Two Perfumed Days in Paris - Day Two


On the second and final day of my brief Parisian idyll, I started the day right with Champagne at L'Hôtel Le Bristol, the swank setting for a bloggers' meet with Michel Almairac, the nose behind Bottega Veneta's debut perfume. (Read about the encounter here.) Fume talk with Almairac and esteemed perfume writers, combined with très fancy hors d'oeuvres, got me prepped and lubed (okay, maybe it was just that second glass of mid-day Champagne) for another sniff-binge around the city.

I'd had grand plans to hit rues Saint-Honoré and Champs-Elysées, to yum-yum-yum my way from the Guerlain flagship to Dior to Colette to Chanel and ritzy-titsiness galore, but once I entered the upscale department store Printemps, my shop bopping plans disintegrated. The place is a veritable bouquet of boutiques, with so many fashion, beauty and fragrance houses represented that I kind of...forgot...that sunny late-September Paris was right outside. Okay okay, so I swapped real glamour for virtual, but one-stop shopping does have its charms when time is limited.

With the store's speakers pumping Devo's version of “I Can't Get No Satisfaction” (was Printemps laughing at me or with me?), I prowled the elegant displays. I turned myself into a walking perfume blotter between Dior's La Collection Privée Patchouli Impérial (grassy, hearty, earthy and rooty-sweet), Armani Privé's Rose d'Arabie (thick, sickening, clichéd), Juliette Has a Gun Vengeance Extrême (Lady Vengeance plus pumped-up patchouli equals “Lord Vengeance”) and L'Artisan Parfumeur Mon Numéro series (when I got to Number 8, the angels sang).

I made several disbelieving laps around a kiosk ablaze with the words “black | Up”. It appeared to be a cosmetics brand for women of color.


But...“black up”? As in what white -- and black -- folks did when they greased up for minstrel shows back in the bad ol' days? Either the brand is trading on provocatively edgy irony, or they're “taking back the night” (i.e. “'queer' isn't offensive if we're gay people talking about ourselves”), or they're just sunshiney, up with (black) people: black UP, y'all! Or...it just doesn't translate well from the French?


“black | Up” is one of those nuggets of trans-cultural awkwardness I so enjoy, like the near life-size statues of little boys and girls with leg braces that used to be found on the sidewalks of Britain up until the 1990s. First you'd be thinking, why is there a statue of a polio kid outside this magazine kiosk? Then you'd notice the kicker: the word “SPASTICS” emblazoned across a donation box held in the statue's arm.


My efforts to engage the locals on the delightful inappropriateness of the statues were always met with nonplussed blankness. I concluded that spastic statues were the Limey version of Margaret Keane's big-eyed kid paintings, with a charity element thrown in.


But back to Paris and Printemps! Perfumes had led to cosmetics, cosmetics led to clothes, clothes led to shoes, and by the time I finished with shoes, it was “ou est le W.C., s'il vous plaît?” to freshen up. But in snazzarella Printemps, even the lavatory is a mini-boutique. At "Point W.C.", black marble floors reflected strategic spot lighting, amplifying the natural drama created by a crowd of people desperate to empty their bladders. Taking advantage of the roomful of captive consumers, the restroom lobby featured enticingly-lit toilet paper in bold colors -- just the ticket for that urgent impulse buy.


Perusing the saturated yellow, azure and fuchsia rolls, I marveled at the lengths design fiends were now able to go in their commitment to home wide color-blocking. My marvel-level ratcheted tenfold when my eye alighted on the darnedest Dada artifact I ever did see: black toilet paper.

Black toilet paper? C'est chic, to be sure, but in actual use, how would you keep track of your, err...effluvial status?


Black toilet paper: in France, even hygiene is an existential matter.

By the time I reached the loo administrator (a fellow coiffed like an 80s pop star behind a commandingly high desk), I noted the steep fee for relieving myself: 2 euros ($2.56). "Point W.C." had me at a vulnerable moment, and there was no choice but to pay. My consternation increased when I entered the cubicle and beheld the space-age Japanese toilet. It had more controls than a cockpit: buttons included bidet, interval stream, fore and aft positions, and most puzzlingly, a “children” setting.

One button read “massage”. What happens here? I imagined a hand reaching out of the bowl, a variation on Thing from the Addams Family.


My 2 euros had bought me a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey as I gamely pushed every control. It was Paris, and I was determined to go on all of the rides. Nothing is quite so clarifying as a jet of cold water hitting its target, it would seem. I left the stall properly “gingered up” (a colorful British expression stemming from the obsolete practice of inserting a nub of ginger in a racing horse's hindquarters to make her run like the wind). In Printemps' luxury loo, there's no need for toilet paper...of any color.

Read about Day One here.


Images include:
Françoise Hardy
Shirley Temple in The Littlest Rebel
Black toilet paper via

33 comments:

  1. I am tempted to black up and ginger up at the same time! Katie, this is hysterical!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trust you to hover juuuuust on the edge of wearing all the trends at once.

      Delete
  2. Black toilet paper is awesome. I miss Paris and Printemps. Everyone should get a chance to experience the epic people-watching freakshow in that place. It's like the Afterlife Waiting Room with pricetags.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The afterlife is really gonna be something!

      Delete
  3. I feel dirty after reading this. Or maybe I feel cleaner. I'll ponder on that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is the conundrum of the intersection of black toilet paper and Japanese toilets.

      Delete
  4. I was lured over here by your toilet roll teaser on Twitter, and what a treat lay in store - in the Printemps store no less, where I also spent most of my store-checking time on a recent trip to Paris, but where I crucially omitted to visit this most well-appointed and interactive of WCs. I had just been to the loo in one of those Brioche d'Or-type chains, where I stopped for a cup of tea en route, and its in-cubicle amenities were rudimentary by comparison.

    And oh dear me...I remember those Spastics Society statues all too well. The calipers were a particular hallmark, also the guide dogs - or I may be getting my charities muddled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the blind kid statue with sunglasses and a guide dog were part of the "spastics set", though perhaps the charity box indicated specific help for the blind rather than garden variety spastics.

      Delete
  5. This reminds me of that unisex bathroom in a bar in NY where the doors to the stalls are clear - until you go in and close them, and closing a circuit turns them frosty opaque. Great for inducing stress in both sober and drunk people.

    I'm ... not Goth enough for the black toilet paper, I think. It does look tres chic in the picture, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh! I've been in a bathroom like that! It's *really* unnerving.

      Delete
  6. I've been lurking and reading like an ardent Katie fan, but today's blog post had me laughing and I just needed to write and say thanks. I always enjoy reading about your adventures. And BTW, you have been looking positively radiant in your videos of late.

    So were you supposed to purchase your squares of colored TP before entering the loo? What color was available inside? The idea of a Japanese "Thing" providing a massage had me giggling as well as wondering if there was Male/Female button on the toilet and the proctological possibilities. Was there a button for the the loo reacharound?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I felt fully reach-arounded as it was. I'm guessing the directional controls provided the same function as your suggested Male/Female button. I was so dazzled by the technology that I admit I never noticed the color of the loo roll inside the cubicle.

      Delete
    2. How do you say "Can you spare a square?" in French?

      SoS

      Delete
    3. You got me. I just pray never to be in that scenario.

      Delete
  7. So that's what people meant when they called me "spastic" through the majority of my formative years . . . they were really just commenting on how adorable I looked in leg braces!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You always could rock a challenging look.

      Delete
  8. We have such delightful people on this board. If I felt more witty and less "I may be getting the flu," I would elaborate more.

    But you all make me smile.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh yeah, one more thing. I watched a documentary on ballerinas over the weekend, and one thing mentioned stuck in my head: "Ideally, a ballerina will have long arms and legs, a long neck, and a tiny head."

    In the book "La Seduction"* the author mentions how France is a "female," country. She goes on to say that the icon of France, the Eiffel Tower, is considered a very feminine symbol.

    Hearing about ballerinas with tiny heads and long necks makes me see it (the Eiffel Tower) as that.

    *There is also an interesting chapter on fragrance, and she interviews Jean-Claude Ellena. Check it out, yo.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Huh! I would've thought the Eiffel Tower is part of the boy's club with the Washington Monument and Rochas Man.

    Ballerinas and models need small heads, TV and movie stars need big ones.

    I'll investigate La Seduction, per your footnote.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Katie
    Love to know what you made of DIOR'S patchouli imperiale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, well I did give it a shout-out in this post. It's ultra-big and rooty-grassy sweet. Its sheer force on the blotter dominated every other blotter that I'd shoved into my guidebook, until the entire book ended up smelling of Patchouli Impérial. First I found it irritatingly domineering, but then I grew to enjoy it. I don't know if I'd like to have the scent stuck to my skin, though. For now, when it comes to patchouli, I'm still a Coromandel girl.

      Delete
  12. I had thought nothing would top the Joan Collins chat in Day One, but both the rainbow toilet paper and the black | Up just might. Great syntax-style in the ad: lower-case b, pipe, capital U. And ethnic!! (as opposed to...?) Still I'd forgive all if I could just witness the toilet paper shrine. What color would Francoise Hardy choose?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After listening to her La Question album, I'm convinced Françoise would black | Up in the toilet paper department.

      Delete
  13. I think the usage of "Black Up," is how we sound when we try to use French to make things fancy.

    A friend of mine has lived in France three times and says that they use the "f" word randomly in advertisements.

    "Come try our sushi! It's f-ing great!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That might be it - trying to sound all American and casual with "black Up." That's a funny detail about the French throwing in "f-ing" hither and yon.

      Delete
  14. Effluvial status! LOL! I suspected the black toilet paper would have been a Printemps experience. And I'm pleased you experienced Flock of Seagulls Guy (a reference very few of my friends here seem to get, unfortunately). I've enjoyed reading about your Parisian sejour. Where will your nose take you next?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My nose and I will next be in London, where I'll be living for a few months through the spring (although it being London, it will stay rainy and wintery until July, probably).

      Delete
  15. Having just been shopping in Clapham and Brixton, and having made brief stops to smell stuff in both, I can report that Black|Up has concessions in department both places' department stores. Looks like deliberate cultural reclamation of negative terminology to me (with up meaning 'empowerment'), rather an awkward translation.
    I also looked up 'gingered up' on wikipaedia, to then innocently click on links on 'figging' and the hardcore, horseradish equivalent. Thanks for that!!!!
    Great articles both. I especially want to know what you thought of Kenzo Jungle. In a previous life, when working in a dept. store, it was one of the fragrances used for interpersonal terroristic purposes, alongside Versace Blonde, Mahora and Feu d'Isssey. (Dior's Poison being the nuclear option whose button no-one would ever dare press)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh! Maybe I'm the only one making a connection between minstrel shows and the phrase "black up". Probably just as well.

      Your perfume wars story is funny! By "interpersonal", were the foghorn fragrances used as olfactory weaponry to punish those who displeased you?

      My impression of Kenzo Jungle was that it's a dense, spicey prune reduction sauce. (It might taste good on pork tenderloin.) It seemed like a cartoony version of Lutens Feminitè du Bois.

      Delete
  16. Yes, spot on with "interpersonal." But escalation would soon reach a point whereby someone would yell 'you spray me that rotten mango smelling miyake and I'm getting the Poison bottle' and a cold war would ensue.
    Yeah, that sounds like Jungle, the 'miss' version of what was commonly a 'hit' (the Lutens and non-Lutens variations on FDB)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very funny! Just the kind of anecdote perfume PRs would be loathe to hear.

      Delete
  17. The place for black toilet paper:
    http://shop.renovaonline.net

    ReplyDelete