Jacques Guerlain 1937, reissue 2014
[kɔk dɔ:r]
Family: chypre, fruity, musky
Notes: anise, fruity, lavender, bergamot, aldehyde, jasmine, carnation, cyclamen, orris, vetiver, patchouli, tolu balsam, musk, moss, civet, vanilla
Lipstick, brandy and silk
Period: The flight years

Coque d'Or is a Jacques Guerlain perfume from 1937. The name, which means "golden shell", is derived from the French title of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1907 opera The Golden Cockerel (Le Coq d’Or), and is reflected in the gilded Baccarat bottle, shaped like a bow tie in cobalt blue crystal. As a historical footnote, Jacques Guerlain dedicated Coque d'Or to his friend Serge Diaghilev, Russian art critic and founder of the Ballets Russes, whose favourite perfume reportedly was Mitsouko. According to Guerlain, the bottle is a nod to Diaghilev too, as he always wore a bow tie at his soirées. Perfume lovers who are familiar with the Jacques Guerlain catalogue will recognize his Mitsouko chypre style in Coque d’Or. Right from the start, we get the unique aldehyde-orris-oakmoss accord which combines a comfortable, almost ashy mossiness with an aspect of luminosity and colour. In Coque d'Or, the latter is an exotic fruit note, reminiscent of pineapple and coconut (and far more sweet than Mitsouko's peach), together with cool cyclamen and powdery daffodil. The effect is ladylike in a 1930s film star kind of way: glamorous yet aloof, and slightly soft-focus.

The unmistakable scent of orris, with its strong hints of lipstick, old books, and brandy, is prominent in Coque d’Or from the beginning to the end, yielding that vintage vibe that pervades all the historic Guerlains. The high level of orris gives Coque d'Or a matte, precious finish that is almost tactile to the nose. Other standard Jacques Guerlain touches are jasmine, carnation, musk, and the use of balsam and amber. Not a single fluff or unevenness is to be found in this perfume which is wrapped in a cocoon of musk. If Mitsouko were velvet and Vol de Nuit were fur, then Coque d'Or is heavy silk. It exudes smoothness, understated luxury and a gravely voiced elegance, not too floral and darkened by vetiver and patchouli, that perfectly fits our nostalgic image of what someone like Marlene Dietrich would have been wearing back then. Accoding to the newspapers of the time, Coque d'Or was "made especially for long formal evening gowns."

Coque d'Or was meant not least as a response to "the world's most expensive perfume", Jean Patou’s Joy (1930), and because of its innovative bottle design, made to resemble a bow tie in cobalt blue Baccarat crystal, and gilded by hand, the price of Coque d’Or ultimately exceeded that of Joy.

Guerlain reissued Coque d'Or as an exclusive vintage edition in 2014. It came in a 190 ml size of the original Baccarat crystal bottle, gilded by hand. Priced at 17,000 €, it's one of Guerlain's most expensive vintage reissues.

The gilded cobalt blue bow tie bottle was designed by Baccarat and remains one of Guerlain's most iconic Art Deco presentations. Later, the bottle came without the gold paint because the factory doing the gilding burned down during World War II. The bow tie bottle was also used for the rare perfume Dawamesk (1945), which was a reissue of Kriss (1942). The bottle's box had a minimalist Art Deco look with a straw marquetry effect, typical of its designer, Jean-Michel Franck who also decorated the beauty institute on the first floor of Maison Guerlain. The latest renovation of Maison Guerlain recaptures the art of marquetry. In 2015, Guerlain issued a reinterpretation of the bow tie bottle for the fragrance Mon Exclusif, made with clear glass and silver trimmed edges.

For the reissue edition, Coque d'Or has been reformulated to conform with today’s safety norms on raw materials. From Thierry Wasser’s re-created oldies we know that the most important differences between then and now are about the prohibition of raw bergamot oil, nitro-musk and animal tinctures. This generally leaves the top notes flatter and shriller and the base less rounded, rich and long-lasting. Luckily, modern versions of Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit and other Guerlain classics are proof that Wasser wants to go a long way in the lab to try to imitate the effect of a raw material that can no longer be used.

When smelling the new reissue version of Coque d’Or, we clearly get the powdery, fruity chypre accord of the original, an elegantly makeup-like, slightly matte yet glamorous effect of orris, pineapple, daffodil, jasmine, oakmoss and patchouli. As expected, the top notes are much barer and lighter than in the original version, leaving more air for the floral notes, which actually may appeal to modern tastes. Jacques Guerlain’s olfactive style was extremely rich and condensed, and some think that his perfumes had an “old woman” vibe. The reformulated Coque d’Or feels bright and airy up top, but the downside is definitely a loss of depth and longevity. In the same vein, the lack of nitro-musk means that we no longer get the enveloping, puffy cloud of musk that defined most of Jacques Guerlain’s work. This too makes for a barer fragrance, but may be preferred by many of today's perfume wearers.

Finally, there’s the compulsory omission of civet tincture, which is a bit like taking umami out of a dish. Besides adding richness and depth, civet has an earthy facet, which gave the original Coque d’Or a certain dry, dark and stately quality. Without civet, the new reissue version meets you as friendlier, sweeter and cleaner, but it leaves the orris and moss a bit alone at the base. All in all, however, we must applaud Thierry Wasser and his assistant perfumer for doing their best to retain the spirit of vintage Guerlain, given the restrictions on raw materials. We just wish that LVMH would drop the “haute couture” attitude and make Coque d’Or within financial reach for those of us who have a genuine passion for historic Guerlain. Read more

  We love: the glamorous 1930s feel

  Top-class elegance

  Dandy chypre

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