Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guerlain Coque d'Or: Fragrance review & history

When art history enchiridia are written they emphasise how Art Deco style covered almost every sphere of human life in the 1920s and 1930s: architecture, interior design and furniture, aviation, fashion & jewelry most certainly, cinema and the visual arts... But they leave out perfumes and the industries that cater for them, such as cristalleries and glass blowers. In that regard, if we're to present emblematic Art Deco perfume specimens, the very rare but exquisitely designed Coque d'Or perfume by Guerlain should top the list. And not just for its looks, either!

History, Presentation, Chronology of Bottles

Coque d'Or was issued in 1937 in a cobalt blue bottle of Baccarat crystal encased in a gold metal "sleeve" shaped like a bow (and further encased in a white lined wooden box designed by acclaimed designer Jean-Michel Frank). However this fragrance is NOT to be confused with the entirely different Eau du Coq Guerlain "cologne" (after the famous French actor Benoît-Constant Coquelin, nicknamed Coquelin aîné) from 1894.

The name Coque d'Or [Cock-DOORH] literally means "golden shell". This type of bottle is typified as "flacon noeud papillon" (papillon meaning butterfly in French) in the Guerlain archives at 68 Champs Elysées, as it's so reminiscent of the masculine black-tie accessory.
Even though the original design included the gold gilding of the blue bottles apart from the upper edges (as shown in the pic), some speciments come without the gold.

The reason is less poetic than we might think: The factory doing the gilding burnt down during WWII... It is the larger size bottles of the original 5 (and the subsequent two molds by Pochet et du Courval) that display the base cobalt blue colour, always numbered in the crystal specimens, not in the glass ones. In the Baccarat mold the cap can be smooth OR faceted, while in the Pochet et du Courval mold the cap is always smooth.

Production of the noeud papillon bottle stopped altogether in June 1956. However, till that time, other perfumes were presented in it as well: the even rarer Guerlain Kriss (1942-1945) and Guerlain Dawamesk (1945-1955).

The fragrance of Coque D'Or was also available later in the big goutte bottles (shaped like a drop or a tear, containing Eau de Toilette) and the standard quadrilobe (very familiar from Jicky and other Guerlain fragrances in extrait de parfum concentration).

Scent Description

What I smell in Coque d'Or is a cross between Guerlain's Mitsouko structure and Vol de Nuit, with very detectable oakmoss in the base, very rich as both of these fragrances used to be in vintage form, and typically Guerlain, as established by perfumer Jacques Guerlain who has shaped the Guerlain aesthetic through his many classics. The correlation seems logical enough as Mitsouko launched in 1919 and Vol de Nuit in 1931 and the lavishness of the l'entre-deux-guerres period is palpable.The orientalised effect with the chypre-leathery background with oranges, flowers (clove-y carnation) and the Persicol peach-skin base on top (as in Mitsouko, but rendered less austere) is smooth as a caress, sweetly melding with the skin, there most certainly, but at the same time what the French call "doux" and "enveloppant"  (soft, enveloping, wrapping, tender, tactile almost...)
The leathery hint wraps the flowers and ripe notes in sophistication, much like it was the enigmatic quality in Vol de Nuit, with an ambery glow like fine cognac sipped from crystal glasses across a blazing fire, and the oakmoss persists like a warm, melodious, baritone voice.

Today the name Coque d'Or is a vibrant pink shade (#120) in Guerlain's Rouge Automatique lipsticks. The preservation of the copyright of the name is perhaps proof of the existence of God of Small Things. I have forwarded the plea to the proper Guerlain authorities, asking to re-introduce this gem  into current production, even as a one-off limited edition or a tiny-production exclusive (due to the high oakmoss content) so as to perserve its patina for future generations who haven't visited L'Osmothèque perfume museum

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Guerlain news, Guerlain Series of fragrance reviews

Erté  illustration via Fashion Loves Films


  1. Fiordiligi15:31

    You knew I'd love this one, didn't you? I am lucky enough to have a few drops of this scent and it is indeed beautiful, though I'm not sure I would personally have linked it to Mitsouko in any way. It seems a little sweeter to me.

    Thank you for the delicious review!

  2. Rappleyea19:33



    I certainly hope the perfume gods are listening to you and they owe you a favor! Wouldn't it be marvelous to be able to buy this one again?!? (Unless it was one of those $12,000 bottles!)

  3. Beautiful! I have never seen this bottle, so I know I never smelled it. If it was by Guerlain and available in the US I would have seen it on my mother's dresser. Alas, maybe she didn't care for it, or already had her favorites. But she used Mitsouko, and Nuit de Noel, and hated Shalimar but had a bottle on her dresser, always full, to keep others from thinking she might like some more.

  4. D,

    of course you're the Guerlainophiliac par excellence so this came right in your field.
    I think the "similarity" with Mitsouko is in the structure, rather than actual scent, which is closer to VdN. But they share a certain sparsity, elegance and warm aloofness.

  5. D,

    I have done my duty, but you know how big companies owning traditional perfumery houses work as a rule, don't you.... :-*

  6. N,

    I think this never became popular enough to be a permanent feature on many dressers. It came between other more classic fragrances, hence the under the radar presence.

    Cunning of your mother, btw, now here's a trick. ;-)


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