Most Parisians invest in high-end fragrances, of which you’ll often enjoy a trace as you pass chic locals in the streets: the aim is subtle seduction, not loud statement. Of course, France has a long history of producing quality perfume. In Grasse, the home of scent in the south, master parfumeurs, or ‘noses’, have been creating superb-smelling blends since the sixteenth century. Today most luxury fashion houses, including Chanel, still formulate fragrances from Grasse-grown petals – all so you can pop into, say, Sephora and spray away. (My favourites include Yves Saint Laurent’s Mon Paris, the Issey Miyake eaux, and Dior’s J’adore.)
To learn about the art of perfumery, visit the Fragonard Musée du Parfum [https://musee-parfumparis.fragonard.com/en/] at 3–5 square de l’Opéra-Louis Jouvet, 75009. This private perfume museum houses a diverse collection of industry artefacts and beautiful antique bottles. Alternatively, visit individual parfumeries to sample and shop with the help of experts. If you’re unsure where to start, sniff out these special places:
Jardin du Palais Royal, 142 galerie de Valois, 75001
A visit to this central-Paris boutique is a real treat and, for scent connoisseurs, practically a pilgrimage. A tiny yet dramatic space of purple shadows, Lutens’s salon is a jewel box of olfactory gems. If you’re lucky you’ll be invited to climb the spiral staircase up to a room where you can try the perfumes in private. Hailing from Lilles, Lutens relocated to Marrakech, and the exoticism of Arab and Indian cultures is a strong influence on his work. As a result, his scents, which he creates in collaboration with a top nez (or ‘nose’), are incredibly evocative, and several are exclusive to the salon. Try the orange-blossom-based Fleurs D’Oranger, the amber-rich Ambre Sultan, or the incense- and chrysanthemum-infused De Profundis – you’re investing in something sublime.
5 rue d’Alger, 75001
Francis Kurkdjian decided to become a perfumer at the age of 15. Six years later, after a brief foray into classical music and dance, he enrolled at the famous ISIPCA perfume school in Versailles. And in 1993, at the age of 24, Kurkdjian made a splash on the international perfume scene with a major work: Le Male, the first Jean Paul Gaultier scent for men. Following several artistic excursions (notably collaborations with Sophie Calle and the Palace of Versailles itself), Kurkdjian finally co-founded his eponymous parfumerie in 2009. As sophisticated unisex spins on traditional ingredients, his scents are modern classics, and this boutique’s staff are particularly helpful.
69 rue des Archives, 75003
These parfums break all the rules. Among the intriguing compositions, whose fun names reflect their quirky references, you’ll find The Afternoon of a Faun, Fat Electrician, and Rien (which means nothing). When the staff offered me a scent (when I was writing a perfume story), I chose Divin’ Enfant, a hybrid of sweet floral and smoky gourmand notes. To be honest, I didn’t think that much of it at first, but it was a huge hit, almost too much so – it made me feel like a fertile flower amid a swarm of bees! Founder and self-confessed troublemaker Etienne de Swardt believes that perfumes are deeply personal, hence his unique approach. In his words, these “sublime, delicately composed juices [are] designed to disturb, to touch, to tempt, to thrill. And seduce, seduce, seduce”.
25 rue Royale, 75008
You’re no doubt familiar with Chanel No. 5, but did you know that couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel launched this iconic scent back in 1921? It was the fifth of nine proposed fragrances from the French perfumer Ernest Beaux. Today some of the original Chanel perfumes go for tens of thousands of dollars as collector’s items (mon Dieu!); however, the current range is, happily, far more affordable. Among the fashion house’s particularly Parisian scents are Cristalle, No. 19, Chance, Coco, and (from Les Exclusifs collection) 31 Rue Cambon.
23 rue du Bourg Tibourg, 75004
Create your signature scent at this boutique perfume studio in the Marais. Here, experts help you choose ingredients straight from Grasse, from France’s oldest perfume house, Parfumerie Galimard, which catered to the court of Louis XV. Mix up a floral, spicy or woody fragrance and then select a bottle of blown crystal or Murano glass, which may feature a touch of gold or silver. You’ll feel like royalty every time you spritz.
167 boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006
The founder of this house, the late Jean-François Laporte, took the art of perfumery back to its roots. A trained chemist and passionate plant collector, he launched L’Artisan Parfumeur as an alternative to the mass-market parfumeries, as a niche brand that celebrates the natural scents of the pre-industrial era.
Along with its classics, such as Mûre et Musc and L’Eau D’Ambre, the house is famous for Laporte’s very first fragrance, Bana Banana. Having created this fruity cocktail of a scent for a friend, in 1976, he never released it commercially. But in 2019 a reinvention of it joined the L’Artisan range thanks to the work of perfumer Céline Ellena, the daughter of Jean-Claude Ellena (a renowned nose from Grasse who has put many perfumes on the map, most notably for Hermès). Referencing the original – a fragrance fit for flirtatious champagne soirées at the Folies Bergère (a Parisian-cabaret institution) – Bana Banana marries jasmine, violet leaves and candied banana with spice for an oriental-floral fusion.