Family: gourmand, fougère
Notes: milky note, almond, lavender, bergamot, mandarin, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, toffee accord, patchouli, sandalwood, white musk, orris, vanilla, tonka bean
Lavender and caramel
Period: The recapitulation years
If we believed that the caramel and cotton candy wave in perfumery, set in motion by Thierry Mugler's Angel (1992), was calming down, we need to think again. In 2015, Guerlain launched two peach-coloured juices, each made of some of the sweetest materials that fragrance chemistry can offer. The first was the bridal fragrance, named Le Bouquet de la Mariée, with orange blossom and sugared almonds. Then came a blend of lavender, sugared almonds and toffee, bearing no other name than "Mon Exclusif". Customers were encouraged to have the bottle, a clear spray version of the elegant Coque d’Or bottle, engraved with a name of their own choice.
The scent was described as an oriental fougère, with lavender, mandarin, bergamot, sugared almond, sunny floral notes, toffee, sandalwood, orris and white musk. In the description, Guerlain highlighted three ingredients: the lavender that smells fresh and slightly fruity, the sandalwood which comes from Southeast Asia and has a particularly soft and long-lasting fragrance, and the toffee accord that "surprises the taste buds" with coumarin, vanilla and a note of salted butter.
According to Guerlain, Mon Exclusif was inspired by Jicky's lavender-vanilla accord. The genius of Jicky (1889) was to combine lavender and other Provençal herbs from Eau de Cologne Impériale with novel aroma chemicals whose odour was sweet and long-lasting, like coumarin and vanillin. Since then, lavender has mainly been used in men’s scents, although it was a frequent top note in Jacques Guerlain’s works. There also was a lovely lavender fragrance in the original Aqua Allegoria collection, Lavande Velours (which Jean-Paul Guerlain reportedly made for his dog). Maybe Guerlain thought it was time to revive the lavender note and do a fougère that would appeal to today’s women. Much has happened in fragrance chemistry since vanillin and coumarin were discovered. Now, perfumery can make you smell like caramel, praline, chocolate, licorice, fruit, and other sweet, edible things.
Mon Exclusif was easily Guerlain's most gourmand fragrance to date (or maybe the second-most after Gourmand Coquin), making Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Tonka Impériale appear dry in comparison. Guerlain has had a sweet thing going on at least since Jicky, but always paired with a certain darkness. When Thierry Wasser explained the formula of La Petite Robe Noire, he was proud to announce that its sweetness derives from an aroma chemical that has a very dark, licorice-like facet, a so-called maple lactone, while the ethyl maltol known from Angel is all caramel and cotton candy. Now, we're beginning to speculate that Guerlain couldn't help eyeing what’s topping the feminine bestseller lists, thinking that caramel isn't such a bad thing after all (yes, we’re looking at you, La Vie Est Belle).
The best part of Mon Exclusif was definitely the start, a beautiful lavender note mixed with the addictive amaretto accord from L’Homme Idéal. If there was a link to Jicky in Mon Exclusif it was here, crunchy almond contrasted with the freshness of lavender and the suaveness of tonka bean. If only this part would have lasted longer. After that it got sweeter and sweeter: buttery, high-calorie toffee combined with sandalwood. It's remarkable how Guerlain was able to track down a molecule that smelled like toffee, but it literally did. The sandalwood was of the milky, non-burning sort that we found in the Russian exclusive Black Swan. We also detected the classic floral bouquet of Guerlain, jasmine, rose and ylang-ylang. The rose added a touch of freshness, while the ylang-ylang pulled back into creamy sweetness. Mon Exclusif was not a floral fragrance, though, but remained a woody gourmand.
Despite Mon Exclusif’s girly caramel and La Vie Est Belle colour scheme, the stately soul of Guerlain was not completely absent. Perhaps the assembly of lavender, coumarin, vanilla and sandalwood represented enough of the Jicky DNA to make us melt. The revival of the historic bow tie bottle surely helped to catch a Guerlain fan's attention too. As the toffee accord faded away after a couple of hours, it left space for the pleasant scent of sandalwood which was rendered cottony and slightly ashy by patchouli, orris and white musk. Lovers of classic Guerlain maybe found the exit a bit too nondescript, just woody notes mixed with white icing sugar.
Some might say that we had already had our fair share of caramel and almond from Guerlain in recent years, yet Mon Exclusif proved that there’s always room for more. It belonged to the brand's Exclusive collections and therefore had a limited distribution, but it received mostly positive comments from those who tried it. In 2017, the scent was launched on the global mainstream market in a slightly lighter version, repackaged and renamed as Mon Guerlain, and with American superstar Angelina Jolie as the spokesmodel for the campaign. Read more about the Mon Guerlain campaign
Bottle. For Mon Exclusif, Guerlain transformed the historic bow tie bottle, first made for Coque d'Or (1937), into an atomizer bottle. Whereas the bow tie bottle was originally made in cobalt blue crystal and then gilded, the Mon Exclusif bottle featured clear glass with silver trimmed edges.
For the Mon Guerlain edition, the scent comes in an atomizer version of the historic quadrilobe dab bottle (1908), crowned with a plastic quatrefoil cap. The cap is surrounded by an embossed, gilded metal band that replaces the traditional cording by the Dames de Table. The base of the bottle has been thickened considerably, which gives a contemporary look, but maybe there's something dated about the gilded band. Like Mon Exclusif, the bottle comes without a label, so we assume you're supposed to have it engraved with a name of your choice. (Luckily, the box doesn’t include the awkward self-adhesive letters that Mon Exclusif came with.) In fact, it's Guerlain's most anonymous fragrance presentation to date, with the Guerlain name almost invisibly moulded into the glass.
We love: the reuse of historic elements for completely new ideas
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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iris lavande caramel