How is it that the most romantic time I've ever had in Paris are the two days last September when I wandered its streets happily alone? The unexpected, golden heat of summer's final flare-up had something to do with it, as did the absence of “to-do's” to be sternly ticked off a list. And there was the dramatic contrast with my previous visits over the years: one tense and joyless with a soon-to-be ex, the next ruined by a new boyfriend's unwarranted jealousy and my violent food poisoning, and the last frayed by another boyfriend's stubborn insistence that his dirty dancing with the drunken lady at my friend's fancy wedding did not in any way overstep the bounds of propriety. (Although I admit that his terpsichorean insult was somewhat mitigated by my moment of girl talk with Joan Collins at said fancy wedding.)
So with the weather perfect and no agitating outside factors (a.k.a. gentleman friends), I experienced two indulgent days filled with perfume, fashion, macarons, olden-days Aristocats architecture, falafels, wine...and black toilet paper (more on that later). All interspersed with walking walking walking.
There's nothing like a built-in time limitation to wonderfully focus the mind, so after a night flight from Los Angeles on coach and Ambien, all it took was cappuccino and concealer for me to fake awakeness and hit les rues. I was based near Palais Garnier, so luxury, beauty and sights were all a quick hoof trot away. I set off toward l'Opéra and within spitting distance of the building's golden-winged goddesses, I fetched up outside the Fragonard Perfume Museum. An English language tour was just going in, so I tagged along for an entertaining gawp at a wide variety of fragrance and beauty artifacts.
|Fragrance artifacts: copper perfume stills and porcelain scent bottles.|
Of special interest were the 17th century scented beauty spots made of mouse fur. The guide informed us that placement of the spots signified what kind of temptress you might be, what your gig was, what you were into, etc., bypassing those awkward “what's your sign?” conversations at court. I broke off from the group and embarked on independent study of 18th century perfume stills and ancient Egyptian perfume bottles, along with original Guerlain lipsticks from the late 1800s -- the first-ever mass-produced lipstick. I lingered over the displays long enough for to be absorbed into the next tour down the pike -- conducted in Chinese. The elegant old rooms turned into a crazed tower of Babel, with multilingual explanations overlapping at a 1920's perfumer's organ stocked with 400 essences.
|A nasal Tower of Babel.|
The next stop in my desultory wanderings was the Serge Lutens shop in Palais Royal. A disinterested saleslady presided over the perfumes in the darkened purple room, her boredom somewhat harshing my buzz. I tuned her out and zeroed in my yet-untried Lutens: La Myrrhe (aldehyde sarsaparilla) and Iris Silver Mist (bone-dry petrified iris with a licorice frost).
The saleslady was not entirely impassive to the intensity of my quiet enjoyment because as I left, she slipped me a square black envelope containing seven small folders dotted with solid perfume samples of the entire Lutens line. (Later, the act of peeling away the cellophane from each waxy dot turned the sample kit into a kind of perfume advent calendar.)
|A prototype for Serge Lutens' holiday sample packaging.|
Smelling like a Serge patchwork quilt, I meandered southward, and just before I hit the Seine, I got sucked into the Sephora in Les Halles. The place is practically a perfume museum of the last 40 years and beyond, and it's not even the flagship Sephora (that would be the Champs-Elysées branch). There's an island of Guerlains with every flavor of Habit Rouge (from L'Eau to L'Extrait), all Les Elixirs Charnels, all the heritages, all L'Art et la Matières. Also unlike American Sephora, it features Serge Lutens and all the Kenzos, including ones I've never seen in the flesh like Jungle L'Éléphant and Ça Sent Beau. The Dior Hypnotic Poison display is one of the stations of the cross, with the eau de toilette, Eau Sensuelle, Elixir and extrait iterations offering increasing degrees of olfactory suffocation.
Shaking myself out of my Sephora daze, I allowed the late afternoon sun to summon me onward, to Notre Dame (800 years young!), to Place des Voges (duel-and-tryst central in the 17th century) and finally to Les Marais for some boutique-hopping and a fortifying falafel sandwich.
Read about Day Two (and that black toilet paper!) here.
Fragonard Perfume Museum via
Advent calendar via