Touring London Perfumeries : A Bonkers Bike Ride

clockwise from top left: patriotic flag over Carnaby Street, Bond Street shops, bike docking station in Soho Square, Vanessa's friend and guide Alberto

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Vanessa Musson, the charmingly eccentric author of Bonkers about Perfume. Vanessa is a freelance market researcher, specialising in industrial products.  She was struck down by “sudden onset perfume mania” relatively late in life, while googling a couple of scents worn by her friend.  As she puts it, “then before you could say ‘Michael Edwards Fragrance Wheel’ my inner researcher was totally hooked, and what began as an intellectual pastime quickly exploded into full-blown ‘fumehedonism’.  Eighteen months later I started my blog, Bonkers about Perfume.  Blending trivia-filled travelogues with a sideways look at the world of fragrance, it subjects everything in its path – from behemoths to Britney – to the same bonkers spin.” Vanessa is taking us on a tour of London’s perfumeries in her guest contribution to Bois de Jasmin.

This long weekend marks The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: London is bedecked with bunting and a packed programme of events is in full swing, including exhibitions, processions, a grand flotilla on the Thames and countless street parties. I was down in London two weeks ago as the preparations were underway, and as my friend Alberto Umbridge and I wandered around the city and admired the exuberant decorations, we decided that it might be fun to cycle between some of my favourite London perfumeries using the free bicycle hire scheme championed by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson.  It turned out to be a great day full of adventures and discoveries, and I would love to share my route with you. I will also include Tube station information for anyone who would prefer a more sedate method of getting around, together with some suggestions of good places to stop along the way for a drink or a bite to eat.

By getting around on a bike rather than taking the Underground you are definitely saving on fares, as well as getting to see some of the quirkier sights of the city just off the beaten track.  I got through four bikes in all, though much of the core area in this part of Central London is walkable.  The “Boris bikes”, as they are jocularly known, are located at docking stations all over the city; for a deposit of just £1 (or $1.50) you can hire as many as you like in the course of 24 hours, as long as you return each bike to any of the several hundred stations within half an hour.

Beyond the initial free 30 minute period, the charge for the next hour is a modest £1, before the costs rise sharply to an eye-watering £50 for 24 hours. Another potential downside is that the traffic can be daunting, and it is hard to navigate and ride at the same time, especially if you are doing so alone.  Moreover, as the main focus of our bike tour was to research the route, it ended up being a little like the perfumery-visiting equivalent of a supermarket trolley dash!  So a visitor would be better off planning for longer pauses between hire periods to allow for leisurely browsing in each store.

Starting point: Euston station

Euston – Endersleigh Square – Gordon Place – Bedford Square – Bailey Street – Percy St – Rathbone Place – Tottenham Court Road – Soho Square

Change bikes at Soho Square.  We carried straight on, but the gardens are a pleasant spot to sit and let the world go by.

Patriotic window display in ribbons shop in Marylebone Lane; Kingly Court

Soho Square - Old Compton St – Berwick Street – Broadwick Street – Carnaby Street – Great Marlborough Street

Change bikes in Great Marlborough Street.  Having dropped off the bike, you could double back on foot to Carnaby Street for a spot of people-watching and a pitstop in Kingly Court, a quiet courtyard with shops and cafés, tucked away behind the main retail arteries of Regent Street and Oxford Street.

Miller Harris boutique; Miller Harris tea room

Great Marlborough Street - Maddox Street – New Bond Street – Bruton Street

Miller Harris (21 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QD. Tube: Green Park)

We dropped Bike No 3 off at the docking station on Bruton Street, diagonally opposite Miller Harris’s Mayfair store, and continued on foot.

Why visit: A wide range of perfumes, fragranced body care products, candles and scented teas.  The in-store tea room is a cross between a top of the range womb and an oasis straight out of The Arabian Nights.

What I did: I scored a sample of the latest release, Le Pamplemousse!  (I know I don’t like grapefruit, but still).  Chatted briefly to the friendly sales assistants who had read my blog.  Cast a longing look at the canisters of tea and ran off.

Ormonde Jayne boutique

Bruton Street - Berkeley Square – Hay Hill – Dover Street* – Stafford Street – Old Bond Street

*Optional stop at one of the many snack bars and restaurants in this district, or at the Comme des Garçons store in Dover Street Market.  The bouncer wouldn’t let me take photographs inside, so I didn’t feel inclined to linger.

Ormonde Jayne (12 The Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4SL.  Tube: Green Park)

Why visit: The Mayfair store we visited is located in the architecturally interesting Royal Arcade.  Ormonde Jayne boasts a small, but well-edited range of perfumes, which I have likened to the fragrance equivalent of a capsule wardrobe.  Like Miller Harris, the line includes fragranced bath oils and candles.  Free chocolates are a very real possibility.

What I did: I glimpsed Linda Pilkington coming out of the arcade, but wasn’t quick enough off the mark to approach her.  The sales assistant assured me she would be back shortly, but I explained about my humorously tight schedule and said I would call back another time.

clockwise from top left: Penhaligon's boutique, Jo Malone with Jimi Hendrix plaque, jams and condiments shop

Old Bond Street – New Bond Street – Brook Street

We carried on up Bond Street, one of the most exclusive shopping districts in London, lined with the boutiques of luxury goods brands such as Chanel and Cartier, Chopard and Chaumet, to name just four beginning with “C”!

Penhaligon’s (20A Brook St, London W1K 5DE.  Tube: Green Park)

Why visit: Penhaligon’s is a quintessentially traditional British perfume house with a modern twist.  Gets the award for the best show of bunting, but my indoor shot was a tad blurry so you will have to take my word for it.

What I did: I ran in, told the charming duo of SAs how much I loved Juniper Sling, and ran out again.

Optional stop at the Jo Malone store opposite, in a building which has the incongruous added curiosity of being the former home of Jimi Hendrix, which in turn is bang next door to the former home of Handel, though I don’t suppose they’d have been in residence at the same time.

St Christopher's Place

Brook Street – South Molton Street – Oxford Street – St Christopher’s Place

Crossing London’s busy (but mostly tourist tat-touting) Oxford Street, we slipped into the relative calm of St Christopher’s Place, another good area for cafés and restaurants.  Popular with office workers and shoppers alike, it affords tantalising glimpses of the retail heaven that is Selfridge’s (see footnote).

Le Labo boutique

St Christopher’s Place – Marylebone Lane – George Street – Marylebone High Street – Devonshire Street

In the quiet back streets of Marylebone we passed a distinctly eclectic mix of shops: Alberto drew my attention to one in Marylebone Lane that only sold buttons, one selling ribbons and trimmings, and another selling nothing but condiments.  This had a small café attached, but sadly no tables free.  So we grabbed a bite at one of the many snack bars in Marylebone High Street, before picking up a final bike for me in George Streetand heading up to Le Labo, our last stop.

Le Labo (28A Devonshire Street, London W1G 6PS.  Tube: Baker Street)

Why visit: With its gleaming metal fixtures and clinically minimalist packaging, Le Labo’s Devonshire Street store is the height of apothecary cool.  Unlike the other perfumeries featured, Le Labo is anything but typically British, however the London City Exclusive, Poivre 23, is uniquely available in the capital.

What I did: I scored a sample of Poivre 23!  Le Labo samples are noted for being rare as hen’s teeth, and this is a career first!  The obliging staff also let me take photos of the sleekly stylish interior, and then it was time to head back to our starting point of Euston, where I caught my train home.

Devonshire St – Great Portland St – Clipstone Street – Marple Street – Tottenham Court Road – Euston Road – Euston Station

So there you have it: four high end perfumeries in half a day, costing just £1 and the knee equivalent of elbow grease.  A big thank you is due to Alberto, my tirelessly patient escort, who helped adjust my bikes, stopped when I wobbled or fell behind – or off! - and waited for me as I scurried around taking pictures.  And still managed to take some photos of his own.  I had a blast and would recommend “getting on your bike” to perfume lovers everywhere.

Note: There are three other stores with fine selections of niche scents which could readily be slotted into this itinerary, two of which we passed close to on our route:

Liberty (Great Marlborough Street, London W1B 5AH.  Tube :Oxford Circus)
Selfridge’s (400 Oxford Street, London W1U 1AB.  Tube: Bond Street)
Les Senteurs (2 Seymour Place, London W1H 7NA.  Tube: Marble Arch)

Photography by Vanessa Musson and by Alberto Umbridge, all rights reserved.

Vanessa and her bike

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34 Comments

  • marsi: My sister and I were just talking about going to London. We tried to plan our trip for this long weekend, but the tickets were soooooo expensive. So thank you for your post. I enjoyed it.

    what do you think of Miller Harris Pamplemousse? June 4, 2012 at 8:23am Reply

    • marsi: P.S. Loved the photos too! June 4, 2012 at 8:23am Reply

      • Vanessa: PS Glad you liked the photos – Alberto and I were pretty “snap happy” on the day – the whole thing about being on a bike is that you spot a lot more of the random trivia of city life. June 4, 2012 at 9:11am Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi marsi,
      I am not surprised London proved too expensive this weekend, but the TV coverage is pretty comprehensive at least for anyone who wants to feel part of events.

      Despite my reservations about grapefruit – and after the initial blast of the note – I rather enjoyed Pamplemousse. It had an interesting herbal twist. I should try it again in fact! June 4, 2012 at 9:10am Reply

      • marsi: I got my hands on a sample of Figue Amere and loved it so much that I ordered a bottle immediately. Now I want to try more perfumes from this brand. I love citrusy colognes and Pamplemousse sounds great. June 4, 2012 at 9:51am Reply

        • Vanessa: Hi marsi,

          Oh well then, Le Pamplemousse sounds as though it has your name on it! My brother (a born again perfumista thanks to me ; – ) ) has a bottle of their Tangerine Vert and I gave him the Citron Citron shower gel. Yes, quite a few citrusy options there. June 4, 2012 at 9:58am Reply

        • Rachel: Marsi, I second Vanessa’s recommendation to try Tangerine Vert. If you love citrusy colognes, you’ll enjoy it too. It’s one of my summer favorites.

          Thank you for a fun post, Vanessa. You’re a great guide! I love Bonkers about Perfume, btw. June 4, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

          • Vanessa: Hi Rachel,

            That’s two Miller Harrises with Marsi’s name on it, then. : – )

            And I am chuffed to hear that you also like Bonkers! June 4, 2012 at 11:50am Reply

            • marsi: Thank you! Ok, I don’t need to be convinced further to try Tangerine Vert. :D

              I just bookmarked your blog, Vanessa. I love your sense of humor. You can be sure that Bonkers will be one of my daily online stops from now on. June 4, 2012 at 3:33pm Reply

              • Vanessa: Hi marsi,

                Why thank you very much! I look forward to seeing you over on Bonkers. : – ) June 4, 2012 at 6:42pm Reply

  • bloody frida: I scanned all the photos to try to find one showing YOU on a bicycle!! What!? No Bonks on Bike pic!?

    Okay, now to read your post! June 4, 2012 at 10:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, good call, Frida! V, where is your photo on a bike? :) June 4, 2012 at 10:56am Reply

    • Vanessa: Alberto did take one of me looking a bit sweaty and surprised at the docking station in Great Marlborough Street. I am happy to say it ended up on the cutting room floor…

      : – ) June 4, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

      • bloody frida: drat! ;) June 10, 2012 at 6:47pm Reply

        • Vanessa: Okay, so I will just check with Alberto that he doesn’t have some other shots in his camera he didn’t forward to me… ; – ) June 10, 2012 at 7:01pm Reply

  • Ari: Two of my favorite perfume bloggers, together at last!! Thank you for this post, V(anessa)- traveling around London is very much on my mind as I help Drew pack for LSE. I am DYING to go to Ormonde Jayne. June 4, 2012 at 11:04am Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Ari,

      Ormonde Jayne is one of my favourite houses – and stores. Do have your Perfume Portrait done when you come, and of course let us know the dates of your trip! June 4, 2012 at 11:43am Reply

  • Jenna: What a treat! You’ve mentioned all of my favourite perfume spots.

    Paul Rothe & Sons is one of the gems of Marylebone. I was there just the other day and walked out with several jars of St. Dalfour jams (Rhapsodie de Fruit Cassis is my favourite)! June 4, 2012 at 11:22am Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Jenna,

      Oh what fun to meet another fan of Paul Rothe! The range of jams alone is mind-blowing, I agree. No problems getting my favourites of gooseberry or rhubarb there, I bet. : – ) June 4, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

  • Gavin: My usual London perfumery walk is as follows (around knightsbridge and belgravia)

    Les Senteurs Elizabeth Street, John Lewis Sloane Square, Parfums du Nicolai Brompton Rd (my favorite), Chanel Boutique Brompton Rd, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Annick Goutal, Amouage. pretty much covers all brands, including some unusual ones like MDCI (in the harrods boutique) and Ormonde Jayne, Jo Malone, large range estee lauder and higher range Givenchy and Hermes (also in Harrods), Knize, Malle and L’etat de libre Orange (les senteurs). Would be great as an alternative/extension of the above. With Liberty added on for Maison Francis Kurdijian you would really have pretty much all of london perfumery covered.

    Selfridges is also great for the Dior (boutique collection), Chanel (les exclusifs plus the original Egoiste) and Guerlain ranges (most comprehensive in London that I have seen) June 4, 2012 at 11:55am Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Gavin,

      That’s an excellent summary of an alternative route, and one I have done portions of on foot in the past (the Harrods/Harvey Nicks/Les Senteurs Belgravia triumvirate, plus whatever boutiques I can fit in around Sloane St & Square – now of course, with added Ormonde Jayne…! There is also Fortnum & Mason en route if one were to stretch that itinerary up to Liberty as you suggest. For the ambience as much as anything – and the Earl Grey tea canisters! June 4, 2012 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Tara: What a wonderful idea! Loved reading about your bonkers bike ride and can’t believe you scored a Le Labo sample! June 4, 2012 at 1:19pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Tara,

      It was quite a coup, though I say it myself : – ) – and Poivre 23 is as lovely as I remembered – Dee is a big fan, I know. June 4, 2012 at 1:24pm Reply

  • MB: I never miss stopping at Floris on Jermyn St. when I’m in London. The Bath Essences are perennial gifts – I always buy extra to have on hand in case a surprise birthday pops up. I LOVED THIS POST TODAY! Thank you, Vanessa, and can’t wait to check out your blog. Waking up to Bois de Jasmin is a guaranteed pleasure and the perfect way to start the day. June 4, 2012 at 1:46pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi MB,

      Thanks for your kind comment and for reminding me of Floris – part of that Piccadilly / Regent Street axis along with Fortnum & Mason. Such a great old building too. I see Floris as another classic English perfumery like Penhaligon’s, though with a more traditional focus perhaps. June 4, 2012 at 6:51pm Reply

  • Robert: Great post! Reading it makes me wish I were in London this weekned. Too bad the weather was such a let down. June 4, 2012 at 4:21pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Robert,

      Thanks! And yes, the weather was a big disappointment compared with last weekend. But that’s what we have come to expect on a British Bank Holiday… ; – ) June 4, 2012 at 6:56pm Reply

  • lovethescents: I ADORE Poive 23. Nothing more to say :-) June 4, 2012 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi lovethescents,

      If I hadn’t actually tried it, the name wouldn’t have drawn me in – a pepper-heavy scent doesn’t sound instantly appealing on the face of it – but the reality is that it is so snuggly and calming. : – ) June 4, 2012 at 6:58pm Reply

      • lovethescents: Totally agree. The same scentiments this way, Veeeee. I kept reading all these reviews so had to try it. SO glad I did! Now to find a decant…. June 4, 2012 at 7:37pm Reply

  • Undina: Vanessa, it’s just perfect! LOVE the idea. I’m not sure I’ll dare London on a bike but I enjoyed reading your report. June 4, 2012 at 8:13pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Undina,

      Having an Alberto in tow was a great boon, I must say! June 4, 2012 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Kaori: Hello, Vanessa,
    Wonderful pictures! I enjoyed the tour and nice cafes. Ormonde Jayne boutique is very chic.

    Kaori June 4, 2012 at 9:41pm Reply

    • Vanessa: Hi Kaori,

      I am glad you liked them, and the tour. Yes, Ormonde Jayne’s boutiques are super stylish. Lots of black reflective surfaces and strategically positioned flowers. : – ) June 5, 2012 at 4:48am Reply

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