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The first post this new year, a year that certainly brings much newness already from the start. At the end of 2013 I quit my job and decided to be my own boss for a while, for the first time in my life in fact. So now I am a freelance communications consultant dividing my time between PR strategy, media relations, social media curation, teaching and copywriting – and my perfume passion and all the different kinds of great projects that brings my way. To inaugurate this new phase in life I wanted to do something inspiring, dynamic and new. This in my case often means travel. I decided to go somewhere relatively far and new where I would not only discover all kinds of new things but also meet people that inspire me and learn things related to my chosen path(s). The answer was: Chicago.

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Jumping from the intensity of the last weeks at work into the new life didn’t allow me to spend as much time on research as I normally like to so I got on a plane to cross the Atlantic with fairly abstract expectations I must admit. I did know that I would meet a super-cool intelligent warm inspiring person, Tara Swords, founder of Olfactif. I knew I would discover a real big city with diversity and more new streets than I would even have enough time to think about let alone discover. I knew there would be many traces of Polish immigrants and great art. I had no idea what Chicago would like to smell or smell like. As a destination for an Inspiration & Scent trip it felt somewhat unusual.

I brought three fragrances with me for comfort and conversation. Two that I have made, and one that was a gift to me.

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On my first day things instantly got off to a great start. I went to Barneys and discovered a brave inspiring selection of perfumes. Who ever chooses which brands to sell there is doing an amazing job. A lot of niche, both well-known and more unusual. A premium inspirational treat for customers looking for a new fragrance.

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And it got even better when we met Dinara, responsible for Editions de Frédéric Malle. A super-pro, with an abundance of charisma, charm and knowledge. Thanks to Dinara we found out that Frédéric Malle himself would be coming for a special event my last evening in Chicago. This perfume house is a favorite of mine and I was really happy to meet Mr Malle who turned out to be a very stringent and refreshingly direct (Dutch amounts of directness even) man with a great sense of sharp intellectual humor.

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As I mentioned, Chicago is where the world’s first niche perfume subscription service, Olfactif, has its headquarters. I had the great pleasure of spending some time with its founder Tara Swords, both learning more about her business and discovering the scents of Chicago together. (Some of you might remember where this conversation started… I am looking forward to it continuing for a long long time.)

I had a unique opportunity to have a closer look at how Olfactif works, on scene and behind the scenes, and I can assure you, this company is a product of a lot of passion for fragrance, a genuine respect for both perfumers and perfumistas and a lot lot lot of hard work. Unfortunately, there is no European Olfactif yet but for those of you lucky to be based in the US, I suggest having a look. An Olfactif subscription is an easy and inspiring way to discover niche fragrances, some from well-established brands like L’Artisan Parfumeur and some from indie small-scale perfumers that make super-interesting work. Every month the selection is curated around a theme and you get loads of bonus info on the perfumer and the perfume in a way that really distinguishes Olfactif. Yes, I love this business idea and how its done – and I have discovered some really interesting perfumers though it for example Josh Meyer (perhaps you remember my tennis romance with Soft Lawn?) and Neela Vermeire. Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling was definetely one of my olfactory highlights last year.

From what I was able to see, Chicago does not have any well-known niche perfume store. However, Barney’s definitely caters to the needs of most niche perfume aficionados. And then there are some true hidden gems, such as Merz Apothecary. They had me at their typography, I admit.

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I am so confused and delighted (mixed, shaken and stirred) that there is this place that sells cough drops and Santa Maria Novella and D.S & Durga and 4711 and a thousand liquids for any medical inconvenience you could ever imagine. And Fa shower cream? (That would be where some confusion kicks in).

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One windy day we made a short stop at Sephora where I found these two Atelier Cologne miniatures (why do we do not see more miniatures? So practical. Especially for me when doing consultations…) and got some Tom Ford samples (Noir – love the dry down, don’t get the pour home) and some from a new (?) brand called Tokyo Milk.

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Naturally, scents are not only found in perfume stores and I am happy to say Chicago offered a wealth of olfactive impression in many other places. I quickly became addicted to David’s Tea in Lincoln Park and fell in love with the vegetable selection at Eataly. Not to mention my local Whole Foods where I also found this great yoga balm. (Who would guess badger and great smell would come as one?).

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Chicago is indeed a great art city and among the highlights were a day at the Art Institute and Chicago Cultural Center. The Art Institute impressed and amazed me not only with its extensive exquisite collections, but also the way the space is designed. Immaculate lightning, great air, spacious and very well-written information and enthusiastic staff – details that matter more than we consciously might contemplate.

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What can I say? I hope to be back soon.

 

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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.

Oh, this Clayton on the other side of the planet… When I started writing this blog after having decided to make something concrete out of my scent obsessions, Claytons articles on his blog What men should smell like, were among the first texts that I read for inspiration in my search for my kind of perfume rhetorics. I didn’t want to write reviews per se, there is an abundance of perfume reviewers which is great for the market and some of them are striking. But I was interested in diving into a world of reflections rather. And I have a major issue with the kind of language you find in oh-so-many perfume ads and descriptions filled with clouds about “unique fragrances that evoke the sensuality in the soul of what is woman” etc etc… To find Clayton’s work was inspiring and refreshing. For some reason he makes me think of one of my house gods, AA Gill. I think I like them for the same reasons, eloquence, sophisticated stringent sense of humor, directness and profound knowledge of matter.

Some time ago I went all OH! about Clayton’s article on Ambergris. And today I am all OH! again. Read this article. It is from The Perfume Magazine and it just might make your entire weekend. Made mine.

“So perhaps the aphrodisiacal reputation of these animalic 
odors does not come from the materials themselves. It comes from 
the connection made as they remind us of the scented human 
body, a smell we remember from life’s intimate moments.” – C.I.
Clayton, writer extra-ordinaire

Somewhat silent lately, I apologize. Have been on olfactory adventures in Paris and working on a series of articles about perfume for My French Life. I look forward to sharing these with you and promise more action here very soon.

In the meantime I leave you with Debussy’s sound of Baudelaire’s words. We should talk more about Baudelaire and scents maybe also… And pheromones, I need to share with you some stuff I have been reading about pheromones.
Oh la la…!