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.



Guerlain : Shalimar

Created by : Jacques Guerlain

Date : 1925

Genre : Animalic amber

Concentration : Eau de toilette

After a couple of downer posts, I decided to write about something that I love… Guerlain’s Shalimar.  With my novice nose, there are few perfumes I can pick out of a lineup and Shalimar is one of them.  For instance, the last time I recognized Jacques Guerlain’s masterpiece was last week when Ricky asked me to go with him to the Brahms concert simulcast by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The opening piece was the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102, Gustavo Dudamel conducting with classy Renaud Capuçon on violin and his alterego/brother, animalic Gautier Capuçon, on the cello.  It was a concert to remember… so beautiful… and what made it even more perfect was the Shalimar that was wafting from the row in front of us.

Shalimar is one of the most storied fragrances in history… the stories being either fact or fiction or “faction”, as Diana Vreeland would say.  Supposedly, Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in an instant by simply pouring newly discovered ethyl vanillin  into a bottle of Jicky (1889).  And supposedly, Shalimar was inspired by Coty’s Emeraude (1921) and the fragrance was adopted by American women first and by French women later.  We’ll never know how much all of this is true but what we do know is that Shalimar was officially launched in 1925 at the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” and this was hugely important because it placed perfume firmly in the realm of decorative arts… which is where it belongs.  I, for one, look forward to the day that I visit a decorative arts museum and among the gowns, vases, lamps, furniture pieces and carpets we’ll be able to sniff the perfume of the day!

Shalimar is a beautifully balanced, sensuous vanilla-centric amber with a rich animalic subtext that reminds of a deep basso profundo.  The much talked about animalic notes are nowhere near the skanky notes of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän but more like a resinous, smoky note.  Shalimar does smell powdery sometimes but just when you think you’ve defined it… the powder disappears.

I think that Shalimar is perfect for men now that women have vacated the perfume middle-ground and moved uptown to whatever is sweet and ultra-floral.  To test it, I wore Shalimar to the Montreal Grand Prix F1 street festival Friday night and among the hairy-knuckled Guccis, Armanis and Hugo Boss’s… it outdid the competition.  Let’s just hope that Guerlain never plays around with the formula… it’s perfect just as it is.


Top image : The original bottle of Shalimar designed by Raymond Guerlain

Bottom image : Photo of Gautier Capuçon by Erin Baiano for the New York Times

Serge Lutens : Muscs Koublaï Khän

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 1998

Genre : Animalic musk

Concentration : Eau de parfum

I didn’t understand Muscs Koublaï Khän by Serge Lutens until I saw my first Wagnerian opera.  To be specific, it was Wagner’s Die Valkyries.  When Siegmund stumbled on stage dressed in animal hides and stinking from being chased and Wotan charged across the stage in knee-high leather boots with big metal straps and a metal vest looking like he hadn’t seen the inside of a shower stall in a couple of months, Muscs Koublaï Khän suddenly made complete sense… the fur skins, the leather, the animal smells… GOT IT!

Muscs Koubläi Khän is a great big animalic musk… on steroids.  Supposedly they used all the animalic notes available to the perfumer : several musks, civet (cat urine), castoreum (beaver marking scent and urine), costus roots (wet dog), ambergris (salty whale vomit), eye of newt (OK… I made that last one up, there is no eye of newt)… but whatever is in there, it smells about as animalic as it gets.  Even armpit Eau d’Hermès seems almost tame compared to it… a cat compared to a lion. 

Muscs Koublaï Khän might not be wearable (and this is debatable) but what’s truly wonderful about it is that Serge Lutens has staked new territory with it.  I can’t imagine it will ever become a best seller but it might bring us somewhere else… far away from fruity florals… to something completely new and wild and delicious.

This one is VERY hard to describe.  I’m up to 6 tags (or notes) and I could have added more.  It’s like pastry… very much a Guerlain in a sense… but not edible.  Think of musk and honey and some rose and animal scents dancing around in there.  It’s as spectacular and as wicked as a Wagnerian opera.

When and where to wear MKK?  I have no idea!  First date?  No way.  In bed?  Too risky.  You might just buy it like I did because in the history of perfume this one stands alone… for the moment… and it’s magnificent.

Now back to our story where Siegmund and Hunding are about to fight while Sieglinde looks on in horror.  Brünnhilde  is about to appear (at right of screen) to help Siegmund against Wotan’s wishes.


Quick Brünnhilde!  Tell Siegmund about the sword!

Siegmund, trust in the sword!  Trust in the sword!!!

Oh no!  It’s Wotan!  THAT BASTARD!

Brünnhilde!  Get Sieglinde out of there!  There’s no time to waste.  Don’t forget the broken sword!  HURRY!  RUN AND HIDE!

Sniffles… sorry, I’m too verklempt to go on.  Have a nice week everyone.


Top image : Publicity still of Bryn Terfel as Wotan by Brigitte Lacombe for the Metropolitan Opera

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