Jacques Guerlain 1905
Family: fougère, oriental, powdery
Period: The Belle Époque years
Thierry Wasser and his assistant perfumer Frédéric Sacone have re-created an extensive list of historic Guerlain perfumes, using the exact same ingredients as when they saw the light for the first time.
With Jicky, perfumery's first so-called abstract accord, Aimé Guerlain had demonstrated how wonderful the combination of Provençal herbs and sweet balsams is. So wonderful, in fact, that Jacques Guerlain chose it as the baseline structure throughout his entire oeuvre. One of the early examples of this is Jacques Guerlain's 1905 perfume Aï Loé, which, like Jicky, mixes herbs, floral essences, musk, and balsamic ingredients.
Since the Guerlain annals don't provide any explanation of the name Aï Loé, it seems that for Jacques it had some association that is lost in the mists of time. However, a bit of layman's research suggests that "aï loé" could be a French transliteration from Vietnamese, meaning something like "one who sparkles". Vietnam was part of Indochina, one of France's colonial territories at that time, and the Far East triggered enormous curiosity, with its exotic imagery and tales. Not that this brings us much closer to understanding precisely what inspired this fragrance, but if our speculation holds some truth, we can conclude that Aï Loé joined perfumes like Tsao-Ko, Mitsouko and Liu with their Asian-themed names — and like them, it doesn't smell "Asian" at all, but very French.
Up top, we have an aromatic bouquet straight out of Provence: lavender, rosemary, mint, and thyme. Compared to other vintage Guerlains, the minty facet is quite pronounced, yielding a fresh, rustic, cooling start. The herbs are accompanied by a beautiful jasmine that adds a feminine floral shimmer. Gradually, the scent warms up with spicy eugenol, another consistent note in Jacques Guerlain's works. Speaking of eugenol, Thierry Wasser has revealed that this ingredient poses serious problems for Guerlain's olfactive patrimony, as it's now restricted by IFRA due to its allergenic potential. A natural constituent in many plants and flowers, the strong odour of eugenol works as a defense against animals and microorganisms, and as floral attractant of pollinators. It's only thanks to ingenious work in the laboratory that Wasser has been able to save Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue from distortion, whereas Après l'Ondée suffers badly, and its Parfum version had to be abandoned.
As Aï Loé dries down, we find a classic Guerlain base harmony, which imbues the nostrils with a scent like cocoa, of softly honeyed, vanillic and woody balsams, and the earthy effect of animal musk. The overall result smells a bit like chocolate mints.
Bottle. Aï Loé came in the so-called snail bottle, first made for the perfume duo Voilette de Madame and Mouchoir de Monsieur. Animal figures and motifs were very much in vogue during the Art Nouveau design period, and this was the world's first perfume bottle inspired by nature or zoology.
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