Monday, 2 May 2011

Düsseldorf Sniffathon: Schnitzler, Beauty Affair, & An Olfactory Tardis

My post on Kate Middleton's wedding scent is still attracting a phenomenal amount of interest - over 1500 new visitors since Saturday, and counting... It has popped up in the forum of the Czech equivalent of Basenotes, been translated into Romanian, and syndicated as far away as Florida and India. The vast majority of people who found their way to Bonkers over the weekend did so with predictable permutations of keywords such as "Kate Middleton perfume" or "What scent did Kate Middleton wear on her wedding day?", though intriguingly two new visitors were routed here by putting in the search terms: "slime" and "Diane Kruger naked". The buzz around the royal nuptials rather eclipsed the account of my Berlin sniffathon - though interestingly, there is a district in central Berlin called "Wedding"... But the precise identity of Kate's wedding fragrance was a matter of such public interest that I was more than happy to disrupt the flow of my German sniffing reports with coverage of this important news item!

So to resume where I left off, after my stay in Berlin and a brief stopover in Hamburg, I met up with fellow blogger in her home town of Lüneburg, about an hour's train ride north of Hannover. I met her fiancé and her fiancé's best man elect(!), and we sat in a shady courtyard sipping long drinks before installing ourselves at an Italian restaurant in a prime riverside spot (see photo). We whiled away the afternoon enjoying a long, lazy lunch, to which my friend kindly treated me. I must say the pumpkin ravioli with sage was the finest I had ever tasted!

Now it so happened that the day we met up was Good Friday, so we could only press our noses against the windows of the small perfumeries in's town. This was probably a good thing, however, as the boys in our party had "normal" levels of interest in men's fragrance, and as it was, and I couldn't stop ourselves from nattering away at least 40% of the time about recent fragrance launches, our current lemmings, respective approaches to blogging, and of course the all-important question of what scent my friend was thinking of wearing on HER big day.

This will be in December, so there is still plenty of time to wrist test scent candidates. The current front runner is Parfum d'Empire Eau Suave, in case anyone is curious: a green rose scent with fruity and spicy notes. And in amongst our snatched conversations about perfume, recommended that I take advantage of the shops being open on Easter Saturday to visit Beauty Affair and Schnitzler in Düsseldorf, which she said had a particularly fine selection of niche brands...and so it proved.

I made it to the Königsallee, Düsseldorf's main shopping artery, at about 4pm on that hot spring afternoon (it was at least 25 C!). On my way to Beauty Affair I came across a different - and smaller - branch of Schnitzler than the one for which I had an address (Breidenbacher Hof, at Königsallee 11 instead of 56), but I didn't notice my error at the time! No 11 still carried a large selection of beauty brands and niche fragrances (including a mini-Guerlain concession with the L'Art et la Matière range and other limited distribution scents such as La Petite Robe Noire, plus lines such as Maison Kurkdjian, Juliette Has A Gun, Piguet, Lalique, Ligne St Barth, Bond No 9, Parfumerie Générale, Keiko Mecheri, Etro, Bois 1920, Sisley, Caron, E Coudray, M Micallef, Montale, Czech & Speake, Amouage, Annick Goutal, Nasomatto, and a whole clatter of brands with "Profum-" in their name: Il Profvmo, Profumi del Forte, Profumo die Firenze...and so on!

I sniffed my way through a few JHAGs, and reconfirmed my preference for Lady Vengeance: Calamity Jane was well done, but too lavender-y, while Citizen Queen was too full-on and gourmand - what the Germans might refer to as "üppig", as in a "lush" or "big bosomy" style of scent. I also sampled Maison Kurkdjian's Lumière Noire pour Femme, which was a rather sultry rose-patch number, even on card. I am writing this 10 days after the event and the card still smells unmistakably of the scent in question; I feel moved to mention this as it is so rarely the case, especially after the smelling strips have all mulched down in my handbag. Now I am sure I sampled Lumière Noire pour Femme on skin once and was not especially taken with it, but maybe it is one of those fragrances that takes a bit of a run up. I couldn't top Denyse's description of this one on Grain de Musc, so here are some choice highlights:

"...a courtesan trussed in velvet the colour of drying blood trimmed with jet beads, hair tumbling down her back as she downs a flute of champagne. Her shawl carries the smell of the patchouli leaves it was packed with to repel the moths on its way from India. A bunch of jasmine exhales its dying breath between her breasts. A sweaty tendril of cumin rises from her corset…"

What else? I had a sniff of Kimono Rose by Bois 1920, which was a powdery rose with a pretty name, and that is about as much as I can recall about it. I also tried in vain to blag some more Lalique samples. I was seriously contemplating a purchase of White at the time, and would definitely have copped for a 50ml bottle of Piguet Calypso, but they didn't have it in; from the dismissive way in which the male sales assistant - who had the haughty bearing of a flamenco dancer - informed me of this fact, you would think I had been asking for Britney Spears' Midnight Fantasy.

So I hotfooted it out of there and was soon in the oasis of customer care that is Beauty Affair, a tiny jewel of a store set back from the Königsallee in a courtyard area within an exclusive mall. I spent a good 40 minutes shooting the breeze with the assistant manager, Marita Berchem - in between customers, I hasten to add - she did a brisk trade during my visit. The store is hands down the best stocked niche perfumery I have ever set foot in.

It was neither as happily higgledy-piggledy as Fascination in Lytham nor as stylishly sparse as Les Senteurs. It was rather the merchandising equivalent of high rise living in Hong Kong or Tokyo. It was a Tardis, a Sprite towing caravan with every inch of living space cunnily maximised. I could have spent an hour looking at two square feet of fixture, there was so much going on in such a compact area. Other high end perfumeries with average numbers of niche brands, averagely merchandised, will now forever look to me as though they are having a closing down sale...! I wish to goodness I had remembered to bring my camera on this trip, so I could offer photographic proof - but sadly I forgot.

Now I could not do justice to Beauty Affair by attempting to reconstruct a definitive list of the brands it carried, so I will just list some of the highlights:

Frédéric Malle! (in a cute little fridge like a supermarket ice cream cabinet), Puredistance!, Atelier Colognes!, Huitième Art Parfums!, Yosh, Heeley, By Kilian, Parfums 06130, L'Etat Libre d'Orange, Les Parfums MDCI, Miller & Bertaux, Frapin, Ineke, Biehl.parfumkunstwerke and gazillions more...

I was also astonished to see the Designer Shaik range: a musician friend of Mr Bonkers owns Opulent Shaik No. 77 and I have marvelled at the wacky hard shell case in a vivid shade of cobalt blue when he has come to stay, but never encountered the range in store. Now he won't need to go all the way to Dubai when his (admittedly humungous) bottle eventually runs out.

Realising that with such a wealth of options before me, option anxiety - or "die Qual der Wahl" as the Germans so charmingly term it - was rapidly setting in, I decided to focus my sniffing on the Huitième Art Parfums range, and tried all of them on card. I knew a little bit about the creative background to these scents, thanks to an interview by Michelyn Camen with Pierre Guillaume here. They are, for example, minimalist fragrances, which depart from the traditional pyramid structure, as PG explains:

" terms of their different structure I want to simplify the analytical approach… these fragrances are created on the basis of two or three accords or original materials; they need to be experienced in their entirety."

I have not bottomed out the ins and outs of "phyto-perfumery", and PG's methods of creating odorant molecules from plants, but I gather that the whole idea is to get even closer to the authentic scent of materials, some of which - like pear tree wood - are quite new in perfumery.

So...Sucre d'Ebène, Fareb and Ambre Céruléen all got the thumbs down (too gourmand, or resinous or spicy or leathery - or some unhappy combination of the foregoing), however, I was very favourably struck by Aube Pashmina, Naїviris, Vohina, Ciel d'Airan and Manguier Métisse. With the exception of Manguier Métisse, which I liked because of its Dolby surround sound ripe mango note - something I have never smelt in a perfume before - the others are all delicate, airy, pared back compositions that are very much in the subtle vein I favour. Frau Berchem broadly shared my preferences, though she said she also liked Fareb in cooler weather.

Unfortunately, the scent strips of all the ones I liked don't smell of anything anymore(!), and I am blowed if I can remember much about them individually. I did remark to Frau Berchem that Aube Pashmina reminded me of Diptyque's L'Ombre dans L'Eau, whereupon she promptly nipped out back and returned with a tester of the Diptyque so we could conduct a side-by-side comparison. She could see where I was going with the sappy green note they shared, but pointed out that L'Ombre dans L'Eau had more rose in it - and so it did!

I think I will have to get hold of a sample set of these and retest them at my leisure, preferably on skin. Meanwhile, I will direct you to this press release on Now Smell This, where there is a blurb about each scent. Even having read these back, I can't truthfully say that any of the descriptions of the scents I liked rings a bell with me, except for the mango one, which was particularly distinctive.

Woolly and feeble as that "review" may have been, I did come away with samples of three other scents, which I have been able to test in a leisurely manner on skin since my return. These were two unisex fragrances from the Barcelona fragrance house Carner - D600 and TARDES - plus Truly Madly Deeply by Stephen Burlingham for Tiffany. Two of the three were so impressive that they warrant separate reviews.

Special mention also goes to Frau Berchem for the generous and no-nonsense manner in which she decanted a sample of Truly Madly Deeply into a plastic atomiser for me - of the very sort I carry around with me on spec but am usually too shy to deploy!

To be continued...

Photos of the Kö and Lüneburg from tripadvisor, photo of Guerlain corner from Schnitzler's website, other store photo of Schnitzler from, photos of the Beauty Affair store, Huitième Art range and Frau Berchem from the Beauty Affair website, photo of caravan from, photo of Opulent Shaik No 77 from


Anonymous said...

Wow, never, ever has Germany sounded so appealing to me. Must get over there soon, my husband will think I am crazy for longing to go to Düsseldorf. :D
Thank you for your perfect coverage of your trips!
And good for you that all those visitors are discovering your lovely blog because of the Wedding scent! They will stay for the great writing, I am sure!

Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria!

Düsseldorf is not a prime tourist destination, granted - and especially not for people from Cologne, apparently : - ) - but it turns out to be a bit of a mecca on the quiet on the perfume front. Just two weeks before my visit, the city played host to the trade fair "Global Art of Perfumery", which I would have liked to have attended. I believe Düsseldorf is also the city which organises the German answer to Sniffapalooza, though you couldn't pack too many people at once into Beauty Affair, that's for sure...

Thanks for your kind comment about my writing. I'm realistic about the chances of people becoming returning visitors to Bonkers, as I am sure the vast majority just wanted to know that titbit and get out. I have meanwhile spoken with the stockist of White Gardenia Petals, Rouillier White, and they are happy about the extra publicity and will be sending me some samples! So a proper review - or as "proper" as they come on this blog - is in sight...

lovethescents said...

Oh my goodness, how exciting! Strangely, I was never very interested in testing the Huitieme Heure range, but that Manguier Metisse sounds lovely. Must find a sample. I didn't realize you'd never tried a fragrance featuring mango. You must remind me to send you a dab of l'Artisan's Eau Merveilleuse!

I am particularly excited, now, about my Carner Tardes decant. I hope that's one you loved too!

lovethescents said...

Typo! Huitieme Art and not Heure...heures in sleep is what I'm lacking!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I can well imagine you could do with a few more heures' kip!

I have tried scents with mango, but usually the tarter green mango type of note as in Jardin sur le Nil, say, rather than the more dessert-y kind. I don't know Eau Merveilleuse, though!

Sorry to disappoint, but it was D600 that I loved...though you might care for Tardes! : - (

lovethescents said...

D600? Really? I haven't tried that yet but judging from the notes (and you know how effective I find those!!), it seemed to lean more towards the masculine end of the spectrum.

Vanessa said...

No, they are both unisex, apparently, though of the two Tardes is slightly more feminine, I guess, in a Fleur Oriental kind of way. I would certainly wear D600 - I am seriously thinking of getting a bottle - though further sampling is required before I do anything hasty!

lovethescents said...

A FB of D600? My goodness, it must be that good! We look forward to your review ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Don't be put off Tardes on my account - it has almond, which you like, also tonka bean and heliotrope.

lovethescents said...

I know, I know, the notes sound perrrrrfect :-)

Carol said...

hello Bonks!! That ravioli sounds divine - my tummy is rumbling!

ooooh, Tardes! Though with almond, I'm not quite sure I'd go for it, but I can pretend! ;)

Vanessa said...

Hey Bloody!

That ravioli was the business. Aha, so you like the sound of Tardes, do you? I am still mooning over D600 and trying to decided whether to blow 90 euros on a bottle. So far my "Inner Wallet Keeper" is standing firm.