Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guerlain 180 Ans de Creations: fragrance review & history

Back in the 19th century, when the beginnings of the Guerlain brand are to be traced, perfume was considered racy; proper ladies stuck to barely there floral eaux and no one put scent on themselves, but rather on items of clothing. Tracing Guerlain's 180 Ans de Créations fragrance to these beliefs is like a porthole of what made Guerlain revolutionary and great in the first place but also a palingenesis. Its powdery, polished amber character is emotively majestic; and yet it wafts with grace and good manners, making us lament the days when luxury was considered a notion that pertained more to style and connoiseurship than affluent cash bying the latest "it" collectible just because.

180 Ans de Créations was issued to commemorate the 180 years of Guerlain history and revealed in June 2008 as a non-commercial gift aimed at loyal customers and industry insiders, hence its spartan baptism "180 Ans de Création 1828-2008". I was grateful to receive some via a discernible reader of mine, Emmanuella, who procured it through a French connection and was eager to hear my thoughts on it. (Sincere thanks to both are in order).

Casting back our minds to how Guerlain came into being offers glimpses into how the recapitulation of such heritage could be accomplished. The history of the house of Guerlain is richly nuanced, from the "Parfumeur Vinaigrier" days of Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain at 42 rue de Rivoli in 1828 to the move into not one but two locations on rue de la Paix in 1840. The first big break came with a commission from the novelist Balzac, a person very immersed in sensual exploration himself. Later Pierre-François-Pascal scented the pages of Le Journal des Elégances as well, thus catapulting a custom consultation for the most recognisable personalities of the times: the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria, the Tsar of Russia and notably Napoleon’s III wife Empress Eugénie de Montijo. Guerlain dedicated the citrusy-smelling verbena-rich Eau de Cologne Impériale to her (1853), composed with the aid of his sons Gabriel and Aimé (the latter his creative heir in 1864 and the composer of Jicky in 1889). He took pains to decorate the flacon with golden Napoleonic bees and thus started a delightful optical tradition, hints of which we can admire even today. In 1914 the opening of the boutique at Champs Elysées kickstarted the unfolding of a saga that persists.

Presented in Eau de Parfum concentration, the idea of Guerlain's 180 Ans de Création is a stripped-down representation of La Guerlinade, the famous accord that makes fragrances instantly recognised as Guerlain progeny. For 180 Ans its perfumer Jean Paul Guerlain twisted the idea of the classic accord, realising its aura is often perceived as admirable but a little outdated and thus added contemporary accents in the form of grapefruit, pink pepper and white musk. The choices weren't random, far from it: the bitterness of grapefuit is a work of marvel in Pamplelune, the most technically merited in the modern Aqua Allegoria line; the spiciness of pink pepper along with its surprising creamy quality (thanks to α-cadinol) is complimentary to the powdery feel of retro scents; the skin-like emission of musks is contemporary and lifting the powder into the realm of familiarity for audiences raised on home products laced with synthesized musks. Yes, 180 Ans is a calculated scent that hits just the right spot!

Starting with a shadowy feel of amber gloved in suede ~masterfully accented with a slight bitterness via grapefruit and possibly thyme to my nose~ Guerlain's 180 Ans de Creations encompasses the very characteristic bergamot-heliotropin-vanilla chord of many Guerlain edible scents without being sweet, as well as an inkish peach-pit almondy shade which reminds me of both Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue. An allusion to the oppoponax-vanilla powderiness of Shalimar is finishing it off on a intimate base of musks and the coumarin delight that tonka beans provide so generously to numerous Guerlain creations. Neither supremely feminine, nor typically masculine, its caliginous amber can be likened to the series of fragrances that reworked the original Mathilde Laurent Guet Apens scent: Attrape Coeur, No.68 limited edition, Vol de Nuit Evasion. Nevertheless it is overall less ambery, with no discernable violets as in Attrape Coeur and it projects with more discretion. 180 Ans also possesses a mysteriously twilight chill beneath the warmth, contrasting with it and enhancing its dry powder (an effect of synth musks and dry woody aromachemicals?) which fascinates me. The thing most evoked in far drydown is the suede plush of vintage Shalimar (a hint of quinolines) and the cool powder of Habit Rouge: lovers of the later please take note!

If Guerlain after their LVMH acquisition seem to have drunk from the river Lethe losing memories of their past lives in the process, there are still some signs like 180 Ans which give me hope of a Pythagorian transmigration of the soul. After all Pythagoras didn't occypy himself with counting numbers only, despite what everyone says...

180 Ans de Créations is offered in the oblong flacon that houses L'Art et La Matiere and Elixirs Charnels, with the name placed on a thin metal plate that runs vertically from top to bottom on the front. It is still currently in production according to records as we speak, although cryptic enough to only procure one (from someone who got it last year obviously). I hope that changes soon!

Related reading on Perfumeshrine: Guerlain series

Pic of bottle via Mr.Guerlain and vintage poster via tallulah-album/photobucket


  1. Please excuse me while I faint.

    All my most beloved references.
    Another 'museum scent'-

    Which I may be permitted to sniff, but never possess.

    Ah, well.
    Rodin's Washerwoman isn't gonna come home with me EITHER, any time soon...;0

  2. Anonymous05:18

    Hello E!

    I was very lucky to get a sample, a very small one. It is simply beautiful. They should make this available to the general public. I am so scared of using up my sample, but I find it intoxicatingly good.
    Best regards,

  3. I have a whole entire bottle (tee hee) but I wasn't enchanted. Impressed, yes, because for me, it's a vanilla scent and I don't fancy vanilla scents in general. This one has something that the others do not have so I quite like it. I got it a few months ago, it didn't really work excellently well in summer so I have to give it a try on a colder day.

    One way or another, when I'm home, I must dig out my bottle and give it another try, I apparently did something wrong when I said Eh, plain vanilla and tossed it aside.

    Helg, I thought I sent you a sample - shame on me that I forgot.
    Chayaruchama, should you want one, too, you can have it.

  4. Rappleyea19:18

    Be still my beating heart - an old style Guerlain. But like Chaya, I'm unlikely to ever smell this one. (Liisa, you're not selling decants are you??)

    But E., don't get your hopes up for LVMH - this sounds more like something Jean Paul wanted to do and they humored him. Jean Paul is pretty high up on my list (although behind the Dali Lama) of people I'd most like to meet.


  5. Anonymous20:36

    Dearest E,

    This sounds so gorgeous. A "mysteriously twilight chill beneath the warmth"; how beautiful is that? I absolutely had to procure a little, tiny sample for myself and am awaiting its arrival with great impatience.


  6. E, I'm glad I was able to send some of my decant, your review is amazing! I wish I had a full bottle of this, I love 180 Ans! It's very Guerlain and like Attrape-Coeur it's a quality perfume that has a modern feel to it, it's not just an old classic. 180 Ans deserves to be released in the Parisinenes line.

  7. Dearest I,

    I can feel your pain! It's quite irritating that some of the best pieces are those cryptic ones which are issued under wraps for the few in the know...(I am not talking brash super-expensive exlusive-my-bottom things that are "advertised")

  8. Arwen,

    it's so good that it annoys the heck of me why they don't bring it out in wider distribution. And by wider I don't necessarily mean make it the new department store offering, but including it in Les Parisiennes or some sub-set such would be ideal.

  9. L,

    oh gosh! You must tell me your secrets: you seem to score the most unlikely things!
    Yes, I did see you included a sample. It was just that Emmanuella got there before you, but I am grateful to both of you!

    And no, not plain vanilla: do watch out for that dry powdery-woody base, it's so silky!

  10. D,

    oh it's old-style, but contemporaneously it's quite modern! A lovely oxymoron for once.

    (and you posed the 1 million $ question too!)

    I just wished that the wonderful JPG heritage would be upkept, but that would require a smaller-scale "production" and a family-oriented business and that's in the past. They do issue some very nice things from time to time, and then they issue some less lovely things. Oh well....

  11. N,

    I would be eagerly awaiting your impressions then! It's indeed polished, silky, luxurious and beautifully mysterious. Not a seductive perfume per se, but quite alluring nevertheless.

  12. E,

    thanks so much for sending some in the first place, it was quite a generous and kind gesture and I'm flattered you express yourself so complimentary towards my review.

    Like you I thought it's eminently wearable by today's crowd, yet stylish, haute, quality. It has a distinct Habit Rouge vibe without appearing "old", it's pretty amazing how they came up with this.

    I am joining voices with you about its joining the distribution channel in some way!! ;-)

  13. Little Red02:09

    Any particular prayers/sacrifices that I should make to have this scent made available to the public?

  14. Rappleya,
    I'm under the name of kultakutri on both Fragrantica and Perfume of Life, feel free to contact me and we'll see what can be done. I have the original bottle, not the Parisiennes version, should you care to know the details.

  15. LR,

    if there are I am joining in the voodoo...My understanding is that they made this (and haven't tossed the formula) and gave it out to the people invited to the commemorative soiree, so I am pining for them to re-issue it in a wider distribution.
    If Sylvaine Delacourte reads here (I think she might be), then it would be nice to see that there is a core of enthusiasts who would be interested in a small-scale collectible re-issue. Maybe the way they do with Muguet? :-)

  16. L,

    very kind of you to offer to Rappleya.

    For what is worth, there is NO Les Parisiennes version. That's only wishful thinking on our part: since it was a line dedicated to older JPG creations it might join it if they wanted it to. But it hasn't been done and I don't think it will. (But I would be very pleased if it did!)

  17. Helg,
    as I said elsewhere, the bottle would last me for a few lifetimes.
    I must've got it wrong with the Parisiennes edition, seeing your photoshopped creation - I'm a stupid blonde, you see...

  18. I have a 75ml bottle I'm box still. I think it may have been sprayed a few times. Got it from Cosa awards.


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