Walking in to Avery Perfume Gallery (527 Joseph St., 504-522-7102; www.averyperfumegallery.com) is like walking into a bazaar rife with exotic scents. The mercury-tinged mirrors on the wall facing the door, the patina on the wooden panels to the right and the golden latticework light fixtures are reminiscent of a warm Middle Eastern shop, with the cooling touches of green indoor plants suspended from overhead baskets or scattered about in unique planters. The exposed brick and the sound of adjacent construction are the sole reminders that you are, in fact, in the heart of downtown New Orleans.
Avery is off the beaten retail path - across the street from the Contemporary Arts Center and on the same block as Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans - but for an international scent experience unlike those afforded in most department stores, it’s worth the trek.
The first Avery Perfume Gallery opened in London in 2010, taking its name from the site’s street address, Avery Row. The New Orleans location is the brand’s third, and opened in 2011.
“Avery is a curated edit of brands from all across the world - brands from Sweden to Italy to France, Spain to the Islands and Britain as well,” says Clorinda Di Tommaso, Avery’s global head of retail. Avery selects fragrance brands that use high-quality, long-lasting ingredients in their scents.
“With big brands, the budgets are very much allocated to marketing campaigns, and the budget for the raw materials for the products are usually pretty low,” she says.
While some of the larger corporate perfume houses create private labels, those scents are often manufactured in limited quantities and difficult to find. The scents created by Avery’s brands (including Avery’s own line of fragrances) are often cultivated over long periods of time (Roads, an Irish perfumery, spent five years perfecting the proportions of fragrances to oils and wax in their scent candles) and are mass produced.
“Of course, we speak about the ingredients in each perfume, but we like to speak more about the emotions connected to each scent,” Di Tommaso says. “That’s the root of the whole Avery Perfume Gallery Story - we moved away from a big brand identity to individual stories, and through those stories you discover a brand.”
Stories abound behind the fragrance selections at Avery.
The Venetian Re Profumo collection is based on the eponymous novel by Fulvio Fronzoni, in which a man tries to craft a scent that Alexander the Great would wear. Each scent is named after a character or an event in the novel, with names like “Adonis,” “Superman” and “Song of Love.”
Blood Concept - a Milanese collection - draws inspiration for its scents from the evolution of mankind, beginning with raw, earthy notes associated with carnivorous homo erectus and developing into the minerals and spices of urban, contemporary man. The scents take the names of the blood types associated with each developmental stage (A, B, AB, O) and are subtitled by the prevailing fragrance notes (Killer Vanilla, Liquid Spice).
Boadicea the Victorious, a first-century Briton who led the Iceni people (modern-day Norfolk) in revolt against Roman settlers, has an eponymous fragrance collection with bold, confident scents that evoke the fiery personality of Boadicea herself. Each bottle in the collection is emblazoned with a Celtic shield designed by a family that’s been in the metalworking business since the 18th century.
Closer to home, the Mojo Magique scent line is designed by twin brothers from West Monroe, Louisiana and is only available in the U.S. Avery stores. In fact, the line is only available at four retailers in the U.S. Names like “Voodoo Child,” “Belle” and “Seer” evoke the South’s beauty and mysticism.
Avery Perfume Gallery does not have a “men’s” and a “women’s” department.
“We don’t define between masculine and feminine scents - we call them shared fragrances for him and for her,” Di Tommaso says. “(Gender-identified scents) change in different cultures. For example, in the Middle East, men wear a lot of pure rose (scent) and they mix it with a touch of oud (an earthy-sweet oil) and create their fragrances. In a traditional Western society, people identify rose as feminine. At the end of the day, it’s about what we prefer, what speaks to us individually.”
Fragrance is delightfully complicated - the way something smells in a bottle or on a cardboard scent card, or even on a feather (the vehicle of choice at Avery) is not the way that it will smell on a person’s skin. The oils, alcohols and extracts in the fragrance interact with the soap, deodorant and lotion that you use, and even with your natural body chemistry, causing the scent to evolve.
“Some perfumes - especially those made with lots of base notes - can take 15 to 20 minutes to develop on the skin,” Di Tommaso says.
Upon entering Avery Perfume Gallery, customers are greeted and offered a scent consultation. Sales associates are trained to ask questions about how the customer feels, how he or she wants to feel, what colors, textures or sounds are associated with that feeling, whether the customer is looking for a signature scent or one for a special occasion, whether the ideal scent is an attention-grabbing punch of fragrance or something akin to a second skin, or if you’re just looking to add to a growing “scent wardrobe,” as Di Tommaso calls it.
“The sense of smell is a powerful muscle, but it needs to be trained,” she says. “After three or five scents, you can’t smell anymore. That’s why it’s so important when (sales associates) do the scent consultation that we really listen and understand who’s in front of us and dress that person like we’re their stylists.”
The perfume selection offers a bevy of fragrance notes: everything from lemon, lime, mint, tuberose and jasmine to violet leaf, oak moss, myrrh, tonka bean and Earl Grey tea.
“You get that kind of sparkle,” Di Tommaso says about brighter scents, especially those with citrus notes. That sparkle and effervescence is also present in fragrances that suggest experiences like stepping outside on a cold morning, like the Arctic-inspired aromas crafted by Swedish brand AGONIST. The design duo behind Agonist also collaborates with glass artisans like Asa Jungnelius of Kosta Boda Glassworks to create unique blown-glass bottles that double as pieces of sculpture.
“These are olfactory artworks,” Di Tommaso says.
Avery Perfume Gallery also manufactures “scent animals” as alternatives to using reed diffusers. The animals are cast in ceramic with an opening in the base, into which fragrance is sprayed. The porous ceramic allows the fragrance to escape, permeating the room much like reed sticks steeped in oil. Dachshunds, unicorns and cockatoos are available in different sizes, and for Louisianans the gator is especially fun (although technically it’s a crocodile, but we won’t tell).