Jacques Guerlain 1914
Warm, sweet May
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. On the list we find Jacques Guerlain's Mi-Mai from 1914.
Mi-Mai is French for mid-May, and if the name has anything to do with the month in which this perfume was launched, it must mean that it arrived just before the horrors of World War I broke out and officially put an end to the Belle Époque. This fragrance, however, was surely meant to evoke the joy of spring when flowers bloom. Mi-Mai has all the characteristics of a Jacques Guerlain perfume: rich floral ingredients, vanilla, some leather, and plenty of nitro-musk. The only thing it lacks is the aromatic freshness of Provençal herbs, which were traditionally a Jacques Guerlain standard, and this highlights Mi-Mai as a truly floral, quasi-oriental composition.
Today's vision of a spring fragrance is far removed from the world of Jacques Guerlain. Take any of Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria scents: fresh, clean, light, and naturalistic in style, and it will strike you just how intense, heavy, complex, and abstract the compositions of Jacques Guerlain were. (The sole exception was possibly his cologne, the lemony Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat.) His son, Jean-Jacques, tells us that Jacques loved all things intensely fragrant, a reflection of the trends of perfumery before the 1960s, when the overall more odorous environment had to be counteracted with dense, powerful and animalic perfumes.
On the other hand, we're not surprised to find lily of the valley featured in Mi-Mai. From Guerlain's yearly limited edition of Muguet (which indeed is a modern spring fragrance, fresh, green and clean), we know that the French associate this flower with the month of May. Still, if Mi-Mai is a portrait of spring, it's a very abstract and saturated one, of sweet, heady flowers warmed by the sun, and the humid earth beneath them.
Mi-Mai starts out right away with an opulent floral bouquet, above all jasmine, one of Jacques Guerlain's favourite ingredients, but also a sweet lily of the valley note, together with rose and powdery violet. The scent pyramid doesn't list any citrus ingredients, so the citrusy nuance that we perceive must stem from rose absolute.
As the perfume develops, the jasmine gradually fades while the rose retains its power and meets with a pure, honeyed lilac note. Further down the line, Mi-Mai emerges as more rounded and creamy, offering an almost rum-like sensation that probably derives from the accord of ylang-ylang and vanilla. The drydown, in which the flowers are almost gone, gives us balsamic vanilla notes and the softly leathery cinnamon scent of a gum resin. Finally the whole composition is smoothed with a warm and comfortable musk.
Mi-Mai was housed in a clear, wide bottle with its oval shoulders accented by convex indentations on its edges and ringing its tall neck. The semi-translucent glass stopper, held in place by a bright red string, featured tiny carved flowers which echoed the rustic charm of the bottle's red box and label designs. Guerlain has recently reused the name Mi-Mai for one of its Shine Automatique lipstick shades.
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