Guerlain likes to play with its own vast history, and adapt vintage concepts for new products. One example is the reuse of the shape of the 1937 bow tie bottle (a.k.a. the Coque d'Or bottle) for the fragrance Mon Exclusif. With Santal Royal, a scent dedicated to the Middle Eastern market, we have found an even older reference: the golden label on Santal Royal's black bottle reprises an arabesque on the lid of Guerlain's La Poudre C'est Moi, a face powder dating back to 1925.
La Poudre C'est Moi was scented with Shalimar, which debuted the same year, and Shalimar being Guerlain's most famous oriental fragrance, it makes sense that the brand eyed an opportunity to reuse this look for a new fragrance inspired by the Orient. In reality though, the design of La Poudre C'est Moi had nothing to do with the Orient, but was inherently French, made in pure Louis XIV style. The name "La Poudre C'est Moi" was in fact a paraphrasing of a well-known Louis XIV quote, "L'État, C'est Moi". The Sun King emblem of Louis XIV is one of Guerlain's historic logos, which was revived in 2013.
The forthcoming sequel to Santal Royal, called Ambre Éternel, features a similar arabesque label design, but with a new motif that is unmistakably Middle Eastern.
4 x "Du 68"
Created by Sophie Labbé in 2006, Cologne du 68 was meant to commemorate the renovation of Maison Guerlain the year before. Technically an Eau de Toilette and not a cologne, the fragrance was named after the address of Maison Guerlain, 68 Champs-Elysées. Cologne du 68 reportedly was made up of sixty-eight raw materials, which probably wasn't the technical truth either, 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, floral and gourmand. Inspired by the scent of the maquis, Corsica's fragrant wilderness, its star ingredient was everlasting flower, soft, mild and honeyed.
The second renovation of Maison Guerlain in 2013 spawned a reinterpretation of the scent, this time called Parfum du 68. The scent retained the everlasting flower and the characteristic spicy-praline accord of Cologne du 68, but turned it into a floral gourmand perfume with notes 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 felt like Cologne du 68 made into a L'Art & la Matière.
Confusingly, Parfum du 68 was not a Parfum, but an EdP. In French, the term "Parfum" is often used generically to simply mean "perfume". Eventually, a real Parfum version of Parfum du 68 was launched, featured in a costly Baccarat crystal bottle, a giant black version of the historic tortoise bottle. The tortoise bottle is closely linked to Maison Guerlain, as it was originally created when the Champs-Elysées boutique opened for the first time in 1914. Named L'Extrait du 68, this more luxurious version of the scent had all the delectable intensity we love about Guerlain: the spices were spicier, the rose, jasmine and magnolia were richer and more sensual, and the base was altogether more addictive, a gorgeous cocoon of amber, incense and white musk.
The latest "Flacon Tortue" version essentially smells like L'Extrait du 68, but the top note is significantly more floral, with a very feminine aura of jasmine and orange blossom. Also, the fragrance is fruitier, which Guerlain ascribes to the inclusion of osmanthus blossom, a flower with fruity-leathery notes of plum, prunes and apricot. A delightful fragrance, which Guerlain has produced in only forty-seven 60 ml bottles (that is less than three litres!), each priced at 9,500 €. Read more about Cologne du 68 / Parfum du 68
Guerlain offers the possibility of purchasing the perfume of your choice in bee bottles on special order. Shown here (first picture) are the 250 ml sizes of Nahéma Parfum, personalized with engraving, together with Nahéma EdP. Nahéma Parfum is leaving the Guerlain catalogue as of January 2016. The second picture shows Habit Rouge Dress Code.
One bottle, ten stories
In 1925, Paris was entranced by the exotic, the year Josephine Baker sailed from America to star in La Revue Nègre on the Champs-Elysées. Those were the colonial years. Shalimar's bottle turns ninety years old this year and tells us all the stories. While Guerlain has chosen not to celebrate the Shalimar anniversary, we can at least revel in the beauty of this masterly, exotic creation. Read more about Shalimar
Guerlain has confirmed that the Parfum version of Nahéma is leaving the catalogue as of January 2016. Nahéma was never the commercial success it was meant to be, not least due to a completely inadequate ad campaign. Shown below is the only ad material ever produced for Nahéma. Read more about Nahéma
Lying in repose
One of Guerlain's, and perfumery's, most beautiful creatures has passed away. She died young, at the age of thirty-six.
Often called the Daughter of Fire, strong-willed and fiery, she wasn't loved by all. Yet her captivating beauty, with perfect features like a rose in bloom, was unquestionable. She was an example to many.
Nahéma Parfum is survived by her less extravagant sister, Nahéma EdP.
RIP Read more
Fleur de Feu — memorial of the fallen
Fleur de Feu (1948) was Jacques Guerlain's first perfume after World War II. Translating to "flower of fire", the name seems to imply something powerful and burning which this delicate, fresh-honeyed and aldehydic floral scent is not.
The name reportedly was inspired by the idea of flowers rising from the flames, the latter illustrated by the bright white light of the aldehyde top note. Like any other country, France mourned its wounded and fallen soldiers after the war, and Jacques Guerlain himself lost his youngest son on the front. It has been suggested that his sadness over it explains why he didn't create another masterpiece in his later years. The tragic theme of the fallen of war was underscored by Fleur de Feu's bottle, which resembled a memorial column like the ones you find at the Panthéon, Paris' mausoleum for national heroes and heroines (pictured on the right). Read more about Fleur de Feu
The crisp, cool air of October on the Northern Hemisphere, awash with fall colours, calls for the warmth of the Guerlinade. Pictured here are Héritage EdP, Cuir Beluga, Parfum du 68, Tonka Impériale, Attrape Cœur, Iris Ganache, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, and L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme EdP.
New format to old formulas
A little over a decade ago, when the demand for frequent new launches intensified, Guerlain began to occasionally reuse existing formulas for new perfume editions. In 2014 alone, there were three such reissues. To catch consumers' attention in today's enormous and overloaded market, Guerlain sees it necessary to perform at a speed of twenty releases per year. Yes, twenty — that’s more than one every three weeks.
It seems evident that this pace would wear out even the most productive and creative perfumer (or perfumer team: Thierry Wasser is assisted by perfumers Delphine Jelk and Frédéric Sacone to create new scents) — at least when the end product must have the high quality that Guerlain wants as its hallmark ("Make good products, never compromise on quality," founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain admonished his successors). It's therefore no surprise that half of all Guerlain releases consist of reissues or special bottle editions, products that the marketing department can rejig without involving a perfumer.
The Guerlain archive contains an early example of a fragrance relaunched with a new name, namely Kriss (1942) which later appeared as Dawamesk. However, this practice was not very common in the Jacques Guerlain era; in his time, demand didn't exceed his capacity. The reason for renaming Kriss was that this perfume had an unfortunate association with the Nazis.
Sometimes, Guerlain fans are happy about a reissue, like when the rather costly limited edition Quand Vient l'Été (1998) became available the following year as the more affordable Voile d'Été in the Terracotta series. At others, fans are dismayed to find a once readily available fragrance relaunched and marketed as a whole new deluxe perfume, such as Cour des Senteurs Versailles (which contains Aqua Allegoria Jasminora) and Carmen Le Bolshoï (formerly Vetiver Pour Elle). See full list of Guerlain perfume names with a known release year since 1828
The Baccarat Crystal company has played a significant role in the artistic development of Guerlain's exquisite bottles. Since the beginning of the 20th century, many of Guerlain's bottles were designed in close collaboration with Baccarat, and all of Guerlain's most famous bottles have been produced in a Baccarat crystal edition. Although today's perfumes are sold in more affordable glass bottles, Guerlain is still working with Baccarat to produce exclusive editions for perfume collectors.
Collecting rare objects has never been a viable hobby for those on a budget, but recent years have witnessed a boom in Baccarat's prices, making Guerlain's crystal editions unattainable to all but the most wealthy collectors. In 2005, the Baccarat edition of the quadrilobe bottle, containing 500 ml of the perfume Plus Que Jamais Guerlain, was priced at the now seemingly reasonable 1,500 €, and in 2007, Candide Effluve was reissued in the 60 ml smoke brown Baccarat bottle, priced at 2,000 €. The price of crystal started to boom in 2008, when on the occasion of Guerlain's 180th anniversary Parfum des Champs-Elysées was relaunched in a 500 ml tortoise bottle for 10,000 €. Fast forward to 2014, and the 190 ml size of the gilded bow tie bottle for Coque d'Or came with a 17,000 € price tag! In 2015, the tortoise bottle is being reissued once again, this time in a 60 ml version priced at 9,500 €.
The price of a tortoise
In 1914, Guerlain launched Parfum des Champs-Elysées to celebrate the opening of the company's new boutique on the Champs-Elysées boulevard, at that time the most fashionable address of Paris. The perfume was presented in a Baccarat crystal bottle shaped like a tortoise. During the Art Nouveau design period, animal motifs were very much in vogue. Since Jacques Guerlain had already finished Parfum des Champs-Elysees ten years earlier, the tortoise shape reportedly was a comment on slowness of the construction work of the building site. The bottle came in an egg-shaped red box.
In 1995, Guerlain chose to reissue Parfum des Champs-Elysées and the tortoise bottle, so Baccarat was commissioned to replicate the bottle in its 60 ml size. The brand had just entered the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH the year before, and the influx of new funds was spent on invigorating the image of Guerlain as the epitome of French perfumery. Among the new projects was the reissue of some of Guerlain's long-forgotten vintage perfumes. The retail price for the reissued tortoise edition, presented in a square box, was 6,000 Francs, which today would equal 1,200 € (adjusted for inflation).
Twenty years later, in 2015, Guerlain once again reissues the Baccarat tortoise bottle. This time the bottle contains a new fragrance, described as a fruitier and more floral version of Parfum du 68 from 2013. The size, 60 ml, is the same as in 1995, but now the price is almost eight times higher, namely 9,500 €. The extravagant price reflects the fact that LVMH has succeeded in making Guerlain into one of the most esteemed brands among wealthy collectors around the world.
Guerlain breaks the record: 9,500 € for 60 ml
Guerlain has released an exclusive run of the historic tortoise bottle, which makes it the fourth time that Guerlain reissues this bottle. The scent for this new 60 ml edition in clear Baccarat crystal is described as a spicy and woody floral in Parfum concentration, with notes of immortelle, osmanthus, mandarin, tonka bean, benzoin, vanilla and white musk. Guerlain explains that it's a fruitier and more floral version of Parfum du 68 (pictured on the right). Priced at 9,500 €, it breaks the record for the most expensive Guerlain exclusive so far. Compare with last year's 190 ml Baccarat reissue of Coque d'Or, which went for 17,000 €.
Ne m'Oubliez Pas — historic name for new exclusive
Guerlain has released a new perfume whose availability is limited to the Champs-Elysées boutique in Paris. Called Ne m'Oubliez Pas ("forget me not"), its name is taken from the brand's historic lipstick, introduced in 1870 as the world's first lipstick.
In English, Forget-me-not is the name of a number of species of flowering plants in the genus Myosotis, and therefore some people are speculating that the new perfume is related to this flower. With their tender, blue-coloured appearance, Forget-me-nots are often associated with romance and affection. In French, however, no flower is called Ne m'Oubliez Pas. The name Forget-me-not was copied from the flower's German name, "Vergissmeinnicht", which has since been translated into several other languages, but never into French.
Described as an enveloping fruity-floral and liqueur-like fragrance with woody, chypre, and amber facets, and a spicy-fresh top note of cumin and plum, the scent comes in Parfum concentration. The plum theme is echoed in the colour of the juice and the bottle's tassel. The design of the label elegantly evokes the Arc de Triomphe which crowns the Champs-Elysées boulevard. Like Le Bouquet de la Mariée, the perfume is sold in the 125 ml quadrilobe bottle, but at a significantly lower price, namely 500 €. Read fragrance review
Old design achieving worldwide fame
When in 1912 Guerlain commissioned Baccarat's designer Georges Chevalier to create a new perfume bottle, it was meant for L'Heure Bleue and Fol Arôme. Influenced by the prominent Art Nouveau design movement which celebrated nature's sinuous forms, the bottle was made with flowing lines and curvilinear shoulders. As such, the bottle conveyed the angelical grace of the prewar times, even though it was reused for Mitsouko after the war. For many years, Baccarat catalogued it as the "gendarme hat bottle" because the stopper appeared to resemble the hat of a French policeman, but the official inspiration is that of a heart, very suggestive of the Belle Époque's refined romanticism and optimism.
The spray version of the heart-shaped stopper bottle came out in 1995 and has since then been used for a number of different scents in limited editions. Unlike the quadrilobe bottle, however, the heart-shaped bottle was never considered a standard bottle.
With the advent of La Petite Robe Noire, Guerlain's old heart-shaped stopper bottle has achieved worldwide fame. Although the bottle was originally made with L'Heure Bleue in mind, for La Petite Robe Noire Guerlain stressed that it was "the Mitsouko bottle", probably to point out the modern character of the scent. Pictured here are the 7.5 ml Parfum editions of Mitsouko and La Petite Robe Noire. Read more about La Petite Robe Noire
Before "Chypre" became chypre
Most perfume aficionados are familiar with the term "chypre", which designates a fragrance family. Yet the subject isn't completely straightforward. Thierry Wasser has re-created Jacques Guerlain's Chypre de Paris (1909), and this scent reminds us that around 1900, hundreds of perfumes with the name Chypre were being produced, without designating any common accord. Many of them shared an oakmoss accord though, that to modern tastes might smell rather inelegant. The annals suggest that there was a Guerlain perfume called Chypre as early as in 1840.
The name "Chypre" originated from the French word for the Island of Cyprus, however the Osmothèque suggests it was born of an independent etymology referring to "oakmoss". It wasn't until Coty made his Chypre in 1917, an amazing and very novel accord of bergamot, labdanum resin and oakmoss, that the word chypre began to change from name to noun. "'It's a Chypre,' perfumers would say of perfumes similar in structure to Coty's Chypre," explains Will Inrig from the Osmothèque. "Later would appear the common noun 'chypre' and the French adjective 'chypré', both referencing a genre sired by Coty's Chypre and propagated, somewhat confusingly, by Guerlain’s fruity chypre Mitsouko."
Chypre de Paris is not a chypre. It has oakmoss but no labdanum, and the bergamot is subdued. Read more about Chypre de Paris
The changing colours of La Petite Robe Noire
When in 2012 La Petite Robe Noire went from exclusive collection to worldwide success, reworked slightly by Thierry Wasser, the colour of the juice was changed from deep purple to a pale, almost clear almond-yellow hue. The design of the bottle retained the black base, while the transparent part of the glass was given a light shade of pink. In combination, the visual effect was suggestive of both roses, cherries, almond and licorice, which reflected the fragrance quite precisely.
Later batches of the EdP version have seen a change of the juice colour. Now, La Petite Robe Noire is all pink. The change is not least visible in the new refill edition, which features a clear pour bottle (pictured to the right). Read more about La Petite Robe Noire
The Guerlain trio of praline genius
The old Guerlain masters, Jacques and Jean-Paul Guerlain, both professed that a Guerlain perfume must first and foremost smell good. In that respect, Guerlain is still keeping up with tradition. With its combination of almonds and caramelized sugar, praline is something that is universally thought to taste and smell marvelous. Gourmand notes in perfumery became popular with Mugler's Angel (1992), but Guerlain wanted a note that felt "black" and wasn't all about sweet caramel and cotton candy.
The new note was introduced with La Petite Robe Noire in 2009, featuring a praline scent with dark facets of maple syrup, burnt sugary coffee, roasted almonds, and licorice. Mixed with bergamot, rose, cherry, patchouli and musk, the effect was unquestionably addictive. Last year we saw the launch of L'Homme Idéal, which had the same kind of dark praline blended with neroli, rosemary, green apple, and strong woody molecules. Once again, the result was very attractive. Now, with the advent of the new Habit Rouge anniversary flanker, called Dress Code, for the third time Guerlain proves its genius of using praline in a perfume. This time, it meets with the famous Habit Rouge accord of fresh rose and leather, making for a darker, richer and more sensual rendition of the original fragrance.
Guerlain's genius seems to be not only the dark quality of this praline note, but also its careful balance with the other notes, be they fresh, floral, fruity, woody or leathery. Not too sweet, the praline simply makes all the rest feel more delicious, dense and captivating. Read more about Habit Rouge Dress Code
Putting perfume on a pedestal
Sources often claim that Shalimar's famous bottle (1925) was the first in history to feature a pedestal. However, research reveals that brand Bourjois issued a perfume presented in a pedestal bottle (pictured on the left) as early as 1922, thus predating Shalimar's. Interestingly, the shape of the Bourjois bottle seems to have inspired Shalimar's design! Read more about Shalimar
We're not invited to the party
The past six years have seen the anniversaries of Jacques Guerlain's three most famous and admired perfumes: Mitsouko (90 years in 2009), L'Heure Bleue (100 years in 2012), and Shalimar (90 years in 2015). Collectible editions of these perfumes are on the top of any Guerlain aficionado's wish list, and we believe that anniversaries should be perfect occasions to make something special to crown our collection. Guerlain actually did so, but chose models that were so over-the-top that no one with a normal income could afford to buy them. We're sad and annoyed to know that Guerlain's marketing department is not concerned to please the brand's most loving and loyal audience with special perfume editions that are within financial reach. Read more about this year's special bottle editions
The new Habit Rouge challenger: my first love has got a rival
It was Habit Rouge that made me into first a Francophile, then a Guerlainophile. Without Habit Rouge, there would be no Monsieur Guerlain. My awareness of Guerlain began in 1992 when I lived in Paris and someone very dear to me gave me a 50 ml bottle of Habit Rouge EdT for my 21st birthday. Being a Scandinavian, I was deeply fascinated with la vie à la française, with its strong emphasis on everything cultured and life-enhancing, from grand architecture and dramatic history, to philosophical films, late three-course dinners, wine, cheese, heated debates, noisy cafés, exquisitely dressed messieurs and mademoiselles — and perfume. It wasn't until years later that I understood that the scent emanating from the lady who employed me as a "jeune homme au pair" was... Shalimar!
Whenever I smell Habit Rouge EdT, all I can think of is being young in Paris. Maybe that's why I love it so much. In 1992, Guerlain was in an innocent pre-flanker state, but eventually new Habit Rouge versions were launched: EdP (2003), Légère (2005), L'Extrait (2008), Sport (2009), and L'Eau (2011).
None of these made me change my mind about the EdT. I smelled Habit Rouge EdP on my first trip to Maison Guerlain in 2005 (yes, I never visited 68 Champs-Elysées before the first renovation!). I'm sure that its warm, woody glow was enhanced by my excitement of finally being at Maison Guerlain, but to be honest I never finished a whole bottle. I came across the original EdC, which was too soft, then Légère, whose brightness exhausted my nose after a week, and Sport, which just seemed wrong, if not for anything then for its name. There was L'Extrait, which felt luxurious, not least due to its price. It somehow made me too self-conscious and aroused fears of not being dressed smartly enough, too dry and spicy and fashionable to get in the old-fashioned Habit Rouge mood. Then came L'Eau, charming and easy, but the whole L'Eau wave irritated me immensely. A "water" version just didn't correspond with my idea of Guerlain. I also discovered Jean-Paul Guerlain's first flanker, Habit Rouge Dry, which was crisp, cologne-like, and musky, but, well, too "vintage".
Now, with the advent of Habit Rouge Dress Code, we're really talking! At once sparkling, dense and delicious, and with the original rose-leather-amber accord intact, it almost feels like experiencing Habit Rouge for the very first time. What an achievement! Not since 1992 has my Habit Rouge EdT been pushed a bit further back in the closet.
Then I spray a bit of the old EdT, and I think to myself that Jean-Paul Guerlain's 1980s mixture of fresh cologne notes, leather and sweet balsams really was amazing, and I'm transported back to receiving that prophetic gift as a young man in Paris. What is your favourite Habit Rouge memory? Read more about Habit Rouge
Habit Rouge all over
Marketed as "a perfume with multiplied delight," in reality Habit Rouge L'Extrait (2008) felt like only a drop of Habit Rouge in an ocean of patchouli and dry woody aroma chemicals. By contrast, the new Dress Code flanker has Habit Rouge written all over it. It retains the signature rose-leather accord, but turns it more muscular and dense, following the trends of modern masculine perfumery, with strong notes of leather and spices together with a dark praline facet.
The base recaptures a bit of the spicy and ashy-woody profile of Habit Rouge L’Extrait, with ginger, coriander and nutmeg mixed with cigar-box cedarwood, patchouli, vetiver, and amber. We also recognize L’Homme Idéal’s addictive leather-amaretto-wood drydown in this scent, but with a new shade of rose. Above all, though, this is Habit Rouge, dressed in hot leather and praline, and we can only think Jean-Paul Guerlain must feel proud about this homage to his work. Read more about Habit Rouge L'Extrait and Dress Code
Substitution and dilution — two necessary evils in IFRA-safe perfumery
Sharing with us the secrets of perfumery, Thierry Wasser has re-created fifty-three historic Guerlain perfumes. He reveals that some of the most unwelcome restrictions of the IFRA guidelines are on nitro-musk and raw bergamot oil. Both of these materials, serving as a base and a top note respectively, provide much of the richness, roundness and depth that we know from vintage Guerlain. In comparison, the "purified" substitutes that are allowed today smell dry, flat and one-dimensional.
Other than substitution, a second method to make a formula meet the IFRA criteria is by diluting the fragrance until the concentration of the most problematic ingredient falls below the safety threshold. That’s the reason why nothing but very light EdT versions of Mouchoir de Monsieur, Après l’Ondée and Chant d’Arômes exist today. Only by ingenious and painstaking work in the laboratory has Wasser been able to preserve the more concentrated Parfum versions of the Guerlain catalogue’s remaining classics, although these also appear lighter and less tenacious than they used to. Thierry Wasser explains that dilution can radically change the olfactive impression of a fragrance, even when the formula itself is unaltered: a diluted fragrance doesn’t just smell less intense, it smells different. That’s because dilution affects some notes more than others, hence tipping the balance of the composition.
Most often, the methods of substitution and dilution are used in combination when reformulating a fragrance. We therefore understand the mechanisms that make several of today's versions of Guerlain classics pale in comparison to how they originally smelled. Read more about the re-created vintage Guerlain perfumes
The ninth variation on a classic theme
While Shalimar and La Petite Robe Noire are constantly competing to be the feminine Guerlain fragrance that spawns the highest number of different versions, the title in the men's department definitely goes to Jean-Paul Guerlain's Habit Rouge. Although the rose-leather accord of Habit Rouge wasn't popular when it debuted in 1965, it has become a classic in French men's perfumery. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, Thierry Wasser has created Habit Rouge Dress Code, the ninth fragrance that bears the Habit Rouge name.
Just two years after the original Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne, Jean-Paul Guerlain formulated Eau de Cologne Dry, reportedly because his uncle and manager found the first one too sweet and feminine.
Habit Rouge eventually gained success, and the more concentrated Eau de Toilette version appeared in 1988. By then men had embraced wearing very noticeable fragrances. The woodier Habit Rouge Eau de Parfum followed in 2003.
Since the first extension of Maison Guerlain in 2005, Guerlain has been increasing the pace of flankers. Over a 10-year period, five new Habit Rouge versions have been launched: Légère (2005), L'Extrait (2008), Sport (2009), L'Eau (2011), and finally Dress Code this year. Read more about Habit Rouge and its flankers
The French dress code
Thierry Wasser has created a special anniversary version of Habit Rouge, called Dress Code. Guerlain wants to state that if Habit Rouge is for gentlemen, this new scent is designed for those men for whom dressing with style is de rigueur.
The original 1965 advertisement had a similar aim, showing a groomed and well-dressed man's hand and wrist. "Habit Rouge, a young line, virile, invigorating, for men," it said.
Habit Rouge Dress Code comes with a beautifully redesigned label and box. Inspired by a characteristic pattern of French floor tiles, the look evokes a once-fashionable men’s handkerchief in blood red, pink, black and grey colours, harking back to the sixties when Habit Rouge was born. Read more about Habit Rouge
Guerlain's new sixties pair
Habit Rouge is often mentioned as the male companion to Shalimar. However, this 1960s ad promoted Habit Rouge and Chant d'Arômes as a pair: "She loves Chant d'Arômes. He loves Habit Rouge." Both of these fragrances represented a whole new sparkling freshness in the Guerlain universe.
The only Guerlain perfume to have been discontinued three times
Chant d’Arômes is the only Guerlain perfume to have been discontinued not once, not twice, but three times! It was removed from the catalogue in 1989 when Samsara was launched, but Guerlain chose to reintroduce it in 1995. We speculate that loyal customers had expressed their discontentment with it being unavailable.
In 2002, it was discontinued again, until 2005, when Guerlain reissued it as part of the new Parisienne collection. Confusingly, it didn’t come in the Parisienne bee bottle, but in the 30 ml quadrilobe bottle, as it wasn’t an EdP or EdT like the other Parisiennes, but a Parfum. Soon after, though, it was put to rest for the last time, presumably due to IFRA restrictions on some of its ingredients. However, Chant d’Arômes is still available as a light EdT in the 100 ml bee atomizer.
Thierry Wasser has re-created the vintage 1962 Parfum version of Chant d’Arômes, unfolding the fragrance in all its delicate beauty like a long, feminine caress. Also, in this original version, with its fruity citrus, prune, rose and robust chypre accord, we sense a hint of what would become the scent of Parure in the following decade. This interesting link is lost in the EdT version of Chant d’Arômes that is sold today. Read fragrance review of the re-created Chant d'Arômes
Ode: The vintage reissue that never came into being
In 2009, Guerlain was planning to launch an exclusive vintage reissue of Ode, reformulated to meet the current IFRA standards, but the project was suddenly abandoned for undisclosed reasons.
Guerlain staff told us that the glassmaker had even already delivered the empty Ode bottles to Guerlain's factory, but some unforeseen problems must have occurred at the last minute, either commercial or technical. The same year, Guerlain released the limited edition perfume Les Secrets de Sophie, a huge jasmine fragrance not unlike Ode. We began to think that the idea of vintage reissues was altogether abandoned. Vintage reissues are very demanding financially, and also technically given the IFRA norms on raw materials. However, there was a special vintage edition of Vol de Nuit in 2013 for the perfume's 80th anniversary, and last year we got Coque d'Or.
Thierry Wasser has now re-created the original version of Ode, to be discovered at Maison Guerlain's monthly vintage perfume workshops. Read fragrance review of the re-created Ode
When Guerlain stopped recycling bottles — and started again
Not only did Ode (1955) mark the transition from one generation of Guerlain nose to the next, but also a new way of looking at the relationship between a perfume and its bottle. From Ode onwards, each and every new Guerlain perfume would come with its own uniquely designed bottle, in order to give it a distinct visual character. Before Ode, it was common practice for Guerlain to reuse a bottle for two or more different fragrances.
In recent years, though, Guerlain has revived a few of its old bottle designs: the heart-shaped stopper bottle (1912) for La Petite Robe Noire, the bow tie bottle (1937) for Mon Exclusif, and the quadrilobe bottle (1908) for Le Bouquet de la Mariée. Read more about the Ode bottle
50th anniversary of Guerlain's first commercial spray bottle
Most people know perfumes as coming in spray bottles. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Guerlain's first commercial spray bottle.
Guerlain's first spray bottle was a tester bottle, introduced in 1900, a refillable, spherical body of glass with an atomizer bulb attached. The bottle could also be purchased for personal use though. In 1950, the rounded form of the bottle was changed into a cylindrical design, still featuring the bulb. Various other tester bottle designs later appeared, with a fixed spray mechanism replacing the atomizer bulb.
Guerlain's first commercial atomizer, the refillable canister system, came in 1965. It wasn't until 1974, with Eau de Guerlain, that we began to see spray bottles with an individual design as we know it today, non-refillable and unique for each fragrance. Read more about Guerlain's bottles
Is perfume still art?
The question gives rise to another: Was perfume ever art? If we could have asked Jacques Guerlain that question, maybe he would have replied that he saw himself as a highly skilled craftsman, who was lucky enough to have a handful of his four hundred creations (that’s a little over one percent) considered as classics.
What is art and what is not has always been debatable. In regards to perfume, the question hadn’t really occurred to us before the 1980s when perfumery evolved rapidly into a billion-dollar, marketing-driven industry. Since then, perfumes seem to be either "art" or "not art". If the making of a product takes a whole army of marketing people, evaluators and developers, then we feel it definitely can’t be art. We think of an artist as someone who works alone in his studio, with no other incentive than an innate urge to express himself. (To quote Jacques Guerlain, who according to his son Jean-Jacques worked strictly by himself day in and day out, assisted only by a factory worker to carry heavy loads, "A successful perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream.")
As a backlash against increasing commercialism, we saw the so-called "niche perfumery", often linked to Serge Lutens who indeed worked alone and sold his perfumes as "art". After that came Frédéric Malle, who became famous as a promoter of other perfumers’ creations, communicating a sharp distinction between the nose as the sovereign artist and himself as a non-intervening "librarian". "In an era in which most companies value intensely marketed brand names," his website says, "Malle draws attention back to the product itself: namely perfume."
Historically, the resistance to commercialism has been an inherited attitude chez Guerlain. "Guerlain perfumes are still reassuringly unknown," was the catchphrase of an American 1970s ad. However, since Samsara (1989), which was the house's first perfume created from a marketing brief, inviting external perfumers from Givaudan and IFF to work in competition with Jean-Paul Guerlain, target marketing has become a chief motivating force in Guerlain's creativity. In 1996, after the LVMH takeover, for the first time Guerlain's marketing team chose the prototype of an external perfumer (Olivier Cresp's Champs-Elysées) over that of Jean-Paul Guerlain’s, as Cresp's commercial potential was rated to be larger.
Jean-Paul Guerlain is often seen as the brand's last "real artist", because the concept of marketing and panel tests wasn't introduced until the end of his career. Being an old-school perfumer, emotional, cultured, a bon vivant, and, "like any artist, slightly choleric," as Sylvaine Delacourte puts it, Jean-Paul Guerlain has often declared his dismay about marketing briefs. When an interviewer asked him what he felt about panel tests, he replied, "I like that for laundry detergent brands. Not for perfumery."
The profession has changed considerably, opines Jean-Paul Guerlain, because back in his time each reputable house had its own perfumer who entered the job in much the same way one enters a religion: "He lived his life there. Today, perfumers walk around with a lot of formulas which they swap, and I think this has drained every creative effort. All the perfumes in the world are now made by five houses, by talented perfumers, but who don't have the time to work. Creating takes time. You don't make a perfume in three months." (Guerlain now makes approximately one every month.)
In 2002, when Jean-Paul Guerlain retired, Guerlain became a melting pot of various external perfumers, coordinated by Sylvaine Delacourte who devised the fragrance briefs. "I am what you call a nose," she proclaimed in 2005, not inclined to the same humbleness as Frédéric Malle. She would often talk about the creations that ensued — L’Instant de Guerlain, Insolence, Cologne du 68, L’Instant Magic, the L’Art & la Matière fragrances, Mon Précieux Nectar and La Petite Robe Noire — as entirely her own. Today, Guerlain has completely and openly dismantled the traditional idea of the perfumer as a solo artist, since the company's olfactive output isn’t attributable to one man’s genius, but to the joint forces of a large, unstructured team of people with various professional backgrounds. Sylvaine Delacourte explains that "a brief can come from the girls in the marketing, from me, from Thierry. No one has the monopoly." Gone is the time when Jacques Guerlain would walk along the Seine in Paris and afterwards ponder that, "I felt something so intense, I could only express it in a perfume," thus creating L’Heure Bleue. Nowadays, a Guerlain fragrance can be designed by "the girls in the marketing".
Should perfume lovers regret that there are no solo artists anymore, or even no artists at all? Has the way perfumery works been degraded into the realm of laundry detergent brands, as Jean-Paul Guerlain would say, or can marketing briefs in fact result in great perfumes? Is it really necessary to work alone to be a genius, or can a team sometimes be even better?
Now that Thierry Wasser has re-created a large selection of works by the brand’s former solo artists, we’re able to evaluate these hypotheses. So was Guerlain more artistic then than it is today? Read more about Guerlain's history
L'Heure Bleue for the troops
L’Heure Bleue (1912) and Mitsouko (1919) are often said to mark the beginning and end of World War I respectively, like a pair of bookends. Thierry Wasser recounts how Jacques Guerlain, at the age of forty, was called to join the army to fight in the war. While serving he was wounded in the eye, and so returned home.
Once back in Paris, he began to send small presents to the battlefront to heighten the morale of the French soldiers. These parcels contained warm clothes, canned food, and, above all, a small bottle of L'Heure Bleue that should provide a bit of female compassion to the dismal trenches. Read more about L'Heure Bleue
Guerlain's two war perfumes
As society's normal routines were disrupted during the two World Wars, it's understandable that something like perfumery stood still in those years. Both wars brought significant adversity to Jacques Guerlain. Only two Guerlain perfumes are known from the periods of war.
Thierry Wasser recounts that Jacques, at the age of forty, was called to join the French army to fight in World War I. While serving he was wounded in the eye, and so returned home. According to research intern Will Inrig at L'Osmothèque, the injury left Jacques blind in one eye. Luckily, his sense of smell emerged unscathed. In 1917 he released Jasmiralda, a lighthearted, woody jasmine scent. Mitsouko was his first postwar perfume, which signalled a new, very mature style in Jacques Guerlain's oeuvre.
World War II was particularly disturbing for Jacques Guerlain. His youngest son, Pierre, was fatally wounded in combat at the age of twenty-one. Will Inrig explains that Jacques' grief was so overwhelming that he stopped creating for two years. In 1942 he returned with the perfume Kriss. The following year, the company’s factory in Bécon-les-Bruyères was demolished by bombs. It wasn't until after the war that a new factory was built at Courbevoie. Then, as the war drew to a close, Jacques Guerlain’s situation worsened when rumours spread of his apparent collaboration, all essentially unfounded. According to Will Inrig, Jacques fell into a depression, and although he continued to work during the last eighteen years of his life, he created very little.
Jacques Guerlain's first new creation after World War II was Fleur de Feu ("flower of fire"). It came in a bottle that resembled a memorial column, and the floral aldehyde fragrance reportedly was inspired by the idea of flowers rising from the flames. Read more about Kriss
The Guerlain time machine
If only we could turn back time and browse the rue de la Paix shop, say hello to Aimé Guerlain and inhale all those odours that are now restricted by decrees and marketing. Thierry Wasser fulfills our wish and transports us back to the beginning of the Belle Époque, to discover nine Aimé Guerlain perfumes.
Here we find the fresh rose cologne Pao Rosa (1877), the airy orange blossom and vanilla of Parfum Impérial Russe (1880), the musky cookie scent of Jadis (1883), the aldehydic strawberries of Iris Blanc (1889), the rich vintage version of Jicky (1889), the grassy amber of Belle France (1892), the spicy warmth of Cyprisine (1894), the hay and lily of the valley of À Travers Champs (1898), and finally the beautiful sandalwood of Plagia (1900). Read fragrance reviews
Jacques, scents and cigars
Jacques Guerlain had a remarkable dedication and self-discipline, finishing his first perfume, Ambre, when he was just sixteen years old, and from there, it's estimated that some four hundred perfumes left his hands, many of which were variations and alterations of each other, or perfumes made by special order for high-society personalities, and most long forgotten.
His son Jean-Jacques, who himself briefly ventured into the creative field with the two floral perfumes Guerlilas and Guerlarose, describes how Jacques usually composed his perfumes in his living room when he came home in the evening, as he found the air in the factory too suffused with fragrance to allow anything else to be smelled. On the other hand he enjoyed smoking cigars, which gave him time to think while he slowly and carefully inhaled the scent of each of his many perfume blotter strips. Read more about Jacques Guerlain
Why perfumery cleaned up
Thanks to the research of Thierry Wasser and his assistant perfumer Frédéric Sacone, we now know a great deal more about Guerlain's olfactive history and previously well-kept secrets. In the 1930s, Guerlain released two floral fragrances by Jacques Guerlain's son Jean-Jacques, called Guerlilas and Guerlarose. Smelling them, we quickly ascertain that they must be some of Guerlain’s most stridently floral and sweet perfumes. Even La Petite Robe Noire feels refreshing in comparison.
Like Jacques, Jean-Jacques used animal ingredients to make the perfume appear smooth, rich and sensual. In the case of a sweet floral like Guerlilas, it's a bit like adding whipped cream on top of an already high-calorie fruit pie. This kind of perfume, almost too heady to assimilate, is probably unmarketable today. Modern tastes require lighter and more transparent scents, which is one of Thierry Wasser’s hallmarks. We actually don't know if the increasing health and ethical restrictions on perfumery's "heavier" materials have helped shape our tastes, or if they would've changed regardless. According to Guerlain's assistant perfumer, Frédéric Sacone, perfumes from before the 1960s were much more dense, powerful and animalic, to match the overall more odorous environment back then. Today, as the Western world has embraced more fastidious personal hygiene, perfumes have evolved a lighter touch too. Read more about Guerlilas
How to pronounce "Guerlain"
Unlike Dior, Guerlain has a name that only the French know how to pronounce properly. English speakers often end up with something like "Girl-an". The reason is that French writing and pronunciation have so many rules that are unknown in other languages. To get a "g" sound as in "girl", for example, in French you must write it as "gu" — otherwise it's pronounced as the "g" sound in "genre". The "u" is not there to be pronounced, but only to support the "g as in girl" sound.
The short, nasal vowel sounds in French are particularly difficult to pronounce for non-French speakers. These sounds are made by expelling air through the mouth and nose without obstruction of the lips, tongue, or throat. "Pain" means two very different things in French and English, and the pronunciation is nothing alike.
However, if you go to a perfume shop in England or USA and say "Guerlain" in perfect French, the sales staff will likely not understand which brand you're talking about. You need to stick to "Girl-an".
The perfumes of Gabriel, Pierre and Jean-Jacques
Several sources have mentioned it for a long time: the balsamic floral perfume Rue de la Paix (1908) was not created by Jacques Guerlain, but by his older brother Pierre. Now, with the re-creation of several historic perfumes, for the first time Guerlain openly states that not only Pierre, but also Aimé's brother Gabriel and Jean-Paul Guerlain's father Jean-Jacques made perfumes. Gabriel Guerlain signed the formula for the ambery fragrance Excellence (1890), while Jean-Jacques Guerlain composed the two floral fragrances Guerlilas (1930) and Guerlarose (1934).
It suggests that the olfactive creativity of the Guerlain family was not restricted to the appointed master nose. Moreover, it gives new meaning to how Guerlain organizes its creative forces today, with Thierry Wasser working in a tandem with perfumers Frédéric Sacone and Delphine Jelk.
For a Guerlain aficionado, this new insight is quite intriguing, as Guerlain is otherwise known as one of the few perfume houses that has only one nose at a time. The practice of having the creation of perfumes firmly assigned to one single family member was implemented to concentrate the development of know-how, as well as to maintain a consistent and recognizable olfactive signature. Read more about the Guerlain perfumers
The balsamic chypre
Balsamic resins have been valued since antiquity in perfume, ointment and incense. When combined with oakmoss, these materials smell extraordinarily pleasant and natural, like dusty oak barrels and sweet cinnamon. On a basic level, it explains the fame of the chypre accord, which mixes labdanum resin and oakmoss with the elegantly bitter citrus freshness of bergamot. Like any of the esteemed French perfumers, Jacques Guerlain experimented freely with the chypre accord as new perfume materials were introduced. His most famous chypre is the fruity Mitsouko from 1919, and he later issued Vol de Nuit (1933), using for the first time the fiercely green galbanum resin, and Sous le Vent (1934) with Provençal herbs and soft balsams.
The refinement of the latter two would prompt other perfume houses to launch rival versions of what was termed the green chypre, like Miss Dior and Balmain's Vent Vert. Some perfumers even talk about a "Vol de Nuit-type accord" and "Sous le Vent-type accord". Maybe Jacques Guerlain thought it was time for a response when he created Chypre 53. Compared to Sous le Vent, Chypre 53 is composed in a less freshly green, more warmly spicy and balsamic manner, with cinnamon, cardamom, patchouli, vetiver, ambergris, vanilla, and styrax balsam.
This kind of balsamic chypre fragrance fell out of fashion half a century ago (although Jean-Paul Guerlain revisited it more than twenty years later with Parure); there's something about the old oakmoss chypres that oozes well-off French lady from before the youth rebellion. Today, Chypre 53 would likely appeal to those in love with rarefied niche scents. Now that Parure is no longer among us, for at modern variant try Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Derby or Arsène Lupin Dandy. Read more about Chypre 53
Lavender is one of perfumery’s most distinctive materials, at once clean-smelling and balsamic. Although Guerlain has revived the lavender note in the feminine gourmand fragrance Mon Exclusif, it's nowadays mainly associated with men's scents. Not so in the time of Jacques Guerlain, who used it as a top note in any fragrance type, from Parfum des Champs-Elysées and Après l'Ondée to Sous le Vent, Coque d'Or and Chypre 53.
In Pour Troubler, an oriental fougère from 1911, the lavender is felt particularly strongly. The reason might be that the other ingredients of the composition seem to underscore the different facets of the lavender’s complex odour profile: rosemary (the fresh facet), anise (the licorice facet), clove (the spicy facet), patchouli (the earthy facet), civet (the heady facet), and, not least, tonka bean, which similar to lavender contains a high amount of the warm, hay-like coumarin molecule. The effect is a herbal, anise-like softness like we know it from old-fashioned lavender soaps, and for a moment we are transported to one of those soap factories that are still to be found here and there along the south coast of France. Read more about Pour Troubler
From Jicky to Shalimar
The fougère accord, essentially lavender combined with coumarin, was the first perfume accord to give name to an entire fragrance family, of which Aimé Guerain's Jicky (1889) remains the most classic and esteemed example. This accord eventually gave rise to both the chypre and oriental styles.
It's widely accepted that Jacques Guerlain's Shalimar (1925) came to define the oriental accord. Thierry Wasser's re-created Pour Troubler (1911) could be smelled as one of the stepping stones towards the latter. When smelling it, we sense Jicky standing in the background, and Bouquet de Faunes and Shalimar with their vanillic, leathery trails waiting in the wings of the future.
In Pour Troubler, we find Jicky’s famous mixture of lavender, rosemary, patchouli, coumarin and civet, at once aromatic, sensual and sweet like hay. Compared to a traditional fougère, Pour Troubler intensifies the aspects of bergamot, jasmine, rose, amber and musk, obviously at the expense of cologne freshness, and in addition there’s a spicy element of clove that tickles the nose throughout the scent. The amplification of exactly these parts was very characteristic of Jacques Guerlain, and what gave a warm oriental aura to his entire style. If the start of Pour Troubler is fifty percent Jicky, then the drydown is at least fifty percent Shalimar. Guerlain classifies the scent as an oriental fougère, for lack of a more precise definition. Read more about vintage Guerlain
Jacques Guerlain's herbal-spicy-floral series
Over a period of six years, Jacques Guerlain issued a variation of scents in rapid succession, all of them worked around the same herbal-spicy-floral accord of anise, aromatics, jasmine, carnation and powdery notes: Après l’Ondée (1906), Kadine (1911), Pour Troubler (1911), Vague Souvenir (1912), Fol Arôme (1912), and L’Heure Bleue (1912). Each one had its own unique combination and garniture: some had orange blossom, some were more heady or ambery, some had more Provençal herbs, and some had fewer. He probably felt that this accord smelled so splendid that it deserved several interpretations.
Perfumers today regard the accord as prototypical, often associated with Coty’s L’Origan (1905). What was unique for Jacques Guerlain’s versions, though, was his use of herbs and anise. We imagine that he tirelessly went on fine-tuning and polishing a structure he had in his mind, and that instead of just keeping his trials as nameless scents languishing in the laboratory, he offered them for sale to test customers' reaction. Eventually, only Après l'Ondée and L'Heure Bleue were deemed worthy of retaining in the sales catalogue. Read more about vintage Guerlain
Guerlain occasionally reuses existing formulas for new perfume editions. None were relaunched as many times as Mathilde Laurent's two 1999 scents, Voile d'Été and Guet-Apens.
Voile d'Été was made to accompany the Terracotta makeup line, based partly on an old Jacques Guerlain formula, Quand Vient l'Été. There actually was a sneak preview of the new scent the year before, when Guerlain presented it in a limited numbered edition in the so-called flowered bottle bearing the name Quand Vient l'Été.
In 2002, the fragrance briefly reappeared in a limited bee bottle edition, renamed "No.25". In 2005, the fragrance joined the Parisiennes, once again under the name that inspired it, Quand Vient l'Été. The scent also was part of the 2008 anniversary box set Les Quatre Saisons, which featured 35 ml crystal heart-shaped stopper bottles.
Guet-Apens came out as a limited edition for Christmas 1999. Like Voile d'Été, in 2002 the scent was reused for a special bee bottle edition, renamed "No.68". In 2005, it went into the Parisienne line as Attrape Cœur, and in 2007 there was an airport release, confusingly named Vol de Nuit Evasion. Last year, the scent resurfaced in an exclusive Harrods edition, called Royal Extract. Read more about Voile d'Été
The fame and fortune of Guerlain is founded on exclusivity. The brand probably wouldn't have existed today, had Empress Eugénie not chosen Eau de Cologne Impériale as her personal fragrance in 1853, and a large part of Aimé and Jacques Guerlain's work consisted of custom-made perfumes for affluent private clients.
The market for luxury goods changed completely during the 1980s and 1990s. The fragrance industry saw a veritable boom, and you could find affordable perfumes in any drug store.
In 1998, as Guerlain turned 170 years old, the brand reintroduced the game of exclusivity with collectible, limited editions made for an occasion. The first two such were Muguet and Guerlinade. "One of my dreams, which I couldn't live out, was to renew the 'haute parfumerie', to copy the universe of haute couture, where each woman could be proud to own a perfume created for her alone," said Jean-Paul Guerlain.
However, the emergence of the internet has once again put a threat to exclusivity. Now, you can order and pay for your Exclusive Guerlain from even the smallest village in France. If you can't afford a bespoke perfume, Guerlain has as of lately introduced the possibility of a least naming your own bottle with metallic, self-adhesive letters provided in the box. First came Mon Habit Rouge, and now Mon Exclusif.
But does it really feel that exclusive? Read more about Mon Exclusif
Habit Rouge — the "fresh" versions
Guerlain is painfully aware of its image as being only relevant to a diminishing number of ladies and gentlemen, an image which the brand actively has been trying to shed since the LVMH takeover in 1994. Not least the two flagship fragrances, Shalimar and Habit Rouge, are perceived as belonging to an older generation, and when in 2005 Guerlain created Habit Rouge Légère (“Light”), it was surely an attempt to copy the success of Shalimar Light from two years before. Shalimar Light was made to attract a younger clientele to Guerlain’s oriental universe. It smelled lovely because it took out the leather note of Shalimar, leaving just the lemon pie accord of citrus and amber. It didn’t smell exactly “light”, though, and neither did Habit Rouge Light, a blindingly bright mixture of lemony molecules and fresh cedarwood. The scent was only granted a few years on the shelves.
Then, in 2009, Guerlain released Habit Rouge Sport. Nowadays, nearly all men’s scents eventually come in a “Sport” version, meant to make you feel fresh, clean, young and masculine after the shower in the gym. Just like intellectuals are often disparaging of sports, most perfume aficionados dismiss sport fragrances as being generic and inartistic.
It can't be denied that the entire idea of an “Habit Rouge Sport” feels wrong. First of all, there’s nothing even remotely in the dandy-like scent of Habit Rouge that could be tweaked into a sport fragrance. Guerlain wisely chose to create a whole new fragrance instead. Thank goodness it smelled refreshingly stylish for the sport fragrance genre, with a spiffy green accord of bamboo, pink pepper, jasmine and white musk.
Second, it reminds you that Habit Rouge (“red coat”) was named after a sport in the first place, namely that of fox hunting. With its chasing and killing of a fox, and strong links to social class, we would rather forget what inspired Jean-Paul Guerlain back in 1965. Fox hunting has since then been prohibited by law. Maybe therefore, any equestrian references were avoided in the presentation of Habit Rouge Sport, instead marketed with a racing red coloured bottle suggestive of sports car racing. It briefly appeared in a limited edition called “Gentleman Driver”, with the fragrance unchanged. The association to sports car racing actually wasn’t that inappropriate, since the sharp, plasticky styrene note in classic Habit Rouge is known from the leather upholstery of expensive new cars. Habit Rouge Sport was discontinued by the end of 2014.
Thierry Wasser put his fragrant touch on Habit Rouge in 2011 with a L’Eau version. Around that time, all Guerlain’s fresh flankers were called “L’Eau”. Unlike Habit Rouge Sport, it smelled like a variant of Habit Rouge, easy-to-wear and less leathery than the classic version, and therefore probably too trivial for a real Habit Rouge lover. It came with a refined, airy citrus top note, brittle like lemon drops, and a hazel note in the vegetal style Wasser loves so much. It seems clear he created it while working on Cologne du Parfumeur.
For the 50th anniversary of Habit Rouge, Thierry Wasser has created a new fragrance called Habit Rouge Dress Code, to be released right after the summer holidays. "I've made something very cute," he says. Read more about Habit Rouge and its flankers
Habit Rouge — the "strong" versions
It's with good reason that Habit Rouge remains Guerlain’s proudest work in the men’s department: it strikes the rare balance of being utterly unique all the while oozing the traditional Guerlinade signature. This year marks its 50th anniversary, which is celebrated with a whole new fragrance called Habit Rouge Dress Code.
Monsieur Guerlain is taking a closer look at the various Habit Rouge versions that have existed since Jean-Paul Guerlain created the scent in 1965. We recently examined EdC, EdC Dry and EdT Légère. Now we delve into the “strong” versions: Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, and L’Extrait. They beg the question: can Habit Rouge really be stronger? In technical terms, Guerlain describes the keystone of Habit Rouge as a rose-leather accord, more specifically the powerful, fresh-floral scent of citronellol which occurs in rose and geranium, combined with a tannic leather note. It seems that whenever these two materials are present, no matter what surrounds them we can't help thinking of Habit Rouge. The Habit Rouge accord is one of perfumery’s most potent and easily recognizable.
Habit Rouge lovers generally think of the Eau de Toilette as the classic version, but it actually wasn’t created until 1988, as the eighties demanded blatantly noticeable fragrances. Jean-Paul Guerlain originally devised Habit Rouge as an Eau de Cologne. The new EdT version adjusted the balance to make the effect of citronellol scratching against leather appear even more striking. In comparison, the EdC version had a certain aromatic softness and delicacy, which the EdT lacked. For those who preferred the former, Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne stayed in production right up to 2007.
Customers complain that Habit Rouge EdT has lost some of its strength in recent years. Thierry Wasser, who is very outspoken about reformulations, explains that the formula has not deliberately been changed, but that the overall concentration of all Guerlain fragrances is lowered to comply with IFRA safety norms. Also, some of the perfume bases that go into Habit Rouge are bought from external suppliers and may have been altered, which is out of Guerlain’s control.
Considering that in 1992 Guerlain had already introduced the Eau de Parfum format to men with Héritage, the EdP version of Habit Rouge came rather late, namely in 2003. Though being the unmistakable scent of Habit Rouge, it was more a reformulation than a mere concentrated variant: extra formal, firmly woody and suave. It gave a new creaminess to the Habit Rouge accord, with the biting citrus top toned down, and an addition of a golden, slightly fruity oud note. Oud can be a difficult note in perfumery, as its characteristic scent immediately affects the expression with a Middle Eastern vibe, but in Habit Rouge EdP it was well integrated and subtle, just enough to add a becoming warmth and smoothness to the accord. The oud note seems to have been diminished in subsequent batches though.
Habit Rouge EdT and EdP have both been subject to several different special bottle editions, often with entirely new names. As a consequence, many people believe that an endless number of Habit Rouge variants do exist, even if the fragrance was unaltered.
In 2008 Guerlain presented Habit Rouge L’Extrait, a novel category in men’s scents and at first only a one-off production. In the good old days when Jacques Guerlain was at the helm, the Parfum version was always the point of departure and therefore the most authentic representation of the scent, but nowadays it's usually a whole new composition, tweaked to get a deeper and darker feel. Ironically, among all the different Habit Rouge versions, L’Extrait is the farthest departure from the original, turning Habit Rouge into a modern woody niche scent. The bright, singing signature of citronellol and aromatics is almost absent and replaced with a long-lasting super-cedarwood backbone, and a rich, cashmere-fine patchouli with earthy facets of bitter chocolate, coffee and camphor. Despite its luxurious price, it fared well enough to be granted tenure. Read more about Habit Rouge and its flankers
Habit Rouge — the "light" versions
Although Habit Rouge is not very popular outside of France, Guerlain continues to promote it as the brand's most emblematic men's scent. This year marks its 50th anniversary, which is celebrated with a whole new fragrance called Habit Rouge Dress Code.
In technical terms, Guerlain describes the basis of Habit Rouge as a rose-leather accord, more specifically the powerful, fresh-floral scent of citronellol which occurs in rose and geranium, combined with a tannic leather note. (To get an idea of just how powerful citronellol smells, consider the fact that it's used in insect repellents as well.) It seems that whenever these two materials are present, no matter what surrounds them we can't help thinking of Habit Rouge. When a passer-by wears Habit Rouge, we realize that this accord is one of perfumery's most easily recognizable.
The rest of the composition consists of a classic citrus-neroli-lavender cologne mixture, together with warm spices, woody notes, musk, and, famously for the first time in a men's scent, vanilla.
When Habit Rouge was released in 1965, it was classified as an Eau de Cologne, albeit with a higher scent percentage than even an Eau de Toilette contains today. Thierry Wasser has explained that one way of making a fragrance comply with IFRA's safety norms is by lowering the overall scent concentration, which is why perfumes used to be much stronger and more tenacious than they are nowadays.
Still, there was a certain softness to Habit Rouge EdC, at least compared with the EdT version we know today, with a less virile tone of leather. Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette was launched in 1988, but the Eau de Cologne version stayed in production right up to 2007.
Sylvaine Delacourte recounts that Habit Rouge wasn't successful from the start, and therefore the managing part of the family ordered Jean-Paul Guerlain to create a less sweet version. Hence came Habit Rouge Dry in 1967, counting as Guerlain's earliest flanker, but now long gone. If you didn't know better, when you splash on the Dry version, you'd just think it was Habit Rouge. However, if you wear classic Habit Rouge on your other arm at the same time, you'll notice that the cologne notes are amped up, and you sense the lack of vanillic sensuality in the drydown.
The quest for citrus freshness was also the idea behind Eau de Toilette Légère (2005), using lemon and neroli to modulate the whole Habit Rouge "tune" into an almost blindingly bright, gleeful and slightly metallic key. It is a completely different fragrance than Habit Rouge Dry, though. Basically, it marries the Habit Rouge accord with a modern fresh-woody base, complete with cedarwood, leather, white musk and amber. Thierry Wasser said that Habit Rouge was among the things that inspired him when he created L'Homme Idéal, and smelling Habit Rouge Légère we understand why. The Légère version was probably aimed at gaining the interest of younger men in Habit Rouge, but it somehow took out the classic elegance of the scent. It was discontinued after a few years. Read more about Habit Rouge and its flankers
Citrus scratching against leather
Thierry Wasser explains that Habit Rouge was among the things that inspired him when he created L'Homme Idéal. The astringent feel of biting citrus scratching against a tannic leather note, then sweetened with vanilla, is the hallmark of Habit Rouge, but we find it in L'Homme Idéal as well. Read more about L'Homme Idéal
30th anniversary of Guerlain's first men's Eau de Toilette
Jean-Paul Guerlain's Habit Rouge turns fifty years old this year, and in France it's still regarded as one of the most elegant classic men's scents. It's famed for being the world's first oriental fragrance for men, and many perfume aficionados believe it to be generally the first long-lasting Eau de Toilette created for men.
The fact is, however, that for more than twenty years Habit Rouge was an Eau de Cologne, much lighter and, yes, more cologne-like than we know it today. The trend of strong, radiant fragrances for men (and women) emerged with the yuppie culture in the 1980s.
It wasn't until 1985 that Guerlain's first Eau de Toilette marketed for men debuted, namely Derby. (In this context, we don’t count the unisex Eau de Guerlain, an Eau de Toilette from 1974, as a men’s scent.) After that, in 1988, came Eau de Toilette versions of Habit Rouge and Vetiver. For the occasion, Guerlain’s then in-house bottle designer Robert Granai created the handsome, now almost iconic Eau de Toilette bottle (pictured below on the right). An Eau de Toilette version of Mouchoir de Monsieur was made in 1989.
With the launch of L’Homme Idéal Cologne, Guerlain has revived the old term “cologne” in men’s scents, although just to confuse us it’s classified as an Eau de Toilette.
New wine in old bottles
If we believed that the caramel and cotton candy wave in perfumery, set in motion by Thierry Mugler's Angel (1992), was calming down, we need to think again. This spring, Guerlain has launched two exclusive, peach-coloured juices, each made of some of the sweetest materials that fragrance chemistry can offer. The first was the bridal fragrance, named Le Bouquet de la Mariée, with orange blossom and sugared almonds.
Now comes a blend of lavender, sugared almonds and toffee, bearing no other name than “Mon Exclusif”.
As if to remind us that this is Guerlain after all, they're presented in age-old bottle design. Le Bouquet de la Mariée comes in the quadrilobe bottle. This bottle was created in 1908 for the perfume Rue de la Paix, but is today mainly known as the Jicky bottle, although it has contained most Guerlain fragrances. The bottle's name derives from the fact that the stopper resembles a quatrefoil ("quadrilobe" in French).
For Mon Exclusif, Guerlain has reconfigured the iconic bow tie bottle, which was first produced for Coque d'Or in 1937. Originally, the bottle was made of gilded cobalt blue crystal. Now it has clear glass with silver-painted edges, and is equipped with a spray mechanism covered by a ball-shaped lid. Read fragrance reviews
I'm not sure what to think of this image. I think it looks like an American candy commercial from the 1950s. But it's supposed to be the ultimate French luxury of 2015.
Please Guerlain, let Mon Exclusif be the last peach-coloured caramel perfume that you make for a long, long time. (But I do like the scent of La Petite Robe Noire and French Kiss.) Read more about Mon Exclusif
Kid in a candy store
If we believed that the caramel and cotton candy wave in perfumery, set in motion by Thierry Mugler's Angel (1992), was calming down, we need to think again. This spring, Guerlain has launched two exclusive, peach-coloured juices, each made of the sweetest materials that fragrance chemistry can offer, like sugared almonds and toffee. To achieve a comfortably soft, cottony effect, both include white musk and patchouli.
Guerlain has had a sweet thing going on at least since Jicky (1889), but always paired with a certain darkness. When Thierry Wasser explained the formula of La Petite Robe Noire, he was proud to announce that its sweetness derives from an aroma chemical that has a very dark, licorice-like facet, a so-called maple lactone, while the ethyl maltol known from Angel is all caramel and cotton candy.
Now, we're beginning to speculate that Guerlain couldn't help eyeing the immense success of Lancôme's La Vie Est Belle, thinking that caramel isn't such a bad thing after all. Read more about Mon Exclusif
While the general Guerlain signature seems to get sweeter and sweeter from one year to the next, Shalimar — the gourmand perfume par excellence — turns lighter and more anorectic each time it spawns a new flanker. "Resolutely modern," says Guerlain. The latest one is Shalimar Cologne, basically a light reworking of Shalimar Light, created by Mathilde Laurent in 2003.
The reason why Shalimar Light was so delightful was that it gave you the impression of wearing Shalimar, but without the vintage vibe of leather and face powder, leaving just the lemon pie. Still, despite its name (which eventually was changed to Eau de Shalimar), smelled today it doesn’t exactly have the light fingerprint of Thierry Wasser. The Coca-Cola lime note did wonders, but the heft of Shalimar remained.
Shalimar Cologne puts an end to that, using some ideas from the tender Souffle de Parfum: from the airy rose and jasmine combined with ozonic notes, to clean white musk and light chocolate-box vanilla. As a bonus, we get a touch of orris butter softness but would never have guessed freesia was there too, although it may add to the impression of floral freshness.
Unlike Parfum Initial and Souffle de Parfum, Shalimar Cologne smells like a real variation on Shalimar, but undeniably immensely lighter and barer, bordering on the point of triviality. It could turn out to be that “Shalimar for beginners” that Guerlain has sought after for so long. Read full review of Shalimar Cologne
Shalimar Cologne vs. Shalimar Eau de Cologne
Guerlain has just launched Shalimar Cologne, a whole new, reworked composition with notes of bergamot, lemon, lime and grapefruit up top, floral notes of freesia, rose and jasmine, and a “purified" base of vanilla, orris and white musk. Among these notes, grapefruit and freesia are hitherto unseen in the Shalimar universe.
Shalimar Cologne has no connection to classic Shalimar Eau de Cologne. The latter was introduced in 1937 as a low-cost alternative to the Parfum and EdT, made by simply adding more alcohol and water to the base extract. Like all the old feminine EdC, it disappeared from shelves years ago, however it’s still produced for the US market.
Nowadays, "cologne" doesn’t reflect the technical term "eau de cologne", but is used to name a fresh flanker, usually an EdT. Guerlain’s latest example of this is L’Homme Idéal Cologne, released only a short while ago. Read more about Shalimar
The sixth Shalimar flanker
Guerlain has launched the sixth Shalimar flanker: Shalimar Cologne. It's a whole new composition described as having a “resolutely modern signature", with notes of bergamot, lemon, lime and grapefruit up top, floral notes of freesia, rose and jasmine, and a “purified" base of vanilla, orris and white musk.
Many people, among them experts, believe that an endless number of Shalimar variations have existed; however, these were all just special bottle editions. It was as late as in 2003 that the first Shalimar flanker appeared, namely Mathilde Laurent's wonderful Shalimar Eau Légère Parfumée, a.k.a. Shalimar Light. Despite its name it wasn't exactly light, with rich notes of lime, sandalwood, and cushiony, musky amber. The fragrance was later reformulated and recoloured, and in 2008 renamed Eau de Shalimar. It has the honour of being Guerlain's longest-living flanker, but has now been discontinued.
The second Shalimar flanker was late to come too, the limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille in 2010. The formula contained a luxuriously silky, gourmand vanilla tincture, and was later re-edited with different kinds of vanilla, the woody Madagascan vanilla and a fruitier variety from Mexico.
But then things began to speed up: we had Parfum Initial in 2011 and Parfum Initial L'Eau in 2012. Despite its beautiful composition of bergamot, rose, orris and patchouli, it didn't sell well, and was discontinued in 2014.
Last year, Guerlain introduced Souffle de Parfum, a tender, airy variant with orange blossom, jasmine, ozonic notes, white musk and light vanilla. Read more about Shalimar and its flankers
Coque d'Or — reissue vs. original formula
Guerlain presents a deluxe reissue of Jacques Guerlain’s 1937 perfume Coque d’Or. Priced at 17.000 €, it is limited to 29 handmade pieces. The fragrance has been reformulated to conform with today’s safety norms on raw materials.
Thierry Wasser has re-created the original versions of several old Guerlains for Maison Guerlain’s Vintage atelier events, among them Coque d’Or. Because these perfumes are not for sale, Wasser was able to use the exact same ingredients as in the time of Jacques Guerlain. This gives us the opportunity to compare modern formulas with the original ones.
From 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. Read review of Coque d'Or, reissue vs. original formula
With its characteristic sulfurous bitterness, the grapefruit note is difficult to manage in a perfume, often too dominant and discordant with the rest of the composition. When worked properly, however, it can provide a marvellous sense of clarity and elegance.
Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, created by Mathilde Laurent in 1999, has been widely acclaimed as an example of the latter, even as one of the finest grapefruit fragrances ever. It married a very detailed and refined grapefruit note with a fruity-floral accord, and the balance between citrus freshness, bitterness and sweetness was just right.
Grapefruit was also used in L'Instant d'un Été (2006), the first of two fresh flankers to L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. In this case, it felt a bit like one of those men's scents in which grapefruit is thoughtlessly added as a standard "cheer-up" top note, without much effort to make it fit in nicely. Guerlain Homme L'Eau (2010) had grapefruit too. It was part of an aim to construct an "icy" effect, which went well with Guerlain Homme's mint and geranium. The grapefruit note was quite subtle really.
The new L'Homme Idéal Cologne again places grapefruit in the limelight. This time, it shines as brilliantly as in Pamplelune. It feels crystal-clear and lifelike, sweetened with orange and a touch of the almond that is the signature of L'Homme Idéal. Some of us still prefer the gourmand amaretto accord and sturdy black wood of the original, but this fresh version is not bad at all. Read more about L'Homme Idéal
Energetic, loyal and charming
With L'Homme Idéal Cologne, Guerlain's ideal man is no longer intelligent, handsome and strong, as L'Homme Idéal told us he was, but instead energetic, charming and loyal. The metamorphosis of L’Homme Idéal into a Cologne seems to copy how La Petite Robe Noire was made into an Eau Fraîche: keep the almond praline but thin it with citrus sorbet freshness, remove the “black” molecules, and soften it with white musk.
Gone is the terrifically sweet amaretto accord, the camphoric rosemary, and the sturdy, licorice-like woody base. Instead with get a cool, tingling astringency of grapefruit, bitter orange and Campari, mixed with Thierry Wasser's thirst-quenching Indian vetiver, its elegant, ashy drydown, and a half-dosed almond note that makes us long for more. The fact is that these wonderful aromas, like most desirable things, don't last for long, and we're left with the semisweet, pale softness of white musk with a trace of grapefruit and wood. Then it's time to reapply. Read more about L'Homme Idéal
Two false beliefs about Guerlain's Muguet
As a stroke of both nostalgia and luxury, Guerlain began in 1998 to issue yearly a limited portion of an Eau de Toilette called Muguet ("lily of the valley"). It came out on May 1 under the motto "Un jour, un parfum" ("one day, one perfume"), for it is a tradition in France to buy and give sprigs of lily of the valley on May Day as a symbol of springtime. Since then, two false beliefs about Guerlain's Muguet have arisen:
1. It's a reissue of Jacques Guerlain's vintage Muguet.
No, the May Day Muguet is a completely different formula by Jean-Paul Guerlain. Jacques Guerlain's Muguet perfume from 1908 was a powdery, slightly musky floral scent reminiscent of Nivea creme. Much too sedate for the "swingin' sixties", it was discontinued in 1960. By contrast, the new Muguet smells fresh, crisp and lively. We recognize the naturalistic style of Aqua Allegoria, which Jean-Paul Guerlain introduced the year after the first Muguet May Day edition. Jacques Guerlain's historic Muguet perfume can be discovered at Maison Guerlain's monthly Vintage atelier events.
2. The scent of Muguet is altered slightly each year.
No, Muguet has smelled exactly the same since 1998, with only the bottle changing. (Although we can't rule out that minor adjustments based on never-ending IFRA decrees have taken place over the years.) Customers will often associate a new bottle with a new scent, and unfortunately the myth of changing scents has sometimes been supported by Guerlain's own sales staff. Read more about Muguet
For the first time since 1999, in 2015 Muguet is presented in a remake of Guerlain's original, so-called flowered bottle, this time made of white porcelain. While the whiteness of the presentation, along with the green ribbon, fits nicely the lily of the valley theme, I must admit that I don't find it very elegant. It somehow reminds me of a mustard or marmalade jar. I generally think that porcelain should be reserved for household products, not luxury perfumes. I much prefer the old-fashioned look of a perfume bottle, made of glass with a paper label, and the juice twinkling behind the faceted glass. The 1998 edition of Muguet was a feast for the eyes.
The concept of porcelain for Muguet was introduced last year, when the bee bottle came with a white porcelain holder. That one looked like a pencil or toothbrush holder to me. The lily of the valley motifs didn't help much on the matte made-in-China look.
White bottles seem to be a trend in perfumery these days — several brands use them, one only has to look at Guerlain's own L'Homme Idéal Cologne bottle. White is meant to reflect purity and cleanness.
Although whiteness is, after all, an exception in the Guerlain universe, in the 1950s there was a single run of white opaline glass bottles, made for Jicky, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar and Ode. The shininess of the opaque glass combined with gilding and hand-painted butterflies made them ooze French luxury and elegance. Read more about Muguet
Guerlain receives FiFi awards
La Petite Robe Noire Couture and L'Homme Idéal were prize winners at this year's FiFi Awards. Thank God for Jicky! Maybe Guerlain never would have discovered the wonders of almond without it. Read more about L'Homme Idéal, including the new fresh flanker L'Homme Idéal Cologne
The Panorama of Perfumes
"The Panorama of Perfumes" was Guerlain's quick guide for the sales staff to memorize each perfume's composition and olfactive profile. Here is page 1 in the 1996 edition. Back then, the pace of new releases was significantly lower than it is today, hence Guerlain didn't need to update its staff training material very regularly. Note that Après l'Ondée Parfum was still around at the time. See the entire guide ▶
When Guerlain's biggest asset was history
An illustration from 1992 of the Guerlain "family tree", when Jean-Paul Guerlain was at the centre, and the brand's biggest asset was its history and not La Petite Robe Noire.
This year, Guerlain presents Le Bouquet de la Mariée, a perfume intended for brides. It's not Guerlain's first bridal creation, though. There was a 19th century fragrance, exact date unknown but probably by Aimé Guerlain, called Bridal Bouquet. At that time, it wasn't uncommon to see English names on French scents, as cosmetic products from England were held in high regard. Read more about Le Bouquet de la Mariée
Fruity notes have been popular at Guerlain at least since Mitsouko, and it seems that for each decade the brand has delighted us with still new ways of making a perfume shimmer with fruit. You could argue that fruitiness is an inherent part of the Guerlinade; Guerlain's vintage bergamot oil was known as being particularly fruity.
These days, Guerlain owes its success to fruit-hinted Bulgarian rose, one of Thierry Wasser's most favourite materials, mixed with tart red berries and white musk. Choose La Petite Robe Noire Couture if you want the "black" version with wood and licorice, or French Kiss if you prefer powder and sweet macarons. Or, if you're travelling through airports, why not the catchy three-minute pop song version, Aqua Allegoria Flora Rosa?
New box design
This year, Guerlain presents a new box design. The changes have come gradually since the launch of L'Homme Idéal, which introduced a more visually striking design than we're used to from Guerlain.
The thin vertical line ending in the small double G logo on the front of the packaging is now gone. Instead we find a wide filigree border placed horizontally around the entire box, coloured to match the colour scheme of the overall presentation. The border joins a highlighted geometrical area bearing the perfume's name. Beneath the border, the box has an imprint of the beehive pattern from the bee bottle, itself copied from the Vendôme column in Paris. On the lid we find a raised double G logo, filled with the same colour as the border.
Loyalty then and now
At Guerlain, for many years there has been an awareness that the brand was not among the big, commercial players on the market. Maybe, therefore, Guerlain has developed a customer care plan as one of its benefits. This includes a loyalty program in which accumulated purchase points can be exchanged for desirable gifts.
However, as Guerlain has grown bigger, the gifts have diminished. Illustrated here is the loyalty program of 1999. For a purchase of 5,000 Francs (equal to 1,000 € with today's purchasing power), you used to get an 8 ml refillable purse spray with Parfum of your choice. Today, 1,000 € would earn you a bottle of room fragrance and a bar of soap.
For 7,500 Francs (equal to 1,500 € today), you could choose a 250 ml golden bee bottle with EdT, or a sucrier bottle with the scent of your choice. These days, a 250 ml golden bee requires purchases of 2,400 €. If in 1999 you bought product for what today equals 2,900 €, you'd receive a 1 litre golden bee bottle. The loyalty program of 2015 demands a purchase of 9,000 € for the same gift.
In 1999, the top gifts (20,000 Francs, equal to 3,900 € today) included one of Guerlain's giant bottles (1.5 litres) filled with EdT. You could choose between Shalimar, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Samsara, Champs-Elysées, Jardins de Bagatelle, Coriolan, Habit Rouge, Vetiver and Héritage. Today, the giant bottles are not included in the loyalty program. Customer care isn't exactly what it used to be.
Considering how often perfume brands copy their own bestsellers, there have been remarkably few Shalimar flankers. (Many people, among them experts, believe that an endless number of Shalimar variations have existed; however, these were all just special bottle editions.) Creating flankers of a popular fragrance is an age-old practice, but it was as late as in 2003 that the first Shalimar flanker appeared, namely Shalimar Eau Légère Parfumée, a.k.a. Shalimar Light. It still exists in a slightly reformulated version under the name Eau de Shalimar, which makes it Guerlain's oldest flanker still in production.
The second Shalimar flanker was late to come too, the limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille in 2010. But then things began to speed up: we had Parfum Initial in 2011, Parfum Initial L'Eau in 2012, and Shalimar Souffle de Parfum in 2014.
Guerlain has confirmed that yet another Shalimar flanker will appear in May this year, called Shalimar Cologne. The new flanker is described as a fresh floral amber fragrance, with no connection to the classic Shalimar Eau de Cologne. Like all the old Guerlain EdC, the latter disappeared from shelves years ago, however it’s still produced today for the US market. Read more about Shalimar and its flankers
Molecular mutations of praline
Guerlain and Thierry Wasser seem to be in very good shape: at the time of writing, La Petite Robe Noire and L'Homme Idéal are the #3 and #4 bestsellers in France. When Thierry Wasser was chosen as Guerlain's master perfumer in 2008, it was both for his pronounced passion for the Guerlain patrimony and for his capacity to develop the brand signature. He came with his own set of what Guerlain calls "matières fétiches": green notes, Bulgarian rose, and praline. You can say that he has "photoshopped" the Guerlinade, cleaned it up and given it a sleeker, lighter and purer form, all the while respecting the fundamental counterpointing of fresh and gourmand notes. Wasser has brought new, molecular life to the Guerlain DNA.
With regard to the gourmand end of the spectrum, much has happened since vanillin, ethylvanillin, coumarin and amber entered the scene. Nowadays, perfumery can make you smell like praline. The praline accord arises from a mixture of tonka bean, vanilla, white musk, and various synthetic ingredients with gourmand notes of caramel, chocolate, and roasted nuts. Praline in perfumery became known with Mugler's cotton candy fragrance Angel, but Wasser adheres to a darker variant flavoured with bitter almond, burnt sugar, and licorice. His first example of this was Quand Vient la Pluie, from before he officially joined Guerlain. Smelled today, Quand Vient la Pluie feels like an early exercise in the La Petite Robe Noire signature.
The genius of La Petite Robe Noire was to add to the above praline a sparkling mixture of bergamot, fruity rose, amarena cherries, and raspberry. The effect was endlessly appetizing, crunchy on the outside and spongy within like a French macaron. LPRN Couture adjusted the accord with a more long-lasting raspberry note and a refreshing touch of vetiver, much like making that delectable macaron into something you could drink. When reviewing LPRN Couture, Luca Turin praised "the weird long-term freshness that Thierry Wasser somehow builds into the fabric of his fragrances," a freshness that doesn't end when citrus and herbs have run their fragile life cycle, but cuts its way down through the praline, with citrusy, aromatic, fruity and woody facets.
Then came, let's say, the masculine version, L'Homme Idéal. This time, the praline was built into what French perfumers term a "boisé sec" type accord, a blend of robust citric and woody aroma chemicals, together with a metallic top note of neroli and rosemary. Once again, the result was entirely delicious, at once uplifting, suave, and firm like a fist.
Ma Robe Pétales is the latest mutation of the praline theme, now recast into a green floral fragrance. It's remarkable how Wasser seamlessly has made praline meet ozonic green and tart fruity-floral notes, as if a mandarin sorbet were merged with pistachio ice cream.
(For the sake of completeness, we should mention Guerlain's new wedding perfume, Le Bouquet de la Mariée, a tender gourmand fragrance of orange blossom and praline. And, let's not forget Shalimar Parfum Initial, although it ended up a much too short parenthesis in the Guerlain history. It didn't sell well, despite its wonderful mix of orris, rose, patchouli and praline.) Read more about La Petite Robe Noire
The Most Affordable Luxury
It's been ages since Guerlain launched a remotely affordable special edition perfume. The brand used to do that until a decade ago (Guerlinade, Philtre d'Amour, Guet-Apens, Metallica, Plus Que Jamais Guerlain, Nuit d'Amour), but as of lately it has been all Russian exclusives and Muguet, priced at around 400 € per 60 ml EdP.
Now comes Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie, a sweet wedding scent of orange blossom and white chocolate. It can be yours for 200 €! Read review of Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie
The sweetest day of my life
If you miss Iris Ganache, which was discontinued in 2012, you might enjoy Guerlain's new wedding fragrance, Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie. The latter has bright, honeyed orange blossom instead of the cool orris, but they share the same kind of sugary white chocolate note, mixed with patchouli and vanilla. In both, the white chocolate grows intensely sweet, and somewhat oily, within an hour.
The orange blossom alone, with just a dollop of rose added, has a hard time giving lift, depth and contrast to the sugar base. Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie ends up feeling rather lifeless and flat. This is Guerlain the gourmand chef, playing with candy aroma chemicals — to be savoured by anyone with a sweet tooth. Read review of Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie
Ma Robe Pétales is to La Petite Robe Noire what green is to magenta: a total inversion. While La Petite Robe Noire, especially the Parfum version, is a velvety, ambery blend of amarena cherries, burnt sugar, roasted almonds and black licorice, Ma Robe Pétales is all citrus, ozonic green and transparent pink petals. Luca Turin has praised "the weird long-term freshness that Thierry Wasser somehow builds into the fabric of his fragrances," and Ma Robe Pétales has it in spades. Still, it smells like a member of the family. It must be that addictive tension between prolonged freshness, salty licorice, rose, and almond. Read more about Ma Robe Pétales
Has the Musquinade been discontinued?
L'Instant Magic has been discontinued, and maybe the Musquinade too. 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. Read more about the Guerlinade
My Guerlain favourites 2014
Petit Guerlain. Still featuring the fresh floral mimosa note of the original but with a delicious and more enveloping heart of orange blossom, pistachio, acacia honey and white musk.
La Petite Robe Noire Couture. It lowers the level of tonka bean plush and adds a lank chypre accord of moss, patchouli, vetiver and extra bergamot, which fits the licorice note quite well.
French Kiss. Feels much like a sweet, powdery meringue, with all of L'Heure Bleue's deliciousness but none of the spicy dusk. It's a fruity-floral, yes, and Guerlain once again demonstrates its supreme mastery of the genre. A French kiss from perfumery's great confectioner: spray it on and you'll want to lick your skin.
L'Homme Idéal. There are moments when the tension between the amaretto and the nip of bergamot, rosemary and neroli is just right; that’s when L’Homme Idéal is really delicious, like an Amaretto Sour with marzipan.
Santal Royal. If the start of the fragrance could appear a bit unfriendly and stinging, the base mix of wood, raspberry, amber and leather has that addictive quality that is the hallmark of Guerlain. Read more about Guerlain perfumes, new and vintage
The almond note holds a special place in Guerlain’s heart, from Jicky to La Petite Robe Noire. Wasser tells us that he got the idea for L'Homme Idéal while he was in the factory mixing up some fresh Jicky. When they started pouring in benzaldehyde, the aroma chemical that gives the bitter almond note, he was "completely intoxicated". This scent of bitter almond hitting lavender inspired him. Read more about L'Homme Idéal
Discontinuation isn't such a new thing
In 2014, Guerlain has told us that the following perfumes have gone out of production: L'Instant Magic, Véga, Sous le Vent, the Une Ville, Un Parfum collection, Shalimar Parfum Initial, Idylle Eau Sublime, Habit Rouge Sport and Guerlain Homme EdT. Discontinuations often elicit disappointment and suspiciousness, therefore Guerlain's PR department has this standard reply on the topic:
"The Guerlain history is made up of almost 800 olfactive creations, but unfortunately it is impossible to keep them all. The addition of new perfumes and cosmetics requires a renewal of the selection."
In the Jacques Guerlain era, there was no such thing as a marketing department or an advertising campaign, and perfumery didn't have the commercial constraints and controlled output as it does today. Therefore, back then, selection changes were as common as they are today.
"Jacques Guerlain enjoyed almost total creative freedom, while his brother, Pierre, decided which products to push and which to withdraw," explains Will Inrig, research intern at the Osmothèque. "Jean-Paul Guerlain wrote that his grandfather worked like a painter at his easel. And when a creation was finished, he would choose a bottle and put the new perfume on sale in the boutique. As simple as that."
Almost everything that Jacques Guerlain created was swiftly offered for sale, and he reacted with correspondingly little regret when his less successful fragrances were abandoned. Natural selection has narrowed the classic Guerlain catalogue down to just seven of his most unique perfumes. Read more about Guerlain's perfumers
When in June last year Thierry Wasser revealed his long-awaited new men's scent, L'Homme Idéal, we realized that Guerlain had crossed a threshold we hoped the brand would never cross: the one into the world that perfumers call "boisé sec".
This world, generally looked down on by veteran perfume connoisseurs, targeted as it is at cool, young and dynamic guys, is inhabited by potent fresh-woody fragrances of which Boss Bottled by Annick Menardo (1998) was amongst the first. Newer members of this very successful category of men's scents include Bleu de Chanel, Bang by Marc Jacobs, and Paco Rabanne's 1 Million and Invictus.
Historically, Guerlain is anything but "cool, young and dynamic". In fact, Guerlain's first "young" fragrance came as late as in 2006 with Insolence. However, even Insolence, notwithstanding its fruity-floral top note, had a very poetic olfactive reference, namely the velvety violet accord of L'Heure Bleue. Later came Guerlain Homme and La Petite Robe Noire, but they were, respectively, too conservative and too Guerlinade-like to be actually "cool".
L'Homme Idéal is probably Guerlain's first real "cool" fragrance, using the aforementioned potent woody scent molecules. Now, the big mystery is this: I, Monsieur Guerlain, known by Guerlain as one of its most reactionary followers, just can't stop wearing L'Homme Idéal. I'm on my second 100 ml bottle. Am I cool, young and dynamic? Certainly not. Then why do I find L'Homme Idéal so addictive? Is it the rosemary and metallic, fresh-sweet orange blossom at the top? Is it the caramelized almond note at the base? Is it a combination of the two, and how they create a tension with the powerful woody molecules? Do I actually miss to be cool, young and dynamic? I'm not sure. I just know that Thierry Wasser has made an addictive accord out of coolness.
It seems evident that Wasser worked on Santal Royal at the same time as when he created L'Homme Idéal. It has the same combination of metallic orange blossom and powerful woody molecules. I enjoy it less than L'Homme Idéal, though. The fruity-syrupy raspberry facet of agarwood is very present, and the whole fragrance is almost overwhelming. It lasts forever: on fabric, you can detect it for several weeks. We have to go back to Quand Vient la Pluie (Parfum) to find an equally tenacious scent. Read more about Santal Royal
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
Back to insights overview