PERFUMES BY JEAN-PAUL GUERLAIN




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GUERLAINOPHILES


For everyone who is passionate or curious about Guerlain, I have created the closed Facebook group Honey Bees and Guerlainophiles. In this group, you will meet some of the most enthusiastic, knowing and attentive Guerlain lovers in the world, and find an explosion of information about Guerlain that is not available anywhere else on the vast internet. Join Honey Bees and Guerlainophiles

The group occasionally conducts surveys to get a clearer picture of how Guerlainophiles relate to certain oft-discussed topics. You can find the results of these surveys below.



Flankers
The launch of a new fragrance is cause for excitement in the perfume community, however, flankers receive less than enthusiastic responses. Guerlain is quite open about the fact that producing flankers doesn’t come out of a creative urge, but because retail chains will refuse to carry a brand if it doesn't deliver several new products every year. Thierry Wasser has even said that "the sickness of making flankers every five minutes is very upsetting."

We asked the Guerlainophile members what they think about flankers, which today constitute a significant part of Guerlain’s ten yearly fragrance releases. To answer, members could choose one or more options from a list of possible viewpoints. There were 355 votes in total, and here’s the result:

• I think flankers represent commercialism and a mass-market logic that degrades a prestigious brand image: 31 %

• I generally embrace flankers as necessary tools for brands to stay visible and viable on today’s market: 23 %

• It generally makes no difference to me whether a fragrance release is marketed as a flanker or a whole new fragrance: 16 %

• I feel mainly negative about flankers, as I think they represent a lack of real creativity in the fragrance industry: 10 %

• I feel mainly negative about flankers, as I think they “pollute” the image of the original fragrance: 9 %

• I’m generally very excited about flankers, as I think they add an extra element to a scent that I already like: 8 %

• I generally think that Guerlain should avoid making flankers, even when it will reduce the brand’s visibility and market share: 3 %

In conclusion, 47 % of the votes supported a positive or neutral view on flankers, while 53 % were negative. However, only 8 % of the votes expressed genuine enthusiasm about the release of flankers. Among the negative opinions, the main one cited was that flankers represent a mass-market logic that degrades a prestigious brand image. Surprisingly, a vanishingly small number of voters seem to think that Guerlain should avoid making flankers. This survey suggests that many Guerlainophiles have accepted the fact that flankers are necessary tools for fragrance brands to stay visible and viable on today’s market.
(April 2018)



If you were the Guerlain boss in 1994
One of the most debated topics among Guerlainophiles is the LVMH takeover of Guerlain in 1994 and how it has affected the brand. During the 1980s and 1990s, when competition within the fragrance industry intensified, Guerlain’s market share reached a catastrophic low, therefore Jean-Pierre Guerlain decided to sell his treasured heirloom to LVMH, arguing that the future in a more and more competitive industry would be best assured within a financially fit group.

Faced with a reduced market share due to stronger competition, companies are generally left with two choices: work to reach a larger demographic in order to regain the market share (the “mainstream” approach), or downsize the budget in order to reduce costs (the “niche” approach). A more drastic move would be to simply close the business. Guerlain chose the first option, i.e. to develop a larger reach. The task of getting more people interested in your brand all the while maintaining an exclusive image is very expensive, as it involves a facelift of all parts of the business (marketing, products, staff, shops, etc.), hence it’s a risky strategy when your funds are limited and it’s uncertain how the market will develop and respond to your strategy. Many brands have lost it all and died this way. Jean-Pierre Guerlain may have wished to be on the safe side by joining the wealthy LVMH group.

We asked the Guerlainophile members what they believe would be the wisest choice for Guerlain back in 1994. Here’s the result:

• I would do what it takes to attune to the new world order and become a big, international player again: 83 %

• I would quietly observe that times are changing, slash the budget, and keep cultivating my diminishing group of fans: 15 %

• I would close the business in order to avoid further downsizing and humiliation: 2 %

In conclusion, the vast majority of Guerlainophiles agree with Guerlain’s choice of trying to keep up its market share, budget size, and level of activity by reaching a larger demographic when confronted with stronger competition. Only 15 % would have liked to see Guerlain downsized into a small, family-driven niche firm, and very few people think that Guerlain should have closed. However, some commenters note that they think Guerlain should have taken the risky path, spending the rest of the company’s funds in 1994 to try to reinvigorate the brand without involving LVMH. According to them, LVMH is guilty of a "McDonaldization" of former heritage brands. Some even believe that Guerlain’s old belle-époque classics could be turned into international bestsellers equal to La Petite Robe Noire and Mon Guerlain if marketed the right way. Sadly, we will never know if that is true, as no one will ever have the nerves to invest their money in such an experiment. Picture above are some of the earliest Guerlain releases after the sale to LVMH: Liu reissue (1994), Champs-Elysées (1996), and Guerlinade (1998).
(April 2018)



What is the Guerlinade?
In perfumery, there are several words whose definition experts don’t agree about, like "vintage", "reformulation", "natural", "synthetic", "art", "exclusive", and "commercial". But at Guerlain, one word in particular has proved challenging, namely the word "Guerlinade", commonly found in Guerlain’s glossary.

For instance, we don’t know exactly when this word was invented, but it’s believed that it was first used by Jacques Guerlain, who even named one of his perfumes Guerlinade (1924). He must have realized that almost all of his perfumes were built around the same set of notes, hence sharing a certain "family resemblance". Experts have also observed that this specific set of notes can be traced back to Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky (1889). Although there are no written documents to confirm this theory, it does seem plausible, yet interestingly, the perfume called Guerlinade smelled markedly different from Jacques Guerlain’s most iconic perfumes, like L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar. Confusingly, one of Guerlain’s 190th anniversary videos claims that the Guerlinade was "composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1921", nine years after L’Heure Bleue. No evidence exists to support a claim that the Guerlinade was intentionally "composed" in 1921.

In French, the suffix "-ade" is often used to indicate a dish or a drink, like "grillade" and "orangeade". The nasal final vowel in "Guerlain" means that omitting the "a" renders "Guerlinade" easier on the ear than "Guerlainade".

What we do know, though, is when the word Guerlinade was officially mentioned for the first time, namely in the press material for Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Héritage in 1992. This was thanks to Guerlain’s former artistic director, Sylvaine Delacourte, who had been appointed as Jean-Paul Guerlain’s fragrance evaluator a few years before. One of her ambitions was to educate people about the Guerlain brand, back then mainly known to a small group of loyal customers and fragrance aficionados. The fierce competition from numerous fragrance brands that emerged during the 1980s and 1990s forced Guerlain to communicate what is unique about the brand more clearly. Delacourte had noticed that other professionals within the fragrance industry often talked about Guerlain’s characteristic style, yet no one from Guerlain’s own ranks seemed to be aware of that. From then on, she was determined to promote the Guerlinade, which she also called the “Guerlain DNA”, as a distinctive olfactive signature that links all modern creations with the past. "In the same way that you recognize the origin of a great wine, or the composer of a symphony, you perceive the Guerlain stamp," Jean-Paul Guerlain concurred.

After doing some research and analyzing Guerlain’s vast back catalogue, Delacourte concluded that the Guerlinade should be defined as a blend of eight different raw materials: bergamot, jasmine, rose, orris, tonka bean, gum resins, animal notes, and vanilla. This definition probably captured mainly the Jacques Guerlain catalogue, therefore Delacourte broadened the definition to include a special style of dosage, in which fragrance accords are concentrated, pushed and overdosed with contrasting synthetic and natural materials in order to create fragrances that are striking and easily recognizable. "At Guerlain, we have no weak, bland or very tidy formulas," she said. This broader definition could embrace most Guerlain perfumes from Jicky to Mahora.

Later on, gum resins and animal notes were subtracted from the definition of the Guerlinade. Animal notes especially are now regarded as being not only archaic, but also unethical. When Thierry Wasser entered as Guerlain’s new master perfumer, he added orange blossom and sandalwood to the Guerlinade list, as he found that both of these ingredients play a prominent role in the Guerlain patrimony. As of lately, though, these two have been removed again, leaving six notes (bergamot, jasmine, rose, orris, tonka bean, and vanilla) to define the Guerlinade. The part of the definition that relates to dosage style has been abandoned as well, maybe because, except for fragrances that are designed for the Middle Eastern market, the style of Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk is not characterized by overdosing. Thierry Wasser has even questioned the whole idea of the Guerlinade, saying that it is stereotypical and reductionist, like "a thing, plop, plop, that we more or less put into every bottle." He offers a loose and pragmatic interpretation of the Guerlain style that appeals more broadly to customers from all corners of the world, integrating contemporary fragrance trends, like caramel, cotton candy, white musk, and powerful fresh-woody aroma chemicals.

Maybe Luca Turin’s proposal of a definition of the Guerlain signature is the most comprehensive, because it’s so abstract. "Guerlain never starts with a blank sheet of paper, but with a blurred filigree of everything they ever built," he said. "Then they stretch it this way and that, removing old and adding new features as taste evolves, before bringing it all into soft focus."

We asked the Guerlainophile members what they think about the definition of the Guerlinade. Here's the result:

• I agree with Delacourte’s first definition of the Guerlinade, saying that it’s a specific set of notes combined with a special dosage style: 60 %

• I agree with Turin’s short definition of the Guerlain style, saying that there is one without saying what it is: 33 %

• I agree with Wasser’s pragmatic interpretation of the Guerlain style, which is open to contemporary fragrance trends: 4 %

• I don’t think that it makes sense to talk about a "Guerlinade", a "Guerlain DNA", or any everlasting, all-encompassing Guerlain style: 2 %

• I agree with the newest official definition of the Guerlinade, narrowing it down to a specific set of notes: 1 %

This survey had a relatively low response rate, which is probably quite understandable, as Guerlain’s own communication about the Guerlinade is confusing. Also, the comments indicate that people generally responded to what the Guerlain signature "once was" as opposed to what it "is today". The most popular definition of the Guerlinade is Sylvaine Delacourte’s original definition from 1992, followed by Luca Turin’s more abstract definition. Only 4 % agree with Thierry Wasser’s pragmatic interpretation of the Guerlain style, which is open to contemporary fragrance trends, as exemplified in Mon Guerlain and L’Homme Idéal (pictured above). It’s interesting to observe that just 1 % of the respondents agree with Guerlain’s newest official definition, which narrows the Guerlain signature down to a mix of six different notes. In conclusion, this survey could indicate that many Guerlainophiles are critical of Guerlain’s current olfactive style.
(March 2018)



Natural vs. synthetic ingredients
Guerlain's former artistic director, Sylvaine Delacourte, recently published an article about natural and synthetic ingredients in fragrances, as she thinks that perfume aficionados are still lacking knowledge about this subject.

Natural ingredients are defined as products that are obtained through extraction of aromatic compounds from raw materials found in nature (herbs, spices, flowers, wood, citrus fruits, etc.), using methods such as distillation, solvent extraction, expression, sieving, or enfleurage. Synthetic ingredients are divided into two subcategories, namely isolates (like indole, geraniol, linalool, and linalyl acetate), and full synthetics obtained through a chemical reaction (like limbanol, ambroxan, ethyl maltol, and macrocyclic musks).

Delacourte explains that synthetic ingredients have been a cornerstone in Guerlain's olfactive creativity at least since 1889, saying that perfumes like Jicky, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, and Shalimar would never have existed without them. She also notes that several synthetic ingredients are very expensive, while many ingredients obtained through extraction are very cheap.

We asked the Guerlainophile members what they think about Guerlain's use of synthetics. Here's the result:

• I believe that Guerlain now uses a higher proportion of synthetic ingredients than fifty years ago, which I feel neutral or positive about: 77 %

• I believe that Guerlain now uses a higher proportion of synthetic ingredients than fifty years ago, which I feel negative about: 18 %

• I believe that Guerlain now uses the same proportion of synthetic ingredients as fifty years ago, only new kinds invented since then: 5 %

• I believe that Guerlain now uses a lower proportion of synthetic ingredients than fifty years ago: 0 %

It's interesting to note that Guerlainophiles don't seem to question the fact that synthetics play a significant role in Guerlain's olfactive art, and that less than one in five reports feeling negative about thinking that Guerlain now uses a higher proportion of synthetic ingredients than fifty years ago. Usually, fragrance lovers are very critical of the use of synthetics in perfumery. Pictured above is Shalimar, which never contained a single drop of natural vanilla.
(March 2018)



Uniform bottles
Guerlain has discontinued most of its individual bottle designs, replacing them with uniform bottles, for which the reasons may be among the following: 1) Uniform bottles are in vogue among niche perfume aficionados, while individual bottle designs are associated with low-end mainstream brands. 2) Uniform bottles grouped like a coherent collection make the catalogue well-structured and easy to understand for the customer, while dozens of individual bottle designs can seem confusing. 3) Uniform packaging is cheaper to produce, pack, store and display than are individualized designs.

We asked the Guerlainophile members about their opinion of Guerlain's new uniform bottles. Here's the result:

• It's not a good idea that Guerlain adopts the trend of uniform bottles: 86 %

• It's a good idea that Guerlain adopts the trend of uniform bottles, but I don't think the new designs are well chosen: 10 %

• It's a good idea that Guerlain adopts the trend of uniform bottles, and I think the new designs are well chosen: 4 %

Among those who opt for uniform packaging but dislike the design that Guerlain has chosen, a common complaint is the look of the frosted bee atomizer (pictured above). Some members commented that while uniform packaging is a good idea for EdT and EdP, the original Parfum bottle design should be preserved. It's possible that the distribution of answers would be slightly different if there were a fourth option addressing this specific opinion. However, it seems safe to conclude that while niche fragrance aficionados generally regard uniform packaging as chic, Guerlainophiles are strongly against it.
(March 2018)



What is vintage?
Many perfume collectors prefer "vintage" perfumes, and the term is often used in fragrance discussions. We asked the Guerlainophiles members how they understand the term "vintage" and what they think about its use. Here's the result:

• It's generally agreed that there seems to be an analogy between wine vintages and fragrances produced at different points in time: wine vintages differ due to climatic variations from year to year, while fragrance batches differ due to continual reformulations and variations in the availability and quality of raw materials. In addition, fragrances change as they age in a way that has a least some resemblance to wine ageing. Therefore, the term "vintage" has a certain appeal in discussions about perfumes.

• However, while wine producers advertise the yearly variations in taste and quality, fragrance brands are mostly secretive about olfactive changes in their products, therefore it's not possible to obtain any reliable, objective information about the difference between, say, "a Shalimar 1967 vintage" and "a Shalimar 1998 vintage", other than anecdotal and personal reports. In addition, it's difficult to date very old perfume bottles, as fragrance brands, unlike wine producers, didn't use to mark their bottles with a production year.

• As a consequence, the term "vintage" cannot be applied as a noun for fragrances like it is in wine production (for example "a Château Cantemerle 2010 vintage"), but instead as an adjective (for example "a vintage Shalimar"), indicating that the fragrance is somewhat old, or at least not produced very recently.

• Lacking any authoritative criteria that everyone adheres to when discussing vintage perfumes, perfume collectors don't agree on whether to use the vintage term for differences that are assumed to stem from changes in the fragrance formula or ingredients, differences that are assumed to stem from juice ageing, or a bewildering mix of the two. Some collectors even limit the definition of vintage to fragrances that have been discontinued, alternatively the very first version of fragrances that are still in production, which would make it easy to obtain a vintage Insolence Parfum, but impossible to find a vintage Jicky. Other collectors prefer a very simple definition of a vintage fragrance based solely on its age, but don't agree on whether it should be 15, 20, 25, or 30 years old in order to earn the vintage stamp. Lastly, some collectors apply the term vintage to variations in the packaging design instead of (or together with) the juice.

• As a consequence of the complexity and lack of consensus described above, some members suggest that in serious discussions about fragrances, we replace the vintage term with more precise notions, like "a bottle of Shalimar PdT from 1989", or "a bottle of Shalimar Parfum from around the 1950s".
(February 2018)


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