Thierry Wasser 2010
[tɔ̃'ka ɛ̃per'jal]
Family: woody, oriental
Notes: bergamot, almond, rosemary, jasmine, tonka bean, spices, honey, tobacco, olibanum, amber, cedarwood, pine, vanilla
Sweet brandy
Period: The recapitulation years
Tonka Impériale collection

The seventh member of the L'Art & la Matière family is dedicated to tonka bean, the ingredient, or rather the coumarin note inside it, that inspired the creation of Jicky and has been a staple chez Guerlain ever since. The small South American brownish-black "bean" is actually the dried stone of a fruit, smelling deliciously of marzipan, vanilla, hay, and it has been used for ages for its unique flavour in various dessert dishes, in tobacco, and in fragrance. Tonka Impériale, devised by in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser, is maybe the most true-to-tradition of the "modern niche" line as it picks up obvious elements from historic Guerlains, notably Jicky's aromatic sweetness (rosemary, tonka bean), L'Heure Bleue's pastry almond scent, and the spicy-balmy Vol de Nuit. This rosemary doesn't smell herbal per se but works as a culinary tonic to focus and straighten the rest of the composition which is mainly soft and creamy base materials: honey, olibanum, tobacco, vanilla, amber, roasted almonds, all selected after what would accentuate the natural facets of tonka bean.

Such oriental notes are inherently Guerlain yet here, the result isn't the usual plushy one but instead a tightly structured gourmand, "between gingerbread and chocolate," as food-loving Sylvaine Delacourte puts it (to which one could add nutty nougat). It's as pleasing as Cologne du 68 but performed with a dry, warm cedarwood oil and what appears like Christmas spices, and at a level of restraint and quality that brings forth sensory effects of exquisite Parisian leather goods, fine cigars and chocolats de luxe. A pine note adds to the gingerbread aroma and its accompanying atmosphere of crackling fireplaces and walks in snowy winter woods, bundled in fur. Like the previous L'Art & la Matière fragrances, Tonka Impériale is pure sent-bon and doesn't have much of a development once applied, although the opening bergamot-rosemary-almond-jasmine accord has its own brandied vibe, a soberer variant of Jean-Paul Guerlain's boozy Spiritueuse Double Vanille.

Bottle. The bottle for the L'Art & la Matière line is an oblong slender block of glass, decorated on one end with a golden metal strip with the perfume's name imprinted on it, as if it were the spine of an old leather-bound book.

  We love: the Christmas feel of it

  Classy gourmand

  When you wish you had a library complete with chesterfield, cigars and old books

Some images courtesy of

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