The rainstorm… Après l’Ondée, which translates from French as “After the Rain Shower” seems like a radiant and exquisitely graceful composition, and yet there is the suggestion of a brooding darkness hiding in its opulent layers. My own relationship with it is complex; it is both a fragrance that served as a gateway for my intense passion for everything Guerlain and a scent of nostalgia. It reminds me of my first year in the United States, when feeling displaced and homesick, I would walk around Marshall Field’s, the large department store in downtown Chicago. The Guerlain counter, with its large booklet describing each fragrance, drew my attention. I was determined to find a perfume that would be mine because Guerlain had always fascinated me.
While growing up, the only place I encountered Guerlain was on the pages of the novels I read. The sultry red-haired witch in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita lured unsuspecting women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses...” The fantasies of Ludmila Rutilova from Fyodor Sologub’s Petty Demon (Melkii Bes) unfold in the rich fragrance of Guerlain Pao Rosa. These exotic and lush images flashed in front of my eyes as I sprayed the perfume from the gilded crystal bottles. Yet, while they were beautiful, I felt that none would capture my fifteen year old self. They were grand and rich, perhaps ever so slightly ostentatious, while I was shy and serious, a student of ballet and chemistry, subjects that required both discipline and precision.
When I discovered Après l’Ondée I knew that I had found my perfect Guerlain. Its velvety iris heart cradled in the ornate frame of spiced flowers and oriental resins seemed wispy and ethereal. Its bittersweet beauty captures the nostalgia that I felt and could not express. Like the memory of a first kiss, it was innocent and tender. It was born in 1906 during the joie de vivre of the Belle Époque with its vibrant art and social movements. It was a year when the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt still reigned supreme on stage; when Pablo Picasso was paid the enormous sum of 2,000 francs for thirty canvasses; when the Dreyfus Affair exposing French anti-Semitism came to an end and when Paul Cézanne, the father of modern art, passed away after being caught in a rainstorm…
More than ten years and many discoveries later, I have learned to love the stately Shalimar, the seductive Mitsouko, the dark Vol de Nuit and the resplendent diva that is L’Heure Bleue. I have unearthed Chypre, Jasmin, Coque d’Or, Ode, Gyrasol, Une Rose, and Rue de la Paix (which I am sending to the Osmothèque in hopes that this gem might be reconstructed). And yet, when a package from a friend with a bottle of Après l’Ondée parfum arrived this evening, I still felt a wave of emotion flow over me as I put on the perfume. It smells of iris and almond meringue, of the Belle Époque’s exhilaration, of warm spring Chicago days, of walks through the Impressionist galleries of the Art Institute and of ballet studios in the morning. In other words, for all of its own history, Après l’Ondée now holds my own.
Please see my other more objective review of Après l’Ondée.
“Après L’Ondée” dining gown, designed by De Worth and painted by A. Lorenzi. From the “Gazette du Bon Ton” of Paris, 1913. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Collection.