Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hidden Gems: Little Pleasures From Two Sides Of The Globe

Or: Thinking Outside The Mall

Fall is here in all its glory. It's the perfect season to go out of the City, take a drive somewhere pretty and discover something new.

When my friend Helg from Perfume Shrine and I first started discussing the idea of writing about our favorite "hidden gems", the focus, naturally, was perfume. But we soon realized that we wanted to do something a bit different, to bring a little local and seasonal color (after all, Helg hails from Greece while I come from the New York Metro area). We both have interests that go beyond the bottle but fall under the lifestyle/culture category, and besides: so many of our readers are fragrance enthusiasts and have searched the globe for fabulous scents. It'd be hard to surprise you.

The list offers a little of everything, a local flavor and some fun suggestions. I'd love to hear from you about your favorite hidden gems, regional or other. Please share them in the comments.

Makeup: Alison Raffaele
There are many lines by famous makeup artists and Alison Raffaele is among the very best. Her previous range, Skin By Alison Raffaele, has sadly been discontinued (though still available on the web site under "Last Looks"), and her new products focus on a perfect complexions. If you can find a makeup artist who works with her products you're in for a treat. There's a store locator on the site, and it's worth checking so you can go in person and find your match. I'm Skin Tone #3.

The veteran fragrance affictionados might yawn here, because you've smelled it all before. Still, I'd like to mention a few items that deserve a little more attention, and also a local creative nose that makes perfumes that smell like nothing else.

L'Occitane tend to put all their marketing money on the new releases and the snazzy bottles (sadly, I'm not a fan of any of those), but there are a couple of older very well done scents. Amber is a beautifully balanced, satisfying yet transparent sweet amber, while Eau D'Iparie is a unisex myrrh and incense combo that doesn't smell like anything you'd expect to find at the mall. The best part? Both come in travel o.68 oz bottles (20 ml) for $17.

Sonia Rykiel has a couple of my favorite fashion designer perfumes. Le Parfum (look for the EDP version) is a cozy, rich scent, an oriental with a classic feel and an almost chypery kick (though there's no oakmoss listed). Easy to find online, and if you're in Europe also in stores. Rykiel Woman (also known as Not For Men!) is about leather, incense and cozy cashmere. It's lovely and very wearable while differing greatly from mainstream and designer fragrances.

Tiffany EDP is only available at the jewelry store. It's a sweet floriental, a bit big around the shoulders and quite luxurious. It's one of my personal staples and has been so for years. A perfect date scent.

From the "(almost) only in Paris" department, here's a little-known gem: Memo is a French line featuring four perfumes that are supposed to evoke exotic destinations. The store also offers home fragrance and a bath & body line, all are very pretty. My favorite is Lalibela, a very dark rose with a lot of incense. It's so goth you'll find yourself reaching for the black nail polish (a review coming soon). Available in Paris and Harvey Nichols in the UK.

CB I Hate Perfume is not exactly news for the perfume enthusiasts community ("crazy perfume people" to the rest of the world). But if you haven't begun sniffing outside Sephora or the regular department stores, there's a good chance you've never heard of Christopher Brosius and his transcendental creations. They are small journeys in a bottle, designed to touch your memories and emotions. If you're visiting NYC, a detour to Williamsburg is highly recommended for the food, fashion and to visit CB's gallery (93 Wythe Avenue Williamsburg Brooklyn, between North 10th and North 11th). It's the only location where you can get not just the perfumes, but also his special accords, many more than what you see on the web site (I think I need the Soap-Tabac).

Jewelry: Tilly Bloom
A Brooklyn artist that makes fun, quirky jewelry with a vintage feel and a sense of humor. I fell in love with her t-shirts.

Household Products: Caldrea
Making housework into an (almost) aromatherapy session. The lavender-pine line is especially wonderful. A countertop cleanser that smells luxurious can sometimes make my day.

TV Show: Pushing Daisies
It's probably the best show you don't watch. A little fantasy (a guy who can wake the dead), a little love story (the girl whom he brought back from the other side) and the occasional murder mystery. Beautifully filmed, the colors and frames are very retro, as is the fashion. And occasionally, you'll hear Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene sing.

Old Movie: Cactus Flower
Ingrid Bergman, Walter Matthau and heartbreakingly young Goldie Hawn. A joy to watch.

Book: The Lost Legends Of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken
Coming of age in Suburban New Jersey of the late 70s-early 80s. You don't need to be from the Tri-State area to enjoy this sensitive story. One of my all-time favorites.

Restaurant: 4coursevegan
I know vegan food has a bad rap. You immediately think of weird textures and lacking flavors. This couldn't be further from Chef Matteo's creations, which are among the most creative and delicious meals you can find. Matteo serves a four course (plus extras) dinner every Saturday night. The guests are seated at a few communal tables, enjoying the food and the conversation. If you're planning to be in the area, consider making a reservation. For food lovers, not just vegans/vegetarians. Bring your own bottle of wine.

Bakery: Jean-Claude's Patisserie
Warwick, NY has pretty Victorian houses, a farmer's market and a couple of antique stores. But the reason I like to visit is Jean-Claude's French patisserie. They have buttery, flaky mini quiches, beautiful cakes, pies and cookie platters. The coffee is great and the service friendly. If I were to get married again, I'd order my cake from them. It's probably the best place to stop if you're on your way to shop at Woodbury Common.

Radio Station: WFUV
There are very few radio stations today that focus on alternative music, old and new. WFUV from Fordham University, NY is a member supported public station (which means no commercials and a very limited budget). They've introduced me to many of my current favorite artists and can always be counted on to have knowledgable DJs, an interesting lineup and a web site full of content, including live streaming you can enjoy online, no matter where in the world you are. This week is their Fall Membership Drive. If you're a listener, please consider becoming a member and supporting this wonderful gem.

Music: The Chapin Sisters
Haunting voices, sensitive lyrics, beautiful music. Gothic folk? Folksy goth? who cares. You can also find them on iTunes.

Please visit Perfume Shrine for more suggestions and a completely different take that's also off the beaten path, and share your local favorites in the comments.

All photos are mine, copyrighted, etc.. That's what fall in New Jersey looks like.


  1. When at the computer , Whole Wheat is a treat , they also play only indie music...their main page also displays everybody else who is listening .

  2. Lookie, we have a perfume in common! (said the horrible perfume nutcase)
    Great selection as usual :-)

  3. Fall is the time I really miss about being back East. I used to put the top down and wear a scarf and take long drives in the country. Ah yoof..

  4. Oh, and we have a radio station like that here, KCRW. They have all these music programs that play stuff that I really like, look up and download like Mocean Worker, Stereolab, et al. It's my "I'm not an old fart" music; I couldn't name three people in the Britney world, but I like this stuff. So I'm discerning, not old.


  5. In the midwest...

    There's a wonderful French restaurant with garden seating out the back, La Creperie--pleasant in the winter, too. I already mentioned Jose Eisenberg Jose perfume to Helg; I think it's "out of print," but it was a cheap and happy "comfort" find online. On the radio, Ken Nordine "Word Jazz" is crazy, and appropriate for late night mind messing. "Make" magazine is perhaps not so hidden, but a gem.

    BTW, T, you ARE discerning. Absolutely. Nearly exclusively. ;)

  6. You know, I never thought much about CB I Hate Perfume before but I just checked the website and I might be a little obsessed. The question for the uninitiated- what do you do with those little perfume absolutes? There's a "how to use" section on the website but it's blank. And what scents do you like most from there?

    And I second the thought on L'Occitan. The best part for me is that it's more affordable for someone on a student budget (who doesn't want to smell like a cheap flower).

  7. loved this post! it's finally starting to feel like fall here in san francisco but your pictures make me wish i was on the east coast, where trees actually change colors.


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