Jacques Guerlain's Fleur Qui Meurt is an example of Guerlain's consummate artistry. Whilst the vast majority of perfumers working at the turn of the last century were still marketing soliflores or attempting to capture the true essence of various blossoms, Jacques was turning the very idea of perfume on it's head by creating a scent that honoured the end of life. Perhaps inspired by something as simple as a vase of wilting flowers, or maybe as life-altering as an experience from his personal life, we will never truly know... but this fragrance is an artful rendering of blossoms as they wither and die. His composition opens with a glorious violet which is not too far removed in style from Aprés l'Ondée, a scent that he was to author just 5 years later... but perhaps one that feels somewhat less cold and damp. The violet here is robust and has been warmed by the sun, and is underpinned by leafy green notes that have a similar velvety, nectar-like texture. This is the flower in full bloom. But mere minutes in, the flight takes a gentle downward turn and the violet disintegrates... still present, but flailing somewhat, like the perishing prima ballerina in a production of Swan Lake. A lilac-white coloured ribbon of iris lends a husky, dry quality to the composition, and darker, earthier accords begin to seep in. Dry vetiver and dirty patchouli hint at decaying roots that have been torn from the earth, whilst a rising mantle of musk lends a distinctly organic feel.
Here is where Fleur Qui Meurt begins to defy description... it becomes a quickstep of beauty and fragility... fluttering petals and writhing stems seem to sense the inevitable coming. There is a luke-warm almost salty quality in its trail... it suggests a long expulsion of breath; a final sigh from which there is no coming back.
Jacques Guerlain's study has resulted in a very thought-provoking creation - one that traces the cycle of life from beginning to end. It's beauty perhaps lies in the futile struggle between life and death, and succumbing to the inescapable. As we all are destined to eventually follow the same course, I can help but feel Fleur Qui Meurt might have been intended more as a metaphor for humanity. All will fade in the end.
Tomorrow's review: Candide Effluve (1922)