Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Critical Notice: Maison Guerlain, Cinquième Génération

Last week, on December 14, 2013, TV3 aired a fifty-two minute documentary on the house of Guerlain which will surely be of interest to all francophone perfume lovers. The short film, directed by Geneviève Vaudran, traces the early history of the house of Guerlain and offers glimpses into many aspects of the recent changes as well. Among the highlights are:

  • Thierry Wasser is featured in many scenes and at one point toes the IFRA line, reporting that rose, ylang-ylang and jasmine may be hazardous to your health--not only allergenic, but ... carcinogenic!
  • At a dinner out with Wasser, Alberto Morillas corrects Jacques Cavallier's characterization of the three men as "artists", saying that in fact they are "artisans".
  • Several attractive celebrities, including Jade Jagger (Why? you may ask) share their early encounters with perfume.
  • According to Guerlain, the first truly modern perfume was not Chanel no 5 (for its aldehydes), but Jicky, for its coumarin! 
  • The house of Guerlain version of the story of post-World War II G.I.s on the Champs-Elysées: they were lined up to buy ... L'Heure Bleue
  • Soap (glorious soap!) was an important part of the early house of Guerlain output.
  • A brief treatment of the "racist slur scandal" involving Jean-Paul Guerlain (when he said he worked "comme un nègre" [like a nigger]".
  • But the man has a heart: JPG is brought to tears as he reminisces about his father.
  • An acknowledgement that some believe that the second rupture (beyond the end of the family line represented by the appointment of Wasser as head perfumer), the acquisition of Guerlain by LVMH, has caused the illustrious house to lose its "soul". Others are said to regard the acquisition as an opportunity for change. (I think that you know my view...)
  • In the history of perfumery according to Guerlain, Gabriel was more important than  Gabrielle!

All of this and more awaits anyone fluent in French (there are no subtitles). For others, the images (and sweet sonority of the French language) may be worth your time as well... Here is a link:


  1. Will watch tomorrow... thanks a lot.
    And: I wonder if all those new aromachemicals used will not turn out to be a 1000 times more "carciogenic" than the natural stuff. The problem is that we'll not live as long as to know....
    Not a nice thought to go to bed with.

    1. Exactly, Jale. We are all guinea pigs, let's face the facts. Every time Thierry Wasser and his entourage of synthetic organic chemists create some new Frankenstein molecule with quasi-infinite longevity, we are to believe that it is automatically safer than the natural substances which were used in perfumery for millennia?

      Doesn't compute, to put it mildly...

  2. Thanks so much for posting this, Shera Pop! Wow. Wasser's statement makes as much sense as a lot of the anti-vaccination anti-scientific crap out there. How does one get to be a Big Deal in perfume like he is and think these things? Seems like a decent point about the coumarin, though. (Where else have I read that? Wish I could remember.)

    1. Hi pitbull friend!

      To be perfectly frank (quoi d'autre?) I have no idea how he became a "Big Deal". He is very good at static photo ops (sort of like Chandler Burr, lol), but watching him in action did not disabuse me of my prior beliefs the guy. In the opening he actually reminded me a bit of John Belushi.

      Do I know what coumarin smells like? I guess that my recent bottle of Jicky is so not anything to get excited about that I'm inclined to say that at least the aldehydes in Chanel no 5 do seem very distinct.

      I find it very interesting how the houses attempt to rewrite history in so many ways... The ultimate example of revisionist perfume history is of course the radical reformulation of a classic and the perpetuation of the narrative which applied to a completely different perfume--different in nearly every way, except for the name. Same story for the entire house of Guerlain, in my view...

  3. Thanks for this video, it was so interesting to watch. It is nice to follow along how the House Guerlain carries on to preserve their reputation. And the women commentators were so chic and groomed ... I could imagine their appearance enhanced by un joli parfum. It just goes together.

    *** Ursula / Pipette ***

    1. Glad you enjoyed the short film, Ursula/Pipette!

      It's an interesting combination of marketing and house-slanted history. They cover such a vast array of topics (albeit cursorily) that it seems worth viewing as much for the questions raised as for the answers given!

      Comme tu as dit, les jolies femmes doivent porter du parfum--de Guerlain, bien sûr! ;-)


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