Fragrance Shopping In Paris : Part I

The hazy light lends a serene quality to the view that is unfolding before me as I walk towards the Seine leaving Les Invalides with its large gilded dome behind me. The outlines of the Pont Alexandre III begin to emerge fuller, its beaten copper water spirits catching an occasional ray of sun breaking through pearly gray clouds. For me, Paris is at its most enchanting on an overcast day and preferably before trees are covered with thick foliage that obscures the distinct architectural style of the city.

paris

Perfume and Paris are linked in a strong bond that is difficult to severe. It is a place where one is guaranteed to make a fragrant discovery, be it a bottle of perfume or a scent of éclair au chocolat. Whatever sensory pleasures one wants to experience, from sight to taste, Paris offers them generously.

By the time I reach Sephora at the Caroussel du Louvre, where I am supposed to meet Neela, I already can hardly contain my excitement. Calling her up before I arrive, I ask whether she would be willing to take me on one of her signature perfume discovery tours. When I first met Neela, a fellow perfume lover, she was thinking of capitalizing on her thorough knowledge of Paris and her love of perfume. Eventually, the ideas she had took shape of Perfume Paths, customized tours of perfume treasures hiding in all corners of Paris. Naturally, I am curious, and I want to explore the perfume haunts of Paris, especially since I have only a couple of days on this visit and need to optimize my time.

Neela walks into the store, and one cannot help but notice her warm and friendly presence. She already has a plan of our adventure in mind, having previously learned about my latest perfume loves and disappointments. Moreover, I am touched that she remembers that Palais Royal is my favorite place in Paris. Not to mention, my deep affection for Serge Lutens boutique located under its arcades. The geometrically arranged rows of trees stretching their dark branches against an overcast sky on site of what used to be the residence of Cardinal Richelieu create a melancholy atmosphere. Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido with their dark purple interior and a spiral staircase in the middle have a seductively mysterious atmosphere. However, the most enticing sight is of the rows of bottles precisely arranged on the tables. I smell Iris Silver Mist, the first Serge Lutens’ fragrance that captured my heart. Created by Maurice Roucel, it is a vision of a winter garden, with scent of flowers forgotten in the snow cutting through the crisp evening air. Next, I sample Chêne, and its layers of smooth bitter wood with a rich mossy ornamentation develop into a beautiful dark veil on my skin. Neela suggests that I should wait longer for the final dryout note, but I decide that I am already too smitten. A bottle of Chêne and a replacement bottle of my other favorite Bois de Violette are being rung up for me, while Neela and I exchange a few words on the new releases with the Serge Lutens sales associates, who clearly know and like my lovely tour guide.

The sky turns darker as we walk through Jardins du Palais Royal on our way to Colette, a store on rue St. Honoré selling avant-garde clothing, home furnishings and beauty lines. Named after the famous French writer, Colette always has an atmosphere of excitement and fun. It is the place to see the latest creations by Lucien Pellat-Finet and Tom Ford as well as perfume lines like Norma Kamali that cannot be found anywhere else in Paris.

Walking via Marche du St. Honoré, we make our way to Montale boutique, which is another discovery of the day for me. A line by Pierre Montale, who used to work for Comptoir Sud Pacifique, is a journey into the Arabian Nights, with its fragrances based on rose attar, sandalwood and Middle Eastern spices. The line also includes a range based on oud, the fragrant wood of Aquilaria species. In contrast to somewhat formal Serge Lutens boutique, Montale is very laidback. A beautiful sales associate with long dark blond hair asks whether I would be interested in some samples, which is a very appealing offer, since seeing dozens of exotically named scents is both intriguing and overwhelming. Based on Neela’s suggestions and my own tentative conclusions, I ask for Crystal Flowers, Chypré Fruité and Patchouli Leaves to test later at leisure. Neela’s attention to detail amazes me once again, because as soon as we step out of the boutique, she handles me a wipe, which she gives her clients to remove the fragrances off their hands before they step into another boutique.

The column commemorating Napoléon’s 1805 military campaign that terminated in the battle of Austerlitz is the focal point of Place Vendôme, a square that is now a home to bankers and jewelers. In contrast to the opaque heaviness of the patina covered bronze column, made out of 1200 cannons seized from the Austrians and Russians, the windows of the jewelery shops scintillate with the intense glow of diamonds and sapphires. Neela and I cross Place Vendôme to reach Guerlain boutique. Its glory rose with the Second Empire of Napoléon III, whose bee motif still decorates the bottles of its classic fragrances. The boutique has a modern interior of curved walls, which is a bit of a surprise given its Art Noveau styled front. I revisit elegant Chamade extrait de parfum and opt for a beautiful heart-shaped bottle of this ravishing fragrance laced with blackcurrant and hyacinth.

Audrey Hepburn’s love for Angélina made this salon de thé quite famous, however its hot chocolat, chocolat chaud l’Africain, renders a visit there not just a consideration, but a requirement. It is starting to drizzle, and the belle époque salon with its frescoes and gilded mirrors décor feels welcoming. I decide that smoked breast of duck on a bed of fresh salad greens is what appeals to me on this slightly chilly day. Neela selects omelette aux fines herbes and salad of mâche tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil. The food is wonderful, and I am thoroughly enjoying my salad with the dark earthy flavor of duck, perfectly accented with orange scented dressing.

Please continue to Part II.

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19 Comments

  • Laura: Your writing is, as ever, so vivid and transporting—I’d actually love to be transported to the 6th arr, but maybe not today, not in August. I look forward to more of Paris and perfumed paths! August 8, 2005 at 5:45am Reply

  • Tania: Paint me green with envy, for Paris, perfume, and lunch with Neela! August 8, 2005 at 8:38am Reply

  • Victoria: L, it is just the evidence of me wanting to be transported there. Today is a very beautiful day in Paris (22C), so I do not mind being transported to the 6th arr.

    T, I miss it very much already! August 8, 2005 at 8:59am Reply

  • Paschat: V, I loved reading your blog today! I too had the pleasure on going on a Perfume Path tour with Neela in April this year. It was absolutely wonderful! August 8, 2005 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, A! Neela is a wonderful guide, and I am amazed by her ability to make the tour into a very special experience. August 8, 2005 at 1:19pm Reply

  • mreenymo: V, when did you take this perfume path tour with Neela? I can’t wait to take one with her! I look forward to tomorrow’s installment.

    Hugs! August 8, 2005 at 1:43pm Reply

  • cora-lu: Beautifully written, as always! Thank you for making me remember the beauty of Paris (I think I understand why you love it when it’s overcast, it seems to make it more chic and mysterious, a bit like Mitsouko 🙂 Looking forward to reading more!!! August 8, 2005 at 2:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear R, the last one was in December. I am sure you will enjoy it! August 8, 2005 at 4:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear C, you captured it perfectly–it is that slightly melancholy and mysterious air that I love, much like Mitsouko. Thank you for your kind words. August 8, 2005 at 4:14pm Reply

  • Victoria Owen: Ah, how wonderful to be transported back to the city I miss so much. Thank you. Only once having been there, I still miss and long to be there.

    At the time of my visit my perfume addiciton had not taken hold so I bought no fragrances.

    We stayed walking distance to the Eiffel tower and now I long to trace those steps of yours that led to the perfume houses I know and love so well.

    A fragrant dream to wish for.

    Victoria O. August 8, 2005 at 5:27pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear V, thank you so much for this sweet comment. I am glad that I managed to recreate the atmosphere well enough for it to be a small perfume journey. In a “Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemingway says, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I cannot agree more. August 8, 2005 at 5:39pm Reply

  • Diane: Ohhhh, I’m on cloud 9, darling V. Thanks to you I barely just landed from my quick late afternoon sojourn in Paris, the city of “moveable feasts.” I miss it so much and hope to return soon and meet sweet and elegant Neela.

    I love Paris when the sky is slightly overcast, too. Not only does it frame the city in a beautiful way, it will always reminds me of that first morning when we met. 🙂 August 8, 2005 at 8:38pm Reply

  • Liz smellslikeleaves: What a lovely time you had in my favorite city! OK, that settles it. I must return to Paris soon, and I must go on Neela’s perfume tour. I’m itching to get my feet into the Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido and the spanking new Guerlain boutique. Oh, and it’s been six years, but I still vividly remember tasting the chocolat chaud l’Africain at Angelina. It’s by far the most intense chocolate I’ve ever experienced! My goodness. Thanks for the vivid descriptions of your travels, it certainly is nice to escape from my current environs through your writing! August 8, 2005 at 9:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear D, I am glad that you enjoyed it. Writing about my visit made me relive all of those wonderful memories. The day we met was certainly grey and overcast, as I recall. However, it was still a very memorable day! 🙂 August 8, 2005 at 10:04pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear L, I love chocolate as much as I love perfume, therefore there are a number of places I enjoy for chocolat chaud in Paris. Angélina and Ladurée are at the top of my list (in that particular order). Ladurée has better pastries though, other than Mont Blanc (meringue filled with chestnut purée and whipped heavy cream). I am glad that my musings helped you escape from our beloved town for a moment. 🙂 August 8, 2005 at 10:12pm Reply

  • Atreau: Oh to spend the day in Paris with Neela or you would be such a delight! Thank you for sharing! August 11, 2005 at 11:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear S, it would be so wonderful! It is my pleasure to share these experiences.

    xoxo August 12, 2005 at 12:33am Reply

  • Kathy: I have a perfume ? bottle marked
    Guerlain and made in France on the bottom. It is covered with bees and the bottle resembles a hive. there is no stopper. It looks like it holds 8 to 12 oz. Does anyone know what it is? January 3, 2006 at 10:41am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kathy, it looks like a classical Guerlain bee bottle. It could have contained a number of fragrances and this large size could have been used for refills. I love this style. January 4, 2006 at 3:00pm Reply

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