Smells like Amsterdam: Mokum in a Bottle

Bringing you along a journey to define the capital’s olfactive print

One could easily capture the city’s scent thanks to the aroma of Febo’s kroketjes, smoky tolerated grass, horse menure, rain, sugary waffles, far off marine breeze and whatever happens in the bustling streets in the center. Yet it can’t sum it up and there is much more running through the veins of Amsterdam, that is to say, much more in store for the perfumista in you.

Keep in mind that the sense of smell is the first sense we acquire in utero and the olfactory nerve is the shortest to the brain, so hell yes, perfume matters!

According to both of German origins and big “blockbusters” located on Kalverstraat, Ici Paris XL and Douglas, it is difficult to differentiate the tastes of local customers and those of the tourists, the best-sellers remaining quite stable and similar: “La vie est belle” by Lancôme, the now classic “Coco Mademoiselle” by Chanel and “Lady Million” by Paco Rabanne for women, and “Boss bottled” by Hugo Boss, “Bleu” by Chanel, the old timer “Jean-Paul Gauthier” and “One Million” by Paco Rabanne for men.

Shop assistants claimed that overall, Dutch customers tend to go for their usual signature product and that the buying behaviour is the only factor that truly varies: tourists naturally tend to buy smaller sizes and their purpose is often to bring back presents, while Dutchies love something quite sweet but still discrete, usually sticking to one item in their basket. Some assert that they will always be very sensitive to marketing and current trends although they usually know what they’re going to buy in advance and mostly take the price and possible discount into account. Apparently, though they tend to stay on the safe side, they don’t seem to have fussy tastes but they’re still keen on trying some samples.

I also walked in Dutch-based cosmetics brand Rituals. Founded about 15 years ago, their foaming shower gel now stands amongst the most popular choices since they were the first to introduce this kind of genius texture. When it comes to women’s fragrances, the most adored “Sweet and Bohemian” displays a pink pepper base, so again, light and soft but slightly tangy composition. As far as home fragrances are concerned, it is interesting to notice that the smell of fig tree is a big hit, just like Philosykos, by Diptyque, that you can find in this lovely “niche” cosmetics mecca Skins (I personally love their wide selection and passion, just like Babassu in Oud Zuid) on Runstraat. Same goes with this new store, Perfume by me, which opened about three months ago on Kalverstraat, which offers a unique concept; creating your own juice, and fig is a major winner for them as well.


There is a remarkable leitmotiv with the peppery notes, as it is definitely in the blend of the most plébiscité citrusy liquid soap by the fans of Marie Stella Maris (negen straatjes), another Dutch brand, created in 2011 by former creative director of Scotch and Soda. The capital even seems like it is part of the brand identity here, as the “Objets d’Amsterdam” home perfume, based on white tea notes, is the most popular of the range. Their philosophy is to contribute to clean water projects and prepare products using natural ingredients. I somehow fell for the francophile touch of the name given to their potions and lotions! Somewhere between Kiehl’s and Aesop, they minimize their packaging, carry out a fancy but still no-nonsense communication and use essential oils, while their customers are looking for something more outgoing, drifting a little from the mainstream. After all, they started as a water brand (to be found in still or sparkling version in a lot of bars and restaurants) and which city could evoke water best than A’dam?

Marie Stella Maris
Marie Stella Maris

Continuing on this green glam vibe and in the same neighborhood, the Thai candle and home diffusers BsaB (pronounce “Bee-sah-Bee”) founded 8 years ago, had some interesting facts for my survey, since they own stores in Asia, a few in Europe, including one to open November this year in Paris, but already two in The Netherlands. Their main focus is on choosing organic raw materials as well as making everything themselves with a fair approach, creating themselves their bottles and containers with recycled materials, using for instance coconut shelves as candle holders. Their best-seller is the “Tranquillity” formula, which successfully recreates a spa atmosphere, thanks to a nice cocktail of eucalyptus, mint, lavender, rosemary, tea tree) and “Darjeeling tea”. Again, no specific outstanding trend, the Dutchies always seem to aim for something crisp and fresh to make their home gezellig. Most people buy products essentially for their bathroom and love the exotic herbal tone, discreet but still long-lasting scents.

The perfume choices of a city might actually reflect its history and personality : spices like Santal found in “Santal 33” by Le Labo also features on the top favourites in stores that sell more exclusive and rare brands and we may draw a parallel between the cooking fashion, Dutch cuisine being known for its basic plain composition, but with a more creative multicultural and healthy twist.

Cherry on the cake: there is even a proper “Eau d’Amsterdam” cologne! It features the signature elm blossom, supposedly typical of the city! Available in most museums.

Amsterdam in a bottle
Amsterdam in a bottle

For more tips and information on how to find the best perfumes in Amsterdam, click here.


Some other local emblematic odours:

  • Zwitsal for born and raised Dutchies, a typical baby powder authentic voyage to each other’s genesis.
  • Grounded coffee beans in the nowadays called “Koffie salons” : Amsterdamers love their freshly brewed black delicacy to be enjoyed all day long (even late in the evening, which I must say is a true blessing, considering it’s not the case in France for example) we recommend Back to Black on Weteringstraat and Quartier Putain on The beautiful flower market, even though, ironically, tulips don’t smell much !
  • Old Genever, which, in a way, makes you feel like you’re drinking some plant essence straight from the bottle.
  • Fietsreparatie shops, because why not ?
  • Van Stapele 3 chocolates cookies: to die for and undebatably the best, they’ve become an institution and smell fabulous. Head near the Spui and get your fix, because there are some rare cases where ignorance is far from being bliss.




Who knows which of these smells will remind you of Amsterdam if you ever decide to leave?



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