I've limited my visits to department stores over the past year or so, but reports of the new l’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 boutique lured me back to Bergdorf Goodman on one of my rare visits to midtown Manhattan. Buly 1803 didn't disappoint. The products (skincare, body care, home fragrance, etc.) have an "old world" feel. Boxes are labeled with handwritten inscriptions in pen-and-ink. Bottles are decorated with images borrowed from circa-1800 illustrations. It all feels like a hybrid of Santa Maria Novella and Cire Trudon (which makes sense, since one of the founders formerly worked at the latter brand), channeled through Napoleonic France. (You can read about the brand's background here.)
I had a hard time narrowing down my choices, but I ended up bringing home one of Buly 1803's signature "Alabasters." As the brand explains, the name Alabaster is inspired by alabastron, "the Greek vases that were once used to preserve the fragrant oils necessary for body care — the earliest perfumes — whose porous terra cotta would hold in the exquisite emanations." An Alabaster set consists of small porcelain box and a square of "exceptionally porous sedimentary stone" with "impressive absorption," plus a 5 ml bottle of fragrance oil. (Oil refills can be purchased separately.)
For my oil, I chose Alexandrie, a blend with notes of lemon, black currant, mint, ginger, vanilla and moss and the following description:
On the onyx and jade incrusted tiles, a ray of moonlight cuts out the foliage of the lemon trees and the dance of the palms, gently rocking the evening warmth. The night’s torrent, rushing in, sends shivers through the blue menthol-scented shade of the garden. Under the canopy, in the half-light, a curved blade and a pair of steely eyes sparkle.
Although Buly 1803 advises pouring one-third of the fragrance oil onto the stone to get started, I tried five or six drops instead. This worked just fine. I let the box sit closed for a while, and when I opened it, the scent diffused gently around my tiny home office. Just like Diptyque's wax "scented ovals," Buly's Alabaster works best for smaller rooms, or maybe medium-sized rooms if you really get generous with the oil. In my case, I enjoyed catching whiffs of Alexandrie as I worked at my desk or moved around the immediate area.
As for the actual scent, there's something about Alexandrie that really pleases me. I like the mix of aromatic mint and sweet/tart currant with a spicy, mossy base; it's a balance of bright and dusky notes that doesn't overwhelm. Basically, Alexandrie feels nothing like some run-of-the-mill home fragrance. I was also intrigued by Sacre (a churchy incense) and Retour d'Egypte (a rich amber), but this was the one that felt right for me and my desk.
And yes, if I were looking for a similar but more frugal way to scent my living space, I could probably buy a natural pumice stone in the drugstore's foot care aisle and pour some ordinary essential oil on it. (And I may also do that soon, now that I've thought of it.) But sometimes I just need a moment of pure frivolity, some end-of-empire extravagance, and L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 is certainly the place for that.