In conversation with Heidi Kivinen, founder of Petit St Louis

Petit St Louis is a charming concept store located where you would not expect it: in Lahti, a small town in the west of Finland. Yet, this is a place filled with delicate scents and olfactory expertise. Petit St Louis sells Byredo and Diptique, as the only retailer in the country with the latter. I had a chat with Heidi, the wonderful co-Founder of the store about how she feels about olfactory living.

Hi Heidi! You co-own the concept store Petit St Louis in Lahti. What is it all about?

Petit St Louis is a concept store in Lahti, specializing in quality products at reasonable prices.
It is a mix of understated modern luxury and old-fashioned, well-made products that bring joy in one’s everyday life.

Tell me about your olfactory journey. How and when did your interest in scents arise?

As a small child I became very interested in scents and they have always had a special role in my life. I connect almost everything with scents: places, events, seasons, people, countries, shops, etc. For me even days of the week like Mondays and Tuesdays have their signature scents. I have conciously tried to develop my sense of smell and have different boxes for various olfactory landscapes inside my head.
I’m very curious about and open towards every scent or smell even though they may not be very pleasant. My scent philosophy is the same as my life philosophy: to be open, simple, kind to oneself and others and to enjoy all life’s pleasures.

What is your first olfactory memory?

My first olfactory memory is a drawer where my father kept his pipe, which he no longer smoked. It was the smell of the combination of the wood of the drawer that had imbued the scent of the pipe and its tobacco that was so intoxicating.
The other memory is the smell of my father’s paintbrushes in solvent which he used at work. That’s why I love Byredo’s Sunday Cologne, it reminds me of those times from my childhood when my father took me to spend the day with him at work.

How does your hometown Lahti smell like?

I was born in Lahti and my hometown has a very special place in my heart. Lahti smells like old
railway stations, tracks in the rain, and stinging nettles. Combined with the scent of Byredo perfumes of course! Very honest, simple smells.

You obviously have a deep attachment to fashion. How would you see the world of fashion and fragrance relate to each other?

Trends and seasons come and go the same way in fragrances as they do in fashion.
Perfume brands collaborate with fashion brands and vice versa. For example, Ben Gorham’s Byredo is collaborating with Virgil Abloh’s Off White collection of bags and clothing and their fragrance called Elevator Music. I think the two brands belong together and work very well together.

Do you always wear perfume? Do you have THE ONE, or do you switch between bottles?

I always wear perfume, I couldn’t imagine going without. Wearing perfume is as natural for me as taking a shower or drinking a cup of morning coffee.
I’m quite faithfull to my Byredo’s Sunday Cologne, Diptyque’s L’Ombre dans l’Eau mixed with Eau Rose, Orange Verte by Hérmes and Fredric Malle’s Portrait of the Lady for the evenings.
Rarely there’s any newcomers in my fragrance collection, although I am tempted at the moment by Diptyque’s Oyédo mixed with Eau Rose and their newest one called Tempo.

You have a knack for helping people to find the right scent for themselves. How do you do that?

Finding the right perfume for my customers is always a journey.
It’s a question of interaction, and I always want to help my customers to relax and allow themselves to open their senses to different scents and to forget their previous ideas and habits. I encourage them to have fun and to use images to ascertain what they like.
In order to find the fragrance for my client that will reflect his or her physical, emotional and spiritual presence, I like to gather information on my clients.

I think scents are strongly related to memories, places, images, culture, etc. And none of us has exactly the same experiences or ”scent backgrounds” so I try to find out what my customer’s scent background is before we start talking ”the same language”. Observing my customer’s body language is essential in our collaborative journey to find the perfect perfume for them.

What’s your favorite smell in the world?

My favorite smell in the world is anything that is not artificial. I also like the rare smell of nothing. I love the scent of my cat’s neck, my husband after a sauna, my friend’s sweater when he hugs me, people passing by on the streets of Paris wearing Sisley’s eau de Soir...

Any olfactory dreams (eg. Places you’d like to go, things you'd like to do, perfumes you’d like to own, people you’d like to smell….?)

My olfactory dream is to become a perfumer.
If somebody at school had told me that there is a job called perfumer I would have taken my French and chemistry studies more seriously. Maybe it’s not too late now. As a minimum, I would like to see great perfumers at work in Grasse.


Image via: Heidi Kivinen