Three Parisian Perfume Houses: The Classic, the Ladylike and the Cutting Edge

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Guerlain

Guerlain.

You have your skinny jeans and ballet flats, your chicest handbag and the perfect scarf. What else might you need to perfect your Parisian outfit? Perfume, of course. Paris is the heart of the artisan perfume industry, and here, scents are more than a name brand or a celebrity face. Parisian perfumes are complex, sophisticated and as varied as the city’s arrondissements themselves.

To start with a classic Parisian perfume house, head to the flagship Guerlain on the Champs Elysées. The house was founded in 1828, and Pierre-François Guerlain achieved real fame in 1853 with the development of Eau de Cologne Impériale for Napoleon, thus catapulting Guerlain to the status of His Majesty’s Official Perfumer. From the sculpture overlooking the entrance to the chandelier, the store itself is both classical and modern at the same time.

Shalimar is Guerlain’s best-known and most loved fragrance, and it dates back to 1925. That said, you might prefer a newer scent like Angelique Noire, part of the exclusive L’Art et la Matière line available only in Paris (and a very few high-end US stores like Bergdorf Goodman). Those intent on having their own true signature scent can work with the Guerlain perfumer to develop their own perfume. This work, plus two liters of the personal perfume, can be had for 50,000 euros.

If nothing at Guerlain strikes your fancy, you might head next to Annick Goutal, with numerous locations around Paris. Annick Goutal, who sadly died in 1999 at just 53 years of age, launched her first perfume in 1981. This scent, Folavril, is really “something special,” in the words of one Goutal employee. And it is: fruity and floral, with the unusual ingredient of tomato leaf.

Annick Goutal

Annick Goutal.

Eau d’Hadrien is the most popular Annick Goutal scent, though American women are often partial to Gardenia Passion, which is floral with a hint of warmth and very, very feminine. And while Annick Goutal certainly embraces the feminine—the flacon godron that serves as the principal bottle and its accompanying bow were selected to accentuate the femininity of the product, while Annick designed the store with the intention of making it “feel like a boudoir”—there are a few stronger, musky fragrances as well as several for men.

But if you’re the girl who wants the latest thing, the item that others are least likely to have and that your friends will most envy, take your newfound knowledge of Parisian perfumes from Guerlain and Annick Goutal and visit one of the truly niche perfumers in Paris. There are several in this category—Frédéric Malle, Divine, The Different Company and the fabulous Francis Kurkdjian. A perfumer for almost 20 years, Kurkdjian launched his own line in 2009. There is no signature scent or theme to the line; instead, Francis prefers to tell different stories with different scents. Cologne pour le Soir, for instance, was inspired by his memories of hiding under his mother’s fur coat as child. The scent is a little dark, a little warm and a little animalic—it is not about smelling the fur coat, but about capturing the feeling of that memory.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

Aqua Universalis is the best seller of the line. It is fresh and cool, with bergamot and white flowers. You can even buy laundry detergent in this scent, as well as candles and incense papers. The newest scent, Oud, was just released in March 2012. It captures the essence of a traditional oud—oriental in spirit, but not overpowering. With notes of cedar and saffron, it is a warm and luxurious scent. But beyond the perfumes and other products, even the Kurkdjian boutique is a statement. It presents a miniature view of Paris, because, Francis says, he is always inspired by Paris. The bottles themselves are almost all capped with tops made of zinc, as that is the material of the rooftops of Paris.

Francis Kurkdjian

Perfume is no longer about finding one scent that you wear every day. It’s about an expression of memory, emotion and experience. It’s about finding something that excites you, that makes you feel how you want to feel on any given day. And there is no better place in the world to experience the artistry and beauty of perfume than Paris. Start smelling!

Related Links

Guerlain

Annick Goutal

Frédéric Malle

Divine

The Different Company

Francis Kurkdjian

Editor’s note: Did you know that you can make your own bespoke perfume in Paris with a master parfumeur? Let Eva Eriksson make the appointment for you.

Liz Cohen moved to Paris in 2011 for her husband’s job but quickly fell in love with all things Parisian. When not consulting on education policy or parenting her toddler, Liz can be found chasing down the best baguette, searching out a new perfume or trying yet another macaron—and blogging about it all at What Am I Doing in France.

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