Jean-Paul Guerlain 1985
Family: fougère, chypre, leather
Notes: bergamot, orange, artemisia, peppermint, pimento, carnation, rose, pepper, mace, jasmine, leather accord, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss
Herbal leather
Period: The hard years

With Derby, Jean-Paul Guerlain maybe aimed at doing in the men's department what he had done with Parure ten years before, namely to reawaken his grandfather's legendary chypre scent, Mitsouko. If there ever were a masculine answer to Mitsouko, it was Derby. Created in collaboration with his co-perfumer Anne-Marie Saget, Jean-Paul Guerlain envisioned it when he was standing in front of the grand Roman amphitheatre of El Djem in Tunisia, imagining sweaty horses galloping on its race track — hence the perfume's name. Jean-Paul Guerlain's passion for riding horses is no secret. But in fact, he had himself opted for the more Roman-sounding name "Centurion", referring to his fascination with august warriors, though this may have sounded too pretentious to the marketing department.

Ultimately, the Anglophile ring of "Derby" fitted the scent quite well. It smelled of something conservative, bespoke-tweedy, University-of-Oxford, at once stout and refined. "Barbaric and very civilized," the ad read. Halfway shaving-lather fougère and aromatic chypre, between Habit Rouge's elegant riding dress leather and the earthy tobacco of Vetiver, its fragrance featured three developing layers: a spicy-herbaceous accord of peppermint, artemisia and mace up top, a floral prickle of carnation, rose and jasmine plus pepper in the middle, and a mossy-resinous woody base. "One of the ten best masculines of all time," perfume reviewer Luca Turin says today, "the only case of a Guerlain masterpiece gone unnoticed." The latter was maybe due to the fact that Derby's scent felt unfashionably classic for the high-profiled eighties, and also due to poor marketing. Derby had very limited distribution and was never advertised internationally. It was abandoned after some years on the market, but then taken up again among the Exclusives in 2005.

To match the concept of Derby, Robert Granai planned for a virile look, and to this end he found two historical images. Following Jean-Paul Guerlain's initial vision, they represented war more than sport. First, the coat of arms of Nice which depicts an eagle with outspread wings, a symbol of power dating back to the Holy Roman Empire, and second, the samurai's formidable leather-and-iron armour. Known as the eagle bottle, the original Derby design adopted the square-built, winged and brown-coloured shape of the Nice eagle, with a chunky stopper resembling the contour of an eagle's head. Also, the metal stopper followed the lines of the samurai helmet's bronze antlers, while the bottle itself had the lamellae typical of body armour. After Jardins de Bagatelle, it was Guerlain's second broad-shouldered eighties style presentation — although it looked more like something from the seventies with its smoked glass and geometric confusion, another probable reason why people didn't pay attention. Depending on taste, the Derby bottle could be noble, sturdy, or clumsy, but the Oxford-blue box with gold rims and white lettering was indisputably handsome. The eagle bottle was replaced by the standard Eau de Toilette atomizer in 1993 before the fragrance was reissued in the Parisienne bee. It's now sold in the wood-framed Parisien bottle.

In the eighties, there was no such thing as a light cologne. Derby was Guerlain's first men's scent created in the stronger Eau de Toilette format.

The inextricable question of whether an olfactory change is due to ageing or reformulation, or both, also applies to Derby. Old bottles smell rugged and brawny while the reissue appears considerably lighter and brighter. It could partly be nature working: when oils from vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli and oakmoss are stored for a long time, they will smell a bit like vintage Derby. In 2008, oakmoss was exchanged for treemoss, making the scent appear somehow greener.

  We love: the new edition is good so only pursue the older for a brawnier feel

  A Parure without the flowers

  Virility with stiff upper lip

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