In the second of our pieces to celebrate Basenotes and Roja Dove's event collaboration we take a look at The Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie based at one of the most famous shopping destinations in London, Harrods.
The opulent surroundings and rare and exotic scents have meant that that the Parfumerie is a place that excites curiosity and attracts attention. Basenotes went along to find out what the Parfumerie offers and why this is not just another boutique.
Stepping off of the pavement on a grey and overcast Knightsbridge morning into the blazing green and gilded department store is an act of refreshment in itself. The noise of traffic and tourists and workers rushing out of the office for an energy boosting mid-morning latte melts into a luxurious ambience, service with a smile and a sense that retail therapy could not be more pleasing. Yes I am a fan of Harrods and have been since childhood, gazing for what seemed like entire festive holidays into magical windows that held endless promise.
Despite our history, Harrods and I, I am still prone to getting lost in pursuit of anything above the third floor and today is no exception. So it is with a very graceless veil of moisture on my top lip and a disheveled hair arrangement that I lumber into the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie two minutes late for my appointment.
These are not the surroundings in which one wishes to be red-faced and flustered and yet I do not feel intimidated or displaced or wish that I had somewhere to retouch my lip-gloss or comb my wayward bob. The immediate effect of the sensual surroundings is to calm. me. right. down. It maybe the crystal bright lighting, which reflects off of the multiple high-gloss surfaces yet remains unintrusive, or the dark and almost comforting interior of the intimate and warm space. Perhaps it is the distracting sense of excitement that begins to bubble in my chest as I visually register the rows upon rows of sparkling, liquid filled shapes surrounding me. I cannot say for sure, but I certainly begin to relax. As I cross the room I am greeted by the deeply glamourous and ever-smiling manager of the Haute Parfumerie, Annette. With her impeccable red lipstick and her jet black outfit Annette quite simply belongs at The Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie - I would go so far as to say she personifies it.
Annette and I have met before and so there follows some brief but pleasant greetings before she delivers me with her signature elegant professionalism into the care of Benjamin Paul. A polished looking young, blond gentleman in an open-necked shirt and a suit, Benjamin explains that he will be carrying out my odour profiling today. He leads me to the cloakroom to unload my now cumbersome coat that has begun to feel like loft insulation under the heat of all of those lights. Feeling even less inhibited having been freed from my outer garments I am led back across the floor (experiencing no small sense of longing as I pass the beautiful mirrored and highly polished displays, each holding new possibilities and further mysteries) to a gloriously cosy looking nook in the corner of the Parfumerie.
Benjamin offers me tea or coffee and I gratefully accept a coffee which arrives along with a tea for Benjamin and some delightful looking biscuits that make me wish I had eaten less at Easter and were not consequently on a weight-loss crusade. The purpose of my visit today - quite apart from needing very little excuse to enjoy the womb-like sanctuary of my hometown and favourite landmarks within it - is so that Benjamin can conduct an odour-profiling on me. A what? Yes a scent profile will be conducted telling me what kinds of scents I am particularly prone to, which families I favour and ultimately which fragrance I might consider as my signature fragrance.
I would like to think of myself as an open-minded individual, but I cannot pretend that cynical jeers did not play behind my sealed lips. I did not 'believe' in scent profiling and I held no illusions that this session would end in clarification of my perfume personality. I power dress with Guerlain Vetiver, I delight in Estee Lauder Pleasures, I pick myself up with Mona di Orio Amyitis, I got married in Gaultier's Classique and Creed's Millésime Impérial is a constant joy to me. Categorise that lot. The only thing I consider this list to have in common is me. They are all very different fragrances from different families and houses. So it is with a gentle disbelief that I begin to answer Benjamin's questions.
Leaning back in the sumptuous seating amongst so many gorgeous fabrics and soft cushions that I wonder if this is how an Arabian princess of old may have whiled away her hours. My attention is directed towards a computer screen across the table. The odour profiling begins and I answer a number of questions, all of which offer me a series of scenarios, options, scents, and situations from which I must choose my favourite or the closest to my ideal. Upon being instructed not to think about my answers too much and to go with my initial instincts when choosing I am surprised to find that I am, in most cases, very drawn to one particular answer and I follow my gut. The long string of answers that I produce seem, to me, very disparate and not to have formed any coherent pattern, but such is the nature of this type of questioning.
Having ascertained a starting point Benjamin whisks off and prepares some scent strips for me to sample. Arranging them on the table in front of him his enthusiasm is clear and his eyes widen as he explains that this is why he loves his job. The odour profiling seems to be more about relationship building than a one-off experience for the customer as far as my host is concerned and the consultative approach is clearly a key aspect of the job for him. He, almost imperceptibly, wrinkles his nose when discussing his previous experience in the industry and tells me that he was just about ready to give it up and seek other avenues before joining the Haute Parfumerie. He genuinely lights up when he talks about returning clients and about being present at, even responsible for, that moment in which somebody finds a true fragrance love.
At this moment I cannot imagine a further reality than the experience that I know many people and I have had at their local fragrance counters, wherein we are spritzed violently and against our will with something 'fresh', not because it suits us or is what we have asked for or is inline with any of our preferences but because it is new and is the focus of that month's sales drive. From my comfortable perch surrounded by black lacquer staring at a Baccarat flacon of Les Larmes Sacrées de Thebes on the bevel-edged mirrored table in front of me, I cannot imagine any of my questions on the subject of fragrance being met with a blank or disinterested stare or being given information that I know full-well to be erroneous. Of course to suggest that this is the almost universal experience of fragrance shopping would be a great injustice to the thousands of knowledgeable and passionate sales people with whom many of us have forged mutually beneficial relationships, but it is an experience I am sure we have all been privy to at some point in our olfactory pursuits. Not here. The over-riding sense is of being in somebody's bedroom. It has the intimate boudoir air that I imagine of a 1950's film star's private suite and the collection of flacons and furnishings surrounding us feels like a private collection more than an inventory of stock. The reason for this I later discover is that all of the fragrances stocked here have been hand-selected by Dove according to his personal opinion of which fragrances have shaped and contributed to fragrance history.
From Acqua di Genoa to Xerjoff via Caron, Lailique and MDCI, the collection is varied and exciting. Knowing that there is a possibility that I will be presented with a historically significant or exclusive fragrance makes me eager to begin sniffing. Diorling and Diorama by Christian Dior, and a collection of Bois fragrances are among those exclusive to the Haute Parfumerie. Wondering which fragrances from this unique collection have been selected for me I accept the first strip from Benjamin.
I have tried lots of fragrances, been offered scent strips in their hundreds, who knows maybe even thousands by now, but this controlled narrated sniffing is very different. As I smell each scent strip in turn, Benjamin talks me through what is happening on the paper. He conjures up scenarios to illustrate the fragrances, he explains what happens if I smell first this one and then the next. I am taken on an olfactory journey across green and mossy forest floors, sweet floral playgrounds, all the while hearing about the differences in the fragrances that I am smelling: "Now if you smell this after that first strip you will find that the scent is much bigger and more open, the first will be softer and spicier" and so on. I am asked to gradually compare all of the scent strips in various ways, before beginning to state my preferences and so by a process of elimination I am down to two fragrances. Despite initially feeling that this was very much a fun way to spend a morning and nothing else I am now swept up in a whirlwind of scent and story and very eager not just to unravel the mystery of my 'chosen' fragrance, but also to discover my odour personality.
Benjamin says that he feels that I am very drawn to orientals but that I prefer those with a woody or floral element and also liked oriental fragrances with a fruity surprise. Of all of my scents I wear Jean Paul Gaultier's Classique the most and would probably choose this if I could get past the horror of the idea and decide on a desert island fragrance. On that basis I think that the process was far more accurate than I could have imagined during my earlier question and answer session. Of course I love other fragrances from different families, but the value for me today is that I have identified a starting point from which to branch out and discover new fragrances. We are over-whelmed by choice in a market that sees 800 new releases each year and to have some guidance from enthusiastic, knowledgeable and actually, downright entertaining people, in such comfortable and aesthetically pleasing surroundings is not only a great way to focus one's next shopping experience - it is actually really good fun too.
I feel as though Ben has performed a show or carried out some conjuring trick as he gets to the grand finale and reveals with a flourish my favorite of all of the blind sniffings: Les Larmes Sacrées de Thebes by Baccarat. I do not think I will be making a purchase today but Benjamin rather generously rubs some of the rare liquid onto my collar bones and wrists as he talks about the constantly evolving woody, resinous juice. I skip out of the Parfumerie feeling pampered, a little spoilt and a bit less cynical.