If Luca Turin were still writing reviews of perfumes he doesn’t love, he would probably claim this launch to be among those "that must make Jacques Guerlain spin in his grave." Personally, I wouldn’t put it quite as morbidly, but I’d say that Guerlain’s latest addition to the La Petite Robe Noire series, called "Intense", certainly represents an advanced stage in the brand’s mission to relinquish its roots and cultivate a teenage clientele. Sometimes, perfumery is a bit like politics, in which case Guerlain’s new campaign would be for a populist candidate, half of us dreading the result of the election.

This fragrance smells like a concoction of 80 percent Lancôme La Vie Est Belle, 10 percent La Petite Robe Noire Eau Fraîche, and 10 percent La Petite Robe Noire Couture, which adds up to 100 percent candy shop. If there’s anything "intense" about LPRNI, it’s how intensely girly it is. Guerlain is obviously not the least bit embarrassed about that, serving up pink and blue cotton candy at the press events.

The infantilization of perfumery, with sweet fruit, cotton candy, caramel, and chocolate, began with Mugler’s Angel (1992), igniting a pandemic for which no cure has yet been found. LVEB launched to immediate success two decades later, the same year as the international release of LPRN, and it seems that Guerlain, like most other brands, has been in constant competition with Lancôme's blockbuster caramel floral ever since, issuing sugar bombs like French Kiss, Mon Exclusif, Le Bouquet de la Mariée, and now, LPRNI. Today we know that Guerlain was actually ahead of its time, with the less-than-lucrative Les Elixirs Charnels (2008), Mon Précieux Nectar (2009), La Petite Robe Noire Modèle No.2 (2011), and Shalimar Parfum Initial (2011). The last decade’s trends haven’t been kind to the Guerlinade, so maybe it’s time for Sylvaine Delacourte to come up with a new word. I vote for "Sucrinade". ("Maltolinade" just doesn’t have the same ring to it as "Musquinade" did.)

While being girly isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed about, we wonder if Guerlain should feel guilty about the fact that you’d be unable to distinguish between LPRNI and LVEB on a passerby. Once so proud of always being the first to innovate, Guerlain has figured out that if you can’t beat them, you might as well copy them.

Only when conducting a careful comparative study, do we realize that LPRNI is an improvement on the original Lancôme version, especially from a top note perspective. The dashes of earlier LPRN scents thrown in, and the use of better materials overall, work to brighten up the unexciting, stuffy feel of Lancôme, and make for a bolder, juicier, and more addictive fragrance, with notes of blackcurrant sorbet, sunny peach, fresh-floral bubble gum, hairspray, sugar-dusted cedar and patchouli, caramel fudge, and cotton candy machines running at full throttle. (The press material mentioned a blueberry note, which must be a marketing trick to match the juice colour, because there’s nothing particularly blueberry-like to this scent.) Thierry Wasser’s sense of freshness and air, even in the most sugary of circumstances, is truly impressive. Since both boldness and addictiveness are by all means Guerlain trademarks, maybe we can argue that LPRNI is, after all, "Guerlain". Still, it would be infinitely more becoming for Guerlain to reuse one of its own scents instead of another brand’s trending formula. If named differently, the commercially failed, but beautiful Shalimar Parfum Initial would make an excellent, and far more tasteful competitor to LVEB.

Guerlain already disclosed the creation of the new fragrance last year, stating that it was designed to excite the North American market. William Lescure, president of Guerlain Canada, explained that while La Petite Robe Noire is an international hit, it’s not sweet enough for North American tastes. "When you smell it, you smell North America," he said about the new version, which appropriately comes with a Marilyn Monroe dress pictograph, a familiar icon of American filmography, referenced from the movie, "The Seven Year Itch". The scent is even nicknamed Ma Robe Sous le Vent ("my dress in the wind"), inspired by the scene in which Monroe says, "Ooo, do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?", as wind from a sidewalk grate blows her dress up, exposing her legs. And no, this "Sous le Vent" has nothing to do with Jacques Guerlain’s vintage green chypre.

"It is a completely new fragrance," Sylvaine Delacourte elaborated, "with a new orchestration, nothing to do with the others. The other formulations are too dark for the North American market, with licorice, black tea, vanilla — North Americans like things more luminous, easier. They like scent to be cleaner, fruitier and less dark." We can now safely conclude that La Petite Robe Noire is not a fragrance, but rather a fragrance line, with no more common thread than say, the L’Art & la Matière line. We probably shouldn’t object to this, as it only adds to Guerlain’s diversity, but it would make more sense if Guerlain went back to just name them with numbers, as with La Petite Robe Noire Modèle No.2 from 2011.

Unfortunately, LPRNI doesn’t add much to diversification in the perfume world. The only really remarkable feature of this scent is that the marketing team was able to persuade Thierry Wasser, known for his ardent advocacy of the Guerlain legacy, to sign a fragrance that so closely resembles that of a rival company and pour it into the heart-shaped stopper bottle. We assume Guerlain's self-confidence is boundless, thinking that we’ll all shout "It’s La Petite Robe Noire!" the next time we smell La Vie Est Belle on someone. Read more about La Petite Robe Noire
(June 2016)

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