Shopping Guide to Paris


01st August, 2003

Paris is the world’s fragrance capital. It's not only because the city is the traditional home of some ancient perfume houses. And it’s only partly because there are more dedicated boutiques here than anywhere else, and because Paris is the headquarters of the world’s biggest luxury goods company, with fragrances accounting for millions of dollars of sales every year. Above all, it’s because the French take perfume seriously.

Fragrance houses like Creed and Annick Goutal proudly list the movie stars, male and female, who use their products. Shops like Fréderic Malle’s Editions de Parfums display photographs of perfume designers as if they are stars themselves. The perfume creators, meanwhile, talk about their work with a seriousness that would have Anglo-Saxons reaching for the smelling salts.

This dedication to the culture of fragrance is palpable even when you’re shopping. Shop assistants, while sometimes intimidating, tend to know about their product, and take time to talk you through its qualities. They’ll even wrap gifts for you, at no extra charge, chucking in bunches of samples – no mucking about with cheap department store plastic bags here.

You notice other differences too. First is that it’s easier to find old, or limited distribution fragrances in Paris. Frenchmen have been using fragrances a lot longer than many Brits and Americans, and would be quick to complain if their favourite 1960s or 70s scent suddenly left the shelves. They’re also less faddish, choosing a fragrance and sticking with it, although this is changing.

Another thing you’ll notice is that what we think of as difficult to find is commonplace in Paris, if not exactly common. Think Creed is an exclusive fragrance house? Its products are available in corner pharmacies in Paris’ chic neighbourhoods – at substantially lower prices than you would pay in the US or UK.

In a city of this size, and with such a dedication to fragrance, it’s impossible to list every creator or distributor. What follows is an incomplete list of some of Paris’ best destinations for fragrance fans.

 

Creed

For serious amateurs of perfume, Creed needs no introduction. The house, founded in London in 1760, and has been based in Paris since 1854. Creed has been the parfumeur of choice for European royalty, American Presidents and international celebrities for years, and this little shop is where it all happens. Even if, like me, you are immune to Creed’s charms, you’ll find the boutique irresistible : Row after row of fragrances for men and women, going back decades. The private collection, which includes fragrances like the original Tabarome and Cuir de Russie, is available here in traditional green bottles with glass stoppers. They would make a welcome addition to anyone’s bathroom shelf, but if you plan to stock up, make sure that shelf is well-secured – they are only for sale in massive 250ml versions ! If you’re really in the money, Oliver Creed will create a fragrance just for you, but we’re talking ten thousand bucks a consultation. Creed fans who can’t afford to meet the master can console themselves by dressing like him : The boutique also stocks a range of Creed shirts and accessories.

38 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie
(8th arrondisement – Metro George V)

Guerlain 

Although it’s no longer independently-owned and it’s been years since it came up with a classic fragrance, Guerlain can still claim to be France’s greatest perfume house. Guerlain has a number of stores and concessions around the city, but these two are the most romantic, the first an oasis of old-world calm on the frantic Champs Elysees, the latter a corner boutique on the city’s most luxe square. You’ll find Mouchoir de Monsieur, Guerlain’s 1904 classic, here in its natural habitat, along with better-known favourites like Vetiver and Habit Rouge. Both boutiques stock Guerlain’s unparalled range of women’s fragrances too, so don’t forget to buy for the girlfriend : Vol de Nuit is just about the sexiest thing a woman can wear. Guerlain re-releases classics from its back catalog periodically, and they are only available in these shops : Vega, a 1930s perfume, was released in a limited edition a few years ago and sold out overnight.

A word of warning, however – most fragrances in Guerlain’s boutiques are kept behind the counter, and you will have to ask to sample them. If you prefer to sample yourself, without asking an assistant, go to one of Guerlain’s concessions in a department store like Bon Marche, where sample bottles are easy to access !

68 Avenue de Champs Elysees
(8th arrondisement – Metro Franklin - Roosevelt)

2 Place Vendome
(1st arrondisement – Metro Tuileries)

 

Annick Goutal

Annick Goutal died in 1999 and her perfume house was bought by luxe group Taittinger soon afterwards, but her boutiques remain much as they were when she opened in the 1970s. That means lots of gold, lots of cream, arranged in a very French notion of luxury. You’ll be happy to hear that the men’s range is slightly more restrained in its packaging, and the fragrances themselves are splendid : Eau d’Hadrien is the house classic (ask for the men’s version – same scent, different bottle – trust me, you’ll thank me) while Sables is an unusual twist on Mediterranean ingredients, and recently won a Dutch magazine award for best men’s scent, despite being launched in 1985 – that’s staying power.

14 rue de Castiglione
(1st, Metro Tuileries)

12 place St Sulpice
(6th, Metro St Sulpice)

 

Sephora and
Marionnaud

Let’s face it, you don’t go to Paris on a fragrance hunt to shop in big chains like these, but they’re worth visiting, particularly if you like contemporary fragrances, in order to pick up bargains and gift coffrets. Sephora’s Champs Elysees branch is huge. Its smaller branches, which are dotted all over the city, carry a fiercely edited range of contemporaries and classics, with an emphasis on big sellers. Marionnaud, however, has even more branches and is a better bet for turning up forgotten classics. There’s a large branch on rue de la Roquette, near Bastille, which has a great range of gift coffrets and a number of difficult-to-find fragrances.

You’ll notice in Paris that customers aren’t shy about sampling : If, like me, you prefer to sample fragrances with a discreet squirt on your inside wrist, you’ll be shocked to see brazen Parisiens spraying themselves with great clouds of the stuff, replacing the bottle on the shelf and strolling out.

In some shops, the assistant might ask if sir would like to be perfumed. This can mean that you’ll be sprayed with whichever perfume interests you : not advisable if you plan to visit more than one fragrance house in one day !

Sephora
70 avenue de Champs Elysees
(8th – Metro George V)

Marionnaud
50 rue de la Roquette
(11th – Metro Bastille)

 

Nickel

Nickel is France’s leading grooming range for men, and this is its flagship institute. You can book treatments for facials and skincare here, as well as one called ‘Love Handles’. Its house product range is worth mentioning : Contre Feu, the aftershave balm, is the best I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a few, believe me). Lendemain de Fete, a morning after skin booster, has cult appeal among party animals. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will recommend what’s best for your skin type, and send you away with a generous bunch of samples too.

While not strictly a fragrance store, Nickel stocks products by Aqua di Parma, Comme des Garcons and Geo Trumpers, as well as its new in-house fragrance, Ennemi de Nickel. Ennemi is a spicy woods fragrance with a metallic edge, which was created using headspace technology to mimic the natural scent of a man’s skin. This is not as alarming as it sounds - it’s a subtle one, that stays close to the wearer, though fans of Nickel’s skincare range shouldn’t expect any surprises.

48 rue Francs Bourgeois
(3rd – Metro Rambuteau)

 

Parfums de Nicolai 

Patricia de Nicolai has perfumes in her blood, if you’ll forgive the image : She’s a grand daughter of Pierre Guerlain. Patricia’s boutique is a cult favourite in France, with a select bunch of customers who swear by her original colognes. Try Baladin, which uses herb notes on a vetiver-leather base, or Carre d’As, a modern fougere with lime bark notes. Many of her colognes are unisex, and as you might expect, some are more suited to men than others. But you’ll have fun making up your mind !

80 rue de Grenelle
(7th – Rue du Bac)

 

Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier 

Just a couple of doors along from Parfums de Nicolai, this jewel of a shop (there’s another branch on rue Capucines on the rive droit) reminds you why Paris is such a mecca for perfume fans. Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s traditional amber bottles with their gold stoppers conceal some surprising fragrances ! Racines, for example, is fresh and woody, while Iris Bleu Gris – relatively floral for a men’s fragrance – is powdery and romantic. Don’t miss Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s Santal Nobile, for my money a challenger to Creed’s Santal Imperiale, or Route du Vetiver, an interesting turn on the connoisseur’s favourite.

Jardin du Nil is another favourite from this house’s nose, Jean Francois Laporte – he came up with this one during a holiday in Egypt, inspired by the scents of geranium and mint in the night air.

84 bis rue de Grenelle
(7th – rue de Bac)

 

Editions de Parfums Fréderic Malle

Further along rue de Grenelle, Editions de Parfums could be on a different planet from Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Where MPG has gilt, amber and mirrors, Editions de Parfum has glass, steel and rubber. It’s traditional versus modern. Editions de Parfums encourages shoppers to sample its perfumes by opening windows on six huge glass tubes lining the store like sci-fi teleportation booths. It’s a novel approach, though if you want to discover how a fragrance will react on your skin, sample sprays are also available. When you buy, your purchase, in its cool, minimalist bottle, comes straight from Editions’ refrigerators, at the rear of the shop.

The concept behind Editions de Parfum is interesting. Disillusioned with the commercial fragrance business, which tends to produce indistinguishable scents driven by million-dollar marketing campaigns, Fréderic Malle gave nine distinguised noses the freedom to create their ideal perfumes. The results, in most cases, are remarkable : Jean Claude Ellena’s Cologne Bigarade gives a bitter spin to the classic cologne, while Dominique Ropion’s Vetiver Extraordinaire is simply one of the finest vetivers on the market.

Note that Editions staff will tell you that all their fragrances are non gender-specific : This is nonsense. Most of their products are very feminine (Lipstick Rose, anyone ?) though Bigarade and Vetiver are ideal for men. Of the rest, Angeliques sous la Pluie is an ideal gift for the woman in your life – very romantic, very evocative, very sexy.

37 rue de Grenelle
(7th – Sevres Babylone)

 

L'Artisan Parfumeur 

L'Artisan Parfumeur was founded by nose Jean Laporte in the 1970s. Laporte sold up to become the Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier but the house has retained Laporte's idiosyncratic and innovative appeal.

In addition to L'Artisan's classic men's fragrances built around single accords (Santal, Vetiver) a collection of daring new scents have been launched : L'Artisan takes risks more than most fragrance houses. Dzing! for example works its magic with a seemingly unappealing zoo or circus accord, while Mechant Loup (Big Bad Wolf) conceals a hazelnut and honey note in the depths of woodsy, earthy notes.

Other interesting men's fragrances by L'Artisan Parfumeur include Navegar (pepper and limes), L'Eau de Navigateur (one of the first fragrances to use a coffee note) and Voleurs de Rose, which blends fallen rose petals with the rich odours of damp soil. L'Artisan is also worth visiting for gifts - This fragrance house specialises in witty coffrets for mothers day, Valentines day and so on – you can even buy his'n'hers packs.

A Tip: If you visit Paris regularly and have a France resident friend who will allow you to use their address, ask for a loyalty card - you gain points for every purchase and when you earn enough, you're eligible for an excellent range of free gifts, including limited edition bottles of fragrance!

24 boulevard Raspail
(7th – rue du Bac)

Flagship Boutique : 2 rue de l'Amiral de Coligny
(1st – Louvre Rivoli)



Diptyque

Diptyque has been on the boulevard for over 40 years, and has seen it change from the home of existentialists and student protests to the high-luxe shopping zone it is today. Diptyque, however, has remained true to its boho roots, still creating an extraordinary, if uncommercial range of fragrances, despite global fame as producer of the best scented candles money can buy.

Diptique fragrances are an acquired taste. Sometimes, they are based on ancient recipes : their first, l’Eau, revived a sixteeth century pot-pourri, while Eau Lente is based on what we know about perfumes at the time of Alexander the Great. Others, like the best-selling Philosykos, evoke places rather than times – usually hot, Mediterranean scenes or green, pastoral gardens.

They suggest that their fragrances are unisex, but try before you buy : Some are more unisex than others.

While you’re here, stock up on those candles – the staff will be able to recommend which best suit the season and the climate.

34 boulevard St Germain
(5th – Metro Maubert Mutalitie)

 

Comme des Garçons Parfums

If you’re fond of Diptyque’s spicy concoctions, then you’ll probably adore Comme des Garçons’ dedicated perfume store on the other side of the river. However, whereas Diptique is cluttered, folksy and bohemian, Comme des Garçons is sleek and brutally modern. The shop is something to behold : Fronted with pink laminated glass – and the door is not immediately obvious – inside is a curved steel shelf, running the length of the shop, where the perfumes – fashionably few of ‘em – are displayed. Here you’ll find Comme des Garçons’ first fragrance – which defined ‘acquired taste’ – as well as more recent releases, including the Red range of woody, spicy notes (Harissa is hot, Sequoia is powerful and woody). Comme des Garçons’ Incense range is available here too, drawing inspiration from the odours of temples around the world, from Avignon to Kyoto.

You’ll also find the new range of Comme des Garçons colognes in their enormous, clunky bottles. These are probably as close as this house will come to a commerical fragrance, so stock up before they sell out : Comme des Garçons likes to innovate, and this means limited lifespans for many of its products.

23 place du marche St Honoré
(1st – Metro Pyramides)



Old England

If you’re missing the sights and smells of the old country, stop off here for a dose of instant nostalgia in the form of fragrances by Penhaligons, Floris and Dunhill. Old England is interesting, too, as it’s a very French take on the English gentleman, all designer tweeds and cashmere pullovers, as well as standards such as leather briefcases, Church’s shoes and heavy-duty brollies.

Note that this seems to be the only place in Paris where you can find Knize Ten, a heavy, leathery classic that once won plaudits as the very best men’s fragrance on the market. Old England also stocks Knize Forest, another hard-to-find classic by the Austrian perfume house.

12 boulevard Capucines
(9th - Metro Opera)

 

Parfumerie Generale 

Perhaps because of France’s rich tradition of perfumers, Paris has been slow to pick up on the recent trend for white Space NK-ish spaces, stocked with fashionable products. Parfumerie Generale, along with a zen-like Sephora over at Cour St-Emilion and Colette’s skincare counter on rue St Honoré have introduced this Anglo-Saxon obsession to France with some success.

The Parfumerie Generale is not easy to find, tucked away at the end of a close near the Champs Elysees, but it’s worth a detour. It’s France’s only stockists of the Anthony skincare range for men, and you’ll also find a selection of fragrances from around the world, such as Geo Trumper’s excellent Eucris and some Comme des Garcon favourites. It’s one of the first to pick up on innovative grooming products too : When I visited, they were stocking an interesting concrete shaving bowl !

6 rue Robert Estienne
(8th – Metro Franklin D Roosevelt)


Saponifere 

Saponifere the best place to go to build a bathroom from scratch : They have towels, bathrobes and shaving paraphernalia, with an emphasis on traditional, classic styles. Fragrances available include Creed, Penhaligons, Trumpers and Comptoir Sud Pacifique.

16 rue Vignon
(9th, Metro Madeleine)

59 rue Bonaparte
(6th, Metro St Germain de Pres)

 

Fragonard Parfumerie et Musée and
Fragonard Musée de la Theatre

If you’re interested in the history of perfumes, these museums, run by fragrance house Fragonard, provide visitors with a free guided tour to 3,000 years of perfume production. There are some fascinating ancient bottles on display, and best of all, it’s free, though it’s probably polite to consider buying one of Fragonard’s many perfumes after your tour. Shouldn’t hurt too much – the fragrances are relatively well priced, and there’s a decent range, based on classic Santal, vetiver and citrus standards, made with the care you would expect from one of France’s traditional, but underhyped perfumeurs.

Fragonard Parfumerie et Musée 
9 rue Scribe
(9th, Metro Opera)

Fragonard Musée de la Theatre 
39 boulevard des Capucines
(9th, Metro Opera)



IUNX

If you thought Editions de Parfums' scent columns were the last word in sci-fi sampling, think again. The recently opened Iunx takes fragrance retail to another dimension.

How many other perfume shops have a lily pond in their entrance hall ? Further in, the lighting is low and moody, the décor dark and monolithic. And what about these fragrance samplers ? Nothing so simple as a squirt on the wrist – Iunx's range of ten Eaux are lined up in dispensers straight out of Gattaca. Choose your fragrance, press a button, and a freshly-perfumed card pops out. Fancy trying the shower gels ? Pulling a handle lights a bulb, which disperses the fragrance's essence to the air. Iunx's room sprays and scented candles are demonstrated with similar tricks.

But great technology is no substitute for mediocre fragrances, Luckily, Iunx's in-house nose is Olivia Giacobetti, the artist who created Editions de Parfums' En Passant and L'Artisan Parfumeur's Premier Figuier. Giacobetti was given a free hand to produce Iunx's body products and Eaux de toilettes, and she doesn't disappoint here : the splashes, which come in huge 300ml bottles (priced 88 Euros each Ð probably one of the best bargains you'll find in Paris) are fresh and light, with scents of white flowers, washed linen and spices. With ten to choose from, you'll easily find one to suit you. The shower gels, water gels and shampoos come in a range of exotic scents, including pink ginger with lemon (a heady, powerful one, this) and flax, green wheat and rice, if your tastes run slightly subtler.

Giacobetti has also created a fragrance for Iunx, Iunx Ether. It comes in a bottle best described as a sinister PC mouse, its black glass refracting light to reveal its inky contents. Again, style does not beat substance – Ether has notes of resin, myrhh and roses, and works well on men and women. 85 Euros for 50ml.

Iunx's staff are knowledgeable and friendly, despite the intimidating décor : They seem to enjoy showing off their toys as much as you'll enjoy playing with them. It's not clear if this concept will stay in Paris or if this branch will be the first in an upmarket chain - but one thing is for sure, it's that innovative stores like this keep Paris in position as the best place in the world to buy fragrances.

48-50 Rue de l'Université
(7th ; Metro Rue du Bac)

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About the author: Michael Connor

Michael Connor is a writer based in Paris

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