Guerlain Idylle : Perfume Review

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Idylle

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

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37 Comments

  • Olfactoria: I feel exactly the same, V. Idylle is lovely, but one of many. February 8, 2011 at 3:38am Reply

  • Maria: Dear Victoria,
    First of all I want to tell you how happy makes me you started writing regularly again. And it’s a perfect rithm at one article per day. I have few websites I normaly check and it’s either too many and I don’t have time to follow always or it’s too rare and leaves me dissapointed I don’t have more. I also appreciate you have a wide range of choices in your reviews, from niche to mainstream, everything we all check and are curious to understand more about. And also the general articles with new ideas. I wish you can keep it long like that. I suppose you have your work and many other things to do as well.
    As about Idylle, you put it nice. Recently I had to buy some old Guerlain and the very young lady tried hard to get me in Idylle though I told her I’m not intersted. She ended up putting the sample in my bag. I had my thoughts about how she is in these kind of mainstream stuff while she is selling great perfumes in one of the most wonderful perfume shops with almost everything from niche to old perfumes. But this is, Idylle appeals to young people and most probably it was meant to. It is in the line with hundreds of other new perfume. And that’s for me a big dissapointement in Guerlain house. February 8, 2011 at 4:29am Reply

  • hongkongmom: Completely agree with you on this. Actually I go one step further. I had NR and got sick of it and gave it away. Idylle struck me as so similar on first sniff, I haven’t bothered to retest. The other day I smelled the drydown on the guerlain SA and decided that i should give it a whirl and see if I can get passed the NR smell and enjoy what I smelled on her. Today I got the second last bottle of Attrape Coeur in HK…for that I am truly grateful to Guerlain(even if they r taking it away) and of course my DH. February 8, 2011 at 5:18am Reply

  • karin: I’m not familiar with the EDP, but have a bottle of the EDT. It strikes me as a light, clean floral – in the Pleasures genre. Somewhat like laundry detergent with a rose backdrop. Unobtrusive, safe, pleasant, and pretty. I have NR For Her EDT, and this didn’t remind me of it at all. I don’t detect any patchouli (I think this was intentionally toned down in the EDT?). Have you tried it, V? Curious to know what you think of it. February 8, 2011 at 7:28am Reply

  • Katy: Beautiful, informative review! You are spoiling us, Victoria. 🙂 I only tried Idylle once when it first came to Neimans. Now I want to smell it again. February 8, 2011 at 9:28am Reply

  • Sofia: You really nailed this one, Victoria. Your cinematic reference seems especially apt here. I cannot agree more about the actress and the perfume. February 8, 2011 at 9:44am Reply

  • violetnoir: I skipped Idylle altogether because of its lack of originality, and I much prefer NR.

    But tell us, V: What do you think of Insolence? EdT and EdP? I have the EdP, which was not widely distributed over here, and it is really something! And, the bottle is just the most gorgeous violet little gizmo I have ever seen.

    Hugs! February 8, 2011 at 11:46am Reply

  • flittersniffer: Another person chiming in to say that you have summed up this scent exactly both in terms of how it smells and how I feel about it! Idylle, NR for Her, Sensuous and JHAG Lady Vengeance are all doing the same job in my view, and I have a slight leaning towards Lady Vengeance for some reason. Very slight hint of danger? Also, I am happier to see Thierry Wasser come up with scents like Idylle rather than the likes of Armani Diamonds, and now he is ensconced in the House of Guerlain that should continue to be the case! February 8, 2011 at 11:56am Reply

  • MJ: Dear Victoria,
    I have enjoyed your intelligent fragrance reviews since Jan. 11, 2006 when I happened upon your site in my search for reviews of Narciso Rodriguez For Her. Your analysis helped appreciate the artistry behind this and many great fragrances. This past November my very romantic and loving husband (he wears Terre de Hermes) set out on a quest with me to find the perfect fragrance for our renewal of vows ceremony aboard a cruise on the Maasdam for our 30 Anniversary. One Sunday in October we spend the day at Chicago’s downtown Nordstrom requesting “romantic” fragrances and being shown everything from the newly launched Balanciaga Paris (violet lollypops) to Tom Ford Black Orchid,(2 no’s), Bulgari Jasmin Noir (forgettable),2nd generation Caleche (loved it, but still a bit “old” even for me. We left with a few samples and about a dozen sprayed cards. The next day we kept coming back to one of these cards that we both found beautiful, but couldn’t match it with any of the samples. (I was terrified that it would end up being Euphoria.) We actually put the card in a ziplock to reserve the quickly fading essence after a week. Our seemingly hopeless mission lead us through several department stores until a SA at our local Nordstrom guessed that the scent could be Idylle. She even tested our ability to distinguish the scent from NR EDP on two cards she sprayed behind our backs. Years ago I hadn’t purchased the NR, I think, because of what I perceived as the initial “harsh” topnotes. Since this impression did not reveal the lovely drydown of the aging card and I had never experience it on my skin, I didn’t buy it that day. (We prolonged our quest: Jo Malone, the new Paris, even Kiss of the Dragon.) Fortunately I ended up running into Nordstrom at 8:55 PM on the night before we left and buying Idylle. (I am not making this up.) Idylle was wonderful. The beautiful elegant floral gave off just enough silliage for dinner and dancing, and the musky drydown stayed close to the skin for romance. I know you all say that Idylle is too similar to other perfumes, I agree, but since I always had issues with other perfumes I am grateful that, for me, Theirry Wasser got it right. Idylle is beautifully done with quality ingredients. I do not smell myself coming an going and it is easy and delightful to wear. Who could ask for more. February 8, 2011 at 11:59am Reply

  • Marina: I come bearing two words starting with B. 🙂 Your review- beautiful. Idylle – boring. Have you compared it to Idylle Duet already? How’s that one? February 8, 2011 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is very nicely done, but why oh why, is it so derivative? February 8, 2011 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: Maria, thank you for your kind words. It is nice today that we have many different blogs, many different viewpoints and styles, lots of enjoy. I am glad that I can contribute to the discussions.
    Guerlain is definitely trying to expand its core clientele with the new launches. I do not mind that at all, but I would rather Guerlain break new grounds, rather than follow in the footsteps of others, especially since Wasser is such an incredibly talented perfumer. February 8, 2011 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like the drydown very much too, which is smoother on me than that of NR for Her (which I also enjoy.) Plus, I love the rich, honeyed rose note in Idylle, which is such a treat. February 8, 2011 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: The EDT is a different beast, and I agree completely with your description, it is more of a light, fresh citrusy floral for me. I do not smell as rich of patchouli or rose, just a fresh, bright floral accord, soft woods and very sheer moss. Your description is perfect–unobtrusive, safe, pleasant, and pretty (and also quite reasonably priced.) February 8, 2011 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: Gosh, thank you, you are the ones who are spoiling me with such nice compliments. Thank you for your kind words! 🙂 February 8, 2011 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad that you liked it! I recently saw Black Swan and that question has been on my mind, especially since I keep hearing comparisons between film noir of today and of the classical tradition. February 8, 2011 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: I first tried Insolence EDT, which I liked, but was not that impressed with. However, as I recall, the EDP is much better, richer, more voluptuous, with a beautiful orange blossom-jasmine note set into that dark violet warmth.
    I might stop by Bergdorf during my lunch break to see if they have it. I have not worn for sometime, but your comment really makes me want to smell it again. February 8, 2011 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Victoria: V, a slight hint of something dark in Lady Vengeance makes it memorable, I completely agree. This whole genre reminds me a bit of Agent Provocateur lite, but I still like it. At least, it is not candy coated and sickly sweet for a change. 🙂
    I do not want to put the blame on the perfumer in that the fragrance is not new, because 90% of the time, there are so many other layers and veto powers in fragrance development that the original idea may end up diluted by the time everyone has their say. So far, to me Wasser’s signature is best demonstrated by Dior Addict, bold, lush, dramatic.
    I also like Guerlain Homme, which I think would have worked better if absent that ridiculous man-meets-beast marketing around it. The fragrance itself is so polite and polished, it simply did not work. February 8, 2011 at 1:03pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you so much for your comment and your interesting story. Also, I love reading about helpful SAs at the perfume counters. Most of the time it is quite the opposite and to read a nice story like this is great.
    It is also refreshing to see other opinions and thoughts on what makes the fragrance what it is, good or bad, suiting one perfectly or being a completely wrong fit. It is one of the reasons why I love perfume, we each add our own stories.
    I appreciate in Idylle its quality, while it is not Shalimar, it is so much better made than most of the so-called luxury fragrances out there. For that alone, I give it props. February 8, 2011 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: 🙂 I have not tried Idylle Duet, but if it is at BG, I will give it a try later today. February 8, 2011 at 1:09pm Reply

  • sweetlife: I must say, V., that though your review is essentially a pan you have made me want to smell this instead of dismissing it out of hand as I have previously done, even though I sort of love the bottle. You are a dangerous woman. 😉

    And just for fun, here’s another idea about Guerlain and Idylle. As a fellow collector I completely agree with your opinion and share your disappointment that Guerlain has not added anything new to the mainstream conversation. But. I can see their logic. Something has to produce the money to fund those niche experiments. And why not have it be a better version of what the people want?

    Also–is it possible that overwhelmed consumers sometimes stick to a single brand? Because then it doesn’t really matter if there are sixty different versions of the same thing. Each brand has to have their own… February 8, 2011 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: “Decoding marketing intent…” I love your take on it! Of course, it is true that these days the brands are looking to have complete portfolios, because brand loyalty is still an important concept. It also makes perfect sense when there is an avalanche of new launches.
    Above all, I think that Idylle is just a reflection of the risk-averse nature of fragrance business. It got to the point that the whole process surrounding the launch is so expensive that the thing that matters the most–the fragrance–becomes more and more unobtrusive and safe. At least, in Idylle’s case, it still has some quality about it.

    Now, how about this question–why does Guerlain keep naming their most recent feminine fragrances starting with I–L’Instant, Insolence, Idylle… ? February 8, 2011 at 2:13pm Reply

  • karin: Isn’t the EDP incredible? I have a bottle of it, and man, oh man. It’s powerful stuff. Just a very small drop lasts forever. Victoria – if you don’t find it in Bergdorf, let me know, and I’ll send you some. February 8, 2011 at 3:07pm Reply

  • minette: i really like this one… but on my skin it seems to be more about the lily of the valley (and to a lesser degree the jasmine and peony), not the rose or the patch. in fact, i never would’ve called it a rose/patch/musk scent! i don’t associate this with the NRs, which i also have and love (after years of being totally anosmic to them!). i have difficulty finding lily of the valley scents that work on me, so i love that this one does. it is smooth and elegant, and has a twist to it – sort of a caramelized muguet – which sounds odd but works. no, not the most original thing on the planet, but it’s pitch perfect on certain days and i’m glad to wear it. look forward to trying the new flanker! February 8, 2011 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: Karin, thank you for your kind offer. I believe that they do have it, because I smelled it there last year. I did not have time today, but I will stop by tomorrow. February 8, 2011 at 4:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: Caramelize lily of the valley sounds so nice! I can definitely see that. I wonder how Idylle Duet will play out the rose-patchouli marriage. February 8, 2011 at 4:17pm Reply

  • mals86: I was amused by the idea of Idylle Duet, supposed to be a variation with more emphasis on rose and patchouli, because I thought the original had QUITE ENOUGH PATCHOULI, THANK YOU. I think I would rather like the EdT, which I have not smelled.

    I think I’d rather have Idylle than a lot of those Cherry Blossom/L’Instant/La Petite Robe Noire thingies Guerlain’s been putting out. Or Insolence, which I hated right down to the ground.

    Maybe I’ll just go hunt up some Chamade instead, though. February 8, 2011 at 4:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, not sure how it would play out, because I can imagine much more of rose and patchouli, and you are firmly in Agent Provocateur and Portrait of a Lady category. I was entirely uninterested in this flanker, but of course, after we talked so much of it, I am perversely curious to smell it. 🙂 February 8, 2011 at 4:29pm Reply

  • Skilletlicker: I would just like to echo Maria’s appreciation of your writing and your blog. Although Bois de Jasmin is valuable for fragrance information and inspiration, I read it every day for the pleasure of your wordsmithing. February 8, 2011 at 4:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you so much! These kind words really touched me, especially since today is such a hectic and exhausting day. 🙂 February 8, 2011 at 5:02pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Oh dang. I replied to you, but the ether ate my comment.

    I said…hmmm…maybe the marketing dept. likes to have all the new releases in the same spot on their excel spread sheet? 😉

    Although, I have often thought that it’s the flanker logic at work. If you like X, surely you will like Y, which sounds like almost the same thing, so close, in fact, that you might be the other thing by accident. February 8, 2011 at 5:45pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Yikes–that you might BUY the other thing, not be it. Joke in there somewhere… February 8, 2011 at 5:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: This reminded me of a friend of mine who always orders in the restaurants by saying, “I will be steak, I will be soup, etc.” In Russian, “I will eat x” literally translates as “I will x” (“eat” is just implied and understand.) Obviously, not quite the same implication in English! So, you were just trying out your Russian on me. 🙂

    At any rate, I love the excel spreadsheet theory. Makes more sense than some other more deliberate marketing tactics I have encountered (not just in fragrance!) February 8, 2011 at 6:18pm Reply

  • flittersniffer: Yes, it is a big shame about Guerlain Homme – so polite and polished I have even worn it myself, being partial to the lime note! February 9, 2011 at 9:01pm Reply

  • Jenny: I am new to the world of perfume testing and I trawled the department stores in London yesterday and sniffed idylle and the new duet version. I came away with a sample of idylle EDP and I am wearing it today. I really love it! Although i am wishing i had put more on as it seems rather subtle and close to the skin after an hour. I preferred it to the duet. Really love Rose and patchouli, so I am hoping to test out lady vengeance and NR. I do love the bottle for lady vengeance! February 10, 2011 at 3:01am Reply

  • Victoria: I like that note too, but really, I want something with more growl! 😉 February 10, 2011 at 9:39am Reply

  • Victoria: Jenny, sounds like the original EDP is still the most interesting version. Definitely try it next to NR and Lady Vengeance, if you have a chance. It is probably the most polished of the three, but the other two have a bit more character to me. February 10, 2011 at 10:49am Reply

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