Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Paris Is For Perfume Lovers: Part 1 - Meeting Lucy Raubertas Of Indieperfumes And Neela Vermeire

Paris is for lovers, or so the conventional wisdom goes. However, as I wrote in my review of L'Artisan's Nuit de Tubéreuse, that is not the Paris I know based on my visits down the years, admittedly mostly for work:

'I know where Bertrand Duchaufour is going with this idea, for Paris is the quintessential setting for romantic trysts in hotels. I can confirm that this is the case, for I have often heard tryst-like noises emanating from the room next door. I am usually awake myself in the small hours, copying up interviews, polishing shoes and trying to identify bus connections from the end of Line C on the RER. So the whole conceptual premise doesn't really work for me, though I daresay my jaded view of Paris nights is atypical.'

But happily for me Paris is also a mecca for perfume lovers, and thus it was that last Wednesday night found me back in the 5e district near the Rue Mouffetard, my favourite base these days. I was relieved to be there at all in fact, as Easyjet had cancelled my flight owing to an air traffic controllers' strike, and I had just managed to bag a Eurostar seat at the eleventh and considerably more expensive hour. But it was money well spent, and with just an hour to go before my 'blind date' with Lucy of Indieperfumes, I quickly got changed at my hotel, one of the top ten budget options in the city according to The Guardian.

The place was certainly quaint and characterful, though not without its quirks: the showers and WC were on the landing, for example, the former on even-numbered floors only and bizarrely operated by tokens costing 2.5 euros for precisely five minutes. After this time the water cut off abruptly like those manual jet wash wands at petrol stations. By contrast, the nearest WC was right opposite my room, however the instructions about the interior light were a) incorrect and b) in German. In hindsight I reckon that the sign must have been one of those vintage door plaques with a purely decorative role, but I bet it has plunged a few Germans into darkness in its time...

By 8.30pm I had made it to the St Michel fountain, where Lucy was already in position.  Even without her characteristic eye mask on a stick ;-), she was easily recognisable from one of her other photos on Facebook. Lucy was also over here on holiday, and I thought it was a good opportunity to catch her, as she is based in Brooklyn. I knew of Lucy's blog and her sumptuously gothic Clarimonde Perfume Project; I was also aware of her close involvement in Sheila Eggenberger's Devilscent Project, however, the two of us hadn't had any prior dealings really beyond liking each other's posts on Facebook from time to time. And that is just the point really...for thanks no doubt to her background in fine and decorative art Lucy is responsible for a steady stream of the most exquisitely chosen - nay, curated - images of home interiors, languid models, vintage jewellery, luxurious textiles, henna-tattooed elephants, in short, beautiful and aspirational 'objects' of all kinds. On a grey day, chance upon any one of Lucy's status updates and it will lift the soul. Even the grey objects will perk you up - no, really.  And then of course we had perfume in say no more...

Three hours, a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta later, sitting at the table on the left (minus the beagle) outside one of Saint-Germain's atmospheric restaurants - specifically chosen because it was near Rue Dante, the name of Lucy's Italian greyhound - we had found out that we had a lot more in common...including a love of SL Un Lys, to which Lucy treated herself later in her trip. In an email exchange following our meeting, we mused about what fun it is to meet perfumistas everywhere in the world, and how 'sympatico' (to use Lucy's word) they all seem to be, such that one can proceed with absolute confidence on a blind date basis!

Parisian florist from Central Casting

The next day dawned overcast and rainy - and cold, and windy. I had omitted to bring an umbrella or any kind of waterproof clothes, so there was nothing for it but to sally forth with a shopping bag over my head. My first stop was an Internet cafe to finish off my blogoversary post. Well, I use the term 'Internet cafe' loosely - it was a Turkish grocer's with a few PCs in a back room, wedged between some gas canisters and fridges, with an uninterrupted view of the bins through the open door to the courtyard. And I use the term 'courtyard' advisedly too.

But the scenery - if not the weather - changed for the better as the morning wore on...for by 12.30 I had arrived at a Lebanese restaurant in the north of the city, where I was due to meet Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Créations. Neela had reserved a table in her name, and we were both ushered to it, however the two members of staff in question had different ideas about which table was the designated one.  This meant that we each waited for the other in splendid isolation for some ten minutes, before I thought to check my phone and found a text from Neela, who was seated just feet away but out of my direct line of sight.  She had - very modestly I thought, for someone so well known in our community - thought to mention her green scarf, in case I was having trouble identifying her.

Comedy musical tables moment over ;-), we were soon seated together in the window and chatting away nineteen to the dozen. I entrusted the ordering of the food to Neela and before long an array of mezzé dishes arrived, upon which I fell with glad cries, having deliberately skipped breakfast to work up a good appetite. Neela was every bit as bubbly, charming, down to earth and funny as I had imagined, if not more so. I had one or two questions for her that I had jotted down in my perfume testing notebook, but nothing approximating to an interview as such. This is partly because there are many excellent published interviews - or 'conversations', as Neela prefers to think of them - in the blogosphere already, plus I am an interviewer by profession, so asking people questions in any other setting is inevitably a bit of a busman's holiday.

We talked a bit about Neela's peripatetic past, her former life as a lawyer, and how she came to set up a perfume house and find an outlet for her creativity and the 'bon vivant' side of her personality.  We also touched on the creative process and her working relationship with Bertrand Duchaufour - upon finalising the upcoming release, Ashoka, Bertrand apparently told Neela that she was his toughest client!  (In a good way, I am sure... ;-) )  Of the three scents currently on the market I explained that I like all the development of Mohur and the drydowns of Trayee and Bombay Bling, but find the opening of Trayee too fiercely spicy, for example. Neela wasn't in the least fazed by the fact that I felt the need to qualify my liking for two of the trio, which just made me warm to her even more. And then I finally got a chance to test Ashoka for myself, which lives up to the glowing reviews I had read and is indeed a milky-figgy-woody dream of a scent. As someone who owns two bottles of PG Bois Naufragé there was little doubt that I would fall hard for this one, and so it proved.

The Ashoka Chakra - source: Neela Vermeire Créations

For much of the time though we chewed the cud about the blogosphere and Facebook scene and life in general - including national stereotypes, death, trouser suits, sensory pleasures, the oil industry, Belgian traffic patterns, 'skin chemistry', yoga, work/life balance, networking, iPhone covers - ie a gamut of absorbing yet random topics. It turns out that neither of us are too keen on honey in perfumes, and guess what? - Neela has a white iPhone like mine. Fancy that!  I make that me, Neela and Pierre Guillaume so far - though his phone goes commando while Neela and I resort to covers of varying degrees of novelty.  Hers is a cute mock up of a vintage leather book, known - I have since learnt, as my curiosity got the better of me - as the BookBook.  Oh, and I have just remembered that my neighbour Darrell also has a white phone. Okay, that's four confirmed owners of the white version.  Still quite a coincidence...!

Lebanese spicy fried liver - source: Flickr

And the most startling thing to report about our meeting was the fact that Neela actually persuaded me to eat fried liver. No one, but no one has managed to do that since I was made to eat the stuff by a draconian school dinner lady in about 1964, but d'you know what, it was really tasty! And then - clearly on a gastronomic roll by now - Neela coaxed me into drinking something that I swear she described as a 'white coffee' (I don't like coffee!), but which turned out in fact to be a wonderfully fragrant beverage of hot water infused with orange blossom.

Lebanese white coffee, but not as we know it
So, after two thoroughly enjoyable social encounters in as many days, I spent the rest of that Thursday hitting the 'grands magasins' - and a couple of small ones - on a solo sniffing expedition, the upshot of which will be documented in Part 2...


Ines said...

Paris is for perfumistas, that's how I see it.
And I generally find a girl city - somehow meant to have fun with the girls (possibly cute French guy). ;)
Can't wait for the second part!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

You of all people know about perfumista meet-ups in Paris, having hit the perfume trail with Suzanne and Asali that time! And I know what you mean about Paris's feminine side.

It is thanks to you that I heard about Jovoy - I have visited the old-fashioned pharmacy-cum-perfume shop next door in the past, but this time there was an Aladdin's cave of niche scents bang next door!

tarleisio said...

What I wouldn't have given to be there... I'll be on tenterhooks for Part 2!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tarleisio,

You were much spoken of and missed!

There will in fact also be a Part 3, with another 'blind date' report...;-)

Lucy said...

Too fun! I hope to see you again soon in NYC and London even.

BTW, the beagle was right behind you most of the whole time we were at dinner, out of your line of sight....

And now you have me thinking I need to concoct a mask on a stick for meeting my perfumista friends in unfamiliar surroundings. I was wearing those mask like glasses tho.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lucy,

I would jump at the chance of a another, 'sighted date'!

And well, well, I must have been very engrossed in our chat to have missed the beagle! Line of sight issues seem to have characterised this trip, hehe.

Your glasses do indeed do a good imitation of a mask shape - maybe you could have improvised something using one of those bread sticks that came with our dinner. ;-)

Tara said...

Love reading about perfumista meet-ups! They sound like two lovely women but like you say, meeting perfume people is a pretty stress free kind of blind date.

Lila was talking about doing a PLL trip to Paris next year. Can you imagine? They'd have to warn them first!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

So lovely! I'm glad you made it to Paris despite the travel troubles.
I hugely enjoyed reading your account.
(I might add as a side note that you forgot the husband as an additional white iPhone carrier that you have met!) ;)

lovethescents said...

Oh Veeeeee! Loved reading this! It sounds like such a wonderful time and you're really making me believe I'll love Ashoka too. Now, of course, I want some liver ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Yes, I reckon the dice are loaded in one's favour in pretty much any random pairing of perfumistas. :-)

A PLL outing to Paris? What a glorious bunfight that would be - or 'melee', do I mean? Local stores, indigenous fumeheads, everybody should be warned!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

That's not a side note - that's a crucial material fact. :-) How could I forget The Husband's phone...hmm, it is too early to call, but I am starting to wonder whether this club of white iPhone owners may be less select than I thought!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I'd be amazed if you didn't love Ashoka - it is one of those understated scents you know I particularly love!

And I thought you would be pleased to learn of my newfound liver-eating prowess. ;-)

Kafka said...

It sounds like so much fun! And how wonderful to meet Neela. Good for her for having eradicated years of liver phobia with a delicious-sounding Lebanese lunch. Mezze.... mmmmmmm, so, so yummy.

Vanessa said...

Hi Kafka,

It was fun, thanks! And Neela was very charming and warm - I imagine she would get on famously with everyone in our community.

Her liver therapy was a remarkable feat indeed. If I am fortunate enough to meet her again I'll see if she can pull off the same trick with olives.

Anonymous said...

These days, I think I get more excited reading about perfumista trips and meet-ups than I do about perfume itself.

Sounds like you had two very lovely dates, Vanessa! I really enjoyed hearing what you had to drink and eat (I think you will probably always be the only perfumista who will be able to claim, "Neela Vermeire persuaded me to eat liver!") and also what kinds of topics you covered in your conversations.

Will look forward to your next installments. :-)

Suzanne said...

p.s. The above comment under "anonymous" was from me. My hand somehow slipped on the mouse and hit "publish" before I was properly signed in. :-D

The Smelly Vagabond said...

My oh my what a lovely write-up of your time in Paris. I'm definitely looking forward to visiting it sometime this year! Oh, and I can't wait for Part II! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I know what you mean about finding accounts of perfumista meet-ups interesting - and it ties in with what I said in my last post about the people mattering just as much as the perfume.

The liver incident cracked me up, it's true! There could be no greater evidence of Neela's charisma and charm, than that she could encourage me to face a major food nemesis!

Vanessa said...

Hi Joshua,

I hope you get over to Paris soon - it is sniffing heaven, as you know! And a hugely attractive city to wander in whatever your interests.

Natalie said...

These sound like two absolutely great meet-ups! Neela seems like such a delightful person, and your report only serves to confirm.

Undina said...

Vanessa, I love your reports! You manage to describe your trips, adventures and meetings in such a way that I want the story to keep unfolding further and further and feel almost disapointed when it's over (the only problem is that I forget things on which I planned to comment :-)).

It's a really nice picture of Neela - you should send it to her in the best resolution you have).

I'm still under the impression from your horror story about token-operated showers (I hope bathrooms were free). Now it gives me a better understanding of the pride with which some of the apartments' renters described their flats as having showers on premises ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

They were a lot of fun indeed, thanks, and Neela is exactly that - delightful and brimming with energy and joie de vivre!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for your appreciative comment - am trying to keep the various parts coming in a more timely manner than has been my habit of late!

I think I should maybe send that snap to Neela - it is lovely of her, plus I also particularly like the colour scheme of her outfit.

The loos were free, thank goodness, and there was a sink in every room at least for teeth cleaning and such like. I washed my feet in it a few times! But for the complete hose down' there was nothing for it but to fork out the 2.50 euros or be unacceptably whiffy... I actually have a token left over, having bought an extra one for the hair washing day in case the water cut off in mid-lather. I guess I will have to stay there again to get my full value!