A Day of Perfume Shopping in Montreal
by, 13th July 2008 at 04:12 AM (54102 Views)
I’m sitting here at my computer with 12 Guerlain smelling strips on the desk between me and the keyboard, wafting up and creating a delicious Guerlain soup. They are the fruits of a day-long sampling trip to Montreal, which I’m considering a great success, and which I’m just itching to talk about!
I came in on the train at 9:30, equipped with 25 empty 1ml vials, paper envelopes, and a pen for labelling. First stop: the Bay. The main large store has a gigantic cosmetics & fragrances section, and for the most part it was uninteresting mainstream stuff. I did pick up a nifty brochure and a couple of samples at their Serge Lutens/Shiseido counter. The main surprise at the Bay was discovering that they carry the “Miroir, Miroir” series from Thierry Mugler. Apparently this store and the one in downtown Toronto are the only two stores in Canada to carry them. I had wanted to try Miroir des Envies (“the heart note is an intense hazelnuts accord, a kind of Nutella absolute”) and Miroir des Vanités (“Campari soda…served with a slice of lemon”) since reading about them in Perfumes: the Guide, and had pretty much given up hope on ever getting my hands on them outside of New York. Vanités turned out to be a disappointment, coming off like cooked plastic somehow, but Envies was tasty. The SA was kind enough to decant samples of those two for me, as well as A Travers Le Miroir, which I smelled briefly and wanted to try later.
On my way to Ogilvy, I have to tell you that I stopped in at the SAQ Signature—a giant, beautiful liquor store, as only the French could do, and only one of two of its kind in the province—and was able to taste Rémy Martin XO Cognac for free. A very obliging SA poured it for me, who listened to my English and answered in French, which worked out surprisingly well (although, in fairness to me, I did take French all through high school). This was just a lovely little gustatory aside in an otherwise very nasal-centric day.
The next stop was Ogilvy, which is a large luxury department store and for reference is the host of Montreal’s Louis Vuitton boutique. The staff there were not especially impressive, though I did get a number of Serge Lutens samples, and the SL counter attendant did allow me to spray-decant Un Lys and Datura Noir. (No such luck with Piguet’s Visa, described in P:tG as a leathery floral similar to Daim Blond, which is one of my favourites—I ended up just spraying it on an already overcrowded arm.) The Guerlain SA was no more or less helpful than your typical fragrance counter attendant.
However, Ogilvy also hosts Canada’s only L’Artisan Parfumeur boutique, and that was a different story. The SA was a pleasant young woman, seemingly about university-age, but she was knowledgeable and extremely helpful, and I spent about 20-30 minutes smelling my way through 90% of the L’Artisan line that I hadn’t yet smelled. The best part, natch, was the copious free samples—ten, to be exact, including custom 1ml decants of the limited edition Iris Pallida and Fleur de Narcisse, as well as one of the Mood Swings coffret (D’Humeur Massacrante, or “In a Killing Mood,” which could easily be my holy grail Sweeney Todd costume fragrance). And, as if that weren’t enough, I also got to smell Fleur de Liane, which was just launched in Paris this week and isn’t due for release until October. You can read more about it here.
After having lunch in the Ogilvy basement cafeteria, I headed over to Holt Renfrew, my largest perfume-shopping destination. By this point my nose was suffering from overload, and I really shouldn’t have wasted time on things like Creed when there were Chanel Exclusifs to be tried. I snagged some Creed, Armani Privé, and By Kilian samples on my trip through the main cosmetics & fragrance area, skipping Jo Malone completely in the interest of preserving olfactory capacity. At the in-store Hermès boutique, I smelled (and left with samples of) all the Hermessences (though I had tried most of them already, except for Rose Ikebana, Poivre Samarcand, and Paprika Brasil).
And then there was Chanel. Chanel probably doesn’t merit its own paragraph, but I think it’s worth pointing out how this experience typifies the worst in luxury perfume shopping. I walked in and found the Exclusifs display, and the SA helpfully came over and told me to go ahead and try them all on the provided, labelled paper cards. Fine, no problem. I smelled my way through them all, with Coromandel emerging as the favourite, but there were a number of runners-up. I asked her if she had any samples, and she said no. (This is either ignorance or a blatant lie, since I got a 4ml miniature of Bois des Îles at the Toronto boutique in February.) I asked her if I could make some of my own samples using my own glass vials, and she said no. She was very apologetic about it, and gave me some BS explanation which basically boiled down to Chanel wanting to maintain the exclusivity of the perfumes. Yes, that’s a great idea. You limit your customer’s trial to one or two sprays on skin, and then you expect them to drop ~$200 on a gigantic 200ml bottle of perfume? Who the hell can commit to that kind of long-term relationship after only one short date? Fine, maybe it works for people who fall in love with something immediately, but for the rest of us who want to think about it before we buy a bottle, it’s completely useless.
Now, Chanel, sit down and listen carefully, because I’m going to tell you about Guerlain. The Guerlain boutique is about a 15-20 minute walk away from Holt Renfrew, in the tony Westmount neighbourhood of Montreal. (As a point of interest, roughly 9 out of 10 cars parked on the street were luxury makes; I passed a fellow getting into a Ferrari as I was walking up the street.) The first thing you see when you walk in the door of the boutique is a display case with a large number of vintage Guerlain perfume bottles. Perhaps I displayed an appropriate degree of awe at this exhibit, because the associate and I hit it off immediately. She took me over to the L’Art et la Matière line, and we sat down on opposite sides of a glass-topped table, where she brought over all the perfumes, and then showed them to me one by one, with instructive commentary on their creation, history and notes. We went on to the Parisiennes line (Liù, Plus que Jamais, L’Âme d’un Héros, Philtre d’Amour, Attrape-Coeur), and also Vega and Sous le Vent, again with insightful commentary. After that we took a break, I went to the washroom, she offered me a glass of water, and I sat down in an armchair to read a coffee-table book about the history of Guerlain. When I had rested, we went over to the more mainstream line, where I discovered that there were very few I hadn’t smelled elsewhere. (Not necessarily a huge loss, as by then my nose was so dead that I really couldn't have properly appreciated any of them.) I was slightly disappointed when I found the only extrait testers they had were Nahéma and Cherry Blossom—I’d been hoping to try L’Heure Bleue in extrait—but since I’d never realized that Cherry Blossom was available outside travel retail or Asia, I was happy to try that one.
I asked her about making samples. And she had absolutely no problem with it. Not only did she have no problem with it, but she basically gave me free rein to do it all myself. And not only did she give me free rein, but when the crappy bulb atomizers on L’Art et la Matière failed to work, and I realized that I hadn’t brought any plastic pipettes with me—which would have also precluded me from taking samples of Vega and Sous le Vent, which were in stoppered splash bottles—she suggested that I go down to the café next door and get some plastic straws to use as pipettes. So, equipped with the straws, my vials, and envelopes, I sat down at the table and made myself samples from the boutique’s tester bottles.
Best. Shopping. Experience. EVER.
And I told her so. I said it was miles away from anything else I’d experienced in that whole day of shopping for perfume. And she quite logically pointed out that it was because Guerlain is not a department store, but a perfume house. I corrected her—it was the perfume house—and continued to thank her profusely. I got her card, and asked her about having perfume shipped, and of course they ship it, at no extra charge. With further thanks, I left, after one full, wonderful hour. (Oh, and for anyone who’s still looking for a bottle of Spiritueuse Double Vanille, yes, they have it in stock.)
Last stop: La Musée des Beaux Arts, to see the Yves Saint Laurent 40-year retrospective exhibition. It was amazing. 125 pieces of haute couture, posed and lit for close-up inspection? Oh yeah. That took me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I highly recommend it for anyone even remotely interested in fashion.
Final tally: 17 vials used (11 Guerlain, 3 Thierry Mugler, 2 Serge Lutens, 1 Armani Privé).
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