Friday, January 16, 2009

Guet Apens/ Attrape Coeur and Vol de Nuit Evasion by Guerlain: fragrance review & comparison, with a footnote on Guerlain Ambre

Gustave Claudin writes about Marie duPlessis in Mes Souvenirs: “She was fickle, capricious, wild. She adored today what she hated yesterday. She possessed natural elegance to the utmost degree. One could certainly say she had style. No one could copy her originality. As long as florists were able to provide them, she always went out with a bouquet of white camellias”.

Marie Duplessis is none other than the inspiration for the character of Marguerite Gautier, famously known as “la dame aux camellias”. Her natural sensuality and maturity beyond her years are a logical fit for a perfume like Attrape Coeur, formely known as Guet Apens.

La belle de nuit aux violets that is Guet Apens was composed as a limited Christmas edition by nose Mathilde Laurent 10 years ago (1999) when Guerlain had its first inflow of funds from LVMH's initial investment. A slight retouche by Jean Paul Guerlain three years later resulted in another Limited edition called simply No.68 (not to be confused with the new Cologne du 68 ~for a complete breakdown of that entanglement please see my detailed article here)
Was the sobriquet non sonorous enough to English-speaking ears to keep it in production? The resinous, powdery, vanillic juice at the core of No.68 bore ties of consanguinity with both Guet Apens and Terracotta, you see.

Guet-Apens was finally renamed Attrape-Coeur and since 2005 has joined the ranks of the permanent collection of Guerlain to the rejoice of perfume lovers, reissued upon the occasion of the renovation of the flagship Guerlain store on the Champs-Elysées. Although the scent is usually credited to Jean Paul Guerlain (rumours want the then working on Guerlain project Insolence, perfumer Maurice Roucel to also having had a hand in it), the original scent was composed by Mathilde Laurent, the nose behind the controversial Pamplelune with its sulfureous grapefruit and Shalimar Eau Legere/Shalimar Light (the 2003 version) which was so fabulous. Tact prevents me from elaborating longer on the possible rupture, but suffice to say Mathilde Laurent is now composing scents at Cartier.

The phrase Attrape Coeurs means "heart-catcher" and it is lovely in its connotations, although it can have its adversaries too. Hearts are usually a corny matter, depicted in nauseating permutations as a symbol of romantic love. Guet Apens on the other hand means "ambush" in French, which makes for a much more intriguing name, but maybe that is just my opinion. For Attrape Coeur I think of a seducer, a woman who is out to get men entrapped in her tentacles, but all that done in a most elegant and non calculating, non vulgar way

In a way it goes way back to another era. It evokes the real Marguerite Gautier, famously known as “la dame aux camellias” and her influence on French society, both as the heroine of the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils and as a representation of the Parisian courtesans of the 19th century. Modeled after a real person, Marie duPlessis (real name Alphonsine), lover of Listz at one point and of Dumas naturally, dead at only 23 years of age due to consumption but having made her reputation already, Marguerite is a very alluring personality. With her pale complexion due to tuberculosis and her manners of a grande dame she captures the attention of the Parisian high society. Camellia of course in not featured in Attrape Coeur (it has no significant scent anyway), rather dark violet is, which is very apt taking in mind that Violetta is the name of the heroine in the opera version of the novel La Traviata (which literally means "woman who strayed") by Guiseppe Verdi and numerous theatrical versions, hence the association.
In the enchanting and nostalgic Langage des fleurs, a book by Charlotte de la Tour, violet stands for secret love. Violets then with a little underscoring of woods and iris form the core of the perfume.

Identifying Attrape Coeur as a Guerlain happens after it sheds its veils like Salome one by one. The opening of Attrape Coeur is as if iris got suspended in a snowy mirage, fresh, tingling, hazy, reflecting light in all directions, not unlike the charming disposition the demure Apres L'Ondee coyly reveals. A little fuzzy, fruity tone (reprised in MDCI Promesse de l'Aube and Chinatown by Bond no.9) smiles with the beatific smile of golden mosaics in Roman villas. The glycaemic nuance of violets, undescored by a mysterious greeness, a fleeting earthiness, is winking in a jar on the countertop of a French patisserie in Toulouse. And all is poised over an animal's warm, vibrating belly as it luxuriates in front of a blazzing fire.
Even jasmine makes a brief appearance, but then I regrettably lose it: it’s a lovely jasmine note like that in another Guerlain, Flora Nerolia: it remains fresh, green and dewy. Compared to other offerings from Guerlain the base is somehow between Shalimar and L’instant : not as animalic as the former, not as sweet and –dare I say it?- cloying as the latter, it combines the element of eathereal iris and sandalwood in order to give stability and powdery dryness that is much needed to bring balance to compositions based on sweeter elements. The creaminess and luxurious, plush feeling of Attrape Coeur remind me of the opulence of Bois des Iles by Chanel; but whereas the latter focuses more on gingerbread-like milky sandalwood, the former is anchored in powdery, warm amber. It's that alloy that gives the tone, with a little vanilla, tonka and perhaps civet (which I was not aware of particularly, meaning it is restrained), so characteristic of Guerlain perfumes. Attrape Coeur is formally classified as a "fruity chypre rose animalic" (although to me the rose is safely tucked in there) and gives me the feeling that were Parure composed with peach and violets instead of plum and lilacs it would be quite close in feeling.

Attrape Coeur has a lingering, creamy aura of ambery woods which makes it very popular with people enamored with comforting scents, blooming on the skin and lasting on my wrists the span of a whole day going on well into the night. This is especially satisfying rising from a plunging decolleté as it is such a wonderful perfume and a nice surprise at this time of fleeting perfumes that make us apply over and over again.

To add to the confusion ~noting the additional "s" in the name which appears by mistake in "Perfumes, the Guide"~ let me mention in passing that a special Bacarrat edition of L de Lolita Lempicka in extrait de parfum with golden netting and blue topaz is also nicknamed L'Attrape Coeur and that L'Attrape-cœurs is the French title under which the novel by J. D. Salinger more widely known as Catcher in the Rye circulates under. Talk about picking a popular name!

On the other hand, Guerlain themselves, further the confusion. Vol de Nuit Évasion , introduced in 2007, is despite the name a completely different fragrance than the classic oriental Vol de Nuit from 1933. The Guerlain tagline presents it as "a nomadic homage to a classic scent". But actually it is simply the Eau de Toilette concentration of Attrape Coeur !(This was confirmed, apart from my own nose, by official Guerlain representatives later on). Yet it is circulating only at duty-free stores in France at train stations and airports (contrary to Osmoz's quote linked); clearly aimed at the travel-retail market which is experiencing a resurgence. Considering it's 1/3 of the price of the exclusive Attrape Coeur, it's a great bargain and not to be missed if you get a chance.
The bottle is following the classic emblematic design of Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue with the upside-down heart stopper (slightly vandalised in the upcoming La Petite Robe Noire) but with the "circle" design of the name which appears almost cinematically-styled on the Sous le Vent flacon now. A lower concentration means Vol de Nuit Évasion whispers in hushed tones whereas Attrape Coeur would sing like a dramatic soprano (which is indeed the direction in which La Traviata's Violetta is taking). It's a good middle ground.

Notes for Guet Apens/ Attrape Coeur by Guerlain:
Rose, violet, iris, vanilla, woods, amber.
And a different set of notes I found:
Top: rose, jasmine, tuberose
Heart: peach
Base: amber, musk

Notes for Vol de Nuit Evasion by Guerlain:
peach, rose, jasmine, iris, amber, precious woods, vanilla

Attrape Coeur is now part of Les Parisiennes line in Eau de Parfum concentrations, resting inside the big "bee" embossed 125ml bottles with the boule stopper; exclusive to Guerlain boutiques.
Vol de Nuit Evasion comes in 50ml/1.7oz bottles of Eau de Toilette, exclusively available (at the moment at least) in duty-free chains in France.
Guet Apens in the lantern-style bottle makes sporadic appearences on Ebay.

And a little footnote on Guerlain Ambre: Notice this is the bottle lantern design used in Guet Apens! And as to how Guerlain Ambre smells, I will leave you to perfume historian Octavian Coifan:

"Ambre (1890) is said to be the first perfume of Jacques Guerlain. It is a very delicate and refined perfume based on the smell of ambergris tincture. It is not a sweet perfume (the ambre 83 type) but dry and deep. It has incense rezinoid, woody notes, labdanum, some balsamic notes (benjoin), orris. It is profound and dusty as the church wood or the very old books. A simple perfume that evokes a ray of light in an abandoned sanctuary."

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Violets, Guerlain series

Pic of Guet Apens, No.68 and Vol de Nuit Evasion by Fiordiligi (copyrighted), authorised for use on Perfume Shrine; of Attrape Coeur bee bottle shot by eowjdula/mua, of Guerlain Ambre via ebay. Artwork by Rafael Olbinski via


  1. Anonymous15:26

    Thank you for writing up this piece which I like to think I might at least in part have inspired following my discovery of an unopened (and forgotten) bee bottle of Limited Edition No 68 last weekend!

    I have the beautiful blue bottle of Guet-Apens and also picked up a bottle of Vol de Nuit Evasion at the Duty Free in France recently; quite why the Vol de Nuit name would be used for this derivative I simply don't know.

    Anyway, enough waffling - whatever it's called, it is a beautiful scent and one that I feel is true to the Guerlain ethos, whoever actually composed it.

    Thank you for another beautiful Guerlain article dear E!

  2. Oh, my lovely D, but of course you have instigated the desire to write and compare them! I see that lots of people were confused about all the different concentrations, formulae, bottles, names, it's a wonder we managed to get to the bottom of this.
    If you do plan to upload that photo and would want to, I could upload it with your name and copyrighted of course here. :-)

    You're like to have the lantern style, it's beautiful.
    As to the duty free exclusive name, I am stumped just as you are. To throw us off? Really don't know.

    Glad you liked the article, thank you so much for saying so.

  3. Actually I found VdNE to be louder than AC because of the heavier cedar note in VdNE. AC feels more delicate and soft.

  4. Really? That's interesting! Maybe you mean "harsher" as in timbre? (I could see that)
    I find AC a bit opaque, huskier and very projecting on my skin.

    So you prefer AC over VDNE?

  5. Muchos aplausos, muchos aplausos. Thank you, E.,for this fine piece of investigative reporting. We've all given quite a bit of blog space to AC, and rightly so. I wonder if Oriental Brulant will one day deserve as much...

  6. E, I love GA/AC! Simply love it! It comforts me when I need it, but at the same time it feels so womanly. And, I can definitely smell the parallel you draw with Bois des Iles, only GA/AC is candied violet syrup, not gingerbread.

    For me, GA/AC smells like a liqueur drizzled vanilla bread pudding that is soft and almost liquid. I am getting hungry!

    Hope your weekend is going well.


  7. Anonymous00:26

    Dear Helg:
    While I love Attrape Coeur in the bottle, alas it is the only Guerlain which doesn't love me back - the ionone maybe?

    Anyway, beautiful article as always.


  8. I bought a bottle of the vol du Nuit Evasion while on Air France last year.
    I was not excited at all sadly.
    What has made me excited Helg is that hubby and I have a puppy!! Yes - pop over to POL and have a look.
    I name all my doggies after perfume and as this fellow is maltese x shih tzu I wanted a oriental name . So its -- Kenzo!
    Have a look at POL!

  9. Anonymous13:53

    it's very interesting to read about these perfumes, and it feeds my longings after travelling in the southern direction to places where these Guerlain's may be tried..
    (Just now my load of work is so high that even the reading about perfumes, like in your gem of a blog, has difficult conditions :(
    (my teaching ranges from Pythagorean theory of music, to Nietzsche's Zarathustra, so the themes are nice to be occupied with, but - as you know - it takes time to make oneself well prepared!)

  10. Dear C,

    thanks so much for your kind words. Well, one can hope for the house, although Oriental Brulant as you say is not so memorable (although rather the nicest out of the trio)

  11. R,

    it's no wonder it has so many fans. It's playing with facets that are very much loved.

    I didn't mean that AC is like gingerbread, rather BdI is; perhaps it wasn't as clear from my writing. I described the violet note thys: "The glycaemic nuance of violets, undescored by a mysterious greeness, a fleeting earthiness, is winking in a jar on the countertop of a French patisserie in Toulouse."
    Therefore we definitely agree on the syrupy violet. But luckily for us AC doesn't leave it at that and tempers it well, doesn't it.

    Lots of hugs your way and hope you're having good weather (here it's gloriously sunny and crisp thank heavens, had the most lovely morning stroll!)

  12. D,

    thank you sweetie for being so kind to me.
    I would tend to guess that maybe it's a little too thick or sweet? (ionones for violets have that trait)
    Have you tried Vol de Nuit Evasion? Worth a shot. It's fresher and less "opaque" somehow.

  13. M,

    I have seen the adorable cutie! And it's so good for you! I was hesitating to even mention getting a dog again, but it has already made you happy, I can tell :-)

    And oh, that bottle is perhaps up for swap? ;-)

  14. S,

    I can definitely sympathize! It's hard to do everything (I leave so many things half-finished every day and so many drafts floating around) and I know you're quite multi-nuanced ~love the subjects by the way, especially Nietzsche! So perfume shouldn't gnaw too much on the time schedule. So I deeply appreciate your stopping by all the more!

    Have a great weekend!

  15. Anonymous16:56

    Oh what a lovely surprise to find this today (I am in the office on a Saturday grrr... never mind.) You had mentioned, dear E, that you were working on a full review of this my second favourite Guerlain (Mitsouko is the first)and I have enjoyed it very much. I have a small decant of Guet Apens from an MUA exchange and a bottle of AC (a most wonderful and unexpected birthday present last year!) and think I detect a slightly stronger violet note in Guet Apens, a slightly richer feel overall. It still does not detract from the love I have for AC. You have helped me understand that love, thank you very much. donanicola

  16. Anonymous18:49

    Too sweet I could handle. No, on my skin it becomes very chemical, which for me, is quite unlike the Guerlains.

    Hope you're having an enjoyable, relaxing weekend.

  17. Thankyou Helg , he has brought new joy into the home.
    I gave the Evasion to my Mum who loves Vol de Nuit . Its not the same but Mum likes it .

  18. N,

    thanks for chimming in on a Saturday and sorry you had to work.
    Very interesting: I am working from a very small batch of Guet Apens, so you who have a whole bottle of it are in a better position to judge and I'll take your word for it.

  19. D,

    uh huh, thanks. Yes, that's strange. Perhaps it's for the best: more for the pocketbook! :-)

    Have a great day!

  20. M,

    as long as Mum likes it... :-))


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