By, Joseph Robert
For twenty years there has been a moving “temple of beauty” on Christopher Street in the West Village. Aedes de Venustas, or “temple of beauty,” is a niche fragrance boutique conceived by its co-owners Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner in 1995 and opened at no. 15 Christopher Street. It reigned there for seven years and in 2002 the temple moved to no. 9 Christopher Street. Thirteen years later, its fame solidified by niche fragrance lovers worldwide, the temple has moved again – this time to No. 1 Christopher Street. The space is bigger and grander, but the shop retains the intimacy that Karl and Robert strive for and achieve. Oh, and the temple has a new name – “Aedes Perfumery.”
Aedes Perfumery reopened on October 4. This writer went to visit the shop that day and Karl was gracious enough to speak about the move and his beloved West Village emporium. The move was a labor of love and on this day, Karl was experiencing it more as labor, noting that he and Robert were in the shop until nearly 2am to get everything ready. “Unfortunately some brackets did not fit where we hoped they would and so the Penhaligon’s bottles could not be displayed today. But they will get back on display!”
What’s in a name, you ask? “It means ‘Temple of Beauty’,” explains Karl. “We were searching for a universal name and looked into the Latin language. Coming from Germany we didn’t even realize how difficult it is to pronounce the name here in the U.S., but after all it probably helped [the shop] to stand out.” The shop certainly has become a standout. Karl is eager to point out that “beauty” refers to far more than just beauty products. “Temple of Beauty stands for everything beautiful: flowers, fragrances, packaging, design, decor.” Based on that definition, Karl and Robert are confident that their shop has lived up to its name. The shop is always resplendent with flowers, crystal chandeliers, plush carpeting and gilded mirrors. I asked Karl if he felt the store has changed at all over 20 years and three locations. “We’ve been always true to our roots,” he replied. “The look and feel of the store has always stayed the same. Obviously the collection of our brands has expanded tremendously since back in the days and the works of art in flowers became more and more voluptuous throughout the years.” As for the new location, “we are happy to have a better exposure and more room to play. For instance, we have six windows to decorate (instead of just one.) We can showcase our work much better and on a grander spectrum. Personally I think the move is an upgrade and hopefully it brings Aedes to the next level.”
Since they were moving, Karl and Robert thought it was time to change more than just location. “With the move of our store we changed it up a little bit,” Karl states. “For the new boutique we use ‘Aedes Perfumery.’ ‘Aedes de Venustas’ is now the name of our fragrance line.” Under the “Aedes de Venustas” name, Karl and Robert have created an award-winning line of scents over the years, using some of the world’s best perfume houses – Art et Parfums, Firmenich, Givaudan and Mane. In 2014, the Fragrance Foundation awarded Aedes the coveted perfume extraordinaire of the year title for “Iris Nazarena.” Perfumer Ralf Schwieger developed the scent for Mane.
Although their shop hasn’t changed much since 1995, Karl and Robert agree that the retail fragrance industry has. “Back then the word niche fragrance didn’t even exist yet,” explains Karl. “There were only a couple of niche brands out there such as Diptqyue, Goutal, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier and L’Artisan. The Internet helped a lot to educate the consumer and customers now come to the store with a lot more knowledge. A huge credit also goes to Frederic Malle, who started to introduce noses and gave them their deserved credit.” In addition to Penhaligon’s and the Aedes de Venustas line, some of the top lines currently carried by the store are Aesop, Atelier Cologne, Annick Goutal, Byredo, Diptyque, Editions de Parfums by Frederic Malle, Ladurée, Lalique Parfums, Nomenclature, Santa Maria Novello, Serge Lutens and Shalini.
These days Karl is particularly proud of “Adr_ett” by Nomenclature. He was involved in its development and it is his current “go to” scent. “I love wearing “Adr_ett” by Nomenclature. The line celebrates design in perfume chemistry showcasing captive molecules. “Adr_ett” is based on a Firmenich musk molecule called Helvetolide. It’s an every-day-kind-of-scent, clean and pleasant.” Being involved in fragrance development is one of the ways that Karl and Robert remain excited about the industry. “Being involved in new fragrance creations, working directly with the perfumer, designing the artwork for the perfume and seeing the whole process come to life is always an excitement.”
Karl is concerned that right now the consumer market is swamped with beauty, fragrance and fashion products. Karl: “On a recent trip to Europe I realized that even luxury brands [have] become mass [produced.] You can get the same things anywhere you go in the world, no matter where you go!” How can a brand or a store stand out in such a climate? According to Karl the answer is “individuality, exclusivity and craftsmanship.” Those are traits that Karl and Robert hope become long-term trends. A trend they’d like to see less of? “Bad design.” Rest assured, you won’t see that at No. 1 Christopher Street.