Guerlain L’Heure Bleue at 100

Perfumer & Flavorist’s December issue includes my article L’Heure Bleue at 100. It talks about the recent celebration of this Guerlain classic’s centenary held by the French Society of Perfumers in Paris. I touch a bit upon the history of this perfume and include quotes from perfumers who consider L’Heure Bleue to be an inspiration. Perfumer & Flavorist is a magazine aimed at the professional audience, but if you are curious about raw materials, you should check their article archives for some fascinating research.

According to Guerlain’s archives, Jacques Guerlain was inspired to create L’Heure Bleue in 1912 during a walk along the Seine when he noticed the vivid blue color of the sky as dusk fell over the city. “I felt something so intense, I could only express it in a perfume,” he later wrote in his notes. To read more, please follow this link.

What are your thoughts on Guerlain L’Heure Bleue?

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70 Comments

  • moi: Lovely article. I’m a passionate florientalist so naturally this perfume is very close to my heart. That does not mean, however, that our relationship is always smooth sailing. With my other favorite Guerlain–Shalimar–I always know what I’m going to get. It unfolds so dependably on my skin. But with L’Heure Bleue, some days it is so luminously beautiful that I have a near-emotional reaction to it. Other days, it goes shrill and sour. Which of course makes it brilliant, regardless :o) December 8, 2012 at 9:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too, the idea of florals lit up by the oriental, smoldering notes is so appealing to me.
      L’Heure Bleue is really one of a kind, and even though there are plenty of fragrances that were inspired by L’Heure Bleue, none have all of its layers. The layers are what makes this perfume both exciting and challenging. December 8, 2012 at 2:07pm Reply

  • nikki: I am not too fond of either Apres L’Ondee and L”Heure Bleue. I really tried to like them, but the cherry note or anisette noe is just too much for me. While I realize that it is a masterpiece, it is not for me and I love powdery perfumes…
    However, thank you for the interesting article, I enjoyed reading what other perfumers said about L”Heure Bleue…give me Shalimar Extrait or Jicky anytime….! December 8, 2012 at 9:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I can see why it can be difficult, and it’s definitely not just the powdery accord. But if it works, L’Heure Bleue is such a marvel. Then again, Shalimar is another jewel. December 8, 2012 at 2:08pm Reply

  • George: Lovely article! Not sure how I feel about this trend of taking a classic perfume and doing a breakdown of it or a version ‘because people just won’t be able to cope with the original': the reason most perfumes are classics are because a variation or change of balance means that it just isn’t the same; I’d rather houses concentrated on the classics they already have and those they might yet produce. But then again, maybe needs must………. December 8, 2012 at 10:11am Reply

    • George: Oh and I love L’Heure Bleu (though I have not smelt it since the last reformulation) I also love Sacrebleu and Knize Ten, which I feel were both inspired somewhat by it. December 8, 2012 at 10:19am Reply

      • Victoria: And Nicolai’s Kiss Me Tender is another perfume that has a L’Heure Bleue vibe to me. December 8, 2012 at 2:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m of the same mind on this topic. I would rather perfumers create new classics and maintain the existing ones in good shape, but if that’s what they have to do to make the classical brand known to public, I’m ok with it. December 8, 2012 at 2:11pm Reply

      • Douglas: Another great article V. You know I’m also not always a fan of refinishing a classic (kind of the same reaction I have every time I hear Star Wars is getting another facelift), but… with Guerlain, I kind of like the idea. Family and succession have been such a key component to Guerlain’s DNA, why not carry over that same sentiment into formulations? Sons and daughters of legends trying to maintain the magic captured by the passionate spirit of past relations. December 8, 2012 at 2:42pm Reply

        • Victoria: Doug, thank you. I see what you mean about the reinterpretations of the ideas as a way to keep the brand’s DNA. For this reason, I liked their take on Shalimar in Shalimar Initial. It smells very different from the original, but some elements are still there. December 9, 2012 at 5:53am Reply

  • silverdust: With all the mentions of L’Heure Bleu, I finally broke down and got a sample. While I can admire it, I found it too soapy and way too sweet.

    Even if I don’t like the perfume, I always enjoy your articles, Victoria! December 8, 2012 at 11:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! :) I find the newer versions of L’Heure Bleue to be on the sweet side, whereas the vintage has more dark animalic notes and is more balanced, but I still love and wear the reformulated L’Heure Bleue. December 8, 2012 at 2:13pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: No classic perfume frustrates me more than L’Heure Bleue. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to love, but it just doesn’t work for me. I have been told that it smells like beer on my skin. Beer! Shalimar remains the Guerlain classic for me. December 8, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

    • nikki: Elizabeth, I am so glad I am not the only one whose chemistry doesn’t work with L’Heure Bleue. December 8, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Skin chemistry makes a big difference, especially for these complex perfumes. At least, that’s what I find. Whenever I smell L’Heure Bleue or Shalimar on different people, I’m amazed how much variation I find. Some people’s skin pushes the musky notes, others–the almond. Yet, on others it does have a sour edge. December 8, 2012 at 2:15pm Reply

  • Anna Minis: All As spray L’Heure Bleue on me, wherever I go, and they say ‘that’s your perfume.’ And right they are! On me it is not overly sweet, just elegant and a bit nostalgic. It is such a lovely smell of iris and neroli, powdery but not too much, it has many facets and developments. Sometimes I layer it with Hiris.I also love Après L’Ondée and Insolence Eau de Parfum. I did not smell the reformulation yet : fear for disappointment. As soon as I am suscribed, I will read the article! December 8, 2012 at 12:04pm Reply

    • Anna Minis: There is also a Prada perfume in that mood, but far less perfect: Infusion de Fleurs D’Oranger. December 8, 2012 at 12:05pm Reply

      • Victoria: I also find it similar, but maybe more shrill. December 8, 2012 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: I love the idea of layering it with Hiris, and I will try it. December 8, 2012 at 2:16pm Reply

  • Esme: L’Heure Bleue is my favorite perfume. It is mysterious and very different from any modern perfumes (many of which are created by a marketing team). December 8, 2012 at 12:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Among Guerlain fragrances, it’s the one I find the easiest to love (and Apres L’Ondee). Somehow it’s comforting and tender. December 8, 2012 at 2:32pm Reply

  • L.: Thank you for the article! Was wondering, L’Heure Bleue always strikes me as a violet scent. I get that there’s chemical/olfactory crossover btwn violet and iris, but violet is always one of my strongest impressions in L’HB. But no mention of the violet note. It sounds like the new anniversary compostions leave even less of a violet impression! Is this the case? December 8, 2012 at 1:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: There is a violet note in L’Heure Bleue coming from the ionones, but the iris is what gives it its identifiable character. In the new version, it’s similar, but the powdery impression is removed almost entirely. The violet is greener and brighter, closer to the violet leaf than to the flower. December 8, 2012 at 2:31pm Reply

      • Sarah K.M.: Thank you–this is very valuable information for me. I have a huge problem with “powder”, and I love violet leaf. I have never dared to try L’Heure Bleue because of the well-known powdery effect. Now I can re-think it! December 9, 2012 at 5:41pm Reply

  • Ari: L’Heure Bleue is my all-time favorite perfume. Tania Sanchez pronounced it “dead” last year, but I have never tried it in any formulation but the modern one and I still love it ferociously. Now to go read your article, Victoria! Congratulations on being featured!! December 8, 2012 at 1:15pm Reply

    • L.: Yes, I remember that being said abt the new reformulation. If any readers here have tried both, I would love to hear first-hand impressions abt whether the new reformulation is any good or abt how they differ specifically. I can handle different but would like to know if it’s significantly worse, if someone can speak to that. December 8, 2012 at 1:26pm Reply

      • Nita: I tried and tried to like L’Heure Bleue, but always end up washing it off. It was just too harsh. Finally I got a small sample of the vintage- absolutely Drop Dead Gorgeous! If THAT’S what Guerlain was producing today, I would probably wear it to the exclusion of all others.
        As my Mother used to say “It is to weep.” December 8, 2012 at 1:50pm Reply

      • Victoria: I’ve described the differences here, and I still find it the same today:
        http://boisdejasmin.com/2010/12/guerlain-perfume-vintage-and-modern-comparisons.html

        In other words, next to the vintage, the differences are strikingly obvious, but on its own, it’s still a beautiful, impressive perfume. December 8, 2012 at 2:18pm Reply

        • L.: So little difference btwn 2009 and 2011 versions, but obviously different than the vintage? That would make a person like me stress less – seems like some fragrances (Opium!) got trashed between those years. Truthfully I love the Parisienne reissues of recent “vintage” perfumes b/c they’re cleaner and have more light in them, so a little reformulation I do not mind. Thanks again for the article. December 8, 2012 at 7:22pm Reply

          • Victoria: I didn’t compare them side by side, I admit, but no, L’Heure Bleue wasn’t treated as badly as Opium. Or rather, Opium’s reformulation is as good as you can do when half of the materials in its formula are banned or restricted. December 9, 2012 at 6:18am Reply

        • L.: (Yikes – meant got trashed between the years of 2009-2011.) December 8, 2012 at 8:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ari, I wear the new version as well, and I love it. I’m sure Tania is right in that it has been changed dramatically, but I don’t find the reformulation to be so disappointing. Miss Dior is a disaster. I wouldn’t wear it, even if that was the only perfume left on the counter. But L’Heure Bleue still have its beautiful curves and memorable facets, even if some of them were attenuated in the new version. December 8, 2012 at 2:20pm Reply

  • KMc: I adore L’Heure Bleue! Along with Jicky, I think it’s my favorite “classic” perfume. I’ve never gotten the feeling of melancholy or coldness that some people seem to associate with this scent. To me, it simply smells warm and delicious.

    Would love to try a vintage version. Maybe one for the Christmas list…….. December 8, 2012 at 2:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also don’t find L’Heure Bleue to be melancholy at all. It feels like a warm cashmere wrap to me. December 8, 2012 at 2:33pm Reply

  • maja: Last year I ordered a sample of it, tried it once and didn’t like it due to its powdery notes. Gave it to a friend. Now, a year later, I grew to like powdery notes and I have to get over a fact that my friend used it up. :) Enjoying Sacrebleu though as I find it similar. As soon as I get back to Milan I am going to give Heure Blue another chance. December 8, 2012 at 3:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I went through a similar don’t like-like-love sequence with L’Heure Bleue. If you can sample the parfum, I definitely recommend it. It’s superior to the other concentrations. December 9, 2012 at 6:02am Reply

  • Caroline: LHeure Bleue is one of the fragrances I love having in my collection — although like the first commenter, L’Heure Bleue doesn’t always agree with me.

    I usually associate L’Heure Bleue with a beautiful joyous quirky creative spirit. December 8, 2012 at 3:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: I decided that on this grey, overcast morning L’Heure Bleue is just the right mood lifter! December 9, 2012 at 6:05am Reply

  • annemariec: I wear it only in the winter, on wet days. A cool wet atmosphere seems to make it work best for me.

    L’Heure Bleue was reportedly a favourite of novelist Jean Rhys. The evidence for that assertion is rather thin. She mentions L’HB in one of her novels but gives it to a character quite unlike the central character of the book, who is based on Rhys herself. Still, the melancholy of the perfume seems to suit Rhys’ sad genuis very well. It certainly sent me back to read her powerful but difficult books again. I now love Wide Sargasso Sea, whereas at school I found it impossible! December 8, 2012 at 3:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I’m going to reread Wide Sargasso Sea! Thank you so much for mentioning it, Anne-Marie. December 9, 2012 at 6:05am Reply

  • Annikky: I tried L’ Heure Bleue again today, at the Stockholm airport (old Guerlains are not available in Estonia) and finally made up my mind to get a sample. I have been able to get a pretty good idea of some fragrances in the course of my airport missions (Bottega Veneta for example, which I like), but with L’Heure Bleue it simply isn’t enough. On the go, I am not able to get my head around all this complexity and it deserves more time and attention anyway. The same goes for Mitsouko; Apres L’Ondee on the other hand was an immedate crush, from the first sniff at an ugly Brussels store. December 8, 2012 at 4:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: It definitely requires a long courtship!
      (And doesn’t the Stockholm airport resemble a fancy shopping center?) December 9, 2012 at 6:09am Reply

      • Annikky: Most of them do these days, I guess? My favourite so far is Copenhagen – it is not enormous like Frankfurt or Heathrow, but has a good selection of shops and even some decent places to eat (rare in airports!). No L’Heure Bleue, though. December 10, 2012 at 4:57pm Reply

  • carole macleod: Amazing-i am just now starting to read Wide Sargasso Sea!
    And i love L’Heure Bleue. It can be melancholy on me. Also since I live in the fragrance free Maritimes it feels like a heavy hitter. When none else is wearing fragrance even 4711 can feel like over kill.
    I like to spray my EDP into the cap, and then tilt the contents of one spray onto both my wrists. That way I can small the beautiful complexity of it all day, and (hopefully) not over power anyone.
    Altho-people do say rude things about perfume. It’s considered evil here. I think it’s bad manners to comment on a person’s smell. Loads of people smell of all sorts of things-horrible fabric softener, not enough soap. But for whatever reason perfume gets the blame. December 8, 2012 at 4:30pm Reply

    • Lynn Morgan: You poor thing! I’d move if I were you! December 8, 2012 at 6:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: That makes no sense to me either. Your way of lowering the volume is a perfect one. Spraying directly on skin covers a large area, so the diffusion is great. Dabbing is another way that works well. December 9, 2012 at 6:11am Reply

  • Julie: I’ve tried it over and over and it’s just too sweet for my nose. Give me the dark-haired tomboy step-sister Vol de Nuit any day. December 8, 2012 at 4:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, they are quite different, even if they share the same Guerlinade base! December 9, 2012 at 6:12am Reply

      • Julie: Exactly! It’s like seeing siblings in a family – some things they share, but each is an individual. December 9, 2012 at 8:49am Reply

  • Sarah: Wonderful site Victoria! L’Heure Bleue has been my favourite of all times so far. I am looking for a new fragrance at the moment, but none has really reached the balance and richness of this beautiful piece of art. I recently re-tested Shem-El-Nassim and Phul Nana from Grossmith and I have to say that I was charmed. They appear to have been created before L’Heure Bleue even! If anyone reads French, I also recommend this article by Elisabeth de Feydeau who is the reference in the world of French Perfumery and Writing: http://bit.ly/11Z1LON December 8, 2012 at 6:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for the link, Sarah. A very interesting article, and I was curious to learn that L’Heure Bleue was worn by Clotilde Coureau, Mylène Farmer, Jade Jagger, Lou Doillon, Patricia Arquette, Julia Roberts, and of course, Catherine Deneuve. December 9, 2012 at 6:14am Reply

  • breathesgelatin: so Victoria, are you going to share more about the super-limited edition L’Heure Bleue flankers that you briefly describe in the article? ;) I’m dying to hear more about them. They sound divine. I’m also a bit confused if the three exclusive flankers (L’Aurore, Le Zenith, and Le Crepuscule) are different from the L’Heure de Nuit I’ve seen teased on other blogs. December 8, 2012 at 6:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: They are essentially different concentrations of the same perfume (new interpretation that will be sold as L’Heure de Nuit). Yes, I will write more about it. :) December 9, 2012 at 6:16am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Thanks, Victoria, for helping celebrate the 100th birthday of one of my all-time favorite scents! To me L’heure Bleu, with its dusty, powedry, iris scent smells like pure bottled melancholy and nostaglia- a sad Cole Porter song, a silent film, acrumbling corsage found in an old trunk. I love it, and imagine Gloria Swanson or Pola Negri wearing it as they tango by the pool at the Garden of Allah. (You can tell I live in LA and took film history in college.) It’s the twilight of the Belle Epoque and just ravishing. December 8, 2012 at 6:38pm Reply

    • nikki: Lynn Morgan, love that description, very beautiful! December 9, 2012 at 12:01am Reply

    • Victoria: What a beautiful image, Lynn! I’m envisioning all of this as I bury my nose in my L’Heure Bleue scented wrist… December 9, 2012 at 6:17am Reply

  • Madeleine: Hi Victoria,

    L’Heure Bleue is a difficult one for me. I loved it at first sniff, bought a bottle and have only used it about twice in 12 months.

    While I appreciate its beauty immensely, on my skin, something is just overwhelming – I think it might be the heliotropin? – and I find it depressing to wear.

    However, I can’t bring myself to sell the bottle as I’d hate to find myself without this reference scent if things should change.

    I just keep hoping that one day it will work.

    Cheers,

    Madeleine December 9, 2012 at 11:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: If you have space to store it and especially if something about this perfume intrigues you, I would keep the bottle. It’s quite special, and it’s worth revisiting time to time. December 10, 2012 at 3:49pm Reply

  • Claire: Thanks for the article, Victoria! I have a love-hate relationship with L’Heure Bleue. I cannot get past the anise (that I used to have as a child as some kind of medicine!), but I love the dry-down. It’s been a while since I visit this perfume, this blog post inspires me to revisit it again. December 10, 2012 at 12:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, I know what you mean about medicine. I also remember being forced to drink something scented with anise. It took me a long time to like anise, in food and perfume, but I’ve managed to overcome the aversion. December 10, 2012 at 3:56pm Reply

  • solanace: I love wearing l’Heure Bleue on a cloudy morning, it will stay with me all day,with all these delicious layers unfolding… That’s what I want a perfume to deliver! December 10, 2012 at 2:34am Reply

    • Victoria: A great image! I wore it yesterday, on one of the coldest days this year, and it made me feel warmer. December 10, 2012 at 3:56pm Reply

  • Jennifer: I still haven’t properly tried L’Heure Bleu. I smelled the EDT at either Saks or Neiman Marcus maybe a year or so ago, but it would’ve been the current formulation. It’s one of many things of which I’d like to get a vintage sample. I don’t think it would be something I’d want to wear because I don’t like powdery stuff and violet is my nemesis note, but I’d like to at least have a little bit for reference. December 10, 2012 at 5:44am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s worth comparing if you have a chance, and if you can try the parfum, even better. December 10, 2012 at 3:58pm Reply

  • ChrisinNY: L’Heure Bleue is at the top of my “samples to get” list. I think/hope I am getting it for Christmas, along with Mitsouko and a few others mentioned here or elsewhere on the site. Can’t wait to try it. December 10, 2012 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that Santa brings you the gift that you want then. :) And I hope that you will enjoy L’Heure Bleue. December 10, 2012 at 3:58pm Reply

  • Joan: L’Heure Bleue smells really sweet to me. It’s kind of like expensive caramel coffee or cake. I have the eau de parfum from about 2007. It’s hard to find a good occasion for it though. December 10, 2012 at 10:21am Reply

    • Victoria: The more they change the formula, the sweeter it gets. Pretty soon, L’Heure Bleue will be a full-blown gourmand! It’s true that it’s now much sweeter and more almondy than it used to be (or rather, in the past, the sweet notes were more wrapped in musks and balsams). December 10, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Austenfan: A couple of years ago I got tester extraits of most of the classic Guerlains ( Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Chamade and Nahéma). I have no idea how old they were. The Mitsouko is the new one.
    Anyway I love the “version” of L’Heure Bleue I have got. It happens to be one of my most complimented fragrances. I do not wear it often but when I do I enjoy every minute of it. Having read that the old L’HB is so much better I wonder whether I should try it or not. I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of wearing the one I own. I don’t know if I find it melancholy, perhaps a bit, contemplative is what I would call it. And although very radiant it isn’t loud. December 10, 2012 at 11:22am Reply

    • Victoria: In many interviews, perfumer Jean Kerleo always mentions L’Heure Bleue as a gold standard perfume for defining sillage. It’s really impressive how it can radiate without leaving a heavy trail (compared, say, to Coco Mademoiselle or Chance or even La Petite Robe Noire). December 10, 2012 at 4:02pm Reply

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