If in the darkest moments of our urban stress we want to eschew European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional" to sail to the tropics instead in our own path to Utopia, Atuana by Guerlain could be our gateway without abandoning the indulgencies of the way of life we have become accustomed to. Atuona (and not Atuana) is the name of a small island in the Marquesas where French Post-Impressionist painter Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin(1848-1903) moved from his former residence in Tahiti and where he died in his Maison du Jouir on May 9, 1903, having spent a total of ten years in self-exile in French Polynesia.
In 1952 Jacques Guerlain dedicated Atuana the fragrance to the French painter who went to the South Seas to devote his time and life to painting. After all, he was not the only one to be inspired by the iconoclast broker agent-turned-painter: Noa Noa (after Gauguin's text describing a luminous season in Tahiti in 1891) was another fragrance redolent of the warm and fiery ambience of the tropics, circulating under Helena Rubinstein's name at the zenith of her career.
Inspired by the lush colourful Primitivist paintings by Gaugin with their red splashes among the green folliage and the ambery-toned flesh of the native women, Guerlain's Atuana, encased in a plush red box focused on the qualities of that hue: exuberance, passion, lively nature, raw power and thus indeed a sort of Primitivism. A leathery floriental perched on spicy carnation emerged, rolled into smooth nappa.
Although one can detect the leathery accents under the refreshing piquancy of little citric touches , in typical Guerlain fashion the fragrance evolves into a rich melody of florals lullabied into a sweet siesta, full of warm resins, where there is no place for bitterness or aloofness and every little thing smiles satisfied, at one with the world.
Atuana's 3 years senior Fleur de Feu, another floriental with spicy accents reminiscent of carnations, took a similar route, but there the base is more powdery, with no leather pungency. Both extoll the properties of the spicy palette that Poivre by Caron first opened up exhibiting a mature vibe of les parfums fourrure (perfumes to be worn with furs); what a contrast with Guerlain's Eau de cologne du jeune âge coming up in 1953, just one year later! Ode which followed in 1955 was a regression into mellower compositions, full of feminine, non agressive tonalities: rose and jasmine. But that time hadn't arrived yet when Atuana came out, a time when rich chypres reigned supreme. The dare of leather was permissible and therefore a luscious harmony materialized for the enjoyment of those who couldn't abandon their conventional life for the Great Escape.
Notes for Guerlain Atuana: bergamot, neroli, rose, jasmine, iris, amber.
The bottle of Atuana is the same as Fleur de Feu, made by Baccarat: a simple art-deco flacon of ribbed surface on a pedestral, inspired by the skyscrapers that defined the American urban landscape in the early 50s.
Atuana circulated as extrait de parfum and as Eau de Cologne, a concentration that despite current sensibilities was quite lasting. Out of production for several years, it's very rare to find, but it makes scarce appearences on online auctions, where it goes for as much as 950$. A tiny sample can be acquired (for a hefty price naturally) at The Perfumed Court.
Guerlain Atuana ad courtesy of parfumsdepub, Painting La Orana Maria by Paul Gauguin, courtesy of Wikipedia