Iris Apfel : There is a terrible yearning for glamour and fantasy and some mystery which is all gone out of today’s life.

Iris Apfel in her fantastical apartment.

Iris Apfel in her fantastical apartment. Click to enlarge.

Many of you have certainly seen the film Iris, the Albert Maysles documentary on Iris Apfel.  It’s a film that will stay with me for many reasons one of which is the absolutely encouraging fact that this 90-something year old is vibrant, clear in her thoughts and speech and isn’t afraid to state an opinion!  Recently, in an interview about the film, Iris said,

There is a terrible yearning for glamour and fantasy, fantasy, fantasy… and some mystery which is all gone out of today’s life.  Everything is so cut and dry and grey and same.

Of course, today’s progress has certainly given us a more comfortable life than former generations.  My grandparents lived all their adult life in relatively poor conditions… I’m talking material wealth.  My grandfather was a common labourer.  Three of my grandmother’s sisters and one brother lived in a lower flat that even a couple without children today would find small! My great aunt Marie slept on the couch in the living room for much of her life.  The four adults all shared one unheated bathroom!  However, when they partied… that little flat couldn’t contain the love and the overwhelming joy of us all being together.  I know this may sound some like “Little House on the Prairie”… but it’s true.

Today… we have larger apartments and sleeping on a couch is unheard of unless it’s a pullout and even then, it would only be for a short time.  No doubt about it, money doesn’t buy happiness… but it does buy comfort.

In exchange for this comfort, all the fantasy of life is gone… all the mystery.  Maybe by wearing some crazy incense perfume or some heady, indolic over-the-top jasmine or simply über-luxurious Chanel No. 5 Parfum we can add a little mystery to our lives… a little luxury to make up for the loss of magic.

Addendum (added June 29th) : Here is the interview from where I pulled the above quote.

Shopping in Montréal : Etiket

When I go to a museum, there is nothing I love more than seeing a retrospective. The privilege of seeing someone’s work throughout their lifetime is exciting but equally fascinating is the curator’s eye… the choices that were made to bring together the pieces that make up the exhibition. That’s what I love about Etiket. The owner, Simon Tooley, has literally created a collection of what he considers beautiful… not only the different perfume houses but also the specific perfumes from the different houses. As a perfumista, I LOVE it when someone takes a stand!  And, Simon has surrounded himself with people who not only love perfume but are not afraid to say, “THIS, I love… but that fragrance, although I love it, doesn’t hold on my skin” or “that’s not my cup of tea.” So, in effect, they are more like consultants than sales people and because they are not attached to any one brand, they can easily present you perfumes from L’Artisan Parfumeur to Heeley and from Amouage to Atelier Cologne. Recently, they announced that they will be carrying Tauer Perfumes, launch date is June 2015. As you can see, Etiket is definitely niche… so don’t expect to buy Miss Dior there or Coco Mademoiselle.


Simon sees his role as an educator as well as a retailer.  At a recent event, the staff had grouped the perfumes by family according to the Société Française des Parfumeurs classification… very smart.  For those of us in the know, we knew immediately what we wanted to try (chypres and florals for me) and for neophytes, it was a lesson in perfume classification. As I was sniffing Histoires de Parfums Tubéreuse 2 Virginale, a young man introduced himself and offered me samples of anything I wanted… any brand, any perfume. Can you imagine?  In my 10 years of perfume shopping, I had never seen this kind of service.

Taken at a recent perfume event.

Taken at a recent perfume event.

Etiket is located at 1832 Sherbrooke Street West, maybe a 5-minute walk west of Holt Renfrew.  As you can see from the photos, it is absolutely beautiful and their website ( is extremely easy to navigate.  Special events are always a perfume-lover’s delight and are well attended.  Although I have never used their mail service, I have no doubt it is excellent.

I asked Simon Tooley two questions.  First, why he opened a niche perfume boutique in the first place and what he thought the challenges were in today’s market.

“I opened Etiket because I have always wanted to have my own shop. Fragrance for me has been a quiet life long passion. I am not a collector except perhaps of memories, as that is what fragrance is for me. It brings to mind memories of people or places or things. Walks on the beach. My mother coming down the staircase in chiffon and her Ecusson perfume. The first time I smelled Eau Sauvage from Christian Dior or Jicky from Guerlain or my first waft of Patchouli. With Etiket I saw the opportunity to introduce the world of niche perfume to Montreal and through our on-line store to Canada. When I discovered niche perfumes and what was behind them I fell in love. I think niche fragrance tells stories and if it is a good house, the story that the fragrance tells can be an incredible one.

The challenge of selling niche is opening people’s eyes, or I should say noses to the possibility of what is in those bottles. I think that today with all of the marketing that is behind the big fragrance brands we get lost in the packaging and the hype and that we need to worry less about that and more about how the fragrance makes us feel. What does it do to us? With niche brands the creators tell us a story with each fragrance and it is wonderful to find our own story in what they are telling us. I always encourage people to try something different from what they usually wear when they come to see us, to be open to discovery. I just wish I could bring in all of the fragrances that I want to, but slowly over time I will continually add to the collections that we have.”

If you are a perfumista and are looking for niche  perfumes, Etiket is “incontournable” as the French would say.  If you are somewhat new to perfume, go anyway and discover! The staff is knowledgeable, approachable and just plain fun to talk with. And believe me, that’s not a given in this industry! If you are coming this summer (2015), here’s an idea. Start at Etiket and buy yourself something fabulous and decadent.Then, walk east on Sherbrooke Street and check out the Horst photography exhibit at the McCord Museum.


Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives, 1949. Photo by Roy Stevens/Time

Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives, 1949. Photo by Roy Stevens/Time

Perfume Shopping in Montréal

When I give my perfumes lectures, I tell the participants up front that I am not there to sell them perfume.  In fact, I don’t even encourage them to BUY perfume.  I am there to talk about the creators and their great potions and to give them an idea of the some of the history, chemistry and vocabulary.  But, I also talk about perfume classification and I wave around my 2012 copy of Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World which many consult after the lecture to check for replacements of discontinued perfumes.  And so many questions I get are about what I like, what I don’t like and what is extraordinary… so buying perfume seems to be on everyone’s mind!

I occasionally get asked by people if I would be willing to go to the perfume counter with them because they find perfume shopping downright scary.  It needn’t be… it’s not complicated… it’s about what you like.  It’s only perfume.  With the right approach, it can be a lot of fun.  I prefer places where I don’t feel pressured to buy… and I am in the stores A LOT! Those poor sales associates… they must wonder who this guy is who tries everything, seems to know a bit about perfume… and buys “rarely”. (Disclaimer : I own more than 150 bottles of perfume…but that’s between me, my accountant and my analyst… hi Moishe!)

In Montréal, we have several excellent perfume stores and departments right in the downtown area so if you are coming here this summer, these are my “go to” locations (from West to East)…

1. Etiket
Specialty : many niche perfume houses you won’t find anywhere else in Montréal such as Amouage, Histoires de Parfums and Heeley
1832 Sherbrooke Street West
Montréal, Québec
Tel : 514-687-3886
Toll-free : 1-855-687-3886
Website :

2. Holt Renfrew
Specialty : Chanel’s Les Exclusifs, Jo Malone, among others
1300 Sherbrooke Street West
Montréal, Québec
Tel : 514-842-5111
Website :

3. Ogilvy
Specialty : very large selection of major brands
1307 Sainte-Catherine Street W.
Montreal, Québec
Tel : 514-842-7711
Toll-free: 1-855-842-7711
Website :

4. Sephora
Specialty : serve-yourself experience – great if you know exactly what you are looking for
677 Sainte-Catherine St. W, Space #R04
Montreal, Québec
Tel : 514-849-8484
Website :

5. Hudson’s Bay
Specialty : very large selection of major brands
585 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest
Montréal, Québec
Tel : 514-281-4422
Website :


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