Guerlain Perfume : Vintage and Modern Comparisons


When I was recently exploring the use of woods in feminine fragrances, I realized that half of the perfumes I wanted to mention in an article were either discontinued or reformulated to the point of no longer suiting my theme. Therefore, I unpacked my older bottles and started comparing and taking notes. Since Guerlain is one of the houses with a particularly impressive collection of classics, I was curious to see what difference exists between the old and the new versions. Below are my observations.

With some exceptions, which I will note, I have only compared the extrait de parfum concentrations. I relied on testers at Bergdorf Goodman, which were full and fresh. While Guerlain fragrances have been reformulated on numerous occasions during the course of their lifespan, I looked only at the fragrances sold now. The age of own bottles ranged from 1950 (Shalimar) to 1990 (Samsara). So, I am sharing my notes with you, in case they might be helpful.

Out of all Guerlain reformulations, Shalimar appealed to me the most. It has the character of the original, with the dark, rich, oriental accord still intact. Of course, it is missing the radiance of ambergris and some natural animalic notes in the original, but frankly, if it is a choice between a nice perfume and ecology, I will take the latter. The genius of the effervescent bergamot juxtaposed with the dark, rich vanilla still amazes me, despite this idea being used extensively in many fragrances created since 1924.

Added 1/22/11: I compared the parfum concentration and the available Eau de Parfum. The leathery-castoreum notes are not as pronounced in the EdP, but the essential Shalimar structure is in place. For the richness and complexity, I prefer the parfum.

Given the astronomical price and the lack of availability of Indian sandalwood, I fully expected that Samsara would be a complete disappointment. Yet, I was wrong on that count. Samsara is marvelous—radiant, opulent, with an amazingly strong sillage. Its seductive, voluptuous character is still intact. In the Samsara parfum I smell very nice natural citrus oils and its warm rose-sandalwood core is inviting and smooth. The drydown is a bit flat, heavy on vanilla and almond scented coumarin, rather than woods. By contrast, the drydowns of the Eau de toilette and the Eau de parfum are more animalic and darker. The EDP has a crisp peppery note that fits well with the rose-sandalwood theme. Compared to the other concentrations, it is muskier and warmer. The story goes that the original Samsara included 40% natural sandalwood, but I do not know how long it has been since this was true. Even in the mid 1990s the woody accord of Samsara has already differed from the original launch. Moreover, since the synthetic sandalwood is also responsible for the woody character of Samsara, I would imagine that new sandalwood materials are being used to amplify the accord now. At any rate, it is well-balanced, and the screech of sandalwood synthetics that I noticed in Samsara a few years ago is not evident.

The parfum smells thinner and more attenuated compared to the original version, with a stronger vanilla note coming through in the drydown. That being said, it is still a great composition and its green floral character set against a modern oriental accord is beautiful. Nice sillage.

Added 1/22/11: Chamade Eau de Toilette is excellent, with a nice tenacity. Compared to the older (1990s) versions of the EDT, the new one is good, green, vibrant, exhibiting the beautiful contrast between cool and warm notes.  It is thinner, but overall, it is a good reformulation.

Added 11/23/13: The new batch of Chamade has gotten its curves back, and all versions are excellent. The Eau de Toilette is graced with a sparkling green top note that feels richer, brighter and more faceted. The same green note that smells like crushed leaves and sticky buds (galbanum) gives the extrait de parfum more complexity. Chamade feels closer to the original than it has in years. A fragrance that truly deserves its iconic status.

Look out for the batch number that starts with 3 (indicating that it was produced in 2013).

L’Heure Bleue
The big dose of vanilla and coumarin without a strong animalic note renders the drydown of L’Heure Bleue somewhat unbalanced. For extrait de parfum, it seemed rather soft spoken. Also missing is the lush, heavy powderiness as well as the striking brightness and anisic sparkle. Overall, though it is still a very lovely, plush blend, it lost some of its character. Interestingly enough, minus the heavier animalic notes, it evokes the cleaner American take on the floral oriental genre of which L’Heure Bleue is a forerunner (Oscar, Gloria Vanderbilt.) The sillage is good, but the fragrance is not as radiant as it used to be.

Ah, the beautiful Mitsouko, over the reformulation of which so much ink was spilled. Initially, it is quite lovely with its peachy, spicy-anisic top, but the main differences are obvious in the drydown, where the absence of dark oakmoss renders the base thin. 24 hours later on a blotter, Mitsouko is just a crisp, sheer Veramoss (oakmoss synthetic) and musk. On skin, the cinnamon and vanilla come through readily, which gives Mitsouko a surprisingly cheery, even jejune demeanor (in the original, these notes are more blended, so while obvious, they do not stand out as much.) If I would have worn Mitsouko extensively, I would have been disappointed. I have tried the EDP on the blotter, which I preferred to the parfum, but I need to return and compare it thoroughly.

Added 11/23/13: Proving that reformulation is not an irreversible phenomenon that only leads to disasters, Guerlain’s new version of Mitsouko is a big improvement on its other reformulations. The creamy peaches, spicy cinnamon, and cool moss are all there, and the perfume once again feels harmonious. The dark classical oakmoss that smells like ink stained woods and walnut shells is not present (thanks to the new stringent regulations), but the dusky impression is mimicked by different woods, patchouli and new mossy aroma-materials.

It’s an obvious improvement on the version that was available previously, and when I compare them side by side, I see that the new Mitsouko is rounded, warmer and more plush. The Eau de Toilette has a bright citrusy accent, the Eau de Parfum is all about golden peaches, and the extrait de parfum emphasizes the dark jasmine. All three are baroque and rich.

I’ve checked the batch number on my bottle, and it is 3W01. I was told at the boutique that 3 stands by 2013, so if you’re interested in finding the new reformulation, please use this as the guide.

Vol de Nuit
It is a shadow of itself, from the rather flat citrusy start to the pale musky-mossy drydown. If the original is tinted in dark greens, rich browns and ochre, the new one is grayish-brown. In the late drydown, the sweet cinnamon note provides most of the tonality. Will update later with the review of EDT, which is somewhat differently balanced than the parfum.

Added 1/22/11: The interesting thing about Vol de Nuit Eau de Toilette is that while thin, it gives me a better sense of the original Vol de Nuit structure than the parfum. All of the elements are in place, and while they are lighter, the beauty of Vol de Nuit is evident. In any case, I have a hard time liking the new Vol de Nuit, because it is so far away from what it used to be. Given the new restrictions on the material, I can only imagine what an impossible task this reformulation might be.

The main disappointment for me was Jicky. The character of Jicky is driven by the effervescent, aromatic note—lavender, bergamot, thyme, rosemary—set against musk, civet and vanilla. The animalic-musky accord of Jicky used to be built around the nitromusks and natural civet, which were subsequently replaced. Now, the drydown is even cleaner. The sillage is minimal and the tenacity is quite poor. Compared to all other Guerlain fragrances, the blotter dipped in new Jicky hardly bore any traces on it 48h later, whereas others were still quite recognizable. The vanilla and white musk give it a strange resemblance to fabric softener sheets after they have been through the drying cycle.

Added 1/22/11: Jicky Eau de Toilette follows the same progression as that parfum–aromatic-herbal top, dominated by lavender and thyme, thin floral  accord and then a pale base of vanilla, sandalwood and musk. In the parfum, the screechy woody note is jarring, while the flatness of vanillin does not help matters either. I prefer the EDT, if I have to chose, but to be honest, I doubt I can bring myself to wear either.

Added on 1/22/11: Nahéma went through several reformulations, but the latest ones is the one I like the most. The lush floral accord of rose, ylang ylang and jasmine has the same complexity and dramatic aura as that of my mid 1980s parfum. There is a stronger green note in Nahéma now, and the fruity-rose richness of damascones has been attenuated. However, overall, it is a splendid fragrance with a great sillage and tenacity.



  • Zazie: As my interest in all things Guerlain is only relatively recent, I am just aware (and sadly VERY VERY aware) of the very last reformulations, so this biases my impressions.
    The two shocking 2010 liftings I am mostly aware of: Shalimar and Jicky.
    The very new Shalimar extrait, I haven’t smelled, but all things leathery and balsamic and dirty-musky have disapperead from the new EDP and EDT, which have both become pleasant and dull renditions of crème anglaise.

    For what concerns Jicky, I recently smelled the new parfum, the base is now so thin, the development so shrinked, that I almost want to cry: my first Guerlain love, such a piece of beauty and history…

    So now I am buying old (well, pre-2010 it’s enough) Shalimar stocks from shops, I got a wonderfully leathery, leathery, leathery parfum on right now that I found roughly a moth ago, and am going to look for an oldish version of Jicky parfum. As I don’t squat ebay, I am just driving SAs crazy, but luckily, if I go into the right shops, they are all aware of reformultaions and eager to help: we check boxes and packagings, and we especially look for limited editions which are easier to date. With Guerlain and Shalimar it is quite easy to stunble on LEs. Yesterday I punt my hands on an oldish n°5 parfum, and it feld like undigging a treasure.
    But I am so very angry. December 17, 2010 at 4:56am Reply

  • Olfactoria: Thank you for that thorough comparison, I was hoping for a post like that. Thankfully not all seems lost, a few classic Guerlains are still great perfumes, even if not the same as the original.
    I am glad for your willingness to see the positive side of things too. December 17, 2010 at 2:52am Reply

  • Zazie: How strange! On me Jicky parfum had the usual intense and bright aromatic opening… it was the heart and base that felt hollowed… But of course, the tester I tried might refer to reformulation #N, and yours to #M… whatever reason, there are just too many reformulations… December 17, 2010 at 9:42am Reply

  • TJ: I smelled Jicky recently when I was buying a bottle of Samsara for a gift and I could not see what all the fuss was about. It was just a thin, citrusy cologne. Not too herbal either. I guess, I smelled the reformulated version. 🙁 December 17, 2010 at 10:02am Reply

  • Ines: I am so sorry to never have tried Shalimar before it was reformulated. I love it now, but that just makes me wonder what it used to smell and how much I would have loved it then.
    Thank you for a great article. 🙂 December 17, 2010 at 5:33am Reply

    • Micheline: I am 72. Shalimar was my favorite. The new formula is not nearly as wonderful…in my opinion. Arpege by Lanvin was also on the top of my list as well as Joy. I am sure they have changed also. September 2, 2021 at 12:39pm Reply

  • *jen: I love what I want Jicky to be. I need to find vintage…

    Thanks, and please do update. I’ll be looking forward to that. December 17, 2010 at 7:22am Reply

  • Marina: What a great analysis. Glad to hear that my favorite fared the best! December 17, 2010 at 8:39am Reply

  • agritty: Thank you so much for posting this – Vol de Nuit is my favorite of favorites, and I have been afraid to smell the reformulated version. I am sad to read your account of it. I have a little bit of early 2000s extrait that I guess I will wear and treasure and haunt ebay for more… I will miss this one when it is gone – it is unlike any other perfume I have smelled. December 17, 2010 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: @Olfactoria
    B, I am generally an optimistic person, and in case of perfume being different from what it used to be, I find myself easily consoled. After all, the fragrance is evanescent and is in a process of constant change (even once it is stabilized, macerated and ready to be bottled). Once I accepted it, the reformulations somehow also started affecting me less. I just like to know what is happening. For instance, I recently wanted to suggest Opium to someone who was looking for a big, spicy oriental, but when I smelled it at the store, I found that it was oriental, but neither big nor spicy. So, she will be exploring the Serge Lutens and Amouage lines. December 17, 2010 at 9:05am Reply

  • Victoria: @Zazie
    Jicky was an utter disappointment. I had to request a new tester at the counter, because I thought that something was wrong with the first one. First of all, I could not even smell the vibrant aromatic note, which is a hallmark of Jicky. Surely, if Chanel can use plenty of aromatic herbs in Bleu de Chanel, what is wrong with their use in Jicky. Granted, I need to return and resmell other concentrations. The herbal facet in the parfum was always a bit more dimmed, but not as much as what I found in the current version.

    I smelled Shalimar in the parfum and liked it. Will try the other concentrations later. December 17, 2010 at 9:10am Reply

  • Victoria: @Ines
    I really like the modern Shalimar, even though I have always loved the vintage as well. It is different though; the balance is on the whole different. Yet, it has a similar character. December 17, 2010 at 9:13am Reply

  • Victoria: *jen
    Jen, I will definitely update. So far, I wanted to at least start with the parfum versions. I will compare the EDTs/EDPs as well. December 17, 2010 at 9:15am Reply

  • Victoria: @Marina
    You mean Samsara?
    I fully expected it to be disappointing, but I have enjoyed it so much, I am thinking of buying a bottle of the EDP. It is different from what it used to be, but I still like it. Now, something like Mitsouko or Jicky are different, but to the point of losing their characters entirely. December 17, 2010 at 9:17am Reply

  • Carla: Thank you for this, I look forward to your further insights regarding Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit. December 17, 2010 at 2:51pm Reply

  • Valere: Спасибо огромное, замечательный обзор! December 17, 2010 at 9:56am Reply

  • Victoria: C, I compared it to the 1970s Jicky parfum, which is so much more vivid in all facets, esp. the base. A friend wears Jicky, and I kind of followed its progression over the years. It seems to become more and more pastel colored.
    And yes, you are definitely right, the base is where I see the most differences. Without that strong animalic note, the character is gone almost entirely. December 17, 2010 at 9:57am Reply

  • Victoria: @Valere
    Я рада, что Вам понравилось. Мне самой было интересно проследить разницу. Это ведь такая часть парфюмерной истории! December 17, 2010 at 10:00am Reply

  • Marina: Shalimar 🙂 December 17, 2010 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: @TJ
    That must have been it. December 17, 2010 at 11:05am Reply

  • Victoria: @Marina
    Ah, I see! For some reason, I pegged you as a Samsara girl. 🙂 December 17, 2010 at 11:05am Reply

  • Yelena: You’ve inspired me to pull out my vintage Guerlains. I find that Chamade has really, really been bamboozled and the new Jicky contains a note that makes me ill.I have yet to smell the new Vol de Nuit. Maybe I should hold off. December 17, 2010 at 8:14pm Reply

  • Marina: Interesting, I actually could never get a hang of Samsara. I try, but it is just…not right on me, sadly, in any of its incarnations. December 17, 2010 at 4:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: @agritty
    Hope springs eternal! Maybe, it will be reformulated again, with better results. After all, Shalimar reformulation in the 1990s was quite awful, worse than it is now. And Fracas was reformulated quite badly until the new owner took over and took the formula closer to the original version. So, you never know… Meanwhile, like you, I will cherish my old bottle. December 17, 2010 at 5:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: @Carla
    I will definitely post further on this. I just did not have time over the past week to look for my vintage EDT bottles. December 17, 2010 at 6:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: @Marina
    Before I met you, for some reason, I imagined that you looked like the model from Samsara ad. The association must have stayed with me. 🙂 December 17, 2010 at 6:01pm Reply

  • Cooper: I wonder if anyone can give me some info. I bought Vol de Nuit extrait several years ago from Bergdorfs (phone order). It came in a zebra stripe box. I have never smelled older versions, so have nothing to compare my bottle to, but have read here and there that the zebra boxes had older formulations. Is the truth to that at all? December 17, 2010 at 11:36pm Reply

  • Marina: OMG *rolling on the floor laughing out loud etc* :))) December 17, 2010 at 7:56pm Reply

  • Victoria: @Marina
    Yes, I have since learned that though beautiful and elegant, you are definitely not a brunette with brown eyes and you do not tend to wear skintight, cleavage revealing red dresses. 🙂 December 18, 2010 at 9:43am Reply

  • Victoria: @Yelena
    My mom tried Jicky recently, after she read that it was a favorite of Lilia Brik, Vladímir Mayakovski’s muse and lover. She could not understand why she would wear this, “so flat and unmemorable”. I gave her some vintage Jicky to smell, and while she did not like it either, she admitted that it had more character and that she could see why Brik would have chosen it. December 18, 2010 at 9:46am Reply

  • Victoria: @Cooper
    I believe that they still come in zebra print boxes, but if you bought your bottles several years ago, it is still better than the current version. At least, that is what I found when I compared my bottles from different time periods. It was reformulated more than once. December 18, 2010 at 9:48am Reply

  • Flora: Oh dear, this is not good news – they messed with Jicky that much?!

    Having recently gotten some samples of gorgeous old Mitsouko in a swap, I can’t even imagine smelling the new stuff, it’s just too depressing.

    I wonder what’s been done to my own favorite Guerlains, Nahema and Chant d’ Aromes – I have not smelled them in a store for a long time. Now I don’t know if I can stand to do it! December 20, 2010 at 10:09pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Donna, I tried searching for Nahema and Chant d’ Aromes at BG, but they did not seem to have it. I believe that they are sold only in France (or only in Europe.) I almost dread smelling them myself. December 21, 2010 at 8:13am Reply

  • John: So they’ve finally defaced Jicky…

    That’s the one I dreaded the most. Jicky is my soul mate. February 11, 2011 at 2:37am Reply

  • Victoria: John, maybe, it will change again. Reformulations are never a one way street, in my experience. February 11, 2011 at 8:40am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: This article is immensely helpful and interesting! I smiled at the picture of Guerlains Ode: I smelled that a long time ago: Guerlains variation on Joy.
    I guess all of us would appreciate your comparison now, since it is 3 years later and Guerlain has brought back some old smells, like Sous le Vent, Vega, Liù, Chant d’Arômes.. May 23, 2013 at 5:33am Reply

  • renee: I stumbled upon your site and I am enthralled!Samsara is my all time favorite. April 4, 2014 at 7:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Renee! April 5, 2014 at 10:35am Reply

  • Angela: Hi, my love of guerlain is relatively new, and I found that I adore the current (2013) reformulations of chamade and mitsouko extrait as well as vintage Parfum de toilette of those scents. Would it be possible to get advice on the updated vol du nuit extrait and the nahema extrait? I have compared vintage vol de nuit extrait (umbrella bottle in travel case) to the current one availed this year), and to my uneducated nose, the opening is less rich, but the dry down is certainly very similar. I don’t have any way to compare vintage versus current Nahema, but I would also be very interested in an experts opinion as to the state of its reformulation post 2011-present. Many thanks, and apologies for for the length of this post/request! September 8, 2014 at 11:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I definitely need to update, but I have to say that the new versions are much better than what we had before, and I’m seriously tempted by Jicky extrait (previously its reformulation was bland). My batch of Nahema is from 2013, so it predates the last formulation, but it’s still wonderful. September 8, 2014 at 4:44pm Reply

      • Angela: Thank you! September 8, 2014 at 6:09pm Reply

  • JulienFromDijon: Hi Vica!
    Try again the new “Vol de nuit” EDT, 2013 2014 batches. It’s actually good! (the 4 digit code must begin by 3 or 4)

    I get along with you, the former EDT versions were meh. And the extrait is still botched by a smell of cardboard (amber unbalanced).

    The “Thierry Wasser improves sourcing” story was not just PR lipservice, there are jonquil and narcissus to smell in the actual EDT. I’m almost sure.
    It’s not the quintessential extrait, but the top note of the EDT plays a perfect tune.
    It’s now easier to enjoy and to wear (spray a lot). Over with the wishy-washy iris wattery rendition that was only an intellectual pleasure.

    And it’s so delightful to leave a mainstream perfume shop smelling of the decadent evening gloom of jonquil absolute. December 13, 2014 at 3:09am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, I will do! December 13, 2014 at 7:51am Reply

  • john: Sorry to ‘bump’ this so late, but thank you, it is a great resource. I wonder if you might do the same for some of the classic Guerlain masculines, recalling your similar efforts with the house of Caron? June 8, 2017 at 1:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: I will add it onto my list of topics. Thanks, John. June 8, 2017 at 2:51pm Reply

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