Jacques Guerlain 1948
[flœ:r də fø]
Family: floral, aldehydic, powdery
Graceful floral
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.

Guerlain marked its 120th anniversary in 1948 with Fleur de Feu, a floral aldehyde perfume. Technically speaking, aldehydes in perfumery fall into two main categories: sparkling and fruity. The latter is exemplified in Mitsouko's use of peach aldehyde. Usually, though, when speaking of floral aldehyde perfumes, we refer to the sparkling aldehydes, whose addition to a composition makes the other ingredients shimmer and vibrate. It's sometimes debated who the first perfumer to use aldehydes was. Guerlain says it was Jacques Guerlain in 1912 with L'Heure Bleue, which contained a barely perceptible amount, but it's generally accepted that Ernest Beaux's Chanel N°5 (1921) was the first, and indisputably the most iconic, floral aldehyde fragrance. The aldehydic genre remained popular into the 1960s.

Jacques Guerlain's entry into floral aldehydes came with Liu in 1929, similar to Chanel N°5 albeit more tender and powdery. The Guerlain signature, opaque and rich, is in essence anything but aldehydic, and scents like Liu and Fleur de Feu don't strike you as très Guerlain. Yet, in regard to floral perfumes after Liu, Jacques Guerlain chiefly held onto the aldehyde style in Véga, Coque d'Or, and Fleur de Feu, up to and including his last perfume, Ode, in 1955.

If you google reviews of Fleur de Feu, you'll often find it described as a warm carnation scent. However, the note diagram provided by Guerlain doesn't mention carnation (or any other spicy-floral note), nor do we sense it when we smell the re-created Fleur de Feu. (This reminds us to proceed with caution when writing about antique, oxidized perfumes of uncertain origin.) Instead, we get a lustrous accord of aldehyde and jasmine. "Fleur de Feu is very, very aldehydic," remarks Frédéric Sacone. It's not a cold No.5 type fragrance, but more in line with Lanvin's Arpège, with a tempered and delicate, almost transparent, fresh-honeyed bouquet of lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, violet, and sweet acacia. The drydown is velvety and powdery with orris and, typical of Jacques Guerlain, quite musky. Towards the finish, tonka bean and heliotrope emerge, with a touch of gourmand vanilla.

Why the name Fleur de Feu? Translating to "flower of fire", it seems to imply something powerful and burning which this graceful floral scent is not. The name reportedly was inspired by the idea of flowers rising from the flames, the latter illustrated by the bright white light of the aldehyde top note. Fleur de Feu was Jacques Guerlain's first perfume after World War II, and like any other country, France mourned its wounded and fallen soldiers after the war.

The bottle for Fleur de Feu resembled a memorial column, like the ones you find at the Panthéon, Paris' mausoleum for national heroes and heroines. Jacques Guerlain himself lost his youngest son on the front, and it has been suggested that his sadness over it explains why he didn't create another masterpiece in his later years. In 1952, the bottle came out in a miniature purse version, used for various Guerlain Parfums, and often called the umbrella bottle due to its slight resemblance to a closed umbrella. Read more

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