Archive

shopping

I want to share with you the story of my last evening in Grasse. (How I miss this place and how I felt being in that experience…)

There is a narrow winding long cobbled street in Grasse, Rue de L’Oratoire. Somehow wherever I would go I would find myself in Rue de L’Oratoire. In this labyrinth of Grassesque marvels there is a place I knew I would visit sooner or later. 

Before going to Grasse Institute of Perfumery I had read about Clayton’s adventures there and about his visit to perfumer Didier Gaglewski (in Rue de L’Oratoire 12). It seems many visitors to Grasse feel the need to buy perfume as a souvenir and the local shops cater to that idea in different ways. For me the real treat of being in Grasse was the access to the backstage area of the perfume industry. The fields, the insider information, the lab, the raw materials – but above all – the conversations with people who work with perfume in various ways. If I had an experience like that – and could buy something that would preserve the moment for me – then great, but perfume per se was not the main thing. But then of course a place like Grasse provides gems like Beauty Success where you can find Coriandre and Caron’s Pour un Homme! But back to Gaglewski. This encounter was really a quintessential part of this adventure.

First time I met Didier Gaglewski was when going to dinner with my Spanish friend (and I am sure future perfumer) Inma, Daniela from Fragonard and the lady that they were staying with in Grasse. The lady knew Didier so we introduced ourselves briefly when passing by his shop and said we would come back. After a few days, you see, Inma and I had embarked on an inspiring inner journey analyzing various ways to pursue olfactory paths in our future careers. And monsieur Gaglewski seemed like a very good person to turn to for some advise since he himself started to work with perfumes after pursuing a different career for some time. So a few days later we returned. 

The shop. Photo from Gaglewski.com
Didier generously shared his story with us and we spent a long time discovering his creations, from the ultra-masculine conceptual Cambouis, a humoristic flirt with the idea of a man working on his car and the smells of this, to the soft romantic Aria, a seductive classic über-feminine dream of tuberose and vanilla. I had a different instant crush though… first for the name and then for the smell, the woody Journaliste. No surprise that it includes some of my favorite notes – petit grain, mandarin, ginger, cardamom and tonka bean. The Journaliste is now here in Stockholm with me. It reminds me of the alliance between brain and heart, plans and dreams and of this very special place in Grasse. 
So, on my last day I went back to Rue de L’Oratoire, 12 to say goodbye to Didier and to show him my three own creations from school for some professional feedback. A very rewarding visit since I also had the luck to talk to the customers that came to the shop. I was struck by the great conversations that happened. So far from some of the empty quick exchanges of clichés in department stores. People ask Didier a lot about his background and profession and creations and he answers every person’s questions very genuinely and generously. A young man entered out of curiosity, not really ready for a purchase, but full of questions. It was such a nice conversation to listen to and a moment that captured some of that special thing about Grasse so well – it is a place that loves perfumes and that loves to take the time to talk about perfume with anyone who has a desire to know more. There is so much knowledge in those hills… and so little of the excluding elitism that you find between perfume shelves around the world. 
Scent strips made of ribbons at Gaglewski.

Thank you Didier for sharing your story, time and thoughts. D
ziękuję.

“Vous êtes brune, de peau mate.Vous êtes gaie et un peu capricieuse. 
Vous croquez la vie.
Votre rire cristallin ne connaît pas de frontière. 
Vous êtes si près de l’enfance que l’on se demande parfois si vous n’en sortez 
que pour paraître sérieuse, mais l’on sait bien que cela ne durera 
que le temps d’un clin d’oeil.”

(From description of Aria on Gaglewski.com)
Advertisements

My first impression when I discovered Olfactif (via a post on Twitter) was that I felt intrigued. It felt new, somewhat mysterious but I instantly saw signs of promise of some great perfume coversation.
After reading through a well-written website I understood what it was all about. Olfactif is a new subscription service that offers monthly carefully curated collections of niche perfume samples. The perfumes are selected to show the olfactory width and depth of how a theme can be explored by skilled dedicated perfumer. A theme can be for example ”spring” or an ingredient or something more conceptual. The fragrances are delivered to your home with accompanying ambitious information about noses, brands etc.

This idea appeals to me in so many ways. It will help more people discover the adventures that scents offer us. There is definetely a conflict between the ambitions, artistry and dedication that perfumers have for their craft – and how little of that is offered to consumers in terms of communication. What we get as a result of that is people spending loads of money rather arbitrarily, making error purchases, missing out on the sensations that perfumes can give us. Niche perfume brands are definetely making a difference because many of them tend to be more open, more prone to close dialogue with consumers and build brands in completely different ways than the massmarket does.

I sent the brain behind Olfactif, Tara Swords, some questions thinking I would select a few good quotes and some useful facts about Olfactif because I wanted to share this treasure with you. But I basically cannot bring myself to editing the interview because I like every single sentence of it too much. I hope someday Tara and I will have a coffee and a long conversation about scents and the olfactory aspects of life (and travelling!). Here is our first long wonderful multi-faceted inspiring conversation. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Tara, Olfactif is focused on niche perfumery. So let’s start with this – how would you define niche perfumery?
This tends to be a divisive question, because there are so many criteria you could use to assess it. For our purposes, niche is harder to find. It doesn’t hew to trends. It tends to come from people who care deeply about quality and originality. It appreciates complexity and weirdness and doesn’t worry about appealing to the greatest number of people. It explores what lives at the margins of beauty, which is one reason niche perfume is so interesting to experience. It’s not afraid of making people a little uncomfortable—or of entertaining them.

My favorite difference, though, is that niche perfume is marketed totally differently than mainstream perfume. Mainstream perfume is treated like a beauty product that will make you more attractive to potential mates. That’s the low-hanging fruit for marketers, and if they can go there, they will every time, because it works. But perfume isn’t a beauty product like mascara. If you see a woman wearing the same mascara your mother wore when you were five, what will that make you feel? Probably nothing, because you wouldn’t even realize it. But if you could smell, right now, the perfume that your mother wore when you were five and your little face was buried into her neck, you would probably have an emotional reaction. I think all perfumers recognize that powerful connection between scent and memory and emotion, but niche perfumers allow themselves to do more meaningful things with it.

One final point: there’s a lot of room at the niche table. I’ve noticed that people who are really into perfume can sometimes get a little cynical about it, bemoaning that there are too many brands, that everybody’s calling themselves niche these days, that it’s impossible to keep up, and that there’s too much low-quality stuff flooding the market. I can understand those feelings. But I also think that a lot of these things are cause for celebration. The fact that more people are making perfume means that more people have the freedom in their lives to do something that brings them happiness. It means that more people are taking the chance to be happy, which is an incredibly brave and risky act. It means we live in a time of human history when many people have the luxury of creating. And it means that the Internet has revolutionized the perfume industry in a way that makes you in metropolitan Stockholm aware of Laurie Erickson in hilly little Healdsburg, California. I feel a surge of gratitude and admiration when I see people trying to make a career doing creative work. I see only good things here.

Why is your focus on niche perfumery?
The focus is on niche perfume for a few reasons. First, for people who get big, conscious joy out of the sense of smell, niche perfume is a fascinating space because it really engages your brain and makes you aware of the act of smelling. When you walk into most of the stores where people buy perfume, you don’t find many perfumes that take risks. You find things that are safe or trendy. A lot of people find comfort in safety and in things that have gained mass acceptance, but a lot of people feel bored by those things. The first group can easily find what it wants, but the second group has to look pretty hard.

That leads to the second point, which is that niche perfume is just much harder to find. A lot of this stuff can’t be experienced in person unless you go to cities like New York or Paris. A lot of it can’t be experienced unless you order it online. And in either case, you won’t go look for it if you don’t know that it exists—and most don’t.

So there are consumers out there who would love to explore niche perfume if they knew that it exists. And there are perfumers who would love to have bigger reach but don’t have an easy way to introduce themselves to consumers. The goal is to help make that connection.

One other reason: niche perfume comes with stories. Stories about the individuals who make it, stories about the way it’s made, stories about the reasons it’s made. That’s why a big part of what we’re trying to do is to tie the stories and the artists to the scents. With perfume as with any kind of art, understanding who made it, and why, rounds out our understanding of the art itself.

How do you choose which brands to work with? Who curates? 

I curate. This is an important point: I don’t claim to be an expert in perfume. The people who are experts in this field are the perfumers who can call to mind some 6,000 perfume ingredients and who have so much experience that they can tell you, on command, what each smells like and how it interacts with the others. That is expertise. I am someone who has loved perfume her entire life, and who has smelled—and spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about—many hundreds of perfumes. And I believe there are a lot of people who could describe themselves the same way.

But while curation is a somewhat subjective process, it’s not just me choosing three scents that I like every month and putting them in a box. In fact, I would argue that curation is actually mostly objective. What are the facts of the scent? Is there something unique and different about the way it is made or the way it stands alongside other things on the market? How do others experience it? What does it seem to evoke in them? What might it evoke in our particular subscriber base, who may be unaccustomed to the type of thing that’s in this bottle? That objective process of research and observation is a much, much bigger part of curation than the subjective.

The selection of perfumes is a long and fairly agonizing process that involves both creative things and less exciting things, like availability. When I put together all of the perfumers who have agreed to work with us, and then pick out all of the possible scents and combinations of scents, it’s a bit like putting together giant puzzles in the dark.


Can you give me an example of a theme?
The April theme is Vignettes of Spring. By the time spring rolls around, I think people are longing for smells that echo the natural changes in their environments, and these first three scents are so full of life and nature that it all came together quite easily. Future themes might be straightforward, like “Tobacco,” or more conceptual and fun, like “Dirty and Delightful.”

Did you have a certain type of person or target group in mind when creating the service?
I have two types of people in mind. The first group—and the much bigger one—is people who love perfume but aren’t aware of the niche world. The second is people who may be aware of the niche world but haven’t really fallen down the rabbit hole and invested the extraordinary time and energy involved in discovering, researching, and exploring new brands. In either case, I think about people who want to experience smelling actively, not passively.

When will Olfactif be available overseas? (For now it is limited to the US).
Overseas shipping of perfume is a pretty costly endeavor. Shipping—on top of the monthly subscription—is probably cost-prohibitive for most international consumers. But if we hear that a lot of people would be interesting in paying the cost of international shipping to join a service like this, we’d certainly consider it. And there may be some other creative ways that we can expand to serve other markets down the road.

A last inevitable question, what perfume are you wearing today?
Today I’m wearing Week-end à Deauville by Parfums de Nicolaï. I can’t get enough of it. The way it transforms over time is captivating.

Thank you Tara for your time. And here are my absolute favorite Olfactif words:


“Practicing the act of stepping out of your 
comfort zone will turn you into a person who can 
find comfort nearly everywhere.”

So much has been written about the collaboration between designer Dries van Noten and Frederic Malle (for a moment of aesthetic heaven please look at this story on his home) that it feels a bit superfluous to add one more blog post… But I can’t stay away from mentioning it because any new perfume from Malle is an event of significance.

What Frederic Malle does and his vision is admirable and embodies values that add an absolutely necessary element to today’s perfume market. His ambition when creating the brand and company was to “liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups”. Malle functions as an editor, working with the noses that are invited to create scents in the same way that an editor works with writers. Every perfume creator is free to create and explore an idea of his own. The result, of course, is that Malle perfumes are the fragrance explorer’s dream. I love to try a new perfume from this collection, and I love how often it surprises me and makes me redefine my own preferences. One of my true favourites, Anqelique sous la pluie, was a perfume that I just did not notice until I had a conversation with one of Malle’s advisors about my preferences and she showed it to me. I love it. (Not to mention it has probably the most beautiful perfume name in the universe). Nice read: the Q&A on Malle’s web.

There are many parallels to draw between the perfume editor role and that of an editor for writers. It is indeed something of an anthology of scents that Frederic Malle has created. The stringent curiosity of Ellena’s Bigarade to the dark carnal Noir Epices from Roudnitska. The tender teardrops in Anqeliques sous la pluie by Ellena (yes, I know, I mention Ellena a lot). The blushed cheeks of Maurice Roucel’s Dans tes bras. All these stories…

And now this new launch that surprised many since there has been no designer collaboration framed by Malle so far. Turns out though that this is the result of a long friendship and creative bond between the editor and the designer. They have taken their time, I am sure the process has been beautiful and filled with very interesting conversations.

pinterest.com/pin/278238083198941040/

I have been an admirer of Dries van Noten‘s eclectic style for a long time. So interesting, and interested, to me it feels like travellers’ clothes. Like the garments carry journeys from Buenos Aires to Samarcand and back. So I was instantly curious to hear what notes would be chosen to tell an olfactory story of his.   I guessed it would be something oriental, spicy, woody. It’s not too spicy but features sandalwood, guaiac wood, tonka bean, saffron, musk and vanilla. The top note is citron. The sandalwood is particularly interesting as it is the return of Indian sandalwood which has been absent from perfumery for a long time due to sustainability concerns. From what I have heard from friends fortunate to have tried it, it is a very undemanding and wearable perfume. The nose is Bruno Jovanovic, who has also created Notre Dame, Chez Monsieur and Marius et Jeannette for Malle among other perfumes.

This new lovely addition to the perfume world will be available in stores in the next two weeks, exact dates vary slightly from one city to another. I will be sniffing in Stockholm, at COW on February 25.

I work with PR and communication so it is natural that the different aspects of sales techniques interest me, from the rhetorics to hands-on practical details. I am particularly fascinated by this, when it comes with perfumes as I think this business does have some work on when it comes to consumer communication. The gap between the art, knowledge and stories within the perfume world – and the consumer – is gigantic. This leads to people spending too much money on products that are not right for them, which leads only to confusion and disappointment. People buy to much crap produced without neither heart nor art – because the perfume world allows itself be a slave to sales logistics. And the exceptions to these descriptions – they are much less well-known than they should be. Seriously, je déclare la guerre.

I don’t expect every person who sells perfume to be an expert. Although, that would be amazing… But I do hope that you feel, if not passion, then at least respect for the exceptional product that you sell, and that you have the will to create genuine dialogue.

I would love to spend some time with people who sell perfumes and talk about how we best invite and guide others into this world. Selling perfume is not like selling ”anything”, its like being there for someone who is discovering their inner self, its like being an expert of Michelangelo’s art. For crying out loud, all you sales machines – get your act together!

So. Here is a real-life example on how it should not be done. Today after work I went to a store in Stockholm to try Coco Noir. Inevitable. I have avoided reading reviews, just noticed them, because I wanted to discover it with a clear mindset. However, from my post yesterday (and if you read this blog you know), you can picture my stand on the noir side of things.

And here we go… I get to the Chanel counter, look for paper strips, none are to be found… After a while a sales woman approaches me and asks if she can help me. I answer politely ”No, thank you, I am happy botanizing by myself”. This is sign No 1 that she should back off. She doesn’t. Instead she says with the persuasion special effects of a real estate sales machine, ”Oh, this one is SO GREAT, I wear it myself. I have worn it everyday since I got it”. Ok… let’s pick this army of information apart. 1) I am smelling the perfume to see what I think about it. Not what she thinks about it. I could of course be interested in that and some other day maybe I would be, but today I already signaled that I wanted to be left alone. 2) It is completely irrelevant if she wears the perfume to me. For all sorts of very logical reasons like for example the fact that my skin does not smell like her skin. It is just completely irrelevant. The only two reasons why this information would be valuable are 1) if the two of us were identical or at least similar in a couple of relevant ways – and we were just not, and 2) if I really wanted to be (=try to smell) like her, and I don’t, and its just megalomania on her part if she assumed I do. The natural conclusion when someone is testing perfumes is that they want to find a fragrance that smells like them, like the self that they want to be. Needless to say – she has no idea what about me it is that I am looking for in an olfactory reflection of me – as she is only talking and thing about herself. So all this information about this total stranger leaves me bored and silent. If she really wanted to talk to me about herself, well, weirder things happen in the metropolitan landscape – fine. But she wanted to tell me what to do (=buy) by telling me what she does, taking for granted that I want to be like her. Don’t ever do this when you sell perfume. You are insulting art when you do. If you don’t get this or if it sounds to pretentious for you, please sell something else.

You would think that it would stop here. After all, I was totally silent and not exactly encouraging the conversation. But she had more in store. ”You should know (I just love strangers who tell me what I “should”) that this is the last bottle we have, they all went flying of the shelves”. Ok. Should I buy it because everyone else that I don’t know did? Because…? By now I am thinking, ”Please, just stop talking, you seem like a nice girl but this is not working out, can’t you feel that?”. But I feel rude ignoring her so I say, ”Yes, it is exceptional, but not as noir as I expected”. This triggers no conversation. I sigh and walk away to the other Chanel bottles to play around for a while. I pick up Coco Mademoiselle. A familiar voice goes: ”This one really reminds you of the other one, they are very similar. They both contain patchouli.” Please, perfume girl… I just said the noir was less noir than I hoped, what are you saying? It’s like you’re comparing a man’s mistress to his daughter.

And then she starts talking about a body lotion that is perfect with the perfumes. I leave.

Perfume deserves more than this. If you agree and if you are in a position where you can do something about it, I will gladly support you in any way I can.

We wear perfume for ourselves, but also for others – to ”smell nice” and to define our personality. Whether we want to or not, our smells and perfumes become part of other peoples’ environment – our partners and friends, but also complete strangers. Therefore I would like to talk a little bit about our perfumes and people around us, to be specific: on how to wear perfume in a respectful way.

There are two main reasons why we need to take other people into consideration when it comes to our perfume habits. One is that we need to acknowledge that what smells amazing to one person, can smell horrible to another. When you find your perfect floral bomb that gives you summer meadow bliss and you take the bus to your work – know that at least one or two persons on that bus will think your fragrance is the worst smelling thing ever. The other reason, which is more important, is that quite a lot of people get allergic reactions from perfumes.

pinterest.com/pin/106045766195255097

So this is what I think. If you take the train or bus, and especially if you go during rush hour, don’t wear heavy perfume that diffuses a lot. (And never ever over-apply. Too much perfume is never good. Never.) Actually, I would even suggest you take your perfume with you and apply it at work. Although if you work in a crowded office – be moderate and conscious also there. At work I recommend choosing a fragrance that sticks closer to the body and is applied on pulse points. So no heavy big sillage drama on your cashmeres or in your hair please.

Airports. This is a particularly tricky one because of the tax free shops. But seriously – would you want to sit next to someone in air plane with their perfume all over your olfactory world view? Exactly. So be moderate or even better don’t fly with perfume. There is only one thing worse than sitting next to someone who is wearing a perfume you hate, and that is sitting next to someone who is wearing 2-5 different perfumes after a tax free shop safari. So if you want to buy perfume before boarding – use the paper strips. Try one fragrance if you really have to. If you are completely lost and want to try all the new launches for the seasons and really want to do it on your skin – please don’t do it before getting on a flight. You can do some of the pre-research very effectively before the purchase by looking perfumes up on websites like Fragrantica and Basenotes and making a list of 4-5 perfumes that you might want to buy. That will make your process more stringent in the actual shop.

pinterest.com/pin/270638258827356082/
The third situation that I would like to put an olfactory spotlight on is restaurants. We all agree that nice food appeals to taste, eyes and nose, correct? Let the scents that the chef has created have the limelight. This will allow you to experience the food with more present senses, and it will also limit the risk of your perfume becoming the main character at the table next to yours. Orientals and exquisite florals are fantastic. But not with oysters. Wear a discrete perfume when you go out for dinner, and choose notes that do not argue with the fragrances you can expect in a restaurant. If you are going to bars or clubs later and want something with more character for that – bring a travel size vial and apply the fragrance after dinner.

Disagree? Please share your thoughts.

We wear perfume for ourselves, but also for others – to ”smell nice” and to define our personality. Whether we want to or not, our smells and perfumes become part of other peoples’ environment – our partners and friends, but also complete strangers. Therefore I would like to talk a little bit about our perfumes and people around us, to be specific: on how to wear perfume in a respectful way.

There are two main reasons why we need to take other people into consideration when it comes to our perfume habits. One is that we need to acknowledge that what smells amazing to one person, can smell horrible to another. When you find your perfect floral bomb that gives you summer meadow bliss and you take the bus to your work – know that at least one or two persons on that bus will think your fragrance is the worst smelling thing ever. The other reason, which is more important, is that quite a lot of people get allergic reactions from perfumes.

pinterest.com/pin/106045766195255097

So this is what I think. If you take the train or bus, and especially if you go during rush hour, don’t wear heavy perfume that diffuses a lot. (And never ever over-apply. Too much perfume is never good. Never.) Actually, I would even suggest you take your perfume with you and apply it at work. Although if you work in a crowded office – be moderate and conscious also there. At work I recommend choosing a fragrance that sticks closer to the body and is applied on pulse points. So no heavy big sillage drama on your cashmeres or in your hair please.

Airports. This is a particularly tricky one because of the tax free shops. But seriously – would you want to sit next to someone in air plane with their perfume all over your olfactory world view? Exactly. So be moderate or even better don’t fly with perfume. There is only one thing worse than sitting next to someone who is wearing a perfume you hate, and that is sitting next to someone who is wearing 2-5 different perfumes after a tax free shop safari. So if you want to buy perfume before boarding – use the paper strips. Try one fragrance if you really have to. If you are completely lost and want to try all the new launches for the seasons and really want to do it on your skin – please don’t do it before getting on a flight. You can do some of the pre-research very effectively before the purchase by looking perfumes up on websites like Fragrantica and Basenotes and making a list of 4-5 perfumes that you might want to buy. That will make your process more stringent in the actual shop.

pinterest.com/pin/270638258827356082/
The third situation that I would like to put an olfactory spotlight on is restaurants. We all agree that nice food appeals to taste, eyes and nose, correct? Let the scents that the chef has created have the limelight. This will allow you to experience the food with more present senses, and it will also limit the risk of your perfume becoming the main character at the table next to yours. Orientals and exquisite florals are fantastic. But not with oysters. Wear a discrete perfume when you go out for dinner, and choose notes that do not argue with the fragrances you can expect in a restaurant. If you are going to bars or clubs later and want something with more character for that – bring a travel size vial and apply the fragrance after dinner.

Disagree? Please share your thoughts.