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LA PETITE ROBE NOIRE

Delphine Jelk 2009, Modèle No.2 2011, reworked version 2012, EdT 2013, Couture 2014, Eau Fraîche 2015, Intense 2016, Black Perfecto 2017
[la pətit rɔb nwa:r]
Family: fruity, floral
Notes: bergamot, lemon, anise, bitter almond, rose, licorice, raspberry macaron, cherry, patchouli, tonka bean, black tea, vanilla, white musk
Fabulous fruity-floral
Period: The recapitulation years

Because Guerlain is one of the few remaining houses to stay clear of fashion, specializing only in perfumes, makeup and skin products, fans were surprised to see a creation align itself with one of fashion's most famous statements, Chanel's little black dress. (Fox-hunting attire, referenced decades ago in Habit Rouge, hardly counts as fashion.) However, what Guerlain wanted to express was not a celebration of fashion or of Chanel, but of the simple perfection and timelessness of the little black dress, something which Guerlain also strives to build into its perfumes. "Guerlain is to fragrance what the little black dress is to fashion. There's one for everyone," Guerlain incisively states. So how did it smell, this "new essential accessory", as Guerlain resolutely calls La Petite Robe Noire?

Classified as a fruity-floral and openly marketed towards the young ("for a romantic, sassy and glam young woman"), it had many a serious customer rolling her eyes before sniffing. Yet, this was Guerlain, grand chef de fruit confit who seriously put fruity notes on perfumery's map, from Mitsouko through Chamade and Parure to Nahéma, and beyond. So rest assured that La Petite Robe Noire was an attractive little thing, made by perfumer Delphine Jelk who used something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue! The scent was later modified and attributed to Thierry Wasser. The old thing was in the drydown, a trail of times past between Mitsouko's fruity wood and Shalimar's smoky vanilla. What was new was at the start, a tangy, succulent combination of Sicilian lemons, jammy raspberry and cherry, and an addictive black note of anise and licorice. "Wasser said his first sketch should find the colour black. He found this with methyl cyclopentenolone," explains Chandler Burr. This synthetic material is called a "maple lactone" due to its smell of maple syrup. It's sweet, but with dark facets of burnt sugary coffee and licorice; in comparison, the ethyl maltol known from Thierry Mugler's Angel is all caramel and cotton candy. To add to the black effect, La Petite Robe Noire also had a small amount of the leathery birch tar note.

The borrowed stuff of the formula was in the middle, namely the Musquinade straight from L'Instant Magic, bitter almond, rose, white musk and vanilla, heavenly chewy and luscious like a freshly baked French macaron, with a squirt of amaretto, precisely so Guerlain and deluxe as to make raspberry and licorice suddenly smell like a proper perfume. (Indeed, the inspiration came to Delphine Jelk upon tasting a berry macaron, and possibly also upon smelling Lolita Lempicka.) Finally, the blue was the colour of the juice, a cool blue nuance as unique as the fragrance, tinted with drops of black and red-violet, that makes your mouth water long before pressing the spray button.


La Petite Robe Noire had that fusion of glamour and darkness that embodied its name. Due to its popularity, the fragrance was relaunched worldwide in 2012 as a standard Guerlain, featuring a slightly altered formula by Thierry Wasser with less licorice and patchouli, and more emphasis on the easy-to-wear accord of white musk and Wasser's Bulgarian rose blend. Advertised with one of Guerlain's most captivating and imaginative visual campaigns, devised by the French artist duo Kuntzel+Deygas, in the following months La Petite Robe Noire became one of the bestselling fragrances in France. Most people seemed to agree that the fragrance was the best Guerlain had done since Insolence EdP. LVMH presented La Petite Robe Noire as a case study of how to successfully launch a new perfume. It topped the symbolic one million units sold in just three months after the international launch in 2012.


Bottle
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. The old Art Nouveau bottle was given a dramatic black shade and a Little Black Dress pictograph to be seen through the liquid, a look devised by Serge Mansau, distinct enough to be the new "LPRN bottle". For the relaunched version, the dress design has been smartened up by Kuntzel+Deygas (the first one was mocked as looking like a nightgown) and the lid decorated with a pink fabric band. A charming 7.5 ml Parfum bottle has been made as well. Guerlain has issued several collectible bottle editions with changing decorations by Kuntzel+Deygas, without any changes made to the fragrance inside (see chart below).



EdP, Parfum, EdT
While the original La Petite Robe Noire came only as EdP, the new version is additionally offered as EdT and Parfum. The latter smells like a smoother and more luxurious, and extremely musky variant of the EdP, with an intense, dark scent of amarena cherries, rose absolute, and burnt sugar. The EdT, on the other hand, is entirely different, having green accents of neroli, apple and blackcurrant.

Flankers
Guerlain's bestselling fragrance, La Petite Robe Noire has been turned into a whole line of fragrances in order to cater to a wide range of perfume tastes, and to keep up consumers' attention on today's hectic and inundated fragrance market.

Couture
Wasser and Jelk 2014

In 2011, there was a limited edition called La Petite Robe Noire Modèle No.2, although its formula — orange blossom, galbanum, orris, soft leather and a marshmallow note — had no connection with the original scent. It was quickly withdrawn from sale to make room for the international relaunch of La Petite Petite Robe Noire. The Modèle No.2 fragrance was in 2014 reissued in the Parisienne line under the name Mademoiselle Guerlain. The success of La Petite Robe Noire almost begged for a real flanker to come out and in 2014, Thierry Wasser transformed it into a "Couture" model by diminishing the almond and burnt sugar, and adding a cooler raspberry note together with a chypre accord of moss, patchouli, extra bergamot, and a fresh, almost petroleum-like vetiver, which fitted the licorice note quite well. In the Couture version, La Petite Robe Noire took on a drier, lanker style, "an evening gown," as Thierry Wasser put it. The scent won the prize for best feminine fragrance at the FiFi Awards 2015, and in his review, perfume critic Luca Turin praised the skills of Thierry Wasser, "as if he alone was privy to a licorice-lavender accord that goes on forever. Beautiful work, and under the present low-cost, reduced-palette circumstances, borderline miraculous." Couture was discontinued in 2016 when the Intense flanker was introduced, making it Guerlain's shortest living flanker to date.

Eau Fraîche
Wasser and Jelk 2015

The fourth member of the La Petite Robe Noire family was an Eau Fraîche, subtitled Ma Robe Pétales. It’s no big surprise that Guerlain would produce a fresh version, as most perfume brands have done so with their bestsellers to solicit new customers. Guerlain’s own portfolio of such variants includes Shalimar Light, Shalimar Souffle de Parfum, Un Air de Samsara, Insolence Eau Glacée, Habit Rouge EdT Légère and L’Eau, Guerlain Homme L’Eau and L’Eau Boisée, L'Homme Idéal Cologne, as well as several citrusy versions of L’Instant for both her and him. The delectable cherry and burnt sugar accord of La Petite Robe Noire is difficult to imagine being recast into a fresh form. The Couture version from the year before maybe paved the way, but the press material told us that this Robe Pétales was something of its own: a fresh floral fragrance with mandarin, green notes, freesia, pistachio and patchouli.

Freshness is no new thing chez Guerlain. In fact, the Guerlain history is based on citrus and herbs, and the Guerlinade would be nothing without it. However, modern freshness is not about fragile Provençal herbs, but about mysterious molecules with nuclear tenacity. Upon first spritz, we knew that Ma Robe Pétales, if anything, was a reworking of Couture, and not the EdP, a chypre, sort of. It opened with a zing of citrus, lemon and mandarin. Mandarin is one of perfumery’s loveliest citrus notes, mellow, honeyed, succulent and warm. Here, it was mixed with an ozonic, fizzy, fresh-air kind of green. Adding to the ozonic sensation was a metallic quality, like the acidity of unripe pineapple, as well as a salty note, probably stemming partly from patchouli. Luca Turin has praised "the weird long-term freshness that Thierry Wasser somehow builds into the fabric of his fragrances," and this Eau Fraîche had it in spades.

The floral notes of Ma Robe Pétales were fresh and airy too, and slightly spicy and creamy, the ones we know from freesia, peony, lily and rose. The fragrance wasn’t overtly floral, just enough to add a pink, bright hue. It was not very fruity either; none of La Petite Robe Noire’s red berry jam was here, but there was a certain fruity tartness, as in peach or apricot. Green florals can sometimes smell like shampoo and air freshener, and at some point Ma Robe Pétales also did. It was saved by a touch of the almond, burnt sugar and licorice that is so defining of La Petite Robe Noire. Here, the dose was well below the gourmand threshold, subliminal almost, and lifted by the salt note, but it gave a trace of that praline flavour that Guerlain uses to get us hooked.

Like La Petite Robe Noire, Ma Robe Pétales was drenched in white musk. With the ozonic green and light floral notes, the drydown effect was clean and cottony, and very long-lasting. The mix of green, creamy lily, praline and musk may be what was described as pistachio — it felt nearly like pistachio ice cream. Ma Robe Pétales was certainly not one of those pale, softly aromatic and minimalistic fragrances that its light green coloured juice might make you think of. This was New Millennium Guerlain, a scent of metallic neon-green, pink petals, almond and licorice. In that sense, it was very La Petite Robe Noire.

Intense
Wasser and Jelk 2016

The so-called "Intense" version of La Petite Robe Noire is, like the Eau FraÎche, unrelated to the original fragrance. Guerlain already disclosed the creation of the fragrance in 2015, stating that it was designed to excite the North American market. William Lescure, president of Guerlain Canada, explained that while La Petite Robe Noire is an international hit, with three bottles sold every minute in the world, it’s not sweet enough for North American tastes. "When you smell it, you smell North America," he said about the new version. "It is a completely new fragrance," Guerlain's then artistic director Sylvaine Delacourte elaborated, "with a new orchestration, nothing to do with the others. The other formulations are too dark for the North American market, with licorice, black tea, vanilla — North Americans like things more luminous, easier. They like scent to be cleaner, fruitier and less dark."

A mix of cotton candy, blackcurrant, raspberry, bergamot, rose, jasmine, orange blossom, white musk, vanilla, sandalwood and patchouli, the fragrance smelled like a concoction of 80 percent Lancôme La Vie Est Belle, 10 percent La Petite Robe Noire Eau Fraîche, and 10 percent La Petite Robe Noire Couture, which adds up to 100 percent candy shop. If there was anything "intense" about LPRNI, it was how intensely girly it felt. Only when conducting a careful comparative study, did we realize that La Petite Robe Noire Intense was an improvement on the original Lancôme version, especially from a top note perspective. The dashes of earlier LPRN scents thrown in, and the use of better materials overall, worked to brighten up the unexciting, stuffy feel of Lancôme, and made for a bolder, juicier, and more addictive fragrance, with notes of blackcurrant sorbet, sunny peach, fresh-floral bubble gum, hairspray, sugar-dusted cedar and patchouli, caramel fudge, and cotton candy machines running at full throttle. (The press material mentioned a blueberry note, which must be a marketing trick to match the juice colour, because there’s nothing particularly blueberry-like to this scent.) Thierry Wasser’s sense of freshness and air, even in the most sugary of circumstances, is truly impressive. Read more

Black Perfecto
Delphine Jelk 2017

"I'm incredibly sexy and more rock than ever," touts the slogan of Guerlain's ninth release in its La Petite Robe Noire series, Black Perfecto. A hip mix of English and Spanish, the name is borrowed from one of the shades in the LPRN makeup line, also named after the classic Perfecto motorcycle leather jacket by Schott NYC. Featuring an all-black version of the heart-shaped stopper bottle decorated with little studs and a circular "leather" label, it's the first La Petite Robe Noire release not to include a black dress or girl pictogram. To promote the launch, Guerlain collaborates with French sports equipment company Le Coq Sportif on a pair of La Petite Robe Noire tennis shoes. A LPRN leather jacket would have made more sense in the context at hand, but we guess that a pair of LPRN sneakers isn't any more absurd than a LPRN car, a LPRN iPhone cover, a LPRN bag, LPRN gloves, or LPRN tea, just to name a few of the LPRN spin-offs marketed in the past. According to the latest business reports, all high-end brands are now releasing sneakers, because they're cheap to produce and sell like hotcakes despite a retail price of around 400 €. Let's try to rise above our dismay about Guerlain using silly marketing gimmicks that completely degrade the refined luxury image that LVMH otherwise strives to convey.

Guerlain fans, rejoice! This smells like a resurrection of Delphine Jelk’s greatly missed original version of La Petite Robe Noire from 2009, which was evidently more charismatic than the reworked 2012 version that followed: a gorgeously rich "Musquinade" blend of raspberry, amarena cherries, bitter almond, Bulgarian rose absolute, licorice, and burnt sugar, well worthy of the Guerlain name. Back then, Guerlain's now former artistic director, Sylvaine Delacourte, explained that La Petite Robe Noire was inspired by the flavour and chewy texture of a raspberry macaron, and Black Perfecto makes us remember why. According to official PR, Black Perfecto sports a "touch of leather", but we assume that it's the original black tea note, which has a certain smoky tinge, that has simply been renamed to fit the new "rock and black leather" slogan. In short, this Black Perfecto is hands down the best La Petite Robe Noire currently out there, at least if you don’t want to splash out for the luxurious Parfum version, a rather costly option available only in a ridiculously small 7.5 ml size. We're crossing our fingers and hope that Guerlain doesn’t discontinue it just as quickly as the wonderful Couture version was removed from the market.

The official name of the fragrance is "Black Perfecto by La Petite Robe Noire", as if La Petite Robe Noire were a brand. We guess it sort of is as this is the ninth La Petite Robe Noire release. It reminds us that the naming of flankers is one of the more challenging aspects in contemporary perfumery. The fragrance is labeled as an "Eau de Parfum Florale", which is quite misleading because it's not particularly floral. As indicated on the back of the box, the rose may be more pronounced compared to the 2009 version, which only adds to the beauty of the accord, but the dominant notes remain cherry, licorice, and musky almond. If there ever was a floral version of La Petite Robe Noire, it was French Kiss in the Elixirs Charnels line, but we assume that Guerlain wanted a fragrance that would draw attention away from Lancôme's La Vie Est Belle Florale. It would have been more logical to call it La Petite Robe Noire Intense since that’s what it is in the strictest sense of the term, while last year’s Intense flanker was in fact a rehash of La Vie Est Belle and completely unrelated to La Petite Robe Noire. Whatever the actual inspiration was, La Petite Robe Noire Black Perfecto is, well, just perfect!



  We love: the original 2009 version, as well as the 2012 Parfum and 2017 Black Perfecto

  Succulent chic

  An Habit Rouge turned licorice black















Some images courtesy of guerlain.com


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