“Les Salons du Palais Royal” opened in 1992. Created by Serge Lutens, this first House of Perfumes is dedicated to the most demanding tastes.
- How did Palais Royal-Serge Lutens come about?
Happenstance – in a hurry – led me to it. I didn’t keep it waiting. As a passerby, I was familiar with the Palais Royal, but that wasn’t enough. In 1990 I was looking for a place, a shop in fact. It wasn’t difficult: there were many vacant ones, and others, occupied by antiques dealers (rare books, autographs, signatures), dressers, people selling little tin soldiers, and haute-couture old clothes that you could find there. A whole little world, in fact, in that space closed in on itself. In the same way as in my Moroccan house, I was pregnant there; a sort of maternal belly! It was the centre of Paris, protected from the capital: you couldn’t park there. I had to decide to come.
- Isn’t it rather paradoxical, setting up shop there in that barely accessible place?
No, because right from the start, even mentally, I wanted it to attract a clientele of connoisseurs, not casual customers.
- But this vision that you’re giving me didn’t exist at the time...
In fact, for what I wanted to do, it was better that way. The perfumery of the time revolved around itself, and the big launches, the spectacular events over little substance had had their time in the sun. You create your clientele. The same is still true today. That is in fact the principle of what I wanted to establish, with this House of Perfumes; a unique place in the world where one would come as an enlightened being to define oneself through one’s perfume, in order to stand out from the identity-free crowd which previous times had imposed upon us.
- Was it precisely from this perspective of rarity that you designed this extraordinary décor for Les Salons, which is what they were called at the time?
In order for every individual to determine his or her choice, I had to think up this idea and put it in a showcase. It’s an invented décor, not one pulled out of a magician’s hat. The colours as well as the impressions they evoke are mine: from violet to black. I dreamed that one could let oneself float, just like fish in an aquarium. So every detail of the friezes, the patterns, the panels was thought out and redesigned from interpreted documentation. So it’s faithful to a period that the place is marked by this Post-French-Revolution atmosphere, the period that followed the Terreur (so well named), when you saw the Muscadins, marvellously incredible dandies of the time perfuming themselves with musk and nutmeg, like Léon Blum did. As well as the “Merveilleuses,” who were perfuming themselves with rose even before Joséphine de Beauharnais. It was said at the time that it is the role of women to take on the fragrance of flowers, as it was also that of Les Salons to change habits and take the path through the woods.
- Today there are many great brands and trade names at Palais Royal. Do you still feel “at home”?
It’s changing, that’s true, but it’s still something “apart.” The place keeps its distance. What it doesn’t accept over time, it will reject. Nonetheless, I deplore these broken-down shops. It’s as if, all of a sudden, you took out the punctuation, the dashes and parentheses from a text. Plus I’m afraid that wanting it new will make the Palais Royal look old. By letting it age, it will be able to become younger. Compare the fountains at the Place de la Concorde with what they were before, when they were grey, just as Paris and its sky were beautiful, and above all, were us!