Julian Bedel of Fueguia 1833 outside Scent Bar
If you’ve heard winemakers, sculptors, watercolorists, poets, or composers discuss their work you know there are layers of complexity, symbolism, and symbiosis that many of us may overlook until they’re explained to us. It’s also possible that in our own experience we may find layers of wonder and beauty perhaps unintended by the novelist or haute cuisine chef that nevertheless become personal and very meaningful to us. As strong an emotional impact as works of creativity and art may have on us, the only one of our five senses physically connected directly to the limbic system – the emotional control center of the brain – is our sense of smell. This means that scents, good and bad, can have an immediate and pronounced impact on us both physically and emotionally. Such was this weekend.
A small group of people from around the world met in Los Angeles on Saturday for what might be described as a perfume crawl. At 8 AM we converged on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop just north of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and waited for our tour bus to arrive. I was standing there meeting people, making my first impressions, about to spend all day smelling a variety of scents, when some voice in the back of my head decided this was the perfect moment for a nose bleed. I excused myself into the coffee shop bathroom, stared at its suddenly remarkable ceiling for several minutes, then walked back out. Luckily the bus had just arrived and the crowd was being happily distracted by one of the event’s hosts.
The bus was rather ironically run by a company called “OMG Express.” The driver was a very patient and friendly Chinese gentleman who pronounced his name like “Franca,” but over the course of the day he would be called Frank, Frankie, Fred, and a half dozen other on-the-spot nicknames.
The event was organized by a group of bloggers known as the Perfume Posse, and their goal was a festive day exploring perfumes, colognes, and related scents. They wanted to make it very clear to everyone that the day was meant to be fun: more laughter, less business; more conversation, less science. On that note, Portia Turbo boarded the bus and informally led the group the rest of the day. Portia could be accurately described as both the Master and Mistress of Ceremonies and entertained the crowd virtually non-stop.
The tour’s first stop was Scent Bar (AKA Lucky Scent). We’ve visited a number of times and always enjoyed the place. There were two speakers; a highly polished Jeffrey Dame who came with some nice giveaways, and the fascinating Julian Bedel of Fuegia 1833. Fuegia is a line from Argentina, Fueguia being the term used to describe things from Tierra Del Fuego in Patagonia. Julian, the perfumer, was full of excellent detail regarding the concept, design, and process behind their line, which includes a full FIFTY fragrances. We were lucky enough to sample about ten, and left with bottles of Xocoatl and Biblioteca de Babel. Julian was very friendly and shared with us that Fueguia scents are vegan – they contain no animal products or byproducts and are not animal tested. Fueguia also strive to use as high a percentage as possible of natural botanicals (instead of manmade synthetics). Their packaging is both beautiful and remarkable – the bottles are packaged in wooden boxes, which are made from reclaimed wood and assembled by schoolchildren who do so as a fundraiser for their school. It sounds as though Fueguia has both excellent products and a high degree of corporate responsibility. Seek them out.
I was lucky in Scent Bar to be randomly selected to win a bottle of Amouage Opus VII, a scent designed by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin and released about a month ago. It is described as a “green, woody and leather fragrance” and on my skin has strong cumin and cardamom notes. I then also won a gift bag filled with a variety of samples after being crowned “third best shopper,” not something to be sneezed at in consumer-driven Los Angeles.
It’s always a surprise to find some truly wonderful breweries, distilleries, and wineries in industrial parks. So it was with our next stop, Beauty Habit. Beauty Habit is primarily an online store, and the space we visited serves as their warehouse and shipping facility. This was easily the most nicely appointed warehouse I’ve ever seen though, and of course it was filled with olfactory pleasures. Of particular interest was a section in the back by their “sample bar” devoted to natural perfumes and colognes. It was nice to see both Miryana Babic (Profumi Di Firenze) and Sarah Horowitz there; we had met them at Sniffapalooza’s Los Angeles event several years ago. Surprisingly Sarah remembered us, perhaps because I had shot the photos of that event for Raphaella Barkley and the Karens. Sarah was gracious enough to recognize the desperation in everyone’s eyes and delayed her presentation while the hoards ate lunch.
While exploring the natural perfumes in Beauty Habit we mentioned to an event colleague that we were looking forward to another event called FRAGments, an event whose focus was entirely on natural perfumes. It just so happened that the person we were speaking to was Maggie Mahboubian of Parfums Lalun, the organizer of FRAGments. She was happy to hear we had signed up and was of course looking forward to the event too. We ended up chatting with Maggie several times through the day; it was nice to know that someone shared our interest in scents derived from the earth rather than the industrial chemical industry.
After Beauty Habit we headed back to town, stopping outside the Pygmy Hippo Shoppe only long enough for Brent Leonesio of Smell Bent fragrances to jump on the bus. The plan had been for the crowd to invade his store, but due to time constraints he invaded the bus instead and discussed his line while we slowly circled the neighborhood a few times. In keeping with the organizers’ stated goal of making this event less business-like, Portia encouraged Brent to discuss his dating life and his bright blue hair more than his perfumes.
After that the bus made its way to Rodeo Drive, where everyone was dropped off and given an hour to play. This was nothing special; we could do this at home. Most people chose to go to Barney’s, a department store that carries some unusual lines. After having been to Scent Bar and Beauty Habit though, Barney’s came in a very distant third place. A rep from L’Artisan attempted to entertain with samples of individual notes from a recent release, but no one was intrigued with the final product, making the exercise uninspiring. Everyone was getting tired and was happy to leave Barney’s.
The final stop of the day was made at Opus Oils, the home of independent perfumer Kedra Hart. Her scents are very different, very surprising, and this perked everyone up. We came out with her limited edition M’Eau Joe No. 3, a “Hollywood whiskey fragrance.” While there we met Donato Crowley of Glam Monster and bought some of the EDP he and Kedra had created. Unfortunately there was a pox on his iPhone and the network stalled his log-in for several minutes before he could process our transaction. The “M’Eau Joe” must have helped; the order was finally processed, and the scent came safely home.
The bus finally dropped us all back at the coffee shop at 8 PM, and fifteen minutes later we were at Crossroads, tired, smelling of a hundred things, and ready for dinner and drinks. All in all it was a fun day, though we would have happily traded the stop on Rodeo Drive for a stop instead at Santa Maria Novella, Apothia, or a number of other places that come to mind. By 8 A.M. the next day we had awoken to a perfect L.A. morning… a kitchen mishap set off the hotel’s fire alarm and woke us up very rudely. We grumbled a bit, inspected our stash from the previous day, then headed to Real Foods Daily for a Mothers Day brunch. True to L.A.’s celebrity-spotting nature we were seated across from Ellen Degeneres and a woman I suppose was her mom. I’m not sure what she might have smelled like, but I suspect it was something like the same vegan pancake platter I had. Yum.