Last month I spent two weeks in New York. It was my first visit since I began writing my blog, What Men Should Smell Like and I wanted to retrace my steps to a number of perfumeries I had previously experienced. I also came armed with a long list of new addresses I planned on visiting.
My New York story began on the iconic Fifth Avenue. It was a surreal feeling to come with a sense of familiarity towards a place I knew almost entirely through television, movies and the Internet. The New York subway has an unforgettable odour, which is redolent of concrete, rubber and hot metal. From the bowels of the subway I exited onto Fifth Avenue joining thousands of other tourists shuffling along the pavement at a shoppers pace. Blended into this crowd was the odd local. You could tell he was a New Yorker, an Upper East Sider to be more precise. His uniform was a pair of beige chinos, a light blue button down shirt and a sports coat in navy, preferably with golden buttons. Neck or bow tie was optional. I wondered if this was the man Patricia de Nicolai had in mind when she added a new masculine scent to her collection in 1989 entitled New York. This was an older gentleman who undoubtedly had stories to tell about the city which raised him. I discovered the city had its own voice and although this voice was somewhat muffled by the Avenue’s myriad of international designer storefronts, by taking a moment to look up, remnants of an older New York began to speak to me. It was in the architecture, in the smallest of details; handsome chevrons and elaborate geometric patterns inlaid in stone stood proud above the renovated street level. Art Deco was the older voice of this modern metropolis. Up and down Fifth Avenue I walked, beginning my Scent Adventure inside New York’s great department stores.
My first stop was Henri Bendel, the late 19th century designer attributed with bringing Chanel couture to America and discovering Andy Warhol. Henri Bendel’s department store is in the old Coty building. When the French perfumer Francois Coty launched his business in America, he took up residence at 712 Fifth Avenue. He had glass designer, Rene Lalique redesign the windows on the avenue-facing building façade. It was the heritage listing of Lalique’s windows, which saved 712 from demolition in the 1980s. In 1991, Henri Bendel opened the brand’s flagship department store at this address. Before entering, I took a moment to appreciate Lalique’s Art Nouveau windows from the avenue. On the mezzanine overlooking the ground floor, Henri Bendel’s perfumery offered a selection of well-established brands alongside emerging brands such as Agonist, Huitieme Art, Tommi Sooni, Illuminum and Union Fragrances.
712 Fifth Avenue
Past 57rd Street towards the edge of Central Park I visited Bergdorf Goodman. The windows are always a visual feast, blurring the lines between insanity and genius. That day the female mannequins stood poised in towering Louboutins with white hairpieces that were at least ten meters long. On the lower ground floor I walked past the long line of perfume counters in search of a new olfactory experience. Christian Dior had just launched Gris Montaigne, the latest addition to the house’s Collection Privee. A modern chypre, Gris Montaigne sweeps you into the pearl grey world of Monsieur Dior on Paris’ elegant Avenue Montaigne. At Francis Kurkdjian I smelled 754 Eau de Parfum, which the perfumer made exclusively for Bergdorf Goodman’s 111th anniversary. 754 was inspired by a bright Manhattan morning and sparkled in the same manner as Kurkdjian’s Aqua Universalis. I also had a chance to refresh my memory of the well-made Roja Dove Parfums collection. His Neroli and Vetiver extraits are fantastic. To the left of his counter was a dimly lit room. It was the elusive JAR perfumes, which I had tried to find in Paris last October. Bergdorf Goodman is the second of only two retailers in the world to sell the fine jeweller’s perfumes. Shoppers sampled the range by smelling a spread of scented leather chamois, stored under glass domes. My favourite was Diamond Water, a spicy clove and wood combination. Thankfully the space provided seating, which comes in handy when you discover the price tag. Other interesting discoveries included Spanish brand Ramon Monegal, who’s perfumes are presented in heavy ink-well inspired bottles. For an easy-to-wear masculine, I thought Ermenegildo Zegna’s Javanese Patchouli was a great choice.
754 Fifth Avenue
If you are in the vicinity of Bergdorf’s and Henri Bendel a trip to Saks is inevitable. The range of perfumes was comparable with other competitor department stores, offering prestige brands such as Chanel and Guerlain alongside more well-known niche lines. Bond No. 9 had created exclusive his and hers scents for Saks, which were available with the brand’s other New York inspired scents. Unlike the upper levels of the store, which moved at a slightly slower pace, the ground floor moved at lightning speed. Sales people approached me from every angle eager to help me find a new scent. It was a fun experience and the staff were always very personable. I left with wrists smelling of Guerlain’s latest Aqua Allegoria, a modern and summery eau fraiche called Nerolia Bianca.
Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Avenue
Bloomingdales was next on my list of department store visits. It’s hugely popular and you will notice the increase in pedestrians carrying the brand’s ‘little brown bags’ once you are within a kilometer radius of the store. Bloomingdales fit snugly between Saks Fifth Avenue and Macys in terms of shopper demographics. It had a slightly younger feel and was more relaxed. Bloomingdales offered a similar range of fragrances as Saks and the sales pitch ran at a similar fast pace. What made Bloomingdales attractive was the diverse product selection and numerous special offers available throughout the store.
1000 Third Avenue
Over on Madison Avenue I visited the last department store on my to-see list, which was Barneys New York. Although Barneys values craftsmanship, the store also loves modernity and is often more forward thinking in comparison to other New York department stores. In-line with Barney’s collection of cutting edge fashion, the perfume department carried niche brands such as Arquiste, Le Labo, The Different Company and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Barneys was also dealing in exclusives, a definite trend amongst the department stores of New York I visited. Frederic Malle had a collaboration with Barney’s CO-OP called Outrageous! and Hylnds is a recent offshoot of Brooklyn perfume duo D.S & Durga that was offered exclusively at Barneys. Hylnds’ Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake caught my attention as a crisp masculine with earthy, rugged undertones. Another fragrance I took a liking to was Attache-Moi 55 created by Patricia Choux, homage to New York’s 55th Street. It was also great to see the exclusive Serge Lutens’ bell jar bottles offered outside of the brand’s Palais Royale gardens salon.
Barneys New York
660 Madison Avenue
There were a number of barbers in Manhattan ranging from the humble barber shop to upmarket men’s beauty spas. On Madison Avenue, The Art Of Shaving’s Barber Spa was one of the more upmarket places to get a wet shave. I have used their sandalwood shaving products for a number of years and their Sandalwood fragrance is a nice interpretation of the exotic Indian wood.
The Art Of Shaving
520 Madison Avenue
As I made my way up Madison Avenue I stopped by Hermes. Although I have a small collection of Hermessence fragrances, I love smelling them instore. They smell even better in combination with the smell of fine leather that surrounds the boutique interior. Hermes was holding an exhibition of photographic works by Michael Kenna. The photographer retraced the steps of Thomas Jefferson in Paris and the result was a guidebook to Paris by writer, Diana Ketcham with forty-six of Kenna’s photographs. The book was made as a numbered and signed edition of 400, which Hermes had displayed in each of the boutique windows.
691 Madison Avenue
Further uptown, Creed’s freestanding New York boutique on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 67th Street had dressed their windows with the recently released Fleurs de Gardenia.
794 Madison Avenue
A visit to Tom Ford is always a Madison Avenue must. Since my last visit the boutique had extended to accommodate Ford’s expansion into women’s ready-to-wear. The existing marble perfumery now had a feminine twist and the expansion into the first floor had allowed for a men’s perfume area to be installed. I was lucky to preview one of the new Private Blends from the soon to be released Atelier d’Orient collection.
845 Madison Avenue
Not far from Tom Ford I visited Frederic Malle’s first stand-alone boutique outside of Paris. From across the avenue I noticed a well-dressed man outside the boutique talking on his mobile phone. As I came closer I recognised him as the debonair entrepreneur, Frederic Malle. It seemed inappropriate to interrupt him to have my fan moment, instead I spoke with the boutique’s director. She shared with me the story of Frederic Malle’s latest fragrance and collaboration with Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten. The milky-spiced wood was the first of a new series of fragrances that are collaborations with artists of various mediums, who inspire Frederic Malle. After some talk and a comparison of Cologne Bigarade with the more intense Bigarade Concentree, I decided to leave with a bottle of Cologne Bigarade. I was going to the ballet that evening and I wanted to wear a new fragrance. Frederic Malle was still occupied so Tess, the Boutique Director politely interrupted him on my behalf, long enough to steal an autograph for my new bottle of cologne.
898 Madison Avenue
I visited the Museum of Art and Design on my way to the American Ballet Theatre at the Lincoln Center. The Art of Scent 1889-2012, curated by former scent critic for the New York Times, Chandler Burr, had finished but I wanted to check if the exhibition’s catalogue was still available. The store had copies, which contained 11 miniature perfume atomizers from the exhibition and essays by Chandler Burr on each of the works of olfactory art that were presented in the stylishly boxed catalogue.
Museum of Art and Design
2 Columbus Circle
I read that Texas coined the term ‘the New York Minute’, referring to the speed at which the city moves and a New Yorker’s ability to do in a second what would take a Texan a minute. This trip certainly felt that way as I crossed back and forth over Manhattan each day, trying to tick everything off my to-see and do list. During my stay the annual Museum Mile Festival took place, which helped me revisit some of the city’s museums. There was so much to see I could have easily spent a week only visiting museums and galleries. Every year the festival turns Fifth Avenue, between 82-110th Streets into a block party and museums like the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art open their doors to the public for free. After some Museum hopping I walked through Central Park just in time to catch Manhattan’s heure bleue.
On the Upper West Side I visited the American Museum of Natural History, which had a travelling exhibition from New Zealand. Although I live in Australia, it was a nice feeling to find a piece of my home country here in New York. The museum was showing an exhibition from The Gallery of New Zealand, Te Papa, titled Whales, Giants of the Deep. I never saw the exhibition in New Zealand and I have wanted to know more about New Zealand ambergris and the connection between whales and native Maori, which is my cultural background. The exhibition had displayed a large piece of ambergris that visitors could smell. I had to laugh watching people respond to the odour after they read the plaque describing ambergris as one of the most expensive raw materials used in fine perfumery. As they bent down to smell the ambergris their facial expression showed it was not quite the bouquet of flowers they were expecting.
The following week I was back on Fifth Avenue to met perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Givaudan’s Fine Fragrance Studio on West 57th Street. Before my meeting I stopped at the windows of 727 Fifth Avenue for a Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment. The New York jeweller had decorated the building façade and windows with Art Deco motifs in celebration of The Great Gatsby movie.
Tiffany & Co
727 Fifth Avenue
After Tiffany & Co I visited Cartier. Upstairs I smelled perfumer Mathilde Laurent’s most recent addition to Les Heures de Cartier collection. L’Heure Verteuse III is a delicate jewel, faceted with notes of rosemary, thyme, verbena and lavender. I may not have the bank balance to afford Cartier jewels like I buy their fragrances but the staff did not seem to mind me wandering through the various rooms in the boutique, marveling at their precious stock. The jeweller’s Renaissance styled palazzo was a museum of style, with glass cabinets displaying refurbished vintage pieces as well as new designs.
653 Fifth Avenue
Following my meeting with Rodrigo I went to the Plaza Hotel which was celebrating the Great Gatsby movie with a variety of Gatsby themed festivities. The novel’s writer F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the hotel in the 1920s, which provided a setting for the novel’s turning point. I spent some time browsing in the Assouline book store above the hotel’s lobby bar and a visit to Krigler followed. Krigler is a discreet perfume brand that opened in the Plaza Hotel in 1931. From this time, Krigler has supplied the hotel’s distinguished guests with perfumes, including JFK, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Most of the fragrances have a nostalgic air about them, drawing inspiration from high quality naturals and classic perfumery themes. My personal favourite was Hermitage Heritage 04, a peppery fragrance layered with moss, sandalwood, tobacco and black truffles. If hard-to-find perfume is what excites you, the Krigler range should hold great appeal; there are only two Krigler boutiques in the world, this one in New York and a second in Monte Carlo.
The Plaza Hotel, 1 West 58th Street
For my final weekend in New York I moved from the apartment in Brooklyn I had rented to the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. I chose the hotel not only for its history but also because the it has one of the few Guerlain Spas in the world. During my stay I visited the spa for a particular treatment I had read about, which was inspired by the house’s Cologne Imperial. After relaxing with a glass of champagne, I enjoyed the spas hydrotherapy room. The water was blended with oils, salts and foam that gave off a subtle aldehydic, citrus odour. Following some time in the steam room I had the Guerlain Imperial Massage. The therapist used a rich cream infused with the scent of Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne Imperial. It was the perfect body cream however I later found out Guerlain only produce it for their spas and it cannot be purchased. This was definitely the perfect way to end my trip in New York.
Waldorf Astoria, 100 East 50th Street
My next Scent Adventure: Brooklyn, Meatpacking District and Midtown.