Monday, September 22, 2008

Travel Memoirs: Paris, part 1 ~Guerlain Boutique & Museum, Caron Boutique, Fragonard Museum

introducing guest writer Elysium

There might be doubts about which perfume is the most beautiful, but there is no dispute about where the Mecca of fine fragrances lies. Paris, La Ville-lumière, is the place where people from all over the world gather to obtain a piece of genuine French chic, let it be an Hermès scarf, a Chanel dress or a bottle of Guerlain perfume. During my latest trip to Paris I had the chance to visit a few Parisian perfumeries, and here are some memories from that delightful trip.

Coming back from Paris, none of my perfume friends asked me if I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower nor if I saw La Joconde, all of them asked only one question: “Did you visit Guerlain?” Indeed, in the universe of perfumistas the grand boutique on 68 Avenue Champs-Elysées is something special, as soon as you enter the green ornamented doors you enter a world of elegance and magic. Don’t be fooled by the ordinary assortment you see on the ground floor, it is the second floor that vaults the real jewels and earned the fame of this boutique. Taking the stairs up, one immediately gets welcomed by a room decorated by golden mosaics from ceiling to floor; can it be more glamorous than this? Yes it can, how about a whole wall full of bee bottles in all sizes that can be imagined, or a gigantic chandelier holding the most classic Guerlain perfumes? {click to see the pics in larger format}

Here one finds beauties from the past like Candide Effluve and Sous le Vent standing side by side with the latest offspring like Quand Vient la Pluie and Cruel Gardenia; all these are free to be played with without the risk of being followed by any over-enthusiastic boutique staff member. The staff is very friendly nevertheless, answering all my questions even though I did not purchase anything. The most funny to the verge of being ridiculous experience inside the boutique is smelling inside the “microwave ovens”, containing sample smells of a few real old classics including Kadine and Ode: unfortunately the odors are very faint and not much can be perceived. Except for perfumes there are also one section dedicated for room scents and one for makeup. With the feeling that I have just visited a perfume museum rather than a shop I went out into the sunlight again.

Having quenched some of my thirst inside the Häagen-Dazs on the Champs-Élysées, I walked with steady steps towards Avenue Montaigne. Squeezed between the ultra expensive fashion boutiques I found the place I was looking for, Caron - the boutique with a golden label. This is how one imagines a perfume shop would look like in the eighteenth century, everything touched by one's eyes screams style. Gilded boxes, ornamented glass bottles, fine milled powders and classic smells, you name it; nothing is too elegant or too feminine for the Caron shop! But of course, nothing beats the perfume fountains (urns), containing the most precious drops bearing the label Caron.

While sampling in leisure my eyes set upon a basket filled with the softest swan dune powder puffs in all imaginable colors. As soon as I took one in my hands it was impossible to put it down again; although the price was pure robbery, I walked out happily clutching a Caron bag.

The last classic perfume house I visited in Paris was the Grasse-based Fragonard. The former Napoleon III town house on Rue Scribe holds a combined shop with a tiny museum. The museum was really not more than a three room apartment, but nevertheless my two enthusiastic and friendly guides made the visit very enjoyable. Inside the museum some instruments used in traditional perfumery were displayed. As we were looking at them the guides briefly explained the different extraction techniques like distillation, maceration and enfleurage. The following room housed a collection of perfume bottles and other bathroom accessories from ancient times to today; the highlight was the complete presentation of an antique vanity case, which basically was a moving makeup desk. The last part of the museum was dedicated to raw materials used in perfumery; there were a few samples available for the visitors to play the smell and guess game. A beautiful perfume organ marked the end of the tour, showing the path leading to the Fragonard shop. Everything in the shop is at reduced factory prices; especially the cute sample packs make a great souvenir from Paris!
Here ends my small tour of perfumeries with great history in Paris, coming up next are the inventors of niche fragrances.

Thank you for your reading and stay tuned for Part 2: Serge Lutens, L’Artisan and Frederic Malle

Shopping Guide:
Guerlain SPA & BOUTIQUE 68, Avenue des Champs-Elysées 75008
Paris Tel. 33 1 45 62 1121
Caron 34 avenue Montaigne 8th Arrondissement, Paris 75008 Tel. +33 01 47 23 40 82
Fragonard 9 rue Scribe 75009 PARIS FRANCE Tel. +33 (0)1 47 42 04 56

See a Google map of perfumeries/perfume & beauty shopping in Paris on this link (printable)

All pics copyrighted by Elysium, not to be reproduced without permission.


  1. perfumeshrine, what a Parisan trip! I 'm looking forward going to Paris next spring. I understand how you can be smitten and impressed by the magnificience of the Caron boutique but perfume should perfume first and foremost. Caron classics have suffered some of the worst reformulations in the recent years and in the face of that I plan to have a word or two with the Caron boutique manager/director when I visit them, this promises to be a heated discussion!

  2. Emmanuella, thank you for the comment. Caron is a house that rarely agrees with me, so though I have followed the discussions regarding their reformulations on distance and I agree that the situation sounds alarming, I myself does not know the Caron scents well enough to make a judgment :-).

  3. Delightful tour, and thanks for my first image of the "microwave ovens."

  4. Mike Perez18:19

    Wow - the boutiques look elegant, well stocked and slightly intimidating. I can't imagine stepping one foot in them if I wasn't well dressed and proficient in French.

    The pics are gorgeous!

  5. More importantly, what kind of security system does Guerlain employ? Closed circuit television? Thermal imaging? Two-way mirrors? That kind of information could be very useful.

    Seriously - great article and pictures. I particularly liked the second photograph from Guerlain. The dreamlike names of some bygone and some familiar fragrances...

  6. For years visiting Guerlain used to be just the downstairs that was dark and dreary but since the renovation its what it should have been all along - a glam experince. I just wish they did not "renovate" their perfumes! LOL As for Caron. Its all about the urns and I too do not buy their scent anymore - it goes "off" quickly and its not what it used to be but the shop in Paris is a pretty, pretty. At Fragonard you sure get your moneys worth in my opinion and I love the self named "Fragonard" scent. I would recommnend a trip to Goutal down the road from the Ritz and you have to buy the Eau du Ciel - impossible to get outside of France and its such a beauty. Loveling those photos Helg and cannot wait for the next post!!
    Oh - Guerlain have these beefy guys for security!

  7. Emmanuella,

    all credit goes to Elysium. I should sit down and organise my Paris thoughts at some point, but it hasn't arrived yet.

  8. Oh, and forgot to say: nice new avatar: naughty ;-)

  9. S,

    those "ovens" are frustrating I bet!

  10. MP,

    I think it's a fact that French shopping (and Paris most of all) is more about presentation, but that goes for all European hoity-toity stores.
    Then again, it's a well known fact that the people who dress more rattily (sp?) are the millionaires who spend most, so...... ;-)

  11. V,

    Elysium took some GREAT pics! She is a master photographer, I say.
    That pic with the little Guerlain drawers with the old, nostalgic names is something we haven't ever seen online, have we?

    The security should be playing-putty in your well-equipped, agile hands ;-)

  12. M,

    it's true that Guerlain's revamp of the boutique is something to behold. So good that they did this.
    I agree on Eau de Ciel which is like a sunshine ray, so pretty!

  13. Thanks everyone for the kind words :-).

  14. watchman17:00

    Just a comment ....
    Who is Emmanuella ?

    Laeja banned from forum "Beauté Test"
    Ciorane banned from forum "Beauté Test"
    Girlsodeadly banned from forum "basenote"
    Aline et Valcour still alive in Amabilia

    Good luck with your new host PerfumeShrine ...
    Oh and nice trip in Paris

  15. W,

    c'est bien entendu, j'ai lu les fora aussi.
    But free speech comes for free and there is no reason to call her out when she doesn't misbehave.

    Thanks for the wishes, hope you like it.

  16. I had a chance to combine my two loves in life recently and had a two weeks' holiday in wonderful France, to which I had been before, and had loved so much. I took a little Renault rental car and headed off from Paris, to the Palace of Versailles, to Chartres then southward to sunny Provence, via the Auvergne region, with the Songs of the Auvergne playing repeated on the CD player.
    Magnifique, comme toujours. I saw many art galleries and followed the footsteps of artists, like poor Vincent Van Gogh.
    Back home all too soon, I ordered a canvas print from wahooart.com, choosing this painting by Cézanne, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8EWNWL, to remember my trip by.


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