After two days of non-stop activity, I found myself in a dip on the morning of the third day, and not just due to the accumulated tiredness caused by endless morning-to-evening walking. The weather had turned from marvelously sunny to grey and it looked like it was about to rain. Not a problem for a perfume lover in Paris: There are plenty of department stores with excellent perfume departments to keep one busy!
We visited Galleries Lafayette first so that I could explore one of the perfumes on my vanilla quest checklist: Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille. Tom Ford’s line is quite lovely (if irritatingly exclusive) and includes many fragrances I already knew I loved, such as the excellent chypre-themed Moss Breeches and the dark and mysterious Noir de Noir. I was expecting a seamless tobacco-vanilla blend, but once again I was disappointed. Tobacco Vanille starts out as a boozy, gorgeous vanilla, but 15 minutes later it ends up predominantly tobacco and ruthlessly continues on that theme unchanging. Don’t get me wrong – I love tobacco, but I was on a vanilla quest, not a tobacco quest. Further, and to be honest, most importantly, Vanille Tobacco was strikingly masculine – not the unisex, soft, voluptuous oriental I had dreamed it would be.
Despite wearing ‘comfy’ ballerinas, my feet were protesting like mad. I spend the next couple of hours looking at shoes upstairs, all the while wondering why I had never bought Birkenstocks while in Holland and why the hell had I thought they were such a bad idea. Galleries Lafayette had Ipanemas and Havaianas but no Birkenstocks. Suffering through the delirium of pain, I was convinced only the world famous orthopedic sandal could save my feet. When it became clear we were not going to find them there (and when I had finished looking at all the pretties!) we moved next door to the Beauté department of Printemps. All thoughts about pain were suspended as I glided through the fantastic selection of niche perfumes.
I stopped for quite a long time at the Comptoir sud Pacifique counter, a line whose sturdy, travel-friendly bottles are never missing from my suitcase in the summer. I love many of these summery scents – although I have to admit that some of them are too similar to others and thus superfluous, which makes sorting through them and sampling them a bit irritating. I went there with a goal this time however: to sniff Matin Calin (aka Sweet Milk), a scent that never made it to the Netherlands and which I’ve been meaning to sample forever since I love milky fragrances. Too, since I have been going through a huge gourmand period at the moment, it seemed like this opportunity was doubly fortuitous. I fell in love with Matin Calin the moment I smelled it. It is the milkiest of all milky scents I have ever encountered, diving in the creamiest, most soothing milk pool with unapologetic joy. Matin Calin smells like it combines fresh, full-fat milk with condensed cream and the gently caramelized aroma of dulce de leche, rounding it all off with a glorious soft vanilla. Can I just say YUM?! The SA informed me that unfortunately this beautiful scent is being discontinued and that I was snapping up their last bottle. If you want this, you should act soon. The line is priced in the friendliest manner and this is the reference milk scent.
My vanilla quest was appeased to a large degree with Vanille Abricot, a most wonderful vanilla-apricot combination that makes me happy whenever I smell it. It places the yummiest, firm, supple skinned apricot over Comptoir sud Pacifique’s signature vanilla to create one of the most sensuous simple vanilla scents I’ve tried. It is also the brand’s best seller. Official notes list jackfruit and papaya as well, but I smell neither - just velvety, lovely apricot over vanilla. This is wonderful. I also fell for Musc Alize (a soft, clean musk that enhances the wearer’s own skin scent and radiates a warm, sweet scent) but did not buy a bottle, stupidly thinking I could come by it easily enough. Unfortunately after a little research since my return it seems I was wrong: I am starting to suspect Musc Alize has also been discontinued. I left with my two bottles and load of samples thrown in by the gracious SA.
With purchases in my hand and my nose satiated for a while, I had time to think about my poor feet again. I somehow found myself under the wing of an absolutely stunning, elf-like French girl with short brown hair, almond eyes and boundless energy, who made it her mission to help me find the Birkenstocks. We trekked all over Printemps chatting in half-English half-French and giggling merrily but found no sign of the elusive shoe. We were directed to a large sporting-goods store across the street (Le Stadium?) where another gorgeous example of French breeding (this time male) did his best to find them for me. They were not being sold there either. He informed me that he thought they were ugly, but that he completely understood since I was in pain! LOL!
By that time it was almost six in the afternoon and I came to the realization that since there were apparently no Birkenstocks to be found in the center of Paris and the shops would be closing in an hour, I might as well get some more perfume mileage squeezed in! We walked (me bravely, the boyfriend as slow and sympathetic as possible) to the breathtaking Place Vendôme. I walked into my favorite perfume boutique of all, ready to be amazed once again, ready for another rendezvous with perfume-fate, a rendezvous I’d been looking forward to for the past two years.
Ah, Montale… Where to begin? Two years ago I went in seeking an animalic feminine perfume and found perfection in Oud Ambre. This time I requested a special gourmand. My favorite perfume match-maker, Pierre, was not there, but the girls were kind, lovely and patient beyond expectation. I wanted almonds, vanilla, saffron… Anything they could show me to make these cravings subside. The magic started immediately with Sweet Oriental Dream. Everyone and their granny have done a Loukhoum (Turkish delight) scent by now, from Serge Lutens' Rahat Loukhoum to By Killian’s Love and from Keiko Mecheri’s to Ava Luxe’s Loukhoum. Sweet Oriental Dream differs by being the softest, roundest interpretation, missing the sharp notes that tend to put me off the rest. Vanille Absolute is beautiful but unnecessary if you already own one or more of the vanilla-heavy Comptoir sud Pacifique’s creations – it is almost the same signature vanilla, which is unsurprising, considering CsP is a line that was originally created by Pierre Montale. There now seems to be some 'bad blood' between the lines, since Pierre Montale is (understandably) upset to see his formulas changed and degraded. Having come into the CsP line only after Pierre had already departed and never having known the ‘good stuff’ I still love CsP for what I know it to be right now. I was next shown Amandes Orientals and Chocolate Greedy. I knew that my search for the perfect new Montale to add to my collection had ended the moment I smelled Amandes Orientales – whatever came next would be a treat, a lovely extra. This was it! This gem deserves its very own extensive review, so look forward to it once the travelogues are finished. For now, suffice to say it is absolutely unique, wonderful and all I could have asked for from my visit to Montale. Chocolate Greedy in turn, is a wonderful-wonderful gourmand. It starts out as soft chocolate-orange truffle studded with nutty, roasted almonds and dusted with the most fabulous pure dry cacao. The passage of time reveals a smooooooth toasted tonka bean base, laced with very light, whipped vanilla. I bought Amandes Orientals and got Chocolate Greedy as a gift.
The girls delighted me by figuring out my tastes with expert confidence: “This one is for you”. Red Oud. Oh yes. Seriously, I will have to buy this very soon! It starts out tickling the nose with spicy notes of pepper, but quickly calms down to present one of the smoothest, softest Montales I’ve sniffed. It is a round, soft oriental that lingers close to the skin, producing a creamy and at once powdery effect that lifts a few inches from the skin, magically surrounding the wearer. Gorgeous saffron over softly sweet amber, a mysterious dry cacao warmth, a hint of rose and powder… The oud here is very soft, extremely smooth and in contrast to several other Montale ouds, not medicinal. (I also love medicinal ouds by the way – I am just saying this is different).
I almost fainted when I first sniffed Oud Cuir d’Arabie, that’s how strong, pungent and strange it is. After a moment’s swooning, feelings ranging from surprise, love, disgust and then straight back to love, I realized I was holding a gem. This starts out with the strongest, deepest oud note combined with a huge animalic leather. The leather smells as though it has been weathered inside a souk whose smells it’s picked up. It also smells intensely like goat leather. No really, the goat leather smell is very strong and realistic. Amazingly, this pungent beauty calms down to reveal a tobacco heart that is extremely richly nuanced, producing dazzling floral accents and colorful mysteries. This one’s only for the brave.
At some point, one of the SA’s produced a tiny phial filled with a dark oil. She told me it was pure oud and asked whether I wanted to try it. Did I! She applied a tiny drop to my wrist. Dear readers, that one tiny drop kept developing for the next 24 hours! It started out extremely pungent and beyond this world animalic. It smelled literally, like it came out the back end of some animal. Slowly it changed, becoming leathery and then smoother and smoother, producing a myriad other facets, from woody, to musky to vaguely floral. This one single oil is so complex, it takes you through at least a dozen different perfume worlds throughout its development.
Montale also sells a number of other pure oil absolutes in the Confidential Collection among which is Santal de Mysore. This pure Mysore sandalwood can only be described as bliss in a bottle. It is amazingly long lasting (a single drop lasted through to the next day even after showering) and smells… well, like the best sandalwood I’ve ever smelled in my whole life. The absolute I have here at home does not compare. Sweet, creamy, nuanced, sensual, sexy, voluptuous… This should bring tears of joy to the eyes of any sandalwood lover. Compared side by side with Samsara extrait de parfum (a comparison which I did two days later), Samsara seems like a joke both in terms of scent and in terms of longevity. The prices are extravagant (500 euro for 100ml, 300 for 50ml and 150 for 20ml) but – I can’t believe I’m saying this, this sandalwood is worth it. It has been haunting me ever since I put it on my skin. At the time, I thought it was too expensive but I have made up my mind: I’m gonna spring for a 20ml bottle this fall. It is SO worth it!
I want to finish this ultra-long post with a question that has been on my mind ever since: Bar the expensive Confidential Collection which only has a few absolutes, buying anything from Montale in the largest size (100ml) costs between 75 or 95 euro depending on the line (EdP versus Aouds & Attars). On top of that, you get a bottle of your choice as a gift. On top of that, all of the scents last FOREVER on the skin. In fact I’ve yet to meet the Montale that won’t be there, still faithfully on the skin the day after. Ordering over the phone is possible, and shipping is free worldwide. Ordering over the phone gets you the same service as in the boutique itself, including gifts. The line is so extensive, it has something for everyone, from gourmands, to chypres, to leathers to exotic summery scents. Now remind me again, WHY do we pay more and put up with the snobby eliticism and games of “exclusive” this “exclusive” that of other lines when both their product and service is clearly inferior? Yes, I am talking about Guerlain.
Images: The dome of Galleries Lafayette, Sniffing the exclusives at the Tom Ford counter, Milk splash via Flickr by AMagill, Apricots via commons.wikimedia.org, The Montale boutique front, Sniffing my wrist at Montale, I seem to like whatever’s on that blotter (once again at Montale), Happy with purchases in front of Montale