Maupiti Sunrise, a photo by SF Brit on Flickr.
Sous le Vent literally means "under the wind", and refers to Îles Sous-le-vent - aka Society Islands or Leeward Islands in French Polynesia. While the agriculture of the island mostly consists of coconuts and vanilla beans; the perfume brings a whiff of cinnamon wind - that I would imagine would come off the Spice Islands combined with a good whiff of good old island of Cyprus - complete with the garrigue scent of Mediterranean hills covered in warm rockrose bushes.
Sous le Vent was created in 1933, and is an angular and rather masculine Chypre. First off, you will smell aromatic notes of lavender and juniper berry. There is some citrusy notes - lemon and also a strong presence of geraniol - could there be geranium in there? The labdanum comes through right away: warm, round, enveloping in contrast to these brisk sharp notes. Rose blooms on the skin, accompanied by the spiciness of cinnamon and carnatnion, and luscious, fruity jasmine which adds space and and a sense of expansion. Like most Guerlain's scents, there is also a hint of iris notes here - but there is no melancholy to speak of: it's more of a sweet, rounded addition reminiscent of violets more than the austere root, as it is paired with the quirky little dragon - tarragon. The flowers and spices together make it smell like suede leather and apricot skin.
There is a recognizable dose of coumarin in there too - perhaps from the classic guerlinade accord (tonka, iris, vanilla); but also from the lavender. The coumarin in conjuction with the lavender gives it a masculine, fougere-like quality. As Sous le Vent dries down, it leaves behind it a rather dry, almost bitter trail of woods and moss - green oakmoss, in a very sheer presence that is due to the removal of atranol (all recent oakmoss absolutes are treated that way - which makes it impossible to have that full-bodied, nearly ambery wine-barrel personality that oakmoss used to have.
Sous le Vent is very natural smelling - so much so that I was shocked when I smelled it at first because it reminded me of Democracy - almost to a T. Although it is very likely to have been altered or reformulated when it was re-introduced several years ago as a boutique exclusive; it has a very sheer, modern feel that was ahead of its time (1933) - one might arguably think the nose behind it is a later perfumer - Edmond Roudnitska - whose signature was that expansive, sheer, light quality all the while maintaining a high level of sophistication and complexity - as opposed to Guerlain's multi-layered baroque style.
I purchased my bottle at the Guerlain boutique on Champs Elysees, and to my dismay, I found out the bottle completely cracked on the flight home - but discovered just in time to transfer all the precious jus to a Boston round lab bottle (not nearly as pretty...) so I still have 100ml of it to enjoy for years to come (and share from time to time...). The box mentioned something about it being inspired by Josephine Baker (also the muse for Bois des Iles). Definitely a departure from today's "celebrity scents": it seems to bring forth more of her inner self; rather than the exotic fantasy image around her professional persona. Very fascinating, especially considering how masculine it smells. I can definitely imagine her as being a true free spirit, that could not care less if her scent is perceived as belonging to a different gender. It smells fantastic, and that's all that matters!
Top notes: Juniper, Lemon, Bergamot, Tarragon, Lavender
Heart notes: Rose, Geranium, Jasmine, Orris Root, Carnation, Cinnamon
Base notes: Labdanum, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Tonka Bean