Scent of a City – Exploring Local Colognes

What are the scents that define Vienna? I don’t mean Kaiserschmarrn with warm plums or Christmas market punch or the acrid smell of the carriage horses by Stephansdom. I mean the bottled fragrances – perfumes, colognes, waters, oils – that cannot be purchased around the world in duty-free carts.

Seven generations of the Filz family have owned and run the parfumerie filz on the Graben. You will likely meet the two youngest of these – mother and daughter – on any given visit to the shop. They draw from recipe books that go back two centuries.

The fragrance Viennese Darling sells for a reasonable price (€55 with gift box) and couldn’t be more traditionally Viennese. Created in 1830 by the founding Filz perfumer, its citrus elements don’t overwhelm the balance.

Our sense of smell can bring back a time and place | Photo: Parfümerie JB Filz, Knize & Comp., Satudigl

Our sense of smell can bring back a time and place | Photo: Parfümerie JB Filz, Knize & Comp., Satudigl

The founder’s great-great-great-great granddaughter explains that Viennese Darling, “spreads the unmistakable feeling of the Vienna waltz.” What better gift to send internationally?

Another nineteenth-century Filz favorite, their Eau de Lavande seems suprisingly distinctive. I couldn’t put my finger on it until the senior Ms. Filz explained that it combines French lavender with “a touch of rose petals.” The finely calibrated tincture smells both classic and surprising.

If Filz emanates a comme-il-faut tradition, the new shop le dix-neuf creates an atmosphere of modern desire. Lounge electronica plays. Rough cement walls artfully offset the gleaming glass shelves.

A twenty-something with immaculate tresses points me to the store’s one Viennese offering, the unisex line Wiener Blut whose bottles are attractive affairs with Renaissance script over a gold escutcheon. The most widely attractive scent, perhaps, is Florentine with its note of “pimenta leaves, Sicilian bergamot, bitter orange, ylang ylang, cedarwood, labdanum drops,” and so on. The line’s name (“Viennese blood”) misleads, however – its recipes stem from nineteenth-century Paris.

Saint Charles Apothecary and its Cosmothecary (opposite each other on Gumpendorferstraße) are worth a visit just to experience the atmosphere. One almost feels a surge of well-being just breathing the botanically-scented air. A cheery Belle and Sebastian song played in the background of the Apotheke when I walked in. A shop attendant handed me a cup of tea.

The store’s Saint line, in gorgeously simple bottles, features a lovely Lily of the Valley perfume. You’ll also find the line from Vienna fashion-designer duo “Wendy and Jim”. The bottle is a porcelain fox skull. From the crown of the skull stems the old-fashioned perfume atomiser. The downside: price – €430. The scent – voluptuous and plummy – can be had for €130. (In addition, Saint Charles sells terrific non-Vienna scents including the Brooklyn-based C.B. I Hate Perfume and the London-based Organic Pharmacy.)

For myself, I take home a Saint Rosewasser spray. It’s not exactly a cologne, but it’s something I myself notice long after I spray it over my face and neck for midday moisture. For half the price I paid at Saint Charles, staudigl naturperfumerie offers a much larger bottle of rosewater (or orange or…) by PhytoPharma. Many of Staudigl’s scents come from outside Vienna. It offers a wide selection of scents capable of satisfying even the pickiest nose – and most stringent requirements of naturally-sourced ingredients.

The Austrian line Susanne Kaufmann is a Staudigl standout. As Kaufmann herself explains, “The percentage of active plant ingredients is especially high [in my ingredients].” Rosehip seed oil and cuckoo flower oil beautify the skin with the benefit of luxurious scents. Kaufmann’s lavender-based pillow spray makes a wonderful gift for the insomniac in your life.

And for the men in your life, try the kniže men’s shop next door to Parfumerie Filz. The bold Kniže Ten is billed as “the first men’s perfume line in the world.”

But why go to the trouble of finding a local, botanical scent in the first place?

Let me make the case with an anecdote. I once lived in an attic down the street from one of Paris’s finest perfume shops. All mirrors and glass, bottles filled with various shade of gold, the store exuded a heady swirl of florals and citrus and spice. To me, the scent of that shop will always be the fragrance of Paris. I can find it nowhere else in the world.

So when displacement is the modern norm, why not give ourselves a tonic capable of forever invoking the memories of each distinct place?

Consider it Vienna in a bottle.


Parfumerie Filz and Kniže

1., Graben 13


le dix-neuf, 

1., Seilergasse 19


Saint Charles, 

6., Gumpendorfer 30 and 33 


Staudigl Naturperfumerie

1., Wollzeile 4

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