Jacques Guerlain 1911
Family: floral, aromatic, powdery
Jasmine and violet drops
Period: The Belle Époque years
Thierry Wasser and his assistant perfumer Frédéric Sacone have re-created an extensive list of historic Guerlain perfumes, using the exact same ingredients as when they saw the light for the first time.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, France was one of the largest colonial powers in the world, second only to the British Empire. The colonial years greatly influenced French cultural life, which saw a wealth of exotic themes woven into painting, literature, music, entertainment—and perfumery.
Arguably more than anything, it was the taste for the exotic, especially the Orient, that shaped the heart and soul of Guerlain. To this day, the brand is world-famous for Jacques Guerlain’s 1925 perfume Shalimar, named after a faraway Mughal garden, whose accord of bergamot, jasmine, rose and amber came to define the oriental fragrance category. Ironically, Jacques Guerlain never visited the Orient in person. Will Inrig, research intern at the Osmothèque, tells us that Jacques was essentially an armchair traveller who informed himself about the world through literature and art. "Oriental art, such as celadon and Blanc de Chine china, featured in his ever-expanding collection decorating his apartment," explains Will Inrig. In 1919 Jacques created Mitsouko, inspired by a French novel set in Nagasaki.
What remains of the Jacques Guerlain legacy preceding Mitsouko is not very exotic, but based on romantic reveries of local nature scenes, as in Après l’Ondée (“after the rain shower”) and L’Heure Bleue (“the blue hour” or “twilight"). However, Thierry Wasser’s re-creation of Kadine (1911) reminds us that Jacques' fascination with the Orient harked back to the Belle Époque era.
Kadine means "woman" in Turkish, particularly one who has lost her virginity, and the word denotes a concubine in a sultan’s harem. According to historical sources, "all good Mussulmans should have four official wives, so the Sultan has also four." Jacques Guerlain’s Kadine is not a sultry oriental fragrance though, but a quite gentle, aromatic floral. It belongs to a series of scents that were all worked around the same combination of anise, aromatics, jasmine, carnation and powdery notes: Après l’Ondée (1906), Pour Troubler (1911), Vague Souvenir (1912), Fol Arôme (1912), and L’Heure Bleue (1912). Jacques Guerlain 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.
If Fol Arôme was a simpler iteration of L’Heure Bleue, without the beautiful, cheerful orange blossom, then Kadine had a similar relationship to Après l’Ondée. Like the latter, Kadine starts out with anise, violet and Provençal herbs. The uppermost top note is a bit bitter, as if not only lavender, rosemary and thyme, but also absinthe were included in this herb bouquet, and there's a hint of smoky birch tar rising up as well. Jacques Guerlain used birch tar in many of his compositions to temper the sweetness of other ingredients. It likely explains why his perfumes are often described as unisex, but today birch tar is perceived as a gloomy, "vintage" note and is therefore seldom featured in modern mainstream perfumery. Besides, health regulations have restricted its use considerably. However, the bitterness in Kadine's top note fades very quickly and lets the violet come through, tender like violet drops, with a certain freshness from violet leaf.
Halfway into the scent we sense rose and not least jasmine, dosed with the dense richness that was a stylistic constant in Jacques Guerlain's oeuvre, and this may be the only real "oriental" aspect to Kadine. Later comes eugenol, whose warm, spicy carnation scent lingers for hours. The drydown is typical Guerlinade from before the IFRA demanded Guerlain thin it out, with the melting sensation of nitro-musk together with a powdery, vaguely tobacco-like mixture of orris, vanilla and tonka bean.
A lovely little gem, Kadine nevertheless wasn’t remarkable enough to be granted the status of a classic. Today, it would make a sophisticated men's scent.
Bottle. Kadine came in the quadrilobe bottle which was first made for the perfume Rue de la Paix, but then became a standard bottle used for several new perfumes that followed.
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