ON 8th FEBRUARY 2012
THIS POST WON THE 2011 JASMINE AWARD
THIS POST WON THE 2011 JASMINE AWARD
FOR 'BEST WEBSITE FEATURE ON FRAGRANCE'
During my last visit to Paris, the three most useful things I had in my bag were a notebook, a pen and a printout of the two-part perfume shopping guide from Grain De Musc. When I got back home, I resolved to create a similar guide for London, in the hope that visitors to the city would find it as helpful as I found Denyse Beaulieu's in France. Now, several months later, I'm finally in a position to publish it here on my blog.
Some small print first. This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of every single scent-selling outlet in the metropolis. Instead, it reflects what I consider to be the finest aspects of London's perfume shopping scene. If I've omitted any noteworthy spots, please let me know, and I'll consider incorporating them. Wherever possible, I've included addresses and telephone numbers. To the best of my knowledge, all the information below is correct; I will certainly review and update it on a regular basis in order to keep up with what is a constantly changing retail environment. Unless stated otherwise, the fragrances I mention as being stocked by certain shops may well be available in others. Please check opening times before you undertake any long journeys and don’t try to cram all of the below into one day. I haven’t split the guide into separate parts as I thought I’d leave it to individual readers to decide which sections are of most interest to them, but if you would like to smell everything, I’d suggest being kind to your nose and putting aside at least two days.
Right, on to the main attraction. Are you ready for some serious walking? Rain? What rain? Just pack an umbrella and an A-Z (or download a smartphone equivalent) and put on some sensible shoes. Sadly, the city's perfumeries aren't geographically arranged in such a way to allow us to follow a flawless, logical route whilst we visit them, but a little doubling-back won't hurt us, especially as it'll provide a great excuse to stop for a cappuccino. On which note, it's time we were off...
View Persolaise London Perfume Shopping Guide in a larger map
I think Harrods is where we should begin (87-135 Brompton Road, London, SW1X 7XL; tel: 020 7730 1234; Underground: Knightsbridge). It's fashionable to be snooty about the place and dismiss it as being overly tourist-oriented, but I always enjoy popping back, although I confess I try to avoid busy times. Generally speaking, the sales assistants are helpful (if not always terribly knowledgeable) and generous with samples. On the ground floor, the fragrances are spread across three rooms, the most famous of which is, of course, the Black Hall (gorgeously refurbished in May 2012). It's probably best to walk straight past the stock that can be found in other stores and make a bee-line for the more exclusive attractions.
The Guerlain counter used to be the only place in the country which held some of the non-mainstream ranges (such as Les Elixirs Charnels and L'Art Et La Matière). However, the firm's stand at Selfridges (see below) now sells these 'exclusives' too, so if there's something specific you're hoping to try and you haven't got time to visit both stores, I'd suggest phoning ahead to find out exactly who's selling what at any given time. At the Cartier section you can try Mathilde Laurent's Les Heures Du Parfum. There are also counters for Bond No. 9 (which often holds Harrods-only releases) as well as Dior's Collection Privée (no longer exclusive to Selfridges), Lubin, Chantecaille, Hermès, Tom Ford Private Blend, Jo Malone and Roja Parfums... but if you're particularly interested in the latter, I'd suggest the best place to try Mr Dove's work is on the fifth floor, which means finding an escalator to take us to...
The Haute Parfumerie. It may not be the largest boutique in the city, but its opulent, inviting black decor contains such a high proportion of rarities and UK-only exclusives that a visit here is obligatory. The current list of 'Goodies Unavailable Elsewhere' includes Profvmvm Roma and Pure Distance, as well as several individual MDCIs, Carons, Molinards, Xerjoffs and Nina Riccis. This is also an excellent setting in which to sample Vero Profumo, Grossmith, Houbigant and Arquiste. And then there are, of course, Roja Dove's own semi-bespoke creations.
Be sure to pop into the Gentleman's Lounge too. Formerly a basement pub, it's accessible via a flight of stairs in the menswear department and although almost all of its stock can be found elsewhere in the store, this is the only place where you'll see Czech & Speake. (The Different Company, previously available at the Lounge, has now been phased out.)
If it's time for some sustenance, I'd recommend Ladurée on the ground floor, or if you'd rather leave the store, there are plenty of cafes to choose from in the surrounding area.
Next we're going to follow Brompton Road in a westerly direction until it turns into Fulham Road, which is where we'll find the so-tiny-you'll-miss-it-if-you-blink branch of Parfums De Nicolaï (101a Fulham Road, SW3 6RH; tel: 020 7581 0922; Underground: South Kensington), after which we need to consult our A-Z for the best way to head to Sloane Square and the flagship Ormonde Jayne store (Underground: Sloane Square), a lovely setting in which to partake of the 'perfume portrait' service.
A short distance away is another must-stop destination: Les Senteurs (71 Elizabeth Street, SW1W 9PJ; tel: 020 7730 2322; Underground: Sloane Square). London's best-known niche perfumery is a treasure trove of scented delights and - sorry to be so prosaic - a rare example of a shop with lots and lots of surfaces on which geeky customers (such as myself) can comfortably place notebooks, pens and long lines of blotters. The place stocks far too many interesting lines for me to mention here (visit www.lessenteurs.com for more info) but I will just list the following: Tauer Perfumes; Frederic Malle; Knize; Maison Francis Kurkdjian; Parfums De Rosine; Serge Lutens; Parfumerie Générale; Huitième Art; Etat Libre D'Orange; Grossmith; Bex; Eau D'Italie; Les Nez; 4160 Tuesdays. [A second, larger and arguably more pleasant branch of Les Senteurs is at 2 Seymour Place, W1H 7NA (tel: 020 7183 5842; Underground: Marble Arch). Please consult the map above to decide which of the two would be more convenient for you to pop into. At the time of writing, the two branches don't sell exactly the same perfumes, so phone ahead for info if you're looking for something specific.]
About a 10 minute walk away is Amouage (14 Lowndes St; tel: 020 7245 1139; Underground: Knightsbridge) which must surely be the main contender for the award of the most beautiful perfumery in town. Its gorgeous antique furniture, subtly Arabian design touches (there's not a hint of 1001 Nights kitsch here) and stunning window displays are a superb showcase for the full range of perfumes (including extraits), bath products and home scents, as well as several attars. The staff have never been anything less than superlative. London's only Annick Goutal boutique is literally around the corner (20 Motcomb Street, SW1X 8LB; tel: 020 7823 2176; Underground: Knightsbridge).
If we now head back to Knightsbridge, we'll find we've almost completed a massive circle and reached Harvey Nichols (109-125 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RJ; tel: 020 7235 5000; Underground: Knightsbridge). HN's specialist niche department is long gone, but the appearance of a few lesser-known brands (such as Jovoy, Evody, Memo, Six Scents and Andrea Maack) on the shelves of the ground floor fragrance section bodes well for the future. HN also sells By Killian, the odd entry from Histoires De Parfums (which, bizarrely, is stocked in the 'accessories' section of the women's fashion floor) and occasional, short-term exclusives.
Just over a mile away is Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER; tel: 020 7734 8040; Underground: Green Park), an excellent place to stop for another coffee and – once we’ve made it to the second floor – enjoy the sight of decidedly old-fashioned perfumery aesthetics. The Micallef selection contains a few UK-only pieces, as well as three world-exclusives - 1707 Pink, 1707 Blue and 1707 For Gentlemen - released to mark the shop's 300th anniversary. In recent months, the niche selection has expanded and now includes MDCI, Agonist and Illuminum, amongst others.
If we take a wiggly way north to Oxford Street, we can stop by Dover Street Market (17-18 Dover Street, W1S 4LT; tel: 020 7518 0680; Underground: Green Park) to smell the Comme Des Garçons range (watch out for the snooty staff!) before heading to the Avery Fine Perfumery (27 Avery Row, W1K 4AY; tel: 020 7629 1892; Underground: Bond Street) to sample wares from Nasomatto, Nez À Nez, Profumi Del Forte and SoOud, amongst others. It's also worth popping into Fenwick (63 New Bond Street, W1S 1RQ; tel: 020 7629 9161; Undeground: Bond Street) partly to take advantage of what always seems to be a tranquil atmosphere, but also to gawp at the display of giant factice bottles dotted about the fragrance section.
We then go from the cosy to the capacious: the next stop on our itinerary is Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB; tel: 0800 123 400; Underground: Bond Street or Marble Arch). There was a time when it looked as though the store would become a serious source of niche fragrance products, but that seems to have passed and most of what’s an offer is available in countless other shops. However, the Chanel perfume hall on the ground floor is unquestionably the best setting in which to try Les Exclusifs and one of very few places from which to purchase Égoïste and some of the less ubiquitous extraits. A few steps away is Dior’s fragrance enclosure, which sells the Collection Privée. And the Guerlain counter has been refurbished to bring it into line with the gold-and-crystal aesthetic of the brand's Paris shops. At the moment, this is the only stand in the UK where you'll find the Voyages Olfactifs collection (an honour which had previously belonged to Harrods). Also available are Les Elixirs Charnels and L'Art Et La Matière (please see the Harrods entry above for more information about Guerlain 'exclusives'). Spare a moment for the lower-ground floor too, where you'll find Diptyque, L'Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon's.
Next we need to decide if we’re happy to branch off our main route in order to visit the Marylebone branch of Les Senteurs (see above) and Le Labo (28a Devonshire Street [just off Marylebone High Street], W1G 6PS; tel: 020 3441 1535; Underground: Baker Street or Regent’s Park). The latter is a fun shop, but worth going to only if you want to buy scents in the 15 ml size or you wish to see some of the firm’s quirkier products, such as The Olfactionary (about to be discontinued). Then again, Marylebone is always a pleasant venue for a coffee, but if we’re pressed for time, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a very good Le Labo counter at...
Liberty (Great Marlborough Street, W1B 5AH; Underground: Oxford Circus). This 19th century store’s perfumery department seems to have made the commendable decision to stock the sorts of products one won’t easily find in other high-profile outlets, which probably makes it the most interesting multi-brand destination outside Knightsbridge and Belgravia. In addition to the aforementioned Le Labo counter, there are stand-alone areas for Frederic Malle (featuring the famous sniffing booth), Byredo (exclusive to the store), Maison Francis Kurkdjian and Diptyque; the ‘general’ shelves stock a decent range of Nasomatto, Escentric Molecules (This Company), Serge Lutens, Arquiste, Comme Des Garçons, Ineke, Nana De Bary, Profumi Del Forte, Odin, Agonist, Linari, Miller Harris, Annick Goutal and L’Artisan Parfumeur, amongst others. The staff at the dedicated concessions are excellent (presumably because they’ve been trained by the ‘parent’ companies) but I’m afraid I’ve yet to be impressed by Liberty’s own employees, who seem to range from unapproachable to ‘busy doing far more important things’. Oh, and if you manage to get any of them to part with a sample, let me know.
I’m afraid I also can’t recommend Liberty’s café, so if we need a pit-stop, I’d suggest walking along to Heddon Street before turning our attention to Lush (1-3 Quadrant Arcade, 80-82 Regent Street, W1R 5PA; tel: 020 7434 3953; Underground: Piccadilly Circus). We’re interested in the basement, which currently stocks the country’s most comprehensive selection of the company’s unusual, must-try Gorilla Perfumes, some of which are available in oil-based form.
And finally, we’re off to Covent Garden. The L’Artisan Parfumeur boutique stocks the full range of perfumes, candles and home fragrances (Unit 13, Covent Garden Market Building, WC2E 8RB; tel: 020 3040 3030; Underground: Covent Garden) and is a great place to have a chat with the staff, each and every one of whom is an absolute delight. And a few steps away is the flagship store of Penhaligon’s (41 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7BN; tel: 020 7836 2150; Underground: Covent Garden). The company does have several outlets across the city, but it makes sense to sniff their wares – and, if you’ve got the time, enjoy a fragrance profiling session – in their oldest and most venerable shop.
[Before we finish, I should just mention the two Angela Flanders boutiques (96 Columbia Road, E2 7QB; tel: 020 7739 7555; Underground: Hoxton or Shoreditch High Street // 4 Artillery Passage, E1 7LJ; tel: 020 7247 7040; Underground: Liverpool Street) as well as Bloom (4 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR; tel: 020 7247 6148; Underground: Shoreditch High Street). They may be away from the main retail cluster of central London, but they're well worth visiting. Indeed, in the Flanders shops, you'll be able to purchase creations that you literally won’t find anywhere else in the world. Bloom is rapidly becoming a niche force ro be reckoned with; its current UK exclusives include Olfactive Studio, Magnetic Scent and Carner.]
And that, dear shoppers, is that. Our scent odyssey is complete. If you’ve got any energy left, give yourself a pat on the back and treat yourself to a cup of tea and a slice of cake… and enjoy your purchases.
22nd April 2013: updated information on Les Senteurs; inclusion of Bloom
13th January 2013: updated information on Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie
6th January 2013: updated information on Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges and Le Labo; inclusion of Fenwick
30th November 2012: details of second Angela Flanders boutique
11th November 2012: updated information on Harrods and Harvey Nichols
25th September 2012: update on brands stocked at Liberty and Les Senteurs
19th July 2012: updated information on Harvey Nichols
29th June 2012: several updates including new/updated information on Harrods, Les Senteurs, Harvey Nichols, Comme Des Garçons and Liberty.
22nd May 2012: update on brands stocked at Selfridges and Liberty
19th April 2012: update on Harrods refurbishment
29th March 2012: updated information on Dior at Harrods and Selfridges
11th March 2012: updated information on Harrods
8th December 2011: new information on Harrods
28th November 2011: new information about Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie; new information about Guerlain at Harrods and Selfridges; more information about second branch of Les Senteurs.
10th November 2011: addition of second branch of Les Senteurs.
30th October 2011: new information on Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Selfridges.
20th October 2011: Google Map; new information about certain stores.