Although I am very fortunate to be able to tag along on some of my husband’s business trips, and they have taken us (and often our kids) to England, Spain, the South of France, and Italy, we haven’t been back to Paris since our honeymoon. As we have two graduations coming up in 2020, as well as a milestone anniversary, we’ve decided to take the family to Paris and Normandy! I’m so excited to finalize plans for this trip. Here is where I need your help! Of course, we will take the kids to the obligatory sights of Paris, which will take up the better part of a week, at least. (I spent part of a summer studying in Paris as a teenager, and found new places to discover daily for six weeks, so I know we will only scratch the surface, but you’ve got to start somewhere!). I have in mind a few fragrant stops, like the Palais Royale and its boutiques, and maybe some of the flagship stores of brands like Hermes and Chanel. I know many of my readers are perfumistas — can you suggest more possibilities? Please add in the comments below! Thank you!
Two years ago, I became fascinated with perfume and fragrance. I was writing a screenplay about two rival perfumers and was doing research to capture some of the details and nuances of those characters’ thoughts and actions. I picked up Chandler Burr’s book, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry, and I was hooked. It is the story of the development of two perfumes, Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and Coty’s Lovely, created with and for the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The book follows the perfumers as they work on their assignments, or “briefs”, all the while explaining the arcane workings of the perfume industry.
The book also describes a journey, a form of “perfume tourism”, taken by Hermes’ then-new in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena and a team of Hermes executives to Egypt, specifically the Nile river, to try to capture the atmosphere of a “garden on the Nile”, which was the chosen theme for the new perfume. As poets and others have noted for centuries, fragrance and scent seem to link directly to human memories and emotions in a way that only music approaches; even so, scent is the more visceral line of communication between our senses and our memories.
My own perfume journey has been more like a tumble down a rabbit hole, as others have described it. I am also fortunate enough to have frequent opportunities to travel, so I have become a committed “perfume tourist.” What does that mean? I seek out unique opportunities to experience fragrance in my travels, including visiting independent perfume-makers and perfume boutiques. In hindsight, I have actually done this off and on for decades; on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited Grasse, the birthplace of fine French perfume, and toured more than one of the Grasse-based perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard). When we went on a family trip to Bermuda several years ago, we visited the lovely Bermuda Perfumery, home of fragrance house Lili Bermuda, in the historic old town St. George’s. I am very lucky that we set a pattern early of my husband indulging me with perfume souvenirs!
Now, however, perfume tourism is a more deliberate choice on my part. It has proven to be a novel way to experience cities: seeking out independent perfumeries, perfume museum exhibits, even perfume-oriented arts. I have loved discovering independent perfume boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles. And of course, nowadays my souvenirs of my trips are usually perfumes; I look for “niche perfumes” made in that country, but sometimes I just buy a nice fragrance that reminds me of that trip. A recent trip to Switzerland resulted in the purchase of three lovely niche fragrances in different cities, but also an inexpensive small bottle of eau de toilette from Victorinox Swiss Army (yes, the maker of Swiss army knives).
This year so far, I’ve pursued perfume tourism in Barcelona, Spain, and in several cities in Switzerland. What’s next? Somerset House in London will open an exhibition this summer called Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent. I’m hoping I can get to London this summer to see it, as I’ve enjoyed other arts exhibitions at Somerset House in the past. And the ever-fragrant summer gardens of London are a must! Dreaming dreams of fragrant flowers and sweet perfumes …
I’ve “challenged” myself to write about a “travel trinket” and associated memories. Here are my trinkets:
Actually, only two belong to me: the top book, Wensleydale, and the third one down, Glorious Trees of Great Britain. They were written and illustrated by a Yorkshire-based artist named Piers Browne. My parents and I discovered him decades ago, when I was a twenty-something, tagging along with them on a trip to visit my mother’s family in England. I had been working at a very demanding job and they were worried about my stress levels, so they invited me to join them in Yorkshire, where my mother’s cousins lived. We stayed at a B&B run by the local pub, which meant that my parents stayed in one village home while I stayed in another, and we met up for breakfast at the pub. The home where I stayed had dozens of gorgeous limited edition etchings done by one Piers Browne. When my mother and I were admiring them, my hostess said that he lived nearby, that he sold his etchings out of his artist’s studio sometimes and that he didn’t mind visitors. So off we went, my middle-aged parents and I, to seek him out.
We drove through the beautiful rural Yorkshire Dales that are the subject of so many of his artworks, winding our way through remote lanes and up moors, until we reached his studio. And yes, he was there, and no, he didn’t mind visitors. We pored over his etchings and came away with a few, including one that my parents bought for me as a gift.
Fast forward twenty-five years. Continue reading