Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Very Special Guerlain Event: Fragrant Reportage at Harrods Perfume Diaries

~by guest writer Fiordiligi

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!

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

Photo of Guerlain bottles via Grant at Basenotes, many thanks and please visit


  1. It was a pleasure meeting you on Thursday, Fiordiligi, and thanks very much indeed for this piece, which sums up the event most elegantly.

  2. How lovely!
    Oh how I wish I could have been there but thank you for describing it.

  3. P,

    I'm sure D was just as enchanted (and isn't she the sweetest thing ever?). It was an honour having her recount this special experience.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Advertising spam will be relentlessly deleted.( If you want to do it, have some balls and do it in the open).

  5. the above goes for a deleted comment from a spam advertiser who insists on posting here....

  6. Ines,

    you're welcome, and whet your appetite, she will be recounting a PRIVATE tour of the exhibition by Roja himself! I can't wait!!

  7. What a fabulous reportage! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Helg, this definitely shows I live in the wrong country and seem to work in the wrong industry. :)

  9. Fiordiligi14:32

    Thank you all so much for your kind comments. It really was a special evening for me!

    Thanks also to dearest Elena at Perfume Shrine for allowing me to write about it.

  10. Rappleyea00:18

    I am 13 years old again and the Beatles have come to America. How exciting! I have such a crush on M. Guerlain, and I am so very envious of your experience. But thank you for sharing - well done!

  11. I was away and was so sad... lovely review and hope the tour is magic- also hello Helg! just catching up on all the lovely posts


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