Delphine Jelk 2017
Family: balsamic, spicy
Notes: myrrh, pear, carnation, benzoin, vanilla, woody notes, suede note, white musk
Spicy balsam
Period: The recapitulation years

Time flies and trends change quickly at Guerlain. Only three months after all the press about Mon Guerlain being "a portrait of a woman, woman with a capital W," as Thierry Wasser put it, the brand released Lui, a tribute to "a generation that liberates itself from gender stereotypes". We assume that Guerlain knows what it’s doing, going in different directions simultaneously to ensure maximum coverage of market segments, and hoping that no one will notice the fabricated feel of it all.

The gender question is one of the most debated in the fragrance blogosphere. The majority of perfume aficionados will claim that the rigid division of fragrances into male and female is a marketing incentive to sell perfumes, with a detrimental effect on true olfactive beauty and artistry. On the other hand, although androgyny has been a motif in fashion for decades, the idea that flowers are feminine and wood is masculine still seems to appeal to most people’s sensibilities. Therefore, the launch of so-called unisex fragrances today appears just as avant-garde as when CK One first came out in 1994. We tend to forget that "unisex" is really just another marketing ploy.

"Neither totally feminine, nor really masculine, it's both at the same time," Guerlain says about Lui (French for "him"), trying to make the most of the gender ambiguity theme. To add to the ambiguity, Lui is a play on words as well as on Guerlain's patrimony, featuring a sleek spray version of the black bottle for Liu, Jacques Guerlain's floral aldehyde perfume from 1929. Guerlain suggests a link between Lui and Liu, saying that both fragrances are a tribute to gender liberation. To understand this, we must remember that Liu was in fact a response to Chanel N°5, and that Chanel fashions in the Roaring Twenties had become a symbol of women’s liberation from the "corseted silhouette", by introducing a loose, sporty, and casual chic.

When exactly Delphine Jelk was employed as a full-time perfumer for Guerlain remains undisclosed, so we don’t know how many Guerlain fragrances actually bear her signature, however Lui is the first Guerlain that is officially signed by her alone. The scent is marketed as an accord of two of the most basic ingredients in perfumery, be it feminine or masculine, namely eugenol (spicy carnation note) and benzoin (sweet balsamic note). It shares the quandary of most niche fragrances, being so minimalistic and linear that you get the impression of an unfinished project. There’s a wonderful herbaceous, licorice-like myrrh note up top, a mineral-metallic note of electric model trains and drilling machines further down, and a comfortable suede note at the base, but the whole thing is so light, subtle and close-to-the skin that it's difficult to ascertain the perfumer's intent. Sometimes, less is not more, but simply less, especially compared to the price of 160 € for 50 ml. In fact, Lui smells like a diluted version of L’Homme Idéal EdP, minus the boisé sec cedarwood, or maybe a softer Bois d'Arménie mixed with Jacques Guerlain's long gone Cachet Jaune (1937), all of which boils down to Band-aid and empty-chocolate-box vanillin. Maybe Lui would be better suited as one of Guerlain's scented candles.

Like all incense fragrances, Lui has a bookish, melancholy air to it, which emphasizes just how uninspiring the modern unisex concept is, made to be so neutral and unassuming that absolutely no one will raise an eyebrow, and how far removed from the rich, flamboyant style of Guerlain when Jacques and Jean-Paul were at the helm. For unisex Guerlain, nothing beats Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit, Habit Rouge, or Héritage, whose expansive formulas can be enjoyed by the entire spectrum of diversity.

The fact that Lui is presented in the Liu bottle reminds us that Guerlain rarely creates new bottle designs any more. Instead, the brand utilizes standard bottles and spray versions of recycled vintage designs, like the heart-shaped stopper bottle (1912) for La Petite Robe Noire, the bow tie bottle (1937) for Mon Exclusif, and the quadrilobe bottle (1908) for Mon Guerlain. Most Guerlain aficionados probably applaud the reuse of historic designs, as it generates a sense of continuity and depth in a rushed, capitalistic world. "Today, we are sitting on two chairs — the heritage chair, and the new chair — and both feel somewhat uncomfortable," Thierry Wasser once said, and using historic bottles for completely ahistorical scents may be an attempt to make a compromise.

A fusion of Art Deco and chinoiserie which was so much in vogue in the 1920s, the Liu bottle was elegantly shaped to resemble antique Chinese tea caddies. The tea caddy look is somewhat lost with the modified spray version, which comes with a voluminous wooden cap, but the bottle is still assuredly handsome. We’re only wondering if the manufacturer forgot to include the double G engraving on the cap’s metal plate.

  We love: the wink to historic elements

  Balsamic skin scent

  Urban niche

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