I love a beautiful perfume. But shopping for a new one can be insane. The crowds and noise at most department stores are overwhelming – you can’t hear yourself think, much less tune into the subtleties of smell.
While American department stores do their best to create grand excitement and spectacle, in Europe the traditional way to buy perfume is from a small parfumerie. And with the rise of beauty megaplexes – where it seems they have everything – a niche parfumerie is a delightful find.
Tanja Dreiding Wallace’s grandfather was a pharmacist who’d fled from Romania to Zurich, Switzerland, where he opened up the parfumerie branch of the renowned Osswald delicatessen in 1921. The delicatessen’s gone now, but the parfumerie has held its own, opening its own salon and stocking emerging niche brands at a time when most independent parfumeries were banding together to compete with department stores. The strategy worked, and Osswald is now the premiere niche parfumerie in Zurich. And now, under Tanja’s direction, Osswald Parfumerie has come to New York.
The Osswald space is airy and bright, which is good, because they don’t just sell perfume – they also sell skincare and makeup. Tanja showed me the Swiss skincare lines they carry, which include the comparatively well-know La Colline as well as exclusives Bellefontaine and Cell Premium. Since I’m into plant-based skincare, Cell Premium caught my eye – the dermatologist-created line uses plant stem cells from apples, alpine rose, grape seed and argan to protect human skin stem cells.
The store carries one makeup line, By Terry, the ultra-luxury cult line created by former YSL Beauty Director Terry de Gunzburg. And they brought in Nik Anderson-Hays to be the resident makeup and skincare expert. Nik was a national makeup artist and trainer for By Terry in Los Angeles – he had just moved to New York when Osswald was opening.
And then there are the perfumes: Osswald stocks fragrances from over a dozen artisan brands, including Profumum Roma, Amouage, Arquiste, Boadicea, Micallef, MDCI and Parfumerie Générale. And many of the lines they carry are exclusive to them in New York, so I was definitely going to try something new.
My guide in this was Osswald’s charming store manager Clément Pinard. Clément, whose past includes working with Roja Dove at his haute parfumerie at Harrod’s, possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of fragrance. Between jokes that his own brother calls him “Wiki-Pinard” and numerous anecdotes about fragrance creation and usage around the world, we try several fragrances.
We start with Djhenne, the newest from Parfumerie Générale, a brand created by perfumer and chemist Pierre Guillaume. Guillaume works to evoke emotional moments in his very distinct perfumes. (And he’ll be appearing at Osswald on January 29 if you’re in New York and would like to meet him.) Inspired by a lush African oasis, Djhenne is spicy and aromatic, with smooth patchouli and a hint of sweetness. We also try Indochine, which is more peppery – a gathering of indulgent edibles including cardamom and honey.
We then sample a couple fragrances from MDCI. Fragrance industry veteran Claude Marchal created MDCI in 2005 as a reaction against the me-too aesthetic he felt was dominating the perfume world. He’s since convinced some of the top perfumers in the world to create perfumes for him – and given them full artistic liberty. This freedom has resulted in very singular fragrances. Invasion Barbare, a virile and masculine fragrance, was inspired by warriors, sweat, and wind. Clément tells me that a lot of women in New York like to wear it. For contrast he shows me La Belle Hélène, a sweet and soft rendition of the classic French pear and chocolate dessert.
Clément rounds up our visit with two fragrances from Profumum Roma. The Durante family create fragrances as invitations to sense emotion and imagination, and the results are spectacular. Their most popular fragrance, Aqua di Sale, is a warm and breezy ride up the Italian coast, sea spray and all. And their 2011 men’s fragrance, the soft, ambery Eccelso, may just be the sexiest fragrance I’ve ever smelled.
With all these discoveries, I’m a little overwhelmed – I don’t yet know what my next new perfume will be. But discovery is what it’s all about at a niche parfumerie – taking the time and space to really perceive something new. And while the products at Osswald are unique, it’s the expertise and care of the staff that sets this “parfumerie” experience there apart from the usual.
Osswald Parfumerie. 311 West Broadway, New York, NY. Tel: (212)625-3111.
Upcoming: Pierre Guillaume, creator of Parfumerie Générale, will be at Osswald on January 29, 2013, between 6 and 9pm. Please call the store for details.