Last week, I took the plunge and went on my first ever solo holiday… and what better place to spend it than in Paris? I’ve always wondered why I’ve never been to Paris, especially since I’m a sucker for all things smelly and Paris is the perfume mecca of the world that is only a 2.5 hour train ride away from London! Suffice to say that I had the best holiday ever, and I’ve recorded some of my thoughts and observations here. They may not necessarily all be about fragrance and all things smelly, but I’ve weaved in some of my scented explorations as well. If you’re only interested in the perfume, I discuss Guerlain somewhere in the middle. So, let’s start from the very beginning…
While waiting to board the Eurostar, I casually glanced at my ticket and found it extremely befitting that my coach and seat number together form 4’33”, echoing John Cage’s seminal work of the same title, since I would be spending most of this trip in solitary silence. If you’ve never travelled on your own before, I strongly encourage you to try it out at least once, because then you’ll end up noticing things around you that you wouldn’t otherwise notice if you’re entertaining company, and you somehow come to appreciate the city more… or end up falling head over heels in love with the city.
After spending most of the journey asleep, I wake up to find myself in Paris, and it’s a surreal experience. Stepping out of the Gare du Nord, I am almost immediately accosted by a young woman asking if I speak English while waving some sort of petition in front of my face. Being suspicious, I say nothing and ignore her, all the while clutching my coat containing my valuables tightly, although she persists for quite some time until I quickly walk past her and blend in with the rest of the crowd. It is only later that I find out that she is a pickpocket, and that this is the mode of operation used by the pickpockets in Paris. In my few days in Paris, I am accosted no less than 10 times, probably because I resolutely do not look like a native, and possibly because I only speak a smattering of French, so the only thing I am able to say to them is “Arrêtez, s’il vous plait!” in the most annoyed tone I can muster. That said, I wonder why they don’t employ other means of scamming people, since you’d expect that most people would quickly come to realise that they ought to walk away quickly when approached by a young woman waving a paper and pen in their faces. A creative suggestion, if they ever read my blog (although I highly doubt it): how about wearing some perfume to attract people, and then selling them a knockoff? (By the way, I’m not promoting crime in any way, just writing down my rambling musings).
But I digress. After leaving my luggage at the hostel (too poor to afford a hotel, plus I wanted to spend the money on perfumes instead), I hopped onto the métro towards St. Michel. Upon boarding, I came across a homeless man whom everyone was avoiding because well, he smelt like he hadn’t washed in ages (poor dear); it was however heartwarming to see that someone sitting opposite him gave him his packed lunch, tupperware, spoon and all. At times, the smell was unbearable, so I turned my head in the opposite direction, where I caught whiffs of a spicy amber perfume wafting from a young lady – I probably should have asked her what she was wearing, but I didn’t know how to do so in French, so I shall have to live with just the memory of the smell… but hey, even a simple métro ride was quite the fragrant experience in and of itself.
Being unfamiliar with Paris, I had decided to embark on a free walking tour to familiarise myself with the major attractions in the city, and also to get them out of the way. The tour began at Place St. Michel, and it was there that I noticed a couple intertwined in a passionate makeout session that lasted for what must have been more than 10 minutes while tourists all around snapped pictures of them, to which they were oblivious. That got me wondering: if they were wearing perfume, what would it be? Of for that matter, would there even be a perfume that gets one all hot and bothered?
Over on the other side of Place St. Michel, I somehow managed to take a picture of one of the street performers taking a break and having a smoke. I thought the picture looked like the kind someone would include in a photography magazine, so I’ve included it here on a whim, in the faintest hopes that the photo will somehow become famous in future.
And then the tour started, with Arnaud, who was originally from California (he’d gotten his French girlfriend pregnant, and they’d gotten married and moved to Paris), as our tour guide. He warned us about the pickpockets, musing, “What’s the point of living when you have no belongings?”, which got me thinking what would happen if one day I woke up to find my entire perfume collection gone. Horrors! I’m not sure yet how I would deal with such news.
As Arnaud explains the significance of the hooves of the horses upon which sit famous people (all hooves on the ground means the person died of natural causes, one front hoof and one back hoof curled up means the person died of unnatural causes, two front hooves raised means the person died a triumphant death in war), I am suddenly squirted in the face by apple juice. It turns out that the guy beside me had squeezed his apple juice carton a tad too hard. Well, I must say that the apple juice wasn’t as bad as DKNY’s Be Delicious fragrances.
We walk along the River Seine until we arrive at the Louvre, and I proceed to take a customary shot of the Pyramid that guards the main entrance to the Louvre. Honestly, though, the modern steel and glass construction looks very out of place when juxtaposed against the royal grandeur of the palace itself. But, when one considers the history of the palace and how its extensions took on the architectural styles of each period, from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque, and then Neo-Classicism, etc. etc., it suddenly seems only natural that each period will add its own imprint on the Louvre. I wonder, too, if this is perhaps the case with perfumery, with new, conceptual brands such as Blood Concept springing up to make their mark in perfume history (or not, who knows?). Perhaps one day peoples’ tastes will change and they will start finding metallic notes in their perfume palatable. But this talk of the history of perfume could fill the pages of a PhD student’s proposal, so I daren’t venture into that area.
Strolling into the Jardin des Tuileries, I am floored by how beautiful symmetry is, each tree mirrored by another tree, each fountain mirrored by another fountain. The only asymmetry comes from us people moving as and where we choose. And yet what good would the gardens be without flawed beings to perceive them? I know, I know, I’m coming across as being pseudo-philosophical, but these thoughts really did cross my mind during my holiday, so you’ve got to bear with me!
The walking tour ends at the Place de la Concorde, and I make my pilgrimage up the famous Champs-Élysées, although my goal is really the Guerlain boutique at 68 Champs-Élysées. After an exciting time looking for a restroom to relieve my rather full bladder, which involves me popping into an Annick Goutal boutique to ask for directions in faltering French, then queuing up for ages in a crowded Brioche Dorée, I finally make it to Guerlain. I took a picture of the external façade, but deemed it inappropriate to snap away in the boutique itself, so I have to leave you with a picture taken from another source.
Inside, the latest release, Le Parfum du 68 Eau de Parfum, which was created by in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser, is prominently displayed on the glass and marbled tables. Initially, I spritz with trepidation because the sales assistants are glancing at me occasionally while chattering amongst themselves, but when they realise that I am trying out quite a number of fragrances, they politely ask if I need assistance. Preferring to be left alone, I inform them that I’m good for the moment, then resume my sniffing of Le Parfum du 68. It’s rather meh, actually, coming across as a marshmallowified (new word!) sweet floral that really isn’t much to scream about. Fragrantica states that “The fragrance features spicy notes, immortelle, tonka bean, benzoin, incense and leather”, although I get none of these, save maybe for a little tonka bean. The sales assistant whom I ask about notes tells me that there are notes of “hot and cold spicy”, which is an effort to look forward to the future while retaining some of the past. Errr, confusing much? And I shudder to imagine what Guerlain’s future would smell like based off of this latest release. If you were expecting something ground-breaking, think twice about actually putting in the effort to try Le Parfum du 68, for it merely echoes what has been done countless times on the market. Think Maison Martin Margiela’s Funfair Evening, but tone down the ethyl maltol. I mean, give me a bottle and I might wear it, but at the whopping price of €195 (or €180, I can’t remember exactly), it feels somewhat like a release designed just to conjure up some money. I’m a huge Guerlain fanboy, and quite the opposite of penurious when it comes to spending on Guerlain fragrances, but this release thoroughly failed to move me to part with my money. Additionally, being a Vagabond, I was lamentably impecunious on the Euro front, and so swiftly decided to hold on to my limited supply of euros for better fragrant offerings.
Interestingly enough, I haven’t really been moved by anything from Guerlain’s exclusive collection, opting instead for those in the mainstream range, and especially the classics. Perhaps I’m an old man at heart, for I find myself craving Guerlain vintages far more than anything new they have released. I did quite like Songe d’un Bois d’Été, but found it to be far too similar to Carner Barcelona’s Cuirs, which I already own, and which was smoother and more polished at that, so I sighed and put the bottle down, knowing that it wasn’t necessary. As for the rest in the Déserts d’Orient range, and even the L’Art et la Matière range, they came across as far too sweet, cloying and unnecessarily synthetic, lacking in the plush elegance that characterises Guerlain’s fragrances in the mainstream range. This makes me wonder, then, if Guerlain have simply jumped onto the ‘niche’ and ‘exclusive’ bandwagon that many other fragrance houses have? Despite this lack of an inspiring, jaw-dropping release in recent years, I still retain the hope that one day, another perfume rivaling Shalimar or L’Heure Bleue will be released, that will capture the hearts of an entire generation…
Leaving Guerlain somewhat disappointed, I continue up the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. There, I catch a glimpse of the eternal flame meant to honour the death of the unknown soldier. It is a sobering time for me as I reflect on the state of the world… and then I’m climbing 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which is really good exercise, panting as I reach the top. The view of dusk in Paris is breath-taking, as the photos will show you. I took a photo of the Eiffel Tower standing proudly over the rest of the city, but really I marvel more at the beauty of the sky and the colours that fill it.
Overhead, the clouds are luminous, a fiery spire that arcs across the heavens. I take in the sight, revel in its magnificence and my heart quietly whispers, “Paris, je t’aime.”
~ The Smelly Vagabond
Click here to go to Day 2 (Part I) of my adventures in Paris!