Guerlain : Jicky


Eiffel Tower – also launched in 1889

Created by : Aimé Guerlain

Date : 1889

Genre : Complex old-school fougère

Concentration : eau de toilette

It certainly is a truism that you can’t hear something until you are ready to hear it.  And one could also say, you can’t enjoy something until you are ready to enjoy it.

It’s the same with perfume.  There are so many perfumes that I have tested and tossed aside because I just couldn’t appreciate them at the time that I was wearing them. Such is the case with Jicky, Aimé Guerlain’s groundbreaking perfume that he took it to the 1889 Exposition Universelle because it had two synthetics, coumarin and vanillin.  In the perfume world, it was extremely innovative.

I talk about Jicky in all my lectures and I’m sure I tested it when I first bought my bottle of eau de toilette maybe 10 years ago… but I didn’t know what all the fuss was about until very recently.  In the lavender / vanilla genre, I always preferred the simple and streamlined Pour Un Homme de Caron (1934) which smelled so much more accessible, more literate… more, well, 20th century. The image I used for my review of Pour un Homme was of Rudolph Valentino… eternally young and beautiful (he died at the age of 31).

But old-school Guerlain is old-school Guerlain!  Nothing is ever simple or straightforward, even  a  lavender / vanilla accord.  Everything is such a production!  Jicky is complex and layered and there are other accords in it, just below the surface.  Only a nose would be able to suss them out but they make their presence felt to the wearer.  According to Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends : French Feminine Fragrance, Jicky is built up of lavender, bergamot, rosemary and rosewood for the top notes; geranium, jasmine and rose for the heart and tonka bean, opopanax, vanilla and coumarin in the basenotes.

I don’t think of modernity when I smell Jicky.  I’m getting something much more of its time… 19th century.  I think of the Eiffel tower, also launched at the same Exposition Universelle.

Jicky would have been worn by Victorian men… with all their layered and confining undergarments, tight woolen suits and big tailored mustaches and beards.  Also such a production!  Wearing it this week reminded me of a book I read as a teen, Noah by J.F. Burke.  The book jacket reads :

“… the story of Noah Greene, a fiery young revolutionary, and his tempestuous, uninhibited relationship with Milly, a beautiful dancer.  Noah Greene’s incendiary life explodes across New York in an era of electric cars, gaslights, baroque bawdy houses, wild anarchists and brutal Irish cops.  Yet Noah, with his pot smoking, his stormy and violent activities in leftist politics, and his enthusiastic sexual encounters, is as much a part of the present as the headlines of today’s underground press.”

Yep… you guessed it. The book was hot!  And when wearing Jicky this past week, I can understand why it spoke to the Victorian man.  Luckily, Guerlain still makes it.



Chanel : Bleu

Created by : Jacques Polge

Date : 2010

Genre : Woody fougère

Concentration : eau de toilette

Chanel perfumes are over-represented in my collection.  That’s because they’re generally beautiful and not overly expensive.  When men tell me they don’t like perfume but would like to wear fragrance on occasion, I recommend Chanel’s Pour Monsieur.  Pour Monsieur goes anywhere, anytime and is suitable for all ages.  So when I heard that Chanel was launching Bleu, their new masculine, I was excited.

At the start, Bleu was nice.  The citrus-wood combination had me hoping for a few minutes there that the blog reviews I had read were unusually harsh… but no.  Within minutes, Bleu had morphed into an opaque, dark-brown two-dimensional wood fragrance with a fougère base.  Bleu had morphed from a Chanel into a “I know people in the mob” hairy-knuckled Gucci.  And unfortunately, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, in this genre.  And, that’s Bleu’s downfall.  It’s common.  It’s not what we expect from Chanel.

As a composition, Bleu is downright chilly and dark.  Not that I’m against dark… I like some of the the quirky, medievel cathedral fragrances that Bertrand Duchaufour did for L’Artisan Parfumeur.  But this one… well… it doesn’t work.  It lacks lustre.  I think it makes its older brother, the much-maligned Allure Homme, better because Allure’s warm amber base softens the tough, woody heart.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that Allure sales increase as men approach the Chanel counter to try Bleu out and decide that Allure is the more interesting of the two… or maybe even go back to a classic fougère that I tested recently and found wonderful 30 years after I bought my first bottle… Azzaro pour Homme.

I’m glad I’m not Jacques Polge, Chanel’s in-house nose.  Mr. Polge has the near-impossible task of protecting Chanel’s legacy perfumes and yet come up with new scents that speak to changing trends.  He keeps No. 5 crisp, Pour Monsieur classy and No. 19 edgy… and still has time to come up with scents like Chanel No. 5 Eau Première, which is beautiful beyond belief.  In my books, the man is a genius.  I wouldn’t want his job… but I’m glad he is around to do it.

There is one last thing.  When I look at the advertisement with fragrance face Gaspar Ulliel, it’s clear that I am not Chanel Bleu’s target audience.  So maybe, the young guys will like it.  And if not, they may discover that Allure Homme isn’t as bad as its reputation makes it out to be.

My final word on Bleu?  “Fuhgeddaboudit!”

Image : Al Pacino and Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco (1997)

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