Guerlain puts the skank in perfume
When I was six, my mother took us to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. We didn’t own a television, so we wandered down the street to a neighbor’s house to watch it on their giant console TV with the built-in speakers and grainy, black-and-white screen. I still remember the watching the grownups’ faces as they stared in rapt attention at the eerie glow as Neil skipped and bounced his way across the moon’s face.
Then all the adults had a celebratory glass of champagne, served in those short, wide glasses you never see anymore. It looked so beautiful, like ginger ale, only sparklier. Like all the stars in heaven in a bottle.
I was in my mid-twenties when the Big Cheese and I started dating. We were still in the awkward, early stage, trying to sort out why we’d fallen so hard, so fast, when our differences were not just monumental — they were galactic, he being Mercury to my Pluto. And on one of those nights, I showed up at his place and was greeted with a special token of his affection — champagne and caviar.
I still thought all champagne tasted like Cold Duck — which is to say that it tasted marginally better going down than it did coming up three hours later in the gutter, while you were clinging to the trunk of your boyfriend’s Camaro for support.
So I eyeballed the caviar on the plate (he wanted me to eat fish eggs?) and took a swig of champagne for courage. It was a decent bottle of bubbly — the sort of thing I’d take to a good friend’s house tomorrow to celebrate a special occasion.
And as I sipped that champagne, and the bubbles danced over my tongue, I caught the first slightly nutty taste, and the smell, and the sky opened up and the stars danced. And I thought, Oh. So this is why people drink champagne.
Guerlain was like that for me. I tried on Mitsouko, basically, as a joke. And lo! I stood there at the Saks counter with my mouth hanging open, gobsmacked. So THIS is why people wear perfume! And I experienced that weird, all-too-rare conviction that this perfume had been created just for me.
In the parlance of addiction, Mitsouko was my gateway drug. You know how it is. One minute you’re standing in Saks, sniffing the EDT. But pretty soon you’re jonesing for the harder stuff, up late at night, on line, red-eyed and frazzled, trying to score a half-empty bottle of Jicky parfum, wondering how high you should bid. It’s not a pretty picture. But it’s my story, and I have to tell it.
What I love about classic Guerlain scents is their their Guerlain-ness, that cold, often citrus-y champagne fizz atop the warm oakmoss-vanilla base, with a dollop of something even I admit is a little funky and animalic. Mentally I term it the Guerlain Skank. My guess is that you either love it or loathe it– there probably isn’t much room for compromise. Jicky has the Skank. Mitsouko has it. Cuir Beluga and Angelique Noir, lovely as they are, don’t have it and are not interesting to me. And let me be brutally clear: the Skank is not gracious, or nice, or even fundamentally pretty. The Skank is about sex, and only sex. It’s a rump-grinding, head-shaking invitation to a booty call, no matter how politely the scent’s been dressed up at the opening. I walk around wafting, on average, four or five fragrances a day, and the only one my husband ever noticed was the Jicky EDT I’d spritzed at Saks. He noticed the Jicky so enthusiastically that I ordered a bottle of parfum, unsniffed, the following day. It’s worth every penny.
There is only one exception to my Guerlain Skank Rule: Apres l’Ondee, which to me is completely missing the Guerlinade and lasts about two hours on my skin, but who cares? Because it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful that no rules apply. I wear it when I need to cry, and sometimes when I need a cheering-up. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it is sometimes with perfume.
Now I’m working my way through the old or rare Guerlains — sampling them one at a time, when I can get my hands on the right concentration, because the other thing I’ve learned about Guerlain is that the EDT versions, the only ones for sample in my city, are mostly worthless because they’re simultaneously too harsh and too weak. (If you’ve based your assessment of Guerlain on just the EDTs, humor me and get your hands on a decant of at least an EDP. Then you’ll know you’ve made an educated decision.) So far the Skank factor has been detected strongly in Attrape-Coeur, and (oddly) in Chant d’Aromes, which I’d initially dismissed based on reviews because it sounds so flowery. Metalys has the Skank but goes off in an odd, dark direction on me, somewhat like Vol de Nuit, which I adore in the bottle but not on my skin. I have thus far failed to appreciate Shalimar, Nahema, Chamade, l’Instant and Champs Elysees. L’Heure Bleue is a winner, one of the sweetest perfumes I own, kept honest by the hint of Skank. Vega has it, and so does Liu. Parure has the Skank but the jury’s still out — it has a winey drydown on me (plum?) that’s very reminiscent of Serge, and I don’t mean that as a compliment, because it’s not supposed to be Serge.
I get my kicks from Guerlain.