There is no such thing as a forgettable trip to Paris. From the novice overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the experience through to the jaded regular who probably maintains an apartment in the 7th arrondissement all have their reasons to love, hate or tolerate the city. All are in agreement that, rich or poor, cynical or optimistic, traveling to Paris is never anything less than a big deal.
I used to enjoy wrapping up a trip to Paris by shopping for one thing the French create like no other culture in the world: toiletries. Just like the endless selection of French wines, cognacs and champagnes there is an equally bottomless supply of authentic "French milled" soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and colognes. Shelves overloaded with exotic sounding names, brands and fragrances stretch through entire departments at major stores such as La Samaritaine just along the Seine and directly across the Pont Neuf Bridge from the island of Il St. Louis.
The current building has stood since 1933 although the company itself first opened in 1869. Not simply a retail department store with a killer location, Samaritaine is also famous for its the rooftop cafe that every local knew offered views of the city few tourists knew about. Through eleven floors was the kind of luxury merchandise taken for granted by Parisians and coveted by every once-in-a-lifetime tourist in town.
Another retailer that used to be elusive in the United States but is now seen just about everywhere is Sephora. The flagship store on the Champs Elysees when it first opened was simply a must stop of the kind that had to be seen to be believed. It was never a "big box" retailer in size. Sephora drew part of its fame from the number and variety of fragrances for men down one side actually matched the number and variety of fragrances for women on the other side of the store. The real treat was seeing all manner of new and established products not available back home.
The ultimate highlight of the store for me was the central area that held dozens upon dozens of bottles and vials of pure oils, elixirs and essences of everything on the planet that had a beautiful smell. The idea was, if it were possible to not find something you liked from one of the major brands then you could design your own fragrance from the selection of goodies on hand. Right alongside the essence of virtually every flower known to man was every fragrant wood, citrus fruit and aromatic grass you could think of; men were not overlooked in the effort to find something unique for the unique individual at Sephora.
It's been a while since I've been in Paris. Samaritaine is closed but supposed to reopen this year. I'm told that Sephora no longer offers the create your own fragrance station. Certainly their exclusive cache has become as common as a suburban mall, too, sadly, going so far as to partner up with JC Penney! One thing I found, though, that neither Samaritaine or Sephora ever carried is a very unique cologne indeed. A friend discovered it in Amsterdam but it is tied to a major jewel house in Paris by way of Russia. It is only available at their store in Paris that I have found along with one retailer in Hong Kong. I've seen ads for it on offer through Amazon but please. Seriously?
No store I have ever gone to has the slightest idea what I'm talking about and, though it is challenging to keep the cologne in stock, I like it a lot that few other people have the slightest idea how good it is and what they're missing! Find it if you can!