Friday, 7 January 2011

Paris 2010: Would Guerlain Notice If I Stole A Few Tiles?

I suspect this blog is going to mention bathrooms quite a lot over the course of the next few weeks. Or, to be more precise, one bathroom. The one and only bathroom at Maison Persolaise. The bathroom that is about to undergo what you could delicately refer to as a 'complete refurbishment'. Every single thing in it has to be changed: the floor joists have gone, the walls need to be stripped back to the bare bricks, the windows have to be totally replaced. In short, not one vestige of the existing bathroom will survive unscathed.

As you can imagine, the approach of this disruption to the peace at our precious haven has meant that Madame Persolaise and I have had to visit various shops looking at sinks, bathtubs, toilets, lights, towel rails... and tiles. And each time I see a selection of small, polished, golden mosaics, I'm reminded that I still owe you some reports from our Paris trip, because one of my most enduring memories of our mini-holiday was the sight of the grand staircase at the flagship Guerlain store on the Champs Elysees. Covered in thousands of tiny squares of radiance, it struck a careful balance between modernity and old-world opulence, whilst evoking a genuine sense of awe-struck wonderment (click here to see what I'm talking about).

What did I make of the rest of the shop? Well, I'm pretty certain that, of all the ones we visited, I found it the most beautiful. The Lutens shrine at the Palais Royal displayed an impressively understated austerity, but I'm not a fan of enforced darkness, which may be why I was more enchanted by the elegant, oversized flacons, the uncluttered surfaces and the gleaming, light-suffused aesthetics at Guerlain (created, at least in part, by the ubiquitous €12,500 Baccarat bee). Or maybe I was just won over by the weight of history: Nahema, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Habit Rouge, Jicky, Chamade... it was hard not to be moved by the force of these near-mythical names. I'd seen them hundreds of times in other shops, of course, but this was different. I was now encountering them in their spiritual home.

Having said that, one of the main reasons why perfume fans visit Paris-based Guerlain boutiques these days is to discover the 'exclusive' fragrances, and this is where I have to confess to feeling somewhat let down. It goes without saying that trying several different scents in the saturated atmosphere of a busy perfumery isn't the smartest idea in the world, but if samples aren't readily available, then there isn't much else one can do, short of booking a month-long stay at a hotel and popping into the shop every day to spray a different bottle. Needless to say, I did go armed with a notebook in which to store my blotters, but this isn't an ideal strategy either.

Caveats aside, I cannot claim that a single one of the Paris-only scents captured my imagination. I was particularly keen to smell Sous Le Vent and Vega, and whilst I thought they were both quite attractive, I couldn't quite see why they've been elevated to their current status. The Parisiennes also failed to generate anything more than a sense of muted approval: L'Ame D'Un Héros was insufficiently different from my bottle of Coriolan to warrant the higher price tag; Liu was a very pleasant aldehyde infusion that tried - and failed - to compete with No. 5; Mayotte somehow felt misplaced amongst the arguably more rarefied offerings and consequently came across as rather brash. Even the two Arsène Lupins didn't get my pulse going, although I concede I didn't pay as much attention to them as I could have, because I was mindful of the fact that they'll soon be at Harrods and therefore more easily accessible.

The only one that made me pause for a few moments was the extrait strength of one of my all-time favourites, Habit Rouge. I closed my eyes, felt the familiar, sweet dryness work its way into me, and I was reminded - for the nth time - why I love the juice as much as I do. But upon reflection I realised that one of the characteristics that makes this masterpiece so special is the careful interplay between the top notes and the base. The extrait places a much stronger emphasis on the heavier materials, which strips the composition of its vital, life-affirming sparkle. Plus it costs a ridiculous €300 (why sell an extrait only in 50 ml bottles?) which is yet another reason to keep treasuring my EDT and EDP.

Now, back to water closets.



  1. I hope you get your WC sorted out very soon. It was very nice to read about your Guerlain experience in Paris, that's what I was looking forward to the most.

    I'm currently looking at Arsene Lupin Le Dandy as something I'd like to try. In the meantime, I'm going to keep my newly acquired sample vial of Spiritueuse Double Vanilla on a miniature red velvet pillow with gilded trim, because it's that special. Off to the miniature pillow store, now. Have a lovely day!

  2. My favorite perfume haven in Paris is the Serge Lutens Cave of Purple Nirvana! Every perfume is fantastic, and the decor is utterly unique. The SAs are great, too. But the Guerlain flagship store runs a close second.

  3. I remember years ago when I smelled Habit Rouge in a big store and I enjoyed it. But of course I could not express at all the top and base notes as you do here, it was then just a good fragrance. I should go back to Habit Rouge but maybe the formula lacks of its previous originality?

    As for the two Arsene Lupin, they are men perfumes I want to try but I think and re think if I can say this, that the old Guerlain's are always the best and surprising ones. I can be wrong though.


  4. Ah...that "fountain", a sight to behold...and the staircase.
    But I'm impressed you weren't moved by Sous Le Vent, Vetiver pour Elle and the Dandy in the Arsene Lupin series (I will review that one shortly). Of course you missed the train on Guet Apens/Attrape Coeur, as they have pulled that one (but surely you have tried it before?). There is a bit of "why?" uttered in the same breath as "Guerlain exclusives" which should pose some thinking over at the heads of LVMH.

    Then again, I agree about you on the spectacular force of Habit Rouge in any concentration!

    Hope your bath gets renovated with the minimum hassle imagineable!

  5. You have my sincere sympathy concerning the bathroom remodelling. OH wants to do the same here, which means he wants me to arrange for it to happen without him doing anything or being inconvenienced in any way.

    I shall see how you get on before I even think about changing anything in our solitary ice cube of a bathroom. Please pass on handy hints as you endure - sorry, Experience - the work. Much obliged. Good luck.

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  6. Persolaise your description of the Guerlain store sounds wonderful. I wish I could be there myself. I love Habit Rouge too, but have only smelled it in the regular concentration found in most department stores. Do you know when the Dandies are coming to Harrods, and where are the 'exclusives' displayed?


  7. I am also a big fan of Habit Rouge, but I have tried only the EDT and EDC. The higher concentrations don't seem to be available here in Japan. If they were available, I shudder to think of the price!

  8. Carrie, the bathroom won't be sorted until about the 3rd week of Feb... and that's if everything goes according to plan... which it never does at Maison Persolaise.

    I definitely liked Dandy more than the other Arsene Lupin perfume, but I'm going to reserve final judgement on both until they come to Harrods, and as for SDV, I'm afraid that also elicited little more than half-smiling approval from me.

  9. Marla, I enjoyed stepping into the Luten boutique as well, and yes, the SAs were wonderful. But do you really consider every single perfume there fantastic?

  10. Vintage Lady, I'm not as harsh a critic of the newer Guerlains as some other people. I don't think Idylle is a disaster and I quite enjoy wearing the EDP of Guerlain Homme. However, I think it would be hard to deny that their older scents are in a different league altogether. Thierry Wasser has several impressive acts to follow, but who knows, he may yet rise to the challenge.

  11. That staircase is indeed a glorious sight to behold, and a valid tourist destination in its own right, quite apart from the comprehensive collection of perfume available in-store.

    Something tells me though that the new bathroom in Maison Persolaise is more likely to go for gilt accents rather than 100% gold leaf coverage. : - )

    And I sympathise with you about feeling you lack the time to try everything you want to in there. I have been to No 68 a few times and on each occasion have come away frustrated, knowing that there was something I had read about and particularly wanted to try, but hadn't been able to spot in the melee.

  12. Perfumeshrine, thanks for your comment. I'd tried Vetiver Pour Elle before and I do quite like it, but Dandy didn't make an instantly spectacular impression on me... although, as I say, , as I was smelling it, I was aware that I'd be able to give it more attention when it comes to London.

    The only way I've experienced Guet Apens is in its EDT form which, as you know, was/is sold as Vol De Nuit Evasion and, yes, I think it's quite special.

  13. Anna, Madame P chuckled when I read her your post. I think she thinks your OH and I may have certain attitudes in common...

    Thanks for the sympathy, by the way. I think we're going to need it!

  14. Johnl, so is everything I've heard about Japanese prices true?

  15. Michael, hi. I don't know when the Arsene Lupins are going to be in Harrods, but I'll try to find out for you. The last time I was in the shop, the exclusives were in both Guerlain stands, ie the one in the beauty/cosmetics room as well as the one in the Perfume Hall.

  16. Vanessa, thanks for your comment. As it happens, Madame P and I did find a 24-carat gold leaf mosaic tile... but it costs 1,200 UK pounds per square metre, so yes, I think you're right: we'll stick with the accents!

  17. Oh, Persolaise, I very much understand your point. What I said can be understood in the way you did, my bad. I didn´t mean that nowadays perfumers are not as creative as the old perfumers. No, and I would disagree. Sometimes people say that the best perfumes have already been created. This could be true at a certain point. There is so much to discover! the way is endless.

    What I meant is that, due to the actual expensive means to get some products and due to the fact that some elements are now banned or almost impossible to obtain. Due too that the law is so prohibitive now regarding perfume ingredients, the perfumes lack of the truth that a free world could give to them. They are not lie but they are subject to so many restrictions. And then the scent is not the same as it was in a previous version.

    Also, I don´t mean that a good perfume has to wear the most expensive notes, and civet and so and so on. A perfume that is simple is also a poem. It is. But I was meaning what I said while thinking in the perfumes I used to buy before and new versions are so much light to me, like with Opium for example and its varieties. They are fine but it´s my opinion that even the Opium I buy now is not quite the same as the one I used to buy in the 80s. And I have to add that I am so so eager to try the new fragrances that are being launched this year. Because perfume is as art an adventure so very much Love.

    And much Love to you Persolaise. My English plays me some pranks. xoxo

  18. I LOVE reading all your comments and criticisms on Guerlains, because I am still very much learning about them. As a teen, I bathed in L'Heure Bleue (picked it out on a whim on a trip to a dept. store), but now it really doesn't work for me, but I sense the magic of many Guerlain scents. Attrape Coeur stole my heart immediately, but I only have a sample vial, so I'm not allowing myself to get very excited since it's been axed. I have maybe a dozen vials of Guerlains and only consider a few of them wearable by me. I do wish I could spritz L'Heure Bleue with abandon the way I used to, though. I must have choked some people when I walked into the room, but you don't notice those things when you're a teenager. :)

  19. I think all extraits should be available in 7.5mls . I am such a magpie that would be enough in each one I like then buy a new one. I don't know what I think about exclusive ranges at all except that they should all be available to order from any Guerlain, Chanel, Dior counter. The fragrance companies don't seem to realise that even a "humble" postman/woman might want to spend on a luxury fragrance . I hate elitism and what else could you call it ?

  20. re: prices in Japan--many things have gotten cheaper recently, due to strength of the yen, internet shopping, easing of import controls, etc. But luxury items like perfume are a special case. There are some things you can find on line for a reasonable price, but for Japanese on-line discount places, their prices could be about the same as full retail in the US. Cost of doing business is generally high here, even if it is only on line.

  21. Vintage Lady, thanks for that detailed explanation. I probably hadn't read your comment carefully, sorry. And yes, I'd agree that the potential definitely exists for the creation of many masterpieces in the future.

  22. Carrie, the topic of Guerlain never fails to generate a discussion. Taken collectively, I still absolutely love the house's work, but I can't deny that they haven't released a truly excellent mainstream perfume for quite some time. And I think L'Heure Bleue is great, but I've never worn it myself.

  23. Angela, thanks very much for your comment, which made me pause and think.

    I can see that by releasing the Habit Rouge extrait only in 50 ml, Guerlain are trying to make it more exclusive, but I personally think that in this particular case, they're pushing that philosophy a little too far. Even a 30 ml bottle would have been sufficiently exclusive, in my opinion.

    Having said that, I must admit I don't have a problem with a certain type of 'exclusivity'. Perhaps I'll need to expand on this in another post, but I cannot stand the uniformity that is invading the world and I really like the idea that certain things are available only in certain places. How much those things should cost is, of course, another matter altogether.

    Oh, and by the way, the flagship Guerlain store in Paris will post most products to the UK.

  24. Johnl, thanks for that. It's sometimes easy to forget varying levels of 'affordability' around the world. I remember being absolutely shocked by the relative prices of perfume in Istanbul last year.


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