Review: Guerlain Vétiver — 5.0 points

Vétiver (Guerlain) is a paradoxical tour de force. The astounding amount of vetiver oil is dressed up with ingredients that extend the natural facets so that the sum, despite ornamentation, still feels minimalistic. At the time of its creation in 1959 when complex, opulent perfumes were de rigueur, its pared down approach was far ahead of its time.

Jean-Paul Guerlain skilfully orchestrated the composition to highlight the juxtaposition of bright and dark aspects in vetiver. The lingering bitterness, a character shared also by grapefruit, dominates at the start and is cleverly pushed by citrus. The liquorice aspect is enhanced by spicy-sweet clove. The dark smoky woods complemented by mossy notes. It is essentially vetiver but with its contrasting facets amplified so that it feels almost baroque.

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Personally, I love its suave character. The pairing of the spicy-sweet, fruity note of cloves with a floral note creates the impression of a white carnation boutonière pinned to the left lapel of a suit. Likewise, the combination of sweet spices, smoky woods, and floral conjures up the multiple facets of tobacco. It is a vetiver with a panache and great tenacity.

Combining the rich aesthetics of a grand parfum and the uncluttered clarity of a modern composition, Vétiver feels timeless. And, I would reach for it whenever I want to feel the rich complexity of the woods effortlessly.

Source: Parfum de Pub

Review: Guerlain Habit Rouge — 5.0 points

In 1965, fragrances for men were still largely conservative with few styles dominating the market. There were the citrusy chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the green woods of Vétiver from Carven (1957) and Guerlain (1959), the fresh herbal fougères of Brut (Fabergé, 1964), and the leather chypre of Aramis (1965), to name a few.

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Then came Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965), suffused with Guerlain’s oriental legacy à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925). It was very different. Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain created a composition of strong contrast between cool citrus and warm amber, infused with orange blossom and a leathery note inspired by dressage.

Its scintillating top note is citrus galore: fulsome 32% bergamot oil, 2% petitgrain oil, 2% lemon oil, and 0.5% neroli oil. The brightness of bergamot is a classic introduction of an oriental, joined by the suggestion of a classical eau de cologne from lemon, petitgrain, and neroli.

Then, Habit Rouge mellows with the sensuality of orange blossom. Its green, floral note lends a suave character to the oriental composition. At this point, it appears rather dandy. I imagine a gentleman doused with a hesperidic eau de cologne and fashionably sporting a white floral boutonnière on the lapel.

The sweet amber base is enriched by a Guerlinade accord of sweet vanilla, tonka bean, and powdery orris. There is also a balsamic touch of 0.5% myrrh resin. But key to the personality of Habit Rouge is a leathery iris accord provided by a Firmenich base that gives the feel of soft saddles, burnished boots, and supple reins, the elements of show jumping from the very own experience of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Habit Rouge finishes with a hint of equestrian leather on the amber powder of Guerlinade.

Evidently, Habit Rouge is an offspring of Shalimar that has been given some good tweaking. The citrus is boosted and amber mellowed, and a leathery reference of dressage gives the final touch. Its striking counterpoint of hesperidic notes and sweet amber is effectual in creating the mood of a classical Guerlain: beautiful, rich, and opulent in the panache of its forefathers.

Sources: ozmoz.com, horsecollaborative.com, tvinsider.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Guerlain Samsara — 5.0 points

The house Guerlain owes much of its glory to the oriental character of its perfumes. The association of Guerlain perfumes with tales of the Orient is therefore a given, and Samsara (Guerlain, 1989)Sanskrit for the ‘wheel of life’is no exception. For Samsara, the marketing at Guerlain also twisted this Buddhist reference of perpetual rebirth into a story of serenity and harmony.

But, in fact, what is far more interesting than such a woven Oriental tale is the conception of Samsara. It is a known fact that a passion of perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain is dressage. And, through their legendary horse trainer Patrick Le Rolland, he met Decia de Pauw in 1985, a Belgian woman of English origin who would later inspire the creation of Samsara. She had the habit of perfuming her bath with two essences, jasmine and sandalwood, which are of particular affection to her. Therefore, Jean-Paul Guerlain, with Gérard Anthony playing a part, created a perfume around these two essencesit was the first time that Jean-Paul Guerlain employed this accord. He would often go to India to acquire the particular jasmine and sandalwood that he wanted. Madame de Pauw also recalled that Samsara was very recognisable at the time and once people on the streets of Vienna would accost her just to inquire what her perfume was.

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The answer, perhaps, is still Samsara. It debuts with the classic freshness and brightness of bergamot. The invigorating freshness contrasts nicely with the rich development of its floral and oriental aspects. Already a radiant and diffusive sandalwood note of Polysantol appears early and resonates throughout the duration.

Then, the florals of Samsara unfold. The duet between plush sandalwood and narcotic jasmine serves as the centrepiece. Its heady depth is provided by a damp brushstroke of narcissus, whilst its spicy floral character comes from ylang ylang and rose.

The ornamented centrepiece rests on the softness of powder provided by orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. This harmony lingers for about an hour. The sandalwood-jasmine complex becomes warmer and richer, transforming along with orris, tonka bean, and vanilla into the famed praline-like Guerlinade accord.

Samsara might have set a new standard with the highest dose of sandalwood oil, but that alone cannot entitle its classic status. The time when Jean-Paul Guerlain could afford some 20% Mysore sandalwood oil is long in the past, and the sandalwood note has been supplanted by Polysantal brightness. Yet, it is the way Jean-Paul Guerlain weaves the sandalwood-jasmine richness into the distinctive Guerlinade to engender a unique yet familiar personality that makes Samsara so enduring.

A note on the concentrations: In the extrait de parfum, the rich florals are lavish with rose petals, narcotic jasmine, spicy ylang ylang, and powdery orris so much so that it reminds me of Chanel N°5 (1921). The focus on Guerlinade, likewise, makes no mistake that this is a creation of Guerlain. The eau de parfum, meanwhile, shifts the focus towards the ripe florals so that it recalls Arpège (Lanvin, 1927). In this formulation, I enjoy equal attention from the ripe flowers and the Guerlinade dry down. The eau de toilette is the brightest with a dab of Guerlinade; the sharpness of Polysantol can be slightly dissonant.

Sources: etsy.com, makeupalley.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, noblesseetroyautes.com reportage Alexandre Cousin.