[su lə vɑ̃]
Family: chypre, aromatic
Notes: bergamot, lavender, tarragon, basil, verbena, myrtle, galbanum, jasmine, carnation, ylang-ylang, tiaré, orange blossom, orris, oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, Peru balsam, musk
Crushed tobacco leaves in the breeze
Period: The flight years
Sous le Vent collection
Sous le Vent was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1934 for Josephine Baker, the famous cabaret artiste who daringly performed nude except for a brief banana skirt and strode the streets of Paris with a pet leopard. Sous le Vent followed the times' chypre trend designed for the new self-confident, short-haired and trouser-clad "garçonnes". Josephine Baker was from St. Louis, but the French always seemed to forget she was American, instead associating her with the exoticism of her costumes, so Guerlain named this scent after the tropical Leeward Islands of the lesser Antilles. Jacques Guerlain was very excited about green notes during those years, and he found a perfect illustrative setting in this French overseas colony ("greener than one can imagine," as said Guerlain, quoting the Guadeloupe-born poet Saint-John Perse). Classified as an aromatic chypre, Sous le Vent smelled principally like what could be Jacques Guerlain's last instalment of experiments with Coty's Chypre.
While Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit had the chypre accord adorned with peach and amber respectively, Sous le Vent remained significantly barer, much like dried tobacco leaves. Jacques Guerlain's omnipresent top notes of Provençal herbs — lavender, tarragon, basil, myrtle and verbena — were moved to centre stage, which combined with a high dose of bergamot and the sea-like softness of oakmoss gave the perfume a chic, elegant aura of how relaxed and pleasant life can be along the Côte d'Azur. This, and the galbanum resin, whose scent is often likened to that of green pea pods, is what made Sous le Vent "greener than one can imagine". Sweetness and warmth, a must chez Guerlain, came from Peru balsam, sandalwood, and a white-flower accord of jasmine, ylang-ylang and tiaré, just enough to be noticeable and not markedly exotic-smelling.
At the base, we found Jacques Guerlain's legendary powder cloud of musk and orris. In terms of comparison, Sous le Vent tended mostly towards a tweed-green alfresco version of Vol de Nuit, and it surely had a breezy feel to it that fitted its name. It marked Jacques Guerlain's introduction of green notes in fine perfumery — an inspiration to other perfumers' works like Miss Dior, Balmain's Vent Vert and several of the later Jean-Paul Guerlain fragrances. The fragrance didn't survive as one of the classics, but was re-created in 2006 by Jean-Paul Guerlain — one of its biggest admirers who made his first fragrance Vetiver, and later Eau de Guerlain, in its spirit — as part of the "Il Était Une Fois Guerlain" EdT collection. Sadly, the production was discontinued in 2014. (Curiously, the very last batch produced before discontinuation was labelled as EdP instead of EdT, however it remains unknown if the scent concentration really was changed.)
Bottle. To fit the Caribbean inspiration of this perfume, its bottle had the miniature shape of a keg like those used for transporting rum by sea from the old slave colonies. Between 1950 and 1972 when the fragrance was discontinued, it was available in Vol de Nuit's propeller bottle and in the standard quadrilobe bottle. The presentation for the reissued EdT was a retro Art Deco cylindrical laboratory bottle with a wide mouth and a glass stopper, a replica of flasks used in the Guerlain laboratory in days gone by. The label's black disc with its gold lettering recalled the metal-logo on the propeller bottle.
Parfum, EdT. Given the high age of any remaining bottles of Sous le Vent Parfum, it's impossible to know how it smelled freshly made. However, Thierry Wasser has re-created the original version of the perfume which comes across as warm in tone, at once herbal, musky and mossy. In comparison, the EdT feels citrusy, airy and slightly pale, a reminder that concentration critically changes the olfactive impression.
Reformulation. European safety norms have hindered the original composition's level of oakmoss and animal ingredients which leaves the reissue a fraction nearer to a fougère than to a chypre, brighter and milder. Thierry Wasser's re-created vintage version is made with raw bergamot oil and animal musk and all, available at Maison Guerlain for testing. It comes as no surprise that it's much richer and more detailed, rounder, mossier, more animalic and less dry, and all in all more long-lasting. That said, the reformulated EdT gave us a good idea of the original, and we must applaud Guerlain for its outstanding skills in doing commercial remakes of old scents within the tight restrictions of modern perfumery. So much the more reason to regret that Guerlain doesn't want to sell it any longer. Read more
We love: the reissue was light, but wonderful
When elegance is mandatory even in the countryside
Just as wearable as Vetiver and Eau de Guerlain
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