Niche may be the hottest topic in fragrance—another day, another indie acquisition—but at Aedes de Venustas, it’s always been about the rare, exquisite brands. Established in 1995, Aedes has been a launch pad for lines like Frédéric Malle and Diptyque, and it continues to be a destination for those who want to smell the next buzzed-about scent—all within a rich, opulent atmosphere.
We spoke with cofounder Robert Gerstner to find out how Aedes has created one of the most exciting—and relevant—retail experiences right now.
How It All Began
Gerstner and Karl Bradl, co-founder of Aedes, arrived from Munich in 1992 with no experience in the beauty industry (Gerstner worked in international logistics, while Bradl was a banker), yet they were hardly strangers to it. “We both had a passion for fragrance, candles, skincare, and body care,” says Gerstner. “One day, Karl said to me, ‘You know what? There isn’t a single store in New York, or the US for that matter, that has the brands we love under one roof. We thought, ‘This is something we should look into.’”
That European Flair
Gerstner and Bradl quickly reached out to brands like L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, and Santa Maria Novella about their concept: Creating what Gerstner described at the time as an “Old World European” shop—the antithesis of the “clean, sleek department store.”
Located at 15 Christopher Street, their new shop had burgundy walls, plush carpet, gilded furniture, and elaborate floral arrangements—it was pure opulence.
Gerstner recalls fragrance writer Chandler Burr’s description of Aedes de Venustas: “1900’s French boudoir-slash-whorehouse,” he says, laughing. “[Burr] can be very dry.”
Aedes has moved twice since then—once down the street, and in 2015, around the corner to 7 Greenwich Avenue. Their newest address may be their most spacious, but it still has the same ambiance.
Say It with Flowers
While the assortment was exciting enough for Aedes to stand out in the beauty world, at one point, “Karl said, ‘We have to do something to promote the store,’” says Gerstner. Karl’s idea: “Instead of just gift-wrapping an item, why don’t we put fresh flowers on top of it?” This became such a hit with press and customers (“You’re getting two gifts in one!” says Gerstner), that the fresh floral gift wrap has become an Aedes signature.
During the holidays, Bradl makes daily trips to the flower market, as the shop does about 4,000 individual floral gift wraps. “We have two employees who do nothing else but wrap presents,” says Gerstner. “After the holidays are over, they don’t want to see a single flower.”
A Christmas Miracle
Gerstner remembers the moment—or customer, rather—who took Aedes from neighborhood shop to global beauty destination.
“Naomi Campbell comes walking down the stairs to our old [basement] location,” he says.
Though she was on a mission to buy imported eye drops (on recommendation from Vogue), she looked around and said, “Oh my God! You have all the things I love! Diptyque candles and Czech & Speake….do you guys do corporate gifts?”
Aedes never had, but before they could answer, she said, “Get a pen and paper,” recalls Gerstner. “Two hours after she left—once we closed our mouths—we got to work on her Christmas gifts.”
From there, “pretty much all [of her gift recipients] wanted to work with us for their corporate gifts! Most of those clients are still loyal customers. Naomi made us big.”
The Personal Touch
While some of Aedes’s big time brands (Maison Francis Kurkdjian and Frédéric Malle, among others) have since sold to larger corporations, there is still an intimacy about their company. That’s largely because Gerstner and Bradl are incredibly selective, wrinkling their noses at the industry’s obsession with “newness.”
“We are very picky about bringing in new brands,” says Gerstner, who debuts about one line a year. Another factor: “We have great relationships with the brands we carry,” he says. “Either that, or it doesn’t work.”
One brand that’s especially close to home: Nomenclature, created by Bradl and Carlos Quintero. The line heroes some of the most inspiring molecules used in fragrance.
It’s sophisticated, unusual, and totally unsurprising that it was born at Aedes.
Images courtesy of Aedes de Venustas