I spent the better part of the morning with my friend Elliot* browsing the Guerlain counter in downtown Vancouver in search for nothing more than the fabulous Guerlain “fan” – that beautiful display article that shows the different notes, inspiration and bottle designs etc. for a wide array of the (used to be widely distributed) Guerlain scents. I promised Elliot that I will come with him to find the legendary fan (last time he came searching for it they pulled out a fan sprayed lavishly with “Insolence” and waved it at his nose). On that I got a report that immediately cracked me up: “Insolence is sold with the requisite images of pouting, pulsing hot-eyed young damsels, but the scent reminds me of my Great-Aunt Doris - sweet, powdery and cloying”.
The aforementioned fan (i.e. the one we were looking for), normally displayed openly, is now kept behind locked cabinets and hidden so well that it was nowhere to be found at Sears, and only to be found by a twist of faith at The Bay (the Guerlain rep accidentally came through the counter on her 10 o’clock lunch break).
As we were waiting around I couldn’t help but conduct a little private market research on my friend. For background – Elliot is a born Maritimer, Caucasian male in his early 40’s, creative, witty and intelligent and while not quite your typical male fragrance user, I noticed that he quite keen on carrying intelligent conversations and arguments with me on the topic of olfactory experiences and his own memories through the sense of smell.
I started my little survey with l’Instant de Guerlain (pour homme of course), which oblivious to the paper-stripe rituals, he decided to spritz straight on his wrist – Elliot had produced such a boldly remark that I couldn’t help but curiously insert various masculine Guerlain scents under his nose and try to memorize his reaction immediately so I can report back here. So here goes – in a very manly style, just few words and at the very most a sentence or two to describe some of the leading masculine scents from the esteemed house of Guerlain, described by a complete fragrance novice:
Vetiver – Incense, church; smells like an altar boy.
Eau de Cologne Imperiale – wow! For something that dated I would have not expected it to smell so fruity and edible. It really makes me think of food like no other scent.
Heritage – unoriginal, makes you crave a melon fruit-salad.
L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme – let me remind you that this was the scent that originally started this tirade of masculine perfume commentary. Let me just say that the first remark has established in my mind that men may very likely have a completely different evaluation systems that other organisms. In this case, Elliot seemed to have quite spontaneously develop a scent rating system that is based on how low it makes his testicles hang (sorry ladies, I am trying to bring some of the original wording used in the scene of the crime – so there you have it now… (Habit Rouge, strangely enough, has only got a halfway-down-testicle rating on Elliot’s system). For those who can't get the idea and need it spelled out to them (like me), this means how masculine the scent is perceived by the male evaluator. Hopefully it will provide some useful insights into the male brain (or not).
When repatedly smelling l’Instant pour Homme, visions of growing sideburns have recurred and intensified every time he got back to either the scent stripes or his wrist… and to use some of the terms he used to describe l’Instant I’ll just quote him now with no commentary of my own: “charge of the light brigade” and “military, soldiers of the 19th century” (which he later illustrated to me in his little orange pocket sketchbook – a stiff little soldier a-la Carmen’s Don Jose encased in his 19th century uniform with sideburns growing with every inhale of l’Instant’s march tune.
I will never be able to look at the Guerlain counter the same way ever again, and for a change, l'Instant pour Homme will not be ignored by me next time but rather inhaled or applied before I go to the next mask ball dressed as a man to complete the illusion.
* The name is completely fictional, to ensure my friend fears no criticism when coming up with more witty remarks about perfumes in the future. That was the only way I could have gotten permission to publish these here today…