The Greatness of Guerlain


Like Shelby in Steel Magnolias said, “Pink is my signature color”, my best friend Rachel proclaims, “Samsara is my signature scent”. I don’t have a “signature scent”. I’m of the “use whatever mini-bottle of perfume comes with the makeup gift set” variety. But I’m the exception to the rule. Most people devote their entire lives to wearing one specific fragrance. I can be transported back to high school with one whiff of Design or be comforted whenever I sense Nina Ricci “my mother’s signature scent” within a mile radius. And it’s not surprising when a woman’s signature scent is actually part of the everlasting, prolific and famous perfume family, Guerlain.

Opening its first shop in France in 1828, the House of Guerlain is the oldest fragrance company in the world. Since Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain first started concocting these perfumes, members of this talented family have created more than 700 fragrances. Guerlain has since narrowed its total list of available fragrances to the most popular and timeless. Each brand could be described as if it were a full-bodied wine. Words like oaky, flowery, spicy, fruity and woody could be used to capture the aroma as well as the emotional response evoked from each fragrance. Like a rich Bordeaux becoming more complex with each year spent at the French vineyard from which it came, the fragrances of Guerlain are made with the same care and delicacy as your favorite vintage French wine. But what truly sets this company apart from other perfume companies is Guerlain’s ability to brand each fragrance with its own unique identity. Each bottle contains within it a beautiful, romantic story embodying human emotion and history. The stories, combined with the aromatic ingredients, are the inspiration behind Guerlain fragrances.

Mitsouko, for example, is a spicy and fruity fragrance created in 1919 and means “mystery” in Japanese. It was also the name of a married Japanese woman who was secretly in love with a British officer. When the Russian-Japanese war broke out in 1905, her love went unrequited. This fragrance is reminiscent of the passion and intensity of this love story. Another example is the first true Oriental fragrance, Shalimar. This timeless fragrance symbolizes the hedonistic exuberance of the year 1925. Its creation was also inspired by the great love story of the Indian Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal, whom he met in the gardens of Shalimar. When she died, the Emperor built a mausoleum to honor his love for her forever. He named it the Taj Mahal.

Rachel would be interested to discover that her “signature scent,” Samsara, was created in 1989 to symbolize the wheel of life through which nirvana is reached. This Oriental, woody, and floral fragrance is by definition, the “cycle of birth and rebirth”. More recently, in 1997, Coriolan was made to commemorate the hero of ancient Rome who turned his back on war and glory to build a future with the woman he loved. Guerlain is also responsible for concocting the first Oriental fragrance for men. Habit Rouge contains spices and leather to exude classic masculinity. The “rouge” it mentions is in honor of equestrians in their red/rouge coats. Finally, 1969’s Chamade is exemplary of the liberated woman depicted in the novel of the same name by Francoise Sagan. “Chamade” is actually the drum-roll an army would sound when surrendering. In this case, it symbolizes one’s surrender to love.

Some of Guerlain’s fragrances are inspired by places. Champs Elysees, created in 1996, is a pure and delicate perfume, which with one spritz, can spark the memories you may have of this famous Parisian boulevard.

The Guerlain family is known for and still produces many more fragrances than the ones just mentioned. Discovering the inspiration and historical context behind each brand can certainly help a woman decide what her “signature” fragrance should be.

Guerlain is also known for its Issima skincare line, which offers a personalized program for any age or skin type. Of course, we can find these products at select department stores and spas here in NYC, but if one ventures out of the Big Apple, you can find Guerlain’s products at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, the Breakers Spa in Palm Beach, Florida, or at other exclusive spas throughout the U.S. and Europe. And who could forget when Terracotta first hit the scene in 1984. It brought bronzing to a whole new level and could very well be solely responsible for our current obsession with self-tanners. Including Divinora and Meterorites, Guerlain Colour Cosmetics offer a diverse array of quality powder formulations. Attuned to the changing trends of fashion, Guerlain also develops two new color lines each season.

The company’s reputation is one of consistent excellence and quality, and as such, Guerlain is sure to incorporate the famous “guerlindade” into each of its olfactory creations. This “stamp” is exclusive to Guerlain perfumers and includes the wonderful aromas of bergamot, tonka bean and vanilla, among others. Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain remarked, “Going on site, checking, choosing the raw materials that make up our perfumes is, as far as I am concerned, the only way to perpetuate the Guerlain tradition and quality. I buy my bergamot in Reggio di Calabria, my Ylang Ylang in plantations on the island of Mayotte, my jasmine and santal in India.”

Coming soon is L’Instant de Guerlain. This new fragrance was created by Sylvaine Delacourte and Maurice Roucel to create a modern classic that captures the “instances” of life that make up your most beautiful memories. It introduces a new ingredient, a rare white magnolia from southern China; as well as a new olfactory category made of citrus-honey, white flowers, and the previously mentioned Guerlinade. L’Instant de Guerlain is contained in a bottle of intricate design conveying a traditional richness with a touch of modernity. This perfume, along with ancillaries like body cream and shower gel, is available this March at select stores. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll make this new member of the Guerlain family my “signature scent.

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