[parfœ̃ de ʃɑ̃seli'ze]
Family: floral, chypre, woody
Notes: bergamot, violet, lavender, orange blossom, rose, jasmine, tuberose, orris, clove, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, civet, musk
Period: The Belle Époque years
When at the beginning of the twentieth century Guerlain decided to open a sumptuous new house on the Champs-Elysées boulevard, it had to be marked as a triumph of luxury. Designed by Art Nouveau architect Charles Mewès, the house would contain a shop as well as offices and apartments for the Guerlain family. Hard work and high quality had made it possible for founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain to open his first shop on the rue de Rivoli in 1828 and move it to the more elegant rue de la Paix eleven years later. But, to have a boutique on the Champs-Elysées, in those days the most fashionable address of Paris, was so extraordinary that Jacques Guerlain decided to celebrate it by naming a perfume after it. (A few years later, his brother Pierre made a perfume named after the rue de la Paix.)
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 opened 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 inkling as to why Après l'Ondée became Jacques Guerlain's first masterpiece. As Parfum des Champs-Elysées evolved, the violet got woodier and met with the warmth of sandalwood, clove, tuberose, patchouli and oakmoss — if Après l'Ondée was spring rain, then Parfum des Champs-Elysées felt 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. Together with violet, we got 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 persisted. 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.
Parfum des Champs-Elysées had to wait ten years before being released to the public. It wasn't until 1914, when the new shop finally was ready for opening, that it was sold in its now legendary Art Nouveau bottle. The bottle in itself paid tribute to the new shop: its tortoise shape was inspired by the slowness of the construction work! Also, the use of animal motifs, found equally beautiful in the snail bottle, was common during the Art Nouveau design period. The bottle came in an egg-shaped red box, which for the 1995 reissue was replaced by a square box.
Thierry Wasser's re-created vintage version of Parfum des Champs-Elysées suggests that apart from the animal tinctures, not too many changes were necessary to be able to make this commercial reissue. Read more
We love: the luck of finding one of the reissued bottles for sale
An autumnal version of the Après l'Ondée summer rain
For its life-like portrait of fall foliage
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