Sunday, 5 February 2012

A Knightsbridge Sniffing Blitz With Tara Of Olfactorias Travels: Part One - Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie At Harrods

Following my visit to Les Senteurs, I jumped on a tube to Knightsbridge to meet up with Tara, regular contributor to Olfactorias Travels, loyal reader of numerous perfume blogs (including Bonkers!), and all-round good egg. I was very much looking forward to meeting Tara, because we had both separately met her co-blogger Birgit in person, and by the two of us meeting we were "completing the perfumista triangle", so to speak. As in drawing in its hypotenuse, type of thing. And I also wanted to thank Tara in person for the spontaneous gifts of perfume she has sent me over the past year. So did I actually thank her? Oh shoot, I don't remember! Tara, thank you for the Tauer and Dior samples!

We had agreed to meet at the side entrance of Harrods: I said I would be wearing my "good" ie sample-scoring coat, while Tara said she would be in a "dark grey wool" coat. In the heat of the moment, I forgot the words "dark" and "wool", and was flummoxed to find an assortment of 30-something women loitering by the tube entrance, all dressed in grey coats of various styles. It was Tara who spotted me in the end, and in my defence her coat was at the darker end of the grey spectrum, so we agreed to call it quits, and the coat "charcoal".

Tara is even more striking in person than in her avatar on Facebook, and having recently discovered the "Auto-Enhance" feature on my iPhone, which confers a lovely golden tinge on images and makes people's eyes look darker and more expressive, I can confirm that Tara is in fact an "Auto-Enhanced" version of Julia Roberts.


Introductions over, we decided to head up to the Haute Parfumerie on the fifth floor without further ado, following that tried and tested perfumista strategy of NOT leaving the best till last, for your nose will invariably have given up the ghost by the time you make it to the last stop on your itinerary. We spent a good while in Roja Dove's - "store" doesn't do the place justice - more like "boudoir" or "plush yurt", thinking especially of the inner sanctum area festooned with banks of plump cushions in jewel colours.

We browsed on our own for a bit, starting with Vero Kern's trio of scents: Tara knew I was keen to try these after reading glowing reviews of the line by Birgit. My expectations were quite low, not because I doubted that these would be exceptional creations - for everything I had read pointed to that - but because I felt they simply might not be my style of scent.

Well, I was most pleasantly surprised as it turned out - by ONDA in particular. It was predictably retro in feel, but I couldn't get over how smoothly blended it was - it didn't have the excessively powdery aldehydes that keep some classic chypres firmly anchored in the past. Rather, ONDA had the fluid texture of slippery olive silk, and reminded me of a "thinner gauge", less fruity version of Puredistance Antonia. ONDA definitely had at least one foot in the here and now, and if I had a sample, I would wear it.

RUBJ was more or less what I expected, and if anything even brighter and juicier. It was an exuberant, tuberose-forward, fruity white floral scent, if such a category exists. It was a little bit like a skankless Roja Dove Scandal crossed with Atelier Colognes Orange Sanguine. On balance, I don't think I would wear it - I might dare to do big florals, but probably not big fruit.

KIKI we more or less glossed over, because we both found the lavender note offputting, but I wondered if it might have had the potential to be a lavender-y Onda.

Next up, Tara was curious to take a sniff of IRISSS by XERJOFF, another rather pricy brand. Now you might think that a perfume with such a contrived collection of sibilant consonants doesn't deserve to be tested, but Tara is a big fan of iris, so we decided to overlook the self-conscious name. The opening of IRISSS was promising, then Tara had some concerns about the level of musk that seemed to be coming through, and I can't recall what her final verdict on this one was.

After a while, we were joined by Marcel, the SA in attendance that day. He took us through the latest Roja Dove releases (DANGER, RECKLESS, INNUENDO & AOUD) and drew our attention to another notable fragrance we might have overlooked on our own - BLESSINGS. Blessings is an exotic floral (more tropical-smelling than those notes suggest), originally created as a bespoke scent for a client called Belinda Brown. It was inspired by her childhood memories of Nigeria, notably a body cream called Stella Pomade. So delighted was she with Roja Dove's custom creation, that she felt it was too good to be reserved for her sole use, and asked him to produce Blessings as a limited edition parfum for her friends. Some time later, she collaborated with Roja Dove on the commercial release of an EDP version, which retails at the very reasonable price point of £75 per 100ml (vs £675 for 100ml of the LE parfum!). Blessings is well worth a sniff for fans of big white florals, and a trace of it still smells pretty on card, over a week later...

Top: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin
Heart: Jasmine de Grasse, Rose De Mai
Base: Cedar, Sandalwood, Tonka, Vanilla

Next up, Tara and I chuckled to ourselves as Marcel demonstrated the four new Roja Dove fragrances by lifting the chunky lids of each bottle and inviting us to sniff the insides. For here was yet another "perfume delivery system", to add to the list I compiled with the help of readers in a recent post.

I cannot truthfully remember much about the new Roja Doves, though the Aoud one was refined and elegant, and a far cry from the jarring medicinal quality of some of the bolder Montales. Aoud is the top selling perfume in the whole of Harrods apparently - I suspect by value. For the unit price of the Swarowski crystal-bedecked parfum strength bottle costs just shy of £500 - you would only have to sell one of those for every TEN bottles of a bog standard Versace or Gucci downstairs in the main perfume hall.

The AOUD only seems to be available in the parfum version, giving it an instantly exclusive feel, reinforced by the glitzy presentation. DANGER, RECKLESS & INNUENDO meanwhile (where does he get these names from? Answer: Thesaurus entries for RISKY or LIAISON?) are £295 for 50ml of the parfum and a whopping £195 for 100ml of the EDP. That is an increase of over 100% compared with the £95 I paid for my bottle of SCANDAL in 2008! Now I have heard of charging "what the market will bear", but - unless there has been a calamitous jasmine harvest or something in the meantime - that price hike does seem a little scandalous...

Although my impressions of the new Roja Doves are too jumbled to record, I will just list the notes for each, with snippets from the website description, because I know Tara and I did rather fancy at least a couple of them - though I think maybe not the one with the aldehydes, which was a bit more retro in the way I describe above. I have scribbled a note to myself to the effect that DANGER reminded me of MCDI Parfums Promesse de L'Aube (we also had a quick whip through that range!), but based on the notes I don't suppose it should really.

DANGER (rich, soft oriental - fresh, sweet, warm, and sensual)

Notes: jasmine, violet, orris

RECKLESS (sweet floral - sparkling, fresh, warm and sensual)

Notes: aldehydes, rose, amaryllis

INNUENDO (sweet floral - fresh, warm, powdery, and soft)

Notes: violet, orris, musk

If my beloved Guerlain Plus Que Jamais is no more, there may be comfort to be had in one of these, but a retrial on skin is called for rather than the ephemeral impression conveyed by "in-lid sniffing", or even testing on card.

I also introduced Tara to TRULY by Stephen Burlingham, which I had come across in Germany last year. Tara liked its cool greenness too, and (somewhat foolishly) I even got as far as inquiring again about the price of the different sizes. This is because Marcel told us Truly may not be long for this world, possibly because the other two scents in the trilogy (MADLY and DEEPLY) never saw the light of day, and Truly now looks a bit silly on its own. The dull chunky refill bottle seemed the most cost-effective option, which struck me as rather a sad state of affairs. For that is the thing about a visit to the Haute Parfumerie - you have to steel yourself to the fact that many of the perfumes you are likely to covet will forever remain an unobtainable dream - or at best, a glint in The Perfume Court's eye...

We ended up shooting the breeze with Marcel about our fragrance preferences generally, and he encouraged us to try a couple of the new D & Gs and Van Cleef & Arpels Precious Oud downstairs, which struck me as refreshingly impartial of him. We explained that we were both bloggers, and the name "Olfactorias Travels" seemed to ring a bell in Marcel's mind. He thought he recalled a lady called Birgit who had brought a party of people to the Haute Parfumerie, as part of an escorted tour of some top London sights. "She's a travel agent, right?" he inquired. Well, Birgit has many roles: wife, mother, blogger, budding author, resting pyschotherapist etc, but Tara and I were pretty certain that Birgit was not also a travel agent on the quiet, and put him straight on this point. Then we got to chatting about Twitter, which Marcel was quite keen to investigate, and as we said our warm goodbyes, I said I would look out for him on there.

Hmm, I have just had a look and there is a person on Twitter with the same name. However, judging by his hair colour and byline, which references fast food and alcohol (though not in a perfumery context...), something tells me it probably isn't the same chap. But I will keep checking in!

In Part 2: Tara and I go downstairs, brave the tester-toting SAs in the main perfume hall of Harrods, and do more than ogle the high end makeup...

Photo of Harrods from psigrist on Flickr, photo of Vero Profumo range from, photo of Blessings from, photo of Roja Dove Danger from, photo of Truly from Beauty Affair, photo of escalator from rjhuttondfw on Flickr, photo of Tara my own


Suzanne said...

What a treat to see a picture of Tara, who is as elegant and lovely as I imagined her. You're right, Vanessa, she does resemble Julia Roberts!

Loved getting your summary of some of the haute perfumes at the Haute Parfumerie. The only Roja Dove perfumes I've ever smelled are Diaghilev (which I didn't care for when i tried it last summer, but I should someday crack open my sample vial again and retest it) and the one he did for Puredistance ("M" which I do very much love). So it was fun to hear about the ones you tried; Blessings sounds quite pretty.

And that bottle of Truly!!! Is it as beautiful in person? I just love that emerald color.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Ah, what a lovely trip!
I wish I could have been with you completing the triangle then and there.
Tara looks so very pretty and quite at home at the Guerlain counter. ;)

So I'm a travel agent - that is excellent! I am chuffed beyond belief that the lovely Marcel knew of my blog, even if it was in a slightly different context.

Irisss is nice, but quite strikingly similar to Iris Silver Mist which is a positive bargain in comparison.
I adore Unspoken by Roja Dove, so I look forward to try the new ones.

How much is Truly? If you really love it, think hard about it - remember the Plus Que Jamais heartbreak!

Great post, can't wait for Part II!

Ines said...

I love reading about perfumista meetings! :)
Btw, Danger sounds like it might become my new friend in the future.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I tried Diaghilev at The Perfume Diaries event in Harrods a couple of years ago, and it couldn't have been further from my thing. That said, I am currently reading Lisa Chaney's biog of Coco Chanel, and Diaghilev features quite a bit in there.

Truly is *truly* that green, and also comes in a bottle shaped a bit like a pointy Puredistance tube. It looks just like an actual emerald.

I wish I had a sample of Blessings to try it at more leisure. I also think it would appeal to the Candy Perfume Boy.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria.

You've just reminded me - I had a couple of train journeys I wanted you to cost up for me... : - )

I also tried Unspoken (by sniffing inside the lid!) and liked it a lot more than I remembered from the early days of my hobby. If I am ready for Onda, that figures really.

Tara and I liked IRISSS because it wasn't as rooty as Iris Silver Mist, though still markedly iris-y (note that I am resisting even doubling up on the "s"s).

I will check the prices of Truly and get back to you. My memory appears to have blotted them out - must have been the shock. I will look at my old post and check out the Beauty Affair website where I first saw it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Danger is haunting me for some reason, though I can't bring any of them clearly to mind in the way I can Onda and Rubj. Perhaps Tara can help us out with her recollections. Sounds lame, but I just recall the new Roja Doves on the whole as being quite luxurious-smelling and pretty nice! Oud lovers would like the Aoud, I feel sure, if not its price...

Tara said...

I'm afraid I'm not much help with the Roja Dove fragrances. We tried so many in quick succession from those glass "lids", with the help of Marcel, that it was hard to hold any of them in mind. The only one that did stand out for me was the Aoud which was a smooth, opulent, floral oud of extraordinary quality. However, I have read since that despite the incredible opening, it doesn't hang around for long, which is more than a little disappointing at that price!

Irisss never did become musky, though it was surprisingly powerful stuff. I still think Equistrius preferred iris, which is fortunate for my bank account :)

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I am glad it wasn't just me having trouble remembering all the things we smelt - and the Roja Doves were followed by the MDCIs in fairly quick succession!

What a disappointment indeed if that Aoud doesn't last very long - and how unusual for the note, as well...

Thanks for filling me in on what happened with the IRISSS. Any iris other than IRISSS is probably better for your bank account. I bet Xerjoff charge by the "s", that's what it is. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Re your Truly query, I have found out that the 15ml of extrait pictured is £230, or was around about the time of my post on it last spring. If the Scandal price inflation is anything to go by, it may possibly have gone up a little since!

Ml for ml that is pricier than Puredistance in fact, though it is a very fetching shade of green.

Cymbaline said...

Whoa, Nelly - that certainly was a "sniffing blitz"! Good job on the memory/note-taking : )

Vero Kern Kiki is one of my faves, so sorry to hear you both don't much care for it. Onda was one I had a hard time with until I took my little sample with me on a camping trip last weekend, it smelled wonderful in the "temperate rain forest" setting.

Did you have a chance to smell MDCI Invasion Barbare? Now that's a "men's fragrance" that would smell divine on a woman!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Thanks for looking it up! That is steep indeed...

What I forgot to say: I'm so deligjted you loved Onda, that is totally unexpected, but makes me very happy!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Nice to see an actual pic of you! : - )

Now I could tell that Kiki is as fine a scent as any of the three, it is just that lavender doesn't float my - or Tara's - boat.

You were in a temperate rain forest? That sounds very exciting.

We did try Invasion Barbare, and I am blowed what I thought of it exactly, though I think it was a thumbs up. Perhaps Tara can help us out here. We liked most of the MDCIs in fact, though I have reservations about Belle Helene.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Yes, I was very pleased I liked Onda - borderline proud, in fact! Not unlike a coming of age.

It was liquid Lauren Bacall, I thought, so not remotely me, but lovely nonetheless.

lovethescents said...

Seriously lemming that Blessings now!

Cymbaline said...

The Pacific Northwest area, where I live is classified as temperate rainforest due to mild year-round temperatures, lots of trees and many(many)days of rain :-/

All the moss sure is pretty though, whenever the sun manages to break through!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I am going to see if there is any way I can snaffle a sample...

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Knowing your location, would you believe that was in fact my first tentative thought, but it quickly segued into visions of steamy jungles and parrots. : - )

Cymbaline said...

More like cedar trees and crows :D

Vanessa said...

I hear you!

Speaking of the Pacific NW and its wildlife, I once spent a whole week in Beaverton, and didn't see a single beaver.

Undina said...

Two years ago when I visited Harrods I had no idea about Haute Parfumerie... Now every time I read anything about it I keep kicking myself for not being prepared! (In my defence I should mention that back then I wasn't familiar with the term "niche perfumes" either)

Either your iPhone or my monitor has auto color enhancement as well because Tara's coat looks purple ;-P

When you tried Vero Kern's creations did you try both concentrations (EdP and extrait) or EdP only? I'm asking because for those that I tried (Onda and Rubj) the difference was significant.

Natalie said...

Lovely! And I agree Tara is just as pretty and sweet looking as I imagined. Jealous of you both for your meet-up!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Well, if it is any consolation, I have now learnt that Roja Dove perfumes are also available downstairs in the Black Perfumery Hall, though I don't recall seeing them. I don't know if the term "Black" is significant ie whether this might be a different bit again to the main hall where Tara and I went next after our visit to the Haute Parfumerie...

Purple, eh? Now you mention it, Tara's right shoulder looks purple to me!

And as for the Vero Kern extrait / edp question you pose, I am guessing only edp, because they would be very trusting to let a few testers of extrait loose on the shelves. And the bottles looked normal perfume bottle size & shape too.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Yes, Tara is both sweet-natured and very pretty - a winning combination indeed.

Do come over some time! : - )