Saturday 26 September 2009

City Shopping Feature: Marchée aux Puces de Saint Ouen - Paris.

Perfume shoppers descending on Paris may be under the misconception that they are likely to unearth some rare treasure at one of the many flea markets around the city. It is true that the very keen-eyed collector who is prepared to drag themselves out of a warm hotel bed at 5.30am on the first market day of the week MIGHT just stumble upon something special... if they know what they're looking for of course! Sadly, bargains are few and far between, despite the many markets dotted in and around the capital. It would seem the Parisians know only too well the value of their wares, which makes treasure-hunting an expensive affair.

The wildly popular Marchée aux Puces de St Ouen is no different. Situated north of the city center, the marketplace comprises 13 individual smaller markets and covers over 7 hectares of land! For those wishing to fossick through old books, retro light fittings, frames and mirrors and an enormous variety of bric-a-brac, the pickings are excellent. For the perfume aficionado however, there is a scant selection to be found. Small stalls particularly in the Vernaison quarter offer the occasional vintage or mainstream figural bottle here and there, or perhaps a long-discontinued miniature at a reasonable price (I bought a 7ml bottle of Guerlain Derby for just a couple of euros). When you do stumble upon what looks to be a forgotten Lalique flacon that appears to have been thrust to the back of a dusty shelf at the rear of a dodgy store (with your heart hammering in your chest), you will almost always find an accompanying sticker on its base that reads €800, or similar.
Unfortunately, much of the perfume clutter is just that: clutter.

Perhaps more of a showcase than a retail outlet, I'd recommend visitors to the St Ouen market drop by Eliane-Parfume - a small stall in Le Marché Vernaison. Here, one of the most delightful collections of perfumes modern, vintage and rare are on display behind tall glass vitrines. Many are for sale, and some are not, but all are lovingly presided over by Mme Eliane who has collected each miniature, factice and flacon one by one.
Guerlain enthusiasts will see a gorgeous display of rare and unique bottles, and Mme Eliane houses some truly stunning Lalique bottles from the turn of the century. A large display case also holds rare and enchanting perfume jewellery and promotional items - pins, bracelets, scarves - many given as gifts with purchase, or to sales reps to be worn as a part of their standard uniform. Mme Eliane is happy for you to browse and take pictures, but the promotional items are not to be photographed; "its complicated" she insists, whilst shooing you away with both hands.

As beautiful as they may seem, the rarities don't come cheap, but some very reasonable purchases can be made on modern bottles and factices. As for me, I bought nothing on this particular visit... instead I ooh'ed and aah'ed through the vitrines, pleased that after a long day of rummaging through boxes and baskets, I had been rewarded with this visual feast.

Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen is open Sat-Mon. from approximately 10am to 5pm.
Eliane Parfume is situated in the Marché Vernaison
Stand 144, Allée No. 3

Sunday 20 September 2009

City Shopping Feature: Maison Francis Kurkdjian - Paris

When visiting France, a stroll through the Jardins des Tuileries in Paris is highly recommended. If not for the lovely gardens, then perhaps for one of the prettiest vistas in the capital. Les Jardins lie on the doorstep of the Musée de Louvre, and run parallel to the picturesque Seine – they offer a 360 degree view of stunning Parisian architecture, le Arc de Triomphe and achres of enchanting manicured lawns.
Just a few yards from this sprawling oasis, is Rue d’Alger – a tiny side street that boasts a brand new attraction – that is, the delightful Maison Francis Kurkdjian; a tiny boutique housing the latest perfume narratives of the award winning Parisian nose. At a glance, the entrance to the store looks like it has been over-fortified with architectural beams of iron and panes of glass... the imposing door towers over us as we push past it and step into the foyer of the boutique from the quiet street. The atmosphere feels instantly perfumed with invisible candles, and we stop for a moment to marvel at a charming cityscape of Paris that is behind glass and has been created from tin and gold coloured metal, that runs the length of one wall. I immediately think of whimsical and elaborate Danish paper cut outs. Beyond, we enter a room whose interior is tastefully decorated in harmonious white, grey and gold hues and a friendly young Parisian woman bids us “bonjour” and flashes us a winning smile. I explain that my companions and I have waited a long while to visit the boutique, and ask to be introduced to M. Kurkdjian’s latest creations. The young woman, Donatienne, is only too obliging, and begins by explaining that the miniature skyline of Paris in the vitrine behind us, is the world as seen through the eyes of the Perfumer... we turn on our heels and look back upon the display and each sigh accordingly.

I note that the materials used to create it seem muted and hushed, and am awash with a sense of calm. We turn back to the products assembled in front of us, and Donatienne points out that the perfume packaging echoes the aesthetic of the store, and of Paris in general... the raw tin caps afixed to the heavy glass flacons represent the materials used in architecture, and the flashes of gold incorporated into the line of packaging, mimic the gold used across the city on the ornamental Parisian monuments. We are impressed at the overall aesthetic and cohesiveness. But we are eager to sample the line.

We begin with Aqua Universalis – Kurkdjian’s take on a “clean” fragrance, which immediately conveys a vivifying sense of freshness: an eau de toilette that is as simple, as universal and as timeless as a crisp white shirt. Donatienne explains that this scent was created not only to wear, but also to perfume linens and fabrics. I could easily imagine how luxurious it would be to wake up on 1000 thread-count sheets that have been imbued with this perfume. We are then introduced to Cologne Pour le Matin - a generous 200ml bottle of scented water which Kurkdjian proposes is to be worn after slumbering, and its counterpart, Cologne Pour le Soir; a scent created to evoke warm feelings of comfort and love, and of being wrapped in cashmere. It is dark and ambery and I smell husky curls of incense permeate from within.

We sample more. Lumière Noire pour Femme and Lumière Noire pour Homme. My eyes widen as the latter is lifted to my nose... its lingering sillage is similar to that found in Kurkdjian's other perfume triumph, Narciso Rodriguez For Her (the edt version). I find it interesting this accord is now used as the base in this new men's creation. The female version features patchouli and rose, and evokes an unusual sense of chaiaroscuro – sometimes light and playful, and other times dark and dramatic. By now, I find myself holding a number of cards in the “must keep” hand, and my arms are both heavily perfumed to the elbows. My friends and I offer our wrists to one another and fan cards under each other’s noses as our patient host looks on with a smile... it seems she understands how captivating these scents are. APOM (A Piece of Me) pour Femme follows next, and I find my wife in raptures marveling at this glorious scent which is heavy with ylang ylang and causes her to inhale her wrists repeatedly. APOM Pour Homme is a masterful balance of neroli, cedar and warm amber.

My friends and I peruse the shelves and notice the diversity of goods on offer - aromatic paper strips that are designed to be burned, scented bubble-blowing solution, fragrant laundry detergent, scented candles, leather bracelets imbued with perfume, and of course the line of eau de colognes, toilettes and parfums. It seems to me that anyone visiting the boutique would find something appealing to take home with them.
For me, it was the 200ml bottle of Cologne Pour le Soir at €140. Donatienne cheerfully processed the sale and buried a generous number of samples in the monogrammed tissue paper that surrounded my purchase. We left the store feeling as though we had spent 30 minutes or so in Donatienne's very capable hands, and with a wish to return at our soonest convenience.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian represents for me, a vivid perfume narrative of the city I was visiting. Whilst these scents might be considered 'niche' in terms of their accessibility, they truly seem more "honest", and without a trace of pretentiousness.
I am confident we will return every time we visit the capital.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian,
5 Rue d'Alger,
75001 Paris.

Sunday 6 September 2009

A Scent: Issey Miyake

I've always appreciated Issey Miyake's perfumes and unfussy advertising.
Sometimes however, I get the impression that his "minimalist" aesthetic is just a ruse... after all, I find the perfumed releases from his line really rather complex, despite their purported 'minimalist' approach. Take the groundbreaking Le Feu d'Issey for example - a perfume that lived a very short life for being way too avante garde... its vast array of notes and accords ran the gamut from sichuan peppers to Japanese lilies, to milk; the end result representing his take on the elemental force of fire. It was an extraordinary synthesis of accords that, when it appeared on department store shelves, was bottled and packaged in clean, simple, Miyake-esque geometric shapes... a sphere inside a cube. What else? Even the starring pair in his perfume portfolio L'eau d'Issey and L'eau d'Issey Pour Homme - which portray the purest and most basic of the elements: water - have compositions which are really very intricate.

Miyake's 2009 women's release: a scent, is no different.
At a glance, the transparent heavy glass flacon and the colourless liquid it holds both seem to epitomise the Miyake approach of understated, unembellished functionality. Even the name a scent is as uncomplicated a name as one can possibly assign to a perfume. This being said, it is when you actually come to experience the perfume itself, you learn that once again, the bottle's contents belie this perception. The introductory spritz furnishes the wearer with an extraordinary feeling of green... sharp, crisp, rich emerald hues, which are not at all unlike the herbaceous, sophisticated opening puff of Sisley's Eau de Campagne. It prickles with ripe citruses before meandering towards a wonderfully rich floral heart. Intoxicating jasmine and hyacinth smoulder and there are fleeting moments of the heady floral rubberiness one can experience whilst wearing Fredric Malle's En Passant. The overall impression is as if walking through a beautiful garden at the height of summer with the verbena and hyacinths in bloom - totally enchanting and also a little overwhelming. Fortunately, the crisp green and shimmering citruses manage to reign in the opulent florals. The tail end of this fragrance shifts towards a "freshly-washed" soapiness - something that renders a scent the perfect vivifying fragrance to be worn in (but not limited to) hot weather, or during long-haul travel. This eau de toilette lasts a satisfying 7 hours on my skin.

The very fact that Issey Miyake can cram an entire European summer garden into a modest glass bottle and market it in an unostentatious manner, really speaks to me of his extraordinary vision. Whilst many others would resort to smoke and mirrors, Miyake strips them back - so sure he is that a scent will be well received.

His aesthetic may be minimal, but his perfumes are sincerely profound.