Spending the afternoon with Hilary Randall in the perfume department at Barneys New York ~ San Francisco is like spending the afternoon with Audrey Hepburn. An afternoon of charm, grace, beauty, a bit of a “Charade” in Paris with a little Holly Golightly on the side. It’s love in the afternoon perfume style!
It all began when my best buddy Lane and I were planning an afternoon of lunch n’sniff for this weekend. The Union Square jaunt was centered on picking up the next big ticket on my perfume parade, Les Exclusifs de Chanel Sycomore. The boutique has been out of the travel size for a few weeks so they advised me to call ahead. I had saved up my pennies in anticipation only to hear when I checked in on Friday that it would be another week until it came in. Lane and I agreed not to let this little set back detour our adventure and agreed to meet Saturday morning anyway and make a day of it.
We timed our trip downtown so precisely that we ended up meeting on the M Ocean train on Muni. The plan was lunch first then a bit of perfuming.
“Let’s go to Barneys now and do lunch after” Lane said as we surfaced from the Powell street station into one of those glorious October Saturdays that seem like summer will never melt away into the rains of winter.
“Yes and we can say hi to Hilary” I agreed.
(BARNEYS NEW YORK ~ SAN FRANCISCO)
As we crossed Market Street dogging the Giants fans running amok with the hordes of last minute tourists I recalled that it was only last week that I had popped into Barneys to say hello to Hillary whom I had met last month at the Diptyque Premier of Volutes. She had greeted me so warmly the week before, as if we had known each other since the fall of the French Monarchy at Versailles. In the course of that visit she introduced me to L’Artisan Parfumeur, Arquiste, and Aedes de Venustas. She is so incredibly knowledgeable about perfume and the history of it. All aspects really that she is, simply in my eyes the Muse of Perfume at Barneys. (Everyone that I have met there are expert in their department that is one of the things that makes Barneys so interesting and a pleasure to visit.) As I left that day I was loaded down with a captured cache from a hijacked caravan of exotic niche perfumes. (Reviews forthcoming naturally) When I shared the samples with Lane last week at work he returned them to me with one mysteriously missing. Aleksandr by Arquiste. He had fallen in love with this perfume based on the last day of Aleksandr Pushkin’s life. Russian fumehead, DrBatson’s review at Fragantica even says that it smells like winter in St. Petersburg Russia. Well if that is what winter smells like in St. Petersburg book me a flight!
(THE GRAND STAIRCASE AT BARNEYS)
We entered Barneys and as always were greeted by warm smiles and friendly hellos. As we descended the last steps into the subterranean perfume vault (like a wine cellar, cool with no sunlight to harm the perfumes) we heard our names and turned to see Hillary beautifully dressed as always coming toward us with outstretched arms. I told Hilary about the missing vile of Aleksandr. She laughed and we were off for the next forty minutes on a wonderful tour of the treasures of the fragrance world. We heard the stories of the histories of the various perfumes and the noses behind them. Lane became enamored of Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement’s by Heeley of Paris (Like Worth, another Englishman making good in Paris) That has to be the longest name for a perfume I have every heard.
On the way to L’artisan Parfumeur for my sniff beyond Saville A L’aube (oranges, incense and corn tortillas) we took a side trip for a test of Fredric Malle’s Portrait of a Lady. (Glorious but I am no lady) and in the mix we discussed how Americans love the clean scents and in Europe it is more about diversity and skank. Hilary mentioned that the French have a saying when a fragrance is too clean like fresh laundry. “il n’ya pas de cul.” She said and then translated with “Pardon my French.” At the end. In the 19th century as she told us, it was like this “Good girls wore light florals like orange blossom, and the bad girls wore tuberose and jasmine to cover up how busy they had been with their clients.” I mentioned to Hillary that I like the heavy Orientals, like I said before, I am no lady.
Then it was on to L’Artisan Parfumeur where we revisited Saville A L’Aube. Yes we agree the three of us that there were corn tortillas at the top, the best and freshest in the land. I mentioned that I had heard about Dzing and Hillary smiled with a knowing nod. “Yes a trip to the Circus, sawdust, and leather and even a bit of the animal cages” she said. I loved it…It was a trip to The Pickle Family Circus indeed! Then somehow we ended up at Al Oudh. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Yes I heard bells!
Hilary by now had us loaded with samples just when beautiful Adrienne whom we had also met at the Volutes opening arrived to take her to lunch. We agreed to all take a lunch break and meet back in a few hours.
After lunch and much smelling of wrists over sandwiches Lane and I dropped in to Diptyque to say hello to Madeline and thank her for the invitation to the holiday candle event this Wednesday. Madeline is so much fun to pop in on and always has something new and interesting to show you.
On the way back to Barneys we passed Mr. Jacqueline’s but had no time to stick a head in the door and take a chance on hello. Next time Monsieur Andre. When we reached Barneys I knew it was decision time and it was between the Circus and Sex…Dzing and Al Oudh I tested my wrist and clearly those bells were still ringing off the harnesses of the caravan camel’s carrying the rare and wonderful Al Oudh from the East. Lane was leaning heavily toward the Oranges and Lemons etc. and while Hillary and I agreed that Dzing was for Spring and I bought my bottle of oud scented dreams Lane caved in and bought his Bells of St. Clement’s. Hilary decanted a sample for him. Spritzed him and his Barneys bag then did the same for me. There were hugs all around and a lovely goodbye until we meet again. (And that will be very soon for Hilary has invited Lane and I to a very Special Event next month which my friends will be a secret for the time being. But one hint…. There will be nothing old about this new look coming to San Francisco this November. So stay tuned.)
(WALL OF SCENT AT BARNEYS)
Lane and I ended our day having coffee and croissants in the window of Tout Sweet overlooking Union Square recalling what fun we had on our olfactory adventure. And on the way home as I walked though Patricia Green along Octavia Street I realized that an afternoon with Hillary was even better than spending an afternoon with Audrey Hepburn.