The sky before dawn.
The sight of Venus, Sirius, and Jupiter brilliant against a liquid black sky proves so breathtaking, I run a red light on the way to JC's house and must pull over to collect myself.
JC and Glynis!
My sweet scent sisters! I could not dream of better partners for this grand adventure. Navigation is the name of our game: JC's armed with a list of her favorite perfume notes to launch her toward new galaxies; GW's packing an adorable pocket-sized Garmin Nuvi GPS to guide us through the big bad Bergdorf 'hood. As for me, I’ve compiled all of the day's schedules, addresses, and walking maps into mini-zines for me and my chicas. Dressed in layers and carrying capacious satchels, we’re ready to go!
The Meadowlands at sunrise.
Once you've seen mist-beribboned marshes exquisitely washed in abalone iridescence, with snowy egrets and great blue herons launching themselves into flight in front of a glittering Manhattan skyline, you will never call the New Jersey Turnpike 'an eyesore' again. Capisce?
Empire State of mind.
The walk from the parking garage is teeth-chatteringly cold, but our first sight of Bergdorf Goodman makes us whoop like a Zouave raiding party! To celebrate its 111th birthday, its has been entirely "giftwrapped" with wide purple ribbons-- a stirring sight to start us off right!
The very first pal we encounter upon descending into Goodman Cafe-- and a most elegant and lovely sight she is, too! As a lifelong fragrance devotee and the most experienced 'Paloozer amongst us, Patty appears to us newbies as a gracious goddess high upon a pedestal of solid perfume knowledge. She herself readily tempers this notion with her welcoming warmth and sly humor (already enjoyed thoroughly by me in Ocean Grove this summer). She comes bearing gifts from her last vintage expedition: full bottles of Lili Bermuda Jasmine, Pierre Vivion Kismet, and Sonoma Scent Studios Femme Jolie! Sadly, her table's nearly full up, so we exile ourselves to the back of the class until the recess bell.
WaWa coffee + muffin combo.
But for this, I might have perished of starvation during the 2+ hour BG Breakfast, at which the world's smallest ratio of victuals-per-person is ruthlessly enforced by the waitstaff. Having come from a land where all cups of java are "bottomless", I suffer culture shock and must be revived with...
NEST Passiflora in all its glora.
The SAs run out of scent strips before they reach the back of the cafe. No matter: Passiflora wafts to us from the front rows, its wake marked by a surge of audible gasps. Salty, lactonic, pink, like a drop of blood fallen into a saucer of cream-- and that bottle design! We come THIS CLOSE to stomping our feet in unison like Folsom Prison inmates waiting for Johnny Cash. When a scent strip finally makes its way into my hands, I know immediately that Nan will want this, and want it bad. (The following Monday, I give her the gorgeous spray sample that came in my gift bag. My prediction = spot on.)
Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit.
I take one sniff and my eyes immediately fill with tears. In an instant, I'm transported back to my childhood home, where narcissi of all kinds filled my mother's gardens. This sort of reaction is infrequent for me and usually presages total devotion. But then I suffer a lightning bolt of terror, triggered by the notion that this breath of pure nostalgia will go all flat or sad or sour. I love that top note so much, I actually feel pain at the thought of it not keeping its promises. I fear no such thing about the next encounter...
Hip-hip hooray! After spending a stellar day with Blacknall several weeks ago (during which we tripped around Red Bank talking each others' ears off and unearthing vintage Bellodgia and Geoffrey Beene parfums to boot), I'm extremely eager to see her again! Finally we find each other outside the JAR alcove, where Blacknall waits her turn for a perfume experience without parallel. We resolve to meet up again afterward, whenever and wherever this mighty river of people and scent brings us together again. Until then, I'm in the capable hands of...
Gifted with a uniquely congenial presence, Annick Goutal's classy mainman sets exactly the mood we newbies need to ease our way into the strange new world of the BG sniffing floor. No face could be friendlier; no bespoke suit could enfold a warmer heart. After he takes the time to personally introduce me to Mon Parfum Chéri Par Camille, I contemplate begging him to adopt me. Go-fer or Gal Friday-- I'm easy.
The god Hermes.
I never learned his name, so that's what I'm calling him: the impeccably-dressed, drop-dead-elegant gentleman presiding over the Hermès boutique. Lightning-quick much like his divine namesake, he brings Glynis and me the good word. We sniff many Merveilles (Eau, Elixir, and the new L'Ambre), reacquaint ourselves with old favorites (Eau d'Orange Verte) and newer Ellenas (Un Jardin sur Le Toit), and I enjoy my second crying jag of the morning over Voyage d'Hermes (whose airy angelica note speeds directly to my limbic system). Then our guide demonstrates the Jewel Lock flacon, originally designed to hold Kelly Calèche but soon to be relaunched with interchangeable cartridges. Come November, perfumistas will be able to carry the Hermès perfume of their choice in this cunning little clockwork of a bottle. Do I hear the holidays coming?
I see her across the sniffing floor, zipping around from scent to scent like a honeybee in a meadow full of flowers... and yet she's the most flowerlike of them all in a frock the exact deep purple color of wild violets. In this atmosphere already sparkling with energy, Ari's a blast of pure effervescence! Before our hug's even over, we're exchanging gifts. For Ari, a stashbox hand-painted with Mitsouko bottles; for me, the bottled sunlight that is New Jersey by United Scents of America. True to Ari's review, it's Seaside Heights stripped of biker gangs 'n bimbos and distilled to its most delicious.
Jo Malone Blackberry & Bay.
Every claim made on its behalf is perfectly true: it's the perfect marriage of juicy wine-dark berry and dry-savory herb. I am charmed by the dapper SA, who gently lavishes scented cream on our hands before spraying on the EdT... and though I've been Purelling like mad all morning to make skin room for new scents, this time I balk at the thought of making this beauty disappear. I snag a sample for DC, who sadly couldn't join us today-- but I can't think of a sweeter consolation.
I know nothing about this house, and expected little after smelling Frangipane. But then came Kalimantan, which stopped us all in our tracks. Sure, it's an herb-laced labdanum a la Ambre Sultan, manned up with a patchouli-oud five-o'clock shadow that faintly rasps on the senses. But rowr! Patty said it reminded her of Christmas. Christmas! Now there's an idea!
The wonderful Warwick.
The meagerness of this morning's breakfast is forgiven as we sip wine at a balcony table and ease into a soul-satisfying lunch (roasted chicken, fingerling potatoes, white and green asparagus, cheesecake, and pastel-tinted macarons). The first-come-first-seated policy separates us temporarily from Ari and Glynis-- but it affords us the opportunity to meet new folks. Our tablemates -- one a stately fragrance industry rep from Florida, the other a sweet Connecticut medical man -- prove friendly and hospitable. The Floridian gent turns out to be a fan of Blacknall's blog, a fact which makes her blush and us cheer... and our applause continues as both Patty AND Glynis are chosen at random to receive professional bespoke-perfume consultations! The lovely Alyssa Harad shines as the afternoon's top speaker (her statement "Pleasure is such a tender thing, isn't it?" burns itself into my memory). At the table behind us, the Posse roils in full festive mode, and when Anita Berlanga (AKA Musette) kicks out the jams with a rousing paean to perfume blogging, a certain fiery femme called March takes advantage of the balcony table to pelt her with foodstuffs. For one nanosecond, this elegant gathering transforms into a scene worthy of CBGBs in the '70s. I attract a well-aimed pellet of March's bread and later tell Ari, "She hit me, and it felt like a kiss!"
Ah, Henri Bendel.
Our new Mecca. Forever after, in the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. JC thrills to the multicolored enamel "oval rivets" bangle bracelets, Glynis gets happy with hair jewels, and Ari speaks for us all when she says, "Headbands? There's HEADBANDS?! Gotta go!"
L'Artisan manager Allison Wirston.
The greatest, grandest sweet-talker since Reno Sweeney! Spraying a black lace fan with Seville a l'Aube, she dances like a flamenco bailaora and very nearly seduces me into springing for Denyse Beaulieu's dreamscent. Alas, my heart is and always shall be with spicier fare like Navegar and Poivre Piquant (a full bottle of which the fabulous Allison gladly packages up for me). Two days later -- thanks to Gaia and Victoria -- the tragic news of Bertrand Duchaufour's terrible decision-making skills hits the 'fumewebs. His collaboration with Gulnara Karimova is not how I want to remember his genius. Allison's joie de vivre is. She's de-lovely.
Kickin' back at Krigler, bumming around at Barneys.
After bidding sweet Ari farewell and sojourning to Duane Reade's in search of quinine water for me (merci a million, Blacknall!) we proceed to the Plaza Hotel. There, Ben Krigler presides over a gem of a boutique, a living temple dedicated to his family's history in haute parfumerie. But despite fine wine and even finer perfumes (for which see this great piece by Blacknall), leaden exhaustion descends upon us all, prompting an exodus to the food court where we collapse en masse into cafe chairs. Blacknall produces a score of samples to keep our noses fresh-- Hilde Soliani, Micallef, Mona di Orio, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Gifted thus with our second wind -- and eschewing a trudge uptown to the despicable Bond No. 9 -- we vote to hoof it over to Barney's and have our minds blown. We are not disappointed!
He went by no other name, and was inherently a man of few words... but I could ascribe numerous flattering adjectives to Barney's Serge Lutens SA: graceful, intuitive, disarming, tactful, and possibly telepathic. Ushering this weary traveler to a seat at a table full of newly-available cloche jars, he deftly dipped and passed me scent strips, pinpointing my truest desires by an almost uncanny process of mindreading (although I'm sure my blissful face betrayed a hint or two). He said little, but accomplished much... and if ever there comes an opportunity to procure a bell jar of De Profundis, to Fifo goes the commission and all my heartfelt thanks.
The finis line.
After parting fondly from Blacknall and Patty, JC, Glynis, and I drive slowly through the city streets, passing costumed ComiCon-ers and late-night hipsters en route to the Lincoln Tunnel. We are tired but ecstatic, laden with loot. What have we discovered? That we've just had the time of our lives... and that next year will bring two more chances to feel exactly this way again!
Deepest thanks to everyone with whom I shared this adventure.