After a delightful presentation and hand & arm massages at Jo Malone’s, we walked the short distance to Harrods and took the elevator all the way to the top. Labyrinthine as Harrods might be, I’ll give credit to our collective perfume antennae and say we found Dove’s treasure trove instantly. Once inside, it was hard not to get giddy: the small space positively glistens with the most magnificent extrait de parfum presentations - little extraordinary works of art both in terms of content and appearance that shine like precious diamonds under the light of the chandeliers. Dark lacquered walls, mirrors, a niche with colorful pillows and a most sumptuously plum-colored carpet make one feel as though they are in the privacy of a boudoir with the extravagance of a harem. Familiar shapes, like Caron’s glorious fountains, Nina Ricci’s complete collection of extraits and MDCI’S precious bust stoppers share the space equally with never-seen-before wonders, exotic flacons often bearing no name, exciting the fantasy with their shape and waiting, waiting to be discovered and loved. The abundance of scents that are there to freely play with and explore could keep one busy for days, however most of the Haute Parfumerie’s treasures are behind lock and key, some tantalizingly behind glass, while others securely hidden away.
Just as we were warming up exploring, Roja Dove appeared: Tanned, deliciously dressed in a swirl of brightly colored silk and studded with shining jewels, he looked like he’d just returned from a month’s luxuriant yachting in Greece or alternatively (and anachronistically) partying it up in Miami at the Versace villa with Gianni. A minute in his speech however, it was obvious that the impressive looking man is quintessentially British and proud of it too. I was unglamorously tired (fourth day in London after an exhausting week in Paris) and felt like I was about to collapse, yet it was impossible to think about pain and tiredness as Roja regaled us with extraordinary tales from his life in the perfume business, the house of Guerlain and how it used to operate, Caron and its mistress and the magic of scent. Although I wouldn’t dare to attempt repeat his beautiful stories for they would no doubt lose their charm without the man’s humor and personal memory as their driving force, I would like to share a few interesting facts here. Mr. Dove’s first love in perfumery was Guerlain – an infatuation which turned into a decades-long love affair when he was hired by the venerable house. He shared with us a feeling we all agree upon: that Guerlain has changed radically ever since it left the hands of the family. This is not news. What however did move me, as I am sure will move you, is the fact that Guerlain barely made money when it was still family owned. The concern for quality, the sourcing for only the very best of ingredients and the extraordinarily beautiful, unique presentations, meant that Guerlain was a labor of love – a family affair that continued operating without really making profits in order to honor its tradition and the name. (I could not help but draw a parallel between this story and the words of Linda Pilkington the previous day, who also admitted to pressing on, doing what she loves for the love of it, despite little or no profits) Secondly, I would like to share that the Haute Parfumerie’s policy of keeping most of their stock locked behind glass is not done in a pretentious, elitist fashion, but stems from Roja’s own memory of what love for perfume once was. Roja effortlessly transported us to the past with eloquent tales of his youth, when to love perfume meant braving the threshold of an ultra-chic perfumery and asking to be presented with that which you craved. Being granted the precious flacon by an immaculate sales associate was part of the experience and finally holding it in your hands sent an extra shiver of appreciation through your body. The perfume ‘wall’ of most modern perfumeries makes perfume itself lose all its charm in his eyes. Although I’ll have to admit to much preferring being able to explore and play at will when in a perfume store (preferably without someone hovering over me!) I do understand what he means about the charm of living out the whole experience when out to buy a luxury good like perfume. And even though I’ll always enjoy exploring by myself when buying perfume, I do admire the fact that he dared re-created the perfume experience as it had been in his formative years.
The presentation continued with rounds of appreciative sniffing, as we were passed various different perfumes to smell on blotters, always accompanied with a delightful story. A highlight, surely, was Baccarat’s Les Larmes Sacrées de Thebes (The Sacred Tears of Thebes), a marvelous balsamic, woody, incense laden perfume in one of the most extraordinary Baccarat presentations. Having bought all (or nearly all) of the stock, this jewel of a perfume is now only available at the Haute Parfumerie. It is a must-sniff for all serious resin & incense lovers, however the price is rather prohibitive so be prepared to have your heart broken. We proceeded to smell Dove’s Trilogy of scents (Enslaved, Unspoken & Scandal) which were absolutely beautiful. Just as I was thinking ‘this is it, it cannot possibly get any better than this’ we were presented Dove’s semibespoke line of fragrances. Semibespoke is a term Roja and his team use for a line of very special fragrances that are available in very limited quantities – 50 bottles of each to be precise. The high price and exclusivity of the scents means that it is unlikely you shall ever come across someone wearing your scent, hence the term semibespoke. These fragrances bear no name but are simply identified by numbers. They are masterpieces. How can that be you ask, is there no dud in between? No, no dud, no mediocrity, not even one that’s simply just ‘good’ instead of perfection personified. They are truly amazing. A lover of musks, my heart was captured by three: Number Seven, Number Nine and Number Eleven. Of the three, Number Nine was my favorite – the most divine nectar of soft flowers and Tonkin musk, very much in the spirit of vintage Le Dix. The other two focused on two different animalic notes, one being unabashedly loaded with civet and smelling sinfully dangerous, while the other on castoreum, which forms the anchoring base of the leathery chypre structure, bringing to mind the great lady Cabochard. It was a day of rapture.
Images: Harrods department store, Roja Dove via rojadove.com and Baccarat’s Les Larmes Sacrées de Thebes