PERFUMES BY JEAN-PAUL GUERLAIN




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GUERLINADE


In perfumery, there are several words whose definition experts don’t agree about, like "vintage", "reformulation", "natural", "synthetic", "art", "exclusive", and "commercial". But at Guerlain, one word in particular has proved challenging, namely the word "Guerlinade", commonly found in Guerlain’s glossary.

For instance, we don’t know exactly when this word was invented, but it’s believed that it was first used by Jacques Guerlain, who even named one of his perfumes Guerlinade (1924). He must have realized that almost all of his perfumes were built around the same set of notes, hence sharing a certain "family resemblance". Experts have also observed that this specific set of notes can be traced back to Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky (1889). Although there are no written documents to confirm this theory, it does seem plausible, yet interestingly, the perfume called Guerlinade smelled markedly different from Jacques Guerlain’s most iconic perfumes, like L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar. Confusingly, one of Guerlain’s 190th anniversary videos claims that the Guerlinade was "composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1921", nine years after L’Heure Bleue. No evidence exists to support a claim that the Guerlinade was intentionally "composed" in 1921.

In French, the suffix "-ade" is often used to indicate a dish or a drink, like "grillade" and "orangeade". The nasal final vowel in "Guerlain" means that omitting the "a" renders "Guerlinade" easier on the ear than "Guerlainade".

What we do know, though, is when the word Guerlinade was officially mentioned for the first time, namely in the press material for Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Héritage in 1992. This was thanks to Guerlain’s former artistic director, Sylvaine Delacourte, who had been appointed as Jean-Paul Guerlain’s fragrance evaluator a few years before. One of her ambitions was to educate people about the Guerlain brand, back then mainly known to a small group of loyal customers and fragrance aficionados. The fierce competition from numerous fragrance brands that emerged during the 1980s and 1990s forced Guerlain to communicate what is unique about the brand more clearly. Delacourte had noticed that other professionals within the fragrance industry often talked about Guerlain’s characteristic style, yet no one from Guerlain’s own ranks seemed to be aware of that. From then on, she was determined to promote the Guerlinade, which she also called the “Guerlain DNA”, as a distinctive olfactive signature that links all modern creations with the past. "In the same way that you recognize the origin of a great wine, or the composer of a symphony, you perceive the Guerlain stamp," Jean-Paul Guerlain concurred.


After doing some research and analyzing Guerlain’s vast back catalogue, Delacourte concluded that the Guerlinade should be defined as a blend of eight different raw materials: bergamot, jasmine, rose, orris, tonka bean, gum resins, animal notes, and vanilla. This definition probably captured mainly the Jacques Guerlain catalogue, therefore Delacourte broadened the definition to include a special style of dosage, in which fragrance accords are concentrated, pushed and overdosed with contrasting synthetic and natural materials in order to create fragrances that are striking and easily recognizable. "At Guerlain, we have no weak, bland or very tidy formulas," she said. This broader definition could embrace most Guerlain perfumes from Jicky to Mahora.

Later on, gum resins and animal notes were subtracted from the definition of the Guerlinade. Animal notes especially are now regarded as being not only archaic, but also unethical. When Thierry Wasser entered as Guerlain’s new master perfumer, he added orange blossom and sandalwood to the Guerlinade list, as he found that both of these ingredients play a prominent role in the Guerlain patrimony. As of lately, though, these two have been removed again, leaving six notes (bergamot, jasmine, rose, orris, tonka bean, and vanilla) to define the Guerlinade. The part of the definition that relates to dosage style has been abandoned as well, maybe because, except for fragrances that are designed for the Middle Eastern market, the style of Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk is not characterized by overdosing. Thierry Wasser has even questioned the whole idea of the Guerlinade, saying that it is stereotypical and reductionist, like "a thing, plop, plop, that we more or less put into every bottle." He offers a loose and pragmatic interpretation of the Guerlain style that appeals more broadly to customers from all corners of the world, integrating contemporary fragrance trends, like caramel, cotton candy, white musk, and powerful fresh-woody aroma chemicals.

Maybe Luca Turin’s proposal of a definition of the Guerlain signature is the most comprehensive, because it’s so abstract. "Guerlain never starts with a blank sheet of paper, but with a blurred filigree of everything they ever built," he said. "Then they stretch it this way and that, removing old and adding new features as taste evolves, before bringing it all into soft focus."


Evolution. The Guerlinade is portrayed as the historic constant that anchors the Guerlain spirit and keeps its admirers captivated, but it was not conjured up or given beforehand as a fine philosophy; rather, it was distilled and developed through years of creative work, and it's evident that each Guerlain perfumer has added his own touch to it, influenced by personal taste and the trends of the time. The prehistory of the Guerlinade was the cologne era of founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain. What was inside Eau de Cologne Impériale — essences from citrus fruits, orange blossom and Provençal herbs — has been maintained as the characteristic top note of any Guerlain perfume.

Aimé Guerlain's Jicky defined to a large extent what we think of today as the scent of Guerlain. Jicky married the herbal and citrusy freshness of a cologne with a new kind of base, marked by depth and strength, that was balsamic, slightly spicy and smoky, and sensually warm. This kind of base mixture was later called amber due to its golden colour. The amber base was also central to the work of Jacques Guerlain, yet his style is revered as being one of the most distinctive in 20th century perfumery. His compositions were extremely dense and enveloping, using rich absolutes, musks, and synthetics, yet he always arranged them with great harmony and a sense of the enigmatic, like abstract poems or portraits.

Although being trained by Jacques Guerlain, the expression of Jean-Paul Guerlain was much more impulsive and direct, full of contrast, vibrancy and colour. He was a man of seduction rather than poetry, preoccupied with the exciting play between men and women, and he introduced a new joyfully floral and assertive femininity at Guerlain. As for men, he suggested them to be gallant and well-groomed yet every bit as flirtatious as their female counterparts, creating Habit Rouge as the world's first oriental fragrance for men.

In 2007, Guerlain introduced perfumer Randa Hammami's L'Instant Magic, wrapped in a cottony cocoon of white musk. To describe it, Sylvaine Delacourte coined the term Musquinade, with a playful reference to the Guerlinade. White musk is IFRA-safe, but generally regarded as too clean, cold and colourless to deserve the Guerlain stamp. However, Sylvaine Delacourte wanted to point out that this was a whole new kind of white musk accord, "worked à la Guerlain", that is, with distinguished Guerlain notes of bergamot, Bulgarian rose, almond, sandalwood and vanilla. Later, Randa Hammami created Mon Précieux Nectar with a similar accord, but the Musquinade never gained a foothold in the Guerlain vocabulary. There doesn't seem to be a need for an extra signature definition, as most modern Guerlain fragrances contain white musk anyway.

With the entry of Thierry Wasser, Guerlain seems to have returned to the rounded harmony of earlier times, though dosed more lightly. Compared to his mentor Jean-Paul Guerlain, Wasser searches for subtler nuances and finer details, and the common denominator of his Guerlain fragrances so far is a smooth, delicate and very comfortable finish.


The Guerlinade ingredients. Bergamot, rose, jasmine, orris, tonka bean, vanilla, orange blossom, sandalwood. Historically, orange blossom and sandalwood were not mentioned as official signature ingredients, but they play such a prominent role in the creations that Thierry Wasser sees them as part of the Guerlinade. Conversely, gum resins and animal materials no longer appear on the list, as these notes aren't so present in modern Guerlain perfumes.


Bergamot. Guerlain is in particular known for its sweet perfumes, but the fresh notes play an important role in any Guerlain formula. So much so that the Guerlinade signature accord includes bergamot, widely regarded as the finest of citrus notes in perfumery. Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the fruit rind of Citrus Aurantium, a tree that grows in Calabria, Italy. Guerlain uses what is called a "communelle", an assembly of oils from several bergamot growers. The Guerlain bergamot is distinctly fruity and rounded, almost like that of lemon drops.

Raw bergamot oil smells deep and complex, almost like a perfume in itself, but since the use of bergamot oil on skin can cause photosensitivity and therefore has been restricted in commercial perfumes, today Guerlain is forced to use a "purified" bergamot that smells drier, sharper, and somewhat flat in comparison. Bergamot is obviously a key ingredient in all of Guerlain’s fresh colognes, but it’s also a highlight in Shalimar — nearly one third of Shalimar consists of bergamot, in order to balance and brighten the balsamic and leathery base notes. According to Thierry Wasser, the absence of raw bergamot oil is one of the main reasons why modern Shalimar is so different from the vintage version. Bergamot is perhaps most prominently featured in Mitsouko — and, less famously, in Sous le Vent — whose striking chypre scent is very much due to bergamot. You also get a large dose of bergamot in many of Guerlain’s floral perfumes, like Muguet, Liu, and Jardins de Bagatelle, as well as in the masculines, notably Habit Rouge, Vetiver and Guerlain Homme. In 2017, Guerlain created its first Aqua Allegoria named after bergamot, Bergamote Calabria.


Rose. The rose is universally regarded as perfumery’s queen of flowers, beautiful both to smell and look at. It takes 300,000 roses to obtain one kilogram of essential oil. There are various types of rose available to the perfumer, but they all add a sensual elegance to any perfume. At the same time, the rose carries a cool serenity that tempers and beautifies more heavy and narcotic perfume notes. Guerlain is extremely fond of the rose and needless to say, it is part of the Guerlinade. Jean-Paul Guerlain said it was his favourite of all flowers because "it possesses around a thousand different fragrances," and Thierry Wasser often declares his love for Bulgarian roses.

It was Jacques Guerlain who handed down the preference for the Bulgarian variety, which excels with vibrant facets of litchi, raspberry and citrus, and a continuous blending of oils from different rose cultivators, the so-called communelle, secures a consistent olfactive profile. When Bulgaria was locked into the Eastern Bloc after World War II, Guerlain had to use Turkish rose instead, but rose absolute from Turkey, as well as from Morocco and Grasse, is still used in combination with the Bulgarian sort. Most feminine Guerlains, and even a few masculines, contain rose. Rose is prominently represented in L'Heure Bleue, Ode, Parure, Nahéma, Samsara, Rose Barbare, Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial, La Petite Robe Noire and Rose Nacrée du Désert — the latter being the first Guerlain to use the darker Persian rose.


Jasmine. Jasmine is one of the most important materials used in perfumery, but also very costly — it takes some five million jasmine blossoms, each picked by hand, to produce one kilogram of the amber-coloured absolute. The importance of jasmine stems from its extremely rich and complex fragrance, at once sensual, fruity, warm, narcotic, flowery and animalic, that adds great colour and fullness to both floral, chypre and oriental perfumes. A few drops of jasmine absolute on a blotter will scent your room for days.

Jasmine contains the indole molecule, which is also highly present in all the animal materials. Not surprisingly then, jasmine is one of the Guerlain signature ingredients. Among the classic Guerlains, jasmine is particularly noticeable in Mitsouko, Liu, Sous le Vent, Véga, Ode, Chant d’Arômes, Chamade, Jardins de Bagatelle and, not least, Samsara. It’s also part of the floral bouquet of Idylle, especially in the Duet Jasmin-Lilas version. In 2009, Guerlain created one of its most beautiful jasmine perfumes, a limited edition called Les Secrets de Sophie. Lately, jasmine was the main motif of the fragrance presented at Guerlain’s new Versailles boutique, since according to legend, jasmine was the favourite flower of Marie Antoinette.


Tonka bean. Although Jacques Guerlain was by all accounts the first to entitle the Guerlain signature accord as the Guerlinade, it can be traced back to Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky from 1889. Jicky is called perfumery’s first modern creation, because it introduced the use of powerful aroma chemicals, among those coumarin. Coumarin is the fragrant isolate of the tonka bean, the seeds of a tree that grows in South America. With its suave, warm and delicious scent, making one think of such pleasurable things like almonds, marzipan, cherries, amaretto, hay and pipe tobacco, tonka bean plays an important role in all of Guerlain’s famous oriental perfumes, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Samsara — and in the masculine department, Habit Rouge, Héritage and L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. Tonka bean also adds definition to fougère fragrances, like Mouchoir de Monsieur and Guerlain Homme.

In Thierry Wasser's latest masculine fragrance, L'Homme Idéal, tonka bean stars as a principal note together with bitter almond, creating a delicious amaretto effect. Moreover, Guerlain’s gourmand perfumes of recent years all make good use of the tonka bean: L’Instant Magic, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Mon Précieux Nectar, La Petite Robe Noire, Parfum du 68, and of course Tonka Impériale.


Orris. The raw material called orris has long been a source of fascination for perfumers. By itself, it has a dry, violet-like, powdery odour that has been likened to such things as makeup, wine corks, brandy, old books, carrots and woody roots. When mixed with other perfume notes, especially vanilla and rose, orris imparts a feeling of tremendous luxury and femininity. Orris is obtained from the rhizome of iris. Guerlain explains that it uses the finest orris available, made from the variety Iris pallida which is cultivated in the region around Florence. The scent develops as the rhizome dries for three years, and it is then peeled, ground and steam distilled, resulting in a white, waxy paste called orris butter. As the final yield is extremely small, orris butter is among the most costly perfume ingredients.

Jacques Guerlain used orris to a large extent in his compositions, and its powdery trail is at the core of Guerlain’s olfactive patrimony: Parfum des Champs-Elysées, Après l’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit and Coque d'Or, just to name a few. He even used it in Mouchoir de Monsieur, although orris is quite atypical in men’s perfumery. When Jean-Paul Guerlain took over as nose in the mid-fifties, he demonstrated a style that was much less powdery, fresher and more youthful, and orris wasn’t a favourite material of his. In recent years, however, Guerlain has paid tribute to the brand's historic roots with orris-based yet very colourful fragrances like Insolence, Quand Vient la Pluie (reissued as Place Rouge), Iris Ganache and Shalimar Parfum Initial.


Vanilla. Without vanilla, Guerlain would not be Guerlain. It is unquestionably the most emblematic of the signature ingredients, found across almost all of the famous Guerlain perfumes. Vanilla is prerequisite to the oriental accord, to which Shalimar gave birth. However, the use of vanilla in perfumery became known with Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky, the world’s first deep and abstract perfume creation. It was the discovery of vanillin, the natural isolate that gives vanilla its familiar odour, and at that time a very novel material, that made Jicky possible. When Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar, it was thanks to another highly original aroma chemical called ethylvanillin, many times stronger, sweeter and creamier than vanillin. Together with vanillin and ethylvanillin, Guerlain also uses natural vanilla, as either absolute or tincture, which smell pleasantly warm, soft and balsamic.

Vanilla absolute has a profound gourmand scent, while the tincture is more woody and diffusive. They are obtained from the seed pod of the tropical orchids Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis. The seed pods are green when they form and do not display the characteristic vanilla scent until they are treated in a specific fermentation process that can take up to twenty-four months to complete. “There is seldom a good perfume without vanilla,” said Jean-Paul Guerlain, and it’s difficult to imagine a Guerlain fragrance without it — even Mitsouko has a drop of vanilla. Apart from Jicky and Shalimar, vanilla plays a crucial role in L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Chamade and Samsara. Jean-Paul Guerlain extended its use to masculine perfumery with Habit Rouge and Héritage. More recently, Guerlain has interpreted the scent of vanilla in “niche” fragrances like Cuir Beluga, Spiritueuse Double Vanille and L'Homme Idéal EdP, while the Shalimar Ode à la Vanille series has highlighted different sorts of vanilla coming from Mayotte, Madagascar and Mexico.


Orange blossom. The orange tree has been important to European perfumery since the very beginning. The perfumer can obtain several different oils from its leaves, twigs, fruit zest and blossoms, which smell fresh, aromatic, sweet or sensual. Of these, the blossom is the most facetted and fascinating, yielding both an essential oil and an absolute. Its characteristic, slightly fruity scent is thanks to a molecule called methyl anthranilate, which is also found in Jasminum sambac. The essential oil from orange blossoms is named neroli, after the Princess of Nerola who introduced bitter orange to scent her gloves and bath in the seventienth century. Neroli smells fresh, spicy, floral and cologne-like. By contrast, orange blossom absolute is much richer and more sensual, displaying less freshness and volatility.

Although orange blossom is to be found in almost all Guerlain fragrances, from the “eaux fraiches” to the most ornate perfumes, it was never mentioned as part of the house signature, probably because it’s so self-evident. However, when Thierry Wasser took over as in-house perfumer, orange blossom became included in the description of the Guerlinade. When orange blossom is mixed with balsamic materials, like vanilla and benzoin, it results in a delicious, addictive scent not unlike marshmallow. This mixture is found most famously in Jacques Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, but orange blossom also plays its role in Après l’Ondée, Liu, Véga and Vol de Nuit. Jean-Paul Guerlain introduced this overall feminine ingredient in men’s perfumery with Habit Rouge, to which it gave a "dandy" vibe. More recent Guerlains highlighting orange blossom include Insolence, Mon Précieux Nectar, Cologne du Parfumeur, L’Heure de Nuit and several Aqua Allegorias, such as Flora Nymphéa and Nerolia Bianca.


Sandalwood. Among all the woody materials used in perfumery, sandalwood is the most elegant. The finest quality is obtained from santalum album, grown in Mysore in India. Sandalwood is heavy, reddish-yellow, and fine-grained. It has been revered for centuries for its fragrance and used in medicine and religious ceremonies, and for carving. Only the innermost part of the tree trunk, the most fragrant, is used for perfumery. To make sandalwood essential oil, the wood is chipped and ground into a powder to facilitate distillation. Its odour is rich, warm, soft, smooth and creamy, legendary for its deep, luminous, lingering quality. When a tree is felled, it takes at least seven years to grow a new one, therefore sandalwood is a very precious material that risks extinction, and because it’s so high in demand, plantations are often exploited or robbed. Thierry Wasser collaborates with sandalwood plantations in Sri Lanka and Australia that are maintained in a sustainable way to prevent over-harvesting.

Being the classic, oriental woody note, Guerlain has used sandalwood in all of its oriental and powdery perfumes, notably in Jicky, Après l’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar, Véga, Vol de Nuit, Chamade and Nahéma. Samsara was the first Guerlain to overdose the sandalwood note to the same extent that vanilla is overdosed in Shalimar. Sandalwood oil in a leading role is challenging, because its deep scent has little radiance and risks to flatten the perfume. Jean-Paul Guerlain managed to push it to an impressive twenty percent level by adding polysantol, an aroma chemical that gives lift, diffusion and verve to natural sandalwood. Despite its prominent role in the Guerlain signature, sandalwood wasn’t mentioned in the Guerlinade until Thierry Wasser joined the house. More contemporary Guerlains featuring sandalwood include Champs-Elysées, Attrape Cœur, Insolence, L’Instant Magic, Santal Royal and Le Bolshoï Black Swan. While men’s perfumery mostly chooses the much greener and drier cedarwood, Guerlain has used sandalwood in several of its masculines, like Vetiver, Derby, L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, and the Arsène Lupin duo.


Perfume notes vs. perfume ingredients
Because a perfume is perceived as developing in layers, fragrance descriptions are often accompanied by a pyramid-shaped diagram of notes. A fragrance description is an attempt to translate the abstract nature of an olfactive perception into words that can help the reader form an idea of what the perfume smells like. Usually, the fresh and volatile notes are listed in the top of the pyramid, while the more long-lasting notes are placed at the bottom. In reality, though, this is only a theoretical picture, as many long-lasting notes are perceived at the very beginning of a perfume. The educational material that Thierry Wasser and Frédéric Sacone have made for their re-created historical Guerlain perfumes reflects this fact, as illustrated above with Shalimar. The scent of vanilla is so powerful in Shalimar that it's the first thing we sense, and therefore vanilla is listed as a top note, as well as a base note.

Sometimes, the task of verbalizing a scent is straightforward, as in the case of lemon, because everyone is supposed to be familiar with the scent of lemon. More often than not, though, there are no direct links between the notes listed and the actual ingredients of the composition. One reason for this is that many perfume notes are better described with a common word than with the ingredient behind the note. An example of this would be the note of leather, which stems from birch tar. Only a few people know what birch tar smells like, but as this material traditionally was used for tanning leather, we readily associate the scent of birch tar with leather. Another reason is that many perfume notes are derived from synthetics. For instance, the scent of vanilla in Shalimar doesn't come from vanilla pods, but from ethylvanillin, yet the word "vanilla" is obviously more evocative than "ethylvanillin". In addition, most perfume ingredients have several different olfactive facets, like coumarin, which can be described as "tonka bean", "almond", "marzipan", "hay", "tobacco", and even "vanilla".

Lastly, perfume notes are often the product of several different ingredients occurring together. This is what perfumers call a "base". Think of the note known as amber. It refers to a blend of various balsamic and earthy-sweet ingredients, and is only called amber because of its golden colour. Other typical perfume notes that are a result of a base are lily of the valley, lily, lilac, hyacinth, and hawthorn.

The distinction between fragrance notes and fragrance ingredients, which is important in any serious discussion about perfumes, is today largely forgotten, because most brands have copied the niche trend of marketing ingredients (such as "Tahitian vanilla"), much like gourmet restaurants do, rather than notes. The main problem with this trend is that it alienates synthetic ingredients, notwithstanding the fact that they make up a major part of modern perfumery.


Some images courtesy of guerlain.com


francois aime vanille iris bergamote fleur oranger nahema santal jasmin

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