The other day I helped a fellow shopper in Asda to find a packet of polenta, and thought as I did so how much our small market town had come on in recent years in terms of the range and quality of food items available. You can now also get Dr Karg crispbreads from Germany, which are not just sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, but have molten Emmental drizzled on top. Our Marks & Spencer does a nice line in Gastropub meals, which you could almost pass off as your own, and the new deli in town stocks every kind of arcane condiment you will ever need - and many you won't.
All of which scene-setting helps to explain why I was so disappointed with the response of my local department store to a question about Guerlain posed by a friend of mine. The store has a sleepy, oldfashioned air about it, admittedly, but stocks a wide range of designer fragrances, so when she reported the following exchange it came as a bit of a shock.
Friend: "Hello there - I am looking for a bottle of Mitsouko."
Friend: "That's right - by Guerlain (pronounced in a perfect French accent). Do you have their range?"
SA: "Oh, you mean Gear-LANG (with the emphasis on the second syllable). No, no, we don't - that stuff is like...really...OLD."
Friend: "Er??" (stunned mumble)
SA: "Right. I mean, you could try that discount chemist further down the high street - they have bargain dump bins by the till with remaindered and old stuff in them. And it is quite cheap too. That's the only place I can think of."
The chemist in question did indeed have such a bin, containing dusty minis of Joop! and Calvin Klein, boxed sets of Coty L'Aimant, Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, Elizabeth Arden Red Door and Sunflowers, all nestling amongst bumper packs of tissue and facial wipes.
Strangely, no Guerlain.
I don't know why, relatively speaking, the supermarkets in our town should be so gastronomically advanced, while our department store is such a backwater on the perfume front. Actually, it is a backwater on EVERY front, so I can kind of see why Guerlain might not consider such a store to be a "good fit" for its portfolio.
I think, though, that the house veers too much the other way ie towards exclusivity. Even the largest and most prestigious department stores in the UK do not stock anything more exotic than the likes of Apres L'Ondee and Chamade. You have to go to Paris or North America to find the full range, including my favourite scent of all, Plus Que Jamais. The shipping rates from France are punitive, mind, as I have inquired.
So yes, the most important message in this post turns out to be that Guerlain should be more widely stocked. Not necessarily in my town - but a few major cities in Britain would be a start...