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PARIS ISN'T BIG ENOUGH FOR GUERLAIN


New Guerlain Parfumeur boutiques were recently inaugurated in Brussels and Shanghai. Guerlain's CEO, Laurent Boillot, has announced Guerlain's biggest expansion since the LVMH takeover, a major transition from being "very Parisian" into an international high-profile brand, opening up 100 new boutiques worldwide within the next ten years. He explains that the launch of the fragrance Mon Guerlain marks "a new phase in the development of the house", and that La Petite Robe Noire was only the beginning. "La Petite Robe Noire was a revival, and Mon Guerlain is a manifesto to the world," Boillot says.

However, meeting the complex demands of today's mass market while staying creative isn't an easy job, and the great ambitions of Guerlain entail a new way of looking at fragrance creation. "We're fighting against the big houses with the same weapons, and we sometimes use the cinema term 'blockbuster'. Mon Guerlain is certainly designed as a blockbuster," says Boillot. He describes how the scent was first composed in accordance with a marketing brief outlining a fragrance that would appeal to all women across the world, subsequently tested by Guerlain customers as "Mon Exclusif". "We chose this fragrance because it was very well received," Boillot notes, and Guerlain then developed the ideas for the bottle and the marketing campaign, led by American megastar Angelina Jolie. "After five years without a celebrity face, we have surprised the luxury industry by choosing someone who has rejected to be the face of many houses before signing with Guerlain."


When Guerlain decided to hand itself over to the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 1994, it ignited a great deal of dissension within the family. However, Jean-Pierre Guerlain, the then president of the supervisory board of Guerlain and main shareholder of the family company, argued that the future in a more and more competitive industry would be best assured within a huge and financially fit group.

Some would even claim that the sale to LVMH was Guerlain's way of handling the Buddenbrooks syndrome, a term used by business historians to explain the inability of family firms to survive beyond the third generation. According to this theory, the drive to work hard and be innovative will diminish through succeeding generations.

One of the first visible signs that Guerlain was controlled by an ambitious new owner was the opening of Maison Guerlain in 2005 where whole new exclusive perfume lines were presented. In step with the market's increasing interest in luxury, Guerlain's creative speed has accelerated considerably over the past two decades, from one perfume every four years to ten new formulas annually.

In 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, Guerlain worked out a vast development plan that included a revived image of the classic perfume Shalimar, a higher and more communicative visibility on social media, a strengthened position in China, Russia and the Middle East, an extensive renovation of Maison Guerlain, and an overall ambition to be the leading perfume brand in Paris ahead of Dior and Chanel. Laurent Boillot said that he wants the brand to be known as "the haute couture of perfumery." After some difficult years Guerlain found its way, not least thanks to the relaunch in 2012 of La Petite Robe Noire, whose success has spawned a number of flankers.


Shown here are some of the earliest examples of what the LVMH funds have helped Guerlain accomplish: vintage reissues (Liu in 1994), new perfumers and olfactory styles (Olivier Cresp's Champs-Elysées in 1996), and semi-bespoke, limited editions (Guerlinade in 1998). See interview with Laurent Boillot
(September 2017)


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