Tagged With ‘Guerlain’
21 August, 2015
What a great perfume this is. Rich and complex yet totally wearable, Derby smells of old-fashioned luxury and style. It’s the kind of perfume that should have been name-checked in The Great Gatsby (surely the worst-written major novel of the 20th century), and yet it was first launched as recently as 1985, when electropop ruled the airwaves and shoulder-pads the size of aircraft carriers filled the pages of the fashion magazines.
It was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain, the last member of the family to run the brand and a great perfumer in his own right: his other triumphs include Habit Rouge, Chamade and the fantastic Vétiver. Derby smells like crushed aromatic herbs when you first spray it on: rosemary and lavender with a hint of mint, but mixed with more exotic things like patchouli and sandalwood. Mace and pepper add a tiny touch of spice, while oakmoss, leather and vetiver give it extra depth and staying-power. After a while it smells more leathery than anything else, though still with herbs and spices mixed in – the scent of a Greek mountainside in summer.
For a long time Derby was quite hard to track down, which added to its mystique, but in 2005 Guerlain relaunched it as part of its Parisiens collection, at which point is was probably (though of course perfume companies never tell you these things) slightly ‘tweaked’ to change some of its ingredients (such as oakmoss) to comply with EU legislation. In 2011 it was repackaged in what I think is a rather cheap-looking balsawood frame, and its price went up as well: today it’s one of Guerlain’s most expensive fragrances, which I think is a shame, as it deserves to be widely worn.
27 April, 2015
‘Mass luxury’ may be the oxymoron of the moment, but the name of Habit Rouge is a nod back to a time when perfume really was a luxury enjoyed only by the stinking rich (eg the family Guerlain), among whom fox-hunting was a favourite pursuit.
Habit Rouge, in this context, is the French term for what British toffs call (with typical bourgeois-baiting mystification) ‘hunting pinks’, the scarlet riding jackets worn while hunting the fox. But that’s as far as the hunting or riding references go, which is probably a good thing, if you know what an actual fox or a horse-stable smells like.
Created by the last of the great Guerlain family perfumers, Jean-Paul, and launched in 1965, Habit Rouge was only the third Guerlain fragrance to be aimed at men. In character it is very different from its immediate predecessor, Vetiver, launched in 1959. While Vetiver is elegantly earthy (a brilliant contradiction in terms) and ineffably masculine, Habit Rouge is much more dandified, with a sharp, powdery sweetness that some people love but that makes others gag – imagine lemon sherbert in liquid form and you won’t be far wrong.
According to my friend the perfumer Roja Dove (who worked at Guerlain for twenty years), it ‘has an extraordinary volume of hesperidic materials, especially bergamot and lemon, which make up in excess of 25 per cent of the formula. Without question you can “feel” their effervescence.’It’s so zingy to start with that I wonder whether it might even contain a touch of aldehydes – the chemicals that give Chanel No. 5 its champagne fizz.
With all that lemon you’d imagine it would smell like an eau de cologne, but like other classic Guerlain perfumes Habit Rouge has great depth and complexity, and in the terminology of the perfume world it actually counts as an ‘oriental’-style fragrance, as behind the sherbert there’s a surprising amount of spice as well.
Though the version we have today was apparently ‘cleaned up’, as the industry jargon has it, by another fine perfumer, Edouard Fléchier, to comply with updated regulations governing the use of potentially harmful ingredients, it still smells wonderfully rich, with traces of vanilla and patchouli for those who smell it carefully.
Habit Rouge also lasts and lasts, which for me is an added plus when a perfume is as great as this – for anyone on a limited budget it’s hard to justify spending £70 or so on something that vanishes within an hour of putting it on. Definitely worth hunting down.
23 April, 2015
A while back I attended a perfume training day with Roja Dove, perfumer extraordinaire in several senses of the word. A small group of us smelled something like a hundred different perfume ingredients, from bergamot to tuberose (the pure extract of which smells far more refined than any of the so-called ‘tuberose’ perfumes I’ve sampled).
Lots of surprises: extract of daffodil smells like hay; galbanum like freshly-podded peas. Fine lavender oil has an oddly sweaty side to it, which I think is one of the things I smell in Guerlain’s legendary Jicky. Roja brings in beaver glands, which gave us the wonderful leathery smell of castoreum (used in Chanel’s Cuir de Russie), and the greasy scrapings from the Ethiopian civet cat, which has the farmyard reek of fresh cow-pats but – in minute quantities – adds a disquieting hint of sex to any perfume in which it (or its synthetic equivalent) is used.
It was a fascinating and really useful day, though it must take daily practise to memorise so many ingredients. What surprised me, though, was the imprecision of perfume terminology. Particularly extracts come from very specific sources: galbanum, for example, derives from the roots of particular species of Iranian fennel (Ferrula gummosa and Ferrula rubricaulis), yet in our training day it was vaguely described as coming from ‘an umbellifer root’. Given that there are over 3,700 individual species in the umbellifer family (now renamed the Apiaceae), that wasn’t much help – cow-parsley is an umbellifer too, but I bet its roots don’t smell like fresh peas.
And as for daffodil smelling like hay, I wanted to know which daffodil: there are between 30 and 70 species of narcissus (the Latin term for daffodil) and hundreds and hundreds of varieties, many of which smell very different from each other.
It struck me as an odd contrast between how incredibly precise perfume chemists have to be, describing specific fragrances down to the molecular level, and yet how imprecise so much perfume terminology seems to be at the same time. If perfumers themselves use such vague descriptions, is it any wonder that we, the perfume-buying public, find the subject so confusing and so hard to understand?
4 February, 2015
Are you man enough to wear Chanel No. 5? Or woman enough to splash on Azzaro Pour Homme? I have to admit that I’ve never been a great fan of cross-dressing, but it makes about as much sense to talk about ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ fragrances as it does to talk about ‘male’ or ‘female’ art, music or food. The fact that we divide perfumes into men’s or women’s fragrances has less to do with logic than it has to do with marketing, packaging and conventional thinking – and if you look back it’s not even that old a distinction.
Once upon a time, perfumes were perfumes, and there appears to have been little in terms of a gender divide until the early twentieth century. Men wore fragrances which today we’d regard as outrageously effete: both Napoleon and Wagner were famous for drenching themselves in scent, and Victorian gentlemen favoured sweetly scented floral perfumes alongside the ubiquitous eau de cologne. Even the words themselves – fragrance, perfume, scent – are genderless: the daft male-only term ‘after-shave’ appears only to have been dreamed up in the 1920s as a marketing wheeze. Though the expression may have made perfume sound a bit more butch and manly, all too often (in the days before male moisturiser became acceptable) it also left the more literal-minded chap with a burning face and peeling skin.
I’m not suggesting that male readers should rush out and purchase the olfactory equivalent of a pair of pink frilly knickers. Some scents (naming no names) are so insanely sweet and girly that it would be hard for even the most rugged male to get away with wearing them, but then they also tend to be the kind of perfume that smell as terrible on a grown woman as they would on any self-respecting man.
Beyond those parodies of perfume, there are remarkably few fragrances that, if you trust your nose and can brace yourself to ignore everything you’ve been told by breathless adverts and terrifyingly made-up sales assistants, are so incontrovertibly feminine or masculine as to be completely unwearable by either sex. Take one famous example. Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage was launched in 1966 and quickly established itself as a hugely popular men’s fragrance. It’s stayed on the best-seller lists ever since, and I think most men would agree that there are few more bracing, fresh and (above all) masculine fragrances around.
I couldn’t agree more, but if you’re a fan of Eau Sauvage, next time you’re in a well-stocked perfume store, wander over to the women’s-perfume counter and have a smell of Diorella, launched just six years later and designed by the same perfumer, the legendary Edmond Roudnitska. The first time I smelled it I thought, ‘But this is Eau Sauvage!’ And it is, give or take some extra fruitiness which, you could say, gives it a slightly more girly character – though perfume guru Luca Turin regards it as ‘a perfected Eau Sauvage and one of the best masculines money can buy’.
In many ways it’s even easier the other way around, and women seem always to have been less inhibited about adopting fragrances that were originally intended to be for the opposite sex. Eau Sauvage is a classic example: whether they smelled it on their boyfriends or discovered it for themselves, women quickly recognised it as the masterpiece it is, and those in the know have been wearing it ever since. Guerlain’s superb Vetiver is, to my mind, one of the most archetypically masculine perfumes in existence, yet it, too, has long been a female favourite – the olfactory equivalent of an Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo.
More striking still are those fragrances that have crossed the gender divide more or less entirely. When Aimé Guerlain launched Jicky in 1889, it was initially bought by men; at the time its sharp, slightly catty smell was considered too overtly sexual in character for respectable women to risk wearing it. By the 1920s, though, liberated by the rise of female emancipation, women started using Jicky too, and gradually it became a ‘female’ fragrance – though a few self-confident men (Sean Connery being the most often-cited example) continue to wear it today. Chanel’s super-plush Cuir de Russie followed a similar trajectory, though it would be hard, even now, to define it as either masculine or feminine in character.
Visit the standard-issue perfume store and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were still stuck in a world where men were men and women were women and never the twain should meet, as if history – in the world of perfume at least – had got stuck around 1955 and all the social and sexual revolutions since then had never actually happened. But society, of course, has changed, and there are encouraging signs that at least parts of the perfume industry have begun to realise that dividing fragrance along crude gender lines is a weirdly outdated thing to do. A handful of future-looking perfume brands, such as Byredo, Comme des Garçons and Escentric Molecule, already offer ‘genderless’ fragrances, and there is a growing trend for imaginative retailers to follow their lead, stocking perfumes by brand instead of dividing them into men’s and women’s scents.
Perfume customers are changing too. The majority of people may continue (for the moment at least) to accept the status quo, but for the small but growing band of perfume-lovers who are happy to think for themselves, choosing perfume on the basis of its supposed masculinity or femininity has come to seem increasingly outmoded. The trick is simply to follow your nose: to choose the perfumes you love, like the people you love, regardless of what other people might say.
11 October, 2014
I have before me a bottle of Amaretto liqueur, which I’m tempted to drink, though seeing as it’s ten in the morning I probably shouldn’t. I also have a bottle of the latest men’s perfume from Guerlain, L’Homme Idéal, which you’ll be relieved to hear I won’t be drinking either.
The reason for this conjunction is that several reviews of L’Homme Idéal have suggested that it smells distinctly like Amaretto, so I’m testing whether they do – and the answer is that, side by side like this, they don’t. Amaretto smells far sweeter and more almondy, with a touch of bitter almonds that L’Homme Idéal lacks.
All the same, the Amaretto comparison should give you some idea of L’Homme Idéal’s character: burnt-sugar sweet and, yes, really quite almondy. It’s a smell that won’t appeal to every man (though I suspect a lot of women will like it), and in fact the perfume hasn’t exactly been greeted with universal acclaim, though personally I rather like it.
Launched in June 2014, L’Homme Idéal was created by Thierry Wasser, who has been the company’s in-house perfumer since 2008; I’ve reviewed one or two of his other perfumes, including Guerlain Homme l’eau Boisée and the wonderfully refreshing Cologne du Parfumeur. Its ingredients include orange, rosemary, cedar and vetiver, but the two that most people pick up on are tonka beans and almonds, with a bit of leather thrown in.
Tonka beans are used in a wide range of perfumes, and they have a warm, slightly sweet smell, which many people find reminds them of food, especially chocolate and vanilla. The scent of almonds is less often used (though James Heeley’s fine but painfully overpriced L’Amandière smells of almost nothing else), but they’re what give L’Homme Idéal its distinctly foody, burnt-sugar smell.
Luckily – from my point of view at least – L’Homme Idéal isn’t nearly as sickly-sweet as Thierry Mugler’s revolting Angel, or even as cutesy sweet as Black XS for Men from Paco Rabanne. Sweet smells, like sweet tastes, have something a bit childlike and unsophisticated about them, but Thierry Wasser has toned the sweetness down here by surrounding the tonka beans and almonds with the smells of freshly-sawn wood and new leather, as well as a hint of dry, earthy vetiver.
All in all this is a nice enough fragrance, but it’s a bit too muted and polite to really stand out for me. That may well be intentional, since it seems to be squarely aimed at the big middle market, whose buyers are not widely considered to be particularly adventurous or sophisticated. Mind you they’re also considered to be virtually illiterate, if Guerlain’s French-pretentious marketing guff is anything to go by.
Yes, it’s same old tired perfume bollocks yet again: ‘The ideal man is a myth. His fragrance, a reality. Guerlain decodes men’s aspirations and creates for them a concentrate of ideal. The ideal fragrance? Smart, handsome, strong. Three adjectives, three accords for this fresh woody fragrance that will trigger your full potential.’ As a copywriter myself I’d be ashamed to have written that, though I’m sure whoever did write it was handsomely paid. (The box, incidentally, sports a typographical car-crash that seems to read, ‘Be You. No Need to Anymore Have Your Fragrance.’ Got that? Me neither.)
Still, the smell is nice enough, and the bottle is actually far better than most: a chunky glass square with (according to Guerlain) ‘radical’ matt black lacquer sides and a crisply detailed cap that apparently ‘borrows its guilloché detailing from the world of watchmaking.’ I think they should have borrowed the cap from an Amaretto bottle, but there you go.
6 August, 2014
If there’s one scent that appeals to pretty much everyone then surely it’s eau-de-cologne, the zesty, refreshing blend of lemon and herbs whose (probably medicinal) origins are lost in the mists of time. Its oldest surviving surviving incarnation is the German No. 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser from – where else – Cologne, which you can buy for not very much from pretty much anywhere, but there are hundreds of other versions, from the cheap and nasty all the way up to Chanel’s divine (and divinely expensive) Eau de Cologne.
The basic ingredients of eau-de-cologne are extracts of citrus fruits, which give it its instant freshness, blended with a variety of herbs, usually including lavender and rosemary, which add extra staying-power and warmth. It’s more of a style than a formula, and every different eau-de-cologne has a slightly different combination of ingredients, though they all share a broadly similar character. They all suffer from one drawback, too, which is that they quickly fade away on the skin.
As one of the most historic perfume companies, Guerlain has produced a number of different takes on eau-de-cologne over the years, starting with Eau de Cologne Impériale in 1853, followed by Eau de Cologne du Coq in 1894, the glorious Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat in 1920, and Eau de Guerlain in 1974.
Cologne du Parfumeur was launched in 2010, and is the first not to have been dreamed up by a member of the Guerlain family. Its creator, the Swiss perfumer Thierry Wasser, became the company’s in-house perfumer in 2008, after the retirement of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Wasser’s interpretation of the classic eau-de-cologne retains plenty of citrusy zing, but with more orange than lemon in the mix, which makes it smell slightly sweeter and less astringent than the general run of colognes. The blend of orange used here is particularly ‘green’, which makes a bit more sense if you think of orange flowers surrounded by their glossy dark-green leaves.
Wasser accentuates this ‘greenness’ with tiny amounts of fresh-smelling mint, as well as plenty of lavender and rosemary, those classic eau-de-cologne herbs. I think I also smell a little bit of bracing juniper, which gives Voyage d’Hermès its gin-and-tonic swing. Overall it’s a gentle, appealing scent, and Wasser has given it extra staying-power thanks, it seems, to the inclusion of long-lasting synthetic musks, which add their own soft, slightly sensual touch.
Cologne du Parfumeur comes in Guerlain’s classic ‘bee’ bottle, with fish-scale patterned shoulders, 69 stylised embossed bees on the sides and a rather cheap-feeling plastic top, though customised, hand-gilded versions are available for a suitable fee. What’s most interesting is its label, which includes ‘Thierry Wasser 2010’ – a new departure for Guerlain, and one of the earlier signs that perfumers had started becoming celebrities in their own right.
11 June, 2014
I’m not a great cook, but even I know that a list of ingredients isn’t much use on its own. I mean, if I was to tell you I was going to make something with butter, sugar, flour and eggs, you wouldn’t really be much wiser, would you? We might all know what butter, sugar, eggs and flour taste like individually, but combine them in one way and you get pancakes; mix them together in another and you get brioche or a Victoria sponge.
Perfume is no different, which is why I get so cross every time I flick through a magazine or click through a website and read a new fragrance described almost entirely by way of its ingredients. Here’s a fairly typical example. ‘XXX blends a wild rose accord with the traditional and mysterious notes of cistus labdanum, amber and benzoin. White pepper, freesia and South American maté leaves add a contemporary touch of clarity…’
It all sounds very nice, and I can imagine what some of those ingredients might smell like on their own, but I really haven’t the faintest idea what they might smell like together – not least because we’re not told which ingredients are used in which proportion. Trying to reconstruct it in your mind’s eye (never mind in reality) would be like have a recipe that listed the ingredients but didn’t give any weights or quantities.
Another problem with listing ingredients is that, in the hands of different perfumers, two perfumes with the same ingredients can end up smelling completely different. I’ve smelled a few myself, where one is great and the other is revolting – and it’s worth bearing in mind the famous story about Ernest Beaux, the creator of Chanel No. 5, who said of Aimé Guerlain, ‘When I use vanilla, I get crème anglaise; when Guerlain uses it he gets Shalimar…’ – one of the greatest perfumes ever made.
It’s tempting to blame time-pressed journalists (of whom there are plenty), rehashing churned-out press releases from the various brands’ marketing departments (some of which are better than others), but actually I think it’s the magazine and newspaper editors who should take most of the blame, with the rest of it going to the perfume industry.
For there are too many new perfumes coming out to cover any of them in much depth (something I’m trying to counteract here at The Sniff Box). And it’s vanishingly rare for a magazine to give their writers enough room to describe a perfume properly, even if they were keen to do so.
The result? And endless gush of virtually meaningless lists, which tell readers almost nothing and do little to help people learn more about perfume or how to describe it. Is it any wonder that perfume is so often dismissed as being frivolous and expensive, when editors – who are supposed to be informing and educating their readers, after all – don’t take it seriously themselves?
18 January, 2014
Few perfume companies have such a great heritage (and so many perfumes) as Guerlain, which is presumably why the luxury behemoth LVMH bought it in 1994. Founded in Paris in 1828 by Pierre-François Guerlain, it reached its apotheosis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century under Pierre-François’ grandson Aimé (who concocted the wonderful Jicky in 1898) and Aimé’s nephew, Jacques Guerlain.
One of the greatest perfumers of all time, Jacques created a whole series of legendary fragrances between 1906 and 1925, whose names are almost as alluring as the scents themselves: Après l’Ondée in 1906, L’Heure Bleue in 1912, Mitsouko in 1919, Shalimar in 1925, and Vol de Nuit in 1933.
Jacques’ grandson, Jean-Paul Guerlain, continued the family tradition, creating many superb fragrances of his own, for women and for men, including three of my own personal favourites – Vétiver (1959), Habit Rouge (1965) and Héritage (1992). But his reign ended sadly: after the Guerlains sold out to LVMH, Jean-Paul became just one of Guerlain’s hired hands, and in 2010 even his post-retirement role as a consultant was terminated after he made a casually racist remark on French television.
I’ll return to some of my own favourite Guerlain perfumes in future reviews, but I’ve recently been given, very generously, a bottle of Guerlain Homme L’eau Boisée, and as I rather like it I thought it would be good to feature something that was only released in 2012.
L’eau Boisée was created by Thierry Wasser, the Swiss-born perfumer who, before he took over from Jean-Paul Guerlain in 2008, worked for the multinational fragrance company Firmenich and was responsible for perfumes as diverse as Dior’s Addict, Diesel’s Fuel for Life and Kylie Minogue’s Darling.
Wasser’s original Guerlain Homme was released, to mixed reviews, the same year that he joined the company in-house. With a nice touch of wit, it’s based on the smell of a mojito, the Cuban cocktail whose ingredients include white rum, spearmint leaves and lime juice, but it’s been generally described as a fairly mass-market men’s fragrance – perfectly wearable, at least, but hardly up there with Habit Rouge or Jicky.
Since then, impelled by perfume retailers’ insatiable (and ultimately self-defeating) demands for novelty, Wasser has so far created three further versions of Guerlain Homme: Intense (2009), L’eau (2010) and L’eau Boisée. This last is a soft, woody fragrance, whose initial fresh scent of lime fades fairly quickly, to be followed by the warm scent of cedar wood and the pleasantly earthy smell of vetiver (Wasser uses a special vetiver from Tamil Nadu in southern India, apparently, rather than the more usual variety from Haiti or Réunion).
I can’t smell rum in L’eau Boisée, but to me it does have a faint but not unpleasant smell of celery, and a faintly sweaty (but again not unpleasant) scent that reminds me of a bottle of Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet that I used up years ago – must go and have a sniff to compare.
Would I rush out and buy a bottle? I’m not sure I would, as it’s hardly a groundbreaking scent; but as new perfumes go it’s both pleasant and rather refined, the kind of thing you could safely buy for an uncle or a friend. I’d be interested to know what you think.
30 October, 2012
What makes a perfume desirable? Why do we buy what we buy? I think it depends on what kind of person we are, or rather how much we know.
Take the person who doesn’t know much about perfume at all. If you don’t know much then you’re likely to buy whatever scent is being most heavily marketed that month, for where else are you going to get your information? Certainly not from the vacuously rehashed press-releases that count as perfume ‘journalism’ in the majority of magazines.
That might sound like a bad thing, and given the number of awful fragrances out there, on the whole it probably is. But then you have to remember that while it might mean that millions of people are buying the latest celebripong, Chanel No.5 remains the single most heavily marketed perfume on earth, so it’s not necessarily all bad news. The drawback, of course, is that you generally end up smelling like everyone else.
Next step up are those of us (and I count myself among their number) who know their Millionaire from their Mitsouko. We’re perfume enthusiasts, we’ve read our Luca Turin, we love the classics and trying new things, but we really want to stand out from the crowd.
So the perfect perfume for us is something that is, ideally, made by an obscure little company with a funny name, or (even better) is a classic fragrance that has long been discontinued or is no longer available in our country, though fortunately we know where we can still get our hands on a bottle or two. Christian Dior’s Jules, anyone? (Yes please.)
But I suspect there’s still another level above this, a kind of perfume nirvana, rarely achieved except by those fortunate few whose olfactory sense is sufficiently sophisticated to distinguish dross from gold. These higher beings can – and here I can only guess – somehow blank out the ads, the breathless copywriting and all the other extraneous noise that deafens most of us to the only thing that really matters in the end: the smell.
It’s as hard to smell a perfume with an open mind as it is to look at a well-known painting or listen to a famous piece of music with an open eye or ear. But surely it’s an ideal to aim towards, even if you end up wearing Guerlain one day and Lady Gaga the next.
20 July, 2012
I was walking down Shaftesbury Avenue last week when I noticed, just ahead of me, a young woman standing outside the lobby of some fairly swanky offices. As I got closer, she reached into her handbag and produced one of those slimline canisters of scent, which she proceeded to spray all over herself like a crop duster until a cloud of foul-smelling perfume drifted across the entire street.
It was only at this point that it struck me how dressed- and made-up she was, and the thought crossed my mind that she must be going for an interview – in which case pity the poor interviewers. I spent the rest of the morning wondering what effect reeking of bad perfume might have on one’s chances.
If there’s a moral to the story (other than move fast if you ever see anyone getting a scent spray out of their bag), perhaps it’s that perfume, if it doesn’t exactly maketh the man, certainly maketh a bigger impression than one might imagine. I can’t imagine many blokes carry their favourite fragrance around with them, but choosing the right perfume for an important occasion is just as crucial for a man as for a woman. Get it wrong and you could ruin your chances.
Discretion may be the better part of valour, but it’s also a good guide when choosing a perfume for a job interview. The easy way out would be not to wear perfume at all, but wearing a really good but understated classic fragrance does wonders for one’s self-confidence – and can also make a good impression on other people, often without them even knowing why.
As far as fragrances go, it’s hard to beat something that embodies old-fashioned masculinity, such as Guerlain’s Vetiver. For something a bit warmer I’d choose Chanel’s Pour Monsieur, not least because it’s actually quite hard to overdo it. It’s a lovely discreet perfume, but if you’re feeling flush then the same company’s delicious, slightly lavendery Eau de Cologne is even finer – though as someone said to me the other day, ‘It’s a lovely cologne, but if I was going to spend that much money I’d buy something a bit more unusual.’
Fair enough – but surely it’s better to invest in a great fragrance than saving your money and smelling like fabric conditioner? Just remember that poor deluded girl on Shaftesbury Avenue. I wonder if she got the job?