Katie Puckrik Smells London: Part 1

I might hang my hat in Los Angeles now, but London is my lady. My grimy, gloomy, crabby old lady. I lived there for sixteen years, and though the sunny charms of my So-Cal Life are tantalizing, they’re also tranquilizing.

Maybe it was the constant rain (a novelty after the bone-dry desert climate), maybe it was the urban vine-swinging between tube trains and double-decker buses, and most certainly it was seeing my beloved old friends, but my first trip to the Old Smoke in almost two years snapped me back to full beaver-of-eagerness energy and joy.

For ten days and nights, I furiously Flashdanced-What-a-Feeling my hindquarters all over that olden-days burg. In between KP Smells-related meetings, lunches and general jabber-jawin’, I crammed in search-and-enjoy missions targeting bizarre British sweets, old haunts, and (here’s where y’all come in) perfume shopping.

If I had ten minutes between meetings, I was in Liberty, or Selfridges, or Fortnum and Mason, checking out the fumes. And even though Los Angeles is a hot little cowtown for fragrance (between Scent Bar, Sephora, Nordstrom, and the Beverly Hills behemoths of Barneys, Saks and Neiman Marcus, I’m sorted), London filled in blanks I didn’t even know existed.

For instance, it was news to me that just about every Chanel women’s fragrance is offered in pure parfum. I mean, sure, Chanel No. 5 parfum, that’s a cinch. But in the wonderworld of London, no matter how teenage Chancey-Coco Mademoiselley you want to play, you can get your poison en extrait.

Not to mention the retro-sci-fi Chanel tester table at Selfridges, with its tubular ceramic “blotters” impregnated with every iteration of every fragrance. (Cue Nathan Branch’s eyeroll at my lack of photographic documentation.) I got lost in the delight of sliding these porcelain chopsticks in and out of their holes like some backwards version of Whac-a-Mole.

Oh -- and Christian Dior Miss Dior Chérie comes in extrait, too. Which is just irresponsible. How strong do these Euroteens need their strawberry patchouli to be? Strong, I guess. Like their beer. And their language. And their bras. (Okay, I’m not sure about the bras.)

And I saw so many Amouage attars, they were nearly as abundant as the 31 flavors of Tom Ford. Here in the US, it’s “Ooh, Homage Attar. Maybe I can encounter it once before I die of exotic fragrance deprivation.” But between Selfridges and Harrods, I smelled not less than ELEVEN different Amouage attars. How many attars do these Euroteens need?

Fume-nerd nirvana was attained daily. I got my nose on Penhaligon’s Amaranthine in pure parfum (lusher, plusher, more weirdly “off” than the eau de parfum). I finally connected with the full Knize, Rosine, Caron and Piguet lines. I explored the “Arabian Oud” shop where the SA initially profiled me as a lightweight and wouldn’t allow me into the “secret” room of pure oud oils -- until he saw the gleam of madness in my eye and let me through.

I was privileged to receive a tour of Britain's premiere niche fragrance shop, Les Senteurs, conducted by my very own “private dancer”, Michael Donovan. The dashing and witty Michael tends to the store’s PR, and gave me the best of his love for over two hours, talking through the history and ingredients of just about every bottle on display.

In addition to the fun of watching Michael violently fling a blotter contaminated with Etat Libre d’Orange Sécrétions Magnifiques across the room, I learned plenty of perfume gossip. There’s a tidbit about Bill Clinton that I’m not allowed to share here.

But I can share that Les Senteurs has sent selections of perfumes over to Madonna, so that she can peruse in superstar don't-look-at-me seclusion. Lately she’s been partial to Creed Fleurissimo, Caron Poivre, and two from Boadicea The Victorious -- Explorer and Adventuress. But if I had Madonna’s dough, I’d probably just annex Les Senteurs and call that my “perfume collection”.

More London scent schmoozing -- and the nitty-gritty on my perfume haul in Part 2


  1. Oh! I'm . . . speechless! With envy! And yet delight!

    Pure Parfum of Amaranthine? Wow. That would be just about enough to start a revolution. Amaranthine in EDP is already a fine piece of potion -- I'm straining to imagine its glories in extrait formulation.

    And I'm giggling at the picture of a blotter fouled with Secretions Magnifique hurling across a room . . .

    My eyes rolled so hard in my head at the lack of photographic evidence of what must be an amazing Chanel counter that it was a good thirty minutes before I could see straight enough to type this.

    But yeah, I know what you mean regarding the narcotizing effect of L.A. We lived in Santa Monica for a year, but even as gorgeous as we thought the place was, with its beautiful beaches and fantastic weather, we high-tailed it out of there. We couldn't get *anything* done with all that sun, sand, waves and wind blowing through the palm trees.

    Seriously, the glory of Southern California is both a blessing and a curse.

  2. nathan, don't forget SoCal's mountains, deserts and swimming holes - it is truly a glorious place to live. Truthfully, I think being back "home" in London, where I have so many friends and so much history, is what re-invigorated me. Because the charm of winter 4pm sunsets does start to pale after a bit...

  3. Sounds as though you had an absolute blast! Interested to learn that you detected an "off" aspect to the parfum version of Amaranthine, whereas it was more innocuous than the EDP on my skin. This phenomenon was independently verified by the highest authority. : - )

    I am not familiar with the Attars, and have yet to find an Amouage I love, though I am very drawn to the minaret tops.

    I am a bit of a bad penny at Les Senteurs, though I do try to make a purchase at least every other visit.

    Did you get a chance to enter Roja Dove's lair in Harrods?

  4. Oh...so...envious. I would do way too much damage. I'm just a few hours from NYC (if you can call VA a few hours) and I know the beatings that I can inflict on my wallet there if I let myself. But the temptation of the Roja Dove semi-bespokes (and the attars and the extraits) in London would probably trigger a manic spending spree.

    It takes me many a trip to a "fragrance city" to deactivate the must-buy-now button. NYC is a mostly safe zone for me now. It should be, given my familial connections to the city. But when I first fell down the perfumed rabbit hole, it became a playground too. London would be my amusement park, until the credit card bills rolled in.

  5. wow Katie....I wish I had been a fumehead in my old days of London. You are the best..thanks for sharing your adventures.

  6. flittersniffer, I did indeed go to Roja Dove's lair - will touch on that in part 2. Yes, I do recall you got the thumbs up from Bertie Duchaufour on the efficacy of Amaranthine edp on your skin. It's not like there's a universe of difference between the effect of the edp and the parfum, but the parfum definitely was a heightened experience on my skin.

    melisand61 - I know exactly what you mean about needing several visits to a "trigger-spot" (whether it be a perfume shop or a cupcake bakery) before the binge-buying bug slackens. I'm now in that sweet haze between major London fume haul and credit card bill...

    onesmalldog - all the years I lived in London, I never ventured over to Les Senteurs, which is astonishing to me. I knew about it, but it just wasn't on my "regular route" around town. Liberty and Selfridges kept me busy enough.

  7. Katie, I just discovered your blog a few months ago and I'm really enjoying it. I'm new to the world of perfume, and I'm learning a lot from you. Thank you!

  8. That's so nice to hear, Jenny! Glad you're part of the raggle-taggle bunch over here.