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Perfume shop a well-kept Clareview secret 

Debbie Vegera is a woman of uncommon scents -- about 1,500 of them, in fact.


Debbie Vegera is a woman of uncommon scents -- about 1,500 of them, in fact.

Each of the myriad bottles and vials neatly displayed on the shelves of Kiki's Perfume Shop Inc., at 13835 42nd St. holds an odour unique to it -- and, as far as the laws of chemistry are concerned, unique to the customer who buys the product.

"Scents are associated with the person. Someone might say, 'this reminds me of my first boyfriend,' although I don't know if that's a good thing," she says smiling.

And even as a purveyor of perfumes, not even she likes them all.

"Some are bad (to me), but everybody smells things differently." The perfume's scent itself can change once it's applied -- depending on body chemistry, which can be influenced by things like age or skin colour, she said.

Vegera's shop, nestled in a small power centre just off 137th Avenue in Clareview, attracts some notice at first because it's the only one with bars on the windows -- the result of a 2007 break-in that she describes as "a grand opening I didn't expect." Although the business has been there since March 2007, Vegera says new customers tend to "kind of stumble in here." She's done some advertising, "but it's expensive." But a portable sign just off the main road leading to the Clareview LRT station announces the business's presence.

If those walking onto the premises are expecting the riotous cloud of conflicting smells they experience around some department store perfume counters, they will be disappointed.

There is a background smell of flowers and spices. They might be met by Odie, a Chihuahua with a demeanour that suggests he, not Vegera, is the proprietor of the store.

Vegera said having a perfume store wasn't her lifelong ambition. Her working career began as a typesetter for various printing operations in Edmonton.

"I sort of fell into the business. My aunt was a cosmetician at Shoppers and she knew a (perfume) wholesaler with an opening." While she learned the business, she said she discovered people would phone for specific scents -- but as a wholesaler, she couldn't sell to them.

"I knew that if I opened a store, I could sell to the public." Vegera knows that the perfume business is one with a very long history. Ancient Egyptians used perfumed balms in religious rituals and spicy myrrh and frankincense, purported gifts that the wise men gave to celebrate Christ's birth, were worth their weight in gold as medicines used to treat many diseases (sort of the first aromatherapy) and to mask the smell of death.

While the scents Vegera carries aren't that old, many still have a modern history in terms of being around a long time.

One brand, Creed, was founded in 1760 and, according to the literature in Vegera's shop "has been one of the best-kept secrets of the perfume world, patronized by the seriously rich and famous." Another, Joy, by Jean Patou, has been around since 1930 -- and was once the world's most expensive perfume. The company says "each ounce of the fragrance contains the essence of more than 10,000 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen roses." Kiki's carries a spectrum of perfume lines for women and men (there are dozens of varieties of male-oriented scents on one wall).

One that Vegera is proud of is unique in Edmonton to her store -- perfumes by Annick Goutal of Paris, who developed scents designed to "bring out certain emotions." The range of "celebrity" perfumes are there as well -- and sales are definitely tied to the news and gossip of those that lend their names to the product. "Britney sales are definitely down. It's the same thing with Paris Hilton," she said.

But Vegera says she doesn't drop stock because someone goes into rehab.

"One thing people love about this store is that I keep the perfume in stock." Those who find their favourite fragrance at Kiki's once, can find it there later, she said.

Vegera says she tries to cater to the whole spectrum of tastes and incomes. Her perfume prices range from $10 to $250 a bottle.

And, as for the name "Kiki's," Vegera says it's her daughter's nickname.

"Since I opened, I've met a lot of Kikis -- people, dogs, cats and," she says with a laugh, "a racehorse." SOMETHING IN THE AIR - The worldwide perfume industry is worth $10 billion a year.

- Ambergris, the bile from whale intestines is still used in some perfumes.

- Spraying a bit of perfume into the air and walking into it is a good way to ensure an even application of the scent.

- There is an active trade in perfume bottles -- with or without perfume -- on the Internet.