When you’re jet-lagged and someone offers you a choice of coffee or vodka at 10 a.m.—it’s hard to know which to choose. This is precisely my dilemma when I find myself on Rue Saint-Honoré at the (nearly) two-year-old Ex Nihilo boutique, down the road from Colette, Balenciaga, Astier de Villatte and about 50 other stores that could get me into a lot of trouble.
I desperately need to be alert during my visit, though, because I am here for a very coveted fragrance personalization session; I reluctantly opt for Nespresso, which my host, the distractingly handsome and Parisian Benoît Verdier (one of the three owners), brings over before he even takes off his leather jacket. After we’re both caffeinated, the bespoke experience begins: Unlike traditional custom fragrances, which can run up to $50,0000 (particularly in a place as fragrance-obsessed as Paris), Ex Nihilo offers a semi-custom blend for what sounds like a steal at $365-$415.
Verdier takes me across the floor to eight impressive, Karim Rashid-like sculptures, each emitting a different Ex Nihilo scent that I need to choose from to begin the process. After sniffing my way around, I instantly and unsurprisingly fall for Vetiver Moloko—vetiver is my favorite note, after all, and this one is a super sexy mix with rose, bergamot and vanilla. Now that I’ve chosen a scent direction, Stephanie Royo, the brand’s training manager, has me smell a handful of variations on it. All of them are uniquely beautiful, but the version with orange blossom is simply incredible. Vetiver can skew masculine, but this floral interpretation is just feminine enough.
She turns on a brass-covered machine they call the Osmologue, a Willy Wonka-esque, high precision fragrance dosing system that creates a fresh blend using raw materials that they keep in house. After five minutes watching the contraption hard at work, Royo hand-pours my new fragrance into a beautiful, art-deco-inspired glass bottle and tops it with a cap I've chosen, one made with shiny black mother of pearl.
As a finishing touch, she packs the bottle away into a foam-padded box, which will help the fragrance last longer—and as a bonus—keep it safe on bumpy, transatlantic flights. But I won’t have to travel back to Paris for my next custom scent: Ex Nihilo is opening a boutique inside Bergdorf Goodman here in New York next month, where they will also offer their personalization program. Sadly, knowing the city's strict liquor license laws, I do not think they will also offer vodka.