As many of you know, I am currently staggering through my third year as a Natural Sciences major at Johns Hopkins University in the hopes of becoming a perfumer for a fragrance firm. But what happens when my nose gives out in a few decades, as the internet assures me that it will? Behold my dream retirement plan: opening my own perfume store!
The first question, of course, is “What would you call it?” Scents of Self is the name of this here blog, and I think it would be an equally good name for a perfume boutique. After all, buying perfume is nothing if not a process of self-discovery! When you choose a perfume, you’re learning that you are the kind of person who likes to smell like an ancient sultan’s harem, a fresh-poured cup of Earl Grey, or a strapping lumberjack. This is deeply necessary self-knowledge, y’all.
Where would my perfume store be located? There’d be too much competition in New York, London, or Paris. I’ll be damned if I retire to anywhere with an average temperature below 65 degrees, which rules out pretty much everything north of the Carolinas. Here’s what I’m thinking: San Francisco or Austin, Texas. Northern Californians are a wealthy lot who live just far away enough from the superb perfume shopping options of Los Angeles. Several readers’ comments about the frustrations of being perfume lovers in Austin have convinced me that a quirky perfume boutique is just what this trendy city needs.
What would my perfume store look like? Should I adopt the gloomy goth aesthetic of the Serge Lutens boutique, the lush glamour of the peacock-themed Aedes de Venustas, or perhaps the stark, hypermodern look of the Le Labo shops? My secret preppy side yearns for a small space with pale pink walls, white furniture, and huge windows with deep windowsills on which my cat Zelda can nap in the sun.
We’ve finally reached the most important question: what would my perfume store sell? Which perfume lines would be featured, and which brands would be conspicuously absent? Should I sell exclusively women’s fragrances, or should I try to represent all genders? What would the price range of the products be? I want my perfume store to be a place where customers walk out feeling better than they did before. It should be an inviting, comforting place. That means that the perfumes cannot be overwhelming, aggressive, or overly weird.
A further criteria is price. I don’t know about y’all, but I always feel awful when I spend too much on a perfume. My happiest perfume shopping experiences have been the ones in which I’ve gotten a real bargain. This means that nothing in that store can be over $230. (That number was supposed to be $200. You can blame Carnal Flower for that extra $30.) After rigorously sniffing my way through my sample shoebox, I settled on five main brands.
Lolita Lempicka. The Lolita Lempicka line is the equivalent of a training bra for niche perfumes. (If you’re wondering, that makes Serge Lutens the equivalent of a push-up bra.) The Lolita Lempicka fragrances are sweet enough to appeal to mainstream tastes, but they’re worlds away from the dull, generic mainstream fragrances that flank them on the Sephora shelves. Bonus points for the beautiful bottles and reasonable prices.
L’Artisan Parfumeur. The L’Artisan line perfectly captures the balance that I tried to strike with my perfume choices: different enough to be perceived as new and intriguing, but not strange enough to confuse or alienate customers. L’Artisan perfumes combine familiar themes with unexpected twists. Think of the startling paper note in the otherwise leathery Dzing!, or the shot of rum in Havana Vanille’s hot chocolate. Since we’re dealing in fantasy anyway, I would also somehow manage to sweet-talk L’Artisan into bringing back more of their smaller bottles.
Parfumerie Generale. Orientals are my favorite perfume genre, and no one is making more innovative oriental fragrances right now than Parfumerie Generale. Instead of endless Shalimar clones (although PG does have a very good one), Parfumerie Generale creates perfumes that smell like toasted walnuts (Aomassai) or honeyed graham crackers (Indochine). The reasonable prices are as praiseworthy as the perfumes. I am also not above hiring Parfumerie Generale founder and regulation hottie Pierre Giullaume to model his products shirtless.
Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums. There’s not a frivolously trendy perfume to be found in the Frederic Malle lineup. The Malles are what fashion magazines would call “investment pieces”: elegant, well-composed fragrances that you could easily wear your whole life. I was reluctant to include this brand because of how much pricier it is than the other lines I was considering. But I figure that there will always be people who are willing to pay a little more for quality, and that’s what Frederic Malle provides.
Sonoma Scent Studios. Remember when I said that choosing a perfume is as much about who you are as it is the perfume itself? I suspect that Sonoma Scent Studio founder Laurie Erickson agrees with me, because her perfumes feel deeply personal. When you spray on an SSS perfume, you don’t smell like some marketer’s vague idea of “fresh” or “sexy”. You smell like the logs in the fireplace that your family used to light every winter, or the unlit tobacco in your grandfather’s ever-present pipe. These perfumes are as evocative as they are beautiful.
I think that’s it for perfume. Then I’d also want to stock some fun non-perfume goodies. There’d be fragrant teas: a grassy sencha, a tart umeboshi, a delicate jasmine. I’d keep some eye-catching lipsticks in bright pinks and reds by the cash register. I firmly believe that no store is complete without books, so I’d be sure to have books about perfume (Turin and Sanchez’s The Little Book of Perfumes, Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent, Alyssa Harad’s upcoming Coming to my Senses), a cookbook or two (what could be more perfect then La Cuisine des Nez, a collection of great perfumers’ favorite recipes?), maybe even a few slim books of poetry. No incense or candles, due to the aforementioned cat.
What would your dream perfume store be like? Please tell us all about it in the comments!