Where’s all the ice in Paris? Every glass of water or Coke I had, whether in a cafe or at my family’s house, came without ice. Is that a cultural thing? I’m so used to dispensing my mondo-size water container up to the top with ice, then squeezing in some water on top of it, that this complete lack of ice strikes me as being… well, a little disconcerting. Lack of freezer space? Just prefer things at room (ack!) temperature? Are Americans ice-obsessed? And the water situation is also perplexing. You don’t just get a glass of water. You have to order a drink of some kind in a restaurant, and they there’s a law that says they have to give you a glass of water if you ask for it. A law — for a glass of water. Huh? These are the oddities I found that keep me up at night.
Not sure what day we are at, but it was Friday, I do know that. We headed to Bon Marche to see what all they had in stock. After a lengthy delay in the hat/scarves/gloves department and the purchase of a cunning little hat and gloves, we did get to fragrances. They had a few things that I can’t get here, like Vivienne Westwood’s newest, Let it Rock, which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t spent any time with yet, but it doesn’t smell like the normal fruity floral, though it nods at that formula with top notes of bergamot and freesia, a jasmine heart, and dry down to a base of amber and patchouli. It doesn’t spend very long in the top notes, and then it is quite well made. I need to spend more time with it.
We also found a new line called Memo. In short — Lalibela is rose, peony and jasmine; Siwa is a floral vanilla; Sundance, if I understood the French correctly, was actually made at Sundance Film Festival or because of it… not sure, but it’s a tuberose baby; Inle is osmanthus and tea. Robin covered them here, so I won’t go into more detail, but they are all very nice. Again, haven’t spent any time with them other than a quick spritz. The one scent they did in a candle that I wish they’d do in a perfume is St. Moritz Fizz — wood fire and hot incense. Yum!!!!
Oh, yeah, missed this for one day, we did run across the two new Lubins, Vetiver and L’eau Neuve. Again, no time with either one, but they are released and I assume will be showing up at the usual places in the next couple of months.
After some other meandering that day, we met up with carmencanada (Denyse) at the Westin. She is everything you imagine her to be. Smart, beautiful, witty, full of great stories, just a delightful companion to catch up with. Diane met up with an old friend of hers there as well, and they headed off to dinner, and Denyse and I went off to get into trouble. We checked back in at Annick Goutal to sniff those new incense ones and to pick up something March wanted, and I tried again for a sample of them, and no go. Since it was close, we headed over to Patou and the monclins. Now, the perfectly groomed, elegant woman in charge was doing something else, and after a conversation that I did not understand in the least, Denyse motioned me upstairs. I was thinking we’d have an escort, but no… we were on our own! She let us go play in the upstairs part of Patou, where all the essences are kept. Sniffing nirvana as we prowled through hundreds of bottles, sniffing and dipping and wrapping to take home. Sometimes you just get very lucky, and that was just an utter delight, kids left alone in the perfume store.
After bidding Denyse good night, I headed off for my family’s house for dinner. You know what Saturdays are good for? That’s right, y’all, absolutely nothing. That’s how I spent my Saturday. Diane was with her friend for the day, and I curled up with a book and a nap, napping off and on all day long with some grapes and sparkling water. I’d been living on about 5-6 hours of sleep each night, or less, so that much sleep was very welcome.
Sunday is family day in France, and it was my cousin Caroline’s 38th birthday. Big lunch, dessert, I think we were eating for about four hours, it was perfect. But what’s a day without some shopping? So we decided to make a run down to Sephora on Champs-Elysees since it’s open 24 hours a day. What a crowded, noisy place that was, I thought my head was going to pop off. We were trying to hunt down the Etat Libre Noel Au Balcon that only they will have for the holidays. After lots of looking, we finally asked, and they found one bottle, which we promptly snagged, along with some wrinkle formulas, and then we just escaped, whew!!!
Monday was mop-up shopping, getting all of our Serge bottles, going to Caron and Guerlain, but first we met up with Daniel (stop lurking!), who lives in France, but not Paris, and went to Guerlain and the Osmoteque with us. Daniel is just very, very cool. Fun, funny, full of life, irreverent, just a treat to get to know.
Now… Guerlain. Francoise has been the person who has taken care of me through e-mail forever, and she is simply the very best. Kind, gracious. charming, generous with extras. This was my first time to meet her in person, so it was a treat. She was busy showing the new Candide Effluve reissue (just in that day!) to a collector, so we made like the rude Americans at least two of us are and collapsed in the middle of their floor and chatted. They finally moved us back into a room that wasn’t quite in the middle of everything. For those of you that don’t know, if you order direct from Guerlain, they have a frequent buyers rewards program. Now, for ordering just one or two bottles, it’s not worth doing, the shipping is a killer, but for what I order, it’s worth it to get everything from them. Just file that away, and if you ever need anything, ask for Francoise, she’s a true gem.
About the only thing new there that we hadn’t sniffed before was Candide Effluve. Now, I’m a little confused about that particular bottle. I think that one was the original bottle with the reissue in it, and I believe all of the reissues, which are very limited in number, will have the same old bottle from the Guerlain vault. When I first put it on, I really didn’t care for it. Too powdery. But the longer it was on, the better it got, and the drydown was just stunning… rich and smoky vanilla perfect. But… it’s not exactly the same. I didn’t get the new bottle since I managed to get my hands on a partial bottle of the vintage. I don’t have the new one in front of me, but the open on each are completely different. The new one was way more powdery, and the vintage seems to have a little bergamot in the open or some ylang, something brighter, which pops out before the drydown starts. Once it gets to the drydown, about an hour in, the new version and the old seem to merge and become the same perfume, or close enough. Regardless, either are worth having. $3500 for the new one? I dunno. It is a piece of history because it’s the original bottle, but I’m going to hope that eventually they’ll do the reissue in some other bottle. Vain hope, maybe, but one I’m happy to nurture.
That brings us to the end of our shopping journey because the next day was the Osmoteque out in Versailles. Mike set all this up for us and drove us there. Mike also has one of the most extensive Guerlain vintage collections I’m aware of, outside of the Guerlain family. This was a 3-hour session with the Director of the Osmoteque, Jean Kerleo. He was the nose for Patou for many years and creator of one of my favorite scents, Patou 1000, for which I should have kissed him, but he seemed a little reserved. We were able to pick 20 scents from a list of the scents they have to be able to dip and sniff. What they have done is found the original perfumes and often the original formulas. They preserve the originals in a vault so they cannot degrade further, and then they recreate the scent from the fomulas and chemical analysis they have. Because they don’t sell anything they create, they can use the actual ingredients that originally went into the perfume. We went through each of the 20 scents, sometimes veering off into another direction, and half of it was in French and half in English as Monsieur Kerleo was fluent in both. He is a treasure trove of information about perfume history and composition, and I could have happily spent days out there just listening to him. He is also one of the kindest people you could hope to meet.
On our list was some vintage perfumes we already knew – which was helpful to make sure that what we’ve gotten elsewhere is true to the original formula – but many we did not know, like Guerlain Kadine, Fath Iris Gris, etc. The cost of a private audience, we had been told, was 150 euros per person, which is pretty pricy, but well worth it, but at the end it turned out to be 150 for the entire group. I let you know that since there was some confusion about price, and I’m still not confident of which price it was. I just know what we paid. Regardless, the 150 per person would have been well spent just to sniff the Iris Gris and the Kadine and Houbigant Fougere Royal and Guerlain’s Jardin de Mon Curie. Plus sniffing Firmenich’s captive molecule, which is hard to describe, as is Engenol. As I said, we meandered all over the place, and Mr. Kerleo would bring out anything for us to sniff if it came up in the conversation. The prize that was worth the entire trip to smell was Fath Iris Gris. Legendary among perfumistas, they halted production when Fath was bought out because it was too expensive to make. If you love Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, you would adore Iris Gris. Instead of the slightly spicy drydown in ISM, there’s peach and something else. It breaks my heart to think that this absolutely gorgeous iris scent is no longer in the world, it’s surpassed all my iris scents and gone to the top of the list, it’s just that beautiful. My scent strip is fading, which is so sad… except that Diane scored a bottle before we left that she’s splitting with me. And it’s great that we smelled the correct forumula to be sure that that bottle was perfect, and it is.
If you ever have the opportunity to go to the Osmoteque, whether for their standard or small party tours or if you can spring for the private session with the director, just do it — first choice should be private session with the director. It was an experience I will never forget.
I won’t forget Paris either. March gave me good advice before I left — make sure that I took some time to just sit and experience and enjoy, and I did that here and there. Paris absorbs you after a while. Yes, the people won’t smile at you in the street, but they will take you under their wing and into their heart when you talk to them, first in broken French and then in broken English with (hi, Diane!) lots of pantomiming. They seem to be more gracious and kind to strangers than I expected, and I didn’t really feel any of the talked about French snootiness, even on the days when I causualed out in my KU (go KU football — 10-0, yeah, baby!!!) hoodie. But they also seem to worry more — maybe because they don’t have space for more than a day’s worth of groceries. The lack of a well-stocked freezer and big bags of groceries and shopping that lasts for weeks at a time would worry me too. As with all old cities, there is a history that surrounds them, humanity living in a time and place where so many have lived for hundreds of years. You can almost see the ghosts as you sit and watch. Like the iceberg on top, what you think you see is not all there is. Much of Paris is too big, too crowded for me to be there for very long, but it is charming and completely unique in the world. I can’t wait to go back next May, there’s still a lot of the city to explore.
Now, for sitting through my travelogue, I have a very special drawing today. Yes, that’s right, a sample of Iris Gris and Candide Effluve vintage. Just drop a comment, and I’ll draw next week — maybe even for two winners.