Aimé Guerlain 1880
[parfœ̃ ɛ̃per'jal rys]
Family: aromatic, vanilla
Fresh vanilla
Period: The Belle Époque years

Thierry Wasser and Frédéric Sacone have re-created an extensive list of historic Guerlain perfumes, using the exact same ingredients as when they saw the light for the first time.

We don’t know very much about Aimé Guerlain, but what we know is very noteworthy. He made Jicky, the world’s first true perfume and probably the building block for all Guerlain fragrances. Now, Thierry Wasser has re-created the 1880 formula Parfum Impérial Russe, and this one fragrance, long gone, gives us the opportunity to add several historic pieces to the puzzle about the work of Aimé Guerlain: (1) nine years before Jicky, Aimé Guerlain created a junior Jicky, (2) thirty-two years before L’Heure Bleue, at a time when perfumers could only think of simple flower waters, Aimé Guerlain introduced the delicious, marshmallow-like Guerlinade, complete with citrus, aromatics, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, vanilla and musk, and (3) one hundred and thirty-four years before Shalimar Souffle de Parfum, Aimé Guerlain invented the fresh vanilla accord.

Maybe this is all a bit of a hard news angle to put to the story, but still, when Will Inrig’s research about Guerlain perfumers found that "Aimé is remembered as an unconventional dreamer, a true artistic spirit,” we’re inclined to believe it. The foresight of Aimé Guerlain was amazing! In fact, when we smell the re-created Parfum Impérial Russe, we would think it was commissioned by the same marketing director who requested the light accord of orange blossom, vanilla and musk in Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. Part of the explanation of this coincidence is that perfumery in 1880 was still in its pre-revolutionary state, with no synthetics to boost the tender odours of nature. Yet Parfum Impérial Russe proves that when Guerlain claims that "For decades, Guerlain has united two essential values: tradition and modernity", it’s not just a canny marketing catchphrase. Guerlain has modernized but somehow still smells the same as in 1880.

Like Jicky, Parfum Impérial Russe starts out with the refreshing, crisp scent of Eau de Cologne Impériale, that cooling, refined mixture of bergamot and Provençal herbs which is Guerlain's universal seasoning. Immediately after evolves the airy, luminous and honeyed note of orange blossom, followed by jasmine and rose, and also something slightly more sensual, probably tuberose. Finally an emanation of vanilla combines with the animal tinctures typical of vintage Guerlains: musk and the "dirty" civet note we are familiar with in Jicky. In Parfum Impérial Russe, the vanilla feels soft and natural, like moist vanilla beans from our kitchen cupboard, macerated in alcohol.

The natural lightness of Parfum Impérial Russe is what makes it pale in comparison to Jicky, but also what makes it lovely to wear. The scent of vanilla-hinted orange blossom lingers on your skin for a couple of pleasurable hours. In the 1880s, strong and very noticeable scents weren’t in good taste for ladies, and Jicky was considered shocking when it appeared.

Thierry Wasser has re-created the Parfum version as prescribed by Aimé Guerlain’s original recipe. According to Guerlain, however, Parfum Impérial Russe was never commercialized in this more concentrated form, but diluted to an even lighter degree. It was sold in probably several different standard bottles, which was customary for pre-1900 Guerlain.

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