Updated: Feb 27, 2020
A trip to France is every fragrance enthusiast’s dream! And Paris, in particular, is full of perfume - both big names like Dior and niche brands like Etat Libre d’Orange call the city home. Paris is simultaneously rich in tradition and innovation, and there is something for every fragrance taste to be found in the City of Light. We only had a day and a half in Paris but I’m happy to report that we definitely made the most of that time.
We started off the first morning at Nose, where Nicolas Cloutier introduced us to the concept behind the store and took us through their Olfactory Diagnosis system, designed to help customers find their new signature scent. Nose houses a selection of niche perfumes meticulously curated by a team of 7 co-founders, including superstar perfumer Mark Buxton and Romano Ricci of Juliette Has a Gun (and great grandson of Nina Ricci!). Brands include Maison Margiela, Nasomatto, The Different Company, Vilhelm Parfumerie, D.S. and Durga, the list goes on. I'd highly recommend a visit to this store for anyone who is interested in learning about a variety of new niche brands all in one place. And the industry knowledge of the founders and staff is unbeatable!
Next we wandered into the magical universe of Serge Lutens, where the focal point of the shop is a stairway to heaven - the heaven of any fragrance lover’s dreams. Vintage Serge Lutens bottles with their aging elixirs transport you to the early 90’s when Serge began his foray into fragrance. A hidden room at the top of the stairs brings you to Morocco, where Serge gathered inspiration for his first fragrance, Féminité du Bois, from leather stalls in bustling souks. Even the bathroom is a site to behold, with sleek black walls and ceiling, decorated in the style of Japanese minimalism.
Of course the fragrances are just as imaginative as the rooms in which they are housed, conjuring fables of times long ago and inviting fantasies both whimsical and darkly obscure. One of my favorites, Dent de Lait (translation: Milk Tooth), is soft, creamy and ever so slightly sour - an uncanny interpretation of breast milk. And then there is a hint of iron, which you can’t help but taste on your tongue as you pull in a whiff of the fragrance. A tingling of blood whisks you back to childhood and the moment you lose your first tooth. What a strange and wonderful sensation for a fragrance to capture.
Serge Lutens at Palais Royal, 324 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
After Serge Lutens we made our way to Le Bon Marché and into the Lola James Harper hotel. Photos of palm trees and desert highways adorn the walls and table tops; leather trunks lay open to reveal their contents - bottles upon bottles of room sprays - and good vibes are all around. Ramzi made us feel like part of the family as he introduced us to the cheerfully curated space that celebrates places and stories told through scent and photography and music.
Lola James Harper at Le Bon Marché, 24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris, France
Etat Libre d’Orange was our last fragrance shop of the day. Elizaveta introduced us to the brand’s newest fragrances, Experimentum Crucis and I Am Trash, as well as several of the other scents and the stories that inspired them. I love the creativity of the brand and the no f***s given attitude that lead to the creation of fragrances like Fat Electrician, Secretions Magnifiques, and Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow (now called Yes I Do). While I really enjoyed most of the scents we sampled and the stories behind them, Divine Enfant really caught my attention - an incredibly complex and interesting fragrance based on the transition from childhood into adulthood. Marshmallows and orange blossom give way to coffee and roses, followed by leather and tobacco. It uses the unfolding of fragrance to tell a tale about time and transformation.
Etat Libre d'Orange, 69 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, France
After a long, hard day of fragrance sniffing (who am I kidding, it was a dream day), we stopped by Herbarium at Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers for a fragrance-infused drink. The bar was lined with bottles containing house-made edible perfumes and fragrance strips so that you could smell your way through the menu. Of course I had to smell every single fragrance before settling on a cocktail that contained two of my favourite notes - pine and santal. I'll tell you now, it did not disappoint. I highly recommend this place for anyone at all, but especially someone who loves both fragrance and cocktails, which I mean, isn't that everyone?
Herbarium at Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers, 243 Rue Saint-Martin, 75003 Paris, France
The next day we got up nice and early to meet Benjamin Almairac, founder of Parle Moi de Parfum, at the Marais flagship store before it opened. The concept behind the shop, he explained, was to create a perfumer’s lab in the street. Focus is entirely on scent - everything else is kept continuous across the line of fragrances, from price to packaging, so that the customer will choose the fragrance he or she really loves and isn’t influenced by other factors along the way. The scents are truly incredible in this family-run parfumerie, and it’s no surprise why. They are all created by legendary perfumer, Michel Almairac, of too many famous perfumes to mention. (But I will mention one because it was my signature scent in my late teens/early 20’s - Chloé!!!)
Parle Moi de Parfum, 10 Rue de Sévigné, 75004 Paris, France
Our final stop in Paris was Histoires de Parfums, a few minutes walk from Parle Moi de Parfums. Each collection of HdP fragrances comes with a different inspiration - from literary characters to historical figures, musicians, nostalgic years, concepts in art, important molecules, the list goes on. The fragrances I found most conceptually exciting were 1.4 and 1.5, which are part of the “This is not a blue bottle” collection. 1.4 is composed entirely of natural ingredients, while 1.5 is entirely synthetic, thus highlighting the conversation about naturals vs. synthetics, and ultimately illuminating the complementary roles they play in a fragrance composition.
Histoires de Parfums, 11 Rue du Roi Doré, 75003 Paris, France
Our short 27 hours in Paris was jam-packed with incredible fragrance shops, but we really only scratched the surface of the perfume scene in that beautiful city. I hope to return soon to do lots more sniffing!
After Paris, we went down to Marseille for some much needed Vitamin Sea, and we had a bit of fragrant fun while we were down there.
We were fortunate enough to get a private tour of Savonnerie Fer à Cheval, one of Marseille’s original soap factories. It was a very unique experience to see the giant vats of vegetable oils in the process of saponification, witness the production of soap noodles and watch as they become bars of soap, and meet Michele, the only man who knows the recipe for Fer à Cheval soaps. While traditional Savon de Marseille is fragrance-free, Savonnerie Fer à Cheval has a line of scented soaps in addition to the traditional ones that smell wonderful. I got to take home a couple of my favourites - Aqua Mandarine, which is fresh and slightly fruity, and Pétales de Rose, a light floral rose.
Savonnerie Fer à Cheval, 66 Chemin de Sainte-Marthe, 13014 Marseille, France savon-de-marseille.com/gb/
We happened into a small shop on our last day in Marseille and discovered a fragrance brand called La Compagnie Marseillaise. We met the founder and perfumer, Jean-Pierre Brunet, who was excited to share his line of personal and home fragrances, all inspired by Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea. Jean-Pierre’s passion was infectious as he took us down the line of his products, from perfumes and colognes to soaps and lotions, candles and room diffusers. My favourite collection of the brand is his “Marvic” scents, because, as Jean-Pierre told us beaming with pride, the name is a combination of both of his daughters’ names. The brand’s Instagram account (@laciemarseillaise), which is run by one of Jean-Pierre’s daughters, is one of the most beautiful accounts I’ve seen in a long time and definitely worth a follow, if only for the calming Mediterranean vibes.
La Compagnie Marseillaise, 14 Rue Caisserie, 13002 Marseille, France
That’s all for our most recent trip to France - hoping to get back there sometime soon to do some more sniffing!