Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle (1983): Fragrance Review

History has a way of repeating itself: hard to believe nowadays but less has not always been more.

~by guest writer AlbertCAN

Sometimes only more is more. The French Rococo period, for one, and so was the 80s. It is hardly surprising then that Jardins de Bagatelle, Guerlain’s tribute to the grand frivolity of a French imperial pursuit, was introduced in 1983.

Nearly thirty years later I have seldom heard the tale told in its entirety. Perhaps because of the typical Guerlain complexity in its inspiration? Or perhaps its somewhat awkward placement within the Guerlain archive, tucked between the fabled Chamade (1969), Parure (1975), Nahéma (1979) and Samsara (1989)? Either case the story is far too fascinating to be left ignored.

Bagatelle: A Brief Trifle History
Jean-Paul Guerlain’s inspiration came from the garden found within the Château de Bagatelle, an eighteenth-century gem tucked within the Bois de Boulognein the XVIe arrondissement of Paris . Don’t be fooled by the name Bagatelle: this estate is not name after an illustrious personality; quite the opposite. In fact, it is a term most frivolous in nature, from the Italian bagattella and reserved to describe a thing of little importance, a mere trifle!

Everything started with a bet: In 1775 the the Comte d'Artois purchased the property with the intention of an overhaul; his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette, perhaps out of sheer boredom, wagered that the new château could not possibly be completed within one hundred days. She was proven wrong: the Comte engaged the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design and had the whole thing all to himself in mere sixty-three days. That’s not to say that the architect skimped on luxury in order to hasten the completion—in true Rococo fashion the garden immediately surrounding the Château de Bagatelle is famously redolent of heady florals, as attested by the rambling roses blooming in profusion within the opening photo. And that’s a mere corner of the château.

But there’s more: according to MONSIEURGUERLAIN the blog, the venerable house further revealed that the rhythm of the fragrance was inspired by Goyescas, written by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. Now without knowing which of the six Guerlain was referring to I shall persent my personal favorite, and the most famous of them all, is “Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor” (The Maiden and the Nightingale), played here by Jorge Luis Prats.

Now in this context the second usage of the word ‘bagatelle’ is also utilized, describing here a short piece of music, typically for the piano, and usually of a light, mellow character. The name here serves as a reference to the innocent character of the piece (not necessarily, of course, the lack of technical and artistic demands of the music, as many piano students fall out one way for another upon learning the music).

Jardins de Bagatelle: The Guerlain Twist

Given its heady égeries one shouldn’t expect less from Jardins de Bagatelle, referred by some as the scent of the whole garden bottled! In fact it is precisely this fact that yours truly prefers the eau de toilette incarnation, and then only in light application!

The exercise in diffusion starts with violet and classic aldehydes, finessed by citruses such as lemon and bergamot. Then lo and behold, true to the Goyescas style, a barrage of white florals flies across: gardenia, rose, orange blossom, tuberose, magnolia, ylang ylang, orchid, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, not to mention tuberose, the queen of narcotic floral (and one of Marie Antoinette’s favourites). At the hands of a perfumer with less calibre all this would surely spell disaster, yet the suppleness of the Guerlinade accord really pulls through and keeps the whole flock flying in formation, especially with the help of base notes consisting of cedarwood, musk, patchouli, tonka bean and vetiver. Translation: never meant for the faint hearted. Now some valued Guerlain clients are not used to such blunt development, though overall I’m not too troubled by it once dialing down the overall volume; some might turn blue with a bombastic woodsy-floral from the 80s, but personally the sillage is, in my humble opinion, enjoyable at an extremely deft hand. Testament to its prowess I have never seen a parfum edition for Jardins de Bagatelle; the eau de parfum was always meant to be the most concentrated version of this pillar.

Note: Personally I never had any problem with the quality of this eau de toilette, and 
I’ve read favourable review even after the supposed reformulation. Then again if you have recent encounters please do chime in!

As for the bottle designer Robert Granai interpreted the shoulder emphasis of the 80s with savoir-faire by folding the motif into classic Guerlain bottle aesthetics. Honestly it’s one of my favourite bottles from Guerlain: clean, to the point, but essentially romantic at heart.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Guerlain series

Photos, from top: Jardins de Bagatelle rose trellis from Paris the blog; Château de Bagatelle from Wiki; portrait of Comte d'Artois from Wiki; portrait of Marie Antoinette from Wiki; Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle advertisement from the 80s, via CouleurParfum.


  1. Fiordiligi12:21

    I'm loving these appreciations of my favourite Guerlain scents! For me, Jardins de Bagatelle has always been the quintessential summer holiday scent - big, bold and beautiful. I've worn it since the day it came out and I still love it, although I do prefer the eau de parfum. What a pity it never appeared in extrait.

    Thank you!

  2. annemariec23:53

    I think my local department store has this so I will stop by tonight for a sniff. I think I might have tried it once and found it too lush, but my tastes have chanded a bit. Does JdB resemble EL's Beautiful do you think, in character at least?

    At the moment I am enjoying another French garden inspired fragrance, Parfum dEmpire's Eau Suave.

  3. D,

    trust you to love the unsung Guerlains. I think with hindsight JdB is rather good. They used to make them rich and satisfying back then. I hope it has "kept" from too much of a diet of vegetables.

  4. AMC,

    I think the Lauder is actually louder. Funny considering JdB is among the louder Guerlains. That's what the passage of time does to one's perception, possibly. I hope the current batch isn't too bad. In the 1980s it was quite good. Then LVMH took over.:/
    Enjoy Eau Suave, so spring-like!

  5. So little have been written about this gloriously sparkling floral!

    JdB was one of the first Guerlains presented to me for my consideration. I passed it over for Chamade as my first Guerlain purchas - Well - can't really blame me for that.... The SA gave me a generous vial of the edt as part of my GWP which I love to revisit from time to time and I acquired 2 additional mini edps in a mixed coffret from ~'97, still free of LVMH influence.

    This fragrance is one of my favorite summer dress accessories. Thanks for filling in the story!

  6. Snap Helg! I am wearing it today as its rather cold here and I have the EDP and is not for the heat (well, for me its not ) LOL

    I have been lucky to visit the Bagatelle gardens in Paris a couple of times and they are just beautiful - especially at rose time - its the best !
    Now , Guerlains Jardin de Bagatelle is tuberose and that garden is mainly roses (divine roses and they do have a rose competition every year too for the prof. breeders !) plus - I have been there when the iris are out - for they have this pretty garden room with all the different types of iris there too.
    Its a Must Go if you visit Paris but pick a sunny day in spring or summer for the roses . You cannot go inside the little Bagatelle but its such a pretty , pretty building!

  7. Operafan,

    you're welcome.

    I always thought it was done a disservice from a well known critic for being a bit less "patisserie" or "romantic" than usual Guerlain fare. In hindsight, it's among the loveliest in this generally thankless genre (i.e. metallic florals). I too find it eminently summer worthy! Enjoy!!

  8. M,

    coincidence or what?? :-D

    I know how it couldn't possibly be considered fine to wear EDP in the intense heat you get there. I wouldn't wear it in summer here either. It might become suffocating.

    As to the garden, yeah, rose trellises everywhere (and one featured prominently on top of the review), but the Guerlain is mostly about the tuberose! Funny!
    I should make it a point of visiting the actual garden though next time, it sounds delightful for a peaceful stroll in warm weather. (There are just so many things to see while in Paris, aren't they?)

  9. Oh Helg - I would think one could live in Paris for the rest of their life and not see Everything there!!! LOL

  10. M,

    you're absolutely right. That's true for most old cities.

  11. I will never forget this perfume. My mother adores this one, she doesn't have it currently, but she always want beautiful.


  12. How lovely J to have someone close loving a classic Guerlain. It's always best when someone actually wears this stuff.

  13. This is my most favourite perfume of all time, i have never not had a bottle since it came out in 1983. It's my signature scent. I will always have a bottle in my possession. The scent is fabulously floral and lasts all day. It's so romantic and so french, I'm in love with this fragrance.


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