It looks like it’s been there for years – aRive Gaucheapothecary you can’t believe you haven’t encountered before. In fact it’s a recent arrival to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and a little radical too. Buly is the work of two style visionaries – the husband-and-wife team of Ramdane Touhami (who revamped Cire Trudon) and Victoire de Taillac-Touhami, previously of Rue Saint-Honoré concept store Colette. They bought, resurrected and reimagined the historic Buly brand (dating back to 1803, and in its day “as big as L’Oréal”, explains Touhami), creating a theatrical and nostalgic pharmacy filled with extraordinary beauty products.
While everything from the glass cabinets and exquisite packaging to the deeply involved service harks back to the civility and grandeur of the 19th century, Buly is all about modern recipes. Each one, handmade in France, is organic. “I hate alcohol in perfumes, so we have created ours with water,” says Touhami. “We were the first to use a fragranced emulsion, something subtle you can splash on your skin and hair but that doesn’t overpower the room.”
These fragrances are wonderfully evocative. “I hunt different petrichors around the world,” says Touhami, referring to the unique aroma that emanates from terroir after rainfall. “I am fascinated by them. I travel to Kenya, Brazil, Kyoto and Morocco to study them. We analyse the smell to create new fragrances.” One of Touhami’s favourites is Scottish Lichen (€110). “It has the scent of the grass, rain and soil of the Highlands,” he says.
Buly also stocks a diverse range of genuinely artisanal products, from hand- decorated Indian buffalo-horn combs (from €120) to goat-hair hammam gloves (€30). Some have an extraordinary backstory, such as the face scrub (€120 for 30g) comprised of crushed droppings from the Japanese bush warbler, said to have transformative qualities for the complexion. To get the ingredients for the Incense From Mount Athos (€18.50 for 100g) Touhami went to great lengths. “I climbed a metaphorical mountain to live with the monks in Macedonia,” he says. Despite this, some of the bestselling products are more prosaic.
“We sell a lot of Pommade Concrète [€28],” says de Taillac-Touhami, “a great hand balm containing chamomile water.” Another bestseller is Buly’s mouthwash, Eau de la Belle Haleine (€22), in a bottle with an ornate serpent on the front. “We are the only company with access to the water from the spring that it’s made from,” says Touhami. “It has a unique pH; the smell is of mint tea and the taste is fantastic.”
Given Touhami’s background at Cire Trudon, Buly’s scented candles (€120) are, as you might expect, another of its more popular products, made from rice, soy and copra in five different aromas and presented in beautiful bell jars. And being Touhami, he’s taken things a step further: there are scented matches (€12) that can be bought separately to go with each one. “They were super-complicated to create,” he says. “We had to find the right wood and work out how to bathe it in perfume. It took a long time, but it works.” And, as with everything else at this find of a store, although the matches are brand new, they look like they’ve been sold there for hundreds of years.