With a Latin name meaning Temple of Beauty, Aedes de Venustas has been a place of pilgrimage for fragrance fanatics for over two decades. The sumptuous boutique opened its doors in an unassuming basement in New York’s West Village in 1995, selling an unparalleled selection of artisanal brands – L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque – many not available elsewhere in the US. It quickly attracted a who’s who of the fashion set, notably Naomi Campbell, who put the store on the map when she came in to buy, of all things, eye drops previously only sold in Europe.
“She then asked if we did corporate accounts and gave us her Christmas list, which had everyone in the industry on there,” recalls co-owner Robert Gerstner. “After the holidays people called and said, ‘We got this from Naomi and want to do the same thing.’ They came in droves and we still cater to many of them.” He ticks off an impressive list that includes Valentino, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Earlier this year, Gerstner and co-owner Karl Bradl made the decision to move to a new, buzzy Lower East Side location. There’s no traditional signage outside, but regulars will recognise George, the taxidermy peacock, in the window, presiding over an intimate, jewel-toned space where beautiful floral installations, created weekly by Bradl, offset the olfactory delights. Gerstner is currently smitten with the latest Fornasetti addition: Don Giovanni, a large rose- and patchouli-scented candle ($330 for 900g) encased in red glass printed with the masked face of soprano muse Lina Cavalieri. “If you need a special gift, this is it,” he says, pointing out another favourite candle: Mûre Sauvage ($82 for 250g) from L’Artisan Parfumeur – “a calming, soothing scent with musk and blackberry”. But the store’s number one-selling brand is Santa Maria Novella: Gerstner finds the scents “very simple” but the bodycare “amazing”, especially the Crema al Polline face cream ($125 for 50ml), which he uses along with Susanne Kaufmann Nutrient Cream ($99 for 50ml).
But the focus has always been fragrance, and several years ago, the duo channelled their years of experience into their own collection. The latest scent, Musc Encensé ($245 for 100ml EDP), is packaged in a gorgeous, weighty bottle and consists of “a lot of amber and tonka, a sweet spicy bean from Mexico. Together with the musk, it is very soft, rich and precious,” says Gerstner, spritzing a sample. He moves on to the other house brand, Nomenclature, and its quince-based Para_Iso ($125 for 50ml EDP): “I am not a fruity person, but I love this; it is fresh, sparkling and fun.” Touring the shop with Gerstner is like a lesson in fragrance – a walk through the canon of under-the-radar creations, from the gold- and black-clad bottles by Memo Paris (such as African Leather, $295 for 75ml EDP, pictured left) to the sophisticated aromas of Maison Francis Kurkdjian (including eight-bottle Fragrance Wardrobes, $215 each). At the end he notes, “A fragrance is something you spray on your body, a candle you burn in your bedroom. These are extremely intimate commodities.”