Vintages The Fresh Scents of the 1970s Part 4: Eau de Guerlain

The Fresh Scents of the 1970s Part 4: Eau de Guerlain

09/29/15 05:18:32 (4 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Could a piece of classical music be transcribed into a classic fragrance? I have no idea whether Jean Paul Guerlain was thinking of Vivaldi when he came upon the brilliant formula of Eau de Guerlain. But contrary to Stravinsky's put down on Vivaldi, fondly known as le maestro rosso (namely that he didn't write 500 concerti but the same concerto 500 times), Jean Paul is well known for the diversity of his opus.
Therefore continuing the exploration of fresh scents that marked the 1970s, after Part 1: YSL Eau Libre  Part 2: Eau de Rochas and Part 3: Sisley's Eau de Campagne  we come to a classic gem from that most classic of perfumery houses, Guerlain.
If anyone should do a proper cologne, apart from Farina and Roger & Gallet, that would be Guerlain. The house already boasted an impressive history of historical colognes made for royal patrons in the 19th century (Eau de Cologne Imperiale was made for Eugenie, wife of Napoleon II) and the more bourgeois customers of the early 20th century theater scene. The introduction of yet another brilliant Eau de Cologne in their collection as late as 1974 would be the culmination of an arc that lighted the skies for decades. Indeed of all the Guerlain colognes, Eau de Guerlain is perhaps the most satisfying, the most tenacious, and certainly the most chic. Because if chic is asserting one's independence and subtly illustrating one's smarts without showing off, then Eau de Guerlain does the job admirably for both men and women, young and old.
photo by shakko
What is the rare feat of appearing neither too "modernised", nor too "retro leaning"? Guerlain's talented maverick, Jean Paul, who was then robust and in full capacity of his creative abilities, siphoned another golden fizzy liquid into the glorious bottles that makes the stable of Guerlain such a feast for eyes and nose alike. The bottle, crowned with a golden stopper, was shaped like a rock pebble or had a yonic concaveness in the middle, whichever way you look at it. Wasn't it Jean Paul who had insisted that he put something of his mistress's nether regions in every fragrance that he made? The famed Robert Granai, original bottle designer, had received direction to create a bottle shaped like a river pebble; they must have been huge in the 1970s, judging by the design for Eau de Rochas (originally named "Eau de Roche")....
Eau de Guerlain later succumbed to the unification of older Guerlains, at least visually. The imperial bees now seal its buzzing summery song. 
The scent in Eau de Guerlain can be described as nothing short of melodious. If the eau de Cologne genre is by its very nature playing on the tonal differences between hesperidic and aromatic, one tangy and the other herbaceous and on occasion lightly medicinal (natural lavender does that), Eau de Guerlain takes these elements and transposes them with the heart-ache of a nightingale singing alongside a mockingbird. Or the sweet duet of mandolin and strings from Vivaldi's mandolin concerto in C major (RV425).

As with many colognes previouslyy explored in this series of articles, the touch of herbal accents is making the commonplace interesting. It is even more so in this one, an impression of cut leaves for the kitchen (possibly for some summery cordial) never leaving you as you go through the Eau de Toilette spray.
Basil, via the inclusion of spicy eugenol which steers the composition someplace between green leaves and carnations, is the necessary touch as is in other 70s scents that recall a quotidian naturalness.
The tinge of patchouli and moss give of course the necessary allusion to someplace where bushes are landscaped to mimic labyrinths, where magical minotaurs come in the shape of gigantic cultivars of European flowers.
But in Eau de Guerlain it's the richness of the tart top notes which makes the scent like no other. 
The cedrat (one of the 4 original hesperides from which all other varieties spawned through hybrid cultivation), the tree and the fruit that anglos call citron, is married to bergamot, a harmonious match made in heaven. But it is the lemon and the lemon-smelling verbena (common in Italian perfumery) which echoes their melody across the other tree from the orchard in the early morning. It gives an unmistakeable sweet sense of elation and despite the melancholic sigh, produces too much happiness. Eau de Guerlain is mellifluous in a "lungs filling up to bursting" way. If only I could bathe in it!
If you missed them, the previous parts can be found on these links:
The Fresh Scents of the 1970s

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.


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Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Wonderful visual nero77! I do know fennel (and cook with it often) which I mostly associate with anise scents (aniseed). This is a little bit different to my nose though the aromatic character of all those herbs is among the decidedly provencal things which make Guerlain the typically French house that it is.
Thanks for supplying such an interesting addition.


Lovely! Strangely enough I distinctly get fennel out of this one. You know? Fennel, the herb which we use for cooking in our kitchens! Yes, perhaps the basil. Nevertheless a wonderful, green herbal fragrance. It reminds me of drinking iron rich water from a mountain valley stream...

It's that fresh! :D

Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Thank you Cumulnimbus, much appreciated.
You're so lucky to own the original bottle too! It's very natural feeling in the hand. Have fondled a friend's who is a collector of bottles. There is also definitely truth in what you say: the older colognes did last as much and even longer than today's EDTs! Personally I ascribe that to the dilution that has become necessary in order to attain the "below X%" threshold of questionable "potential allergens/skin sensitizers" in recent years....


Thank you Elena. I love your articles. I own this wonderful scent in the rock peeble shaped bottle and it is glorious, with such high quality ingredients that it lasts on me longer than many contemporary edt and even some edp.

It is also a very happy, uplifting and optimistic cologne. So yes it is chic, but chic and joyful.


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