New Paris museum puts visitors on the trail of scents

La Grand Musée du Parfum avoids olfactory overload, using state-of-the-art technology to guide visitors through the history of perfumes and their production – and can help you identify the right scent for you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 2:30pm

What was the first perfume known to mankind? How do master perfumers create their fragrances? What are their raw materials? How are smell and emotions connected?

Many of us who have browsed the perfume counters searching for a captivating fragrance must have asked such questions. However, a new museum in the capital of perfume, Paris, will unravel some of these mysteries.

This week, Le Grand Musée du Parfum opens in the City of Light, in what was formerly Christian Lacroix’s haute couture house.

In some respects, it is advances in modern exhibition design that have brought alive this sensory experience, making it imaginative, entertaining, educational and original – for how can you have a museum dedicated to perfume without being able to sniff some of the ingredients. Given the price of these raw materials, spritzing the room with pure rose absolue would be both costly and overwhelming.

There are installations where bronze spheres have been designed to give you a puff of one of 25 ingredients including violet absolue, orange blossom or patchouli when held to the nose, and then a recorded description when held to the ear, in your chosen language. Another tree-shaped installation provides the scent of rose absolue from the central branch and then whiffs of famous branded rose-scented perfumes from the radial branches. These provide an insight into the art of perfumery, with videos of the famous “noses”, as perfumers are called, such as Jean-Claude Ellena of Hermès Parfums, talking about the process.

Adding to the sensory immersion is a Garden of Scents, an astonishing artistic installation of trumpet-like white sculptures that puff out different fragrances for the visitor to identify. Other parts of the museum relate the history of perfume – the word comes from the Latin per fumum “by or through smoke”, implying an effervescent, ethereal process. It is possible to smell kyphi, the first fragrance ever created by man in ancient Egypt. There are also displays of the first fashion perfumes from couturiers like Paul Poiret, Chanel and Schiaparelli.

State of the art technology means that visitors can record the fragrance accents that they like, and in the concept store at the end there are interactive stations, which will list the branded perfumes containing these accents to purchase. So no more getting lost in Duty Free on the flight home trying to find the perfume you like. The museum has done the homework.

Le Grand Musée du Parfum, 73 Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, Paris, Tickets from 5 to 14.50. The Post’s London-based correspondent Francesca Fearon travelled to Paris with Eurostar.