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  1. #1
    Basenotes Institution pluran's Avatar
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    Default Jean-Paul Guerlain Article

    The Art of Smell
    2001-03-27 11:31

    Paris - The stench of sewers and fishmonger's offal may no longer waft through Paris, but the most visited city on earth is not the favourite haunt of perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain, one of France's last great "noses".

    Traffic fumes and the reek of urine in the Paris underground, in a country where overpowering cheeses and malodorous sausages are national treasures, are more than anathema to 63-year-old Guerlain.

    The acute olfactory sense that has made him creator of perfumes at Guerlain, one of the most prestigious perfume houses in France, means his response to noxious odours is deeply physical.

    "The metro in Paris, the rubbish bins of New York, certain quarters of certain cities in India, Turkey and Ethiopia - there are some odours that for me are repulsive, that make me want to throw up, which is why I live in the country," says Guerlain.

    Smells unnoticed by locals are an occupational hazard to the man who travels six months a year to pungent corners of the globe like Afghanistan and Tibet in search of new scents.

    He also has to ensure raw material imports for fragrances that five generations of Guerlains have supplied to such luminaries as the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, and the wife of president Charles de Gaulle.

    Sharpened sense of smell

    Being close to blind at 16 - multiple operations have since restored his sight -- may have sharpened his sense of smell, but Guerlain sets more store by his vast olfactory memory bank.

    He can identify 3000 scents where other mortals might manage 50, and says without that mental catalogue he would never have taken up his profession.

    Preferring life at his home outside Paris where he grows geraniums, aromatic plants and 170 varieties of rose, Guerlain is an unpretentious but exacting master of the perfumers' art.

    "What remains of the most beautiful woman in the world when you turn out the light is not her eyes, not her make-up, not her coiffure, nor her clothes - it's her perfume, her femininity," Guerlain said in his office over the family's 89-year-old perfumery on the Champs Elysees.

    True classics - the pinnacle of every perfumer's ambition - are few and far between. Among them Guerlain counts "L'Arpege" under its original formula, "Fahrenheit" and "Eau Sauvage" by Christian Dior, Chanel "No. 5", Nina Ricci's "L'Air du Temps" and "Pleasures", by Estee Lauder.

    Others would add his own "Vetiver".

    "A classic perfume is determined by the quality of the raw materials you put in it and by its elegance, distinction and originality," Guerlain says. "Above all it has to be memorable."

    He is dismayed at a modern-day industry characterised by endless mimicry, that is not afraid to skimp on ingredients, and that produces flash-in-the-pan scents that evaporate with their volatile marketing budgets.

    The noble essences

    Guerlain's all-time loves are what he calls the noble essences: jasmine, tuberose and rose, followed by sandalwood and vetiver, an oil extracted from the root of a tropical grass.

    Guerlain and Jacques Polge at Chanel are the only two "noses" in France working as perfumers for a single house.

    Others are employed by industrial firms that make scents on contract for a perfume industry, which has ballooned with the rise of the billion-dollar luxury goods trade.

    Guerlain's career began not in the pungent streets of Paris, as did that of 18th Century "nose" Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Patrick Sueskind's best-selling novel "Perfume", but outside the capital and at his grandfather's side.

    An indifferent pupil at school and unaware that he had inherited the gift on which his great-great grandfather founded the family perfumery, Guerlain was taken in hand by his grandfather when he detected his own talent in the boy.

    "It was just one of those chances in life that my grandfather took to me... I was the only person in the family who got on with him," said Guerlain.

    "I had an enormous olfactory memory without knowing it and could remember all the scents from my very youngest years."

    His earliest olfactory impression, from when he was four years old, is of the bathroom filled with the scent of his mother's talc and her "Cachet Jaune" cologne.

    Then came the chemical smell of acetone from a bicycle being painted in a barn and the tobacco-impregnated clothes of his pipe-smoking Latin teacher, who became a life-long friend.

    Olympic horseman

    Though the young Guerlain preferred horse riding to lessons - a dressage expert, he was nearly chosen for the French Olympic team - his grandfather took his apprenticeship seriously.

    "He sat me down in a room and made me smell product after product. When I could identify 100, he gave me a bottle of the competition's perfume, 'Chantilly de Houbigant', and told me to reproduce it," Guerlain recalls.

    When he produced a version of it, and of "L'Arpege" and "Miss Dior" as well, his grandfather announced to his father that it was Jean-Paul who would become the house perfumer.

    Guerlain had his first success at just 18 with the men's fragrance "Vetiver", a classic created in 1959 from the root of the vetiver grass found by the Indian Ocean.

    It was made initially for the market in Mexico, which had developed a passion for Guerlain scents, but it fast became a worldwide hit. Guerlain later followed it with elegant perfumes like "Habit Rouge", "Samsara", "Chamade" and "Mahora".

    Each of his women's perfumes was created for a woman he has loved, including those he admired from afar like French screen idol Catherine Deneuve, who inspired his rose-scented "Nahema".

    Each of his male fragrances was created, he says, after asking the woman he loved how she wanted him to smell.

    Founded in 1826, the house of Guerlain was bought four years ago by the world's biggest luxury group LVMH, whose chairman Bernard Arnault personally had to persuade him to stay on.
    Last edited by pluran; 25th May 2020 at 09:05 PM.

  2. #2
    Dependent magnus611's Avatar
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    Jul 2013

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article 2001

    Great share, Thx for taking your time to post it
    "Thank GOD for the nose, for without it we would not be enjoying these beautiful created Scents" also Remember "Balance is everything and the key to appreciating "

  3. #3
    Basenotes Institution
    sjg3839's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Thanks for posting the article.
    <div class="bnsotd"><b>Currently wearing:</b> <a href="ID26148387.html"><img src=""> Carven L'Eau Intense by Carven</a></div>

  4. #4

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Merci beaucoup
    “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
    ― Isaac Asimov

  5. #5
    hednic's Avatar
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    Reside in McLean, Va., Manhattan NYC, Manuel Antonio Costa Rica & Búzios Brasil

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Very insightful.
    Remember that while it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the content of a post - criticizing the poster is not.
    Mean spirited, nasty, snide, sarcastic, hateful, and rude individuals on Basenotes don't warrant or deserve my or other Basenoters' acknowledgement or respect.

  6. #6
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    JON RODGERS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Fascinating read - thanks for sharing

  7. #7
    Basenotes Junkie sunny82's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Loved this. Thank you for sharing.
    “Let the beauty we love, be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” -Rumi

  8. #8
    Basenotes Institution pluran's Avatar
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    Mar 2006

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article - Interesting Stuff

    Thanks. It's rare to read much about the great perfumers. Hard to believe he made Vetiver at only eighteen years old. I read elsewhere that he considers vintage Apres l'Ondee the best thing Jacques ever made.
    Last edited by pluran; 20th July 2014 at 11:58 PM.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    Reviving the thread as I enjoyed the article and thought others here might too.
    Currently wearing: Tiffany for Men by Tiffany

  10. #10

    Default Re: Jean Paul Guerlain Article

    A belated thanks, having finally read this article after quite a while.

    Enjoying all his fragrances did test and/or own so far and also simply having liked to read any articles and info about him did happen to come across, always a wonderful occasion if and when having the chance to still find out more.

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