A guide to the New York Fragrance r-Evolution

18th March, 2009

Here's the hollyhock scent makes the lady you send feel well-to-do And the price fits your pocket, you lucky people you.
Frank Sinatra

Ahhh the smell of New York city... hot dogs and knish's from vendors on the street, a dash of burnt rubber from the cabby that almost hit you, all topped with vapor brimming out of manholes. Mmmm... Guerlain and Creed can only dream of something so sublime. Maybe not, but New York has a softer side for sure, despite the all too familiar moniker of urban grit that's been stamped on the city. The people of New York have been swept in a fragrant revolution (or maybe leave out the 'r' and just call it an evolution).

Last year, one of my favorite music groups, The Cure played at Madison Square Garden and later at Radio City Music Hall. Within the thick line of fans, ranging from goth youth to the “are you my great grandfather?” variety, one could name off a Sephora brand list. It didn't stop there though people have grown past the Givenchy and Chanel numbers. Niche is mass market now. Smaller houses like L'Artisan (1100 Madison Ave) and Diptyque are becoming as normal wear as Drakkar Noir was on bachelors in the eighties.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating but Tea for Two and Premier Figuier did outnumber Curve in that line - not bad considering the number of doors for the former two is miniscule. The smaller houses have the larger department stores like Barneys (660 Madison Ave.) , Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave.), and Bergdorf Goodman (745 Fifth Ave.) to thank but also niche vendors like Henri Bendel (712 Fifth Ave.), Aedes de Venustas (9 Christopher St.), and Takashimaya (693 Fifth Ave.), are contributing to this r-Evolution. The city is also littered with specialty shops and boutiques from old to new: Caron (715 Lexington Ave), C.O. Bigelow Chemists (414 Sixth Ave.), The Bathroom (94 Charles St.), LAFCO (285 Lafayette St.), Fresh (57 Spring St., 388 Bleecker St., 1367 Third Ave., 872 Broadway, and 159 Columbus Ave.), Le Labo (233 Elizabeth Street), Lush (529 Broadway, 2165 Broadway, and 7 East 14th St.), and Floris (703 Madison Ave). Now say all those names real fast, three times.

One cannot talk about perfumery in New York of course without bringing up Bond No. 9 (9 Bond St. - a shocker right?), the ode to New York perfumery spearheaded by Laurice Rahme. Bond 9 features scents evoking the essence of the various sections of both New York City and the greater New York area reaching out to embody far out hideaways from Fire Island to the Hamptons.

So I guess that's it? Umm no. Like Derek Jeter in the 9th inning, New York always has something extra when you least expect it. People often say if you can't find it in New York it doesn't exist. After living in 19 cities and being around the world I have to say this may be well true. The perfumista reading this may balk and throw daggers written with "what about the Lutens export line" at me. For that ornery individual I bring out the ace in my pocket. On Broadway starting from about 33rd street one enters the "fragrance district." At times one feels as if they've been transported to a Moroccan bazaar. Feisty and fierce, people move around and boxes move back and forth with deals being spun faster than a spider with an appetite problem. If you ask enough and look enough the shops in this area can provide anything one can imagine. Opium isn't just a YSL fragrance in these parts. Imports from Arab countries as well as Europe through Dubai reveal gems one only reads about on internet sites. Buyer beware though since often times fakes are sold with packaging even Scotland Yard would have difficulty discriminating against.

Come to New York for the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Yankees, grab a hot dog, go see a Broadway play but go ahead and smell nice while you're at it. New York offers plenty of avenues for such pleasures. And maybe you can find out what ol' Frankie was singing about Hollyhock????

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About the author: Ali Nakhai

Ali is an actor and film-maker based in New York

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