Getting to the Good Parts of Guerlains

FlegelNot all segments of perfumes are equally beautiful. They are not endowed with an inalienable right to gorgeousness, and it’s hard for a perfumer to make sure that all sections of a perfume perform up to the same standard of unvarying loveliness, but while I cherish perfumes that are impeccable, Emeraude, L’Origan, Bellodgia, Tabac Blond, A*Men, Il Tuo Tulipano,  La Myrrhe, there is a part of me that enjoys fragrances, I can only enjoy parts of, a sort of perfume tapas.

Which house serves up the greatest smorgasbord of tidbits?  Mais Guerlain, naturellement!

It’s not as though anyone else got into the food business in perfumery with the same sheer gusto as Guerlain- anyway for most of the twentieth century.  Other houses may despise consumers for their gluttony.  Dior, um, hmm, with the thoroughly inedible Diorissimo, Lanvin with its extremely sublimated use of a little vanilla, and little might read as infinitesimal, in Arpege, or the non comestible perfumes of Chanel, Rochas which has always been more interested in the boudoir than the kitchen right up until Tocade came rolly -polling along, or Dana, much more concerned with the bedroom than any other part of a domestic set up.  Guerlain though, has camped out in the kitchen or dining room floor since the beginning.

Where to start, the marvelous rosemary note in Apres L’Ondee? Is it heresy to admit that I like it better than any other part of the perfume?  The vanilla ice cream highlights of Terracotta Voile d’Ete or the great caramel center of Plus Que Jamais? It may be ladylike but it is also delicious! Then there’s the fabulous lemon cream in Jicky, reminds me of the best lemon cream pies, or the gooey, sticky part of L’Heure Bleue. I adore the grapefruit in Pamplelune, and how could I forget that delightful amber thick with tonka beans in Vol de Nuit ? I could go on, and on. But I sound like the greediest git on the planet, and even I like some notes that aren’t strictly foody, and Guerlain does those too.

There is a wonderful lilac in Mitsouko I would adore to have bottled ( and I think it was bottled as Guerlinade and got past me… whoops). I used to love the heliotrope note in Chant d’Aromes, and the green tea note in Tokyo knocks my socks off.  I adore the drydown of Bois d’Armenie, and the strange fishy/heliotrope combination of Cuir Beluga.  As for the beginning of Incense Mythique, it’s to die for.  The trouble is that with nearly all of those perfumes, since they’re Guerlains, there are all sorts of sides, garnishes and gastriques complicating the presentation without which I could very well do, but there they are anyway.  So I pass.

But I pass with regret.  There still is no other perfume house which understands that complexity is a wonderful thing in perfumery.  It’s all very well to say you like something streamlined and modern. So do I, but not for long, because I get bored. And the odds are, so will you.  If you want to smell of vanilla why not crack the extract bottle in the pantry?  You can, but for most of us, Shalimar in its own extract version, is far the better bet, why?

Who knows?  Maybe it’s that not strictly necessary lemon note that makes all the difference.

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4 thoughts on “Getting to the Good Parts of Guerlains

  1. What an interesting deconstruction of the Guerlain foody canon. I especially liked your comment that the house has been camped in the kitchen all the while. ;-)

    I can’t get enough of the caramel facet to Plus Que Jamais, and Prada Candy is a cheaper and more available fix of that nowadays. Oh, and Bois d’Armenie does indeed have a lovely drydown. In the case of Shalimar, however, the lemon creamy aspect is spoilt by the civet – I don’t want unmentionables in my comestibles, thank you!

    • Oh that civet note you mention in Shalimar is sooo much worse in Mouchoir de Monsieur. I had that and had to let it go because civet was ALL you could smell on me. Whereas on other people you smelled heavenly lavender or amber or powder or nutmeg. It was vexing in the extreme.
      Isn’t Plus Que Jamais good? hadn’t figured out that Prada Candy is related, but now that i think of it-you’re right.

  2. I feel slightly uncomfortable complimenting people who usually write well on their writing (it seems wrong coming from me – somebody for whom English isn’t a native language) but from time to time I come across some posts that strike me as so beautiful or so cleverly put together that I have an urge to tell the writer how much I enjoyed and appreciated the piece. This is one of such pieces. It flows effortlessly but at the same time reads as a very thought-through essay. I admire it.

    I’m not sure I can parse out most ingredients or stages in perfumes, I either like it altogether or I don’t. On rare occasion I might like top notes or drydown only but, in most cases, for me it’s the complete composition, which sometimes even includes the serving or presentation parts (if to stretch your analogy): I can’t get past some naming choices, ads or packaging.

    • That’s a nice thing to say, and I think it’s entirely appropriate coming from you as you have clearly gotten to be a good writer of English in a relatively short time. Writing in a second language is a whole lot more difficult than what I do customarily.

      Know what you mean about liking the whole fragrance or not. In the end that’s what decides me to buy. A segment of scent is not enough to push me into purchasing. But bits of perfumes can still be wonderful. I wish Guerlain just did the lemon part of Jicky for instance.

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