Imagine if making your own unique perfume was as easy as popping into the local Starbucks and mixing up a decadent caffeinated cocktail to your liking. Wouldn’t life be grand? Add a splash of this, a couple drops of that, and you’ve got yourself a juice that smells unlike anything else in the world. The only way it could get better was if they also misspelled your name on the bottle.
Fortunately, at least for folks living in the Empire State, this fantasy is getting closer to reality. If you’re lucky enough to be in the city that never sleeps, wave down the chauffeured “Bond Mobile” and head over to one of Bond No. 9’s five shops in the Big Apple. The brand’s “Perfumistas” will take you through their extensive range of scents, and if you still can’t find exactly what it is you’re looking for they have the skills and know-how to make it for you. Ain’t that some shizzle!
The story begins with French-born Laurice Rahmé, graduate of the Université de Vincennes. She started out in antiques, but when she met perfumer Annick Goutal she made a career change and became a distributor of niche fragrance in the States during the 90s. She must have fallen in love with the craft and the country, because a decade later she launched her own label with the mission to give each neighborhood in Manhattan, New York City its own scent. Just like that, Bond No. 9 was born. For reference, there are about 83 such neighborhoods in the borough, each with a distinct personality. Ambitious? You could say that. Today they are known for their star-shaped bottles, subway token-shaped logo, and the “I Love NY” line created to redirect a percentage of sales back to the State of New York. Three new Bond No. 9 fragrances are released annually, and the line sells at select luxury retailers around the world.
Today I am featuring their 2005 release called Chinatown, signed by nose Aurelien Guichard (Versace Eros, Sean John Unforgiveable, and many more). This perfume stands for the iconic Chinatown neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, home to one of the oldest ethnic Chinese populations outside of Asia. I’ve visited the area before, and let me tell you: the smells are out of this world! The local shop owners, many of whom speak primarily in Mandarin, flaunt stacks of everything from salty crustaceans to imported fine jewelry far onto the packed sidewalks. At the local restaurants you can grab a hot lunch for a bargain, and it hardly matters not knowing what you’re eating. The parks are alive with the sounds of erhu and pipa, and for a buck you can buy a bag of fried dough balls from a street vendor, made primarily of sweet, steaming air. The opaque glass of the perfume bottle has two front sides, so that you can decide which one to display. The texture of the Italian glass is reminiscent of fabric, and it is massive! Here it is pictured with the box (over 6 inches across – I measured) and my friend Hana’s cheongsam, a traditional Chinese garment. Isn’t it stunning?
I was so happy when my friends at FragranceNet.com told me they had this bottle for me to review, because normally this line is extremely expensive and hard to come by. Normally $310 on the company website (about $420 CAD), at FragranceNet.com you get the 100 ml eau de parfum for just $199.99. What’s better, you can combine it with the 30% off or free shipping coupon to save even more – everybody wins (FYI, if you want to check out any of their 17,000 products you can click on any of the links in my review to support the site and get a bargain!). I found Guichard’s Chinatown is not such a literal interpretation of the district, and actually has more to do with traditional Chinese influences (or their stereotypes) than the city of New York. The notes are listed below, bolded for what I recognize to be the strongest scents.
Top notes: bergamot, peach blossom.
Middle notes: orange blossom, gardenia, tuberose, peony.
Base notes: cardamom, guaiac wood, sandalwood, Virginia cedar, patchouli, vanilla.
The top notes here have a sort of English hard candy or cough drops vibe, and even a hint of cherry flavored bubblegum. It can be really overbearing, sort of like walking into one of the shops in Chinatown and not knowing what to look at first. But, the base notes are so worth hanging around for. I would go so far as saying it is one of my favorite, most complex dry downs! I get rich incense, sweet vanilla and woodsy notes mixed with that fruity peach and orange blossoms, and it lasts for ages. I tested it out with multiple colleagues at work and everyone was impressed at how long-lasting it was, and the general consensus was that it is highly enjoyable. One former Beijing resident said that it reminded her of rich Chinese women! Whenever I wore it myself I imagined a vibrant cherry-blossom bloom, with pink petals floating on gentle breezes and dancing in the air. It is definitely a transformative fragrance, unisex but more on the feminine side.
Verdict: Whether you observe Chinese New Year or not, and whether you prefer Cantonese or Mandarin, this is one incredibly beautiful perfume that’s worth the high price tag. If I’m knit-picking then I would have liked to see a red bottle instead of pink, as red symbolizes good fortune in Chinese culture. But the smell totally makes up for it! If you can’t make it out to Chinatown in person, do yourself a favor and order a bottle of this. Gong Xi Fa Cai! I can’t wait to review more of this line and explore more of the city. Wherever shall we go to next?!
*Prices true at time of writing.
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