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APRÈS L'ONDÉE

Jacques Guerlain 1906
[aprɛ lɔ̃'de]
Family: floral, powdery
Notes: bergamot, lemon, anise, neroli, hawthorn, rosemary, lavender, lily, orchid, violet, rose, jasmine, heliotrope, orris, sandalwood, vanilla, musk
Pastoral pastel
Period: The Belle Époque years
Après l'Ondée collection

It's generally agreed that the foundations of modern perfumery were laid by three giants: Paul Parquet of Houbigant (introducing the power of synthetics), Aimé Guerlain (introducing abstraction and depth), and François Coty (introducing perfume as art). Some chroniclers include Jacques Guerlain who had a genius for polishing and beautifying what others had roughed out. "By some magic, Jacques Guerlain was able to make rich products seem light and fresh," says past president of the French Society of Perfumers, Guy Robert. Après l'Ondée, meaning "after the rain shower", was probably Guerlain's finest example of this ability. Jacques Guerlain approached the now prototypical spicy and sweet carnation-violet accord, which both he and his rival François Coty worked on, and devised an amazingly ethereal fragrance. Après l'Ondée has since been called "a thinker's classic", and it's not unlikely that Jacques Guerlain made it in the spirit of his fair-skinned wife Andrée, nicknamed Lily, whom he adored. "She was very distinguished, and with her blonde hair and blue eyes looked quite English or German," recounts Philippe Guerlain. "The fact that she was a Protestant from Alsace, whereas the Guerlains were Catholics, added to her fascination for Jacques."

Apart from his wife, Jacques Guerlain loved the Impressionists. He aimed to adopt their capture of moods and stirrings, like the so-called effets de soir et de matin, a famous impressionist technique which he developed to hermetic perfection in L'Heure Bleue. At the beginning of the 20th century, his style was romantic and pastoral, and very much a product of the Belle Époque, an era of artistic and cultural refinement in Paris. As such, Après l'Ondée was typical. Inspired by the pastel innocence of tender, trembling wildflowers wet with dew and raindrops, their soft, sweet scent in the damp meadow soil, and the pale mist that occurs when silent rain has fallen on a spring day, its name might as well have been the title of an impressionist painting or one of Debussy's piano pieces. And like "Nymphéas" and "Images" were innovative oeuvres in their time, Après l'Ondée — actually exactly contemporary — used the newest aroma-chemicals: ionone (violet scent), eugenol (clove and carnation scent), heliotropin (almond-cherry scent), and anisic aldehyde.

By a halftone dosage of materials, Jacques Guerlain arranged a sort of olfactory watercolour, playing with subtle nuances of temperature, humidity and haziness, without compromising on tenacity. The main accord was a powdery veil of violet, heliotrope and orris root butter, at once cool and warm and slightly earthy, backlit by the bright, crystalline effect of anise, neroli and carnation. As Jacques Guerlain disliked things to be deadpan or bare, he incorporated a rainbow of lily, orchid, jasmine, rose, hawthorn, vanilla and animal musk. The anisic theme, with its association to herbes de Provence, gave to it all the Mediterranean flavour that has stayed with Guerlain to the present day. Après l'Ondée is revered by Guerlain followers as a little crocus standing out among big floral perfumes, an oddity known mainly to a discerning few, yet "one of the twenty greatest perfumes of all time," according to Luca Turin's review. It was Jacques Guerlain's first major success which at its début managed to get a newspaper mention in La Liberté: "The grandstands full of very pretty women in their spring fashions presented a wonderful sight at the Paris horse show. Whereas citing all the names is impossible, we can say that their elegance was enhanced by the distinguished Guerlain perfume 'Après l'Ondée' whose delicate fragrance has something of the melancholy of a poet's thoughts."


Bottle. Après l'Ondée was presented in the so-called Louis XVI bottle, which was used for various scents, a cylindrical ribbed bottle in shape of the sort of flower basket that could have belonged to Marie Antoinette — she had by all accounts a particular fondness of the countryside. The bottle stopper was designed to resemble a clover flower, the very symbol of all wildflowers. Until the end of the 1950s, Après l'Ondée could also be had in the less rustic Empire bottle, first made for the perfume Bon Vieux Temps. Nowadays, it comes only as EdT, sold in the bee atomizer.

Parfum, EdT. Up until, say, the 1980s, the truest form of a perfumer's vision was always the Parfum, the matter in which he carried out his trials and his end product. The EdT was considered secondary, often left to lab assistants to derive from the perfumer's ideal model. The Parfum version of Après l'Ondée is sadly no longer around due to European toxicological norms that, if applied to the formula, would disfigure its beauty completely, as Guerlain puts it. Favouring the floral and base essences, the Parfum version illustrated beautifully the sensation of sweet flowers and moist earth, with anise making for a sunny smile. In comparison, the much lighter EdT feels coldly transparent, like a powdery orris drizzle freshened by neroli.

Reformulation. Given the restrictions on materials, today's Après l'Ondée EdT smells surprisingly similar to the older one, if only less soft and florally faceted. Unfortunately, it's also significantly less long-lasting. Read more

  We love: the impossible-to-find Parfum

  When you are happy enough to afford feeling blue

  When you feel like an introverted spectator to life, and don't mind it


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