Perfume Story: September 2011 Archives

September 2011 Archives

Visiting a perfume collector in Rouen, France in March, 2010

I left the St. Lazare station for Rouen. It was supposed to take one hour by express train but it arrived at Rouen twenty minutes late. The lady, a perfume collector, came to pick me up at the station. We drove her Toyota to her house, right next to a church.

(Rouen station)

Rouen, a city northwest of Paris, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region as well as the capital of the Seine-Maritime department. The population of the city is about 110,000, and the population of the whole metropolitan area was about 500,000 in 1999. It is located on the Seine River.

Rouen is a medieval city and home to the Archbishop of Rouen, one of the many Archbishops in Europe. Rouen Cathedral is known for its Gothic architecture. This cathedral was the subject of "The Rouen Cathedral", a large series of paintings produced by Claude Monet during the middle of his career. The Cathedral also contains the tomb of Rollo, who became known as the first Duke of Normandy. It is also well-known that Joan of Arc, who was captured during the Hundred Years' War, was burned at stake in this town in 1431. Rouen is also known as a students' town; many educational institutions are located there.

(The Church of Saint Joan of Arc)

Rouen has many churches. There used to about 100 belfries here before many of them were destroyed during the war. Many churches still exist today and the medieval atmosphere persists here to this day in downtown. The perfume collector's home is located between two churches. From the window, you could immediately see the roof and the wall of the church. Her home was built during 18th century. The wall outside the building was plastered with wooden frames. After opening the front door, we walked up the worn wooden stairs made of terra cotta. Terra cotta means "baked earth" in Italian. She lived on the third floor. She opened the front door and led me to the living room. Right next to the door, there was a world map on the wall in which many countries were marked with red pins. One could assume she had visited many countries in the world. She said she had lived in Nigeria for six years and Jakarta for a year. She also visited Tokyo for three days via Australia.

First, she showed me two perfume cases in the living room. There were various perfumes inside, organized neatly by brand name. These products were collected from various sources, including perfume fairs in Paris, internet auctions, antique shops, and flea markets she had organized. She gathered information about perfumes from her friends. She is the chair of PARFUMS PASSION, an association of perfume collectors. One of the oldest perfumes she had was a Guerlain from 1890. It had already lost its scent, so she added colored water in the bottle. She was interested in getting famous brands' limited products, such as LANVIN, Guerlain, and Nina Ricci. She showed me some of them. One perfume she had was 556th of 1,400 manufactured in total and its price was as high as 260 euro. The most expensive one was the 147th product of a limited edition whose bottle was made of DAUME glass. Its price was 700 euro. She also showed me bottles made of Lalique's and Swarovski crystal. One perfume she bought from an American via the internet has an interesting story behind it. The previous owner, who is currently about 80 years old, received it as a 19th birthday gift. However, as it had been offered by a Chicagoan gangster, she never used it and decided to sell it years later. There were also Chanel perfumes such as No.5 and Coco Chanel. These products were sold exclusively for Christmas gifts. The perfume boxes have drawers with music box with little doll dancers. A box of perfume from the 1930's looks Japanese, suggesting that this was a style of that time.

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While explaining her collections, she invited me upstairs. When I asked her if there were more, she nodded and started walking up the steep wooden stairs. Below the windows next to stairs, there was a set of Gaultier brand perfumes displayed like a store showcase. The surprise did not end here. On the way to her bedroom, many perfume boxes are placed inside the wall cabinet, organized beautifully by themes and color-coordinated. I had no words to describe it. How wonderful, I thought, staring at them for a while. How could it be possible to decorate the pathway in the side of the house like this? I followed her into her dark red bedroom. A stack of Opium, which was displayed beautifully over a table next to the bed, caught my eyes. The coordination of red, including the bed sheets, was gorgeous and created incredible atmosphere. A big Yves Saint-Laurent banner, probably for commercial use at a retail store, was hanging on the wall near the entrance.


Returning to the living room, she served me tea and sweets. The tea was brewed in an iron pot and the sweets looked fancy. She showed me four "Nouveautes Miniatures de Parfum" magazines, which specialize in miniature perfumes published by Genevieve Fontan since 1998. It contained reviews on miniture perfumes in the market, including price and availability.
There was a magazine listing perfume auctions published by Phillips Co. which catalogued auction prices between $2,000 and $11,000 and auction sites in Paris, Geneva and Zurich. She said that her most precious book was one on Guerlain published in 1997, which categorized perfumes by themes and chronological order. As she explained, her eyes shone in excitement and the four bracelets on her right wrist jiggled around.

Her perfume collection started when, at the age of 12 or 13, her aunt asked her to go and buy perfumes for her. Every time she went to the shop, they gave her a mini bottle sample with the perfumes she purchased. She stopped collecting for a while when she was in college and when she was living abroad in Africa and Indonesia. Once she returned to France fifteen years ago, she resumed collecting. She realized that they stopped giving away mini samples at the store due to manufacturing problems. So, she decided to collect the regular perfumes. She started studying perfume books, collecting bottles from antique shops, and exchanging perfumes with other perfume collectors. As a result, Parfums Passion was formed. Ever since the first chairperson moved to Canada, she became the chairperson. The group consists of sixty members from all over the world. The annual fee is 17 euro. They have a meeting once a month and issue four Journals a year.

Sometimes she opens the door of the cabinets where perfumes are held and sits and stares at them for pleasure. She feels relaxed as she indulges herself in the world of perfume. I told her that this house was like a perfume museum. She smiled. It was decorated not only by perfumes but also other objects such as Japanese and African masks on the wall and Hachiman Taro Yoshiie's samurai doll in the bed room. The bathroom was decorated with all Kenzo products. It was fantastic. The only room left undecorated was the kitchen.

She was looking forward to going to the flea market outside Paris that Sunday. She enjoys socializing with Parfums Passion members. She can become friends with people from different backgrounds, age, and professions. They often meet and go to restaurants together. Next month, she is planning to visit a collector friend in Geneva. She talked to her a couple of times on the phone when she purchased her perfume bottle from her but hadn't yet met. That's the way her perfume social network expands. She thinks she might need a bigger house in the future for her own pleasure, not to show off to other her vast collection. This was the first time she had had a foreign visitor in her house. The number of perfumes here, she estimated, was about 2,500. Other members of the Parfums Passion collect perfumes in different styles such as by sizes, brands, themes, colors and sometimes children's. She wished to meet a designer of perfume bottles and to ask what the designer was thinking about when he designed it. Shiseido's small bottles are very difficult to obtain. Even if she could obtain it, there was very little perfume inside. It is obvious that she enjoys her life, surrounded by what she loves most.

After the interview, she gave me a ride in her Toyota and dropped me off at the station. She is a very kind and pleasant lady. That might be a reason why she could be so indulged in the perfume world.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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