A new perfume promises the smell of Karangahape Road, good and bad. Mad Chapman gives it a sniff.
What does K Road smell like to you? Is it exhaust? Sweat? Nangs? Piss? Or is it the fruity smell of shisha? Uncle Man’s roti? The specific-yet-indescribable smell of Sal’s? The dust and must of the secondhand clothing stores?
Road by Karangahape promises all those smells and more. Launched yesterday and rather ironically produced by Wellington-based “fume-ologist” OF BODY, the perfume is a genuine attempt to bottle the smell of New Zealand’s most smell-filled street.
Nathan Taare, chief scentsmith at OF BODY, says it’s all about using every smell, delicious and disgusting, to make the perfect scent. “All great perfumes contain ‘bad smells’ and ‘good smells’, and K Rd contains those things in droves,” he said in a statement. “What makes a perfume interesting is contrast, the pairing of potentially off-putting notes with the pleasant ones, and the finding that balance.”
Taare promises a “special occasion perfume” with a “surprising magnetic smell that will compel deep nostalgia in anyone within the wearer’s radius.”
So what does Road by Karangahape smell like?
Firstly, the packaging is excellent. Vacuum-sealed in a silver packet, this bottle is ready for war. The bottle itself is a standard, sharp-edged, heavy glass with an even heavier chunk of concrete (allegedly from K Road itself) for the lid. It’s a real perfume that would look at home in any duty free gift shop. Destination: Saloon Bar.
It’s a limited edition run, with only 150 being sold and only on K Road (no online sales). The locations for sales each day will be posted on the K Road instagram account for the next six weeks (today there are 10 bottles at The Caker). All proceeds will be donated to Lifewise.
I remove the lid and sniff the nozzle, as is custom. There’s not much to it but a hint of…oil? I spray once on my wrist and a lot squirts out. The smell is instant, an assault on the senses. There’s metal, as promised, and definitely a bit of petrol and alcohol, and not much else. It’s genuinely overwhelming and I’m scared to walk around the office too much as people will notice. Because here’s the thing: it smells like K Road. And smelling like K Road is all well and good, but not in an office setting.
I sit at my desk feeling like Brian Fantana in Anchorman. But as the afternoon stretches on and the scent settles in, it starts to smell…quite good. The sweet notes find their way through and mix more with my clothing. With a bit of human (why does that sound so gross) smell, it becomes an earthy, bittersweet scent with just a hint of petrol. Not bad!
I take the bottle home after work and my partner is, fittingly, getting ready to go to K Road on a Friday night – to work the door at Whammy Bar. I show her the bottle and insist that it ended up smelling alright. She used to live on K Road and when I’d asked her what her strongest scent memories were, she replied: “piss, synnies, Curionoir Pablo, asphalt, bus”. Honestly, she was pretty damn close.
To honour her upcoming trip, she takes the bottle and gives a hearty spray down the inside front of her shirt. Immediately she regrets it. “I smell bad!” she yells, walking around the house and fanning her front. It’s a small house and I can smell it in every room. She adds her own Jo Malone (wood sage and sea salt) which helps, and I assure her it just takes a while to settle in.
Five hours later, at 2.30am, I pick her up again. She gets in the car and I smell an evening on K Road. Nicotine, alcohol, something floral (vapes?), sweat and a mixture of perfumes. It’s a distinctly human smell, one that’s neither good nor bad, it just is. I can’t tell if I’m smelling Road by Karangahape or the real deal.