Wednesday 26 January 2011

California Dreaming: Another Bonkers Road Trip - The Scented Bit: Part 3

I was very tempted to call this post: "Visit To The* Scent Bar - 'I Should Be So Lucky / Lucky, Lucky, Lucky'...!", but editorial consistency prevailed, and this last instalment has defaulted to Part 3 of The Scented Bit instead. I know what, I will create a sub-heading instead...

Visit To The* Scent Bar: "I Should Be So Lucky..."

I believe I left off the saga at the point where I returned to my hotel in Venice from the Strange Invisible Perfumes store to select an outfit for my sniffing session that afternoon at the Scent Bar in West Hollywood. I had taken advice in advance from Qwendy/Wendy about dress code, because I was aware of that general neck of the Hollywoods being the affluent epicentre of LA. I didn't want to look too much of a hobo, though at the same time I knew I had zero hope of competing with the top-to-toe designer-clad "ladies who feebly push their lunch around their plate with a fork" brigade. You see them striding purposefully down Beverly Boulevard, long golden locks bouncing over razor-sharp clavicles like those flappy streamer things that smear rather than dry your windscreen in a car wash. They are invariably clutching six rope carrier bags in each hand - or five bags in each hand and one beribboned Yorkie - a pink I-phone cupped to one ear in the crook of a surprisingly supple elbow.

So anyway, Qwendy said the uniform at such events was pretty much de rigueur skinny jeans and T-shirts, adding - to put me at my ease - that she routinely flouted the trouser convention. Now I don't own any skinny jeans as such, but instead donned my least bootleggy Gap jeans, which are called "Real Straight" - see photo (legs not my own).

I teamed this with chocolate brown suede high heels, a chocolate brown lace trimmed cardigan and this T-shirt: perfume-themed, accented with a bit of bling, and a steal at £12 in New Look! Then I did my best to style my hair in the artfully mussed way to which I so often find myself referring on this blog, and jumped on the I-10 freeway, heading for the Scent Bar and the worldwide HQ of Lucky Scent...

Regular readers may have inferred from my many posts about road trips that I am not averse to a bit of driving. I do, however, suffer from parking phobia, and allowed an extra half an hour to scope the vicinity of the store looking for a legitimate parking spot. It took me 20 minutes of cruising round and round the block to spot a free parking meter associated with a space into which I felt comfortable manoeuvring my sub-compact - yet to my mind still rather large and boxy - car. And though I lacked the requisite quorum of quarters to pay for my projected stay, I was ecstatic to find that the parking meter accepted foreign credit cards!

I arrived at the Scent Bar a little ahead of schedule, and was surprised at how tiny and bijou it was! But they had maximised the available space all right: each wall was shelved from floor to ceiling, and on each shelf sat dozens of bottles of niche scents - all jumbled up together for the most part - though a few houses were grouped by collection eg Xerjoff from memory.

Qwendy was unavoidably held up and arrived fashionably late and full of apologies - or rather the couture version of "fashionably late" - which is slightly later. But it is a measure of how welcoming the staff were and how un-conspicuous I was made to feel, that I was perfectly happy to browse the rich layers of stock on my own until Qwendy was able to join me. I also had sporadic chats with Rachel and Steve, the two sales assistants, when they were in between serving the serious punters, who came not just to sip champagne (just one small flute in my own case, obviously) and "sniff till they dropped", but to...yes, strange to tell...actually conduct themselves like proper consumers and buy stuff...

And then Qwendy arrived, and there were rapturous greetings, as though we had known each other much longer than one phone call's worth and a mutual trip to the Post Office with our respective swap parcels way back whenever. As I expected, she was wearing a distinctive and stylish skirt-based ensemble, but we needn't have worried about our outfits, for there was one lady there in red Wellingtons.

So what did we smell? Oh dear, I was worried you might ask that... May I fall back again on my "Witnesses sought to a fatal car crash" excuse in trying to reconstruct a list of what we smelled, never mind an impression of said scents. As I recall, the majority of perfumes I tested fell into the "okay" category, with "possibly worth a retrial" in one tapering section of the bell curve, and "meh" in the other. There were only a couple of outright scrubbers in the "very thin bell end", so to speak(!) - as noted below - and only a couple I really liked, or which otherwise impressed me in some way.


(Rachel kindly fetched these out for me from under the counter? And that is a good tip in The Scent Bar - given that this is the shop front of Lucky Scent, you can ask for pretty much any perfume you want to try and they should have a tester tucked away somewhere...)

Eau Radieuse
Multiple Rouge


Hasu-no-Hana (retro sneezy scrubber! Grossmith by name...)


Lua (tested on skin)

Notes: bergamot, orange, lemon, melon, Bulgarian rose, Florentine iris, pink pepper, lily, cedar wood, vanilla, musk

This was a very pretty floral woody musk, with many of my favourite notes in it, though I would probably lose the melon and swap the cedar for sandalwood. It is almost certainly not worth the money, mind you. I didn't even bother to inquire! Update - I just peeked at the Lucky Scent website - I was right not to bother to inquire!


Jasmin (very full-on indolic jasmine, squarely and headache-inducingly in the A La Nuit, Jasmin de Nuit tradition. I would have to call this a scrubber, which in no way diminishes its authentic jasmine-ness. If it did, I might actually like it...)


Figues et Garçons


L'Antimatière (cousin of SIP L'Invisible - in name only!)


(Smelt on another lady's skin who was deciding which of these two to buy. The in-store consensus - we were all getting quite pally by this stage and sniffing one another uninhibitedly - was Peau de Pêche, which was deemed (relatively) more intense and interesting, on her arm, anyway.)

Peau de Pêche
Bois de Santal


Traversée du Bosphore (tested on skin)

I could not better Boisdejasmin's summary of this one as a "take on violet-orris in a gourmand oriental manner". She goes on to say: "It is opulent and voluptuous, and yet the signature dry amber touch of Duchaufour lends it a surprisingly diaphanous effect." It was possibly too opulent and voluptuous and even a little scratchy to appeal to me on that warm, sunny afternoon, but the drydown was smoother and quieter, and I would try this again. Stylistically I was reminded a bit of DelRae Bois de Paradis, though it is a long time since I last tried that one - the L'Artisan strikes me as more wearable on the basis of this cursory trial.


Love and Tears (tested on skin)

Notes: bergamot, petit grain, cypress, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang and cistus. Lucky Scent also detects lily-of-the-valley and gardenia.

A completely OTT feminine white floral in the style of Fracas or Joy or Roja Dove Scandal, but even more so. Even more what? Even more everything. It has that molten perfumey quality conjured up by soft porn ads for motor oil. I liked it and thought it very well done, but couldn't quite see myself wearing it.

Qwendy, who is currently morphing from my evil scent twin and lover of darkly robust compositions to someone unexpectedly gravitating towards feminine florals, gave Love and Tears the thumbs up. We also had major new crossover territory in APOM pour Femme by Maison Kurkdjian, which may conceivably be the bottle producing Qwendy's blissed out state in the shot above. : - )


Orange Star - no discernible Tauerade!
Rose Vermeille - Tauerade alert!
Carillon d'un Ange - as above!

So, after spending an incredible 1hr 40 mins in this small store, without feeling the least bit in the way, and given unlimited licence to take photographs, I said goodbye to the helpful staff and the charming Qwendy and drove back in the dark to Venice, navigating (rather well, I thought) by my rough sense of direction alone, as my GPS blacked out somewhere on Wilshire.

Visit To Ajne, Carmel: "The Road Not Taken"

My final scented stop on this trip was Ajne in Carmel, if you discount a fairly low key visit to a branch of Marshall's, where I copped for a bargain bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English and promptly regretted the purchase (as you do).

I had a couple of morning meetings in Santa Barbara one day during the second week, and after doing some quick calculations, figured that if I really put my foot down on the 240 mile journey north I might just make it to the store before they closed at 6pm. To this end I opted to take the inland route, which is more direct but considerably less scenic than the famous coast road (Route 1).

Accordingly, on the afternoon in question I drove like a bat out of the proverbial hot place, parked up, and was outside the Ajne boutique in its pretty courtyard by 5.45pm, only to find the place in darkness and clearly shut. I have since made contact with the company, and found out that they had closed early because it was the night of their staff Christmas dinner at a location just down the street!

As I peered in the windows at the Louis XIV furniture within, I couldn't help but feel a sense of anti-climax, yet it was just one of those unfortunate things... If only I hadn't needed petrol and a comfort station at Kingsburg, pausing fatefully to examine the (to me curious) display of beef jerky, and choose a bar of confectionery with what now seems, looking back, to have been unnecessary care. Yes, if only I had shaved those vital 5-10 minutes off the journey, I would have bumped into the Ajne team in the act of shutting shop, and stayed their hand long enough to sample their latest releases and purchase a parfum petite of Printemps.

There again, knowing my track record with Ajne purchases, my "buy the smallest retail format available" resolve might have crumbled and I could have walked out with the half oz black heart flacon @ $200 instead of my intended mini, a fraction of that size. Though ml for ml, the larger sizes represent significantly better value. See - I clearly wasn't meant to be let loose inside that store!

That concludes the report on the Californian Road Trip - I am still trying to figure out if I am a closet travel writer who likes perfume or a perfumista who travels. You decide...

*NB The name of the store is "Scent Bar", but "I am going to Scent Bar" sounds so peculiar I can't bring myself to forgo the definite article.

All photos are my own except the perfume bottle shots which are taken (most fittingly) from Lucky Scent's website, the exterior of the Scent Bar (from Osmoz) and the photo of jeans from Gap's website.


Cymbaline said...

I'm so glad you made it to Scent Bar and I really felt your pain with the Anje miss! Maybe someday you'll get to the Seattle area. It would be great fun to meet up with you and visit some local perfume shops :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

It would indeed be lovely to meet and have a proper insider's guide to your city's perfume emporia! I have once been to Seattle for work, and remember a lot of sculptures of pigs (could it have been pigs?) in the middle of the streets. Somewhere I have an entire set of snaps of whatever creature it was that was the theme of this particular art installation (from those dim and distant days when we took 24 or 36 pictures at a time...).

Ines said...

I tried Love and Tears the other day when I had my own foray into niche universe and it really is an almost live take on jasmine. I'm not sure if it's for me but it sure is good.
Also, at the same time I realized there were two Nez companies out there (how is one supposed to keep track of these things?!). I only smelled the Nez a Nez stuff from bottles (it was at the end of my visit) but I need to give them proper time because almost all seemed very good.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

We are agreed on the Love and Tears, then.
: - 0 What was also interesting about this one was the fact that it didn't have the usual headache-inducing accord I get from a number of other By Kilians.

And yes, those perfumes with "Nez" in the name are mighty confusing!

Marina said...

Enojyed reading it! I hope you come to NYC one day soon. :) The dress code is identical. :)

Suzanne said...

You are a perfumista who not only travels, but travels well, Vanessa. I'd say you made the most of your time in met all the right perfume people!! Thanks for bringing us along for the joyride.

Carol said...


Orange Star - no discernible Tauerade!
Rose Vermeille - Tauerade alert!
Carillon d'un Ange - as above!

What is "tauerade"? ;)

ScentScelf said...

Ah, a fine finish to your travelogue. Well catalogued, too. :)

For some reason, I am fixated on the jeans...probably because I have never done skinny jeans, and never will. And while I profess to Just Not Care, I also harbor a secret concern that my boot legged jeans will get me booted from the joint. The joint being, potentially, all of L.A. Or perhaps just lead to me being a sample short.

Ooooh, short...heaven forbid straight legs AND ankle length are de rigeur....

As for this point, I'd say the only thing that remains closeted about Bonkers is her t-shirt. But then, we don't know your clothing storage like we do your perfume situation... ;) Needless to say, happy you brought us along.

Vanessa said...

Hi Marina,

Gosh yes, I should try to make it to NYC to get some more wear out of them - before the fashion passes, or I outgrow them, as inevitably I will. : - ) Not to mention the fact that it would be fun to meet...!

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your support of both my personas! Personae? It is much appreciated, anyway. Without question that that is the most copy I have ever got out of a two week work trip...
: - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Bloody Frida,

I think it was a coinage by Josephine originally, which has passed into the blogging language to denote that raspy, resinous, powdery base of most Tauers. A bit like Guerlinade, but fiercer. Some (myself included), find it almost asphyxiating at times, while others don't know what the heck the self-styled "Tauerade brigade" are on about.

: - )

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Goodness me, yes, those slightly cropped skinny trousers (in all fabrics) are bad news for the short of limb, and I have managed to avoid them so far.

LOL re my closet / clothing storage situation! I haven't felt it necessary to go the refrigerated route with my clothes wardrobes, though I believe darkness is good for garments too. The excessive squashing is probably not ideal - I guess clothes storage is rather like motorway widening - the volume just expands to fill the available space...

lovethescents said...

Thank you for your description of LS! Since I won't be making it there in person, any time soon, at least I can now guess what's it's like in there.

That's awful about Ajne!! I'm dying to try those two new releases as well. Too bad the international shipping is as expensive as those samples :-(

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Yes, I was glad to put a "shopfront to the name" at last!

Re Ajne, if I get to try those new releases before you, I'll let you know my verdict!

Qwendy said...

Vanessa, thanks for immortalizing me in this delightful post! I love your take on our silly LA customs, and feel proud to flaut (sp?) them! Note to S.Self, a good way to wear skinny jeans is too long and a bit scrunched over your footwear, very elongating.

Funnily enough, I just stopped by Ajne on my way through Carmel after the perfume workshop with Mandy Aftel and Esalen, and it was also closed. It's like trying to see the Masacio Altarpiece in that church in Florence, always closed when one is there! I must say I'm still onto Narcotic Florals, and had the great luck to concoct one at the workshop.

More about that's to continued sniffing on another coast or London in 2011! XOXOX

Vanessa said...

Hi Qwendy!

Thanks for "stepping forward" in your couture mule to comment here... : - ) The perfume workshop you attended sounded excellent, as does your own fragrance creation which I hope will have a suitably sultry name...

And I am relieved to learn that I am not the only person to mistime a visit to Ajne. Am not familiar with that particular church in Florence, but it sounds even more of a challenge to visit than the Louvre, which my sister-in-law was indignant to find closed last week - on a Tuesday! (She was reckoning on the Monday...)