Jean-Paul Guerlain 1983, EdP 1993
[ʒardɛ̃ də bagatɛl]
Family: floral
Notes: bergamot, lemon, neroli, Provence rose, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, magnolia, narcissus, patchouli, cedarwood, vetiver, tonka bean, benzoin, musk
Floral pomp
Period: The hard years

The 1980s challenged Guerlain's rule of rounded, enigmatic perfumes — those years demanded more direct and competitive means. Jean-Paul Guerlain and his co-perfumer Anne-Marie Saget solved it with Jardins de Bagatelle, "a story of white flowers," as said the ad. In perfumery, white flowers have a rich, penetrating, overwhelming scent which Jardins de Bagatelle extracted to the maximum. This is probably why it had Guerlain written all over it, despite its reputation of being a complete break with Guerlain tradition. Jardins de Bagatelle is today one of the catalogue's less recognized perfumes, sometimes described as too hard, too far removed from the velvety Guerlinade. However, its iridescent, almost shrill effect was a role model at the time, and a deliberate act on Jean-Paul Guerlain's part. He had in mind the new career women for whom he envisioned a lively, extroverted and fashionable floral, very different from his preceding, more personal and sensual perfumes, much like a musical bagatelle with bright, nimble notes.

Its name was taken from an outstanding landscape garden inside Paris' Bois de Boulogne, dating back to the decadent past of French royalty. The garden isn't among the tourist hot spots, but it features two attractions: hundreds of blooming rose varieties, and a small rococo château with an intriguing anecdote behind it. In 1775, the vain Comte d'Artois wanted to build a folly for brief stays and amusement while hunting in the Boulogne woods. Marie-Antoinette had wagered against the Comte, her brother-in-law, that the new château could not be built within three months, but he employed eight hundred workers and won the bet, finishing the construction in just sixty-three days, complete with a picture-perfect park. Its main entrance still bears the jocular Latin motto, "parvus sed aptus" ("small but apt"). The term "bagatelle" literally means "trifle", a little decorative thing merely for pleasure.

Jean-Paul Guerlain saw the Jardins de Bagatelle site, both its sumptuous rose garden, the libertine atmosphere, and the royal pomp and country elegance, as a complete formula for what he wished to express, something at once sunny, rustic and opulent. As advertised, the perfume was above all a bouquet of luxurious floral notes, some high-pitched and spicy (Provence rose, orange blossom), others plump and narcotic (tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, magnolia, narcissus). Instead of putting them into soft focus, as Guerlain habitually would, Jean-Paul Guerlain developed a metallic, acid, spiky flower formula listing lemon, cedarwood, vetiver, patchouli and musk, more aperitif than dessert, more business than boudoir. Jardins de Bagatelle admittedly stated the breadth of the Guerlain keyboard, and how unlike Chant d'Arômes, Chamade, Parure and Nahéma Jean-Paul Guerlain could present a garden in a perfume.

For the Jardins de Bagatelle bottle, Robert Granai had the task of uniting the eighties' sharp suits with Guerlain's romantic ideals. His solution was to construct it as a stylized, shoulder-draped "pillar" shaped like the classical Greek caryatids that hold up a portico. To begin with, the bottle had a smoked lid typical of the eighties, eventually replaced by a transparent one. The EdP, which didn't arrive until ten years later, was dressed in a deluxe gold case. When Jardins de Bagatelle came out, Guerlain also restyled the box design for the entire fragrance catalogue, from a sixties' circular label and zig-zag patterned box into the square look of the black and gold box. In 2013, the Jardins de Bagatelle bottle was phased out and replaced by the bee atomizer.

EdT, EdP
Jardins de Bagatelle was never meant to be a skin-close Parfum, but a radiant, powerful EdT whose lemon, white flowers and cedar oil reinforce each others' treble qualities. The EdP came ten years later, and it's actually calmer, more poised, with a deeper indolic heart and more musk at the base.

What goes for Vetiver can also be said about Jardins de Bagatelle: it used to smell more of earth, and this may partly be due to ageing of the woody oils, which actually is a fine counterweight to the hissing top. New bottles smell more blindingly luminous than ever.

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