JAR: The Experience, The Perfumes & The Philosophy

Sometimes, you just have to experience something, and forget about all practical considerations. That was the thought that drove me to the very exclusive environs of JAR Parfums in Paris. JAR is a perfume brand that is often spoken about in hushed tones, and which reeks of inaccessibility. The perfumes are the creation of one of the world’s most expensive, famous, secretive, and idiosyncratic jewellers, Joel Arthur Rosenthal, who simply goes by his initials as JAR. To really understand what the JAR perfume experience is like, you have to understand who JAR, the man, is first.

Forbes’ Magazine has a piece entitled The Cult of Jar which explains some of the jeweller’s mystique and legend:

[The] creator is a secretive, eccentric artist called, by Diane von Furstenberg, the Fabergé of our time.

This jeweler certainly knows how to make his products sought-after. Born Joel Arthur Rosenthal, he affects to be known, in the manner of Prince or Christo, by a single name: JAR (no periods). His shop in Paris’ Place Vendôme has no display window, no regular hours. It does not advertise and opens its doors to only a select few, including Elizabeth Taylor, Elle Macpherson, Barbara Walters, Ann Getty, Mary Pinault and Jo Carole Lauder (and reportedly Marie-Josée Kravis, Marella Agnelli and Princess Firyal of Jordan). [Gwyneth Paltrow and the philanthropist, Mrs. Lily Safra, are clients, as well.]

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The craftsmen in Switzerland and France turning out his creations produce only 70 to 80 pieces a year, each of them one of a kind and many designed with a particular buyer in mind. He reserves the right to refuse to sell an item if he doesn’t think it would look good on the intended wearer.

That last sentence is actually not an exaggeration. I’ve heard a lot about JAR’s refusal to sell millions of dollars worth of jewellery if he doesn’t think it would suit a buyer’s personal style. In his defense, he has been quoted as saying, “I am not arbitrary. If you happen to have ideas and defend them, people make you into a dragon. Getting the right things on the right people is part of making those things[.]” I’ve heard that his refusal to sell his extremely exclusive jewels (apparently only about 250 women in the world own one of his pieces) can result even from such small matters as his disapproval of a client’s fragrance.

It may be hyperbole, and part of the whole mystique, but one thing is for certain: Joel Arthur Rosenthal has very definite ideas on perfumery. He began his line in the 1980s, with the motto: “JAR does not believe scent can be rationalized. Fragrance is an emotion.” The blog, Style Sight, quotes more of Mr. Rosenthal’s perspective in an article that focuses specifically on the New York Bergdorf Goodman store:

[It] is in a hushed alcove at Bergdorf Goodman in NYC [… and] so hidden that many Bergdorf employees don’t even know of its existence. There, the seven perfumes are displayed with a price tag of up to $380 an ounce. Although he has never revealed the notes in his fragrances, they contain the finest high-quality materials and are exceptionally concentrated to extend the wear on the skin. “It’s fragrance the way it was originally meant to be experienced way back when,” explained our JAR specialist. The perfumes do not contain the typical top, middle, and base notes. Rather, they blend together for an unpredictable release. The Bolt of Lightning fragrance takes 10 minutes to develop on the skin.

JAR Bolt of Lightning via StyleSight.

JAR Bolt of Lightning via StyleSight.

Inside the boutique, a specially trained JAR representative takes you on a fragrant journey, offering a series of lidded glass containers from which the scent rises. They are instructed not to sell, and just guide visitors through the JAR experience.  “Part of the pleasure of perfume,” said Rosenthal, “is where it comes from–literally the shop it comes from. If you can buy something anywhere in the world, as is almost always the case today, the pleasure and mystery of the source of the thing is gone.”

JAR boutique exterior, via Yelp.

JAR boutique exterior, via Yelp.

I was hesitant to enter his Paris perfume store because, frankly, his fragrances (which can be far more than $380) are outside my budget, but when there are only two places in the entire world which carry a particular line, and you are standing mere feet away from one of them…. well, it seemed damn foolish not to give it a try. I pushed open the heavy glass door to JAR at 14, rue Castiglione (a few doors down from Jovoy), and thought to myself: “Well, here goes nothing.” I had no expectations for what I was going to experience, except that I had been told that you can’t sniff the perfumes at will, you can’t put it on your skin, you can’t sample them, you can’t take photographs, and… well, basically, you can’t do anything but submit to the experience that JAR wants you to have. To my surprise, I had an absolutely lovely time that engaged me on a very intellectual level. Ironically, for the most part, JAR is all about the senses, and not about the mind. Intentionally so.

Source: Bonkers About Perfume blog, taken originally via Facebook.

Source: Bonkers About Perfume blog, taken originally via Facebook.

So, what is it like? From the outside, the boutique doesn’t even appear to be a perfume destination; the discreet facade barely proclaims its presence at all, let alone the fact that it is the passion project of one of the world’s most exclusive jewellers. As you push open the heavy, glass door, you enter a small, narrow room decorated in purple velvet and mirrors. It’s not imperial Roman purple, nor a true eggplant purple, but more of a dusty plum-mauve. The velvet coats the walls and all the tables, creating an elegant, opulent cocoon where all sounds are stilled and hushed. Mirrors hang on the three velvet walls, while overhead is a crystal chandelier which hangs low from a painted ceiling. It’s a fresco of a dark, stormy sky, marked by a large bolt of lightning. Your overall impression is a plum, velvet jewellery box decorated with crystal and gold.

JAR. Source: Bonkers About Perfume blog, taken originally via francescocatalano.it.

The JAR Parfums stand on the “Master Piece” fair in London in June 2011. Photo source: Bonkers About Perfume blog, with the photo originally from francescocatalano.it.

JAR ceiling. Photo: my own.

JAR ceiling with the lightning bolt. Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

The JAR table and perfume cloches. Photo: my own.

The JAR table and perfume cloches. Photo: my own.

JAR Golconda, the original and first JAR fragrance. Source: Basenotes.

JAR Golconda, the original and first JAR fragrance. Source: Basenotes.

Right below the chandelier, in the center of a room, is a table with two or three plum, velvet, straight-backed chairs, and whose surface is covered with an array of glass cloches. There are six, round, glass coverings in a circle, each lying over a glass plate that contains some sort of fabric (silk?) infused with perfume. In the center of the circle is a seventh glass bowl containing a small, oval bottle with a pink, jeweled lid nestled in a pile of tiny, dried, crimson rosebuds. It is the very first JAR fragrance, called Golconda, but I’m afraid I can’t recall how it smelled beyond the central rose note. Speaking of my memory, I’m afraid it’s rather hazy on quite a few of the JAR perfume specifics, as I was not able to take notes. (Much more to the point, I had arrived in Paris after partying in the South of France, with perhaps a maximum of 12 hours sleep in four days, if even that.)

Upon my arrival in JAR’s hushed, elegant environs, the manager came out and greeted me. As I later learned, his name is Jozsef, and I think he was quite key to my JAR perfume experience. Jozsef is a tall, courteous, handsome, very serious man in his early 40s (I think) with dark hair, elegantly chiseled high bone structure, a quiet smile, and beautiful, piercing, sensitive, blue-grey eyes. I told him that I knew of the JAR rules and that I was in his hands, but I also informed him up front that I was a perfume blogger who wanted to write about the experience.

Jozsef removed the first glass jar covering, starting with the one around the front center left side of the circle at what would be the six o’ clock mark on a clock. The cloche had a name etched in the glass, but I didn’t see it as Jozsef extended it to me, inverted, for me to take a sniff of the aroma molecules coating its interior. I’m someone who has difficulty in getting to the core essence of a fragrance on the blasted paper strips, so this was even more elusive for me. For someone who loves details, facts and analysis, it was a bit frustrating, I must admit. I remember giving Jozsef my impressions, but he said nothing, neither confirming nor denying the notes that I suspected. It is not the JAR philosophy. He then gave me the perfume’s name; I cannot recall it, but I do remember that the perfume left me largely unmoved. As did the next two. 

I think it was around the third glass cloche that we had the discussion which really made JAR a memorable part of my Paris perfume visit. In essence, it was a vigorous debate on what should be the perfume experience, about two extremely polarized perfume philosophies, and what constitutes honesty versus PR/marketing. There are few things I enjoy more than a spirited, intellectual discussion, and Jozsef (speaking on behalf of his employer) made me — temporarily at least — really question the essence of what should be the perfume experience, or one’s approach to fragrances.

It began when I told Jozsef how the JAR experience was completely antithetical to my personal approach as a blogger. My goal is to dissect a perfume down to its notes, hour by hour, or minute by minute even, and arming my readers with absolutely every single piece of information that they may possibly find useful. From my personal breakdown to the quoted assessment of others, my reviews are intended to avoid generalized, purely sensory generalizations or impressions. I want to be as detailed and comprehensive as possible, giving you a starting point from which you can then explore more. I think it does a reader absolutely no good at all to talk about abstract emotions or fanciful stories, without also giving you the specific details of what the hell the perfume actually smells like, from the first minute to the very last one.

JAR represents the exact polar opposite of that philosophy. In fact, I don’t think you could find a more singularly contrary perspective to my own if you tried! After I had explained to Jozsef the reasons for my approach, he countered with his own (or, to be precise, with Joel Arthur Rosenthal’s) rebuttal: perfume is meant to be a sensory experience and a highly personal, subjective, emotional one at that. Moreover, it’s dishonest for some perfume houses to lead you by reference to such factual details as notes. For example, if you go to a store and tell the assistant what notes you like, you are directed to certain fragrances and — in the JAR philosophy — that’s rather limiting. Why not explore on the basis of your senses and without prejudgment? Is it in fact honest to direct you like sheep to certain things through marketing, names, a list of notes, and a factual context, when it may condition your responses to the scent? 

Intellectually, I can completely see his point. Perhaps JAR’s philosophy respects the client more, by giving them free will and believing that they have an unlimited potential to like different sorts of things. There is no doubt that perfume is all about the senses, and where a particular fragrance will transport you is very personal. I think we all agree on that. So, is JAR actually giving people and their instinctive ability to respond to aromas the greatest amount of respect by not limiting clients to predetermined little boxes?

While I was impressed by the theoretical implications of all this, I was wholly unconvinced on a practical level. The simple reality is that I just don’t like certain notes. You can tell me until kingdom come that I should be open-minded to go where the aroma takes me, but the truth is that I wouldn’t like something like synthetic, clean, white musk (let alone that hideous ISO E Super) if you put a gun to my head. Plus, I’m not one who enjoys a lack of control, especially not at niche perfume prices. As a former lawyer with some obsessive-compulsive issues involving details, I demand facts, and I need to have some (very precise) idea of what on earth is going on.

Still, JAR is not about trying to convince you that you like something you don’t; JAR is merely telling you that you should make up your mind for yourself. Sniff something without preconceived notions, and then make up your mind from there. If you love it, great. If you don’t, then that’s fine too. But at least give things a chance without the influence of specific notes, detailed facts, or a sales assistant’s hard sale to sway your perspective.

Honestly, JAR may have a point. And, I’m afraid to say, Jozsef concretely proved that precise point later on in the visit. As he extended one of the glass cloches, I inhaled deeply at the inverted glass, and murmured, “grassy, earthy notes. A damp forest with green notes, then a floral.” I smelled that cloche at least twice, if not perhaps three times, and the primary thing I detected was a green, almost earthy, damp forest floor smell. The floral aspect was always secondary.

You know what that perfume turned out to be? Jardenia (which may be written as JARdenia, perhaps), a fragrance that some consider to the epitome of a gardenia scent. Now, granted, gardenia doesn’t technically have a true aroma of its own and is often reconstituted from other elements. And, at least one Fragrantica commentator noted that JARdenia has a grassy, earthy, almost “mushroomy” scent similar to what I detected from that glass covering. Still, the real point is that I would never have thought “gardenia” as the immediate, automatic aroma of that fragrance when smelled blindly. Upon hearing the name, however, my mind did immediately connect to the flower, and translate the molecules that I sniffed into what my mind has registered or programmed as “gardenia.”

It rather proves Jozsef’s point. Had I known the perfume’s name prior to sniffing it blindly, then I would immediately have made a mental association between the obvious olfactory note, and what I detected. However, when free of all preconceived notions, I primarily detected something else. I was not mentally transported to a hot-house with lush, blowsy gardenias, nor did I visualise a languid, sensuous 19th-century courtesan whose pillowy, white flesh reeked of opulently indolic flowers (as I did once in the past when it came to a white floral fragrance by Grossmith). No, instead, I smelled the green earthiness of a forest first and foremost.

Think about all those people who dread the richness, potency, or indolic nature of white florals like gardenia. They immediately eschew a fragrance when hearing it is centered upon that note. However, as my experience may suggest, perhaps they are inherently limiting their options and boxing themselves into unnecessarily narrow, predetermined categories of taste by making such judgments. Perhaps the JAR philosophy is far from being rigid, and is actually more freeing at the end of the day? At the very least, I think it is an intellectual approach that is worth debate, instead of merely rejecting it as the eccentric, difficult, possibly cantankerous rules of an incredibly wealthy jeweller who has made perfume his passion project without concern for the traditional, conventional system.

As for the rest of the perfumes, some were my cup of tea, and some weren’t. Two of them, however, made me sit up and blink. The first was JARling which Fragrantica classifies as an Oriental Vanilla and which it says includes “star anise, spices, vanilla and heliotrope.” I can’t recall the exact aroma, but I really liked it.

The bolt of lightning on the painted ceiling. Photo: my own.

The bolt of lightning on the painted ceiling. Photo: my own.

It was nothing, however, as compared to the next one which Jozsef informed me had no name. There was, however, a bolt of lightning on the glass cloche and the fragrance is often referred to as such. I asked Jozsef if he had heard about the new American television series, Hannibal, which focuses on Hannibal Lecter’s early life and which had a whole dinner scene devoted to the beauty of JAR’s Bolt of Lightning. He smiled, and said that someone had told him about it the week before. He also pointed to the painted ceiling of the room where a large bolt of lightning streaked across a darkened, stormy sky.

As I’ve said a number of times in the past, I struggle with a perfume’s smell on paper strips. I simply can’t get at the essence or notes unless the perfume is actually on my skin. JAR never gives samples,but Jozsef was kind enough to put Bolt of Lightning on my arm, and it took my breath away. It was very different than what I had smelled in the cloche, and so much more beautiful. Immediately, I detected white flowers that were somewhat mentholated from heavy indoles. To be specific, I thought I smelled orange blossoms, but looking now at Fragrantica, Bolt of Lightning is a floral oriental that supposedly features tuberose. Given how JAR never releases the notes, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were orange blossoms in there too, but perhaps my nose is merely broken. Either way, it was gorgeous. In fact, the perfume almost brought me to tears, and that has never happened. Simply exquisite, whatever the hell its specific notes may be.

Source: Fashionbelief.com

Source: Fashionbelief.com

Naturally, however, my favorite perfume also turns out to be THE most expensive one from a house that is hardly cheap to begin with. If I recall correctly, Bolt of Lightning retails for €600 or $825 for a single ounce of parfum. There is a reason why Bolt of Lightning is on all the magazine lists of the most expensive perfumes in the world (per ounce). Other JAR fragrances are much cheaper (though we’re talking about the absolute wonkiest scale of relativity here), but Bolt of Lightning surpasses them all. If I had the money, I would absolutely buy it but, as I had made clear to Jozsef early on, I certainly could not afford it.

My experience at JAR left a mark on me in a few ways. I continue to think about the idea of preconceived notions. It is something I had previously explored a bit in my satirical courtroom review of Etat Libre d’Orange‘s notorious Secretions Magnifiques. As noted in that review, I suspect that a small, tiny portion of people filter what they smell through the lens of preconceived notions, the fragrance’s notoriety, and their existing knowledge of its notes. For some, the result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve smelled far more horrid fragrances, and I have to wonder what the result would be if people approached Secretions Magnifiques in the JAR way, blindly.

Another thing I ponder quite a bit is Joel Arthur Rosenthal’s unique position as a perfumer. This is a man who has the good fortune, metaphorically and literally, to make perfumes his way, to paraphrase the old Frank Sinatra song. He has chosen to approach them as art, without concern to their saleability or accessibility. If you like them, can afford them and buy them, great. If not, it doesn’t matter because he’s doing it for himself. He ostensibly creates them without the help of any trained nose, without regard to the usual rules about perfume pyramids and structure, and without giving the smallest damn if he sells any at all. You could call it a “vanity project,” or you could argue that his approach perhaps meets the purest definition of art as art. There isn’t a single commercial consideration involved. Instead, it is all entirely personal, and a creative extension of himself. Does it really matter what the perfumes are like, or what their specific notes are, when the original impetus is pure individualism and self-expression without submitting to what others may think or do?

Very few people are lucky enough to be in Mr. Rosenthal’s position, and I think we’re all probably a little envious. Wouldn’t you want to be able to create your own perfumes, without concern to financial cost or profit? I certainly would. I think it helps to approach JAR’s perfumes in that light, and with an understanding of the underlying philosophy, as opposed to how one would approach regular, normal fragrances. JARling, JARdenia, Bolt of Lightning, and its siblings are not intended to be something like a Dior or Guerlain perfume. On some levels, they’re not even actually intended for you. They’re the love child of a man who has the total freedom to express himself as he wants, and the rules be damned.

Everything about JAR is a different world, and that’s what made it so fascinating for me. It is an absolutely unique perfume experience from start to finish. And I cannot thank Jozsef enough for all of it. There were a few people who came in as he was walking me through the seven or eight cloches on the table; each time, with incredible courteousness, he made them feel welcome and attended to, but without leaving his demonstration for me or pushing me out the door. Instead, he asked them if it would be possible for them to return in 10-15 minutes so that he could devote himself to them fully. He spent a considerable amount of time with me, debating the finer points of the JAR philosophy, and even sharing some of his own perfume tastes. (He loves vintage Opium, which pretty much sealed the deal for me in terms of how fabulous I thought him to be! And, a long time ago, he used to wear one of my favorite, comfort scents, Karl Lagerfeld‘s Lagerfeld cologne.)

Since I can't show you Josef, imagine a more cerebral, serious, somber, intellectual version of the actor, Jim Caveziel.

Since I can’t show you Jozsef, imagine a more cerebral, serious, somber, intellectual distant relation of the actor, Jim Caveziel.

Jozsef gave me permission to photograph the store, which is an incredibly rare privilege. Unfortunately, as I’ve stated numerous time by now in writing about my Paris experiences, my bloody camera seems to have chosen this time in which to die and seemed to have a particular neurosis about taking crisp, non-blurry photos of perfume in specific. I am rather horrified by how terrible my JAR photos turned out to be (even the few that weren’t wholly unusable and which I’ve included here), so I can only apologise to Jozsef. By the way, I was even allowed to take a picture of Jozsef himself, but I was informed that he would hunt me down and throttle me if I posted it. He gave a small grin as he said it, but obviously I will respect his wishes. I will say, though, that I thought he looked like an extremely intellectual, serious, distant cousin to Jim Caveziel, and that’s a compliment.

All in all, I think JAR is something that every really serious perfumista should experience. It’s not about the perfumes and their price; it’s about the completely unique philosophical perspective that Mr. Rosenthal brings to the perfume discussion. It’s about reconsidering how one sees one’s own perfume tastes, the basis upon which we make our judgments, and the very theory upon which perfume is presented or marketed to the general public. It may be a very abstract discussion triggered by a man who is not subject to the common norms or to the practical considerations of the usual perfume house, and none of it may be very realistic for the average perfume buyer (as opposed to a hardcore perfumista), but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss his opinion without giving it a chance. Mr. Rosenthal has a very original voice to match his unusual fragrances, and a philosophy that I found that worthy of respect. The ultimate irony, however, is that the man who wants us to stop thinking analytically and intellectually about perfumes impressed me precisely because he made me think….

PRACTICAL DETAILS:
Address: 14, rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris, France. Metro Stop: Tuilleries, Metro Line 1. JAR Parfums is also accessible from the Opera, Madeleine and Pyramides metro stops, though it is a longer walk in my opinion. Phone: +33 01 40 20 47 20 or, if in Paris, 01 40 20 47 20. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Website: none. 

Jovoy Paris: Aladdin’s Cave of Luxury Perfumes

Source: Tribaspace.com

Source: Tribaspace.com

If you had one day to shop for perfumes in Paris, and wanted to experience the absolute widest possible range of niche perfumes, there is really only one place to go: Jovoy Paris. It’s a surfeit of riches and treasures that is located in the Rue de Castiglione, about a block away from the Place Vendome (as well as some of the chic-est parts of Rue St. Honoré).

Jovoy6In fact, the vastness of their range makes it a one-stop shopping destination that a true perfume lover absolutely has to visit. Sure, you could always go to the beauty sections of the large departments stores like Printemps and Les Galleries Lafayettes, but you wouldn’t be exposed to the very highest end of the niche perfume world, nor to some of the smaller, rarer, more unusual or high-quality perfume treasures. Instead of focusing on brands like By Kilian, Jovoy has things like Roja DovePuredistance, LM Parfums, Neela Vermeire, and many other fantastic brands that it — and it alone — carries in Paris.

Jovoy5I dragged my exhausted self to Jovoy almost at the tail end of my trip, and with the warning of one Paris perfumista ringing in my head that Jovoy has almost too much stuff. It’s true. It absolutely does. But what a sensory delight from start to finish! Even on the most initial, concrete levels of visuals, Jovoy is lovely. The walls are decorated in a chic Chinese red and the furniture is black. I’m quite biased, I must admit, as that is the pairing for my library/office, and black is my favorite colour (non-colour?) in general. Still, Jovoy is a study in chic sleekness and elegance from a mere decor perspective.

My photos cannot do it justice, and, once again, I have to repeat what I’ve said elsewhere: my camera chose Paris to start dying, though I now wonder if it’s perhaps just my batteries that may be the problem, despite nightly charging. Either way, my little, conveniently pocket-sized Canon seemed to be having a tantrum in photographing a lot of perfume bottles in a large number of stores (but, oddly, not a single problem at all in photographing French cheeses somehow……). From blurriness, to strange lighting, to actual zig-zag lightning strikes in neon colours, the perfume images were often wholly unusable. The ones that weren’t still aren’t fantastic. The situation seemed worst of all in Jovoy, so I can only apologise to you and to Jovoy for the quality of some of these. I include them only to give you a sense of the sheer enormity of the brands they carry, as well as a feel of that day.

Parfums de Marly

Parfums de Marly

So, you’ve entered the chic, sleek, minimalistic Asian-influenced environs of Jovoy, and then you see the range of the brands they carry — and your mind is effectively blown. Where do you start? How do you cover everything? None of the pictures I had seen of Jovoy had adequately conveyed the extent of all the unusual brands here. There is SO MUCH stuff! Even the tiniest of shelves has one full range crammed in; every bottle of Parfums de Marly in a tight row, one after another. And that’s only one of the tiny shelves! Jovoy is a wonderful problem for a perfumista to have, but it does also require a few practical considerations before you go.

First, if I may suggest, you should put aside at least a solid two hours — at a bare minimum — for a visit to Jovoy; and if you’re a hard-core perfume addict who hasn’t had much concrete access to testing many, less-accessible lines in person, then perhaps more like four hours. At a minimum. That was approximately the amount of time that I spent in the store, and I tell you without any hyperbole at all that I may have sniffed or tested only a mere fraction of their stock. Maybe 10%. I could have spent six hours in Jovoy, and probably still wouldn’t have had the chance to get through everything. Plus, even if you could get through it all, you would have such olfactory fatigue by the end that I’m not sure you could really process it all. I certainly couldn’t. Again, all of this is a wonderful problem to have. I’m merely warning you that you will have a sensory overload from the sheer range of perfume brands that they have, and that you should plan accordingly.

Jovoy4Second, I think you really need to dress carefully for Jovoy — and I’m not talking about the quality or expensiveness of your attire. I highly doubt that they give a damn. But, you need to wear clothing that will give you the easiest amount of access to as much of your skin as is socially acceptable to be shown in public without getting arrested. And wear layers, because you will run of skin real estate — extraordinarily quickly given the amounts of perfume brands they carry — so you may need fabric upon which to test some of the perfumes that really catch your attention. Even after all that, you’re still likely to be screwed for all the reasons listed up above. There still will be stuff that you don’t get to test or try, that you loved on paper, or that the perfume strips simply didn’t adequately convey.

Perhaps some of my personal difficulty stems from the fact that I have never been able to get a really good sense of a perfume from a mere strip of paper. It’s easy to know which ones you can immediately discount and ignore, but that’s the absolute lowest threshold and bar. What about the ones you think you may like, but are unsure? Or the ones that you really like, but are not sure you absolutely love as much as some of the others? What happens when, towards the end and almost on your way out the door, you stumble across something that takes your breath away on paper, but you have no idea how it will be on your skin (or how long it will last) because you can’t strip to your underwear to find more space on which to test it? As I said, Jovoy has too much stuff — and most of it is amazing.

Roja Dove, exclusively at Jovoy Paris.

Roja Dove, exclusively at Jovoy Paris.

So, now, onto my actual experiences at Jovoy. I walked in without much of a plan except, first and foremost, to try Roja Dove‘s famous perfumes, then perhaps Von Eusersdorff‘s Patchouli. One thing that I liked about shopping at Jovoy is that they left you in peace and quiet to explore, without pestering you, though there were always assistants close-by to help you immediately if you asked. That is really my ideal way of shopping; to perambulate and see what intrigues me, pick up a bottle here or there to spray on a paper strip, and then go from there.

Another wonderful thing about Jovoy is that paper strips are conveniently and discretely placed next to each and every single brand display. No hunting around for mouiellettes, and, even better, no hunting around for a pen with which to write down the name of the sprayed perfume. No, Jovoy thoughtfully places pencils immediately on hand and throughout the store for you to use in remembering which strip contained which perfume. It a practice that that I wish more perfume stores would follow because, for most of my trip, I had started sticking pens in the back pocket of my jeans, in my leather jacket, and even behind my ear at one point. (I would often come home with over 15-20 paper strips a day, winnowed down from about 50+ things that I’d sniffed or sprayed on paper, and I tell you, you need an easily accessible pen or you’ll be lost!)

Jovoy Roja Dove 3 - B

The minute I walked in, I was greeted by a smile from one assistant, but I knew exactly where I was heading. My eye went straight to the lit, highlighted Roja Dove display at the far end. Even before I’d left for Paris, a blog friend had told me about the supposed gloriousness of Roja Dove’s Diaghilev chypre, and its old-style luxuriousness, opulence, and elegance. I also knew, however, that it was €990 for a small bottle, which translates to more than $1330. Some luxury perfume brands have stratospheric prices, but the Roja Dove ones are in another galactic solar system entirely. I know he’s considered one of the most famous, legendary noses in the world, but bloody hell!

Still, it’s free to sniff, right? So I did, and I liked Diaghilev. But I wasn’t blown away, and certainly not enough to try it on my skin. (Besides, what was the point at €990?!) So, what should I try? There were so many bottles, all gleaming in the light with a vast number having lids heavy with crystals. To my relief, there was a wonderful, thin, hard-bound book to the side that described each scent and its notes, and I used it to get an idea of where I should start. Honestly though, even after reading the book, I was still at sea — what with his pure absolute Extraits of florals like gardenia and lilac, his regular line of eau de parfums, and their pure parfum versions. Making matters even more complicated is that the exact same perfume comes in a Men’s and Women’s version.

Jovoy Roja Dove 1 - CI liked description and notes listed for Dove’s leather chypre, Fetish, so I tried both gender versions in Parfum concentration. (It comes in an Eau de Parfum as well, but I couldn’t deal with trying three variations of the same perfume!) According to Fragrantica, the notes for Fetish for Men are: bergamot, lemon, lime, fig, jasmine, neroli, violet, cardamom, cinnamon, elemi, oakmoss, patchouli, pepper, vetiver, ambergris, benzoin, castoreum, labdanum, leather, musk and vanilla. Phew, that’s quite something, especially by today’s standards where all too many fragrances have between 3-6 notes. (Hello, Jean-Claude Ellena! Hello, Montale!) The Fetish for Women is more floral and is perhaps even lovelier, though I have to give both a good test to make up my mind as to which one I prefer. The women’s Fetish includes: rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, galbanum, cinnamon, cloves, cedar, oakmoss, patchouli, vetiver, castoreum and musk. They’re both pretty — and pretty costly, too, at €395 for 50 ml, but at least they are pure parfums.

Another one I liked was Roja Dove’s Innuendo, which I believe I smelled in pure Parfum version as well. The notes, according to Fragrantica, include: bergamot, lemon, orange, lemon verbena, jasmine, may rose, violet, ylang-ylang, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum, musk, orris root and tonka bean. Lordie, was that pretty! I was significantly less moved, however, by the Roja Dove’s Extrait fragrances which are soliflores in nature, like Vetiver, Gardenia, Neroli and the like. One of them was okay, though I can’t recall now if it was the Gardenia or Lilac, and, to be frank, some of that whole Roja Dove experience is a bit of a blur now. I didn’t try every single one of the absolutes, primarily due to being completely overwhelmed, but generally, I wasn’t hugely moved by those I did sniff. I most certainly was NOT moved enough for the price of the bottle, which is around €325!

The soliflore Extraits in their pure white bottle in the back.

The soliflore Extraits in their pure white bottle in the back.

I also wasn’t passionate about the two Roja Dove ouds I tried, Aoud and Amber Oud. They were fine, though I didn’t think either one was extraordinarily special, and one had far too much saffron for me. As a perfume blogger, I’ve reached critical saffron-oud overload, which is a shame as the spice used to be one of my favorite notes. Clearly, it’s not the perfume’s fault, and is a matter of personal tastes. One thing was unquestionable, however, and that was the gorgeousness of the cranberry-red juice for the Amber Oud. Really lovely.

After Roja Dove, I went next to one of the bookcases in the center with its wide variety of different brands. I was thrilled to see Parfums de Marly, a line about which I’d heard much talk. It is now available in the US at OsswaldNYC, but I don’t live in New York and have no immediate access, so to get to try it leisurely here was exciting. I intentionally eschewed the perfumes that seems to get the most fuss, Herod, because when a company actually and officially lists ISO E Supercrappy (™ Sultan Pasha) amongst its notes, I know it’s best for me to steer very clear indeed. (Seriously, can you imagine how high the percentage of that olfactory carrion vulture must be for Parfums de Marly to have to list it officially?!) All the other bottles appealed to me, but I didn’t know where to start. There were also no notes listed anywhere, and I didn’t want to ask someone because I preferred to be left alone.

Parfums de Marly on the top shelf. Isabey on the bottom. Far right is Von Eusersdorff

Parfums de Marly on the top shelf with Safanad as the second glass bottle from the right side of the frame. Isabey perfumes are on the bottom shelf. Far right is Von Eusersdorff on both top and bottom.

So, at random, I just picked up one of the smaller, clear, non-opaque or coloured bottles that was to the far right, and sprayed a little. WOW! Glorious, simply glorious. I couldn’t find a name on the bottle (which I thought was quite odd), so I asked one of the sales ladies who was equally perplexed. Finally, on the bottom and in tiny font, we saw the name. The perfume turned out to be Safanad which according to Fragrantica is a 2013 Floral Woody Musk whose include: orange, pear, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, iris, amber, sandalwood and vanilla. Really gorgeous. It’s an eau de parfum that comes in an 75 ml bottle and costs €159.

Amouage

Amouage

I ambled around further after that, smiling at the chic Puredistance display in one corner, admiring the wall of Amouage elsewhere, and trying to figure out who on earth made the perfumes that were in some very fancy, glittering orbs and locked behind glass. It turns out, it was a line called House of Sillage.

Jovoy House of Sillage 2

House of Sillage

House of Sillage in the cabinest, and more Amouage lined up on top.

Then, I stood gulping in abject awe at the Baccarat-and-gold bottles of Grossmith‘s original, historical line under glass. I had previously tested and reviewed Grossmith’s Phul-Nana, which is a simply gorgeous, opulently Victorian, lusty and spicy orange blossom, neroli, tuberose, ylang-ylang and woody fragrance. At the time of its release, back in the 1880s, it had been the Chanel No. 5 of its day, and I loved its faithfully translated modern version. In that review, I’d written about the famous Baccarat bottles which were created with the help of various Middle Eastern royal families and whose price tag is astronomically high, so to now see them in person…. I was thrilled! It is just as well that they were locked behind glass, because I would probably have stroked them with lust like a crazy person.

Grossmith's baccarat flacons of the original trio in the line. I'm so sorry about the poor photo quality!

Grossmith’s baccarat flacons of the original trio in the line. I’m so sorry about the poor photo quality!

Later on, I had the chance to smell a Grossmith scent which I had previously eschewed testing because I had heard that it was very powdery — and I don’t do powder! It was Shem-el-Nessim, which Fragrantica classifies as a Floral Woody Musk with notes that include: bergamot, neroli, geranium, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, iris, musk, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, heliotrope and vanilla. Good heavens, is that a beautiful perfume! And what sillage it had, too! I was fortunate to obtain a sample, and I’m definitely going to do a full review down the road, but I have to say now, it was truly an opulently luxurious scent in the very best of the old-time tradition from the golden age of perfumery. I’m really glad that Roja Dove helped Grossmith to recreate its ancient classics, because I think the perfume world is far better for it. Now, if only they were more easily accessible….

Eventually, I made my way to the far right wall where I came across Jovoy‘s own line of perfumes. As always, my problem was knowing where to start, and I already had about 13 paper strips in my hand at this point. (And those are the ones that I had not discarded!) I tried Gardez-Moi which was a lovely white flower bomb, but then what? I went by colour, knowing that the darker the juice, the more likely it would be a woody, spicy or oriental fragrance which is my personal, preferred category. I started with Psychedelique because of the name, and it turned out to be an intriguing patchouli.

Von Eusersdorff.

Von Eusersdorff.

Previously, however, I’d tried another patchouli — Classic Patchouli from Von Eusersdorff — which had come highly recommended by another blogger, Susie of Scent Epiphany. I was unsure about both of them, not because they weren’t excellent (they were), but because I’m on the hunt for a very particular patchouli scent. Perhaps more to the point, I simply didn’t dare put two different ones on my skin, lest patchouli’s generally forceful characteristics overwhelm everything else that I may want to try down the road.

Then, my eye was caught by Jovoy‘s Private Label fragrance with its dark, cognac-coloured liquid. It was a woody oriental which smelled of vetiver, amber, leather and, oddly enough, a sort of chilly peppermint that was exactly like that in the American candy, York Peppermint Pattie. I was intrigued by how it conjured up warm winter comfort from its initial whiff, and thought it definitely required further testing. I didn’t try any more from the line and, now, in hindsight, I wish now that I had been clear-headed enough to sniff Jovoy’s Rouge Assassin. Alas, Jovoy had scrambled my brain, so I completely blanked out, and sadly missed my chance.

There were so many bottles within each line, and so many paper strips in my hand, that I decided it was time to seek help. I made my way to a very tall, youngish chap with dark hair who seemed to be the manager. It turned out that he was one of them, but also, the brother-in-law of François Hénin, Jovoy’s owner. Mr. Hénin wasn’t there that day, but Léon took good care of me, even before he found out I was a perfume blogger. Prior to that point, he seemed initially a bit mystified by my rather endless series of questions about the specific notes in different perfumes (and he blinked at my intense, forceful hostility to the ISO E Super that I detected in one fragrance), but he caught onto my tastes quite quickly and steered me to a few things I liked.

Generally, though, he politely and courteously followed my lead in pursuing the specific fragrances I was curious about. By now, I had about 18 paper strips in my hand that I had narrowed down to about 7 that I wanted to try on my actual skin. We went through those 7, but he also pointed me to a few other things. It was actually thanks to Léon that I tried the fantastically diva-ish, seductive Grossmith Shem-el-Nessim, when I would have otherwise discounted it from talk that I had heard about its ostensibly powdery nature. (It wasn’t on my skin, though I haven’t yet had the chance to do a full, thorough test of it.) Léon also pointed me to specific Amouage scents that he thought would appeal to my tastes, and to Puredistance M which, unbeknownst to him, is actually one of my favorite perfumes. (It was around this time that I had to explain that I was familiar with many fragrances in question because I was a perfume blogger, had reviewed them, and/or owned them.)

I hesitated to ask for samples because of the number of things that I was really intrigued by, but Léon was more than generous. I’m extremely grateful to him and to Jovoy, because the simple reality of my skin’s wonkiness is that I need samples to get a sense of a perfume. I can’t really get proper idea of a perfume from paper strips, there is only so much space for spraying perfumes, and, most importantly of all, I have absolutely voracious perfume-eating skin.

In short, it is completely impossible for me to buy a perfume without a sample to test its layers, its sillage and how long it may last. I was disappointed, for example, that the gorgeous Parfums de Marly Safanad had already faded substantially in projection before I had even left the store! The Roja Dove Fetish leather perfume also seemed much more intimate on the skin, though I think some of that may have been olfactory fatigue. While the Grossmith Shem-el-Nessim went strong for hours, there were a number of scents that I had really liked but had no space to try on my skin at all. So, samples were essential.

And samples, I got — without a murmur or raised eyebrow. From Roja Dove, to Safanad, two fragrances from Jovoy’s own line, and a few others. I had heard from one blogger that Jovoy was “stingy” in giving samples, even upon the purchase of a fragrance, but that was not my experience at all. As Léon was calmly spritzing things into vials, I espied the new Histoires de Parfum fragrance, 1899, devoted to Ernest Hemingway, at one end of the counter. I like Histoires de Parfum quite a bit as a brand, but rather loathe Ernest Hemingway for his personal life and character, and I have never been particularly impressed by his writing with the (perhaps understandable) exception of A Moveable Feast which focuses, in part, on Paris. Still, Histoires de Parfums was going to take on Hemingway, and put his essence in a bottle?! This I had to try! I wasn’t impressed by my initial sniff, but as we’ve already discussed, paper strips can go fly a kite in terms of usefulness and true accuracy! So, we shall see how it actually turns out. 

Nasomatto and Boadicea the Victorious.

Nasomatto and Boadicea the Victorious.

Léon kindly gave me permission to take photographs for the blog. I was on my way out of Jovoy when I began taking pictures, but I came across so many cool things that I had to start sniffing all over again! There were things that I had initially missed, like Xerjoff‘s new collection, Join The Club. The few I tried from it were merely average, in my opinion, though I didn’t give the full range a thorough sniffing. (There were so many of them!) Then, I admired the endless, pretty, and sometimes bejewelled, bottles of M. Micallef, and seemingly all or most of the Boadicea the Victorious line. My God, so many of the latter! I didn’t pick up a single one because I didn’t know where to start! I was also a bit at sea when it came to the large Fueguia 1833 line from South America. I’d heard much about it, but I was starting to experience olfactory fatigue to match my physical one. So I gave two bottles some half-hearted sniffs, then gave up and returned to my photographs.

All around, there were bottles from perfume houses that I knew and/or had previously reviewed. To name a few: FrapinLubin, Juliette Has A Gun, Aedes de Venustas, Nobile 1942, David JourquinHeeley, M. MicallefTauer Perfumes, Vero Profumo, Ys.Uzac, and a blast from the past in the form of Jacques Fath and Revillion

M. Micallef

M. Micallef

M. Micallef.

Bottles from Rancé, I think.

I was in the midst of full olfactory (and visual) overload when I saw lines that I’d heard other perfumistas talk about, but had never had the chance to try: Isabey, Andrea Maack, Humiecki & Graef, Czech & Speake, Majda BekkaliJuls et Mad, SoOudE. Coudray, Miller Harris, Evody, Sospiro, Ann Gérard, Brécourt, Undergreen, and… good lord, there were so MANY

Finally, there were perfume brands that I’d never heard of at all, leaving me blinking at their bottles like a deranged owl. To name just a few: Steve McQueen (?!), House of Sillage, Philly & Phil, Eight & BobAmorvero Profumo, Arty Fragrance by Elisabeth de Feydeau (a French historian whose line is inspired by the palace and life at Versailles), Arte ProfumiLostmarc’h (yes, it’s apparently spelled that way, and no, that is not a typo), Testa Maura, Hors La MondeMendittorosa, and Alexandre J. Can you see why Jovoy requires at least a whole day’s exploration to really have a chance to cover even a small portion of their stock? Below are some thumbnails that you can expand to see a bit more of the Jovoy selection, but even these photos are hardly the complete story. 

Speaking of Alexandre J., the latter’s bottles actually stopped me dead in my tracks. In the middle of my photographing, I suddenly saw gleaming mother of pearl! A solid, massively heavy, hefty bottle of white mother of pearl, and then a truly spectacular grey-black one. I took some photos of the accompanying book that explained a little of the supposedly unusual technique, process, and quite original look of the perfumes, but I really couldn’t get a good sense of the exact notes. The white one was for women, that much was clear from the book, and the grey-black one was the men’s version with somewhat different notes, but what were they exactly? The book didn’t say, at least not from what I saw.

I had to go get Léon, who merely grinned at me at this point and asked if I’d like to have an expresso. I laugh at the memory of it, because it was so clear (to both of us) that I was going to be there for the long haul, and that there was no way I was going to be able to drag myself out of Jovoy for a few more hours. While he left to kindly make me an expresso, I noticed a some more brands that caught my eye including a bottle in a steam trunk called Lys Epona. I picked up the stopper, dabbed it on a paper strip, and blinked. Good God, that was fantastic!

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Léon had returned at this point with my much-needed dose of concentrated caffeine, and I asked him about both brands. Alexandre J. seems to be a French designer who apparently seems to be interested in history, art, and luxury craftsmanship. The perfumes that had caught my eye were called Legacy, White and Black. Each of those 100 ml mother of pearl bottles took over 200 hours to make, polish, enamel and inlay, and it was all done by hand. That explains the €495 price tag which translates at the current exchange rate to around $677. I wasn’t impressed by the white one which seemed to be an incredibly light, bland, unoriginal fruity-floral, but the darker woody-musk aroma of the grey-black one was okay. However, I didn’t think either one was original, different or luxurious enough in smell for me to really bother.

Lys Epona via the Jovoy website.

Lys Epona via the Jovoy website.

More to the point, I was still haunted by the beauty of Lys Epona. I had found one tiny, miniscule square of untainted, virgin skin on which to dab a little, and I was transfixed by the aroma wafting over me. So, upon his return, I dragged poor Léon to the large, rather old, classic steamer trunk in whose top shelf the old-fashioned (in a fantastic way!) bottle of Lys Epona with its almost Lalique-looking top lay nestled. “What is that??!” I demanded.

Léon explained that it had been created by Amelie Bourgeois (who had also created Jovoy’s much praised Rouge Assassin) in conjunction with François Hénin of Jovoy. The scent is considered to be part of Jovoy’s own perfume line, and is exclusive to the store. I have the impression that there are only a hundred bottles made, due to a comment made by Surrender to Chance on their website, but I’m not certain on that point and I don’t recall Léon saying that it was limited in nature. 

Jovoy’s website categorizes Lys Epona as a “leather” eau de parfum whose notes include lily. There is nothing else really mentioned other than the fact that it is an eau de parfum that comes in a 65 ml size, and that it costs €225. Fragrantica says its notes are: bergamot, lily, ravensara, narcissus, jasmine, ylang-ylang, wheat, hay, lily, musk, labdanum, tobacco and cedar. I thought it was spectacular with a floral richness and headiness that really evoked the classic style of the golden age of perfumery, and I am incredibly grateful to Léon for giving me a sample. I will review it as soon as possible, probably next week, because its potentially limited nature has got me rather going. If Lys Epona works on my skin, and lasts, it’s going to be something to consider sooner rather than later.

After Lys Epona, Léon and I walked around the rest of the store and discussed the various brands. I asked him about Amouage‘s new Fate, and was surprised to hear that it was far from being a big seller at Jovoy. I would have thought that the blogosphere and perfumista mass frenzy over Fate Man and Woman (especially Woman which I loved), along with those gorgeous iridescent bottles, would have made people rush to buy it. Apparently not. I can’t recall which Amouage is Jovoy’s biggest seller, but I vaguely remember that Beloved does very well, and I think Interlude as well. Still, I might be mistaken on the details, given both the hecticness of that visit and my exhausted state of sleep-deprivation on that trip as a whole. 

While walking around with Léon, I came across a number of perfumes that I had previously reviewed. There was the new Ashoka from Neela Vermeire, and we both agreed on how great the line is as whole. I told Léon my thoughts on Nasomatto‘s sexy Black Afgano, and how it seemed to me to be a super-concentrated version of YSL‘s famous M7 in vintage form. We came across Agonist; I grimaced a little at the sight of The Infidels which, I told him, smelled exactly like Tutti Frutti or Juicy Fruit chewing gum to me. There were many more fragrances I knew well, but I had to smile at all the bottles of LM Parfums lined up, including the new-limited edition Chemise Blanche. I had met with Laurent Mazzone, the brand’s founder, just five days before for tea at the Hotel Costes, and I had gotten to try Chemise Blanche as well as LM Parfums’ upcoming releases

Then, I came to a rather sharp, skidding halt at the sight of Comptoir Sud Pacifique‘s silver aluminum bottles near the front of the store with its wall of expensive candles. I might be a slight snob, but I don’t think the brand really fits in Jovoy, even if it’s CSP’s ostensibly “haute” niche collection with an average price of around €115. It certainly seems a slightly odd stable mate to go with the Amouage, Puredistance, Xerjoff, Neela Vermeire, Vero Profumo, Clive Christian and other lines represented in the store. (My suggestion: carry Profumum Roma‘s fabulous perfumes instead!)

Despite that last list of very respected, expensive perfumes, I would like to stress that there is something for every budget at Jovoy. There are some affordable, high-quality lines available in the store that I really like, from Parfum d’Empire to Histoires de Parfums. (The small bottles of Parfum d’Empire generally start around €66, or about $75-$80.) Jovoy also carries a perfume house that was a new discovery for me on the trip, and which I fell for very hard: Jardin d’Ecrivains. I had first come across the perfume line at Marie-Antoinette, the only other store in Paris to carry the line, and had bought one of the fragrances. It had been an enormous struggle to decide which one I had liked best because they’re all really special, unique, or just simply gorgeous! They’re also extremely reasonably priced at €85 for the large 100 size, high quality and concentration (eau de parfum). So, yes, Jovoy carries Clive Christian which prides itself on being the most expensive perfume in the world and which explicitly uses that phrase as their official (and, hence, very obnoxious and nouveau riche) company motto. But, at the same time, Jovoy also offers brands with bottles in the €66 to €87 price range. Still, I would be lying to you if I said that there are a ton of things at that lower end of the price scale, but there are some.

It was getting late at this point, and I had to meet some friends, so I reluctantly dragged myself out of Jovoy. I was scheduled to leave Paris in two days, and Jovoy was closed the next day, on Sunday, so I was even more grateful to be armed with some samples to help me make up my mind. It’s going to take me a while to go through them all for the purposes of a full, detailed review, but I know I can always turn to Jovoy. Unfortunately, I don’t think they ship to the U.S., but they do to most of Europe. (I’ve already got a mental list of Paris friends who can stop by to pick up what I may need and send it on to me themselves, or whose European addresses I can use for shipping.) If you’re in Europe, I’ve generally heard very positive things about Jovoy’s customer service, so if there is a brand that I’ve mentioned that you’ve been tempted by in the past, or if there is something I review that isn’t easily accessible in your city, you should absolutely check out the Jovoy website

They say that the Louvre can’t be seen in any real or substantive way in just one day, and I’m going to have to add Jovoy to that list. Those who live in Paris are lucky. Those who visit are going to need to give themselves ample time to sniff. Chances are, you’ll find far more things to love than any (regular) person could ever afford. In fact, if you can easily walk out of Jovoy with only one bottle or only one thing on your wish-list, then you’re a far stronger person than I am. Short of having an unlimited budget, there will always be some treasure that beckons to you with a siren song of seduction.

One has to really applaud François Hénin for curating such an astonishing, tempting collection of such high-quality. When I think that he started Jovoy a mere three years ago in 2010, and then see all that he has done, including getting the exclusive rights to carry Roja Dove’s perfumes, I have to give a very huge, very sincere Bravo to him! He’s created such an incredibly large range of tempting, luxury perfumes that Jovoy really is more like Aladdin’s Cave. Now, I just need to find a genie to grant me all my perfume wishes.

Note: All photos are my own, unless otherwise stated.
PRACTICAL DETAILS:
Address: 4 Rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris, France. Be careful if you see the address of 29 rue Danielle Casanova listed on some sites, because that is the old address. They moved and the only location now is in the Rue Castiglione, about a block away from the Rue St. Honoré and two blocks away from the Place Vendome. Metro Stop: Tuilleries, Metro Line 1. Jovoy is also accessible, though a longer walk in my opinion, from the Opera, Madeleine and Pyramides metro stops. Phone: +33 1 40 20 06 19 or, if in Paris, 01-40-20-06-19. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Website: Jovoy Paris.