Jacques Guerlain 1926, reissue 1996
Family: chypre, leather
Notes: bergamot, aldehyde, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, orris, vetiver, civet, musk, oakmoss, amber
Black amber
Period: The orientalist years

Leather perfumes are dry, virile scents suggestive of tanneries, tobacco and machine oil. They developed out of the chypre accord and suited perfectly the 1920s new self-confidence of women, their wish to be outdoors, wear carefree clothes, party, and smoke cigarettes like their men. The style accounts for the absolute smallest of olfactory families, and its invention is often ascribed to Caron's Tabac Blond from 1919, a fragrance of tobacco and peppered mineral-bitter earth planned initially as a progressive men's perfume. Probably the most renowned product of the genre was Chanel's Cuir de Russie (1924).

As before, Jacques Guerlain wasn't late to grasp modernity's signs. In 1926, he had created Djedi, and although he had played with leather notes on and off since the early 1900s, it was Guerlain's first, and last, pure leather chypre. The name was not borrowed from its contemporaries, but from a 20th century BC Egyptian tale, found in the Westcar Papyrus, about the magician Djedi who was able to reattach the severed heads of birds and then to resurrect them. Egyptologist Howard Carter's 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun's nearly intact tomb sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt and all its haunting vestiges. It's not difficult to imagine how it captivated perfumery too, thinking about the fragrant resins used as embalming ointment.

In 1928, Djedi was presented in New York as "the parfum of a century" to commemorate Guerlain's one hundred years of perfume making. However, taken as a women's perfume, Djedi was one of the most unusual of all Guerlains, being extremely dry and based largely on dark woody and animal notes — one wouldn't think it came from the same hands that created those mouthwatering confections L'Heure Bleue and Shalimar. Those who have tried it agree that Djedi was a striking departure from Jacques Guerlain's usual style, maybe matched only by his 1935 Cuir de Russie. Judged from the list of notes, Djedi's formula was a fairly short one, with aldehyde and lily of the valley up top, then jasmine-rose-orris, vetiver and animal ingredients, and finally amber-moss-musk.

The unusual character of Djedi was evident right from the top notes, devoid of Jacques Guerlain's aromatic bouquet garni. Instead, there was a spiky aldehyde, together with the fierce, fecal note of civet, quite shocking for today's tastes; in fact, Djedi immediately came across as Jacques Guerlain's most animalic perfume. However, the "dirty" facet soon faded and mixed with the smoky scent of vetiver. The rose, jasmine and orris didn't qualify the perfume as very floral, merely giving a certain sense of colour and femininity to this otherwise sombre composition. The base notes were very long-lasting, a mix of oakmoss, musk and spicy-resinous amber. Djedi didn't enter Guerlain's classic range, but its 70th anniversary in 1996 was celebrated with a true copy of the original 60 ml crystal model.

Djedi's bottle, designed by Baccarat's sculptor Georges Chevalier, is rectangular and severe, typical of the Art Deco style, with tall ridged sides and an elevated ground glass stopper covered with a gilded metal plate, not unlike a sarcophagus, and placed in a leather box that resembles an Orient Express steamer trunk. The Djedi bottle is actually a modified version of the biscuit-shaped bottle from 1916.

Although Guerlain's vintage reissues generally are surprisingly close to their source, we can safely assume that the 1996 reissue of Djedi was a modified version of the original, since natural animal materials, and others of its ingredients as well, were restricted or banned by then. Compared to Thierry Wasser's re-created vintage Djedi, the reissue had a much stronger and harder scent of vetiver, which drowned out the aldehyde and floral powder, and with no civet to add sensuality. Read more

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