In 2004 I reached a dead end with my life in New Zealand. I quit my job, packed everything into two bags and moved to Melbourne in Australia’s garden state. What attracted me to Melbourne was the city’s reputation for arts and culture. Also, Melbourne offered a more laid back approach to living, the perfect environment to set up a new life. For me, this move was a catalyst for many great things and although I now live in Sydney, Melbourne is like my second home.
For the past year I have been writing Scent Adventures during my travels abroad, so one of the things on my blogging ‘to do’ list is to write about my perfume adventures here in Australia. Naturally I wanted to start in Melbourne, the city that opened many perfumed doors for me.
Like Madrid and Barcelona or New York and Los Angeles, Melbourne and Sydney are always being compared. Sydney is bigger, it has some of the world’s best beaches in close proximity to the city and depending on whom you speak with, it has a better climate. Despite this, many Sydney residents make seasonal trips to Melbourne as patients of retail therapy. Melbourne’s eclectic mix of world-leading brands and local designer boutiques has allowed the city to proclaim itself Australia’s fashion capital.
The city centre is a lattice of intersecting streets that create an easy-to-use grid. Within the grid are a series of small laneways and arcades that can be challenging for people like myself who have a terrible sense of direction. Tourists love exchanging stories of discovered bars, restaurants and boutiques in Melbourne’s hidden alleys. At times it becomes friendly competition to see who managed to unearth something other explorers were unsuccessful in finding.
For first time visitors keen on exploring the maze of Melbourne city laneways I suggest starting in Degraves Street off Flinders Lane. Degraves Café is a Melbourne institute and it is a good place to recharge with a short macchiato and a bite to eat. This area has a 21st century bohemian charm with alley walls decorated in graffiti and stencils. The streets are filled with the smells of roasting coffee beans, toasted ciabatta bread and the occasional waft of garbage.
Two blocks over, perfume collectors should keep the Royal Arcade on their shopping itinerary. The arcade’s black and white tiling and original decorative trims take you back to Australia’s Victorian era and the stores inside the arcade feel like they have been there since Queen Victoria as well. Most pedestrians use the arcade as a thoroughfare from Little Collins Street to Bourke Street Mall. Local perfume collectors know Paint ‘n Powder Perfumery is one place to go for hard to find or discontinued stock of their favourite perfumes. The boutique is kitsch, perhaps not intentionally. Large perfume bottle factices and boudoir paraphernalia surround the fragrance and make-up that is for sale. Often you can find older stock of perfumes, which have experienced a reformulation. But don’t expect to find a bargain; the owners are savvy with their pricing and know when an item has value with collectors.
The Royal Arcade is also home to Marais. In typical Melbourne style, you need to know it is there otherwise you will miss it. Through a small doorway, up a flight of stairs, Marais’ entrance is bathed in pink light. The boutique carries clothing by Lanvin, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Carven. In terms of perfume, the counter is generously stocked with niche brand Histoires de Parfums.
Exiting the Royal Arcade into Bourke Street Mall you will find flagships for Australia’s two major department stores. Myer and David Jones may not be Bergdorf Goodman or Printemps but as far as department store shopping goes in Australia, their Melbourne flagships provide an extensive range of all the expected names as well as some perfumes that are rarely seen in department stores. David Jones has a small counter dedicated to smaller perfume houses such as Amouage, Costume National, Creed, Juliette Has A Gun and Lubin. David Jones also has a dedicated Tom Ford fragrance counter. Two years ago Myer refurbished and their new cosmetic floor welcomed Galerie de Parfum, a space that carries classic brands such as Caron and Lalique alongside niche names Atelier Cologne, Keiko Mecheri and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Adjacent to Galerie de Parfum, Mecca Cosmetica has an inviting concession store where you will find Frederic Malle, Le Labo, Byredo, Diptyque, Francis Kurkdjian and Serge Lutens.
Mecca Cosmetica is an Australian success story. The independent retailer began with niche skincare and make-up and the business has grown over the past decade. A couple of years ago they decided to extend their business into niche perfumery and within a short period of time, Mecca boutiques were carrying a number of coveted perfume brands. Most of the brands they carry are sold exclusively in Australia by Mecca. One of my favourite Mecca boutiques is on Little Collins Street. It does not have the full product offer like their Bourke Street flagship inside Myer, but it has an urban charm you won’t find in Mecca’s mall locations that are without a street front.
Although Mecca Cosmetica carries Comme des Garcons perfumes, if you are visiting their Little Collins Street boutique, you may want to visit Chiodo, directly below Mecca. Chiodo offer clothing and perfumes by Comme des Garcons and other deconstructive designers from Europe and Japan. It is one of Melbourne’s more designed retail spaces and the subterranean boutique feels like a post-modern bomb shelter. If you like Japanese food, turn right halfway up the stairwell as you exit and you will see a discrete entrance to Izakaya Den. They serve traditional Japanese food in a chic modern environment. On weekdays it is usually packed with the hip Collins Street business set, so if you are looking for a quiet suit-free lunch, wait until 1.30pm when the business clientele are beginning to make their way back to their offices.
Another boutique on this block is Assin who cater to the modern, fashion forward Melbournian. Here you will find the brand’s own designs alongside Dior Homme, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela and Miharaysasuhiro. I purchased my bottle of Dior’s Bois D’Argent cologne here in 2005; unfortunately with new licensing agreements the Dior colognes are no longer available at Assin- they are now sold exclusively in Dior Homme boutiques, the closest of which, is in Singapore. Assin’s perfume collection seems to change irregularly so I always make a point of visiting from time to time to see what is new. Previously they have sold the Six Scents collection as well as a number of Comme des Garcons perfumes and limited editions.
On Collins Street, the area between Swanston and Exhibition Street is referred to as the Paris end of Collins Street. Here you will find all of the luxury brands expected of any international shopping destination. Between Prada and Hermes you will find Harrolds, which specialises in men’s tailoring. Not to be confused with Harrods of London, Harrolds offer a unique shopping experience for Australian men. Whether it is a made to measure Brioni suit, a cashmere sweater by Tom Ford or a pair of Stefano Ricci crocodile loafers, Harrolds provides masculine luxury to the select few that can afford it. A few years back they hired a talented young buyer to help them recruit a younger male clientele. Today their more classic collections are housed on the first level and the ground level is dedicated to a younger audience, showcasing seasonal designs from Balmain, Givenchy, Moncler, Kitsune and Rick Owens. Their collection of men’s perfumes has evolved in recent years. Previously it was the place to go for fragrances by Etro, Santa Maria Novella and Lorenzo Villoresi. Currently at Harrolds you can find Creed, Tom Ford, Penhaligons and Amouage.
Behind Collins Street’s luxury strip, Flinders Lane provides a number of exceptional culinary experiences. While Sydney’s great restaurants are more focused on silver service, Melbourne’s food scene is much more communal and relaxed. Many of the best restaurants offer a range of shared plates instead of a classic a la carte menu. Most of these restaurants do not take bookings so expect long waiting times- fine if you are happy to catch up with friends at the bar until your table becomes ready. Try Chin Chin on Flinders Lane, which seems to be the flavour of the month. Also in the area, behind the Westin is my favourite Melbourne florist, Pollen. If you are looking for a floral scent for home, Pollen creates highly original arrangements that look and smell fantastic.
A few doors up Christine are another Melbourne secret. Behind the unmarked red door entrance is a small boutique specialising in women’s accessories. The décor feels like it was given birth to by Vivenne Westwood’s subconscious with dark red tones and a chaotic approach to visual merchandising. Here you will find both men’s and women’s perfumes by Etro, Lubin, Creed and candles by Cire Trudon.
One of my favourite things about Melbournian culture is suburban life. Although it is normal for cities to have their precincts, Melbourne has very distinct suburban personalities, which are fundamentally divided by north and south. The young party set live and socialise around the southern suburbs of South Yarra, Prahan and St Kilda. Chapel Street is the backbone of this culture; by day it thrives with cafes and shopping and at night the bars and clubs awake from their slumber. In contrast, the north side functions at a more relaxed pace. Friday night in suburbs such as Richmond or Collingwood would more likely be a potluck dinner at a friend’s house followed by a beer at the local pub to watch a live band or Australian Rules football. You could write a whole thesis on the dynamics between the north and south, as there are many social nuances that define the two areas. The great thing about Melbourne is each suburb welcomes outsiders. So for the time I lived there, Friday nights and weekends were always a case of deciding what type of people I wanted to be surrounded by and I could plan my night accordingly.
On the north side, one of Melbourne’s longest running perfumeries can be found on Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street. Kleins Perfumery is a great place to visit if you are looking for a new scent for yourself or small gifts for friends. Here you will find anything from a five-dollar bar of soap to a two hundred dollar bottle of perfume. Some of my favourites here are P Frapin & Cie, Nasomatto, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Carthusia and Annick Goutal.
Fitzroy’s grungy surrounds are a surprise of stores selling second-hand goods, African crafts and artisan paper. Another store on Brunswick Street, Frances Pilley sells French soaps and toiletries from Provence as well as Floris colognes from London. Across the road from the old Pittard Electroplating building on Moor Street is Galerie Montmartre. Any Francophile or graphic design fan will spend hours going through the gallery’s collection of original vintage posters. The owners find and restore vintage posters using archival mounting techniques by professional paper conservationists. This adds to the final cost of their product, however the results are worth the investment. Consider a visit if you are looking for a vintage perfume poster, maybe something from Chanel or Dior. Next-door’s café has a welcoming atmosphere that encompasses the Fitzroy village feel.
To the city’s east in the heart of Auburn Village is Peony Haute Parfumerie, my favourite perfume place in Australia. I only discovered Peony after I left Melbourne. I had spent the summer in New York where I discovered Cire Trudon candles at John Derian in Manhattan’s East Village. When I returned home to Australia I searched for Cire Trudon and found a small perfumery in Melbourne that carried the range; this turned out to be Peony. After mail ordering candles and a quick visit in 2009, when I decided Lubin’s Gin Fizz would be my summer fragrance, I had some time last month to meet Jill Timms, Peony’s owner and we were able to chat about our passion for perfume.
Jill had recently returned from a buying trip in Paris and the fruits of her labour had begun to arrive. A new addition to her perfume emporium were Lubin candles- previously exclusive to Lubin’s Paris boutique, however through the power of persuasion, Jill secured them for Peony. Also new are Olfactive Studio, Brecourt and Heeley Parfums- including the newly launched Extrait de Parfum line. Being an ex-photography student I took a liking to Olfactive Studio, whose packaging reminded me of the photographic paper I used to buy in lightproof boxes. Every brand should have a good amber perfume. For Olfactive Studio it is Chambre Noire, which reminded me of Chanel’s masterpiece, Egoiste along with more classic oriental-ambers, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Ambre Extreme and Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan. Jill introduced me to James Helley’s new extrait line. Bubblegum Chic is an interesting take on tuberose, veering more towards Fracas and Miller Harris’ Noix de Tubereuse than towards the buttery notes seen in Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower. Agarwoud surprised me with its softened approach to oud. Most masculine ouds are paired with heavy eastern spices, precious woods and resin. Feminine ouds are paired with heady rose absolutes and other costly florals. Heeley presents oud in an ultra modern way; simplified, chic with no cultural references. I picked up the tester with no expectations- does the world really need another oud fragrance? After smelling the tester I believe it does and I am a fan of Heeley’s Agarwoud.
Brecourt is a relatively new perfume house created by Emelie Bouge. Her range makes an impressive start with eleven scents in the collection; each one exploring varied themes in perfume. My pick of the eleven is Avenue Montaigne, inspired of course by the iconic Parisian street of couturiers. Although I had sampled them before, Jill and I discussed Pure Distance, a range founded by Jan Ewoud Vos. My favourite is the fragrance simply titled M. For M, perfumer Roja Dove was inspired by the interior of James Bond’s grey Aston Martin. I recommend M to fans of heavier 1975-1995 masculine perfumes who complain that today’s men’s fragrances have been castrated by ozonics and white musks. Ultra masculine, M displays a level of sophistication and complexity you cannot find in many of today’s masculine scents. Filled with smouldering woods and delicate oriental touches, I imagine if I found a bottle of Eau d’Hermes in a house fire, the charred remains would smell something like M. In contrast, Antonia, another Pure Distance creation, is a wonderful green floral in the tune of Chanel No 19. Radiant and light I would almost wear it myself just to have the scent within nose’s reach.
When I go on a Scent Adventure I go prepared with my notepad and camera. This time I was so engrossed in my conversation with Jill I left without taking any photos. I only realised this halfway back to the city so Jill has kindly shared some of her own photos of the boutique taken the week of my visit.
Photos care of Peony Haute Parfumerie
Any perfume fan visiting Melbourne cannot say they have explored the city’s perfume landscape without coming to Peony. In my travels around the world it is rare to visit a perfumery where the art of scent is brought to life in the way the products are presented and by the knowledge of the perfumery staff. After talking with Jill you can see Peony is an extension of herself. Each fragrance is selected and passionately bolstered by Jill because she loves the product, not because she is only interested in a product’s commercial potential.
After my visit to Peony I may have come away without photos, but I returned to Sydney with a number of new additions to my personal collection as well as a wealth of information and appreciation for the perfumes that Jill has curated. Aside from these new additions, Peony also carries Keiko Mecheri, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Miller Harris, Astier de Villatte, The Different Company, Hermes, Fragonard, Amouage, Robert Piguet, Creed and many more.
Paint ‘n Powder- Royal Arcade, 335 Bourke Street. www.paintandpowder.com.au
Marais- Royal Arcade, Bourke Street mall. www.marais.com.au
David Jones, Bourke Street Mall. www.davidjones.com.au
Myer, Bourke Street Mall. www.myer.com.au
Mecca Cosmetica, 150 Little Collins Street. www.meccacosmetica.com.au
Chiodo, The Basement, 114 Russell Street. www.chiodo.net.au
Assin, 138 Little Collins Street. www.assin.com.au
Harrolds, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne. www.harrolds.com.au
Pollen, Shop 1/199 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Christine, 181 Flinders lane, Melbourne
Kleins Perfumery, 313 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. www.kleinsperfumery.com.au
Frances Pilley, Shop 6/234 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. www.francespilley.com.au
Galerie Montmartre, 197B Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. www.galariemontmartre.com
Peony Haute Parfumerie, 107 Auburn Road, Hawthorn. www.peonymelbourne.com.au