I did have one more Scent Adventure to publish after I returned from Europe last summer but the story was put on hold after some other priorities took over. I recently came back to my half-finished story and this is the posthumous recount of my scented tale from October 2012.
By the time I finished traveling along the Cote d’Azur, summer was already showing signs of its annual retirement and Paris offered me a cool hand in reception when I arrived from Nice. After two weeks of study at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, it was time to make the gradual journey back to Australia. My route would take me to Paris and on to London before boarding a 24 hour flight to Sydney.
In Paris, I stayed with a close friend from New Zealand who is now living in London. We used Airbnb to find a cozy apartment in Le Marais, at the heart of Paris’ 3rd arrondissement. Airbnb is a great source of accommodation, allowing you to feel like you are living in a foreign city instead of living out of a suitcase in a hotel. Our apartment was typically Parisian with a large centre courtyard and a resident gargoyle, a retired woman who held a watchful eye over those who passed through the heavy wooden doors that led onto the street.
Le Marais literally means the marsh, a reminder of what these streets once were many centuries ago. After passing from the hands of Parisian aristocracy to the working class, it is today one of the city’s most fashionable areas on the right bank of the Seine. The narrow streets that make up the Marais are often the preferred location for local designers to sell their collections and the area constantly bustles with fashionable and creative young people. It is one of the few areas in Paris where retailers remain open for business on Sunday. Another facet of the Marais is its Jewish heritage, which dates back to the 13th century. Contemporary Jewish culture can be easily accessed in today’s Marais with a number of Jewish bookstores, cultural centers and cafes dotted around the neighbourhood. One of the area’s oldest streets, rue de Rossier, is where you will find the best falafel pita pockets in Paris at L’as du Fallafel. Let the constant queue of people outside this café’s door be a testament of just how good the food is. As a vegetarian it was a welcome change to the staple diet of potato gratin and salad I had survived on for the past two weeks.
Within a three-block radius of L’as du Fallafel, the Marais offered a wide variety of perfume stores, agreeing with my opinion that if Grasse is le grand atelier of perfume, Paris is surely perfume’s grand magasin. Adjacent to L’as du Fallafel was Miller et Bertaux, a brand known for their unique apparel, accessories and perfumes. Further down the street was one of my favourite independent perfume houses, The Different Company. Their window displays showcased their most recent edition to The Collection Excessive, Aurore Nomade. On rue Francs-Bourgeios I visited Guerlain, Diptyque, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Jo Malone and Acqua di Parma, where staff were proudly promoting a new oud fragrance, a floral/woody laced oud that retained the clean-cut feel of the original Colonia.
In addition to these independent perfumeries the Marais offered a handful of multi-branded perfumeries such as the popular Sens Unique and the quaint, Marie Antoinette. Sens Unique carried an impressive selection of niche perfumes, which included Parfumerie Generale, Olfactive Studio, Parfums MDCI, Etat Libre d’Orange and Honore des Pres. Their generous opening hours also made them a good place to end a day of shopping before getting a late bite to eat in one of the Marais’ many restaurants.
On my second day I ventured to a small list of addresses I like to visit every time I am in Paris. The day began with a walk down the beautiful Avenue Montaigne with briefs visits to Caron and Christian Dior. From there I walked to the Champs-Elysees so that I could see La Maison Guerlain one last time before it undergoes renovation. Although I had come across Guerlain counters with the newly launched Les Deserts d’Orient collection, I had resisted sampling the testers so that I could do this in the brand’s historic maison on the Champs-Elysees. The range didn’t disappoint and I left with a bottle of Rose Nacree du Desert. I also sampled Guerlain’s limited edition, Le Bolshoi 2012 and I added Habit Rouge Extrait to my wish list for a future visit.
After Guerlain I took the metro to Concorde overlooking the Place de la Concorde where Marie Antoinette had the misfortune of meeting her fate with the guillotine. This was of interest to me as I would be visiting Versailles at the end of the week and I had recently finished reading Elisabeth de Feydeau’s highly regarded book, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer. A block away on rue Cambon I visited the place of another matriarch in Parisian history, Coco Chanel. The façade of 31 rue Cambon looked much the same, as it did all those decades ago when soldiers lined the street in order to purchase a bottle of No. 5 as a memento of their time served in Paris during World War II. Inside I spoke with one of the boutique’s many sales advisors who shared with me stories from her 20 years of employment with the brand. She graciously obliged my request and ushered me past security to view the infamous mirrored staircase Chanel would sit perched, listening eagerly to the responses of clients and invited guests attending her fashion shows. My reason for visiting the boutique that day was to purchase one of my favourite Chanel perfumes from the Exclusifs collection; Cuir de Russie. I thought what better place to buy a Chanel creation steeped in history than at the boutique where the fragrance was launched almost a century ago? Noticing my interest in Chanel’s history, the sales advisor also gave me a hardbound book on Les Exclusifs collection, which illustrated each fragrance in the collection and the inspiration behind it.
The following week was Paris Fashion Week and as I exited 31 rue Cambon, models were being ushered into a side entrance of the building clutching their portfolios for what I assumed was a fitting for the Chanel show. I crossed the block to the Place Vendome and brushed shoulders with the Ritz Hotel where Coco Chanel used to live. Earlier in the year I planned to stop by the historic Hemmingway Bar at the Ritz for a cocktail however the hotel was unfortunately closed for renovations. Instead I walked the square, one of my favourite places to wander and people watch in Paris. Close by, one of the perfumeries I discovered on a previous visit to Paris, Jovoy, had moved to rue de Castiglione between the Tulleries and Place Vendome. The perfumery’s newest space was drenched in deep red walls with an architectural skeleton of dark timber. For Paris, it was a great example of an independent perfumery, which offers both a wide selection of artistic perfumes and an interesting shopping environment with well informed staff. I came to purchase a bottle of Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories, a leather fragrance designed by perfumer, Andy Tauer. I met Andy in Florence at Pitti Fragranze, two weeks prior and the sample he gave me made such an impression I knew I couldn’t leave Europe without a bottle.
A few doors down from Jovoy my interest in leather perfumes was again stimulated as I spotted bottles of Knize Ten in the windows of a pharmacy. This is one of the things I like about pharmacies in Europe. Many carry disparate and often outdated collections of perfumes unlike pharmacies here in Australia that work closely with distributors. Here it seems any outdated stock is promptly removed so that every pharmacy and department store carries uniform stock. While this is highly efficient stock control it is no fun for collectors on the hunt to source stock of a discontinued item that has dried up elsewhere.
A hard-to-find perfume line that proved even too hard to find for me was JAR perfumes. The notoriously elusive jeweler, Joel Arthur Rosenthal is well known, despite the fact he does not engage in any marketing and it is not possible to view his jewelry collection without being extended an invitation. Paris is abound with stories of the jeweler turning away clients because he did not believe his collection suited them, or he did not like the client’s perfume or their misbehaving children in his atelier. A Parisian friend told me I needed to experience the jeweler’s perfumes which were displayed in another retail space supposedly on rue de Castiglione although I could not locate the space and there is no official website to confirm the current address. I was told the collection is displayed as a series of leather chamois impregnated with scent, covered with a glass clouche. The perfumes are not communicated by JAR as a series of notes; it is simply a matter of enjoying the perfumes for what they are. 30ml bottles of parfum are presented in hand blown glass and retail for upwards of 300EUR. Unable to find them in Paris I transferred JAR perfumes to my to-do list when I visit New York in June, the second of two points of sale in the world for this elusive range.
Wandering the glittering Vendome Square I had high jewelry on my mind. My next stop was a visit to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs on rue de Rivoli. The museum had recently opened an exhibition in conjunction with Van Cleef & Arpels, one of Place Vendome’s original high jewelers. The exhibition entitled, L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie showcased many rarities the family of jewelers had created since they took up residency at 22 Place Vendome in 1906. This included examples of the trademarked mystery setting from the 1930s and innovative zip necklaces designed in the early 1950s. Separated areas were dedicated to a decade, showing the evolution of ideas from Art Nouveau, to Art Deco, the influence of Hollywood and recent designs. The room glistened with every manner of precious stone alluding to a distant past of opulent luxury afforded by a fortunate few. Amongst the collection were a number of pieces that now form part of a private collection. Some had once belonged to the Maharani of Baroda, who was a seasoned traveler and a regular client of Van Cleef & Arpels. The Indian royal, who stayed at the Ritz, would cross the Place Vendome with servants carrying boxes of precious stones, from which she commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels to fashion new pieces of jewelry. She is said to have had an insatiable passion for jewelry with over 300 pieces in her collection. Some dated back to the Mogul era and others came from the existing crown jewels of Baroda, which she had transformed into contemporary designs. One of my favourite pieces was the Baroda necklace, consisting of 13 pear-shaped Columbian emeralds weighing 154 carats, suspended from a necklace of diamonds and emeralds in the shape of a lotus flower. In the upper levels of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs was the museum’s permanent collection. Less grandiose in comparison to the jewels of Van Cleef & Arpels, but none the less interesting as a timeline of European interior design and accessories.
A small walk from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs and I was in the Palais Royale gardens. Not only is the garden a peaceful city retreat away from the tourist dense streets outside the garden walls, the Palais Royale garden is also a gateway to the secretive world of Serge Lutens. A visit to the reclusive artist’s Palais Royale boutique is always on my to-do list when visiting Paris. Since my visit the previous year, a new boutique exclusive had been launched. Serge Lutens is infamously protective of how his perfumes are communicated to the world. Aside from the story that inspired the perfume, which gives few clues into how the perfume will smell, the best way to understand the perfume is simply to smell it. This new 2012 release, Une Voix Noire was an ode to singer Billie Holiday. The singer often appeared with clusters of gardenias in her hair, which was one of the references in this new perfume. I spent some moments walking around the garden with it on my wrist contemplating it slowly before making my way back to the Marais for dinner.
The following day I had one more address I wanted to visit. Since my previous trip to Paris, a new perfumery called Nose had opened. I had read a number of articles about the boutique, I expected great things and I was not disappointed. Nose was founded by a group of highly respected beauty and perfume professionals and their online content is engaging and welcomes outsiders into the perfume world in an educative yet fun way. Nose’s boutique is located in the 2nd arrondissement at 20 rue Bachaumont. It is not a street that is connected to the main tourist arteries of the city so finding Nose will not be by accident but visitors to Paris can easily do this by foot from one of the main streets, which run behind Les Halles Metro. The reward for your effort is a modern retail space that carries some of the best artistic perfumes the world currently offers. Mark Buxton, one of Nose’s co-founders is carried here, as well as Biehl Parfumkunstwerke, By Kilian, Nu_Be, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Odin, Ulrich Lang and Juliette Has A Gun. After spending some time with the team at Nose, I left with a souvenir for my partner, Atelier Cologne’s coffret baguette, containing Trefle Pur Cologne Absolu.
By the time the week had ended, autumn was clearly on its way. My visit to the Chateau of Versailles was haunted by dark storm clouds and the summer wardrobe I had come with did not equip me for cold temperatures and heavy rain. Still, there is something magical about surrendering to a downpour in the gardens of Versailles. As I walked through the gardens and the palace corridors it was amazing to think that only time separated me from coming face to face with the Kings and Queens of another era. Having read A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau, in which the author describes in great detail, life in the royal court of Versailles, I could easily imagine what life would have been like here in the 18th century. I could see how majestic these grounds once were and why Marie Antoinette preferred her private abode, the Petit Trianon, away from the formalities of the court. One of my favourite areas of Versailles was King Louis XIV’s orangery. A great show of wealth in 17th century Europe, it contained thousands of orange trees. In the warmer months the trees are moved from the orangery to the adjacent garden. Although Versailles is not overtly scented, the palace and those who lived there have inspired many perfume stories. Not only did author Elisabeth de Feydeau write an account of Marie Antoinette’s perfumer, she also designed a series of candles under the name, Arty Fragrance. The line is inspired by Versailles and a portion of sales help support the continual restoration of the chateau. My favourite, which I burn, reminding myself of Versailles and King Louis XIV’s orangery is La Fleur du Roy, an orange blossom laced with animal notes of civet and castoreum.
The following day I left Paris for London. With my friend I had a day to explore the city before catching my evening flight home. This included a quick trip to Selfridges and a visit to the newest Les Senteurs boutique in Seymour Street. Having spent almost an entire month looking at perfume on this trip, Nick Gilbert, the boutique manager introduced me to Bex London, a line of fragrances I had not seen before. Each one was inspired by different parts of London and the people you find there. It was interesting for me as an outsider to try to understand what type of people I would find in these postcodes using my sense of smell. My friend, who had been my travel companion also wanted to share her area of London with me so it was a morning of local weekend markets and the best jam doughnuts I have had in a long time before boarding the plane back to Sydney.