Leaving Avenue Montaigne I spotted a pink sign up ahead at rue Clément Marot. Something inexplicably flashed in my brain; I knew I had to explore it. “Do you see what it says?” I panted excitedly to my boyfriend as we approached nearer. He grinned. “No, but I can see the logo.” he replied naughtily. “What is it?” “Hello Kitty!!!” What?? Dear reader, you might not know this about me, but I have this almost obscene obsession with the Japanese cat! Even shopping to my heart's content a week earlier while in Greece at a licensed Hello Kitty pyjama/babydoll shop my taste for all things Sanrio had not yet been satiated (it never is). The boutique at at rue Clément Marot is called Victoria Couture and it only sells Hello Kitty things (clothes, accessories, jewelry). I went a little crazy in there. The store owner burst out laughing and told me I was like a kid in a candy store. Thankfully my obsession only messes with my brain up to a certain point - I did not actually feel compelled to shell out thousands of euros so that I can hang a diamond encrusted kitty head from my neck. I did leave with a pink velour bag however (pictured right), large enough to use at the gym and to take with me to the beach while vacationing in Mykonos later this summer. It has already given me so much pleasure, it makes going to the gym even more fun! And I realize this probably makes me sound very frivolous and silly. I’m sorry… I can’t help it. I LOVE Hello Kitty!
We proceeded looking for the Arabian Oud Shop, but when we reached rue de Marignan we found it closed, as in closed down. Asking around at shops close by didn’t lead us anywhere, but fortunately we decided to take a walk on Champs Elysées and favored by luck, we almost immediately stumbled upon the shop’s new location. The shop smells so strong that even when it is closed (as we discovered when passing in front of it the next day late in the evening) you can actually smell it out on the street! Inside the shop we were greeted by an exotic, rather handsome yet thoroughly unpleasant man, whose every word and behavior confirmed my suspicion of his being a raging misogynist! His restrained yet tinged with covert aggression behavior immediately made me feel ill at ease. Conversation flow, or rather conversation of any kind was impossible to achieve. The awkwardness was palpable in the air. I wanted to sample the perfumes and even though I made my preference for initially testing on a blotter before committing to skin space clear, he insisted on covering every available inch of skin on my arms with various oils and perfumes. Some of them were beautiful, some of them not really my cup of tea. All of them were unique and strange, and truly worth a sniff for any perfume lover worth his salt if only to open up new horizons in his personal olfactionary. Almost all of them were too strong and too far removed from what I would consider wearing myself. Not actually because they are so exotic and strange – that was not actually the problem. It was the fact that many of them smelled musty and spicy in a dirty amber sort of way, reproducing the scents found in headshops and tiny stores selling Indian paraphernalia and cheap eastern rugs and batik fabrics in which the scent of oils and incense burnt throughout the years has seeped into every fiber. What I mean to say is, the strength of the potions, combined with the dirty amber/incense smell simply does not smell chic to me. I do not want to wear something that makes me feel less than elegant. I don’t want to smell like a dreadlocked hippie chic covered in beads. I don’t want to smell like my nails, feet and hair are dirty.
We were the only customers in the shop and the atmosphere was electric with unease. In fact, the situation became so difficult, I can’t help but giggle when I think back to it, for it ended up being cartoonishly unbelievable and funny! Allow me to illustrate. The counters have a hollow under the glass and when peering downwards you can see among other things, oudh wood. In a desperate effort to make conversation, I asked politely with a smile “Is this oudh?” (pronouncing it “OOD” as the French tend to do). He however misheard me and looked at me with obvious outrage at my ignorance: “YES, it is WOOD. It is the most precious wood!” Oh dear! Not having learned my lesson (LOL!) I decided to try a little humor next: “May I ask you a silly question?” “No!” he told me with the calmness of a serial killer, before I had the chance to…err…charm him with my humorous question. After that I thought it best to shut up and say as little as possible. I should have walked out there and then, but my curiosity had the better of me. I wanted to return home with at least a few things to explore from the Arabian Oud Shop so I sprung for the smallest and cheapest size possible, a few ml really, of Black Amber, Myrrh Flower and White Musk. The proverbial cherry on top was when I paid at the register. Even though I was the one who had paid, he handed the bag to my boyfriend and thanked him not even giving me another glance. Wow. Just wow.
I will tell you more about my impressions on these three oils later in July, once I’ve actually finished with the Paris Perfume/Travelogue and once I am back from the Sniffapalooza in London, because there is a lot I want to say, both on these three as well as on animal notes (black musk, deer musk etc) and on Arabian/Eastern oils in general. Please look forward to it, I haven’t talked about this before, but I’m ready to break my silence.
We stopped at a café with the excuse of a quick pick-me-up cappuccino (and vicious arm scrubbing in the bathroom) before continuing down Saint Honoré to visit various boutiques. This included a perfume stop at Hotel Costes for Olivia Giacobetti’s IUNX line of perfumes. The young woman working the shop was delightfully sweet and gentle and guided me to smell the perfumes in order so as to not overwhelm the nose, explaining that since the last two are very strong, the beauty of the lighter first ones would be eclipsed if they were smelled last. I found no fault with this line of thinking so I happily complied, but it became instantly obvious to me that the lighter ones held no charm for me anyway. Give me the strong stuff, baby! Complex, dark and utterly strange and mysterious, the last two (Ether and Splash Forte) were indeed totally ‘me’. Splash Forte is the heaviest of the lot, with intense spicy notes of bay leaf, clove, cinnamon and cumin. Both Ether and Splash Forte share the same willful character, but Splash Forte is decidedly more masculine and the sales assistant happily agreed with my estimation. I asked to test Ether further (the original sniffing was through long vertical tubes) as I found it just as brave but much more feminine. Ether is at once luminous and dark, like a magical dark cloud that sparkles and crackles with multicolored jolts of electricity as it carries through the air. It employs a beautiful incense accord (myrrh, benzoin, woods, mmmmm) which seems to shift and change constantly, over a bed of sweet-sweet sandalwood and feminine flower notes. The sweetness is held in check by the dry bitterness of saffron and it’s all just magic. I did not buy a bottle, but I still have a blotter with the scent and its price (130 Euro for 150ml of EdP, pretty good, hmm?) and I have to tell you, it is still redolent with the beautiful scent. There is a huge collection of ambience scents in candle and stick format and the variety is fantastic. I instantly wished most of the scents would be made available in perfume. The SA informed me that the old line is slowly being re-introduced, so we have great things to look forward to.
After visiting the boutiques at rue Cambon (where the picture at the beginning of this article was taken in front of Chanel’s flagship) we took the metro (oof, some rest!) and made our way to the Jardins du Palais-Royal. One of the things I love about Parisians is how they make use of public spaces like gardens and parks. Other European capitals I’ve visited have shown me desolate faces of parks and gardens, lonely, deserted. Others are only used in the weekend and are mostly quiet during the week. When they are used they seem to be used in a solitary fashion presenting an image of quietness. Parisians however seem to take great joy in making great use of these spaces (and why wouldn’t they, they are beautiful!) which always seem lively and filled with people of all ages: children, young couples, workers on a break and silver-haired septuagenarians alike. The image of the couple kissing on the left might not be quite Robert Doisneu’s De Baiser de l'hôtel de Ville, but I think the boyfriend did an excellent job of capturing my feelings about the garden and the atmosphere in the park that late afternoon.
Under the shade of the arcades, we made our way to the quiet of Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido to revel in the beauty of Serge Lutens’ creations. I was very impressed with the (at the time of the visit) newest creation, Nuit de Cellophane which smells amazingly feminine and utterly perfect to scent a creamy neck and sensuous collarbone over a strapless cocktail dress at an evening summer party. It is at once innocently playful and very, very sexy and I must say I do not agree with criticisms that this is not in the spirit of Lutens. Personally, I believe that it makes perfect sense in the context of Lutensian florals. It snuggly fits between Tuberose Criminelle and Un Lys, giggling like the younger, frothier sister. I was given some wax samples as well as a miniature bottle of Chergui and left with the sweet taste of candied violet petals (they are rather decorative and completely fitting the atmosphere of the shop, these little purple candied mountains offered to customers) in my mouth.
After making a complete round of the arcades we exited and made our way to rue de Richelieu to visit Patricia de Nicolai, but unfortunately the shop was just closing. To my immense surprise I found a new Maître Parfumeur et Gantier boutique right next door (does MPG consciously make a habit of setting up shop next to PDN? Because they also have boutiques right next door to each other at rue Grenelle!). The boutique was ‘functioning’ but unfinished and looked very much like a work area, in fact I had to do a triple-take to ascertain whether it was open for business. By the time we agreed it was indeed open, both myself and my boyfriend had started feeling the tiredness of the day creeping in and we decided to leave MPG for when we would visit rue Grenelle on another day so that we could return to the hotel and rest for a couple of hours in order to be fresh and good looking for our dinner at L’Avenue. Leaving MPG for another day proved to be a mistake, but that’s a story for another day. (…to be continued)
Join me again tomorrow for another installment of the Paris series where we explore (with enthusiasm!) Montale among other perfumed delights.
Images: Myself in front of Chanel’s rue Cambon flagship, pink velour Hello Kitty bag via www.regencies.com, the Arabian Oud store from outside and again from inside as the crazed misogynist was decanting my oils into vials, a kiss at the Palais Royal gardens, the arcades at Palais Royal.
PS: To get a better look at the images click on them to enlarge. I don't normally go into the trouble of saying this as I presume all of you already knew that, but the one with the kiss is particularly sweeeeeeet when enlarged. Love the captured public display of affection, especially since a complete stranger is sitting right next to them!!