Friday 20 August 2010

Shalimar Reincarnated

This September marks another milestone for Guerlain's cornerstone perfume Shalimar. To celebrate her 85th birthday, she will be revamped and presented in her third major incarnation since her nativity.

To my mind, the stunning urn-shaped baccarat bottle designed by Raymond Guerlain for the 1925 Art Déco exhibition in Paris is close to perfection, however the good folk at 68 Champs Elysées have thought otherwise. In 2010, Guerlain commissioned jewellery designer Jade Jagger to modernise the Shalimar eau de parfum flacon and her efforts have culminated in a sleeker, more streamlined design.

The new aesthetic, frankly, has not yet won me over. Whilst the beautiful new glass balloon is lovely to hold in ones hands, I can't help but feel the tiny pedestal a little disproportionate. And whilst the softer edges around the scalloped blue cap may indeed evoke the idea of a faceted gemstone, I can't help but feel we are looking at a "photoshopped" interpretation of Raymond Guerlain's masterpiece.
Still, my indulgent criticisms will certainly not stop me from savouring the decadent amber liquid inside!

182 limited edition 20ml extraits have also been created worldwide; each piece decorated with a genuine sapphire engraved with the Maison Guerlain "G" hanging from the bottle neck in honour of the house's 182nd anniversary. The cost is $1500.

Good news for those stateside: Jade Jagger will also make an appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue New York on September 10th 2010 at 7pm to personally autograph the new Shalimar bottles purchased on the night.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Histoires de Parfums: Olfactive Library

Histoires de Parfums is a unique collection of niche perfumes, each designed to be a volume in an olfactive library. Inside it, there are sixteen books... sixteen tales told of famous characters such as Casanova, Jules Vernes and Mata Hari; as interpreted in perfume by creator Gerald Ghislain. Recently, I borrowed generously from this fragrant biblioteque, and was immersed for days in Ghislain's perfumed narrative.

Reading like an encyclopaedia of dates and individuals, Histoires de Parfums explores the chronology of real and fictitious characters whom have served as the inspiration for each scent. Here is a short extract:

1876 reveals a spicy feminine rose perfume with exotic tendrils of jasmine and carnation to represent the dancing courtesan Mata Hari. It is both glamourous and carnal with its opulent rose, iris and cumin.

1840 is an invitation to pleasure thanks to the audacious writings of the Marquis de Sade... his at-times philosophical, at-times pornographic novels epitomized the libertine sexuality of that age. This perfume is a spiced woody scent with dark patchouli and curious rum-like accords which suggest debauchery and criminality.

These volumes make for fascinating reading and translate incredibly well on the skin.

More narratives reveal Ghislain's desire to translate into words the language of flowers... Vert Pivoine, Blanc Violette and Noir Patchouli each serve as fragrant metaphors where soliflores are examined and reconstructed with a measure of calculated artistic license. Also new to the library: the Tuberose Trilogy... three fascinating forays into this polarizing blossom where it stars as the heroine in a trio perfumed poems. Three tuberose facets are explored: Tubéreuse 1 the Capricious, Tubéreuse 2 the Virginal, and my personal favourite, Tubéreuse 3 the Animal.
If you think you know tuberose, then think again!

Any library would not be complete without the classics... those volumes that one returns to time and time again. Ambre 114 represents a complex 114-element composition that was created to embody the exoticism of the ancient raw material. Similarly, 1969 is a legendary year in history where carnal sensuality and eroticism is translated into perfume in the form of a spicy, voluptuous gourmand. 1889 Moulin Rouge also exemplifies its age and stands as an ode to the most known cabaret in the world. Here, powdery iris furnishes the scent with a 'face powder and lipstick" feel, whilst semi-sweet absynthe and rich damas rose accords Cancan over an enduring base of musk and patchouli. The scent is as enduring as the spectacular venue itself.

With so many volumes to explore, one cannot find fault with Histoires de Parfums' marriage between literature and olfaction. I find many of the perfumes completely engrossing, and masterfully crafted.

I am left here to wonder what might transpire in the years to come. One day could we possibly look back upon this age as we sample from a peculiar flacon of Google 2010?
Maybe Histoires de Parfums knows.

Friday 6 August 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days - Day V: Coque d'Or

Guerlain's Coque d'Or (Golden Shell) perfume was created in 1937 by Jacques Guerlain, and is easily recognisable for its beautiful gilded Baccarat blue bow-shaped flacon. It was created in the art deco age where lavishness and opulence was the norm, and its beautiful golden perfume presentation demonstrates this. Coque d'Or was additionally released in the quadrilobe flacon, as well as goutte and papillion bottles, and is a scent that typifies the glamour and mystique of this era.

Of all the rare Guerlain perfumes I've featured this week, this is the one I have been saving until last. Coque d'Or represents for me, some of Jacques Guerlain's most underappreciated work... it is a sensuous leathery fragrance that I feel might have been a pre-cursor to another much-loved men's Guerlain fragrance; but more on that later.

My vintage Coque d'Or eau de toilette reveals a citrus opening over an aromatic floral heart. I detect rose and something like soft iris or violets and a piquancy furnished by slightly peppery carnations and notes of nutmeg or mace. However, there is a beguiling buttery leather accord that features, and it is one that I've smelled before... it reminds me of paper-thin hand-made antique gloves of the most exceptional quality. As the perfume evolves further, curls of creamy sandalwood appear and an ambery facet (labdanum and vanilla?) brings with it a glowing sense of warmth. The whole composition rests on a glorious oakmoss base that rivals the best of other Guerlain greats. Coque d'Or is a sultry skinscent that gets better and better the longer it rests on the skin.

I would not be surprised if Jacques Guerlain's grandson Jean-Paul Guerlain perhaps drew upon the aromatic leather/oakmoss marriage of Coque d'Or as inspiration behind the mens aromatic leather fougère Derby. Whilst the two have topnotes that diverge in style and composition (florals in the former vs peppermint in the latter), their heart and basenotes run somewhat parallel. Derby is heralded as Guerlain's most revered male leather scent, and has qualities I find comparable to his Great Aunt.

I think many would welcome the return of Coque d'Or in the permanent perfume portfolio at 68 Champs Elysées. For my money, I find it a must-try for each and every Guerlainophile.

Thursday 5 August 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days - Day IV: Rue de la Paix

Long before Guerlain shifted into the famous address at 68 Champs Elysées, they had already long established their business on Rue de la Paix in the voguish 2nd arronissement of Paris. Nowadays perhaps best known for its jewellers, couturiers and milliners, Rue de la Paix has always existed as superlative shopping promenade for the well-heeled.

In 1908 Jacques Guerlain created Rue de la Paix: a perfume that paid hommage to the district and the haut monde that converged there. It was first presented in the Baccarat quadrilobe bottle, and later in the cobalt lantern bottle and goutte flacon. I can only suspect Jacques Guerlain's motivations in creating this scent might have been to meet the needs of those who frequented the area, (or indeed to sell the 'high society' lifestyle to those perhaps less affluent). This might account for why so few examples of this fragrance have survived until this day.

Rue de la Paix in vintage EDT form unfurls with sharp bergamot/citrus topnotes and dewy florals. There appears to be a crisp green floral accord just below the surface (muguet, perhaps?) and a shimmering peach-like aldehyde (that is not too far removed from that used in Mitsouko) in the opening. It is a rousing opening, but one crafted with a very measured hand (it is not as imposing as, for example, her aldehyde-rich floral younger sister Liu. But then Rue de la Paix, like the gentry who visited there, is perhaps more stately and refined). A lush rose heart and scattering of white florals furnishes the perfume with an appreciable air of femininity before the drydown reveals a very enjoyable bitter leather and musky base.
This is a perfume that embodies the vibrance of a Parisian cobbled shopping street, awash with colour and vivacity; and indeed one worthy of resurrection.

Tomorrow: Guerlain's Coque d'Or.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days - Day III: Jasmin

Jasmin first appeared in the Guerlain perfume portfolio in 1924. It emerged post-WWI, just as the world swung into a brand new age of optimism and a renewed social consciousness.
Originally presented in the 'quadrilobe' flacon, and later in 'goutte', 'rosebud' and cobalt Baccarat presentations, Jasmin was one of Jacques Guerlain's numerous soliflore interpretations.

Perhaps what I find most beautiful about my vintage eau de toilette, is that it is not a straight-forward jasmine fragrance. For a single-flower scent, it is really rather complex.
The opening impression is of mildly indolic jasmine blossoms... rich and opulent; however its potency is somewhat short-lived. One becomes aware of a sharp undertone of lily of the valley which provides a crisp green constituent as the jasmine notes suddenly diminish by half. Five or six minutes later, a saccharine honey/vanilla accord emerges that reminds me of chewy Laudurée jasmine macaroons. Notes of pale wood bestow a slightly bitter "toasted" vibe.

One cannot deny the sweetness of this scent which, for its time, sometimes borders on the gourmand. Whilst evoking a sense of prettiness and youth, one can also recognise a more responsible, considered base of oakmoss.

Jasmin dances between juvenescence and adulthood... a soliflore that celebrates women both young, and those young at heart.

Tomorrow: Guerlain's Rue de la Paix

Tuesday 3 August 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days - Day II: Eau de Verveine

Verbena (whose perennial varieties are common to both Europe and the Americas) has been used for centuries for its herbal remedial properties. Its abundant accessibility and aromatic character also saw it feature heavily in perfumes of the late 19th century.
Aimee Guerlain first gave prominence to verbena around the 1870's with the release of 3 fragrances; Verveine, Eau de Verveine, and Eau Spiritueuse Double a la Verveine. It was Eau de Verveine which re-emerged in the 1960's for a short time in the "Abeilles" bottle, and stayed in production up until the mid 80's where it could also be purchased in the flacon pictured above.

Eau de Verveine opens with a sharp, uplifting blast of citrus-green. Lemon verbena accords dominate the topnotes, which are piquant like the zest of a freshly grated lime. I find the very act of smelling this fragrance on the skin causes the ducted glands inside my mouth to flood with saliva. The shimmering topnotes are energising and bright, but below, I sense the prickle of something darker... a tiny scattering of carnation or clove perhaps; a few notes that in part, resemble the polarising "dirt" in Jicky. As the scent rests on the skin, it develops a dryness that I would liken to the aroma of dried tea-leaves. I can easily imagine deep glasses of iced tea perfumed with aromatic lemon verbena leaves, sipped as the shadows grow longer in a mossy sun-speckled garden. There is an inherent feeling of summer's end, and the chirrup of cicadas ringing in the ears.

Despite my vintage bottle being an eau de toilette, I find the longevity to be something more alike an eau de cologne. Eau de Verveine, like many of Guerlain's "eaux"; is something to be applied liberally and enjoyed for just a couple of hours.
This impossibly rare scent will quench your thirst, and leave you longing for more.

Tomorrow: Guerlain's Jasmin.

Monday 2 August 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days - Day I: Lavande

This week I will be featuring 5 rare Guerlain scents over 5 days - an opportunity to memorialise a number of uncommon, unfamiliar Guerlain creations that are nigh on being lost to the halls of time. Some are known by name - though rarely sniffed - thanks in part to their inaccessibility; and others remain practically unheard of.
Those who love and revere this house know well that over their 182 year history, Guerlain have provided us with hundreds of perfumes; many of which are still being uncovered for the very first time today, like glinting gems from dusty attics and musty basements.

Lavande was first created in 1840 and is credited to Aimé Guerlain, though very specific information about this perfume is extremely scarce. It came to be revived again in 1920 in the "Louis XVI" flacon, and again approximately 3 years later in Pochet & Courval's swollen "Goutte" bottle. Sadly, very few examples have remained to this day.

I have not yet found any record of an olfactory pyramid either online or in print, however the vintage eau de toilette opens with an arresting, rich lavender which smells just like one's fingers do when stripping the purple blossoms from the stem. It shifts swiftly to a rather 'dark' lavender with unusual muddy green undertones... something I liken to the immortelle/lavender marriage found in Dior's Eau Noire. A murmur of lemony citrus can be detected (possibly furnished by note of fragrant geranium) which adds sharpness to the lavender topnotes.
As the drydown progresses, I begin to sense the Guerlain "red thread" prevalent in many of their earlier perfumes. I experience fleeting nuances of Chant d'Aromes, only without the aldehydes (a perfume which was not to be created for another 40 years); and a familiar vetiver/oakmoss Mitsouko base over which these floral facets are awash.

Whilst the lavender topnotes might be the first to recede, Lavande remains a fascinating blend which leaves me undecided as to whether this should be classified a chypre or a fougere. It certainly exhibits characteristics of both.

With the formula left unchanged, Lavande could easily be re-released in today's market and adored by many. Its deeply aromatic heart and exceptional mossy base sees it stand a full head-and-shoulders above most others in its class.

Tomorrow: Guerlain's Eau de Verveine.