The publishing mogul/poet Felix Dennis is blunt about it: “The problem with the great idea is that it concentrates the mind on the idea itself…But unless the idea is executed efficiently and with panache and originality, then it doesn’t matter how great the idea is, the enterprise will fail.”
It’s a nifty piece of wisdom, and has always struck me in regard to the grand old firm of Guerlain, whose business model for many years was less to create than to perfect.
You didn’t wear Guerlains for their startling uniqueness, because almost nothing of Guerlain’s was unique. You wore them for the quality of the materials used and for the careful handling of those ingredients. Guerlain’s execution was what shone through. The origin of the idea was not important. Caron might create, Coty certainly did, even Jean Patou from time to time produced creations, but Guerlain guerlainified, and the results were charming, very high quality, with a delicacy all their own. Continue reading
Guerlain is rather a baroque house. Perhaps because it is one of the oldest French perfumeries, perhaps for stylistic reasons alone, the productions are exuberant to the point of excess. The bouquets are so lush, the leather is so highly polished, the boxes of sweets are so opulently large, lined in pink or purple satin, and crammed with bon-bons, that the word lavish really seems like an understatement.
If you could anthropomorphize all of Guerlain’s scents into one joyous and flamboyant throng, I submit they’d come off rather like the Mardi Gras scenes in Les Enfants du Paradis, the film from 1945 featuring Arletty. Everyone in extravagant brilliantly colored costume, made up within an inch of their lives, dancing, strewing flowers, flirting their heads off, the entire scene what my Southern relatives would have called a complete “carry on”. However, there are now a couple of exceptions to the general rule.
The best one that I can think of is from the Art et Matiere line Bois d’Armenie. It’s the work of Annick Menardo. Bois is, well… austere. I had occasion to refer to it once before when writing about frankincense, and came to the conclusion then that this was one of the few incense perfumes that are really wearable. Bois’ notes include pink pepper, iris, coriander, benzoin, guaiac wood, patchouli and white musk.
The perfume reminds me of a nun. Bois has all the crisp black and white contrast of a starched wimple, and the whispering rustle of Sister’s passage along a stone corridor. This is a scent which makes very little noise as it glides along on its rope sandals. Bois is almost a skin scent, although most incense perfumes have some sillage, diffusion being the raison d’etre of incense after all, so the scent is discernible, and does cling to your clothing. Continue reading