Before Covid took over headlines this year, it was announced that the Centre Commerical in Fontvieille would be expanded into a 4-storey glass building with a multiplex cinema, a 600-spot car park and state-owned housing on the top floor. The €300 million project is scheduled for delivery in 2027, and will see the shopping mall expand from 13,000 sqm to 14,000 sqm of retail space, growing from 38 to 70 stores.
The Centre Commerical first opened its doors in 1992 and nearly half of the original shops are still there. One of them is the independently owned perfumery Edith Harlay, created by Florence Pronzati and named as homage to her mother.
Energetic and welcoming, Florence was truly born for customer service. Not only does she have a natural ability to make people feel happy but, in her opinion, “A sale is not a sale unless you’ve spent one-on-one time with a client giving advice.”
As a child, the Monegasque was “always attracted to pretty things and makeup.” She studied to become an aesthetician and in 1987 opened the beauty institute Cristal Esthétique, which she operated for five years. She then launched Edith Harlay in 1992. “I ran the two business for a few years and then decided to concentrate on the perfumery and so I sold Cristal, which is still around today.”
It’s been a tough year for commerce having to close completely for two months during the first coronavirus confinement. “It has been hard but Christmas is coming and we are still here smiling even with a mask,” Florence assures.
And she has noticed a trend as a result of the pandemic. “Consumers are trying to shop intelligently. Before Covid, we’d have 80 people come into the store and 50 would buy something. Now we have fewer customers but out of the 50 who come in, 48 make a purchase because they need something.”
Florence emphasises, “Customers can’t touch anything in the store. We help the client and we disinfect all the time, from the debit card machine after every use to the store itself. For every one or two customers who turn around and leave because they don’t like the new measures we have in place, I have 8 others who say thank you. If one of my employees tests positive, I would have to close.”
Including Florence, the perfumery has a team of five, all aestheticians, who give lots of advice, whether a client wants to buy makeup – “we take the time to show them by example, doing one eye and then letting them do the other”– or perfume. “Whether you want to buy for yourself or as a gift, there are a number of questions we ask to match a perfume with a personality, such as are you an introvert or extrovert, do you live in a sunny climate, what is your work environment?”
The top selling perfume at the moment for women is Libre by Yves Saint Laurent. J’adore remains a hot item, as does any Chanel scent, and Idôle by Lancome, which came out last year. Florence also carries the niche perfume, Serge Lutens (€120), which is hard to find elsewhere.
I did not know this but Florence explains for many French women born in the Sixties and Seventies, Nina Ricci’s L’air du Temps, with its signature dove bottle stopper, was their first fragrance. “It was my first perfume,” says Florence, “and now Les Sorbets by Nina Ricci, part of her Les Belles collection, is what young girls often wear.”
For men, Terre d’Hermès is the biggest seller at the moment along with Paco Rabanne’s 1 Million cologne, sold in what looks like a bar of gold.
On the makeup side, Florence says, “I cannot say that one brand is better than the other. Chanel, YSL, Christian Dior, Lancôme … it all depends on what you are looking for but we can help you choose.”
The boutique also has a nail bar (€32 for a simple manicure with massage and scrub) and does eyebrow waxing on site.
There are lots of Christmas gift options “for all budgets,” including gift boxes with a focus on certain brands, fun themed gifts packages starting from €19.80, hand made Acqui de Parma candles and even advent calendars for couples.
“I know I’m repeating myself,” says Florence, “but our biggest strength is that we here to explain the products to the customers and it is really satisfying to hear them say ‘Thank you so much, I really appreciate your advice’ as they leave with a purchase in hand.”
Well, when Grace Kelly, who would have been 91 today, picked up the Oscar for The Country Girl in 1955, she said on the red carpet that wearing Chateau Krigler 12 perfume was her “lucky charm.” Maybe Florence Pronzati can help you discover yours.
Open Monday to Saturday, 9:30 to 7: 30 p.m.
Parfumerie Edith Harlay
Centre Commercial Fontvieille
Article first published November 12, 2020.
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