Guerlain Terracotta Voile d'Eté (1999) {Perfume Review & Musings}

Notes: Bergamot, mint / jasmine, white lily, rose, ylang ylang / carnation, iris, heliotrope, vanilla, pear.

Terracotta Voile d'Eté was created in 1999 and officially signed by perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain but in reality entrusted to junior perfumer Mathilde Laurent as a limited-edition fragrance. She had just been able to compose her first real independent work the previous year with Pamplelune in the Aqua Allegoria collection.

Les Météorites by the same house and more recently Azurée by Tom Ford for Estée Lauder, Terracotta is a perfume associated with a makeup line. One can thus guess that the marketing concept presiding over the launch of such a fragrance is to make the perfume be apprehended as an integral part of a beauty routine: the makeup is for the face and the fragrance is for the body. In effect, these fragrances are often conceived of as skin scents, evoking the intimate relationship one can develop with one's body through the mediation of scent. The powder for the face is mirrored by a fragrant powder or veil for the body.

I tend to like this concept. It puts the stress on the simplicity of the perfuming gesture envisioned as a complementary touch of beauty rather than as the exhibiting of a masterpiece of perfumery to be worn like a diadem.

It is an especially welcome mood for the summertime. It can suit you to wear this kind of relatively simple yet subtle scent as a preface to the summer holidays or to wear it to bottle the memory of these for later on.

When I say that Terracotta is simple, it is actually more complex and rich than many recent launches I have smelled lately, yet it is clear at the same time that it wants to play the card of summer far niente and lazy self-indulgence...


Terracotta Voile d'Ete did not make a strong impression  on me at first until I experienced this happy moment that perfumistas are familiar with, which is the revelation of the intrinsic beauty of a scent when your own attention has already wandered off to "better" things.

In the space of your inattention, a subtle, exquisite aroma comes to pull you by the nose, asking you to not pass quick judgements about it. It is even more complicated than that because you do not identify the source of your sudden rapture immediatedly thinking "it's that other scent." You can't remember very well the map of scents that you have drawn on your arms with its many evocative rivulets, lakes, mountains, forests, and valleys. Finally, you see the light and you are able to put a name on the beautiful mysterious aroma.

The beautiful perfume in such as case teaches you a lesson: you had judged based on appearances (the top notes) it could only reveal its true personality to you after you came to know it more completely overtime (the lingering base notes.) What happens next is that, having a more complete picture of the perfume you now know that this deceiving appearance is just mere politeness covering an intriguing and original personality. With this new insight in mind, you re-smell the perfume in a completely different manner. You know who it is and from now on you are able to tell the difference between external appearances and internal character so you smell knowing what is in the perfume. You are then able to both experience the scent and anticipate it in imagination all at the same time.

The end result is that you will never smell it in the same way you did the very first time.

Terracotta Voile d'Eté is a beautiful understated fragrance which smells vapid at first (I had previously worn Eau de Réglisse by Caron so it probably smelled meeker by contrast.) But it reveals its strength of character soon enough. 

Notes include vanilla, carnation, iris, and ylang-ylang. One can smell all of these notes: the softness of the iris and of the vanilla at first, then it becomes sexier while still showing poise as the sexual ylang-ylang becomes more prominent. Finally, the carnation gives all its meaning to the composition revealing interesting asperities of character.

Terracotta is a lovely carnation take which turns very spicy and peppery in the drydown while keeping a softness, sweetness and a slight powderiness to it that are winning.

The beginning of the fragrance, now I realize, smells quite a bit like Carnation by Mona di Orio; there is this same slightly boozy, spicy, fermenting flower note, but much more subdued in this case. Carnation happens to contain clove and geranium in its top notes. It is a sheer fragrance as the name indicates.

In the end, it even evokes the soft pleasantness associated with the drydown of a suntan oil.

Isn't this a perfect combination?

The countryside-and-sea contrast is one of my all-time favorite landscapes (with the steppe), with this phenomenon of grass and flowers stopping right at the beach line. The juxtaposition of the countryside and the ocean smells in this perfume is truly enchanting.

The fragrance is discontinued now but you can still spot it at discounters. 1st perfume carries it for $22.99.

You can read a French version of this review of Guerlain Terracotta Voile d'Eté here

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10 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. What a thoughtful and lovely review, darling!

    A generous friend gave me a bottle of Terracotta Voile d'Ete a few months ago. I love its rich carnation spiciness and soft vanilla-iris drydown. And did you mention ylang-ylang? I seem to love any fragrance that has ylang-ylang in it. :)

    I need to put this one on tomorrow, as I had considered it more of a spring/fall fragrance and have not tried it in warmer weather.


  2. It smells marvellous on my sweaty skin right now -- I hope you catch the wonderful beachy smell in the drydown.

    Hugs back to you!

  3. Huh. Okay, embarrassing confession: as a big Guerlain fan, I remember reading this panned somewhere (MUA?) and deciding to skip it. Your review is making me think I made a Serious Mistake, which I will look into remedying shortly.

    PS I am also a big fan of their cheesy, ultra-cheap Meteorites.

  4. Do give it a sniff and a prolonged skin test. I found that it paid off in my case. I adore it but I am a big skin scent fan. The carnation scent turning into a subtle, woodsy suntan oil smell is just gorgeous.

    I must test Météorites soon!

  5. I'm wearing Terracotta today, and it's all you say it is... Françoise, the knowledgeable SA at 68 Champs Elysée told me that it was originally created in 1970 as "Quand vient l'été" and meant to reproduce in its evolution the course of a summer day. Mint and bergamot top notes, ylang, carnation, jasmine, lily and a dollop of iris in its heart, a vanilla and tonka bean base. "Quand vient l'été" is now available as an exclusive in EdP, 140€ a flacon. I say stock up on the Terracotta!

  6. Carmen,

    Oh, thank you for the exciting info! You are so, oh so right! This is currently one of two scents with Hervé Léger that have me wondering before I fall asleep at night how many dozens of these I would need to make sure I won't run out in my lifetime.

  7. Note: I find that the perfume smells better when dabbed on than when sprayed on. When you spritz it, it develops more of a candy-like sweetness phase before the carnation makes its entrance.

  8. I received my bottle today, threw caution to the wind (hey, it's Guerlain!) and slapped a fair amount on. It is wonderful! Yes, subtle, but not at all insipid. I cannot understand why the reviews on MUA (?) were so negative. It is rather beach-y, but subtle. A delicious skin scent. I get a fair amount of carnation, but soft rather than piquant, wrapped around the tonka-bean. Thank you for getting me to finally try it.

  9. I heard about this scent from a coworker. She said I would love it b/c it smelled beachy. Do you think Terracotta is too feminine for a man to wear? If so, any suggestions for a similar beachy skin scent marketed towards males? I have yet to come across one.

  10. Totally agree with you and you are an excellent writer.
    I lo-lo-love everything that is powdery! and it reminds me of playing with make-up when i was little. So I love this scent although it is true that it is only slightly powdery if we compare it to Les Meteorites (my all time fave because of the violets...).
    And it is so totally summer, it reminds me of the last hour by the beach when the sun is going down and the sky is red in Andalucia...

    Paula Contreras-Carballada

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