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Paris: 11 famous perfumes to test for free on the Champs-Elysées

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The Sephora on Champs-Elysées in Paris
Outside the Sephora on the Champs-Elysées. Photos by Theodora Brack.

One of my favorite spots in Paris to get beautified in a pinch is the Sephora on the Champs-Elysées. Outfitted with a dramatic ramp, a red carpet and black and white columns, it’s one of the largest Sephoras in the world.

A cheapo dream-come-true, the shop is stocked with more than 250 discounted brands of produits de beauté, and staffed with 200 knowledgeable employees dressed in black and poised to help you explore the outer you.

Inside the Sephora

Inside the Champs-Elysées Sephora.

Pump it up

A French superstar since 1969, Sephora is a cross between a gigantic supermarket and a glittering playground, with testers available for every product sold. Music and spontaneous dance sessions led by the staff also stoke its irresistible “backstage on opening night” vibe.

One can easily spend both night and day applying products—which is not a problem at the Champs Elysée location, as its doors are open till ’round midnight.

A tour of hard-to-find fragrances

Cheapos, Sephora is the place to study the French classics or buy a gorgeous (and difficult-to-find) flacon (“vial”) for someone special back home. Interested in a scent? Ask for a free sample. They’ll happily prepare one for you.

With so many choices, where to start? To help make-up your mind, I’ve created a spray-by-spray shopping list of some of the famous (and sometimes difficult to find) fragrances available here.

Here’s a “Cheapo’s dozen”: 11 of my favorite scents, and the stars who loved them. So strike a pose, there’s nothing to it!

Inside the Sephora in Paris

An impromptu dance session.

1. “Ivoire” by Balmain (1979)

A fiery encounter with a woman swathed in ivory on the Opéra steps moved Pierre Balmain to create the fragrance. Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn were absolutely cuckoo for it! And speaking of visions in white, he also designed Audrey’s first wedding gown.

2. “Fleur de Rocaille” by Caron (1933)

Ava Gardner wore the original version, inspired by Monet’s water-lily paintings. Ava radiated in “The Sun Also Rises,” based on Hemingway’s novel. And guess who served as Papa’s spy during the shooting of the film? At the time, no one smelled a rat.

3. “Cabochard” by Grés (1959)

Shaped and named by Madame Grés after voyaging to India, “Cabochard” translates to “stubborn” or “headstrong.” Marquise Gloria “Norma Desmond” Swanson was mad about it.

4. “L’Interdit” by Givenchy (1957)

Count Hubert de Givenchy fashioned “L’Interdit,” (“The Forbidden”) for muse Audrey Hepburn, as well as her luscious garments for films like “Sabrina,” “Funny Face,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “Paris When it Sizzles.”

5. “Jicky” by Guerlain (1889)

Not only were Brigitte Bardot, Colette  and Sarah Bernhardt devotees, but so were Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Peter Sellers. Created the same year the Eiffel Tower was built, “Jicky” was one of the first fragrances to be made with synthetic ingredients.

A Givenchy display in the Paris Sephora.

The Givenchy display.

6. “L’Heure Bleue” by Guerlain (1912)

“L’Heure Bleue” (“Twilight”) softly wooed both Catherine Deneuve and Wallis Simpson (Duchess of Windsor), who smartly paired it with Guerlain’s other classic, “Mitsouko.”

7. “Mitsouko” by Guerlain (1919)

Celebrating the end of WWI, Jean Harlow, Ingrid Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, Anaïs Nin and Serge Diaghilev all took to Mitsouko’s bold intensity. Jean Harlow’s husband, Paul Bern (MGM producer), sprayed himself with her Mitsouko just before committing suicide, only two weeks after their wedding. Talk about lingering power!

8. “Vol de Nuit” by Guerlain (1933)

Created as a tribute to flyer Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of “The Little Prince”), aviators around the globe, along with Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, all found the scent of “Night Flight” heads above others. Its bottle evokes an airplane propeller.

A view inside Sephora in Paris

Aisles of cosmetics

9. “Arpège” by Lanvin (1927)

Princess Diana, Rita Hayworth and Jayne Mansfield fell for its full-bodied scent.

10. “Joy” by Jean Patou (1930)

Patou launched it just after the stock market crashed, because he wanted to lift the gloom and give his American clientele something they could still afford to buy. Even so, it was immediately nicknamed “the most expensive perfume in the world” by Patou’s friend and gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell because it took 10,000 jasmine flowers from Grasse and 360 roses from Bulgaria just to make one ounce.

Grace Kelly, Josephine Baker, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Lauren, Marilyn Monroe and Mary Pickford all helped spread a little Joy around.

11. “Femme” by Rochas (1945)

Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Carole Lombard all found the original formula simply diva-licious. Mae West’s curvaceous torso inspired the shape of not just one hourglass-shaped bottle, but two—for Femme by Rochas and for Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking!

As Schiaparelli said, “C’est divin! C’est divin!”

Practical information

Address: 70 avenue des Champs-Elysées
Tel: +33 1 53 93 22 50
Hours: Open 10 a.m.-12 a.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 10 a.m.-1 a.m. (Friday and Saturday)

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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