L'Extrait du 68
Guerlain's new "parfum de la Maison", Parfum du 68, is a delicious floral-woody-gourmand accord, loosely based on Cologne du 68 from 2006 with its spices, everlasting flower and praline. The new fragrance has been created as both EdP and Parfum: L'Eau de Parfum du 68 and L'Extrait du 68, respectively. However, only the EdP version is available as ready-to-wear, since the Parfum comes in a 40,000 € crystal bottle by Baccarat, named Le Passeur du Temps. All beautiful things cost a lot, and the black one-litre tortoise bottle is insanely beautiful, yet it's very regrettable that only thirty affluent people will be able to buy this perfume.
If the EdP feels slightly fleeting and airy despite its delightful accord, the Parfum version has all the delectable intensity we love about Guerlain: the spices are spicier, the rose, jasmine and magnolia are richer and more sensual, and the base is more addictive, a gorgeous cocoon of musk, amber and incense together with the unisex touch of cedarwood. Notes listed are mandarin, cardamom, orange blossom, rose, jasmine, magnolia, everlasting flower, heliotrope, tonka bean, benzoin, labdanum, frankincense, cedarwood and musk. There is no doubt that this perfume would be a hit, if it would come in a standard size quadrilobe bottle. We hope it will be launched in a more affordable model later on, as did Mon Précieux Nectar a few years ago.
(November 2013, review based on a sample at Maison Guerlain)
Parfum du 68, Maison Guerlain's new nectar
Maison Guerlain has reinvented itself as one of the world's most impressive and fascinating perfume houses. Very appropriately, Guerlain has dedicated a new perfume to its mythic home, named simply Parfum du 68 after the street number of the Champs-Elysées address. Well, it's actually not entirely new. When Maison Guerlain opened after its first facelift in 2005, Cologne du 68 was launched the following year, an unusual fragrance of aromatic, spicy and gourmand notes, of which Parfum du 68 is a more intense reworking. Cologne du 68 reportedly was made up of sixty-eight raw materials, which probably wasn't the technical truth, but it was true that it smelled like a lot of different things at the same time: citrus, herbs, flowers, spices, wood, sap, praline, at once fresh, green, warm and delicious. Inspired by the scent of the maquis, Corsica's fragrant wilderness, its star ingredient was everlasting flower, soft, mild and honeyed. Parfum du 68 has retained the everlasting flower and the characteristic spicy-gourmand accord of Cologne du 68, but now it's less of an aromatic cologne than a real perfume, a floral gourmand made of mandarin, rose, magnolia, jasmine, tonka bean, musk, benzoin and incense. If Cologne du 68 was "three parts cologne, one part L'Instant Femme and two parts L'Instant Homme," as Luca Turin wittily said, then Parfum du 68 feels like Cologne du 68 made into a L'Art & la Matière. A feast for honey bees. Read more about Cologne du 68
Ambergris, the rare scent of the sea
Ambergris is the most costly of all perfume materials and so, very few perfume houses still use it. However, Guerlain does, as many of its classic formulas contain ambergris, and this year's batch just came in, priced at 20.000 € per kilogram. Ambergris, meaning "grey amber", is a biliary secretion from the cachalot or sperm whale. It is formed when the whale swallows cuttlefish, whose bony beaks irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing the whale to secrete a waxy paste around them to avoid further irritation, in much the same way a pearl is formed inside an oyster. The whale would normally vomit hard or sharp objects, but if one of them travels further down the gut, it will be covered with ambergris. When the ambergris ball reaches a certain size, the whale will expel it. Ambergris obtains its soft, balsamic scent when it floats upon the sea, getting in contact with the sun and salt and all the marine odours. The longer it floats, the softer and more refined its scent.
Each year, Guerlain buys a certain amount of ambergris sourced from the Indian Ocean, and macerates it in alcohol to extract its fragrance into a tincture. The fragrance isn't strong but can play an important role in a perfume. "When you smell Mitsouko, you perceive very little the odour of ambergris, but if you don't add it to the composition, the perfume flattens completely," explains Jean-Paul Guerlain. The synthetic substitutes don't deliver the depth and complexity of real ambergris, but it would be pointless to use natural ambergris in a new perfume, he says. "It's a very expensive material, and the available quantity on the market is insufficient in proportion to the production volume that we fabricate nowadays." However, Thierry Wasser has recently revived the use of ambergris in a new perfume with Encens Mythique d'Orient, a perfume in the Déserts d'Orient series. Read more about Encens Mythique d'Orient
Vanilla tincture, a Guerlain speciality
"There is seldom a good perfume without vanilla,” said Jean-Paul Guerlain, a creed inherited from Jacques Guerlain. Ever since Aimé Guerlain created Jicky, the sensual scent of vanilla has been one of the basics in the Guerlain signature, the Guerlinade. Although the scent often stems from aroma chemicals like vanillin and ethylvanillin, Guerlain also uses natural vanilla. To extract the vanilla aroma, Guerlain makes tinctures where chopped vanilla beans are placed in alcohol and left to macerate. The tincture process is a traditional method to distil fragrant molecules from several materials like benzoin, incense and, in the past, animal materials, but the vanilla tincture is exclusive to Guerlain. To this day, Guerlain employs an old wooden chopper to chop vanilla beans before pouring alcohol over them. In recent years, Guerlain has highlighted its use of natural vanilla with the Shalimar Ode à la Vanille series featuring different types of vanilla, first from Mayotte, then from Madagascar and Mexico.
Parfum des Champs-Elysées, Cologne du 68, Parfum du 68
The mythic Guerlain address of 68 Champs-Elysées has been dedicated a perfume three times. The first one for the inauguration of the store in 1914 was Parfum des Champs-Elysées, presented in a tortoise-shaped bottle that symbolized the slowness of construction work on the building. The second dedication happened with Cologne du 68, launched right after the 2005 renovation of the house which by this time was renamed Maison Guerlain. Now, with a second, very ambitious renovation of the house, meant to completely reinvent the showcasing of the Guerlain universe, Parfum du 68 is offered, in reality a fusion of the first two creations. The fragrance is a reworking of Cologne du 68, with a more intense focus on the oriental notes of spices, wood, everlasting flower, tonka bean, benzoin, incense and leather, while the bottle is an immense, black version of the original crystal tortoise. The fragrance also comes in a less costly EdP spray version. Read more
Guns & roses — how war, climate, and the extinction of species affect the life of a perfume
Anyone with a passion for perfume who regularly checks in on online perfume boards will eventually end up thinking like Woody Allen: that everything was better in the good old days. Back then, in French perfumery's golden age (some unspecified time between the Belle Époque and 1980), perfumers were artists of beauty, not marketing slaves, and perfumes were precious produits de civilisation, not mass-produced rubbish. What perfume aficionados dislike the most about today's perfume industry, though, is the practice of reformulating classic fragrances, a topic that has been covered intensely by perfume bloggers during the last ten years. While perfume houses generally have tried to convince customers that their perfumes haven't changed, despite health regulations on the use of raw materials by IFRA (International Fragrance Association), perfumers have recently realized that it is in their own interest to talk openly about the devastating consequences of the industry's restrictive norms, in order to put pressure on regulatory organizations.
Guerlain's Thierry Wasser is particularly outspoken on the subject. "If some day Brussels doesn't want rose essence any longer, what am I to do? There is rose in almost all our perfumes... It is a heritage we need to defend," he said to Le Monde in 2010. At the same time, he has devoted himself to the scientific task of finding new raw materials and techniques that can pass restrictions and allergen tests while restoring the perfumes the best he can. "My love for Mitsouko made me push the oakmoss supplier to get as close as possible to the original version without having the specific molecule which is not allowed by IFRA. I do have now a natural oakmoss which is IFRA approved," he said in an interview in 2011. Thierry Wasser is responsible for the quality of all Guerlain perfumes, and he regularly goes to Brussels to defend his profession, arguing that no-one has ever died from wearing Shalimar or Mitsouko. Meanwhile, most perfume lovers prefer to seek out vintage editions in order to avoid a reformulated fragrance.
What many people don't know, however, is that because the availability of raw materials is susceptible to many other variables than IFRA guidelines, reformulations have existed in perfumery since the very beginning. Such disparate factors as climate, political unrest and extinction of a plant or animal species can all mean a more or less permanent end to a certain key ingredient. Jean-Paul Guerlain explains in his book, "Les Routes de mes Parfums", how the especially harsh winter of 1955 resulted in a halt to the production of daffodil absolute, an essential ingredient in Jacques Guerlain's perfume Vol de Nuit. Jacques Guerlain managed to reserve a vial of it from the supplier, but sadly it was burned to ashes because the employee unpacking the delivery overlooked the small tube. To test his young grandson Jean-Paul's talent for perfumery, Jacques Guerlain asked him to blend a base that could replace daffodil. A base is the technical term for a small formula of both synthetic and natural ingredients, a sub-fragrance that can go into larger perfume formulas. Jean-Paul Guerlain mixed narcissus, violet leaf, jasmine and tuberose, and Jacques Guerlain found his grandson's daffodil base to resemble the real thing so much that he appointed him as the next Guerlain perfumer. Bases are widely used in perfumery, and often to replace a raw material that is no longer available, as illustrated by Jean-Paul Guerlain's successful creation of a daffodil base. Daffodil absolute eventually became available again, but Guerlain held onto the daffodil substitute in Vol de Nuit. Recently, Thierry Wasser has revised the formula so that it now contains the original daffodil absolute.
But, historically, the two World Wars have affected perfumers' work more than anything else, about which Jean-Paul Guerlain recounts another example: when it comes to the scent of rose, Guerlain prefers the Bulgarian variety, a preference handed down from Jacques Guerlain. As Bulgaria was locked into the Eastern Bloc after World War II, Bulgarian rose became inaccessible for decades, and Jean-Paul Guerlain had to create a rose base that could serve as a satisfactory substitute without containing Bulgarian rose. The fall of the Communist regime around 1990 allowed perfume houses to get Bulgarian rose again, and Jean-Paul Guerlain decided that all his existing formulas should be updated with this treasured essence. Theoretically, therefore, Nahéma was less close to Jean-Paul Guerlain's ideal vision when it was created in 1979, than the batch blended in 1990. The same could be said about Chant d'Arômes, Chamade, Parure and Jardins de Bagatelle. These examples illustrate that perfume formulas are in fact not tablets of stone, but more like complex living organisms, repeatedly revised and examined by the perfumer to assure that the fragrance can continue to exist and maintain its spirit, despite all the obstacles a perfume can meet in its life.
Why perfume lovers are mostly nostalgic people
Being a lover of fine perfume is every bit as demanding as being a lover of fine wine — the more you plunge into this hobby, the more complicated it gets. The most intensely discussed subject on online fragrance forums is the issue of reformulations. Since IFRA (International Fragrance Association) began setting up guidelines for safe usage of fragrant chemicals and essential oils in perfumes, perfumers have experienced increasing restrictions on their creative work. Bergamot, musk, oakmoss and many other raw materials contain potentially allergenic molecules, and therefore perfume labs are forced to adjust the formulas of their classics. This has in turn made it a part-time job for perfume bloggers to compare different vintages of a specific perfume, debating which one is the very best.
Although such comparative studies can be great fun for the specialist, they are, in the end, rather futile because perfume smelling is a bit like stepping into Heraclitus' river: you never seem to get the same thing twice. Like wine, a perfume changes as it lives. A few days after a perfume has been blended, it already doesn't smell exactly the same. Before adding alcohol, perfume houses deliberately let the concentrate of blended raw materials mature in big containers. Perfumers will say that the maturing process will round and harmonize the fragrance by softening sharp notes, invigorating soft ones and blurring edges. The maturing time differs from fragrance to fragrance, some need a few days, others several weeks, and by smelling it, the perfumer determines when the concentrate has reached the optimal state. Maturing times are generally a trade secret, as are perfume formulas. At Guerlain, the know-how of maturing is passed on from one generation to the next.
After a period of maceration — a process by which the fragrant molecules are soaked into alcohol and water — the perfume is first refrigerated, then filtered and bottled. The filtration removes the dregs, and although this to some extent lowers the fragrance intensity, it also halts further developing of the perfume. Or almost. The perfume will continue to slowly develop and gradually change as it ages. Some perfume aficionados like a very aged perfume, especially oriental and chypre perfumes, because it then smells "darker" or "deeper". Ageing also mostly darkens and deepens a perfume's colour.
Eventually, however, the perfume will turn bad and the smell will be unrecognisable. The quality of ageing is highly sensitive to the perfume being exposed to light and heat, and how much oxygen is inside the bottle. We can try to compare an old bottle of Shalimar with a fresh one and conclude that the Shalimar of times past smelled completely different than it does nowadays — the bergamot fruity and sunny, almost candied, the musk dirty and fiery, the incense sweet and spicy, the vanilla voluptuous — but unless we have a time machine, we will never know how Shalimar smelled when it was blended for the first time back in 1921.
The fateful Vol de Nuit
The story behind Jacques Guerlain's 1933 perfume Vol de Nuit was never that uplifting. It borrowed the name of a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a famous writer and pilot during World War II, and personal friend of Jacques Guerlain. The book was based on Saint-Exupéry's experiences as a pilot and tells the story about Fabien who one night is lost while flying through a storm. Saint-Exupéry was himself killed in action over France in 1944 and his body was never recovered. But in fact, the fateful story of the perfume Vol de Nuit doesn't end here. In January 1954, the American women's fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar featured a Saks Fifth Avenue advertisement for Vol de Nuit. It illustrated beautifully a De Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet plane, surrounded by a glowing moonlight halo. However, the aeroplane's pitch and down-turned nose initially suggested impending disaster, although this probably wasn't the artist's, nor Guerlain's, intention.
At the time, the Comet was a much-loved model that was seen to have ushered in a new age in aviation. That said, the De Havilland Comet had been plagued with faults and problems since commencing commercial service in 1949. In one of the worst air disasters in history, a BOAC Comet exploded mid-air over Italy on its flight from Rome to London. The cause, they later discovered, was metal fatigue and faults with the model's cabin pressure. It killed all souls on board... and the flight took place... on January 10th of 1954! Given the 2-3 month lead-times on producing, printing and assembling a magazine, Harper's Bazaar would never had known that its January issue, with the Vol de Nuit advertisement, would hit newsstands at precisely the same time this air disaster struck. The existing De Havilland Comets were pulled from service not long thereafter and a redesign began. We suspect, given the public's sensitivities to the disaster, that Guerlain might never have run the ad again. Perhaps this, in part, contributed to the scarcity of this particular illustration. Read more about Vol de Nuit
(August 2013, text and image by guest writer Dimitrios Dimitriadis)
A rare Guerlain cologne ad from around 1970, inspired by the American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish.
(August 2013, image provided by Dimitrios Dimitriadis)
Here's a bit of a Guerlain rarity: L'Insolente. It was a limited edition from 2005, not widely distributed, as a re-edition of Precious Heart from the year before, a green floral with magnolia and musk balanced by the freshness of grapefruit, lemon verbena, wood, freesia and cardamom.
A cookbook portrait of Thierry Wasser
There's a natural link between scent and food, and the French cookbook La Cuisine des Nez from 2010 by Sabine Chabbart takes the idea of having famed perfume noses share their favourite cooking recipes. The book also features portraits of each perfumer, among those of Thierry Wasser, his way into perfumery and how he became the soul mate of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Read the portrait (in French)
Shalimar on the road to Mexico
Sur la Route du Mexique is the subtitle of the third offering in the Shalimar Ode à la Vanille series. It uses the Mexican Vanilla planifolia which smells slightly fruitier than the Tahitian and Madagascan sorts. Compared to the previous two Shalimar Ode à la Vanille editions, this new marvellous version feels more gourmand, with notes of chocolate and caramel, creamier, brighter but also more sensual. Read more about Shalimar
Category. Fresh, green, floral. Launch year. 2001. Creator. Jean-Paul Guerlain.
Fragrance. Continuing the Guerlain tradition of perfume for seduction, Jean-Paul Guerlain concocted an instrument not just to lure a man but one that does not immediately reveal itself. The freshness of the citrus opening evolves into seductive sandalwood and alluring vanilla. Top notes are green tea, bergamot, lemon and cardamom, heart notes are peony, jasmine and neroli, while the base is made up of sandalwood, vanilla and tonka bean.
Bottle. At the time when Secret Intention was created, Guerlain innovation was manifested in unique packaging for even its minor launches. The clear bottle is a sphere topped by four golden arches which buttress a shaft, culminating in the globular lid. Is it meant to be a modern Venus of Willendorf, an ancient symbol of fertility? Pulling on the attached ribbon, the deep Chinese lacquer red box opens to reveal an orange interior, as the bottle pops up from the box below. Even the box has a hidden agenda! The brunette model in the ad poster places the bottle over her shoulder and she does not reveal her face. It's her secret! Secret Intention was available in 30 ml EdT.
(May 2013, text by guest writer Linda Primeau)
Category. Citrus, fruity, floral. Launch year. 2001. Creator. Jean-Paul Guerlain.
Fragrance. Jean-Paul Guerlain created this magical fragrance to transform reality into the dreamworld of the imagination. As a lover of women, he intended this scent for all of them: from seductresses of irresistible beauty to a beguiling perfect stranger. He visualized a many-faceted woman who is loved and dreamt about in his fantasies. Sensuous yet fresh in the tradition of Jicky which blended a fresh top note with a sultry base, Purple Fantasy cast a sparkling burst of bergamot, green tea and bigarade in its opening. The aura continued with the redolence of apricot and osmanthus, tinged with sexy jasmine. The woody floral drydown mixed the boldness of cedarwood with the creamy mellowness of sandalwood.
Bottle. Harking back to Après l'Ondée 1904 and the 1999 version of Cherry Blossom, this limited-edition 30 ml EdT spray was housed in the classic Louis XVI basket weave bottle with the clover flower lid. The regal violet of the glass was dark at the sides but revealed the name of the fragrance in a lighter hue at the centre. The bottle came in a purple tulle basket. For a brief period, Purple Fantasy also appeared in the small bee bottle in the Parisiennes line.
(May 2013, text by guest writer Linda Primeau)
Category. Fruity, woody, floral. Launch year. 2001. Creator. Jean-Paul Guerlain. Inspiration. An Oriental sunrise at the dawn of the new millennium. Tagline. Light of the rising sun.
Fragrance. Samsara Shine is reminiscent of the original but without the heavy emphasis on the jasmine and sandalwood. It appeared at the time when perfumery's rich oriental accords were widely abandoned in favour of shiny red fruits and patchouli. The vivacity of the opening notes meld with luscious fruits that settle down to a kiss of sensuality. Evoking the bustle of a reborn and revived Asia that looks to the future, Samsara Shine suits a lively, but subtly seductive woman. Top notes: sparkling citrus from bergamot, green fig sap notes. Heart: lush jasmine, ylang-ylang, red fruits, pomegranate, redcurrant. Drydown: vanilla, tonka bean, sensual sandalwood, patchouli.
Bottle. A sleeker version of the original Samsara EdT bottle, Samsara Shine is stretched tall and smooth. The transparency of the glass alludes to the brightness of light at dawn's arrival. The brushed gold cap, which harks back to the eyelid of a Buddha, is accented with red eyeliner. Both colours are highly favoured in the Orient. The red of the rising sun's rays is echoed in the packaging. Samsara Shine was available in 50 and 75 ml EdT. Read about Samsara
(February 2013, text by guest writer Linda Primeau)
L'Heure de Nuit
While Shalimar enjoys fame as Guerlain's indisputable queen and global icon, most long-standing Guerlain lovers would say that the house's true masterpiece and most beautiful creation is L'Heure Bleue. Composed during the Belle Époque by Jacques Guerlain, it magnificently balanced orange blossom, anise, clove, animal musk and amber into a true abstraction of innocence and opulence, at once medicinal and gourmand. Unlike Shalimar, L'Heure Bleue has always been so rarefied as to stay clear of seeing "updated" versions made in its name. Yet when its centenary approached, fans knew something was coming, and the news of a reinterpretation by Thierry Wasser actually seemed intriguing to most. Guerlain chose disappointingly to restrict the celebratory products to be enjoyed by only a few affluent collectors (most of whom we suspect are not among real L'Heure Bleue aficionados), with extremely limited luxury editions at prices in the four-digit realm. Wasser's reinterpretation came in an embroidered box set including the three scent concentrations, Parfum, EdP and EdT, along with a bottle of the original perfume.
The EdP variant has eventually been offered in the more accessible Parisienne line, and Guerlainophiles couldn't wait to smell it. "Under his leadership," said the ad material, referring to Wasser, "the scent is sweet, illuminated with new freshness and modernity. The white musk mingles with iris. Heliotrope is combined with orange blossom accents to make it more marshmallow-like, powdery but with a gourmand note like a veil." This pretty much sums it up. L'Heure de Nuit, its name suggestive of nighttime, is anything but dark. It bears the unmistakable stamp of L'Heure Bleue, especially in the opening, that famous honeyed accord of orange blossom and sweet pastry, but its most distinctive mark is that of Thierry Wasser, notably as found in his first L'Abeille fragrance, in Flora Nymphéa and Jasminora, and in Shanghai: floral notes as airy and soft as down, the soapy sweetness of neroli and white musk, and a bit of vanillic caramel. Gone is L'Heure Bleue's heavy oriental brocade, its narcotic white flower bouquet, its pronounced spiciness and most of the powder. There is no clove, no musky fire and only a smidgen of anise. If Wasser wanted to make a "L'Heure Bleue Parfum Initial", i.e., a less "intimidating" version of the classic aimed at the uninitiated, then L'Heure de Nuit does what it's supposed to do. However, L'Heure Bleue devotees will hardly see it as adding anything new, but perhaps as taking something away, leaving just the innocence. L'Heure de Nuit wears lightly and quietly as prescribed by today's tastes, although a hint of dusty marshmallow lingers for quite some time. Notes listed are bergamot, anise, orange blossom, iris, heliotrope, jasmine, rose, musk and sandalwood. Read about L'Heure Bleue
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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