Nick Gilbert and I have got to know each other through Basenotes over the years and have had the chance to attend a few perfume events together (some I’ve arranged, some a little more formal). Anyway, after writing about how well and truly behind I was on perfume sniffing and lamenting about it to my nose-nerd friends, Nick and I ended up hatching a plan for a catch-up sniff day. He has been busy as a perfume professional at Les Senteurs and now at Penhaligon’s and I spent my last few years in a blissful state of flow at the Lush perfume lab and working on getting Gorilla Perfume started. Nick has certainly been in a better position to keep his nose informed of what’s going on but I’ve not been completely in the dark, instead relying on serendipity, recommendations and the occasional British Society of Perfumers’ event (another one of which is coming up in November).
So, last Saturday, we met up in central London and worked our way through Liberty’s, Penhaligon’s, Avery and Selfridges. We stopped for lunch after Liberty’s at Le Pain Quotidien and I had delicious (if overpriced) hazelnut flute with hummus and a green salad. Getting to chat and compare notes with a fellow perfume enthusiast is my favourite part of perfume nerdery. It’s so entertaining and you gain many new insights from comparing your experiences, listening to someone else’s impression of a scent and smelling it on someone else’s skin. More about that last part later.
There is no way I could list everything we smelled that day without this becoming a 3000 word essay, so I have picked my personal favourites:
Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle
I can’t remember the last time I smelled a perfume that gave me goosebumps. This is so good I burst out laughing out of sheer delight. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for removing any anxiety I had about the state of modern perfumery. Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle is complex, yet wearable, floral, yet not cloying and has distinct stages without seeming out of balance. One of the few I actually put on my skin: once it had been there for a few minutes, saffron appeared. This is worth seeking out on purpose.
Iris Prima by Penhaligon’s
When Nick took us to Penhaligon’s (mostly to inspect how the window displays were looking), I had the opportunity to try Iris Prima. Always suspicious of scents that get a lot of hype, this was a delightful surprise. On the blotter: a black and white film about a ballerina with a sad ending. A melancholy floral. My grandmother’s handbag with violet sweets and expensive perfume. I liked it but didn’t love it – not until they gave me a sample to take home and I wore it a couple of days later. I have a tendency to turn everything sweet (which is why Angel on my skin is like the death screams of a thousand pink barbies melting) so I tend to do something to suede-type scents (Daim Blond by Serge Lutens is one of my all-time favourites) and most chypres wear very well. I’m now so keen on Iris Prima that this has gone on my “must buy” list along with the Dries Van Noten.
Oeillet by Prada
The perfumer here has either used real oeillet (carnation) absolute or is very good at creating the impression of it. Forget most “carnation” scents you’ve smelled; the cheap shorthand for carnation is eugenol and if you’re not fan of the quite blunt hit that it can create, you might have been put off from carnation notes even when they’ve been done like this, like burying your face in golden flowers.
Extremely beautiful, transparent but not anemic; another straight on the must-buy list. For the record, the Jardins series hasn’t captured me (although I can see the style has merit) so I was surprised at how much I liked this.
Elie Saab Le Parfum
A mainstream gem; if you want to smell pretty but don’t want to tackle a difficult-to-wear niche scent, this is a feminine floral done well. I got completely confused by the different presentations of this. It’s the Le Parfum I like. I think.
Alien Liqueur de Parfum
Speaking of different presentations, Alien definitely suffers from flankeritis but after reading about Liquer de Parfum having rum notes, I had to sniff it. I’m glad I did. If I was running out of my (other two bottles of) Alien, I’d have bought this on the spot. It’s Alien with a bit of boozy-woody va-va-voom and a gorgeous bottle to boot. I didn’t feel it was sufficiently different from the original for me to purchase it (though I still might given that it’s a limited edition. On the other hand, I hate falling for limited editions because, well, they’re limited).
Bottega Veneta pour Homme
A stylish, understated masculine (smelled great on Nick but I was also keeping a nose out for a new scent for my husband). This has a soft backbone and would also smell nice on a woman, I bet.
Reiss Black Oudh
Forget the “black”, forget the “oudh” – this is a good, woody masculine fragrance head and shoulders above many mainstream launches, manages to tap into the oudh trend without going too far into camel poop territory and smells great on the skin. The price tag is reasonable and the bottle doesn’t look too bad either. Definitely one of the best things to come out recently – good AND accessible.
Noisetier candle by Diptyque
I love Diptyque candles and my favourite is Opoponax – but this new one might just become a new favourite. Imagine a sort of drier, woodier version of Nutella as a candle. That.