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.

catherine deneuve benjamin 1

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

Balmain – Ivoire

Balmain – Ivoire27115-pierre-balmain-perfumes-1988-ivoire-hprints-com

Elegant and polished like the keys of a piano, Balmain’s 1979 Ivoire perfectly captures the sensibility of its time and of the refined, luxurious fashions of its creator, Pierre Balmain. While the fragrance can go head to head with the big, bold and brash fragrances of the 1980s, it possesses an earthy quality characteristic of the 1970s. While the name Ivoire, French for ivory, conjures for many images of a big white velvety floral, Ivoire is positively green.

From the outset, Ivoire is dense and layered. On my skin, the fragrance does not unfold in the typical top-heart-base progression, rather it unleashes its depths all at once. Ivoire is green, herbal and floral, with a pungent, spicy warmth at its depth. And while the fragrance does take some twists and turns throughout the day, revealing bright citrus and hints of floral underpinned by galbanum, the warmth of oakmoss and musk is ever present. The drydown is a creamy, woodsy and slightly soapy pillow.

I have a small vintage bottle from the 1980s that I take out whenever I want to feel especially elegant in a confident, Chanel No 19-esque  manner, so I was thrilled to see that Balmain had re-issued the fragrance in 2012. While perfumers Michel Almairac and Jacques Flori are certainly talented in their own right, the beauty of the original was unfortunately lost in translation due to restrictions on perfume materials. The re-issued Ivoire leans more toward a straight floral, and feels sharp and unbalanced without the richness that only true oakmoss and musks can bring. And while it does not possess the elegance of the original 1970s ads, the new marketing photos are a knockout.

ivoiredebalmainvisuelpuNotes: green accord, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, carnation, orris, orchid, geranium, cedar, musk, oakmoss, amber, raspberry and sandalwood.

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Rosa Magnifica

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria Rosa Magnifica


I recently read somewhere that the fragrances produced by Guerlain should be experienced in reverse order if one is to make any sense of the progression of the perfumes released by this great house. One would start out with the simple and accessible post-LVMH La Petite Robe Noir and Aqua Allegoria series, move on to the more sophisticated yet youthful fragrances created by Jean-Paul Guerlain, graduate to the ground-breaking beauties composed by Jacques and Aime Guerlain, until finally experiencing the creations of Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain which won the house the honor of being royal supplier to the crown. While I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment (and have been wracking my brain to recall who the inspired genius who penned this was) there are a few newer fragrances released by the house which I have found captivating, in spite of their simplicity.

Some of these are from the Aqua Allegoria line first introduced by Guerlain in 1999 as a series of five scents, with the intention of releasing additional fragrances in the line annually. While there is little mention of Mathilde Laurent’s tenure at Guerlain, reportedly due to a falling out with management, it is no surprise to me that some of the best examples in this series were her creations. The original five releases, Herba Fresca, Lavande Velours, Pamplelune, Ylang & Vanille and Rosa Magnifica, are each inspired creations in their own right, and a wonderful introduction to the magic of Guerlain.

Rosa Magnifica is at once a new fragrance and a recollection of other Guerlain masterpieces. As the name implies, Rosa Magnifica is fragrance built around a rose note, rendered in the softness of an Eau de Toilette. Guerlain has a long history of sourcing the best materials, both natural and synthetic, and while this reputation has suffered in post-LVMH years, the rose at the heart of Rosa Magnifica is a delicious, full-bodied bloom. While die-hard Guerlain lovers will have difficulty avoiding a comparison with Nahema, which is the undisputed champion of roses, Rosa Magnifica is a softer, subtler rendition but not without its own merits. The initial difference is apparent in the opening, which is spicy where Nahema is opulent. As the fragrance develops, I am reminded of another one of Guerlain’s masterpieces, Chamade. Rosa Magnifica features a beautiful hyacinth note, giving the rose a brightness and piquancy that give it a subtle lift. Similar to Chamade’s heavenly drydown, Rosa Magnifica is rendered delicate thanks to the introduction of iris and violet, which give it a soft and slightly powdery quality. coral-rose

While Nahema remains the ultimate rose and my number one choice in this category, I enjoyed Rosa Magnifica much more than I expected and I love having a softer, more delicate rose option for those occasions that calls for a bit of subtlety. Unfortunately, Rosa Magnifica was discontinued by Guerlain, along with others in the Aqua Allegoria line which did not fare well commercially. I find this to be a real shame, as there are other newer Aqua Allegorias which I could, quite frankly, do without. Thankfully Rosa Magnifica still pops up every now and then on Ebay and is available from various decant services.


Notes: Rose, hyacinth, iris and violet


Chanel – Cristalle

Chanel – Cristalle


I largely put myself through college via a combination of scholarships, student loans, and numerous jobs to supplement whatever assistance my parents could provide. While this would teach me the importance of careful planning and budgeting, it left little room for personal items, especially those which were not absolutely vital. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that I was attending college in Manhattan, a city not necessarily known for its reasonable cost of living.

Dedication to my studies was not as difficult for me as it was to some of my classmates. I was enrolled in a very challenging school, in one of the toughest cities of the world. I knew that I wanted to be bright and sharp and to do that in such a competitive environment would really require all of my effort to shine. While this did not reconcile well with my love for fragrance and for Chanel in particular, it was a great motivator for success.

During my first year of school, while attending a chemistry seminar, I met a young woman who ultimately became my best friend. She had a similar upbringing and we shared many of the same goals, both scholastically and personally. This included, not surprisingly, a love for Chanel. Given that we were both struggling to meet our immediate needs, together we devised creative ways of sampling and purchasing a few special items. This largely involved two activities which most of us master in childhood: dress-up and pretend.

My friend and I would save up for bus fare to Bloomingdale’s (which cost a dollar in those days) but made it a point always to walk back home. After all, we only needed to look presentable upon arrival. No one needed to know the many blocks we would walk back to return to campus uptown. To prepare for our excursion, we would put on our best outfits and make ourselves up to be sure we looked the part. We also did our research, which in those days involved pouring through magazines at the library. We needed to ensure that we seemed extremely knowledgeable when we arrived at the fragrance counter.

As we sampled the latest releases (which was not the terrifying task it is today), we came up with creative escape clauses for those we did not like, so as not to put off the eager sales associates who were so generous with the vials of liquid gold we so craved. “Oh, my mother just purchased that for me for my birthday” or “My sister wears that one and I could not bear sharing the same fragrance”. With these intentioned hints, we were often able to come away with considerable samples of the fragrances we did want, having given the impression that we were certainly able to afford any of these fragrances at a moment’s notice.


It was during one of these excursions that I happened upon Cristalle. It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before, though I have since seen it reincarnated to some extent in the magical Calyx by Sophia Grojsman. Henri Robert’s 1974 masterpiece was perfectly named, for it is the scent of something sharp and bright – precisely everything I longed to emulate. Cristalle cuts a sharp plane of light with its bergamot opening but it is the complexity and range of the green notes which is most alluring. These range from savory to sweet and grass-like thanks to a vetiver note. While the EDP version later introduced by Jacques Polge in 1993 pushes the floral accords into a sweeter, headier territory, the original 1974 release achieves in my opinion a greater balance by not allowing the floral notes to drown out the composition.

While Cristalle is often cited on top ten lists for summer and spring fragrances, it is a wonderful winter scent and shall forever remind me of cold Manhattan days and of the power of imagination to forge our destiny.


Notes: lemon, bergamot, basil, petitgrain, galbanum, jonquil, jasmine, hyacinth, oakmoss, rosewood, and vetiver

Chanel – 1932 Les Exclusifs

Chanel – 1932 Les Exclusifs


I was thrilled beyond description to receive a sample of the newest Chanel Les Exclusifs release from the lovely Isidora at the Chanel Bal Harbour boutique in South Florida. As I posted earlier here, there was much speculation over the past year regarding this fragrance and whether or not it would indeed be released to the public. Happily, it is now available in the standard 75 ml and 200 ml Eau de Toilette sizes from the Chanel boutiqes and online, via their website at Chanel.

According to information provided by Chanel, the fragrance was named to commemorate the release of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s first high jewellery collection. The nose behind the creation, Jacques Polge, took his inspiration from the collection and rendered it in Jasmine. In 1932, Europe was between two world wars and Amelia Earhart had completed the first transatlantic solo flight by a woman. The Great War fueled significant advances in aviation which would make commercial air travel a more distinct reality. What had once been a novel concept, now became a reality for the rich and elite. By the end of the era, known as the “Golden Age of Flight”, air transport would seem a necessity.


Necklace from the original 1932 collection

As a result, people’s minds were on the skies. Caron launched En Avion in 1932 and Guerlain would release its Vol de Nuit one year later in 1933. No small wonder then that Chanel’s exclusive jewellery release would be inspired by the heavens, with its falling meteors and constellations. Where Chanel had previously promoted faux glass jewelry to counteract the pretensions of the 1920s, her flight to quality following times of strife reflected her pursuit of the “greatest value in the smallest volume“. It is this insistence on quality that is one of the hallmarks of Chanel perfumes and 1932 is certainly no exception. The fragrance is an unique and inspired creation, highlighting the different aspects of Jasmine, one of Chanel’s signature flowers.

1932 opens with a sweet citrus accord, a melange of orange and lemon notes which seem to float on the air. The aldehydes in the opening are not as effervescent as some of Chanel’s vintage creations, giving the fragrance a more modern feel. The fruity opening quickly gives way to a slightly spicy, green floral accord that calls to mind stems and juniper berries. While in theory, I thought the fragrance might head into the Chanel No 19 territory, the Lily of the Valley and subtle Hyacinth notes reminded me slightly more of Cartier’s Baiser Vole’s opening notes: sharp, bright and light, much like the brilliant collection of diamonds for which the fragrance is named, though more subtle and fruity than Mathilde Laurent’s 2011 creation.


Diamond ring from the modern 1932 jewelry collection

If we imagine the green accords to be the outer casing of the Jasmine bud, as the fragrance develops, the rich and slightly indolic jasmine petals unfold, revealing a heart deepened by a slightly waxy rose and the slightest spice from geranium. Here the fragrance is at its most hypnotic, softly undulating, all the while wearing closer to the skin. While usually reserved for a basenote, I detect a coumarin note present throughout, giving the fragrance a sweet, hay-like note with just a touch of vanillic warmth.

What I found to be the most beautiful aspect of the fragrance was unfortunately the most fleeting. As the jasmine settled into a soft floral whisper on my wrist, a singular vetiver note  hovers in and out of focus, supported by the slightest hint of musk, as though a tiny drop of Chanel’s Sycomore had been allowed to penetrate the signature Chanel flacon. I can only imagine how lovely this combination of the palest jasmine with a touch of woods would be in a stronger concentration. Unfortunately, as flowers are ephemeral, so is 1932. As with some of the other Les Exclusifs, particularly 28 La Pausa, Jersey and Bel Respiro, the initially powerful sillage diminishes to a wisp of a fragrance that I long to experience again.

Many thanks to Isidora Kostic of Chanel for providing me with a sample. If you are in South Florida, I highly recommend visiting Bal Harbour’s Chanel boutique at 9700 Collins Avenue, where you can view and sample the entire Les Exclusifs line.

Fruity Floral Woody

Notes: Bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, lily of the valley, hyacinth, iris, rose, jasmine, vetiver, coumarin and musk.

Guerlain – Chamade

Guerlain – Chamade



A good friend of mine is from Iceland, which like any country, features an unique culinary tradition. Given the island’s reliance on the fishing industry, much of their cuisine revolves around fish, although their excellent dairy places a close second. Since we first met each other toward the end of the year, the subject of holiday meals came up. Always eager to learn about a new culture, I asked my friend if there were any special dishes that were eaten on the holidays, conjuring visions of holiday recipe-swapping. The response was not quite what I was expecting: fermented stingray. After clarifying that this was not a joke, my friend went on to explain that stingray was traditionally prepared by Iceland’s Viking ancestors by burying a dead stingray and letting it “ferment” (her word, mine “rot”). While I will spare you the minute details, the ammonia contained within the stingray’s body essentially “cooks” the fish, not unlike a ceviche. Needless to say, I would not be preparing this in my kitchen anytime soon.

When I asked my friend if she liked it, she said “Not the first time. The first time it smelled so awful, I thought I might get sick”. The use of the term “first time” implied that there was a second or even numerous times. She explained that while it was an acquired taste, after the initial opening stench of ammonia, the stingray was delicious. I was baffled! How did she get past that offensive opening and come to love this strange creation? It made no sense to me. And then I realized it did: Chamade.

While I am a lover of bright, intense openings and even more so a lover of Guerlain, in all honesty I must admit that the first time I smelled Chamade I thought that someone, somewhere had made a mistake and filled this beautiful, inverted heart bottle with nail polish remover. While I adore several fragrances which feature prominent hyacinth notes (Chanel’s Cristalle and No 19, Balmain’s Vent Vert) they are tempered by the introduction of other elements. Not so with Chamade. The combination of hyacinth with galbanum and blackcurrent created an opening that cut through the air like a sharp green saber which showed no signs of relenting. I put the bottle back, far into the darkest reaches of my perfume cabinet, untested.


But something didn’t feel right about walking away from this fragrance, named after the distinctive pitter-pat of a heart in love, a nod at the Françoise Sagan novel and French film by the same name starring none-other-than Catherine Deneuve. So many had waxed poetic about its charms, and the skill of the then-young Jean-Paul Guerlain, I felt I must be missing something. I had read the fragrance notes, and I knew there was a Guerlain accord hiding in there somewhere, if I could just steel my reserve and do the unthinkable: test it on skin.

Needless to say, I was rewarded. Chamade perfectly captures the cool detachment of attraction and the growing warmth of love, but its beauty is only revealed to the patient suitor. The intense opening was merely the awkward, butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that proceeds the sweetest and most passionate of kisses. Chamade slowly unfolds into a soft floral base of rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, lilac, and lily of the valley: for every great romance must have its tenderness. As the fragrance settles further, drawing heat from the skin, the magic of Guerlain is revealed in a soft, velvety base of vanilla, amber, iris and woods: for every great love must have its warmth. And as we overlook the idiosyncrasies of our most beloved, I am finally able to embrace the sharp opening, knowing that a warm embrace awaits me.

Floral oriental

Notes of Turkish rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, lilac, blackcurrant, lily of the valley, hyacinth, cassis, galbanum, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla, musk, amber, iris and tonka bean.