On Valentine's Day 2012, a somewhat playfully whimsical thought occurs to me. Yesterday I was perusing through a few books containing recipes of aphrodisiacs as I was searching for some information on sandalwood, my Valentine's Day note of choice for this year. Struck at one point by a particularly suggestive list of of key amorous ingredients - thyme, rose, sandalwood, vanilla - and mentally adding lavender to it - the acknowledged yet still relatively unknown aphrodisiac specific to men, I had to realize one thing: the oldest Guerlain perfume still in existence is in fact most probably, consciously or unconsciously, an aphrodisiac recipe born out of the arcane tradition contained in some herbalists' books of magic spells. Its ancient flacon in white opaline seems to confirm this otherwise invisible link with the pharmacy of a nose who is a bit of a human soul doctor...
Created in 1889 and destined in principle to be a love letter to a young English woman named Jicky (some say that it is in fact an allusion to the nickname given to Jacques Guerlain) Jicky by Guerlain created by Aimé Guerlain ("aimé" means "beloved") speaks of love in the most carnal sense that can be if one pays closer attention to some of the individual notes of the composition and not just to the ensemble effect. It is at least what I am setting out to do here.
Its "unisex" success was noted from early on. It seems to have wooed men more than women initially although it had been clearly destined to bustle- and frills-and-flounces-wearing women whose cute foot could be seen emerging from the froth and froufrouing noise of petticoats (this is an allusion to an ancient Jicky advert I have). Its Orientalized fougère character confers it a pleasant and familiar aroma to men for whom it evokes shaving soap and early morning ablutions by the basin. It is a "clean" perfume for part of it - emphasis on the English term in order to tighten the links with its myth of origins - and so it is a precursor of the clean fragrances which are so popular today.
Like all great compositions, there are many possibilities contained in Jicky which will be reprised later on by admiring perfumers. In the era of of the perfume-in-love-with-soap in the second decade of the 21st century, one can only see that Jicky had smelled the trend early on -- you can have bit of fun thinking about that in that way. One can say as well that it knew then how to balance out that clean-as-a-whistle aspect with much more direct animalic notes.
So, we go back to this idea of a Jicky which is a false dandy and elegant-woman perfume and a real aphrodisiac potion. The formula contains everything which is needed to kindle the fires of love on both sides of the divide of the sexes. Indeed, recent scientific researches call our attention to differentiated aphrodisiac aromas which are separate for women and men. For instance, rose is stimulating to women, but not to men. On the other hand, lavender not only pacifies rowing couples but is exciting to men. One can't fail to mention the great classic from Caron, Pour un Homme, an aphrodisiac ode to lavender and vanilla as we can become fully aware of here. Vanilla itself is the great aphrodisiac for the Guerlain men, including Jean-Paul Guerlain who does not hesitate to see in it the authentic perfume of Venus. And what about thyme? Indeed thyme does not only make a good infusion, but has a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac. It is even recommended to use it purposefully to scent drawers filled with men's underwear so as to be able to satisfy the potential Messalines they might encounter. Conversely, women have to be careful not to overdose on it lest they might develop a hairy complexion and even sport a mustache.
Finally, what would Jicky be without its warm and animalic note of civet? At this point, it will have become obvious to all what Jicky's real agenda is. Destined to cement the union of a mythical couple, imagined and universal in perfume form, it has been attracting us for 123 years and some know just why. We had been made to believe the story-telling of a chaste, platonic and impossible-to-fulfill love beyond the Channel due to the social conventions of the end of the 19th century. Its lavender note evoked for us women an atmosphere of cool freshness and serenity. In reality, Jicky is a perfume composed with masculine-and-feminine aphrodisiac notes burning like a fire ship with contained passion on the sea between the French and British coasts since 1889, whose sensuality is restrained yet barely disguised, artfully concocted to include key ingredients needed in a love potion fully aware of the traditional art of the perfumers-alchemists. To read perfumes through their aphrodisiac tradition is to smell more clearly. Another example would be Vanille Ylang, vanilla for men and ylang ylang for women. Guerlain does not make it anymore but you can go see at Hermès and check their Vanille Galante.