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

Robert Piguet – Baghari

Robert Piguet – Baghari

Woman in Fur

While we often have a mental picture of the 1950s as a time of feminine restraint, the fragrances of that era paint a different picture altogether. Perhaps due to the fact that woman essentially inhabited a different sphere than men, far away from stuffy office corridors with their recycled air, their perfumes seemed to have some lifeblood in them. Even the airy aldehydic florals had something hefty lurking within to give them a backbone.

When Francis Fabron’s vintage Baghari walks into a room, she commands attention. The opening aldehydes have a kick to them, as they heave rather than sparkle. The waxy, tallow-like opening has an orange-amber richness similar to Caron’s Nocturnes and Givenchy’s L’Interdit, interestingly another fragrance created by Fabron.

Baghari Robert Piguet

The opening is suggestive of the animalic undercurrent of the fragrance to follow, and while Baghari reveals a bosomy floral bouquet, it shares a complexity with Piguet’s Bandit by Germaine Cellier – the hint of something beneath the surface.

The fragrance, like others of its time, is remarkably well-constructed and gives an impression of roundness and depth, like an embrace from an old friend on a cold night, the scent of her fur tinged with perfume and smoke to create a scent that is more than the sum of its parts, the scent of a woman.

Baghari was reformulated by Aurélien Guichard and while the fragrance is suggestive of the original Baghari, it lacks its driving force and personality. Still, it makes a lovely daytime companion for stuffy office corridors.

Notes: Aldehydes, Bergamot, Citrus, Rose, Lilac, Ylang-Ylang, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Vetiver, Benzoin, Musk, Amber, Vanilla.

Coty – Muguet des Bois

Coty – Muguet des Bois


One spray of Coty’s Muguet des Bois and I am instantly transported in time: to afternoon walks in the woods and the innocence of shared childhood secrets. Muguet de Bois was created during one of history’s darkest hours, in 1942 when the dark specter of WWII shrouded the world in darkness. And yet this lovely soliflore (a fragrance based on the scent of a single flower) is the freshest breath of innocence and light imaginable.

Lily of the Valley is often associated with purity and innocence, making it a frequent choice for wedding bouquets. In France, it is customary to give Lily of the Valley as a gift on Fête du Travail, which falls on May 1st, in celebration of Spring. Tradition states that King Charles IX of France was given Lily of the V alley on May 1, 1561, as a good luck charm and he subsequently offered the flower annually to the ladies of his court. Ironically, all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. Even more confounding is the fact that while Lily of the Valley is known and treasured for its distinct aroma, the scent cannot be distilled from the flower and must be painstakingly re-created.

Muguet des Bois opens with a slight bitter green note, reminiscent of a freshly cut stem, which quickly gives way to the soft soapy freshness of Lily of the Valley. While the fragrance is for the most part a singular Lily of the Valley note, there are subtle shades of warmth from jasmine and rose. As the fragrance dries down, there is a suggestion of woods, enough to give the fragrance a bit of depth. A touch of sandalwood and musk also give the fragrance a slightly smoky quality, reminiscent of Summertime picnics. While the fragrance is not as complex as Diorissimo, it is nonetheless lovely and a believable Lily of the Valley. Muguet des Bois would make a lovely Spring or Summertime fragrance, when one is in the mood for something light and uplifting. It is also a perfect bedtime fragrance, promoting dreams of silent forest walks.

Forest_lily_of_the_valley screensaver


Notes: aldehydes, orange, green leaves and bergamot, cyclamen, lilac, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose, sandalwood, 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.