Rethinking Jicky

Guerlain advertising for Jicky

Guerlain advertising for Jicky

It’s such a perennial it seems that everyone has worn Jicky at one time or another including Mick Jagger and Jaqueline Kennedy Onnasis and Colette and Proust, well that was according to Colette, but it seems quite likely doesn’t it? What else was Proust going to wear? Fougere Royale? I don’t think so.

Of course by now everyone has read the stories about Jicky.  The one about vanillin and the  mixture of a slightly impure grade to get the offbeat, faintly smudged vanilla of the scent.  The admiring comments of Ernest Beaux (creator of No5) about Jacques Guerlain’s use of vanilla, and the melancholy tale about Aimee Guerlain’s lost English love referred to as “Jicky” although that may equally well have been Jacques Guerlain’s nickname.

What may be less commonly known is the murky link between Francois Coty and Jicky, because not all Jicky’s admirers were wearers some were imitators.  The story there is that when Francois Coty first began to take an interest in scent he went the rounds in Paris smelling whatever he could in the late 1890′s and his opinion was that not much out there had any lasting value as fragrance with two exceptions: L.T. Piver’s Le Trefle Incarnat (PInk Clover) and Guerlain’s Jicky.

Le Trefle Incarnat with box from a French Ebay listing

Le Trefle Incarnat with box from a French Ebay listing

Le Trefle Incarnat was an early fougere like Jicky and created by Pierre Armingeat and his son in law Jacques Rouche, a very cultured man whose later career had him directing the Paris Opera no less.  The scent was made possible by the discovery of amyl salicylate by Georges Darzens which gave it an uncharacteristic zing for the period.  The result was a bestseller which went on being so right through the 1920′s.

Jicky of course already existed, but Francois Coty musing on the qualities of the perfume, thought that they could be improved upon.  Here the narratives become somewhat difficult to follow but some say Francois  Coty had worked briefly on the line at Guerlain and there gained his knowledge of their perfumes which he later put to good use. Others that he simply analyzed Jicky as closely as was then possible.  Either way he came up with his own version Emeraude in 1921.

It is quite a gap in time from 1889 to 1921 and all sorts of things had intervened including a world war, but Coty got his thumping allusive hit.  Emeraude was a smash, just about as popular as his 1904 introduction L’Origan. In fact it was so successful that even Mme Jacques Guerlain wore it.

One of the original Jicky bottles.

One of the original Jicky bottles.

What I wonder is why?  What was it that Coty thought he could improve? Jicky then as now is a marvelous perfume, fresh and flowery but simultaneously maline and animalic. Jicky has an inborn sass which has never been equaled.  What therefore did Coty think he could improve?

I suspect the answer lies in gender or the perception thereof.  Jicky is an ambivalent scent and its early users were on both sides of the sexual aisle, a time when most women still wore light floral fragrances. Or to use another image, Jicky walked happily on both sides of the street barefoot, skin dosed with civet at a time when ladies kept primly to the sidewalks handkerchiefs judiciously dosed with cologne.

Did Coty think that Jicky needed to wear a dress and shoes?  If he did he was proven right and a brief examination of the notes of Jicky and Emeraude tell the tale.  Afterall the  gender confounding narratives of Proust and Colette about the Belle Epoque were already out there and there was some pretext for wondering just who had been wearing

La Belle Epoque from

La Belle Epoque from

the corsets? There may have room to engineer a sleek femininity into the advertising copy of the new fragrance.

I don’t want to suggest that Coty and his firm were strangers to the unisex perfume, Chypre must have taught them that plenty of scents play just as well on masculine skins as female ones, but here, in the general area of the fougere/oriental there must have seemed room to push the formula in a distinctly estrogenic direction.

If you look at those formulas as of 1990 or so what you find is that Jicky is dominated at first by lemon with lesser notes of mandarin, bergamot and rosewood, the heart being mostly jasmine and patchouli with a chorus of rose, orris and vetiver behind it and the base is primarily vanilla (no surprises there) with civet, benzoin, incense, leather, amber, and tonka bean bringing up Jicky’s rear.

Shalimar advertising

Shalimar advertising

What happens with Emeraude?  Everything is softer.  There is bergamot and lemon forward in the open backed by lemongrass and orange.  The middle stage of the composition relies on rosewood then puts rose, jasmine, and ylang ylang behind the wood and finally vanilla and ambrein with opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood and patchouli in the drydown.  This is altogether a less controversial  structure, ideal for becoming what it did in fact become, a silky oriental formulated to swathe feminine skin in soft chemically simulated warmth.

The stage was set for the next exchange in this perfume conversation and that was to be on the Guerlain side and to involve a great deal of vanilla…

So have you had an encounter with Jicky or do you prefer the descendants?


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11 thoughts on “Rethinking Jicky

  1. I wonder if Coty’s aim was not so much to improve Jicky as to popularise the idea. My image of the Coty company is that it was a bit like the Estee Lauder of its day. Not necessarily innovative (although it could be), but likely to take a good idea and make it available to a broader market. Coty and Lauder seem to find that sweet spot between exclusivity and the mass market. Not unattainable , but still with an air of luxury and quality. There’s a lot of money to be made there, I suppose.

    And positioning Emeraude as a feminine was smart too – women spend more, or expect more to be spent on them, in the way of perfume. Bigger market.

    I’ve always loved that ad for Jicky by the way. There’s a lady who knows what she wants and how to get it! (Same market as Chanel No 19 maybe?)

    • Yes I love that ad too. That’s Lucie de la Falaise whose aunt was such a muse for Yves Saint Laurent.

      Emeraude must have been a bigger success even than Jicky, so I guess Coty was shrewd there, and you’re right in saying that the feminine market is generally larger for perfume. He raked it in, France’s first billionaire.
      Are wearers of Jicky and NO 19 a bit more self assertive? I would like to think so. Remember reading years ago a review of No 19 by a young girl who said it was “harsh” and she preferred fruities. Couldn’t help thinking that one day say after a lost boyfriend or job she might appreciate a little grip in a scent :-)

  2. Jicky is one of the two classic Guerlains that I like and wear (the second one being Vol de Nuit) but it wasn’t love at first sniff so, in my opinion, there’s a lot that someone might want to improve in that perfume. But since I haven’t tried any of the perfumes you mentioned in the form that I still can consider “perfume” (all super-vintage samples I had smelled just that – vintage), I don’t know how successful was the improvement.

    • You make me think of an old Guerlain pamphlet I have describing the scents. Of Jicky they say,”For a happy, modern,natural woman. This scent captivates men through it’s energy and freshness” No mention of men wearing it notice.

      I have bottles of vintage Jicky (80′sedt) and Emeraude (70′s edt) and based on them I’d guess that Coty was right that you could get additional market share in making Emeraude really feminine.

      But what did Emeraude smell like originally and did it improve on Jicky? Luca Turin claims Emeraude was terrific and mentioned a great cleanup job by Daphne Bugey never released (whole story is in his second guide).

      The version that’s in production now in the spiky capped bottle is very thin and doesn’t last. These days you’d have to say that qualitatively Jicky is better but weak as it is Emeraude is definitively girlier and greener.

  3. I don’t like Jicky – well, I have issues with lavender and there’s plenty of *that* in there, but overall it just smells like halitosis to me.

    But Emeraude was one of the things I first fell for, in the early 80s. I loved it then. I don’t love the current version (it’s been a long slow ugly slide into Nasty), but my vintage 60s/70s parfum de toilette is just so gorgeous. It’s very floral, very soffffffft. Plush as Tara’s velvet portieres, made over into a dress for Scarlett. And none of that birch tar-tarnished Guerlain vanilla, which I confess I find dirty – and not in an appealing sort of way.

    It’s a real shame Coty has gone El Cheapo on us.

    • Ooh I know. My Emeraude is probably about the same age as your parfum de toilette (what is that strength anyway? Parfum, edt, which a dese?) Anyhow mine is lovely with a green beginning i just love that is not in Shalimar or Shalimar Lite.

      Jicky is not nearly as bad as Mouchoir de Monsieur which i wore until the contemp version gave me headaches. Much more skank and much more lavender. Jicky seems mild by comparison, but you must like lavender and I know it’s not your thing.

      Oh how I wish Coty would revive their high end. They could just do a small release of this n’ that. Why not? La Feuillaison for instance? Or Jasmin de Corse? The answer is probably IFRA but what a pity!

          • Anna’s right, it’s comparable to EdP. And I’ve found that the vintage EdT or cologne versions of Emeraude are very poor in staying power. I’ve tried some parfum, but it had gone off – but all four of my PdT bottles of Emeraude are perrrrfect. :)

  4. I haven’t sniffed Jicky since right at the beginning of my perfume hobby when I was a lot more civet averse. I didn’t care for Shalimar back then, which I really like now. Jicky was ‘lavatorial lavender’ in my book – no idea if I would be able to appreciate it now – thing is, I have moved on in terms of civet but still don’t like lavender, hehe.

    • My aunt didn’t much like lavender either and called it (begging your pardon in advance for any perceived national slurs) ” English Lavatory.” So you have plenty of company in the lavender disliking camp.

      Interesting that you mention that and so does Mals. I wonder if Coty knew about the risk with lavender, that many women seem not to care for it? There’s none in Emeraude, and in contrast to Shalimar- according to my H&R guide- no civet either. Emeraude is just easier to wear than Jicky, like flats instead of stillettos.

      You do seem to have made your peace with civet, judging by your recent posts!

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