Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
The spirit of Guerlain haunts many fragrance houses today, from L’Occitane to Cartier, and the refrains of Shalimar, Samsara and other great Guerlain classics show up in the most unexpected places. The house of Guerlain itself, however, seems to have taken another direction, leaving the decadent and plush to the exclusive L’Art et la Matière collection. The new widely distributed fragrance launches stake out the modern, trendy category exploring sheer orientals, luminous florals or crisp, musky chypres. This by itself is not a criticism, because Guerlain is a unique house in many respects. It is a prominent prestige fragrance brand with strong niche appeal which is trying to expand its audience. Moreover, breaking new ground and trying new genres is what fuses life into the fragrance houses and allows them to grow and build new loyalties. Idylle, which was launched in 2009, is the first feminine fragrance by Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser and a much anticipated release.
To compare Idylle to Guerlain’s classics is like judging Natalie Portman against the actresses of film noir like Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake. They exist in different universes for me. The classical Guerlains have a complex, sometimes difficult beauty, while Idylle is straightforward and immediately appealing. It is built in a trendy contemporary style and is dominated by the accord of patchouli, rose, musk and woods. If the initial impression is bright and fresh, with citrus and red fruit notes providing the main flavor, the luminous floral accord has enough richness and substance to be interesting. It develops by hitting the high note with the citrus on top and then gently moving through the floral and woody layers until it dries down to an intimate warmth of patchouli, sheer moss and soft, baby skin musk. A honeyed, beautiful natural rose note is woven through the crisp, musky woods, lending the fragrance complexity and richness. Those who are familiar with the musky roses of Narciso Rodrigues for Her will instantly recognize the same character in Idylle. The main difference is that Idylle is smoother, brighter, with richer, sweeter rose notes.
The issue that I have with Idylle is neither its modernity nor its difference from the classical collection. After all, even Jacques Guerlain who was known as the master of plush, elegant oriental accords, explored a completely different genre towards the end of his career. His animalic orchestrations at the end of his Guerlain tenure were of such rude intensity that they would make Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän appear downright coy. My main qualm is that Idylle follows existing trends and does not add anything new to existing forms. It is undoubtedly lovely, and I find wearing it to be a pleasure. Like Narciso Rodriguez, it is a fragrance I enjoy wearing when I want something intimate and romantic. While Idylle has good tenacity, its sillage is understated and refined. In contrast to many so-called luxury launches, Idylle smells expensive and devoid of sugary sweet and cute cliches. Yet, perhaps because Guerlain is still associated in my mind with much more than simply “wearable and lovely,” I am left feeling disappointed. In some ways, it is also a reflection of how few risks the fragrance houses are considering today with their new launches, even when they are willing to spend the money on a well-crafted perfume.
Guerlain Idylle Eau de Parfum (fragrance family: fruity chypre) includes notes of lychee, raspberry, freesia, jasmine, lilac, lily of the valley, peony, Bulgarian rose, patchouli, musk. There is also the Eau de Toilette version, on which Thierry Wasser worked with Jean-Paul Guerlain. It is rebalanced to focus more on the airy, luminous floral accord, with a strong citrusy note. Quite pretty. Similar fragrances to explore include Narciso Rodrigues for Her, Gucci Rush, Parfum d’Empire Eau Suave, Badgley Mischka, Gucci Flora, Jean Patou EnJoy. Available from the major retailers and widely online.
Sample: my own acquisition