Jacques Guerlain 1953
[ʃip-r sɛ̃kɑ̃t trwɑ]
Family: chypre
Balsamic chypre
Period: The flight years

Thierry Wasser and 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.

Although the entire oeuvre of Jacques Guerlain was much more herbal, animalic and leather-based than is popular in today's perfumery, many of his later creations were particularly dark. This "noir" style of his mature years had been developing gradually really since Djedi (1926), a very dry chypre named after an Egyptian magician. Later came the woody-resinous chypre Vol de Nuit (1933), whose name was taken from a tragic novel about a pilot’s fatal crash, and Sous le Vent (1934), a breezy, androgynous ode to the "noble savage" Josephine Baker. After that followed his smoky-bitter Cuir de Russie (1935), and in the forties, Kriss (1942), with its absinthe-like "hashish" theme, and Atuana (1948), a herbaceous scent inspired by the native folklore of French Polynesia.

Some might argue that the style reflected the generally grim state of the world in the 1930s and 1940s. According to research intern at the Osmothèque, Will Inrig, Jacques Guerlain fell into a depression during World War II when his youngest son was fatally wounded in combat. It remains a speculation, however, whether we can draw any parallel between his creative process and personal life. Perhaps more importantly, his son Jean-Jacques tells us that Jacques often complained that his sense of smell deteriorated as he grew older, which could be why he turned up the volume of the more heavy, animalic ingredients. Jean-Paul Guerlain recounts that he once caught his grandfather Jacques wearing a sad smile, saying, "Unfortunately for me, I no longer create perfumes for other than old ladies." When in 1958 the young Jean-Paul took over the role as Guerlain’s new nose, he completely changed the signature scent of Guerlain, with fresh, uplifting notes and luminous florals.

Chypre 53 was Jacques Guerlain's penultimate perfume before Ode (1955), the latter made in collaboration with his grandson Jean-Paul. Various sources disagree as to when Chypre 53 was actually created, but Guerlain affirms that the handwritten formula is dated 1953, which gives relevance to its name. By that time, the word "chypre" had long become a common fragrance category, sired by Coty’s Chypre (1917), and Jacques Guerlain himself had revolutionized the chypre genre with the fruity variant, Mitsouko (1919).

The essentials of a chypre are formally defined as an accord of bergamot, labdanum and oakmoss. To this, Chypre 53 adds a cacophony of notes: spices, lavender, clove, leather, vanilla, balsam, as well as floral, animal, woody and green notes. Interestingly, the sum total is quite restrained, and can be described as a variation on Sous le Vent's aromatic chypre accord. The latter's blend of herbs, balsam and oakmoss together with the fierce greenness of galbanum resin, was extraordinarily elegant and pleasant, and had prompted other perfume houses to launch rival versions, like Miss Dior and Balmain's Vent Vert. Maybe Jacques Guerlain thought it was time for a response. Compared to Sous le Vent, Chypre 53 is composed in a less freshly green, more warmly spicy and balsamic manner, with cinnamon, cardamom, patchouli, vetiver, ambergris, vanilla, and styrax balsam.

At the base, we detect the creamy, sweet sensuality of ylang-ylang and jasmine, but the overall effect is that of a graceful, balsamic chypre. Although Jean-Paul Guerlain revisited it more than twenty years later with Parure, this type of fragrance fell out of fashion half a century ago. There's something about the old balsam chypres that oozes well-off French lady from before the youth rebellion. Today Chypre 53 would likely appeal to those in love with rarefied niche scents. For a modern variant, try Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Derby or Arsène Lupin Dandy.

Chypre 53 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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