Paris by scent
Author: Katrina Lawrence
Photography: Carla Coulson
The word "sillage" translates as "the perfume wake a woman leaves behind her". And it's a concept that is most potently realised in Paris, a city where women are as passionate about their perfume as they are about a perfectly proportioned tartine.
"It is part of the mystery," laughs Camille Goutal, the artistic director of the fragrance house Annick Goutal. "Generally, French women go towards the classics and are not afraid of trying niche perfumery fragrances which use high-quality ingredients in their composition, and therefore guarantee a 'chic à la Française'," Goutal says.
Perfume is certainly in a Parisienne's blood. Catherine de' Médici, the infamous Italian-born queen of France, introduced French women to the power of fragrance back in the 16th century, having brought her personal perfumer - and, some say, poison-maker - with her to Paris. Marie-Antoinette, that other notorious queen, was also a perfume aficionado; so much so that she insisted on taking her huge trousseau of bottles with her on her ill-fated attempt to escape the revolution. France's next leading lady, Empress Joséphine, was said to reek of musk, possibly in an attempt to appeal to her husband's more primal sensibilities; while the other Napoléon's wife, Empress Eugénie, favoured more feminine, floral scents, many of them created for her by an up-and-coming perfumer by the name of Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain.
A half-century or so later, designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel launched her now famous No.5, a glorious concoction of creamy florals that perfectly captured the seductive flair of French women. The American soldiers of World War II knew this when they queued up on Rue Cambon to buy bottles for their girlfriends back home; today, the fragrance remains a global bestseller, referred to by envious competitors as "le monstre".
"Paris is the commercial centre of perfume," says fragrance expert and author Michael Edwards. "It has provided the consumers but also the people, such as François Coty, who have made the industry what it is today." Edwards, who is based in Paris for six months each year, notes that the city serves as both a great showcase for perfume and an exhilaration for perfume-lovers. His favourite olfactory destinations include his local fruit and vegetable market (complete with a side trip to the fromagerie and boulangerie), a Mariage Frères teahouse (where, incidentally, the great Jean-Claude Ellena found inspiration for Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, the breakthrough Bulgari classic), and, of course, Parisian perfumeries themselves.
A sojourn to Paris isn't complete without a visit to a few such boutiques - and nothing serves as a more perfect souvenir than a Parisian perfume, with each spritz transporting your senses back to the city by the Seine. Read on for 10 of the best, most fragrant addresses in town.
Guerlain is the grande dame of French fragrance, with a history of groundbreaking perfumes such as 1889's Jicky (widely credited as the first modern fragrance) and the ultimate oriental, 1925's Shalimar. So any self-respecting perfume fan must visit the Champs-Élysées boutique, designed in 1914 by Charles Mewès, of Hotel Ritz fame. Head up the gilt-specked stairs, which lead you into a glittering world of fragrance (literally: the walls are tiled in swirls of gold mosaic, and a floor-to-ceiling mesh chandelier shimmers beautifully). The store was recently renovated by French designers Andrée Putman and Maxime d'Angeac, to stunning effect. You can buy more than 100 Guerlain fragrances here, including reworked versions of classics packaged in gorgeous, personalised atomisers or the classic "bee" bottles. Oh, and if you have a spare $51,000, you can even order two litres of your very own bespoke scent.
The one to try Elixir Charnel in Gourmand Coquin, a decadent chocolate-infused brew.
68 avenue des Champs-Élysées, 8th arrondissement, +33 1 45 62 52 57, guerlain.com. Métro: George V.
L'Artisan Parfumeur's "grande boutique" faces off with the eastern façade of the Louvre known as Perrault's Colonnade, designed in 1665 by Claude Perrault. At that time, the Louvre was the royal residence, and it's not difficult to imagine the Sun King's great mistress, Madame de Montespan, spritzing herself with the kind of nature-inspired scents L'Artisan Parfumeur does so well. While the brand has only been in existence since the late 1970s, there is something truly timeless about these delicate and enchanting fragrances.
The one to try La Chasse aux Papillons - think spring in a bottle.
2 rue de l'Amiral de Coligny, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 44 88 27 50, artisanparfumeur.com. Métro: Pont Neuf.
LES PARFUMS DE ROSINE
This bijou boutique radiates a rosy glow, which is apt, given that Les Parfums de Rosine specialises in rose-based fragrances. Belle Époque couturier Paul Poiret launched the brand (Rosine was the name of his daughter) with perfumes created by Louis Panafieu, but it was Panafieu's descendant, perfume professional Marie-Hélène Rogeon, who in 1991 opened the boutique and introduced a spectrum of rosy scents from the fresh to the ultra-pretty and the decidedly seductive. For an extra treat, choose from a selection of pastel-hued miniature candles, lined up like mouthwatering macarons (and priced at a reasonable $19 each).
The one to try La Rose de Rosine, an old-world, ultra-feminine rose-rich blend.
105 Galerie de Valois, Jardin du Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 42 60 11 51, les-parfums-de-rosine.com. Métro: Palais Royal.
Wander south from Les Parfums de Rosine and you'll soon come across a perfumery imbued with another mood altogether. Where the former is rosy and feminine, Serge Lutens's boutique is a dark and decadent mix of black and violet; his fragrances are suitably sexy and seductive. It refers back perfectly to the Palais Royal itself - after all, this was a mecca for all sorts of libertine and licentious behaviour in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These days, a spritz of Serge (plus a swipe of his dark lippie) may just enhance a romantic Palais Royal rendezvous of your own. Look for the boutique-only blends and engraved bottles. Here, you can also buy any of your favourite perfumes in an exclusive, and exquisite, glass bell-shaped bottle.
The one to try Chergui: sweet, smoky and utterly mesmerising.
142 Galerie de Valois, Jardin du Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 49 27 09 09, sergelutens.com. Métro: Palais Royal.
MILLER ET BERTAUX
Once you've feasted Middle Eastern-style at Le Marais's Chez Marianne, head up Rue des Rosiers and turn into Rue Ferdinand Duval for a little more exotica. Designers Francis Miller and Patrick Bertaux have sold their eclectic clothes here since 1990; for the past five years, they have focused on expanding their perfume range. In their fashions and fragrances alike, inspiration comes from their travels, particularly in India and Asia. Don't be surprised to smell unusual, evocative notes such as spices, incense, coriander and sandalwood. It may not be very Parisian, but it's exquisite nevertheless.
The one to try Om, an incense-spiked oriental that works perfectly with a flowing sundress.
17 rue Ferdinand Duval, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 42 78 28 39, milleretbertaux.com. Métro: St-Paul.
THE DIFFERENT COMPANY
Down the road a little, you'll stumble across one of the most exciting things to happen to French perfumery in years. The Different Company was launched in 2000 by designer Thierry de Baschmakoff and legendary nose Jean-Claude Ellena (who passed the perfumer's baton on to his daughter, Céline, when he went in-house at Hermès) and is now the go-to for all serious perfume fans. Here you'll be able to sniff out some of the highest quality ingredients about, as well as splurge on the new prestige line - or "collection excessive" - of fragrances.
The one to try Jasmin de Nuit, jasmine swirled with spices for a heady, hedonistic effect.
10 rue Ferdinand Duval, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 42 78 19 34, thedifferentcompany.com. Métro: St-Paul.
Grab a Berthillon sorbet on Île St-Louis and stroll south to Boulevard St-Germain towards Diptyque's original floral-wallpaper-lined boutique. It's best known for its cult-status candles, but you can now buy fragrances, body care and a number of Paris-exclusive pieces (including possibly the chicest box of matches you'll ever come across). Diptyque is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary with the "34 Boulevard Saint Germain" range of perfumes and room fragrances, formulated to capture the scent of the store - candles, woody fixtures and all. The perfect souvenir of a legendary shopping experience.
The one to try Any of the candles, as much for their decorative appeal as for their divine scents.
34 boulevard St-Germain, 5th arrondissement, +33 1 43 26 77 44, diptyqueparis.com. Métro: Maubert-Mutalité.
In the rickety Rue des Canettes - a street that traces its ancestry to the 13th century - you'll find another historical gem: the little boutique that is Lubin, a fragrance brand dating back to 1798. Today, Lubin evidently takes pride in its brand lineage. You'll be welcomed by expert and helpful staff, who will guide you through bottles of ingredients in order to explain the make-up of each fragrance. The aim: to find your perfect perfume match. Lubin is the go-to for classical, somewhat complex scents, the kind that Parisiennes so love to wear. Perfect for modern-day Marie-Antoinettes.
The one to try Gin Fizz, a ladylike mix from 1955, inspired by the gorgeous Grace Kelly.
21 rue des Canettes, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 43 29 52 42, lubin-parfum.fr. Métro: Mabillon.
There are several Annick Goutal boutiques in Paris, but it's the one on Place St-Sulpice, just around the corner from Lubin, that will live up to your expectations of fantasy Parisian perfumeries. Its gilded detailing, candy-striped walls and shimmering chandelier provide the perfect showcase for such French and feminine fragrances. Annick Goutal is much loved for its beautiful blends - not to mention its fluted, beribboned bottles, which are as delectable as the blends inside. Rounding out the boudoir theme is the luscious skincare, as well as the Parisian-style pampering available by appointment in the salon.
The one to try Eau d'Hadrien, a refreshing burst of citrus.
12 place St-Sulpice, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 46 33 03 15, annickgoutal.com. Métro: St-Sulpice.
EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FRÉDÉRIC MALLE
Frédéric Malle is fragrance royalty: his grandfather started Parfums Christian Dior, where his mother later became an art director, working on the launch of the 1980s smash Poison. After cutting his teeth in the industry, Malle launched his own brand, with his point of difference being that he operates like an editor, or curator, collaborating with a variety of top perfumers on olfactory works of art. The result is a boutique akin to a gallery. Photos of contributing perfumers adorn the walls, and their oeuvres can be appreciated by sniffing into large floor-to-ceiling columns via small trapdoors that open and allow you to breathe in the scent. Make sure you venture to the back of the boutique, where there's an excellent range of home fragrances.
The one to try Iris Poudre, the olfactory equivalent of a pale pink pashmina.
37 rue de Grenelle, 7th arrondissement, +33 1 42 22 76 40, fredericmalle.com. Métro: Rue du Bac.