Jacques Guerlain 1904
[muʃwa:r də məsjø]
Notes: absinthe, geranium, bergamot, almond, jasmine, rose, tuberose, neroli, wood, cinnamon, civet, musk, vanilla, tonka bean
Period: The Belle Époque years
Until Guerlain decided to put it on the general market in the late 1980s, Mouchoir de Monsieur ("gentleman's handkerchief") was reputedly available only to actor and bon vivant Jean-Claude Brialy and King Juan Carlos of Spain. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1904 as one of the very first fragrances specifically for men, it has a loyal fan base even today. It's from an epoch where well-to-do, hat-adorned ladies promenaded with their gloved hand under the arm of elegant monsieurs. In the gentleman's breast pocket perched a small handkerchief, and it was etiquette to offer this handkerchief lightly perfumed with cologne to the lady as a romantic souvenir. Jacques Guerlain conceived this perfume along with its feminine counterpart Voilette de Madame ("lady's little veil", long gone but sold as a limited EdT edition in 2005) as a gift set for a friend's wedding.
Entirely in keeping with fashion standards at the turn of the century, Mouchoir de Monsieur was the embodiment of discreet elegance. All soft edges and velvet cushions, it seemed to be Jacques Guerlain's vision of the Guerlinade Pour Homme. On paper, i.e. the scent diagram, Mouchoir de Monsieur looks very similar to Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky, an example of the so-called "formules à tiroir" where one formula is being used as the basis of another, much like today's flanker fragrances. Jicky is the unisex fougère perfume par excellence, androgynous and stately, mixing Provençal herbs and citrus with floral notes, balsam and civet. The genius of Jicky lay in its ambiguity, contrast and purity, and in the naked beauty of its raw materials.
Although Jacques Guerlain became famous for his ability to improve on other perfumers' work, Jicky was probably unsurpassable. Mouchoir de Monsieur was an altogether less enigmatic composition, slightly indistinct and cologne-like compared to Jicky, but in its own right a sophisticated men's scent. When it comes to fashion and fragrance, men are usually easier to impress than women. Its notes, almost identical to Jicky’s, complete with almond, jasmine, rose, tuberose, tonka bean, vanilla and animal odours, seemed blended in a lighter and more casual manner, possibly to make it fit a gentleman’s everyday use. Jacques Guerlain took out the romantic coolness of lavender and amped up the aromatics, the neroli, and the fresh rosy geranium note instead. It feels as if he wanted to level out the entire composition in order to tone down the deeply sensual and rounded gourmand base of Jicky. To this end, he added a large amount of nitro-musk, as he did in almost all of his perfumes; the extensive use of nitro-musk is one of the things that distinguished him mostly from Aimé Guerlain. Nitro-musk works to create a hazy, diffusive cloud around the perfume, covering up and muffling all the other notes of the fragrance. It makes heavy materials appear much more soft and powdery, something which was called for in the richly floral, ambery and animalic blends of vintage Guerlain perfumery.
All things taken together, fresh rose, powder and musk, Mouchoir de Monsieur could be the younger brother of Jicky, bright, dandy and not so formal. Its extremely precise equilibrium between the genteel and the flirtatious is quite impressive. Read about Voilette de Madame
Mouchoir de Monsieur was originally presented in the crystal snail bottle, one of Guerlain's most exquisite Art Nouveau designs. A limited edition glass version of the snail bottle was made in 2005. In 1989, when it was released to the public for the first time as an EdT, it appeared in the simple travel bottle and Robert Granai's Eau de Toilette bottle, perhaps best known as the "Habit Rouge" bottle. Now it's sold in Guerlain's bee atomizer.
Having kept this old dandy going is a credit to Guerlain. As is true for Jicky, however, much has happened to Mouchoir de Monsieur since its début. Jacques Guerlain's original formula was concentrated like a Parfum (as were all of his formulas) and hence behaved as such when applied, with a slower and less sprightly evaporation curve than an EdT. Lowering the overall concentration is one way of making a perfume comply with the industry's ingredient norms, but on top of that, modern Mouchoir de Monsieur lacks the roundness of raw bergamot and nitro-musk, now banned in perfumery, making for a leaner and more acidic fragrance. Some have noted that there's even an urinous facet to today's Mouchoir de Monsieur. Despite these changes, Mouchoir de Monsieur remains one of perfumery's finest illustrations of the archetypical gentleman's scent. Read more
We love: the new EdT
A casual cologne-style Jicky
A turn-of-the-century kind of man
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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