Friday, October 3, 2008

Paris, Day 2

Every one of us has experienced a long forgotten scent that, once encountered, triggers a strong emotion. Melancholy gets me every time. Climbing stairwells in 1960s-era buildings evokes the antiseptic, chalk-dust powdered hallways of my elementary school in Delaware. A trip to a neighborhood library can throw me into a nostalgia tailspin, as afternoons spent sitting Indian style (as we called it back then) on dust-bunnied floors while flipping through mildewed copies of the the Bobbsey Twins series come flooding back to me.

I could recount dozens of memories like these, moments from my past I probably would have forgotten forever without stumbling across the random scent that triggers it. But I’ve never given much thought to the significance of my olfactory senses until today in Paris, when I took a perfume workshop at the Thierry Mugler headquarters with Elisabeth de Feydeau, a perfume historian (she has a PhD in perfume history, which impressed me to no end) and one of the leading experts on 18th century Paris, Versailles and Marie Antoinette. The history of perfume: How perfectly French and what a fabulous way to kick off my 9 days in Paris!

During the four-hour workshop Elisabeth recounted the truly fascinating history of perfume dating back to 4,000 B.C., when the Egyptians first created scents to offer to the gods. Her talk traveled through the years from Cleopatra to Cologne to Charlie, (the circa 1972 fragrance) and included dozens of real scent experiments, where my group smelled and discussed everything from Marie Antoinette’s perfume to ambergris (the prized stuff whales puke up that’s used to make high-end perfumes).

I’ll likely be writing more about Elisabeth and her totally cool workshops in this article I’m researching while in Paris, but right now I’m just hooked on this notion of the history of fragrance. Elisabeth is a wealth of information, to say the least, and I’m pouting that I can’t kidnap her for my trip to Versailles later this week (EuroPanache, the group that puts on this workshop, offers an two-day perfume workshop in Versailles that sounds amazing, but I'll be winging it on my own for my trip). More to come on all this, but I’m thinking these miniature and specialized tours are the way to go when visiting a place such as Paris, where the overall history and decadence can be overwhelming.

Speaking of decadence, after the workshop (which included champagne and macroons, my favorite little French cookie, and other treats), we all got a private viewing of the upcoming Thierry Muegler women’s collection—his first in many years to be released this November, as well as several of his vintage pieces, which are absolute works of art. Again, how special is that, to see these pieces up close and in a private setting? The only other way you'd see these pieces would be in a museum show, where the intricate, sculptural forms would be behind velvet ropes and thick glass. The new stuff featured some beautiful, just lovely pieces, most of which hearkened the Muegler of yesteryear while softening the edges to suit the style of the present. A model showcased a couple of especially fetching pieces, including that knock-out dress Naomi Watts (the current face of Muegler) wore to the party at the MET in NY this summer (see pic). The whole afternoon was such a treat and, as I mentioned, a lovely primer to my week of fashion and all things Paris.

Tomorrow is the Chloe show… stay tuned!

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