Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Life-changing milestones: Vintage Guerlain Vol de Nuit Extrait

Today's blog is not a review... it is more of a monologue about a pivotal moment in my scented journey through life - a life changing experience - so I beg that you please indulge me.

Guerlain has been one of those houses that I have grossly misunderstood. Years ago, whilst working in the industry as a fledgling sales assistant I was uninterested with their perfume portfolio; back then favouring the likes of Azzaro Chrome and D&G Homme over Mitsuoko and Shalimar. "Stuffy and uninteresting" I had proclaimed, with an smarminess that now makes me wince. In the ensuing years however, and with increased exposure to a varied array of scents, I learned to broaden my horizons and came to truly understand that hindsight is indeed, 20/20.
This being said, I have never been really enchanted by any Guerlain release. I had sampled their standard range in downtown doors, but never actively sought after the rare blends and discontinued gems that many people spoke of. Pourquoi??! I hear you ask... well, basically because nothing I tried had ever really knocked me off my feet. I figured 'Guerlain' an industry buzzword which only fuelled my desire to rebel! 

I don't know exactly at which point my perspectives shifted with regard to this perfume house. Perhaps it was a surprising encounter with someone wearing the stirring L'Heure Bleu at a dinner party... or maybe it was whilst browsing this website: a virtual museum built by a Danish man out of adoration and passion for Guerlain and their scented masterpieces. Whatever the case, it was enough to re-ignite my interest. Within a couple of weeks, I came upon a stunning 30ml sealed bottle of vintage Vol de Nuit Extrait on the web, and after much deliberation (and quite unnecessary peer-pressure!) decided it would be mine. A blind buy of epic proportions! 

The package arrived in the mail yesterday and I scooped it from my doorstep like Moses from the 'rushes. I literally heard angels trumpet and a choir of celestial voices. I mean, I had he-ooge expectations... it was Guerlain, it was vintage, it was extrait, and it was $225! I was going to love it, by jingoes! 
I spent a good part of the afternoon turning the wonderful 1960's zig-zag and zebra stripe packaging over in my hands, and photographing the stunning glass flacon. I tugged at the ageing thread that held the seal intact, wondering how I might succeed in opening it with a minimum of damage. I sniffed at the tight neck of the bottle and got nothing but a small dent in my nose that faded rapidly from white to pink. I looked at the receipt for my purchase with a frown... yes, I was going to love it. Wasn't I? 

I decided to sleep on it. 

I found myself staring at the bedroom ceiling at 4am whilst the crickets chirruped outside my window. 

Then the sun came up.

So today was the big day. I thought it rather peculiar that I drank my morning coffee with butterfiles in my stomach; my eyes never really losing sight of the box sitting on my desk. I felt giddy with anticipation, despite having had no sleep, and looking as though I'd been dragged 100 yards under a bus. But with trembling hands, I removed the flacon from its packaging and carefully trimmed the cord holding its stopper in place. I gave it a tug.


I put the bottle in the fridge and went and had a lie-down, feeling as if the world had conspired against me.

45 minutes later I was back at my desk with bottle in hand. I could feel that the stopper had shrunk slightly, so I gave it a gentle twist. The stopper lifted and the seal let out a soft hiss as the perfumed air escaped for the first time in almost 50 years.

I pressed the moist glass stopper to my wrist, waited a few moments and inhaled. I lingered for many seconds... bitter green, opulent jasmine, galbanum, dark woods: and then an unanticipated feeling of boundless beauty and of overwhelming sadness. I felt as though the Vol de Nuit was telling me a story in whispers from behind a cupped hand held over my heart. I was no longer conscious of individual perfume accords - instead I experienced something way more poetic... something monumental. It was a perfume narrative, and the experience almost bought me to tears. I recalled the otherworldly 'sigh' I had heard when opening the bottle for the first time, and felt for a moment as if I'd liberated a genie from her lantern... perhaps one that was lamenting a love lost over the ages; her passion and sorrow swelling on the air. Such love! Such beauty! And such despair!

I replaced the stopper and sat back in my chair for a while, allowing the narrative to tell me of winsomeness and woe, all in striking colour. Never before have I been moved by a perfume in the same way as I have today. As cheesy as it might sound, I feel as though I have crossed some threshold and stepped into a whole new state of consciousness, and it was this vintage Vol de Nuit extrait that held the door open.

I don't know if I just got lucky, or indeed if many of Jacques Guerlain's creations are as absorbing as this one. What I do know, however, is that I will never look at this house, or at perfumery in general in the same way again. 


Mike Perez said...

So glad to hear you like it D.

VdN extrait is something special. I highly recommend you wear it one evening when the climate is cool, rainy and windy - IMO, the perfect 'space' for this scent unleash it's bittersweet narrative.

I can't wait to own my very own bottle. One of these days...

Anonymous said...

VdN extrait does do something to me too. I adore it and I enjoyed your article very much ,having had a similar experience though with the present day extrait. The vintage must be close to a spiritual experience. Thanks for the VdN piece !

waftbyCarol said...

Ahhh...Dimitri don't you wish everyone could experiene that just once?
I was lucky to experience it with diorissimo at the tender age of 12 in 1966...
And Vol de Nuit July 4 2008 as we boarded the night flight to Florence for Sniffa. Perfect , huh?
Nancy from fishbone always wears it when she flies...

Wakeup Your Makeup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
W.Y.M. said...

Dear D,
You know I read but never comment, but this time I had to.
I LOVED what you have written, once again your passion makes me so proud to know you and I felt every word.
I am happy for you that you have found appreciation for Guerlain

Anonymous said...

I too have recently fallen in love with vintage Vol de Nuit. After trying the current extrait these past years, I decided to take the plunge on a vintage bottle of Vol de Nuit. I always appreciated the current extrait, but found the big dose of civet in the topnotes slightly synthetic and unpleasant (although I'm pretty sure Jicky lovers don't mind :) When I first sniffed my vintage bottle, I was surprised that I couldn't find any civet, or at least the amount used in today's version. What I was left with the current version, is an extremely melancholy accord of dusty spices and creamy vanilla. I share your enthusiam and passion and congradulate you on an amazing buy.

Helge Pettersen said...

A lovely read!

Although I've only tried this in vintage EdT, it's stunningly beautiful. Someday I'll own a propeller bottle, that's for sure!