Jacques and Jean-Paul Guerlain 1955
Period: The début 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.
Exuding French luxury and feminine beauty, the jasmine-rose accord is one of perfumery’s great pillar ingredients. Probably the most classic and best known manifestation of the accord is Jean Patou’s Joy, famously marketed in 1930, in the midst of a devastating financial crisis, as "the world's most expensive perfume”. Guerlain’s Ode from 1955 was a fragrance created in the same vein as Joy because it was composed primarily of a combination of jasmine and rose.
Maybe not only the composition, but also the name Ode, was influenced by Joy. Jean-Paul Guerlain has said that most Guerlain perfume names have three syllables, because it sounds melodious to the ear: Mi-tsou-ko, Sha-li-mar, Vol-de-Nuit, Sous-le-Vent, Ve-ti-ver, Chant-d'A-rômes, Ha-bit-Rouge, Na-hé-ma, Sam-sa-ra, etc. Like Joy, Ode is a rare example of a one-syllable, three-letter perfume name. It’s interesting to note that Guerlain’s first three-letter named perfume, Liu, whose scent was a delicate face-powder version of the jasmine-rose accord, was created around the same time as Joy. In French, though, “Liu” is pronounced with two syllables, and not one, as in Chinese.
Ode was a joint creation of Jacques and Jean-Paul Guerlain. The collaboration marked Jacques’ pending retirement, and that his 18-year-old grandson and trainee would soon take over the role as the company’s master nose. As such, the name Ode could signal an “ode" to a retiring master’s enormous oeuvre, as well as to the future prospects of a young talented perfumer. In more general terms, it could also be the ode to Guerlain’s system of handing down family traditions, to rose and jasmine being the favourite ingredients of both Jacques and Jean-Paul Guerlain, or simply to the highly durable beauty of the art of Guerlain.
Smelling Ode, it seems obvious that it contains large amounts of rose and jasmine absolutes, as the scent of both is richly present from start to finish of this long-lasting composition. The top note, though, is made up of hyacinth, which gives the perfume a powerfully floral, oily-green, radiant, and quite heady opening. Within the hyacinth material used in perfumery, there is a heavy, almost fecal component, which is pronounced in Ode for the first hour. This kind of floral fragrance would probably be considered too demanding, too unclean for today's tastes, like most of vintage Guerlain, although a touch of sparkling aldehydes helps to add some lift and sparkle.
It has often been said that Ode didn't smell like a Jacques Guerlain perfume at all. Many Guerlain lovers associate his style mainly with spicy amber compositions, but browsing through Thierry Wasser’s extensive selection of re-created Jacques Guerlain scents, what strikes us is the remarkable olfactive variety, and that many of the old Guerlains had the truly floral character that we find in Ode, from Dix Pétales de Roses (1899), Mi-Mai (1914) and Jasmiralda (1917), to Candide Effluve (1922), Véga (1936) and Fleur de Feu (1948) — not to mention Jean-Jacques Guerlain's two 1930s superflorals, Guerlilas and Guerlarose.
Still, Ode's hyacinth could be seen as a harbinger of the more “botanical” style that would become the hallmark of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Hyacinth was among the notes that made Chamade (1969) such a happy, sunny fragrance. Nowadays, hyacinth in a perfume feels like something from another age, too insistently floral and matronly.
After hyacinth, the rose and jasmine absolutes play supreme leading roles in Ode, which makes sense, as they could be perfumes by themselves, complete with multiple nuances and their own evaporation curves. Jasmine, at once airy, fresh, creamy, and animalic, is the most diffusive of the two absolutes, and, the note we first recognize. In the rose, we perceive lemony, powdery, fruity and honeyed facets, with an intensely sweet drydown. In between all of these floral nuances, there's a ripe note of peach, adding the warm glow that we also know from Mitsouko. The base of Ode is an almond-sweet, powdery cloud of tonka bean, heliotrope, orris, violet, and plenty of musk.
In 2009, Guerlain was planning to launch an exclusive vintage reissue of Ode, reformulated to meet the current IFRA standards, but the project was suddenly halted for undisclosed reasons. Guerlain staff told us that the glassmaker had even already delivered the empty Ode bottles to Guerlain's factory, but some unforeseen problems must have occurred at the last minute, either commercial or technical. The same year, Guerlain released the limited edition perfume Les Secrets de Sophie, a huge jasmine fragrance not unlike Ode. We began to think that the idea of vintage reissues was altogether abandoned. Vintage reissues are very demanding financially, and also technically given the IFRA norms on raw materials. However, there was a vintage bottle edition of Vol de Nuit in 2013 for the perfume's 80th anniversary, and the following year we got Coque d'Or.
The Ode bottle was a small piece of Baccarat crystal art, half flower vase, half female sculpture, like a stretched, long-legged version of the Shalimar bottle. The label, too, echoed Shalimar’s bat-shaped, gold label. The upper part of the bottle had the voluptuous curves of a woman’s bosom, while the base seemed to spill out onto the ground surface, like the train of a floor-length evening gown. Part of the bottle’s crystal was frosted, forming the lines of a long cape draped around its sloping shoulders. The stopper was formed like a rosebud, alluding both to the fragrance, and to the impression of a flower vase.
The box was made like a tall, octagonal hatbox, decorated with an artistic print of a fountain-like flower vase whose colours and contour were suggestive of a hyacinth. The box was made by Draeger, a once-renowned French designer specializing in art books, lithographs and advertisement prints. The format of this box was reused many years later for Guerlinade (1998), Guet-Apens (1999), and Belle Epoque (1999).
Not only did Ode mark the transition from one generation of Guerlain nose to the next, but also a new way of looking at the relationship between a perfume and its bottle. Before Ode, it was common practice for Guerlain to reuse a bottle for two or more different fragrances, whereas from 1955 onwards, each and every new Guerlain perfume would come with its own uniquely designed bottle, in order to give it a distinct visual character (although in recent years, Guerlain has begun to reduce the number of individual bottle designs, replacing them with uniform standard bottles). However, an almost identical, but smaller and less exquisite glass version of the Ode bottle, called the amphora bottle and sometimes dubbed the "rosebud bottle", was issued as a standard bottle for several different perfumes.
For the Eau de Cologne version, a new Guerlain bottle type was introduced. Called the "travel bottle", its square shape was meant to fit into a train case. It eventually became a standard bottle for all EdC, including the men’s scents Vetiver and Habit Rouge. The travel bottle was the inspiration behind Robert Granai's classic Eau de Toilette bottle from 1988, a.k.a. the Habit Rouge bottle.
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