These days, Guerlain is associated with iconic makeup and skincare, like Meteorites and Orchidee Imperiale, but its lifeblood is in fact fragrance – Jicky, Mitsouko (above), Shalimar and La Petite Robe Noire are but a few notable examples.
The French brand began in 1828 as a perfume house, founded by Pierre-Francois Pascal Guerlain. He composed scents for royalty, including Queen Victoria, but it was his son Aime who essentially invented modern perfume with Jicky, the first scent to be composed of more than one note. Over generations, the house of Guerlain produced classic after classic: Mitsouko, a chypre based on bergamot, ladanum and oakmoss, and a favourite of many experts; Shalimar, a sweet and penetrating oriental; and La Petite Robe Noire, a gloriously fruity gourmand.
Guerlain fragrances continue to be bestsellers, but the brand also has another mission: to elevate the art of perfumery with its Les Exclusives, bespoke and ultra limited edition collections. Created by Guerlain perfumer Thierry Wasser, these are considered the haute couture of fragrance – pure art, and made without commercial or financial constraints.
Les Exclusives comprises 10 lines, including one for the home. Among the most celebrated is L’Art et la Matiere (Art and Matter), a library of fragrances, each based on a paradox. For example, Neroli Outrenoir plays with the brightness of neroli, and the darkness of smoky and earthy notes. All the scents in the series have vintage bulb atomisers, and come in presentation boxes that double as jewellery cases.
Founder Pierre-Francois also made unique fragrances for special clients, including writer Honore de Balzac and Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. The brand continues that tradition today, with customers travelling to Paris for consultations. Akin to the making of an haute couture gown, the creation of these bespoke perfumes involves close collaboration between perfumer and customer to gauge every facet of her character. The scent and bottle are made to customer specifications; one may even choose the fragrance’s name. In all, nearly two litres are produced for a start – enough for around five years of daily use – and presented in one 500ml bottle and 23 smaller ones. Customers can return after for refills.
The final strand of Guerlain’s luxurious approach to fragrance is the ultra limited edition collections. The latest is The Four Seasons: L’Hiver (Winter), Le Printemps (Spring) and L’Ete (Summer) – each limited to 21 bottles – and L’Automne (Autumn) with 22 bottles. All four were created by Wasser, and come in bottles adorned with the artwork of Brazilian-born, Paris-trained textile artist Janaina Milheiro, whose intricate feathered designs are meant to capture the spirit of each season.
An adapted version first appeared in Female‘s November 2016 issue.