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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fleur de Feu by Guerlain: fragrance review of a rare vintage beauty

If you ever come in contact with volcanic earth you will discover that despite the sulphurous yellow emanations it is exceptionally fertile. Stationed as I am in the land of numerous volcanos silenced for years but always at the ready to burst forth their bituminous menace, I can better appreciate the inspiration behind Fleur de Feu by Guerlain: the fragile yet sturdy beauty of flowers that rise their head on an island volcano.
Created by Jaques Guerlain in 1948 (according to Le Portail des Antiquaires, while others attribute a 1949 date), Fleur de Feu, which means "fiery flower", was the first Guerlain perfume to celebrate the optimism felt after the end of WWII. Guerlain had only produced the legendary Dawamesk during those difficult years (in 1942 actually), so they were eager to turn a new leaf. Much like Christian Dior had written in his autobiography referring to Miss Dior ("Europe was tired of letting off bombs, all it wanted now was to let off firewords!"), the festivity and joie de vivre inherent in that primal force of nature, fire, has inspired perfumers with connotations of radiance, warmth and passion and Fleur de Feu was masterminded as Jacques Guerlain's generous gift to women.

Fleur de Feu is quite rare since it's been discontinued for decades and it's even rarer in extrait de parfum (pure parfum) which I am now going to review, but like I mentioned before a thesaurus (with the original Greek meaning of treasure-trove) of vintage Guerlain fragrances has ended in my lap inspiring me to write and appreciate the tastes of a bygone era: When women displayed a different interpretation of their feminine wiles and when sexuality was revealed in shapes that accentuated the female form.

The scent of Fleur de Feu is warm and inviting, a floral almost quasi-gourmand with the plush carnation heart that will be reprised in Atuana in 1952. It shares the rich note that appears in the scorching peppery whiplash of the admirable vintage Poivre by Caron at a time when the perfumer's base Dianthine (first devised in 1902 by Chuit & Naef -its formula now owned by Firmenich, same as with Cyclosia and Iralia) was supremely popular. After all, the original L'Origan by Coty also featured it.
Although Fleur de Feu bears the epithet of "fiery" however, the composition here smothers it with decadent flowers of which a rich jasmine and ylang ylang can be very clearly detected, as well as powdery tonalities of iris and vanilla, so characteristic of the Guerlinade accord (supposedly the base that appears like a signature in every vintage and several modern Guerlain fragrances). There seems to be a little benzoin wamth that paired with the butterscotch-like vanilla and a hint of tobacco flower (I might be hallucinating however as to the latter note) might allude to the delights of leisure at home, at a time when women were expected to be efficient homemakers with a roast in the oven and a bavaroise in the fridge, while simultaneously bursting out of their hourglass curvaceous attire. The slight shift in focus from the optimism of l'après guerre to the bombshell ideal of the 1950s can be witnessed in the retro print advertisements for Fleur de Feu: from the romanticism of the young woman holding a bouquet of flowers to the excited bust of a red-faced Maenad. The parfum concentration is seamless with little progression, a very feminine purring composition that radiates with warmth and stays poised on my skin melding with its intimate effluvium for hours on end.

The art deco ribbed bottle with a pedestral for Fleur de Feu was made by Bacarrat around 1948 (according to Roja Dove), breaking with the more rococo tradition and introducing simpler shapes. It was designed to resemble the gigantic American skyscrapers of that time, same as with Ode later on, according to Dulcinea Northon Smith's research. It's interesting to note that this was also the inspiration behind the old blue bottle of Je Reviens by Worth; such was the impact of the brave steel and glass architecture on the pulse of culture, at a time when everything seemed possible and affluence was slowly building!


In the beginning of 2008 Guerlain decided to use the copyrighted name on their makeup collections, much like they did with the lamentably discontinued Parure fragrance: Fleur de Feu nowadays denotes the '08 spring collection of eyeshadow palettes and Kiss Kiss Gloss limited editions. Which probably means that it won't be any time soon we see the re-issue of the glorious fragrance...

If you are persistent you might find some on Ebay or at least some Eau de Cologne concentration from the 50s/60s at Sarah's Perfumes or Eau de Toilette at The Perfumed Court.


Pics: Ad illustrations "Jeune femme avec bouquet de fleurs" for Guerlain's Fleur de Feu by Darcy 1949 and illustration by Darcy 1951, courtesy of Parfum de Pub and Vintage Perfume Publications respectively. Bottle pic uploaded by orchid74 on MUA, with many thanks.

20 comments:

  1. I had been eyeing that EDC bottle of Fleur de Feu for over a year now, hoping it would grab me, but alas, financial worries befall us all. And I can only hope that a sample of Atuana landed in your lap recently as well so you can review it, as it's one of the most intriguing vintage Guerlains to me...inspired by Gaughin, leathery, with one of the best fragrance names of all time, I think.

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  2. orchid7419:31

    Finally, an insightful review of this vintage Guerlain. The historical details, your interpretation of the retro-ads and knowing that this is Guerlain's gift to woman after the war makes me even more treasure it. I am glad to have shared this gem with you.

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  3. Your post was so interesting. I just love the bottle (and I am not a bottle freak) and the big bash of flowers that Fleur de Feu has must be wonderful.
    Now - why do they reinvent their classics in the bloody make-up line? Rrrrr'
    It would be wonderful if they just went to their old library of past scents and re-issued them and not that pap they are putting out at the moment!!!
    Oh Helg, you know what a old whinger/ bitch I am when it comes to Guerlain ! LOL

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  4. Oh, boy...this is like discovering a good read right when the tea is ready and the fire is cozy. I am mentally settling in for a most pleasant excursion through whatever vintage Guerlains have landed in your good care, and am glad to have you as a tour guide.

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  5. Hello, E -- This sounds absolutely lovely. Now you'll have me searching about for a sample... And Attuana too, after what Billy wrote about it.

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  6. This sounds lovely, a warm floral gourmand from Jaques Guerlain. Be still my beating heart!

    Thank you for the lovely review. My to sample list is getting longer and longer at the moment.

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  7. B,

    the EDC is a beautiful concentration in most older Guerlains. If you have a chance I'd say grab it!
    I'll be all teasing and mysterious on what you ask though and leave at that. ;-)

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  8. B,

    thank you so much for your wonderful compliment! Having to go with only my nose and instincts to guide me I hope I did it justice.
    It's been a real honour you bestowed on me and I am grateful :-)

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  9. M,

    thanks and I can sympathise. I think it's mostly an issue of copyright. I deduce that the copyright is a ready-made impressive (and often poetic, such as in this case) name which shouldn't go to waste, hence they use it for the makeup. But maybe, just maybe, I suspect copyright expires at some point (I am thinking Lanvin's Scandal and the Roja Dove exclusive scent at Harrod's by the same name), so re-newing it through use in another product of the same house is a smart move, if you think about it: they're always free to re-issue the fragrance in the future if they so choose!

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  10. S,

    :-)) Sit back comfortably and enjoy: I can make this last for ages...

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  11. J,

    it's a warm, rich floral (and not that fiery as the second ad might suggest) and worth sniffing if you can. I think you might like it.

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  12. R,

    "to sample" lists are made to be expanded, LOL!
    It has an inviting quality about it, not too spicy, not foody, yet pleasantly sweet.

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  13. Reading the above comments, I do want to sample it more now that you've confirmed it it warm and sweet, not too spicy as carnation can be. I'm a sucker for classic Guerlain, and this one sounds like a real cracker, hitting all the right notes (jasmine/ylang/iris/vanilla).

    It sounds to me like the main notes that distinguish it from the more well-known old Guerlains (and even new ones like Plus Que Jamais) are the carnation and that cinnamon/resinous aspect you mentioned.

    As regards the "copyright" issue: you wouldn't have copyright in a phrase like "Fleur de Feu," because it is just the name of the product (and besides, is probably too short to attract copyright protection). What you're thinking of is trademark. And yes, trademarks do expire after a period of time, if they're not used. If I had to guess, I would say that Guerlain probably lost whatever trademark registration they might have had on "Fleur de Feu," because it was off the market for a long time, but then in the aftermath of the LVMH takeover they wanted to revive it, so they used it for makeup. I checked the EU trademarks database, and they don't currently have a registration on the name, but I can only assume that if they ever wanted to reissue the fragrance that it would benefit them to have used the name recently on a similar product.

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  14. A,

    thanks for chimming in! See, you said it so much better than I did: yes, trademark is the word I should have chosen (this foreign language blogging has its perils...). And my suspicion is exactly what you're saying (using the name of a recent product if they -re-issue).

    I love carnation but this is not a typical carnation, it's more complex than a soliflore.

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  15. What a rich and fascinating post, I tuned in at exactly the right moment (hides head in guilt) instead of doing my tag blog. I promise I'll do it over the weekend before I leave for India -- BTW have you any advice about what essences to look for and how to find them? The wonderful world of lost fragrances is never-ending, and I'd never heard of the two exotically named Guerlains you mentioned, brava! And I adore the eccentric graphic for Fleur de Feu, vey Cocteau, and quite at odds with the gorgeous neo-classical bottle. Thanks, Helg!

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  16. Dear Wendy,

    thank you so much for your most kind words (and for your effort of doing the tag thing, especially amidst your preparations).
    Indeed the second ad is Cocteau-like! Very insightful of you. I guess they decided to do something that went along with the name (if not the smell)at some point. Funny that the illustrator is the same person.

    India should be the land for tuberose (and sambac jasmine, too): really, people praise the Grasse tuberose, but the Indian absolute is truly sublime, take my word for it. ;-)

    If you want to, please do mail me at perfumeshrine at yahoo dot com so we can talk a bit more on that and I can send you a couple of pointers. :-))

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  17. I am smelling Fleur de Feu from the same source as you and I can say I feel so lucky to enjoy this moment of smelling part of perfume history. I read also the comments about the re-created FdF by MonsieurGuerlain and it seems this one has no carnation in it, but I smell it clearly, it has an spicy heart and almost burnt note that matches so well with the name, Flower of Fire, in the opening it is very Guerlain, aldehydes, rose, jasmin, ylang-ylang, and then comes the carnation, remembering to cloves and the drydown shows the vanilla touch of Guerlain, amazing!!! I don't know if this spicy touch comes from aging as suggest MonsieurGuerlain, but I think it makes more sense! Thanks for your amazing review!!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am smelling Fleur de Feu from the same source as you and I can say I feel so lucky to enjoy this moment of smelling part of perfume history. I read also the comments about the re-created FdF by MonsieurGuerlain and it seems this one has no carnation in it, but I smell it clearly, it has an spicy heart and almost burnt note that matches so well with the name, Flower of Fire, in the opening it is very Guerlain, aldehydes, rose, jasmin, ylang-ylang, and then comes the carnation, remembering to cloves and the drydown shows the vanilla touch of Guerlain, amazing!!! I don't know if this spicy touch comes from aging as suggest MonsieurGuerlain, but I think it makes more sense! Thanks for your amazing review!!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am smelling Fleur de Feu from the same source as you and I can say I feel so lucky to enjoy this moment of smelling part of perfume history. I read also the comments about the re-created FdF by MonsieurGuerlain and it seems this one has no carnation in it, but I smell it clearly, it has an spicy heart and almost burnt note that matches so well with the name, Flower of Fire, in the opening it is very Guerlain, aldehydes, rose, jasmin, ylang-ylang, and then comes the carnation, remembering to cloves and the drydown shows the vanilla touch of Guerlain, amazing!!! I don't know if this spicy touch comes from aging as suggest MonsieurGuerlain, but I think it makes more sense! Thanks for your amazing review!!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I am smelling Fleur de Feu from the same source as you and I can say I feel so lucky to enjoy this moment of smelling part of perfume history. I read also the comments about the re-created FdF by MonsieurGuerlain and it seems this one has no carnation in it, but I smell it clearly, it has an spicy heart and almost burnt note that matches so well with the name, Flower of Fire, in the opening it is very Guerlain, aldehydes, rose, jasmin, ylang-ylang, and then comes the carnation, remembering to cloves and the drydown shows the vanilla touch of Guerlain, amazing!!! I don't know if this spicy touch comes from aging as suggest MonsieurGuerlain, but I think it makes more sense! Thanks for your amazing review!!!

    ReplyDelete

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