Scents and Sensibility: A Perfume Walking Tour of Paris, Part I


The unique history and culture of perfume is distinctly French. I don’t know a girl who doesn’t want a signature fragrance that tells her story. It might be said that the art of perfume itself is second only to the art of French winemaking or couture. Without Madame de Pompadour, who influenced many of the luxury industries in France, the French perfume industry would not be what it is today. We must also thank Coco Chanel for bringing the idea of a signature perfume, her legendary Chanel No. 5, together with her own personal style trademark. You can also express your own personal style with a wardrobe of fragrances that reflect a favorite designer, or perhaps a single fragrance note or a complex idea that appeals to you. Women can share and enjoy the same fragrances as men as the lines between feminine and masculine become blurred. (Now, if you ask us, that’s the very definition of romantic.) So let’s begin our perfume walking trip of Paris in the heart of boho Paris, on the left bank.
Our first stop is where the original boutique fragrance concept began in 1961: Diptyque (34, boulevard Saint-Germain, in the 5th Arrondissement). The idea of essential fragrances was entirely new in 1961 and is still the benchmark for home fragrances today. Each of Diptyque’s famous fragrance candles is hand-dipped one at a time, and made of special waxes that are vegetable based. Everyone is friendly and fun at the Diptyque boutiques throughout Paris. I bumped into Christian Lacroix’s assistant while attending a Diptyque party there one night and was able to ask him the big question on everyone’s mind: Where is he?

A visit to the left bank is not complete without heading over to the original boho shrine at Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (6, Place Saint-Sulpice, in the 6th), where you can experience the fragrance of the same name. In November 1973, Yves Saint Laurent described Rive Gauche as a perfume for a time: “It’s a moment caught in time. A mood. A spirit. A scent. The distillation of life as it’s been experienced by all the young who’ve ever lived, loved, laughed, learned in Paris.” Already in the vanguard of design when the fragrance was introduced in 1970, YSL has stood for French style, and it has withstood the test of time. As a kid I used to go to the shop and peer in the windows at the amazing le smoking jackets and YSL’s smoky look, which borrowed from menswear and were edgy and very new. Even then, Yves was ahead of his time, and the boutique’s dark elegance was part of his mystique. There are other fragrances available in the boutique as well: Paris and Opium are both totally different in style. One is inspired by floral notes, and the other by Oriental or sandalwood essences. Both have devoted cult followings.

Photo: Peggy Braswell. 

Since we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll also stop in the boutique of the fragrance diva Annick Goutal (12, Place Saint-Sulpice, in the 6th). Styled like an elegant apothecary, the boutique allows you to experiment with fragrances as simple as Rose Absolue or as complex as l’Heure Exquise. Annick Goutal was a master parfumeuse, and her specialty was creating the one-note fragrance based on her personal inspirations. Sadly, Annick is no longer with us, but her daughter is carrying on the business and is also immortalized in one of the scents, Charlotte. My go-to favorites are Gardénia Passion and Eau d’Hadrien. Both are unique floral statements, simple and complex in note. The men in your life are not left out here, so if you can talk your boyfriend into joining you, he’ll also find something.

Annick Goutal.

To complete the trip of the left bank, stop next at le Bon Marché (4, rue de Sèvres, in the 7th). This luxury department store was the blueprint for many that followed it. It carries a selection of both major labels and boutique labels. We like Honoré des Prés, a new green fragrance collection. These scents are created with eco-friendly manufacturing techniques and nonchemical essences. 

Related Links
Yves Saint Laurent
Annick Goutal
Le Bon Marché
Honoré des Prés
Pikke Allen aka ARTIFICE travels the time warp between Hollywood and Paris, where she is a writer/blogger/Creative Consultant for both US and French luxury lifestyle brands. Her bobo credentials were earned designing costumes for theatre, film and television. Her passion for all things fashion brings her to museums, designer ateliers, runway shows and the Paris shopping beat, where she confesses all about boho bargains or luxury shopping secrets. You can read more of Pikke’s fashion tips, trends and shopping confessions at Styliste Privée.  

Editor’s note: Special tip: Eva Eriksson can book you an exclusive make-your-own-perfume experience in Paris, and if you are a GG2P Travel Club member, you’ll receive a surprise gift!