Maurice Roucel 2006, My Insolence 2007, EdP 2008, Eau Glacée 2009
Family: floral, fruity
Notes: raspberry, red fruit, violet, rose, orange blossom, orris, tonka bean, sandalwood, musk
Shining twilight
Period: The haute cuisine years
Insolence collection

In 2006, Guerlain announced a bold vision for an ultramodern answer to L'Heure Bleue, "a new violet, brilliant, overdosed, high-voltage; a triumphant violet, the antipode to the shy murmur usually treated in halftone and backlight." Named Insolence, many English-speaking customers were repelled by its meaning of "rudeness and arrogance". In French, however, an insolent girl is merely perky or daring.

By 2006, loyal Guerlain fans had grown accustomed to the fact that the brand's fragrances were created by external perfumers. The idea of Insolence, by Maurice Roucel, was to enliven the old violet-orris theme of Jacques Guerlain's romantic florals, cut any soft-focus twilight, and photoshop it with strong, iridescent colours. To make it work, Roucel blew up the violet note and pushed it forth to just in front of the nostrils, instead of letting it be discovered through a haze. And, in order to have it rock rather than murmur, a clear, powerful, tangy raspberry aroma was added, much like plugging an electronic amplifier onto a violin. Orange blossom, rose, orris and tonka bean took their more or less classic Guerlain positions, respectively fresh-floral, fruity-peppered, powdery, and marzipan-sweet. Inside it all was a warm nucleus of sandalwood and musk.

The effect was phenomenal. Not only was Insolence a dazzling fragrance, but it had the cleverness of smelling simultaneously utterly new and yet like L'Heure Bleue. This simultaneity was highlighted by Guerlain as "the first olfactive spiral", as opposed to the traditional pyramid structure where a perfume slowly develops from top note to base accord. Maybe the olfactive spiral is merely a fancy theoretical construct, yet it's true that Insolence didn't smell first sparkly, then big, then cushiony, but all of it at the same time and throughout.

Bottle. French sculptor Serge Mansau created the Insolence bottle as three stacked, tilting half-spheres, resembling a spinning top or spiral in movement to fit the fragrance's "olfactive spiral" structure. People had divided opinions on the look. Some found it innovative and beautifully shaped, while others thought it was too futuristic for Guerlain, or even a bit silly, often mentioned as the "dishes in the kitchen sink" bottle. Cardiet Design, a Parisian firm, filed a lawsuit alleging that Guerlain had copied one of their designs, but Guerlain maintained that the Insolence bottle was inspired by a sculpture Serge Mansau made in 1973, and Cardiet Design later dropped the case. By the way, Hilary Swank was just darling in that Starlight Express ad, so unpretentiously radiating.

EdT, Parfum, EdP. If L'Heure Bleue was narcotic, Nahéma obsessive, Samsara opulent, and Mahora excessive, what to call Insolence EdP? Luca Turin chose "Godzilla floral" and gave it a five-star masterpiece mark, "the most deliciously vulgar perfume on the market today." True. If vulgarity and elegance are natural antagonists, then Insolence EdP does the impossible and makes them join in perfect harmony. We can only imagine the number of trials Roucel had to go through to fine-tune the dosages of red fruit, violet, orris and sandalwood, creating an explosion of electric-purple nuances outwards, flower indole and fruity rose beneath, and a straight-backed winy core, at once powdery and smooth like a limo. Better yet, Insolence EdP exhibits that velvet texture we know as très Guerlain. The EdP version didn't come out until two years after the first launch, and it was instantly applauded as a striking improvement, substantially different from the original Insolence. The latter, even the Parfum, is far less of a torrid fragrance, in comparison a brighter raspberry punch, and to many overshadowed by a top note described as "hairspray". This note is not present in the EdP. The Parfum version of Insolence was discontinued in 2015.

Variations. The complexity of Insolence had great potential for derivatives. First came My Insolence and as the name suggests, it was not for mother but for her daughter, a softer, sweeter and prettified Insolence, fruitier up front and infused with almond blossom. In 2009 came an "icy" version, Eau Glacée, cooler and fresher with aromas of green apple sorbet and extra citrus.

  We love: the EdP

  A myriad of purples with the Guerlain feel intact

  A few drops of the EdP will make an edgy orris scent

Some images courtesy of

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