Intermission 3: Frederic Malle, Santa Maria Novella, and Yves Rocher
On my way back from Toronto earlier this month, I stopped in at Holt Renfrew, where they were introducing the Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums. I described to the sprightly salesman what I loved best--orientals and chypres, of course, warm delicious things--and he sprayed a few things that missed the mark so completely I began to wonder if he actually knew the line. Or maybe there was nothing in the line that fit my brief, and he was doing the best he could. But not one of the scents was what I had described to the salesman, nothing I would want to own, none of them especially complex or challenging: perhaps it's just the way the line is, or perhaps it was just the subset that the salesman happened to be choosing for me, but they all felt rather simple and stripped-down in that modern transparent style, which I am pretty much over, if I were ever under it in the first place. People rave about the line, and maybe if I had time to really explore it I would get it, but my first impression was not good.
After smelling half a dozen or so, though, one of them, which I think was either Dans tes Bras ("in your arms") or French Lover, struck me as interesting, something I would like to explore on my skin, because on the blotter it smelled primarily of old bookstores, a wonderful thing, but I didn't really have the time, and it was very expensive: three 10-mL sprays were something like $135, more than I would ever spend on an impulse buy, and it might well be worth it, but the metal travel case for the spray was also $135 or so, which is insane. Of course, I could have just bought the sprays without the case, and the one thing that might well have pushed me over the edge was that they were offering a full set of samples with every purchase, but unfortunately they didn't actually have the samples at the time--they were waiting for them to arrive--and I sort of didn't trust that they would send them to me (or if they did that the samples would arrive intact), and also I had to get back to the bus station to the airport for my trip home, and so I walked away empty-handed.
On our last day in London, this past Wednesday, we were out and about all day--we did so much walking, because London is a city that just cries out to be explored on foot--and we had bought tickets the day before to a movie at 5:30 p.m. Jim proposed that he get the subway back to the hotel for the tickets while I just hung out in the huge 5-storey Waterstones bookstore just past Piccadilly Circus. I agreed, but I never actually made it into the bookstore, because while walking down the other side of the street eating my sandwich--everyone does it in London, everyone--I noticed a Santa Maria Novella, which I had heard of but never experienced. It's a tiny little shop, really just a nook, and the aroma of it is beyond description. I told the chipper salesman what I like (yes, dark warm sexy things) and he immediately grabbed a bottle, sprayed a blotter, and held it out to me: a very nice amber, Ambra, something that I suspect would open up and develop on the skin, but not drastically different at first sniff from several other things I own. Then he did the same with another scent--this one Patchouli--and then another, Sandalo (sandalwood), and then another and another and another, leather and vetiver and musk, bang bang bang. He knew just what he was doing, this one; I think he must have sprayed every dark or warm or sweet scent in the place. The last one was called Tobacca Toscana, or "Tuscan tobacco", and I loved it at first sniff; at last I consented to spray some on my skin. And guess what? He didn't have a single bottle in the shop. I probably would have bought it, even at £85, because it was exceptionally nice on me, like Creed's discontinued Tabarome with its thorns trimmed away. (And it aged gorgeously on my skin, warm and cozy but not too sweet: only about four hours from start to finish, a bit abbreviated for that kind of money, but so nice while it lasted.) There was soap, but it was a crazy £28, around $46. For one bar of soap? Not a chance. And so I walked away empty-handed.
Then I was walking past Fortnum and Mason, which I somehow thought was just a high-end food emporium, but in one of the Christmas display windows I noticed a perfume bottle, and so I figured they sold scents, duh, and walked in, although time was running short, since I was due to meet Jim in the bookstore in about ten minutes. I took the elevator to the fragrance department, and what a department! So many niche scents, Clive Christian, Serge Lutens, Teo Cabanel, M Micallef, Amouage, Bal a Versaille and oh, I can't even remember what-all, there was so much of it. They have the Caron urns, which no longer seem like such a good idea: the urns are gorgeous and I am sure there's a thrill to choosing a bottle and having it filled from a massive crystal dispenser, but they're perpetually exposed to all that harsh bright department-store lighting, which can't be good for the scents in the long run. In the end, I just didn't have time to do it justice, and so I walked away empty-handed.
The movie, by the way, was the sneak preview of Burke and Hare, and we enjoyed it very much, although of course it is not particularly accurate in a historical sense. But we cut all kinds of slack for comedies, don't we?
Today I was out shopping for a couple of kitchen appliances, neither of which I ended up buying, but on the way I stopped in to the local Yves Rocher, having been alerted that they were launching a couple of limited-edition Christmas scents, Orange & Almond and Orange & Chocolate. The smell of almonds in perfumery is not usually a big selling point for me (my two big exceptions are the amaretto-ish Baiser du Dragon and a vintage bottle of CSP's delicious Vanille Amande), but Orange & Chocolate is so obviously me that I probably would have bought it unsniffed. I didn't, though. I sprayed it into the air, sniffed that, and then bought a bottle for $20, along with a purchase-with-purchase set of hand soap and shower gel (300 mL each) for $6.95. It is enchanting, the exact smell of a Terry's Chocolate Orange. Hardly any lasting power, but it's inexpensive and delightful, and what more can you ask?