Cape Town – There are few things that thrill me more than discovering something new to do in Cape Town.
The First South African Perfume Museum is one, where you can marvel at a huge, glittering array of gorgeous bottles, and related treasures.
Owned by the Kumanov family – who hail from Bulgaria where they were once traders of rose and lavender oils centuries ago, and are still perfumers today – the collection began as a personal one, and now fills several rooms. It’s open to the public by appointment, and Daniela Kumanov will conduct a personal tour during which she will tell you stories about the history of perfume, and the origins of the hundreds of bottles which range from cloudy glass to cut crystal. Elaborate travelling kits from a bygone era are filled with fascinating items inlaid with tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, and trimmed with silver, which were essential to the stylish man or woman of the time.
After you’ve oohed and aahed over these beautiful things, you can attend a Perfume Privé workshop to create your own signature fragrance. There are various options available, and depending on which one you choose, you’ll go home with a glossy black bag embossed with silver, filled with pure oil, body cream, and/or a stylish bottle of scent.
It was a bit intimidating at first, but under Kumanov’s guidance I soon relaxed. There were several bottles of base oils on the table, from which she instructed me to select up to three, and no more than four. In front of me were teeny tiny glass beakers, pipettes, and wooden stirring tools. There was also a glass of coffee beans which you sniff in between to clear your nostrils and limit any confusion. It’s the olfactory version of eating crackers while you’re tasting wine, which incidentally, has some similarities with perfume.
Both have to be matured, explained Kumanov, and both have base, middle, and top notes. And perfume is distilled in a very similar manner to brandy or whisky.
But back to my perfume. Kumanov is a gracious hostess and went off to make me a cup of tea while I sniffed the bottles. Refreshments – sparkling wine even, if I hadn’t been driving – are included in the workshops. By the time she got back I had selected three bottles. “Oh, I see you’ve chosen the aphrodisiac oil,” said Kumanov. Well, that figures I suppose, although it wasn’t intentional; I just really liked the way it smells.
From the final selection, I mixed 30ml of oils, which can be done in any ratio you like. Since the base note is the one that lingers the longest, I put most of my favourite – with hints of vanilla – in the beaker, and topped it up with the good dash of the aphrodisiac. Hey, it can’t hurt. “Very sexy, very classy,” was Kumanov’s verdict.
A third of this pure oil is decanted into a dark blue bottle with a dropper, to be applied to pulse points or added to a bath. This is a good way to wear perfume because it doesn’t fill the air around you. Others will only know about it when they get close. The rest of the oil was mixed with ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Most of the mixture went into a heavy glass bottle onto which you crimp the spray pump, and the rest was mixed in with a body cream.
I was – am – delighted with my new fragrance, which Divine Lady D has named Jezebel.
This is a unique experience, fun as well as educational. Workshops at the museum are ideal for small groups, but larger corporate events can be arranged.
The museum is at 3 Viola Road, Bloubergrand. Entrance costs R70. For more information and to book an appointment call 072 342 4174. See http://www.perfumepriveworkshops.com and http://www.kumanovperfumery.com