L'Artisan Parfumeur has a venerable pedigree as one of the first really successful niche perfume brands. Founded in 1976 by the French chemist and perfumer Jean Laporte, it grew out of a single fragrance, 'Mûre et Musc', which remains the brand’s best-seller to this day. A fresh, fruity mix of blackberry and musk, 'Mûre et Musc' may not be the world’s most complex scent, but its cheerful, optimistic character has endeared it to generations of perfume buyers.
Laporte opened his first boutique in 1979, on the Rue de Grenelle in Paris, selling perfumes and his Boules d’Ambres, hand-carved wooden spheres encasing fragranced crystals that slowly release their scent. Laporte sold out in 1982, going on to launch the smaller but influential Maître Parfumeur et Gantier in 1988, but by then the success of L'Artisan Parfumeur was assured.
Over the next decade or so the brand released some superbly original perfumes, including 'Premier Figuier' (1994) and 'Dzing!' (1999), both composed by Olivia Giacobetti; and 'Timbuktu' (2004) and 'Dzongkha' (2006), both by Bertrand Duchaufour. But over the last few years there has been a slight sense of drift and overextension, with perhaps too many stores and too many perfumes to choose from.
In January 2015, the giant Spanish perfume group Puig bought L’Artisan Parfumeur (along with the British perfume brand Penhaligon's) from its then owners, the private equity firm Fox Paine & Company. Larger groups, of course, have a long history of gobbling up smaller niche brands, and not always with positive results; but to its credit, Puig seems to be doing the right thing by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
Though a few of the stores will close, the remaining boutiques are getting an attractive, simple redesign, courtesy of Paris-based Studio be-poles, with black-stained wood and separate shelves for each of the perfumes in the range, along with pared-down labels and packaging.
Fans of the classic L'Artisan fragrances will be glad to hear that none of the greatest-hits will be discontinued; nor, from what we’ve smelled so far, have they been reformulated. Laporte’s original seven-sided bottles are staying too, though in austere dark-grey glass with satisfyingly chunky stoppers. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new boutiques, though, will be their glass-encased indoor gardens, created by Mathieu Gontier of Wagon Landscaping, featuring some of the plants to be found in the perfumes themselves.
But it’s not all about the past: to accompany the relaunch there’ll also be a brand new limited-edition perfume. 'Bucoliques de Provence', created by Fabrice Pellegrin, is the first in a new series inspired by the various regions of France. Inspired by the history of Provençal perfumery, whose capital, Grasse, remains at the heart of the French fragrance sector, it combines notes of lavender and leather, both of which were once processed in the town – the perfume industry originally developed out of the scents used to mask the smell of crudely tanned leather. It’s a clever combination of new and old, a bit like L'Artisan Parfumeur itself.