Thursday, 27 January 2011

Paris 2010: Two's A Crowd Chez Serge

It was only after I'd actually stepped inside Harrods the other day that my brain suddenly decided to remind me of the words 'January' and 'sale'. I considered walking straight back out, but the crowds didn't seem to be too thick, so I gritted my teeth and entered the perfume hall. Thankfully, there weren't too many people around, but the relative lack of shoppers was made up for by the ridiculous number of discounted Christmas gift sets. They were absolutely everywhere, piled up on each counter to such precarious heights, it was almost impossible to see the Sales Assistants. Guerlain was well represented: Idylle, Vetiver, Shalimar and Habit Rouge were on sale. I was rather dismayed to see vast boxes filled with Gaultier's Fleur Du Male. It's a particular favourite of mine, and its current ubiquitousness on the 'discount circuit' makes me wonder if it's about to be discontinued.

But anyway, all this is a preamble to writing a little more about my recent trip to Paris, because as I wandered from one cluttered counter to another, I found myself thinking, 'This couldn't be more different from Lutens.'

During my pre-Christmas getaway, I did, of course, make my way to the Palais Royal. Even though I've never considered myself to be a devout Serge acolyte, it was with a sense of considerable excitement that I worked my way through the labyrinth created by scaffolding and construction equipment - the Palais is currently enjoying a refurb - and approached what's frequently called the most enigmatic perfumery in Paris.

The first thing I noticed was the gloom. Yes, darkness can be evocative, but it can also be an obstacle; I could've done with a few more light bulbs. Or some Vitamin A tablets. But never mind. As in Guerlain's Champs-Elysees boutique, the most striking feature of the interior design was a staircase, but whereas the former's was shiny and expansive, Monsieur Lutens' version was a narrow, spiral number that wouldn't have looked out of place at Hogwarts. Alcoves in the walls contained exquisitely decorated, limited edition flacons of several well-known perfumes. Knee-high figures of page boys - their limbs stretched to surreal proportions like those of a Dali horse - framed minimalist tableaux containing artfully illuminated lipsticks. All was silent and serene.

Despite warnings to the contrary, the staff were perfectly warm and accommodating, guiding me through the bell jar collection with a smile and a welcome lack of patter. I'd been waiting for quite some time to try Sarrasins and was shocked to discover quite how white its floral accord is. La Myrrhe was something of a surprise too: 'No. 5 goes east' was my initial reaction to its aldehyde opening. I finally got to try the much-loved Iris Silver Mist and although I was impressed with its dryness, I didn't find it as endearing as Apres L'Ondee.

Just in case you're wondering, I didn't buy anything, but then I hadn't planned to. As I've written before, trying several perfumes in a short space of time in a single shop isn't a terribly sensible thing to do - especially if one's on the lookout for a relatively quiet scent - which is why I was grateful when the Sales Assistant opened a drawer and pulled out a handful of samples. She could probably tell that I wasn't the type to make a snap purchase.

So yes, Monsieur Lutens' oasis of scented harmony was miles away from the bargain buzz of London's flashiest department store. But I'm sure there's room - and a need - for both of them in our world of scent. Oh, and for the record, I should say that I didn't buy any perfume in Harrods either, despite the reduced prices. Turning my back on the unpurchased remnants of last Christmas, I nipped into the food hall and picked up a café religieuse for Madame Persolaise and a mille feuille for myself... but then, they were Buy One Get One Free...



  1. I remember trying to find SL store when in Paris and having quite some difficulty. It is so easily overlooked even when you're looking for it. :)
    I'm really glad to hear you enjoyed the time spent there and tried some interesting things.
    Iris SIlver Mist is still one of the things I need to try soon...

  2. I wouldn't mind a jaunt through either Serge Lutens' Boutique OR Harrods at the moment ;)
    Thank you for that entertaining recollection. I have never been to Paris (I know! I know!) but have been living vicariously through you these past weeks.
    I need to see that Hogwarts staircase at least, if not the perfumes. ;)

  3. Fun account of your forays in both these temples to perfume!

    I agree that it is a bit of an initiative test to find the SL shop - you go in technically round the back, as I recall, and I know I had to ask several people for directions, as the street isn't exactly a bustling shopping precinct and it is easy to think you have made a mistake.

    Apart from the Hogwarts staircase and a counter, I don't remember there being any other furniture in the room - I have a vision of black and white tiles and lots of purple. Or was that just the bottle of Sarrasins? : - ) Sort of Venetian baroque... the ample space would have lent itself perfectly to a masked ball.

    There were no staff on hand when I visited and after five minutes of pointless throat clearing I had to venture into some back room offices to winkle out a sales assistant. But I came away with TWO of those waxed sample sets, one for me and one for my imaginary friend, so they more than made up for their light sales presence.

  4. Oh, how I love the Purple Cave! It's my favorite perfume boutique, bar none. The SAs are superb. And when I'm there, my credit card just sort of floats out of my purse....

  5. Ines, the store is quite easy to miss, you're right. And Iris Silver Mist is well worth trying.

  6. Olfactoriastravels, I'm happy to be of service ;-)

  7. Vanessa, thanks for the tip: I'm DEFINITELY going to create an imginary perfume fan friend for myself!

  8. Marla, my credit card was feeling decidedly leaden that day, which was just as well. Christmas was around the corner, after all.

  9. Perhaps the cave is saying, "Do not enter unless you are a serious devotee...", and the staff recognized you as a true believer.

  10. Alice, I get what you're saying, but the staff couldn't have been more welcoming.

    Mind you, I hope I've got 'serious devotee' branded across my forehead at all times!

  11. I sent my sister to the Lutens store on her trip to Paris, and she came away completely discombobulated - by both the difficulty in finding it, the atmosphere and the service, which was a complete turnaround from Chanel's at the Rue Cambon store that she called "service with a sneer!" So discombobulated, she left with a bottle of Muscs Kublai Khan before she knew what hit her!

    She'll never razz me about my SL obsession ever again...;-)

  12. Tarleisio, your sister made a good choice! If I ever buy a Lutens, I'm pretty sure MKK will be the one I go for.


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