Friday, 4 April 2014

Bonkers 'on tour' in Germany again: The scented bit

This post rewinds to the beginning of my recent German trip, charting its various scented aspects (more or less) as they occurred...

Semi-comatose airport sniffing

Following the crushing disappointment of the fried bread impersonating French toast incident, I decided to self-soothe in the perfume section of the Duty Free, as you do.  Mind you, at this plateau stage in my perfume j****ney and at that ungodly hour of the morning, I was a little zombified and milled around aimlessly, completely blanking the latest Marc Jacobs or Issey Miyake flanker - assuming I have even correctly remembered that it was those brands that had one.  There was a flanker in a jagged bashed concertina-type bottle - you would think I would remember whose that was - but no, nothing penetrated the mental fog of a semi-saturated sniffer who had been up since before she went to bed, or so it felt.

Then I had an idea: 'Why, I'll check out the Dior Collection Privée!  Give Mitzah another spin - I might be ready for it now!', before I remembered that Birmingham airport stocks the Chanel Exclusifs range, not Dior. And then Birgit's personal mantra of 'If in doubt, seek Hermès out' came to me, and I trotted off to that fixture, where I was able to try Jour d'Hermès again on skin, together with B's new scented squeeze of Eau de Narcisse Bleu. Jour d'Hermès I thought striking, in a tart yet sweet, rhubarb and pretty floral kind of a way, but it was too specific a scent to impress me.  Too singular, even.  Not remotely comforting, and the weather was still cool enough for me to crave that quality in a perfume.


The Eau de Narcisse Bleu, meanwhile, opened with a fresh and bracing whoosh of galbanum, but the musky woodsy drydown came a tad too quickly and the green aspect was rendered indistinct - I don't normally complain about perfumes being 'fuzzy' in character, but I wanted the narcissus note to hang around a bit longer.

Channelling Geza Schoen! noted in Part 1 of 'The travel bit', the first gig was at Monarch, a chic but smoky club in edgy Kreuzberg.  I wore Ormonde Jayne's Ta'if as my SOTE, just because I reach for it more or less on auto-pilot when I am going out.  Imagine my surprise when Anka, a Berlin-based reader, wrote this comment on my post:

Monarch (upstairs) - in Geza's 'hood!!
"And the Monarch is a place I know quite well, too.  About a month ago I was there and listened to a 'fake' talk show; one of the guests was perfumer Geza Schoen who lives round the corner."

Whoo! I had unwittingly picked a Geza creation to wear that night, with no clue about the venue's connection to one of my favourite noses...;)

And Anka went on to tell us more about the event she attended, also confirming Monarch's offbeat charm and gloomy ambience:

"Yes, Monarch is a funny, dusky place!  This particular evening with Geza Schoen was, as an exception, a non-smoking event and we all had a great laugh when the perfumer reported later on that he himself occasionally enjoys a smoke....And I learnt that his most detested smells are coriander, oysters and truffles."

Wow, if I had known that Geza Schoen - to whom I feel a particular bond because he once scented my home city of Belfast (full report on that novel project here) - was a Kreuzberg resident, I would have spent longer hanging out in the falafel parlours on Skalitzer Strasse.  I did have a couscous in a tagine restaurant on Lausitzer Platz, and a mushroom pancake in a cafe on Oranienstrasse, but there was no sign of his distinctive rangy form in either eaterie.

The Méharées handover, and the focus group in a kebab shop 

That first night in Berlin also saw the handover by Jane (who FYI rocked Gorilla Perfumes' heady floral, Sikkim Girls, all week) of the bottle of L'Erbolario Méharées, which they had kindly bought for me in Bologna the previous weekend.  Thus it was that when I adjourned with the band to the kebab shop near their digs, I still had the bottle of perfume in my hand, and it was ceremoniously plonked on the table, next to the condiments - before I had the idea to ask them what they made of it, and passed the bottle around, inviting them to sniff the nozzle.

Guitarist: 'It's quite sweet.'
Bass player: 'It's nice - is there really just myrrh and dates in there?'
Singer (in a slightly incredulous tone): 'Whoever thought to put myrrh in a perfume?!'

Later in the week, the bass player suggested that I - or someone - should invent a perfume and call it 'Incorrigible', adding brightly: 'That's a good unisex name - you'll be onto a winner!'  Givenchy take note.....

L'Occitane Eau des Baux and the fragrant Friedrich Sunlight singer

In Augsburg, at the 'secret gig', I got chatting in between sets to the singer from the support band Friedrich Sunlight, whose name was Kenji.  I think I opened the conversation by boldly remarking on the fact that he smelt rather lovely, and he revealed that he was wearing L'Occitane Eau des Baux - a masculine scent that was completely off my radar - and kindly let me lean in and sniff him more comprehensively.  Reader, for all vanilla fans especially, this one is utterly swoonworthy and easily wearable by a woman.  I urge you to watch Katie Puckrik's video review of Eau des Baux here.  It is a woody, incensey, softly spicy, warm and vanillic fragrance that I see the (mostly) men on Basenotes have also given a resounding thumbs up.  Along with cardamom (which always reels me in), there is meant to be a cypress note in there which I barely detect, and on my skin the vanilla drydown is the most striking part of the scent's development. I imagine Eau des Baux might read as too sweet for some men, but I couldn't get enough of it.

Les Baux-de-Provence ~ Source: ignis via Wikimedia Commons 

Oh, and in the course of my research about Eau des Baux, I discovered this review by a blogger who was new to me, and whose blog rejoices in the name 'Villainous Smells and other Olfactory Decadence'.

As it happens, I have actually been to the village of that name - Les Baux-de-Provence - and clapped eyes on the ruined hilltop castle which inspired the fragrance, but it years ago when I lived on the Riviera, and the memory is sadly dimmed with time.  Kenji's signature scent continued to haunt me for the rest of the trip, and at the airport on the way back I made myself a tiny sample to take home. Should have just bought the bottle and been done with it, but there you go!  For even though I picked my daily perfume throughout the tour with studied care, it is Kenji's sillage of Eau des Baux which is the standout scent highlight of the week.

Visiting Parfümerie Naegele, Augsburg, with nary a sniff

The Friedrich Sunlight guitarist - who I later learnt was called Florian, though I had been calling him Brian throughout my visit - gave some of us a lift back from the 'secret gig', and on the way I asked if he could suggest a high end perfumery in town.  He was unsure himself, but promised to put out feelers.  And how! The inter-band bush telegraph must have been positively humming, because by lunchtime on the following day the keyboard and bass players in Friedrich Sunlight had received messages from Florian and taken up the challenge of finding me a Parfümerie commensurate with my exacting standards.  But it was Kenji who finally came up with the name Naegele, and by mid-afternoon I had struck out on my own to the humorously named Fuggerplatz area to suss out the selection of niche fragrances this exclusive perfumery carried.

Well, quite a few, as it transpired, including a whole wall of By Kilians and the bespoke line of Keiko Mecheri - which I don't believe I have seen anywhere, but at 282 euros a pop I couldn't bring myself to try any of them. Unfortunately, I was listless and tuned out to scent again, and ended up just taking a few photos, inquiring after a particular Bobbi Brown eyeshadow (predictably discontinued), and heading across to a cookware store to buy a comedy chicken for my friend's husband's birthday.  He is called Chick, for one, plus I was sure I could pass it off as a poultry-shaped executive stress ball on account of its satisfyingly squidgy bottom.

But going back to my temporary indifference to perfume, I had a similar experience in Berlin in 2012, when I drifted round KaDeWe, only actually smelling the April Aromatics line in the end.  I thought then - and think now - that because of the whole premise of the tour I was suffering from sensory overload already of the auditory kind, and I just didn't have the headspace (no pun intended) to focus on the olfactory as well.

Mr Chick's birthday present ~ Source: Clare Chick

Berlin - epic fumehead trail fail - times two!

I fully intended to make up for this lacklustre attitude on my return to Berlin.  I had the whole of Sunday and half of Monday on my own after the others had gone back, which should have been ideal for a complete re-immersion in Berlin's high end perfume scene.  But I had forgotten that on Sunday all the shops are closed(!), while by Monday I was so tired I used the morning to catch up on some much needed kip (as per the sign at the bottom of this post).  So instead, on the Sunday I mooched around the trendy quarter of Prenzlauer Berg, whiling away the hours in a variety of eclectic cafes.

And it was in one such cafe that I had another scented epiphany - not with a perfume this time, but an 'extra extra virgin top of the range high premium cat's pyjamas' olive oil, called Ladi Biosas.  It was fragrantly floral like no other oil I have ever sniffed or tasted (I had a little bowl of it for dipping the bread that came with my soup - what an inspired marketing ploy).  Reader, I walked out with a 14 euro bottle proudly tucked under my arm.  But this Ladi Biosas stuff is amazing - I would neck it straight from the bottle if it wasn't so darn expensive! Seemingly, the cafe in question is the only stockist in Germany, but if you can get hold of it somehow it truly is liquid gold.  And that means a lot coming from someone like me who is not remotely foody, and perfectly happy with a 99p loaf with the odd pumpkin seed on it, as opposed to balsamic garlic and parmesan flatbread or artisanally hand kneaded spelt focaccia with walnuts and gohji berries and what have you.

Here is some info about the oil - I wish I could gain such 'clear-sightedness' after 'remaining undisturbed for 50 days'.


Lady Jane Grey said...

Hm, sounds like Kenji made an impression - scent- and otherwise ;-)
But what on Earth is a "comedy checken" ?!
O.K., noted : Kreuzberg, around the Monarch - the place to spy on Geza Schoen,

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

Indeed he did! Such a lovely voice as well as a signature scent.

Have requested a photo of the comedy chicken from my friend Clare Chick, whose husband was the recipient, whereupon I will incorporate it into the post. ;)

Yes, next time I am in Berlin I shall do some serious loitering in Kreuzberg. It can only be a matter of time before GS's and my paths 'kreuzen', or such would be my (possibly unrealistic) hope.

Carol said...

Oh that L'Occitane - so fickle, always changing their perfumes and breaking my heart. I bet Kenji breaks a few hearts, too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the funny write-up and the ladi oil tip, I didn't know the Knaack restaurant!

Interesting story about Belfast. Schoen is cooperating with a scent designer working on "corporate smells" to scent travel agencies, banks, trains etc. It seems to be an even bigger market than perfumery.

Here is a link to a smelling tour around Kreuzberg / Neukölln with Geza (in German, but it's fun to just watch him walk around like a dog sniffing his "kiez"):
Now we are offically groupies I fear...

Greetings from Berlin

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Well, I didn't know that about L'Occitane chopping and changing their perfumes - it is a line I have not really had much to do with generally. I suppose I associate them more with soaps and creams and forget they have fragrances too. Not any more.

Here's a link to Kenji singing with a different band...

Vanessa said...

Oh Anka, I had such fun watching that vid - I do speak German so I could enjoy it to the full, though just following Geza Schoen's wanderings - and watching his stubble grow more bristly by the day! - would be fun to do anyway. Loved the crack about dogs and drunks relieving themselves against a wall...Learnt the word 'Brackwasser'.

Then his work on 'corporate smells' reminds me very much of the Hungarian perfumer, Zsolt Zolyomi, who sent me to a museum in Budapest to sniff the ambient air he had scented there. Unfortunately I bungled the attempt, as I got there just before closing time - once I had correctly identified the museum in question!

The landmark for finding the Knaack restaurant is the big Kulturbrauerei on Schoenhauserallee. It is just behind there really, and they also do a mean soup.

And yes, we are indeed officially Geza groupies - I simply have to come back to Berlin to stalk him more thoroughly! Do please come along - your local knowledge will be invaluable. ;)

By the way, the scents I associated with Berlin in my 2012 post on the city were the smell of burning brake fluid on the trains and the scent of crusty egg rolls. Speaking of rolls, you know that Bio shop he sniffed inside in the vid? I popped into one in the same chain just a couple of doors down from Monarch to ask where the club was and no one, but no one in the shop had a clue! ;)

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have an amazing power of observation (and that's what stalkers need!!), your're right, his stubble grew in that video.
Do come back to Berlin, there are so many great places for fragrance enthusiasts, it would be my pleasure to show you around.
(Burning brake fluid on the trains, yes, it's a quite common smell here. The Bio Company from the video is actually a large chain, their shops are nearly everywhere now.)

Tara said...

V, you must contact Geza directly (though not sure how!) next time you go to Berlin. He seems the type that would be more than up for a chat and a stroll. Loittering with intent takes to long with no gurantee.

Do you think you'll buy a bottle of L'Occitane Eau des Baux to remind you of the trip? Too funny the singer was taken aback at the use of myrrh in a perfume. He is far too sheltered, fragrance-wise.

So many clever connections in your post, as always.

A beautiful olive oil is heavenly. I'm glad you didn't leave without it. Oh and loved you calling Florian, Brian all week!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka,

Haha - I need good powers of observation in my line of work (industrial market research) we used to count the pot plants in the foyers of companies to gain an idea of how well they were doing. ;) A bit like the 'McDonald's index' but maybe a bit less scientific, hehe.

I need to complete my Berlin sniffing education, so would be glad to take you up on your kind offer - I have been twice to KaDeWe and once to Galeries Lafayette, but have yet to find the way into Quartier 206 would you believe?

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I guess I could send an email to the lady who collaborated with him on the Belfast project and she could forward it and he might reply or not? But you are right that even concerted loitering could be fruitless!

I may end up copping for a bottle of Eau des Baux, though it is a bit basic, aesthetically, so we will see. The singer has a history of using fragrance oils rather than composite perfumes I seem to recall, on the rare occasions when he thinks to wear any scent. ;)

Carol said...

They seems to rotate their perfumes pretty often - or maybe it's just that the ones I like get discontinued!

Love it -thanks for that link!

Vanessa said...

Comedy chick pic duly inserted!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Maybe I should grab Eau des Baux before it's given the would be just my luck for that to happen. Glad you like Kenji's link. I can't find any Friedrich Sunlight clips on the Net with him in it, but I think they are onto it...

Natalie said...

This sounds like a fun scented half of the tour, although I'm impressed you squeezed in any time for perfume, given how much else you had going on. And that bear: I sort of want it for my house. (Although the blue bear in Denver still really owns my heart - you should google him.)

Tara said...

Definitely contact him through the Belfast project lady. i would love you to do a scented walking tour with him.

I can imagine the singer wearing perfume oils. Very nice. Shelley Waddington is sending me her new ones which are designed to be worn alone or layered. What with Dior doing a super expensive version I wonder if a new trend is emerging.

Tara said...

Geza is on Facebook! He's friends with Thomas, Undina and Birgit. Get in there! x

Lady Jane Grey said...

Now this is customer service ! Thank you, V. Are there other comedy animals too ?

Anonymous said...

This talk about perfume oils makes me think of Ancient Resins by Afterlier, containing frankincense and " created for the legendary Leonard Cohen"...AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Not purchased on this trip... ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Yes, a scented walking tour would be amazing. I bet Geza Schoen knows lots of interesting nooks and crannies in Berlin - scented and otherwise. There was footage of a canal in that video which I haven't visited, for example, though I can work out from the map which one it would be.

Oh, those new oils of Shelley's sound interesting. I must say I have never jumped on the oil bandwagon, but it does seem to be gathering momentum.

Vanessa said...

Hmm, having trouble finding GS on Facebook as you now know. How odd...

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Haha, it is because of the difficulty of squeezing in any time for perfume as a standalone activity that I ended up multitasking and sniffing musicians instead. ;) Off to google the Denver bear - I have been there, but only really drove from the airport on to Boulder.

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

Well, well - I googled those as they were new on me. Now if there were any perfume oils created for Lou Reed, I expect the singer of TMS would be up for wearing those, as the recent review of their Monarch gig specifically said he was turning into LR as he gets older, and LR is one of his main influences... ;)

Sarah Waite said...

Hilarious. Your grown-up platonic groupie adventures sounds quite brilliant. I'm not sure what would happen to me if I found myself on foreign land WITH THE SHOPS SHUT (eek!), especially with the lure of an unknown perfumery. There was a killer perfumery in Palma Mallorca that I'd love to revisit one day, one of those 'pack it all in' shops with numerous layers of discontinued wonders.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

Ooh, that shop in Palma sounds good - I know exactly the 'pack it all in' sort you mean.

I would normally be gutted by a fumehead trail fail like the one I experienced in Berlin, but given the full-on week I'd had, I wasn't too sorry to just have a quiet wander instead. ;)

Undina said...

Every time I'm in Germany I can't get over that "everything's closed" on Sundays and in the evenings. As somebody who spends in the office 9+ hours per day I just don't understand when one's supposed to shop - unless it's aimed at 3Ks society.
Enjoyed other parts of the story. Cure chick! ;-)

odonata9 said...

OH, I love Eau de Baux! Whenever anyone asks for a masculine recommendation, I always mention that. If only I could get my scent averse husband to wear some. I think you shoudlget some - I know L'Occitane often have small sizes and are reasonabley inexpensive. And I always enjoy reading about your travels and adventures, scented or otherwise!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I am on the fence with this one, as I rather like the different feel of Sundays over there, albeit I have never lived in Germany - the limited opening hours might have felt frustrating at times.

I guess you are meant to shop on Saturday, is the short answer, and certainly the food shops are open late in the week, I think also department stores / big chains in the cities. A German reader might be able to confirm. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi odonata9,

Great to hear from you, and to learn that you are such a fan of Eau des Baux! Shame about your scent-averse husband - Mr Bonkers was the same. And I am pleased you don't mind my gratuitous travel writing. Always helpful to get feedback when you are doing something 'non- standard' on a perfume blog. ;)