The Princess Turandot presents her first riddle: "What is born each night and dies each dawn?" Prince Calàf correctly replies "Hope." Unnerved, she presents her second riddle: "What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?" He thinks a bit: "Blood". Turandot is shaken and angry so she presents her third riddle: "What is like ice, but burns like fire?" He suddenly cries out victoriously and announces "Turandot!"Guerlain has often been inspired by dramatic stories and exotic places in the onomastics of their illustrious line and Liù takes its pride of place among them. Named after the heroine Liù in Puccini's opera Turandot, it's inspired by the juxtaposition of two different characters who make a jarring comparison: Princess Turandot is cold and cruel, elegant but prideful, not believing in love yet finally conquered by it; her maid Liù on the other hand is kind, pitiful and gentle but also passionate, and although she has true love in her heart for her lord, Prince Calàf, she willingly sacrifices herself for the sake of it. Connected by a man, they provide a stunning portrait of antithetical pieces of the same puzzle ~a women's heart and the passions that rock it. That duality of woman must have been a never-ending source of inspiration for Guerlain, as it is reprised in another fragrance: the 1979 fiery Nahéma (sisters with her opposite Mahané) from the 1001 Nights tale.
Originally created in 1929 by Jacques Guerlain, Liù is a floral aldehydic of tasteful elegance and delicately sensual seduction that puzzles with its impersonating skills. In many ways it acts as the mirror image of the world-famous No.5 by Chanel, but with an added sheen of warm comfort and minus some of the sexpot wiles of the latter. One story wants it to have been created for Rose Fitzerald Kennedy who loved the smell of Chanel's No.5, yet considered wearing it an anathema due to her husband having had an affair with Gabrielle Chanel (although it's his affair with Gloria Swanson during his Hollywood reign between 1926-1929 that is documented). Therefore Guerlain was contacted and they made a fragrance inspired by her prefered scent especially for her. The fact is that Rose kept her favourite fragrance a secret all her life; it was only after her death that it was revealed it was her signature scent. Another story , perhaps more plausible and comparable to that of Chant d’Arômes, has Jacques Guerlain furious at his wife liking and wearing the fragrance of the rival house, Chanel No.5, prompting him in hopes of diverting her from wearing the products of his competitors to create his own interpretation of aldehydes over white flowers on a musky base ~Liù, poured inside an Art-Deco bottle, a masterpiece of geometric artistry, tucked in a box that echoed the architectural design of the bottle.
Whichever of those versions is correct, the fact remains that the two perfumes smell remarkably close, especially in their initial stages. The aldehydes that provide that tingling and soapy/waxy impression are immediately apparent along with a very fresh bergamot and citrusy overture. The fragrance then segues into plush decedent jasmine of an intense femininity. Once it settles on skin however, Liù becomes its own. Musk or sandalwood are not unmistakably obvious as they are in No.5. Rose is very much woven into the fabric of the scent to peak out just enough; it only hints at the velours, sensuously powdery quality which is intensified through the iris and vanillic notes. This version of powdery is detached from the talcum-animalic-vanilla of vintage Shalimar and is more reminiscent of a gentle lady who has freshly powdered her nose to enjoy an afternoon tea with other ladies in the Club, surrounded by bushes in fragrant bloom. There is also the hint of some dried fruit, a whisper in the wind, the culinary touch that is so ingrained in the Guerlain tradition. The Guerlinade base reveals subtly earthy iris, comforting tonka bean and resinous vanilla, finishing it off in a soft-focus lens style that is timelessly elegant while at the same time very much in tempo with the era when aldehydic florals reigned: the 1950s and 1960s. The whole is even close to another Jacques Guerlain creation of the 1930s, Véga, but it's less woody or unconventionaly feminine than the latter.
In the vintage extrait de parfum concentration I have deliciously melding on my skin the darkish vanilla softens the aldehydes, rendering it quite sultry and not too sweet or soapy. Once upon a time, even a luxurious Hair Oil existed which must have been the dream of many a long-tressed lady such as myself and I would love to have been able to try it. In the Eau de Toilette on the other hand the aldehydes are more pronounced, making it more diffusive. In the current Eau de Parfum the similarity with the newer batches of Chanel No.5 are very evident, accounting for a soapy nuance which projects and lasts very well.
Notes for Liù:
Top: aldehydes, bergamot, neroli
Heart: jasmine, May rose, iris
Base: woody notes, vanilla, amber
Liù was discontinued after Rose Kennedy's death and briefly reissued in 2005 by Jean Paul Guerlain in the Eau de Toilette concentration only, and then discontinued again with no explanation. Soon afterwards however it entered Les Parisiennes line, the exclusive line-up at Boutique Guerlain, in Eau de Parfum concentration and double the price, where it remains to this day (hopefully for good!). The re-issue of Liù in Eau de Parfum can be found in the big bee bottles at the Guerlain boutiques and at Bergdorf Goodman. The vintage parfum makes sporadic appearences on Ebay.
Pictures courtesy of Okadi, La Myrrhe, Sarah's Perfumes and Ebay.