Checkout: Penhaligon's
What is it? A traditional perfumer, and has been for 127 years. Six shops around the West End, with highly pungent interiors and shining surfaces, beguile you into a trance-like state where aroma enters a higher plane. Not likely to be added on to your weekly shopping trawl, but if you fall in love with one of their fragrances you're sure to return - they're all created exclusively for Penhaligon's.

Who shops there? Elderly gents stocking up on their Lords cologne (pounds 32) and shaving soap (pounds 11) and inevitable tourists desperate for a slice of real England make for a curious pot-pourri of a clientele. Those who can't abide mingling with hoi polloi leaf through the scented catalogue from the creaking comfort of their leather armchair and telephone through their order.

What other services do they offer? A limited range of scents is bolstered by their satellite merchandise: English Fern talc (pounds 7), extravagant trinkets and Auntie's choice, the Lily of the Valley gift set (pounds 16). At 5.30pm on Christmas Eve the ornamental room spray, a cool pounds 95, is transformed into the perfect gift, ("I'll take a dozen"). The immaculately turned- out staff are happy to do a little 'bespoke' gift wrapping.

What should I buy? The dreamy essence of bluebell (from pounds 7 - pounds 51) is a refreshing alternative to the high street regulars.

What not to buy: Only the bravest of souls would splash out on the Violetta range. One dab of the sugary potion and you are forever doomed to smell of a breath-freshener. The novelty soon wears off.

Penhaligon's by Request, freephone 0800 716108

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