Jacques Guerlain 1929, EdC 1956, reissue 1994, EdP 2005
Family: floral, aldehydic, powdery
Notes: bergamot, neroli, aldehyde, jasmine, Provence rose, orris, amber, vanilla, sandalwood
Aldehydes and face powder
Period: The orientalist years

During the colonial years the world of the East captivated Europe as well as Jacques Guerlain, who created several perfumes with Asian names. Liu (1929) was the last in his line to unite his fondness of the Orient's myths, olfactory musings, and the arts in general. Liu is the name of a character in Puccini's unfinished opera "Turandot" from 1926. Based on a tale from the Persian story collection "The Book of One Thousand and One Days", it was set in ancient China near the walls of the Imperial City of Peking. This opera, which was staged for the first time in Paris in 1928, is about unrequited love and loyalty. Liu's character is a slave girl so true to her beloved master, Prince Calaf, that she commits suicide rather than betray him. In the end, Liu's tragic death establishes her as the heroine of the tale.

Some accounts inform us that the perfume Liu was created for Rose Kennedy, mother of John F. Kennedy, even though an unconfirmed story goes that Jacques Guerlain once caught his wife wearing Chanel N°5 and then immediately felt compelled to create a competitor. Whatever version is correct, it seems beyond a doubt that Ernest Beaux's world-famous perfume served as a model for Liu with much of the recipe in common, including No.5's strong signature of aldehydes that lift any floral composition to shimmering new heights. What marked Liu as something only Jacques Guerlain would make, was its sheer resemblance to face powder, combining a fresh-sweet, cologne-like neroli note with jasmine, rose, orris, light amber, and light sandalwood. The powdery effect was what made us think of Jacques' earlier works, from Après l'Ondée through L'Heure Bleue and Shalimar. An extremely graceful fragrance, "Liu the elegant is for she who is modern," was how the American advertisement promoted it, as if to make sure women understood that Guerlain was aware of fashion's taste for the casual chic which Chanel had introduced. Yet it was one of Jacques Guerlain's "dullest perfumes," if one asks Luca Turin, a remark perhaps triggered by the fact that Liu, with all due respect to its obvious beauty, lacked real originality. Jacques Guerlain had become renowned for his keen ability to assess the potential of other perfumers' work as well as his own, and to treat them "the Guerlain way". In the case of No.5, already a tour de force in itself, maybe there was not much left to improve.

With regard to florals, Jacques Guerlain chiefly held onto the abstract aldehydic style throughout the 1930s and 1940s, in varying degrees of lightness and opulence like Véga, Coque d'Or, Fleur de Feu, up to and including his last perfume, Ode, in 1955. All of them are long gone, and Liu was probably the loveliest and most missed of those that had disappeared. It was reissued in a limited Parfum edition in 1994 along with a more widely available Eau de Toilette, and later, in 2005, it was re-created as an Eau de Parfum among the Parisiennes, for those who like No.5 but swear by Guerlain.

The fusion of Art Deco and chinoiserie which was so much in vogue in the 1920s finds its excellent expression in the original Liu presentation. Shaped to resemble antique Chinese tea caddies, it had the severe geometric look that was characteristic of Art Deco, with square and octagonal lines, and black and gold colours. Liu now appears in the Parisienne bee bottle. In 2017, Guerlain issued a spray version of the Liu bottle for the fragrance Lui, featuring a voluminous wooden cap.

Parfum, EdT, EdP
Not surprisingly, the bright aldehydic shimmer is most pronounced in the EdT, cool and delicate and with a white, citrusy neroli top. The Parfum has a much richer jasmine heart, and the wood and orris are warmer. Liu's new EdP edition is an acceptable version mid-way between the two.

The 2005 reissue was per definition a reformulation since Liu never existed as EdP before, but the fragrance itself appeared to be unchanged.

  We love: the Parfum was by far the best, but you get the idea with the EdP

  The scent of face powder

  An aldehyde floral that is fresh and not too floral

Some images courtesy of

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