I’m starting a new feature of my blog: to tell the stories of a few of the people I meet in my travels, people who offer a product or service that I appreciate. They are people who lead lives of creativity and passion and craftsmanship, in a word, artisans. These are not ads or paid promotions, but rather my own experience of something noteworthy to share with you. I am calling the feature “New Discoveries,” and you’ll be able to search by that term to see other installments.
And now a drumroll, please … I bring you a very special perfume shop.
When I first arrived in France a little over two years ago, a friend and I visited Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a cute medieval town in the hills above Nice. Saint Paul has long been a place for artists to explore the famous Mediterranean light, and today it is a well-known destination for visitors who have a taste for good art and good food to go with their medieval history. Picture Picasso and Matisse and Chagall dancing in the sun with 800-year-old stone buildings, and you’ll have an idea of Saint Paul.
We were exploring the town when I noticed a young woman standing outside her shop, spraying something into the air above a table and two chairs. She smiled a welcome and gestured for me to walk through the door into her own wonderland of mystery and magic.
Picture a space defined by ancient stone walls and curved arches, a beautiful backdrop for the vases full of lush fresh flowers. There are crystal chandeliers and classical sculpture contrasted with images of birds and trees. Tiny twinkles of light and vintage family photographs. Positioned throughout are trays and glass shelves offering beautiful bottles of perfume. And there are elegant gold-framed mirrors to catch the sparkle in your eye when you suddenly discover a scent that must have been created just for you.
The shop is called Maison Godet, and the lovely force of nature who created it is Sonia Godet.
Sonia is a nose.
That’s what we say to describe someone who creates perfumes. A nose can detect (and name!) the minutest of scents, and mixes them into the potions that become perfume and perfume-related confections. It can takes months of research and experiments to arrive at the final solution. I generally have not been one to use perfume, because my body doesn’t react well to man-made scents, but Sonia uses only scents from nature. Her energy and playfulness, matched with knowledge and faith, combine to create an intoxicating and hard-to-resist urge to plunge into the world of perfume.
Strictly speaking, Sonia is a chemist, because a good perfumer must understand chemistry. But a true nose is more special than that. A nose is a magician, a musician, an artist, a lover … and the most dedicated noses want you to be all those things, too.
A perfumer works at a special desk—called an organ—where perhaps hundreds of tiny bottles are arrayed on a semicircle of shelves. The nose knows what is in each, and works to combine scents in recipes that move beyond basic chemistry and into tantalizing and difficult-to-define worlds of emotion and esprit.
Perfume is meant to create an aura, to make the woman feel like a goddess or the man feel that he has special powers of seduction. Scents are used to heighten romance, creativity and beauty, to bring back good memories, to suggest an exotic place, to create mystery and passion.
What brought us to today
The Godet family has been making fine cognac since 1588, using their own recipe. Thus the family already had well-established roots in the world of the senses when Sonia’s great-grandfather, Julien-Joseph Godet, opened Maison Godet in 1901. Julien-Joseph had a rebellious streak and an urge to do something different, leading him to explore daring new territory with his perfumes. During his creative career, he met the painters Bonnard and Matisse, eventually creating a scent in 1925 for Matisse’s muse, Henriette Darricarrère. The perfume is called Folie Bleu.
Sonia’s grandfather brought his own sensibilities to the family business by designing a new perfume called Par Amour, which he used to propose marriage to Sonia’s grandmother in 1951 (she said oui).
Sonia decided to re-start the family business in 2017, about the time that I met her. Her shop contains precious original bottles of both Folie Bleu and Par Amour, and Sonia produces both using their original recipes.
But Sonia is also blazing new trails of her own. Her eyes dance with merriment as she describes to me one of her newer creations. While most perfume is carried in some form of alcohol, Sonia wanted to try something new based in her family’s heritage with cognac. Thus we have Éternité : aromas of spicy cognac with distilled grape and prune, plus amber and vanilla.
Are you ready to plan a trip to France just to visit Sonia at Maison Godet? Ah, well, who knows how your life could change after such an adventure? Perhaps your first step is to click here to visit the Maison Godet web site.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is an easy half-hour drive up into the hills above the Nice airport, located between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Vence. The region offers a mind-boggling variety of places to stay, to eat, to explore; it’s a little slice of heaven. If you plan to go and would like more ideas, do contact me!