Earlier this year I visited Auckland and I wrote about my search for beach cast ambergris along the shores of Auckland’s west coast. During last month’s trip, I was keen to gather some suggestions for perfume shopping in the city where I grew up. I spent 27 years living in Auckland so for me, it is a second home. Living in Sydney I am only a three-hour flight away and I usually travel back two or three times a year for work and to visit family. Each time I go, I see gradual change. Nightclubs I used to frequent are now basement discount stores. Cafes that were once places to go, to see and be seen have been converted into takeaway sushi bars. Even my old warehouse apartment on Hobson Street has been demolished and replaced with high-rises. Although evolution is inevitable and building facades change, I realized taking this scent adventure that if I looked hard enough, I could still find 27 years worth of memories scattered throughout the streets.
My scent adventure began in the city’s central business district. Walking down Queen Street, I headed to Britomart, a shopping district created from old warehouses above the city’s small underground train station. When I lived in Auckland, High Street was a place where most local designers wanted to stake their real estate. Today, many High Street designers have migrated to Britomart.
New Zealand designers, Zambesi and World also have flagships here. Britomart’s lawn area is a great place to sit with a takeaway coffee and read a book or people watch. British perfume label, Jo Malone has taken up residence inside Britomart, near L’Occitane.
Running parallel with the city’s main street is High Street. It stretches two blocks and has been the hangout of Auckland’s cool hunters for decades. At the start of the street you will find the contemporary men’s tailor, Crane Brothers. They offer attentive service, quality fabrics and modern sartorial design. Amongst the collection of men’s toiletries you will find English colognes by Penhaligon’s. Next-door and fitting with Crane Brother’s dapper style is the renovated art deco Hotel De Bretts, a great place to stay when visiting the city. The hotel was built in 1841 and was partially rebuilt in 1925 because of fire damage. The hotel was reopened in 2009, tastefully decorated with Art Deco details.
Across the High Street is Fabric, an urban clothing store that introduced me to brands such as Helmut Lang and Comme des Garcons over a decade ago. Today the store caters to a casual denim clientele. Here you will find an extensive collection of Comme des Garcons fragrances.
In between shops, the recently renovated Emperial Lane is a great place to rest, read the paper and enjoy a good espresso. The alley used to back onto the city’s red light district and city council efforts to clean the area up have mostly succeeded. Upstairs, Everybody’s restaurant offers more than just coffee if you are looking for lunch or dinner.
Auckland’s gem of perfume retail is World Beauty Store. Dedicated to hard-to-find names in perfume and beauty, the city store is situated on the corner of Vulcan Lane and O’Connell Street. Here you will find an excellent selection of perfumes, including works by The Different Company, Robert Piguet, Creed, Pure Distance, Carthusia and Cire Trudon. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. This visit I discussed my interest in 1920-50s chypres, particularly Piguet’s Bandit from 1944. The staff introduced me to Robert Piguet’s Calypso, a warm oriental rose reinterpreted in 2010 from the brand’s archives. World Beauty is an offshoot of the New Zealand fashion designer duo, World. Their prêt-a-porter store in Britomart also carries an edited range of fragrances.
Ponsonby is an inner city suburb, a short drive from the city. World have their second beauty store here amongst a cluster of local fashion designers including Karen Walker who carries the Eccentric Molecules range. Ponsonby Road was referred to as the cappuccino mile back in the early 1990s. It was the place where yuppies frequented to drink their fancy coffee and talk on mobile phones (a rarity back in NZ’s early 90’s). My father grew up here at a time when Ponsonby was a place where immigrants settled, there was nothing fancy about it. In time the gay community moved in and renovated many of the aging villas. Real estate prices were still low in the early 90s and Ponsonby grew to become a popular suburb for young families. These days most of the old villas have been pulled down or restored and Ponsonby is home only to those who can afford to live there.
Towards the start of Ponsonby Road you will find Mecca Cosmetica, an Australian company specializing in niche cosmetics, skincare and perfumes. Mecca is sandwiched between gourmet burger company, Murder Burger and iconic Auckland hairdressers Kokomo, who have since moved further down the road. I remember Kokomo’s owner as the man who went to Verona Café’s annual party naked because the dress code was your worst nightmare come true. The Auckland boutique carries a small edit of Byredo, most of the Comme des Garcons, Serge Lutens, Tocca and Diptyque. This visit I discovered a floral perfume oil I had overlooked in my visits to Mecca in Australia. Chantecaille’s Limited Edition Petales is perfume oil inspired by Sylvie Chantecaille’s deep love of gardenias.
Not far from Mecca is Wunderkammer, a quirky little store that sells menswear. The store is filled with taxidermy animals, Costume National, local jewelry and colognes by Comme des Garcons.
From here I left the city and headed over the harbour bridge to visit a place I had found in my online research. Fox Oulet Centre in Northcote is a semi abandoned outlet centre selling home-wares, books and imported junk. Inside there is a fragrance outlet selling discounted perfume. The owner specializes in selling recently discontinued items. It was here I managed to cross something of my list of wants. Emporio Armani’s White for Him is a fragrance I remember from living in Auckland in the early 2000s. It was a friend’s fragrance, which I always admired but never owned. Since it was discontinued a few years ago I had been hunting a bottle but trying to avoid the inflated prices of most online retailers now sell their remaining bottles. White for Him is a white musk, ozonic fragrance created by perfumer Carlos Benaim well ahead of its time.
Across the city is the suburb of Parnell. This was never my side of the city; a little like Parisians who live on the right bank and never set foot on the left bank, even though it is a short walk between the two areas. Parnell has good cafes and restaurants but shopping tends to cater for an older clientele. Here I discovered Passion for Paper, a specialty store that imports paper and calligraphy crafts. The store also has a small range of Santa Maria Novella soaps, skincare and cologne. It is as if one of those small paper stores near Florence’s Ponte Vecchio had been teleported to the other side of the world.
Next to Parnell, the suburb of Newmarket attracts a younger audience. Teed Street has always been a hub of hip activity. Zambesi Man offer Martin Margiela and Raf Simons whilst Isabel Harris, predominantly a bed and bath store, sports a wall of fragrances by Carthusia, Hierbas de Ibiza and Miller Harris.
Around the corner on Newmarket’s Broadway is Smith and Caughey’s, Auckland’s closest thing to international department store shopping. Due to the country’s small population, large retailers have always struggled with this business model. Smith and Caughey’s in Newmarket or Queen Street are multi-brand stores that carry most of the international names in cosmetics and perfume. If you are just passing through, Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) is another option when you do not need your shopping until you leave the country. New Zealand’s duty free laws differ from others. Here, you can purchase duty free items by giving your name and flight details. Your items are sent to the airport and you collect them from a DFS counter once you have passed customs as you exit the country. It seems like an overly complicated system but it has worked this way for years. DFS’s downtown store in the Customhouse building offers a relaxing shopping environment as well as generous trading hours.
At the airport I always go to a small JR duty free store near the departure gates. For my previous three visits they have had a sale table of odds and ends worth hunting through. Last time the table was overflowing with Hermes Hiris and various Guerlains, all heavily discounted. This trip was no disappointment and the shelves were stocked with Juliette Has A Gun at half price. An unusual thing considering the range is not available in any Auckland stores. I wasn’t about to complain and I happily ran for a plane I almost missed with three new Juliettes in my carryon bag.