A handful of renowned houses symbolize twentieth century French perfumery, Coty, Caron, Chanel, Lanvin and Patou. They all appeared in the Belle Époque or during Les Années Folles, with one exception: Guerlain, which was almost a century ahead. Still very much alive, Guerlain bears the label Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company), a mark of recognition of the French State. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain opened his first shop in 1828 on the rue de Rivoli in Paris where he sold imported soaps, vinegars, brushes and some cosmetic products, as well as his own creams, pomades and "Eaux de Cologne". The shop was located on the ground floor of the deluxe hotel Le Meurice which was owned by Pierre-François-Pascal's uncle. The location was advantageous: this hotel was a favourite with upper-class English visitors who even nicknamed it "City of London", and the travel guides recommended it as being "the most commodious in Paris and particularly adapted for the Englishman". At that time the English were reputed to be the best perfumers in the world, and Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain wanted this to change.

The shop was moved to rue de la Paix in 1839, in those days the centre of Parisian elegance. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain didn't reach an agreement with the French distribution monopoly, so he decided to control the distribution of his goods himself. From his years as sales representative, he had acquired an international trading perspective, and he set up numerous agencies outside of Paris, in France, in Europe and in America.

The first shop on the rue de Rivoli.

The shop on the rue de la Paix in 1839 and later.

Seventy-five years and two generations later, the Guerlain name had reached a level of status in the field of beauty that made it natural to construct new premises on the very fashionable avenue des Champs-Elysées, still known as the world's most famous and beautiful boulevard with its clipped horse chestnut trees and the imposing Arc de Triomphe positioned at the end. The building was inaugurated in 1914, designed by architect Charles Mewès in English Victorian style. Back then, the shop area — comprising no fewer than seventeen different types of marble — was limited to the ground floor, while upstairs held offices and Jacques Guerlain's laboratory from where he often descended to ask clients about their tastes and opinions. Guerlain established the world's first beauty institute on the first floor in 1939, designed by Jean-Michel Frank, a French interior designer known for minimalist interiors decorated with plain-lined but sumptuous Art Deco furniture made of luxury materials. Read more about Jean-Michel Frank

The house is now classified as a historical site. It was renovated by architects Andrée Putman and Maxime d'Angeac in 2005, after which it was renamed La Maison Guerlain. Among the striking and much admired characteristics were the "gold ribbon" made up of 350.000 golden tesserae covering walls and ceiling, and the "perfume organ", swung around a 10-foot-tall chandelier in the shape of an old-fashioned, gold-coloured atomizer bulb. In an aim to reinvent Maison Guerlain as the biggest and most fascinating perfume boutique in the world, Maison Guerlain underwent a second and very extensive renovation in 2013, this time by luxury-boutique architect Peter Marino whom Guerlain asked to "bring his eye to bear on the antique section of the boutique and imagining the continuation of the history."

To carry out the project, Peter Marino let himself be inspired by the marble walls and Art Deco of Guerlain's beauty institute from 1939. Described by Guerlain as "the new temple of beauty", Maison Guerlain now boasts a brand-new interior design. However, all classified objects are preserved. The former pop-up store is all covered with marble and connected with the 1914 boutique area. Contemporary and very youthful details have been added to this space in order to balance the formal look of marble, displaying sections for makeup and men's fragrances. At the bottom, a monumental staircase leads to a new underground floor that houses Guerlain's restaurant, Le 68. The first floor has been completely redesigned with its corridor covered with shimmering silver and now presenting a small perfume bottle museum. The remaining rooms on this floor are decorated with marquetry panels and a new "perfume organ" that harks back to the 1930s' Art Deco style. Next to this central space, a smaller room for private perfume consultations has been furnished. There is also a new "couture" area, reserved for scented gloves and silk accessories. The second floor still houses the beauty institute, largely left untouched by the renovation, except for more comfortable treatment cabines and a new orchid "winter garden" area.

The historic boutique. The renovation of Maison Guerlain hasn't affected any of the objects classified as historical, notably found in the small ground-floor boutique and the beauty institute on the second floor. Thus, the marble panels, counters and staircase in the historic boutique remain unchanged, while the ceiling has been covered with a ripple-effect mirror by the Haas Brothers, holding four new crystal chandeliers by Guerlain's long-time bottle maker, Baccarat. The visual effect of the room is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles castle, which is further strengthened by an immense, white plaster figure of Guerlain's revived Sun King logo looking out from the end wall. The central section of the floor has been altered. Now in light grey Calacatta marble, it displays the design of a flower in bloom to highlight the union between flower and fragrance. A new doorway has been opened up to the former pop-up store which is now all-dressed in marble. One can choose between entering Maison Guerlain by either the historic or the modern area.

The modern area. In 2011, Guerlain took over the 100 square metres left to Maison Guerlain's entrance and made it into a vibrant, playful "pop-up" store. This space is now adjoined to the historic boutique and has been completely redesigned with white and grey marble covering floor and walls. The contemporary atmosphere is maintained with sleek, pure lines and artful bee bottle installations attached to the walls, but the omnipresent marble adds a more elegant and slightly palatial feel. Here, you find Guerlain's more "youthful" perfumes, as well as a corner for men's fragrances. A gigantic pair of eyes, which seems to follow you as you pass by its floating glass panel designed by Norbert Brunner, overlooks the makeup section. At the rear, a marble staircase leads to the new underground floor which houses the Guerlain restaurant, Le 68.

The mezzanine. Until the 2005 renovation by architects Andrée Putman and Maxime d'Angeac, there was no Maison Guerlain, only the small historic boutique on the ground floor, and offices upstairs. The first floor was integrated via a mezzanine, decorated with a striking "gold ribbon" consisting of 350.000 golden tesserae covering walls and ceiling. The mezzanine of the new Maison Guerlain now features an equally impressive shimmering silver and mirror effect with a built-in gallery that exhibits a small part of Sylvie Guerlain's collection of vintage Guerlain bottles. On the end wall, architect Peter Marino has constructed an art installation called "Infinity Bottle", made from bee bottle stoppers. Guerlain has dubbed this area "La Galerie des Glaces" after Versailles' famous mirror hall.

The central area. After the 2005 renovation, expanding the boutique space considerably, the central area of Maison Guerlain became the first floor. Here, you found the eye-catching perfume organ as well as the entire range of perfumes. The new renovation of Maison Guerlain hasn't changed this. The perfume organ is now shaped like a giant Art Deco lotus, while the walls are covered with warm-toned marquetry, handmade by Maitre d'Art Lison de Caunes to imitate the drapery pattern of the bee bottle. Along the walls, Guerlain's exclusive collections and the most precious perfume editions are displayed, like the majestic Baccarat bottle, L'Abeille de Guerlain. Part of the floor has been removed to give an open view to the space below where the pop-up store once was, and up into a seven metre long light shaft in which magnified golden bees are hovering. The bees are actually a reprise of Gérard Cholot's installation "Le Vol des Abeilles" from Guerlain's 180th anniversary in 2008. Now, however, they are not balloons but made of gilded metal. To compensate for the floor space reduction, the wall that once separated the central room from the consultation room next door has been torn down.

The consultation room. Next to the central space on the first floor of Maison Guerlain where the lotus-shaped "perfume organ" is situated, a smaller room for private perfume consultations has been furnished. This room is decorated with marquetry and two luminous walls using 500 bee bottles with golden liquid. Here, you will have your own choice of many different cords and ribbons to decorate a purchased bee bottle.

The couture room. Although Guerlain remains a perfume and beauty house, Maison Guerlain has launched a few couture items that complement perfumery well. First, a range of gloves that come scented with either Mitsouko or La Petite Robe Noire. Thierry Wasser has developed special formulas that keep the gloves scented for at least one year. Perfumed gloves are a time-honoured craft product that became popular in France during the 17th century. Guerlain has also reintroduced its silk scarves with motifs related to the brand, with a variant for men now being offered. Silk fans to be sprayed with Eau de Parfum are offered here as well. In this corner of the house, artistic plaster wall panels are laid out in a manner that imitates parchment, one of many references to Jean-Michel Frank's beauty institute.

The restaurant. "All the senses must be stimulated by beauty and the extraordinary," says Guerlain about its renovated house. The new restaurant, Le 68 by Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin, takes you to the sense of taste, naturally linked to fragrance. The menu offers a selection of dishes, cakes and drinks inspired by Guerlain's perfumes. You can have a La Petite Robe Noire patisserie and a Habit Rouge or Shalimar tea, and cakes and teas can be purchased to take home. The décor of the restaurant is inspired by the 1939 tapestry still found at Guerlain's beauty institute. The tabletops, designed by Peter Dayton, zoom in on Guerlain's favourite raw materials, rose, jasmine, iris, ylang-ylang, vanilla and tonka bean.

The Champs-Elysées shop in 1914.

The Champs-Elysées shop around 1950.

Window displays at the Champs-Elysées shop from the 1960s and 1970s.

Maison Guerlain after the renovation in 2005.

As the lease on the rue de la Paix shop could not be renewed, Guerlain opened a new shop at place Vendôme in 1935 (pictured above), decorated with the minimalist elegance of Jean-Michel Frank. Jacques Guerlain's son Jean-Jacques, who was the company's manager after Gabriel and Pierre Guerlain, recounts how in 1925 the owner of the building in rue de la Paix was furious to have lost a horse race to one of Guerlain's horses, and therefore refused to renew the lease. By that time, Guerlain had already inaugurated its new Champs-Elysées premises. Guerlain's ongoing success has since then brought about an extension of the line of Parisian boutiques, starting with the rue de Passy in 1957.

In 2016, Guerlain introduced a new boutique concept, called Guerlain Parfumeur. As the name indicates, it's entirely dedicated to fragrance, omitting makeup and skincare products. The concept includes a large selection of Guerlain fragrances presented in large urns, to be filled into coloured bee bottles or travel atomizers. The first Guerlain Parfumeur boutique was inaugurated at 392 rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, while LVMH did renovation work on the building that used to house the historic place Vendôme boutique, turning it into a Louis Vuitton flagship store. In September 2017, Guerlain moved back to just next to the historical shop, whose address was 2 place Vendôme. The new address, which preserves much of Jean-Michel Frank's original design, is 356 rue Saint-Honoré. Guerlain's CEO since 2007, Laurent Boillot, describes the Guerlain Parfumeur concept, which puts a strong focus on personalization, as the "future of the brand". In 2017, the first Guerlain Parfumeur boutiques outside of Paris opened in Brussels and Shanghai.

Some dates
1798: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain is born. 1817: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain gets his first job as salesman for Maison Briard, maker and seller of perfumes. 1828: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain opens his first shop on the rue de Rivoli. 1834: Aimé Guerlain, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain's first son, is born. 1839: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain moves his shop to the rue de la Paix. 1842: Guerlain becomes purveyor to the Grand Duchess of Bade, the Grand Duchess of Wurtemberg and to Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians. 1853: Guerlain presents Eau de Cologne Impériale and becomes purveyor to Empress Eugénie, Napoléon III's wife. 1862: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain leaves his establishment to his son Aimé. 1864: Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain dies. 1874: Jacques Guerlain, a nephew to Aimé, is born. 1878: Aimé Guerlain and his brother, Gabriel, enter into a partnership, with Gabriel as the administrator of the company. After that, it becomes a tradition to split the artistic and executive tasks between the male members of each Guerlain generation. 1889: Aimé Guerlain creates Jicky. 1890: Jacques Guerlain creates his first perfume, Ambre. 1894: Aimé Guerlain hands over the ownership of the Guerlain company to his brother Gabriel, and Jacques Guerlain enters as the company's third perfume creator. 1895: Jacques Guerlain creates his first commercial fragrance, Le Jardin de Mon Curé. 1897: Jacques Guerlain becomes co-owner of the company. 1900: Raymond Guerlain, a nephew to Jacques Guerlain, is born. In today's language he would become Guerlain's artistic director, conceiving several iconic perfume bottles in collaboration with prominent crystal designers. 1910: Aimé Guerlain dies. 1914: The new premises on avenue des Champs-Elysées are inaugurated. 1925: Shalimar is presented at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. 1935: A new shop at place Vendôme replaces the rue de la Paix shop. 1937: Jean-Paul Guerlain is born. 1937: The Eau de Cologne format is introduced for the feminine scents with Cachet Jaune EdC. The EdC format is later extended to Shalimar, Mitsouko, Jicky, L’Heure Bleue, and Vol de Nuit. 1939: Guerlain establishes the world's first beauty institute on the first floor of its Champs-Elysées address. 1943: The factory at Bécon-les-Bruyères is demolished by bombs. 1947: A new factory is opened at Courbevoie. 1955: Jacques Guerlain presents his last perfume, Ode, in collaboration with his grandson Jean-Paul. 1957: A third shop is opened on the rue de Passy. 1958: Jean-Paul Guerlain becomes Guerlain's fourth creator. 1959: Jean-Paul Guerlain creates his first solo-perfume, Vetiver for men. 1963: Jacques Guerlain dies. 1965: A Guerlain shop is opened on the rue de Sèvres. 1969: Sculptor Robert Granai collaborates in the creation of the Chamade bottle, his first design in a long list of Guerlain bottles. 1981: The Parfum de Toilette format is introduced with Nahéma PdT, combining the weight of Parfum with the radiance of Eau de Toilette. The format is extended to Shalimar, Jicky, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko and Chamade in 1986 and 1987. PdT was later renamed EdP. 1985: A Guerlain shop is opened on the rue Tronchet. 1989: A Guerlain shop is opened at La Tour Montparnasse. 1992: Sylvaine Delacourte enters as Guerlain's fragrance evaluator to work with Jean-Paul Guerlain as well as external perfumers, and Guerlain introduces for the first time a masculine Eau de Parfum with Héritage EdP. 1992: A Guerlain shop is opened on the rue Bonaparte, closing in 2003. 1993: A high-technology factory is opened at Orphin. 1994: LVMH takes control of Guerlain, a brand it had had partial ownership in since 1987. 1996: Guerlain releases its first perfume officially signed by a perfumer outside the Guerlain family, Champs-Elysées by Olivier Cresp. 1996: Guerlain opens its first French shop outside of Paris in Toulouse, closing in 2001. 1998: Guerlain presents its first limited edition perfume, Guerlinade by Jean-Paul Guerlain, to commemorate the 170th anniversary of Guerlain. 1999: The Aqua Allegoria line is launched. 2000: Guerlain opens department store shops in Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché, breaking the long-standing rule of only allowing exclusive Guerlain boutiques to sell its products inside Paris. 2002: Jean-Paul Guerlain retires, leaving external perfumers to compose fragrances for Guerlain, coordinated by Sylvaine Delacourte. 2002: A short-lived Guerlain shop is opened on the rue Saint-Honoré. 2005: The Champs-Elysées premises are renovated and renamed La Maison Guerlain. Guerlain presents two special perfume lines, Les Parisiennes and L'Art & la Matière, the latter by external perfumers. Called The Exlusives, these lines are sold only in Guerlain's own shops. 2008: The Exclusive perfume line Les Elixirs Charnels is launched. 2008: For the first time, Guerlain introduces a Parfum concentration for men: Habit Rouge L'Extrait. 2008: Thierry Wasser is designated Guerlain's fifth in-house perfumer, and the first non-Guerlain descendent to hold this position. 2009: Guerlain launches the Exclusive perfume line Une Ville, Un Parfum, as well as an Exclusive fragrance called La Petite Robe Noire. 2009: A Guerlain shop is opened on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois. 2010: LVMH expels Jean-Paul Guerlain due to an unfortunate remark he made on French television. 2012: The Exclusive perfume trio Les Déserts d'Orient is launched. 2013: A Guerlain shop is opened inside Cour des Senteurs near Versailles, closing in 2016. 2013: A Guerlain shop is opened in Beaugrenelle shopping centre. 2013: Maison Guerlain is renovated and reinvents itself as the world's largest beauty purveyor. 2014: Thierry Wasser re-creates a large selection of historic Guerlain perfumes, using all the original ingredients, to be discovered at Maison Guerlain's vintage workshop. 2016: Guerlain opens its first shop dedicated entirely to perfume, Guerlain Parfumeur, on the rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. 2016: Sylvaine Delacourte leaves Guerlain to create her own fragrance brand. 2017: American megastar Angelina Jolie features in the ad campaign for Mon Guerlain, aimed a turning Guerlain into an internationally recognized brand. 2017: Guerlain Parfumeur shops are opened in Brussels, Shanghai and Paris, the first of 100 new boutiques to open worldwide within a ten year period. 2017: Guerlain replaces most of its individual bottle designs with standard packaging. 2018: Guerlain Parfumeur shops are opened in Moscow and Munich.

Bombing of the factory at Bécon-les-Bruyères, September 1943, and reconstruction and inauguration of a new factory at Courbevoie in 1947.

A photo of Maison Guerlain, celebrating the Allied victory in 1945. World War II had been particularly disturbing for Jacques Guerlain. His youngest son, Pierre, was fatally wounded in combat at the age of twenty-one. Will Inrig, research intern at L'Osmothèque, explains that Jacques' grief was so overwhelming that he stopped creating for two years. In 1942 he returned with the perfume Kriss. The following year, the company’s factory in Bécon-les-Bruyères was demolished by bombs. It wasn't until after the war that a new factory was built at Courbevoie.

Then, as the war drew to a close, Jacques Guerlain’s situation worsened when rumours spread of his apparent collaboration with the Germans, all essentially unfounded. According to Will Inrig, Jacques fell into a depression, and although he continued to work during the last eighteen years of his life, he created very little. Jacques Guerlain's first new creation after World War II was Fleur de Feu ("flower of fire"). It came in a bottle that resembled a memorial column, and the floral aldehyde fragrance reportedly was inspired by the idea of flowers rising from the flames.

In 1945, American G.I.s visited Maison Guerlain to bring home the scent of Paris. Here, a sales lady is demonstrating L'Heure Bleue to a couple of young and obviously excited soldiers.

"It's not the name that makes the value of a perfume," said a French magazine advertisement from 1930 (pictured on the left), "it's the perfume that makes the name. Therefore our name is our most precious possession: and we don't have any first name." This slogan was published by Guerlain to counteract any confusion with a Parisian perfume firm called Marcel Guerlain which had no connection to the Guerlain family. Guerlain brought a successful lawsuit against the firm whose name was subsequently changed. In the 1970s, the self-confidence of Guerlain is stronger than ever (pictured on the right).

A new era
Guerlain is no longer a family firm since it was handed over to the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 1994. Jean-Pierre Guerlain, former president of the supervisory board of Guerlain and main shareholder of the family company, argued that the future in a more and more competitive industry would be best assured within a huge and financially fit group. Some would even claim that the sale to LVMH was Guerlain's way of handling the "Buddenbrooks" syndrome, a term used by business historians to explain the inability of family firms to survive beyond the third generation.

Despite obvious advantages of a global business model, the sale of Guerlain ignited dissension within the family. Several members openly expressed that such a sale would be a betrayal of the brand’s history and founder. During the clearing of conference rooms and offices to make room for the new owners, Sylvie Guerlain found a large number of historic documents, and she decided that she would do everything she could to retrieve and preserve the vestiges of Guerlain's past.

Many of the brand's loyal fans were unhappy with the first post-LVMH release, the 1996 fresh-floral fragrance Champs-Elysées, composed by Olivier Cresp whose entry was selected over that of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Their worst fears were that the venerable perfume house would move away from its uncompromising creativity towards products designed solely for profit, and that LVMH's compliance with European health regulations should impair the beauty of classic and new creations. Thierry Wasser openly admits that it's not an easy task to make perfumes within the standards of IFRA and the constraints of global marketing.

Helped by the influx of funds from LVMH, Guerlain began to work on a reinforcement of its image as one of the world's most prestigious perfume brands. With more than 1,100 different perfumes created, the catalogue represents an enormous olfactory heritage and Guerlain wanted to enliven and showcase its rich history while still creating new fragrances. In the following years, some of Jacques Guerlain's long-forgotten perfumes were being reissued in a series of "vintages", beginning with Liu in 1994, all presented in their original crystal bottle designs. Guerlain also started a new tradition of making perfumes with temporary availability, meant for a specific occasion and sold in collectible presentations, the first being Muguet, which since 1998 has been an annual recurring symbol of spring, offered only in May. "One of my dreams, which I couldn't live out, was to renew the 'haute parfumerie', to copy the universe of haute couture, where each woman could be proud to own a perfume created for her alone," Jean-Paul Guerlain explained. "Utopia, of course, because the structures of today's society and the fierce competition cannot sustain it. Still, we have begun this play of exclusivity by launching perfumes in limited edition as poetic celebrations like the one of cherry blossoms in Japan that we have commemorated with Cherry Blossom. Or, in France, a Muguet on the occasion of the 1st of May that is for sale for only three days."

The transition from being "very French" into an international high-profile brand was really set in motion in 2005 with the opening of Maison Guerlain where whole new perfume lines were announced. In step with the market's increasing interest in luxury, Guerlain's creative speed has accelerated considerably over the past two decades, from one perfume every four years to more than ten new formulas annually. After some difficult years Guerlain has found its way, not least with the worldwide launch in 2012 of La Petite Robe Noire, whose success has spawned a number of flankers. In 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, Guerlain worked out a vast development plan that included a revived image of the flagship perfume Shalimar, a higher and more communicative visibility on social media, a strengthened position in China, Russia and the Middle East, and an extensive renovation of Maison Guerlain. According to Guerlain's president, Laurent Boillot, there's a potential for having between twenty-five and thirty Guerlain boutiques inside Paris, and he wants Guerlain to be "the haute couture of perfumery".

However, meeting the complex demands of today's mass market while staying creative and true to the roots is a challenge. "Today, we are sitting on two chairs — the heritage chair, and the new chair — and both feel somewhat uncomfortable," says Thierry Wasser.

"Every woman and man in the world should have access to Guerlain"
Since 1828, Guerlain has had thirteen different managing directors, or CEOs as we'd call them today, starting with Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain himself. By modern standards, that's not many for a 190-year-old company, but in the early days, working at the Guerlain family firm was a lifetime job. Aimé Guerlain's brother, Gabriel Guerlain, was the brand's longest-ruling director (1864-1933). According to recent studies, the median tenure for CEOs at large companies today is five years.

In the expansive 1980s, when a whole new and highly competitive global market for designer clothing, fragrance, and status symbols emerged, Guerlain decided to leave its directorship to professional marketers from outside the family.

Guerlain's difficult journey to where it is today took 30 years, enormous amounts of money, an ownership transfer, and six CEOs.

Bruno Giry 1981-1989. The first of Guerlain's CEOs from outside the family, Bruno Giry was probably also the last of the "romantic" directors, more passionate about heritage and tradition than about trends and market shares. In a 1988 interview with French fashion magazine L'Officiel, he revealed that the Guerlain bestsellers were Shalimar, Jardins de Bagatelle, Mitsouko, Chamade, Vetiver, and Habit Rouge. However, he recognized the importance of not getting stuck in the past. "Today, we want to 'give our past a future,'" he said. This slogan was often later used by Sylvaine Delacourte, who had begun as Guerlain's fragrance evaluator in 1987. Giry explained that Guerlain was investing in research and innovation, "without ever forgetting that our profession is above all one of art and creation." According to him, Guerlain owed its success to the maintenance of a unique and distinctive soul, expressed in the motto, "Etre Guerlain." He also revealed that the brand was preparing to launch a new feminine perfume: Samsara.

Although Guerlain felt the pressure of "marketing fragrances" in the 1980s, Giry was happy to note a renewed interest in fragrances that were "more romantic, more classic, more traditional". At Guerlain, he said, this tendency was reflected in increased sales of L'Heure Bleue, "especially among the young customers." Giry therefore hoped that customers would be pleased with the newly launched Parfum de Toilette format of the big classics, Shalimar, L'Heure Bleue, Jicky, Mitsouko, and Chamade. Today, this format is called Eau de Parfum, and is the most popular and common of all fragrance variants.

In 1987, Guerlain family members sold a 14.2 % stake of the holding company to Henry Racamier, a French businessman who successfully turned the dated leather goods firm Louis Vuitton into a brand of expensive status symbols, reportedly to fund the Samsara campaign, though Guerlain denied being short of finances. Later the same year, Louis Vuitton merged with champagne and brandy makers Moët Hennessy to form LVMH.

Jean-Michel Paulhac 1990-1994. After Bruno Giry’s Guerlain directorship ended with the launch of Samsara in 1989, 52-year-old Jean-Michel Paulhac with a business degree from Harvard assumed the management of the company in January 1990. This was a difficult time in Guerlain’s long history.

Despite the economic downturn of the early 1990s, Guerlain could still generate a decent profit from sales in Europe, half of which were limited to France, but was lagging far behind the international marketing power of rivals Dior, Chanel, and Lancôme. Guerlain struggled to build up a corporate image in China and the US. Meanwhile, its catalogue was ageing, and the company continuously groped for a way to be both exclusive and appealing to the masses. The ad campaign for the men’s scent Héritage (1992) oozed conservatism and weighty history (including, for the first time, an attempt to define the Guerlinade), while Petit Guerlain (1994) was being promoted with free samples in maternity wards.

Guerlain later revealed that unlike Samsara, Héritage, whose marketing budget amounted to 25 million dollars, wasn't the expected commercial success, mainly because the brown packaging design was "too dull for some markets."

In a 1993 interview with French business magazine Les Echos, Jean-Michel Paulhac said that he believed the future belongs to global heavyweight companies, or small, specialized niche brands with very selective distribution. His prophecy already reached fruition the following year, because Guerlain, being neither a worldwide player nor a small label, and one of the last independent perfume houses, agreed to be acquired by the LVMH conglomerate. LVMH president Bernard Arnault, who diplomatically dubbed the acquisition a partnership, said that he had no plans to replace Jean-Michel Paulhac with a new CEO, however Paulhac resigned a few weeks later, in June 1994, without disclosing the reason for his departure.

Christian Lanis 1994-1997. In September 1994, Bernard Arnault installed 46-year-old Christian Lanis, who had spent his entire career in consumer product marketing at Unilever, as Guerlain’s new CEO. Arnault, who has made a €5 billion business from combining luxury with a mass-market approach, later said that "people do not understand that success stems from the cohabitation of two contradictory spirits: the artist's vision and the logic of worldwide marketing."

At his first press conference, held at Guerlain’s new factory at Orphin, Lanis vowed to bring a mass-market fighting spirit to the old brand, and increase the speed of international fragrance launches, the first one being Un Air de Samsara, a fresh take on Samsara. He also said that another new women’s scent was in the works: Champs-Elysées.

One journalist noted, however, that Lanis appeared uninformed about Guerlain, and often had to call on Jean-Paul Guerlain, who also attended the press meeting, to answer questions about the company. "Jean-Paul wandered about clutching the leather-bound family ‘recipe book,’ which contains handwritten formulas of the house's best-selling scents, as if to stress that one can buy a company but not 166 years of know-how," the journalist wrote.

When Champs-Elysées launched in 1996, French newspaper L'Express reported that Jean-Paul Guerlain refused to put his name on the new fragrance, which he found incompatible with the Guerlain soul. Bernard Arnault wasn't too happy with his new Guerlain CEO either, as he thought the 15-million-Franc ad spot was unattractive, "hardly worthy as a tourism ad for Japanese visitors." A new ad campaign therefore had to be made in a hurry, featuring French actress Sophie Marceau, but Champs-Elysées never became the commercial success it had been projected to be.

Thibault Ponroy 1997-2001. After the trouble-ridden launch of Champs-Elysées, lawyer Thibault Ponroy was named Guerlain's new CEO in December 1997, making Christian Lanis the shortest-lived of all Guerlain CEOs. Ponroy had previously been with Guerlain as a commercial director (1985-1990), starting when he was just 27 years old, and then worked for Johnson & Johnson in the interim. Like his predecessor, he faced the obstacle of matching tradition with trends, luxury with mass marketing.

The biggest success by far under Ponroy’s Guerlain rule was the Aqua Allegoria collection in 1999, still popular today. By contrast, the major masculine and feminine launches, Coriolan (1998) and Mahora (2000), were both complete commercial failures. In 2001, Guerlain’s sales were down four percent and enormous advertising expenses wasted. By October, it was known that Ponroy was about to leave. In January 2002, Renato Semerari, formerly a marketer at Procter & Gamble and Parfums Christian Dior, became the third Guerlain CEO since the LVMH takeover in 1994.

January 2002 also saw the retirement of Jean-Paul Guerlain. "I want to stress that my last years within the group have been happy," Jean-Paul Guerlain stated in the announcement of his retirement. However, people who knew him reported that he had just had enough of the LVMH management, constantly colliding with marketers who in his opinion were not cognizant of Guerlain’s heritage and what defines a beautiful perfume, though he agreed to continue as a consultant for the brand. Knowing that the Guerlain brand image was still very vulnerable in the thrust of the new market, LVMH continued to promote Jean-Paul Guerlain as "an ambassador of the Guerlain spirit."

Renato Semerari 2002-2007. Renato Semerari's directorship of Guerlain was assisted by an associate managing director in charge of marketing, a new post assigned to former Unilever marketer, Laurent Boillot.

The departure of Jean-Paul Guerlain in particular made headlines. At his first press conference Renato Semerari stated that all of the brand’s fragrance releases from now on would be created by various external perfumers. Although this had already been standard practice at Guerlain at least since the LVMH takeover, commenters feared that without Jean-Paul Guerlain, "perfumery will become a matter of pure marketing." Renato Semerari rushed to assure that Jean-Paul Guerlain was still around, acting as a consultant for the firm. Who in fact was the olfactive head remained uncertain though, as most Guerlain stories that followed in magazines and on blogs (an emerging phenomenon back then) cited Sylvaine Delacourte rather than Jean-Paul Guerlain.

On the other hand, maybe Jean-Paul Guerlain’s retirement was like a fresh start for the brand, which hadn’t had much success since Samsara in 1989. In any case, within five years, Renato Semerari and Laurent Boillot seemed to jump from one hit to the next: Shalimar Light, L’Instant de Guerlain for her and him, the L’Art & la Matière line, Les Parisiennes, Insolence, and L’Instant Magic. Semerari also devised a renovation and expansion of the Champs-Elysées boutique, now dubbed Maison Guerlain. "When I came in 2002, I was struck be seeing 300 square metres of meeting rooms practically unused," said Semerari, explaining that the boutique saw increased sales by more than 40 percent after the renovation.

After many years of drifting, regardless of whomever or whatever was responsible, Guerlain had finally found a formula for success. LVMH even called it "the remarkable renaissance of Guerlain."

Laurent Boillot 2007-. LVMH had found great Guerlain leadership talents in Renato Semerari and Laurent Boillot, and decided to reshuffle their posts in September 2007. Semerari was appointed CEO of Sephora Europe (also owned by LVMH), while Boillot became Guerlain’s new CEO. The enormous size of the LVMH empire allows for myriad job titles, promotions, and careers. Boillot is by now the longest-tenured Guerlain CEO since this job was handed over to marketers from outside the Guerlain family.

In the preceding two decades, the past five years had by far been the most successful at Guerlain, which came out with a revived brand image of French luxury and a flood of new fragrances. Laurent Boillot believed that the company was now ready for the global expansion that it had envisioned since the 1980s. But before that, he wanted to take care of one crucial detail that was still missing: finding an in-house perfumer. He rightfully understood that he could not promote Guerlain’s signature mantra of tradition and innovation without a house perfumer to symbolize the transmission of know-how from former generations. In June 2008, he appointed Thierry Wasser, formerly at Firmenich, as Guerlain’s new master perfumer. To train for his new role as a Guerlain successor, Wasser spent a lengthy time with Jean-Paul Guerlain, with whom he developed a close relationship. Just two years later, Guerlain cut all ties with Jean-Paul Guerlain due to his unfortunate racially-tinged remark on French television, after which Thierry Wasser was left the only remaining "ambassador of the Guerlain spirit."

While the first step towards world recognition of Guerlain was a failure (an attempt to modernize Shalimar with a caramel floral called Shalimar Parfum Initial), La Petite Robe Noire became the brand’s biggest and most rapid international success since Shalimar. According to French business magazine Challenges, LPRN went straight to the Top Three best-selling fragrances in France in its worldwide launch year of 2012, pushing Chanel N°5 off its lofty perch in 2013. But Laurent Boillot’s biggest achievement was to persuade world-famous actress and women’s rights activist, Angelina Jolie, to give Guerlain a celebrity boost with the brand’s most expensive ad campaign ever, for the 2017 release Mon Guerlain. At the same time, Boillot set out to open 100 new Guerlain boutiques in major cities worldwide within ten years. According to him, while Guerlain is currently only known to an elite group, "every woman and man in the world should have access to Guerlain, perhaps they won’t become customers but they should know who we are."

Boillot was also responsible for a second expansion of Maison Guerlain, now "the largest perfume boutique in the world." His stated ambition is to make Guerlain the leading perfume brand in Paris, above Dior and Chanel.

Forty-seven days to create a Guerlain fragrance
The release of a new Guerlain fragrance has become a monthly happening. Even though Guerlain’s in-house perfumer team now consists of three people, the speed is mind-boggling, not least considering that Thierry Wasser says he spends less than half of his working time on fragrance creation. If we assume that Guerlain employees don’t work during weekends and paid vacations, it means that the perfumer team has 47 working days in total per fragrance.

Guerlain’s current breakneck speed, however, can’t beat the incredible efficiency of Jacques Guerlain; he created only half as many perfumes per year, but he did it all by himself. It was only in the Jean-Paul Guerlain era that Guerlain used to claim that a good perfume takes years to create.

On the other hand, some of Guerlain’s fragrances probably take less than 47 days to make, which leaves more time for others. For example, the first three Guerlain fragrances of 2018 (shown above) were only minor adjustments of already existing fragrance formulas.

Perfume collections
Echoing the trend of niche perfumery and under LVMH's auspices, almost all of Guerlain's new fragrances are now encapsulated as part of a collection. Having collections of perfumes, rather than just single perfumes, allows brands to churn out new launches all the while keeping bottle design and marketing expenses to a minimum, as well as the catalogue well-structured and easy to understand. Apart from the collections mentioned below, also Shalimar, La Petite Robe Noire, and L'Homme Idéal serve as fragrance collections, with several different scents marketed under the same name.

Aqua Allegoria. The Aqua Allegoria collection was started in 1999 and gained instant success as "simpler forms of Guerlain". This line was particularly dear to its initial architect, the botanical enthusiast Jean-Paul Guerlain, because taken as a whole, it imitates "a walk in the garden" with its olfactory impressions from various flowers, herbs and fruits. Two new Aqua Allegorias are launched each spring.

L'Art & la Matière. With a pun on the French expression "l'art et la manière", the art and manner, this line is devoted to creative reflections on raw materials. It could be argued that any perfume is per definition a creative reflection on raw materials, but typical of the niche trend in perfumery, the fragrances in this line are named after a single ingredient. The L'Art & la Matière collection has often been regarded as rather "un-Guerlain", slightly pretentious and lacking the boldness that otherwise characterizes the house. The collection was started as a trio in 2005 but keeps growing and currently includes Rose Barbare, Angélique Noire, Cuir Beluga, Cruel Gardenia, Tonka Impériale, Néroli Outrenoir, and Joyeuse Tubéreuse. In 2011, Spiritueuse Double Vanille was incorporated into the line. Iris Ganache was the first L'Art & la Matière fragrance to face discontinuation, in 2012, followed by Myrrhe & Délires in 2015.

Les Parisiennes. This collection, introduced in 2005 in connection with the opening of Maison Guerlain and from the outset only available in Paris, hence its name, revives previously discontinued fragrances. Presented in small bee bottles, the collection currently gathers the following fragrances: L'Heure de Nuit, Mademoiselle Guerlain (formerly La Petite Robe Noire Modèle No.2), Nuit d'Amour, Mon Précieux Nectar, Liu, Promenade des Anglais (formerly Aqua Allegoria Figue-Iris), and Baiser de Russie (formerly Moscow). Owing to diminished popularity or restrictions on ingredients the following have been retired: Plus Que Jamais Guerlain, Chant d'Arômes Parfum, Metalys (formerly Metallica), Guerlinade, Quand Vient l'Été (formerly Voile d'Été), Purple Fantasy, Philtre d'Amour, Attrape Cœur (formerly Guet-Apens), Vetiver Pour Elle, Cherry Blossom, and Mayotte (formerly Mahora).

Les Parisiens. The Parisienne line used to contain three "Parisiens", masculine fragrances. In order to give them a more distinctly masculine look than that of the petite bee bottles, these have now been moved into square wooden framed bottles that fit Jean-Paul Guerlain's two Arsène Lupin fragrances. Hence, a separate line of masculine Exclusives has emerged: Derby, L'Âme d'un Héros (formerly Coriolan), Chamade Pour Homme, Arsène Lupin Dandy and Arsène Lupin Voyou. In 2016, Guerlain discontinued L'Âme d'un Héros and Arsène Lupin Dandy. In 2017, Le Frenchy joined the line, a fragrance inspired by the brand's old Eau de Verveine.

Les Elixirs Charnels. Following the success of the L'Art & la Matière series, in 2008 Guerlain presented an EdP collection inspired by the principal olfactive families: Chypre Fatal, Gourmand Coquin, Floral Romantique and — excluding itself from the naming premise — French Kiss. The woody Boisé Torride was discontinued in 2015, followed by Oriental Brûlant in 2016.

Les Déserts d'Orient. In 2012, Thierry Wasser ventured to faraway horizons to make Guerlain-inspired renditions of Middle Eastern perfumery, with assertive takes on rose, resins, spices and wood. Exotically named, the trio features Encens Mythique d'Orient, Rose Nacrée du Désert and Songe d’un Bois d'Été. The line has been supplemented with the less costly Les Absolus d'Orient, comprising Santal Royal, Ambre Éternel, Oud Essentiel, and Musc Noble. Ambre Éternel was discontinued in 2018.

Les Eaux Exclusives. Following the discontinuation of Cologne du 68 in 2016, this line comprises two fresh fragrances, Un Dimanche à la Campagne and La Cuvée Secrète, each housed in a large, cylindrical atomizer.

Independent Exclusives. Outside of both the classic catalogue and the exclusive lines, Guerlain continuously launches special one-off editions, of new, existing or discontinued perfumes, that are neither advertised nor widely distributed. In 2012, Guerlain presented a sumptuous Baccarat crystal sculpture called L'Abeille aux Ailes Argent ("bee with silver wings"). It contained a reissue of Jean-Paul Guerlain's Metallica as a follow-up of two earlier L'Abeille perfumes. On the occasion of the 2013 renovation of Maison Guerlain, Parfum du 68 was presented, housed in a black crystal version of the mythic tortoise bottle which was first used for the inauguration of Guerlain's Champs-Élysées address in 1914. 2015 saw a perfume intended as a wedding gift for brides, called Le Bouquet de la Mariée. In 2016, Guerlain released a quartet of scents inspired by the four seasons. Housed in quadrilobe bottles decorated by Paris-based Brazilian designer Janaïna Milheiro, each fragrance is priced at 16.000 €.

Some images courtesy of

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