Guerlain’s teaming up with Angelina Jolie for the new international fragrance release, Mon Guerlain, is the brand’s biggest marketing triumph since Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain was appointed fragrance purveyor to the French Empress Eugénie in 1853. Fragrance is such a rarefied and specific subject, while celebrities are undeniably more popular.

Since the announcement of the partnership with Jolie in January, followed by large-scale press events all over the world, Guerlain has probably received more international media coverage than in the past 188 years combined. Social media have been ablaze with news about the campaign weeks before the official release date on March 1st, and some shops are selling the fragrance ahead of time. It’s no secret that Guerlain’s brand awareness is lagging catastrophically behind, especially outside of France. On its US Facebook page, Guerlain’s weekly PTAT (People Talking About This) number rarely exceeds 100 persons. Known for her unique blend of natural beauty, artistic talent, and humanitarian involvement, and as "the most admired woman in the world" as stated in Guerlain's press clip, Angelina Jolie lends not only enormous exposure to Guerlain, but also an aura of philanthropy. Jolie’s film about the victims of the Cambodian genocide during the Khmer Rouge, which premiered in Cambodia on February 18, as well as her statement that she's donating her entire Guerlain modeling fee to charity, only adds to the good press.

Except for the facts that Angelina Jolie is American and extremely thin, both of which have enraged most of Guerlain’s French Facebook followers, the only disadvantage of using her as a spokesmodel for the campaign is that it completely overshadows the fragrance itself. However, in the case of Mon Guerlain, there’s nothing new under the sun anyway, because for two years the fragrance was known as Mon Exclusif, which has now been discontinued.

Mon Exclusif was easily Guerlain’s most gourmand fragrance to date, a mix of lavender, almond, high-calorie butter caramel, and milky sandalwood, without any fresh or “dark” notes to balance the sweetness. The lavender-almond start, not unlike the L’Homme Idéal accord, was wonderfully crunchy and delectable though, at that time promoted as being inspired by Jicky. Now, Thierry Wasser is quoted as saying that the fragrance is inspired by Angelina Jolie. We understand that all communication about Mon Exclusif has to be squeezed into the Angelina Jolie mould, but a bit of Wasser's intelligence and transparency would be welcome. As we all know, Mon Exclusif was composed more than a year prior to Guerlain's first contact with Angelina Jolie. We also know that Mon Exclusif didn't smell anything like Jicky, just as we doubt that the scent reflects the soul of Angelina Jolie. Like the recent Joyeuse Tubéreuse, Mon Guerlain is ascribed to both Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk.*

The idea of turning a former Exclusive into an international mainstream fragrance is not new to Guerlain. The same thing happened to La Petite Robe Noire when it went global in 2012 after a three-year trial period at Parisien boutiques. "Making a blockbuster fragrance, there is no recipe for that," says Thierry Wasser, so testing customers' response to a new fragrance locally, before deciding if a massive worldwide ad campaign is worth it, seems like a sound business strategy. Like the mainstream version of La Petite Robe Noire, Mon Guerlain is a “commercial” version of the original composition, i.e. adjusted to appeal to the average taste of the largest audience. This kind of “scent mainstreaming”, of which Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle is the most famous example, is what Luca Turin terms “the fragrance equivalent of those female faces obtained by averaging hundreds of pretty mugshots until all distinctive features are gone.”

With regard to Mon Guerlain, the “averaged” formula means an overall lighter and fluffier scent with a slightly less sweet and buttery caramel note. Unfortunately, it also means that the lavender-almond accord is not half as delectable as in the original version. The detergent-like scent of white musk is significantly more pronounced in Mon Guerlain than it was in Mon Exclusif, which turns the whole thing into a rather nondescript, clean, sugary skin scent. This is well reflected in film director Terrence Malick’s video for Mon Guerlain, showing a sweet-looking Angelina Jolie wearing a white cotton bathrobe. For more details on the fragrance, see Mon Exclusif.

Let’s be honest, Mon Guerlain is not the brand’s most creative fragrance name ever, but it’s not without merit either, all things considered. First, the name is born out of the trend of personalization that promotes everything as being "mine", such as My Insolence, Mon Précieux Nectar, Ma Première Robe, Ma Robe Sous le Vent, Mon Habit Rouge Taillé sur Mesure, and Mon Exclusif. We imagine two little girls fighting over a bottle of perfume: “This is My Guerlain!” — “No, it’s MINE!” — “No, it’s MY Guerlain!” You can buy Mon Guerlain at any airport in the world, but still the name maintains a certain ring of exclusivity.

Secondly, and joking aside, using Guerlain's brand name as part of the fragrance’s name is a way of increasing brand awareness (see L’Instant de Guerlain), especially when it's coupled with world-famous Angelina Jolie. We can just imagine two colleagues talking: “You smell good! What are you wearing?” — “It's Mon Guerlain, the new Angelina Jolie fragrance.” — “Wow! I need to get it too! How do you spell Guerlain?”

For this release, Guerlain has reinvented the historic quadrilobe dab bottle (1908), one of the brand's most handsome designs, as an atomizer, crowned with a plastic quatrefoil cap. The cap is surrounded by an embossed, gilded metal band that replaces the traditional cording by the Dames de Table. The base of the bottle has been thickened considerably, which gives a contemporary look, but maybe there's something dated about the gilded band. Like Mon Exclusif, the bottle comes without a label, so we assume you're supposed to have it engraved with a name of your choice. (Luckily, the box doesn’t include the awkward self-adhesive letters that Mon Exclusif came with.) In fact, it's Guerlain's most anonymous fragrance presentation to date, with the Guerlain name almost invisibly moulded into the glass.

The final magazine ad exudes all the French elegance that we expect of Guerlain, with Angelina Jolie's magnetizing gaze in black and white making Mon Guerlain look like a little cotton-candy coloured jewel.

Until now, only three of Guerlain’s historic feminine bottle designs are commonly known to today’s general public: the bee bottle (the Aqua Allegoria variant), the Shalimar bottle (somewhat modernized), and the heart-shaped stopper bottle (in which La Petite Robe Noire is housed). By the joint efforts of Mon Guerlain and Angelina Jolie, the quadrilobe bottle finally reaches the fame it deserves!

* After this article was written, Thierry Wasser admitted that Mon Guerlain has nothing to do with Angelina Jolie, but was inspired by what he perceives as the characteristics of women in the 21st century. Read more
(February 2017)

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