Guerlain Djedi and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais.
For a dedicated Guerlain Love Slave like me, this is about as good as it gets, fragrance-wise. I exercised superhuman restraint and tested them on separate days. My samples, so generously sent, were already close to depletion and I didn´t want to waste a drop.
So, here goes:
Guerlain Plus Que Jamais (more than ever) is a new release I hadn´t smelled yet, although I´d read a very funny essay about it in the Washington Post when a local columnist ended up spending the $300+ it cost (by his reckoning, an outrageous fortune) as a present for his wife. I am going to link here to Bois de Jasmin´s review, which I´m not going to pretend I can improve on. (It also contains a link to the Gene Weingarten essay.) Instead I´ll point out that her comments stayed with me because, as she puts it, “the fans of house will no doubt find it enchantingly wistful and unapologetically glamorous.” In short, I was expecting to love it, while simultaneously sort of hoping I wouldn´t, because that is a LOT of money for one bottle of juice… notes are lemon, bergamot, ylang ylang, rose, jasmine, orris, vanilla, amber, tonka bean, vetiver.
There is no mistaking it for anything other than Guerlain – this is, to me, the Guerlain essence, its gestalt, the warm, powdery breath of the Guerlinade on my skin. This is the one they should have named Guerlinade, not that emasculated floral that is conspicuously missing its signature skank. Do I love it on its own merits? Unfortunately, that question will probably have to wait for a trip to Bergdorf in New York (or the 68 in Paris) for a larger, atomized sample. I need more juice to render the decision. Until then, I will offer two comparisons: it is most like Guerlain Attrape-Coeur; it is much like Guerlain Jicky EDT with less citrus and naughty bits. I am afraid I am going to love it.
Guerlain Djedi dates from the days of the Perfume Dinosaurs – the early part of the 20th Century – when Guerlain´s hat hadn´t got knocked sideways and Coty wasn´t a name that made you think of the drugstore and Pink Musk. I remember reading a review of it (I think on Luca Turin´s defunct fragrance blog) wherein Roja Dove described Djedi´s extreme dryness. It is a leathery chypre that has always sounded faintly shocking to me, along the lines of Bandit; here I am going to cop out and link to Marina´s excellent review of the fragrance. It didn´t sound like a Guerlain that would break my heart with love, but it was certainly on my list of things to try. My taste is not from one of the original bottles, but from the 1990s reissue of only 1000 numbered bottles. As you can imagine, the price of this stuff on eBay is astronomical, with bottles going for more than $500 last time I checked. Cribbing from Marina: “the perfume´s list of notes supposedly includes rose, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, leather, civet and patchouli.”
English is a rich language, but I think I need a whole new vocabulary to describe this fragrance. My initial reaction was: this is unlike anything else I have ever smelled. Guerlain Djedi is not leather, but it is chypre, of the darkest, most severe sort. It is almost mineral in its austerity. It is the smell of hot gravel in the sun. It is the smell of smoke in the desert. It is the smell of dry sticks, or sunbleached bones, baking in the sand. There is a short burst of vetiver, but it is carried past you on a hot wind (the Santana) from a long way off, and it does nothing to relieve your thirst. There is a brief, bizarre twist (as Marina noted) where it smells faintly like some sort of spiced savory food.
All this sits on a base of some mysterious reverse-image Guerlain – someone took the powder, civet and oakmoss of the Guerlinade and beamed it back and forth a few times to an alternate universe that contained nothing sweet at all. By the following day (this is some tenacious juice) it has regained a little of the vetiver and the quite attractive savory-spice-stew smell (cinnamon, cardamom, maybe nutmeg or clove?) on top of the moon rocks.
In the end what fascinates me about this composition is not the presence of anything – there is no gentle rose, no healing rain, no worn leather. Instead, it is defined by the absence of the familiar roots and flowers and any of the velvety vanilla whisper of the Guerlinade, leaving me stranded in a desolate place where nothing is familiar, and yet I am not afraid.