Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Guerlain Loin de Tout: fragrance review & history of an unknown vintage

Impropable finds come like heavy snow in August at a coastal town in Sicily or an apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernadette Soubirous performed by the Madonna of Lourdes, France ~once in a blue-veering-to-cerulean moon; and that only if you have been extremely pleasing to the Gods! Nevertheless I must have accomplished some minor divine appeasement because what I thought was in the realm of the above came in the guise of an infinitely rare collectible procured via a generous and knowledgable collector: One of the most unknown Guerlains no less, to tally up my archives of the venerable brand.

Loin de Tout ("away from it all") was issued by Guerlain in 1933 at a time when the lure of exotic travelling and the feats of aviation had cemented the belief that anything was possible. Vol de Nuit and Sous le Vent are probably the best known examples of fragrances in the Guerlain stable that were inspired by such a concept and so is the after-the-war escapism of Gaugin-esque Atuana. Like the above mentioned fragrances, Loin de Tout evokes by name the pleasures that await one from removing their psyche from the mundane of everyday life and its vagaries and abandoning one's self to the nobility of the natural world.

The composition of Loin de Tout is reminiscent of many elements in the familiar vernacular of Guerlain, especially other classics by Jacques Guerlain, scattered like coloured beads in haphazard directions creating a kaleidoscope of shape-sifting images: the animalistic base of such classics as Jicky and Voilette de Madame; the bouquet des herbes de Province that hides in some of the aromatic compositions of the earliest creations; the floral touches that exalt the romanticism of the Guerlain love-stories. In Loin de Tout everything is suave but with a rapid progression from the bright to the pungent and on to the lathery, which accounts for a trippy experience like a voyaristic glimpse through a keyhole to an affluent lady's or gentleman's inner sanctum. There is the happy beginning of orange blossom, clearly discernible singing like a nightingale for several minutes, all the while the lower density base notes peeking from under the surface; troubling, animalic and ambery. The progression veers into pungent notes resembling thyme and bay leaves ~a hint of L'Heure Bleue's herbal facet~ sustained into a warm summer’s day driving along the almost scorched shrubs of a Mediterranean country with all windows down and inhaling the warm, arid air with nostrils aflare. But not everything has been told as yet. After several minutes, the most unexpected note of a soapy floralcy emerges. Hypothesizing that it is due either to a hydroxycitronellal note (mimicking astrigent lily of the valley and very popular so as to “open up” the bouquet of old classics) or some aldehydic lathery tone of "clean" C11 (undecanal), also quite popular by the 1930s, it is an intriguing juxtaposition to the otherwise ambery proceedings with floral touches. It is an utter pity that the unpopularity of the finished jus put a stop to production quite soon, bringing an intriguing composition to an abrupt end, leaving behind only relics of a grandiose past, grist for collectors' mills.

The bottle encasing Loin de Tout was the historic "flacon brun fumé" better known as the one holding the previous fragrances Candide Effluve and À travers Champs Elysées, which were circulating during the 1930s. The beautiful and mysterious design of the flacon however proved unsuccessful commercially as well: being not easy to grab firmly, it was prone to accidental falls and was soon abandonded in favour of more fluted designs. Loin de Tout is almost impossible to find, indeed "away from it all", and if you happen upon it on Ebay or another collector's vaults you should thank your lucky stars, like I did.

Pic of Rudolf Koppitz nude "Desperation" via SexualityintheArts.


  1. Anonymous19:17

    Oh my goodness! What a find. Thank you so much for writing about this lost treasure, dearest E, and how much happier it makes me to read about this undoubtedly beautiful Guerlain than it did today to sniff La Petite Robe Noire for the first time.

    Now, why can't Guerlain consider linited edition reissues of this scent and its illustrious siblings?

    Thank you for this wonderfully evocative dip into the past. I already love it.

  2. What a wonderful fine. It sounds beautiful and what a lovely name. Sighs. Liquid treasure.

  3. Mon Dieu, E. What an amazing find! Glad you were able to experience it, and share it (well, at least the description of the experience) with us.

  4. My darling D,

    how could anyone know what goes in the minds of congloomerates? Surely I can't see the very obscure oldies being very popular. It's a different time with different sensibilities and there is nothing wrong with that. However your idea that the archives could be re-awakened for the limited issues as collector's items (instead of the uber-sweet new launches) is actually very good and practically exacty what collectors do wish would be done.
    Wish I had lots of juice to share with you, but it's so little I could barely write up a review and keep a bit for posterity's reference. The ephemeral of scent....so poignant. :-(

  5. K,

    those names were very beautiful, no doubt about it: Pourqouis j'aimais Rosine, Le Jardin de mon Cure, A travers Champs Elysees, Bouquet des Faunes...they each tell a story at the get go!

  6. J,

    I was not believing my eyes when it landed on my lap either! It's terribly unknown and extremely rare, so you can imagine my awe. I just had to provide some written record of it: It's a diryt job but somebody has to do it! ;-)

  7. It is unlikely that Jacques Guerlain created this one, according to Thierry Wasser he believes that it was Jacques's brother Pierre, who actually composed Loin de Tout. The fragrance was never a success. Extremely rare and elusive today, Loin de Tout, ended up honoring its name... This one is impossible to find.


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