to twice as much as in Britain.
But you have gotta love a city whose underground network includes stations named Bro, Tibble, Sockenplan and the splendidly Star Trekky Nockeby Torg. I'll be back, and next time I'll bring my own empty sample vials...