Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sniffer Heaven

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One of the places I'm sure to hit every time I go to Paris is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. If you're a Frag Hag like me (or perfumista, if you prefer), the name Frederic Malle is one of the most important in the business. M. Malle opened his house in 2000 with a slightly unusual approach. Instead of hiring one "nose," or creator of fragrances, to make all the perfumes for the company according to a brief which was presented to them, M. Malle has contracted with a roster of different master perfumeurs at different times, allowing them to create any fragrance they felt inspired to make. As a result, the perfumes from this house (there are sixteen of them) don't share a recognizable accord or style in the way that many great houses, like Guerlain or Caron, do. What they have in common is that they are all uncommon -- they have been created by the best in this business with complete freedom of expression, and so each of them is a masterpiece. I can't wear all of them, but I love many of them and a few are among my very favorite, indispensable loves.

(And considering that this

is my perfume collection, that's saying something.)

The first Malle boutique I visited a few years ago was the shop on avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th. I went there with my London posse on Le Grand Sniff -- four English-speaking hard-core perfumistas tearing it up all over the city of Paris. One day, many sniffs. God only knows how many things we smelled that day. But our last stop was the Malle boutique where the lovely and wonderful Tiphaine closed the shop a bit early for us and led us through the wonderful world of Editions de Parfums, explaining each and every one of them, letting us (most importantly) smell them all.
This is the interior of the boutique. It's a tiny little gem of a space.

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See the whatsits along the left-side wall, with the funnel-shaped bits at the top? Those are these:

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This is the "smelling machine," an extremely nifty gizmo created by M. Malle that allows a person to sniff the sillage
(the trail of scent it leaves behind) of a perfume without having to spray it on herself or into the air. There's a bottle of perfume somewhere inside the gizmo, Tiphaine flips some switches and turns some dials, then you put your beak up to that funnel and inhale. Voila! Perfume-y deliciousness! It's kinda brilliant.

A word: no matter how wonderful the smelling doohickey, you should never, NEVER buy perfume without trying it on your skin. Smelling machines & feuilles (the little paper strips you spray 'fumes on) are all well and good, but
individual chemistry is a very funny thing and when we're talking about 50 mls (1.7 ounces) of juice that cost well over $100, you want to make sure that glorious floral creation in the bottle doesn't turn to swamp funk on your skin.

But back to my most recent visit. Tiphaine and I stay in touch, and we'd made plans to meet here:

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the original EdP boutique on rue de Grenelle in the 7th. We were going to pick up Corinne, who manages this store, and then head off to the Marais to do some sniffing at another new boutique whose fragrances Tiphaine & Corinne (& yours truly) hadn't had a chance to explore yet.

There is a stereotype in this country that the French are chilly and superior and stuck-up. I'll grant you -- it is a much more formal culture than ours, and I suppose if she weren't paying close attention an American could mistake the French devotion to manners and courtesy as snobbishness. But anyone who thinks that has obviously never hung out with these two women:
Tiphaine and Corinne

(And while I'm on the subject may I just add that almost every single person I've ever interacted with in Paris has been an absolutely charming to me -- warm and friendly and gracious. Sure, there have been a few -- a very few -- that were... well, asshats, but that had nothing to do with them being French. They were just... asshats. Every country's got some.)

Packaging in the rue de Grenelle boutique. Oh, we love those orange boxes, don't we, fellow juice junkies?

Products are kept in a temperature-regulated storage space to maintain their freshness. (Heat and light are the enemies of perfume.) Editions de Parfums makes perfumes, lotions, shower gels, soap, oils, and super-rich body butters of their fragrances. This thingie here?

Is not a transporter or teleporter, it is a smelling column. (So, actually, it is a kind of transporter, but it's a different kind of transporting.) Fragrance is being released into the air inside the column and if you want to smell it, you swing open the little door, stick your noggin in there, and sniff to your heart's content. Which I did, believe me, because two of them were chock full of what happen to be my favorite Malles -- Carnal Flower and Musc Ravageur. (Carnal Flower is a huge, gorgeous, bright, intoxicating, devastating tuberose. It's the most realistic rendition of the way actual tuberoses actually smell of any tubey perfume I've ever sniffed, and believe me I've sniffed some -- tuberoses are probably my favorite flowers. The first time I smelled it I thought the top of my head would come off -- in a good way. It is an explosion of giddy white floral. Musc Rav is on the other end of the spectrum. It's a warm, woody, musky spice perfume without a single floral note in it. On me it's oodles of cinnamon and amber, warm and fuzzy and comforting and sneakily sexy. Like wearing your favorite, softest, slouchiest cashmere sweater with your sexiest bra underneath it. It's a perfume that makes a person want to curl up with you and bury his face in your neck.)

Corinne periodically changes the fragrances in the columns, and there is an empty column in the store that can be filled with smell on demand and then a vacuum sucks out the perfumed air when you're finished sniffing. This allows customers to get an idea of the sillage of a perfume without filling the air of the rather small boutique with spritzes of several different competing fragrances. Clever, isn't it?

The photos one the wall are all the different perfumers who have created scents for Editions de Parfums.

Mmmmmmmm, juice. That's what it's all about, after all. Pretty packaging, beautiful bottles, nifty sniffing gizmos -- none of it means anything if the juice isn't good. Not a worry with this house.

After some chatting and sniffing, Tiphaine and Corinne and I walked up the rue de Grenelle and pressed out noses against the windows of the many, many wonderful shoe stores on that street. (Shoes and perfume -- seriously, why don't I live there????) Then we took the metro (which was packed -- it was the second day of the transit strike and there were only a fraction of the usual number of trains running) to the Marais where we struck off for the
Etat Libre d'Orange boutique. At Etat Libre we were treated to a full and thorough run-through of all their perfumes by the SA there. (I'm afraid reviews of those quirky, sometimes-difficult scents are going to have to wait for another time -- they deserve a post to themselves.)

From there we went for wine, bien sûr. As usual, Paris was good to me, giving me a delightful evening in the company of two really wonderful women whom I seriously considered drugging and stuffing into my suitcase because I didn't want to leave them behind.

A few nights later the three of us, plus my friend Jane, in on a flying visit from London, had dinner at the most wonderful little place in the Les Halles/Sentier neighborhood in the 1st called
Le Cochon à l'Oreille (The Pig by the Ear). If you are ever in Paris, you must check this place out:

Here's Tiphaine with the proprietor and his wife, who is the chef. They. Were. So. Fabulous. I am horribly embarrassed to admit that I don't remember their names (which might be down to the several glasses of wine with which he provided me), but he was the most charming of hosts. The restaurant itself is quite tiny, with probably fewer than ten tables, and that long gorgeous bar you see in the photo. (You should click on it so you can get a better view of the amazing painted tile work on the wall above the bar, which covered the whole space. Just gorgeous.)

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This tiny photo is the only other one I can find of the place on the internet, but it gives you an idea of how pretty it is inside. The restaurant is at 15 rue Montmartre, which is not in Montmartre, but just off of rue Etienne Marcel in the 1st. And just in case you're wondering if the food is any good -- we ate there because Tiphaine said she had been there a few years ago and Alain Ducasse was there eating dinner. Good enough for Alain Ducasse, good enough for Style Spy.

I appear to have wandered off the perfume path a bit, so I'll wrap this up with a bit of shopping information. Editions de Parfums fragrances are available in the U.S. only at
Barney's. Try to resist avoid the Carnal Flower or the Musc Rav (or the Lys Mediteranée or the Angeliques Sous la Pluie), I'm trying to keep them all to myself they really only smell good on me.

Photos:, Style Spy,

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Julie said...

Okay, I've been analyzing the photo of your perfume collection. I think I recognize a L'Occitane bottle and something by Alfred Sung (Shi?). But what's the rest? Inquiring minds want to know!

StyleSpy said...

orrnyereg -- the Sung is not Shi but Sha. (Say that out loud three times fast!) The L'Occitane is the original Ambre, which I am carefully hoarding, since it's been discontinued & re-formulated.

rosarita said...

Oh, my goodness, that was WONDERFUL, thanks so much for the Malle tour! *happy sigh of satisfaction* All that and you shared your perfume porn, too! Malle MR has been on my wishlist forever. Lovely writeup of a very special experience; thanks again, SS :)

Karen said...

Oh, Style Spy, you fill my heart with gladness with your defense of the French! I get so depressed when I hear people--even quite intelligent people (I'm looking at YOU, Jon Stewart)--refer to them as offensive, insulting, or arrogant. I have been to France four times, anywhere from 5 days to 2 1/2 weeks at a time, to Paris and all over the rest of the country, and I have never been treated with anything but courtesy at least and real friendliness at best. You are absolutely right about the formality of the culture (and, frankly, I think we could use a little more of that around here these days), and I have always been careful to open any conversation, no matter how casual, with "Bonjour! S'il-vous plait, Monsieur/Madame..." and then followed through with whatever rudimentary French I could manage. When that breaks down, whomever I was speaking with would always cheerfully and helpfully switch over into English for me.

My favorite anecdote revolves around a trip to Paris for a conference in 2004. Since my last trip, the Metro had instituted the carte d'orange, the unlimited weekly pass, and the conference site had very kindly provided the exact words we should use to buy one: "Je voudrais une carte d'orange avec une billet hebdomadaire, pour deux zones." I ran over my lines several times, and then approached a ticket booth. "Bonjour, Madame! S'il vous plait, etc...." The ticket booth clerk made one of those indescribable French expressions, conveying a sort of impressed surprise. "Pas mal, eh?" I said, and she CRACKED UP. "J'ai practiquee!" I added, and she gave me my ticket and change with a huge grin, as we both wished each other "Bonjour!"

That, to me, is a quintessential French experience.

StyleSpy said...

Anita -- go ahead & get the MR. You'll be glad you did.

Karen -- How funny. Yes, just making a little bit of an effort makes SUCH a difference. And I've always had the same experience in Paris: they very kindly speak French with me until I run out of it, and then graciously switch over to English without batting an eye.

Anonymous said...

Merci Style Spy!
No more an "anonymous" on internet now!!
Next week I am going to Les Halles, to ask "le Cochon à l'Oreille" owner's name..