Summer is the season for the senses, especially the olfactory kind. Every time I visit Europe—as a globe-trotting percussionist and a compulsive fragrance aficionado—I’m struck by how the season is a riot of fragrances. And true to Persian mystic Rumi’s words, eshq buye moshk daarad (love bears the fragrance of musk), I let the scents romance my senses. To me the enigma of each land is unveiled by its perfumes and, on a recent performance tour, I discovered three of Europe’s bespoke perfumeries, which offered me a bouquet of
citrus and floral day notes, with nocturnal woody and deep animatic overtures.
Frau Tonis Parfums, Berlin
Cycling from former East Berlin to the West, I couldn’t resist the words ‘parfum’ in bold outside a quaint façade close to the historic Checkpoint Charlie. At Germany’s famed Frau Tonis perfumery, I was welcomed by the charming lady ‘nose’, owner Stefanie Hanssen. The minimalistic décor was instant calm from the scorching heat. After an informal nosing of elegant citrus and floral samples, it was time for a perfume workshop by Helen Schramm, another expert. Through a detailed sampling of varied fragrances—paired with a sparkling Italian Prosecco frizzante, fruit platter and Grissini bread sticks—she helped me chose my individual fragrance. Frau Tonis boasts bespoke, nostalgia-based fragrances. No wonder the eccentric raspberry and licorice, No 37 Violet—reminiscent of the flamboyance of Berlin’s 20s nightlife—enamoured yesteryear German starlet Marlene Dietrich. My afternoon there created a sweet-woody scent, reminiscent of the moonlit Mediterranean soirées of Lebanese songstress Fairuz. “Fragrances have the magic to transport you back eons in just a whiff,” Hanssen explained. With oud, my leitmotif ingredient, and amber and tobacco, my new scent coincidentally resembled Frau Tonis’ one-of-its-kind Oriental classic, the signature Oud Weiss, a bouquet of bergamot and sandalwood, with the gentle caress of incense.
In Fine, Antwerp
My student, and French perfume expert, Eric Anton gave me a pleasant surprise. He guided me through Antwerp’s cobbled labyrinths, to the chic In Fine Perfumery, by legendary French nose Jean Patout. There I was welcomed by parfumeuse, Myriam Nussbaum, with a warm ‘bonjour’ and a flute of champagne. Patout’s fragrances are marked as much by the French flamboyance as by sensual emotionality. True to its motto, Parfums Personnalité or designing personality-based bespoke fragrances, has been In Fine’s forte since its inception in France, in 1979. My Matinée Parfumée session began with cheesy hors d’oeuvres and pastries, before moving on to the degustation de parfum (perfume tasting). After my first round of ‘nosing’—smelling an eclectic variety of unlabelled fragrances—I refined my search by choosing from what I’d liked initially, but with my eyes closed. After testing a few scents on my wrist, to see how they reacted with my body’s temperature, we found my fragrance—a musky, woody Zanzibar 95. Bottling it, the parfumeuse commented on my personality: “You like to delve into the very depth of a matter until you have complete clarity.” Spot on!
Santa Maria Nouvella, Florence
I completed my search for fragrances in Italy’s art capital, at the 400-year-old Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Housed in a heritage building with a Florentine sandstone doorway, the medieval art on the walls complimented the classicism of the aromas treasured within. Here I was bestowed an unexpected honour. My Sicilian violinist friend presented me the Acqua Colonia 1612—with notes of rose carried forward by zesty cardamom and clove—one of just 100 limited edition of fragrances created to commemorate their 400th grand anniversary a few years ago. Santa Maria Nouvella’s masterpieces reflect nose Eugenio Alphandery’s genius, with modernism merging with classicism (many from their famed collection of 44 ‘Acqua di Colonia’ are ancient fragrances). Although individual workshops are not a part of their culture, the sheer variety of dazzling essences and scents will ultimately contain ‘the one’. Also check out their range of soaps, liqueurs, foods and even cosmetics for pets.The writer is a Mumbai-based Carnatic performer and composer.
Text: Krishnaraj Iyengar