Friday, January 19, 2007

The House of Guerlain

House of Guerlain, 68 Ave des Champs Elysées

Today I am going to describe my visit to La Maison Guerlain (The House of Guerlain). Going there is like making a pilgrimage to the Mother Ship of haute parfumerie. Located on the expansive Avenue des Champs-Élysées, this quintessentially Parisian boutique is just what one might picture when thinking of a French parfumerie. It is charming, genteel, and refined. Walking through the door is like stepping back in time, to the lovely Belle Époche era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Belle Époche period was a golden era of beauty, creativity, and peace in Europe. On the cultural scene, the arrival of the cancan, cabaret and the cinema livened things up. Meanwhile, the art world was swept away by the new styles of Impressionism and Art Nouveau.

Built in 1914, this boutique captures the essence of that time. The second floor, with its enormous plate glass windows looking out at the ever-changing street scene below, is a perfume-lover's haven. There are dozens and dozens of beautiful perfume flacons displayed throughout the chamber with blotting papers at the ready for your testing pleasure. Two easy chairs in one corner were most appreciated as I felt somewhat overwhelmed after an hour of sampling. Yes, I nearly swooned with delight! The sales associates were friendly but non-intrusive and did not seem to mind my camera and notepad.

Perfume display, second floor

Bee bottles!

The classics are all here: Jicky, created in 1889 and considered by many to be the first "modern" perfume and the first unisex fragrance; Apres L’Ondee (After the Rain Shower), the lovely violet-scented, powdery floral created in 1906 by Jacques Guerlain; Mitsouko, created in 1919, with its earthy heart notes of oakmoss and peach; Shalimar, the ambery floral created in 1925 and still considered the flagship perfume of Guerlain; and Liu, a beautiful floral/aldehyde fragrance created in 1929.

Common to many of the Guerlain fragrances is a special vanilla and amber accord. This unique accord is often referred to as the Guerlinade and a perfume by the same name was launched by Guerlain in 1921. It is a very light, pretty floral that would be good for daytime wear.

A special section of the room is devoted to the four fragrances in Guerlain’s latest collection, “L’Art et la Matiere”. Each of these fragrances has been created around a rare, precious ingredient by a master perfumer.

The collection includes Rose Barbare (Barbaric Rose), a beautiful elegant honey, rose and chypre fragrance created by French-Armenian perfumer Francis Kurkdjian; Cuir Beluga (Beluga leather), created by Olivier Polge; Angélique Noire (Black Angelica), created by Daniele Andrier; and Bois d’Armenie (Armenian incense paper), created by Annick Menrdo.

It's hard to tell in the picture below, but the tall bottle with the puff-atomizer is Angélique Noire, my personal favorite in this collection. It is a fresh, clean, sweet fragrance of angelica root, bergamot and vanilla. It dries down to a soft, slightly gourmand vanilla scent with good lasting power. It is available at the Guerlain flagship store (140 euros/ 75 ml) and at Bergdorf Goodman $195 for 2.5 fl. oz.

Guerlain treasures

Alert readers may have noticed I did not list this perfumery under "Better-Know-A-Niche Perfumery." That is because the House of Guerlain is beyond niche. It is in a category unto itself and stands alone as one of the first haute perfume houses in the world. Très bien!

photo credits: Christine Pierce


lotusgreen said...

nice piece! i'm saddened by their discontinuation of a long-time favorite, l'heure bleu. you didn't mention it, but do you know its history and why it was stopped?

The Reekly Reader said...

As much as I love the house I have to admit that all of the Guerlain's smell better on my sister than they do on me. She can wear them all, old and new. We are very competitive with this house, as far as who bought a full bottle of what.

christine said...

Hi, lotusgreen,


L'heure Bleue is one of my long-time favorites, too. In fact, it was the first Guerlain perfume I ever bought.

The story behind the creation of L'Heure Bleue may be more fable than fact. That said, it was created in 1912, during the end of the Belle Epoque as the military storm clouds were brewing over Europe. In other words, it was made during the twilight hour of a peaceful time.

I did not know that it was being stopped... and will have to look into that.


christine said...

Hi, reekly reader!

Great name!

Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing, even if it means admitting Guerlain smells better on one's sister than on oneself! LOL!


lotusgreen said...

thanks chris! hasn't been available for a while now!

eyesofsunshine said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the "recontinuation" of l'heure bleu could trigger the dawn of a peaceful time? Say...Iraq?

Anonymous said...

they definitely have not discontinued L'Heure Bleu, it is one of their classics!

christine said...

Hi lotusgreen,

Happily, a phone call to the Perfume House (503-234-5375) revealed they have L'heure Bleue in stock with no plans to discontinue it. It retails for $103/2.5 ounces.


christine said...

Well stated, eyesofsunshine! I couldn't agree more!


christine said...

Right on, anonymous!


Anonymous said...

Do you know what is going on with Nahema/Guerlain. Can't find it anywhere...would like eau de parfum...searched all over web.