"Guerlain never starts with a blank sheet of paper, but with a blurred filigree of everything they ever built," observes perfume critic Luca Turin. "Then they stretch it this way and that, removing old and adding new features as taste evolves, before bringing it all into soft focus."
The Guerlain perfumers are very much aware of this "Guerlain DNA", passed on from decade to decade but continuously open to slight mutations. The DNA has been termed the Guerlinade, and explains why perfume aficionados can become absolute Guerlain loyalists. If you fall for one Guerlain perfume, you have practically fallen for them all. They bear a family resemblance — there is something puzzlingly familiar about a Guerlain perfume, despite it being new or different, something that connects it to all Guerlain perfumes across their variations. "In the same way that you recognize the origin of a great wine, or the composer of a symphony, you perceive the Guerlain stamp which persists even today," says Jean-Paul Guerlain.
Guerlain's former artistic director, Sylvaine Delacourte, said that for decades the Guerlinade term was forgotten within Guerlain's own ranks, and she couldn't find anything about it in the Guerlain annals. Therefore, she decided to do some research to find a precise definition of the Guerlinade, and to reintroduce the word in Guerlain's vocabulary. The first official mention of the Guerlinade appeared in the 1992 ad material for Héritage. The Guerlinade can be traced back to when Aimé Guerlain created Jicky in 1889, although Jacques Guerlain by all accounts was the first to entitle it, and is often understood as a specific accord of notes because nearly all subsequent Guerlain perfumes share certain valued aromas: bergamot, rose, jasmine, tonka bean, orris, gum resins, animal notes and vanilla. But, the Guerlinade is more than a fetishized set of odorous substances — it's also the way they are arranged and dosed. The Guerlinade includes a customary principle that prescribes counterpointing, overdosing and simplicity when writing the perfume formula. With this principle, Guerlain aims to give the perfume a pronouncedly sensuous, emotive impact. Together, the fetishized blend, counterpointing, overdosing and simplicity make up the Guerlinade, that distinct je ne sais quoi which is very recognizable as "Guerlain".
In 2016, Thierry Wasser questioned the Guerlinade concept, saying that it is oversimplified and reductionist, like "a thing, plop, plop, that we more or less put into every bottle."
Immortal pleasure. To fetishize means to be intensely devoted to a thing, and that's just how attached Guerlain is to the Guerlinade ingredients: bergamot to give the perfume an uplifting freshness, rose and jasmine to provide richness and spiciness, tonka bean for a sweet scent of marzipan, hay and tobacco, orris to add powder and elusive woody nostalgia, gum resins for balsamic smokiness, animal notes for carnal warmth, and finally vanilla, Guerlain's special creamy vanilla, the most emblematic of all Guerlain emblems, for sensual depth. This blend simply smells good, simultaneously earthy, piquant and toothsome like a confection, which is why Guerlain has stuck to it so faithfully. Guerlain's goal was always new ways of pleasure more than new ways of provocation, as though pouring a beautifying potion into everything. The Guerlinade blend is that potion, the base of all Guerlains, although the levels are adjusted for each, a few with no vanilla, some with less orris, some with more rose.
One of the most pervading features of the Guerlain accord, however, was not formally defined as an element in the Guerlinade, perhaps because it is so basic, one of those things you'd only notice if it suddenly weren't there. It's a traditional mixture of extracts from the orange tree, its fruit, leaves and flowers, and from Provençal herbs. This fresh-sweet mixture goes back to the great cologne era of Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain and is what gives every Guerlain fragrance, from Eau de Cologne Impériale through Jicky to La Petite Robe Noire, a particular tinge of optimism and Mediterranean sun.
When Thierry Wasser joined Guerlain, orange blossom, as well as sandalwood, were included in the official Guerlinade list. Among the Guerlinade ingredients, each Guerlain perfumer has promoted and doted on his own darlings: Jacques Guerlain especially admired orris and musk, while Jean-Paul Guerlain often has declared his love of roses and jasmine. Bergamot, tonka bean and vanilla have been cherished by all ever since Aimé Guerlain's Jicky whose immortal and touching odour, preemptive of the oriental accord, started the veneration of a few chosen ingredients. (Was Aimé Guerlain already aware that the smell of powder, vanilla and warm skin has a proven effect on well-being in humans?) The Guerlinade blend was further cultivated during the years of Jacques and Jean-Paul Guerlain, but it's not wrong to say that there's a bit of Jicky in every Guerlain perfume. L'Heure Bleue, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit, Habit Rouge, Chamade and Héritage are all prominent, yet very different, examples of the use of the Guerlinade base blend which got so famous in itself that Guerlain named a perfume after it, Guerlinade, back in 1924.
Sweet dreams. In perfumery, counterpointing is to unite parallel layers of diverse materials that wouldn't smell as terrific if the others weren't there, a trick of olfactory abstraction and harmony. Guerlain uses counterpointing to obtain what photographers would call soft focus, a blurring of edges, joinings and parts. Soft focus renders everything dreamlike, and the genius of Guerlain is to make hard edges round, thorny ideas easy and comfortable, as if the texture in mind was always seamless velvet or moist soil. (Ironically, the technical limitations of the past added to the beauty of blurring, as essences and oils came with small impurities and sediments. Today's raw materials are much purer, as is the overall smell of Guerlain.) Counterpointing also prevents sensory boredom, paving the way for an uncertain drydown development that keeps the smeller engaged. The term "drydown", suggesting something that simply fades away, doesn't exactly do justice to the Guerlain craft. Once dabbed on the skin, a Guerlain perfume begins an invisible life of its own, like a machinery working in the wings. A meticulously devised scheme sees to it that what you smell in the evening is not the same, but just as marvellous, as what you got in the morning. A Guerlain can seem different from moment to moment, from day to day. When Aimé Guerlain made Jicky, the first full-blown Guerlain harmony, he completely abandoned the practice of realistic flower imitations and instead counterpointed earthy, ambery and animal notes with spicy and herbal ones. Jicky was an abstract, vast composition that didn't smell fresh nor sweet, animalic, herbal or spicy. It smelled like, well, Jicky. Since then, a central attribute of the Guerlinade has been to join the sinister with the sweet, the high-spirited with the heavy, the black with the bright, the merry with the melancholic, the innocent with the improper. Most often, one of the poles copies Jicky's smoky-resiny gourmand base. Shalimar is Guerlain's iconic demonstration of this discipline, a deep and uplifting balance of medicinal vanillic balsams and astringent citrus. It would have been an unbearably hefty dessert without its big dose of bergamot as counterweight but as it is, it smells like a divine exotic aphrodisiac. But, maybe the most sophisticated example is Mitsouko, illuminating the sombre moss-grown chypre base with peach, a revolutionary, mysterious synthesis of fruit and linoleum never since matched in perfumery. Think also of L'Heure Bleue, the shy impression of its powdery veil that barely covers an ensnaring magnet of musk, spices and sweet almond pastry. "A successful perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream," said Jacques Guerlain, and he shaped a polyphony of notes that imparted a fragrance to the passing twilight hour.
Out of the ordinary. Probably the most salient property of the Guerlinade is that of overdosing which has earned Guerlain a reputation as being the quintessence of French luxury, combining elegance with extravagance. Although Guerlain's portfolio carries a few quiet perfumes, overdosing has become the Guerlinade's rule of thumb which is closely linked to the art of counterpointing, in that the latter opens up the possibility of the former: you can get away with something excessive and slightly indecent when you at the same time do something that contradicts it. In Shalimar, Jacques Guerlain pushed Jicky's fresh-carnal balance to the extreme with extraordinary doses of both vanilla and citrus. Dangerously close to tactless, but only just equilibrated as to never suffocate. "My grandfather, Jacques, taught me to like vanilla because it adds something wonderfully erotic to a perfume. It turns Shalimar into an outrageously low-cut dress," Jean-Paul Guerlain commented. When he himself dared to saturate a masculine fragrance with vanilla, it was because he also used a good deal of orange and patchouli. The result was Habit Rouge, at once suave and rugged, and very characteristic. He introduced a new vibrant style and fuelled flowers and wood with abundant showers of acidulous fruits and zesty, bittersweet citrus oils from tangerine, lime, grapefruit and lemon leaves. His way often reached ambrosial heights, with Chamade (a dose of ravishing sensuality you wouldn't think possible in a green floral) and Nahéma (muscular red-pink-orange rose petals scattered juicily over an oriental abyss) as the highlights. The streamlined, anorexic minimalism in fashion during the 1990s was like a desert to Guerlain, whereas the later taste for gourmand scents has made the house sparkle more than ever. Thus came L'Instant de Guerlain, officially inspired by light both for her and for him, giving off a tremendously warm and copious radiance. Jean-Paul Guerlain created Spiritueuse Double Vanille, a double delicious calorie bomb of dark rum, macarons and vanilla, as a modern celebration of all the best the Guerlinade has to offer.
Less is more. A Guerlain perfume is the olfactory equivalent of an oil painting with only a handful of colours, each one applied with contoured silhouette and a broad brush. The hundreds of underlying studies that laboriously and little by little have been outlining the final essence of the image are never visible. "Always stick to simple ideas and apply them scrupulously," Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain commanded from the beginning, and his successors adhered to the doctrine with short, straightforward and terse formulas. "My ancestors always thought that a perfume should come straight to the point and that adding lots of materials in small amounts doesn't do anything for the personality of the 'juice'," Jean-Paul Guerlain explains. Terseness could mean dullness, but coupled with the art of overdosing, it is like opera, expressing a clear vision, a single important sentiment worked through in Technicolor. Again, Shalimar is symptomatic, with its big chunks of citrus and resin. But, also remember Jicky, the Guerlinade's point of departure: a layer of Provençal herbs mixed with sweet body smells, unmistakable and bold like an open book, with no beating around the bush other than a manifest humour. Or, picture the concision of Vol de Nuit, although it without doubt was a complicated challenge to create, it seems like a handful of select materials were brought into a self-evident, appeasing form, freed of anything unnecessary. And think of the simple architecture of Samsara: its three cores of intensely pure jasmine, ylang-ylang and sandalwood, symmetrically arranged around an intoxicating focal axis. Most of Jean-Paul Guerlain's perfumes were years in the making, and he launched significantly fewer perfumes than his grandfather, but they were so much the more a bow to simplicity, with Vetiver (solid green) and Habit Rouge (solid red) as obvious examples.
Out of the Guerlinade closet. Until Habit Rouge entered the scene, Guerlain was known as mainly a feminine brand. With this magazine ad from 1968, saying "To all the secret followers of Guerlain perfumes: you can come out in the open with Habit Rouge for men," the company wanted to spread the message that there's a universal and unisex appeal to the scent of Guerlain. The Guerlinade accord really isn't more gender-specific than, say, a tarte au citron.
Evolution. The Guerlinade is the historic constant that anchors the Guerlain spirit and keeps its admirers captivated, but it was not conjured up or given beforehand as a fine philosophy; rather, it was distilled and developed through years of creative work, and it's evident that each Guerlain perfumer has added his own touch to it, influenced by personal taste and the trends of the time. The prehistory of the Guerlinade was the cologne era of founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain. What was inside Eau de Cologne Impériale — essences from citrus fruits, orange blossom and Provençal herbs — has been maintained as the characteristic top note of any Guerlain perfume.
Aimé Guerlain's Jicky defined to a large extent what we think of today as the scent of Guerlain. Jicky married the herbal and citrusy freshness of a cologne with a new kind of base, marked by depth and strength, that was balsamic, gourmand, slightly spicy and leathery, and sensually warm. This kind of base mixture was later called amber due to its golden colour. The amber base was also central to the work of Jacques Guerlain, but his special mark was the act of overdosing, as well as an enveloping feel of musk and powder. His compositions were extremely dense, using rich absolutes and tinctures, but he always arranged them with great harmony and a sense of the enigmatic, like abstract poems or portraits. By the way, Jacques Guerlain was reputedly the first to use the term Guerlinade.
Although being trained by Jacques Guerlain, the expression of Jean-Paul Guerlain was much more impulsive and direct, full of contrast, vibrancy and colour. He was a man of seduction rather than poetry, preoccupied with the exciting play between men and women, and he introduced a new joyfully floral and assertive femininity at Guerlain. As for men, he suggested them to be gallant and well-groomed yet every bit as flirtatious as their female counterparts.
In 2007, Guerlain introduced perfumer Randa Hammami's L'Instant Magic, wrapped in a cottony cocoon of white musk. To describe it, Sylvaine Delacourte invented the term Musquinade, with a playful reference to the Guerlinade. White musk is IFRA-safe, but generally regarded as too clean, cold and colourless to deserve the Guerlain stamp. However, Sylvaine Delacourte wanted to point out that this was a whole new kind of white musk accord, "worked à la Guerlain", that is, with distinguished Guerlain notes of bergamot, Bulgarian rose, almond, sandalwood and vanilla. Later, Randa Hammami created Mon Précieux Nectar with a similar accord, but the Musquinade never gained a foothold in the Guerlain vocabulary. There doesn't seem to be a need for an extra signature definition, as most modern Guerlain fragrances contain white musk anyway.
With the entry of Thierry Wasser, Guerlain seems to have returned to the rounded harmony of earlier times, though dosed more lightly. Compared to his mentor Jean-Paul Guerlain, Wasser searches for subtler nuances and finer details, and the common denominator of his Guerlain fragrances so far is a smooth, delicate and very comfortable finish.
The Guerlinade ingredients. Bergamot, rose, orris, tonka bean, vanilla, orange blossom, jasmine, sandalwood. Historically, orange blossom and sandalwood were not mentioned as official signature ingredients, but they play such a prominent role in the creations that Thierry Wasser now sees them as part of the Guerlinade. Conversely, gum resins and animal materials no longer appear on the list, as these heavier and darker notes aren't so present in today's Guerlinade.
Bergamot. Guerlain is in particular known for its deep oriental perfumes, but the fresh notes play an important role in any Guerlain formula. So much so that the Guerlinade signature accord includes bergamot, the finest of citrus notes in perfumery. Whilst it is very fresh and citrus, it is much richer and more rounded than any of the other citrus notes, which smell one-dimensional in comparison. Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the fruit rind of Citrus Aurantium, a tree that grows in Calabria, Italy. Guerlain uses what is called a communelle, an assembly of oils from several bergamot growers.
The Guerlain bergamot is distinctly fruity and rounded, almost like that of lemon drops. However, since the use of citrus oils in commercial perfumes is restricted by safety norms, today Guerlain is forced to use a "purified" bergamot that smells drier, sharper and flatter. Bergamot is obviously a key ingredient in all of Guerlain’s fresh colognes, but it’s also a highlight in Shalimar — nearly one third of Shalimar consists of bergamot, in order to balance and brighten the vanillic and leathery base notes. However, it is perhaps most prominently featured in Mitsouko — and, less famously, in Sous le Vent — whose striking chypre scent is very much due to bergamot oil. You also get a large dose of bergamot in many of Guerlain’s floral perfumes, like Muguet, Liu, and Jardins de Bagatelle, as well as in the masculines, notably Habit Rouge, Vetiver and Guerlain Homme.
Rose. The rose is universally regarded as perfumery’s queen flower, beautiful both to smell and look at. It takes 300.000 roses to obtain one kilogram of essential oil. There are various types of rose available to the perfumer, but they all add a sensual elegance to any perfume. At the same time, the rose carries a cool serenity that tempers and beautifies more heavy and narcotic perfume notes. Guerlain is extremely fond of the rose and needless to say, it is part of the Guerlinade. Jean-Paul Guerlain said it was his favourite of all flowers because "it possesses around a thousand different fragrances," and Thierry Wasser often declares his love for Bulgarian roses.
It was Jacques Guerlain who handed down the preference for the Bulgarian variety, which excels with vibrant facets of litchi, raspberry and citrus, and a continuous blending of oils from different rose cultivators, the so-called communelle, secures a consistent olfactive profile. When Bulgaria was locked into the Eastern Bloc after World War II, Guerlain had to use Turkish rose instead, but rose absolute from Turkey, as well as from Morocco and Grasse, is still used in combination with the Bulgarian sort. Most feminine Guerlains, and even a few masculines, contain rose. Rose is prominently represented in L'Heure Bleue, Ode, Parure, Nahéma, Samsara, Rose Barbare, Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial, La Petite Robe Noire and Rose Nacrée du Désert — the latter being the first Guerlain to use the darker Persian rose.
Jasmine. Jasmine is one of the most important materials used in perfumery, but also very costly — it takes some five million jasmine blossoms, each picked by hand, to produce one kilogram of the amber-coloured absolute. The importance of jasmine stems from its extremely rich and complex fragrance, at once sensual, fruity, warm, narcotic, flowery and animalic, that adds great colour and fullness to both floral, chypre and oriental perfumes. A few drops of jasmine absolute on a blotter will scent your room for days.
Jasmine contains the indole molecule, which is also highly present in all the animal materials. Not surprisingly then, jasmine is one of the Guerlain signature ingredients. Among the classic Guerlains, jasmine is particularly noticeable in Mitsouko, Liu, Sous le Vent, Véga, Ode, Chant d’Arômes, Chamade, Jardins de Bagatelle and, not least, Samsara. It’s also part of the floral bouquet of Idylle, especially in the Duet Jasmin-Lilas version. In 2009, Guerlain created one of its most beautiful jasmine perfumes, a limited edition called Les Secrets de Sophie. Lately, jasmine was the main motif of the fragrance presented at Guerlain’s new Versailles boutique, since according to legend, jasmine was the favourite flower of Marie Antoinette.
Tonka bean. Although Jacques Guerlain was by all accounts the first to entitle the Guerlain signature accord as the Guerlinade, it can be traced back to Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky from 1889. Jicky is called perfumery’s first modern creation, because it introduced the use of powerful aroma chemicals, among those coumarin. Coumarin is the fragrant isolate of the tonka bean, the seeds of a tree that grows in South America. With its suave, warm and delicious scent, making one think of such pleasurable things like almonds, marzipan, cherries, amaretto, hay and pipe tobacco, tonka bean plays an important role in all of Guerlain’s famous oriental perfumes, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Samsara — and in the masculine department, Habit Rouge, Héritage and L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. Tonka bean is also defining of the fougère fragrances, like Mouchoir de Monsieur and Guerlain Homme.
In Thierry Wasser's latest masculine fragrance, L'Homme Idéal, tonka bean stars as a principal note together with bitter almond, creating a delicious amaretto effect. Moreover, Guerlain’s gourmand perfumes of recent years all make good use of the tonka bean: L’Instant Magic, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Mon Précieux Nectar, La Petite Robe Noire, Parfum du 68, and of course Tonka Impériale.
Orris. The raw material called orris has long been a source of fascination for perfumers. By itself, it has a dry, violet-like, powdery odour that has been likened to such things as makeup, wine corks, brandy, old books, carrots and woody roots. When mixed with other perfume notes, especially vanilla and rose, orris imparts a feeling of tremendous luxury and femininity. Orris is obtained from the rhizome of iris. Guerlain explains that it uses the finest orris available, made from the variety Iris pallida which is cultivated in the region around Florence. The scent develops as the rhizome dries for three years, and it is then peeled, ground and steam distilled, resulting in a white, waxy paste called orris butter. As the final yield is extremely small, orris butter is among the most costly perfume ingredients.
Jacques Guerlain used orris to a large extent in his compositions, and its powdery trail is at the core of Guerlain’s olfactive patrimony: Parfum des Champs-Elysées, Après l’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit and Coque d'Or, just to name a few. He even used it in Mouchoir de Monsieur, although orris is quite atypical in men’s perfumery. When Jean-Paul Guerlain took over as nose in the mid-fifties, he demonstrated a style that was much less powdery, fresher and more youthful, and orris wasn’t a favourite material of his. In recent years, however, Guerlain has paid tribute to the brand's historic roots with orris-based yet very colourful fragrances like Insolence, Quand Vient la Pluie (reissued as Place Rouge), Iris Ganache and Shalimar Parfum Initial.
Vanilla. Without vanilla, Guerlain would not be Guerlain. It is unquestionably the most emblematic of the signature ingredients, found across almost all of the famous Guerlain perfumes. Vanilla is prerequisite to the oriental accord, to which Shalimar gave birth. However, the use of vanilla in perfumery became known with Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky, the world’s first deep and abstract perfume creation. It was the discovery of vanillin, the natural isolate that gives vanilla its familiar odour, and at that time a very novel material, that made Jicky possible. When Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar, it was thanks to another highly original aroma chemical called ethylvanillin, many times stronger, sweeter and creamier than vanillin. Together with vanillin and ethylvanillin, Guerlain also uses natural vanilla, as either absolute or tincture, which smell pleasantly warm, soft and balsamic.
Vanilla absolute has a profound gourmand scent, while the tincture is more woody and diffusive. They are obtained from the seed pod of the tropical orchids Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis. The seed pods are green when they form and do not display the characteristic vanilla scent until they are treated in a specific fermentation process that can take up to twenty-four months to complete. “There is seldom a good perfume without vanilla,” said Jean-Paul Guerlain, and it’s difficult to imagine a Guerlain fragrance without it — even Mitsouko has a drop of vanilla. Apart from Jicky and Shalimar, vanilla plays a crucial role in L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Chamade and Samsara. Jean-Paul Guerlain extended its use to masculine perfumery with Habit Rouge and Héritage. More recently, Guerlain has interpreted the scent of vanilla in “niche” fragrances like Cuir Beluga, Spiritueuse Double Vanille and L'Homme Idéal EdP, while the Shalimar Ode à la Vanille series has highlighted different sorts of vanilla coming from Mayotte, Madagascar and Mexico.
Orange blossom. The orange tree has been important to European perfumery since the very beginning. The perfumer can obtain several different oils from its leaves, twigs, fruit zest and blossoms, which smell fresh, aromatic, sweet or sensual. Of these, the blossom is the most facetted and fascinating, yielding both an essential oil and an absolute. Its characteristic, slightly fruity scent is thanks to a molecule called methyl anthranilate, which is also found in Jasminum sambac. The essential oil from orange blossoms is named neroli, after the Princess of Nerola who introduced bitter orange to scent her gloves and bath in the seventienth century. Neroli smells fresh, spicy, floral and cologne-like. By contrast, orange blossom absolute is much richer and more sensual, displaying less freshness and volatility.
Although orange blossom is to be found in almost all Guerlain fragrances, from the “eaux fraiches” to the most ornate perfumes, it was never mentioned as part of the house signature, probably because it’s so self-evident. However, when Thierry Wasser took over as in-house perfumer, orange blossom became included in the description of the Guerlinade. When orange blossom is mixed with balsamic materials, like vanilla and benzoin, it results in a delicious, addictive scent not unlike marshmallow. This mixture is found most famously in Jacques Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, but orange blossom also plays its role in Après l’Ondée, Liu, Véga and Vol de Nuit. Jean-Paul Guerlain introduced this overall feminine ingredient in men’s perfumery with Habit Rouge, to which it gave a "dandy" vibe. More recent Guerlains highlighting orange blossom include Insolence, Mon Précieux Nectar, Cologne du Parfumeur, L’Heure de Nuit and several Aqua Allegorias, such as Flora Nymphéa and Nerolia Bianca.
Sandalwood. Among all the woody materials used in perfumery, sandalwood is the most elegant. The finest quality is obtained from santalum album, grown in Mysore in India. Sandalwood is heavy, reddish-yellow, and fine-grained. It has been revered for centuries for its fragrance and used in medicine and religious ceremonies, and for carving. Only the innermost part of the tree trunk, the most fragrant, is used for perfumery. To make sandalwood essential oil, the wood is chipped and ground into a powder to facilitate distillation. Its odour is rich, warm, soft, smooth and creamy, legendary for its deep, luminous, lingering quality. When a tree is felled, it takes at least seven years to grow a new one. Therefore, sandalwood is a very precious material that risks extinction, and because it’s so high in demand, plantations are often exploited or robbed. Guerlain has established its own sandalwood plantations in Sri Lanka, and maintains them in a sustainable way that prevents over-harvesting.
Being the classic, oriental woody note, Guerlain has used sandalwood in all of its oriental and powdery perfumes, notably in Jicky, Après l’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar, Véga, Vol de Nuit, Chamade and Nahéma. Samsara was the first Guerlain to overdose the sandalwood note to the same extent that vanilla is overdosed in Shalimar. Sandalwood oil in a leading role is challenging, because its deep scent has little radiance and risks to flatten the perfume. Jean-Paul Guerlain managed to push it to an impressive twenty percent level by adding polysantol, an aroma chemical that gives lift, diffusion and verve to natural sandalwood. Despite its prominent role in the Guerlain signature, sandalwood wasn’t mentioned in the Guerlinade until Thierry Wasser joined the house. More contemporary Guerlains featuring sandalwood include Champs-Elysées, Attrape Cœur, Insolence, L’Instant Magic, Santal Royal and Le Bolshoï Black Swan. While men’s perfumery mostly chooses the much greener and drier cedarwood, Guerlain has used sandalwood in several of its masculines, like Vetiver, Derby, L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, and the Arsène Lupin duo.
Perfume notes vs. perfume ingredients
Because a perfume is perceived as developing in layers, fragrance descriptions are often accompanied by a pyramid-shaped diagram of notes. A fragrance description is an attempt to translate the abstract nature of an olfactive perception into words that can help the reader form an idea of what the perfume smells like. Usually, the fresh and volatile notes are listed in the top of the pyramid, while the more long-lasting notes are placed at the bottom. In reality, though, this is only a theoretical picture, as many long-lasting notes are perceived at the very beginning of a perfume. Guerlain's scent diagrams reflect this fact, as illustrated above with Shalimar. The scent of vanilla is so powerful in Shalimar that it's the first thing we sense, and therefore vanilla is listed as a top note, as well as a base note.
Sometimes, the task of verbalizing a scent is straightforward, as in the case of lemon, because everyone is supposed to be familiar with the scent of lemon. More often than not, though, there are no direct links between the notes listed and the actual ingredients of the composition. One reason for this is that many perfume notes are better described with a common word than with the ingredient behind the note. An example of this would be the note of leather, which stems from birch tar. Only a few people know what birch tar smells like, but as this material traditionally was used for tanning leather, we readily associate the scent of birch tar with leather. Another reason is that many perfume notes are derived from synthetics. For instance, the scent of vanilla in Shalimar doesn't come from vanilla pods, but from ethylvanillin, yet the word "vanilla" is obviously more evocative than "ethylvanillin". In addition, most perfume ingredients have several different olfactive facets, like coumarin, which can be described as "tonka bean", "almond", "marzipan", "hay", "tobacco", and even "vanilla". Finally, perfume notes are often the product of several different ingredients occurring together. This is what perfumers call a "base". Think of the note known as amber. It refers to a blend of various balsamic and earthy-sweet ingredients, and is only called amber because of its golden colour. Other typical perfume notes that are a result of a base are lily of the valley, lily, lilac, hyacinth, and hawthorn.
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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