On paper, the concept seems a little precious: birdsong, cages, feathers, the punning... But in actual fact the repeated use of feathers, tweeting, soundscapes (tropical, woodland, garden...) and ornithological motifs is oddly soothing and disturbing at the same time, something I am very partial to in any art form. Touches of the Bates Motel nestle alongside a more fairytale Rackhamesque take on our feathered friends. Weird cooing birdsong rolls around you as your eyes absorb paper thin skulls, cages, wings, feathers, bottles, fragrance spills and strange little objets placed with a knowing charm. The images slowly sink in as you start to absorb the atmosphere of what is a genuinely odd (and tiny) space.
The exquisite agony of caging birds and harnessing the beauty of their songs has mesmerised man for centuries. This ephemeral pursuit applies to fragrance too, the elusive nature of scent, the search for favourite notes, compositions and delicate harmonies spilling out through the air. Everything is about the stimulation of the senses, aural, visual and olfactory. At times it threatens to overwhelm but just pulls back in time, like a tidal bore lapping ever so insistently at the ankles.
I am a fan of what the Italians often refer to slow shopping, time taken to fully savour the full experience of the time, space, odours, textures and sounds of the retail environment. So many of us hurtle headlong through our retail. Buying fragrance is something that should never be rushed. Avery understand this. The strange bird laboratory space may be small but is rich in detail. The main wall of the shop is dominated by a quirky bulbous cabinet of drawers on spooky bird feet. On top are a selection of glass bottles, fragrances, spills, black feathers and other chosen ephemera. To all intents and purposes a carefully crafted boudoir fit for a sorceress of dark and sensual arts. But like the dazzled dreamers of Inception, the layers go deep within layers.
The wonderful sales consultant, subtle and discreet, was ready to help me look for something unique and surprise, perhaps even shock me. I knew from her language and descriptions she had a passion for the scents she worked with. Now I know fragrance, I know my notes, I know my likes, my hates, I know what causes my skin to tingle, my tears to flow, my desire to burn. So I am usually somewhat sceptical about any attempt to find me something special. I’ve been there before and been horribly deceived. It’s the wolf in grandma’s bed, a bone crushing disappointment. But this was different; stealth persuasion, laced with a real understanding of my tastes. I like what I like at certain times for very different reasons. Put simply: I am fickle. That day, it seemed my senses craved leathers, cognacs, smoke and dirty atmospherics. Each drawer of the bird-legged cabinet was opened and a bottle carefully selected and sampled. I was intrigued and beguiled. It was like being slowly drugged with aromatics. I came across Nasomatto whose scents I already knew, having worn Black Afgano and Narcotic Venus for a while. Candles by the Hype Noses and fragrances by Profumi Del Forte, Morgane le Fay, Carthusia and Nez à Nez, the weird, divisive and sensual scents by Crista Patout and Stéphane Humbert Lucas.
After inhaling several fragrances, the consultant produced two bottles by Nez à Nez, a brand I knew but had not really tried. Their website is a little tiresome and badly written, overflowing with florid erotica and stilted dreamscapes. It’s a pity as some of their fragrances are truly magical, like fairytales by Grimm, sugar and spice with real bite, roses with thorns, the torn cloak on the forest floor, the thrill of hot fur, masked balls, mirrors, whips and forbidden desires. I had been led artfully toward two of these: Bal Musqué and Atelier d’Artiste.
Bal Musqué was divine, like dancing in the dark with a mysterious stranger who then suddenly turns with a cry and flees at the strike of a glass bell, leaving the imprint of musk, warm cherry, magnolia and liquorice on your skin. And then I tried Atelier d’Artiste.... Oh lord, I felt the oxygen drain out of the room. Now I paint, love all the detritus, the mess of painting, the smearing, the dust, broken tubes, turpentine. Just the simple wooden scent of opening a long used box of paints, a jumble of twisted tubes and peeling labels, pencils, rags and cancelled ideas. Into this mix is history, cigar smoke, brandy, leather, patchouli and black grape. A boozy, heady, swirling dizzying studio of canvases piled against scarred spattered walls. Paint stained overalls, overflowing ashtrays, a rolling brandy glass, crumpled fag packets, and snapped brushes. Atelier d’Artiste rolls off the skin like golden fire, like aged cognac smashing and igniting across an angry floor. It is an extraordinary fragrance, deep and molten, complex and intoxicating. Whenever I wear it I draw people to me like moths to a flame.
I wasn’expecting to find something this beautiful at Avery. To be transported, even just for a moment is quite an achievement in this age of dead-eyed service. I know there are some negative reviews out there and some people have reservations about the concept and the experience. I will admit that I was lucky to be the focus of the consultant’s attention that day. If the boutique had been busier, the experience would have felt less personal I imagine. And their scents are not for everyone, but hey, exclusivity has a price. I happened to like the selection on offer. I know friends who may have enjoyed the experience but not found anything. As we all know, fragrance tastes can be quirky and very unpredictable.
My Atelier d’Artiste was carefully wrapped in Avery’s trademark constellation/ink splat style paper and finished off with a black feather sprayed in the scent. Very Dario Argento. Very me. I remember the street seemed very dull afterwards. I kept pressing my nose to my wrist for hours, not quite believing I had bought something so incandescent. It seems to burn across my skin, licking at my senses.
I found the black feather the other day drifting across my shirts in a drawer. It still carries a vestige of the scent, ever so faint but strong enough to suddenly close my eyes and flood my head with birdsong and a blur of turps and the dirty waft of cigar smoke.
For more information contact:
Avery Fine Perfumery
27 Avery Row
London W1K 4AY
T: 0207 629 1892