Cinnamon Skies

Maupiti Sunrise by SF Brit
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

Visit to the Guerlain Insitute de Beaute in Montréal

The two urban highlights of my (very short) visit to Montreal were the Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture exhibit at the art museum (launched before his sudden death); and paying a visit to the Guerlain Insititue Beaute (1350 Greene Avenue 514-933-6114) accompanied by the fine lady Joann, a customer and a perfume-friend.
While the YSL exhibit had no particular odorous to report about, the Guerlain Institute is what it’s all about (unless you are there for the makeup). Time was short before closing – we only had about an our to explore some of the scents exclusive to Paris and very few other boutiques. For the first time, I have tried several scents and even though I was only able to skin-test a couple (Sous le Vent and Attrappe Coeur), I jotted down my impressions:

Sous le Vent
On the paper:
Chypre, dry, fresh, herbaceous
On the skin:
Warm, sensual, pronounced labdanum, lavender, greens
Dry, woody, citrusy, unsweet

Attrappe Couer
Peach, like Champagne (Yvresse) but deeper, and with a fair amount of labdanum (amber)
Peach, amber and musk are the main notes with a vague floral weaving its way through for good measure. This smelled bolder and more interesting on the scent strip and became very soft and a little too girly, powdery and sweet on my skin.

Philtre d’Amour
Dry citrus chypre. Base is mostly patchouli, with herbaceous and citrus notes and a hint of floral. First reminded me of my own ArbitRary, and a few hours into the drydown reminds me of a tamed and toned-down Aromatics Elixir.

Cruel Gardenia:
On paper: soapy musk with a faded gardenia note
On the skin it smells like gardenia and skin.
It did smell better on Joann, whos skin brought out the gardenia in a most realistic manner. We both agreed it had a certain soapiness to it though, which I thought of as very similar to Chanel’s No. 22.

Bois d'Armenie
This smells like a subdued Serge Lutens to me. It is more sweet than woody, with resinous hints bordering on amber territory with obvious wink towards Shalimar. A little too sweet to my taste and Shalimar is incomparably better.

I’ve also briefly re-visited what used to be called Coriolan (for the first time, the helicrysum and absinthe jumped at me, dry and recognizable); the new Guerlain Homme (pleasant and interesting with warm gourmand hints; nevertheless not exactly what I would call original – I could swear I smelled something similar to it recently; perhaps Rochas Homme?); Spirituese Double Vanille (super-charged vanilla that caught me in a dry, anti-vanilla mood but otherwise I would have considered it very wearable).
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