Sunday, June 24, 2007

Paris, Je t' aime!

Paris, what can be said about this wondrous city that has not already become a cliché? I left for Paris with a clear purpose, a tight schedule to visit all the perfumeries I had been planning to visit for so long in order to experience fragrances I would otherwise be unable to. With only three days at my disposal, it truly was impossible to get acquainted with all the magnificent fragrant creations each house has to offer; my time there was clearly too short. It would not only be unjust but also presumptuous to write conclusively about most of the perfume houses after such limited and fragmented exposure. Nevertheless, there is much to tell already and I can’t help but feel privileged to have experienced so much and to be able to share these beautiful memories with you.

Walking the streets of Paris might sound like a daunting task for one who has not mastered the French language, but the metro and RER system were extremely easy to learn and not once did my traveling companion and I find ourselves lost. We took to Paris like ducks to water. I was very, very impressed by the French people too, who could not have been more friendly, polite and helpful. Each time we needed help, all we had to do was ask and found to our surprise that even in such a bustling, busy metropolis, people would take time of their busy schedule to help us and even show us around, walking with us, talking with us and even running after us to correct us if we took a wrong turn. I was humbled by their kindness and my heart has truly been moved by their gregariousness and helpful disposition. I simply cannot stress enough how out their way they went in order to help us.

We started our homage to the perfume boutiques of Paris at the left bank, with a visit to the flagship House of Guerlain, located at 68 avenue de Champs-Elysees. There is probably only one word that can adequately describe the interior of La Maison Guerlain: Opulence. From the beautiful marble ground floor we followed Guerlain’s golden ribbon to the second floor to find ourselves in a sparkling vestibule with mosaic walls that seemed to be made of liquid gold, cascading around us and catching the light softly, like a whisper. From there we walked in to the most pristine creamy white room, where Guerlain’s bottled treasures were waiting to be explored. A helpful assistant guided me through all the fragrances I’d been longing to smell and was discreet enough to stay behind when it was obvious that I wished some time alone to contemplate the choice and to marvel at the beautiful displays. I loved finally being able to sample the exclusive L’Art et la Matière collection, and fell in love with Angelique Noire, Cuir Beluga and Iris Ganache. Interestingly, the fragrances of the L’Art et la Matière collection are not presented on paper strips, but are instead sprayed on lacy black fans which the assistant then uses a short distance from the face in order to allow the scent of the fragrance to gently waft towards you in the form of a soft gust of air. I would be hard-pressed to choose between Angelique Noire, Cuir Beluga and Iris Ganache, for all three were absolutely wonderful, but my choice was made easier by the fact that I fell head over heels in love with Metalys. Being told that Metalys is going to be discontinued in a couple of months made this choice even easier – I had to have it. Unfortunately, Metalys is not the only fragrance that is getting the proverbial axe: Guerlinade and Philtre d’Amour are also being withdrawn come September. It seemed strange to me that Philtre d’Amour would be withdrawn so soon after its re-release, but when I inquired about it I was told that the issue is (of course...) money. All in all my experience at La Maison Guerlain was wonderful and I will definitely be going back when I visit Paris next. Surprisingly though, this, considered –rightfully- by many to be the veritable shrine to perfumery was not the highlight of my trip...

I visited many, many fragrance boutiques and fashion houses while in Paris. So many that by the end of the day my body was protesting so much that not even the comfort of my bed could ease me to sleep. But out of all of them, three places emerge as the true winners of my heart: Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Montale and JAR. Why is that, you may ask? How can anything, after all, compare to the opulence and heritage of Guerlain, how can anything compare to the exclusivity of Les Salons du Palais Royal Shisheido or how can anything live up to the anticipation I was feeling when visiting Parfums Caron to see the Bacarat fountains with my own eyes? Well, for me, personally, there were some very important details that made these three perfumeries etch their signature deep in my heart, making them unforgettable and unique: Expertise, superb training of the staff, personality along with very personal, specialized attention to the customer and lastly, this very elusive quality that I almost dare not describe but I will do my best to... A certain aura that reverberates around you once you walk in, a warm positive feeling that is almost palpable. I am not talking about cheerfulness and enthusiasm, no. I am talking about a profound sense of wellbeing, serenity and comfort you are made to feel once walking into any of these three houses. Other places I visited were cheery and welcoming, but quite impersonal... Others had the cool neutrality of any store... Some even verged into negativity. These three were positively glowing with a positivism that was immediately obvious and felt by both my companion and myself. Visiting Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Montale and JAR has made this trip simply unforgettable.


Maître Parfumeur et Gantier is situated at number 84 of bis rue de Grenelle. Walking inside this jewel of a boutique, I could not help but take note of the care that has gone into making the interior be at once luxurious while avoiding to be oppressing. From the walls, dressed in sumptuous, embossed leather, to the beautiful marble floor and decorated ceiling, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier exudes beautiful elegance, while the carefully chosen color scheme and harmonious arrangement, all conspire to guide the focus where it should be, on the perfumes themselves. There is nothing garish inside to detract from the value of the main attraction, the wonderful scents on display. We were greeted and assisted by the utterly charming Typhaine, who couldn’t have been better in helping me get acquainted with this fantastic line of fragrances. I really appreciated her gentle guidance in experiencing the scents best suited to my tastes – a quest that would have been quite difficult to accomplish on my own, considering the wide range on offer. She instinctively seemed to know that I would not shy away from the masculine fragrances and the first fragrance she proffered for me to try was Ambre Précieux, an instant hit with me. Its creamy, lusciously indulgent texture is truly erotic. I dare say I am in love! Fleur d’Iris charmed me with its cool sophistication and Garrigue sung to me the beautiful song of the Mediterranean landscape, making my heart recognize it as a true, shining emerald. And of course, how could I not fall prey to the charm of Soie Rouge when I adore carnation so? Not only were the fragrances themselves exquisite, but the service was the best I have had in my whole life. I left the boutique serene and happy, knowing that from now on I am a customer of this house and will always be, with devotion. I left feeling rejuvenated from the copious amounts of positive energy I received and I honestly can’t wait to return there soon. I will be reviewing these fabulous fragrances in the near future, so look forward to reading more about Maître Parfumeur et Gantier soon!

Montale, found at number 26 of the breathtaking Place Vendome, is a modern boutique with minimalist design. Rows upon rows of the signature aluminium bottles, housed in square alcoves lit from within, line the walls, shining like futuristic jewels in silver, gold, blue and black. Being made from aluminium, the bottles are not only perfect for preserving the fragrance within, but are also lightweight enough to carry with you anywhere, and the simple, yet decorative lock will keep accidental spills at bay. Having said that, there simply would not be a need to keep a Montale in your purse, unless you were traveling. The fragrances of this line have such amazing longevity, that they completely eliminate any need for reapplication throughout the day. A single spray on my wrist at night does not only last till the morning, but also manages to gently perfume my duvet, painting a happy little smile on my face as I wake up to the wonderful scent. Such a joy! And if for some unfathomable reason the jus is not already strong enough for you, you can always ask for extra essence to be added to your own bottle before buying it... Divine, no? Inside the boutique, the devilishly charismatic sales associate, Pierre, took one look at me and knew immediately what I was about and what fragrance would suit me. I only had to say a few words and he elaborated on them expertly, leaving me to nod in amazed agreement as he proffered the best choices, matching not only my preferences but my personality as well. He knew exactly what I would and would not like – an experience I found at once gratifying and exhilarating. Laughing and chatting with ease, time simply flew as I made my purchases. I left Montale feeling high as a kite, with that curious, thankful and happy feeling of being understood.

Further down the road from the Montale boutique and across from the fabulous Westin hotel, on 14, Rue de Castiglione I found one of the best-kept secrets of Paris, JAR Parfums. Behind the dark verre fumé window, the only telltale sign that I have reached my destination is a luminous, incandescent flacon, lighting up the display like a gorgeous jewel. I opened the door carefully to find myself in a small dimly lit space, intimate as a boudoir. Everything was covered in viscous violet velvet, giving me the feeling that I was cradled inside the plush folds of a dark rose’s petals. The ceiling bares the drawing of a huge thunderbolt, which is at once imposing, ominous and exciting. I could almost feel the static on my skin. “Bonjour!” I called out, even though it was almost six in the afternoon. A door opened and out came a smiling, elegant gentleman, who invited me to sit down. I took a seat in one of the two comfortable bergère armchairs and embarked on one of the most fabulous experiences of my life. I sat there, in an almost dream-like state as his long, delicate fingers carefully opened one glass jar after the other, allowing me to smell each magnificent essence. Softly, slowly we talked, myself with eyes almost always closed with pleasure as every one of my senses awakened, my mind titillated. My charming Hungarian guide through this fantasy world was patient and gentle when my senses failed me and clearly pleased when they were alert, allowing me to perceive the fragrance correctly, rewarding me with his own input as we smiled and talked softly. I was astonished to find he spoke Dutch, which made me feel right at home, even though our exchange was mostly in English, with few exceptions. At some point we were interrupted by another potential customer that walked in. He was asked to wait, and he did, standing up in a corner. The gentleman’s attention was so focused on me, that I, normally stressful in such instances out of consideration, managed to completely forget that there was anyone else but us inside the plush, dim room. I felt like a princess... In the end I was asked which fragrance I liked best. I pointed at two different jars and asked for their names. “This one is Diamond Water,” he said. “And this one has no name, its name is the symbol” and with that he pointed to the beautiful clouded ceiling, with its striking thunderbolt. “Which one will you try?” I chose the Diamond Water, possibly for all the wrong reasons, as the name was so evocative. As he applied the scent with repeated feathery strokes on my inner arm, my skin reacted as though small fireworks were erupting inside, tingling with joy. The almost mystical prelude, the dimness of the light, the way only my sense of smell mattered and the way the essence so strong wafted to my nose... How can I ever describe the joy I felt? I can only say that it was a joy my whole body experienced. I am glad JAR fragrances are not sold in department stores... If they were, I would have probably never experienced these feelings as I did. Yes, sometimes it can be forgiven to be as exclusive as they get. It does make me sad that I cannot smell the line as often as I’d like...But truly, this is the way it should be experienced. The whole package, the whole adventure. And yes, the perfumes are pricey. But are they worth it? In my opinion, yes, they most definitely are.

Do I have any regrets now that I am back home? Unfortunately I do... One of them is that I did not manage to visit IUNX, Olivia Giacobetti’s own boutique. There is only so much one can do in three days after all. My other regret is that I visited JAR so late in the afternoon, with my senses so overwhelmed by all the fragrances I had been smelling all day long, and so very tired from walking the streets of Paris without even a break for coffee or lunch, that I feel I did not experience them the way they should be experienced. I could feel my senses were tired and overwhelmed while I was sampling them but nevertheless the experience was a magical one, one I will never, ever forget. I just wonder how it would have been if that was the first place I had visited that day, instead of the one before last. I left Paris with a promise to myself, to come back with more time at my disposal and with a more discerning schedule. That way, I can give these perfume houses the attention they deserve. And this has assuredly been a courtesy they extended to me. For this, I am ever so thankful. I love you, Paris. I’ll be back soon.

Images courtesy of: www.exibart.com, www.museesdegrasse.com, www.isetan.co.jp, www.arman.kz
Image of rose by Jane Nassano courtesy of www.allposters.com


17 comments:

Linda said...

Dear Divina,
Your beautiful writing almost brought tears to my eyes! This was more than worth the wait - and I felt as if I could smell the fragrances you describe. This sounds silly: I have always been too shy to go into perfume houses as I feel gauche and inelegant, but your paean of praise to the Parisians and the staff has changed my mind. This summer I am taking myself on a trip and following your footsteps,
Very warm wishes,
Linda

Divina said...

Linda, dearest, your comments always warm my heart! Thank you so much. I know you are going to feel like the princess you surely are on your trip and I am so glad to read you are going to treat yourself to the trip! If you need any information, I will be more than glad to provide it. I also tested the fragrances you asked me to. So if you are interested, please do mail me sometime so that I may tell you about them. Have a lovely Sunday evening.

Jenavira13 said...

What a lovely experience. I can't wait to hear your reviews.

Divina said...

It was indeed lovely :) As for the reviews, I am tempted to start with Fleur d'Iris which I've been wearing all day today and got complemented on it! I have brought so many different things with me, I feel spoiled for choice though!

Zebra said...

Wow! What a trip it must have been for you!

I love the way you describe the different perfumehouses, you really make me feel like I am there myself to experience the opulence!

I love the way you write, it is like poetry!

Divina said...

Wah, you make me blush :) *hugs*

Abigail said...

I just love this write up. It was just like traveling there!

Can't wait to read your more in depth reviews, I'm sure they will be lovely.

sakis said...

Dear Divina,
i love your writing.I'm waiting for more fantastic fragrance-reviews.
Sakis.

chayaruchama said...

Lucky, happy girl !
I'm thrilled you had such a glorious adventure.

I appreciate your enthusiasm and applaud your new discoveries- many of my favorites as well.

Naturally- it didn't hurt to be young, beautiful, and multilingual in Paris, my friend.

Divina said...

Abigail and Sakis, thank you for your kind words! :) The next piece that is coming is indeed a fragrance review, it will be posted tomorrow late in the evening!

Chaya my dear, I have missed you! I'd been really looking forward to your comment and I am so glad you came and posted! To be honest, I am always looking forward to your contributions :) *hugs*

helg said...

My God D! Did you see anything else apart from perfumeries in Paris??? LOL!!!!!
Seriously, I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip and had good experiences. Will mail with details. Cheers!

Divina said...

My dear Helg, of course I did NOT see anything else apart from perfumeries! Well alright, I might have nipped into Dior :) And Cavalli :) And Gucci... Aherm. That's it though :P I didn't even have time for coffee or lunch as I said... Just three delicious dinners at L'Avenue, Westin and Costes. All three were fabulous by the way! Mwah! Looking forward to your mail.

Anya said...

What an exciting and fulfilling vacation. No wonder you could hardly sleep at night, despite the exhaustion brought on by the pace. The mind gets so excited when something wonderful fills it, and thank you for sharing your excitement.

Arhianrad said...

Divina--

I've been meaning to comment on this article for quite some time now and just keep getting pulled away! Anyway, WONDERFUL writeup of Paris!!! *swoon* You know, I'm a little crazy over the JARs myself...my choices: Shadow, Golconda, and Bolt of Lightning...and the Montales fascinate me to death. Not as familiar with the MPG line, but one must be patient!

And I'm very sad to hear the discontinuance of some of the Guerlains :(

Ultimately, though, I'm so glad you had a wonderful time! Wish I coulda been there with you! WOW!

Mariuca said...

Hi Divina! I so envy you going off to Paris to visit all the perfumeries there! It must have been awesome. You're one lucky gal! Lovely post :) :)

Tommasina said...

Lovely writing on a blog I've only just found: thank you for this!

One small note: as far as I know, IUNX closed in March 2006. I was in Paris last August and was so looking forward to visiting it; instead, we have a photo of me in front of the empty store, looking most disconsolate...

Gail S said...

Excellent writing! Your description of the experience at the JAR boutique was so evocative, I could almost feel the perfume being stroked on my skin! Now I'm all warm and fuzzy inside :)