Sunday, 6 November 2011

Meeting The Swiss Perfumistas (Again!): Part Two - Parfumerie Hyazinth, Andrea Maack Perfumes, And The Man With 20 Bottles Of His Favourite Scent

This might be a relatively short post (as my scented travelogues go), simply because the present-opening ceremony and perfume grab-fest at the Roter Engel cafe had left all our noses completely sated. But no visit to Basel would be complete without at least a token sniffing session at Parfumerie Hyazinth, a short stroll from the Marktplatz.

Given that half the store's compact interior is already allocated to cosmetics, Hyazinth is all the more remarkable for the extensive range of niche lines carried, including two of my favourite discoveries from 2011, Carner Barcelona and Puredistance. The shelves are stacked literally from floor to ceiling, and on any given section of the fixture there will be at least three niche fragrance ranges below shin height that are all too easy to miss. One of these was Odin: thinking that Potiron might like a couple of scents from this house, I inquired of the sales assistant if they carried the brand, only to find the complete range just north of my left ankle. Potiron was in fact quite taken with 01 Nomad, so my hunch proved correct.

I decided that my nose was too jaded for me to adopt a scattergun approach in my sampling, so I pretty much focused on one range, Andrea Maack, and left it at that. This artist and founder of Iceland's first perfume house has been on my radar for a while and I was intrigued by the blunt monosyllabic names of the individual scents, that match the dour, craggy (and collapsed bank- and ash cloud-overhung) image I have of Iceland.

Additionally, their quirky ring seemed ideally suited to the homeland of Björk, to whom I am often compared. Not for my song writing or singing ability, obviously, but for my looks and occasional propensity to wear outlandish outfits. Several Facebook friends have been egging me on to replicate the famous swan costume, but my progress is slow on the feather gathering front. You wouldn't credit how many of my old pillows appear to be polyester.

So I started out sniffing these Andrea Maack scents predisposed to like them, not least for their pleasing white granite tops, reminiscent of the better end of Magnet fitted kitchens.

Here are my mini-reviews, which should be taken with a pinch of volcanic dust, because my nose was severely challenged by this stage. Moreover, these are no ordinary perfumes, but were created as olfactory interpretations of a series of drawings, as stated on the perfume house's website:

"...the challenge for the perfumers was to reflect on Maack's intricate pencil drawings and turn them into
olfactory experience, making only one version of each."

In an interview last year with Jill Singer of Sight Unseen magazine, Maack explains (somewhat tellingly) that she never set out to be a perfume house per se, adding:

“The next step is to do something more with the drawings, perhaps turn them into textiles. The point is to take my artwork and mass distribute it. It doesn’t really matter what the product is.”

For each of the scents therefore, in addition to listing the fragrance notes, I will extract or paraphrase parts of the website copy about the premise or concept behind it.


Premise: Smart started with a delicate pencil drawing and was developed for an art exhibition - its inspiration comes from an empty white gallery space.

Notes: Violet leaf, jasmine, sandalwood, vanilla, white musk, buckskin.

I see exactly where Maack is going with this "empty white gallery space" idea. This scent was so light and gentle as almost to defy my nasal receptors. I thought no scent could be too subtle for my tastes, but this one was quiet to the point of mute. I'll call it "soft violets smelt from outer space on a cloudy day".


Premise: Craft stands for Couture Art and "was created for a museum show to enhance the experience of a unique work of art, a hand made sculptural dress made from original pencil drawings". I'll skip the description of this as "a godlike scent" for a "once in a lifetime experience".

Notes: Aldehydes, elemi, cold metal, ice, cedar wood, patchouli.

Craft smelt unpleasantly metallic and cold. Verdict: resoundingly Not A Perfume, though I realise that these scents are not supposed to conform to most people's idea of what a "normal fragrance" should smell like.


Premise: "The idea of Silk is to enhance the feeling of wearing a perfume - its powdery, airy, earthy, leathery aura makes you imagine a silky smoothness caressing your neck."

Notes: Violet leaves, freesia, lime tree, linen, magnolia, Spanish cistus, earth (ground), papyrus, vanilla, amber.

Well, Silk does more or less deliver on the smooth texture front, however, the consensus of our party was that Silk smelt like a cheaper make of perfume than one would expect for the £85 price tag. Alicka61 was reminded of an Avon scent, which pretty much killed this one stone dead.


Premise: Dark is "a take on the classic rose note, a bloody, flowery, leathery, seductive perfume with a purpose".

Notes: Yellow mandarin, pink bays (berries), petitgrain, lemon tree, aldehydes, rose, metal, green apple, ambergris, orange blossom, Virginia cedarwood.

I didn't care for Dark, which seemed a confused mix of different scent styles. My notes on the day state: "sharp metallic floral citrus", and both the notes and the website blurb confirm the presence of a "heavy" metallic note which brings an "unexpected surprise". Well, I am sorry but I am not a fan of heavy metal in fragrance as in music, and this dark galvanised rose scent is no exception.


Premise: "Sharp was made for an art exhibition to accompany an artisanal dress with drawings carved into the material, creating a repetitive signature pattern."

Notes: Orange blossom, angel skin (pardon?), sweet vanilla, white musk, soothing softness (you are kidding, right?).

Notwithstanding the patently silly note list, this is the scent out of the five which a) I could clearly smell, b) contained no discernible metal note and c) most resembled a "normal" perfume that cost a bob or two. Now it is perhaps wrong of me to look to these "olfactory exhibits" for a fragrance to which I can personally relate, but I can't help thinking whenever I sniff ANY scent, however avant-garde its origin: "Do I like this and would I wear it?"

With Sharp the answer to both questions is yes, and I am pleased to report that it isn't the least bit sharp. Ha - there's another "unexpected surprise"! Sharp is a sweet vanilla and orange scent, and we all thought we had smelt something similar before, but couldn't put our fingers on it. I think it may have reminded me of a less spicy Fendi Theorama, or Ajne Bloom de Nuit or quite possibly Givenchy Organza - it had that "thick" vanilla oriental quality to it.

So in summary, the Andrea Maack perfume range was not an unqualified hit with any of us, though I do admire the concept behind the project of creating scented versions of art works in other media. Yes, I really want to buy into the names of these scents, the bleakly atmospheric backdrop of Iceland's lava fields, the geological packaging - and the quirky Spirograph prints and spiky paper dresses which inspired the range - but I just don't want to smell like most of them.

Finally, this latest visit to Hyazinth was notable for a chance encounter with an American customer, who was standing in the middle of the store regaling a group of friends with a tale of how he loved a particular men's cologne so much that he went and bought a further 20 bottles of it! Well, clearly I couldn't let the matter rest there, and - after first excusing myself for my involuntary eavesdropping - asked him what this extraordinary scent was which had prompted such a stockpiling frenzy. Remarkably it turned out to be a mainstream men's scent, Zino by Davidoff. I made a point of trying this scent when I spotted it a couple of days later in a department store in St Gallen, and have to report that it was a fairly generic woody spicy number, somewhere between Marc Jacobs Bang and D & G By Man. Ah well - serves me right for asking...

Photo of Parfumerie Hyazinth from, photo of Iceland's lava fields from, photo of Björk from, photo of Andrea Maack range from the company's website, photo of girls in Andrea Maack dresses from and, photo of knives from, photo of orange and vanilla from, Andrea Maack publicity shot from, photo of Zino perfume from, other photo my own.


Anonymous said...

Sharp is the only Maack scent I have tried, and it is okay, but doesn't wow me in any way. Since you say it it the best of the five, I guess, I can give this line a pass.

On a very envious note: I wish I could go to so many international perfume boutiques as you do... :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Yes, I should perhaps point out that while I would wear a sample of Sharp if I owned one, I would place it on no greater footing than my other umpty hundred samples that live outside the "box of hell" but haven't made the cut to the travel bags, languishing instead in the limbo of long term storage.

Sharp may also have inadvertently benefited from what I would call "least worst" syndrome, whereby the few scents I like from ranges I have otherwise dismissed manage to endear themselves disproportionately to me... : - )

I'll think of some other examples of this scenario by and by. There might even be a separate blog post in it!

Vanessa said...

PS I do indeed feel lucky that I have this opportunity to visit so many international perfumeries on my travels - in three towns on this particular trip. My Zurich & St Gallen report is up next...

Anonymous said...

Least-worst syndrome sounds great and is very accurate, I know that myself. I would love to read such a post!

Vanessa said...

I've thought of two houses so far... : - )

axum said...

I can't stop thinking about the 20 bottles...I wonder how many years that'll last?

Vanessa said...

Hi axum,

It really doesn't bear thinking about...

: - )

I can recommend this book about a man who hoarded bottles of a particular scent - Musc by Percy Kemp. I think it is available in translation. Riveting and deeply weird.

Love your avatar, btw!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, those Maack scents don't sound good at all. To me they seem like another niche house that delivers on concept but neglects the fact that perfume is to be worn, smelled and most importantly, enjoyed! I think I'll give them a miss.

I echo Olfactoria's sentiment, I wish I could go to as many international boutiques as you!

A lovely post, as always!

Anonymous said...

And how exactly was it that you and Bjork were separated at birth? An unfortunate accident that resulted in her scoring all the stork feathers?

Looking forward to the "least worst" article/series.

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

I am afraid that was my reluctant conclusion, more or less. I did like the concept a lot but the olfactory interpretation of a white gallery space was never going to smell of much, I guess...

Perhaps your next job should involve some business travel. Meanwhile, if I ever have to conduct my interviews by video-link, that will be a bad day for my perfume hobby. : - (

Tara said...

Hmm not very inspired to check out the Maack range even though I think it's at Les Senteurs. BTW did you see they have a second shop in Marble Arch now? (Though I know that's not much help to non-Londoners like you, V!)

Good point about the difference between perfumes that smell interesting and those you actually want to smell of.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

LOL re me and Bjork's post-natal pillow fight?!

The "Least Worst" article will need some mulling over, but it is on the list.

More sniffing in swish Swiss shops follows shortly... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

There was a talk about the Maack range at Les Senteurs as I recall. I think Persolaise went along, but I deliberately didn't check back in case his reviews of the scents influenced me. I should look now, though!

Yes, I did know about the new store opening, thanks, following a tip off from Nick Gilbert who works at the Belgravia one still. Another outlet - especially one in such a high traffic location - has to be a good move.

Anonymous said...

Those Americans (shakes head). :)

The only Andrea Mack I've tested is Smart, which reminded me of the Different Company Pure Virgin, but not as "good." (good being relative)

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

I should perhaps clarify that my reference to the nationality of the chap with 20 bottles was by no means intended to imply that your fellow countrymen are particularly prone to aberrant consumer behaviour, including the current instance of "perfume stockpiling disorder". : - ) It was more a throwaway allusion to Basel's cosmopolitan community.

Funnily enough, later that evening, Potiron and I bumped into the same group at a tram stop, and a friendly exchange followed, in which I reaffirmed my intention to seek out and test the scent with which he was so smitten!

Vanessa said...

PS Now I haven't tried - and wasn't even aware of - TDC Pure Virgin, but you have got me curious now to see if I might also detect a resemblance with Smart.

I now see that Persolaise compares Sharp to ELD'O Divin' Enfant, and I do get the resemblance he means, though that scent has a curious marshmallow and "cold tobacco" accord I could take or leave...

lovethescents said...

I have tried a few Andrea Maacks. I so wanted to love them all because I love their 'idea'. Craft, Smart, Sharp....I tested them several times, trying so hard to like them. I don't care for any. Sharp and Smart were like marshmallows, minus the fun I get when I wear Mi Fa with all it's sweet-cutting mint. Thankfully, I was able to swap those Maackin' decants ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Sounds as though you had a similar response to me - nice idea, shame about the scents themselves.

LOL at "Maackin' decants"! That has a real ring to it... : - )