"The Fall of Guerlain Part II" By Luca Turin
A few months ago I had some sharp words to say about the latest Guerlain perfume and about the way this venerable firm was being handled by its new owners LVMH. I really must try to be nasty more often: I since receive one or two lavish packages a month from their PR department. I open them gingerly, but they turn out to contain some harmless bath oil or face powder that I pass on to my kids. The latest one was different: a press pack and samples for the launch of Shalimar Light. For a moment I thought I was stuck on Groundhog Day, since I had already given glowing reviews to this fragrance when it came out same time last year. Launches aren’t cheap, so why have two ? I was so curious I opened the press pack and actually read it.
It explains that "Last year Mathilde Laurent caused real excitement with her vibrant and delicious variation on the original scent" (Shalimar, that is). True: Laurent, the young Guerlain in-house perfumer, has a devoted following, having composed among other things the irresistible Pamplelune and the drop-dead, confidential Guet-Apens (Christmas 1999) a perfume I’d walk barefoot on hot coals for. So what’s new with the new one ? The press release explains that "in 2004 it is Jean-Paul Guerlain who will delight us with his radiant and cheerful rendition". This made my heart sink, because this meant that the original was discontinued. Then I smelled it, and all my worries evaporated with the alcohol on the smelling strip. Jean-Paul Guerlain has paid his junior colleague the ultimate compliment of not messing with her work. The new fragrance is a little brighter up top, a little thinner in the middle, but basically the same perfume, only slightly less good. Even the trusty gas chromatograph that hums away next to my desk gave the same answer when fed both fragrances: close.
Clearly no one is fooled here, least of all the poor souls who had to write the press release: they even prefaced it with a quotation from a Verlaine poem, "The same, and yet somehow different". What’s going on ? I called Guerlain PR and asked why Laurent (currently on maternity leave) was being airbrushed out of the picture. The answer was that the perfume had been "optimized" by Jean-Paul Guerlain. Please optimize it back.