Freelance fragrance writer Amanda Carr goes in search of the prettiest perfume displays in London to see how real-world shops are offering a sense-drenching alternative to online shopping…
One of the perks of being a roving fragrance reporter is that during the festive season, we get to experience the jingly sparkle of Christmas in London’s best stores and call it work. Yes, it’s actually our job to visit the perfume counters to check out the festive fragrance displays in order to understand the gift-buying zeitgeist.
All reports indicate that the high street is having a tough time due to our online buying habits, and Christmas is an vital time for perfume sales. Nicky Valentine, Sales and Marketing Director for Orange Square, which distributes many niche perfume lines such as Creed and Maison Francis Kurkdjian, told us: ‘Christmas accounts for almost a third of our annual business. We use the festive period to stand out in retail with luxurious Christmas touches, personalised engraving and beautiful gift boxes.’
As we whizzed through London’s best fragrant destinations recently, all twinkling with festive fun, it’s clear that stores are absolutely out to thrill with beautifully opulent window and counter top displays.
On London’s Bond Street, every store is trying to out-do its neighbour with with extravagant decorations, from animated digital snowscapes on the front of Dior, to the illuminated red bow wrappings at Cartier, to the charming fantasy of Jo Malone London’s doll-sized townhouse, complete with miniature scent elves delivering tiny scented parcels in the windows at Fenwick London. It’s a breathtaking, festive extravaganza, all for free. Short of dressing up your laptop with tinsel, you wont get that experience e-shopping.
Jenni agrees: ‘At WGSN, we talk a lot about the physical store creating an “In Real Life” experience that can also be shared online, and windows and counter-top displays that tell a story and create something experiential, for example enabling you to create your own fragrance will be ultimately very shareable on social. That creates a buzz. As Jenni continues. ‘Stores have to educate, entertain and host shoppers now and that is what windows are about, delighting customers with something that they can not get online – a story, an experience.’
Walking around London at Christmas still gives us a huge festive buzz and this year fragrance stores have excelled themselves. So if you’re visiting over the next few days, or just need some decorative inspiration yourselves, these are the highlights you shouldn’t miss.
The Sleek Scented Experience
Stand aside Santa, because it’s all about the scented experience at Selfridges, where the new Fragrance Workshop space opened just as the festive rush began, Here, decorative clutter has been swapped for stylish clean lines and interactive, workshop-style experiences, which feel engaging and easy to shop. We loved the Maison Margiela Replica collection’s personalised pouch, where you can add an image of your loved one to the use-again fabric sack your perfume will come in. Look out for the sleek Selfridges gift wrapping boxes (which no one would ever want to throw away), featuring a cheerful elastic band ribbon in the signature yellow-hue of the store.
Offering similar Christmas chic, The Experimental Perfume Lab’s elegant Formula Library allows you to blend your own creations with help from one of its workshop experts, and empowered females should visit the fun Juliette Has A Gun play table, which holds its entire collection. It’s an immersive and refreshingly modern way to shop Christmas. Just don’t forget you’re supposed to be buying for other people too.
Gorgeous, glamorous, gold
There’s a feeling of gilded glamour to many displays this year, with brands designing artful presentations that put festive gold centre stage. Harrods’ Dior window features an oversized, gold-flake sculpture of its J’Adore bottle, which wouldn’t look out of place in Tate Modern. Angela Flanders charming perfumery store, tucked away in East London, features its magical Golden Lady sculpture, a tumble of gilded baubles, perfume bottles and glowing jewels atop a gold-faced mannequin, which comes out every year to signal the start of the festive season for the Columbia Road market. Is it wrong to want the display as much as the perfume?
One of our favourites is from diptyque, where its Lucky Charm concept, by the German-based artist Olaf Hajek, has been crafted for windows and counter tops in the form of a majestic golden tree, with spreading branches and an elegant, gilded trunk. Tiny perfume bottle and candle charms hang like colourful jewels from its branches and are designed to evoke harmony, luck and protection for the New Year. It’s more sculptural work of art than window prop and as we chatted to the Liberty diptyque team, where it looked particularly beautiful, it seemed we were not the first people to enquire if the entire display was for sale (we were, ahem, asking for a friend).
The Christmas Tree Makeover
A big trend for this year has been table-top sized Christmas trees, designed to be the perfect conduit for showing off exquisitely designed bottles. Penhaligon’s has a traditional Christmas ‘Naughty Or Nice’ look for its store decorations, all snow capped pine branches and bedecked chimney mantels where Santa’s fur-trimmed boots dangle just above the coals, at least we hope that’s Santa. But it’s the eye catching, cut-out fir trees we want to take home with us, with their tiny platforms for the bottles sit, glittering like festive baubles.
Over at Fortnum & Mason, Grossmith London has created a miniature wooden Christmas tree where cute, 10ml bottles of its Sylvan Song fragrance, exclusive to the store, dangle temptingly. But perhaps our favourite, modern tree makeover comes from Floral Street, where its flower printed bottles sit on a revolving perspex tree, overseen by a giant festively florescent star, because when you have bottles as beautifully decorated as Electric Rhubarb and Wonderland Peony (just a couple of our favourites) why would you want to hide them away? There are also some lovely printed ‘scent baubles’ to hang on your own tree, which have 10ml bottles of assorted scents in, nicely combining tree decorating with gifting.
An Advent Adventure
The beauty advent calendar, now a huge self-gifting event that marks the start of Christmas, has had an impact on windows too, with Chanel featuring a snow-dusted, advent calendar door that opens enticingly to reveal a bottle of Chanel No.5, the grown-up equivalent of a children’s animated festive window. Covent Garden is now bursting with fragrance stores, including seasonal pop-ups (Tiffany‘s has an ice rink and giant snow globe) and is well worth a visit. Atelier Cologne’s advent calendar windows – it has two types for sale – are a delight and feature our favourite festive wreath design of blue laurel leaves and lusciously plump tangerines, the visual equivalent of its √ citrus cologne.
A delicious dash of colour
Finally colour, used to shoot a zing of festive joy into even the most jaded of shoppers, Miller Harris’s Covent Garden store has a forest of pine branches hanging from the ceiling, which offer a modern festive foil to its shelves of bright packaging. Gifts can be wrapped in colourful scarves – more sustainable than throw-away paper and definitely something you could do at home if you have a pile of vintage ones you never wear – and embellished with giant neon-bright pom poms, which are made in store.
Dolce & Gabbana’s Festive Market, on the ground floor of its Bond Street Store, is an absolute ‘must see’. Every surface features an extravaganza of intense pattern and colour that is home to not just its entire fragrance collection, including the boutique exclusives and beauty range, but also the most charming (if somewhat aspirationally-priced) ceramic scented candles we’ve seen this Christmas. (We adore the flamboyant owl.) There’s also beautifully packaged pasta, panettone and preserves, so if you’re lucky, you may end up with some D&G spaghetti as well as some scent in your stocking!
By Amanda Carr