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