A few years ago, it became quickly evident that Le Marais neighborhood in Paris was turning into a new hubbub for perfume and beauty shoppers. Little by little perfume houses decided it was a good thing to establish one of their shops there, an area reputed until then mostly for its 17th century architecture, gay community, and arty & bohemian personality. Niche fragrance houses like Histoires de Parfums and later Etat Libre d'Orange were early settlers but soon older, established labels like Diptyque, Guerlain and others followed suit. This spring of 2013, in a bid visibly to emulate what Le Bon Marché did with Le Théâtre de la Beauté and Le Printemps-Haussmann with La Belle Parfumerie, the BHV or Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville est. 1856 has opened a new space that can be experienced like a prolonged stroll in a newly redesigned maze of beauty and perfume alleys. This new shrine to the beauty world is called La Grande Parfumerie du Marais au BHV to tie it with the newly fragranced reputation of this historic part of town...
The BHV is ironically better known for its excellent harware section which covers the whole area of its underground floor. There used to be a grungy café. Creatives like to go there for inspiration. Its little-advertized hipster touch is further consolidated by the revealing anecdote that New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham shops for his sturdy French blue collar gear there as he revealed in the documentary Bill Cunningham New York by Richard Press (2010).
We went to visit the place the other day when not all the booths were in place yet. Construction was still in the works. Tomorrow night on May 22, 2013 is opening night from 5 pm to 9 pm. A 20% discount is offered on all beauty purchases with no minimum.
The translated phrase "big perfumery", rather than "grand perfumery", is rather apt as the ground floor of the BHV now looks like it's been dedicated to showcasing perfume brands, both niche ones and designer ones, with a few hidden mass-market gems like bottles and ancillary products of Mäurer et Wirtz Le Tabac Original spotted on a bottom shelf. This last category is one favored by perfumistas who know that quality is not restricted to the upper echelons of the fragrance industry in terms of image and pricing.
Niche brands like Atelier Cologne, Terry de Ginzburg, Annick Goutal and Penhaligon's are present, sometimes sharing a corner. The loft style of the Atelier Cologne corner brings home the non-designer feel of this type of brand while other corners are more traditionally tasteful. The niche natural nail polish brand Kure Bazaar who are taking Paris by storm - they're at Le Bon Marché too - have opened a nail bar which was clearly popular already. Nail bars have become the new beauty destination to go to for a moment of relaxation and self-care with more and more of them having opened lately in the French capital city.
There are efforts made at curating niche, natural and organic beauty brands albeit in the pricey range of the market; a little less snobbery there would be interesting as people are genuinely interested in naturals. French pharmacy brands are pretty well represented with names like Caudalie, Payot, Leoneor Greyl, and L'Occitane presented on shelves rather than in a corner, but you'll still have the pleasure of going to a real para-pharmacy if you're a die-hard beautista as it doesn't compare with the real thing.
We invite more competition in the field of hair accessories because it is always surprising to see how costly these are and with few brand references in France. Alexandre is a leader and their goods are guaranteed for life, but it would be great to have more mid-market and fast-fashion choices.
Makeup brands other than designer ones included drugstore ones like Bourjois and Maybelline and niche brands like Lollipops, a pleasant discovery.
The BHV prior to these refurbishings was already a good destination for complementary perfume shopping. They now are further specializing but are, we think, more eager to offer a balanced selection than an edgy one, although this might evolve in the future as they might warm up to becoming more audacious and more niche brands might be encouraged to contact them.
They will for now be catering to the crowds who have time to kill at noon during the lunch time hour in a busy district. More tourists will be able to make a stop there. People in a hurry who can't venture into the recesses of the Marais neighborhood will also be able to quickly get out of the subway and make their purchases more easily as the entrances to the department store are very conveniently located right outside the Hôtel de Ville subway station. For more in-depth perfume shopping, you will have to take time and make sure you can spend an afternoon in the back streets of Le Marais.