Europe's fascination with exotic places was linked to the colonial era, and peaked with the invention of air travel. The foreign world has made people dream of exciting dangers, untamed instincts and the beauty of the unknown, and it was all reflected in the arts, in nightlife entertainment, and in fashion and perfumery. Guerlain is known for its lifelong passion for faraway territories (the annals document a formula called Bouquet Indien as early as in 1834), but the Guerlain exoticism was really set in motion during Les Années Folles, with perfumes like Mitsouko, Shalimar, Djedi and Liu, and later Vol de Nuit (which was launched the same year as Air France, by the way, in 1933).

In 1934, Jacques Guerlain created Sous le Vent. He was particularly taken by green perfume notes during those years and envisioned a perfect illustrative setting in the tropical Leeward Islands (Îles Sous le Vent), a French Caribbean colony — "greener than one can imagine," as said Guerlain, quoting the Guadeloupe-born poet Saint-John Perse. Sous le Vent was one of the new "garçonne" fragrances, and Jacques Guerlain dedicated it to Josephine Baker, the very exotic cabaret dancer from St. Louis who obtained fame in Paris. Beside the typical Jacques Guerlain touch of orris, animal musk, jasmine, carnation and balsam, the perfume featured a pronouncedly fresh bouquet of Provençal herbs together with galbanum and dry chypre notes of bergamot, oakmoss, vetiver and patchouli. When Guerlain reissued Sous le Vent as EdT in 2006, this aromatic chypre became an instant "unisex vintage hit" among Guerlain lovers.

Now that Thierry Wasser has invited us to discover a long list of re-created Jacques Guerlain creations, we learn that his catalogue included one more "exotic island" perfume, namely Atuana from 1952. It was inspired by Gauguin's portrait paintings from French Polynesia, and the scent interestingly has much in common with Sous le Vent. Atuana is overall not as dry, green and breezy as Sous le Vent, but it would nowadays be categorized as a masculine fougère, with herbaceous and forest-like notes of lavender, basil, patchouli, moss, vetiver and leather, along with an accord of spicy floral notes.

A trip to Paris is highly recommended for those who want to know more about the Jacques Guerlain universe than what his utmost classics can tell.
(October 2015)

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