The Perfume Diaries exhibition, currently attracting plenty of attention at Harrods department store in London, offered an enticing and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Guerlainistas last Thursday, September 9, 2010. Harrods and the organisers of this exhibition managed to persuade the legendary but now somewhat frail Jean-Paul Guerlain to travel to London, accompanied by his successor as “nose” at the house of Guerlain, Thierry Wasser, in order to participate in an interview for a few fortunate perfume fans.
From left to right (click for reviews): Guerlain Pour Troubler, Chant d'Arômes, Fleur Qui Meurt, Après L'Ondée
In an intimate setting within the exhibition space, Jean Paul Guerlain and his protégé (who clearly enjoy a relationship of mutual respect and admiration), responded to questions from the Harrods Fashion and Beauty Director Marigay McKee. A measure of the importance of this event was the appearance of Harrods owner (but perhaps not for much longer if the Press reports are to be believed) Mohammed Al Fayed at the beginning of the session.
The opening question and its response summed up the entire Guerlain ethos: when asked by Ms McKee to explain Guerlain’s longevity as a perfume house, Jean Paul had an unhesitating one-word response: quality. Later, he also insisted that another reason for the success of the House was the fact that they only sell what they can produce; in other words, Guerlain is a perfumer, unlike the fashion houses which “buy in” a fragrance to which the designer’s name can be appended and which can be sold alongside handbags and dresses.
Jean-Paul Guerlain’s first creation for the family business was when he was 15 years old, and he is still making perfume (thank goodness!) some 58 years later. When asked for his most personally meaningful creations, he cited Vetiver and Samsara, and then added Nahema. It is well known that the Guerlain family has always nurtured a tradition of stories lying behind the creation of each fragrance, and Jean Paul talked about the creation of a fragrance being linked to love, being in love or wanting to woo someone. Later, the relationship between food and perfume was also discussed (Jean- Paul apparently being a wonderful cook).
Mention was made of the next scent by M.Guerlain (Arsene Lupin), already discussed here, and the travels he still undertakes in search of the raw materials for Guerlain fragrances, including to Liguria, Calabria (for bergamot) and India. He loves to travel, still, and has particularly fallen in love with Nepal and Tibet.
Naturally, the bulk of the short interview was spent in discussion with the Guerlain legend, but Thierry Wasser, an elegant figure in a dark suit, who clearly worships his mentor, spoke modestly and self-effacingly about how he came to Guerlain through his work at Givaudan and, interestingly, how he always makes up the original formula of the Guerlain “greats” as a reference before attempting to re-work it. The mention of the new IFRA restrictions led to the most marvellously eloquent Gallic shrug and hand gesture from M Guerlain – “pah” would describe it best! Clearly, he, like the rest of us, is not impressed.
Mr.Wasser would obviously not be drawn on any new projects although he did say that something was being planned to celebrate the centenary of Jacques Guerlains’ masterpiece L’Heure Bleue in 2012.
Just one or two questions came from the small audience before the interview ended, to prolonged applause, and it would not be an over-statement to say that Jean Paul Guerlain looked very touched by his reception.
Fiordiligi is going to a private view of the actual exhibition guided by Roja Dove on Tuesday, so hopefully she will grace is with a companion piece here soon!