dimanche 15 février 2009

Guerlain 180 ans: History in a Bottle


A few weeks ago, I was surprised to sniff on a friend a fragrance that had a very distinct Guerlain feel to it – except that it wasn’t any Guerlain I knew. It reminded me somewhat of Guet-Apens/ Attrape-Coeur, then of Shalimar

Of course, I had to ask. She replied that the scent was called 180 ans, had been created for the celebration of Guerlain’s 180th anniversary in June 2008, and had been distributed to guests at that occasion. I quickly rooted out the bottle – identical in shape to the L’Art et la Matière – in my friend’s bathroom.

There’s something almost funny in the way the fragrance does what it sets out to do: sum up the history of the house in a quasi-didactic way.

It’s got the aromatic Provençal garden notes you find in most of the classic Guerlains, Mitsouko’s peach, L’Heure Bleue’s heliotropin, Shalimar’s candied bergamot/vanilla combo and the sweet amber base of what I consider to be the last of the truly great Guerlains, Mathilde Laurent’s Guet-Apens. There’s a sprinkle of pink pepper on top and a rather hefty patchouli base. And, of course, the tonka bean without which no Guerlinade exists.

Unsurprisingly, I like this much better than the house’s latest offerings, La Petite Robe Noire and the Elixirs Charnels trio: at least, it doesn’t feel like a vat of ethyl maltol was poured in. It has the trademark Guerlain edible quality, but it’s not a dessert. In fact, it feels like it may be a modification of a trial for a Shalimar flanker that was scooped off the shelves for the occasion. I wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared in some form in the future, possibly in the Les Parisiennes collection – the conservatory of semi-extinct Jean-Paul Guerlain compositions (with the exception of Liu). The fragrance is attributed to him.

I hope it does appear, and in an affordable form. At least I’d feel like I’m wearing a new Guerlain that actually respects the house’s heritage. In the meantime, I’ll eke out the few drops my friend spares me. Then I’ll turn her on to Attrape-Coeur.

P.S. It is interesting to note that for Guerlain’s 180th anniversary, a number of bloggers were invited – but not a single perfume blogger.

Image: Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, duchesse de Berry (1825), by Sir Thomas Lawrence (source : Wikimedia Commons).

20 commentaires:

  1. Hello, D. This does sound intriguing (and much more attractive to me than La Petite Robe Noire). Let's hope that it does make an appearance as part of Les Parisiennes.

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  2. Hi J. When we were in the shop the S.A.s talked about it, but only one had smelled it -- guess they weren't invited to the big do. My only hope of scoring a bottle would be to beg... which I can't see myself doing after having been so critical of the new Guerlains... And begging, well, I don't think so.

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  3. They don't want you talking about it! And my guess is if they've read any of my recent reviews I'm not on their A-list either...

    I love exploring different iterations of their classics. I have some Mitsouko PdT from maybe 30 years ago that is so, so heavy on the base. It's delicious.

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  4. March, the thing is, there are PR "viral buzz" companies working with blogs: they're the ones the perfume brands employ. So Chanel invited bloggers (but all fashion), now Guerlain (ditto), and even a smaller brand of which I'll be writing soon... Of course, fashion bloggers may be more widely read, and certainly, they wouldn't be asking awkward questions (or making awkward remarks).

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  5. There is also the dry woody note than I like at the end of evaporation. Why special things (just good and not 100% original or new) are not for everybody?
    (I know, it sounds like luxury and elite, but I do not agree with this philosophy :)
    Do you know Belle Epoque made for London?

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  6. Ah, yes, D. Now I remember you talking about it with them.

    March: I have some Mitsouko PdT as well. Isn't it marvelous?

    Octavian: I totally agree. I like luxury (and even the cachet of exlusivity) as much as the next person, but honestly, what is the point of these $10,000 limited edition bottles or these "limited to 68 bottles in the whole wide world" releases?

    Perhaps its the difference between art (an expression of the soul, which one wishes to share with all) vs. a commercial product (a commodity, which one wishes to sell to the highest bidder).

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  7. Maybe I should start blogging on fashion to be invited by guerlain and have a drop of those special notes given to the guests.
    Like Denyse said, big brands stay away from fragrance bloggers (in Paris).

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  8. Octavian, I've never smelled Belle Epoque (it was for Harrod's, wasn't it?).
    Yes, I am p*ssed off that this isn't available to us basic punters, while the Aqua Allegoria are out there reproducing themselves like a good Catholic family...

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  9. Jarvis, good point. Perfume falls in between art and commodity, but one could imagine that a perfumer, given a chance, would put more love into something available for a reasonable number of people, and not only the super-rich or the people on Guerlain's guest list.

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  10. Octavian, I think it's not so much that the big brands shun us: it's that the PR departments outsource the "blogger handling" to consultants who have their own little coterie of bloggers to coddle.

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  11. I thought it was more organized! They need a real manager dictator :)

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  12. Well, Octavian, you know how the staider PR departments are in France... They really don't know how to handle the independents -- though they do, certainly, have a couple of friendly bloggers they can count on to relay info in just the way they want. Just sayin'...

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  13. Wait ... I want to be coddled! Where do I sign up for the coddling list?

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  14. Although I 'm sure it 's better than the pink Little Black Dress and the Elixirs, it sounds too much like an old Guerlain, the kind of sillage that 's a thing of the past, completely outdated.

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  15. March: they will make themselves known to you with a secret handshake...

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  16. Garde Rose, tsk, tsk... Didn't we have that conversation about outdated many months ago? Although I would be careful wearing the most popular classics, Shalimar and L'Heure Bleu, around first dates -- and in a general way -- because too many women wear them in France, to me it's more a question of personal/cultural association than "old-fashioned" per se.
    That said, 180 ans has a feeling closer to Attrape-Coeur, which is quite a recent composition.

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  17. carmencanada, I don 't recall that conversation but I 'm sure I changed my mind since then.
    As a perfume lover I love and respect the beauty and artistry of the classic Guerlains, how can you be into perfumes and not be able to appreciate such legendary perfumes? However, now I 've come to realise these perfumes are no longer popular enough to be qualified as timeless. Ask the average person in New York what they think of Mitsouko, Shalimar, Ondee and L 'Heure Bleue, I 'm fairly certain a large majority would find they smell like perfumes for old ladies with lipstick on their teeth.
    Last year I asked a young man at a department store what he thought of Opium, I was very curious because I had just read Luca Turin 's review who qualified Opium as a spicy oriental masterpiece but dated. The (handsome) guy thought it smelled old, like something his grandmother would wear (he was in his early/mid 20's).
    Guerlain now it 's either pink fruity flankers or a rehash of the old stuff. They haven 't found a way yet to create a new generation of Guerlain fragrances desirable to a large audience.

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  18. Garde Rose, it wasn't a conversation between the two of us: I mean I posted quite at length on it and I'm sure you commented (http://graindemusc.blogspot.com/2008/11/can-perfume-feel-outdated.html), so I won't go over the arguments.
    But we do agree that Guerlain hasn't really found a way to be true to its heritage -- it's a bit hit or miss, though Insolence and Quand Vient la Pluie come closer, and the L'Art et la Matière are quite good (but not very Guerlain).

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  19. Just received a large decant of this perfume from a very kind and sweet friend from France. OMG, this is so beautiful! Do you know what concentration it is? Feels like the best off of Guerlain's most popular compositions. I get a peachy Shalimar the most.

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  20. L'empoisonneuse, I think I know the friend! I got the same impression as you. It's really a lovely fragrance and I wish it had been more widely released, I have a few decants nabbed left and right...

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