It’s still Happy Birthday, Guerlain!

2018 marked Guerlain‘s 190th anniversary – an incredible achievement for any perfume house, in the fickle world of fragrance. With plans recently unveiled to open 100 dedicated perfumeries around the world – we have everything crossed for London! – we wanted to celebrate Guerlain’s iconic status before the year was up, dipping into their heritage via the Guerlain perfumers and some of their most fabled creations…

Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1828-1864

‘Make good products, never compromise on quality. Have simple ideas and apply them to the letter.’

With a love of scents that was kindled by the spices sold in his father’s shop, Pierre-François-Pascal became a perfumer-chemist, opening his first store in 1828. Guerlain’s fragrances soon began to enchant Parisian society, with customers including the Countess of Castiglione, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Berry.


His most famous customer, however, was the wife of Napoleon III, Eugénie, who awarded him the title ‘Patented Perfumer to Her Majesty’ for Eau de Cologne Impériale, the fragrance he created to mark her marriage to the Emperor. It was luxuriously decanted into a bee bottle (created by Pochet) that was a tribute to the Napoleonic empire. It became one of the symbols of the House of Guerlain. This ultra-classic Cologne, with its notes of rose, neroli and jasmine, endures in the collection today  – and how many scents can we splash on that were once worn by emperors…?


Aimé Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1864-1890

‘Every woman must have her own fragrance if she wants to be different.’

Aimé Guerlain inherited his father’s talent for perfumery – and was steeped in the family philosophy that there must never be a compromise on quality. Among his most famous creations was Jicky, a revolutionary fragrance which blended synthetic notes with naturals to enhance its fougère construction.


Jicky’s key ingredient was coumarin, an isolate from tonka bean, which had been developed by a chemist called Perkin in 1868, changing the course of perfumery. Its name? It’s subject to conjecture: Jicky was the nickname of Aimé Guerlain’s nephew Jacques (who at fifteen was already passionate about perfumery, and who would ultimately follow in Aimé’s footsteps). But it was also the name of the perfumer’s first love, an Englishwoman who he met while studying in London and is said never to have forgotten.


Jacques Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1890-1955

‘A good perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream.’

The most prolific of the Guerlain perfumers, Jacques’ rein lasted for an astonishing 65 years. He took over from his uncle Aimé in 1890 and was responsible for creating the ultimate signature of Guerlain, the Guerlianade: an accord which blends vanilla, bergamot, balsams, tonka bean, iris, rose and jasmine, and has been at the heart of (almost) every fragrance since 1921. His most celebrated creations include L’Heure Bleu, Mitsouko and the astonishing Shalimar, which remains one of the bestselling fragrances in the world.


The flacon is almost as fascinating as the fragrance inside. Sometimes described as the ‘bat’ bottle (we hadn’t until now quite realised it resembled outstretched wings!), it is also said to resemble a basin that could be admired in the Mughal gardens in India, and was designed by another talented Guerlain, Raymond, with a dark blue stopper chosen to evoke Indian starry nights. The bottle won first prize at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in 1925.


Jean-Paul Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1955-2002

‘Perfume is the most intense form of memory.’

Jean-Paul Guerlain served his apprenticeship alongside his demanding grandfather – the family ‘nose’ skipped a generation, but in 1955 Jean-Paul worked alongside Jacques to create Ode, an ‘Impressionist’ floral garlanded by notes of rose, jasmine and iris. Although one of his most famous fragrances is the masculine classic Habit Rouge, Jean-Paul is said to have ‘dreamt of women in fragrance form’, confecting fragrances to celebrate their beauty and freedom – most notably, Samsara.

Jean-Paul created Samsara for his wife, the love of his life – who didn’t wear perfume. (How ironic is that?) She did, however, like sandalwood, South Asian woods and jasmine, so Jean-Paul embarked on journeys to India to acquire the purest sandalwood, found a jasmine previously reserved for religious offerings, and even had a factory built to distil it. Its name means ‘eternal rebirths’, in Sanskrit – and the deep ruby red of the bottle is the sacred colour of Buddhism.

Thierry Wasser – Guerlain Perfumer 2008-

‘I have always had within me this pressing thirst for the elsewhere, to go even further in search of new scents’

Thierry is the first non-Guerlain family member to have held the title ‘Guerlain Perfumer’, chosen to carry the family’s fragrant flame into the future. More than any Guerlain perfumer before him, he travels the world to meet and work with growers and producers, ensuring the house has access to the highest quality ingredients on the planet through these sustainable-in-every-way relationships. His most celebrated creation to date, Mon Guerlain (seen below with its ‘face’, Angelina Jolie), is an ode to the the historic notes of Guerlain, a-swirl with jasmine, vanilla and lavender – among other ingredients sourced on those travels.


As Thierry told us recently, ‘My travelling begins in the spring in Calabria, at the end of the bergamot harvest – which began in November – because we need to ensure we get the perfect blend of all the oils from that season. Then it moves on to Tunisia and the orange blossom and the petitgrain, to Bulgaria and Grasse for the roses, Provence for the lavender, the Comoros for ylang ylang, Madagascar for vanilla. Now that Guerlain is growing sandalwood in Australia, I need to make a trip there once a year, too. Altogether it’s about four months out of the year, on the road, away from my lab, away from creating perfumes. And then there are the launches, around the world, travelling to speak to the Guerlain sales teams and to journalists.’ (And we’re so glad he takes the time to do that!)

Our V.I.P.s, meanwhile, can read all about Thierry Wasser‘s day in ‘A Working Nose‘ in the current edition of The Scented Letter, the award-winning downloadable magazine for our Club Members.)

We are lucky enough to have smelled many of the historic creations of this house at private ‘archive’ sessions in the Salon at 68 Champs-Élysées, Guerlain‘s flagship boutique. (If you get a group together, you may be able to do the same – for a price, of course.) We can honestly say those experiences were among the most spectacular we’ve ever had, in this most special world we are lucky enough to work in – a true immersion in what makes this house so special.

So let us take the opportunity to wish Guerlain the happiest of birthdays – and to thank the five perfumers for the way they have delighted the senses of men and women for nineteen decades.

And all we can say is: perfume-lovers everywhere are looking forward to the next 190 years.

By Jo Fairley


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