Vintages The Time Special Things Come: Two Gorgeous Yet Unsung Guerlain Perfumes

The Time Special Things Come: Two Gorgeous Yet Unsung Guerlain Perfumes

05/24/15 05:53:02 (6 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Approaching Guerlain fragrances has me strained on the brink, like the tailor with his home-made parachute when he was about to jump from the Eiffel tower more than a century ago. Contrary to this proto-pioneer of aviation the apprehension comes not from the chill of the unknown but rather from the gloom of having one’s lust non-quenched. Like that supreme stylist Vladimir Nabokov said, “the look of lust is always gloomy; lust is never quite sure—even when the velvety victim is locked up in one’s dungeon—that some rival or influential god may still not abolish one’s prepared triumph.” Thankfully there are instances where neither rival nor influential god can take away from what one has carefully designed, even when it’s relatively of a recent vintage yet sure in the footing of tradition; and who better than Guerlain to be in that position? The two seasonally named, yet of panseasonal capabilities perfumes, "When the Rain Comes" and "When Summer Comes," prove to be amongst those “vintage” (and I use the term very loosely) Guerlains for whom lust is fully justified.

Interestingly enough the lineage goes far beyond their time of release and we can dimly see the outlines of the parachute from beneath the subsequent creation. Guerlain has always been very meta about their past, ornamenting ideas, advancing them with each innovation in analytical chemistry, and exploring “chords,” such as the famous one which was eventually called Guerlinade (in reality the perfumers mostly use the notion of the communelle, a steady version of seasonal batches of natural ingredients, and rely on the hand-down formula accordingly).

Quand Vient La Pluie

Coming into the possession of a decent quantity of the gorgeous Quand Vient La Pluie is testament to the supreme taste of one of my sisters-in-arms, Linda, who introduced me to it in fact some years ago. This meta-vintage was introduced sometime in 2007, when Guerlain was fresh into the first major renovation of their flagship on the avenue Champs Elysées (there has been a recent second major renovation) and when the internet was up in arms for their first celebrated cause, the reformulation of Mitsouko. Thierry Wasser, the new perfumer coming on board, taking the baton from (supposedly, though stories divert as to who worked in late years) from heir Jean-Paul Guerlain, has since proved his mettle even to the early dissenters. But at the time he had to fight the good fight and keep his head down and hope the smearing campaign would pass.

Perhaps in an effort to show compassion to the hardcore Guerlainophile, Quand Vient La Pluie was briefly promoted by word of mouth as the replacement for the discontinuation of the extrait version of Après L’Ondée; this concentration had gained something of a cult status online. Truth be told this particular snippet of internet lore has always seemed incomprehensible to me, since this particular classic has always been (like Vetiver) one of those Guerlain fragrances which on les porte léger, i.e., are supposed to be misty-like and subtle, not dense and concentrated. And what better fragrance indeed to play on the various nuances of “mist” than one named "After the Shower," right? Therefore, the insistence on a “denser” Après L’Ondée. “more bang for the buck” has always rang very American to me. Time, alas, taught me to scoff at my snobbism since everything is getting watered down these days, but I digress. The matter at hand is someone had been alerted to the desire, the lust, if you like, for an Après L’Ondée replacement (and that someone must have been Mme Delacourte who acts as art director), though in the end it would be unfair to its lovely attributes to designate Quand Vient La Pluie to that graceless role. Delacourte and Wasser had the good judgment to make something unique in its own right.

 

The elastic spine of Quand Vient la Pluie shows the top and bottom vertebrae alternatively touching and coming apart when a pale light shines upon it at a certain angle. The initial fresh sweetness is almost immediately chased by the anise aldehyde which gives that characteristic (and so peculiar) touch to the archetype it truly references, L’Heure Bleue by Jacques Guerlain. While L’Heure Bleue in itself owes a debt to both Après L’Ondée (with its heliotrope warmth beneath the wistfulness of violet and iris) and Jicky (with its warm semi-orientaliaed downy softness), it’s clear that the structure of the progeny is somewhat simpler and airier, with the Cola “note” that characterizes some classic orientals set into focus at the latter stage making it supremely wearable. In fact, more wearable than the classic milestone, which I have always—sacrilegiously—maintained is a work of art that feels a bit too ornamental for modern sensibilities, like decking one’s self in Art Deco pieces from top to bottom; that can feel costumey.

Recent testings of even newer editions, in glamorous crystal and grosgrain ribbon, of Place Rouge suggest that the concept hasn’t died just yet.

Quand Vient L’été on the other hand, issued in the (for once literally) seasonal coffret Les Saisons during 2008 owes a debt to the classic carnations of the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s, a natural progression the same way that an offset printing is distantly reminiscent of the daguerrotype yet rinsed in the acid brightness of modernity. Although there is a perfume by the same name in the Guerlain catalogue (incidentally re-issued this year in the encyclopedic “visiting hours” specimens that Wasser is creating alongside his ally F. Chacone for the betterment of our vintage knowledge), we are told in pure formula terms the 2008 homonymous creation bears no relation to it, though the composer, perfumer Mathilde Laurent, did get inspired by the warm baked skin of summer.

 

Les Quatre Saisons de Guerlain

And no wonder the reference is hot. In a previous incarnation, Quand Vient L’été was the reflection on the golden eyes of Terracotta Voile d’ été, a 1999 limited edition (and not too posh) fragrance conveying the brawny tan shades of the classic cosmetic best-seller by Guerlain, their Terracotta powder! In fact there is even an intermediary to this “link” between the 1910 “general concept”, Terracotta homage fragrance and Les Saisons Quand Vient L’été: a numerical edition, simply termed No.25, was added to the stable in 2002. Three years later, the same formula was bottled in the Parisiennes “bee” bottles; a cemetery of worthwhile oldies attributed to Jean-Paul Guerlain and aimed at only those in the know. Another year brought the “season” edition in a bottle reminiscent of the heart stopper bottles we know so well …

The peppery lily-like spiciness and at the same time “fresh” dryness, almost—dare I say it?—ozonic & aromatic in its sharp outline, like crushed leaves at the bottom of a mojito highball in this meta-vintage Quand Vient L’été produces a floral with contrasting warm and cool facets that soon becomes “creamy”, like clotted cream. In fact I theorize that its metallic touch must come from rose oxides, mingled with spicy eugenol and the lusciousness of ylang yang to construct that “clove-like” carnation while the cream comes from vanilla and balsamic notes. Because just when you are about to nod your head, think “carnation” and throw the blanket, there’s almost a caramel, luscious, coppery vanilla warmth about the scent, dried out on iris powderiness so as to not veer too far off the piquant floralcy of that .most fiery of blossoms.

There’s no equal to Guerlain’s back catalogue in all perfumery to draw ideas from and to go a little meta … or beta, as the mood or greed strikes. If these two prove anything is that back when La Petite Robe Noire wasn’t milked for all its worth, there was the available space, energy and time to go a little H.G Wells. The Chronic Argonauts can still give us little marvels, if given half a chance.

Quand Vient La Pluie image with grey background: Live Auctioneers; Les Quatre Saisons coffret image: Salon Parfum Milly

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

Thanks everyone for the most complimentary words. It's astounding that given this kind of die-hard dedication from old and new perfume fans Guerlain goes ahead and (seems to, I could be wrong) prefer to tackle the nouveau riche Russian plutocrats or the moll...who probably be easily swayed by other luxury brands as well. (i.e. no brand loyalty, just what floats at the moment)

May
31
2015
jazz444
jazz444

This article sings with beautiful language throughout. What an interesting and pleasurable read!

May
25
2015
luistdc
luistdc

Excellent article Elena. Thank you. Very infomative.

May
25
2015
Filomena1941
Filomena1941

Elena, what a beautiful and informative post. I cannot add much to what Angela and Vanessa already stated except that I am in total agreement with them. Thanks again for your article.

May
24
2015
Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

Thank you for the lovely and informative article Elena, the House of Guerlain deserves a special place in the history of European Perfumery.

May
24
2015
Vanessa Dunlap
Vanessa Dunlap

Dear Elena, thank you for your beautiful and informative articles. I am sorry that I missed out on these, when they were available. You are completely on point. Aren't we starved for something with beauty and merit to come from this noble house? I know I am. THIS is the kind of Guerlain that I want! Something with substance, with heart, with meat! One does not live by sugar/caramel alone!

May
24
2015

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