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.
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!