I’d seen some great Instagram photos of the new perfume museum in Paris – Le Grand Musée de Parfum and was itching to get there for a visit. Luckily a work trip to Paris meant that I could see the space. Hallelujah. The museum is located on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré which means it’s in a rather posh part of Paris and not far from the Élysées Palace, official residence of the French President. Surprisingly there was a queue of people waiting to enter the museum which was unexpected. Although maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. I’m already waffling off topic but recently I read that Fragrantica is outpacing Vogue’s online visitation stats and is trending upwards towards Time magazine (check my Twitter feed for the details) which suggests that there are a truck load of people into perfume.
Images from L-R : Marquise de Montespan, Queen of Sheba, Mark Antony, Louise Brooks, Louis XIV, Casanova, Catherine de Medici, Cleopatra
The museum has partnered with IFF and Le Syndicat Français de la Parfumerie and takes the visitor on a tour of the history of perfumery right through to modern day art exhibitions, creating a rich and diversified experience. First up there’s a history session on historical figures, well known for using fragrance such as Cleopatra (pictured as Elizabeth Taylor), Mark Antony, Catherine de Medici and her perfumer René le Florentin. Next up were various historical perfume artefacts and video snippets. Of more interest was the old street styled section displaying a brief history of a select few classic perfumes as well as videos screening images of the first perfume stores in Paris and a run through of advertising and classic brands.
Journeying upstairs is where the museum takes a modern turn. There is plenty to sniff here and the displays are well designed and compelling. The stand out feature is the stunning sculptural display with hanging perfumed balls that you can pick up, smell and hold to your ear to listen to the story of the particular molecule or natural. The balls didn’t always work as intended – either no smell or no sound but I imagine the batteries need to be recharged fairly often and this display was well attended.
Another section I enjoyed was the area that focussed on perfumers, where Mathilde Laurent (Cartier), Jean-Claude Ellena (ex Hermes) and Dominque Ropion (IFF ) spoke about fragrance creation on video. There is also a separate video of Patricia de Nicolai in another space. I enjoyed the videos immensely and would have liked to see a short film in this format. I could easily have watched them talk for much longer.
There are plenty of exhibits where you can smell materials and fun can be had identifying naturals, although my nose couldn’t smell one of the substances at all. Another notable feature was a rose perfume smelling area, where one could sniff a selection of lovely perfumes via a scented metallic ball in another design led piece. Nahema (Guerlain) and Portrait Of A Lady (Frederic Malle) were but two of the selections.
A gift store including a selection of perfume books is near the exit. There is a larger space where you can buy a selection of designer and also some artistic fragrances such as those from Parfum d’Empire, The Different Company, L’Artisan Parfumeur among others. Some of the perfumes are organised by material e.g. patchouli (see below). There could be more niche perfumes sold here and perhaps a wider selection of perfume books in English but I do think you could be tempted to purchase something.
There were many guided tours when I attended, so I didn’t get to interact with each display for as long as I would have liked. How much time will you need there? I spent around two hours in the museum as that was all the time I had to spare but there is potential to while away more hours at your heart’s content. The museum doesn’t have a cafe which is a shame, although there is a coffee cart outside. There are also various ateliers (a selection of six) including an olfactory session for kids at 45 Euro a pop, or a history of perfume from 1900 to the present day for 95 Euro, while the adult admission is 14.50 Euro.
The museum is well designed and has the potential to inspire those who are not aware of the historical and cultural relevance of perfume, what lies behind a composition and the olfactory process. For those of us who have already read extensively, done a few courses and know a fair bit already, you may feel like you want the 2.0 version. From a design perspective it’s interesting too because this is a feature of the museum that has made people talk about the space and seems to be effective at engaging people with the art of perfumery. I left with a spring in my step and was inspired by what I’d seen and smelt and felt that my grey matter had expanded in the process.
My advice is to definitely pop this on your Paris to do list.
Le Grand Musée de Parfum
73 Rue du Faubourg St Honoré
Tuesday to Sunday : 10.30 – 7pm
Friday night : until 10pm
Are there any other perfume museums that are worth visiting? Let me know …
Notes : All photos Megan In Sainte Maxime