One of my best friends in high school had a peculiarity. He detested the color green. Nothing of his could ever be green, not a contrasting thread in a herringbone tweed jacket, not a sock, not a stripe on a shirt, nothing. Green, he said, was just an ugly color and it didn’t look good on anyone.
Sometimes I think that the grand old House of Guerlain is of much the same opinion. There are very few green Guerlains. Citrus Guerlains there are in large numbers, everything from Shalimar to Eau Imperiale, and there are lots of florals, Chamade to Samsara, and equally, a large number of murky Chypres, Mitsouko to Derby, but green is sparsely represented.
Emerald, however, is a favorite of mine and from the beginning, the Guerlains set with winking green notes, few and far between as they are, have been personal favorites. Vetiver has been an absolute perennial in my wardrobe. I started by wearing Vetiver Pour Elle – it turned out that I was just as much of a sucker for the nutmeg and tobacco notes in the original as the next Guerlain-o-phile. I put it on a sachet with clothing packed away for winter, to discourage moths. I spray it in closets for the same effect. I put it in baths or spray it in natural bath salts. When my Hub had the flu the other week, I even put it in the water I was swabbing him down with. The process lowered his fever, but I figured so would the vetiver.
In short, I use Guerlain’s Vetiver the way some people use eau de cologne, and for many of the same reasons.
Then there is Chant d’Aromes. It is, of course, really Ma Griffe. Jean Paul Guerlain was playing catch up with Carven in the earliest years of his career, which meant first stealing a march on their formidably good Vetiver, and then it meant out-doing their Ma Griffe. The twists of that plot are for another post, but the effect of Chant d’Aromes, when he produced it, was surprising. The claw sharpening, slightly feral qualities of Ma Griffe, became wonderfully domestic, and purred on the hearth rug under his treatment.
The Chypre became rounder and softer, but with a wonderful slightly abstract windy passage that owes some kind of debt to his previous uses of vetiver in his men’s fragrance, and possibly also to Sous le Vent, which shares that same open air note. It’s still best expressed in the old parfum, but that is getting very hard to find these days. I wore Chant for years with nothing else to break up the monotony except old Eau de Hadrian in the summers. Even though the nineties version was drier and more airy, I loved it. The latest iteration sometimes confuses me, with its soapiness and its peach note. Chant is altogether less green, and I had to move on.
Since then there have been only a few green Guerlains and they have mostly surfaced in the Aqua Allegoria lines. Mentafolia was one, too harsh for me. Herba Fresca was another one that I found interesting but not compelling, though it was used again evidently in the flanker Un Air de Samsara, which is said to be both very green and very floral. There was the herbal Anisia Bella, but the most significant green perfume of recent years has been the under remarked Tokyo from their Parfums de Voyage series.
It * is one of the most delicate and refined formulas to come out of Guerlain in recent years. I’m surprised by how very good it is. I wore it yesterday for some seven hours and in that time Tokyo was sequentially, cherry blossoms, green tea, then violets, cypress wood, and as a dying breath, the famous Guerlain vanilla. Tokyo was always perfectly legible, always lovely. It had a light sillage, and was not so faint you couldn’t detect the scent- the great fault of Asian aimed perfumes. I’m surprised that more people don’t try this. It is expensive at $US 215 for I believe 75 mls, but every niche firm seems to charge those prices these days and at least here the quality and the longevity of the fragrance justify the expense.
But it seems that the public, like my high school friend, are just not sure about green. Maybe to them it is an ugly color that doesn’t wear well on anyone.
* Attributed to Jean Paul Guerlain on the M. Guerlain web site.