Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Guerlain Gourmand Coquin, Chypre Fatal, Oriental Brulant: fragrance reviews and musings

Like probably half the female population of the affluent West with about 40 minutes to kill on a winter's week evening ~nails filed at advertising breaks~ I used to watch the comedic escapades of four women on the verge of breakdown (which rarely resulted in stylistic mishaps) as they struted their proud frames along the avenues of Manhattan in Sex & the City.
In the last season's finale Carrie, the marginally emancipated singleton with a shoe fixation, abandonds her beloved New York for Paris to follow her Russian "lovah" who happens to be an artist. Eager to explore the mystique of Paris she dreams of drinking dark-roasts and smoking Gitanes where Sartre smoked, read under the trees in Boulevard Saint-Germain and live the life of a woman in love in the city of romanticism. In view of all that, she mysteriously doesn't go after perfumes (what??) or Lucien Pellat Finet but rather chooses to slip and fall on her face in the Dior boutique instead, which begs the question: do the French wax their marbles to a slippery shine? Ruining her shoes stepping into poo and having a young kid stick her tongue out at her are the reality checks of the god of small things. Suffice to say Paris doesn't really prove like she hoped it would be and in a Dorothy-out-of-Oz conclusion she retraces her path back to Mr.Big who "rescues" her and to the Big Apple.

Guerlain is like the emblematic Paris in the mind of a fragrance fanatic: if it's not good there, it can't be good anywhere. Or so we're led to think. And what do they do about that, you ask? Lately they often present us with the glowing facade of shinning marble to let us fall flat on our face on the disillusionment of shattered expectations with no poo note in there to soften the blow.

Their new trio Elixirs Charnels (Carnal Elixirs) in marshmallow shades have appeared on the horizon of exclusive ~aka expensive~ launches that have otherwise sane people salivating with the anticipation of exquisite rare pearls of non pareil spherical shape to realise that for all their pretty veneer they hide a somewhat lackluster core, chipped by nails that will handle them repeatedly. The idea of perfumer Christine Nagel and artistic director Sylvaine Delacourte of women choosing roles according to moods helps intrigue the consumer, subliminally hinting that they might serve variable purposes; which is exactly the good ole' concept of a "fragrance wardrobe". Nevertheless, although they pose as contrasting personae (the playful woman-child, the icy femme fatale of a Hitchcokian thriller or the hyper-hormoned bombshell that bursts at the seams) they more or less offer a similarly tame exposition of feminine pleasantry. Well-made technically and very approachable, they part ways with Guerlain's older classics being resolutely modern and instantly appealing. Are they sexy? Let's not forget Chris Sheldrake's quote: "In our industry, 'bedroom smell' means the sensuality of jasmine, a powdery, musky soft entity - something that makes the wearer comfortable - and with a comfortable smell that pleases. It means not too violet or too rose or too animalic or too mossy." Let's repeat: not too violet or too rose or...etc.

Gourmand Coquin reprises the caramellic tonalities of Spiritueuse Double Vanille with less depth, possibly with a burnt cotton-candy note more than anything else bringing it close to Aquolina's Pink Sugar and L'artisan's Vanilia. Sweet is as sweet does and I predict this fluffy confectionary pastry that has no bitterness of Valhrona chunks, but only milky lappings of ganache (but less than Iris Ganache) will become very popular.

Chypre Fatal is poised in the venerable cloak of chypre bearing the burden of fatality when the most it could do would be to slap you with the peeled skin of a peach. Not exactly in the mould of modern chypres à la Narciso Rodriguez (which Nagel co-authored) ~those are rather woodies with sanitized patcouli notes~ but not a classic chypre either, Chypre Fatal takes fruitiness into the realm of a clean, if unexciting, musky scent that can be effortlessly worn by even the most meak. This kitten purrs rather than hisses.

Oriental Brûlant is the one closer to the orientalia tradition of Guerlain, if only because it contains that ambery powdery Woofer surround that is the trademark of a recognisably erotic fragrance, in which the French house has excelled for so long. It also manages to smell at once comforting and confident with its hazy almondy tonalities and a silken thread of cool that ties it to Ambra del Nepal by I Profumi di Firenze and Ambre Fétiche by Goutal, as well as the attractive interplay between cool and warm facets of Sonia Rykiel Women- not for men! Oriental Brûlant might not be terribly innovative, but it's quite fetching! Try to forget the advertising scenario and picture it as a personal amulet on days of torpor.

Ultimately, Guerlain's Carnal Elixirs, much like that season finale showed, prove that not everything is as you expect it. And in the end, that's "Abso-fuckin'-lutely" OK.

Official notes:
Gourmand Coquin notes: black pepper, rose, rum, chocolate.
Chypre Fatal notes: white peach, rose, patchouli, vanilla.
Oriental Brûlant notes: clementine, almond, tonka beans, vanilla.

Guerlain Carnal Elixirs are currently available in Eau de Parfum oblong bottles of 75 ml at 165 € via La Maison Guerlain, 68 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris or Begdrof Goodman in New York.

Pic of Sarah Jessica Parker courtesy of HBO. Bottle pics via Le critique du parfum.


  1. It sounds like these are much better than expected. Oriental Brûlant has my interest the most. I like the idea of a clementine note. I love the Laura Mercier clementine body collection, although sadly it seems to have been discontinued in the UK.

    I loved that sequence with Carrie in the red polka dot dress- the cakes, the fashion, the cobbled street- lovely. Although I know she wasn't that happy.

    I have always wondered what perfume Carrie wears, and I blogged about it once. I thought maybe Jicky or something classic but wonderful or otherwise something niche and NY- maybe a Bond No 9.

  2. Anonymous17:25

    So, they're mostly derivative, if there are so many similarities, I wonder why they couldn't come up with something more original. Well, not everyone can be Lutens I guess which is a good thing if you think of it in the end.

  3. Anonymous17:27

    Love that photo of Carrie and the splendidly folded dog - the colours are gorgeous too!So evocative of some fabulous cafe in Paris. Now I think we have established that I am a Guerlain ho but it sounds to me as if my credit card is safe from any siren call from this trio. I own and enjoy SDV so no need for the Gourmand one and the Chypre barely merits the descriptor in its title from sounds of it but I would be interested in sniffing the Oriental if only because you have mentioned Ambra del Nepal which I think is my favourite amber. Thanks E! Donanicola

  4. Anonymous20:06

    I agree - I expected them to be worse than you said.

    I guess the 'pulp romance novel' style marketing (PR) and the fuzzy glass bottles (which everytime I look at them, remind me of White Linen Pure by Estee Lauder in fruit punch flavors) can be overlooked, if the juice inside is good enough. But, at these prices... (sigh)

  5. perfumeshrine, don 't tell me you read 'Le Critique de parfum', this blogger is such a joke.

    I already discussed this exclusive line at Grain de Musc, the erotic content used in the press release is closer to Regine Desforges 's "bad" literature than DAF de Sade or Pauline Reage/Dominique Aury. I understand the connection with S&C Carrie, a character I cannot stand who thinks she 's prettier than she really is. Come on New York is Working Girls, top executives badass bitches or world class escorts but definitely not such spoiled little princesses in their own fantasy world looking for Mr Right!
    Olfactory-wise I don 't expect much from these scents either, I don 't like Christine Nagel 's compositions. I don 't think she 's a good perfumer at all, her scents come accross as too generic no matter what she does.

  6. Haha, E, thanks for an entertaining read. It was the sentence that referenced "shattered expectations with no poo note in there to soften the blow" that made me laugh out loud.

    Not sure what to expect from these new Guerlain fragrances, or when I'm likely to smell them...

  7. Hello R!

    Reading the comments so far it's funny how everyone interprets my words. Basically I think these are competently-made, pleasant but not something one should break their backs to get.
    I think Oriental Brulant is perhaps the nicest of the lot (or at least the most Guerlain-ish, so you have a good chance liking it), but I don't get a clear clementine note: I mean, if one didn't read the notes, one wouldn't identify it as such (perfume works in mysterious ways). So if you're just going by that alone, I suggest you locate a sample of Tauer's Incense Rosé which features clementine loud and clear.

    That episode was indeed wistful and had some of the melancholy that comes with natural endings. I liked that they cut the series when they had to cut it and didn't let it languish or wither.
    To be honest I have read so much about SJP's actual fragrance choices that it always interferes with my perception of what Carrie would choose. Since she's a creative person with a rather glamorous life (but not glitzy glamorous) your suggestions wouldn't be inappropriate. I definitely see her in something quirky but good-quality.

  8. A,

    I think we can't expect Guerlain to really be Lutens, simply because the measurements are completely different: Guerlain makes ~what~ 200 different products each year (or so I hear) and Lutens issues 2 frags a year or so.
    Yes, this latest series seemed to smell eerily familiar.

  9. N,

    I love that folded dog to bits too! And I had been meaning to use this photo for quite some time and this was it :-)
    I think although they're all very pleasant, there is no reason to go out of your way to get them (unsniffed and all that tirade). If I had more of the Oriental I'd send you some to try, because I also find Ambra del Nepal one of the nicest ambers (I'm not an soli-amber person, find them most too sweet, too heavy, too oppressive; although I do love orientals)

  10. M,

    most people tend to either expect the worst or the best from Guerlain, LOL!
    Like I said above, these are quite nice. They're not badly made, for sure. The ad copy was badly made though and I am saying this as someone who does write a bit in professional capacity. I don't know what possessed them!

    The price-juice ratio is directly proportional to the enthusiasm I can muster on something (exactly your feeling I suspect?): I expect something really expensive to be top quality, truly different and to rock my world. If it doesn't why pay the price? On something more modestly priced I can cut some slack ;-)

  11. Emanuella,

    it's really not my place to comment on another blogger. Who knows, maybe he finds us a huge joke? Still, I admit I don't follow closely, so I haven't shaped an opinion.
    Regardless, the photos needed to be credited and his were the only ones to seperate each bottle and I didn't want to use the photo I had used before, so...

    I think we're a long way from seeing de Sade or even Reage standard in ad copy anywhere: it's not that easy to do, if one gets down and tries to, you know? And it's rather laughable that many people are not even familiar with de Sade enough to know that there is a huge plea for freedom of speech in his delirious brilliance: they just get stuck to his outré and tittilating stuff :/

    Carrie does think she's prettier than she is (sexier too!) and you can see that in the scipt many times (I distinctly remember a bit in the Las Vegas casino episode in which two guys supposedly pick her up as prettier than K.Davies which is of course brighter than the sun that can't be so). Then again SJP has a weird quality of being very approachable and making you think that she's a really nice yet interesting person: not white trash, no matter her background. I think this is what makes the character tick.
    But as to it reflecting any kind of NYC lifestyle, I agree that in the city of overachievers it's not quite what women would aspire to. Then again let's not generalise. I have known people who live in NYC and are intellectuals and serious artists, so...

    Re: Christine Nagel. I believe she has to do what the house demands and work within those confines. Most perfumers alas do. Possibly the ad copy came first, the perfumes came second!
    I recall very vividly how startled I was to learn Wasser was appointed head perfumer: I think I don't like anything he has made so far, LOL! But then again researching this a bit more closely, I realised he has to work within what he has been given rein of and up to now that's been minimal confines. Let's see, therefore, is what I'm saying. I have hope yet.
    Then again, there are those people who exhibit some sort of brilliance even in the most conservative and undemanding milieu and do their own thing honing a style of their own (I have a couple of names in mind but you might disagree) :-)

  12. J,

    I thought you might like it! LOL

    Really, a poo note might fit magnificently in some of them (perhaps all?).
    I don't think you should really mortgage your house to get them. Surely a couple of samples will land in your lap some other way sooner or later and you will satisfy your curiosity.

  13. Anonymous09:57

    I happened to read the erotic histories connected with these perfumes, and think they must be among the worst in that literary genre (how is it even possible to sink that low, one may ask!?) But, then, what does it matter?
    Of the three I will try to get a sniff of the Oriental Brûlant, clementine, almond, tonka beans, vanilla, it really sounds delicious :)
    But I will probably not buy because I like a tiny bit of quirkiness/weirdness & with that price simple pleasure is not enough..
    That is the reason I can enjoy SJP as Carrie also. (all the comments on the net about her being too ugly for the role is on the border to distastefulness, and worse. Like perfumes can be "quirky, but attractive" (Helg's words), a woman can also be that.

  14. S,

    those stories are utter ridicule. I am feeling bad for the person who wrote them. I imagine they had to salvage the kids from some kidnapper and they really needed the money like right now, or time was running out and they went along with the first thing that came to their mind while watching soap operas on early afternoon TV, that sort of thing...
    There is no quirkness in the Carnal Elixirs, they're quite mainstream.
    And I think SJP is quirky and attractive (and rather smart)because it does make me want to personally know her (especially after reading Burr's book), so what better explanation is needed?
    I think people overglamourise the fact that the character is living in Manhattan and want it to emulate what they aspire to: as if there are no genetically mediocre looking/somewhat plain people there (that's some snobbism in reverse).

  15. Anonymous13:52

    ("And I think SJP is quirky and attractive (and rather smart)because it does make me want to personally know her (especially after reading Burr's book), so what better explanation is needed?"
    Agree :) - and that is something else than being beautiful, which can be said of Kristen Davies. (I think that also is reflected in the series, as part of the explanation of Mr. Big's hesitation of making her his official girl friend. Remember his marriage with the young model, and her comment then when they came out from the wedding reception, the citation from the robert redford/barbara straisand film "the way we were". (A beautiful film, also about the confrontation between conventional beauty and quirkiness/even ugliness)
    Since this is a perfume blog I shall say no more, only add that I love to sniff Lovely; a very conforting, cosy musk (not quite "me", although!)

  16. perfumeshrine, well briefly Le Critique de Parfum whose favorite scents are Vanille Cannelle, Miss Dior Cherie, Tihota and Pink Sugar believes you should not intellectualize on perfume. He finds ludicrous people into vintage perfumes, of course Lutens is obnoxious, he swears he 'd never wear a non-EU regulated fragrance and eventually believes perfumery has never been so great than now and the best is yet to come...but believe it or not, he has a strong following on Beaute-Test, his fans ask him exitential questions like wether they should buy Miss Dior Cherie or Midnight Dior LOL

    I think you 're right, taking eroticism to the level of de Sade or Pauline Reage would only outrage "mainstream" people (like POLers LOL), only a small minority understands its philosophical content. Perhaps Etat Libre d 'Orange could get away with Sade or George Bataille. However, this press release literature sounds like something more marketed for Victoria Secret than Guerlain.

    Mu biggest problem with Carrie 's S&C character is all her stupid giggling acting like she is embarrassed or something.

    I believe complete artistic freedom and unlimited budgets don 't always guarantee better perfumes. The best example is Frederic Malle 's editions, a perfumer like Maurice Roucel does better scents when submitted with strict guidelines like his Guerlain Insolence than what he 's done with Malle which I think are average but not gems. The "guide" mostly rates the Malles 3 stars, not bad scents but definitely not masterpieces, on the other hand the Lutens are either 1 or 4/5 stars, hits or misses, I believe this truly means something. Back in the earliest days of modern perfumery, perfumers didn 't go to "schools", they were able to develop their own olfactory style and signature. If Ernest Beaux was a young perfumer today his creations might ressemble more Ellena 's watery hesperedic minimalism than his own No. 5.

  17. LOL, Emmanuelle, you naughty, naughty minx! You're trying to make me say things I don't want to say! In his own way I think LCdP does what he believes, so more power to him!
    As to people following advice, well, people often adhere to people with strong opinions, no matter what they are, so there you go ~this happens with a prominent scientist-cum-writer we all know as well! ;-)

    Victoria's Secret is completely in tune, I agree!! Certainly not Guerlain: there is no subtle tickling of fantasy there and fantasy is what makes for intrigue: more the things one doesn't reveal than the ones they do.
    Now, I am most eager to see Etat Libre d'Orange doing a chapter off Bruckner to be honest (I am sure you know what I'm talking about!). Dear Roman couldn't do it visually (without ending to the Peoria of specialised video-stores, LOL), so let's hope someone tries to do it olfactorily! It can be done and I know that for a fact because I have seen scientists in my field reconstitute .....


    ... fossilised shit, to analyse by the texture and smell what people were eating in those times.
    So yes, it can be done! ;-)

    As to de Sade and Reage, what most irritates me is how people -women especially, I'm afraid- jump up at the literature with some overtones on how it is expoitative and objectifying etc. etc. (yes, it is; no, their aim wasn't primarily that). It seems that women have gained every right on earth, but the right to dispose of their own bodies and minds as they want to, even if it means debasing those very things.

    As to Carrie's giggling: it's to make her seem more child-like and goofy, I believe. Goofiness makes the less pretty girls seem like more fun. Suppossedly... I like SJP, I don't always like Carrie (I'm more of an idealist myself in matters of the heart)

    In what concerns artistic freedom, sometimes it does tend to produce things that are out of synch with their times (and in Malle's line I'd put Therese to that peg, even if I am sounding extremely harsh). Roucel did an excellent, brilliant, quite rich rendition of Musc Ravageur in L de Lempicka: it's a much better oriental I personally think (MR doesn't smell especially musky to me, more like spicy amber).
    I also believe casting an eye to what the public would like is not always such a bad idea: there can be brilliance there too. (not all people who buy mainstream are uncouth peasants as we so often snobs of perfume communities like to think, LOL!).
    However I really liked his approach in Dans Tes Bras: I found it innovative, fresh, individual and ultimately fetching.
    And you brought up by yourself exactly the person I had in mind: Jean Claude. He is without doubt the one who will go down in history as one of the very greats. He is carefully, intelligently and intellectually honing his own style and I have said my piece on Un Jardin apres la Mousson. The man is genius (and he apparently reads here, so I do hope he now abandonds everything in his home at Grasse and comes and takes me by the hand to teach me all the secrets of perfumery! LOL) :-))

  18. S,

    I love Lovely myself and quite strangely I find it rather "me". In all the subtleties that entails.

    BTW, that episode was one of my most favourites! (the look on Cattral's face when she faces the camera when the others burst into singing the theme song is PRICELESS!!)

    Watch again here!

  19. Anonymous10:20

    (thank you for the watch! :) Very nice to see it again. And: sorry for the obsession of beauty/ugliness here, but I work with aesthetics you know. By the way, Umberto Eco´s book on ugliness is very interesting. - even, of course, have some to say on shit!
    (will be traveling the next 1+1 week now. last one in London, and the there will be time for some serious olfactory explorations also ;)

  20. Anonymous12:08

    Oh oh oh

    Perfume wars ... act V on this blog ...
    Good luck Perfume Shrine

  21. S,

    you're welcome: I love this scene! It's so witty on so many levels, isn't it? :-)

    The story of beauty is one of the most fascinating of Eco's books and I think I have read them almost all of them.

    Best wishes for a most happy trip to London (one of my favourite destinations) and do drop by Harrod's Urban Retreat (see what they do with the consulation now that some of the Diptyque candles are discontinued and sample the R.Dove private line), Les Senteurs of course and Ormonde Jayne. Ah and the Arabian Oud Store on Oxford street (next to Selfridges). ;-)


  22. Watchman,

    ah...I hope it doesn't evolve into war! Thank you for being civilized about it. Everyone has a right to their opinion and expressing it, so I don't see why we should be so chaffed about it (OK, I don't mean you personally, I mean whoever is in this instance). I welcome all sides here as long as there can be coherent and intelligent dialogue. :-)

    Hope to see you again.

  23. Anonymous13:31

    The book on ugliness it the sequel to the one on Beauty! A must read if interested in these things.. :)
    Now I´m off, thank you for the London tips!

  24. You're welcome S!
    Ah, so there goes another one on my list! (thanks for the clarification)

  25. "...not too violet or too rose or too animalic or too mossy..."

  26. Ain't that the truth, V!
    If these are the "rules" on creating something considered "sexy" among perfumers, is it any wonder that so many things smell the same? They programatically begin with "no"...

  27. Wonderful post, I smelled Gourmand Coquin for the first time Friday evening and it changed my life, it has inspired me to write a post on it. Check it out at


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