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