Wednesday, 14 May 2014

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Series 3) - Day III: Fleur Qui Meurt


As a young boy, I grew up in a home curated and decorated with mother's federation-style tastes. An old Singer sewing machine sat atop a cast iron base in our den; sombre floral prints in heavy jacquard adorned sofas and windows, and porcelain Victorian dolls gazed blankly at Art Nouveau wallpaper from turn-of-the-century prams. A large hand-turned wooden plinth stood in the corner of our lounge that held a broad woven basket full of dried roses... mother had collected them as glorious fresh stems and hung them upside down for weeks until their brittle moistureless corpses could be added to the pile. Peculiarly, those fresh thousand-coloured blossoms that once dazzled the eye, when left to dry, shrivelled into a restrained palette of burgundy and ecru. What I remember most about this boneyard of flowers (besides mother occasionally dusting them with a hairdryer), is their odour. The velvety sweet perfume of the juvenile blooms had long gone, replaced instead with the stink of decayed organic matter that to my nose, was two parts repulsive to one part fascinating. Occasionally, if I felt brave, I would lean over them and sniff timidly, repelled by their fetor and yet somehow attracted to their unusual aroma of tea grounds and subtle spices. As a direct result of this vivid recollection from my youth, I have always been attracted by the name of Guerlain's turn-of-the-century perfume "Fleur Qui Meurt" (A Dying Flower). Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Guerlain nose Thierry Wasser and his assistant, Frederic Sacone, I am now able to indulge my curiosity and experience this scent just as it  existed in 1901.


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)


3 comments:

Eau du Coq said...

I LOVE IT

Blog Author said...

Thank you my friend :)

ThePerfumedGuillotine said...

What an incredible review and that picture of the dress is so fitting!