Jacques Guerlain 1912
Family: floral, tobacco
Habit Rouge meets Nahéma
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.
Between Après l’Ondée (1906) and L’Heure Bleue (1912), Jacques Guerlain issued a series of six different scents (including the two aforementioned), worked around the same herbal-spicy-floral accord of anise, aromatics, jasmine, carnation and powdery notes. Vague Souvenir (1912) was one of them.
In English, a souvenir is one of those little trinkets you buy on your holiday trip, like a miniature bronze Eiffel tower when visiting Paris, to inspire nostalgic reveries when you get home. In French, however, the term also implies a purely mental phenomenon: a memory, a remembrance. We don’t know what it was that Jacques Guerlain remembered, only that it was a hazy memory, but we’re quite sure it must have involved a woman, or at least some romantic sentiment.
Our conviction inevitably is reconfirmed when we learn that this fragrance is all about roses. Admittedly, what is more evocative of romantic memories than roses? And speaking of memories: like archaeologists unearthing a missing link, we get the thrill of discovery when finding ties from Vague Souvenir to not one, but two well-known Jean-Paul Guerlain rose fragrances, namely Habit Rouge and Nahéma!
Vague Souvenir evolves in two distinct parts, one fresh and astringent, the other creamy, sweet and sensual. The drydown curve is one of Guerlain’s most dramatic, surpassed only by Jean-Paul Guerlain’s ravishing Chamade.
The first part is dominated by lavender and other Provencal herbs, together with citrus, anise, orange blossom, and the powerful, fresh-floral scent of citronellol which occurs in rose and geranium. This part is what gives us the gratification of recognizing Habit Rouge’s classy, charismatic bite in Vague Souvenir.
The second part involves a quantum leap in time to Nahéma of 1979, complete with Bulgarian rose, peach, spiciness and burning amber. Needless to say, Jacques Guerlain’s rose was less “rosy" than the supernatural damascenones in Nahéma. It’s been said that Nahéma's fruity-floral accord, now a standard in perfumery, was ahead of its time and therefore possibly what made it a commercial failure, but Thierry Wasser’s exploration of the vast Jacques Guerlain catalogue attests once again that modern ideas are seldom entirely new. Vague Souvenir really must have been Guerlain’s very first fruity-floral. It doesn’t contain Nahéma's smoldering, sweet glow of sandalwood, but instead it features ambrette, ylang-ylang, tonka bean, tobacco and deer musk, which in combination seem to achieve a similar effect.
Smelling Vague Souvenir, we can’t grasp why Guerlain choose not to include it in the Jacques Guerlain reissue collection “Il était une fois Guerlain”. (The collection ended up as solely the duo of Véga and Sous le Vent, both now discontinued). We’re quite sure that this vintage fruity-floral fragrance would be a hit in today’s market, which thirsts for fragrances that both smell great and are hard to come by.
Bottle. Vague Souvenir came in the quadrilobe bottle which was first made for the perfume Rue de la Paix (1908), but then became a standard bottle used for several new perfumes that followed.
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