For five generations at Guerlain, woman has been a muse, through an interplay of olfactory connections, to create the very essence of seduction. A story of love and beauty spanning almost two centuries with over 850 perfumes created, since the day in 1828 that Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, a perfumer-chemist by profession, opened a boutique in Paris, on the ground floor of what would become the Hôtel Meurice, the residence of cosmopolitan high society.
The daring of a “new nose” in perfumery (or at the Imperial court!)
He had flair, along with a nose for business and the boldness to transform his convictions into successes. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain was born in Abbeville on 20 germinal, year VI of the French republican calendar, i.e. 3 April 1798, the youngest son of a Picardy family. His father, Louis-François, belonged to a well-off family whose earliest ancestors date back to the reign of Louis XIV and practised the profession of “spice merchant and pewterer, candlemaker”. The couple raised their children to have a sense of values and an appreciation of work well done. Louis-François knew that high standards of excellence, discipline and courage were key virtues, along with generosity, which he displayed through his charitable works towards society’s most underprivileged.
The young Pierre-François-Pascal clearly grasped the message but had barely any desire to start working alongside his father. Independent and freethinking, he wanted to embrace new ideas and above all take advantage of the free trade that was opening up new horizons. From his childhood, he remained fond of the “cradle of scents” that was the spice merchant’s shop. Come from distant lands, these scents carried his imagination to a world elsewhere whose outlines he traced in his dreams. This little boy, who was unruly but curious about everything, had had his senses awakened: he had touched spices, admired their different colours, smelt and tasted them.
At the age of 19, he set off on the road and was hired as an “assistant merchant and traveler” for the major perfume houses of the time. In 1818, he signed a contract with the House of Briard. His work consisted in presenting and selling the cosmetic products from this venerable Parisian house.
Bloom of Roses
Life on the ground and his meetings with clients allowed Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain to acquire a precise knowledge of the perfume world. He discovered the fashionable products, often imported from England, determined the demands of the clientele, became aware of the importance of exports as well as the meticulousness with which one had to meet orders, and ensure the quality of the products and the finishing on the packaging. He then realized how much standards often fell short and thought that he could do better. He had found his path, but he still needed a few years to prepare himself for it. Mastering knowledge became his goal and it was towards England that he turned. It was a country experiencing dazzling economic and industrial development that was significantly ahead of its European neighbours.
When he returned to Paris, anglomania was still all the rage and it was not long before he was welcoming in his shop on rue de Rivoli dandies and elegant ladies who had come to buy the famous Gowland’s Lotion for whitening the skin. Ladies came to him asking for Cold cream of roses to protect their skin against harsh climate elements, Crème de roses aux limaçons and Bloom of roses for the lips. His doctor father-in-law had taught him a few basics of dermatology, which Guerlain knew how to put to good use among his clientele, to whom he presented a great many toiletry products. One of them, created in 1830 based on benzoin and Bordeaux wine tannins, Baume de la Ferté, was designed to protect wet nurses’ breasts. This balm has had an exceptional destiny and is still available in the 21st century, but for restoring suppleness to the lips. In 1840, fashionable products bore the Guerlain signature and had names such as Crème de concombres, Serkis des Sultanes or Crème à la fraise pour le teint, which would maintain Empress Sissi of Austria’s beauty and radiance.
Title: A rosy complexion and a perfume for an evening
Captions: 1830, Lait de concombres
1830, Baume de la Ferté
A family Perfume House (or Legacy)
On the death of Pierre-François-Pascal in 1864, Guerlain’s remained under family control: his two sons Aimé and Gabriel shared the creative and managerial activities. The 1867 World’s Fair on the Champ de Mars was an opportunity for Guerlain to establish itself even more firmly as the top Parisian perfumer. The Crème Camphréa, presented in an adorable tin jar, camouflaged and treated blemishes. Ne m’oubliez pas was the very first bullet lipstick, a revolutionary technical invention at the time presented in a refillable case with a push slide.
Title: The good old days
In 1889, the World’s Fair once again celebrated French industry, of which perfumery was one of the shining lights. Guerlain symbolised French elegance and refinement. Gustave Eiffel constructed his famous tower and Aimé Guerlain created Jicky, having distinguished himself with beautiful compositions such as Fleurs d’Italie, Skine and Belle France. A bold new step that established an art of fragrance based on suggestion rather than reproduction. Jicky was thus seen as the first modern fragrance, blending a number of synthetic notes and natural ingredients, beautifully enhancing this fougère accord.
The House of Guerlain’s destiny rested on the shoulders of Aimé and Gabriel, who transferred the factory to Bécon-les-Bruyères in 1894. They had learnt the following lesson from their father: “Make good products, never compromise on quality. For the rest, have simple ideas and apply them to the letter”. Guerlain’s entire philosophy is based on this legacy, which provides fertile ground for the brand: the daring, quality and know-how that form the basis of expertise, an olfactory impression with a hint of spices and Eau de Cologne, an elegant and cosmopolitan clientele, luxury and the uniqueness of the compositions.
Captions: Formula books, 19th century / Jicky, 1889.
A perfume composer
Jacques Guerlain learnt from Aimé that a Guerlain fragrance resembles what it evokes or suggests. With Aimé, the uncle of whom he was so fond, Jacques – one of the greatest collectors of Impressionist painters – adapted Impressionist techniques to perfumery. From 1890 onwards, the date on which Ambre was created, Jacques became the sole figure at the perfume organ. His first compositions followed in the footsteps of Aimé’s perfumes: Gavotte, Belle France, Jardin de mon curé and Voilà pourquoi j’aimais Rosine. This perfume with the long and extravagant name was presented in its bottle of white narcissus at the 1900 World’s Fair, which remained the most popular and prestigious of events. Jacques Guerlain wanted to give it its fragrant trail. This perfume was just that, inspired by the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was at her height. Her image was everywhere: in the work of Lalique, Mucha and a host of artists. Her real name was Henriette-Rosine Bernard, a close friend of the Guerlain family and a true muse to Jacques.
The young perfumer would also imprint his perfumes with a secret seal, a unique sillage, composed largely of vanilla, along with balsams, bergamot, tonka bean and floral aromas such as iris, rose and jasmine. This guiding thread is known as the Guerlinade and is expressed in the House’s perfumes.
Title: A guiding thread by the name of the Guerlinade
While Pierre Guerlain took over the business side, Jacques dreamt up his fragrances. An opera enthusiast and lover of detective stories, he composed his creations like works that gradually revealed their mysteries. Mouchoir de Monsieur and Voilette de Madame, Bon vieux temps, Muguet, Rue de la Paix. Each fragrance was inspired by a story or a legend and led towards more or less distant lands. Women wore and gave themselves over to them. In 1906, Après l’Ondée gracefully and artfully evoked the damp undergrowth. In 1912, L’Heure Bleue was the last romantic gesture as well as a masterpiece of olfactory balance offered to his beloved wife, Lili. L’Heure Bleue blended powdery notes of iris and violet with the gourmand aromas of vanilla, white musk and carnation. Its bottle, one of the first in partnership with Jacques Chevalier at Baccarat, was inspired by Art Nouveau. Its commas cut into the glass were reminiscent of the curves of a woman’s shoulder. And its “upside-down heart” stopper evoked the sentimentalism of this early century period.
The catalogue was also enriched with beauty creams. As early as 1895, Crème Huvé de la Providence had claimed moisturising properties. In 1904, the cream Secret de bonne femme, whipped by hand to give a lighter texture, brought skincare into the modern age, claiming to provide “total” hydration. In 1914, the House of Guerlain opened at 68 Champs-Elysées, in the centre of this avenue that had just been inaugurated and was to become the most beautiful in the world. The building was built in 1914 by the architect Charles Mewès, to whom we also owe the Ritz hotel in Paris and the Carlton in London. The store’s decoration was entrusted to artists from Carrara and its walls comprised no fewer than seventeen different types of marble.
Caption: Poster, 1913
In 1919, Mitsouko expressed Europe’s collective enthusiasm for Far Eastern culture. The name of the fragrance echoed that of the heroine of Claude Farrère’s novel, La Bataille, which tells of the love of Mitsouko, the young wife of a Japanese admiral, for a young British naval attaché during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. This perfume, whose name means “mystery” in Japanese, was aimed at flappers in search of affirmation and emancipation.
The Shalimar gardens were home to their passion, immortalised by the Taj Mahal. Jacques Guerlain was fascinated by this legend. After many attempts to obtain the perfect accord, Shalimar was completed in 1921. Aphrodisiac vanilla gave a duality to this perfume with a strange and paradoxical harmony, both fresh and light yet also rich and sensual. The perfume was kept to create a splash and represent the House of Guerlain at the highly awaited International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in 1925. The bottle was designed by Raymond Guerlain and produced by Baccarat, with the desire to create a historic object, entirely removed from the dictates of fashion.
Shalimar revolutionised olfactory conventions with its perfect balance of sensuality, lightness, the creamy softness of vanilla and the powdery warmth of balsams. It remains a legendary scent that is one of the best-selling perfumes in the world today.
At the same time, another of Guerlain’s great success stories was born: La Poudre, c’est moi, echoing the phrase attributed to Louis XIV, “L’Etat, c’est moi” (I am the State). This king, a protector and lover of the arts, had chosen the star, Apollo’s emblem, as the sublimation of himself. The star adorned the box of this imperceptible powder and thus became a symbol of the House of Guerlain.
Caption: La Poudre, c’est moi, 1925
Véga was born in 1936. Corresponding to the name of a star, it celebrated modernism and the United States, the sparkling world of Hollywood stars. Cinema gave rise to a very sophisticated ideal of beauty that captured the light more effectively. Make-up then became an indispensable art for all women in the thirties, who did not leave the house without a hat and gloves or a made-up face. They were all begging for the famous creamy blush, Guerlain’s Scarlet, which was a huge success across the Atlantic. Their lips were outlined in red and Guerlain created Rouge automatique, which opened with a snap of the fingers, and Nouveau Rouge in a thousand shades. Women were now preoccupied with their body and the harmful effects of ageing on their face. The Front Populaire granted paid holidays for everyone, ushering in a new pleasure – tanning. A bronzed complexion became fashionable and Guerlain created a sunless tanning product Teint doré par le soleil, along with L’huile pour brunir and L’huile contre le soleil, not forgetting the surprising Crème de jour contre le soleil et les tâches de rousseur.
The House continued its business development and opened subsidiaries all over the world, as well as new Boutiques in Paris, such as the one in Place Vendôme in 1935. A spa also opened in 1939 on the Champs-Elysées, one of the very first in the world.
In 1954, Guerlain dedicated a revolutionary “indelible” lipstick to women – le Rouge G de Guerlain.
Caption: Le Figaro, 27 April 1939
The family chain of talent continued in 1955 when Jacques Guerlain created with his grandson Jean-Paul, aged 18 at the time, his final fragrance Ode, an Impressionist floral based on the two creators’ favourite ingredients: rose, jasmine and iris. At Guerlain, you are born a perfumer as much as you become one. It was by working on reproducing a daffodil, accomplished under his grandfather’s vigilant eye, that Jean-Paul would earn his stripes as a perfumer. He carried out his apprenticeship before picking up the torch of creating and supervising the quality of the raw materials. His passion pushed him towards natural essences, hunting down the best quality examples at the four corners of the globe. His first step was also to think of men, who had been rather neglected since Mouchoir de Monsieur in 1904 … In 1959, he created Vetiver, an elegant and distinguished, spicy woody fragrance, originally designed for the South American market.
Chant d’Arômes, in 1962, was an aldehyde floral bouquet with a hint of chypre, which took the form of that “island greener than any dreams”, praised in poetry by Saint-John Perse. In 1969, Chamade was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in homage to the eponymous novel by Françoise Sagan for a woman whose name remains unknown, although rumour has it that she was Brigitte Bardot…
Title: A wind of freedom
Women were going crazy for make-up, which had become their indispensable ally. To match the popular doe-eyed look, Guerlain invented two collections of eye shadows and colours. In 1967, Golden Cilpen mascara revolutionised the sector with its innovative and refillable formula. La Base de maquillage hydratante hydrated and protected the skin, while Matfilm created an even complexion without drying it out.
A gentle hunt
In 1965, Jean-Paul Guerlain dedicated Habit Rouge to men, the first oriental fragrance for men with accents of leather, wood and spices. This fragrance had the sillage of a rider dressed in red. These olfactory impressions were extremely familiar to Jean-Paul Guerlain, an excellent rider who had taken part in the world dressage championships in 1974. This now-legendary, finely balanced creation remains one of the gems in Guerlain’s male fragrance offering today.
In the service of beauty
At this point, cosmetics no longer simply made women look more beautiful, they enhanced their everyday life. In 1973, Guerlain acquired a new factory in Chartres. This was where the skincare and make-up ranges were formulated, manufactured and tested. In 1980, Issima was at the forefront of cosmetics research and propelled the brand into the world of age-defying skincare. Then Guerlain research identified the major factors responsible for skin ageing and developed Evolution, the first “anti-free radical” line. In 1987, a moisturiser for dry skin, Aquasérum, came into being and within a few years became Guerlain’s best-selling skincare product.
In 1984, Guerlain invented Terracotta, the first travel-friendly make-up, the absolute benchmark in bronzing powders. Today, one Terracotta powder compact is sold every 20 seconds around the world! Inspired by a journey to the heart of the desert, Terracotta mimics the effects of the sun on the skin and brightens the complexion with an instant natural healthy glow. Its name echoes like a myth encapsulating unparalleled know-how. Only Guerlain could dare to capture the rays of the day-star in a powder.
Captions: Issima, 1980
In 1987, little multi-coloured beads made their appearance, taking the name of Météorites. For the first time, a loose powder was presented in the form of pearls that exuded an inimitable violet scent. Pink, white, mauve, green, golden, pearlescent, etc.: each colour had its function to bathe the skin in radiance and luminosity. The boldness of their creation was accompanied by the adventure of their production. Today still, the Météorites are manufactured on the Chartres site and require a human hand, which no machine has been able to replace.
Make-up experienced an extraordinary rise under the leadership of Olivier Echaudemaison, Creative Director since 2000. Blending the avant-garde and technology, considered application techniques and sophisticated objects, he created new must-haves and reinvented cult products such as Terracotta or Météorites. In 2009, Olivier Echaudemaison created the lipstick women were dreaming of, with the assistance of the jeweller Lorenz Bäumer. Rouge G was a lipstick jewel incorporating an integrated mirror. As for Rouge Automatique, it was designed for those mischievous and stylish women looking to unsheathe their It beauty accessory with one hand.
Forward-thinking luxury skincare
As early as 1828, Guerlain’s “doctor-chemist” founder offered a wide range of thermal preparations, creams and other pomades in his rue de Rivoli boutique. He produced his creams himself based on natural raw ingredients in his factory at Etoile. And year after year, Guerlain has continued to strive to reveal the best of nature in the cause of women’s beauty.
In 2006, women discovered Orchidée Impériale. Exceptional Complete Care born of a flower blessed with rare longevity, the orchid. Immediately delighted by its sophisticated texture, they were won over by its performance. Day after day, Imperial Orchid Molecular Extract works on the fundamental mechanisms of cell longevity for global age-defying efficacy.
Title: Flower and nectar
In 2013, Guerlain presented the third generation of Orchidée Impériale and its Gold Orchid technology developed thanks to the discoveries of the Orchidarium, a unique research centre dedicated to the empress of flowers and made up of three centres: an Experimental Garden in Geneva (Switzerland), a Basic Research Laboratory in Strasbourg (France) and a Biodiversity Nature Reserve in TianZi (China).
Guerlain’s second key skincare franchise recounts another story of nature: Abeille Royale. Convinced that skin that does not heal from within is skin that will age faster, in 2010 Guerlain introduced the Abeille Royale age-defying skincare line, formulated using the best bee products. Honeys and royal jelly have been selected for their powerful repairing properties. The keystone to the balance of flora, a pollinating insect and environmental sentry, the bee is the symbol of life and soul and – ever since a certain day in 1853 and the creation of Eau de Cologne Impériale – the symbol par excellence of Guerlain.
Guerlain’s fragrant spring
In 2005, the legendary Boutique on the Champs-Elysées was transformed by the grande dame of design Andrée Putman and the architect Maxime d’Angeac. Not entirely the same, nor entirely different, the space was opened up and decorated in gold and precious materials, offering an invitation to discovery. Exclusive and bespoke fragrances harked back to Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, who was convinced that, “Glory is fleeting, reputation alone lasts”. The Exclusive Collections are a laboratory of scents and creativity for those who appreciate the rare and beautiful, for aesthetes in search of the absolute. Vintage rereleases of antique fragrances, new collections such as L’Art et la Matière, Les Elixirs Charnels and Les Voyages Olfactifs, and exceptional, extremely limited-edition bottles in Baccarat crystal. Guerlain now counts over 100 exclusive points of sale in the world in New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Dubai, to name just a few, and – more than anyone – is able to confidently reach for the future, artfully and boldly reinventing its past.
Captions: L’Art et la Matière collection
Thierry Wasser, Guerlain Perfumer
In 2008, Thierry Wasser became the perfumer for the House of Guerlain, which has entrusted fragrance creation to one exclusive nose for almost two centuries. Through his personality and compositions, he continues the legacy of Guerlain’s olfactory impression, representing the fifth generation of House Perfumers and making Jacques Guerlain’s motto his own: “A good perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream”. On joining Guerlain when the House was celebrating its 180th birthday, he created Guerlain Homme and then Idylle the next year, followed by Cologne du Parfumeur in 2010.
Thierry Wasser joins Guerlain
Setting off too and being as close as possible to the local producers and the plants that they grow and harvest: woods, flowers and spices. Being there at the time of the harvest, being present during the distillation process, participating in the selection of the finest essences. Helping them, supporting them, benefitting from their experience and know-how. Building genuine lasting partnerships with them. This is how Thierry Wasser expresses his credo as a man and Perfumer who looks to perpetuate traditions as much as invent the future, to always ensure the quality of the finest raw ingredients to enhance the House’s creations, and to guarantee the continuance of the artisanal production methods maintained at the Orphin site. This magical location, “this cradle of the fairies” as Thierry Wasser likes to call it, is where Guerlain perfumes are manufactured from start to finish, from the preparation of the concentrates to their packaging.
Title: The quintessence of Parisian chic
Orphin is also where the women known as the “Dames de table” work, craftswomen who keep alive age-old techniques, such as barbichage, baudruchage and wax sealing, with their skilful fingers. A wealth of expertise that gives that little added extra to the finest Guerlain bottles, true works of art and craftsmanship.