Where the term Skank came from – Guerlain

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.

perfume skankWhat 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.


Perfume skankThere 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.

  • Patty says:

    R, you really make this sound like me — er, a girl I used to know in high school.

  • marchlion says:

    See, I need to try the Shalimar parfum. And OMG, what a perfect description of Parure! Patty says I need to spritz rather than dab, I have atomizers coming. PS I am emailing you…

  • mreenymo says:

    Oh yeah—Shalimar’s got the Skank, but only in the parfum strength. Parure’s got it, but it’s more of a cold Skank who gives in for one night and then flirtatiously goes about her business as if nothing happened.


  • marchlion says:

    Flora — Nahema is one I need to go back and revisit, preferably in a stronger concentration. Rose is not one of my favorite smells (except on a bush in my garden). 🙂 I found the EDT to be a little too heady. My guess is that Nahema will be another true love for me. If I can get past the opening, the Skank is definitely there.

    P — you kill me. I promise not to dribble.

  • Patty says:

    Squirt it. 🙂 Seriously. Unless it doesn’t have a spritzer, then you have to very, very carefully pour. Or you can get a pipette, which is just too much trouble and more trash to clean up later for me, but YMMV.

    Rule of decanting — you only spill and dribble the ones you are not in the mood for or hate.

  • Flora says:

    Interesting that you do not find the same pleasure in Nahema – it is very naughty indeed to me, and once I got over the shock of it not smelling “rosy” like I expected it to, I came to appreciate it for what it was. To me it is seduction, pure and simple, and unlike any other rose fragrance. Surely it has the “Guerlain skank” like your other favorites? It is my favorite of all the Guerlains, though I like many of them. 😎

  • marchlion says:

    Veronica — welcome to Guerlain! (muhWahahahah!):devil: Before you give up, get on eBay and bid on a bottle of Mitsouko EdP, you should be able to get one for less than $50. Sounds like the Bleue is just too sweet for you, have you tried Vol de Nuit? The hell with it — email me your address and I’ll send you a 2ml spray of the Mitsouko, I’ve got some atomizers coming in the mail. We’ll get you hooked up. Hopefully P can explain to me how to get the juice in the vial.

  • marchlion says:

    Qwendy — Patty’s the Mistress of Caron. We all like what we like, and I’ve tried probably 15 Carons. They all have the Caron base, so I think if you like one you’d like others, but they’re just wrong on me, and I don’t perceive the dark Caron base as skanky — more fruit/wine. Try the Caron urn scents on eBay, or Coup de Fouet, if you like Caron. The Guerlains definitely have more Skank at the higher concentrations, esp. Jicky and Mitsouko. Do you mean Guerlain Vol de Nuit? It’s very leathery, too butch on me, not my favorite. The Caron Nuit de Noel is, I think, pretty much beloved by Caron fans. Hope this helps.

  • Veronica says:

    I really, really, wanted to like Jicky. The description sounded so right for me. Tried the edt three times…….I get this huge waft of ……manure. It does fade, but I’m just going to have to find another Guerlain to love. Tried L’Heure Blue twice….edt. Gosh! Smells like old ladies and candy on me. Hey, I’m new to all this, so cut me some slack please. I don’t get manure with Mitsouko, so maybe there’s hope for me yet. Errrr, so far, I like to smell Mitsouko, but I’m not ready to actually buy it. I know I like skank, so it’s just a matter of time…..

  • Qwendy says:

    What a great story. I must have special chemistry, because I wish that the Guerlains had more skank, or maybe I’m not perceiving it properly. Is the dark Caron base skanky? Is La Nuit skanky? I would say yes to Caron, and I’d like more of it in La Nuit, though it’s supposed to reek of sex! Maybe my skankometer is completely off, but I loved this post, thanks for sharing it Patty and March.

  • marchlion says:

    Well, P, it’s a reflection of my middlebrow suburban upbringing. Besides, you’ve got that whole Caron thing going on (and the Serge thing, the Bond addiction, the l’Artisan issue, the Idole obsession, etc. etc.):wink:

  • marchlion says:

    V — I have emailed you via your blog– thanks so much! Perfume people are the best.:thumbsup:

  • Patty says:

    March, best.post.ever. Thank you so much for writing here, you are a great story-teller.

    You make skank sound attractive.
    See, I don’t like the skank, must be that farm upbringing, way too much cow and pig rump-shaking with the associated smells, I’m still trying to avoid them.

  • Victoria O says:

    Please email me, I’d love to send you a small sample of the parfum, I just got 1.oz of it yesterday! Maybe in that version, you will be able to fall in love.

  • Cait says:

    Actually, March, that idea you’ve just stated is completely your own. You’re right, pudeur might be intolerable without petillance. I like it. Once again, you are cool.

  • marchlion says:

    Cait — pudeur and petillance, I should give you credit where due — it was after reading your post that I made the petillance connection of Champagne to Guerlain. It’s the necessary counterpoint to what would otherwise be a frighteningly heavy and animalic (pudeur!) base. Thanks for helping me gain that clarity.

  • marchlion says:

    Victoria — I keep *trying* the Chamade, I know I should love it, not clear what the problem is… have not given up, though. God knows.

  • marchlion says:

    Marina — ah, yes, the shame of the addiction… I do get the Skank from the A/C, but didn’t buy a bottle because, on me, it smells just like Jicky layered with Mitsouko (now there’s a recipe for the bold!)

  • Cait says:

    Thanks for the skank, otherwise known as pudddddddeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuur. Hey, you got petillance in there too with the champagne. Was this the one you said I should watch out for after my best of ’05? I like your stories. The way you tell them is the best part. What makes perfume endlessly interesting is how different our associations are.


  • Victoria O says:

    I have not had access to the older Guerlains but I know I need to get to them. At least for the experience. I have been wearing Chamade for about 20 years and still loving it.

  • Marina says:

    This is a seriously hot post (said she sounding like Paris Hilton :rolleyes: )
    Oh, the skank!! Do you really get it in Attrape-Coeur, lucky you? I hasten to say I love, worship and adore it without the skank, but it would be nice to have a little skankiness.
    I love that unpretty picture of bidding on a rare bottle late at night. probably because it is *my* story too :wave:
    This was one of the most enjoyable posts ever! Thank you, March!