Monday, August 25, 2008

Guerlain: Bois Torride and Guerlain, Une Ville, Un Parfum: fragrant news

An avalanche of heads-up involving upcoming launches from major houses such as Chanel (Beige) and Hermès (Vanille Galante) were piling up and today Guerlain news join them.
We do cherish the opportunity to ponder on rumours in any case.
According to the very perceptive Kopah from Basenotes:
"It seems that the name of the next instalment in the L'Art et la Matière series may be Bois Torride. Guerlain filed an application for a European Community trademark for this name on June 4, 2008. (For the record, their applications for the names of the Elixirs Charnels/Carnal Elixirs were filed on April 28.) They have also recently filed applications for the script logo which appears above their shop at 68, Champs-Elysées, and for the phrase Guerlain, Une Ville, Un Parfum".
Since the same happened when we were speculating what the newest Serge Lutens would be (and it did prove to be Serge Noire and how lovely that one is!) , it would be safe to predict that in a few months' time, we could be graced with more news about the newest Guerlain launch: Bois Torride (torrid wood). Might it be too presumptuous to hypothesize that it would not be the torrid, fiery, fierce composition that its name would suggest? There seems to be some sort of betrayal between name and concept in the L'Art et la Matière line especially: Rose isn't very Barbare, Cuir Beluga is only marginally reminiscent of suede, Angelique is not nearly Noire, Iris Ganache is rather gourmand but not very iris-like and Cruel Gardénia is neither cruel, nor gardenia despite its big appeal (leaving only Bois d'Armenie in the line smelling faithfully like the French curiosity "Papier d'Armenie").
In fact it seems to me that this playful interaction between expectations on part of the customer and finished result is at the core of the line. It just can't be random! And if so it shows a wry sense of humour for which we smirk ourselves.

This could also shed light into the relation between Thierry Wasser and the latest masculine Guerlain Homme: official info wanted Wasser to be the house's head perfumer beginning June 2008. Since Guerlain Homme was issued last July and since Wasser was -predictably- amicably seen photographed with Jean Paul Guerlain, with whom he collaborated on the fragrance, it stands to reason that Wasser can't have been highly involved in its conceptualisation (of which Sylvaine Delacourte must be much more responsible being creative director) or execution. On the contrary it seems that he must have been intent on the projects that follow soon: the three Carnal Elixirs of course and the upcoming Bois Torride. It does seem like too much projects in so many months, nevertheless.
I am also reminding you that "torride" was previously linked to Givenchy (Eau Torride) with lukewarm results, so I am hoping that Guerlain will have cards up their sleeve. The gender of the fragrance might also be grounds for speculation, since although woody fragrances are traditionally masculine, they might put a spin and present it as a unisex in the manner of the other niche/exclusives circulating at the Boutique Guerlain. After all, most of us perfume lovers are uninihibited enough to wear what we like regardless of artificial cliches pertaining to gender.
We will find out around December 2009, if my calculations prove to be accurate.

On the other hand, the name Guerlain, Une Ville, Un Parfum sounds like a commemorative, special edition that should mark an anniversary or iconic landmark of the historical house's path to glory. I also see the bling factor of serious Baccarat packaging engraved with special touches that will ante up the price to stratosperical heights: A prospect that sheds a frisson of excitement through a collector's bloodstream and a trembling rattle into the wallet of many a Guerlain fan.
Alternatively it could just be an evocation of Paris in the way that Comme des Garcons has been inspired by characteristic places for their Incense Series. This time Paris being the place of inspiration, it can't fail but to bring to mind the cornucopia of scents we have come to expect from such a place and the grand tradition of French perfumery which Guerlain indeed evokes. This has the potential to be either heavenly or a complete and utter letdown given the tremendous magnitude of its mythos, so I am hoping that Thierry Wasser and Sylvaine Delacourt will be extra-attentive in how they go about it.

In any case, Guerlain has been harnessing the market in many inventive and marketing-perceptive ways lately and I am curious and excited to see what they will accomplish with these. We will report back with more as actual data unfolds in the following months.

Le Baiser du Hotel de Ville, 1950 Paris by Robert Doisneau courtesy of Amazon. Pic of Guerlain boutique, Paris, via the Perfume Bee.


  1. Your deduction about Bois Torride being a L'Art et la matière is certainly correct. If it's as cruel as their gardenia it won't be time to hide the men and children yet...
    Could be gender-neutral. But wood is the new feminine thing, isn't it, judging by Magnifique and Sensuous. Also, L'AelM have pretty much always followed in Lutens' footsteps, in a tamer way, and Lutens has always had a thing for woods...
    Wood and violets? How much do you bet?

  2. How exciting with news from Guerlain!
    I did also read somewhere that they are currently working on a female counterpart to Guerlain Homme.

  3. E,

    I had seen that on Basenotes and I had been wondering if that Bois Torride wouldn't actually be part of the new Elixirs line?
    This is pure speculation on my part, of course, based on the name which would be quite in line with the rest of them, what with the "coquin", "brûlant" and all...

    (by the by, since I read Octavian's preview of these, I absolutely. Cannot. Wait. to try the Oriental one. A nod to Cachet Jaune and Guet-Apens. Oh sweet heavens.)

  4. Actually, scrap that.
    It finally dawned on me that since the Elixirs have the first word of their names being a fragrance family (chypre, oriental, gourmand), that new one should be "boisÉ", and not "bois", for it to fit.
    So, you're right, it's probably a L'Art et la Matière, and that Bois will likely be, as the others said, as torrid as the gardenia was cruel and the rose was barbare, i.e., not ;)

  5. Dear D,

    it does sound like it, doesn't it? ;-)
    I am telling you, like I mentioned in the Magnifique review and my deconstruction of their phony press release, expect to hear "woods, woods, woods" for femmes from now on! The new It-word in feminine fragrances!
    Lutens has really inspired many niche lines and belatedly some mega-ones.

    Violets...well, they did have a resurgence a few years back, what with Drole de Rose and Lipstick Rose, Meteorites, Calypso Violet, Berdoues Violettes de Toulouse, Chantecaille Violet etc. etc. But then they retreated a bit in the background, shrinking-like.
    Now, we're seeing them again. I doubt it has to do with a new molecular way of producing them, but it might have to do with a cheaper way to do the ionones ;-)
    Also the violet-leaf note has been very popular in both sexes' fragrances (not the same thing as violet, just mentioning it in passing). Could be that, if they're aiming for unisex. ;-)

  6. Dear L,

    indeed! I am always excited beyond my more reasoned capabilities when hearing about new Guerlains, even if I can't be always enthusiastic after testing them.

    I had heard of the Guerlain Femme as well (no news on the front yet), but the name would just be so...generic: It reminds me of designer lines for men which later on think of launching a feminine product to catch the best of both worlds.
    Hmmm! I am picky, I guess.

  7. Dear S,

    I think Guerlain does do orientals better than most (OK, Lutens also does them, but in a different way, so nice to have the Eastern and the French-ified approach, LOL), so Oriental had caught my interest from the first as well. Bravo to Octavian for reporting on these!

    They feature the structure of Guet Apens frightfully much, don't they? The Vol de Nuit Evasion recalling it, now this... It is after all a very successful Guerlain, we have to admit. And Cachet Jaune...legendary. I hope we won't get disappointed!

  8. S,

    yes, glad you saw that without me pointing it out :-)
    It would be with an accented "e" at the end, if so.

    I am fairly certain it won't be "torrid", but I am looking forward to this little "game" they're playing, like I mentioned in the body of the article: it seems that they're winking at us, expecting us to knowingly acknowledge it and capitulate anyway. ;-)

  9. Ah, that kiss. From my first viewing of that photograph, I have spent many a reflection pondering if the woman was happily surrendering, or whether it was more like a surprise attack. The open stances of the bodies make "attack" too strong, of course, and yet...

    All of which chuckles me a bit as I ponder another (possible) Guerlain release. The pulse quickens, and I am already mustering an internal dialogue: No, not right away. Well, you can sample. No more than a decant. There will be time. Take a moment to think before you leap.

    Just one of a few possible connections between Le Baiser and your breaking news... :)

  10. Thanks ScentsCelf!
    It is a photograph that is rather iconic of Paris and that era, which is also well representative of the traditional Guerlain spirit(the Frenchiness, the amorous disposition, the passionate but tasteful atmosphere...) I always liked it and here was a chance to use it!

    Guerlain releases do have that effect on us, don't they? In a way it's funny: I bet they do know that and milk it for all it's worth!!

  11. E,

    Indeed they do seem like they're doing their little joke with the L'A&lM names! Plus, as un-cruel as this Gardenia was, I do love it, so I'm not complaining. Maybe that future Bois Torride will be tepid, but it might be a brilliant tepid wood, so... ;)

    Re: the Oriental, my hope is all the way up there to the ceiling - by this point, I'm getting myself so hyped up over it that I can only be disappointed ;)
    Still, you said it, Guerlain and orientals... hmmm... *nods dreamily*

    By the way, I now have it from the highest authority that VdN Evasion absolutely is Guet-Apens, except that it's diluted down to an edt verging on a cologne concentration, hence it seeming much like the original, but still different, "flattened", and overall less pleasant.

  12. Dear S,

    thanks for another most interesting comment!
    So, Vol de Nuit Evasion = Guet Apens edt to edc. Great!!

    Now, don't apologise about liking Cruel Gardenia: I love it as well! :O
    Only not as a gardenia fragrance, as a soft, discreetly musky/sexy floral, which it truly is. If one sheds the notions of the name, it grows on one something fierce (which is cruel indeed) ;-)

  13. Anonymous19:25

    Dear Helg,

    Congrats on getting the scoop yet again! Your reasonings on the names are so funny (and so dead-on)! Oh well...let's see how it unfolds.

    And while we are on conspiracy mode...who would be the face of Guerlain "Femme"???

    Now the buzz from is that supermodel Natalia Vodianova is joining Guerlain. Nobody has seen her Guerlain ads but reported the follwoing:

    Natalia Vodianova
    (Estimated Net Worth: 4.8 Million)

    This ravishing Russian and mother of three, 26, has been a Calvin Klein muse for longer than any other model, including Kate Moss.

    Vodianova is the exclusive face of Calvin Klein's Euphoria fragrance. She also picked up deals with Paris-based beauty giant Guerlain, Chanel, Versace and Diane Von Furstenberg, and continues to model for David Yurman jewelry."

    (Source: Forbes)

    Since Vodianova is contracted to be the face of Chanel make-up...this leaves one thing...

    Might she become the face of Guerlain "Femme" once her CK Euphoria contract expires???

    The mind gallops with possibilities...


  14. Of the interviews I have seen it looks like Wasser is the one behind Guerlain Homme, while Jean-Paul Guerlain was only giving him advices (one example being the addition of rhubarb to fresh up the perfume).

  15. Dear A,

    thank you for the compliment :-)
    Well, I love to play detective, don't you know!

    Love your suggestion about Vodianova for new face for Guerlain: they could indeed model her as very femme. And being a model helps to "morph" into a different image (I did like her Euphoria one).
    And the Forbes info seems to point out that you would be correct.
    {Of course there is Guerlain skincare as well, which is rather huge (they have a good share of the market) and a model's young skin is a necessity}.

    On another note, would they hire another actress again, like they did with Swank (a controversial choice of image, although I love her acting and personality)? The major houses all seem to be doing that lately (Lancome and Chanel especially), thinking actresses bring more gravitas to their projected image, so I am scratching my head thinking about who would it be, who would it be...
    I am taking suggestions from someone as good in that game as you!

  16. Dear L,

    they would say so, wouldn't they?
    Him being new and all and the pattern of the older master figure passing secrets and advice on the new...l'apprentissage, etc.

    But I am wondering just when did Wasser step into Guerlain for real: the official date (June)doesn't leave enough time for even serious evaluation of the perfume, much less creating it; the before timetable suggests that they had outsourced him for something (maybe Guerlain Homme, I am not averse to that suggestion) and then decided "hey, he's good, let's make him head perfumer"?
    Something doesn't click!

    I am sure Jean Paul would have a (respected) say in everything his house produces, but the ultimate decisions have to come from the LVMH headquarters IMHO.

  17. I agree with you that the time schedule seems a bit tight for him to be able to make Guerlain Homme, my guess is that he has been preparing for the job for a while before the official appointment.

  18. Anonymous22:14

    Dear Helg,

    Thanks for the speedy reply and the compliment. It's true that Guerlain has a large skin-care empire but hiring a 26-year-old lady to promote the benefits of using skin care is...contrived. I think that was why Isabella Rossellini was fuming when Lancome dropped her years ago.

    (By by the way, Vodianova is a lady: literally, as Natalia received her royal title last year after the birth of her third son.)

    That's why I ruled out skin care.

    Now, she could very well do make-up campaigns but her Chanel contracts seem quite long-term so I'm not very sure. We'll see if she is in fact the the face of "Femme".

    As for the celebrity endoresement front...I hate to say this but to me very few stars these days embody the classic Guerlain spirits. I can't think of any right now but it might come to me. What can I say...the next Deneuves, Bouquets, Bardots are not in sight.


  19. Anonymous22:21

    About the timing issue...Wasser said in Madame Figaro a few weeks ago that he had been working on this project for 2 years! It took Guerlain a long time to sort out everything, as usual.

    And Jean-Paul Guerlain is known to be a bit, ahem, nosy about the governing affairs of Guerlain even though he is not really calling the shots. At least you could sort of tell by the body language displayed in the PR photos. So will Wasser have total artistic control? Hopefully but most likely no.

  20. Anonymous22:23

    Helg, re-read your comments on the skin care bit...finally got the joke. Sorry!

  21. Wasser is from Firmenich and between Firmenich and Guerlain there is a very long and tight relation :) as for the phrase, if I'm not wrong it was used in a commercial or something. Like many trademarks, some of them are products, other are "marketing tools", other are used on website or communication/ads. (see also the "shop & the city" - a trademark owned by Chanel and used somewhere :)

  22. perfumeshrine at this point Lutens has done more than inspiring Guerlain and Hermes, so now we have another "bois" for Guerlain and another "vanilla" with Hermes? I think it 's pathetic and revealing of these perfume houses 's stunning lack of innovation and even more worrisome, an inability to keep up with the challenge of preserving their identity while being creative and modern. Instead they all stole Serge Lutens visionnary concept by launching expensive mediocre/average niche lines for profits.

  23. Dear L,

    indeed, which should indicate that ~since they can't have decided on the head nose appointment in a rush! that's what I hinted at before~ that this decision had been thought out well before and was in the works for quite some time, well before they said they did: probably ever since the latest reformulations by Flechier (who was not meant to be for some reason).
    At least this is what seems most logical.

  24. Dear A,

    of course it's rather counter-productive as in "what long-term benefits can be shown on such young skin"? LOL!
    This is basically the main "doubt" when reading reviews of skincare products, for me personally at least: when the reviewer is 20 years old, I wonder if the benefits are rendered by the product itself or the amazing capabilities of skin's own system of recuperation! Same, in the opposite way, goes for very mature skins as wel;, since skincare can only do so much, they're bound not to see too much improvement.

    But companies insist on using young models because: 1)they have antiquated views on beauty, 2)those same models are used for the fashion shows and photo sessions on mags and therefore they're the first to be "booked" 3)the models often have high visibility (ie. Kate Moss, Natalia Vodianova etc).

    I know about Vodianova, she's been with Justin Portman, right? He's a Viscount if I am not mistaken.

  25. A,

    forgot to say that there are a couple which I could think as quite fetching and classier than most: Virgine Ledoyen (oh wait, L'oreal grabbed her!), Natalie Portman... if we're talking about the younger generation.
    Juliette Binoche (oh wait, Lancome grabbed her!) if we're talking about the slightly older guard.
    And what happened to Fanny Ardant? That's one who could very well embody Guerlain Femme!

    I completely agree with you that Wasser must have been working with them (as did other perfumers before him) for quite some time! Thanks for providing the source of the quote. But it would be a little disappointing to think that Guerlain Homme resulted in a "meh" stated by most reviews.

    I am sure that had I been at the helm of such an historical house for so long, I would like to be a little nosy too! ;-)

  26. A,

    no need to apologise! I was rather too subtle, too vague.

  27. Dear Octavian,

    thank you for stopping by!
    Of course Guerlain has been outsourcing perfumers for some time now and indeed the Firmenich link is indicated.

    Thanks for the info on the phrase info (I am assuming the "Guerlain, une ville, un parfum" right?): it was trademarked very recently, so it has to be some very recent commercial I gather, which I haven't watched (yet). Or perhaps they plan to use it as a marketing tool/communication slogan when they do launch Guerlain Femme?

    The Chanel trademark phrase is rather funny on so many levels: too Americanised for such a French firm and why didn't they use it when the SATC film came out?? It'd seem obsolete in a couple of years' time.

  28. Emmanuella,

    thank you for chimming in. I was sure this would inspire some passion in you! :-)

    I completely agree that Lutens was on the vanguard and there's no denying it among people who watch these things: when the Palais Royal opened its doors, there was no one doing "niche". (Well, apart from those who had small artisanal businesses at the back yard of their homes and they were lovingly preparing batches for themselves and their friends, of course. Or the special commisions by rich people to specific perfume houses).

    But then the exclusivity factor caught on and everyone started realising that the lack of "marketing" on Lutens's part on the Paris exclusives was indeed an admirable marketing tool: the oldest one, actually ~deny this which could be had and you create desire!

    Consequently, this avalanche of exclusive lines within big brands who cater for two different clienteles, it seems: The hoi polloi and the connoisseurs (or so we like to think? *enter sarcasm*)
    One followed another in this "game". I am pretty sure Chanel saw the desirability factor of the Hermessences and launched Les Exclusifs; Guerlain realised they couldn't be left out and so enter L'art et la Matiere line (at least visually very much inspired by the Lutens portfolio). Then the issuing of their back-catalogue scents inspired Lancome to come up with La Collection and now Chanel using their older names for their new fragrances etc etc.
    Yes, it can all be traced back to Lutens.

    But I'd venture, it was also a point of oversaturation of the market, people trying to find something less commercial, more artistic, with less pretence about the packaging and advertising and more focus on the jus. Now of course we have a "bouleversement", in which there are so many niche offerings that are sub-par considering their price and exclusivity factor.
    Not to mention that Hermes is -reportedly- capitulating to public demand and issuing their exclusives online for the US market -only for that, I hear. (which shows that bucks accomplish everything!).
    And hey, even Lutens has issued some of the Paris exclusives as Limited editions for the US market ;-)

  29. Anonymous13:32

    Brilliant deductions again!
    I am looking forward to smelling those, if only because they come from Guerlain. Yes, I know, I know, call me traditional, but it does matter to me that they have produced Chamade and Nahema, two of my staples.

  30. you can see other interesting trademarks here:

    for guerlain phrase I will try to remember where I saw it before!

  31. Thanks Sue.
    I am not calling you names, because I am guilty as well of being curious about Guerlain, even if I am disappointed lots of times.
    Nice choices!

  32. Thank you Octavian.

    I would appreciate if you would remember. I'm genuinely curious :-)

  33. perfumeshine, I 'm shocked there 's a demand to buy Rose Ikebana at this price online. I must be the one who doesn 't understand a thing about this world really!

    I think nobody took Shiseido and Serge Lutens too seriously back in the 90's, after all Lutens admitted many times they were losing money and it took the export line launch for them to become profitable, only then everyone started to see the huge potential of exclusive fragrance lines.
    I don 't really care these perfume houses go exclusive as well but I care about integrity and identity; between the dioresque Guerlain Homme and the lutensean Bois Torride, sorry guys, but this is all going downhill.

  34. Emmanuella,

    thanks for elaborating more.

    It's indeed a little shocking, I admit: first of all Rose Ikebana, although quite pretty, isn't that costly to produce I bet (I'm grabbing the example you proposed but there are others as well) and secondly who exactly does all this buying? Bored housewives spending their husband's money? Professional women competing with each other on who is more savvy? Perfume lovers who want to be known to include the "exclusives" in their collection? By definition online sales mean a little less exclusivity, n'est-ce pas?;-)

    The export line was a very good move on Lutens part from a business point of view, but I wonder how it picked up. The Shiseido SAs here admitted to me they never got any training on them (just some basics: a few notes, general concept of the line), although they're very, very informed about the skincare and makeup products. So how did the export line become a cult item? Which in turn brought interest in the exclusives? (and that's the whole point)

    Guerlain has being going through a tough, thin line for some time now: they are honoring their rich tradition (the Il etait une fois line, which should be picked up again! what happened?) and trying to be modern with haphazard results: good (Insolence) or bad (l'instant magic and per most reviews Guerlain Homme, which I haven't smelled yet).
    Dior indeed has been very much downscaled in prestige and they're trying to catch back some ground with the private line trio and the new travel concept (Escale a Portofino etc.)

  35. perfumeshrine, it 's probably easier to modernize the Dior fragrance image than Guerlain because of their minimalist heritage with Diorissimo, Diorella and Eau Sauvage. What do you do when your perfume heritage are orientals like Shalimar? It must be more difficult but Insolence was a good fragrance, so what 's the problem? A Guerlain perfume must sound like a Guerlain; Mitsouko, Nahema or Samsara, there 's no mistake about it, these are Guerlains but Bois Torride and Rose Barbare are not. I don 't even want to know if they 're good scents or not, to me these perfumes are irrelevant because not Guerlain.

    The boys from Aedes in New York told me Lutens is their best-seller but I know that the Lutens makeup line does better at Barneys than the fragrances. I read somewhere (two or three years ago), the Lutens export line was a decent commercial success for a niche line. However, I 've been very concerned with quality and reformulations. Tania Sanchez thinks Fumerie Turque and Un Bois Sepia have been watered down, as far as I 'm concerned, Fleurs d 'Oranger has been too, it 's definitely not as intense as it used to be, I 'm very upset about that.

  36. Emmanuella,

    you know, you do have a point there about the integrity of a brand!

    Dior had the sparser, more translucent tradition ~which is true, although surely the current white-trash bopper scents have no place being in the same portfolio with Roudnitska's creations.

    Guerlain had Shalimar of course (amidst myriads, but I'm willing to accept it's their calling card), but with the craziness about gourmands in recent years surely they could have tapped that potential and produced something sophisticated and rich in that vein. I think they were terribly late with their Spirituese Double Vanille (which admitedly sounds much worse than it actually smells). Their Shalimar Light was brilliant and they should have pursued in that course stylistically (not in the lingual part though, because it evokes sugar-free sodas to mind and that wouldn't help.....)

    Now as to their issuing all this Lutens-esque ~sounding and looking~ oeuvre, well...that was a business decision and it did revamp their profit margin and their "niche" appeal. Guerlain fans are crazy about Guerlain anyway, but it allowed them to approach a segment of the niche audience who was after more conceptualised series with lyrical and strange names (a la Tubereuse Criminelle, which is surely behind the Barbare moniker). It seems to me that although Guerlain has the most difficult task: they need to respect their tradition (being predominantly a fragrance house) and to enrich it with some modernity (otherwise they will get obsolete along with their old customers. But Guerlain loyal perfumephiles are not interested in modernity: they want tradition. The problem is that core base is too small to sustain the house alone.
    Therefore they need to proceed with segmentation:
    1)the Il Etait une fois line for the serious traditionalists and collectors (uber-tradition of the upper echelons)
    2)the classic stable with some lifting that never gets admitted for the old, loyal fans (conservative traditionalist)
    3)Les Parisiennes for the younger fans with the desire to hop to Paris and get a memento from a great museum-store (tradition and modernity hand in hand: limited editions that scream "new" in old, royally embossed bottles)
    4)L'art et la Materiere line (the press people, the niche fans, the blogosphere, the marketing people at rival firms getting a heart attack ~modernity that shows we're alive and kicking). I should probably devote an article to that conundrum.

    I haven't had the experience of sampling the newest batches of Fumerie Turque or Bois Sepia, so I can't really say whether they have been changed or not comparing with my own. It would be a pity if so, especially for Fumerie Turque. Then again, those authors smelled sooooo many things in such a short amount of time that I don't know if they had the actual space or time to devote to repeated testing and side by side comparisons in different circumstances. They do not specify their method of testing either and whether it was conducted through mouillettes or skin test or both. I believe all these factors play a part.
    I think Fleurs d'Oranger might be slightly different to you due to its high percentage of natural ingredients which do smell differently from batch to batch and crop to crop. Then again, you might choose to disagree.

    Makeup, huh? But then makeup sales are always higher than fragrance in the US. A look at the presentation of sections on online US Sephora and French Sephora is telling: US has makeup first, fragrance only third, while on its French counterpart the reverse is true. ;-)


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