Jacques Guerlain 1906
[aprɛ lɔ̃'de]
Family: floral, powdery
Notes: bergamot, lemon, anise, neroli, hawthorn, rosemary, lavender, lily, orchid, violet, rose, jasmine, heliotrope, orris, sandalwood, vanilla, musk
Pastoral pastel
Period: The Belle Époque years

It's generally agreed that the foundations of modern perfumery were laid by three giants: Paul Parquet of Houbigant (introducing the power of synthetics), Aimé Guerlain (introducing abstraction and depth), and François Coty (introducing perfume as art). Some historians also include Aimé’s nephew Jacques Guerlain, who had a genius for polishing and beautifying what others had roughed out. "By some magic, Jacques Guerlain was able to make rich products seem light and fresh,” said Guy Robert, past president of the French Society of Perfumers. Après l'Ondée, meaning "after the rain shower", was probably Guerlain's finest example of this ability. Jacques Guerlain approached the now prototypical spicy and sweet carnation-violet accord, which both he and his rival François Coty worked on, and devised an amazingly ethereal fragrance. Après l'Ondée has since been called "a thinker's classic", and it's not unlikely that Jacques Guerlain made it in the spirit of his fair-skinned wife Andrée, nicknamed Lily, whom he adored. "She was very distinguished, and with her blonde hair and blue eyes looked quite English or German," recounts Philippe Guerlain. "The fact that she was a Protestant from Alsace, whereas the Guerlains were Catholics, added to her fascination for Jacques."

Jacques’ great passion, apart from his wife and perfume, was the work of the Impressionist painters. One of his aims when creating a perfume was to replicate the way the Impressionists captured light and mood, which he did to terrific effect both with Après l’Ondée in 1906 and in 1912 with L’Heure Bleue. Après l’Ondée captured not only the scent of spring wildflowers, but also the scent of damp meadow soil, and the pale mist that occurs when silent rain has fallen on a spring day. The perfume's name might as well have been the title of an impressionist painting or one of Debussy's piano pieces. And like "Nymphéas" and "Images" were innovative oeuvres in their time, Après l'Ondée — actually exactly contemporary — used the newest aroma-chemicals: ionone (violet scent), eugenol (clove and carnation scent), heliotropin (almond-cherry scent), and anisic aldehyde. The perfume was Jacques Guerlain's first major success, and in its debut year managed to get a newspaper mention in La Liberté: "The grandstands full of very pretty women in their spring fashions presented a wonderful sight at the Paris horse show. Whereas citing all the names is impossible, we can say that their elegance was enhanced by the distinguished Guerlain perfume 'Après l'Ondée' whose delicate fragrance has something of the melancholy of a poet's thoughts."

By a halftone dosage of materials, Jacques Guerlain arranged a sort of olfactory watercolour, playing with gentle nuances of temperature, humidity and haziness, without compromising on tenacity. The main accord was a powdery veil of violet, heliotrope and orris root butter, at once cool and warm and slightly earthy, backlit by the bright, crystalline effect of anise, neroli and carnation. In the base, Guerlain incorporated a rainbow of subtle lily, jasmine, rose, hawthorn, vanilla and animal musk notes, giving the perfume depth without distracting from its main theme. Après l'Ondée is revered by Guerlain followers as a little crocus standing out among big floral perfumes, an oddity known mainly to a discerning few, yet "one of the twenty greatest perfumes of all time," according to Luca Turin's book "Perfumes: The Guide."

Après l'Ondée was presented in the so-called Louis XVI flacon, a cylindrical ribbed bottle similar to the sort of flower basket that could have belonged to Marie Antoinette — she had by all accounts a particular fondness for the countryside. The bottle stopper was designed to resemble a clover flower, the very symbol of all wildflowers. Until the end of the 1950s, Après l'Ondée could also be had in the less rustic Empire bottle, first made for the perfume Bon Vieux Temps. Nowadays, it comes only as EdT, sold in the bee atomizer.

Parfum, EdT
Until the 1980s (more or less), the truest form of a perfumer's vision was always the Parfum, the format in which he carried out his trials and his end product. The EdT was considered secondary, often left to lab assistants to derive from the perfumer's ideal model. Favouring the floral and base essences, the Parfum version illustrated beautifully the sensation of sweet flowers and moist earth, with a more prominent anise note making the perfume feel unusually sunny and smiling. In comparison, the much lighter EdT feels coldly transparent, like a powdery orris drizzle freshened by neroli. Unfortunately, due to European restrictions on certain perfume materials, the Parfum version of Après l'Ondée is no longer in production. According to Guerlain’s master perfumer Thierry Wasser, if the Parfum were made to current restrictions, they would disfigure its beauty completely.

Given the restrictions on materials, today's Après l'Ondée EdT smells surprisingly similar to the older one, if less soft and florally faceted. Unfortunately, it's also significantly less long-lasting. Read more

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