A Perfume Tour of Boston

Courtney takes us on a perfume walk around Boston.

At face value, Boston isn’t exactly a perfume destination. It lacks dedicated perfume boutiques like Aedes in New York or the Scent Bar in LA, and the culture of the city doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the celebration of fragrance (Bostonians have a bit too much Yankee practicality to fritter their energy and thought into perfume). But as a resident, I feel fortunate that I can try out a wide array of luxury and niche fragrances within a few subway stops, and if you find yourself in Boston there’s plenty of perfume to be found if you know where to look.

boston

The best part of the city for sniffing is Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, the center of shopping in Boston, with blocks of boutiques tucked into the brownstones of Newbury Street, as well the Copley Place and Prudential Center malls (adjacent to each other and conveniently joined by a sky bridge so you can shop your way from end to end in the winter without ever having to don your hat and gloves).

My favorite sniffing tour is to start at the far end of the Copley Square mall, near the Back Bay T station, and hit the perfume counters. The first stop is Neiman Marcus (5 Copley Pl, (617) 536-3660), which carries Tom Ford Private Blend, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Atelier Colognes, Hermes, Balenciaga, Houbigant, Annick Goutal, and other brands; their staff tends to be more knowledgeable and helpful than most.

Next in line is Barney’s New York (100 Huntington Ave, (617) 385-3300), which features the Frédéric Malle line (complete with red “telephone booth” style scent chambers to experience the fragrances), as well as Serge Lutens, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Cire Trudon candles, Diptyque, Comme des Garçons, Nasomatto, Les Parfums de Rosine, and Arquiste.

Cross over to the Prudential Center and you have Saks Fifth Avenue (750 Boylston St, (617) 262-8500), which has a spacious perfume section featuring By Kilian, Jo Malone, Guerlain (including the classics and exclusives), Hermès, Diptyque, Bond No 9, and Acqua di Parma, among others. Nearby is Sephora, where you can peruse the latest launches and will have a much easier time getting samples than at the department stores.

On Newbury Street, you can check out the Fresh line of fragrances at its standalone boutique (121 Newbury St, (617) 421-1212). Up the street near the Public Garden is the Chanel boutique where you can try the Exclusifs line (5 Newbury St, (617) 859-0055), and the nearby Hermès boutique on Boylston (320 Boylston St, (617) 482-8707) carries the Hermessences (and Hermès staff are blessedly willing to hand out a couple of their generous sample vials).

Louis Boston, an uber-luxurious clothing and accessory store, recently moved from Newbury Street to Boston’s up and coming Seaport District (60 Northern Ave, (617) 262-6100). If you have time, Louis Boston is worth a visit for the view of the water and a thoughtfully edited selection of fragrances from Santa Maria Novella, L’Artisan, Nasomatto, Boadicea the Victorious, Comme des Garçons, and SoOud.

A much-beloved perfume destination is Colonial Drug, a family-owned drugstore that opened in 1947 in Harvard Square in Cambridge. It has a terrific selection of classic fragrances—a rare brick-and-mortar store where you can pick of a bottle of Jolie Madame or Fracas. It’s an asset to vintage perfume lovers, but I personally find its set-up a bit frustrating, with rows of tempting fragrances tucked into boxes behind the counter, and relatively few testers in reach of customers. In a recent visit to Harvard Square, I realized that Colonial Drug just moved from its longstanding location in Cambridge to the nearby suburb of Newton (360 Watertown Street, Newton, MA 02458, (617) 864-2222), so it will require a longer detour.

If I’ve missed some must-sniff locations in Boston, I’d love to know about them!

Photograph of Boston by runneralan2004 via flickr, some rights reserved.

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32 Comments

  • Sandra: About 10 years ago I lived in Boston in Washington Square. Not perfume related, but I use to love the smell of Athans bakery in Washington square. I use to go and buy a little sweet once evey two weeks.
    Now I am going to go look through my perfume collection for something to wear that is sweet and has some “bakery” like notes.
    Thanks for the article! March 13, 2014 at 8:41am Reply

    • Courtney: Hi Sandra, I don’t make it to Washington Square as much as I’d like but I know that bakery! It’s a gem. I’m curious to know your best choices for bakery notes – Bois Farine sometimes fits the bill for me with its flour note, but other times it just smells like cedar and peanut butter. March 13, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

  • Connie: I live just outside of Boston and go to the Back Bay area frequently for sniffing field trips. Good to see the area get a little attention- it’s such a lovely area to walk around too- though I have to say that the ‘yankee practicality’ card is a bit of an overplayed generalization. I also have never seen the Ateliers at Neiman Marcus and know that Barney’s hasn’t carried the Rosines in over a year. March 13, 2014 at 9:47am Reply

    • Courtney: Hi Connie, thanks for your comment, the Ateliers aren’t displayed prominently at NM, so I sometimes forget they’re there. That’s interesting about the Rosines, I know Barney’s got rid of DelRae but I hadn’t noticed those tasseled bottles disappear. March 13, 2014 at 9:58am Reply

  • Allison: Greetings from Cambridge, MA! I always found Colonial Drug a little odd and, like you, frustrated by the lack of testers readily available. Many years ago, I walked by the store after midnight one evening after being out with friends, and noticed the lights were on. One of the owners was inside getting things organized and she actually let me in! We talked about Caron fragrances and she made me a sample of Caron Rose. That unexpected encounter is one of my favorite scent related memories! March 13, 2014 at 11:01am Reply

    • Courtney: That is a great story.The place is very charming despite being a little odd. I’d like to go check out their new location. March 13, 2014 at 12:54pm Reply

      • maya: I happened upon your site by accident tonight. Where have you been all my life? The Yelp site hasn’t updated the address for Colonial Drug… Great customer service there, including filling my small atomizer (no charge) when I buy fragrance there. Charlestown girl and Fragrantica member. March 17, 2014 at 1:35am Reply

  • Judy: Thank you so much for this post. I moved to Connecticut about two years ago from Los Angeles and am still adjusting to it all.

    I haven’t made it to Boston yet but when I do, I will know where to go. :) March 13, 2014 at 11:09am Reply

    • Courtney: Judy, I imagine this winter isn’t the easiest introduction! I definitely recommend a Boston visit — Back Bay is also a nice place to walk around when you’re sniffed out. March 13, 2014 at 1:00pm Reply

      • Judy: Hi Courtney: Yes, this winter has been brutal. It was snowing again yesterday. Ahhhh, lol. I definitely plan on visiting Boston this spring. I have heard such great things and am looking forward to exploring it.

        I really appreciate all of the recommendations. I have so much perfume..I haven’t bought any in a while and I need my fix. Lol.

        Thanks again! March 14, 2014 at 7:05am Reply

  • Christine Corretti: OMG I’m a Bostonian and a perfume lover. Those are all of my favorite places to shop: Copley, Barney’s; and that’s where I discovered high end fragrances, like Jo Malone, Artisan Perfumes.

    There’s so much going on in the city.
    It’s nice to see an article about us on a site like this. March 13, 2014 at 11:16am Reply

    • Courtney: Thanks Christine! We’re lucky to have all these lines to sample. Although I sometimes worry about wearing out my welcome at the counters, since I definitely drop by to sniff more than I purchase ;) March 13, 2014 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Christine Corretti: Fecility Sweets carries those rare Thymes products. And there are other boutiques that have their own perfumes: i.e. David Yurman’s store in Copley; La Perla Boutique on Boylston Street; the huge Tiffany’s in Copley Place. March 13, 2014 at 11:20am Reply

    • Courtney: Thanks for the tips! March 13, 2014 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Aisha: I have never been to Boston, but I can tell you that I would head right over to Copley Square mall’s Neiman Marcus and make a beeline to their collection of Atelier Colognes. :-)

    Colonial Drug also sounds like a great place to visit.

    Thank you for the suggestions! March 13, 2014 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Taylor: I live in Boston and often frequent both the Barney’s and Saks counters to try new scents and do a bit of perfume research. In my experience I’ve found the Boston Barney’s to be a little less friendly once they realized I wasn’t going to purchase a FB that day. On the other hand Saks was quite welcoming, handing me many samples and chatting with me about various fragrances!

    It’s great to see Boston get a little love! March 13, 2014 at 1:34pm Reply

    • Courtney: Hi Taylor, my experience at both places varies depending on who is working there. Every once and a while I’ll splurge on the Barney’s bag event, so that puts me in good standing! March 13, 2014 at 4:21pm Reply

  • noseknows: Perfumer Neil Morris is in Boston, I believe, but I don’t know if he has a shop, or if his line is carried by any Boston stores. I’ve had samples of some of his perfumes and enjoyed them. March 13, 2014 at 1:47pm Reply

    • Courtney: Ah, thanks for reminding me about this! Apparently his studio is at 221 Massachusetts Ave in the Back Bay area. I have read that you can visit to smell the fragrances or get a custom fragrance made, but by appointment only (617-267-2315 is the listed number). I used to see his fragrances at a shop in Cambridge but it closed a while ago. March 13, 2014 at 2:06pm Reply

  • irem: I used to live in Boston (actually Cambridge, Harvard Square) while Colonial Drug was still at its original location. I am sad to hear that it has moved. While I understand your frustration with the lack of user friendly testers a la Sephora, I think they made up for it with their friendly and knowledgeable service. There was one lady (possibly the owner) who made me several samples of fragrances she wanted me to try while I was looking around. I hadn’t even asked for a sample!
    I was also sad when the Diptyque store on Newbury Street closed. It had a great atmosphere. That was possibly before Barneys opened. I agree that Barneys brought a new dimension to Boston’s perfume scene – you couldn’t find Frederic Malle and the entire Serge Lutens range before. But unfortunately I didn’t find it browser friendly. I think most SAs were interested in their commission rather than the love of fragrance. When I made a purchase they would tolerate all my sniffing around and even offer unsolicited samples. Otherwise, they would make sure to make me feel unwelcome – not that it prevented me from sampling all those fragrances over and over again.
    I would also used to frequent the Bigelow store in Copley Mall. They had L’Artisan, Aqua di Parma and many other lines. That was the store where a SA made me a sample of Profumo by AdP, telling me that it was very little known but very good. It was not even on display, the tester was hidden in a cabinet. I loved that store for its knowledgeable SAs. Since you haven’t mentioned it I assume it has closed too.
    Many thanks for bringing back memories. I really enjoyed your article. March 13, 2014 at 2:05pm Reply

    • Courtney: Walking into that Diptyque store one day was essentially my introduction to niche perfumes! I was sad to see it go. Same with the Bigelow store, it had a nice display that made it easy to sample everything. Yes, it did close a few years ago. March 13, 2014 at 4:26pm Reply

  • Elena: How exciting! I love shopping around there, but now that I haven’t worked for a few years to stay home with my two little girls, I don’t have quite the disposable income I used to and those SAs at places like Barneys can definitely sniff it out. It’s quite silly, because you really never do know when someone is planning to come in for a big purchase, like the FB of Amouage Gold I plan to get my little mitts on! I like the Saks at the Chestnut Hill Mall, too, they were knowledgable and helpful. I have since moved out the ‘burbs so I usually go to Natick and hit up Nordstrom, whose service is very good if not always super knowledgeable. Neiman’s in Natick has a good selection too. March 13, 2014 at 3:07pm Reply

    • Courtney: Hi Elena, I’ve been to the Chestnut Hill Saks before, I remember they had a nice space. I know what you mean about certain SAs — the funny thing is, perfume is just about the only at Barneys that I *can* afford once in a while, at least I’m not going in and trying on all the jewelry! March 14, 2014 at 9:19am Reply

  • Poodle: I’m on the other side of 495 and rarely get to Boston. I do go to Natick and check out Nordstrom’s and Neiman Marcus once in a while. I am going to bookmark this post though so if I ever get brave enough to drive into the city I’ll know where to go. March 13, 2014 at 9:16pm Reply

    • Elena: Poodle, it would seem that we are neighbors! I am also on the dreaded other side of 495, and I like it that way. I have some lovely cows for neighbors, and on the other side, some Belted Galloways (spoiler alert: also cows). I’m with you… I love perfume, clearly, but even a trip to Natick is a bit of a production. March 13, 2014 at 11:18pm Reply

      • Poodle: Hello neighbor! I like this side of 495. Actually I’d love to be even further west than I am. You have Oreo cookie cows for neighbors? That’s fabulous! My neighbors aren’t nearly that interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks driving to certain places is a hassle. If I can’t get there midday on a weekday or early on a Saturday, Natick Mall is out of the question. Parking is truly a production. There are a few good perfumes there though. March 14, 2014 at 5:29am Reply

  • Tony: Thank you for this great post, I’m actually visiting Boston soon. So this was exactly what I needed to read.

    Keep it up!

    http://www.everlastingfragrances.com March 13, 2014 at 11:13pm Reply

  • NikNik: Fellow Boston based perfume lover here. So happy to see that I’m not alone. I feel outnumbered by the soap and water loving New Englanders! We’re so practical!!!

    I’ll add one more great shop: Officina 189 in the North End: http://www.officina189.com. This little shop has amazing unique Italian goods including perfume you can’t find anywhere else in this area (maybe in the country…). Brands are: My Inner Island, Acqua dell’Elba, NOBILE 1942, and La Collina Toscana. Absolutely worth a visit if in the area. March 14, 2014 at 7:29pm Reply

    • NikNik: Sorry, should have mentioned that the owner is a perfume lover himself, and super friendly and helpful. They ship too, if you are not in the area. I selfishly want to get the word out about this great shop so they don’t dissapear!!! March 14, 2014 at 7:56pm Reply

    • maya: Hi NikNik, I’m in Charlestown and in the North End often. Also, a fragranista so I’ll make your recomendation a Spring stop.
      Calling Colonial Drug soon for my “hard to find fragrance.” I’ve always found them very helpful. So turned off by attitude in NM and such… Give me CD any day! March 17, 2014 at 1:28am Reply

    • Patricia: I work near the North End and will definitely take a walk during lunch to visit Officina 189. That is if the weather ever warms up! March 17, 2014 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Nitasha: How fun that you did a Boston fragrance round-up! I live here and am relatively new to the world of niche perfumery (but have quickly become a real nerd). Was so sad about Diptyque and Bigelow and also that Colonial Drug moved out just when I discovered this world!

    I would love to connect with fellow perfume lovers in the Boston area either informally or through a regular fragrant meet-up. Any takers!?

    I recently attended the Christophe Laudamiel event at the French Library and was too carried away smelling the Osmotheque samples to exchange contacts with other attendees.

    Please email me!
    I’m at nitasha dot manchanda at gmail April 8, 2014 at 2:12pm Reply

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