Paris was full of surprises for me – things I’d not seen or done or noticed on previous trips. One day Angie and I took the Metro up to the canals which are I think in the northeast part of the city. We walked along them for awhile, enjoying the sunny day, before having an excellent lunch at a café recommended by a friend of Angie’s. On another day (several days, actually) I accomplished my goal, weather permitting, of simply stopping somewhere in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was very near our apartment, for some lolling about. Folks go on vacations – group, family, single; luxury or budget– with all sorts of agendas, and mine is never the see-it-all, military-precision checklist that my parents had. No, on my trips I have to stop and smell the roses – or the grappa, the Sancerre, the local boar sausage, the cheeses, the specialty coffee, or whatever else might be on offer, preferably in a café with strategic people-watching advantages.
In Paris, as you know, you can visit the sacred groves of Serge, the valley of the IUNXen, worship with the priestesses of de Nicolai, etc. This is no surprise. You know what is a surprise? Or at least, it was to me – the phenomenal range of things, some of which I never see in stores in the U.S., available at Sephora and Marionnaud.
Everyone in the U.S. knows Sephora, right? Light Blue and Lola on the left, Polo Black and Dior Homme on the right, MAC and Stila in the middle. (Skincare in the back.) I visited two Sephoras in Paris – one on the Champs-Elysees, right next door to Guerlain, and the second on the Rue Rivoli, and the contrast was striking in terms of inventory.
First off, those stores are huge – maybe three times the size of the Sephoras in my city. I mostly bypassed the makup, which – I assume owing to the exchange rate – seemed much pricier in Paris. For instance, OPI was roughly $20 a bottle. Instead, I wandered up and down the perfumed periphery, admiring the jaw-dropping selection.
Sure, they have the usual crap found at standard Sephoras, arranged mostly in alphabetical order. Stroll along, though, and what else do you find? Well, how about most of the Serge Lutens export line? (I watched women apply them — three or four generous sprays seems to be the norm.) Oh, look – and here, stacked up like cordwood, are the Van Cleef & Arpels Extraordinaire fragrances. Yes, they have plenty of Mugler Angel – but they also have the Mugler Miroirs collection, which I only saw in one place in the US – the Saks in New York.
Dior, Dior, Dior – oh, look, here’s Addict and J’Adore and all the Poisons and — holy cow, they have JULES!!! 70 euros for 100ml! Just sitting there like it’s a bottle of Azzaro Chrome. They have enough Givenchy Amarige in a single store to kill all the residents of Paris, but they also have Les Mythiques – Le De, Vetyver and the rest, including one I’d not even seen before, Extravagance de Amarige. No, seriously – what is up with that? Is that for the people for whom Amarige the original is not quite strangly enough? That’s like needing the Poison extrait. (Oh, btw, I asked after Poison extrait at Bon Marche, and we’ll get to that in another installment on the Dior extraits, but she laughed at me. My Poison Esprit d’Parfum is apparently as far as Dior was willing to go.) Anyhow, I sprayed on Extravagance and waited for death, but it didn’t come – if anything it seemed like a more fruital variation of the original. Special note on Organza Indecence, in case you’re bored with stalking vintage bottles on eBay – the Mythiques version of OI seems slightly less intensely vanillic than my older bottle, and the Mythiques has a somewhat richer, (likely faux) sandalwoody base; it’s hard to compare old and new, but if it’s been tweaked, I thought it was gorgeous. I still can’t decide how I feel about Givenchy Insense, but Angie liked it.
The new Prada infusions I wrote about already. Their hugely popular things in-store were the new, ghastly fruital Ricci Ricci in the red bow bottle which I think just won a FiFi award?, and go on, it’s all yours, you can have it. The number one seller in Sephora, and perhaps all over Paris, is the brand new Dior Eau Demoiselle, a familiar fruity musk with a very sweet top. I’ve smelled worse, it reminds me of a cross between something like Miss Dior Cherie and D&G The One, and really – it’s not that it’s terrible, but you could do so much better, right there in that store.
The Van Cleef Oriens is a not terribly interesting fruitchouli-musk, not overly sweet, and I admit my inner magpie is deeply covetous of the bottle. Again, my apologies for no images on here – but if you google it that giant gemstone thing on the top is in fact the cap and weighs a ton and in its own odd, luminous kitch way is kind of fabulous.
What else do they have? Well, how about Chloe, new and old, right next to each other? Or all the Cacharels I never see on a shelf (Anais Anais, Lou Lou, etc.) The John Galliano I didn’t even know about. I’m a huge fan of the bizarre Diptyque room spray with his name on it, and I was a bit disappointed in his fragrance, a much more conventional woody-spicy with what I think was rose.
I visited several Marionnauds, which I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe. I’m not sure we have an equivalent store here; they’re smaller than Sephora and less splashy, and they tend to be tucked into the odd corner here and there in downtown areas. Even those stores, though, are full of treasures I have never seen on a shelf in a “regular” perfume store in the U.S. – how about some Rochas Femme, Madame, or Eau? Remember Guy Laroche Fidji? We were just talking about it on the Posse a couple weeks ago. It may not be what it once was, I couldn’t say, but it still smelled gorgeous, a green floral. One of the stores had the Ego Factos, which were fun to sample – Poopoo Pidoo never quite lived up to my rice-steam expectations (I wonder if I’m anosmic?) but I liked Sacré Coeur, with Chablis, leather, citrus and patchouli. The L´Eau d´Issey Fleur de Bois (LE?), “where wood and water meet,” was the predicably aquatic nightmare on my skin, fun in a kind of horror-show way, like drowning in an endless sea of watery mimosa, although the bottle is very pretty.
The two biggest revelations for me of this extended browse? The first is Eau de Rochas, thanks to Angie, who got it down and sprayed it. Here’s a link to her review, and she’s right – it’s a great cologne and I think she totally hits it in her description. While it’s plenty citrusy and tart up top, it has a musky warmth at the bottom, a “soft landing” as she describes it, that makes it stand out.
The second, in the how-have-I-missed-this department, was Dior Dune, demonstrating that no matter how hard you sample the perfumes, there’s always a new/old discovery just around the corner. I’m hardly unaware of Dune, and how LT describes it as something like massively depressing (which tantalizes me) and then gives it five stars. In fact, I am certain I must have picked up Dune and sprayed it on at some point. But the Paris Marionnaud was perhaps the first time that (the Ego Factos having been something of a simple-smell flop) I put it on and really paid attention.
Dune’s a floriental with notes of bergamot, mandarin, palisander, aldehyde, peony, broom, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, lichen, vanilla, patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, and musk. I didn’t find it menacing, although I agree with “dissonant but interesting” from The Guide. It was like seeing a lady on the street who is so eccentrically dressed I can’t stop staring. The top was sharp and resiny/green on my skin, leading to a drydown that was warm and rich and unfamiliar and more than a little strange. I only got that one shot at it, but I came home and bought what I think is a vintage bottle on eBay. I’ll let you know how it turns out.