Something smells in the Castro, and it smells wonderful!

Yesterday I picked up my friend and perfume expert extraordinaire Hillary Randal at Barney’s in the early evening to head up Market Street to meet our friend Lane where the rainbow flag flies at the intersection of Castro and Market.

As we waited a few moments for Lane to arrive at the bustling corner in the heart of the City I shared a sniff with Hillary of the Chanel 1932 sample that I had just received from Surrender To Chance. I told her as she spritzed the juice on a perfume card that I had ordered it for my upcoming review of the newest addition to the Exclusifs line at Chanel. Lane arrived just as we came to the same conclusions about 1932. (You will have to wait a bit for my take on 1932) Hugs were exchanged all around and then we were off to the newest and most exciting fragrance venue in San Francisco, ZGO (Zen ~ Garden ~ Oasis) for their event to introduce the newest additions to their perfume line ups.



We arrived just as the party was getting underway. ZGO is on the corner of 19th and Castro. One of the best locations on the street it is in a classic Victorian storefront with 18 foot ceilings and a wall of windows that give the space a lot of light and warmth. As we entered we were greeted by one of our hosts the lovely Gabrielle Walker. She was so sweet and made us feel like welcome guests of honor. Now that is charm! Champagne was in our hands within seconds to refresh us after our trek up from the Muni station.

The shop is filled with the most amazing array of home scents I have ever seen in one location, Candles and diffusers from all around the world. Many of the candles were under large clear bell jars. When you lifted the jar and put it to your nose you could inhale what ever magic had been captured with in the jar. I just loved that!

At the central table we met Mario Gomez who was our olfactory ambassador for the newest arrivals to ZGO from Nez a Nez, Agonist and Nasomatto. Mario and Hillary are fragrance buddies so it was old home week for them. For Lane and I this was our first meeting with Mario.  We had become friends on Facebook recently and he proved to be charming and so very well informed on the lines he was representing. It was a real pleasure meeting him. I was very excited to learn that he is creating his own perfume line. I can’t wait for that to happen.



Mario first showed us the Nez a Nez line and sprayed the perfume from each of the gorgeous bottles on mauve peacock feathers for us to smell. Now that was really fun and a great idea for sampling the perfume. I was most impressed with Ambre a Sade and L’Hetre Reve.  Hillary, Lane and I all agreed that this Parisian house founded in 2010 was a hit with all of us.



Mario then showed us the Swedish perfume house of Agonist. There line is inspired by literature and film from Sweden and that as you know is something I can relate too. Mario explained to us as we delighted our noses that the line is famous for the very beautiful and expensive flacons handmade by glass artist Åsa Jungnelius at Kosta Boda.

But to make the line more accessible to everyone at a reasonable price they are now released in limited editions in simple elegant flacons. I found I really fell in love with the oriental notes of The Infidels. I was swimming in amber, rose, iris, vanilla, myrrh, cumin, patchouli…oh too many notes to go into but it was heaven.

Next up we had lots of fun with the Dutch house of Nasomatto. The flacons are all very masculine in design with the famous top heavy wooden caps. Lane recalled the old wooden caps from English Leather from years ago when he picked up the bottle of Hindu Grass.



“My husband said when he saw these flacons that the tops seemed more important than the bottoms” Hilary told us. “But in the Castro I think the tops and the bottoms are of equal importance” I just adore Hilary’s sense of humor and spontaneity.

I found the Narcotic Venus to be the most interesting. Lane fell under the spell of Hindu Grass and went the full monty and spayed his wrist. For the rest of the evening we three repeatedly smelled Lane’s wrist to enjoy the fascinating progression from musty basement to freshly worked garden soil. It is a rather avant-guarde perfume and lots of fun in the context of an event like this. It certainly kept us entertained.

There were also other perfumes to explore as well. Wall after wall of the most incredible candles met us at every turn, everything from Aquiesse to Modern Alchemy  Nest and Voluspa and Votivo.  Too many to mention here but I must tell you that the prices are amazing! You can find the candle of your dreams at ZGO at the most reasonable prices I have ever seen ranging from $8 and up. ZGO will be my go to shop for candles from now on. Brilliant presentations and a wonderful selection is what ZGO is all about.


As we made our way around the store more people joined us in the olfactory adventure and it became quite festive. Hillary pointed out that the Castro was the perfect place for ZGO to be because in that neighborhood beauty in all things is appreciated and celebrated. Lane found the Histoires de Parfums display and we really had fun with the martini glass shaped bell jars as we sampled this most interesting house. There were wonderful candles and perfumes from Comme Des Garsons Insense 3 series as well as the perfumes and candles from the #2 and Monocle lines from the house.  And they carry a very large selection of Diptyque as well. By this point I was getting a little light headed.

The big treat for me was to find the Amouage perfumes and to get the chance to see the incredibly beautiful flacons in person and to smell them for the first time. Lane found them to be exquisitely designed and I was surprised that my friend who is all about Chanel Sycomore as his signature scent enjoyed the seductive rich and complex aromas from Oman. But then he has a great nose and does appreciate a beautiful perfume whether or not it is one he would wear. He is so much fun to have along on a perfume sniff.  I sampled them all as Hilary placed each bell jar to my nose. Upon smelling Opus VI I fell into a vat of pure desire for this lush exotic oud perfume.

The evening shifted into full party mode as tray after tray of the most scrumptious sushi came out followed by delightful little cupcakes of every description and flavor. At this point we met one of the owners of ZGO, Claude Gratianne. Tall, handsome and delightful Claude told us a bit about the history of his shop that he and his partner Tani Kampakum  founded. It has only been in the Castro for a short time and began as a candle venture online followed by a shop in the Hayes Valley.   Today in their beautiful new location they are expanding into the world of perfume. Claude is very excited about the new world that perfume is opening up to he and his partner, the store and his clients. He is looking forward to adding even more perfume houses to his stock.  We talked about how important his ongoing online business is as an intrical part of the brick and mortar shop. It makes ZGO and its wonders of scent available to everyone who cannot make the trip to San Francisco. Now that is exciting isn’t it?

Claude Gratianne


(Photo from ZGO Facebook page…I forgot to take his picture!..three glasses of champagne. Oh well!)

As the evening wore down, Lane, Hillary and I bid our gracious hosts Gabriell, Tani and Claude and Mario a reluctant goodnight with much thanks and a promise to return. As we headed into the night in our respective layered clouds of perfume and stuffed with sushi and cupcakes we all agreed that ZGO is a much needed and unique addition to the olfactory scene in San Francisco. New York has Min, Los Angeles has The Scent Bar and we here in San Francisco now have the fabulous ZGO.

For more information AND online shopping  please visit ZGO’s website: http://www.zgostore.com/


600 Castro Street

San Francisco, CA. 94114

Phone: (415) 692-6511

Toll free: 1.888.789.4753

Store hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 7pm

Sunday 11am – 6pm


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