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Here I go, again: the Danube seems to be the highlight of my recent city breaks!

Budapest is close enough for me (well, actually, every city in Europe is pretty much – close….) to hopp off on a short city-break, and yes – it seems to be getting more and more popularity lately, becoming more and more interesting touristic destination, and no wonder:  Budapest is the tenth-largest city in EU, a Beta+ Global City and it is cited as the “Europe’s 7th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes.

There are so many museums and cultural institutions, the city is flooded with geotermal springs and wellness spots, it’s old Nyugati Railway station was built by the Eiffel Company of Paris in 1877., and it has the second-oldest metro line in the world, functioning very smoothly.

Yes, the river Danube is blue here and cruising along is really a wonderful experience!

Beware, niche perfume lovers: Budapest provides a great offer! There are four niche perfumeries in the center of the city:

Madison Perfumery is located near the Opera – Calea Doorobantilor nr 152. Sadly, the building was under reconstruction when I arrived, but I promised to return soon so I’m looking forward to revisiting and taking my time in Madison. It showcases leading niche houses, carefully cured beauty products…and coffee! It’s founders crave fine coffee and they are sharing with their clientele the high quality, small-batch beans of local specialty roaster. Next time I will most certainly devote more time to Madison!

There is also Cherry Garden Niche Parfumeria close to Opera house – Nagymezo u.47 and Le Parfum located in the Hotel Carlton Ritz, both with fine, although pretty mainstream niche houses. Le Parfum also offers Perfume Workshops – you need to book in advance.

Well, the whole idea of taking this trip (pssst! My family didn’t really know that until we got there!) was, quite honestly, because Rassei Fort told me a couple of months ago that Neroli Parfum&Luxe will become distributors for Fort&Manle in Budapest! The perfumery is located in a small street adjacent to the main shopping street in Budapest, you can’t miss it: Regiposta utca 19.

Neroli does have an impressive offer of fine niche perfume houses, take a look at these photos and check out The Plum Girl Instagram TV – there you can find a short video showcasing their offer.

So, I finally met Fort&Manle live and with the whole line presented.

Of course, they have just announced a new addition: „Forty Thieves“ – so I guess I will really have to revisit Budapest, soon.

This baby accompanied me home:

Fort&Manle Charlatan, edition 2018. I did post a really short quick sniff, first impression review on Instagram! When I test the whole line, I will most certainly write a more detailed review. Just for now, to answer any potential questions: yes, it’s worth a FB!

Even though the offer of perfumes is impressive, I was not at least impressed with customer service at Neroli. Much to my surprise, when I walked in I was hardly greeted: all SA’s were quite busy unpacking boxes and boxes at the back of the perfumery, hardly paying any attention to me. I did introduce myself properly. I did say that I do know what I’m looking for. Still…Ignoring a customer and unpacking boxes doesn’t leave a positive impression. OK, it was Monday morning, OK, SA’s obviously had quite a few boxes to unpack, but somehow it just didn’t feel right. Not when you consider the prices you are paying.

Budapest is relaxed, vibrant, filled with sounds and scents: do visit the main Marketplace. It is really big, filled with homemade sausages, dry red pepperoni, paprika, spices, vegetables and fresh cheese.

Old K&K restaurants and pubs offer superb goulash and paprikash – a must-try!

We enjoyed Hungarian lager beer, which really goes well with Debrecener sausages (debrezeni kolbasz) – heavily spiced with paprika, garlic, pepper and marjoram.

Do visit Budapest! It’s an ideal city for a short, weekend city break and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Elena Cvjetkovic

The Plum Girl

Photos: The Plum Girl Archive

Disclaimer

Every time I think about Barcelona I hear Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe (Barcelona! It was the first time that we met…Barcelona! How can I forget!), see broken pieces of colorful ceramic tiles forming a big lizard, I feel sea salt touching fingertips of Christopher Colombo high up on his monument and hear parrots nesting on a palm tree.

Freddie’s song sparkles and echoes on Placa d’Espana. The Magic Fountain is a free music and light show that is not to be missed, a fantastic display of water, light, and music.

I keep returning to this city, each and every time discovering it all over again. The most photogenic city in the World, they say? It certainly is! When you look at the sandy beech of Barcelonetta (just a walking distance from Plaza Catalunya)

or Rambla with its distinctive pavement, the almost finished Cathedral Sagrada Familia

Barri Gotic

or Parc Guell

you will find this true. These are must-see spots but there are so many hidden streets and corners, palaces and old Roman ruins, gardens brimmed with lush flowers and amazing fountains.

I’ve always had a soft spot for cities located at any sea or ocean coastline, I can’t imagine living far far away from the sea. The Mediterranean culture is a strong connection for me: I feel at home in Barcelona!

Just take a look at numbers: more than 270000 people living there are – foreigners. Roughly 1 million tourists visit Barcelona per week and this is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean sea!

The scents and sounds of Barcelona…mornings are slow until 10 AM but nights are lively after 10 PM!

I think it’s a great city for art and history lovers but foodies and hedonists as well. Like when you sit down in a restaurant with your friends after sunset, order amb tomàquet (toasts smeared with tomato, salt, olive oil, and garlic), a pitcher of Sangria or any other fine wine from this region and nibble on so many varieties of – tapas.

Or when you enter the famous Bouqueria Market, where you can find the essence of Barcelona’s food culture – meat and poultry, local hams and sausages, an amazing assortment of fish, baked goods, condiments, cheeses, olive oils, fruits, vegetables and jamon jamon hanging everywhere!

Yet, this city is full of contrasts: you might want to visit the Picasso Museum and get lost deep in the Gothic Quarter of the city (my favorite part of Barcelona), where a maze of winding streets leads to pretty squares and beautiful buildings.

Don’t look at the map too often: the beauty of this part of the city is in wandering the backstreets and discovering the hidden museums, churches, markets, and landmarks for yourself…and it does remind me of Carner’s new perfume Megalium (read my full review Carner Barcelona – the new collection), when I take a closer look at these remains of an ancient Roman temple:

Carner Barcelona, definitely. You get the precise feeling and full meaning of their perfumes here. Just as you can easily connect with Ramon Monegal and Rosendo Mateu, together with Santi Burgas proudly exhibited in the spotlight of niche perfumeries. Don’t miss stopping and shop at La Basílica Galería, located between the ancient walls of a building in the historic Jewish quarter of Barcelona or Perfumerías Regia, related to the Museum of Perfumes. The Regia boutique goes back to 1928. when a young perfumer Josep Giralt decided to participate in the World Exhibition of 1929. In Barcelona. His small shop became a sensation and a quite exquisite perfumery.

There are many other olfactory connections to Barcelona. Let’s not forget that the mighty Puig is also based here, with owned brands such as Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur; licenses such as Prada, Valentino, Christian Louboutin and Comme des Garçons and revenues of €1,935 million in 2017!

Some new brands emerged as well: during my stay I had an opportunity to meet Romy Kowalewsky, the founder of 27_87 („I gave the World the date and year of my birth, won’t tell you the month, you don’t need to know my horoscope sign!“, she laughs…).

It took her five years to start from a written project: determination and passion combined created unconventional perfumes. She invited perfumers Max Buxton (with countless niche projects behind him), Daniela Andrier (many Prada creations) and Shyamala Maisondieu (worked for Diesel, Lanvin, Tom Ford etc.) to create something – completely different. Bold and ah! so Millennial? Her story is very inspiring.

So here we are, talking about Wanderlust, Elixir de Bombe, Hamaca and #hashtag perfumes:


My more detailed review of 27_87 will follow, and I am certainly looking forward to something that’s Romy now working on, soon to be revealed (psssst!).

When you start walking the wide sidewalk of boulevard Passeig de Gracia, very near to Gaudi’s Casa Milà and Casa Batllo there is a small niche perfumery close to those magnificent buildings:

Perfumerías Regia. On its entrance only those who are searching for it will notice this sign:

Museum of Perfumes or Museu del Perfum in Catalan!

You have to walk through the perfumery and at its end is a narrow hallway leading to an ordinary door, locked and so ordinary looking. The entrance ticket is 5EUR and just me and my friend were there at the time, although crowds of tourists swarmed this street.

At the first glimpse, I was overwhelmed! This collection holds more than five thousand perfume related artifacts and it is a must-see place for any perfume lover!

Well, for the next two hours all you could hear coming from that direction were my oooh’s and aaaah’s: I was in heaven!

Let me show you just small bits and pieces of this amazing collection: the first part of the collection features Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman containers for fragrance:

Then you can move on to the second part, with creations of Guerlain, L.T. Piver, Roger & Gallet, Jean-Marie Farina, and others:

Further on, various brands from different parts of the World are displayed, vintage beauties:

I even found this display featuring vintage Neva perfumes from Croatia (Croacia), fragrances my grandmother used on everyday basis:

And so much more!

When you visit Barcelona, take it easy. Slow down. Look around you and enjoy!

Start your day with a cup of coffee with milk (cafe con leche), get used to crowds of tourists and try to siesta.

Learn some Catalan: Bon dia or Bona tarda is not that hard to remember. I always ask: Com es diu en catala?/How do you say…in Catalan – because I genuinely do want to learn…and no n’hi ha prou amb una llengua! (One language is never enough…)

Barcelona – La musica vibró
Barcelona – Y ella nos unió
And if God willing we will meet again, someday…

The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl

Le Jardin Retrouve, a small, family owned artisan perfume company is dear to me. I am, let this be clear, a friend and a supporter, not only because Clara and Michael are ever so sweet and gentle people, but because the perfumes they produce are niche in every sense, of the finest French provenience, they have a rich and exceptional history and high quality standards. I did write about Le Jardin Retrouve earlier, check my post here and here – the review for „Cuir de Russie“ which was nominated in TOP 5 for The Fragrance Foundation Award 2018. – Editorial Excellence Online.

„The Third Way“

This time I will not write as much about Yuri Gutsatz, the founder of Le Jardin Retrouve and a perfumer par excellence. If you visit Le Jardin Retrouve’s shop in Paris (very close to the Arc de Triomphe), you will be shown a small exhibition of artifacts belonging to Yuri, old magazines with articles debating the art and craft of perfumery and fine perfumes that Yuri wrote, the lab where perfumes are prepared, some precious raw materials kept and, of course, current perfume line displayed. Yuri Gutsatz claimed a long time ago that, today’s so-called niche or artisan perfumery, is – „The third way“…and the only way for him.

When I took one of the old magazines and started to read an article written by Yuri Gutsatz„Disharmony in Perfumery“, discussing novel odorant materials at the time, the benefits that organic chemistry provides, very philosophically approaching the subject of „harmony“ and „disharmony“ in perfumery…and another article „Le Parfumeur et son art“, I told Clara that I really think that these articles should be reprinted, translated if necessary, as valuable thoughts and insights, coming from a respected insider, feeling that this man left an amazing, yet undisclosed heritage that the World should learn from. Little did I know then what surprise will follow!

A Hidden Treasure Box

Of course, not all the materials left by Yuri could be exhibited at the showroom, so the family had many boxes taken away and safely stored in a warehouse. One day, when they decided to explore further and see what is it that they have stored and is it worth keeping, they were not prepared for what was about to happen. As they were going through crates and boxes, they were not aware of what treasure was hidden there! They have found a box, never opened before. In it were notebooks, handwritten by Yuri Gutsatz. Hundreds and hundreds of perfume formulas! To be more precise, over 2000 formulas he had recorded! A hidden treasure box!

#perfumerevivalproject

They decided to continue with the revival of Yuri’s formulas but to limit the number in order to make the production possible for a small niche perfume house. Of course, old formulas needed to be tested first in their original concept, adjusted due to current regulations, reformulated even: this is why they decided to entrust Maxence Mutt, a young Givaudan perfumer and their in-house perfumer to go through 100 formulas, select 15 and then enable the whole team to pick out 4 old/new perfume formulas. Mind you that these formulas were created in a big-time span, from 1935. – 2005.!

On March 22nd, 2018. the final revelation took place: Le Jardin Retrouve decided to include their fans, buyers, bloggers and online community to test, choose and vote which fragrance shall be revived (first…I hope others will follow soon). 500 people from all over the world are to register and vote, and the winning fragrance is to be released in October 2018!

On April 13th four samples, marked only with 4 different colors, were shipped worldwide and the sampling fun began!

Samples were marked Black, Red, Green, and Yellow, named Mystery Fragrances, with no notes listed. Only later on, hints were given:

#1/4 = Year of inspiration: 1954. Date of creation: 1967. A reinterpretation of „fougere“, opens with warm notes of tobacco, a counterpoint of lavender, vetiver with powerful and woody scent brings the richness to this perfume.
#2/4= Date of creation: 1963. An opulent oriental, written in chiaroscuro. The start is bright and lively with slightly green bergamot. A floral heart expresses a beautiful Bulgarian rose and a hint of vanilla. A mystery touch is introduced with oakmoss…
#3/4 = Date of creation: 1973. A modern interpretation of the gentian, build around aromatic notes like thyme, carrot seeds, and tagetes, some sweetness of ambrette is added, bringing warmth. The scent rests on a bed of soothing white musk.
#4/4 = Date of creation: 1981. A solar fragrance – notes of white flowers built around jasmine from India, ylang-ylang from Madagascar and orange blossom from Marrocco. A luminous scent, reminiscent of summer days and Morrocan gardens.

What did I do? I took a free weekend to crack the code and decide upon which one to vote for! I must say that I focused so much on spotting all the notes in perfume samples and matching the descriptions with colors, that I did not have time to think much about stories they whisper or places that they take me to…But they certainly will. Four samples marked black, red, green and yellow and me. Here we go…


My notes and thoughts:


#4/4 = Yellow

Fresh. Lily-of –the-Valley? White flowers. A Spring scent on my first sniff. Bubbly, starts out crisp, subdues after approximately 20 minutes into a much sweeter flow, revealing a heart of jasmine. Orange blossoms protrude randomly, smelling like an orange tree in full bloom in May. Traces of sage appear, subtle and warm. Suitable for sunny, Spring and Summer days, but also a very fresh and clean “office frag”. The first image that popped in my mind? Corsica. I will call it „Monks Garden“ – after one of the gardens of the Couvent Saint Francois, near Oletta, Corsica.

#3/4 = Green
(Note: the color of perfume is very light. The lightest. So, I thought: green dot, this must be #3/4…)
Thyme it is! At the very first sniff! Bright, optimistic, uplifting. It made me focus better, cleared my thoughts. Green it is! After a while, it shifts and becomes warmer. Ambrette kicking in? Possibly, but it is almost gourmand, silky…something like Acqua Allegoria Gentian (and I do hate to compare perfumes to one another!), but not so feminine…at least, not on me…It is bright, it is light, it is vivid but only an hour later it becomes darker, muskier, yet very herbal. White musk perhaps…I would wear it all year round. Enjoy it with an Aperol Spritz, for instance! What does it remind me of? It is “clean”, “green”, “precise” and “eco friendly”…I will call it „Swiss Kiss“ as one of the most famous Gentiana gardens is located in Switzerland, in the village of Leysin…I love this one! Very youthful!

#2/4 = Black
(Note: the color of perfume is darker than the others…possibly – the “Oriental”…)
No doubt about it! I didn’t need to finish the second spritz, I knew: this is the “Oriental”!
Lemon fresh, bergamot infused, almost cocktail like sparkly opening, but even in the start, it is loaded with whiffs of gentle vanilla sweetness, until it becomes darker, like somebody pulled the curtains on the window and closed them…Shades and shadows playing on a sunny day, obscured by heavy curtains, a vase full of blood-red roses is on the table in the middle of this room, scents of oakmoss? -or is it musk present as well? – rising and starting to lead…this is not just another oriental, by no means: I like the unexpected twists and turns of clove, I guess. Very sleek, smooth, sensual, in the drydown quite sexy, with unexpected freshness bursts. Long-lasting. I will name it: for me, this is “Ahaggar”. Named after Ahaggar Mountains, a highland region in the central Sahara, southern Algeria…

#1/4 = Red
Warm, smokey, woody. Like an old, ancient mountain…Fine play of notes, retro in a most fascinating way, a fireplace scent. Like eating dark chocolate with orange peels, drinking coffee and having a glass of fine red wine by the fireplace…Tobacco? Yesss, like dry tobacco leaves, Virginia. The sort my great grandmother farmed and dried…Lavender is present, but in such an unobtrusive way, simply underlining the main accords and giving a dose of freshness to those dark brown tones. The most „masculine one“? I am not sure. I enjoy wearing it, maybe because of vetiver, I feel, enhancing this composition later on. Like a warm Indian Summer wind, somewhere in the open…Elegant, timeless, refined, addictive. Suitable for cold Autumn or Winter days, hot Summer nights, formal occasions or just whenever you need to feel a warm, reassuring hug of your fine perfume…I will call it „Pushkin’s Duel“ and will not explain why 😀

And my vote goes to….

Since I must choose one, I had to think about them and wear them for a couple of days. If I think about making my choice as a declared so-called „Oriental“- lover, there is no doubt. Black it is. And current Le Jardin Retrouve’s collection certainly lacks an oriental one.

On the second thought, if I think about this matter as a perfume advisor of a perfume house, my choice is – the Red one. A fougere. Because it is all about an idea, because it is unisex (some may argue that a fougere is meant to be more of a masculine scent, but the original, first fougere was – in fact – feminine…) and because it is the traditional theme, very much central in any fragrance wheel. You’ve got to have at least one fougere in your collection! You can pair it with a T-shirt or a black-tie, an evening dress or flip-flops: it is not just a perfume. It is a mood, a feeling and a sense of silence. Classy yet comfortable. Like a warm hug. It makes me feel relaxed, confident and beloved. A bit crazy, if I may say so, in terms of being very self-assured. In these times we live in, a warm hug is something we need on a daily basis…

If vote I must, here it goes:
1. Red Dot Perfume
2. Black Dot Perfume
3. Green Dot Perfume
4. Yellow Dot Perfume.

This is just my personal choice order, but again, if I think about marketing these perfumes, the order of release would be: Red – Green – Black – Yellow.

Go, RED, go!

Update! 01.12.2018.

The Black Dot won. Yet, the Red Dot was produced as well. Finally, here it is: Bois Tabac Virginia – Limited Edition, signed and numbered:



The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl
Disclaimer


“So, what exactly are you writing about?”a friend asked me directly. “With so many great perfumes coming up in a year, what’s all that niche buzz?” And more: “If my sales lady at the XY store knows all about the newest perfumes, why would I need you?” and “Niche? That sounds so snobbish to me!” I love questions, there’s no wrong question. This conversation greatly helped me with QandA’s for my blog: here are some of the A’s:

The word niche is becoming very present: niche perfume brands have grown in number and in the past few years, their constant growth lessening the market share of mainstream brands, has risen rapidly: 60% since 2005. Which, of course, means that mainstream brands made less money. When you think about billions of the Euro’s worth of a pie, oh yes! – niche is cutting seriously in it.

When did all this niche jazz start? Actually, you may say that niche perfumes existed long before mass production: kings and queens had their olfactory signatures, their own specially designed formulas. Nowadays, you don’t have to be royalty to have your very own special perfume. I think that niche is a counter action to mass, the result of the growing population of olfactory connoisseurs after the economic shock of 2008. and focus on individuality. As with, for example, wine, chocolate or coffee, consumers are now increasingly keen to learn about composition and provenance, fair trade included.

Definition(s)

The Fragrance Foundation (TFF, NY) once categorized fragrances as “niche” or “mainstream” based on the number of doors they were supported in (that is, the number of retail outlets stocking a specific scent or brand). This would generally mean that the majority of scents you find in large retail franchises and department stores are classed as mainstream or “designer” scents, such as those launched by fashion houses.

The Fragrance Foundation now categorizes Niche Fragrances as Indie Fragrances, the smaller, successful, entrepreneurial brands not supported by a large company. The Foundation defines an Indie brand as “one that has been on the market for at least two years and is distributed in 1 to 25 doors.”

Niche perfumes provide an interesting and special kind of scent that is difficult to find, using higher concentrations of perfume extracts. Yes, they usually come with a high(er) price but nevertheless, perfume lovers find great value in every drop. You also might say that the purpose of niche perfumes is to tell a story and evoke memories through scents.

Basic niche brands principles: 

– They have own perfumer in charge of the fragrances of the house, just like it used to be.

– A selective approach to the distribution of products: no mainstream retail stores.

– No advertising, apart from chosen magazine articles and interviews with prominent media. Independent bloggers are welcome. For them, a good reputation is the best way to promote their perfumes.

One step further…

Niche, indie or artisan? I don’t want to confuse you, but here comes more terminology:

Niche: everything that is not a designer. Niche originally implied something different than what you find at department stores, but the term has become less meaningful as the niche market has exploded.

Indie: niche, but are smaller, independently owned brands.

Artisan: A subset of indie that refers to brands that produce artisan-made products – artisan means handmade, in-house. The best artisan products are original and creative, and they contain a piece of the creator, a touch of the artist’s hand. Creators matter.

Why Niche? 

Niche people often argue that boutique perfumes offer the consumer the opportunity to reward oneself with a scent that is both uncommon and individual. Many might reason that niche equates to quality; in that greater attention to detail has been given to the construction of the perfume, and that components are of the highest caliber. Many prefer to pay more for the privilege of not smelling like someone’s ex-husband or mother-in-law… Also, they want to know the person behind their perfume, the artist of scents, the composer. Last but not least: the point is to express yourself.

Why Designer? 

The designer brands also have an edge. What they lack in terms of exclusivity, they make up for in price and mass appeal – the consumer buying into the lifestyle that these designer brands represent. More and more designer brands are creating their own niche brands. In some of their high-end boutiques, you can also use the services of a personal fragrance adviser.

What’s In It For You?

As consumers, we win. Not only do we have full access to our designer scents in any and every mall, but niche perfumes, thanks to the internet, are now becoming more accessible.

Salespeople are getting more and more perfume-educated. To sell. Designer brands provide them with precise how-to instructions, which is great. But what advisers like me do is something different. Personal. Holistic.

I believe that your fragrance is an expression of who you are, your personality, your feelings, passions, emotions and how you present yourself to the world.

The Plum Girl
Photo: © Kornwa Dreamstime