I’m an online perfume shopping type of person. I mean where else do you get to lounge around in tatty but comfortable pajamas, sip on your favorite Pinot Noir and at the same time buy some of the most wonderful fragrances the world has to offer? Efficiency and convenience at its best. Sure, it’s low on the glamour factor and the human interaction, but in some cases, like the one described below, those are better avoided anyways.
My latest attempt at perfume shopping in a bricks and mortar store happened during a little weekend getaway to Milan, a city known for luxurious designer shops, famous opera shows at the wonderful La Scala Theater, the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world, the San Siro Stadium, some of the biggest international fairs in Europe and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting.
I wanted for this trip to be simple, as it was only a three nights stay and one of the days was going to be spent at the International Furniture Fair, a stunning display of craftsmanship, clever designs, opulent materials and incredible colors. We even spotted Roberto Cavalli there, who very graciously accepted to have his photo taken.The blue and white silk lined wardrobe created by his brand was one of the most striking things I’ve seen at the fair and totally lust worthy.
So yes simplicity was the key word. We didn’t queue for seeing Leonardo’s painting, didn’t even try to visit the designer shops, and we had only one perfume shop on the list, in stark contrast to the Paris perfume pilgrimage I submitted my better half to nearly three years ago. He lived to tell the tale but just barely.
To choose only one out of the very long list of perfume Meccas Milan has to offer was easier than expected, as I wanted something with a more eclectic brands list and not necessarily big and imposing. A friend’s pointers helped to seal the deal, so the little boutique tucked on a street somewhere between Duomo and La Scala was the winner. Well, I should’ve went to 10 Corso Como instead, which I completely forgot about in my frustration about bad perfume shops and bad free or not so free Wi-Fi connections.
Bad perfume shops, you say? In Milan, you say?Yes damn right. I’m still unhappy with the whole experience in that shop which was like a real life example of a long list of how not to do business. In spite of its miniatural size, one blink and you’ll miss it kind of thing, it packed a whole punch of unpleasant.
First thing first: the shop display window is pretty and promising.The door though is locked, you need to ring the bell to be let in. I hate this type of snobbery, but I was there so I let it go over my head, trying not to get annoyed already. The shop assistant, who, I believe, was also the owner, allowed us in, leaving his big German Shepherd dog to do the honors. Thankfully compared to the other two four-legged creatures, he was friendly enough although somewhat expectant and not overly enthusiastic. The other two were down right barking. We are animal lovers ourselves and we both had dogs and cats, but seeing three slightly aggressive dogs in a perfume shop not bigger than 8 square meters didn’t seem right. The place was quite dark and messy, bottles and boxes piled over in a haphazard manner and dust everywhere. Quirky you might say and everything would’ve been perfectly adorable if not for the appalling attitude of the shop keeper, a man in his late fifties, who didn’t seem to like humans as much as he liked his dogs. Every single request I made seemed to pain him, and I only made three, he didn’t encourage conversation and he never once smiled back to us. I took comfort in the four perfumes I sampled namely Jean Patou Chaldée, Parfumerie Generale Cuir Venenum and Maria Candida Gentile Sideris and Cinnabre.
Chaldée is a floral oriental with a vague chypre facet in that it starts like a bright, somewhat cold floral and finishes snuggly and comforting with a warm, resinous, powdery and slightly animalic base. It has a definite retro mood and it might feel a little bit dated especially in the beginning, but the drydown is delightful and it reminds me of vintage Bal à Versailles or even Bogue Maai.
Cuir Venenum surprised me, because it isn’t that much about the leather as is about really sparkling and sweet orange blossoms. It feels tart and a little sharp, and there’s an odd wine like aroma floating about. My boyfriend said it reminded him of fermented grape mush left to dry out in the heat in big, smoked oak barrels. Kind of interesting but overall disappointing, as the leather is more or less absent and the composition is unbalanced, too angular and aggressive. Doesn’t feel plush or particularly well blended.
The two Maria Candida Gentile fragrances are divine. Please read Claire’s review about Sideris because it’s spot on and also a piece of beautiful writing.
Cinnabre is a wonderful spicy, powdery lush rose, with a fearless and exhilarating beginning, the combination of black pepper, ginger and rose smells so good and life affirming, it always catches me by surprise. The drydown is a more sedate affair, still beautiful and very feminine.
I saw there a few Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle in the export bottles, and I was really torn about what I will purchase, as I liked both Maria Candida Gentile fragrances and the Serge Lutens one. I decided to leave and try and make up my mind over the next day and return to the shop on Sunday. But on Sunday surprise, surprise: although the obnoxious owner was inside the shop he only opened the door to let us know, with the only smile he ever gave us, that “Today the shop is closed!” I’d say that pleased him immensely. I beamed back, huge grin on my face, said “Thank you” and left.
In the end Milan hasn’t been a successful shopping experience for me, but I had some great pizza, saw some fantastic buildings and sniffed the local people’s perfume trail. A lot of patchouli, dark woods, incense and rose. I doubt they buy theirs in the little boutique near La Scala because that one just reeks of loneliness and abandonment, like a portal into the Twilight Zone, if you remember those old 90’s sci-fi series.
For those of you that lasted through my musings, there’s even a giveaway with this post: I have an invitation to “The Garden of Wonders” exhibition in Milan which lasts till the 24th of May. So if any of you are traveling to Milan during this time and would like to take a journey through scents you’re more than welcome to try your chance in the draw. Just comment below and maybe even tell me something about your favorite perfume shop and why you like it and you’re in.
*Photo: my own.A reflected image of myself huffing my Chaldée perfumed wrist