Monday, 15 September 2014

GUERLAIN CHRONICLES Part II - Maison Guerlain - A Paradigm in Retail Exactitude.

Our host, Junior Perfumer at Guerlain Frédéric Sacone has an important appointment in the capital and has left us to explore. It is a warm afternoon, and the Champs-Elysées is teeming with tourists. Every few meters a shiny new coach pulls up, belching visitors from the Far East onto it's cobbled walkways. My wife and I lose one another in the throng for a moment, but find each other again and knit our fingers together securely. We zig-zag through the masses with an urgency usually reserved for impending restroom breaks, but today we walk with a different purpose. Our growing frustration with the slow, shuffling crowds is dissolved only by the sight of Guerlain approaching at number 68. I draw my breath in sharply, and my wife lets out a sigh. "There it is", we chime simultaneously, as if rehearsed. Our steps quicken, and we suddenly begin to feel self-conscious, like two kids chasing an ice-cream truck. We slow our pace and take in the spectacular facade. "Wow!" we exclaim, lingering in front of the boutique entrance. We take out our camera and capture a few frames... passing pedestrians from all points on the globe stare at us blankly and glance through its doors before continuing on their way. How could they know what this truly means to us? To be standing on the doorstep of Maison Guerlain. At last.

* * * * *

Guerlain have been trading at No. 68 Champs Elysées for precisely 100 years. In 1914 - four years after the passing of Aimée Guerlain - the flagship store shifted from its previous habitation on the rue de la Paix to the current high street address on the world-famous bustling boulevard. The building itself, constructed in exquisite Art Nouveau style, has retained its splendour since, but its interior has seen incremental changes over the decades. In 2005 the space received perhaps its most significant facelift - a massive undertaking realised by French design dignitary Andrée Putman and architect Maxime d'Angeac. The interior of the site is heritage listed, so the modernization proved incredibly challenging: Putman and d'Angeac needed to assimilate and execute changes that subsumed a strong sense of tradition. More recently however, Interior Designer Hall of Fame recipient Peter Marino has woven more magic into the intricate tapestry of the House. In 2013 Guerlain unveiled an entirely reinvented space - one which not only honours historical convention, but also exhibits an appreciation for original materials; crystal, marble, mirrors and marquetry. Simply said, Marino's manifestation has resulted in one of the most extravagant and palatial retail environments the world has ever seen.

* * * * *

The ground floor foyer is exquisitely fitted in rich red / green / amber panels of marble. Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I are greeted warmly by a swan-necked mademoiselle who strikes a stunning silhouette in black. A gruff security guard with microphone in his ear stands to one side, but his gravity is broken when he too shoots us a smile. We take in the opulent space for a few moments, stopping to sneak a photo of a trio of exquisite 1.5 litre Shalimar presentations standing on a counter that have been decorated with jewels. I quickly review the stolen frames I've taken with my smartphone. "You may feel free to photograph as you please, Monsieur", Mademoiselle whispers with a wink. We are relieved, and I retrieve my Nikon DSLR from my bag. We ascend the wrought iron / marble staircase to the first floor and gasp as we enter a shimmering corridor... the glinting hall of mirrors whose rippled, reflective panes hide a wealth of Guerlain artefacts from centuries past. We study the inset shadowboxes carefully, ooh'ing and aah'ing at the vintage flacons. 

Today, we are practically alone on the first floor - the space made famous in 1939 when Guerlain opened one of the world's first spas... a beauty institute that has endured to this day. From the central hall of mirrors, several rooms fan out, and we follow the obvious path toward an incredible central perfume organ that sparkles under the recessed halogens. We walk around it, examining bottles resting in its 'branches'... it's sculptural form renders us almost too timid to touch them, for fear of spoiling its symmetry. The walls are lined with marquetry and modestly-lit shelves hold enchanting bee bottles, many embellished with handsome neck-ties and delightful 'poivre' puffers. The central organ area opens into a spacious room with modest furniture and wood panelled walls. This is the Sur-Mesure consultation room where one can have their very own perfume composed - by appointment of course. The bespoke perfume service at No.68 is a lengthy process - one that any perfumisto would relish - taking approximately one year to have one's very own signature scent composed by Master Parfumeur Thierry Wasser. Two backlit walls are lined with large bee bottles, and the final prize - a leather coffret comprising 24 baccarat crystal quadrilobe flacons filled with your very own preparation - is displayed for one to pore over. My wife and I examine it with a slight pang of envy. 

We cross the hall of mirrors once more, and venture into the other adjoining rooms... one a beautiful showroom with exquisite Guerlain silk carré, perfumed fans and scented gloves for purchase. I see Mrs Sorcery of Scent lingering a long while over a pair of short La Petite Robe Noire mitts made of the finest buttery black leather, and I suddenly recognise "that look" in her eyes. We stroll through to the blanched lavishness of the Orchidée Imperiale Salon and cosmetics rooms where age-defying products and enchanting limited edition powder boxes are on display under perspex covers. It suddenly strikes us that not once have we been approached by a sales representative... we have of course seen them, but they keep a very low profile, allowing us instead to peruse the rooms and products at our leisure. The moment I look for a consultant, she materialises as if from the ether, almost as though she has heard me summon her by telepathy. "Bonjour Madame, Monsieur", she says, her eyes the colour of aquamarines. We enquire about a product, and she educates us passionately. "Where are you from?", she asks enthusiastically.
"From Australia", I respond. "You can't imagine what this visit means to us. We have travelled a long way to be here". I explain our love of the brand, its perfume and its history. Mademoiselle beams. She casts a quick look over each shoulder and whispers "Follow me!" Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I look at one another for a moment and chase after her... she is walking briskly through the rooms and brings us to a concealed door in a marble wall that we hadn't noticed before. Mademoiselle cranes her neck to see if anyone is watching, and then turns to us.
"I want to show you a very special place. You are passionate about Guerlain and have come across the world. We never show anyone this room... it is a secret. But I think you are deserving". With that she lifts a finger to her lips and mouths "shhhhhhhh". She opens the door and enters, beckoning us to hurry inside. We do not wait for a second invitation and scamper across the threshold. Our pupils take a moment to adjust... the well-lit salons are now behind us. 

We are standing in a room that has been decorated in a light taupe marble. A sofa and handful of plush occasional chairs create a conversation area at the center of the room... they are upholstered in a complementary hue. Broad windows run along one side of the room, and potted plants bring a stroke of green to the hushed ecru palette.
"This is a very special space", Mademoiselle announces. "It is the original office of Jacques Guerlain and later, Jean-Paul Guerlain. Here they would sit for many hours, writing the formulae for the Guerlain classics... Mitsouko, Shalimar, Chamade and others. Here exists their original writing desk". She points to a beautiful antique French desk in ebony, and for a millisecond, I see their ghosts sitting there. My wife and I suck in the air and instantly feel the weight of the room around us. The three of us stand motionless for just a few seconds, as if observing a moment's silence. My eyes take in as much as they can, fearful that the image will one day soon leave my memory. Just as I think to reach for my camera, Mademoiselle opens the door beside us - a rectangle of white light penetrates the solitude of the space, and I recognise it is time to leave. We scurry outside and return to the enlivening white of the halogens. We thank Mademoiselle profusely, and she shoots us a wink - the long lashes around her aquamarine eyes flutter like ostrich-feathers. They are carefully painted with mascara. Guerlain, no doubt.

* * * * *
It is difficult to pinpoint what it is that makes a retail space successful. My family come from a very strong retail background, and I too have worked in high-end retail for many years, but there is no single theory or strategy that will trigger a customer's decision to buy. Rather, its a profusion of factors that will influence one to loosen their purse strings. One can recognise that sensible fittings, intelligent lighting and ease of access each play a role in providing a relaxing environment in which to shop, and one can argue that repetition, colour and symmetry are all key to merchandising, but for me, I personally need to make an emotional connection with the object in question. I enjoy retail environments where focus is put on the product - not necessarily one where a sense of 'fullness' prevails. Maison Guerlain - to my mind - is exemplary. The salons, whilst infinitely luxurious, are not 'busy'... much consideration has been given to each space and where the eye should fall. In this regard, there is a silent and reassuring sense of French ease and straightforwardness here. Despite the opulent materials used in the renovations, once does not find any of it competing with the product - instead, product is highlighted by the negative space that surrounds it. Maison Guerlain's high ceilings, broad corridors and wide tables demand it. Marino's transformation has ticked all the right boxes, exhibiting a keen regard for spacial awareness, materials and scale. This author simply cannot find fault with it. Anywhere.

* * * * *

We return to the ground floor, walk through the marbled foyer, and into the renovated cosmetics hall that until recent years, was simply a pop-up shop situated beside the main boutique. It is lined with putty/white coloured marble, and a broad, striped marble staircase winds down and out of sight. Below, the new restaurant "Le 68" with its sweet indulgences, and a souvenir shop. But for us, those pleasures will have to wait for a future visit.
The cosmetics area - in stark contrast to the rooms on the first floor - is bustling with visitors. We analyse the products on display and admire the renovation's fanciful mirrored surfaces and crystal-studded wall art. At the cash desk, my wife and I inform Mademoiselle of our intended purchases, and she disappears behind a sparkling gold wall to ready them for our journey back to Australia. Upon presentation of our passport for the EU Tax Back program, the young ladies at the counter are in raptures. "It is so cute! Every page has a different animal printed on it! Look! A kangaroo... a koala... and a, um... what IS that??" 
"A Tasmanian Devil", I respond with a laugh. We are fully engaged in conversation with these women when Mademoiselle returns with a beautifully ribboned bag. Their warmth and interest has been genuine, and we are sorry to be leaving.
"We are sorry to see you go too! Please return again soon!" they chime, and I feel they are sincere.

As we make for the exit of the hallowed boutique on the boulevard, Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I take one last look around us. We step around the group of ladies chattering excitedly at the La Petit Robe Noire installation; pass a man and woman talking intimately over a shared scented mouillette, and pause for a moment so that a tourist might take a clear photo of the impressive marble stair. Suddenly, we can see past the spectacular renovations and recognise a space that - irrespective of how it looks today or how it might look tomorrow - has always been (and always will be) a shopping destination for perfumisti the world over. And my eyes, there can never be one as important.

NEXT WEEK: GUERLAIN CHRONICLES Part III - "An Afternoon in the Laboratory with Thierry Wasser".

*Photos are the author's own, and also taken from Interior Design webzine, and the official Guerlain website.

Monday, 8 September 2014

GUERLAIN CHRONICLES PART I: "Who the **** is Frédéric Sacone?!"

It is the second week in August when our plane touches down in Paris. Of course, it is pouring with rain. There had been unnerving turbulence on the 2 hour jaunt from Bratislava, and my nerves are shot; my stomach a writhing pit of serpents. For this fellow - whose fear of flying often gets the better of him - the feeling of terra firma underfoot as we briskly cross the tarmac to reach the main building, is nothing short of a blessing. My wife and I push through the passengers at the baggage carousel, skim past customs and exit the arrivals area. Frédéric Sacone, Junior Parfumeur (and assistant to Guerlain master perfumer, Thierry Wasser) is there to meet us. He snakes through the crowd and greets us warmly before his eyes drop to the bulky case I'm wheeling. I can see a crease forming in his brow. We have never met, and a few awkward moments of silence hang in the air before we make our way through the rain to his car. "Zees way", he says with a spectacular French accent, ushering us toward a parked navy blue Beetle convertible.
"Oh!" I exclaim, measuring the size of my case to the size of his trunk with my eyes. The same wrinkle I'd seen on Fred's brow earlier, I could now feel criss-crossing my forehead. But in the deluge the three of us work fast to stow it in the back seat, with a few grunts and laughs. As we pull out of the car park, the car windows have fogged as a result of both our physical exertion and the rain in our clothes. With wind-screen wipers thrashing to and fro, Frédéric navigates the spiralling roads and roundabouts around the airport and I begin to feel giddy again. We curse the European summer and laugh as we enter the freeway and make our way towards his home in Picardy. We chatter all the way.
The ice had been broken.

It has stopped raining and the sun is struggling to press through the clouds. As we turn off the main freeway, the blue beetle trundles down small streets that are lined with stone cottages. Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I revel in the French-ness of it all. We pull away from the main road and enter the emerald grounds of a 16th century chateau. It looks charming and majestic. A sweeping driveway which is partly flanked on both sides by leafy trees takes us to a gated side entrance that opens onto Fred's garden. I notice it is teeming with flowers which, after the storm, release their pretty perfume on the air. His home - a two-storied section of the mansion - backs on to a dense forest. For a moment, as we exit the car and reach for our luggage, my eyes are lost in its green. Frédéric's two long-haired felines - one with eyes of amber and the other of sapphire blue - welcome us with a rub across the legs and a friendly mew. My wife and I find it hard to contain our appreciation of Fred's home which has been decorated spectacularly with furniture and objects from his travels. Our guest room is revealed through floor-to-ceiling glass-paned doors, and Fred insists we make ourselves at home. Around us, the heart-hammering perfume of all things Guerlain... the scent of Eau de Cashmere hangs above the bed, and unseen pockets of perfume suddenly reveal themselves as we pass Guerlain candles resting on side tables and windowsills. Two exquisitely-wrapped gifts lie at the foot of the bed, swathed in a familiar crimson ribbon. I pinch myself, astonished that this man would open his home to two strangers with seemingly few things in common - except of course - for our love of Guerlain.

* * * * *

Frédéric Sacone - the youngest of three brothers - grew up in the Montparnasse district of Paris. A  happy child, albeit somewhat withdrawn, Frédéric nurtured a love of animals and plants, and was intrigued by the healing properties of aromatherapy. As a young adult, this urged him to take on studies in Pharmacy and Biology so that he could learn how aromatherapy functioned on a cellular level. Finally as a new graduate, in 1993 his studies into biochemistry opened the door at Takasago, an international corporation that develops flavours, fragrance and aromachemicals. There, he spent over 8 years as a laboratory sample coordinator and perfumer's assistant... time spent arming him with the experience and practical know-how that would see him transition to the global giant Firmenich in October of 2001. There, he worked just a few months before he met someone within the organisation who would impact upon the course of his career forever: Parfumeur Thierry Wasser. By January 2002, Frédéric had become Wasser's assistant, and the pair struck a special working relationship that has endured to this day. In October 2008, when Wasser was invited to leave Firmenich to step into the shoes of iconic nose Jean-Paul Guerlain, Wasser insisted Frédéric join him.
Fred didn't have to think twice.

Frédéric possesses an artistic soul. Had he not pursued a career in perfume, he acknowledges he would have become a painter, sculptor or pianist. He studied piano for seven years at the conservatory in Paris, and if he weren't able to channel his creativity through fragrance, he would have certainly taken up studies in the visual arts. In his down time, he enjoys painting, baroque music, and films by Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar and Jacques Tati. He also has a keen interest in the religious literature of the great philosophers Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and as a result, he relishes the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures. He holds a special place in his heart for India, which he has visited 8 times since the mid 90's. Fred's travels have taken him to far-flung landscapes such as Morocco, Madagascar, Vietnam and Indonesia.
"Travel stimulates my olfactory creativity", he affirms. "But more important than beautiful postcards of these places, are the people there who've touched me the most".

When one comes to know Frédéric as a person, one has a greater understanding of how he approaches his work: with integrity, passion, exactness and love.

* * * * *

In the days following, Fred proves himself to be the most exemplary host. My wife and I sit at his kitchen table with perfumed mouillettes under our nose whilst he bakes a fresh mango / coconut tarte tatin and we discuss which smells more exquisite. We drink plenty of wine, sample delicious regional cheeses, and carefully dissect tasty salad dressings he has made which dance on our palate. We take the blue beetle to Paris and enjoy her sights with the top rolled down... tearing around the Arc de Triomphe with the wind in our hair (much to the envy of the Japanese tourists caged in their coaches). Fred ensures our tummies are filled with enormous cocktails and traditional French cuisine from hole-in-the-wall bistros known best for their food and not for their decor. We are shown jaw-dropping castles in Chantilly, visit quaint antique stores in Pierrefond, and are chaperoned through dense jade-coloured forests whose odours simply enchant us. My wife and I feel humbled and spoiled silly. But before we leave Paris, there are two more very important stops to be made on this trip to the French capital... one of course being the newly renovated Maison Guerlain on the Champs-Élysées; and the second, a very special visit to the Guerlain laboratories to meet with Thierry Wasser.  
(These experiences will be detailed in parts 2 and 3 of this Sorcery of Scent series).

* * * * *

If the truth be told, Frédéric's name was virtually unheard of until earlier this year when Thierry Wasser decided to retrace the steps of Aimée and Jacques Guerlain by reprising a series of vintage perfumes that are now featured exclusively at their flagship store in Paris. Wasser and Sacone spent many hours leafing through the antique texts, resurrecting old formulas so that we, the public, might peer through a small window at 'the golden age' of Guerlain. Their tireless efforts have resulted in the recreation of 27 scents to date, each of which appear precisely as they would have up to 134 years ago.

If asked "Who the *** is Frédéric Sacone?", I have the honour and privilege to respond:

"My friend. A man whose loyalty to his boss and mentor is unwavering, and whose efforts in his role as Junior Parfumeur and support to Wasser at Guerlain are nurturing faithfulness, beauty and luxury for the brand".

A figure who would likely rather avoid the spotlight than step into it, Fred is as humble as one can imagine. 
"Scent creates an emotion. For me, it's not the perfume but the people who smell and enjoy our creations that move me the most."

NEXT WEEK: GUERLAIN CHRONICLES Part II - "Maison Guerlain - A Paradigm in Retail Exactitude".

Sunday, 7 September 2014

REVIEW: NARCISO Eau de parfum - Narciso Rodriguez

American designer Narciso Rodriguez wowed the world with his 2003 feminine "Narciso Rodriguez For Her" which received the British FiFi Award for Best New Fragrance in 2003, and the Fragrance of the Year accolade in 2004 for the "Women's Nouveau Niche" category. A composition focused chiefly on florals, amber and musk, For Her shone a whole new light on resolute femininity and sensuality. This month - September 2014 - Rodriguez has just launched a new scent, NARCISO, which I predict will enjoy the same fame as it's sultry, vampish predecessor.

 Packaged in modest nude and white hues, NARCISO's flacon is a weighty square of glass that feels wonderful in the hand. The inside of the receptacle is painted a milky white... something suggestive of the perfume inside. Opening with a cashmere soft mantle of gardenia and white rose Narciso is an overture to femininity. These floral notes are underpinned by a sensual amber facet which lends a creamy/milkiness to the composition. At its heart lies the same exceptional Egyptian musk that made For Her a hit... Narciso borrows this from it's older sibling, whose DNA can be clearly recognised here. This being said, Narciso feels contemporary and individual. A delicate sigh of vetiver and blanched woods in the base gives the support required to hold these notes aloft.

Narciso is perhaps one of the more exciting feminine mainstream releases for 2014. She commands attention in all the right ways... a nude figure reclining suggestively beneath crisp white sheets.  

Well played Señor Rodriguez, well played.
Narciso eau de parfum is available in 30ml, 50ml and 90ml sizes and can be found on counter at Myer in Australia now.

A series of rolling launches will see her available internationally from September / October.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

REVIEW: New from Olivier Durbano - Prométhée

Of jeweller / perfumer Olivier Durbano, what can be said by this author, that hasn't already been said? At the peril of sounding like the pom-pom shaking cheersquad for Team Olivier, there is very little the French architect-turned-jeweller can do wrong in my eyes. Not only does he create eye-popping strings of semi-precious stones that adorn the swan-like necks of the Parisian glitterati, but since his first foray into fine fragrance in 2005, to date he has conjured no less than nine exceptional perfumes inspired by the very minerals that enchant his eye. Now, in 2014, Olivier is set to release his 10th scent which will be cast onto the world stage at Pitti Fragranze in Florence this month. 

Sorcery of Scent is delighted to have been given an advance preview of "Prométhée", the latest in Durbano's series of perfumed 'stone poems'.

Prométhée feels very much aligned with its 2013 predecessor Lapis Philosiphorum. Lapis Philosophorum marked something of a departure from the eight fragrances that came before it as it was the first in the series that represented a fictitious stone... a stone of legend. Today, Durbano continues along that same trajectory, leafing through the foxed pages of lore and mythicism to find his inspiration. Prométhée (or Prometheus) is the name of a Titan that fought alongside Zeus and the other Gods in the Olympic pantheon. In one of the ancient Hellenic sagas, Zeus had hidden fire from mankind, but Prometheus stole it back in the form of a giant burning fennel stalk, and returned it to humanity. As punishment for his traitorous actions, Zeus condemned Prometheus to the Kazbek Mountains where he was shackled to a rock to suffer for all eternity as an eagle fed on his liver. As an immortal, his wounds would regenerate each night and Prometheus would wake, only to face the same agonising fate the next day. The legend of Prometheus and this rock has inspirited Monsieur Durbano and culminated in an eau de parfum whose sepia-coloured juice commemorates antiquity. 

Prométhée is a woody scent that has a curious anisic slant. The opening reveals part of the fable... a rich, virescent accord of fennel dominates, and is thick like a woollen mantle. In the perfume's flight, this note darts between the fresh green of parsley and the sweet, licorice-like quality of anise. A deep camphorous sigh of myrtle meets the nose over a scattering of pepper and spice. A broad vein of oliban lends a dryness that - as with all of Durbano's creations - evokes a sense of mineralic earthiness... here is the dusty, parched aspect that is suggestive of stone, and has become Olivier's very own Guerlinade.

The nucleus of this perfume is dense with aromats... dry grey-green sage, silver-leafed lavender and the curry/anise attributes of fenugreek all whisper of perennial shrubs and mountain greens. Resinous accords of storax, labdanum and myrrh in the base lend a rich balsamic complexity, and vetiver and cedar a woodiness that remains on skin for many hours. As with al of Durbano's creations, this one too is genderless... it is proof positive that Olivier is at the top of his game.

When asked about the natural progression of his perfumed Stone Poems, Olivier Durbano comments:

"Lapis Philosophorum, number nine, was a step away from the first, but I always feel a link with the stones. It was a mythic stone, and for me with Prométhée, there is a fine link between mythology, stones and faith, with the light, the fight and the fire. Each creation has a direct link with one year of my life, so it is always an evolution in life to discover myself and most importantly, to share experiences. For me it has been 10 years now, and in the future I will continue to trace my life with Stone Steps".

Olivier's Prométhée will endure, just as the myth has. I'm already intrigued and excited to learn where Durbano will take us next.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

En Vacances

Its finally time to leave the miserable wet and cold of the Perth winter and retreat to warmer climes! 
Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I are heading away on vacation and will return in some weeks with plenty more blog-fodder.

To my wonderful and loyal readers, wherever you are in the world, we wish you a wonderful August!

Monday, 16 June 2014

A mini milestone

On this day, precisely six years ago, I put fingers to keys for the first time and made my first post ever on Sorcery of Scent - it served as a humble plea that I cast off into the ether... one which I never truly knew would be read. To my delight, there was someone listening! 
I'd like to take a moment to thank YOU, my kind and loyal readers without whom this blog simply wouldn't exist! Today, Sorcery of Scent, Australia's first independent perfume blog - steps over the threshold into its 7th year. I'm delighted and humbled that you're out there, and that you see some measure of merit in my arbitrary perfume ponderings.

I salute you!

Friday, 13 June 2014

L'Homme Ideal Giveaway Winners

Thanks to all who entered the Guerlain L'Homme Ideal giveaway!

Today, Sorcery of Scent has drawn 3 winners whom will each receive a carded sample of the exciting new Guerlain masculine.

If you're a winner, please send me a private message on Facebook, or an email to sorceryofscent(at)yahoo(dot)com, and kindly provide me with your full name and preferred postal address!

Stay tuned for more reviews and giveaways soon!


Friday, 6 June 2014


On the whole, I can't say I'm a fan of marketing campaigns that surround a fragrance launch. Of course they can be incredibly successful in attracting a captive audience, but I ask myself "when is enough enough? When does the consumer get savvy? A good campaign can never be underestimated though: look at what Guerlain have done with La Petite Robe Noire for instance - some duo-coloured brushstrokes in fanciful poses have perfumistas clambering over one another to buy the latest bottle. A clever tactic to ensure multiple purchases, but let me ask you: in all honesty, how many more bus stops or billboards depicting little Miss Black Dress can you pass before *actually* considering topping yourself?
Still, the success of the La Petite Robe Noire campaign will be hard to duplicate, and now, as the world anticipates the launch of the first new commercial Guerlain masculine in 6 years; L'Homme Ideal, we have great expectations. And the marketing gurus chez Guerlain know it.

Without writing reams, Guerlain's marketing dept have had something cooking in the pipeline for months... that is the idea of L'Homme Ideal (The Ideal Man) - the man of legend... does he actually exist? Well, frankly this author doesn't care. I don't care for the myth, nor the name, nor the insipid visuals supporting the launch with images of women (all of carefully-considered ethnicities) each wearing black dresses with sensible hemlines. I'm not attracted to it in the least, but then maybe I - with my obvious 'appendage' - am not the demographic they're targeting. Its all lost on me, I'm afraid.

Anyway, I'm not here to grumble... there is a silver lining to this story, and that is my opinion of the packaging and the perfume. Hats off! High fives! Fist bump! (Insert awkward hip-hop handshake here). To my delight, Guerlain have delivered a product that is new and interesting and remains faithful to the brand. Perfumer Thierry Wasser has manifested a fragrance which feels contemporary, but without losing sight of the masculine ancestors that came before it. Presented in a beautiful faceted glass flacon with matte black painted edges, the bottle feels like a natural evolution of the original square Habit Rouge flacon. The graphics on the box look stylish and contemporary, and evoke thoughts of QR Scan barcodes - very much in keeping with modern technology.

From the bottle, L'Homme Idéal has a somewhat unorthodox flight... a zesty citrus note interwoven with oily aromats that are slightly sour in nature. A cursory moment of coniferous berries and crushed rosemary leaves lingers over a curious component that feels slightly plasticy, but not altogether unpleasant. Just as one registers quite a departure from other Guerlain fragrances of the same ilk, this 'fabricated' facet recedes and a slightly milky almond / tonka quality presses up from below. It brings with it a more familiar slightly saccharine accord which feels like sumptuous praline. As the scent takes a turn toward something more rich and complex, a woody/tobaccoey note spreads like a blanket through the composition. It warms well on the skin and is both cedar-like and cigar-like. The bitter/sour notes in L'Homme Idéal's flight never seem to altogether disappear, and this adds an enjoyable, unexpected dimension. It is perhaps amplified as the scent dries down, by a bitter leather note upon which the composition is perched. L'Homme Idéal is sensual and endearing. It feels contemporary, yet somehow customary... very Guerlain, in that regard.

If one is pressed to trace it's ancestry and draw comparisons, where I feel L'Homme Idéal resides in the Guerlain lineup, is somewhere between Heritage and L'Instant Pour Homme. The trio share the same olfactory temperature... it borrows crisp autumnal woody aromatic nuances from the former, and creamier, saccharine tones from the latter. This being said, L'Homme Idéal is sufficiently individual to be enjoyed irrespective of the other pair.

The new Guerlain is due to launch on June 23rd 2014 - just as the European summer takes flight. This is curious to me, as I find L'Homme Idéal er, ideal in the autumnal southern climate right now. It will be presented in 50ml and 100ml sizes with ancillary products offered at select retailers.


Three Sorcery of Scent readers will each win one carded spray sample of L'Homme Idéal. To enter the draw, simply leave a comment in the comments form below, telling me why you would like to try L'Homme Idéal. 

For an additional chance to win, leave a comment on the Sorcery of Scent facebook page too.

Winners names will be published both here and on Facebook on Friday June 13th.

Good luck!

Friday, 16 May 2014

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Series 3) - Day V: Chypre de Paris

Francois Coty is credited with creating the world's first chypre in 1917 - a scent that altered the course of perfumery forever. Characterised by a citrus top note (usually bergamot), a resinous cistus/labdanum heart and musky, mossy base, perfumes of the 'chypre' category used materials predominantly of Mediterranean style and origin. Curiously, whilst Coty's creation incited something of a chypre movement in perfume circles, the perfume term 'Chypre' had been in use long before Francois' famous formula hit the shelves... case in point: Guerlain, whom at the time had already produced four - Eau de Chypre (1850), Chypre (1887), Cyprisine (1894) and Chypre de Paris (1909). Thanks to the efforts of Guerlain perfumer Thierry Wasser and his assistant Frederic Sacone who have faithfully restored the latter in 2014 using original ingredients, I am able to describe it for you.

Chypre de Paris (1909), is a Jacques Guerlain creation authored just 10 years prior to Mitsouko - the perfume that is considered Guerlain's quintessential chypre and indeed, one of the world's finest. It is a curious perfume which - whilst not at all a chypre by definition - manages to almost get there in the end. Perhaps one of its most fascinating features is it's unexpected flight of leather and spice... it feels warm and a little bitter, and is imbued with classic notes of bergamot and lavender, although these notes tend to play second fiddle. This slightly acrid sting in the opening remains present from beginning to end - almost acting as a place-holder for a classic chypre component of oakmoss, which is completely absent from this composition. A very Guerlain-esque arrangement of florals (jasmin, iris, ylang-ylang and rose) collude against a more  burly accord comprised of civet, opoponax, patchouli and nutmeg. The sum of these two contrasting facets feels seamless - a fine balance of muted prettiness and woody, earthy brawn. A departure from "regular" chypres, the trail feels somewhat sweeter... vanilla and musks dominate.

If a classic chypre is measured by a distinct contrast between fresh cirtus topnotes and a woody, mossy base, then Chypre de Paris does not conform. There is insufficient bergamot and zero oakmoss present. However, there is a general sense that it was heading in the right direction, even if the very perfume that defined the category hadn't been conceived yet. When measured against the glorious evergreen citrus peachiness of Mitsouko with its parched mossy / musky base, it is easy to understand why Chypre de Paris might have been retired in favour of Guerlain's enduring perfume pillar and 'Grand Dame'. Nevertheless, this perfume is a fascinating interpretation on a theme that later, took the world by storm.

This concludes Series 3 of "5 rare Guerlains in 5 Days".
If there is any interest in a fourth series, kindly leave a comment.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Series 3) - Day IV: Candide Effluve

Hindsight is an incredible thing. When we study the rich Guerlain timeline here in 2014, we are able to contrast and compare, to draw parallels and recognise patterns which, at another time, might not have appeared as conspicuous. For a house with more than 700 perfumes to their credit - each one a single daub of paint on a vast canvas - we glean a greater understanding of the artwork when we view it from afar.
Just as Sorcery of Scent has looked at post-wartime perfume models in my article earlier this week, today's perfume,  Candide Effluve (Innocent Emination) - a Jacques Guerlain creation of 1922 - is another telling creation from the Guerlain archive. Candide Effluve places a marker precisely between  two distinct periods... the Art Nouveau era (1880 - ca. 1916), and the Art Deco age (ca. 1924-1940).

In aesthetic terms, what we know about the Art Nouveau movement is its somewhat bohemian inclination towards organic lines and natural forms. Art Deco on the other hand, celebrated lavish ornamentation and bold geometric shapes. Compare, for example, the flacon 'bouchon cœur' created originally for L'Heure Bleue (1912) with it's curved heart-shaped stopper and gently spiralling shoulders; to the iconic 'flacon tabatière' produced to house Liu (1929) whose square-shouldered black glass form is resolutely Art Deco in style. Candide Effluve, presented in the smoky Baccarat 'brun fume' flacon seems to sit somewhere in between... its shape suggestive of a piece of fruit or the human form, but with hard, faceted edges.
Of course, not only does it's appearance straddle the line between the two design philosophies, but the perfume it holds does too.

Candide Effluve retains a good measure of pre-war conservatism... a little of that wistful poetry á la L'Heure Bleue. Jacques Guerlain has re-used a number of components common to his Belle Epoque / Art Nouveau creations (not least heliotrope, violet, iris and rose which feature heavily in his earlier compositions), but has also managed to give his new creation a sense of Art Deco opulence and optimism.

A sunny and spirited flight of lilac and violet feels fresh, vibrant and youthful, but underneath, the heliotrope seems to tether it to a more mature space. Lily-of-the-valley and jasmine lend a bright, distinctly feminine feel, however a spreading cloud of patchouli and benzoin bring it back to ground again. Perhaps one of the more prominent components is ylang-ylang - it feels spicy, lavish and luxurious... a flash of gold in the shadows. It cavorts and beckons over a delectable vanilla / ambery trail.

Candide Effluve is a scent that shows some restraint, and I can't help but imagine a young girl born to very conservative parents who has just come of age and is dying to throw on her flapper dress and go out dancing. It feels like a perfume that darts between cautious maturity and reckless juvenescence. It might have been Jacques Guerlain's intention to have this perfume appeal to women of any age... those with one foot planted in yesterday, or one foot planted in tomorrow. Whatever the truth, it takes a clear snapshot of its time; an important transitional period when philosophies and ideologies were being refashioned.

Tomorrow's review: Chypre de Paris (1909)