Guerlain Idylle (2009) Part 2: The Creation of Longing & Beauty {Perfume Review}


This is the follow-up to Guerlain Idylle Part 1: The Evolution of Guerlain's Signature

If I had stayed with my first impression of the perfume upon smelling it casually in a department store, I would have had to write that the new Guerlain Idylle is incomprehensibly devoid in creativity, originality and personality.

A superficial take on it will make you believe initially that this composition is yet another variation -- barely -- on the tried-and-tested musk-rose-patchouli standard ensconced in the young and foolish (in a good way) neo-chypres that have been put out since Narciso Rodriguez for Her EDT. It was then closely followed by Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely which managed to fly under the radar of copycatting and pass as an endearing novelty thanks in part to SJP's lovely pink tulle dress. Later, it was succeeded by the noteworthy Gucci by Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent Elle and Dior Midnight Poison. Caresse by Fragonard is also a take on this accord. It is these days the ever-popular accord, that is, if you pay attention, and has become one of the significant olfactory signatures of the times. What will one day bring tears of nostalgia to the eyes of the future generations because it smelled so much like the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, for now can make you grind your teeth at so much unoriginality when encountered one time too many.

My initial reaction to Idylle was disbelief: I just felt like throwing my arms up in the air and shaking my head at so much ineptitude. Really, for one of their major mainstream launches couldn't the house of Guerlain do better than this? This, to just reheat the Narciso Rodriguez for Her brew courtesy of Francis Kurkdjian, Christine Nagel and the majority's approval on a gas burner and serve it as if piping hot in a new vessel?

Incidentally, the flacon by Ora Ito is more beautiful in person than on any of the pictures I have seen. It is a much more subtle form in reality.

I was apparently able in some vexing way to perceive only the shell of the perfume rather than its internal nuances. Retrospectively, it feels a little as if the real story of the perfume was taking place inside a snow globe and I was only able to feel the outer surface. Even on the street, the sillage continued to murmur to me all the sweet expected nothings from a rosy young chypre desperate to follow the trend rather than set it.

Day and night as they say....

This complex, delicate composition cannot be appreciated well in the noise of a bustling street or the distraction of a shopping area. You just need to have a tête-à-tête with it the first time you meet it, ideally. It requires close reading. Then, like a shy person who talks too loud and in stereotypes in public but is in fact a treasure trove of sensitivity, the perfume unfolds, offering an unbelievable moment of beauty.  The scent even manages to create a lasting impression in you, going beyond the point where you are smelling it. You remember it or smell it anew very quickly and it feels painful because it is just so heart-wrenchingly and exquisitely beautiful in its transiency.

Kant remarked that the contemplation of [true] beauty creates a hurt, a physical pain in us because at the same time that we feel this aesthetic emotion, we know that beauty will not last and it immediately creates in us the conflicting consciousness of limitation and death. This aesthetic gnawing is a rare feeling that I have experienced only a few times in my life. Idylle manages to provoke in me this feeling of torture, of longing, even when I just remember its aroma, and certainly it was particularly intense in that second encounter.

Why is the feeling not exactly repeatable? Perhaps it has to do with my consciousness that I can recreate at will this beauty, which in turn creates a double-sided effect: the perfume becomes less beautiful because it is more accessible, reproducible and can be reenacted, and prettier and happier because it is like natural beauty tamed and put in a golden cage. Moving from the plane of a sentiment of a loss of control over your destiny -- beauty is the ultimate shock, unpredictable and ephemeral -- you arrive at a plane where beauty is on a leash and slightly coquettish, imbued with the desire to please.

If the perfume can make you feel suffering at so much beauty, it also makes you want to jump on a rooftop at dawn to shout out of joy and enthusiasm.
Olfactorily, Idylle is a perfume that unfolds slowly, almost lazily, as if it were a nymph stretching by a pond in the forest in the springtime. The scent starts with wet, dewy rose/floral notes followed by powdery, civet-y and sueded leather notes. The crystalline notes in the beginning are followed both by changes in olfactory tonalities and textural feels: the clear drops give way a little to a soft, satiny iris, then to young green shoots. There is especially a contrast between a pink rose and a green jasmine: a very crisp peony-rose is followed by a thread of raspy raw indolic jasmine which weaves itself into the lighter, pink very top notes. I heard afterwards that the green jasmine was a cultivated facet for the scent. The combination is delightful and unusual.

Underneath it all, there is a graceful sweetness dipped in a refined vanilla with some hints of tamed animality, the latter evocative more of a pair of kid's gloves than a sheepfold, although a rougher nuance can occasionally drift to the surface of your perception. It is a perfume that is somewhat hard to translate into words as the nuances can be so minuscule and dainty. It is like a very precious bouquet that would have been left to fade for a night in the corsage of young woman, or in her boudoir. The buttery, sensual aspect is very intimate, conjuring up the proximity and sound of a hearbeat under the skin. The perfume then becomes mellower, rounder and velvetier but with always a counterpoint of green indolic jasmine and rose of a very precious, young and crisp-as-can-be variety. Now a nuance of lipstick-y rose appears.

The vanillic, powdery, indolic and green facets mingle in a very novel way. It makes me think of a precious rose pistachio bouquet. The blend is very delicate, very refined. Traditional heavier notes such as ambergris and incense are treated with infinite sensitivity.

The signature Guerlain touch that I see here expressed in the lingering notes is closest for me to the exquisiteness of the guerlinade base as found in Héritage, an underappreciated masculine great entirely borrowable by women. There is no question for me that Idylle resembles a Guerlain with its balmy rose-irisey base as in Héritage and tobacco-like notes reminiscent of Shalimar. Aquatic, dewy notes of freesia, peony and muguet are more accented in this composition than in what is considered a classic Guerlain signature, the Eaux de Cologne and Aqua Allegorias notwithstanding. I would also say that there is a preciosity to the scent that makes me think of the 18th century more than the 19th century, which to me feels like a poetic license taken regarding the tradition of Guerlain established in 1828. This could be the perfume worn by a young Marie-Antoinette in the Sofia Coppola movie adaptation. 

The composition appears also like a historically multi-faceted blend capturing the insouciance and unconventional modernist character of Chamade, the virginal, classic, innocent aspect of Chant d'Arômes, the floral effusion of Jardins de Bagatelle, the long, distant rose echoes of Nahéma. They are like the dying sound of a laughter in the refracting mirrors of the galerie des glaces at Versailles, and then one realizes it is all an illusion of the past of which traces were kept.
A timid nuance of apricot emerges like a memory of a happy summer that is no longer. It may be a discreet homage to Mitsouko. The drydown is ever so subtle. The next day reveals an eau-de-Cologne accord lingering in the deep well of the fragrance and we are reminded of the work done by Daniela Andrier for the Prada fragrances such as Infusion d'Iris and L'Eau Ambrée.

Despite its mainstream nimbus noticeable in its desire to appeal to young women who are used to the musk-rose-patchouli accord, this perfume is heartbreakingly beautiful, full of the tensions of longing, desire, innocence lost and regained. I don't know how Thierry Wasser, the perfumer, managed to carve out a private space for himself in the fragrance while offering that shell of familiar recognition, but it is just a magnificent composition, very rich in personal feelings. Here the materiality of the notes is completely heartfelt. Nothing is gratuitous. The perfumer expresses his love for the Guerlain perfumes, his love for perfumery and for the fragile, beautiful transiency of life.

Perfume notes: top: Rose Plessis Robinson; heart: muguet, lilas, pivoine, freesia, jasmin; base: chypre, patchouli, white musk.

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5 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Oh that was an absolutely stunning review, M-H! At times it feels as if you wrote it specifically for me :)
    Also, thanks for the nod to Heritage, which I too feel is rather unappreciated.


    • Dusan, I had no idea, but I am glad :)! Thanks for your kind words.

      Heritage has a precious quality about it that I find irresistible. It smells incredible on clothing.

      Chant Wagner
  2. Oh I know! I sometimes find it hard to put my sweaters and Ts in the washing machine, they smell so wonderful! :)

  3. Exquisite review, the first really detailed one I have seen of Idylle, I hope to try it very soon. I was hoping it would be better than their last few releases - speaking as one who thinks nothing truly great has come out of Guerlain since Nahema!

    • Nahema certainly is a sort of benchmark, one of the last womanly Guerlains with Samsara. It's a bit like the passage stylistically from the 50s hoop skirt to the 60s straight lines, a change. Although I do think that Chamade already presented a more modern signature; at least, it always struck me this way.

      Thank you for your kind words!

      Chant Wagner

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