Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vega by Guerlain: fragrance review (vintage vs.re-issue)

Véga was originally created in the 1930's, in 1936 to be precise, by Jacques Guerlain. It was such a loaded year: the Berlin Olympics, the Nobel for Eugene O' Neil and cinematically speaking My man Godfrey with Carole Lombard who could wear this perfume effortlessly. The recreation was undertaken by Jean Paul Guerlain for the opening of the renovated Boutique Guerlain in 2005 and bears his mark alongside the well-known Guerlinade base. It entered the Legacy collection, known under the name Il était une fois (=once upon a time). Belonging to the family of aldehydic florals that first took off with the infamous introduction of Chanel No.5 in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, Véga has the fizzying, sparkling element of the aldehydic opening, that can sometimes smell waxy or even soapy.

Vega is such a beautiful name: being the brightest star in the α Lyra constellation and the 5th brightest star we can see in the sky, it has 58 times the brilliance of the sun, although scientists tell us that they are full of cosmic dust. The name however evokes luminosity and the perspective of cosmos: In 1936 Paris was indeed the capital of Light, the chic metropolis of every emerging trend, the place to be!

The original jazzy Véga in vintage Eau de Toilette traipses along the classic school of aldehydics with a luminous, expansive quality and softly powdery rosey and iris notes that support the warmth of sweet flowers ~notably the piecingly sweet ylang- ylang~ and the familiar vanillic touch of the Guerlinade base that takes a creamy nuance: the lustre of big pearls worn at the open neckline of a soft cloak under marcelled hair to go out for a night of folly.
Perhaps that aldehydic arpeggio is a nod to the take-off in Chanel's No.22 as well. The notes sing in a beautiful choral that hums melodiously.
According to toutenparfum in 1995 or 1997 according to other sources (later which would co-incide with the 1996 LVMH takeover and therefore seems more probable), Véga was briefly re-introduced and swiftly disappeared again. The bottle was short and cylindrical with a bulby cap, resembling the original inkwell flacon shown in the above vintage print ad.

In the 2005 re-issue of Véga those diffusive soapy-powdery notes are softened, to suit modern tastes who have arguably distanced themselves from the more perfume-y tastes of yore. However that is not to the detriment of the perfume at all. Rather it emphasises the rich floral heart while the two versions are not dramatically different. The ylang ylang is the predominant note in the new composition, a jasmine-like scented flower with a somewhat fruity aspect; jasmine and orange blossom come along too from the wings as supporting players. Véga also features fleur de cassie (acacia farnesiana) with its rich smell, like cat's paws immersed in milk, a whiff of heliotrope. Although iris and rosewood are listed, they were not to be found in the re-issue, at least not in the usual earthy version I come to witness in most true iris perfumes, like Luten's Iris Silver Mist or Hiris. That sweet floral heart in combination with the Guerlain vanillic warmth and the plush vetiver-amber base reminds me of the fond of Vol de Nuit and Shalimar at the same time without the smokey den ambienace of the vintage forms of the latter. That is to say Véga definitely has an animalic musky tonality in it that would potentially drive off people not attuned to full, hazy florals. It is not a perfume for shying violets!
Although the heart and base have elements of Chanel No.5, especially in its parfum version, Véga is at once less naughty and woodier. That darker, more serious element is a great attribute of the creation and although it is only an idea of darkness really, it still manages to make the perfume rise above merely pretty. Guerlain has always had an affinity for making likeable and wearable perfumes, often taking inspiration from other compositions and "making them laugh", like Jacques Guerlain did with Shalimar and Mitsouko (inspired in part by Coty Emeraude and Chypre respectively). Guerlain's other aldehydic floral from the period between the two World Wars, Liù, was another one inspired by Chanel No.5, but in comparison to Véga the latter seems soapier and more angular. They both have a bourgeois sensibility that makes for generally very "French"-smelling perfumes; at least in what is considered French in the collective unconscious, France being a vast country embracing many different cultural stimuli. This is the case here with Véga and this aldehydic may be a wonderful alternative for people who cannot enjoy Chanel No.5 or Arpège or even the fabulous Editions des parfums Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre.

The vintage parfum circulated in the inkwell-shaped bottle, while the Eau de Toilette is to be found in the large oval bottles (as depicted) on Ebay. There seemed to be also an Eau de Parfum version which however I have not tried yet. The 2005 re-issue of Véga is currently available exclusively at boutiques Guerlain and the Bergdorf Goodman's éspace Guerlain in Eau de Toilette in a 125ml splash cylindrical bottle tied with a gold thread on the neck and the Guerlain seal flat on the cap.

Notes for Véga:
Top: aldehydes, bergamot, orange blossom
Middle: jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, fleur de cassie, rose, carnation, rosewood, iris
Bottom: sandalwood, amber, vanilla

Please read another review in French on Ambre Gris.

Pic of Vega ad courtesy of euart.com. Bottle pics through etna.borda.ru, Victoria's Own and mr.Guerlain (collector).


  1. AngelaS04:01

    I love this one! Thank you for reviewing it. In the middle of Vega I get a hint of lavender--something with a contrast of almost masculine freshness--against the lush, feminine backdrop. It's a wonderful scent.

  2. Dear E -- what a lovely description of fleur de cassie as "cat's paws immersed in milk." I'm going to be getting a sample of this on the weekend, and can't wait to sniff it. Thanks for another great review.

  3. I have tried both the new one and a vintage one (from I don't know when), the new one is indeed more wearable. You should make all the Guerlain reviews into a series, it's a invaluable resource.

  4. Oh Jaques Guerlain where art thou kind today? this sounds magical as with the other vintage Guerlains. I need to get me to Paris to try all of these Guerlain wonders,or do a big internet order, but somehow Paris would be nicer!

    I din't know that is why this was called Vega, it is a beautiful name.

    I think I need to learn about the stars and constellations. I also didn't know there was a Lyra constellation, am assuming that is where Philip Pullman got Lyra's name in His Dark Materials now. I feel very ignorant! still there is always something new to learn.

  5. Dear Angela,

    thanks fr stopping by and commenting :-)
    It is indeed a lovely scent and it has some angular quality about it, in the middle, you're right. I hadn't pinpointed as lavender, perhaps I should go back with that in mind and see what I think!

    BTW, I am tagging you next on this Tag game (on my very next post) so rise up to the challenge, girl! :D

  6. Dear J,

    I am looking forward to your impressions on this special scent! :-)

  7. Dear L,

    the new one is a very decent re-issue, I wish they'd do more of those (such a pity they haven't yet...KJ and O are kept waiting!!)

    Thanks for the suggestion: you're right, perhaps I should! I will organise the articles as a group shortly :-)

  8. Dear Rose,

    Paris does indeed sound nicer, so hope you make it very soon! (although where you are is also great, have I said again how I love your city?)

    Ah, don't worry: I have to look up constellations all the time myself! I have a male friend who had learned as a teenager to identify each and every one of them in order to be able to point them out on romantic dates on summer evenings; obviously, that thought wouldn't have crossed a woman's mind!! LOL

  9. I agree with Elysium that I haven't seen such grouping of vintage Guerlain fragrances before and it's very handy. So I second the suggestion to make this into a series, Helg, it's required reading.

  10. Anonymous20:06

    So is this one close to #5 or not, I got confused with the Liu mention and now I don't know which one is closer, lol, can you believe. Please tell me so I can see if I need samples of both, thanks.

  11. Thank you Sue for your compliment, I will do my best to group them as a reference series then, promise

  12. Aline,

    I deduce you're wondering based on liking or not liking No.5 and wanting to seek or avoid one or the other, huh?
    Liu I'd say is closer than Vega. Or so I believe at least...

  13. Hello, E. I finally had a chance to test Véga this weekend (vintage), and it is fascinating. And it is so nice to have your review to help with the decoding of it. Fleur de cassie introduces such an appealing strangeness, I'm finding, making this aldehydic floral very carnal, to my nose. I see the connection now to Une Fleur de Cassie, but while UFdC feels very modern with its salty radiance, Véga feels like it comes from another time (which it does). In spite of the fact that I probably have no business wearing anything so feminine, I may have to buy a bottle just to have it (just as I did with UFdC). Perhaps I'll wear it around the house. (If I could get away with it, I would wear it with a vintage Balenciaga dress, but thankfully, I wouldn't fit.... well, just kidding, really).


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