guerlain: 86 posts

What Makes A Perfume Great

“The art of fortunate proportions” is how Edmond Roudnitska described perfumery. According to the legendary perfumer, a good fragrance has balance and an original form, a simple idea that is far from easy to realize. Roudnitska spent his career creating fragrances that exemplify perfumery at its most artistic—Christian Dior Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Diorella, and Rochas Femme. His compositions have elegance and character, but one of the distinctive trademarks of Roudnitska’s style is balance.

When I speak of balance in perfumery, I mean both the aesthetics and the technique. Consider Guerlain’s Chamade, one of the most perfectly balanced fragrances. From the bright green top notes to the rose and hyacinth heart and the velvety woody notes, the perfume unfolds like a silk scroll.  Similarly modulated is Dior’s Diorissimo, where the musky and spicy notes balance out the floral and green accords.

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Fascinating Perfumery: How Violets and Ionones Made History

It’s not an understatement to say that without the humble violet we wouldn’t have perfumery as we know it today. At the end of the 19th century when the fashion for violet perfumes was all the rage, several German chemists set out to isolate the aroma-material that gives this flower its delicate and yet persistent scent. Until then violet essence was distilled from the flowers of Viola odorata, a process that required more than 33,000 kg of flowers to obtain a kilogram of violet oil. The search for Veilchenduft, the scent of violet, led to the discovery and isolation of ionones, a class of materials that are sweet and powdery.

In today’s film, I describe how this violet-scented revolution happened and compare different types of ionones. The term ionone is derived from the Greek word “iona,” which means violet, and “ketone” referring to its chemical structure. Several isomeric ionones occur naturally in flowers like rose and violet as well as in different fruit and berries. Fine grades of Japanese green tea are rich in ionones as is milk–if a cow eats ionone-rich alfalfa, ionones will then be found in its milk.

I mention several violet gold standards such as

Coty L’Origan

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

Chanel No 19

Chanel Coco

Rochas Femme

Yves Saint Laurent Paris

Lancôme Trésor

This episode focuses more on the classics, and in the next film I will discuss modern fragrances featuring ionones. Ionones: Sweet and Powdery includes even more perfumes and information on these fascinating materials.

Of course, I would love to hear about your favorite violets, vintage or modern. 

How to Smell Peaches in Guerlain Mitsouko

When I wrote my article about lactones, I explained that Guerlain Mitsouko was one of the first perfumes to use these compounds redolent of peach skin and cream. Many of you then commented that you found it difficult to detect lactones in Mitsouko. This difficulty is not surprising, since the peach skin note in Mitsouko is not intended to be a dominant one. Instead, it offsets the darkness of moss and woods and harmonizes the warm drydown and the floral heart of the perfume.

In general, none of the Guerlain classics are easy to take apart note by note; this is not like modern niche perfumery where you can tell the percentage of Iso E Super at first sniff. The idea of the grand parfums like Mitsouko wasn’t to recreate a smell of peach or moss, but to evoke a mood, to tell a story and to tease the senses. I like the streamlined modern perfumes for other reasons, but if I want baroque complexity, Guerlain classics are my first port of call.

Like other perfumers, I spent months of my training recreating important classics without recourse to gas chromatography–with only my nose to guide me. So here I propose a technique that will help you identify the peach note in Mitsouko.

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Guerlain Eau de Cologne du Coq, Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat and Eau de Guerlain

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With the start of summer it seems natural to reach for a cologne. This style of fragrances based on citrus is uplifting and bright, and wearing a cologne is a low-commitment affair since it lasts on skin for only a few hours, leaving behind a memory of freshness. Of course, these days there are many different colognes, some promising an all-day citrus blast and others treating the most un-cologne-like notes like sandalwood, roses and musk in the style’s gossamer lightness. For my part, I recommend visiting three classics from Guerlain: Eau de Cologne du Coq, Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat and Eau de Guerlain.

Not only does the trio offer a range of styles, it gives a great overview of the house’s signature and the way it evolved over time. The fragrances were created by three perfumers representing different generations of the Guerlain family–Aimé Guerlain with his fin-de-siecle sensibilities, Jacques Guerlain renowned for his technical mastery and Jean-Paul Guerlain, the renegade. One need not have all three colognes in one’s wardrobe, but each is distinctive enough to be worth comparing.

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Revolutionary Perfume : A Brief History of Chypre

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1917 was the year when the Bolshevik Revolution took place. It was also the year when another revolution happened. It wasn’t bloody, its scale was small, but for the history of perfumery it was as galvanizing as the events in Russia for the rest of the world. This revolution was the creation of Chypre by François Coty. The name Chypre referred to the island of Cyprus, which had been famous for its fragrant moss since antiquity, and while chypre-style fragrances, warm and moss-laden, were popular long before Coty’s creation, his Chypre of 1917 was different.

For one thing, Coty wasn’t afraid of making bold statements. To give a heavy note of oakmoss radiance, he used a novel aroma-chemical called isobutyl quinoline. Pure, it smelled pungently of leather and burned rubber, but when used as part of an accord with bergamot, dry woods and moss, its effect became sensual and luminous. Coty then increased the proportion of green notes and added a delicate floral twist. Chypre evoked the Mediterranean sea breeze and lemon orchards and reminded you that even on the most sunlit of days, shadows are present. Dark leather and inky moss provided the dramatic contrast in his composition.

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From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Marianne in What Makes A Perfume Great: Hello Victoria, thank you for this elegant and informative post. Reading is, as always, a delightful way to learn, and I’m learning a great deal from you and the comments… September 18, 2021 at 3:27am

  • Old Herbaceous in What Makes A Perfume Great: What a clear explanation of this technique! I especially appreciate the analogy to Balanchine’s choreography. September 17, 2021 at 10:02pm

  • Nancy Chan in Corsican Eucalyptus and the Scent of the Maquis: Hi Cornelia, Oh do try these soaps. The Imortelle (uplifting range) soap was on my next shopping list, but Diptyque’s Tam Dao soap beat it to the front of the… September 17, 2021 at 5:19pm

  • Cornelia Blimber in What Makes A Perfume Great: I love your descriptions of these iconic perfumes. I smelled all of them; Vent Vert was one of my first perfumes. No 22, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles, and… September 17, 2021 at 4:38pm

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