Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Bonkers Grand Tour: Dresden Sniffathon - And An Internet Bombshell…

Say the name Dresden and most British people will instantly think of World War 2, when, regrettably, we bombed it to smithereens. Ah, you may say, but that’s how it goes in wars, and after all the Germans bombed Coventry. That is true, but having now clapped eyes on the architectural treasures that have been lovingly restored in Dresden since 1945, I get the distinct impression that Dresden had considerably more to lose... So anyway, during this, my first visit to the city, the war was never far from my mind, not least because a popular theme on picture postcards is “before” and “after” shots of the jewel in the crown, the Frauenkirche.

On Saturday, another boiling hot late summer’s day – though not such a humdinger on the heat front as the day I went sniffing with Olfactoria in Vienna – I had a chance to sightsee and to investigate any good perfumeries the city had to offer.

To this end, I texted, a blogging pal from Lüneburg, and immediately received a tip – Königsparfümerie Dommaschk, in Neumarkt 9 - a premium location right opposite the Frauenkirche, as it turned out.

I decided to work up to what was clearly Dresden’s equivalent of Le Parfum in Vienna, and started with a bit of low key browsing in two branches of Douglas and in Karstadt. The Douglas assistants in one branch were all in a huddle, chatting amongst themselves, and I had to prise one apart to inquire whether they had either Prada Candy yet or Acqua di Parma Gelsomino Nobile, another current love – no, was the answer, and the assistant had clearly never heard of them.

So I contented myself with a test spray of Balenciaga Paris L'Essence: the juice was a muted grey-green colour in a box to match. Instead of the cranial bottle top, Paris L'Essence has a satisfyingly heavy metallic sphere.

Also, rather than being a concentrated version of original Paris, as the name might suggest, I found Paris L'Essence to be a watery, sheer green scent – very pleasant and easy to wear, and quite different in style to its powdery, musky sister scent. The little I can find on this fragrance suggests that it is built around the violet leaf note, and that figures. A shrinking violet leaf note if you ask me, which is of course absolutely fine in my book!

I also tried Heidi Klum Shine, just because I like to dip into the German version of America’s Next Top Model, which she hosts. The series has taught me a lot of useful German vocabulary to do with the modelling industry, such as “Photoshooting”, “Casting”, “Makeup” and “Makeover”. The pleasing bottle – reminiscent of Idylle and Tommy Hilfiger Loud with the addition of a chunky square top – sadly belied its contents. It smelt like a run of the mill insipid musky fruity floral scent with a rather tart opening, which doesn't appear to have been grapefruit judging from the note list below, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the Coty dream team had slipped some in there.

Top notes: mandarin, pear, pink pepper
Heart: mimosa, lily of the valley, sunflower
Base: vanilla, tonka, musk

Be that as it may, if the über-cool Seal cares to smell Shine on his wife, he will plummet in my estimation, losing much of his own lustre in the process.

Next up was Karstadt, where I agonized long and hard as to whether to buy one of the Korres scents for the bargain price of 14.50 euros. Unfortunately, they only had testers of a couple of them. I couldn’t remember my impressions clearly enough from my sampling of these in Ingolstadt, and ended up being paralysed with indecision and unable to make a purchase. So I wandered over to the main fixtures, where I was soon approached by the very personable male sales assistant, to whom I instantly warmed.

He professed to not having heard of Prada Candy either, but unlike the Douglas assistant, proceeded to quiz me about it and seemed genuinely curious to hear more. I told him not to be put off by the sweetie shop name, and alerted him to the novel cap with integrated atomiser.

Herr O (to give him not quite his full name) invited me to smell Chanel No 19 Poudré, which was a great suggestion, as I hadn’t managed to catch up with this one yet. I thought it was a much softer, more approachable version of the original, which I find too severe and full-on. Nor is the powder level excessive, and I would happily wear this year round. Sadly, my very helpful sales assistant didn’t have a sample, but I know he would have given me one if he had.

I asked him what his favourite scents were – his collection runs to some 30 bottles, so he is clearly a serious fragrance lover too – and he named (if I heard him correctly) Impérial Millésime by Creed, a line that Karstadt doesn’t stock. Herr O's candour endeared him to me even more. He then took me over to the men’s aisle to sniff his favourite male fragrance that the store did carry: La Martina Hombre. I had never heard of this brand, but it turns out to be an Argentinian make of polo gear – funnily enough, I spotted a man at the Dresden Hauptbahnhof today wearing a polo shirt with a discreet La Martina logo.

Top notes: lemon, basil, mandarin and bergamot
Heart notes: thyme, cardamom, cloves and pepper
Base notes: cedar, musk, patchouli and vetiver

La Martina Hombre was a softly spicy woody scent – a touch more masculine than Kenzo Power, say, but less so than Marc Jacobs Bang. I could almost see this working as a unisex scent. And it did smell classy, and nothing like the ubiquitous Bleu de Chanel “tonic sport” genre that I find so tedious.

Herr O also tipped me off about the new JPG male fragrance launched in France this week – Kokorico (with notes of fig leaves, raw cocoa, patchouli, cedar and vetiver). I told him meanwhile about the stampede in Britain to buy Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour on account of its uncanny resemblance to Coco Mademoiselle. And while I didn’t have Herr O down as a regular Lidl shopper, he was intrigued by this story and said he would look out for it. And then we exchanged the warm goodbyes of two people who share a passionate interest in scent – Herr O managed simultaneously to shake my hand and pat me on the arm, which I took as a sign that he had enjoyed our chat.

So yes, never let it be said that all sales assistants in mainstream fragrance retailers are without a wide knowledge or keen interest in the subject: our very own nickgblue is one such – or was until he landed his plum job at Les Senteurs – and Herr O is another for sure.

So now I was all fired up and ready for my visit to Königsparfümerie Dommaschk. It had a superb range of scents – though not necessarily every scent in each line - including Byredo, By Kilian (all the “by”s!), So Oud, Clive Christian, Montale, The Different Company, Memo, Amouage, Floris, Penhaligon’s, Keiko Mecheri, Isabey, Ulrich Lang NYC, Nasomatto, Creed, Annick Goutal, Miller Harris, Les Parfums de Rosine, Acqua di Biella, Carthusia, Profumo di Firenze, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Histoires de Parfums, Hermès, Esteban, Serge Lutens, Frapin, Morgane Le Fay and Bond No 9. And some other brands I have forgotten. And some designer lines, including….drum roll…Prada Candy.

I quickly struck up conversation with the helpful and very beautiful blonde sales assistant. (She was wearing a little black dress and a double string of pearls, even though it was lunchtime and knocking on for 30C, but black shift dresses are standard uniform for those representing niche brands, I guess.) The SA told me that Candy had just come in that morning and I immediately sprayed some on a prime wrist site. Just as nice as I remembered from my first trial.

Next up, I tried a couple of By Kilians and Byredos: the Back to Black tester was empty, unfortunately, as I had not tried that one, so I retested Love and Tears which I had originally smelt with Qwendy in LA – she had been smitten by it as I recall, and Birgit is also a fan, I know. It is a huge, gorgeous, perfumey white floral – a bit heavy for the weather but I was not sorry to accidentally spray my finger tips as I was aiming for the card.

I also tried some Keiko Mecheris, a line which has signally failed to woo me up to now. The ones I tested (Mulholland, Tarifa, Les Nuits d’Izu and Taormine – half on skin, half on card) were interesting, but didn’t really grab me or have me resniffing the spot repeatedly the way Candy or No 19 Poudré did. The other scent that did truly catch my attention and which was the standout highlight of the day’s sniffing was Byredo La Tulipe. I had been keen to try this one ever since reading anotherperfumeblog’s glowing review – I believe she plans to wear this at her wedding shortly, which is recommendation indeed.

Notes: rhubarb, cyclamen, freesia, tulip accord, blond woods, vetiver and musk

This is very much a polite, feminine scent in the style I love. A friend of another blogger whose name escapes me described it as a “summer dress in a bottle” and it is just that. I do get the lilac a number of reviewers speak of, but it is offset by the fresh, dewy green notes that really do evoke a tulip, no small feat. It has a soft, pretty musky trail and it was love at first sniff. Robin of Now Smell This finds it a bit bland, but as I have said before, blandness is in the eye – or rather, the nose - of the beholder, and its gentle, tender quality is pitched just right for me. I also appear to be a sucker for rhubarb, loving its treatment in The Different Company Bergamote and Ulrich Lang Anvers 2.

NB Tulip painting is by my friend David, whose work I have already mentioned in my review of Carner D600. I am always nagging him to paint more of them, but they don't pose for as long as other flowers, apparently, so they are not his favourite subjects.

I was amused to spot the cologne called Gravel, which was suggested as a hypothetical signature scent for Don Draper of Mad Men by Memoryofscent, in her comment on another recent post by anotherperfumeblog. It has actual gravel in the bottom of the bottle – well, the white and yellowy-orange chips are in fact more like the stuff you find in goldfish tanks than anything you would chuck on your drive. I had a quick sniff on card and it was dour and manly, just like Don.

I also tried the Morgane Le Fay range, which seemed to be colour coded but not to have any individual names as far as I could tell. The blue was too galbanum-y for my liking, the pink a tuberose and ylang-ylang monster, and the yellow more my thing, though like the Keiko Mecheris, it didn’t really stand out.

Along the way I had a whiff of Carbone de Balmain on card, which Dee of Beauty on the Outside recently bought blind, and I remember her being pleased with her purchase. It was a spicy, woody, ambery number – a bit fierce for my liking (is there some gravel in there, by any chance?!), but might work for me in winter, or the drydown, say.

I also had a test on skin of Poiray Sceau de Coeur, which I had never heard of, and which came in a curious bottle whose top was made out of two-tone interlocking heart shapes. It was a bit of a Rubix cube job to get it open, to be honest, and the scent itself was some kind of praliney gourmand number – if I am not mistaken, praline seems to be the new oud. I’d give it another whirl if I ever came across it again. From my subsequent reading I have learnt that Poiray is a Parisian jewellery brand and the interlocking hearts also feature in a commemorative ring the company designed to celebrate its own history.

Now at some point in all my testing, I had asked the SA if I could take a couple of photos of the interior of the store. I explained that I was a blogger and that I liked to document the top perfume outlets in the various cities I visit on my travels. She referred me to the manager, who recoiled at the mention of the word “blog”, which in her mind was synonymous with “Internet”, which in turn was synonymous with “being ripped off by punters”. By “ripped off”, I mean that she is aware that some visitors to the store just use it as a repository of testers of niche scents, but then go off and buy the scents they like online from sites such as Aus Liebe zum Duft.

I understand her irritation, and tried to allay her concerns by saying that I simply wished to showcase her store - put it on the map, as it were - so that any fumeheads visiting Dresden would know that it had a great selection of high end brands. And while some people may cynically target her store with the clear intention of purchasing elsewhere, others who fall in love with a perfume there may prefer to buy it on the spot from the sales assistant who introduced them to the scent.

So yes, while I believe the proprietor is partly right about consumers exploiting the bricks and mortar presence of her store – possibly even as a direct result of reading my blog post - I can't help thinking that that simply isn’t the sort of thing you say... The most likely effect of telling a would-be customer that time wasters are a pain in the butt is to make them feel unwelcome. I pointed out that I didn’t have an online shop, and that my motives in wishing to feature the store were entirely honourable. In the end I was allowed to take a few pictures, but the atmosphere remained a little frosty.

So, I went to Dresden, and – obeying the famous injunction by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers - was careful not to mention the war. But as for price wars on the Internet...why, I didn’t see that one coming!

Photo of Balenciaga Paris L'Essence from, photo of Heidi Klum Shine and Chanel No 19 Poudré from Google images, photo of Karstadt from Wikipedia, photo of La Martina Hombre and Poiray Sceau de Coeur from Fragrantica, other photos my own.


Suzanne said...

Excellent report, as always -- love the photos of Dresden, a city I know little about but which is obviously quite lovely. Most of all, loved hearing about Herr O, who is clearly one of us!

potiron said...

I chuckled at the German you picked up from watching Germany's Next Top Model (also a prototypically German title).
I'm glad that you enjoyed No 19 Poudré. I have read comments ranging from tentatively positive to positively shattering. I started to feel sorry for pour Poudré. I too thought it was quite enjoyable.
Greetings to Herr O., should he be reading this.

Asali said...

Thanks for this lovely post. It just so happens that I was in Dresden just a few weeks ago, so you let me relive my days there :-)
I had a lot of the same thoughts re WW2, I must say.
About Karstadt, there was a lovely lady at the SL-stand, who was very helpful, and although I tried the 'easier' scents, that I didn't give so much time before, she had me immediately rightly placed suggesting Cuir M, and even MKK (I was a bit proud of this, actually). As too Königsparfümerie, I was horrified and would never purchase there, they wouldn't let me spray the bottles myself for fear I might spray into the shelves!!! They were un-knowlegdeable ("guerlain is ALL-natural materials"), condescending ("but you said you liked oriental, THIS is NOT an oriental!"), unfriendly and even downright rude! It seems your experience was not as bad as mine, although still not exactly great either.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Dresden is very lovely - and compact for walking. Reminded me a lot of Vienna, in fact.

Herr O was an absolute star and would that every SA were like him!

Vanessa said...

Hi Potiron,

Of course - "Germany's Next Top Model" is a prototypically German name indeed... : - )

Glad you are another fan of Poudre - it was certainly right up my "softly softly" alley!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Thanks so much for dropping in with an account of your own Dresden sniffing experiences. It was very intersting to compare notes and it seems that your impressions of the staff in each store broadly mirrored my own. I was certainly left alone to test as many scents as I liked in Konigsparfumerie - I stopped short of inquiring about samples, though, as you might imagine! The blonde lady was very sweet and helpful, I should add.

Anonymous said...

I love reading these posts, it's as if we can come with you. (And sometimes we can! ;) )
Dresden sounds interesting, and I applaud your courage before that not very friendly proprietor at Königsparfümerie. I would have packed up and run without pictures, thank you for getting your wish so diplomatically, I adore looking at perfume (surprise!).
You must be the best-travelled Perfumista in existence...and the funniest as well.

Anonymous said...

I love pics of the inside of perfume stores V, so thanks for persevering.It's so silly to worry about people testing perfumes and then buying them elsewhere. They have no control over this (unless they lower their prices) and being edgy about it will only put people off browsing and then maybe buying.

Very much enjoyed Herr O.


Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria,

Dresden felt so similar architecturally to Vienna - there were even those horse-drawn fiacres trotting through the town! And yes, sometimes you can indeed come with me, and I could certainly have done with the moral support in the last store... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

You are so right that if people are discouraged from browsing at all in a high end store - and Asali had a worse experience than me, it seems - they will feel disinclined to make their purchase there - given that it should be a "feel good" thing, after all.

Herr O is a paragon, no question!

Unknown said...

I love reading about these shopping trips. If only you could sniff along at the same time, it'd be like you were even there ;)
PS thanks for the mention! Hehe

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick,

A scratch and sniff blog - why, it must only be a question of time...!

I fear I didn't do any shopping on this trip. Therein lay the problem, perhaps...

That said, if my lemming for La Tulipe reaches irresistible proportions, Les Senteurs will be my retailer of choice! : - )

Unknown said...

LS don't currently stock Byredo. From the sounds of it, they won't get it back either. And you know by shopping I meant sniffing :) You simply must come down soon, especially once we open the shop!

lovethescents said...

LOVE Byredo's La Tulipe and am happy with my decant...although I didn't reach for it as often as I thought I would in the spring.

So did you buy anything? I'm assuming you didn't?

The new Balenciaga L'Eau de Paris Plein d'Eau sounds like a watery mess. No thank you! Thanks for the head's up, though!

By the way, I'm not sure how much you'd love the Back to Black. I think you might find it too heavy and sweet, after all.

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick,

No Byredo in Bygravia? What's to do?!

The shop is not open? It is having a refit of some kind? Or did you just mean that I shouldn't turn up at 7.30am, as though you were my local Tesco? Sorry for all Les Questions!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I guess I might be happy with a decent decant of La Tulipe - have one of Candy now coming my way, hurrah!

And no, I didn't buy anything, but I might have blown £50-£60 that day if a bottle had been priced at UK levels. All the continent seems dearer though, and the Byredo was 140 euros - not good, given our current exchange rate...

I kind of thought Back to Black might not be my thing, so I shan't go out of my way to seek it out, thanks!

Unknown said...

Oh I'm sorry - missed out a word.
Meant to say when we open the *new* shop! :)

Katie Puckrik said...

Vanessa, it's "don't mention the blog," indeed! I'm very much enjoying Prada Candy, too. I've got a Candy video in the can and lined up for deployment soon. I marvel at the cajeta-like caramel, and the way it presses right into the smell of the skin.

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick,

Now that makes sense...! : - ) Is it near Stafford, by any chance?

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

So pleased to learn you are another Candy fan! I think our taste tends to overlap on the sweeter end of things (Jasmin Noir etc).

Can't wait for my decant to come - this is so nuzzleable. Must look up cajeta - sounds like a Mexican restaurant.

Undina said...

As always, enjoyed your report.

I have to say, though, about the bombing: they DID start first!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

:- ) I shall remain resolutely "stumm" on the matter, to borrow a handy German term, and not risk a diplomatic incident!

Undina said...

Vanessa, :-)