I grew up very close to the infamous intersection of Haight and Ashbury. The bus line around the corner from my house runs through it, and I spent countless weekends as a teenager hanging out with friends there--window shopping, eating and giggling immaturely as we wandered into smoke shops to check out the shelves of colorful glass pipes and bongs. And sometimes we bought them. By the way, one should never utter the words "marijuana", "weed", "pot", etc. in those stores unless one wants an employee to ask him or her to leave. The merchandise is strictly for smoking pipe tobacco (Ha, yeah, right.).
It's hard to imagine that there is anyone who hasn't heard of Haight-Ashbury, but in case you haven't, here's the significance. Let me start by saying that locals don't refer to it as "Haight-Ashbury," If you want to talk like the natives, it's just called "Haight." If a person said, "I'm at Haight-Ashbury." I would know right away that they were not from San Francisco.
Haight-Ashbury is the birthplace of the hippie movement. Homes are mostly old, beautiful Victorians. But 'til this day, in the midst of the elegant Victorians, one can find all the fashionable tie-dye that one could ever want. I'm not just talking about T-shirts, no, no, I speak of dresses, skirts, bikinis, leggings, baby clothes and so much more.
The neighborhood was home to, like, all the great musicians of the 60's and 70's: Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Santana. So many of them got their start there.
Haight is also ripe with "headshops", although I honestly had never heard that word in my life until very recently. We never called them "headshops", we referred to them as "incense shops" or sometimes "New Age shops."
When I was in my teens, Silicon Valley was booming, and unbeknownst to San Franciscans, it would quickly change things in ways we never could have imagined. Gone are the manners and pleasantries I was used to, the affordable housing, the mom-and-pop shops. They have been replaced by an absurdly high cost of living, gentrification and incredibly snarky attitudes. When I was a kid, I remember my dad telling me that people moved here because they didn't have to be rich to enjoy everything this small city had to offer. An ordinary guy could have his own piece of the pie. Well, times have changed.
While the whole city has changed, one thing that hasn't is the spirit of Haight. While businesses come and go, which is natural, there are still some shops that have been there since I was a teenager, such as the incense shops and Tibetan imports. You still smell weed everywhere you go. There are still people standing around on the street, quietly offering to sell drugs. And about half the people wandering around look like they are on drugs. Food is still affordable. Some people still just want an ordinary burger with lettuce and tomato, not with candied bacon and a drizzle of truffle oil. Some people just want Ben and Jerry's, they don't want lavender ice cream with a balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of hickory-smoked sea salt. Actually, though, I am vegetarian and I would absolutely want all the fancy stuff, but the point is that other people don't, and fairly ordinary food is still attainable on Haight.
In many ways, Haight is San Francisco. It's what gave Americans, and the world, a taste of hippie life, free love and drug experimentation. These are things that influence people to move here to this very day, a certain allure of personal freedom and exploration. Whether freedom is the reality or not is a whole different story, but it's certainly the ever-pervasive perception. Let's put it this way, it's easy to move to an unfamiliar place and think you are free to be yourself, having no idea what is actually going through people's heads. And trust me, things are certainly going through people's heads. I digress....
I was introduced to A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes at the pop-up salon that I wrote about in my last post. The owner, Jane Cate, subsequently sent a mini to me of her perfume called San Francisco, as I told her that I would like to try it sometime. Being San Francisco-born-and-raised, I love to check out perfumes that are influenced by my hometown. There aren't that many perfumes inspired by San Francisco that I know of, and other than Bois de Paradis by DelRae, which is a gorgeous interpretation of the Presidio, none have ever hit the mark for me since.
I wanted to list the notes of San Francisco, but A Wing and a Prayer's shop is closed for a few more days, so I will have to come back and comment later. I have not seen the notes before, so my decriptions are totally subjective and based on my own perception of what I smell.
As soon as I sprayed San Francisco, I was transported to the good ol' days, hanging out on Haight. So many memories of standing at the incense display at the New Age shop and sniffing incense sticks in seemingly endless scents and colors. I always loved sandalwood, vanilla and jasmine, and when I scrutinize the perfume on my skin, those are the notes I pick up immediately. Then I notice a very light touch of patchouli, followed by an orange note that actually grows stronger with time. The orange gives the perfume a hint of something clean and sweet, so the incense is not heavy or oppressive.
After 8 hours, what's left is a very simple yet comforting blend of orange, sandalwood and vanilla. But I find the initial hit to smell just like walking into one of those shops. It's a mixture of incense, candles, soaps, aromatherapy oils and San Francisco fog. The vanilla isn't too strong, which is nice. Too much vanilla would overpower the other notes, but in this case it remains comfortably in the background.
I really love San Francisco. For a moment I wondered if it should have been named Haight-Ashbury, but my answer is no. Haight represents the San Francisco in my heart; the city I love and will always remember before it was spoiled by dot-commers. I feel that San Francisco's image on the national and international stage has already begun to change. People still move here for the perception of personal freedom, but more often nowadays, they come here for tech jobs. With families constantly being pushed out, and mom-and-pop shops being replaced by fancy-schmancy ones, the City, as we affectionately call it and as we once knew it, is slowly fading into non-existence.
There are numerous perfumes on the market that smell like incense. While I own many gorgeous incense perfumes and have sampled even more, almost none of them remind me of San Francisco like this one does.
Many thanks to Jane Cate for her generosity in sending the San Francisco mini.
As always I want my readers to know that I am never paid to write reviews. All words and opinions are my own, honest ones.
Had a great time on Saturday at the Pop-Up fragrance salon held at Zinc Details (a home decor boutique) on Fillmore St. in San Francisco. I arrived towards the end, but it seemed that there was a nice-sized crowd there. I really liked the fact that both mixed media (natural mixed with synthetics) and 100% natural perfumes had representation. For those of you who are on Instagram, I immediately bumped into a fellow perfume worshipper, the awesome @mrcologne76!
You might be wondering, "What exactly is artisan perfume, versus niche or indie perfume?" I shall attempt to explain.
The Art and Olfaction Awards defines the "Artisan" category as, "Created by a perfumer with direct ownership in the company, who blends every formulation in-house without the use of a fragrance house." Auphorie, Papillon Artisan Perfumes and Imaginary Authors are artisan houses.
Compare with their definition of Independent: "Created by a privately-owned company, formulated by a perfumer without a direct hand in every aspect of the production + marketing of the perfume." Basically there is an owner who hires noses to create perfumes for the house. Zoologist Perfumes, ERIS Parfums and Neela Vermeire are examples of independent houses.
When laypeople talk about "indie houses" or "indie perfumers," they are referring to small perfume houses that are owned and operated by the nose, and the nose is the owner, but that would more closely match the definition of an artisan perfumer. Examples of houses that people often refer to as "indie" include Alkemia, Smell Bent and Solstice Scents. These houses, according to the Art & Olfaction Award categorization, would be artisan perfumers.
The salon featured the following perfume houses:
Ineke Perfumes - Mixed Media - Ineke is a house I am very familiar with as it is a local house (San Francisco). Her perfumes are found at one of my favorite boutiques in town, and Anthropology carries her perfumes (although I haven't checked in a while). Ineke is a classically-trained perfumer and makes some seriously wonderful, unique and complex perfumes, all of which deminstrate exceptional skill in fine detail. I own her Briar Rose and Angel's Trumpet.
COGNOSCENTI - Mixed Media - Cognoscenti is a house I have been keeping my eye on ever since I smelled their stunning No. 16 Tomato Leather. I typically don't even like those two notes, but the nose, Dannielle Sergent, has brought such great harmony to their marriage that I found a new appreciation for them. I described Cognoscenti as artistic from the get-go, and I discovered upon meeting Dannielle that she is a painter, architect and designer. Artistry runs through her veins.
Maison Anonyme - Mixed Media - I will not name the nose because, as he explained, the concept of the house is the "luxury of anonymity." Kind of a Wizard of Oz thing going on--what's behind the magic curtain? I could not wear any mixed media that day, but from the tester strips, I can tell this nose showcases his talent well with his first three perfumes. They are beautifully blended, and they contain contrasting notes--one of my personal favorite types of perfumes. So rather than smelling things that "make sense", such as vanilla and cinnamon together or vetiver and citrus, you will get parings such as sharp galbanum with sweet immortelle or church incense with animalic musk. Cool!
La Fleur by Livvy - Natural - The theme with many of her perfumes is flowers, as interpreted by Olivia Larson. Her inspiration comes from her childhood in India. Livvy's perfumes show tremendous skill in creating diverse, complex and lasting natural fragrances. Noteworthy? A Parisian Affair, which resembles classic or vintage perfumes. I thought it resembled Chanel No. 5 and other similar perfumes. No other 100% natural perfume that I have ever smelled mimics a vintage like that, and "modern vintages" are quite the trend lately. Livvy introduced her new collection called "Scent O'Clock," which consists of four different perfumes that can be worn separately or layered. I have smelled two of them, and they are certainly nice on their own, but I need to try layering sometime.
El Jardí Secret - Natural - Truly artisinal perfumes by Esperança Cases Prats. She typically makes very few bottles of each perfume, and the glass bottles that house them are limited as well, so you will never really get the same fragrance nor the same packaging. Some of her perfumes take a year or more to craft. Based in Barcelona, Spain, shipping is difficult to the USA for larger bottles. I sampled the beautiful 1900, which, if I recall correctly, features herbs from Argentina as well as Spain, showcasing the relationship between the two countries. It has an earthy, chocolatey, patchouli-like base that is overlayed with refreshing garden herbs and sweet, innocent florals. The more I wear it, the more heavenly I realize it is. I should have bought the 100-ml bottle for $190 while I could. Definitely my loss! This house won an Artisan Perfume Award in 2016 and was given the title, “Official Fragrance Partner of the TASTE AWARDS.”
En Voyage Perfumes - Mixed Media - I did not get a chance to talk with the perfumer. I have sampled the popular Zelda in the past, but I don't know it well enough to even review it. You guys might know this line better than I do, so feel free to comment below.
Velvet and Sweet Pea's Purrfumery - Natural - I have a few posts about this house and its nose, Laurie Stern, because I simply adore it. The house offers perfumes crafted from some of the finest and rarest natural essences you will ever find anywhere, including some very special antique essences. Her beeswax comes from the hive that she lovingly nurtures in her own garden. Her perfumes are luxurious, complex and soul-soothing. My absolute favorite is her bucolic beauty, Honey. Check out her Signature Collection as well as her adorable Kittylicious Collection! She offers scented lockets, which are charming and make you smell fabulous.
MIKMOI - Mixed Media - I did not get to spend time talking with this perfumer, unfortunately. I have samples of a couple of his fragrances, but I have not had a chance to wear them enough to review them. Again, feel free to comment below.
A Wing & A Prayer Perfumes - Natural - I don't want to speak of the house too much at this point because I am not familiar enough with it. I only got the chance to sniff one perfume on my actual skin, Moonlight Serenade, as the pop-up was closing up for the evening. It's a soft, musky, almost soapy, woody-floral. I am a sucker for those types! It was apparently inspired by Downton Abbey. I bought a purse-sized spray. I will sample more of their perfumes in the future and can comment more later.
Meshaz Natural Perfumes - Natural - Mesha began distilling lavender more than twenty years ago and has expanded her line. I spritzed on Opal Rain. It smelled like lavender and lemon. But Meshaz is not limited to lavender or even other flowers! You will find exotic ingredients in her perfumes as well, such as peru balsam and cannabis.
Olympic Orchids (mixed media) could not make it because of flight delays at SFO. Bummer, as I would have liked to meet the nose in person. I am quite familiar with the house, having sampled at least a dozen perfumes. The original line was based upon some varieties of orchids, but she has a lot of other perfumes that smell very natural, kind of like landscapes. I own Kyphi, Arizona and Cafe V, which is the most incredible creamy sandalwood that exists! The house offers a few 100% natural perfumes.
None of the perfumers use natural animal musks (civet, castoreum, deer) in their perfumes at the present time. If you are as concerned about it as I am, it never hurts to ask the nose before you buy something. But, bravo! You can shop with all of these houses with confidence that, thus far, they are part of the solution, not the problem.
Why can't they have these pop-ups once a month?! They are exhausting but fun!
Thank you for reading today ;) <3
Edit: La Fleur by Livvy's perfumes have won Artisan Perfume Awards in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and the house was given the title, “Official Fragrance Partner of the TASTE AWARDS”. My apologies for not mentioning it above!