Of all the wonderful places to shop in San Francisco for perfume there is one place that holds legendary status among natives of the ant hill by the Golden Gate. Parfumerie Jacqueline has stood on the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Grant Avenue since the early 1970’s and in that time it has garnered a vivid and colorful reputation. I have heard many stories of the formidable owner and his brusque manner with customers. One woman claimed to be rushed out of the store when she mentioned that she bought fragrance on EBay. Over time I was attracted to the store, for the legend goes that it is a treasure trove of sumptuous scents and fabulous fragrances. Simultaneously I grew more and more terrified to enter the lair of the fire breathing dragon of Perfume. I even shared some of my fears with the lovely Natalie of the delightful fume blog “Another Perfume Blog ~too much is just enough”. I called him Mr. Jacqueline and she thought that was a good name since nether of us knew his real name. Further more Natalie encouraged me to bite the bullet and enter where angels fear to flutter even a pin feather of one wing.
Two weeks ago I took my best friend Lane around on a sniffathon and we passed Parfumerie Jacqueline. I told Lane I was afraid to go in the shop for fear of being manhandled in some way or beaned on the head with a giant perfume factice bottle for being unversed in his expertise. On the way back up Geary we passed the store and Mr. Jacqueline was standing just outside the entrance to his shop and glowering at all who passed. I grabbed Lane by the arm and rushed him past the gargoyle by the door. “He looks just the way I imagined he would from Natalie’s description!” I whispered. Then we both laughed at the truth of my statement and sauntered into over to Diptyque where wonderful Madeline showed us some incredible offerings of scent.
Last evening on my way home from work I peeked into the window of “Stacks” a marvelous breakfast only restaurant on Hayes and Octavia in the HayesValley where I live. I have never been inside since it is usually an hour wait to get a table on the weekends. Hat pushed back and nose smushed against the glass, my myopic eyes strained for a view beyond the dark glass. Slowly the place came into focus. It looked so glamorous with huge, I mean Gigantic terra cotta pots in the center of the plush dinning room over flowing nearly to the height of the twenty foot ceiling with flowers. Lovely banquets like an old Hollywood movie around the corner windows. Lush reds and greens and glass objects sparkled everywhere. “Okay Lanier” I thought. “Tomorrow you are getting up at 6:15 and dressing for breakfast at “Stacks”. You will be there promptly at 7am.” By the time I had crossed the street and traversed the half a block to my door I had talked myself into making a day of it with at trip downtown after breakfast to sniff things out. After all we all know the best shopping hours on the weekends are between ten and noon.
Somehow it is very easy to get up early to an alarm clock on a Saturday morning when you have something fun planned. Breakfast was wonderful, that is after they made the second batch. The busboy ran into the waiter at the kitchen pickup window and my blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs were momentarily airborne then ended up making an interesting pattern on the carpet. But that was okay since I had my coffee and my iPad with Quintessentially Perfume open to the chapter on Maison Dorin. (So much to learn there by the way!)
After breakfast I waked across Patricia Green and down the alley past the coffeeholics lined up in front of Blue Bottle and on to the Muni station on Market. I really had no planed route today but I did know I wanted to pick up a bottle of the new men’s perfume Vince Camuto at Macy’s so there was a starting point. My toe was in the water, cue the theme from Jaws, I was now in range of Perfume Jacqueline.
Thrilled as only a perfume addict can be with my new acquisition AND free Vince Camuto duffle bag with purchase to boot I drifted aimlessly out the door and up Stockton Street to Geary. I decided to hop over to Hermes on Grant Avenue to see if they were open. I had never been in and I wanted to smell Un Jardin Sur Le Nil since I had just finished The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr. (Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely is in the mail at this very moment.) I was met with smiles and a very warm welcome my Lydia Ho a lovely sales associate who was well versed on the perfume stock. When I asked if I might smell Sur Le Nil she was most gracious. As she prepared a scent card for me I mentioned Jean Claude Ellena and she smiled knowingly, “Have you read Chandler Burr’s book?” She had me pegged! I tried Un Jardin En Mediterranee as well. Charming Lydia whom I called Linda, OY, sent me off with an arm blast full of Jardin Sur Le Nil and a genuinely kind smile. I am defiantly going back to Hermes. What was my impression of Sur Le Nil? Quick shot, it reminded me of the swimming pools surrounded by exotic flowers that I swam in as a teenager in Southern California.
With my nose lodged in the crook of my arm and again in a fog I wandered back down Grant to Geary. The insistent Jaws theme pumped up here only I couldn’t hear it, I was in too deep. I came too at the window of Jacqueline looking at the fascinating collection of perfume factices filled with colored water. A biting fear chomped into my gut as I entertained the thought of maybe just maybe going in. Fear won out and I turned to flee and nearly ran head on into two blonde women who were most definitely most assuredly going right straight into the jaws of Jacqueline. I thought that if I went in on their wake I might go un-noticed and get to at least look around.
There was a great sucking noise and everything began to swim around the corners of my vision as I entered. There he was! Mr. Jacqueline himself looking rather small behind the counter and yes he was scowling at Les Blondes! I was so utterly unnerved and on the edge of panic when I noticed a shelf of imported soaps. I decided to look them over and listen in on Les Blondes and Mr. Jacqueline’s conversation.
“Can you tell us where Market Street is?” OH DRAT they are tourist and not shopping and he is going to annihilate them! I grabbed a bar of La Toja soap which was attached to two others and made a horrid clattering as it skittered over the glass case. I tried to look like I was studying them as if they were part of the Elizabeth Taylor Jewelry collection. Well I thought, just buy this and get the hell out of here.
I heard the door to the street shut…..Les Blondes had beat it. Then suddenly and most dangerously alone with him I slowly turned just as he said. “Good Afternoon.” He came into focus and he was beaming the most beatific smile I have seen in a long time. He was happy to see me!
“Ummm, Good afternoon. I think I will just get this for now.” I sputtered.
“That sir is an excellent choice. What may I ask is the kind of soap you usually use?”
“Ummm…I can’t remember what it is called but it comes from Italy and it comes in a round tin and it is creamy and lemony and …..I like it.” Was all I could think to say…I was so dumbfounded by his charming manner. Was this a trap; was it the smile of the shark before he bites?
“Oh well here let me show you some soaps I have on order that you might like. This soap, La Toja by the way is from a very old recipe first used by the Romans….” He pulled out a soap catalog and we began to talk.
For the next twenty minutes I learned that his father was American and his mother was French, he was born in Albany New York but grew up in the center the Gallic heart of France. His family didn’t leave France when the Nazi’s came because of German submarines were sinking so many ships to America. He told me that during World War II they made their own soap. I learned what his chores were on the farm in the summer, he milked the cows and cut the hay. He told me that the French would not accept him as French because of his father. He surprised me when he told me he was 82 since he looks so much younger. His wife is THE Jacqueline and she began the store and their two boys went to Berkeley. He was so sweetly eager to tell me his story. I asked him his name.
“My name is Andre.”
I heald out my hand and shook his and told him my name and how pleased I was to meet him. The phone rang and we said our goodbyes.
“Goodbye Andre, I will see you soon.”
So today, a familiar old lesson came up to be learned once again by me. You know what it is so I won’t spell it out. But I will say this. Isn’t it interesting all the doors that are opened by our passion for perfume?
ANDRE of PARFUMERIE JACQUELINE FIVE GOLD STARS *****
ANOTHER PERFUME BLOG: http://anotherperfumeblog.com/