Guerlain 101- Five to Get You Started


I’ve now reached the point in this series when it is time to take on the Grand Maisons of perfumery. First up is Guerlain. This is going to be difficult because these are iconic brands with well-known best sellers. I’ve been wrestling with my thought process on how to pick five from a perfume brand which spans nearly a century. Shalimar and Mitsouko have been the standard bearers for Guerlain ever since their debut. The more I think of those particular perfumes they aren’t where I would send someone to start. Here are the five Guerlain releases I think provide the best introduction to the line.

We start with the very first release from Guerlain, Jicky. Created in 1889 by Aime Guerlain it is one of the seminal perfumes of the modern perfume era. M. Guerlain elaborated on the embryonic fougere architecture by expanding the florals in the heart. The base also is a bit of a nod to the future as Jacques Guerlain will take this base accord and eventually evolve it into the trademark Guerlinade which is the fingerprint which runs through the brand.

It would be eighty years later when Jean-Paul Guerlain would create a crisp green perfume called Chamade. It is mainly a hyacinth, jasmine and sandalwood construct. M. Guerlain takes these very powerful notes and in the eau de toilette concentration turns them into something which crackles with floral energy without shocking the senses.


Four years prior to Chamade Jean-Paul Guerlain created one of the greatest masculine fragrances of all time, Habit Rouge. It was my first exposure to a very spicy perfume which comes after a brilliantly balanced citrus mélange on top. Cedar, patchouli, amber, vanilla, and leather finish this as fantastically as it started. This is one of those perfumes which never fails to make me feel dressed up even in jeans and a t-shirt.

Just after the turn of the 21st century perfumers who did not carry the surname of Guerlain were asked to create for the brand. In 2006 perfumer Annick Menardo composed one of the most transparent incense perfumes on the market, Bois D’Armenie. Based on Papier D’Armenie which is scented paper burned to add fragrance to a room. Bois D’Armenie sets its incense atop guaiac wood, benzoin, copahu balm. This is so light but at the same time so complex. It is the perfume I use to get people who have a resistance to the brand, because their mother wore one of the perfumes, to give it a try. Like the Mad Hatter this turns many into believers.

If Bois D’Armenie doesn’t pique an interest in Guerlain I pull out my secret weapon, Spiriteuse Double Vanille. Composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain it is a rich boozy vanilla which is like a warm drink on a cold night. It is my ultimate comfort scent. Way too many of my scarves still carry the smell of Spiriteuse Double Vanille.

Guerlain is a Grand Maison and even these five could be followed up by another five or ten or fifteen. The point of this series is to give you a foothold to start your exploration. If you start with these five I promise you will start one of the great perfume experiences there is to be had as you explore Guerlain deeper.

Disclosure: This review based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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