The house of Guerlain now owned by LVMH corporation is turning its eyes or rather nostrils to the world of fashion with the launch of a new composition evoking an iconic element of the 20th and now 21st century feminine wardrobe, the little black dress. Guerlain will introduce this new perfume called by the evocative name La Petite Robe Noire (The Little Black Dress) in February of 2009.
But precisely, Guerlain was never a fashion house in the midst of a 20th century where the pull of fashion was felt in a major...fashion in the realm of fine fragrances. Chanel No. 5 is the epitome of this by-now-classic association. Therefore it is no coincidence that the little black dress sounds a bit like an idea highjacked from the house of Chanel, that perhaps the latter ought to have come up with themselves, except perhaps that they didn't feel compelled to layer it that thick or obviously. The fact is that Chanel themselves never issued a perfume called after this most Chanel of brainchilds and one can wonder what they will think of this semiotic kidnapping. If on the one hand the little black dress has become public property, rehashed in thousands of guises, on the other hand it still refers to the Chanel universe and they also make perfumes...
The next question therefore is: can Guerlain, a charismatic perfume brand, be convincingly associated with the idea of the little black dress? Already one notices the slightly cartoonish evocation of la petite robe noire on the flacon of the new Guerlain. Perhaps this is due to lack of depth or internalization of the idea and is also there in order to appeal to a younger demographic. It is a risk in my view. The risk of appearing derivative and looking for fashion legitimacy, this coming from the quintessential perfume house.
Habit Rouge, their other fragrance from their house catalogue evoking a piece of garment does not evoke the runways as much, nor fashion history. Habit Rouge is really more about a class-connoted habit, hunting, and also reflects Jean-Paul Guerlain's love of equestrian sports (an avid and excellent rider, he is a former member of the French Olympic team).
The new jus is housed in the classic inverted-heart bottle but modernized thanks to graphics. It was not long ago re-used also for Lights of Champs Elysées (2006) and Vol de Nuit Evasion (2007) in travel retail, with a similar adapted-to-contemporary-tastes feel.
The fragrance itself is described as a fruity gourmand opening on notes of Sicilian lemon, licorice (to evoke the color black of the little black dress), almond and seguing into a heart of rose and smoky tea to linger on thanks to musks and vanilla.
On a comparative perfume-history note, this is the opportunity for me to call readers' attention to the fact that fashion expert and designer Didier Ludot who wrote a book on the little black dress published both in French and English, also created a perfume which pays homage to the little black dress (see my next post).
La Petite Robe Noire will be available exclusively in the Guerlain boutiques from February 2009 for 100 €.