Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bonkers "On Tour" In Germany: April Aromatics At KaDeWe, Berlin, And Thoughts On "Tuning Out"

Saturday 21st April found me in Berlin, with my merch selling duties acquitted and a free day stretching ahead until a late evening flight home. I had plans to go sniffing in at least three different outlets, but in the end only managed a flying foray to KaDeWe, an upmarket department store with a large selection of designer and niche scents, which I also visited on my previous trip to Berlin a year ago that week.

And in KaDeWe I only sniffed scents from one brand: April Aromatics from Berlin-based artisanal perfumer, Tanja Bochnig. April Aromatics is a range I had been curious to try ever since reading Asali's glowing review of Unter Den Linden on All I Am A Redhead. And now here I was in Berlin in April - not exactly ON Unter den Linden, even though it is on the long side as boulevards go - or UNDER linden trees on any street, even, but just being in Berlin felt quite fitting!

The sales assistant in KaDeWe encouraged me to sniff the pre-prepared fragrance strips for all eight scents in the range, and said I could keep any I liked. No samples were available, which is perhaps not surprising given that the perfume oils I tested cost a whopping 70 euros for the 10ml size, while the EDP is 189 euros for 30ml. However, these scents are an all-natural line, so one would expect to pay top euro.

April Aromatics sums up its ethos on the company's website:

"Working only with natural extracts enables us to experience the true soul of a plant and April Aromatics captures these essences in its perfumes."

Well, the topic of whether plants do in fact have a soul is perhaps moot, and best left for another time. The brand also proudly states that it doesn't use "animal derived ingredients that involve the killing and torturing of animals". Now I didn't think any perfumery ingredients were sourced by killing or torturing animals nowadays, though please do leave a comment if you know otherwise. But there again, if plants have a soul, by the same token they may well also have a body that isn't too keen on being slathered in grease and having the living daylights pressed out of it. Or being scalded in a hot alembic or whatever. You can't have it both ways, surely?! Okay, so I was being facetious there, but selective anthropomorphism when it suits your purpose strikes me as a bit cheeky. : - )

But on to my testing of the range - all eight on paper, then I sprayed my two favourites on skin.


Notes: orange, sandalwood, patchouli, incense, vetiver, vanilla

"Very spicy" was my rather terse verdict on this one. I know that isn't much to go on, but the subtext will be that it smelt more like the jumbled contents of a kitchen spice rack than a perfume you might care to wear.


Notes: jasmine flowers, ylang-ylang, pink grapefruit

Jasmine in 3D - this was seriously indolic to my nose. I was reminded of Gorilla Lust, which also features a vampy ylang-ylang note.


Notes: rosa centifolia, rose otto, neroli, mandarin, vanilla

"Weird, spicy, sour" is all you're getting on that one!


Notes: sandalwood, cedarwood, vetiver, buddha wood, cistus

All I have written is "very woody". Even the sales assistant apologised for the extreme woodiness of this scent, saying that it might appeal to men. Or extreme wood-loving women, obviously. An 8 out of 10 on the "trapped in a tea chest" / "planky" scale.


Notes: tuberose, neroli, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, yuzu

"Spicy, honeyed, a bit like Amoureuse?" As anyone who knows me will realise, a comparison with Amoureuse is not a good thing, the DeRae scent in question being a sticky, indolic, veritable Venus Fly Trap of a scent as far as I am concerned. Or was concerned in 2008 when I last tried it. I may be feeling a shade braver now, you never know.


Notes: rosa damascena, rose absolute, orris root, tonka bean

"Very true rose" is my bald comment on Rosenlust, my second favourite. They definitely "expressed" the souls of the petals in this one - in every sense of the term!


Notes: lemon peel, narcissus flowers, osmanthus petals

This one was "very light, almost aquatic", and would have made a pretty day scent, but it didn't move me particularly, or smell recognisably niche.


Notes: lindenblossom, mimosa, honey, bergamot, gardenia

My favourite of all - the linden note was very pretty, with a slightly indolic aspect that was well within my comfort zone. I was reminded of Ajne Printemps and its dewy, bright, photo-realistic linden and gardenia notes. Just a minute though - I thought that gardenia couldn't be directly captured in natural perfumery, but only evoked through cunningly circuitous routes? Presumably Tanja Bochnig combined natural extracts of other flowers to create the illusion of gardenia - a fusion of other white floral "souls", if you will. Yes, I think that must be it, for here is a telling commment on the Ajne website:

"Printemps is a complex, soft floral reminiscent of the blossom-filled Parisian air after spring rain. Jane began with subtle top notes that mimic soft gardenia, followed by deeper heart notes of intoxicating flowering lime."

Well, I would say that that description applies pretty well to the Unter den Linden scent too, if we substitute a windy, sunny yet rainy day in Berlin - just like the weather I experienced that Saturday.

So how come all I achieved in a whole day in Berlin was the testing of eight scents from a single range? Well, in KaDeWe I think I wasn't in the mood for the massive selection on offer, especially as photos were not permitted and the prospect of attempting to jot down the content of the fixtures was daunting. And whether I had managed to document the brands carried or not - which I hoped I might have partly covered already in my earlier KaDeWe post - I simply wasn't up for trying a bunch of things I had never heard of - that would have been too random. And generally I felt a bit dazed by the noise and the bright lights and the Saturday afternoon crowds, so I headed out again after as little as 10 minutes, even though it had taken me a good half an hour to get there!

Does anyone else have those days when you don't feel like shopping (of any kind), though there are things you need and you find yourself in a place that is the perfect hunting ground? When the term "retail therapy" is a misnomer and the "therapeutic" course of action is to be outside pounding the pavements?

Well, I guess that was how it was for me that day, though I felt suitably guilty for "wasting" a perfectly good sniffing opportunity in a major European city. But having spent a lot of that week on trains or sitting at a table in a gloomy venue, I just fancied being out in the fresh, damp air, kicking the blossoms strewn on the pavement by the blustery winds. And though I set off in the direction of one more store - independent perfumery, The Different Scent - I developed a sudden urge to track down a secondhand clothes shop where I had scored some bargains last year. I did eventually find the place but it was shut, so, having blown my chances of making it to The Different Scent before closing time, I wandered along the Berlin wall instead, taking photographs and pausing every now and then to watch the world go by.

And at the airport later, as I was reflecting on the day's activities and the conspicuous lack of perfume content, I mused on whether there was more to it than my not being in the mood on this occasion. I had after all spent the week immersed in sound, not scent, so perhaps I was stuck in a different sensory "groove"? I had also devoted myself to a new and unusual task, and my world had pretty much shrunk to the merch table in each venue.

And in my world I was preoccupied with such important matters as rubber band stocks for the posters, ensuring that I correctly distinguished between one euro coins and the twos!, and that the sizes and designs of T-shirts sold were correctly logged, along with any requests for vinyl. I had all but tuned out to the rest of my life with its sundry other roles and personae, interests and concerns. I was "Head of Merch etc, Germany" and that was that.

Also, I had gained a fair bit of satisfaction from doing what was essentially a favour to the band. I was being useful, and felt appreciated. They even presented me with a gift of a travel pepper mill, because I had previously complained that when you ask for black pepper in Germany you mostly get given white pepper and a weary look. Pepper mills are even a bit hit and miss in Italian restaurants, though those are undoubtedly your best bet. Well, speaking for the calibre of restaurant I frequent, certainly.

So it did occur to me to wonder if I was feeling sufficiently good about myself on account of a job well done that I didn't have any need for perfume as a mood enhancer? Not that I am suggesting that perfume's primary function in my life hitherto had been to act as olfactory Prozac. However, given that my discovery of fragrance coincided with the onset of middle age and its attendant insecurities, there may be some kind of connection there. Has anyone else noted an inverse correlation between high levels of happiness and low levels of perfume usage? : - ) I know that when I am very stressed I don't feel like wearing perfume either, so it could be that for me, extreme emotions of any kind are less compatible with fragrance. Like the "soul" issue above, this is rather a big question to lob in so casually at the end of a post, but I am curious to learn if it strikes a chord with anyone reading. Though it may of course have been a one-off in my own case anyway.

I will give the last word to the band - from the same track ("On my balcony") that contained the gratuitous perfume reference noted in my merch selling post.

For it just so happens that a few of the lines later in the song tie in rather neatly with my Berlin sniffing experience, such as it was...

"Imperious linden, saplings in tow
Nobody knows if she will ever see them grow
And I'm too weak to want to know
Yes, I understand, there's no rush"

No, there's no rush...I will be back in Berlin some day, with my sniffing head on next time, hopefully...?


Dionne said...

Answering the last question first: I haven't noticed a correlation yet between extremes in emotion and perfume-wearing, although I *have* noticed that if I'm really busy, I'll just forget to wear it. (Please don't kick me out of the club!)

Keep in mind that I've been really into perfume for a little over two years now, which is supposed to be the typical lifespan of an obsession; however, mine doesn't show signs of abating just yet. I'm sure there's a point in my future where I'll follow some of the old guard and not feel the need to sample so much.

And just because I'm feeling cheeky - and may get into trouble for this - I'm providing a link to a song by a local comedy group The Arrogant Worms, "Carrot Juice is Murder": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmK0bZl4ILM

Vanessa said...

Hi Dionne,

Busy - yes, I agree that that is another key reason for non-perfume wearing in addition to emotional highs or lows. I would also add sick, speaking for myself, though I know many people do still wear perfume when they are ill.

And you raise the very good point of where one is at along the perfume trajectory: perhaps I have peaked in terms of my sniffathons, which would be a sobering thought. Maybe it has less to do with mood on that day and more to do with overload and the law of diminishing marginal returns!

Arrogant Worms? Murderous carrot juice? I love it!

Vanessa said...

Murdered carrot juice, even!

Anonymous said...

I find that when I am very anxious, I am sometimes but not always less likely to want to wear perfume. I enjoyed the broody mood of this post. It felt very honest, even though maybe it wasn't maybe a very great day for you in every way. Thanks as always for taking us along.

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

Glad you didn't mind the more downbeat nature of this post, as it relates to perfume, anyway!

Funnily enough, my pc feigned death yesterday, though the repair shop tells me it has mysteriously rallied this morning. So I was majorly stressed yesterday and also didn't think to put on perfume! It was a major feat to post this using my tiny and very slow netbook, and I am quite surprised I managed it in the end.

I found myself in similarly "non-perfume mood" in London on Monday, but there were extenuating circumstances for that, as my upcoming post about that trip will explain. : - )

Tara said...

Thanks for including the link about your merch selling duties. I had missed that post and it was great. How cool to help out with your favourite band! What an experience! Loved reading about it.

Now I'm glad you followed your instincts and didn't pursue the perfume shopping even though it made logical sense. You probably wouldn't have got much from it anyway.

Fairly often on the weekend I don't wear perfume and I think it may well be because I feel happier. In the working week I heavily rely on my perfume to get me through, so I think you make a very good point. If I'm feeling fragile there are perfumes i turn to (CdG Kyoto is one) but if my mind is really jumbled I probably wouldn't wear anything.

Great post/s.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Glad you enjoyed these "tour posts". It was a cool experience, I have to say, and speaking to all the punters was great for refreshing my German, even though I daresay most of them could have spoken English to me! That's not the point though, is it? : - ) I would certainly do it again if I got the call. I now also have a YouTube channel with a few videos I took on my phone (not great, mind, with the exception of "Streams", maybe?), where I go under the rather transparent pseudonym of "peppermillfiend".

Was very interested to get your own take on this "happiness-perfume wearing" correlation. Your weekend experience suggests there may be something in my theory, and I wasn't just having a funny day!

Undina said...

Vanessa, you were totally right postponing this post until you had enough time to put it together: it was a very interesting account of your maybe not the most successful perfume-sniffing and otherwise day.

I tried Under den Linden (thanks to Asali's generocity!) and I liked it very much. And I was really surprised that it didn't smell to me as a "all-natural" perfume (which is a compliment if you know me :) ). The problem is that to my nose it smells very alike to the Jo Malone's French Linden Blossom that I really love. And it can be had for $55 for the same 30 ml bottle. I'm just not prepared to pay four times the price of my favorite perfume for the most beautiful soul of a flower - even if it wasn't killed but volunteered to sacrifice its life for this perfume ;)

Now to your question (and BTW, you were right to pose it in the end - loving your long posts, I every time feel stresed a little that I forgot something I wanted to comment on by the time I'm done reading ;))

For me a perfume is just a part of day-to-day life. I'm not much more inclined to skip wearing it than to go to bed without brushing my teeth: it's known to happen once in a while if I'm really sick or jetlegged but it's not something that I habitually do (well, don't do).

I might not test new perfumes if I'm busy, stressed, travelling, etc. but I would still wear a perfume unless I or my vSO are sick.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

I know the "I have the opportunity and should shop but just won't" - affliction very well. It is exasperating...

I tend to wear and test perfume a lot when I'm in a "normal" state of mind (as far as that is even possible). When I'm very happy or very sad, any extreme emotional state, I tend to stick to one perfume I love (different ones for different moods of course). And I enjoy the steadiness that brings, the stability and crutch-function the perfume has then.

Lovely post as always, I love coming with you on your trips, whether you shop til you drop or not.
(And I hope you will go to Berlin again soon, since I think The Different Scent must be a very interesting store, their online shop is great and they are very friendly and helpful.)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Was most interested to get your take on Unter den Linden and on wearing perfumes when you are in different moods.

Like you, something not smelling noticeably like a natural perfume is also a good point in my book, inasmuch as certain natural scents can be a bit intense or oily, or odd in some other way that I am at a loss to describe clearly.

Unexpectedly, I can still smell Unter den Linden on this preprepared smelling strip a couple of weeks on, which is good going. I don't detect too much of a resemblance to Jo Malone Lime Blossom, which comes off very soapy on my skin, but I can see why you would not need both scents, because they are similar on you.

Sorry again about the long post - I always have the best intentions of writing shorter ones each time, but in the end they are the length they are! Have a couple of intrinsically shorter ones planned to lob into the mix - it's these travel ones that are harder to condense, probably.

And yes, it is a high price tag to pay for the "most beautiful soul of a flower" - or even the most beautiful souls of other flowers that collectively do a good impression of the flower in question!

Now you are a more systematic scent wearer it seems than I am, but I am enjoying hearing different people's views on the matter!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

I was most reassured to learn that you don't always feel in the mood for shopping either, for I did feel a certain amount of guilt in Berlin about my lack of enthusiasm. I couldn't summon up any for high end lipstick either, so it wasn't even a case of being over perfume and into cosmetics, which I had slightly been wondering!

And like you, I don't *test* perfumes when I am feeling out of sorts - mentally or physically - and I reach for comfort scents on such occasions. Though in my case it seems that when the emotion is very extreme (in either direction, apparently!), perfume goes out of the window altogether. : - )

Tee cake said...

Hi Vanessa,
I love reading your posts about your olfactory journeys!
I know exactly what you mean. You really have to be in the right mood to shop well especially for perfume. I have bought some scents that I have come to detest , just because I wasn't in the right frame of mind! Or maybe I just felt coerced into the purchase by the SA!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tee cake,

Nice to hear from you! And I am glad you feel the same as me about having to be in the right mood to shop for perfume. Like you, I have made some very ill-judged purchases in my time - for both the reasons you mention. The longer you spend dithering in a perfume shop, the more obligated you feel to make a purchase, I find, though I am getting better at walking out empty-handed than I used to be!

Cheryl Quimby said...

Wonderful adventures, and an Interesting question! When I'm out of sorts I tend to turn away from sensory pleasures (music, perfume) and from social activity as well. Sometimes I need to remind myself that these are the very things that will boost my mood. Testing perfumes in shops is very affiliative for me (all about chatting)-- but does not necessarily equate to shopping. I'm not a shopper by nature. If I have a strong desire to shop or to buy myself a little something, this usually means I'm avoiding something else, or soothing myself ( cf. mindless self-medication via ingestion of salty snacks).

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed them - the final post is just up with the usual roundup of travel nonsense...

I am definitely like you in shying away from sensory pleasures and socialising when I feel really bad, even though - as you point out - perfume might be able to help in such situations.

And like you, I wouldn't class myself as a natural shopper either. And I do know that syndrome of self-soothing with salty snacks sooo well. Kettle Chips are my nightly treat! (when I spot them on offer for a £1 a bag, that is).