The award-winning beauty journalist, vlogger and proud Londoner shares her thoughts on scent, together with her favourite places in the city
Welcome to our new series profiling our favourite London-based fragrance lovers. We recently caught up with perfume-loving beauty journalist and vlogger Alice Du Parcq, who kindly took some time out to chat all things fragrance. Alice has worked for Condé Nast as a Beauty Director for Easy Living and Conde Nast Brides, as well as writing for British Vogue, Red, Stylist and ST Style. Her recent forays into the world of vlogging has seen her team up with fellow beauty scribe Emma Gunavardhana to create the Alice and Emma channel which won 'Best Emerging Vlog' at the 2016 Johnson & Johnson awards. She is now developing her own channel which she will be setting up later this year - in the meantime, all her videos (including fragrant reviews) can be found here.
What's your favourite place in London, smell-wise?
A few years ago when I was a beauty director at Conde Nast, I used to ride a motorcycle to work. I’d get into work super early at 7.30am – not just because of my mad workload (20 pages a month!) but because I loved the silence and calm of the office before the chaos descended. So my journey into town was in that very still hour where dustmen finish their shifts, cleaners trot to their jobs, a few walks-of-shame meander home… and part of the journey took me through Hyde Park, down South Carriage Drive where the Army Barracks are. At 7.15 every morning, they take their horses out for training exercises, and there's this very beautiful scent hanging in that specific part of the road. It’s a combination of gun metal, riding boot wax, leather saddle polish, horse manure, sawdust, pavement and grass, and if the wind blows in a certain direction, you can just catch the scent of the jasmines and roses from the Pergola in the South East corner of the park. Even if it was raining, I’d lift my helmet visor and take a deep breath in.
What are you top non-perfume smells?
Old furniture – from wooden cabinets to upholstered armchairs – always smells good, right? There’s something really mystical about the smell of a pavement after it’s rained; it’s sort of smokey and metallic, but salty, oily and hot too, and it’s probably one of the most consistent smells everywhere you go in the world – like the smell of a church or a library or a pharmacy – it’s comforting and familiar regardless of which city you’re in. I’m a gin & tonic drinker, so I particularly like the smell of Dettol spray and screenwash in cars: sharp, clean, bracing, delicious!
Top perfume ingredients?
Amber – it brings this wonderful resinous golden ‘glow' to any fragrance. There’s something quite skin-like and human about it too, because it’s warm and close and nurturing.
Are there any nice new perfumes on the block which have caught your eye (or nose)?
I’m utterly, completely floored by Basil & Neroli, the new Jo Malone London cologne launching in September. It’s fresh and shimmering, luminous and optimistic, with this wonderful tonic cleansing note from the basil. It’s the perfume equivalent to a pair of white Converse: you can wear it with everything and it adds a young, happy, easy-going edge to any look. I haven’t smelt the upcoming Aerin Tangier Vanilla yet, but I know I’m going to love it. I can imagine that mix of secret Souk spices and sacks of rose petals mixed with heady vanilla – not a sweet pudding vanilla, but a hedonistic opiate vanilla. I hope I’m right!
Where are your favourites place to buy perfume in the city?
Liberty’s perfume department is absolutely fantastic. They have some quirky little brands like Santa Eulalia and Juliette Has A Gun. I do think the Jo Malone London stores are a wonderful place to shop too – lots of choices and the staff can help you find a layering combination that’s unique to you.
Do you have any top tips when shopping for a scent? E.g. when to go, who to go with etc.?
If you want something brand new but still in your comfort zone, try this trick: before you go out shopping, have a look at what you have at home. Check on the Fragrantica website for the key notes in those perfumes and see if there’s a correlation between them – for instance, do they all have patchouli or orris? Keep in mind those two or three ingredients and ask the shop assistants if you can try something with those notes. Go alone and go in the morning: your sense of smell will be sharper. Try before you cry! Spend a couple of hours with a perfume on your skin (spray the top of your wrist so that the hairs absorb the perfume better, and you won’t wash it off as easily too) and only go back and buy it if you really, really still love it after two hours.
What's your criteria when choosing a new scent?
Get the small-sized 30ml or 50ml bottle first (your tastes might change in a few months). Ask yourself ‘do I actually want to smell like this?’. If you absolutely love a celebrity perfume, or the cheapo at-the-cash-till high street brand, then who gives shit what other people think? Buy what makes you happy and what you love – for years I used to nip into Gap and spray Heaven all over myself, I think it’s discontinued now but if I saw it again I’d still do it!
Signature scent or fragrance wardrobe?
Definitely fragrance wardrobe. Just like your foundation, moisturiser, underwear and trouser waistbands, you need a selection for different occasions, moods and weather. For instance, when I’m majorly hungover (and when I suffered from awful morning sickness), Jo Loves Pomelo is my antidote and makes me feel immediately uplifted and refreshed. However when I’m going to a party, Chanel Coromandel makes me feel confident, fabulous and mischievous.
Perfume is notoriously tricky to describe accurately in words. As a writer, how do you go about conveying the character of a scent?
Think about your sister or sister-in-law or aunt or mum. Or just the woman sitting next to you on the bus. She has no idea what the hell sandalwood smells like. But if you say it smells of freshly chopped wood covered in varnish, then she’ll understand where that perfume is going. Personally I use metaphors: I like putting an easy visual link to a smell because that instantly gives you a bit of direction. For instance when I think about Cologne Indelible by Frederic Malle, I think of clean white freshly-laundered sheets, but Michael Fassbender’s been rolling around naked in them so there’s a touch of sexy, dirty, naughty in there too.
What perfume/s are normally in your handbag?
I have a lab sample of Basil & Neroli in my bag right now; it’s the ideal quenching tonic to this crap rainy humid weather we’re having. I also carry a mini atomiser filled with Juliette Has A Gun ‘Gentlewoman’ - another works-for-everything cologne that has a bit of oomph to it, and the masculine notes are good on crazy busy days when you need to calm down and feel grounded.
Lastly, any nice little-known places in London that you think are worth checking out?
Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. It’s free, it’s easy to get to with a car, it’s a lovely enclosed garden and woodland within the majestic Richmond Park that’s perfect for picnics and strolling about with loved ones. And if any readers are in NYC, head to Paper Presentation. It’s the best stationery shop EVER.