“Did you know there are hipsters in Brooklyn?” says Refinery 29, one of New York’s most frequented style and fashion websites. If my Firefox browser could speak, the writer’s sarcastic tone would come streaming out of my laptop speakers. There are hipsters in Brooklyn; in fact there are many of them. Over the past 10 years the hipster subculture has been responsible for turning Brooklyn into a byword for cool and TV shows like HBO’s Girls, have promoted Brooklyn’s bohemian reputation to a young and culture-hungry global audience. But Brooklyn isn’t all about wayfarer sunglasses, plaid shirting, chia seeds and kale; in my two-week visit I explored the hipster borough and found that like any part of New York, Brooklyn’s inhabitants are diverse. A great place to start exploring Brooklyn is under the Brooklyn Bridge. There I found one of the best vantage points of Manhattan, providing landmark views of the Statue of Liberty all the way up to the Chrysler Building in Midtown. It was the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the glowing Manhattan skyline.
Brooklyn offers travellers a number of advantages, the main ones being low cost accommodation and a peaceful retreat, whist still being only 30 minutes from the centre of Manhattan by train. I rented a large one-bedroom apartment on a peaceful brownstone-lined street in Clinton Hill. The Brooklyn flea market was a block away and it pumped on Saturday mornings. I went in the hope of uncovering an emerging indie perfume brand. This didn’t eventuate but the flea market was a fun way to pass the morning as I fossicked through stalls of junk in search of treasure. There were a small number of vendors selling locally made skincare, scented candles and some tasty food stalls.
Brooklyn Flea Market
176 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
Another Brooklyn landmark I wanted to visit was Coney Island. Here the only perfume you will find is the smell of corndogs and fair food. The occasional scent of sunscreen passed my nose as I walked across the wide stretch of sand to dip my feet in the Atlantic. For the Bond No. 9 collection, perfumer Michel Almairac aptly captured the scent of Coney Island’s festive atmosphere with a salty tequila accord contrasted with caramel notes. I arrived in the morning when the beach’s festive mood was just beginning to pick up; mornings seemed to be a popular beach time for retirees living in the area.
On a Saturday morning I met fellow blogger and Brooklynite, Valerie Vitale. She writes Soliflore Notes and is a contributing editor at CaFleureBon. We had been in communication for some time over email so it was nice to finally meet face to face and she showed me around her neighbourhood. After brunch at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens we took the train over to Williamsburg. On Nassau Avenue I found a string of stores mostly owned by Eastern European families. Semi convenience store, semi drugstore and semi perfumery; these stores usually had a wall of perfumery odds and ends. It was certainly a place to keep in mind when needing to find a recently discontinued perfume.
Valerie had arranged for us to meet CB I Hate Perfume creator, Christopher Brosius, in his Williamsburg studio. After a short walk into a more industrial area of Williamsburg we found Christopher’s studio amidst a row of warehouses tagged with graffiti and stencil art.
I had read about Christopher Brosius and CB I Hate Perfume but never had an opportunity to smell the perfumer’s work, which is not sold in Australia. So far my only connection had been the occasional smelling of his Demeter Fragrance Library, which Christopher co-founded in the mid 1990s. My interest had been sparked further by Christopher’s appearance in last year’s BBC4 documentary entitled Perfume. He was cast in the documentary to show a different side of the perfume industry, a side that was removed from the sales driven machinations of big department store brands. Although the term Art can be convoluted and contrived, Christopher’s methodology as a perfumer is more aligned to that of an artist instead of a designer, designing products with strong commercial legs.
With Christopher we smelled Where We Are There Is No Here. Approaching this work with a classical mindset is almost impossible and Christopher does not construct perfumes in a classical sense. Christopher told us he wanted to work with ingredients known to be anosmic. He wanted to “create the ghost of the flower, not the flower itself” and that just because our noses did not register all the notes, the brain still senses them; it senses a change in the atmosphere when it comes in contact with the perfume. This was not the only perfume Christopher created, which explored anosmia. His perfume, A Room Without A View, was created around a theme of violets. Ionones are the main constituents of the violet accord and a peculiar characteristic of beta ionone is the way it causes temporary anosmia in people. For A Room Without A View, Christopher embraced this characteristic, creating a wash of violets, which come in and out of focus as the nose tires and then recovers from ionone fatigue. The perfume was a commentary on metamorphosis. Using the analogy of love as an emotional catalyst that creates transformation, the perfume is a reference to the setting in the turning point of E.M Forster’s novel A Room with a View, when characters Lucy and George admit their feelings for each other. The author set this scene in a picturesque field of Parma violets.
Talking with Christopher was fun. He reminded me of my tutors at Art School, who enjoyed provocating the norm and challenged me to question my own opinions. Aside from his work we also discussed his pending move. Williamsburg had been the home of CB I Hate Perfume for the past decade but following some landlord issues, the studio needed to find a new home. Since my visit studio has relocated to a space around the corner on Wythe Avenue. I definitely recommend a visit to CB I Hate Perfume if you are looking for an unconventional scent. My favourite on the day was Beast, a perfume that smelled of roast beef.
CB I Hate Perfume
93 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn (new address August 2013)
Also in Williamsburg, Woodley & Bunny run a salon and apothecary. The salon offer men’s haircutting, treatments and a range of skincare products useful for the Brooklyn male. This included a product called Ink Butter, a body moisturiser designed to promote healing of newly tattooed skin. Perfumes on offer included an edit of Tauer Perfumes, A Lab On Fire and Keiko Mecheri. The store also carried Nordic line, Andrea Maack and Brooklyn natives DS & Durga.
Woodley & Bunny
196 N 10th Street, Brooklyn
A short walk from Woodley and Bunny I ended my scent adventure in Brooklyn. I took the L train to Manhattan. Here I walked to Odin, a casual designer menswear store tucked away in a discreet area of the East Village. I was curious to visit the brand’s original boutique after I discovered Odin’s perfume line in Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford department store last year. Two days earlier I spent time with perfumer Kevin Verspoor, who authored many of the Odin perfumes. 06 Amanu had earned him a Fifi award for best indie fragrance of 2012. The boutique was a small, relaxed space where the staff greeted me like I was a neighbourhood friend dropping by to say “hello”. We talked about the latest Odin fragrance, 10 Roam, which was a modern blend of fresh spices and exotic woods. Odin is also a great place to shop if your weekday 9 to 5 dress code does not require a suit. The boutique carries a range of utilitarian inspired accessories and clothing by names such as Thom Browne, Officine Generale and Comme des Garcons Shirt.
328 E 11th Street, Manhattan
The East Village is also home to the original Kiehls pharmacy. In 1851 John Kiehl opened a small homeopathic pharmacy on 3rd Avenue. Today Kiehls is a global success with stores and concessions in every major city. The brand’s original address on “Pear Tree Corner” still operates to this day.
109 3rd Avenue, Manhattan
Following the L train to its end took me to the meatpacking district on Manhattan’s west side. The area’s cobblestoned streets were lined with designer stores like Diane Von Furstenburg and Moschino. Restaurants, clubs and bars brought the area to life after dark and during the day there were a number of independent galleries promoting New York’s contemporary art scene and its emerging artists. Jeffrey on 14th Street is one Meatpacking designer store worth visiting. The range includes men’s ready-to-wear from designers such as Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Balenciaga. Jeffrey’s perfume section is well stocked with L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, Creed and Tom Ford.
449 West 14th Street, Manhattan
After Jeffrey I climbed the stairs onto the Highline, got a takeaway coffee and followed the scenic path uptown to Chelsea. The Highline was animated with buskers, small stalls, carefully manicured perennials and greenery.
Exiting the Highline on West 22nd Street I visited the New London Pharmacy. It had been mentioned on the Basenotes forum as a place to buy perfume in New York. Chelsea as an area wasn’t very desirable. My local gay friends called it the gay ghetto. Amongst the adult shops of 8th Avenue the New London Pharmacy looked like any other pharmacy. With the exception it carried odds and ends by niche perfume brands like The Different Company, Hierbes de Ibiza and Lorenzo Villoresi. I was more interested in the old stock that stretched along the back wall into a “staff only” area. I asked the storekeeper what old stuff he had. He began bringing boxes out with the reply, “this is old and this is discontinued.” I sensed he must get perfume collectors visiting the pharmacy regularly, as he seemed to know how to separate his perfume copper from gold. My vintage collection is relatively comprehensive but I couldn’t resist leaving with a bottle of the extinct Balenciaga Pour Homme, Monsieur de Givenchy and an old bottle of Hermes’ Caleche.
New London Pharmacy
246 8th Avenue, Manhattan
From Chelsea I headed to Midtown. I stopped by Macy’s and I couldn’t help going into a few of the tourists stores around this area, which sell electronics, New York souvenirs and a surprisingly good variety of new and extinct perfumes. I noticed a couple of them had old Guerlain in discontinued packaging as well as a few other golden oldies.
151 West 34th Street, Manhattan
I ended this adventure at Grand Central Station and The Campbell Apartment, a cocktail bar around the back of the station. This was once the office of 1920’s railway tycoon John W. Campbell. Today it stands restored; the dark interior has a brooding atmosphere. It was the perfect place to take a seat at the bar, write travel notes and enjoy a cocktail. Cheers!
Coming soon: Scent Adventures from Soho and Greenwich Village.
Other Scent Adventures from New York: Manhattan- Above 42nd Street