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May 15, 2006

Jean Patou Perfume Bar

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I pick up a delicate Bordeaux wine glass and bring it close to my face. However, instead of taking a sip, I inhale deeply and lose myself in the banana jam redolent sweetness of the prized jasmin de Grasse. The rose walls are lined with shelves of liquid filled bottles and the counter is graced with the silver martini shaker, however despite the illusion, I am not at a bar. At least, this place does not serve alcoholic cocktails for internal consumption. Instead, the glasses are especially made for fragrance testing by Henry de Monclin, and the traditional perfumery bottles on the shelves contain 200 of the finest raw materials and essential oils. Mme. Catherine Saudubray tending the bar has a degree from ISIPCA, the most prestigious perfumery school in the world, and as she gracefully threads paper strips dipped in various absolutes through the upturned Monclins, she narrates the history of the house, interspersing it with the absorbing comments on the materials I am smelling. ...

Among the most fascinating perfumeries in Paris, Jean Patou certainly ranks highly. In contrast to the large and gilded Guerlain flagship at 68, Champs Elysees or the dark and mysterious Serge Lutens shrine, the store located under the arches of rue de Castiglioni has the intimate and laidback atmosphere. The boutique is undeniably luxurious, with its mother-of-pearl painted fixtures recalling the whiteness of jasmine petals, and the pink elements of décor serving as homage to Jean Patou’s favourite flower, rosa centifolia, a flower that blossoms in every single of Jean Patou fragrances.

Jean_patou_grand_salon_2 The ground floor of the boutique houses the perfume collection, which at present consists of Joy, 1000, Sublime, Enjoy and Sira des Indes. The vials with the raw materials particular to a specific fragrance are within a reach. The rose de mai and jasmin de Grass flank Joy, while the blackcurrant bud absolute is placed near the amethyste bottle of Enjoy. Testing the familiar classics, I linger in the opalescent glow emanating from the perfume columns. The ambery wave of Sublime unfolds gently in one Monclin, while 1000 plays out its seductively elegant melody in another. Created by Jean Kerléo, who was the Patou nose for thirty years (1967-1997), these are the compositions that exemplify opulence. Just consider 1000, a composition that lets the leathery apricots of osmanthus spill voluptuously onto the civet and iris base.

Jm_duriez_cocktail_bar2 Mme. Saudubray hands me a strip saturated with Julye, and I feel dazzled. The leathery darkness is layered with the soft floral touches and the vanillic woodiness in this sensual composition. Julye is an example of a tailor-made perfume, a service offered by Jean-Michel Duriez, a talented perfumer who replaced Jean Kerléo, as the house perfume nose, thus bringing a new creative influence to the venerable house. His laboratory is right on premises, a white tiled room located in the basement of the house. As I hear about a Baccarat crystal cube containing 900 ml of personal perfume and the impressive fee required for such an undertaking, I get a sense that Jean Patou, a man whose flamboyance and dramatic flair were infamous, would have certainly approved of such extravagance.

Indeed, knowing a little about Jean Patou helps to understand his vision and his daring streak. Jean Patou was born in 1887 in Normandie into the family that owned a fur and a leather tanning business. It was natural that that Patou would join into the family trade, which is exactly what he did in 1907. The nightmare of fighting in trenches for four years during the WWI instilled in him a desire to live each moment to its fullest. After the war, he opened the fashion house after his own name, ushering fame and recognition through his ability to create clothes of effortless elegance and femininity. It was not long before the first perfumes were launched. Created by Henri Alméras in 1925, Amour Amour, Que sais-je? and Adieu, Sagesse were marked by the exquisite refinement and devastating seduction characteristic of Alméras’s art and fitted perfectly with Jean Patou style and his sense of humour. Michael Edwards quotes Jean de Moüy, the great-nephew of Jean Patou, “The three fragrances told a love story: Amour Amour signaled the start of the affair. Que sais-je? is a question: ‘What’s happening? Are things becoming more serious?’ The third, Adieu, Sagasse is the decision—‘Goodbye wisdom!’” The first tanning lotion, Huile de Chaldée was to follow in 1927. Moment Suprême, a mesmerizing juxtaposition of lavender and amber, debuted in 1929, along with one of the first unisex sports fragrance, Le Sien. And then in 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, came Joy, a ravishing vision of jasmine and rose that would set the gold standard for this classical pairing. Experiencing it at least once is simply essential.

Cocktail_bar Back at the perfume bar upstairs, Mme. Saudubray leads me through the materials used in the classical Patou fragrances. “We want our clients to be able to explore the finest materials in order to understand the quality of Patou perfumes,” she notes with a smile. Although the perfume bar seems like a modern concept, it is actually a replica of the cocktail bar originally located at 7, rue Saint-Florentin. “Jean Patou wanted to create a real cocktail bar where men could sip their drinks while women tried on the latest fashions,” explains Mme. Saudubray. “In 1930, the perfume house launched a Cocktail trio, Cocktail Dry, Cocktail Sweet, and Cocktail Bitter Sweet, which gave Jean Patou an idea of transforming the cocktail bar into a perfume bar.” As I experience the creamy richness of Mysore sandalwood, the ethereal woodiness of iris, the radiance of hedione, and the verdant rosiness of geranium served in the Monclins, I am more and more taken by the idea of the perfume bar. I want to sink into the comfortable leather armchair and continue my journey through Joy, one note at a time. Ultimately, the enjoyment of perfume is only heightened by understanding the beauty of raw materials on their own terms.

I bid my goodbyes and step out into the street, where the smells of rain, roasted coffee beans and lingering cigarette smoke are gently weaved into the quintessential Parisian perfume. Before I continue my walk down rue de Castiglione, I turn around and take a last look at the pink hued boutique. Jean Patou met a premature death at the age of 56, only six years after creating the legendary Joy. Although the house has shed its 1930s aura, I nevertheless sense the presence of a man who inspired its development. After all, as Jean Patou used to say, "I believe that each of us should be a man of his time." 

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From time to time, Jean Patou boutique holds the perfumery workshops, where one can have an opportunity to learn about the art of perfumery and the process of perfume creation in an interactive environment with Jean-Michel Duriez. For more information as well as for scheduling visits to the perfume bar, please contact 5 rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris, tel. 00 33 (0)1 42 92 07 22.

Photos (click to enlarge): Perfume Bar 2005. Ground Floor Perfume Columns. Jean-Michel Duriez at Perfume Bar. Henri Alméras at Perfume Bar, circa 1930s. Copyright of Jean Patou.

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