Jacques Guerlain 1904
[vwalɛt də ma'dam]
Family: floral, powdery
Fresh ylang-ylang
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.

Voilette de Madame ("lady’s little veil") was the female counterpart of Mouchoir de Monsieur ("gentleman's handkerchief"). Presented in matching bottles, shaped like snails, together they formed a perfume set which Jacques Guerlain presented as a wedding gift for one of his friends in 1904. At the turn of the century, veils and handkerchiefs were typical signs of upper-class elegance.

"In perfume, the male of the species is always smaller than the female," Luca Turin said. However, discriminating between masculine and feminine scents is a relatively modern marketing strategy, and when we study the scent diagrams for the historic versions of Jacques Guerlain's Voilette de Madame and Mouchoir de Monsieur, we're unable to tell which one is for her and which one is for him. Seen with today’s eyes, the description of Mouchoir de Monsieur — jasmine, rose, tuberose, civet, musk, vanilla — would definitely give the impression of a women’s perfume. While Mouchoir de Monsieur was brought back to the sales catalogue in the late 1980s, Voilette de Madame remained an obscurity. In 2005 though, Guerlain reissued the snail bottle duo in a limited edition, for which an EdT version of Voilette de Madame was produced. (Lowering the concentration to an EdT level is a common way to make a fragrance conform with IFRA restrictions.)

We're not doubting that Voilette de Madame was made with a young woman in mind. By its combination of violet, rose, orris and musk, on top of a classic, creamy floral bouquet of jasmine, orange blossom and ylang-ylang, it recalled the cosmetic scent of lipstick and face powder that we immediately associate with a neat and well-groomed lady. However, there was a certain androgynous, cologne-like freshness to it which we also found in Jacques Guerlain's earliest perfumes. The powdery violet note, so popular at the time, was there in Voilette de Madame's top accord, but mainly with its green and leafy facet. This greenness was further highlighted by bergamot, verbena, and the fresh, rosy scent of geranium. The common ground of Voilette de Madame and Mouchoir de Monsieur was the mix of cologne notes and fresh rose with orange blossom and a powdery tonka bean base. By far the most rose-smelling of the couple, Voilette de Madame might very well have served as an inspiration to Jean-Paul Guerlain when he created Habit Rouge for men in 1965, at that time a quite atypical men's scent.

Upon discovering Thierry Wasser's re-created historic version of Voilette de Madame, made directly from the hand-written recipe but sadly not for sale, we’re taught once again that commercial reissues of old perfumes, like the 2005 reissue of Voilette de Madame, often have to cut corners, not to make them cheaper but to meet today's safety norms on raw materials. Unlike the EdT reissue, Jacques Guerlain's formula for Voilette de Madame was a Parfum (as was the original recipe for Mouchoir de Monsieur), with rich flower absolutes, and the sensuality of animal musk which is completely banned in today's perfumery. Still, the EdT reissue gave us a surprisingly valid impression of what the original smelled like, although its relative lightness highlighted the feel of a Habit Rouge type dandy cologne. Read more about Voilette de Madame

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