The first post this new year, a year that certainly brings much newness already from the start. At the end of 2013 I quit my job and decided to be my own boss for a while, for the first time in my life in fact. So now I am a freelance communications consultant dividing my time between PR strategy, media relations, social media curation, teaching and copywriting – and my perfume passion and all the different kinds of great projects that brings my way. To inaugurate this new phase in life I wanted to do something inspiring, dynamic and new. This in my case often means travel. I decided to go somewhere relatively far and new where I would not only discover all kinds of new things but also meet people that inspire me and learn things related to my chosen path(s). The answer was: Chicago.
Jumping from the intensity of the last weeks at work into the new life didn’t allow me to spend as much time on research as I normally like to so I got on a plane to cross the Atlantic with fairly abstract expectations I must admit. I did know that I would meet a super-cool intelligent warm inspiring person, Tara Swords, founder of Olfactif. I knew I would discover a real big city with diversity and more new streets than I would even have enough time to think about let alone discover. I knew there would be many traces of Polish immigrants and great art. I had no idea what Chicago would like to smell or smell like. As a destination for an Inspiration & Scent trip it felt somewhat unusual.
I brought three fragrances with me for comfort and conversation. Two that I have made, and one that was a gift to me.
On my first day things instantly got off to a great start. I went to Barneys and discovered a brave inspiring selection of perfumes. Who ever chooses which brands to sell there is doing an amazing job. A lot of niche, both well-known and more unusual. A premium inspirational treat for customers looking for a new fragrance.
And it got even better when we met Dinara, responsible for Editions de Frédéric Malle. A super-pro, with an abundance of charisma, charm and knowledge. Thanks to Dinara we found out that Frédéric Malle himself would be coming for a special event my last evening in Chicago. This perfume house is a favorite of mine and I was really happy to meet Mr Malle who turned out to be a very stringent and refreshingly direct (Dutch amounts of directness even) man with a great sense of sharp intellectual humor.
As I mentioned, Chicago is where the world’s first niche perfume subscription service, Olfactif, has its headquarters. I had the great pleasure of spending some time with its founder Tara Swords, both learning more about her business and discovering the scents of Chicago together. (Some of you might remember where this conversation started… I am looking forward to it continuing for a long long time.)
I had a unique opportunity to have a closer look at how Olfactif works, on scene and behind the scenes, and I can assure you, this company is a product of a lot of passion for fragrance, a genuine respect for both perfumers and perfumistas and a lot lot lot of hard work. Unfortunately, there is no European Olfactif yet but for those of you lucky to be based in the US, I suggest having a look. An Olfactif subscription is an easy and inspiring way to discover niche fragrances, some from well-established brands like L’Artisan Parfumeur and some from indie small-scale perfumers that make super-interesting work. Every month the selection is curated around a theme and you get loads of bonus info on the perfumer and the perfume in a way that really distinguishes Olfactif. Yes, I love this business idea and how its done – and I have discovered some really interesting perfumers though it for example Josh Meyer (perhaps you remember my tennis romance with Soft Lawn?) and Neela Vermeire. Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling was definetely one of my olfactory highlights last year.
From what I was able to see, Chicago does not have any well-known niche perfume store. However, Barney’s definitely caters to the needs of most niche perfume aficionados. And then there are some true hidden gems, such as Merz Apothecary. They had me at their typography, I admit.
I am so confused and delighted (mixed, shaken and stirred) that there is this place that sells cough drops and Santa Maria Novella and D.S & Durga and 4711 and a thousand liquids for any medical inconvenience you could ever imagine. And Fa shower cream? (That would be where some confusion kicks in).
One windy day we made a short stop at Sephora where I found these two Atelier Cologne miniatures (why do we do not see more miniatures? So practical. Especially for me when doing consultations…) and got some Tom Ford samples (Noir – love the dry down) and some from a new (?) brand called Tokyo Milk.
Naturally, scents are not only found in perfume stores and I am happy to say Chicago offered a wealth of olfactive impression in many other places. I quickly became addicted to David’s Tea in Lincoln Park and fell in love with the vegetable selection at Eataly. Not to mention my local Whole Foods where I also found this great yoga balm. (Who would guess badger and great smell would come as one?).
Chicago is indeed a great art city and among the highlights were a day at the Art Institute and Chicago Cultural Center. The Art Institute impressed and amazed me not only with its extensive exquisite collections, but also the way the space is designed. Immaculate lightning, great air, spacious and very well-written information and enthusiastic staff – details that matter more than we consciously might contemplate.
What can I say? I hope to be back soon.