Guerlain – Nahéma

Guerlain – Nahéma


Still from Benjamin ou les Mémoires d’un Puceau”

“Mon grand-père Jacques m’a dit un jour:

‘Mon petit, n’oublie jamais que l’on crée toujours des parfums pour les femmes qu’on aime, qu’on admire et avec lesquelles on vit’

Et c’est comme cela que tout a commencé.”


“One day my grandfather Jacques said to me

‘My little one, never forget that one always creates perfumes for the women one loves, admires and those with whom one lives.’

And that is how it all began.”

So begins the book “Parfums d’Amour” by Jean-Paul Guerlain, in which he describes the journeys, both literal and figurative, he undertook to arrive at his fragrant creations and the women who inspired him. Although the story behind the inspiration for Nahéma does not appear in Parfums d’Amour, this introduction could not more perfectly describe the fragrance, which along with Jicky, is perhaps among the more well-known of Jean-Paul’s amorous anecdotes.

What would a perfume inspired by the paragon of beauty, Catherine Deneuve, smell of? For Jean-Paul Guerlain, whose 1979 fragrance Nahema was inspired by the award-winning, supremely talented and breathtakingly beautiful actress, the answer was simple. The archetypal symbol of romantic love: the rose. And what a rose he created.

Legend has it that Jean-Paul made 138 attempts at the creation before reaching perfection. Nahéma, which translates as “born of fire” or the “fiery one” is an incredibly ripe, lush rose.  With its plummy and peachy facets, which give the fragrance a fullness and ripeness well beyond a simple soliflore, he achieved a rose so compelling that it takes on a nearly three-dimensional aspect. While rose fragrances are often dismissed as being “old-fashioned”, Hyacinth adds a delicious tension to the fragrance, making this a rose that could never be mistaken for anything less than a sexpot.

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While I do not find Nahema to be particularly “fiery”, there are oriental aspects which when combined with the ripe fruit notes and Ylang-Ylang suggest a degree of feminine intimacy, not unlike Rochas Femme. Much like a young Catherine Deneuve, Nahéma is inexplicably lush and sensual, like a woman in a crimson velvet gown full of voluptuous curves.

Notes: Peach, Bergamot, Citrus Notes, Aldehydes, Green Notes, Rose, Jasmine, Lilac, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Ylang-Ylang, Peru Balsam, Vanilla, Vetiver, Sandalwood

Guerlain – Vol de Nuit

Guerlain – Vol de Nuit

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I am not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If one has positive changes to implement in one’s life, why wait until the dawn of a new year to start doing so? That said, I am a proponent of focusing on new year’s intentions – those visions and dreams which we want to manifest over the coming twelve months. Being a lover of travel, my mind naturally starts focusing on where the next twelve months can take me.

In addition to poring over photographs of dream destinations,  I love wearing fragrances which take me away to foreign locales, even if I am sitting nowhere more glamorous than my desk at work. One of the fragrances I find myself reaching for most during my intention setting is Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit, or Night Flight in English. This 1933 fragrance is Jacques Guerlain’s tribute to Antoine Saint Exupery’s novel by the same name and is yet another link in a long line of masterpieces.

While Saint Exupery’s tale is a memorial to the dangerous and sometimes tragic missions of early airmail pilots flying through the night to deliver their charges, Vol de Nuit celebrates the romance of air travel, in typical Guerlain fashion. From the elegant flacon with propeller-inspired relief to the distinctive zebra-print box, Vol de Nuit is the embodiment of elegance and adventure. Air travel is something that we largely take for granted in modern society, so it is incredible to imagine a time when this was a rare luxury reserved for the elite. The first commercial flights, which took place nearly a hundred years ago were much planned and greatly publicized. People fortunate enough to board a plane took the travel itself as a momentous occasion, and did not neglect to dress the part.

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Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit suggests this world of decadence and luxury, evident in the rich materials of the vintage formulation which are of superb caliber. The fragrance possesses a highly unique character, evoking a sense of otherworldliness and wonder which I associate with exploration. When compared with other vintage Guerlains, including its predecessors L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit has a subtle masculine (and dare I say rebellious) edge, not unlike the androgyny found in Caron’s Tabac Blonde.  

Indeed the fragrance is a delicious balance of bitter citrus and deep green notes which part the skies to reveal a warm, woody base set atop the famous Guerlinade. Shining throughout like the gleaming wings of a plane is one of the loveliest examples of galbanum I have ever encountered in a fragrance, on par with the beauty and bite of vintage Chanel 19.

While the fragrances are very dis-similar in scent, I cannot help but draw comparisons between Vol de Nuit and Guerlain’s own Bouquet de Faunes for the darkness of character. While many fragrances today are formulated to be light, casual and pretty, Vol de Nuit suggests a depth and mystery very akin to its name, and is among the more “intellectual” of the old Guerlains. If you are a lover of vintage Guerlains or of galbanum, I highly suggest seeking this out – as the current formulation (updated due to restrictions on materials) unfortunately do not do this justice.

 Notes: Bergamot, Petitgrain, Galbanum, Lemon, Jonquil, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Sandalwood, Iris, Musk.

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Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice


While I had read positive reviews of Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice, it was not a fragrance I held out great hope for. Much less had I expected to become borderline-obsessed with it. The description for this (now discontinued) Eau de Toilette from the inconstant Aqua Allegoria series sounded too much like a gimmick. The fragrance is built around a series of wood accords, including fir and pine, meant to invoke the scents associated with the holiday season. Guerlain then added to this forest fantasy the wintry spice of clove and sweetened it with vanilla and a sugary note. In my mind, I had already conjured images of candle shops at the mall during the holiday season, with teenage salespeople pushing red and green pillars of wax, inlaid with pine cone pieces, while being bombarded with loud holiday music and frantic Christmas shoppers. Needless to say, this did not seem to me like a recipe for anything other than a bad seasonal fragrance.

In my rush to form an impression, I had failed to consider that there might yet be some steam in the venerable Guerlain engine capable of producing something provocative, which is exactly what they did. That being said, Winter Delice is a bit of an odd fragrance. Upon first application, I was hit with a musky, slightly musty sensation that was soon lightened by a fruity accord reminiscent of winter berries on a cold morning. The fragrance warmed to a strong impression of woods very much like those scents we associate with the holidays. For the first few minutes, I struggled against years of cultural associations and the sensation that I could not possibly wear this fragrance on my body unless I planned on dressing as a sugar plum fairy.

And yet, what I had not expected was the drydown: a lovely mix of incense and resin, softened by the powdery sweetness of oppoponax. The fragrance is somewhat strange no doubt, and definitely evokes thoughts of wintery nights before the fireplace. But true to its name, Winter Delice is also delicious, and I found I could not stop smelling myself to catch the warmth of the incense against woods.


As with several of the other Aqua Allegoria fragrances, Winter Delice was discontinued, although one can sometimes find overpriced minis for sale. Unfortunately for my wallet, I fell in love with this odd, lovely fragrance and have gone through a decant provided by a generous friend rather quickly. Looks like an overpriced mini is in my future.


Woody Floral Musk

Notes: Fir; Pine, Resin, Oppoponax, Vanilla, Sugar.


Guerlain – La Petite Robe Noire

Guerlain – La Petite Robe Noire


Long have I put off reviewing this fragrance. In part, because I strive to give a fragrance ample time to reveal its charms, because we are all familiar with those loves that creep up on us unexpectedly. Not so with La Petite Robe Noire, released by Guerlain in 2009, at the hands of resident parfumeur Thierry Wasser. In all honesty, this fragrance never stood a chance. The name, a reference to the ubiquitous little black dress which is a must have in any woman’s wardrobe, felt like coercion: if you have only one perfume, it must be this one. The little black dress will make you instantly chic, instantly irresistible to every man in sight. You and every other woman on the planet.

Second, and a far worse offense, was the bottle. The beloved, inverted-heart Guerlain flacon, home to the hauntingly beautiful L’Heure Bleue and ground-breaking Mitsouko was “enhanced” with a cartoon drawing of a little black dress, presumably to lend a modern flair to the bottle. The fragrance was then marketed with a bizarre black caricature of a disjointed stick woman. The result was cartoonish and immature. My reaction the first time I beheld it was akin to seeing graffiti on the Louvre: it felt like the defacement of a monument. Finally, it felt like La Petite Robe Noire was intentionally everywhere. Gone was the magic of Guerlain: the sense of sophistication and genteel exclusivity.


I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and tried to form an unbiased impression of the scent. The opening reveals a dense, syrupy sweetness of synthetic black cherry, which has been described by many as reminiscent of Cherry Coke. Not being a fan of many fruity florals, the opening was difficult to endure, though subtle hints of anise waved a fan of promise. In what seemed like the ultimate irony, La Petite Robe Noir smells hot pink not black. As the sweetness subsided, a slight hint of smoky black tea signals the first turn for the interesting the fragrance takes.

The drydown, a dusky sweetened patchouli, left me somewhat confused.  It seemed to bear no relation to the uber-girly opening and in fact seemed quite masculine in its execution. I preferred it to the opening, as it possessed a certain relative subtlety, but it seemed out of place in the composition. I also found it oddly similar to Bois d’Armenie, as though Guerlain had run out of ideas. No Guerlinade in sight, or perhaps worse still, this odd woody patchouli is the new Guerlinade.

All in all, La Petite Robe Noire seems like a poor knock-off of Coco Mademoiselle with a touch of Lolita Lempicka (and about a pound of sugar) for good measure. My intense love of Guerlain scents, with a few exceptions, has diminished a notch with each release after Samsara. Unless the house gets some new ideas soon (hint: bring back Mathilde Laurent), I fear that this may be the end, with a full stop.

Fruity Floral

Notes: Black Cherry, Black Rose, Patchouli, Smoked Tea

Guerlain – Samsara

Guerlain – Samsara


If you are a perfume afficionada, one of the benefits of going to an all-women’s college is the rather obvious proximity of many young women wearing many different fragrances. In my hallway alone, I was greeted each morning by a variety of freshly-showered Chanels and Calvin Kleins as they made their way to morning classes. Into the melange of perfumed heads making their way down Broadway in 1989, came a stunning new creature. She had a cascading mane of beautiful curls atop her slender figure, wore a tiny nose-ring balanced with a huge scarf (which seemed to perfectly match her studies in comparative religion and art), smoked Camels like there was no tomorrow, and was French Canadian to boot. She cut quite an impressive figure in the sea of Eternity, because, of course, she wore Samsara.

Named for the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth, she railed against the ironic name choice for what was such a simply beautiful fragrance (though given the state of Guerlain’s current output, I find myself desperately wishing for rebirth at this point). As a child of the 1980s, Samsara wove an exotic tale, this time of India, with its references to sandalwood and its stylized, deep red bottle. Indeed, vintage Samsara is legendary for containing some of the highest quality sandalwood, in unprecedented amounts.

Into this rich, delicately sweet wood, Jean-Paul Guerlain had the brilliance of introducing a rich jasmine note. While Samsara is certainly recognizable from a distance, unlike many other fragrances of the 1980s, it was never cloying, as the equally demanding notes of sandalwood and jasmine worked in perfect harmony, rather than competing for top billing. The rich rose and ylang notes imparted a nearly palpable creaminess to the fragrance, lending it soft edges and voluptuousness. Perhaps I have been tainted by the intense sillage of other fragrances in my collection, but I find that Samsara wears fairly close to the skin.

The drydown hints at Guerlain heritage, with vanilla and tonka making their symbolic appearance, warming the jasmine petals and woods into a warm skin scent. The EdT places emphasis on the jasmine, while the EdP and Parfum highlights the beauty of sandalwood. While Samsara makes perfect sense (and even appears subtle) in today’s fragrance environment, at the time it was released it was instantly recognizable and larger than life. An intriguing and sophisticated choice for a woman barely in her twenties. Whenever I reach for it, I am reminded of of her unique, indomitable spirit.

Notes: Bergamot, Jasmine, Narcissus, Rose, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Iris, Tonka, Vanilla.

*A further note on the fragrance – as I commenced writing this review, I instantly realized why Jasmin et Cigarette had failed to hit the spot for me. The perfect combination of jasmine, tobacco and smoke had already been achieved (albeit unintentionally) by my Samsara wearing friend.

Guerlain – Mitsouko

Guerlain – Mitsouko


Despite being named after the heroine in Claude Farrère’s novel “La Bataille”, if each perfume symbolizes a woman, Mitsouko would have to be the mythological Eve, the first woman and mother of all. For it is in her composition that we can find the DNA for many beloved and wildly successful perfumes including Rochas Femme, Diorama, Youth Dew, Opium and Coco Chanel. Mitsouko was the astounding creation of Jacques Guerlain. Reflecting the world’s fascination with Chypre by Coty, a ground-breaking creation which combined the somewhat odd bedfellows of bergamot, jasmine, labdanum and oakmoss into what would ultimately become a new fragrance category, Guerlain took this novel concept one step further with the introduction of a warm, creamy, ripe peach note. The original Chypre is often described as being a bit rough around the edges, a quandary solved by Guerlain with the introduction of the newly-discovered Gamma-Undecalactone, also known as Aldehyde C-14. Without getting overly technical, there is some debate over the use of the aldehyde reference to C-14, which is technically a lactone, a term which refers both to the molecule’s structure as well as to its fragrance which often has a creamy (milky) scent. Aldehydes are often used to give a fragrance that special opening “sparkle” (imagine the first moments of Chanel No 5), whereas C 14 has a very specific golden peach tone. Nomenclature aside, the introduction of this molecule beautifully rounded out the more angular structure of Chypre into an unforgettable masterpiece.

Mitsouko is at once bold and soft, womanly and earthy. It is the smell of the fall, the warmth and spice of cinnamon and the odd sweetness of decomposing leaves. Its beauty is, quite simply, astounding. While Mitsouko is perhaps one of the most beloved and written about fragrances, it can often be a difficult one to approach if one is just developing their appreciation of vintage or more complex scents. Thanks in part to the inclusion of oakmoss, a popular perfume fixative before restrictions limited its use, Mitsouko has a certain musty smell reminiscent of library books which some find challenging upon first sniff. Ironically, it is the diminution of this same note in the modern, reformulated version, that many perfume enthusiasts bemoan the loss of.

Approaching perfume is not unlike learning about wine: at first, one’s palate can more readily appreciate simpler, sweeter wines, but with time, one is able to appreciate the dry and more complex varieties. So it is with Mitsouko, so be sure to give it some time if you are unable to love it right away – this is one of the perfumes most worth knowing. While many have followed in her steps, Mitsouko is perhaps the finest example of the Chypre genre, if not one of the greatest perfumes of all time.


While I have various examples of Mitsouko in my collection, each with a slightly different scent due in large part to varying ages, the new reformulated version is in some respects a distinct departure from the original vintage. While the lasting power matches that of the original (my scent strip still held scent 48 hours later) the unfolding of the fragrance was decidedly different. While it is definitely still recognizable as Mitsouko, there were aspects throughout the drydown that seemed quite foreign to my nose, and at one point I thought I had mixed up my samples. Overall the fragrance seemed thinner and while I was comparing a modern EdP to a vintage parfum, I attribute the lack of depth more to the absence of oakmoss than to the concentration, as vintage versions of the EdT or even EdC seemed to have more weight than the modern EdP.

Indeed, an overall note on the vintage EdT and EdC Guerlains (and Chanels as well) – these are often excellent and substantial renditions of the parfum (with the exception perhaps of Chant D’Aromes). While they are often a touch more powdery than the parfum (especially true for L’Heure Bleue) they are a wonderful option if one is looking for a more affordable alternative to a vintage parfum.

Fruity Chypre

Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli, Peach, Rose, Clove, Ylang-Ylang, Cinnamon, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Patchouli, Benzoin, Vetiver.

Guerlain News

Guerlain News

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I recently posted here that the Guerlain flagship store at 68 Champs-Élysées was undergoing renovations. It turns out that the store has indeed been closed for the past several months and is expected to remain so until later this year. Apparently the existing boutique area is undergoing an extensive expansion which will span multiple floors. My friend in Paris was kind enough to snap some photos for me which show work going on in the background. While it is certainly exciting to imagine the beautiful new displays, I do wonder how necessary the additional space is, as 68 Champs-Élysées was just expanded in 2011. Hopefully the rumors about historic elements being demolished will turn out to be unfounded.


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Another rumor which judging by these photos seems to hold some truth is that Guerlain is conducting some activities in Russia. If you look closely at the flags in the picture at left, you can see the Russian flag all the way to the right. In addition to a commemorative bee bottle of Quand Vient La Pluie (Thierry Wasser’s modern “interpretation” of Après L’Ondée) named Place Rouge to celebrate the 150th anniversary of one of Russia’s major department stores (located in Red Square), Guerlain has been rumored to be producing fragrances in factories located in the former Soviet Union.


This could hold some benefit for perfumistas, as the strict regulations regarding perfume materials are not in place outside of the European Union. While the news of this set my mind racing with olfactory visions of real oakmoss, the thought of another Wasser creation snapped me back to reality. Now if Guerlain would only bring back Mathilde Laurent!



Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Figue Iris

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Figue Iris


By now you have surely come to the conclusion that perfume is one of my guilty pleasures. The way other people reach for a cocktail when they get home to unwind, I grab a bottle of a different kind and apply liberally to melt away the stresses of my day. I am sure all perfumistas have some fragrance in their wardrobe that is a guiltier pleasure than they would like to admit to. For me, it’s Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Figue Iris.

While the Aqua Allegoria line started out as an exercise in minimalism, somewhere along the way (i.e. after the departure of Mathilde Laurent), the entire project went haywire, resulting in odd and sometimes abrasive compositions. With a few exceptions, such as this here, many of the fragrances had a light, delicate character that made them good introductory Guerlains.

Not so with Figue Iris. The first time I smelled it, I was slightly horrifed, as I was expecting a light green fig enhanced by magical iris dust. What I got instead was a dense, surreal impression of the inner pulp of a fig: juicy, ripe, heavy and pungent which segued into a very lush (and slightly plastic) iris, with a hint of violet deepened by a rich vanilla. No subtlety, no light romance, just FIG and IRIS in mile high pink letters.

A f ew months went by and I was sorting samples and came across it again, and applied it absent-mindedly. This time I liked it, almost in spite of myself. I admitted my bizarre newfound affection to a fellow collector who was slightly horrified as well, but we agreed that it was no worse than any other fruity floral on the market. I finished my sample and found myself longing for this plush, plastic fig.  Before I knew it, the search was on to try and track down a bottle because this 2008 release had long been discontinued.

While I cannot help but wish Guerlain would have served this up as a traditional perfume and invested the resources to make it more complex, when it comes down to it, it smells really good. While it lacks the sophistication of say a Diptyque or Hermes fig, ironically, this is one of the fragrances that I get the most compliments on when I wear it, which is on rare occasions given that I had to track my bottle down halfway around the world from a seller in Spain who had one to spare.

Fruity Floral

Notes: Citrus, Violet, Iris, Fig, Milky Notes, Wood Notes, Vanilla, Vetiver.


Guerlain – L’Heure de Nuit

Guerlain – L’Heure de Nuit

guerlain l'heure de nuit perfume exclusive

Released in 2012, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the monumental L’Heure Bleue, L’Heure de Nuit is Thierry Wasser’s homage to the classic. The fragrance is striking, a deep blue-hued juice in a classic bee bottle, and yet it seems an odd choice of presentation for such a  prestigious house.

While I applaud the effort on the part of houses like Guerlain to introduce their classics to a younger audience, once you have mastered perfection, it is difficult to match. In fact, any fragrance so sublime as L’Heure Bleue is sure to make anything, let alone a modern flanker, pale in comparison. Had I never smelled L’Heure Bleue, I may have fallen in love with L’Heure de Nuit immediately, but given the circumstances, it is difficult not to make comparisons.

L’Heure de Nuit starts off smelling distinctly like L’Heure Bleue, the gorgeous, luminous orange blossom unfolding into a anisic, almond confection that is pure heaven on earth. But much like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy loses some of its strength when played apart from the rest of the Ninth Symphony, L’Heure de Nuit feels slightly trite without the heft of the original. Absent is the rich powdery veil and the lush oriental base. In its stead, L’Heure de Nuit gets a dose of clean musk, making it feel lighter, cleaner and more modern than its refined older sister. If L’Heure Bleue is an impressionist painting, deep with densely applied colors, L’Heure de Nuit is a starter pack of magic markers: colorful and bright, but light and transient.

While the fragrance is lovely, it lacks the depth which gives vintage Guerlains their classic tenor. The fragrance has good longevity and sillage but again, lighter than the original. While I am thrilled that one of the most beautiful fragrances of all time has not been forgotten, I would prefer to have the original reincarnated in its true form, though as one can tell from the abominable quality of the current version of L’Heure Bleue, the IFRA has made that impossible.

Classic Reinterpreted

Notes: Bergamot, Orange Blossom, Iris, Heliotrope, Jasmine, Rose, Musk, Sandalwood


Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille


For the most part, the Aqua Allegoria series by Guerlain feel like watercolor impressions of fruit and floral bouquets. The various Eau de Toilettes generally have a light character, making them perfect summertime fragraces when one is fresh out of the shower with clean scrubbed hair. The exception to the original series released in 1999 is Ylang & Vanille, a heavier, fairly opulent floral oriental, more in the style of traditional Guerlain scents.

True to its name, the fragrance largely focuses on the interplay of the exotic Ylang Ylang and luscious vanilla notes. The fragrance opening highlights the sharper, greener aspects of the flower, but quickly softens into a sumptuous floral veil that feels like a thick, plush robe. While there are subtle notes of jasmine and carnation, they are barely discernable and act more to highlight the lush Ylang Ylang. The flower’s distinctive fragrance reminds me of balmy days in humid tropical islands and its deep, voluptuous scent can add heft to a perfume. In Ylang & Vanille, Guerlain does nothing to downplay the slightly odd scent of this beautiful flower, instead adding vanilla to enhance the dense, heady quality.


The vanilla, once it appears, is quite different from the traditional Guerlain vanilla we experience in Shalimar and Jicky. Ylang & Vanille’s vanilla feels closer to a vanilla bean or extract, rich and pungent, but lacking in sweetness. While the Ylang Ylang feels sumptuous enough to hang in the air like a billowy cloud, the lack of sweetness in the fragrance keeps it from becoming too cloying, or worse, yet another sickly sweet gourmand. The fragrance displays considerable potency for an Eau de Toilette, and this is one of the few Aqua Allegorias which would be overwhelming in a more potent concentration. Similar to several of its sisters in the original 1999 series penned by Mathilde Laurent, this one has been discontinued.

Floral Oriental

Notes: Ylang Ylang, jasmine, carnation and vanilla