Family: chypre, aromatic, woody
Notes: bergamot, lemon leaves, neroli, clary sage, ginger, juniper berry, nutmeg, ylang-ylang, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, benzoin, everlasting flower
Period: The searching years
For the creative vision in the department of men's fragrance, Jean-Paul Guerlain converted his fondness for strong, distinguished women (best personified by the muscular rose perfume Nahéma) into matching manly themes of ancient heroes and Roman warfare. While he worked on Derby, a spicy leather chypre from 1985, he had wanted to call it "Centurion", like the commander of a hundred soldiers in the Roman army. In 1998, he attempted anew to give olfactory life to a heroic figure. Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, sometimes known as Coriolan, is the name of a legendary 5th century BC Roman general who was said to be an aristocrat and anti-populist, but also a relenting man, a legendary personality who has inspired both classical theatre (Shakespeare) and music (Beethoven).
When Jean-Paul Guerlain distilled the general into a perfume, he did it with equal classicality. He used excellent raw materials and made a very naturalistic and sincere outdoorsy chypre that, like its source of inspiration, managed to express both determination and sensitivity. Overcast-green and spicy-bitter up top: lemon leaves, clary sage (that peculiar herb, at once fruity-resinous and soapy-fresh, which was also a determining factor in Parure's profile), piny juniper berries, ginger, nutmeg. Then earthy-mossy and golden down below: patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, ylang-ylang, and everlasting flower. The transition between the two endpoints was extraordinarily convincing and harmonious — Coriolan felt like burning gin and dry vermouth poured over the wound of a new-felled pine tree, slightly melancholy and raw. Ylang-ylang is an unusual ingredient in a men's perfume, but Jean-Paul Guerlain adores its ripe, creamy heft, and at this point in his career he shared his time between the perfume lab and his ylang-ylang plantation in the Comoros. The everlasting flower gave the drydown of Coriolan an unexpected honeyed-herbal, camomile-like softness, and if one smelled closely enough, traces of older Guerlain chypres could be found, although Coriolan was both bitterer and brighter. Guerlain made a virtue of this suggestion of times past with an ad saying, "A perfume like they don't make them anymore." It wasn't just hot air: Coriolan was very much a product of Jean-Paul Guerlain's old-school emotive perfumery, a discipline he stubbornly refused to give up in favour of marketing briefs, and it came across as a double-breasted tailored suit among grunge jeans, far removed from the anaemic-aquatic scents successfully mass-produced by fashion firms during the 1990s. Which probably explains why it, to say the least, wasn't a blockbuster. It had to leave the catalogue like a defeated man, to the regret of many male followers who feared that Coriolan would be Jean-Paul Guerlain's dying twitch. (And they were almost right, he didn't make another masculine until his officially last creation, in 2010, the brilliant Arsène Lupin duo.)
Today, Coriolan stands as the perhaps most overlooked of the Guerlains for men, but it was in 2008 reborn and given a second chance under the invigorating and touching name L'Âme d'un Héros ("a hero's spirit") as part of the Exclusives. Still, the perfume has a certain aura of abandoned heathland and faraway looks. (A short PS: Coriolan reminds you just how much Jean-Paul Guerlain inherited his grandfather's control of the drydown. The challenge is not to make a perfume smell good at the start, especially not the masculines which always have fresh, aromatic or spicy top notes, but to make it smell so great throughout the evaporation process that to reapply would feel like ruining the ride. His talent was clear already with Vetiver whose last hours to some are even better than the first, and Coriolan didn't fall short.)
The fragrance has been finally discontinued in 2016.
The bottle itself was based on warrior equipment, although of a design much more recent than Coriolanus, namely a nineteenth century copper gunpowder flask. The fragrance later lived in the Parisienne bee for a couple of years until it changed to the wood-framed Parisien bottle.
The reissue feels somehow drier and cleaner than the original, maybe only because the juice is fresh.
We love: that leftover bottles from 1998 are still to be found
If you can wait for the drydown to show its soft mossy flower
For those introverted, clear days
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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