Jacques Guerlain 1926
Family: chypre, leather
Animal amber
Period: The orientalist 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.

In the vintage set we find Djedi, a leather chypre composed by Jacques Guerlain. Leather perfumes are very rare in perfumery, not least chez Guerlain, because their dry, virile scent suggestive of tanneries, tobacco and machine oil doesn't appeal to many women. This kind of fragrance appeared in the 1920s when conventional feminine characteristics of subservience and passiveness gave way to more masculine pursuits like driving cars and smoking cigarettes.

Djedi, originally from 1926, was reissued in 1996 as a limited edition in a replica of its Baccarat bottle, now highly sought-after by Guerlain collectors. One actually wonders why, since Djedi is far from Jacques Guerlain's best creation. It has a rough, unadorned feel that was quite unlike his style, maybe matched only by his 1935 Cuir de Russie. We assume that the legendary status of Djedi has something to do with the rarity of the crystal presentation and the fact that leather perfumes tend to carry a certain mystique to some perfume aficionados. Maybe even the name Djedi, enigmatic as it seems, holds a special attraction. It was borrowed from a 20th century B.C. Egyptian tale, found in the Westcar Papyrus, about a magician called Djedi. The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 had sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt.

Assumed as a women's perfume, Djedi is one of the most unusual of all Guerlains, being based largely on woody, resinous and animal notes — one wouldn't think it came from the same hands that created those mouthwatering, sweet confections L'Heure Bleue and Shalimar. The bloggers who were invited to Maison Guerlain to explore the vintage catalogue thought it smelled like "old church" and "cellar", and Thierry Wasser agrees that Djedi is a striking departure from Jacques Guerlain's usual style. Judged from the scent diagram, Djedi's formula is fairly short, with aldehyde and lily of the valley up top, then jasmine-rose-orris, vetiver and animal ingredients, and finally amber-moss-musk. As with Sous le Vent, we wouldn't have guessed Djedi to include lily of the valley. Used as a top note, however, lily of the valley can smell quite abstract, adding air and purity to the perfume more than being a precise note.

The unusual character of Djedi is evident right from the start, where we don't find Jacques Guerlain's aromatic bouquet garni. Instead, there's a spiky aldehyde, together with the fierce, fecal note of civet, slightly shocking for today's tastes; in fact, Djedi immediately comes across as the most animalic perfume in the vintage set. However, the "dirty" facet eventually fades and mixes with vetiver. We perceive the lily of the valley, the rose, and also the jasmine, but they don't qualify the perfume as very floral, merely giving a certain sense of colour and femininity to this otherwise sombre composition. The base notes are long-lasting, a mix of orris, oakmoss, musk and spicy-resinous amber.

We can safely assume that the 1996 reissue of Djedi was a modified version, since natural animal materials, and probably others of the original ingredients as well, were restricted or banned by then. We are aware that it's technically incorrect to compare a freshly blended juice with one that is almost twenty years old but since we're Guerlainophiles, we can't resist the temptation. When put side by side with the re-created vintage Djedi, the version from 1996 appears clearly less aldehydic and with the lily of the valley not as well-defined. This may be due partly to the ageing factor, as the top notes are the first to be damaged. Also, the 1996 version feels woodier, sharper and extremely dry, with no civet but instead a powerful scent of vetiver root, raspy, earthy, smoky, almost peat-like. By contrast, the drydown of the vintage version is mossy and powdery, marked by orris, oakmoss and musk; it reminds us of the smell of makeup which we also get from Coque d'Or. This too could be a sign of age (chypres get spicier and more resinous with age), or proof that in the 1996 edition, norm-conforming ingredients had replaced nitro-musk and animal tinctures. We have learned that the latter accounted for much of the roundness and softness of Jacques Guerlain's perfumes.

We wonder if the unveiling of what Djedi really smelled like when it came out in 1926 will affect the auction price of the reissue version. For a more affordable alternative to this exceptional kind of unsweetened Guerlain, try Songe d'un Bois d'Été. Read more about Djedi

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