Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Vintage Guerlain Anomaly: Shalimar

Guerlain never cease to amaze and confuse. With a rich 185 year-old history and countless perfume releases, Guerlain still manage to surprise us well into the 21st century.
Those whom have been bitten by the Guerlain 'bug' will know of this fragrance house's tendency to recycle perfume names. The 1933 release Vol de Nuit loaned its name to the 2007 perfume Vol de Nuit Evasion, just as the name of the 1933 scent Sous le Vent was later borrowed in 2009 for Teracotta Sous le Vent, despite each of these fragrances being poles apart in style and character. What one seldom sees, however, is the borrowing of a bottle: a Guerlain perfume which has been presented in a flacon reserved for another. Such things are rare and unique anomalies.

When this vintage 80ml extrait turned up recently, I had to do a double-take. Presented in the "bouchon cœur" flacon usually reserved for L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko and Fol Arôme, this scarce Shalimar edition at first made me a little dubious. Nowhere before had I seen nor read of Shalimar ever being presented in this iconic flacon. So I turned to the professionals. In my initial contact with Mrs Christie Mayer Lefkowith - renowned perfume historian and author of a number of perfume books - Mrs Lefkowith validated this bottle as authentic. Further to this, perfume historian and author Ms Geneviève Fontan also confirmed its scarcity and authenticity. But neither made mention as to its vintage. I began to wonder at which point along the sweeping Guerlain timeline, this rare aberration might have appeared.

The"bouchon cœur" flacon was first designed in 1911 by Raymond Guerlain for the perfumes L'Heure Bleue (1912) and Fol Arôme (1912), and then used later when Mitsouko was created in 1919. At this point in history, glass bottles were in short supply at the end of WWI. Many basic resources were scant, which might help explain why all three perfumes were presented in this particular flacon. Whilst the "bouchon cœur" flacon was the first produced by Guerlain that reflected Art Nouveau style, it was not necessary back then to design a new bottle for every new perfume. Philippe Guerlain once said "Guerlain has created more than three hundred perfumes, but we have not found three hundred different bottles"!
Shalimar was in fact created in 1921, but was held in reserve until the Decorative Arts Exhibition in 1925, where it was presented for the first time ever in the iconic blue-stoppered fan-shaped flacon. So I wonder what might have become of it over those four long years between its origination and its commercial debut. Perhaps Shalimar was housed for a time in the only flacons immediately accessible to Guerlain: the bouchon cœur?

Or, it is quite possible that perhaps this unique presentation preceded or followed the second world war. Economic changes and the bombing of factories at that time resulted in the restricted production of the Flacon de Guerre in 1938 - a much less decorative bottle used primarily for export to house a number of Guerlain scents, including Shalimar. Meanwhile, back on their home soil could Maison Guerlain have perhaps turned to their existing repository of 'bouchon coeur' flacons as a means to move forward with production post-WWII?

I have resigned myself to the idea that I may never know the true origin of this charming perfume peculiarity. This blog piece is full of supposition, and so it remains a mystery. But really, isn't that part of the allure of the magnificent Guerlain? That there always seems to be a little folklore woven into the tapestry of its history?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Very Good Wood: Comme des Garcons - Wonderwood

Our inventive friends at Comme des Garçons have been busy whittling away the hours perfecting their most recent perfume offering Wonderwood - a thorough exploration of wood in all of its incarnations. This eau de parfum is a medley of woody accords both natural and synthetic that bewitch and bewlider... it is somehow sappy and damp, but also smokey and dry at the same time. Wonderwood is mysterious and unsettling... it fosters all the fear a child would face when finding himself lost in the woods at night, frightened and disoriented. It is black as ink, and yet still manages to evoke sensations of warmth and luxuriousness.

Supporting the Comme des Garcons avant-garde ideology, Wonderwood is unique in that the structure of the perfume is focused more on the heartnotes instead of the basenotes. It opens with bergamot, pepper, incense and nutmeg, and then shifts into a dense heart of cristalon (a rich, plummy, fruity accord), cashmeran, guaiacwood, cyprus, cedar and caraway. These aspects swell at the core of this scent and provide the framework for the perfume. Beneath, synthetic accords of javinol and pachminol (balsamic sandalwood/rose) are grafted onto true notes of sandalwood, vetiver and oud.
The result: an explosively good wood!

Wonderwood requires liberal application, otherwise if applied to sparingly, once the stunning heartnotes have diminished, you might not feel like you are actually wearing anything. But this is a small price to pay for this exceptionally good bombardment of wood. The 100ml is a wise investment.

Wonderwood can be purchased online from in both 50ml and 100ml sizes.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

New Fragrance: Olivier Durbano Pink Quartz

Last year, I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris where I met with Olivier Durbano at his home atelier in the Marais. It was an experience I will never forget; if not for Msr Durbanio's exceptional role as host, then for the opportunity to see his workspace first hand. There is no denying that Olivier is passionate about stones... his eye-popping baubles of polished gems and raw minerals have been fashioned with architectural precision, and are exceedingly beautiful. His home serves as a monument to his travels, decorated with impeccable taste and ornamented with treasures from the natural world. On this occasion, just a couple of months after the release of Turquoise (the fifth in a series of seven "perfume poems"); Olivier revealed to me that he was already planning the next: Pink Quartz.
Today, almost one full calendar year later, I find myself wearing it.

Durbano's olfactory stone interpretations have always delighted me... they've each managed to embody the physical and esoteric properties of the particular gem in question, and this release is no different. Pink quartz is a fundamental stone of universal love and infinite compassion. Therefore, just as one might imagine, Pink Quartz is built around a beautiful heart of rose: a powerful symbol at the crossroads of our human emotions.

Pink Quartz opens with uplifting topnotes of bergamot, pink grapefruit and a sharp flash of ginger. It feels less like green root ginger, and more like a biting 'pickled' ginger; much like the salmon-pink gari, used to garnish sushi dishes. One immediately recognises an underlying, complex core of rose, but a spicy saffron facet instantly adds a piquancy to the mix. This - coupled with Durbano's signature Somali oliban accord - shifts the fragrance into a gender-neutral province. I am a big fan of this resinous aspect common to many of Olivier's creations, and feel it contributes greatly to the 'mineralic' nature of his perfumes. Here, it also 'dirties' the lavish Palma and Damas rose heart; diminishing its sweetness adding an infinite sense of depth.

As the perfume develops on the skin, a beautiful Indian rosewood emerges over warm curls of myrrh and benzoin. It evokes a sense of connectedness and spirituality, and my mind travels... I find myself thinking of the Hindu gods Parvati and Shiva; always depicted in art as the Hindu nuclear family and harmonious lovers. These sympathetic pastel nuances reside over a lavish base of patchouli, ambergris and white musk; the sum of which makes for a perfume that is well worthy of worship.

Pink Quartz is a remarkable spicy chypre that continues to surprise well into the drydown. I find it lasts 6-7 hours on my skin. It takes up residence as the sixth of seven planned perfumes, and brings with it a tender new element to the collection. This is one eau de parfum that simply cannot be shied away from, and will be relished by men and women alike.

Pink Quartz will be rolling out to a very limited number of retail stores in the months to come.
For more information on each of Olivier Durbano's "stone poems", visit

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Guerlain Djedi: a brief history and review

Egyptology must have been to the 1920's that which features like Harry Potter and Twilight are to us today. Howard Carter's monumental discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1923 directly influenced the global psyche; much in the same way as teenage vampires have penetrated our cultural consciousness in 2010. But whilst we in the here and now must suffer the commerce surrounding pasty-skinned blood-suckers and battling werewolves, our great-grandparents actually drew breath during an age of colossal cultural, anthropological and historical value. Oh, how I envy them!

The magic and mystique of ancient Egyptian dynasties certainly served as the inspiration behind Guerlain's Djedi: a captivating and rare chypre oriental perfume created in 1926, just three years after Carter's significant find. Djedi was presented in a flacon designed the sculptor Georges Chevalier and produced by Baccarat in 60ml, 125ml and 250ml sizes. The contours of the bottle (with its tall, ridged sides and gently tapering rectangular ground glass stopper) is distinctly Art Deco in style; but also suggests the form of a golden sarcophagus with its lid being raised.
Djedi was marketed in this flacon until the end of the 1950's, and also for a short time in an exceedingly rare quadrilobe presentation. It was re-issued in 1996 in celebration if its 70th year as a limited run of 1000 numbered Baccarat bottles created from the original 1920's 60ml mould.

Before I go on to review this scent, first a little background: the name Djedi is derived from references found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead where the Djed is described as a pillar which was raised to maintain universal stability, balance and continuity. It is the invisible cosmic axis or "world tree" around which everything revolves... it separates the earth from the sky; and matter from spirit. The Djedi are the ancients attributed to spreading this awareness... often referred to or portrayed as formidable primeval magicians. Djedi are mentioned in historical tales of Egypt as possessing tremendous mystical powers; their shamanistic practices, still an enigma.
I feel this information important to mention as it translates directly to the perfume itself. Until Djedi's launch in 1926, Guerlain have perhaps never before nor ever since created a perfume which so precisely and faithfully depicts an age of esoteric antiquity.

Djedi the perfume is less luminous than other Guerlain offerings. It serves as a period piece honouring the ancient past... perhaps a past as archaic as the pyramids themselves. Whilst a very complex perfume, Djedi is somehow as basic and primordial as dirt and stone - the basic building blocks of man. It is earthy, elemental and possesses a certain olfactory temperature - a feeling of dwindling warmth like that thrown out by the dying embers of a bonfire. It darts back and forth across the invisible boundary of light where amber warmth meets the cold black of night. Djedi isn't 'pretty' like her sisters; instead, she perhaps represents the disfigured sibling who spends her life residing in the gloom. Something is "off". Sinister. Agonizing.

Djedi is composed using a very dry vetiver: one that furnishes the perfume with a parched, arid vibe. Combined with a measure of civet, patchouli, oakmoss and musk, this vetiver lends a dank, musty quality that evokes sensations of being deep underground; where narrow stone corridors trap the air that has not shifted over the millennia. There is a sense of being unable to catch ones breath. A commanding leather facet also brings with it a feeling of antiquity - I immediately imagine dusty animal skins stitched together to fashion a tattered ceremonial shroud. I feel as if I am witnessing the ghosts assemble at an ancient entombment; the atmosphere palpable with a sense of grief, sorrow and despair.

My nose struggles to reach for the rose and jasmine said to reside at the heart of Djedi, but Im sure they are there. Perhaps, as this olfactory requiem unfolds, my senses too have become impervious to the beauty that surrounds us all during a time of lamentation. Whilst I cannot pinpoint these individual notes, I do recognise what this resolute floral facet brings to the fabric of this perfume, and that is a contemplative moment to look back on an age of immeasurable glory and resplendence. I suspect it was Jacques Guerlain's wish to create Djedi so the world could recognise the rise and fall of one of the world's most powerful and beautiful ancient empires.

Djedi - being one of the rarest and most difficult to source of all Guerlain fragrances - threatens to be lost again to the sands of time. One might hope that the Djed is raised again, linking the material world with the esoteric one, and our prayers of resurrection are answered.