Friday, November 4, 2011

Guerlain Vere Novo: fragrance review of the extremely rare & vintage

"All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate the dark veil". Benjamin Disraeli's quote rings in my ears each time I try to apply my scientific skills into unravelling a perfumery puzzle: The who, the what, the when, the where, the intricasies tied into the interaction between these parameters; each time they create their own small district. Far from pontification, the work on Perfume Shrine aims to reconnoiter, to probe, to create sparks that will lead to personal explorations and a new way of thinking. Imagine the gluttony in my eye upon hitting on a rare specimen, the pearl beyond compare, the diamond in the pile of coal; it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, right? Out of the blue, one such thing came rapping, rapping at my chamber door: Vere Novo by Guerlain. 

Arguably the most beautiful of French perfume houses (certainly the most prolific one), Guerlain, since its foundation in 1828 on the Rue du Rivoli, has produced over 800 perfumes, creating a unique trajectory in history. Beautiful, evocative, dreamy, obscure names litter the catalogue, like a queen-bee populating a new hive with frantic pace: Senteurs de Champs (1828), Cyprisine (1894), Le Jardin de mon Curé (1895), Voilà Pourquoi J'aimais Rosine (1900c.), Bon Vieux Temps (1902),Violette à Deux Sous (1902c.), Avril en Fleurs (1905), Vague Souvenir (1912), Mi-Mai (1914), Bouquet de Faunes (1922), Ne M'Oubliez Pas (1923)... We have reviewed on these pages some rarities too: Pour Troubler (1911), Guerlain Djedi (1928), Loin de Tout (1933), Fleur de Feu (1948), , Atuana (1952), or the lush tuberose of Guerlain Marie-Claire...

My own precious sample came through the inquisitive kindness of Liisa of Under the Cupola, whom I trust implicitly. She sourced her own stash through the vast and intricate world of international auctions & splits, so I can't vouch for who the original seller was. (Isn't that true for most decants sourced?). But this thing smells glorious all the same, negating any doubt I might have for its comparatively light colour (the wee shade is close to how Après L'Ondée used to be or Jicky); and it does smell like a Guerlain through and through!

To my nose Vero Novo bears Jacques Guerlain's name (it's exactly contemporary to Le Jardin de mon Curé, both from 1895; though other sources mention it introduced sometime between 1883-1889) and seems to bear traces of both his own themes explored later on in Vol de Nuit and his predecessor's (Aimé Guerlainin Jicky.

The name comes from Virgil (Georgicorum, libri quator) and translates [J.W.Mackail, 1934] as "in early spring". But to Italians, spring begins on February 7th [Varro, I.28], and Virgil was familiar with the sight of the Alps from childhood, witnessing the earliest sign the gradual melting of snow. To the Guerlain family, the melting of snow is mingled with the cold-warm, cuddly, slightly animalic, slightly leathery scent of the cassie (a richer, muskier variety of mimosa, with violet tendencies complimented by anisic accents and full of farnesol which is terpenic-smelling, i.e. dry piny-woody).
It was in 1869 that heliotropin, a golden standard for Guerlain, was discovered by Filtig & Mielk, its structure analysed two years later (by Barth) and synthesized from safrole in 1890 by Eykmann. Vanillin from guiaicol was synthesized by Reimr and Tiemann in 1874. This was a time in history when the breakdown of many materials created the modern face of perfumery as we know it, almost to this day.

Mingling the imaginary accords with the natural, Guerlain took the plush of civet-smoky vanilla in Jicky and diluted it threefold (watching to bring forth the piperonal in vanilla, but not dusting discernible "powdery notes"), adding what later became the velvet, earthy sheen in vintage Vol de Nuit,  plus some woody resinous citrus-peel notes (bergamot & some petit grain?) with a pine-needles effect (discernible in the opening), thus producing in Vere Novo a great skin scent, full of overall softness and the delicious contrast between fragrance dryness and buttery, sweet tones.
Vere Novo wafts deliciously, mingling the hint of patisserie with a suede note. I caught myself catching my wrists to sniff and question: "Do I smell that good?", more times than I care to admit. I suppose this is part of the classic Guerlain magic: Creating an experience that compliments the wearer's decolletage and mingles with the aroma of culinary pleasures that wrap an evening full of earthy delights.

Vere Novo was being produced by Guerlain from its launch in 1895 till the outbreak of WWII according to most records and official Guerlain text ads (in the form of little stories bearing the names of famous perfumes of the house) that were in circulation during L'Entre Deux Guerres (i.e. the 1920s and 1930s). Meaning it's discontinued and extremely rare to get hold of. The fact that several Guerlain fragrances from that era, such as Shalimar, Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue (as well as Vol de Nuit) became classics and best-sellers for the French house probably explains the demise of some of the older products, such as this one. Pity and we can mourn to eternity, but there you have it. The surprising pleasure of discovering a diamond within the coal pile however is the perfume historian's not so humble lasting delight.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Guerlain series

Illustration: Withered Spring, by Aubrey Beardsley


  1. Fiordiligi14:13

    I am so excited and entranced by this find I can hardly write! I've always wanted to sniff Le Jardin de Mon Cure but you know, despite my vast knowledge of Guerlain, this is one I'd never heard of. Thank you for such a beautiful review and for allowing me to live vicariously through it, my dear friend.

  2. Mike Perez17:25

    You lucky dog! Sounds beautiful. Enjoy H.

  3. Helg, thanks for digging up the real information.
    Also, the next time I communicate with Guerlains, I must remember to tell them that I want this brought back. In case they didn't have a clue:D

    (thinking of it, I should bring out my messy collection, I have some rather unusual things that would deserve a mention or two....)

  4. Morticia00:57

    First of all who is Helg? I was under the impression it was Elena.

    Secondly, this sounds like a perfume that I'd like to own. ummmmmm Aren't you the "Lucky One". Also, I went to the " Under the Cupola" blog and loved it.

  5. Anonymous10:34

    dear elena,
    do you have some vere novo for me?
    I can give you some Coque d'Or

  6. Wow. Such a beautiful post. I didn't know this (or most of the early ones you mentioned) even existed. Luckily I. Do. Not. Lust.

    yeah, right! :-D


  7. Morticia, Elena used Helg as her blog signature so I'm used to refer to her this way in the comments.

    And yeah, I'm the lucky one. Thanks for praise, too.

  8. Anonymous23:41

    This sounds just lovely; how lucky for you to get to try it! Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

  9. Sofi10:41

    Lucky you!!I'm so jealous!!!!!Thanks for sharing!

  10. D,

    it is indeed a very exciting find. Guerlain-o-philes especially are in the dire position to have so many to hunt down and try to sniff, but the reward far exceeds the pains.


  11. Mike,

    hello there! How are you darling?
    I need to send you an email, lost touch, sorry about that!!

    It's quite the typical Guerlain, I can detect elements from various other Guerlain scents, and at the same time it's quiet and yummy.

  12. L,

    how can I not agree that the heads at Guerlain are doing a great disservice in not looking through their archives and re-issue, even in LE collectibles? Such wealth!!
    You have unusual, unheard of, out of the beaten track or the "glorified" (people, you all know what I'm talking about) things, so by all means... :-)

  13. L,

    I see Liisa answered already, but worth giving my spin as well.

    Helg is just a sobriquet, a nom de plume. It sounds good (even a little stern! LOL), means something nice in Swedish I'm told and contains letters off my own name. Win-win. :D

    Glad you found out Liisa's blog, it's idiosyncratic, not just perfume things, and with a unique viewpoint on life and proceedings.

  14. Daniel,

    wish I had some to spare. I was the beneficiary of someone else's good fortune.

  15. A,

    thanks for the compliment on the post, glad you enjoyed :-)
    They made some wonderful things. I miss the old stuff. *sigh*

  16. APB,

    thank you and you're welcome. I'm glad to share what knowledge and (hopefully) taste I have with you people. I know you understand.

  17. Sofi,

    ah, don't be. Great things are hiding at the most unlikely places, sometimes. You're most welcome on the post.


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