My Life in Paris: Uncommon Scents

My Life in Paris: Uncommon Scents

Theadora sniffs out some free gifts at one of Paris’s finest beauty counters

Pointing to the rose-scented, huckleberry-hued satin ribbon round my wrist, I say, “Bonjour! The man on the corner sent us.”. Following suit, my sister Wendy repeats my theatrical gesture to the sales associate at the Guerlain counter under the big dome at Galeries Lafayette before adding: “Yes, the man on the corner of Haussmann and Auber said to present our ribbons and receive un petit cadeau.”

“Ah! One moment, please,” our slightly perplexed Guerlain sales associate says, and leaves us for what looks to be a rather serious huddle with colleagues.


I try to catch my sister’s eye to signal our exit. Maybe the man had pranked us. However, our feet had been hurting and now we’re perched on tall, comfy stools, surrounded by throngs of people deep in the heart of the maze of beauty stalls in the century-old department store, all prinked up like a glittery birdcage. Swinging directly above our heads are gigantic Dior Sauvage advertising posters of Johnny Depp. Galeries Lafayette was founded in 1895 and the Belle Époque flower power here has never failed to push this beauty product zealot to make a purchase. Surrounded by all that floral plaster and metal tracery, it’s hard to say no. Not that I’ve tried.



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So instead of making a break for it, we take advantage of our catbird perches, the oversized mirrors and rare lack of supervision at the Guerlain beauty bar and start testing the fragrances and anti-ageing moisturisers like there’s no tomorrow. After all, who doesn’t need a few produits de beauté so decadent with orchid-infused SPF and SOS cell respiration that they’ll set you off from the crowd as something both radiant and dewy?


Beauty product junkie? Far from it. In fact, around the same year that Galeries Lafayette installed its show-stopping stained glass dome (by architect Ferdinand Chanut and master glassmaker Jacques Grüber), there was a new rage in the City of Light: the great Perfume Craze of 1913.

“Parisian women, and men as well, are trying to outdo one another in the latest craze for rare and expensive perfumes,” correspondent Sterling Heilig wrote. “In this none has surpassed opera star Mlle. Zina Brozia, who is known as the perfume queen of the French capital… It is Zina who attracted attention at home and abroad recently by declaring that women cannot be well dressed in Paris under $40,000 a year. Perfumes were not included.” At the time, French fashionistas were experimenting with another fad: injecting essential oils of roses, violets and cherry blossoms directly into their skin. A French actress, one of the first to give it a shot, gushed that 48 hours after the injection, her skin still smelled of a fragrance called New Mown Hay. The craze was, however, short-lived after several fatal cases of blood poisoning.


Just as we’re about to give up, our kind S.A. circles back, after kissing her colleagues farewell, with the promised petits cadeaux in hand: little golden charms and beaucoup samples of Mon Guerlain Eau de Parfum, Intense Eau de Parfum and Bloom of Rose Eau de Parfum. “Inspired by Angelina Jolie,” she says. “Glamorous, like you two.”

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After buying two bottles of Jolie’s signature scent (I mean, how could we not?), Wen and I then channel our inner-Lara Croft and charge up to the Lafayette Café to take a much-needed celebratory break. Tucking into a mini-cheese platter and glass of wine, we gaze out at the Opéra and Eiffel Tower. The city’s harmonious beauty gives us the energy for one final rose-scented spritz through G.L.’s great hall of beauty products before we exit. As opera diva Zina said, “Mere names of perfumes give you no idea. You must smell them. The true perfume lover is not content with any one or five or ten. She has her favourites but she is always seeking!” I agree.

From France Today magazine

Lead photo credit : The magnificent domed interior of the Galeries Lafayette, where Theadora and her sister Wendy make themselves comfortable at the beauty counter. Photo: Theadora Brack

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After 10 years at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Theadora moved to Montmartre in 2003 to write for the travel website She founded her own blog, "People, Places and Bling: Theadora's Field Guide to Shopping in Paris."

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