Jacques Guerlain 1904
[parfœ̃ de ʃɑ̃seli'ze]
Family: floral, chypre, woody
Cocoa violet
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.

Jacques Guerlain created Parfum des Champs-Elysées to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s chic new address on the Champs-Elysées boulevard. However, the construction work on the building was delayed, so the perfume had to wait ten years to be presented to the public. When it was finally released in 1914, it came in one of Guerlain’s most beautiful bottles, a Baccarat crystal tortoise, reportedly a sly reference to the slowness of the Guerlain house's architect. Guerlain’s first post-LVMH fragrance was also called Champs-Elysées (1996), a luminous floral fragrance by Olivier Cresp that has nothing in common with Jacques Guerlain’s old perfume except its name.

One of the major discoveries in perfumery back in 1893 was ionone, a synthetic molecule which almost perfectly replicates the odour of violets. It gave perfumers a low-cost alternative to violet absolute and quickly became a very popular ingredient. Ionone has never gone out of fashion with perfumers, and it actually covers several different scent molecules; some have violet sweetness while others give a woody-floral tonality. In the first part of his career, Jacques Guerlain used the violet note extensively, from Fleur Qui Meurt (1901) to his two violet-infused masterpieces Après l'Ondée and L'Heure Bleue. In between came Parfum des Champs-Elysées, which featured all the facets of violet, both the woody greenness of its leaves and the petals' sweet powder. While Jacques Guerlain's earliest creations expressed a somewhat rugged and unpolished style, at least compared to his predecessor's Jicky, Parfum des Champs-Elysées had an elegant and very luxurious femininity, introducing the velvety, powdery texture that made Jacques Guerlain so acclaimed and distinguished him from most other perfumers. We could call it his first "ladylike" perfume — he had just turned thirty and was about to marry Lily, who would be his lifelong mate. (The LVMH takeover ninety years later was not least motivated by the fact that "ladylike" by then had become "old lady" in many people's perception of Guerlain, an image which the brand is still actively trying to shed.) Parfum des Champs-Elysées heralded what came to be Après l'Ondée's hallmark, the powdery accord of aromatics, orange blossom, violet and orris, but laid on a warm and smoothly woody, almost cocoa-like base. As such, Parfum des Champs-Elysées was also the first of Jacques Guerlain's perfumes to display the gourmand aesthetic that has defined Guerlain ever since.

The perfume opens directly onto the scent of violet mixed with lavender and orange blossom. The beauty of this accord alone, at once fresh, powdery and sweet like violet drops, gives us an idea why Après l'Ondée became Jacques Guerlain's first masterpiece. As Parfum des Champs-Elysées evolves, the violet gets woodier and meets with the warmth of sandalwood, clove, tuberose, patchouli and oakmoss — if Après l'Ondée is spring rain, then Parfum des Champs-Elysées feels like the brown foliage of autumn. The impression of a cocoa note, tickling the nose deliciously, could be the patchouli, with its earthy accent, combined with sweet sandalwood and musk, and the dustiness of oakmoss. The violet joins the associated scent of orris, an ingredient which Jacques Guerlain would use in the majority of his later works, seemingly more and more each time and peaking with Coque d'Or. Orris, that dried rhizome reminiscent of freshly turned soil, brandy, dusty old books, and face powder, is one of the defining features of the Guerlinade accord. Smelling the drydown of Parfum des Champs-Elysées, one of Guerlain's most musky and long-lasting by the way, we can't help thinking that the composition bore the preliminary layout for that very French perfume, Vol de Nuit.

Generally, we understand and accept that only a handful of Jacques Guerlain's approximately four hundred creations were able to transcend time and the dictates of fashion, but Parfum des Champs-Elysées could easily have been one of those that endured. It has all the necessary beauty and charisma, a real gem for Guerlain lovers interested in the historic Guerlain universe. Maybe therefore, it was reissued commercially in 1995 and again in 2008, albeit in reformulated versions complying with safety norms, which means without animal tinctures. If you didn't smell it then, you now have the chance to discover the original if you visit 68 Champs-Elysées. Read more about Parfum des Champs-Elysées

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