Scents and Sensibility

Mallory Passuite

Like its cousins in the City's style industry—apparel, cosmetics and accessories—perfume is big business in New York. Some brands, like Chanel No. 5, are legendary; others, like Diptyque's Eau de Lierre, are lesser known but, to the discerning few who've made the scent their signature, no less lovely. "We forget that our most evolutionarily primitive, viscerally powerful sense is smell," says Chandler Burr, former New York Times perfume critic and curator of the Museum of Arts and Design's first-ever olfactory exhibition, which ended its run earlier this year. "A beautiful scent entrances us like nothing we might ever see."

New York offers a range of scent-related shopping experiences unlike any other place on earth. In this slideshow, we present a few of the City's most luxurious fragrance boutiques—including NoLIta's pocket of parfumeries, Santa Maria Novella, Diptyque and Le Labo; Frédéric Malle's chic uptown boutique, which bottles an ode to designer Dries Van Noten; plus a perfumer in Brooklyn who antithetically named his store (and line) I Hate Perfume. Burr, who knows his way around NYC's fragrance purveyors, offers the following advice for those on the hunt: "Remember that you are only shopping for perfumes in the way that you are shopping in the City's art galleries for paintings: you may buy, you may not. What you are doing is not acquiring but experiencing and learning works in an art medium that, as with so many other works of art, are only available here in New York."

Courtesy, Frédéric Malle

Frédéric Malle
898 Madison Ave., Upper East Side, 212-249-7941
A self-proclaimed "Editeur de Parfums," Frédéric Malle was born into a fragrant family (his grandfather founded Parfums Christian Dior; his mother was an art director there, working on scents like Eau Sauvage and Poison). Malle worked as a perfume consultant in Paris before founding his own brand in 2000. At his boutique, shoppers can discover scents like Dominique Ropion's Portrait of a Lady, which smells of Turkish rose with traces of cinnamon, patchouli, musk and frankincense. Last spring, Malle launched a new series of "portrait" perfumes. The first, an ode to celebrated Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten, features lemon, sandalwood, jasmine, saffron and vanilla. Malle's Upper East Side store is the brand's only location outside Paris (though the line is available at select retailers like Aedes de Venustas and Barneys New York).

Photo: Julio Gaggia

Aedes de Venustas
9 Christopher St., West Village,212-206-8674
The decor in this "temple of beauty"—the English translation of the shop's Latin name—includes a chandelier; plush, plum-colored carpeting; and hundreds of roses, pink and white, arranged in lush bouquets and floating in bowls of water. The store's scents are equally luxurious. Aedes recently released Iris Nazarena, its second house fragrance. For this scent, the store's founders, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner, partnered with German perfumer Ralf Schwieger to evoke the essence of the root of a rare iris flower. The result is a powdery perfume, suitable for both men and women, with hints of clove and rose, as well as touches of patchouli and smoky vetiver. Other brands sold here range from newer, independent lines like The Different Company (created in part by the team behind commercially successful scents for Hermès and Cartier) to select lines from fashion houses like Comme des Garcons and older heritage offerings like candles by Cire Trudon. The latter was founded in Paris in 1643 and was reportedly favored by Louis XIV and by Marie Antoinette. It's no surprise to learn that Sofia Coppola lit Cire Trudon candles on the set of her 2006 film starring Kirsten Dunst as infamous queen of France.

Courtesy, LAFCO

Santa Maria Novella
285 Lafayette St., NoLIta, 212-925-0001
Like Cire Trudon, Santa Maria Novella is rich with history. This line of perfumes and beauty products comes from one of the world's oldest pharmacies, founded in 1221 in Florence by Dominican friars who hand-mixed herbal remedies. The store's wrought-iron gates seem to be a nod to the past and lead shoppers into a large, airy, well-appointed space. LAFCO New York is the exclusive distributor of Santa Maria Novella products; the company continues to produce its wares in Florence using traditional recipes and standards. Refreshing rose water—a purifying remedy from the days of Dante, according to—and the spicy potpourri (still crafted by hand in terra-cotta vats using local plants) are among the brand's most popular offerings, as are honeysuckle and lily of the valley colognes.

Courtesy, MiN New York

117 Crosby St., SoHo, 212-206-6366
MiN's black floors, lush leather couches and wooden library shelves all add up to a warm, welcoming aesthetic that complements the shop's wares. The store is filled with intriguing scents, like Etat Libre d'Orange's surprisingly fresh Jasmin et Cigarettes (jasmine, tobacco, hay, apricot, cedarwood, amber, musk and tonka bean) and Kerosene, a line by the Detroit-based mechanic and self-taught perfumer John Pegg, who makes everything by hand—from the perfumes themselves to the metal bottles they come in. MiN also carries a selection of high-end shaving products for men and drip candlesticks in black and white. They have several samples of the latter burning in the store. Eventually, as one salesperson pointed out, the wax drippings completely encase the candlestick holders.

Courtesy, Diptyque

242 Mott St., NoLIta, 646-861-2961
Diptyque is a French company that was started in the '60s and is widely known today for its elegant candles and perfumes. Chandler Burr calls the brand "one of the single most beautiful niche collections in the world" and suggests trying Eau de Lierre (described as the scent of "the quest for freedom and unfettered verdant expression so typical of English gardens") and L'Eau de Tarocco (which, according to Diptyque, smells like the Mediterranean in winter and fresh-picked fruit). In addition to the new Mott Street address, there are two more Diptyque locations in NYC: one in the West Village (377 Bleecker St.) and another on the Upper East Side (971 Madison Ave.).

Photo: Eddie Roschy

Le Labo
233 Elizabeth St., NoLIta, 212-219-2230
Immediately upon entering Le Labo (française pour "The Lab"), the brand's apothecary-style point of view is clear. A large glass beaker on the counter contains a swirling liquid tornado, and sales staff in white lab coats stand by to offer assistance. Perfumes line the opposite wall; the fragrances are all named and numbered by base scent and note count. (Perfumers categorize the notes of a single fragrance into three categories: base, middle and top.) Santal 33, for example, is a popular sandalwood fragrance, with 33 notes. Le Labo also has City-exclusive scents; the New York store is the only location that offers Tuberose 40. After you've selected a scent, your bottle of perfume is mixed individually, and the label is customized with your name (or the name of whomever you choose) and the date it was mixed.

Courtesy, CB I Hate Perfume

CB I Hate Perfume
93 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg, 718-384-6890
Similar to Le Labo, the curiously named CB I Hate Perfume produces unique scents by hand in small batches. The brand's founder, Christopher Brosius (formerly of fragrance brand Demeter), has said his inspiration for the line came from his time as a taxi driver. Women would get into his cab, having drenched themselves in offensively strong aromas, though he always thought "perfume should be elegant and alluring." So he set about fixing that problem. His line has included fragrances Burning Leaves, I Am A Dandelion and At The Beach, 1966. The playful contrarian has even done a celebrity fragrance, 2nd (Alan) Cumming. A tribute to actor Alan Cumming, the scent contains the following notes: bergamot, black pepper, scotch pine, malt whiskey, cigar, heather, Douglas fir, rubber, worn leather, Highland mud, burnt rubber, peat fire and white truffle. In a word: manly. (Watch the intentionally hilarious, semi-NSFW commercial for the original launch of the scent on YouTube.)

Courtesy, Bond No. 9

Bond No. 9
9 Bond St., NoHo, 212-228-1732
This famed fragrance purveyor's flagship location is right in its name—9 Bond St. in Manhattan. The brand is known for its NYC–themed perfumes, including scents like Park Avenue, Riverside Drive and Central Park West. One recent addition is High Line, which, according to, smells of "wildflowers, green grasses…and urban renewal," with hints of Indian rhubarb, tulip and bur oak. In addition to the flagship location on Bond, there are three additional locations in the City: in the West Village (399 Bleecker St.), on the Upper East Side (897 Madison Ave.) and in the Meatpacking District (863 Washington St.).