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  1. #1
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    Lightbulb Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    After sampling a good portion of both houses, I came to some conclusions about them, and thought I would share my finding with everyone to get a little conversation going.

    The Gist: Guerlain and Caron are both some of the finest examples of French perfumes from the golden period of La Belle Époque up through to the mid 20th century, even if Caron wasn't around for most of the former since it didn't open its doors until 1904. Both houses have vastly different approaches to making perfume, yet made perfumes that were often very comparable and stood shoulder to shoulder. Some might say there is a bit of Pepsi Vs Coke analogy between them since both have very loyal fans that sometimes won't wear anything else, yet these brands have had completely different fates over time. When you look at the differences in the way head perfumer Jacques Guerlain composed his timeless classics versus the way Ernest Daltroff of Caron composed his, you can maybe start to see why.

    The Breakdown

    Guerlain: Jacques Guerlain seemed to borrow a lot of methodology from his uncle Aimé Guerlain, incorporating a lot of the newest developments in aromachemistry with traditional perfume academia, and making very complex perfumes with a signature house accord made of a blitzkrieg of notes so blended as to make them impossible to decipher. When certain notes are allowed to surface away from the "whole" of the perfume, they still tend to join hands with other notes and never overtake. The perfect example of this is how vanillin and iris play huge roles in Shalimar, yet they don't become the whole of Shalimar itself, which is still a very complex and blended fragrance with many facets. Jacques Guerlain had more structure to his perfumes than his uncle, with noticeable openings, heart phases, and distinct dry downs, but from start to finish, a Guerlain perfume smells like itself, and not just a combination of this and that, with each part neatly separated and trading places as your nose catches them like other perfumes can do.

    Caron: Ernest Daltroff neither studied chemistry, took courses in perfumery under another perfumer, nor knew or believed in any rules to making perfume. He was completely self-taught via trial and error, and developed a singular style which ruffled some feathers then, but would later go on to introduce the idea of perfumes being audacious with bold strokes. He would create these bold strokes by pitting notes against one another like in Caron Tabac Blonde or N'Aimez que Moi, or just build around a few starring notes like he did with Narcisse Noir and Pour un Homme. Whether duking it out in contrast or forming a sort of olfactive a capella, these singular notes would exist above the rest of the composition but also in harmony with it, making Caron perfumes deceptively subtle despite the broad strokes, and beautiful in their elegant simplicity. Obviously the perfumes were still very carefully and exactingly blended, there were just less pieces to the puzzle overall, making notes sometimes feel more sheer for that reason.

    The Test of Time

    Here's the tricky part, since you might be lead to believe that simpler perfumes with notes that stand out more might have aged better in the long run, because many modern niche or luxury perfumes also follow Caron's formula for one-two punches or accords with recognizable ingredients, but reformulation has had drastically different effects to both these houses. You see, modern perfume is also deceptively subtle like Caron despite being more descended from the way Jacques Guerlain made perfumes, since a wide array of aromachemicals and naturals are used like the latter despite being used to create those 6 or so notes you smell in a note pyramid, like the former, with one or two of those standing out as the focus. Guerlain perfumes have so many different notes and ingredients blended in such a way as to create a singular abstract accord that it's a lot easier to replace a natural with a new synthetic here, dial back a restricted ingredient there, and tug the thing back into some semblance of what it was since there is room left to play amongst the anonymity of the many ingredients.

    Caron perfumes have much tighter fitting parts as it were, creating gaping holes in them when you have to replace or reduce a material, and you can't so easily slap some "bondo" in them and finesse it back into form when there are less overall things at work. People always argue about the validity of reformulations but the very simplicity of Daltroff's broad stroke design has been the house's undoing in reformulation, because if a perfume relied heavily on real sandalwood or something like that for a big part of its signature smell, any replacement short of perfect replication on a molecular level is going to impart noticeable change. Sorry baby, but we're not living on the USS Enterprise. Of course there's the elephant in the room of Guerlain having all of LVMH backing it with capital to spend stupid sums of money on R&D to keep Mitsouko alive and well, while Caron had the stewardship of one well-meaning Félicie Wanpouille then the under-funded Richard Fraysse who has lived and breathed creative control for Caron so long he's taken several creative liberties with his reforms (including removing the civet completely from Pour un Homme).

    Guerlain isn't free from ill-received press regarding the preservation efforts of its classics, as there was a period when a noticeable dive in quality was detected in some, just as with Caron there is a general sense that their men's catalog has held up relatively well over the decades, but the test of time is otherwise pretty clear. People still talk about classic Guerlains, even young people curious about antique styles, and the consensus is it's pretty safe for new folks to save cash on expensive vintages and just sample a new bottle of L'Heure Bleue and the like first. Caron barely gets a blip outside of its men's range, all of which outside Pour un Homme was made after Daltroff's death anyway and thus technically isn't in his style (even if The Third Man gets close), with more talk of house closure scares or discontinuations abounding than anything constructive about the perfumes themselves. Absolutely nobody talks about modern Caron creations, while many modern Guerlains (or modern-ish if you count Jean-Paul's stuff) gets plenty of love all over the place, and similar worship to the golden era stuff.

    Conclusion: Guerlain and Caron are both fantastic houses with the literal roadmap to the evolution of Western perfumes written in their very catalogs. Guerlain brought advancement of the state of the art in ways nobody had before or arguably since, while Caron has this almost musical "compose by nose" approach with simple designs that the elegance of which presaged the era of more aesthetically-fundamental perfume designs we now take for granted in niche perfume by just about a century. Maybe no amount of research or funding could save perfumes that relied so much more on the integrity of the formula than the general "whole" of the design, and they do admittedly come across a bit plain for it at the worst of times, but it's a bit sad when I smell a classic Caron and wonder how close it was to the original, while when I smell a Guerlain from relatively the same period, I still get that good old "Guerlinade" feeling and don't have to wonder so much.

    What are your thoughts on Guerlain? On Caron? The signature style of each house? How do you think they compare and how do you think they've head up over the past 100 years or so?
    Last edited by Zealot Crusader; 24th October 2020 at 12:23 PM.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Which Extraits do you own or have you sampled? I find these houses completely different in style or even direction. And your post is so accurate overall that I should not add anything about your general thoughts. Maybe we could disscuss, part by part, about specific works, even from Wasser and Fraysse eras (I love Habit Rouge Extrait and Le Troisième Homme), or reformulations in both cases.

    20s Acaciosa, 30s Fleurs de Rocaille, 40s Farnesiana (by Michel Morsetti): those are the old Caron summits for me, although I find all early works from this house pieces of art and absolute masterpieces. I agree: they all have music, a rhythm, a «tempo» inside each note.

    On the other hand, Guerlain is a world inside the world of perfumery and it has a certain status due to all the doors and paths opened by Jacques Guerlain for the upcoming generations. Its diamonds are for me Bouquet de Faunes, Tsao-Ko, Vetiver Extrait (the original form of this legendary fragrance, with a semi-private background), Jasmiralda and, of course, 10s to 50s Mitsouko Extrait. In other concentrations, I’d say Eau de Cologne Russe ‘Double Imperial’ and vintage Derby, the most perfect chypre of all time if you ask me.

    Excellent post.

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Wonderful post, thank you.

    As far as I’m concerned, Guerlain (through LVMH) can produce whatever they want in attempt to gain commercial success, as long as they keep looking after, and stocking, their heritage (no pun intended) fragrances. Happily, it seems that Thierry Wasser takes that role very seriously.
    Perhaps they could even go one stage further and start marketing those classics towards a new generation. Contrary to what Guerlain probably hears from focus groups and market surveys, I always find that friends and colleagues are fascinated by Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Habit Rouge etc.

    I only really know the men’s Caron fragrances that are still in production. The Third Man and Pour un Homme are wonderful, but I don’t think Yatagan has been treated well by reformulation.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Splendid analysis, ZC. Nothing I could contribute would be on the same level.

    For my own part, I gravitate more towards the aesthetics of Guerlain than Caron. Even the much-celebrated Third Man couldn't quite stir my heartstrings; I found that it was still nice in current formulation (it didn't feel gutted by budget cuts to me) but felt that there were much more satisfying options available in the same style.

    The only Caron I own, and intend to own, is Caron PUH Sport, which is hardly one of the Caron classics. It has the best ambergris base you'll find outside of the luxury tier.

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    I think you summarized things well. One house has survived well, the other unfortunately it's victim of reformulations and decline in quality (on the female side).

    Hard to know exactly how they were marketed, but I have the impression that Caron, at least at some point, tried to position itself as more upscale than Guerlain. The fountain thing, the fancy powder puffs and boxes, and so on. In any case, it was never able to grow as much as Guerlain was doing.

    cacio

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Love both houses equally and count many of both houses in my collection.
    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.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by Sinkinggrade View Post
    Which Extraits do you own or have you sampled? I find these houses completely different in style or even direction. And your post is so accurate overall that I should not add anything about your general thoughts. Maybe we could disscuss, part by part, about specific works, even from Wasser and Fraysse eras (I love Habit Rouge Extrait and Le Troisième Homme), or reformulations in both cases.

    20s Acaciosa, 30s Fleurs de Rocaille, 40s Farnesiana (by Michel Morsetti): those are the old Caron summits for me, although I find all early works from this house pieces of art and absolute masterpieces. I agree: they all have music, a rhythm, a «tempo» inside each note.

    On the other hand, Guerlain is a world inside the world of perfumery and it has a certain status due to all the doors and paths opened by Jacques Guerlain for the upcoming generations. Its diamonds are for me Bouquet de Faunes, Tsao-Ko, Vetiver Extrait (the original form of this legendary fragrance, with a semi-private background), Jasmiralda and, of course, 10s to 50s Mitsouko Extrait. In other concentrations, I’d say Eau de Cologne Russe ‘Double Imperial’ and vintage Derby, the most perfect chypre of all time if you ask me.

    Excellent post.
    I haven't smelled any of the long-dead Guerlains like Jasmiralda or Sous le Vent because at least for me, $300+ for a 2 to 3 ml sample is completely out of the question. Not trying to make a political conversation of it, but antique discontinued Guerlains are basically a one-percenter's game, like collecting and displaying cars in the Pebble Beach Concours et al. Too rich for my blood.

    I've only been fortunate to sample antique versions of things still in production via sample from generous friends here, like old Mitsouko, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit, L'Heure Bleue, Apres L'Ondee, and so forth, plus some vintage JP-era Guerlain things like Samsara, Jardins de Bagatelle, and the various mid-century masculines like Vetiver and all that. Stuff that I'm guessing wasn't too precious to part with (thanks btw guys, you're amazing <3)

    Djedi and Tsa-Ko are unobtanium for me but I don't think knowing them is required to reach the conclusions that I have at this point.

    Glad you you found my post illuminating though!

    It took several years of being "on the nose" with vintage and current from both houses to reach this conclusion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tilt View Post
    Wonderful post, thank you.

    As far as I’m concerned, Guerlain (through LVMH) can produce whatever they want in attempt to gain commercial success, as long as they keep looking after, and stocking, their heritage (no pun intended) fragrances. Happily, it seems that Thierry Wasser takes that role very seriously.
    Perhaps they could even go one stage further and start marketing those classics towards a new generation. Contrary to what Guerlain probably hears from focus groups and market surveys, I always find that friends and colleagues are fascinated by Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Habit Rouge etc.

    I only really know the men’s Caron fragrances that are still in production. The Third Man and Pour un Homme are wonderful, but I don’t think Yatagan has been treated well by reformulation.
    Yatagan smells the same in the white label to my vintage red/white labels, just nowhere near as strong. I think they lopped off a lot of the castoreum to "scrub" the scent for more-modern noses just like Chanel successively did over the years to Antaeus, then dumped in some white musk to fill the void, so it smells 85% the same, but doesn't have the same deep leather dry down that it should.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brooks Otterlake View Post
    Splendid analysis, ZC. Nothing I could contribute would be on the same level.

    For my own part, I gravitate more towards the aesthetics of Guerlain than Caron. Even the much-celebrated Third Man couldn't quite stir my heartstrings; I found that it was still nice in current formulation (it didn't feel gutted by budget cuts to me) but felt that there were much more satisfying options available in the same style.

    The only Caron I own, and intend to own, is Caron PUH Sport, which is hardly one of the Caron classics. It has the best ambergris base you'll find outside of the luxury tier.
    You have me quite curious now.

    Quote Originally Posted by cacio View Post
    I think you summarized things well. One house has survived well, the other unfortunately it's victim of reformulations and decline in quality (on the female side).

    Hard to know exactly how they were marketed, but I have the impression that Caron, at least at some point, tried to position itself as more upscale than Guerlain. The fountain thing, the fancy powder puffs and boxes, and so on. In any case, it was never able to grow as much as Guerlain was doing.

    cacio
    I think Caron as a whole botched the exclusivity angle by not really advertising at all and expecting people to know who they are after a half-century of being irrelevant. Using the fountains to force people into refilling their classics from them, making pretty much only extrait forms available in the original bottle designs at retail for exorbitant prices outside the boutique, and all that doesn't work when you don't have people desiring your stuff. Guerlain has always had levels of more ubiquitous fare in outside distribution and more exclusive lines for the hardcore or higher-spending fans in their boutiques.

    Besides, unless you're a millionaire or a devotee, you're not flying all the way out to Paris just for some Nuit de Noel eau de parfum from a pretty fountain, and I can't speak for everyone but even ultra-tier brands like Creed and Roja Dove had moved past boutique-only thinking into setting up counters in other stores like Neiman Marcus (RIP), Bergdorf Goodman, or your larger Nordstrom location, or at very least allowing distribution to independent shops. My local shop only has old Caron inventory from 2 owners before current, which is how I tested most of these vintages.

    Quote Originally Posted by hednic View Post
    Love both houses equally and count many of both houses in my collection.
    If you were hard-pressed to choose one over the other, which would it be?
    Last edited by Zealot Crusader; 25th October 2020 at 05:42 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Fascinating read! Great analysis. The modern fomulations of the classic Guerlains are in pretty good shape as of right now, which definitely cannot be said of the modern versions of the classic Caron feminines imo. Really makes you wonder what caused this.

    Another great battle would be... Coty vs. Guerlain!

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    I have the sense—perhaps without adequate foundation—that Guerlain has poured considerably greater resources into the maintenance of its catalog than has Caron. Neither has suffered the ravages of time (and the EU's restrictions) unscathed, but if one were to put current iterations of Mitsouko and Tabac Blond up against their respective progenitors, and then against each other, one would be hard pressed to argue in favor of Caron. Ah, but once upon a time…
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Thank you for this article. In your opinion, are there any current versions of female Carons worth getting?

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Thanks ZC.

    Both were great. Neither are what they used to be. Guerlain is sill good. Caron not so much.

    Edit: I bought the most recent version of Mouchoir de Monsieur (not my pic) a few months ago. It was sad and weak. Returned it. Yatagan (same 10-15 year old style red and white box, but white part flat, no vertical ridges down the white part) was also disappointing - made a lot of noise, but any sign of softer, plusher ingredients was gone. Sprayed a slightly older bottle and everything was back to normal. The Tabac Blond I smelled a few years ago was ok but boring. Not the hugely rich and complex mind-altering thing it was, not a drop of anything phenolic, but lots of something that smelled like cedar and iris. It was less sweet, though.

    Sad.
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    Last edited by pluran; 25th October 2020 at 01:32 PM.
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by ZhangFan View Post
    Thank you for this article. In your opinion, are there any current versions of female Carons worth getting?
    The Fraysse-era stuff has held up well, and who knows if new house perfumer Jean Jacques will do a better job being steward of the old Daltroff catalog?
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Wonderful article ZC!

    I have always been more naturally inclined towards Guerlain - maybe because I fell head-over-heels for Shalimar and then it was easy to believe that I'd fall for more from the same house/perfumer/style (which DID happen).

    Caron I have been impressed by (most of them vintage + most of the feminines, the Extraits): Pour Homme, Tabac Blond, Yatagan, Bain de Champagne, Narcisse Noir, Poivre and Nuit de Noel. The rest never did it for me...alas, I do have some fonds that a BN member sent me. He thinks that he obtained them from someone who worked for years @ Caron and they're basically syrupy bases that were used to make fragrances or body products and they epitomize the 'smell of Caron' to me. I pull them out ever so often (when I am in the mood), put a tiny amount in my palm (similar to how I apply Attars or ouds) and mix them with fragrance free body lotion and BAM it's 1920 and there's wigs and powder and florals all around me. Think of the smell of Nivea cream (the original) but more intense. A whiff of that bitter almond. Benzoin and probably labdanum. But polished and structured. So...I guess on some level I enjoy Caron.

    I didn't know Caron Pour un Homme Sport had a great ambergris base. Noted!
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by mikeperez23 View Post
    I didn't know Caron Pour un Homme Sport had a great ambergris base. Noted!
    Yes, it's really lovely.

    The ad copy claims that it utilized natural ambergris, and it indeed smells like the real deal: organic, salty, and ethereal. It adds a wonderful uplift to the lavender-vanilla DNA taken from the original.

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Great, detailed post, ZC. Always happy to have the opportunity to discuss classic perfumery!

    I have deep affection for my vintage perfumes from both houses, and I wear all of them often.

    Without dwelling on the details, the classic perfumes of Guerlain and Caron demonstrate the effect of different ways of doing business. Guerlain was run by the family from 1828 to 1994. Under LMVH, Thierry Wasser has been a good steward of the brand and the historic perfumes, Meanwhile, Parfums Caron was managed from 1904 to 1962 by its founder Ernest Daltroff and partner Félicité Wanpouille and then passed through a succession of, by my count, five different corporate hands. Many of them did not seem to have been especially concerned about protecting the legacy of the Caron perfumes. Hope springs eternal, of course.

    I will have to disagree with the proposed general thesis that Guerlain perfumes are more complex than Caron perfumes overall. This argument might be more applicable to the traditionally masculine scents from the houses, but not to the feminine ones, I think. Vintage Bellodgia, Tabac Blond, Nuit de Noel, Fleurs de Rocaille, Narcisse Noir, Alpona et. al. have as many layers and subtleties as my vintage Guerlains. I might even go so far as to say that the vintage Caron feminine compositions provide more delicate effects and nuanced transitions than some of my vintage Guerlains. (Never, never forget the immortal words of Turin’s landlady: Guerlain for cocottes, Caron for countesses!) Guerlain masculine scents such as Habit Rouge and Derby definitely seem more ornate and formal to me than Caron’s Pour Une Homme and its variants, but I thought vintage Yatagan was an extraordinarily detailed and absolutely fascinating composition...

    We should probably acknowledge Daltroff’s and Guerlain’s use of many complex vintage perfume bases, such as De Laire’s famous Mousse de Saxe as well as Iriseine and others, which allowed them to create their elaborate compositions, which feel so decidedly different from so many of the almost simplistic perfumes being made today (add topnotes X and Y to generic WAC basenotes and stir…).

    As a confirmed vintager, I am confident buying any pre-1994 Guerlain and any pre-1962 Caron if the bottle is in good condition. I know the experience will be worthwhile. After those dates, I use caution buying any of the classic perfumes from either house, with feminine Carons being especially uneven in the 1980’s-90’s. A Narcisse Noir EDT from that period was unrecognizable and, to me, unwearable. Parfum Sacre (1991) was a wonderful return to Caron’s former glory, but I still prefer the original EDP to the later versions. I also quite like Aimez Moi (1996). I have tested fairly current EDT’s of Apres L’Ondee and Vol de Nuit and EDP’s of Nahema and Chamade, and unfortunately, they feel very different from older versions. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with my 2000 L’Heure Bleue EDT and a 2012 Mitsouko parfum, which compare very well to much older bottles that I own. In short, I don’t think a deep vintage dive is as necessary with Guerlain as it is with Caron, but I will always look for older bottles, in the original, diverse packaging instead of the current generic bee bottles (I’m not a fan).
    Currently wearing: Parfum de Peau by Montana

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by grayspoole View Post
    Great, detailed post, ZC. Always happy to have the opportunity to discuss classic perfumery!

    I have deep affection for my vintage perfumes from both houses, and I wear all of them often.

    Without dwelling on the details, the classic perfumes of Guerlain and Caron demonstrate the effect of different ways of doing business. Guerlain was run by the family from 1828 to 1994. Under LMVH, Thierry Wasser has been a good steward of the brand and the historic perfumes, Meanwhile, Parfums Caron was managed from 1904 to 1962 by its founder Ernest Daltroff and partner Félicité Wanpouille and then passed through a succession of, by my count, five different corporate hands. Many of them did not seem to have been especially concerned about protecting the legacy of the Caron perfumes. Hope springs eternal, of course.

    I will have to disagree with the proposed general thesis that Guerlain perfumes are more complex than Caron perfumes overall. This argument might be more applicable to the traditionally masculine scents from the houses, but not to the feminine ones, I think. Vintage Bellodgia, Tabac Blond, Nuit de Noel, Fleurs de Rocaille, Narcisse Noir, Alpona et. al. have as many layers and subtleties as my vintage Guerlains. I might even go so far as to say that the vintage Caron feminine compositions provide more delicate effects and nuanced transitions than some of my vintage Guerlains. (Never, never forget the immortal words of Turin’s landlady: Guerlain for cocottes, Caron for countesses!) Guerlain masculine scents such as Habit Rouge and Derby definitely seem more ornate and formal to me than Caron’s Pour Une Homme and its variants, but I thought vintage Yatagan was an extraordinarily detailed and absolutely fascinating composition...

    We should probably acknowledge Daltroff’s and Guerlain’s use of many complex vintage perfume bases, such as De Laire’s famous Mousse de Saxe as well as Iriseine and others, which allowed them to create their elaborate compositions, which feel so decidedly different from so many of the almost simplistic perfumes being made today (add topnotes X and Y to generic WAC basenotes and stir…).

    As a confirmed vintager, I am confident buying any pre-1994 Guerlain and any pre-1962 Caron if the bottle is in good condition. I know the experience will be worthwhile. After those dates, I use caution buying any of the classic perfumes from either house, with feminine Carons being especially uneven in the 1980’s-90’s. A Narcisse Noir EDT from that period was unrecognizable and, to me, unwearable. Parfum Sacre (1991) was a wonderful return to Caron’s former glory, but I still prefer the original EDP to the later versions. I also quite like Aimez Moi (1996). I have tested fairly current EDT’s of Apres L’Ondee and Vol de Nuit and EDP’s of Nahema and Chamade, and unfortunately, they feel very different from older versions. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with my 2000 L’Heure Bleue EDT and a 2012 Mitsouko parfum, which compare very well to much older bottles that I own. In short, I don’t think a deep vintage dive is as necessary with Guerlain as it is with Caron, but I will always look for older bottles, in the original, diverse packaging instead of the current generic bee bottles (I’m not a fan).
    Wonderful and detailed summation. (Vintage Tabac Blond and Nuit de Noel are absolute beauties!)
    Currently wearing: Tabac Blond by Caron

  17. #17

    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    From a personal and non specialist viewpoint alone: considering that both houses have enough masterpieces to keep both the fragrance enthusiast and not so fragrance aficionado communities, customers, reviewers/critics etc. fascinated, interested and satisfied enough.
    Unless of course market pressures or any other upcoming context prompt sever discontinuations among both houses, as well as relegate their best scents to pricey and often sketchy markets like Ebay.

    Having said this, hoping at least if not considering that both houses have not said their last word yet and that they continue with everything/anything what they do best: Guerlain with their trademark Guerlinade and/or in quite close connection this, their mastery of lavender, animalic, exotic spice/gourmand notes.
    While Caron with a certain flagship Provencale/Meditereanean freshness that made quite a few everyday male and/or unisex choices respectable and/or socially acceptable among the very first times in (fragrance) history.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    I don't compare the two houses, as each is distinctive in style and composition; that said, Turin's landlady was pretty much spot on in her general assessment - Guerlain for cocottes, Caron for countesses (thank you for providing that wonderful quote, grayspoole). Vintage Guerlain fragrances tend to be elegant, with surprises and unexpected flashes of provocation, even humor, between their layers of development, whereas Carons are stately, quieter, full of whispers and hints, eliciting the most and best from their ingredients. Good vintage bottles from both houses are incomparable, better (to me) than vintage Chanel. Caron extraits from the 40's-to-60s are divine, but they suffered terribly after mid-1980; the house's legacy was not honored in the same way that Guerlain's was, when the latter was still run by the family. Of the two houses, I think there's no question that current Guerlains, while lacking the nuances of vintage, have fared far better overall than the Carons.

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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by grayspoole View Post
    I will have to disagree with the proposed general thesis that Guerlain perfumes are more complex than Caron perfumes overall. This argument might be more applicable to the traditionally masculine scents from the houses, but not to the feminine ones, I think.
    Caron under Ernest Daltroff didn't have any specifically masculine scents apart from Pour un Homme. Yatagan, Le 3ème Homme, L'Anarachiste, et al. weren't launched until well after Daltroff's tenure ended, and, as you've observed, none of those are simple. For that matter, Guerlain didn't issue much of anything "traditionally masculine" between Mouchoir de Monsieur and J-PG's Vétiver: Jacques G. was apparently even less interested in masculines than Daltroff.

    So—beyond a head-to-head between Mouchoir de Monsieur and Pour un Homme—if we're comparing masculines warranting preservation, we're talking about the mid-to-late 20th century. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's a much shorter history. Regarding feminines, I absolutely agree with you: vintage Caron fragrances are different from, but not categorically simpler than, vintage Guerlains. I would argue that Guerlain's "golden age" feminines were more consistent, but Caron's best were as worthy as anything. Would that Tabac Blond had been as lovingly and painstakingly maintained as Mitsouko.
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by mikeperez23 View Post
    Wonderful article ZC!

    I have always been more naturally inclined towards Guerlain - maybe because I fell head-over-heels for Shalimar and then it was easy to believe that I'd fall for more from the same house/perfumer/style (which DID happen).

    Caron I have been impressed by (most of them vintage + most of the feminines, the Extraits): Pour Homme, Tabac Blond, Yatagan, Bain de Champagne, Narcisse Noir, Poivre and Nuit de Noel. The rest never did it for me...alas, I do have some fonds that a BN member sent me. He thinks that he obtained them from someone who worked for years @ Caron and they're basically syrupy bases that were used to make fragrances or body products and they epitomize the 'smell of Caron' to me. I pull them out ever so often (when I am in the mood), put a tiny amount in my palm (similar to how I apply Attars or ouds) and mix them with fragrance free body lotion and BAM it's 1920 and there's wigs and powder and florals all around me. Think of the smell of Nivea cream (the original) but more intense. A whiff of that bitter almond. Benzoin and probably labdanum. But polished and structured. So...I guess on some level I enjoy Caron.

    I didn't know Caron Pour un Homme Sport had a great ambergris base. Noted!
    I agree that Caron shined on the strength of it's materials, which I think is the overall style of Daltroff, while Guerlain focused more on have 2 dozen things seamlessly interwoven, which is also nice in a different sort of way.

    Quote Originally Posted by grayspoole View Post
    Great, detailed post, ZC. Always happy to have the opportunity to discuss classic perfumery!

    I have deep affection for my vintage perfumes from both houses, and I wear all of them often.

    Without dwelling on the details, the classic perfumes of Guerlain and Caron demonstrate the effect of different ways of doing business. Guerlain was run by the family from 1828 to 1994. Under LMVH, Thierry Wasser has been a good steward of the brand and the historic perfumes, Meanwhile, Parfums Caron was managed from 1904 to 1962 by its founder Ernest Daltroff and partner Félicité Wanpouille and then passed through a succession of, by my count, five different corporate hands. Many of them did not seem to have been especially concerned about protecting the legacy of the Caron perfumes. Hope springs eternal, of course.

    I will have to disagree with the proposed general thesis that Guerlain perfumes are more complex than Caron perfumes overall. This argument might be more applicable to the traditionally masculine scents from the houses, but not to the feminine ones, I think. Vintage Bellodgia, Tabac Blond, Nuit de Noel, Fleurs de Rocaille, Narcisse Noir, Alpona et. al. have as many layers and subtleties as my vintage Guerlains. I might even go so far as to say that the vintage Caron feminine compositions provide more delicate effects and nuanced transitions than some of my vintage Guerlains. (Never, never forget the immortal words of Turin’s landlady: Guerlain for cocottes, Caron for countesses!) Guerlain masculine scents such as Habit Rouge and Derby definitely seem more ornate and formal to me than Caron’s Pour Une Homme and its variants, but I thought vintage Yatagan was an extraordinarily detailed and absolutely fascinating composition...


    We should probably acknowledge Daltroff’s and Guerlain’s use of many complex vintage perfume bases, such as De Laire’s famous Mousse de Saxe as well as Iriseine and others, which allowed them to create their elaborate compositions, which feel so decidedly different from so many of the almost simplistic perfumes being made today (add topnotes X and Y to generic WAC basenotes and stir…).

    By complexity I meant the overall formula, not necessarily the sophistication of the scent itself, the nuances therein, or the way the materials played on each other. In the latter most facet, Caron trumps Guerlain because the notes deliberately form synergies with each other and that interplay creates many of the nuances and delicate effects you see. Conversely, Guerlain perfumes to me feel like they have 101 ingredients but more often than not end up smelling like one "blob" of scent, not to be reductive or anything (because I love that blob, be it a Shalimar blob or a Mitousko blob").

    This isn't to say there also aren't facets and nuance to Guerlain perfumes, because there are, but they're not always thrust out into the spot light like Caron perfumes tend to be, which I think was part of the audacious broad stroke thing historians (and Caron themselves) talk about. For me this interplay between notes and individual filigrees form the hallmark of the Caron style, while the extremely blended opacity and abstraction of the accords themselves form the hallmark Guerlain style, the "Guerlinade" house note perfume-within-a-perfume itself being an example of that.

    Also you're right about pre-made bases, which were effectively the early 20th century equivalent to today's "patent captives" offered by flavorant/odorant giants like Givaudan/Firmenich. Perfume houses didn't want to put in the leg work for original bases for each and every perfume they made, especially when sometimes multiple perfumes were meant to have a "fougere" base or "chypre" base et al, so they went to these early chemists who produced exactly that. I guess with many of those old firms (like Roure or De Laire) taking their formulas to the grave when they were bought or closed down, part of the vibe found in the original formulations of both houses is lost forever.

    As a confirmed vintager, I am confident buying any pre-1994 Guerlain and any pre-1962 Caron if the bottle is in good condition. I know the experience will be worthwhile. After those dates, I use caution buying any of the classic perfumes from either house, with feminine Carons being especially uneven in the 1980’s-90’s. A Narcisse Noir EDT from that period was unrecognizable and, to me, unwearable. Parfum Sacre (1991) was a wonderful return to Caron’s former glory, but I still prefer the original EDP to the later versions. I also quite like Aimez Moi (1996). I have tested fairly current EDT’s of Apres L’Ondee and Vol de Nuit and EDP’s of Nahema and Chamade, and unfortunately, they feel very different from older versions. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with my 2000 L’Heure Bleue EDT and a 2012 Mitsouko parfum, which compare very well to much older bottles that I own. In short, I don’t think a deep vintage dive is as necessary with Guerlain as it is with Caron, but I will always look for older bottles, in the original, diverse packaging instead of the current generic bee bottles (I’m not a fan).
    I was graced by being able to raid a closet full of partial testers and display bottles my local niche shop has, since the owner has no interest in the headache of eBay sales for partial vintages and whatnot, since they make their money with modern niche brands a la Amouage, MFK, and the like, so a lot of the old Carons (and in some cases also later bottles of the same Carons) I've reviewed came from these bottles. They have a huge hodge podge of stuff, some of which if it was full enough, I've offered to buy and add to my collection, which has accounted for some of my vintage acquisitions as of late. Unfortunately they still stock Guerlain (actually fortunately because few others do), so there isn't a surplus of lingered Guerlain vintages for me to sample, but I was able to smell an old launch bottle of Samsara for my review, which is nice. As for the bee bottles, I admit I like them, but only because nobody else is doing ornate bottles like that, and I get tired of a cabinet full of smooth rectangles!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken_Russell View Post
    From a personal and non specialist viewpoint alone: considering that both houses have enough masterpieces to keep both the fragrance enthusiast and not so fragrance aficionado communities, customers, reviewers/critics etc. fascinated, interested and satisfied enough.
    Unless of course market pressures or any other upcoming context prompt sever discontinuations among both houses, as well as relegate their best scents to pricey and often sketchy markets like Ebay.

    Having said this, hoping at least if not considering that both houses have not said their last word yet and that they continue with everything/anything what they do best: Guerlain with their trademark Guerlinade and/or in quite close connection this, their mastery of lavender, animalic, exotic spice/gourmand notes.
    While Caron with a certain flagship Provencale/Meditereanean freshness that made quite a few everyday male and/or unisex choices respectable and/or socially acceptable among the very first times in (fragrance) history.
    I think the day Guerlain discontinues its biggest flagship classics is the day Guerlain itself is written off as a brand (like nearly Caron these days).

    Quote Originally Posted by Bonnette View Post
    I don't compare the two houses, as each is distinctive in style and composition; that said, Turin's landlady was pretty much spot on in her general assessment - Guerlain for cocottes, Caron for countesses (thank you for providing that wonderful quote, grayspoole). Vintage Guerlain fragrances tend to be elegant, with surprises and unexpected flashes of provocation, even humor, between their layers of development, whereas Carons are stately, quieter, full of whispers and hints, eliciting the most and best from their ingredients. Good vintage bottles from both houses are incomparable, better (to me) than vintage Chanel. Caron extraits from the 40's-to-60s are divine, but they suffered terribly after mid-1980; the house's legacy was not honored in the same way that Guerlain's was, when the latter was still run by the family. Of the two houses, I think there's no question that current Guerlains, while lacking the nuances of vintage, have fared far better overall than the Carons.
    I typically don't compare (at least not objectively) house to house either, I just hear these two so often spoken of in the same breath that it felt a natural match-up, even if only just to stir some conjecture and share observations.

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    Caron under Ernest Daltroff didn't have any specifically masculine scents apart from Pour un Homme. Yatagan, Le 3ème Homme, L'Anarachiste, et al. weren't launched until well after Daltroff's tenure ended, and, as you've observed, none of those are simple. For that matter, Guerlain didn't issue much of anything "traditionally masculine" between Mouchoir de Monsieur and J-PG's Vétiver: Jacques G. was apparently even less interested in masculines than Daltroff.

    So—beyond a head-to-head between Mouchoir de Monsieur and Pour un Homme—if we're comparing masculines warranting preservation, we're talking about the mid-to-late 20th century. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's a much shorter history. Regarding feminines, I absolutely agree with you: vintage Caron fragrances are different from, but not categorically simpler than, vintage Guerlains. I would argue that Guerlain's "golden age" feminines were more consistent, but Caron's best were as worthy as anything. Would that Tabac Blond had been as lovingly and painstakingly maintained as Mitsouko.
    You pretty much hit the nail on the head with the masculines, and it should also be noted that Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904) was mostly a capitulation (someone must have twisted Jacques' arm) because Jicky (1889) was so popular with men at the turn of the century, that some holdouts wanted to wear it too but refused to wear anything also shared with women. Mouchour de Monsieur was literally a reaction to what we would now call toxic masculinity, otherwise I'm sure the answer would have remained "let them wear Jicky and piss off" if Jacques Guerlain would have gotten his way. Dandies of the day who could afford it often just wore whatever Guerlain they wanted, and Charlie Chaplin was famously fond of wearing Mitsouko.

    Again, as I said to Grayspoole, I think the idea here is simpler in construction, but not simpler in effect when you wear them, Less materials (if your discount pre-made bases), less notes, more standout notes, with more of a balancing act/interplay between what notes are there, versus the "Heinz 57" design of Jacques Guerlain where he'd pour entire other perfumes into perfumes and make new perfumes from that or just have so many things blended together it becomes impossible to make heads or tails of what's in there. Now we just chain together aromachemicals having long scientific names and with no natural origin into single compound materials and call them fun stuff like MiracleWood XYZ2 and make all the YouTubers scream about them in their videos on "the latest banger".
    Last edited by Zealot Crusader; 26th October 2020 at 06:25 AM.
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    I am one who also loves both houses equally.

    Guerlain those has always been far more accessable being in department stores which also sold their cosmetics. I remember going to two Guerlain events hosted by Roja Dove back in the day, we all wanted to know the fragrances stories and disscusions. But Guerlain insisted that Roja did a full makeup demo on a member of the audience and talk about their skin care as well first. I remember him saying that Guerlain sold more lipsticks than any of their fragrances worldwide. Yes, I was rather shocked. What I also remember is if the department store did not sell a particular classic at these events because Roja and the Guerlain team where there you were able to. That is I why able to get Apres L'Ondee, they send two bottles and I bought both.

    Caron, was always a strange bird here in the UK/Ireland so few places actually sold it. You had actually phone up Les Senteurs mainly to even try through sampling. I remember phoning Harrods(none of the Carons even on the website) to buy En Avion and being told they could not ship it to me as the courier could not cross water??? Now this was back well before royal mail cracked down on what could be shipped. That was how I started to phone the Caron boutique in Paris the New York boutique could not ship outside the US even back then. Caron also sell cosmetics but I have never seen it sold in the UK/Ireland.
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    Default Re: Guerlain Vs Caron and the Test of Time

    Despite the fact that they're both grandes dames of a certain age, it's very hard to compare the two houses imo.

    Caron has obviously languished since its glory days, and the endless takeovers and lack of direction are taking their toll. As others have mentioned, the marketing is close to non-existent, even in France; international distribution is very limited; and what few boutiques there are, with their ersatz gilt fittings and pink powder puffs, seem to me unlikely to appeal to the younger-minded consumer.

    Guerlain is almost the opposite: endless bus-stop ads with Angelina Jolie and skating black cutouts on tv as soon as Christmas heaves into view, and a well-documented slew of fun, sugary, shortlived flankers targeted at a younger audience. As long as they can use surplus cash to keep the classics available and in good form, that's OK with me, but even here I'm nervous about discontinuations. Guerlain has a tendency to shove anything that isn't working well into more 'exclusive' (read 'expensive') presentations, as I've heard is happening with Jicky edt, Après l'Ondée and who knows what else. Plus not all the classics are completely accurate reflections of what they once were: L'Heure Bleue is currently very pleasant, but there's no way you could confuse it with what it was pre-2000. Same for Vol de Nuit. Overall, however, Guerlain gives the impression of a house that's active and successful, even if the commercial rapaciousness at times verges on the outright vulgar.

    As far as the perfumes themselves are concerned, the old Guerlain compositions that have survived display a markedly different style from the old Carons. With Guerlain, whether this is down to the survival of the 'fittest' (that is to say, the continuing existence of those perfumes that are most suited, commercially speaking, to today's tastes), the result of progressive minute reformulations that have helped them keep in step with the times, or simply due to a house style that is more transparent and legible than Caron's, I couldn't say. Maybe a combination of all three. The quality of the old Carons is evident but the style is 'difficult': these are dense, opaque scents that don't reveal their magic easily. Guerlain has a huge back catalogue of compositions that have fallen by the wayside, of which at least some must be closer in style to the Carons, whereas I get the impression that the Caron catalogue has not evolved much since the times of Narcisse Noir and Alpona. (I'm willing to be corrected here.)




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