Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Classic Spotlight: Guerlain

To many, Guerlain is synonymous with French perfume.  This isn't much a stretch, given that the house started back in 1828.  Pierre-Francois Guerlain, the founder, achieved real fame in 1853 with the development of Eau de Cologne Imperiale for Napoleon, thus catapulting him to the status of "His Majesty's Official Perfumer."
Still available today

But what is Guerlain today?  I visited the flagship store, La Maison Guerlain on the Avenue Champs-Elysees.  This isn't the true original location - that was down on Rue Rivoli. The Champs-Elysees location was added in 1914, and revamped in the mid-2000s.  It is gorgeous, and most certainly French.  From the sculpture overlooking the entrance to the chandelier, the store itself is both classical and modern at the same time.  Which, arguably, is what Guerlain today is all about.

One of the most impressive parts of Guerlain's perfumes is that their most famous, quintessentially Guerlain-y scents are old.  Like a century old.  Apres L'Ondee, for instance, which smells just like what the name says (after the rain shower) was created in 1906.  And it can still knock the socks off many "modern" perfumes.  Shalimar is Guerlain's most well-known and well-loved fragrance, and dates back to 1925.  Today, Shalimar is still Guerlain's best-seller, and certainly is the top seller at the flagship store.  Of course, there's also Shalimar Eau de Toilette and Shalimar Parfum Initial, but these aren't the same.  The Eau de Toilette is actually quite close to the original, but lighter (I prefer it, in truth).  The Parfum Initial is quite different, and much more recent.
Most exciting at the flagship store are the exclusive collections that are only available in the Paris stores (well, and potentially at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, according to Google).  One scent only available here, according to the girl I spoke with, is La Cologne du Parfumeur.  This is a newer scent, developed by Thierry Wasser who now runs the house.  She also told me that this is currently her favorite scent to wear, which sparked a conversation about how its nice to wear bright, fresh scents in the winter.  At least I think so - I put on my Bigarade Concentree and I instantly feel like I'm walking through an orange grove somewhere warm.   And this is how La Cologne du Parfumeur makes her feel.

I appreciated that they were happy to let me take as many photos as I wanted, and largely left me alone for the 20+ minutes I was there.  I'm still figuring out how to tackle a place like this with so many scents.  And I know I want to smell "landmark" scents, like Jicky.  This was one of the very first, if not the first, scents to incorporate synthetics in addition to natural materials.  Today perfumes are largely synthetics, for lots of reasons I'll not go into here.  So Jicky was a huge moment in perfume.  I was totally excited and then all I could think after I smelled it was, "Jicky...Icky."

Where I finally got really pumped was when I sniffed Angelique Noire.  This is part of the exclusive L'Art et La Matiere line.  I smelled about half of them and was unimpressed - Iris Ganache was okay, cool but sweet, and Cuir Beluga was just sticky sweet vanilla.  Angelique Noire, on the other hand, is definitely up my alley.  It's a little seductive, very little black dress.  It's soft but not wussy.  Angelique Noire is, for me, one sexy perfume.  Naturally I like the perfume that is super expensive - $235 USD!  So I won't be acquiring that anytime soon. I mentioned something about the cost of this perfume to an employee at another Guerlain location in Paris a few days later, and she asked if I knew about the most expensive perfume available through Guerlain. "No," I told her, eager to her more.  Apparently, for the wealthy elite intent on having their own true signature scent, you can work with the Guerlain perfumer to develop your own perfume.  This work, plus 2 liters of your personal perfume, can be yours for 50,000 Euros.  Yes. That's right.  That's more than $65,000 USD.  I asked if she knew how many people actually do this, and she said thinks maybe 3 or 4 that she's heard of.  Regular Guerlain employees do not get to smell these personal perfumes, though the formula is maintained so that the buyer can purchase more if she (or he, I guess) so desires.

Guerlain is a beautiful store with beautiful perfumes.  There's real homage paid to the tradition of the house, which shows in the displays and in the physical bottles themselves. I'll have to go back, which is easy as there are many Guerlain stores throughout Paris!  Apres L'Ondee is really the scent remaining in the my nose and my thoughts right, despite my fervor for Angelique Noire.  Maybe because I grew up somewhere with a lot of rain (the Pacific Northwest) but the way that perfume captures that feeling when the sun first peeks through after a mild rain shower...1906.  Incredible.
Perfume is the most intense form of memory.  Thanks Guerlain.

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