When in London for business, I like to take time to search out and sample any new and exiting olfactory offerings that have appeared an array of scented flowers to be sniffed at and maybe, just maybe find a place in my increasingly judgmental heart.
Our overheated and crammed head office is smack bang in the middle of Spitalfields in London E1. A diverse and multi-cultural area, now awash with every permutation of hipster know to man. Coffee shops and clothing boutiques mingle with bric-a-brac shops and gentrified slum housing. The air is potent with spices, concrete and traffic fumes. The area feels alive and vibrant if a little veneered and tenuous in places.
It was here a colleague introduced me to Bloom (parfumea splendiosa indeed!), a new fragrance boutique and the scented brainchild of Oxana Polyakova, which opened its doors a month or so ago at 4 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. It feels special as soon as you walk in. Immaculately merchandised with quirky little displays and visual treats designed to draw the eye. The shop feels white and softly Scandic yet cool and welcoming. It has a Hammershoi vibe I really like; it allows the fragrances to quietly stand out. The brands they stock are chic and alluring and work well in the context of what is an intimate yet well thought out space.
‘Compared to mass-market perfume a good niche scent is what a good book is to a glossy magazine. A book has a plot, lots of characters living through a main part, a beginning and an ending.’
This statement of quiet intent from their super-cute website is a good indication of the genre of perfume Bloom sell. They have thought carefully about the luxury of the brands. And this is not the luxury of bling, sparkle and tanned flesh on super yachts but rather the unspoken richness of liquid cashmere, heirloom leather and worn, rubbed wealth. The unexpected diamond glittering on a hand covered in mud from gardening. Introverted wealth and subtlety. Sure there are some strong elixirs but Bloom is about the journey. The destination is important, but you need to slow down, look out of the window, adapt your senses, count the petals, touch the pollen and smell the atoms.
The perfumes Bloom stock include Eight & Bob, the bizarre and moreish Blood Concept scents, the voluptuous Nez à Nez (Including one of my obsessive perfumes: Atelier d’Artiste….), Koju 1575, Six Scents, Vero Profumo, Pierre Guillaume’s stunning Parfumerie Générale line and his innovative Huitième Art collection. The also stock fabulous candles including the decadent Cire Trudon, perhaps the most beautiful candles in the world and candles by Jovoy and Phaedon as well.
It is a really elegant and thoughtful library of fragrances with truly intriguing concepts for everyone to explore. One of the flaws with niche fragrance has always been the disparity between price point and perceived artistic intentions of the house or perfumer. People read marketing blurb about esoteric inspirations, obscure references and the often-difficult world of aromachemistry. This is fine if you are familiar with the more abstract and in-depth aspects of perfumery but approaching to as a novice you can often be left bewildered and vaguely patronised.
Bloom does not feel like this at all, the atmosphere is hushed and welcming. I loved the lived feel of things, the whiteness, the faded feel in the air. First impressions count for so much and I felt at home straight away. The scent in the air was subtle, temperature good; always important with fragrance shops, just cool enough to hang the molecules in the air without wrecking their meaning. I of course approved of the fox in the fireplace and the lovely storybook-style fox on their business cards.
I have tried some of the perfumes before. I’m a huge fan of Nez à Nez and it was lovely to sample their incredible Immortelle Marilyn again. I’d forgotten how damn sexy it is and how long the milky minky musks linger across the skin. Emma, the lovely beatnik, doe-eyed girl who helped me was clad in mohair and black and fitted the vibe of the boutique beautifully. I mentioned the things I liked in fragrances; leather, vanilla, powder especially powder. She pondered and carefully chose a few scents to show me.
I was quite unprepared for Ascent, created by Christophe Reynaud for the latest batch of Six Scents. Inspired by memories of couture designers including Ohne Titel, Mary Katrantzou and Alexis Mabille, this sextet is quite breathtaking in their scope and imagination.
N4 Ascent was inspired by a memory by Rad Hourani, the young Canadian designer of mixed Jordanian and Syrian descent. His structured and often acutely architectural work is cited as unisex. This makes his body of couture incredibly flexible and intensely personal to experience. The fragrance itself was icy to the touch like a car bonnet on a frozen Edinburgh morning. The whopping dose of powdered musks in the bas gave the scent a slipppage under the fingers, like silk pouring through the hand. I loved it, it liquefied across my skin, notes of pear juice, violet, rose leather and my beloved tonka and coumarin, the first of a series of my favourite molecules I’ve just had tattooed onto skin so I can wear them always….
It oozes ambiguity, genderless beauty and an alien come-hither charm. It also has silence. This I admire in perfume. An ability to enfold the wearer in careful pause and comforting privacy. A touch of incense in the base adds a blur of movement, something to divert the senses as you swoon. But N4 Ascent is truly ethereal and moving. It lasted for hours and as my plane landed in Edinburgh and I strolled out into a chilly Scottish Autumnal evening, the notes rose up off my skin as if to say this is right, this is how you should be anointed.
The other fragrance Emma showed me was something I’m not sure I would have picked by myself. It was Cuir Venenum, a sweet powerful leather based scent from Pierre Guillaume’s Parfumerie Générale line of exceedingly complex and precise fragrances. Apparently inspired by an African model, walking past Guillaume in a stretch leather dress. He wanted to capture the uncomfortable harmony between desire, beauty and the memory of the leather as a once living thing with a heartbeat and blood coursing through its veins.
I adore a good leather scent, especially a floral-toned leather, it makes my heart crash around in my rib cage. Pierre Guillaume already had my heart years ago when I fell in love with Musc Maori, one of all time favourite dirty sexy gourmand flavours. But Cuir Venenum is astoundingly good; a whopping note of Tunisian orange absolute is blended with leather, Tamanu oil (a deep rich tropical oil long-prized for its medicinal qualities), Atlas cedar, honey, musk and myrrh. Such is the coherence and clarity of this perfume that each of these notes is detectable as it settles onto the skin. It feels and smells very odd and the accords mingle and coalesce into a second skin. My god is it sexy. I love orange blossom; its indolic nature adds a creeping porno dimension to skin. Mixed here with honey, the bloom takes on a stickier more feral vibe, perfect for restless nights and skin games.
The range I really wanted to sample was Huitième Art, Pierre Guillaume’s more abstracted and futuristic collection of eaux de parfums launched in 2010 on the 8th anniversary of Parfumerie Générale, utilising and celebrating the beauty and wonder of the latest bio-extraction and plant-capture techniques.
Fragrance as the Eighth Art, after adding cinema as the seventh after the more traditional fine arts such a architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance and poetry/literature. The French Government elevated the status of perfumery this year too, by creating five new Chevaliers des Arts et Des Lettres from among the five top Fragrance and Flavour companies. While tactful, it still finally proved the cultural importance (and money making capability) attached to perfumery in France and therefore worldwide.
Huitième Art perfumes are houses in very unusual white ceramic bottles with thumb impressed ‘eyes’ as a lid. They remind me of ancient Egyptian canopic jars, vessels designed to hold the internal organs of the dead into the afterlife. My friend who loves the brand has a less morbid take and thinks they look like 70s Cornish art pottery, white abstract owls, gazing blindly into the night. They feel beautiful, smooth and cool, a pleasure to handle. A lot of brands neglect the actual sensation of bottles, but the actual feel of the material on the skin can be revelatory, adding another dimension to the experience of the perfume.
Emma explained there is an inbuilt linear quality to Huitième Art fragrances. This is not to say however they are in any way simple. There are two or three notes, composed of elaborate accords. These effects create vibrant and dazzlingly results when allied with the thermal motion of skin. The one I was craving to smell was Poudre de Riz, a seemingly sparse explanation of an old-fashioned face powder accord, rose petals, monoï and vanilla.
The PR material cites Henri Barbusse, quoting a line from his 1908 novel The Inferno:
‘The air in the closed room was heavy with a mixture of odours: soap, face powder, the pungent scent of cologne.’
But at Pitti recently, Pierre Guillaume described Poudre de Riz in much more carnal terms, setting the scent in the context of a couple in a beach bungalow, fucking (not making love….) and then showering and then dressing their skin to go out. He wanted to evoke the breathing sexuality of our skin, the warmth and frisson of coital aromas mingled with the care and attentions of creams and soaps and powders. Skin must be loved in so many ways for it to be beautiful. One of my scented friends Mr E is quite obsessed with the scent of Vidal Sassoon’s Shine Spray, an intoxicating whoosh of aromachemicals and heady waxen whiteness. When I sprayed Poudre de Riz on his skin, he inhaled and said ‘Sassoon Shine Spray……marvellous…’
The monoï accord has been composed from Tiaré absolute, cacao and vanilla, lending the accord a glorious melting richness which sits so beautifully on the powder. The rose is a Robertet house specialty Rosa damescena, full of subtlety and gentle grace. The complex and transformative poudre de riz accord is constructed from sandalwood, liquid orris on cedar (Robertet again….), tonka bean, Tolu balsam and benzoin. Mane have a steamed rice molecule they used in Ralf Schweiger’s magnificent Fils de Dieu for Etat Libre D’Orange. It was moist and intensely weird. This Huitième Art accord is blushingly soft and atmospheric. I have never really experienced anything quite like it. It has a claustrophobic quality I love; I know that sounds odd, but one’s skin smells overwhelming, clean, dusted and lavish. But underneath the cleanliness there is a sense of harlot, of déshabille… something a little unclean. Now I realise this, I must have it.
So please visit Bloom if are you in London, it a stylish and heavenly little space to experience some truly beautiful fragrances. In an increasingly screamingly confused and histrionic world of perfumed indecision, these oases of olfactory calm and contemplation are gold. We need them to survive.
For more information on Bloom, please click link below