Figue-Iris opens with sweet but crisp fig notes. It’s more of a purple fig than a green one. The iris is there from the start, first crisp and paper-clean, chiming with the fig in a harmony that brings to mind the melancholy of peach skin and lilacs in early summer rain, and makes me wonder if Figue-Iris hasn’t by any chance taken its inspiration from Apres l’Ondee (and do I detect some anise there as well or was it just a ghost in my imagination?) and with the underlining heliotropine it also gives an obvious wink to l’Herue Bleau. But this is only in the beginning. Once the top notes fade out all we are left with is a toned-down version of what used ot be the glorious Guerlinade – an accord of iris, tonka and vanilla that can be found in some proportion in nearly all Guerlain’s perfumes. In this case it’s a modernized version, and gives off a linear impression, losing the initial interest and intrigue.

That being said, I find Figue-Iris to be one of my more favourable Aqua Allegoria installments, and one that is more balanced and easy to wear. My previous favourite, Herba Fresca was most original, but unfortunately it was too sharp and therefore unwearable for me. Another favourite of mine from the line is previous year’s Mandarine-Basilic.

Figue-Iris was almost a love at first sniff. However, what started up promising – both fig and iris are favourite notes of mine – lead to a disappointment. I was ready to pull out superlative sentences that I was saving for a long time for the house of Guerlain – but I suppose I will have to wait for something else to come up. For now I will just say that this is for me the most easy to wear Aqua Allegoria albeit not the most interesting in the way of the dry down, which is a little sweeter and a lot more generic than I hoped for. Still, it is so much better than nearly anything else that has come out recently, and even though I think the idea could have been executed differently and create a thoroughly original fragrance – I think it is one that deserves your attention, especially if you like either iris or fig or are just a die-har Guerlain fan. It may pale in comparison to the Guerlain classics of yesteryear, but it is so much better than Insolence and any of the sticky-fruity Samsara flankers.

On the positive side, thanks for Jean-Paul Guerlain (the nose behind Figue-Iris) for using this opportunity to remind younger audiences of Apres l’Ondee and l’Heure Bleue. I’d like to think that the disappointing dry down was a commercial compromise imposed by Guerlain’s marketing department.

Male Perspective on l'Instant de Guerlain

Archaeological cocktail, originally uploaded by Ignissa.

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…


Without going too much into the meaning of the name, I would just hint that the sound of it is actually much more attractive than the actual meaning. Perhaps Guerlain overlooked some of the deeper meaning of the name while making their decisions, as Samsara being the “endless cycle of birth and re-birth” is exactly what, according to Budhism, we’re trying to redeem ourselves from to reach nirvana. I also heard at certain point that metaphorically, the concept of Samsara is likened to seven heaps of dung, being the different stages of life which we go through and symbolize our attachment to the physical worlds. But nevertheless, this is a beautiful perfume, and perhaps it reflects very well the beauty of the cycle of life, the beauty which probably makes us attached to it and have the illusion that we have reached nirvana even though we are very far from it…

Samsara has become a modern classic, and is perhaps one of the best creations of Jean-Paul Guerlain, in my opinion. Perhaps the one scent that he will be most significantly remembered for.

Perhaps the one thing that characterizes Samsara most of all is its homogenous scent, without being flat or one-dimensional. The theme of Sandalwood-Jasmine accord pervades throughout the composition, but at every stage it has a different nuance to it, which adds interest and depth. In that sense, Samsara is at once simple (a-la the modern linear scents), and complex (because, thanks god, it is NOT linear!). Samsara is circular, it’s an olfactory cycle, dynamicly flowing, yet always comes back to the same things, the three element that make it such a unique fragrance, a combination of sheer pleasure and an almost ecstatic religious experience: Woody notes (mostly sandalwood), White Florals (jasmine and ylang ylang), and culinary sweetness (vanilla and tonka bean). You really couldn’t have asked for anything better put together.

Sweet and fresh fruity top notes of peach and bergamot and the light, soft powdery allure of linalool (perhaps from rosewood?) engages you to explore the creamy, fruity-floral ylang ylang notes. That brings you to the heart of Samsara – a few different types of Indian jasmine (grandiflorum and sambac) and indolic yet subtle notes of narcissus dusted with the butteriness of Orris root in the classical tradition of Guerlain.

The base is dominated by a rich, vanilla-infused woody note of fine Mysore Sandalwood and is further rounded by the warmth of Atlas Cedarwood.

Buddha and Plastic Flowers, originally uploaded by Curious_Spider

The overall impression is sweet, woody, and subtly floral. It is an ideal for floriental fans, and is excellent for almost all seasons. I find the EDT nicer, where as the Parfum is a bit overly sweet, and for some reason smells rubbery, plasticy and more synthetic than the EDT (hence the above image, courtesy of C. David Wendig). The woody-powdery notes are more accentuated in the EDT which makes it particularly suitable for warm weather. I also like the EDP, which offers the best of both worlds – the extreme smoothness of the parfum, minus the plasticy feeling, and I believe can be enjoyed in warm weather as well. The body lotion, by the way, is heavenly, and has a sillage that requires no further enhancement (meaning: you can wear it on its own and won’t need any perfume added…). It has a different scent though, it’s far more sweet and the peach and cedar notes are more pronounced.

Top notes: Peach, Citrus, Ylang Ylang, Linalool (rosewood?)
Heart notes: Jasmine Sambac, Jasmine Grandiflorum, , Narcissus, Orris root

Base notes: Sandalwood, Tonka bean, Amber, Atlas Cedarwood, Vanilla

If you have become obsessed with Samsara, here are a couple of clips for you, including the trailer for Pan Nalin's film by this name:


I Surrender, originally uploaded by Ana Santos.

Chamade. A perfume like no other. Green. Fruity. Floral. Aldehydic. Mossy. Balsamic.
When I first read about it in the Guerlain pamphlet I received at The Bay, I did not expect to like it at all because it was described as an aldehydic floral. But to sum it up as belonging to one category or another would be missing the whole point: Chamade is Chamade. You must enjoy it for what it is rather than attempt to classify and categorize it. This would be likened to locking a beautiful songbird in a cage, or a free spirited woman in a house and tell her what to wear, eat or do. If you love Chamade you should know better than that!

Yet, the magic of Chamade is not so much in the fact that it is so versatile, but rather, in the unusual assembly of notes that are so different, yet harmonize perfectly with one another. Notes that seemingly contradict each other so much you wouldn’t think they’ll get along at all: the briskness of galbanum and the caramely sweetness of vanilla; the fruitiness of black currant buds and the acrid oakmoss; Not to mention the florals and aldehydes in between which on the paper create an unresolved olfactory mess.

Yet in the Cupid’s arrow-stricken reversed heart bottle, these elements form a balanced tension that leads from the briskness of galbanum and fruity sharpness of cassis to an oily-urinal aldehydes combines with the above mentioned berries. Creamy and hot, pulsating floral notes of ylang ylang mingle with the powdery, green yet sweet hyacinth creating an impression of a flower warmed in a sunny spring garden. And this all leads to a base that is first mossy, slightly acrid-bitter-dry-woody of sandalwood and oakmoss. Hourse later, the magical vanilla that only the dynasty of Guerlain could use so appropriately without making it seem banal or overdone. The same vanilla of Shalimar parfum – dark, resinous-sweet and sexy in the most intimate, close-to-the-skin tastefulness of the classic parfum extrait of this house.

I’ve been fortunate to wear Chamade in a few concentrations and vintages: vintage EDT from the generous Char (I won a contest, can you believe it?), a Parfum Extrait from eBay, in a pristine 30ml sealed bottle; and of course, a brand new EDT, which is delicious and quite true to the original I think (though this will probably change any minute because of the strict oakmoss regulations in the EU and by IFRA). The new Chamade of course smells fresher, and the top notes are more apparent. It shows its vanillic face faster than the vintage I would say. Yet I can still feel the same Chamadeness beating in there. The vintage EDT is fantastic, the top notes are less pronounced, but you can still feel them, and overall the perfume feels much softer, rounder, and goes form phase to phase seamlessly. The powderiness of the aldehydes and ylang ylang is more pronounced, and there is also a bit of a note that I can only liken to the Mousse de Saxe of Caron, or otherwise to Peru Balsam essential oil (rather than the balsam itself). The parfum extrait is a completely different story altogether. It has such pronounced notes of rose and jasmine (and wow! what a jasmine!) that is barely resembles what I learned to know as Chamade from the other two versions. There is some of the galbanum though, but hardly any cassis (if at all) or ylang ylang at first. Which makes me think, it was probably reformulated after all, though I will not be able to give you any dates. The reformulation primarily seems to be downplaying the rose and jasmine to insusceptible quantities and replacing them mostly by the more cost-effective ylang ylang (probably from Guerlain's own plantations; I wonder in which year they got these...).

Top notes: Galbanum, Black Currant Buds, Aldehydes

Heart notes: Ylang Ylang, Hyacinth

Base notes: Oakmoss, Vanilla, Sandalwood

A few words about the timing for this perfume: designed by Jean-Paul Guerlain, the last in the line of the Guerlain heritage of exemplary high-class perfumery (which lasted for almost two decades and was brutally interrupted only in recent years by globalization and greed). The timeless beauty of Chamade only got to show you that Jean-Paul did not lack inspiration before LVMH got into the picture (rather, stole the picture) and perhaps than it was finances that designed the fragrances more than its own talented nose. Chamade was launched in 1969, marking the beginning of the 70's, which in the perfume world was significantly characterized by the emergance of soapy and green compositions, such as No. 19, Private Collection, Silences, Ivoire, Diorella, and very much influenced AnaisAnais which launched almost a decade later, as well as the much later excellent celebrity perfume Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve.

Guerlain's Vetiver

wood flow, originally uploaded by greenhem.

This is a vetiver that is seemingly simple and gives vetiver a clean, elegant and citrusy interpretation. But when noticing the unfolding of the different elements it reveals interesting layers of simple yet surprising combinations.

Citrus in the initial inhale turns into a peppery heart of nutmeg absolute, revealing the magic of this precious spice, which is the most supreme in this type of distillation, just as the freshly grated nuts. Pepper absolute is also present but to a lesser extend – it’s the luxury of nutmeg that is the star of the show.

A mysterious floral presence is secretly woven into the heart as well. It took me a while to place the jasminoidal floralcy and the almost candy-like fruitiness of orange blossom. It is only there to bond between the otherwise dry and somewhat eccentric notes, and you’ll notice it only if you lend an alert ear to it’s quite song.

The supporting base notes are of almost equal earthiness to that of vetiver – the infamous preciousness of aged patchouli, alluring as an adventure into closet full of clean woolen shawls. Cured tobacco leaves accentuate the dryness of vetiver, while tonka bean adds sweetness as well as a pipe tobacco suggestion. The base accord and dry down has a suave, elegant presence of palse suede leather and the smoothness of burnished woods along with that sweet and tart earthiness of vetiver that usually shows up only later into its dry down, once all the sharpness has dissipated.

These notes do not come one after the other in a procession; rather, they are dynamic and interactive, like a group of sea mammals surfacing out of the water for a breath in alternating moments, and at the end of only the vetiver sticks around and continues to play with the patchouli, tonka and tobacco which stays behind to keep it company.

Despite of its relative simplicity and innocent, almost non-ambitious treatment of vetiver. Vetiver by Guerlain is now a classic. It’s simplicity is both timeless and charming. If you love vetiver, you must try Guerlain’s interpretation. I haven’t tried all the vetiver fragrances there are, but this won my heart instantly.

Wearing Vetiver again reminded me of my former thrilled admiration for the artisty of Guerlain. I like being able to recognize the essences, they feel authentic and real. The classic Guerlain perfumes really do have an impressive amount of naturals and that's what always set them apart from most of the industry for me. The manner in which the essences intertwine and interact, reveal themselves gradually, disappear and reappear is nothing short of magical. Unfortunately, for the most part the tradition of this once glorious house is being maintained mostly on paper and not so much in fragrance, in my opinion. We can only pray and dream that even simple pleasures such as Vetiver will survive the perfume turmoil of our era and will be enjoyed over and over by ourselves and our successors…

Top notes: Orange, Bergamot, Lemon
Heart notes: Nutmeg absolute, Black Pepper Absolute, Orange Blossom Absolute
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli, Tonka Beans, Tobacco Leaf

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