What’s fragrance shopping in ‘the new normal‘ like right now?
If – like us – you’ve been a touch cautious about returning to the high street to shop for fragrance in an actual store, we’ve some reassuring news: Our roving reporter (and co-founder of We Wear Perfume) Amanda Carr, visited central London this week and found it was not just safe, but surprisingly enjoyable…
‘Sat on an empty tube, masked-up and slightly anxious is not how I usually approach fragrance shopping, but this pandemic has turned everything upside down. What would my first foray into scent stores be like? How would I inhale fragrance through my home-made, Liberty print face mask? I clutched my portable hand sanitiser – Perfumer H, Orange Leaf Hand First Aid, since you’re asking – and nervously headed out.
My first stop was Les Senteurs in stylish Elizabeth Street, and there’s a polite notice on the door explaining the ‘two guest’ policy for socially distanced shopping. Using the hand sanitiser as you enter is a must and masks must be worn, but your nose can peek out to allow you to inhale. All done, according to manager Clair Wills, to keep you safe while sniffing.
But oh what a joy to be back in a store!
On the central display was the newly launched Tauer fragrance Phtaloblue, exclusive to Les Senteurs. Trying it felt like a reward for just being there, as a new Andy Tauer fragrance is always a treat, Phtaloblue is like a cool, sea breeze, lightly tinged with orange blossom and geranium, with smudges of herby notes as if you were on a cliffside walk.
Although closed during the pandemic, Les Senteurs has remained busy selling fragrance from its website due partly, Clair claims, to the weekly e-newsletter the store continued to send out and its free-post service. ‘I think people slowed down a lot during lockdown and had time to properly read about and consider the fragrances we featured,’ she told us. ‘We do a good tester services so customers had the time to order samples and consider them at home, then they treated themselves.’
Store visitors experience a similarly ‘slowed down’ shopping experience, I had the store to myself, since foot traffic in the area is still low, and the staff seemed delighted to see a real-life customer, so it all felt quite special. I browsed happily through fragrances from Cloon Keen, a charming Irish brand I’d been meaning to properly try, again exclusive to Les Senteurs, including the delicious new tuberose-heavy candle Étaín candle. I almost didn’t want to leave.
But with a new skip in my step, I continued my tour, including a brief trip across the road to the wonderfully air conditioned Jo Loves, where it’s business as usual, albeit it at a masked-up and quieter pace, and where I caught an energising spritz of the new Mango Thai Lime fragrance, another winner during the heat.
Over at Jovoy on Conduit Street, the store has spaced out its many fragrance collections and displays to allow up to two groups at a time to navigate the shop floor. Visitors also get their own pot of blotters and a pencil to take round with them, which is such a good idea – I hope this continues when we get back to normal – and there are vinyl gloves to wear for when you pick up the fragrance bottles to spray.
There have been a number of new launches at the store since lockdown including a wonderfully cheering medley of song-inspired fragrances from Musicology, a brand that stimulates the senses, memories and vibrations via music. Anyone who has read the recent Music & Perfume edition of The Scented Letter will feel slightly smug at already knowing the strong connection between sound and scent. I tried ‘Caus I’m Happy, a veritable rhythm of grapefruit, orange and bergamot citrus, and found myself humming Pharrell’s catchy tune of the same name for the rest of the day.
The store is also trialling a pre-selling service (a bit like stores would create a waiting list for an ‘it’ bag, although doesn’t that seem and age ago now?) for highly anticipated fragrances suffering from postponed lockdown launches.
For example, store visitors can get an exclusive sniff of Widian’s Limited Edition 71 Intense, and put down an order before its autumn launch, grabbing one of the never-to-be-repeated bottles. Store manager Ines Serracino explained that they hope to do more pre-selling as the team has noticed an increased demand for hard to get fragrances.
Watch out fashion, it looks like fragrance is now the hot item creating wish lists…’
We continue Amanda’s ‘new normal’ scent discovery shopping trip TOMORROW. So come back then to have your senses further temted back in store…
(Text and pictures by Amanda Carr, edited by Suzy Nightingale).