jeudi 28 août 2008

Guerlain's Élixirs Charnels: Eros goes to the patisserie


Is the size of a press release inversely proportional to what you can say about a fragrance? (Of course, darling, you know size doesn’t matter…).


The launch of Guerlain’s new Élixirs Charnels, a trio of eaux de parfum bearing titillating names – Oriental Brûlant (Burning Oriental), Gourmand Coquin (Naughty Gourmand), Chypre Fatal (you don’t need me to translate that, do you?) – composed by Christine Nagel, comes equipped with the purplest prose this side of Jackie Collins. Three soft-core erotic scripts that seem to be pulling the “chic sex-shop for women” string, and mean to guide the buyer according to her amatory inclinations – sensual, fatal or Lolita-esque…

It’s as though, instead of the expensive advertising that accompanies a major launch, Guerlain had decided to publish the film synopses.


I’ll spare you the prose: you can read its involuntary hilarious English translation at The Perfume Posse (March also brings up the language-blind infelicity of the use of the French word for “carnal” in English: “charnel” does indeed bring forth images of genocide and the Black Plague). Between “curves in the moonlight”, skin sprinkled with chocolate and peppercorns, and “the colour of blood that rushes to your cheeks”, let’s say that the aforementioned Jackie Collins won’t lose any sleep: the copywriters won’t be churning out best-sellers any time soon. Okay, just one, irresistible sentence: “He has had my body, but not the most secret part of me, my ELIXIR CHARNEL.” Next to that, By Kilian’s hyperboles (since then deleted from the site) sound like Samuel Beckett.


To imagine the chic and smiling Guerlain S.A.s repeating the stuff makes me blush, and not from modesty. By the way, that whirring noise you hear in the background is Jacques Guerlain spinning in his grave.


However, under this priapic prose, there are fragrances. What are they worth?

Let’s say that Guerlain, after Spiritueuse Double Vanille’s runaway success, has rushed along on the well-travelled path of the gourmand, at least for two of the three compositions. All are legible, fairly simple et quite charming – perhaps not enough to tackle the mailman for a savage kiss after the first spritz, or fluster your banker so badly he forgets that your overdraft is as provocative as your cleavage. You’ll need it: these cost about $240 for 75 ml.


Gourmand Coquin starts off with a milk-chocolate and caramel accord spiked with rhum which could raise anybody’s blood sugar, but not necessarily fire up hormones, unless your lover is on a diet. After a while, the sweetness recedes slightly into a darker, burnt, very Guerlain vanilla. The press release speaks of black peppercorns (yup, I always keep them by the bed just in case, don’t you?), but they’re not very perceptible.


Chypre Fatal conforms to the new rules of the genre: a rose-patchouli structure, slightly acidic green top notes, wrapped in a sweetish peach. Its soapy roundness is somewhat reminiscent of the discontinued Parure, without its dark oak moss background. The complexity of the great Mitsouko-type, lactonic chypre family is reduced to a hear-say: the depth of field is squashed, the image simplified. This is Keira Knigthley rather than Lauren Bacall.


Oriental Brûlant has the most Guerlain feel of the three, with its vanilla-amber-coumarin accord. But the “intensely animal quality” of styrax, promised by the press release, fails to make an appearance. If this is an animal, it’s a little pink marzipan piggy: almond soon takes over, dusted with a veil of crunchy confectioner’s sugar. Octavian of 1000fragrances compares this to Attrape-Coeur/Guet-Apens and to the defunct Cachet Jaune (which you can smell in the microwave ovens of the flagship store, with no re-edition in sight); according to him, it’s a tribute to the legendary Ambre 83 base. This is more obvious on the strip than on skin, where it turns into a less intense Hypnotic Poison. It is, to my taste, the more interesting of the three.


The rather delicate sensuousness –- more delicate, at any rate, than the press release would lead to believe – of these Carnal Elixirs is more gourmand than erotic, more Guerlain-for-beginners than aphrodisiac. Which quite suits the morose zeitgeist: it’s easier, not to mention safer, to seek pleasure at the patisserie than in dangerous liaisons. Foody fragrances – the type you might prefer in a frosted cup rather than on your skin – might just be the thing for these belt-tightening months. You can always read pulp-fiction sizzler after spritzing. Or pull out a hot pink toy.


Image: Savoureux de toi by Philippe Mayaux (2006), Galerie Loevenbruck.

22 commentaires:

  1. Ouais, bof... ca n'a pas l'air tres interessant, je ne me sens pas du tout motivee pour claquer $240 sur une sucrerie banale. Je compte garder mes sous pour Vero Kern.....en voila une qui vaut le prix que ca coute!

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  2. Personally, I would like to substitute the product name in the fond hope that the people at Guerlain can see how utterly, hilariously silly the whole thing is:

    “He has had my body, but not the most secret part of me, my SCHICK QUATTRO FOR WOMEN.”

    “He has had my body, but not the most secret part of me, my DIET WILD CHERRY PEPSI.”

    “He has had my body, but not the most secret part of me, my BUICK ENCLAVE CXL.”

    See what I mean?

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  3. well if it sounds like Jackie Collins at least they 're gonna be praised by Le "Critique" de Parfum!
    You really scare me when you claim next to that crap By Kilian’s hyperboles sound like Samuel Beckett. Seriously who are those
    incompetant executives at Guerlain? First they hire Thierry Wasser whose "artistic" direction is to diorissimize the house of Guerlain, then they launch the lutensean Bois Torride and now they go cheesy and tacky? What the hell is going on at Guerlain?

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  4. Tara, c'est plutôt assez bien: je porterais le Chypre et l'Oriental sans problèmes. Je pense que les nombreux amoureux de parfums sucrés y trouveront une alternative plus raffinée que ce qu'il y a sur le marché dans ce genre.

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  5. Tom, that's a pretty hilarious exercise! I haven't seen the original French, but even allowing for an awkward translation, it does make one cringe...

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  6. Emmanuella, I really don't know what's going on at Guerlain. They seem to be taking many different directions. The "Il était une fois Guerlain" re-editions (Vega and Sous le Vent) are on stand-by, there are tons of special/limited editions that don't seem to belong to any line... Last year's fragrant oils came and went without a trace... There must be some master plan behind it, but I can't discern it.

    That said, these are nice fragrances, it's the ad copy that's corny.
    And BTW, the Bois Torride that Helg reported on isn't out: Guerlain just registered the name.

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  7. You are one funny lady... gourmands are not really my thing but it will be interesting to try them all the same.

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  8. I'd just love to get your honest opinion on this: do(n't) you think that Guerlain would have considerable successes, both critically and commercially, by re-releasing old scents from their catalogues? It also seems economically efficient--the formulas are already there, they would just need to be tweaked to conform with current regulations and to replace materials no longer available. That certainly wouldn't take as long as a nose would to come up with a completely new concept. This is just my POV, but in the rapid-fire release world of fragrances today, I think people enjoy the idea of "classics" being available for purchase; it ties into nostalgia and a sense that a fragrance has history and class. All of this is just a way of saying "RELEASE CACHET JAUNE ALREADY!"

    I agree with your above comment that it seems like there is no unified script when it comes to marketing new Guerlains. Does the Acqua Allegoria line really sell that well (I really want to know, since it's the only thing available at Sephora here)?

    This may sound shallow, but I also hate the color of the juice for these--pink and purple? It looks like Vera Wang or Britney Spears colored water. There's a fine line between wild colors (Serge Lutens) and cutesy (these).

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  9. May I say, dear D, that those images you selected are both absolutely spot on, and deeply disturbing?

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  10. I think with marketing copy it is reverse from the, um, personal life. The bigger the copy the worse the ,um, result :-)
    I was very very underwhelmed by these 3 scents. But I forgive Guerlain everything for my beloved Quand Vient La PLuie :-)

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  11. Thanks Silvia! Yes, they're worth trying: as I said, they're quite nice, and more refined than the many in-your-face gourmands on the market.

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  12. Billy, I would love nothing more than for Guerlain to reissue some of their classics. It doesn't seem to be happening. I suppose they don't think they'd please a large enough public (maybe Vega and Sous le Vent are not selling so well? I need to ask). Though I do think there may be a public for classics: luxury houses base the legitimacy on their history, when they have one...
    I don't know how well the Aqua Allegorias sell, I think they're popular enough, and some of them are quite pleasant, a couple are great -- but they're not what a serious perfumista craves.

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  13. Jarvis, I'm glad you brought them up. They are the work of a good friend of mine, Philippe Mayaux, one of the best French artists of his generation (the 40-somethings), winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2007 (the French equivalent of the Turner Prize).
    Many pieces of this series are done with moldings of his wife's anatomy. Earlier this year, I was one of the guests of his "Cannibal love" dinner: the molds were used to make pastry (he's a great chef too).

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  14. Marina, we still do love Guerlain, don't we? But there is a lot to be forgiven. The last new release I utterly loved was Guet-Apens, and that was... ages ago. I quite like many of the L'Art et la matière, but never enough to buy them.

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  15. Hah!!! I think my guesses regarding the way they would smell were spot on (pats herself on back). And I love the illustrations you chose, they're beautiful and a little disturbing at the same time.

    I do think I would probably like the almond-y one very much, but for $240 I feel the fragrances should be more than what you have described. Joining Billy at the wailing wall for reissues from the old catalog.

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  16. March, yes, you were spot on, and that does say something for the ad copy, doesn't it? I actually rather liked them, but if I were going for sugary-almondy I might get Hypnotic Poison edt. And if I wanted plain sugary, I might prefer By Killian Love (though it's actually more money for even less juice).
    That said, if I had them, I'd probably wear them.

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  17. I also think that they should release more of their classics (Cachet Jaune is the firs on the list) and not in a so expensive bottle! They had so many good fragrances that should be used and not bought as a collection/a present or an investment to resell it later. Instead of launching medium quality fragrances (and I do not speak for the major launches) it would be more interesting to have high quality classics. It's not hard to notice that so many noses that worked during the past 5 years were not able to do best that Jacques Guerlain did in terms of classic, sensual and wearable fragrances. So why bother for the secondary lines (which are not the money makers for the brand) with fragrances that are neither the very best neither the most creative? And I do agree with emmanuella on Lutens aspect!
    (I liked the expression "diorissimize the house of Guerlain")
    To Cachet Jaune I would add the animalic Bouquet de faunes!

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  18. Octavian, yes, it's a pity that a fragrance like Candide Effluve was only available as a one-shot, in a pricey vintage bottle. It's a pity that the brand is diluting itself in countless secondary lines that seem to go nowhere. Between the oils, the coffrets, the re-editions that disappear and reappear without explanation (hello, Voilette de Madame?), and the Lutensian spinoffs of L'Art et la Matière...
    Cachet Jaune, Ode, Djedi, Bouquet de Faunes, Champs Élysée (the real, first one) should be made available at the "Il était une fois Guerlain" prices. It can't be *that* hard!

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  19. stella polaris28 août 2008 23:04

    (Philippe mayaux´work made me curious, read about his exhib at Pompidou, and now I understand why you asked for the ref. of the book about the female erotic cannibal! :)

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  20. Stella, I'm glad you discovered him through this blog. I've been following his work for over 10 years, own a couple of smaller prints, and regularly get drunk with him. I don't think I'll ever be able to afford anything large, but, well... at least I ate a couple of pieces!

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  21. je suis tombée amoureuse de Candides effluves, mais pas de son prix collection, notre père Guerlain qui êtes aux cieux, faites qu'il soit réédité, fidèle à l'original et surtout à prix abordable comme celui des rééditions tel que Attrappe coeur...et bien sûr, j'espere que les autres suivront (Cachet jaune...)
    C'est ce que je disais encore hier à mon époux, ils doivent avoir un livre des anciennes formules, un trésor! Un BON parfumeur pourrait se rapprocher le plus possible des formules originales, mais qu'attendent'ils donc pour puiser dans ce formidable héritage.

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  22. J'ai beaucoup aimé Candide Effluve aussi... Peut-être parce que je savais qu'il était inaccessible et donc, pas à mettre au budget achats. Mais je crois que Guerlain n'est pas dans une politique de réédition actuellement. Une commentatrice du blog d'Octavian faisait très justement remarquer que Guerlain, qui était une maison, est en passe de devenir une marque. C'est peut-être le prix de sa croissance économique, et il est certain qu'une maison ne peut pas vivre que de ses archives, mais c'est bien dommage pour nous.

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