There are a few of the major perfume brands which have just lost me over the past few years. They’ve gone in a direction where I don’t care to follow. It bothers me that the perfume houses which sparked my passion have lost my interest. The grandest perfume maison of them all, Guerlain, kind of fits this description. Except my irritation with them is a torrent of mediocre product every year. My negative feelings also increase because every year there is one of those voluminous releases which reminds me why I love Guerlain. This year’s model is Guerlain Embruns d’Ylang.
Embruns d’Ylang is part of the L’Art et la Matiere collection. This has been one of the best group of perfumes within Guerlain over the past few years. One reason for that is this seems to be the one place left within Guerlain where they are willing to take a step outside of the very comfortable boundaries, they usually produce perfume within.
In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser wanted to place his ylang-ylang keynote on a beach just as a squall line approaches. The sense of the wind blowing through the flowers as the storm nears with the hint of crackle in the air. This is what Embruns d’Ylang captures.
Embruns d’Ylang opens with a remarkable aquatic accord M. Wasser calls a “salt crystal note”. All perfume lovers are familiar with the common suite of ozonic notes which usually make up the sea breeze. This accord is much more compact, and perversely, dry. If you’ve ever stood on a beach watching a line of thunderstorms approach you will know there is this moment when the air goes dry and the wind in front of the storm intensifies as it rushes towards the shore. It carries a deeper brininess. This is what this “salt crystal note” reminds me of. M. Wasser takes that and lets it crash into a fleshy ylang-ylang. It is a gorgeous duet of contrasts as the desiccated gale off the water dives into a deep sweet floralcy. M. Wasser adds a spicy frisson as clove acts as St Elmo’s Fire around the ylang and salt accord. As the storm passes a soft floral accord of iris and jasmine join the ylang on top of a rich earthy patchouli.
Embruns d’Ylang has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am as enthralled with Embruns d’Ylang because it is so different than everything else Guerlain has released this year. I’m learning to live with the notion that once a year Guerlain will remind me why it is still a grand maison de parfum. For 2019 that will be Embruns d’Ylang.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
There are few types of cuisine I am extremely familiar with. Because of my childhood in S. Florida I know what Cuban food should taste like. There are strong flavors which to my palate are what makes it unique. As I grew older and moved further north there were moments where I would hear about a new restaurant opening serving Cuban food. In almost every case the foundational components were there but the savory twists which made Cuban food so vibrant to me was missing. I understood why because if you’re serving unfamiliar food to the general public you can’t go all in on authenticity. If you want customers, you “dumb it down” leaving a sturdy foundation which represents the cuisine even if it is imperfect. You will have a broader clientele by meeting them closer to where they live over choosing authenticity. I have been reminded of this with a couple of recent releases from Guerlain.
I don’t know what to think about the current trend of Guerlain taking an original perfume from an exclusive line re-releasing it with a new name and formulation. In the case of Guerlain Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique they have done the same thing they did with Lui in 2017. Simplified a more complex rich exclusive formulation into something more easily accessible. They dumbed it down. The funny thing is the source material is so well done these dumbed down versions are still quite good; if you never tried the originals.
Guerlian Encens Mythique D'Orient
Encens Mythique is the dumbed down version of Encens Mythique D’Orient. The earlier version was a precise balance of frankincense, saffron, rose, and an oud accord which rested on a rich ambergris base. Encens Mythique is frankincense, rose, and ambergris with almost nothing else. It seems like a decision was made that saffron and oud were not for the average fragrance consumer. What is left behind retains that balance which makes it compelling unless you know what was edited out.
Guerlain Songe D'Un Bois D'Ete
Nearly the same process is applied to Bois Mysterieux when compared to Song D’Un Bois D’Ete. The original was fantastic as leather was uplifted by saffron, oud accord, myrrh, patchouli, and cedar. Having read the previous paragraph you probably know what has been removed to create Bois Mysterieux; the oud accord and saffron. What is left behind is still quite good, but I know there is a more complete version on my shelf.
Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have no idea if the dumbing down of previous perfumes is a successful commercial idea. Both perfumes are better than the great majority of what Guerlain is releasing lately. Which is its own commentary on Guerlain 2019. If you don’t know the original perfumes I’ve written about these will thrill you. If you do know the originals you will realize these aren’t what you know; which is better.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Neiman Marcus.
I enjoy cooking with hot peppers. The hotter the better but not these whacky hybrids which just go for high concentrations of heat with dumb names like Carolina Reaper. Just go buy some capsaicin and put it on your food and be done with it. When I cook I don’t get hotter than the habanero or scotch bonnet. It can be tricky to find the right balance with those peppers where they provide heat but not only that. I’ve learned over the years less is more. I wouldn’t have thought to find a fragrance parallel but Guerlain L’Homme Ideal L’Intense is one.
The main source of hot pepper in perfumery has been the recent use by many new releases of Szechuan pepper. Through the new extraction techniques there emerges a versatile fragrance ingredient which can be used for piquancy or as a replacement for other spices providing a kind of desiccated quality especially to top accords. I was curious what it would be like if used in higher concentrations. When I received my sample of L’Homme Ideal L’Intense I got an answer.
L’Homme Ideal has been one of the men’s pillar lines for Guerlain since the 2014 release of L’Homme Ideal Eau de Toilette. Since then there has been a Cologne version, an Eau de Parfum, and a Sport. They were all instantly forgettable. To write this review I had to remind myself of all of them; it wasn’t fun. The good news is L’Homme Ideal L’Intense is different enough in a good way I could forget about them again.
In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser uses the Szechuan pepper as the contrast for the keynote of all of the L’Homme Ideal line; almond. In the past he has taken that ingredient towards a sweeter destination. In L’Homme Ideal L’Intense it is the exact opposite heading to a darker Oriental destination I greatly preferred.
L’Homme Ideal L’Intense opens with that hot pepper at an equal volume of bitter almond. The almond brings a woody nuance out of the spicy core. The pepper acts like a flame roasting the almond into something warmer while still retaining some of the nutty character. Cardamom provides a cooling effect for a moment. A full-on spicy Bulgarian rose comes next. The pepper continues to simmer right into the rose. It was here I sort of wanted it to die down, just a little. It was living on past what should have been its expiration date. A refined leather accord helps achieve the purpose of sweeping away the pepper. From here on L’Homme Ideal L’Intense follows a predictable rose to leather to sandalwood and patchouli base.
L’Homme Ideal L’Intense has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
My overall impression of this perfume is similar to when people come over to visit and see my pile of hot peppers chopped up. They ask me to hold the hot pepper please. I wish M. Wasser had done the same here. For all that the Szechuan pepper is an interesting ingredient it is out of balance here especially as the transition from top to heart takes place. It is hard to level that criticism because this is one of the more interesting male releases from Guerlain in years. It just doesn’t fully get it right. Guerlain has become such a shadow of itself that I’m applauding a good attempt at originality says something. Maybe you like a little more hot pepper in your perfume than I do which means L’Homme Ideal L’Intense might work for you.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
My conflicted feelings towards Guerlain have been enumerated a lot over the past couple of years. I believe they have settled for a sustained level of mediocrity which allows for the name on the bottle to do more of the heavy lifting than the liquid in the bottle. Considering how much my love of perfume stems from the classic pillars of this Grand Maison de Parfum it is always with a sense of apprehension I approach receiving a new sample. I expect to feel aggravated at yet another fragrance living off a reputation.
There have been some exceptions. One of my favorite Guerlain releases of the past five years was Terracotta Le Parfum. In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser interpreted the well-loved makeup collection as a perfume. It was one of my favorite perfumes of 2014. One recent release which piqued my interest was Mon Guerlain. It felt like M. Wasser was throwing off some of the shackles of the past eschewing with the brand DNA Guerlinade; fashioning something lighter. The latest exception turns out to be a combination of both; Meteorites Le Parfum.
Guerlain Meteorites Powder Pearls (via rachelnicole.co.uk)
Meteorites Le Parfum is also based on a famous Guerlain cosmetics product. Meteorites are little pastel colored pearls of powder which carry a delicate violet scent. M. Wasser adapts the transparent style of Mon Guerlain to that fragile violet to create something delicate. Before I get started describing the new perfume if you are a fan of the discontinued Meteorites; move along. This is a completely different perfume in texture and intensity. The only real intersection is the violet.
Meteorites Le Parfum opens on a crisp fruity flare of citrus and apple. The apple makes it focused while also making it a bit tarter. This carries a shimmery veil-like quality which sets the stage for the violet to arrive in a similar opaque way trailing a powdery effect in its wake. This is a compelling transparent fruity floral effect. The final stage is to allow this accord to settle upon a soap bubble of white musks which expands over the length of time it spends on my skin. As you look on the surface of the bubble you see the violet and citrus swirling there. It eventually pops leaving behind a lightly woody base accord.
Meteorites Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a gorgeous summer-weight floral which feels uplifting to wear in the heat. I also note the absence of the Guerlinade which again makes me wonder if for fragrance marketed to a younger generation that is the future of Guerlain. If you want a transparent fragile violet spritz for the summer, you cant go wrong blowing violet bubbles in Meteorites Le Parfum.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
When a new technology comes along it generally means something is replaced. Throughout the 1970’s as photocopy machines became more prevalent the use of carbon paper to make copies of correspondence declined. The only remnant of it today is the abbreviation on your e-mail “cc” which stands for “carbon copy”. It used to be what was handed to a typist with the list of recipients to receive cc’s. They would place these sheets of carbon paper between sheets of paper underneath the original they were typing on. The purple color of the paper would be transferred on the copies underneath with each keystroke. While the copies were like the original the process gave the type a different color while also adding a slight blurriness to the overall documents. It resulted in a copy but not an exact copy of the original. Perfumery is full of carbon copy perfumes but it is usually between two different brands. It turns out Guerlain is reaching back to make a carbon copy of a previous fragrance with Guerlain Lui.
Even the advertising campaign feels like a relic of the past as they claim in their promotional materials, “inspired by a generation breaking free from gender norms”. Which generation are they talking about Baby Boomers? Gen X? Millennials? This reads like Maison Guerlain has been interred in a time warp bubble. Which might explain how perfumers Delphine Jelk and Thierry Wasser have turned Lui into a carbon copy of 2006’s Guerlain L’Art et La Matiere Bois D’Armenie by perfumer Annick Menardo. Lui is a near slavish reproduction which provides an opaquer experience than Bois D’Armenie but it is at its heart a reproduction.
Lui opens with the same papier d’armenie inspired benzoin accord found in Bois D’Armenie. In the original there are bold keystrokes of florals and spice throughout. Lui has a bit of floral from carnation a bit of spice from clove but it mostly has a cloud of benzoin made smoky through a leather accord and a touch sweeter with vanilla.
Lui has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The bottom line is I like Lui but it feels like a carbon copy of Bois D’Armenie which begs the question do I need both? For me the answer is no because I can get a similar effect to Lui by spraying once with Bois D’Armenie. It is the best release Guerlain has released since Terracotta Le Parfum three years ago but it is accomplished by cribbing from their own past. If Bois D’Armenie didn’t exist I’d be raving about this but it does; Lui is a carbon copy of it which carries its own message about the creativity within Guerlain these days.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
Every one of the great perfume brands is going to react in their own way to the current generational shift in perfume consumer. One of the greatest houses of fragrance, Guerlain, seemed to be sitting back to observe which way the wind was blowing. With the release of Mon Guerlain it seems they have laid down their first marker.
The release of Mon Guerlain is being surrounded with all the surrounding accoutrements a future tentpole Guerlain would need. Perfumers Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk were said to be inspired by actress-philanthropist Angelina Jolie when designing the perfume. Ms. Jolie is the face of the new advertising campaign and there is a video directed by famed motion picture director Terrence Malick. Guerlain must feel like they have a hit on their hands. The resulting perfume is another of these opaque floral gourmands which is what most of the big brands have decided Millennials crave in fragrance.
The perfume itself is so deceptively simple it is a departure from almost everything Guerlain has stood for. Powdery iris opens things up lilting softly above it all. The heart is a combination of actual jasmine with a very slight hint of indoles coating the expansive bubble of the jasmine synthetic Paradisone. This all combines with a vanilla note made more toasty by the addition of coumarin. The hay-like nature of coumarin also adds a different facet of sweet to this accord. The foundation is a very transparent sandalwood over a selection of white musks.
Mon Guerlain has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
First thing I noticed while wearing Mon Guerlain is there is no trademark Guerlinade to be found. As a longtime fan, I kept waiting it to appear like a phantom accord. Only to find its absence punctuated with the cocktail of laundry musks. Time will tell the truth of this next statement but I wonder if the powers at Guerlain believe that venerable base has now become passé for this new generation. Is Mon Guerlain the first signal of a real change? The other grand maisons of perfume have made this transition without excising their brand DNA. Mon Guerlain might be the first example of it happening.
This change has made it seem like Mon Guerlain, like the generation it is meant to appeal to, is ready to put the past in the rear-view mirror. In my mind’s eye, I see it shouldering bottles of Shalimar, Mitsouko, and Jicky aside as it says, “Move Over! Coming Through!” Within the genre, and consumer, it is trying to be part of Mon Guerlain is as good as any of them. As part of the modern history of Guerlain is where it fails to stand up. Depending on which of the last two sentences means more to you will color how you feel about Mon Guerlain.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
While I think there are some amazing perfumes being produced, the brands I categorize as the Grand Maisons are not where I currently find them. These brands have entered an era of safety first. In most of the cases there are perfumers who I admire seemingly working while wrapped up in cotton. I can only conjecture that the extremely large enterprises that back these brands must prize profits over artistry. The latest example of this is Guerlain Ambre Eternel.
Amber Eternel is the second release within the Les Absolus D’Orient collection following up last year’s Santal Royal. When I reviewed that I considered it akin to “perfume by numbers”. Ambre Eternel seems less cynically constructed. Except there are moments where I was hoping for more. Wishing perfumer Thierry Wasser would get off the straight and narrow, leaving convention behind. I think that time has not arrived early in 2016.
Ambre Eternel is a nice piece of two versions of the title note. The familiar ambergris in the top accord with the warmer slightly spicy amber accord in the base. The ingredients used are nice. The effect is nice. Overall the perfume is nice. I’ve used nice five times in this paragraph but that’s what playing it safe gets you.
If there was anything I was hopeful for it was when I saw in the note list the top accord consisted of ambergris, cinnamon, and coriander. I was hoping for M. Wasser to maybe use the heat of cinnamon on top of the salty aspect of ambergris tinted green with coriander. Within seconds of putting this on I am instead greeted with a nice ambergris only slightly altered by the presence of faint tendrils of cinnamon and coriander. If everything had been pitched at something approaching equality of presence this could have been really great, instead of nice. The “perfume by numbers” approach is back with a crushingly pedestrian fruity floral heart; orange blossom and plum the most recognizable. The more traditional amber base note found in Orientals thankfully sweeps that away. But again M. Wasser uses very tame applications of a leather accord and woods. I really would have liked more leather. It still would have been safe but not quit so mannered; and nice.
Ambre Eternel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ambre Eternel is like that friend of a much more interesting friend. You see where they are connected but this person is just not as interesting. In the end Ambre Eternel is just nice. I leave it up to you whether you think that is good enough.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Guerlain.
Last week in one of the perfume groups I participate in one of the members listed the twenty releases from Guerlain in 2014. When I looked at it as a group it was startling to see the message those twenty releases sent. It showed that, at least for 2014, Guerlain and perfumer Thierry Wasser seemed to be interested in trying to cater to a much younger clientele. There were La Petite Robe Noire flankers. A Shalimar stripped of most of its challenging facets. L’Homme Ideal failed on almost every level. Teracotta Le Parfum was the lone bright point and a fantastic new addition. As the year wound down there were two last releases I had hope for. The latest addition to the Elixir Charnel series called French Kiss and Santal Royal. Both of these were examples of that which surrounded them this year and hewed to this less challenging aesthetic Guerlain seems to be courting.
French Kiss has been summed up in a simple surface one-liner as a niche version of La Petite Robe Noire. If it was, in fact, this I would have welcomed that. La Petite Robe Noire is a beautifully done mass-market perfume which Guerlain does well. I’m not sure it is deserving of the number of flankers it has been saddled with since its release five years ago. Then again neither does Shalimar. French Kiss is a little more daring than La Petite Robe Noire as I think M. Wasser understood he could add a little more. As a result the cherry becomes raspberry and it is paired with a super sweet lychee. This makes the opening moments very sweet. It will probably be a bit too much for some. The heart is a wonderful pairing of rose and violet which seem to imperiously sweep away that saccharine beginning. Iris broadens the floral heart and this is where French Kiss is at its most appealing. The finish is trademark Guerlinade. If French Kiss came from a different perfume company I would cut it a lot more slack but as a it comes from Guerlain it is disappointing for not pushing the envelope a little more. French Kiss has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Santal Royal is just something that misses the mark by a mile. The press release says Santal Royal will be a deep dark oriental of sandalwood and oud. It is supposed to be “shrouded in mystery”. Instead it is all too obvious in construction and pedestrian. It opens on a whisper of jasmine and neroli which strengthens into a solid note of rose paired with cinnamon. It leads to a very common leather accord which is matched up with the sandalwood and the oud. This felt so much like “perfume by numbers” as there is absolutely nothing here which is special. It is not terrible but it is just so lacking in any imagination that it is surprising. The other thing about this is it lasts much less that I expected on my skin only getting about 8 hours out of my morning application with modest sillage.
I don’t think we will be looking back at 2014 as a watershed year for Guerlain as the last two releases were as uninspiring as the previous seventeen except for Terracotta Le Parfum.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased.
When it comes to the great houses of perfume Guerlain never fears alienating their core audience. I would say that the opposite is truer in that Guerlain has been the most active in trying to snare the younger perfume wearer. Because of this penchant for luring in younger perfumistas it can sometime clash with those of us who have loved Guerlain for years. I sit somewhere in the middle of this. As long as the great older Guerlains are still around in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser can put out as many figurative olfactory honey pots as he would like to capture his desired demographic.
The most difficult part of this equation is M. Wasser want to use Shalimar as the gateway to the Guerlain kingdom. M. Wasser has taken to heart the criticism by the young that Shalimar smells too “old lady”. This isn’t a new idea as perfumer Mathilde Laurent was responsible for three “light” versions of Shalimar a little over ten years ago. M. Wasser would also try to go the lighter route as well. The last two years saw two variations around adding vanilla to Shalimar and Ode a la Vanille in 2010 and Ode a la Vanille Sur la Route du Mexique in 2013 went with making it sweeter. It looks like that experiment has also not produced the desired result. This year for the latest flanker to Shalimar M. Wasser has returned to making Shalimar lighter. The new releases is called Shalimar Souffle de Parfum.
As the name portends this is meant to be an airy version of Shalimar meant to be served up quickly without having it linger. The way M. Wasser chooses to achieve this is to largely neuter the base notes leaving behind only the vanilla.
The opening of Souffle de Parfum is the traditional bergamot and lemon with a bit of mandarin added for additional sweetness. Jasmine is present in the soufflé but instead of rose M. Wasser goes with the much lighter orange blossom. This is where the soufflé begins to fall down for me. The combination of rose de mai and jasmine is what creates the essential beauty of Shalimar. With the Souffle de Parfum M. Wasser doesn’t want even the hint of heft to appear thus the choice of orange blossom. The same applies to the base as out goes the orris and opopanax leaving only the vanilla matched with white musk and patchouli.
Shalimar Souffle de Parfum has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am not sure there is ever going to be a light version of Shalimar which does justice to the name, certainly Souffle de Parfum is not that fragrance. In his attempt to make Shalimar lighter and more accessible M. Wasser succeeds; as taken on its own merits Souffle de Parfum is a perfectly easy to wear floral. It is no way related to Shalimar and has none of the character and depth of that. I am not sure this would even bring new consumers over to the brand because it doesn’t feel like it is part of the rest of the flacons which share the name Guerlain. For me this Souffle de Parfum has fallen flat but perhaps there are others who will delight in a fluffy simulation of a perfume called Shalimar.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Guerlain.