Saturday, 3 April 2010

Shopping for perfume in Tunbridge Wells

Ah, Tunbridge Wells, that middle-class bastion of grammar-school-educated conservatives and the home of the infamous Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Doesn't sound appealing? Well, my family have lived here for almost three years now and I can safely assure you that, while mildly conservative, it is a lovely town and the rumors are for the most part, unfounded. It is a spa town, founded during Georgian times and is set in the glorious High Weald of West Kent, about 50 miles south of London on the way down to Hastings and Eastbourne.

Tunbridge Wells is perhaps surprisingly well-endowed with shops, restaurants and theatre, considering how close to London it is. It is well-heeled, with a lot of old money floating around and has a large professional class, many of whom commute to the City and West End of London daily. I should know - I used to be one of them, until I chose to work locally.

So, on to perfume then - are there any places to find perfume in Middle England? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are two largish department stores in town, Fenwick and Hoopers. Fenwick is a small chain and can be found in London and other parts of the country, while Hoopers (as far as I know - I stand corrected) is privately owned and unique to Tunbridge Wells. 

Hoopers is the quainter of the two, sited opposite the train station. It has an old-fashioned feel to it, with wooden staircases, narrow and slightly jumbled walkways and rooms. It has wonderful shop window displays, particularly its winter Alice in Wonderland theme. So, what perfume is stocked? There is an eclectic mix. You will find the only Guerlain counter in town, with the basic range. Nothing too fancy as far as I can tell. There are also the usual Chanel and Dior counters, again with the standard ranges. Nothing Les Exclusif here, but decent. One will also find many standard designer lines, some of which include Gucci, Prada  and Calvin Klein and Hermes. However, there are some surprises too. They carry the full Amouage range, attars notwithstanding and the Bois 1920 line. One can also find Jean-Charles Brosseau, Lalique, Creed, Miller Harris (small range) and Grossmith.

Fenwick is more modern, found in the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre at the top of Mount Pleasant. It is a touch slicker, carries the same sort of designer lines as Hoopers, but does have a few interesting lines too. The most obvious one is probably Serge Lutens (I have begged many a sample here!) but they also carry Annick Goutal, Creed, Aqua Di Parma, Penhaligons and Van Cleef and Arpels.

One thing I noticed when moving here was how much easier it is (in my experience anyway) to get samples compared to London, especially if you develop a good relationship with a sales assistant. Both Hoopers and Fenwick are very generous with their samples and I have never been refused.

Other than these two, you can get a good range of designer perfumes at Boots the Chemist, also in Victoria Place. There is also a Perfume Shop in the centre, but in my experience you don't often find anything here at a real bargain price. There is a TK Maxx out on the industrial estate on the way to the cinema complex where you can occasionally find a good perfume at a knock-down price.

Moving down to the High Street (on the way to the famous Pantiles) there is a Space NK Hypothecary, where one can find Kiehls Musk, a limited range of Diptyque (but a good range of candles) and Honore du Prez. There used to be a lovely small perfume boutique down here (sadly now closed) that stocked Lorenzo Villoresi and some harder-to-find Creeds . The owner was a real perfume fan and was keen to crack open the samples and share them with me, but rising prices in a recession and in reality not much of a market in a smallish English town did him in.

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