Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Adventures In Scent At 4160 Tuesdays: Day 1, The Magnificent Wall Of Wonders

Last weekend I ventured to London to visit my first real life perfumery, the multi-coloured abode of indie brand 4160 Tuesdays.

I was familiar with 4160 Tuesdays after featuring it’s (more or less) self taught perfumer, Sarah McCartney in a feature exploring the spirit of British perfumery last summer. You can read it by clicking here.

I was primarily visiting to attend a Saturday workshop on the chypre genre, but Sarah kindly allowed me to call in the day prior to have a nosey around with my camera.  I fully intended to shoot a fantastic batch of photos, with my best camera in hand (rather than my ‘travelling light’ camera phone) that would beautifully illustrate the nature of a perfumery - a pictorial treat for my readers. What actually happened was this:

I arrived, we had a fine natter on her mum’s vintage sofa over some top notch coffee, said hello to her assistant Agnieszka who was urgently bottling by hand and then I was let loose upstairs.

I was immediately faced with ‘The Wall of Scent’.

A small section of the wall featuring citrus and Vanilla scents

Imagine that you are faced with EVERY scent that you’ve heard about but never tried, the vintage mythical ‘scent unicorns’ that have long since been discontinued, those which you have curiously stalked on ebay and never quite got round to blind buying, the hoards of rare bottles that you found in a scent shop in Mallorca but couldn’t spend enough time with because your partner had started sighing with boredom half an hour ago, the historical wonders that Turin and Sanchez raved about. It was all there.

The top shelf of the vintage section (there is a huge cabinet full underneath that I forget to photograph in my state of shock, my journalistic abilities having been smacked in the face after confrontation with YSL's In Love Again.

I dumped my camera on the floor and stuck my greedy hands into the vintage section of the wall, in fact a sliding glass windowed cabinet. Had it not slid smoothly I’d likely have smashed it with my bare hands. I lost my ability to speak and made a sort of whispery “unnnhh” as I picked up a perfectly preserved bottle of Givenchy lll. Close by sat a teeny bottle of Schiaparelli’s Shocking “wooah”, Dior’s original Eau Suavage “wow” and Houbigant’s Chantilly “ooohee”. It was difficult to allot a proper sniff at these grand elderly ladies and gentlemen because I was transfixed by what was behind them – very old Guerlain boxes. You’ll recognise the squiggly geometric lines in the picture. But take a closer look and regard the misty blue box, yup, 1930s L’Heure Bleue! You’d imagine that by now it would be reduced to the scent of nail varnish but this Goliath bottle was unsealed by Sarah herself and smelt like L’Heure Bleue on steroids, an enormous wet vat of history, perfectly preserved. Shockingly, her 1930s bottle of Mitsouko EDT smelt almost identical to today’s formulation, who’d have thought it?

Sarah McCartney pictured with her beloved treasure - L' Heure Bleue

Also nestling among the mythical Guerlains was a beautiful blue crystal flacon of Guet Apens, the impossibly rare discontinued chypre that brings unfeasible amounts of moolah on Ebay.

Somewhere around the time that I saw the Guet Apens, I became overwhelmingly hot and had to de-robe. My cardigan and silk scarf were thrown to join my forgotten camera on the floor and a sip of water allowed me to continue.

Atop of the vintage section was a little tray of samples, recognisably 4160 Tuesdays, some with names that I had not heard of. I enquired about ‘A midsummer Night’s Breeze’.

“What’s this Sarah?”

“Oh, it failed IFRA completely. You can have it.”

Stunned and grateful, I took a whiff and pocketed the little bottle of the distinctly ‘breezy’ and outdoorsy scent. My feelings of excitement were more than the fume junkie’s standard “I’ve got perfume, woohoo!”. They were increased by the fact that I had been gifted a unique scent that violated IFRA regulations ‘completely’.  This made me happy.

Although there are many delightful reasons to sign up for a day of making perfume at 4160 Tuesdays, massively violating IFRA is one of the most seductive. As Sarah said, IFRA allow just a minuscule 0.07% concentration of Oakmoss to be included in a scent. This is because 1 to 3% of perfume users develop (get ready to be worried), eeek, a rash! As Oakmoss is the essential base to what we know as a chypre perfume, this restriction is a bore. But if you are making it for your personal use, you can include as much as you damn well like. I discovered that I can apply a whopping 20% concentration of Oakmoss on my skin without it giving me a rash/the plague.
Oakmoss, apparently dangerous enough you a slight rash

After spending around an hour ogling the vintage section of The Wall Of Scent, I pondered how much of the rest of it I wouldn’t experience on that day. There’s simply too much to take in. I estimate that I smelt about 1/8th of the collection. I wasn’t concerned that I’d miss out on smelling plentiful bottles of niche brands, that’s an easily possible activity that you can undertake at Les Senteurs, Bloom and Roullier White. For me, the ‘must smells’ were the recent and ancient popular scents that we simply can’t test anywhere because they are not currently stocked in mainstream department stores or indie shops, such as Laura Biagotti’s Roma or the Lagerfeld Kapsule scents. 

Sarah offers afternoon group sessions to explore The Wall of Scent, priced at £60. This includes your choice of a 30ml bottle of 4160 Tuesday’s scent (worth £40), a guided tour through the various genres and notes, leisurely sniffing and the devoted camaraderie of other obsessive fumies. This is all topped off with a glass of fizz and cakes whilst lounging around on some funky vintage sofas.

Who would I recommend it for?

Newbies can learn a great deal about the history of scent and gain a clear idea of their personal preferences. They’ll get chance to do this in a friendly, relaxed environment without the pressure of sales assistants. Hardcore fumies will get to see and smell some scents that they’ve only heard and read about and may experience dizziness and a sense of euphoria. They’ll probably make an enormous list of things to buy on Ebay. Vintage fans will possibly offer up prayers to the ancient perfume gods and weep quietly into their Liberty print handkerchiefs in admiration.

A report on day 2 of my scent adventure will be posted later this week where I’ll be discussing Saturday’s adventures in creating my own chypre. I apologise for my rubbish photographs, as you can imagine, I was distracted!

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  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this very well written and entertaining account of your experience.

    1. May I say how much I like your name, Angela...;)

    2. Thanks Angela, I was rather overcome! Is this Angela from the chypre day? If so, hello, I haven't forgot you all. I am going to send a link once I've written part 2. I agree with Vanessa, fabulous user name..

  2. Hilarious account of what sounds like an olfactory experience to remember. Love the fact that the IFRA ban added to the appeal of your perfume gift. I first read your post last night, which prompted a mad, surreal dream about you and the other Sarah - which would make a whole other post in its own right!

    1. Oh.. do blog the dream! I hope we were riding across a sea of oakmoss on huge aquatic motorbikes, or swinging through a dense jungle of tropical whiffs with extended monkey arms.

  3. I am swimming the Atlantic to get their! Did you have a nose- gasm? I think I would have fainted. You could bring me around with a huffle of a vintage Guerlain instead of the smelling salts....

    1. Hi Katy, yes, it was a complete nose-gasm. I became overly hot and shaky. Just the boxes made me quake even before a sniff..