Perfume Tour: Niche Perfume Houses in Paris

... they gave me a bottle of Chanel perfume ... (excerpt from a letter to my parents dated June 1983)

I'll never forget the day that Mme M took me to Galeries Lafayette to select a bottle of perfume for my 20th birthday. It was the quintessential Parisian experience. The older French woman initiating the younger American one into the ways of the world. She made me feel special, a part of the club.

Fast forward to 2012, almost 30 years later - thanks to a WICE tour that I did yesterday morning, I'm now the savvy older woman with an insider's knowledge of some of the latest trends in the perfume industry.  Instead of taking a novitiate to a large department store selling perfumes, like Dior, Chanel, and Guerlain, that are produced for the mass market, I would introduce her to the seductive world of "niche" fragrance houses.

Parfums Divine, a discrete boutique that is known only by word of mouth, is the perfect starting point. Using raw materials of the highest quality, Yvan Mouchel and his team approach the creation of a new perfume the way that they would a painting, a symphony or a novel. All of their fragrances are works of art. With perfumes like, L'âme soeur, a marriage of noble flowers and aldehydes, and L'être aimé, a fragrance that soars with sun-drenched notes of neroli, bergamot and nectarine, Parfums Divine is a French perfume house that places the accent on creating timeless fragrances. Even though selecting a perfume is a usually a highly subjective experience, the majority of the women on our tour preferred L'infante, a bouquet of freshly gathered white flowers with a final hint of sensuality. It also contains vanilla, which we learned appeals to 70% of men.

Parfums Divine
3 rue Scribe
75009 Paris

After a brisk walk from the 9th to the 1st arrondissement that helped clear our noses for the next stop on our olfactory tour, we entered Parfums Jovoy, a boutique with a pleasing contemporary design dedicated to niche fragrances. Inviting us to take a seat in the cozy alcove at the back of the boutique and to help ourselves to a croissant, owner François Hénin rubbed his hands together with the excited air of a schoolboy as he asked us how we would like to start our scent-laden tour of his world. With more than 1,200 niche perfumes at his disposal, Mr. Henin guided us through a rich parade of floral notes, with scents like the remarkable flor e cantoa tantalizing mixture of tuberose, magnolia and plumeria that transported us to the warmer climes of Mexico, and Betrothal,  a scent originally created to honor Queen Mary of England's betrothal in 1893. Most surprisingly, I learned the secret of how French women "waft", or leave an enticing trail of scent behind them, from a man. Mr. Henin told us that the trick is to spray perfume on your scarf or jacket and not only on your skin.

Parfums Jovoy
4 Rue de Castiglione
75001 Paris

Theresa de Belder, our very knowledgeable guide, also recommended that we visit Penhaligon's, a boutique selling niche fragrances made in England.

209 rue Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris


  1. There are so many great perfume house in Paris, in France. I sought out Etat Libre Orange when I was there in September, on the rue Archives, but didn't like the reception I received, so I didn't buy. Also, I checked out a number of the Diptyque boutiques--to me the best niche perfume house in the world, love their fragrances and their candles.

    1. I haven't been to Diptyque yet. After hearing about it from Ella Coquine and you, I'm convinced that I have to visit one of their boutiques. Do they have any leather smelling fragrances? I'm still trying to remember the name of the one that I smelled at Parfums Jovoy. It was amazing. I also really liked the men's fragrance, "L'Homme Sage", at Parfums Divine.

      You were wise not to purchase anything at Etat Libre Orange if you weren't pleased with the reception. For me, it's important that the experience of buying something, like perfume, is a pleasant one.

  2. Now I am dying to take you out perfume shopping for the ultimate bespoke experience with Stéphanie de Bruijn. And you must dip into a Fréderic Malle shop one day for their grandma's lipstick scent and their sniffing columns.... Ummmmm, I think I'm off for a spritz!

    1. Sign me up! But I've got to admit that I'm more intrigued than convinced by the idea of grandma's lipstick scent!

  3. AH! so this is obviously the answer to THE MAN WHO CAN SUDDENLY DO NO WRONG'S observation that " French women sort of "waft" a wonderful fragrance as they walk past"...and also perhaps the secret as to why French women wear so many scarves.

    I have still not succeeded in finding a "waft" he can actually smell on me. Even though I have tried several perfumes.

    Thanks Mary Kay and Mr Henin, I will try that trick.

    Love Denise

    1. Try it, Denise! The Dior saleswoman sprayed some perfume on my scarf and it's surprising how long the scent has lasted. Please let me know how "the man who can suddenly do no wrong" reacts when you waft by his nose!

  4. Hmm I don't like vanilla, but then I'm not a man! Good tip about the scarf. I spray mine in my hair, but I wash that more often than my scarf, so that might last longer ha ha!

    1. You don't like vanilla? I've always thought that it's interesting that people respond differently to certain smells. Some of the women on the tour raved about a couple of the fragrances that I didn't like at all and vice-versa. For example, I don't usually like musk or strong scents.

      Another reason why women spray perfume on their scarves is because the chemical reaction to someone's skin alters the fragrance of a perfume.

  5. Great article….!!! Nice to know about new things with helping concept.
    Thanks for sharing this useful information.
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    Thank you,
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  7. Try to keep an open mind when you see a perfume that perhaps your friend has dismissed and don't judge a perfume by its packaging. You're going to have to rely on your nose for this shopping expedition, not your eyes.


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