Although Madame Persolaise's French is pretty good, she thought it might be useful for us to take a culinary dictionary on our travels this year, just to make the process of scanning menus slightly easier. The slim volume fulfilled its purpose so well, that it made me wonder if someone ought to produce a perfume equivalent... although it would be a shame to lose the fun that comes with resorting to inventive hand gestures and facial expressions. Linguistic assistance notwithstanding, my summer shopping forays in France were an absolute joy, and I'd like to tell you about two places on the Côte d'Azur that are particularly worth a visit.
Tanagra in Nice is, in many respects, the perfect perfumery. For a start, it's right in the centre of the city - barely a five-minute walk from the hordes at Galeries Lafayette - but it's on a quiet street shaded by tall trees. It's large - which means its contents aren't cramped - but it isn't cavernous. It sells make-up, cosmetics and fashion accessories, and it features a beauty salon, yet it never allows its customers to forget that its most treasured occupants are its perfume bottles. But what's even more impressive is the fact that it stocks both mainstream and niche offerings. So as soon as you enter, you're faced with Guerlain, Chanel, Dior, Hermès et al, but when you walk through to the side room, you see Frederic Malle, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Amouage, The Different Company and Odin, to name just a few.
What are the staff like? Well, let me put it this way. When you ask them if it's possible to try a certain perfume, they smile, give you a brisk 'Bien sûr' and then they reach for not one, but two blotters. They spray both sides of the paper with the scent and after they hand one of the strips to you, they begin smelling the other one themselves. It's a simple, delightfully old-fashioned gesture that indicates not only that the employees are willing to engage in an intelligent conversation about their wares, but also that they're open to the possibility of detecting something new, something unexpected, in fragrances which are as familiar to them as the sound of the sea gulls circling overhead. Oh, and did I mention that they've also got a personal museum of a few vintage flacons, including the classic Diorissimo 'bouquet amphora' and an original Ambre Sultan bell jar? Like I said: pretty much a perfect perfumery.
A pleasant chat is also to be had at Bouteille in Cannes. Although the emphasis here is much more firmly on mainstream fare, niche is represented by the likes of Annick Goutal, Lutens and Tom Ford Private Blend. The decor manages to combine aesthetics from a bygone age - the bottles are kept in floor-to-ceiling wooden cabinets behind glass counters - with a modern, 'go ahead and touch whatever you like' sensibility. The atmosphere is chic and welcoming. And then there's the manager, Guillaume. With excellent English, he treats you like a regular who's been coming to the shop for years, eager to show you his latest acquisitions and unafraid to express a less-than-enthusiastic assessment of some of them, which, of course, makes you respect him even more (even whilst you suspect that it may just be a clever use of reverse psychology on his part). He's charming and knowledgeable... and if you ask him nicely, he might just show you a clever thing he does with Azure Lime.
In case you're wondering, Cannes does have a multi-brand, niche-only store; it's called Taizo and it happens to be a short distance from Bouteille. However, I can't say that stepping across its threshold was an especially enjoyable experience. Putting aside the fact that there seemed to be a pungent problem with the drains on the day I visited, the place was too small for comfort and the staff didn't seem inclined to acknowledge my existence. Perhaps I didn't fit their 'Big Spender Profile'. Never mind: Tanagra and Bouteille were wonderful finds in a part of the world where you never seem to be more than a two-minute walk from the next perfumery.
Before I conclude this post, I should also mention Venulys, Cannes' Intertrade store, where you'll find Nasomatto, SoOud, Boadicea The Victorious and so on. It projects the same, curiously static vibe that seems to hang over London's branch of Intertrade - the Avery Fine Perfumery - but its sales assistant dispelled most of the gloom with her helpful, chatty nature.
[Tanagra is on 5 Bis Rue Alphonse Karr, 06000 Nice (tel: 04 93 87 95 00), Bouteille is on 59 Rue Antibes, 06400 Cannes (tel: 04 93 39 05 16) and Venulys is on 6 Rue Buttura, 06400 Cannes (tel: 04 93 68 52 45).]
Please don't forget that you have until 10 pm tonight (UK time) to enter the draw for a sample of Miriam, Andy Tauer's first creation for the new Tableau De Parfum range. And please visit Olfactarama tomorrow for the next instalment of the Miriam-inspired interviews.