Scents of the Summer Gone-By (Trip 1)

While I’m not particularly a fan of summer (and I realize that may not be a popular attitude), I am amazed and somewhat saddened that, as of this weekend, it’s officially over. I can do without the heat—and the humidity simply has to go—but summer has always held the promise of leisure and enjoyment, and it feels wasted when not lived to the fullest. So I did my best to make the most of the places I managed to visit, which, for me this summer, meant kicking my nose into high gear. Let me explain.

When someone comes to my studio to compose their own eau de parfum, we often start our conversation with the scents they already wear. My guests rightfully expect me to be familiar with the majority of what’s on the market, but to be honest, I’ve been making whatever my heart desires for such a long time (since 1998, to be exact) that I’ve gotten out of the habit of exploring what’s out there. But that means I’m not only falling short of my customers’ expectations, I’m missing out on one of my former favorite activities. No bueno, as one of my nieces likes to say.

As remediation I sought out off-the-beaten-path perfumery at my first summer vacation destination, Detroit. To my dismay, my internet search resulted in names of high-end department stores that I can find right here in NC. That was SO not the point. However, I did find Sfumato, an artisanal perfumer in the Detroit area:


Curious to smell his creations, I researched where they can be purchased and, in so doing, discovered a true gem. Mills Pharmacy, tucked away in boutique-y Birmingham, MI, displays an expertly curated treasure trove of scents from around the world. Check out just a small portion of their collection:


Though comparatively small in square footage, the vast assortment of rare items in their fragrance department made me positively giddy. With ouds all the rage these days, I was delighted to compare the offerings of Berdoues, surprising myself with liking their vanilla version the best. In a word: warm.


The cheery Eiffel Tower–emblazoned bottles from Fragonard brought back last year’s visit to Grasse for my most recent perfume training. Speaking of which, while I’m honored to be allowed to use ingredients at ESCENTUELLE from Galimard, the oldest perfumery in France, I stood in awe that day of fragrances from Floris, founded 10 years earlier in 1730. Taking a whiff of their classic scents transported me to the interior of their ornate flagship store in London, which I was lucky enough to have visited while living in nearby Oxford in 2006. No collection I’ve seen since has rivaled Mills’ selection of Floris scents:


As a perfumer myself, I value the juice within the bottle much more highly than the packaging. But every once in a while I fall prey to “oooh, pretty!” When you combine a vessel that resembles a flask, celtic knotwork in pewter, and an elaborate stopper reminiscent of the mouthpiece of the bugle I played from age 10 to age 19, I nearly swoon. The lighting doesn’t do justice to these beauties from Boadicea:


I can’t remember the last time I felt like a kid in a candy store, and I wasn’t really paying attention to the time. It was a vacation, after all. Though my sweetie was as supportive as he always is of my passion, I sensed we’d been there a little too long for his family after, umm, more than an hour. I reluctantly edged out of the store, scents layered up and down each arm, after complimenting its retail director, Rita Sayegh, on her exquisite taste.

How lucky was I to have stumbled upon such a diverse, top-notch collection for my re-entry into prêt-à-porter fragrance appreciation?

My next post brings us to summer trip 2/New York City and the sampling of even more scents . . . that haven’t been on the market for years (and even centuries). Seriously.  Stay tuned!

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