Jacques Guerlain 1942
Family: fougère, oriental
Absinthe, cinnamon and orange liqueur
Period: The flight 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.
Production of luxury products more or less ceased during the war years when people had more serious things to think about. Kriss (1942) was Jacques Guerlain’s only perfume produced between Coque d’Or in 1937 and Fleur de Feu in 1948. Moreover, Kriss existed only for a very brief period, and is therefore one of Guerlain's rarest perfumes. The perfume had some controversy attached to it, since it was commissioned by the Nazis as "an original perfume to the glory of their army", and named after a stabbing weapon called "kris", a dagger with a wavy blade originating from Southeast Asia. This kind of dagger, in a modified form which incorporated several examples of Nazi symbolism, was a standard accessory issued to all members of the greatly-feared SS. European colonists often used the spelling "kriss" for this weapon. Spelled with “ss", we get some very sinister and malevolent associations, considering the time in which this perfume debuted. According to research by Will Inrig from the Osmothèque, unfounded rumours spread of Jacques Guerlain being a Nazi collaborator as the war drew to a close, and Kriss was quickly withdrawn. Guerlain explains that its short lifespan may also be due to the scarcity of raw materials during the war. The perfume was relaunched in 1945 under the new name Dawamesk, but the fragrance formula remained unchanged.
The name Dawamesk refers to a hashish "jam", a greenish preserve made of hashish, pistachio, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sugar, orange juice and butter. In the 1840s, lots of dawamesk was eaten at the Club des Hashischins, a Parisian group dedicated to the exploration of drug-induced experiences. Members included famous French writers like Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire and Honoré de Balzac. It is thought that Jacques Guerlain himself used hashish, at the time when the collaboration rumours spread and he fell into a depression, exacerbated by the fact that his youngest son had been fatally wounded in combat. Whether he took hashish in the form of dawamesk is unknown, as is the eventual link to calling his perfume Dawamesk. It's not unthinkable, though, that the fragrance was inspired by what the dawamesk mixture tasted like; it smells like something between absinthe and orange liqueur.
In her book, Le Roman des Guerlain, historian and perfume expert Élisabeth de Feydeau recounts that Kriss actually wasn't a new composition. Jacques Guerlain felt so outraged by the Nazis' demand that he simply dug out one of his older, unreleased formulas and poured it into a plain glass bottle, now known as the "war bottle". The very un-Guerlain-like name Kriss was chosen to further distance himself from the objectionable task.
Most of Jacques Guerlain's perfumes were difficult to categorize and too rich to grasp, as he developed a characteristic style of mixing fresh, leathery, floral, oriental and animal elements to make up a balanced harmony. Kriss was no exception. It opens in classic fougère style, with lavender, bracing herbs and bergamot, together with a strong violet note. As the top notes evaporate, a floral bouquet typical of Guerlain emerges: honeyed orange blossom, jasmine, rose and, not least, the sweet, banana-like creaminess of ylang-ylang. There’s also a clear sensation of lily of the valley, a note that Jacques Guerlain often used to add a bright, feminine feel to his often rather dense compositions. However, Kriss doesn't appear very feminine, but retains a mossy, herbaceous character throughout. Today, like many of his perfumes, it would probably count as a sophisticated men's scent.
The base continues the vintage Guerlain standard. We get the fragrant warmth of cinnamon, as lovely as in Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky, as well as tonka bean, animal and leather notes, and finally nitro-musk which smoothes and deepens all other notes the way Guerlain used to before nitro-musk was banned as a possible allergen.
Bottle. Apart from the war bottle, Kriss also appeared in the standard quadrilobe bottle. When reissued as Dawamesk, it came in the gilded bow tie bottle, first made for Coque d’Or.
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