Saturday, November 18, 2017

Guerlain- Mon Guerlain (Perfume Review)

Usually when I take a perfume for a test run I also compose the review in my head as I'm going about my day. Once in awhile just as I'm building the argument why a fragrance is an utter disappointment I keep getting compliments from random people I encounter, leaving me with the reminder that the general public and fragonerds don't necessarily look for the same thing in perfume. Most people want to smell nice, not necessarily to stand out, and to get a level of familiar comfort from their little scent bubble. What do perfume people want? Especially, what do we want from a highly-anticipated release by one of the pillars of the industry? It's too easy to say "greatness". What does that even mean? We expect to not be bored, to get something new that doesn't reference the most commercial trends on the market, we hope for something that continues the venerable tradition without taking its name in vain. Apparently we want way too much.

Mon Guerlain was launched this year as the brand's big commercial release (for women) of the decade.  Signaling the importance Guerlain has assigned to this perfume was hiring the A-lister of all A-listers, Angelina Jolie, as the face and spokesperson of the perfume and declaring her its "icon". There were a gorgeous commercial and a photoshoot in what used to be the Jolie-Pitt French home, Chateau Miraval. There was also a press junket that included various quotes about what Guerlain means to her (the ever present bottle of Shalimar on her mother's dressing table, though Angelina herself is rumored to favor wearing masculine perfumes). All of that comes to show how seriously Mon Guerlain was taken.

Kind of. Sort of. Or at least when it came to marketing.

In reality, Mon Guerlain was a rebranding and rebottling of a limited edition fragrance from 2015, Mon Exclusif (source: Monsieur Guerlain). Despite its limited release Mon Exclusif was such a success the suits up there in LVMH knew they could make bank. And why wouldn't they? A pink juice in a modern version of the classic quadrilobe bottle, a decidedly vanillic gourmand that is still infinitely better than the pink juice of the decade, La Vie Est Belle (Lancome). And I'll take Angelina Jolie over Julia Roberts any day of the year. Add to that the endless talk about Guerlain's heritage and how they used Jicky's DNA to ground Mon Guerlain.

Jicky? What did I just say about taking the name in vain?

As someone who has a few bottles of Jicky in various concentrations from several vintages I can tell you emphatically: this ain't no Jicky. Mon Guerlain offers notes of citrus, lavender, vanilla, and coumarin, among others (coumarin is not what it used to be, but what is, really?). It's all stuff you could find in Jicky, but wearing Mn Guerlain on a hot sunny day while driving, I felt my car was filling up with the scent of functional lavender. A countertop cleaner or a fabric softener. It was deeply bothersome. Cooler days or bedtime wearings produced more of a comforting cuddle that reminded me of starched linens.  One of my friends called Mon Guerlain "a Jicky ice cream", while another found it revolting and unwearable. The Husband isn't certain he'd have pegged it as a Guerlain had I not told him.  I wouldn't go that far. Mon Guerlain deserves its shelf space next to La Petite Robe Noire and all its flankers, because that's what Guerlain is today.

We can clutch our vintage Mitsouko and Shalimar bottles all we want, but Guerlain isn't in the business of making iconic perfumes. They're here to create products that would fly off Sephora's shelves. Jacques and Aimé Guerlain were also in the business of selling perfume just as much as in making it. I don't know if back in 1889 they imagined a small group of perfume enthusiasts sitting down and weeping into their rare vintage Jicky bottles remembering (or imagining) the old days and complaining about the fake sandalwood and laundered patchouli in the 2017 Mon Guerlain. Maybe they'd be happy that the name Guerlain is still out there, perhaps they'd raise an eyebrow.

The blunt truth is that Guerlain has changed. Everything changes. We have our old bottles to remind us of old world grace (one of my treasures is a 100 year old Guerlain Heliotrope Blanc. I wear it sometimes), as well as glimpses into that world in art form. The image I chose to open this post is a series of photographs captured by Lee Miller in 1930 in front of the Champs Elysees store. We get views of the store's iconic sign, windows, and various reflections of the surroundings, all telling us little stories about the place. The most celebrated part of the series is Untitled/Exploding Hand in which we see an elegant hand (that sleeve!) clasping the Guerlain door handle amidst what looks like an electric flash but was actually the scrapings in the glass caused by decades of diamond rings on the hands of those entering and leaving the store (The Art of Lee Miller by Mark Haworth-Booth, 2007).

Guerlain- Mon Guerlain  1oz Eau de Parfum, $66.00, is available from Sephora, Ulta, and most department stores worldwide.

Images copyright of the Lee Miller Archive.


  1. Excellent post! It is very sad what's happening at Guerlain, but as you said, they are in the business of selling perfume. Times have changed, people and their taste have changed.

    I find it very unlikely that most of current new launches of Guerlain (and not only Guerlain, but other old, big houses as well, plus there are SO many of them, talk about quantity, not quality) will ever live as long as Guerlain classics have lived.

    Yes, they aren't what they used to be because of IFRA regulations etc. but are still being produced and sold. Can't imagine that happening with all the La Petite Robe Noires and their kind.

    I haven't smelled Mon Guerlain, but that thing about receiving compliments for a test-drive scent you either found rather boring or at least "not quite me" sounded so very familiar. "Nice" isn't good enough or interesting enough.

  2. good review! pretty sums up me testing My Guerlain ... Meh! I think the regular people are so used of the pink juice (GA Si, Lancome la Vie est Belle, etc ) they just don't know better. At my work i'm mostly wearing Serge lutens Chergi, L'atelier parfumeur la traversé du Bosphort and Seville a l'aube and they are ALL liking it but then in the same breath telling me they would never have the guts to wear those 'kind' of perfume.

  3. So appreciate this posting. I am rarely tempted by perfumes although the sales people try to push them as part of my cosmetics purchases. Hoarding my bottles of Nahema, Chanel 22, other favorites in my very small collection.

  4. So happy to see you writing about perfume again, Gaia, and I loved seeing the Lee Miller photos. I haven't tried Mon Guerlain yet, but I will give it a whirl. Apart from the (ahem) "functional lavender" it sounds similar to the other recent pink Shalimars that I can't be bothered to keep straight. Would anyone confuse the smell of Chamade, Nahema, Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit...? I don't think so.

  5. I owned Mon Exclusif (they gave you stickers to spell your name on the bottle.) This is very similar, but not the same. ME's lavender was the good stuff. Sadly it turned into a syrupy mess after the lavender faded. Mon Guerlain shares the same idea, but the mass-market version.

  6. Thank you for the excellent post, sums up the current sad state of the once refined house of Guerlain - a disappointing array of cosmetics and fragrances for the masses.
    Turn back the clock please!

  7. Ugh. The juice sounds dreadful in the way that so many perfumes are these days: offensively inoffensive, with overtones of functional scents. *shudder* But that story about the images, and especially the "starburst" created in the glass of the door by decades of diamond rings as their wearers turned the handle...that is just wonderful!


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