Credit: Jovoy/ Carl Labrosse

Not since the days of Versailles, when gardeners planted jasmine flowers low to the ground, to release their perfume at the brush of a hem, has Paris been so scent obsessed. Niche perfumers and “laboratories” offering thoughtfully crafted and rarefied alternatives to their more high profile counterparts are popping up all over the city.

As the choice of perfumes proliferates, the focus is narrowing. More and more perfumers, from the great to the small, are developing techniques to help customers pinpoint just the right fragrance to align with temperament, lifestyle, passion or season. The personalisation of fragrances may have begun with Marie Antoinette – we’ll get back to her – but never in the history of perfume has there been such a momentum towards customised fragrances. A mix of nature, finesse and technology, and an expression of luxury and French savoir faire, two sentiments close to the Parisian heart – and nose.

Ex Nihilo

The three founders of the gleaming Ex Nihilo – Latin for ‘out of nothing’ – boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré put personalisation at the core of their vision. Their inspiration is to conjure the perfect scent, to express either the customer’s deepest nature or a “momentary whim”, and remind us of perfume’s primary function, to be “the faithful spokesperson of the individual”.

The eight fragrances in the Ex Nihilo collection were each developed by a prominent Parisian nose, and can be worn as originally formulated or tweaked with Ex Nihilo’s exclusive technology. You don’t spray the perfume on a scent swatch or yourself, it’s delivered directly to your nose in its purest form, via a futuristic glass orb designed specifically for that purpose.

If you don’t find your olfactory ideal among the base perfumes, which consist of flower, plant and musk notes – rose, orange blossom, lily of the valley, lemon, lychee, peach and moss, among others – then up you go, to a “sensorial boudoir”, where a personal consultation unlocks the mysteries of blending and, presumably, also your own psyche.

When you’re satisfied, the high-tech ‘Osmologue’ blends your perfume while you wait, but customisation doesn’t end there. Your precious elixir deserves a hand-crafted flacon topped by a lid made of onyx, mother of pearl, horn or leather (diamonds and sapphires available too).

352 rue Saint-Honoré, Paris 1st, Tel: +33 1 40 15 93 77

By Kilian

Around the corner, By Kilian’s sleek new Art Deco- inspired Paris flagship store, the first in Europe, opened to great fanfare last autumn, marking the perfumer Kilian Hennessy’s return to his native country. Of the cognac-making Hennessy family (the H in LVMH), Kilian grew up in Normandy and worked for top-tier designer perfumers – Paco Rabane, Alexander McQueen and Armani – before striking out on his own.

His sultry unisex scents, with provocative names like ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Prelude to Love’ and ‘Black Aphrodisiac’, make no secret of their libidinous leanings and are formulated to appeal to a sophisticated niche audience that’s more attuned to their own desires. In Kilian’s words, a woman “who trusts her tastes and instincts”.

The many-layered perfumes evoke a story – an olfactory journey through Asia via the aroma of smoky tea or the scent of exotic Arabian wood. New perfumes are introduced each season, some exclusive to the boutique – ‘Vodka on the Rocks’ for Moscow, ‘Apple Brandy’ in New York and Paris’s ‘Noir Aphrodisiac’. Kilian’s line of scented jewellery, exclusive to the Paris boutique, utilises micro-encapsulation technology – the perfumes are injected into leather bracelets and silk cords, and released with the body’s heat.

Highlighting his expertise, Kilian also works personally with clients in the boutique, to formulate a unique fragrance. This costs €30,000, but you’re worth it…

20 rue Cambon, Paris 1st, Tel: +33 1 40 39 94 14

Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Francis Kurkdjian has resurrected Marie Antoinette’s personal perfume, scented the fountains of Versailles and the air of Taoist temples, and conjured the smell of money. He’s also been awarded France’s highest artistic honour, the Chevalier of Arts and Letters.

By the age of 25, Kurkdjian had already enjoyed the heady smell of success, creating the wildly popular scents ‘For Her’ (Narciso Rodriquez), ‘Iris Nobile’ (Acqua di Parma) and ‘Le Mâle’ (Jean-Paul Gautier). In 2009, he opened Maison Francis Kurkdjian, a temple to personalisation, where women luxuriate in scents designed to “go against the trend of perfume democratization”.

Customisation begins with a phone call – to save distraction by visual cues – and ends with a perfume unique in the world. Inspired by whatever galvanises you, the perfume can conjure anything from a grandmother’s kitchen or a walk on the beach to a favourite sports car. Kurkdjian spends three months to a year on each of these projects, which more than justifies the starting price of €8,000, which is a bargain when you consider that Guerlain or Cartier charge upwards of €30,000 for their bespoke perfumes.

For the tenth anniversary of his perfumery workshop, Kurkdjian has created a new fragrance which combines, among others, Egyptian jasmine, Damascus rose, South African marigold and Malaysian balsam. Each bottle in the edition of 20 is packaged in hand-blown Cristallerie de Saint-Louis flacons with stoppers in platinum or gold, and costs about €10,000 – it’s around a quarter of that for a refill.

For mere mortals, Kurkdjian’s magical new Marais boutique offers more accessible scented treasures, including perfumed jewellery, candles, paper, gourmet edibles and, for the little ones, violet-scented bubbles.

5 rue d’Alger, Paris 1st +33 1 42 60 07 07 & 7 rue des Blancs-Manteaux, Paris 4th, Tel: +33 1 42 71 76 76

Maison Guerlain

The venerable house of Guerlain has taken the opportunity of a total makeover of its gorgeous, circa 1913 flagship store and spa on the Champs-Élysées to update their approach to perfume. The historic house has created over 900 scents since its inception in 1828, and there are 100 fragrances to choose from in the boutique.

That’s a daunting task, but with the help of Guerlain’s experts you can come away with a perfume which perfectly matches to your olfactory profile. The one-hour journey begins in Guerlain’s elegant VIP salon, where  you will undergo a series of sophisticated “tests” to determine a fragrance that most appeals to all of your senses. An orchestrated process of imagery, sniffing and assessments narrows your choices to a selection of two “identity” and a “discovery” scent, to try directly on the skin, in order to test the fragrance’s interaction with your body chemistry. At the end of the hour your ideal perfume is revealed and off you go, trailing your dream scent after you.

68 Champs-Élysées, Paris 8th, Tel: +33 1 45 62 52 57

Nose

Concept stores aren’t simply concerned with clothing and housewares anymore. Nose is a perfume concept store that puts the adventure – and the science – back into shopping for scents. Let’s face it, with zillions of perfume brands out there, who has the time or the stamina to find something new?

The three partners behind Nose set out to tackle this dilemma with a personalised service designed to identify your ideal aroma. Cosy up to the zinc bar at this bright, 185sqm loft space just off the Rue Montorgeuil to begin your personal consultation, which starts with you enjoying a cup of coffee or tea while a specialist performs a seven-step diagnostic on an iPad, to determine your olfactive profile.

By tracing your perfume history, your preferred “notes” – spice, floral, citrus, musk or wood – will generate five recommendations from dozens of niche fragrances. Each is rated on a scale from minus five to plus five, according to preference, and if you still haven’t hit aromatic gold then your specialist will make further recommendations until you find that special scent.

20 rue Bachaumont, Paris 2nd, Tel: +33 1 40 26 46 03

Jovoy

This house is a specialist in hand-crafted independent scents and illustrious vintage brands from ancient maisons, such as Dorin (the official court perfumer to Versailles in 1790), Coudray (founded in 1822) and Rancé (Napoléon’s favourite). The experts at Jovoy are delighted to guide you through the collection, and especially pleased to recount the histories and stories behind the more than 70 perfumes on display, to help you find the perfect perfume to express your inner Parisian.

The boutique’s beautiful, serene environment lends itself perfectly to an afternoon spent discovering rare, exclusive and limited-edition fragrances which have been gathered together with the utmost expertise, care and – dare we say – love. The collection is enhanced by sumptuous scents for the home and an exclusive collection of perfumed candles.

4 rue de Castiglione, Paris 1st, Tel: +33 1 40 20 06 19

News flash: Santa Maria Novella @ Le Bon Marché

The ancient Florentine pharmacy, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, which was founded by monks in 1221, has just opened its first exclusive department store boutique in Paris.

Tucked away in a luminous corner on Le Bon Marché’s first floor, you’ll find Santa Maria Novella’s famous pot pourri, along with richly scented milk soaps, velvety lotions, floral waters and the delicious fragrances derived from Italy’s favourite flowers, including honeysuckle, carnation, rose, jasmine and violet.

From France Today magazine

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