Where I went: Aedes de Venustas

When I was in New York last week, I put together a list of stores I knew that I had to visit, and at the top of the list was the fragrance emporium Aedes de Venustas. When I assembled my one-day itinerary, that was of course my starting point.

The name will be familiar if you read a lot of magazines — well, the sorts of magazines that swoon over exclusive colognes or perfumes, anyway. (Or The New York Times on the right day.) Because it’s referred to so often in such magazines, I already had a vision of what this Mecca of musk, Valhalla of vanilla would be like: very chic and sumptuous, with shelf after shelf stacked with bottles waiting to be sniffed.

My vision included the mistaken idea that the store would open before noon on Saturdays. But when I showed up outside the converted … row house? … I instead was greeted a sign that indicated I had 45 minutes to kill.  I went and had a bagel and watched people wander around in the rain, and listened to the two men next to me discuss their proposed business website.  (“I think every post should have at least two embedded tags.”)

At 12:01, I was outside the door at Aedes, like a junkie looking for a fix. I didn’t really notice that the iron bars inside were only half-raised, so ready to spritz was I, and I tried to open the door without realizing it was the sort of place you needed to, ahem, be buzzed in.  Oh.

Buzz. The man who opened the door couldn’t have been more dismissive — I am sure the “ladies who lunch” present a better spectacle than I did, dressed specifically in clothing that was easy-on, easy-off for the day of clothing shopping ahead. But still. If he could have disdainfully arched that eyebrow any higher, it would have been part of his hairline.

“Sorry,” I said in a tone that indicated that I was not, in fact, sorry. “I wasn’t sure how ‘open’ you were.”

“It’s fine,” he said in a tone that indicated that it was not, in fact, fine, and then swanned out the door, never to be seen again.

Maybe the staff isn’t used to encountering guys who traipse in wearing cargo shorts, but I was given such a wide berth that for quite a while I thought I was alone in the place. It’s not big, but it is concentrated. Lots of scents in that one room, which is swathed and swaddled with fabric in an oppressively luxurious sort of way. For all its opulence, it didn’t feel relaxing, comfortable or particularly welcoming. More like someone’s “Marie Antoinette fantasy” set decoration, in aubergine fabric and chandelier form.

Which, you know what? Is fine — I was there to find a fragrance or two, not to parse the decor.

I’ve always veered toward the unusual scents: Odeur 53 from Comme des Garcons, Eau de Fier by Annick Goutal, Cumming the Fragrance … and I ended up with two more guaranteed to fit into the mix: Passage d’Enfer (“Gates of Hell”) by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Molecule 01. They arrived tonight, and I have already misted the Passage d’Enfer on my arm, which I keep obsessively, surreptitiously sniffing.

Once I was at the counter, the salesman couldn’t have been kinder (although he never got out from behind it the whole time I was there). When I was having the items shipped home, he asked what kind of samples he could throw in, and we had a brief chat about the scents I like.

Me: “Well, I like the more exotic ones” — and then mentally smacking myself in the forehead, because I was standing in a store filled to the hilt with “exotic” fragrances. “And … uh, weird ones.” (We settled on “incense-y.”)

I expected maybe two samples. I got seven, which made me happy in a way that took me back to when I used to have a Kiehl’s lady I loved who would weigh down my sales bag with samples when I would do my semiregular stockups.  (They make it easy to pack for trips!)

And then one day I went in, had a different sales lady and when she was done ringing me up she said:  “And which two samples would you like?”

“I would like the two samples that are actually TWENTY-TWO samples,” I thought, but instead I just took my Creme de Corps and left.

(Kalindi Coggins. That was her name. My friend Ann and I called her “Bird Woman” because she was strangely avian in nature, and she looked like her bones were filled with air. And also because we didn’t like her, because she was stingy with the samples. If we didn’t call her Bird Woman, we referred to her by first and last name, in a British accent [which she does not have, but it is more fun to say “Kalindi Coggins” in a British accent]).

Anyway: Aedes sent me everything from Straight to Heaven by Kilian to Fumerie Turque by Serge Lutens and Bois d’Ombrie by Eau d’Italie, all brands I’ve heard of but never had the opportunity/incentive to try. Plus a few other scents from L’Artisan: Piment Brulant (I think I’m going to start spelling it “philtre,” like they do, instead of “filter”) and … Aedes de Venustas. That’s right: The store has its own fragrance now, which I guess is only fitting.

The next week should smell exquisite.

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